Is Fast, Fast Enough, or Too Fast

The computer industry is making technical advances beyond the needs -- or even the desires -- of most buyers. So how fast is fast enough? Unfortunately there is no easy answer...but maybe we can help with the question: how fast can you afford?The speed of your computer is typically measured by the megahertz of it's main chip. Over recent years, that measuring tape has been stretched to it's limit. In the mid-90's, a computer with 150-mghz chip was the typical, but dominant chip maker Intel's been feeling pressure from competitors and the megahertz march is turning into a sprint. Today, you can buy exponentially faster computers. "You can go anywhere from a 700 Mghz processor now, is about the lowest you can find, and off the shelf even, we don't really have them, but all the way up to 1.4," says Barry Graham of Staples office equipment store. That's 1.4 Gigahertz, which is twice as fast as 700 Megahertz. But don't get lost in the all the technical mumbo-jumbo here. The question is, do you really need to be that fast? That depends on what you want to use your computer for, and how much you want to spend. "People don't really need this much processing speed, but there's nothing else out there for them. I mean this is becoming the minimum that they're going to be using," says Mike Higgins, of Creative Data Systems in Cape Girardeau. The Catch-22 is that when you buy the faster hardware, you won't notice much of a change in the speed of your software. That's because the most software is yet created to take advantage of the new hardware. Software designers typically run 3-4 months behind the issue of a new processor. "It's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You build a faster processor, so software designers will make software to take full advantage of that, and so you have to run the latest version of Windows, and you need this bigger processor," explains Higgins. Regardless, a bare-bones, middle-of-the road computer today costs less than previous years, and is light-years faster than previous models. Still, knowing the machine you buy today is already outmoded tomorrow, when does it make sense to buy? "Unless you have a program that requir4es that you need something faster, there's no need to upgrade. I personally run a 500 Mghz machine at home, and I'm perfectly happy with that right now. Higgins also says that by the end of the year, Intel should be on the market with computer chips that verge on 2000 megahertz...or more.