Computer savvy people-- questions about processors and video cards (PC)

I’m looking to buy a gaming laptop (please don’t tell me to get a desktop, as I’ll probably be moving internationally in a couple years) and I’m having a bit of trouble understanding the different specs for the chips I’m seeing.

If I’m interpreting what I’m seeing correctly, the Intel i5 and i7 series are good chips. I’m a little confused about the difference between the two, however. I’ve been searching on newegg, and there don’t seem to be a whole lot of new i7 chips-- that is to say, the i5’s they have listed (in the pre-built systems) are newer. On this page, it says that the newer i5’s have a more efficient turbo mode, meaning that the speeds of the new i5’s will be as fast as the old i7’s “in apps that only use one or two cores.” How many cores are generally in use in high performance gaming (I’m talking about games that were top of the line a year or two ago-- kind of everything up to but not including Crysis), and is having more cores (4 [i7] instead of 2 [i5]) more important than the speed of the processor (let’s say 1.6-2 GHz [i7] vs 2.2-2.5 GHz [i5])? Or is there really not that much difference for the level of use I’m talking about?

I recognize that video cards are more important than the chips for how high-performance games will run, so how important are the shaders vs the pipelines vs the core speeds? Something like the GeForce GTS 360M vs say the GTX 460M. The former has 575 MHz vs 675, but only about half the pipelines. They’re both listed as “top performers” on this site, but I’m trying to understand it in slightly more detail.

Finally, how will 4 gigs of memory compare to 6? I’d say I could just get more if I figure it’s not enough, but I’m not really comfortable swapping stuff around in a laptop. A desktop’s tower’s simple enough, but I’d prefer not to have to deal with the inside of a laptop if I don’t have to.

Thanks all, this stuff is complicated for me.

i5 is a dual core processor. Windows sees it as two processors. it has 2 L2 caches .

i7 is quad core. Equivalent of 4 processors and 4L2 caches. the L3 cache is 8mb

you normally have one L2 cache for each core.

Dual core has been around at least since 2004. I built a dual core mid tower pc for my parents in 2005.

So will the quad core i7 process roughly twice as fast, even if the i7 is an older 1.6GHz and the i5 is a newer 2.4GHz?

No, not necessarily. It may not be any faster at all if the software hasn’t been written to take advantage of the extra cores.

Plus I’m guessing you’re talking about games? So a lot of the important work will be done by your graphics card.

Right, so the chip isn’t quite so important then. What about the pipeline and shader stuff I was asking about in the OP? How much performance is lost or gained with those categories? I’m guessing the number of pipelines is the most crucial to good performance?

Quad core will be a little faster under windows. How much faster depends on how Windows uses those 4 cores. It assigns them to various tasks based on what you’re doing. Also the software has to be optimized to use quad cores.

For gaming you’ll need to find reviews for the game and stats on how fast it ran with different hardware options.

Is it difficult to config Win7 to use quad cores? I don’t have much experience with stuff like overclocking or adjusting chip speeds.

Quad core is fairly new. I’m pretty sure Win 7 is optimized for it. Since you’re buying new, it will come with Win 7. Try to order the Pro version. The home version has more limitations. I’m not sure if it supports quad. We only use the pro version at work.

The game has to be optimized too, if you want the fastest results. That info should be on the box. It should say what it’s optimized for.

Toms hardware 2010 Gaming Cards reviews
http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/2010-gaming-graphics-charts-high-quality/benchmarks,114.html

Some games are reviewed too. The cards are probably desktop pc’s. But notebook graphics sometimes use the same chips.

Thanks ace, that performance link is super helpful. I’ll try to work out what I want from there-- it’s easier to make a comparison through that for me than just by trying to understand the hardware specs. And I’d like to get Pro as well, if it’s anything like XP was. I only used XP Home a couple times and I remember it being kinda frustrating in comparison. And here I’ve been stuck with Vista for the past 3 years!

I don’t think the issue of your move is actually relevant. All you’ll probably need to do is get a new power cable and flip the PSU from 110V to 220-240V.

As for the question of cores, some games (Far Cry 2, for instance) do use multiple cores. And with memory, it’s a case of the more the merrier. A 32 bit OS, though, cannot directly access more than 4 GB. Windows 7 memory limits are detailed here.

I’m not concerned about my computer working after I move, I just don’t want to haul a desktop 10,000 miles.

I’m hoping I can find a unit that can handle a 64 bit OS though. I’ll have to recheck the specs of the ones I’m looking at. Thanks for the link.

Dell has a line of gaming laptops (Alienware). I’ve found that Dell usually puts together some great pc’s. Maybe you could build a generic laptop with similar components? It should be cheaper than buying the Dell branded stuff.

http://www.alienware.com/Landings/promotions.aspx?~ck=mn

Laptops aren’t very well known for being easy to cobble together. Also, concerning an earlier post of yours saying laptops use the same chips as desktops, that is highly unusual as well. Most laptops have “crippled” versions of those chips, often integrated into the mobo.

What makes a graphics card faster between stream processors, core speeds, etc. can be confusing. But lots of sites do comparisons where they give you a bar graph of different cards in different games and their performance. It’s easy to judge relative performance that way.

I meant order a custom configured laptop from Newegg or a company that does that.

I’d be curious how much a generic brand could save the customer. I’ve found that Dell is actually pretty reasonable. They get huge discounts by ordering bulk components and software. Microsoft’s sales division gets very friendly when you want 30,000 copies of Win 7. :wink:

If the savings were less than $175 I’d go with a known brand.

I looked at alienware, but it actually turned out to be a bit more expensive than a similar customization site (that I can’t dig up right now because I’m at work and I was looking at home). I think I’m gonna end up spending more than I’d intended, because right now I’m drooling over the Asus G53JW series, but I think it’ll work out in the end. A machine like this should serve me well for years, so I don’t feel too bad about dropping the cash.

ETA: As to generic brands, the cheap setups on the sites that I’ve seen (Acer or the like) do tend to be cheaper by a few hundred, but I’ve had bad luck with poorly-made computer crap in the past.

If you meant the XoticPC site then you will be spending more than you’d intended. I’d think as stock machine, that Asus model is enough for the purpose. I would probably upgrade the memory to at least 8 GB. Also, take into account the battery time; trust me, it is no fun tied to an electric outlet on a laptop.

Have you looked at the Dell XPS line? They appear to be gaming-oriented machines, not as high end as Alienware but less expensive too. I’m looking at an XPS 17 for myself. Be sure to google for coupons if you order on Dell’s website!

Looks like for almost-top components, the Xotic can do it cheaper than Alienware. I just have to decide if I want to shell out for it or go with something cheaper. And I don’t really travel much with my laptop. Like I said, I’d buy a desktop if I didn’t have to ship it halfway across the world in a couple years.

ETA: Win 7 Pro is expensive! Almost all the machines have Home as stock.