Simple this question is not (Part IV)
I was going to leave this at just my initial short response to user, dclarkfw, but after some consideration I felt that some further clarity might be achieve by readers of this thread who really want to learn and/or share information. But before doing so, perhaps some data on my background would be helpful.
Sorry to disappoint you, dclarkfw, but I am not and never have been a lawyer. Since the mid-eighties, I have been an IT professional and though my main title would be a Programmer Analyst I have always been in positions that involved Customer Service and Support. This may have involved:
Being a liaison between Technical Support and management/occupational users.
Designing intermediate databases and reporting applications to process and collect claims, track trends, accounts payable, etc.
Act as 1st terrier PC support.
Make departmental recommendation on hardware and software acquisition.
Troubleshoot hardware and software issues for standalone PCs and client/server applications.
Built and repair several PCs.
Anyway that's enough about me but it should be sufficient to establish that I do have some experience in this area. Now back to the main discussion.
The major points (IMHO) are these:
Fredrica C. is looking for a super easy way to determine what is the best computer for her to buy. This is understandable given the confusing array of choices that are out there in the marketplace.
This is further complicated by the unfortunate fact that many sales are clueless or under educated even about their own limited product line so forget about an honest overview of what is actually available to in the broader market.
So Fredrica C., smart lady that she is has approached a "unbiased" and well informed (or at least should be) community to help her with making a SMART, INFORMED purchasing decision. However, she has also let you know up front that she can't handle responses that are going to be really technical.
The point is:
She is seeking to buy a computer not just a processor. She is, however, incorrectly assuming that the choice of processor will magically address all the other issues that would relate to purchasing a new PC. Keep in mind that this purchase will probably be seen by her as an "upgrade" to her current system in the sense that she may be assuming that all her current programs and peripherals will continue to work seamlessly on the new PC.
Most posters got this point and so provided some guidance well beyond the scope of trying to explain the differences between some of the popular consumer level processors that are available from AMD and Intel. Some posts just attempted to explain the difference in processors but that's OK since was given a fairly balanced view if she read enogh of the posts particularly the "top choice".
The intent of my post was not to rehash the excellent information already provided by others but to possibly help Fredrica to expand her understanding of some of the unspoken implications that go along with her purchase decision.
The two primary things that Fredrica has not stated and needs to before she can be given any really specific advice is:
(1) What is her budget?
(2) What are the main purposes that needs the computer for (i.e. types of activity and examples of software applications she intends to use)?
Again, the above has been stated in a number of other posts. At the risk of further duplicating the excellent work of other posters here, let me state some additional concerns that she should keep in mind:
Your computer is NOT built to last for a many, many years. Many hardware vendors see 3 years as the normal product cycle while software cycles are all over the board (but figure 7 to 10 years for the OS and 1 year for security based products). Ultimately the issue is not even that the product(s) will break down so much as the fact that it will become obsolete.
Memory (RAM) is very stable but the module type changes every 3 to 5 years so don't plan on reusing your old modules in the next computer to which you are upgrading. For the motherboard/system memory, DDR2 is the current standard. The "sweet spot", in terms of speed, that offers the best value for money is [IMHO] the PC2-6400 (a.k.a. 800Mhz DDR2) although most mid-level systems are configured with older, slower PC2-4200 or PC2-5300. There are compatibility issues particularly as relates to voltage matching between the memory and motherboard tolerances but most memory and motherboard manufacturers offer online support with this issue.
For Windows XP get 2GB (although 1GB will get you by) and for Vista Ultimate, I read somewhere that 4GB was recommended (although 2GB seems to get you by).
Since modules become obsolete with time it makes sense to purchase as much as you need or can afford, at least up to the levels given above or the maximum supported by your motherboard. Actually I recommend staying a bit below the motherboard's maximum to ensure stability. As old module types become less available they actually increase in price rather than get cheaper. And the current market conditions (where manufacturers battle for market share and recognition) are artificially depressing prices to about 50% of what they were a few months ago. Expect prices to go back up within the next few months. So now is a good time to buy.
Hard Drives can fail at any instant without any warning. So the morale is back up your data regularly (of course most of us are just too lazy and get caught with our "pants down" anyway). From my own experiences in corporate as well as personal, I prefer Seagate and Hitachi drives. I wasn't so fortunate with WD drives but they did at least die after the warranty expired. The morale (at least for me) is:
(1) Try to back up, at least your personal data, as often as you can.
(2) Assume that the drive will not last beyond its specified warranty. After that period either: (A) replace it entirely, (B) make it a secondary drive, or (C) make very frequent backups. Of course there is no absolute guarantee, but this is one of the big reasons why I am attracted to Seagate. It offers a 5 year warranty compared with the industry standard of 1 year. To me, the warranty reflects the level of confidence the manufacturers have in their product. And the old 3 year warranty has all but vanished.
I do believe that the current crop of hard drives are becoming much more stable than they were a few years ago.
The impact of heat on Hard Drives is quite debatable per the findings of a recent study but I would recommend a dedicated fan for todays high speed (7200rmp) discs.
If your Motherboard/PSU supports it, go with a SATA drive. Even the 400GB drive are very reasonably priced (usually between $90 to $150). It comes as a standard option in the HP Pavilion A6130N.
Last but not least, today's market offers huge amounts of storage for relatively little money. This is of particular import if you intend to work with a lot of multimedia files especially video or uncompressed audio.
DVD drives wear out over time. As long as the PC is powered up, consider the DVD to be under "stress". Heat is also not regarded as its friend (so if you are a fanatic like me, you'll assign a dedicated fan to it as well). Not sure if there are any advantages to getting a SATA vs a IDE type drive but you should at least be aware that these two type exist and may or may not be supported by your current Motherboard/PSU setup.
Many very reasonably priced Video Card are available and if you are playing games or running any type of graphic intensive application (such as Photoshop), I would highly recommend getting a system with a standalone video card (with at least 128MB of onboard memory). At the very least, you should get a system that allows you to easily install one at a later date. Here too there can be some compatibility issues so try to get some feedback from users or vendors before purchasing a video card.
The NVIDIA cards generally offer much better value for money and often out perform supposedly higher class (definitely higher cost) ATI boards. For NVIDIA boards, however, there seems to be some possible compatibility issues with many of the motherboards supporting Intel's Core Duo processors - but I am just speculating here based on the choices I have observed in the market.
The introduction of DirectX 10 further complicates matters since it is not supported by the "older" boards. But DirectX 10 is relatively new and there are only a few application where this would be an issue.
To future proof, however, I would recommend going with NVIDIA's Geforce 8600GT w 128MB or the ATI equivalent HD 2400 XT
Remember that integrated graphics chips share your system's main memory and thus degrade overall performance. My personal preference is to avoid such systems unless I am sure that a Video Card can be easily added later without the need for additional purchases such as a special rider board.
Customer Service Support is not what it used to be as most companies have tried to cut costs by outsourcing, often to international sources whose first language is not English. At times this can be quite frustrating for the consumer who is already frustrated with non-working equipment and/or programs. Is there relief? Yes, but it is going to cost you. In most cases corporate customers do not have this issue. In an effort to repair tarnished images, companies such as Dell are working to improve/repair their customer service reputation (used to be first rate) by providing a choice of reasonably priced service contracts. It is up to you, the consumer, to decide what level of hand-holding you require and whether you are willing to pay for it. Not perfect but a reasonable compromise.
OK, finally a word about processors. I have always avoided the strip down models like Celerons and Semprons. Frequently these exhibit significant performance compromises. But these may be ok you if you just do very basic tasks. There are many choices out there (particularly on low-end machine) but for mid-price performance minded (value for money) consumer, the choices are "relatively" simple.
My preference is for a processor that offers at least 1.8GHz but preferably over 2.0GHz and that supports a system bus speed of 1ghz or greater.
For AMD this is Athlon64 X2 3800+ or higher
For Intel this is Core 2 Duo E6300 or higher (preferably the E6320 which has twice the cache ... 4GB).
Anyway that my 2 cents. How those who manage to read through this find some info worth remembering.