First question. How much money are you planning to spend for your new system?
Second question. What kind of programs are you planning on installing in the new computer?
These are the two main questions every user should ask before ordering a new system.
Whenever I build a computer for a customer, I always ask in advance how much they want to spend ...and then tell them to stick to the amount, regardless. I can <i>easily</i> configure a computer in five minutes that would be terrific in virtually every respect ... but it may also cost over $10,000. You have to set a budget amount in advance, and prepare yourself if necessary, to give up some of the latest, fast peripherals in order to maintain that budget. Otherwise, considering how fast the price of a computer can depreciate ... even if the machine is the hottest in town, you are going to feel screwed when the bills come in.
Note: You can always add additional components at a later date, and you'll invariably save money if you do so.
The choice of programs is an important decision, because this can help you determine which components to buy.
For example. If you intend to do video editing, then I would recommend a fairly fast processor with a full speed, on-die L2 cache, (maybe two of them) lots of memory, and at least two hard drives ... one for the Operating System, and the other for all the raw .avi files you are going to be editing. This will also allow you to move your virtual memory to the faster, second drive ... and that will optimize the system's performance. The hard drives should be fast, as well as large. (SCSI isn't out of the question.) Your video card should perhaps have dual-heads, for more than one monitor, with TV-out and TV-in, and input for a VCR. You may also want a really capable sound card, with a decent software package.
However ... let's say this isn't your bag. You don't own Adobe Premier, have no intention of paying $500 to get it, and software piracy offends your sense of ethics and fair play. And you don't think a blueberry-colored computer is suitable for your home office.
Instead, most of the time, you use the computer for doing your taxes, surfing the Internet ... and maybe playing the occasional game. Then I would have to recommend an entirely different configuration. Why spend money on creating a system with capabilities you will never use?
My personal opinion is that everyone is still spending far too much time worrying about processor speed, or which company to choose from when making a purchase. It's going to take a while before the majority of software on the shelves is going to catch up and take advantage of the some of the faster hardware that is currently available, no matter which company or processor you choose.
But, okay, that's a little vague ... I'll try to be more specific.
If you must make a purchase right now (because you know that you can't wait ... that credit card is burning a hole in your pocket!) ... I'd save a little cash, and buy AMD. I'd avoid Slot A processors like the plague, because they are already phased out. I'd get a Socket A Thunderbird processor with a decent heatsink. I'd probably go with a 1GBMHz, because they are plenty fast enough for most purposes, and not as expensive as AMD's top offerings. Paired with a MicroStar mainboard, they are also incredibly stable. If you want overclocking options, try an Asus 'board. There's lots of guys on this forum who could give you excellent advice about every aspect of overclocking an Asus 'board with a Thunderbird.
Would I buy a Pentium 4, right this minute? No.
Intel mainboards, using the current Socket 370 platform are going to be phased out, much like Slot A 'boards, and replaced by mid-summer by a new proprietary socket, (or so I've read in various publications). Therefore ... if you buy one of these processors ... you will find that your upgrading options are going to curtailed, very quickly. I always try to avoid a dead end, myself.
Instead, if I was willing to wait a bit, I'd <i>still</i> buy AMD ... perhaps around the same time that Intel changes the P4 socket. I'd get an AMD processor that supports a 133MHz dual-bus (266MHz), and buy a nice amount of PC2100 SDRAM. That would give me a computer nearly equal in many respects to the P4 ... and I'd have much longer upgrading options. But ... I'd would have to wait, even for this ... because AMD 760 mainboards are still difficult to obtain ... and I expect the price will drop once VIA starts shipping chipsets with a similar architecture to the AMD 760.
There are some advantages to the new P4 core architecture, including how memory bandwidth is addressed, and the new SSE instruction set. But ... software has yet to be written that can take advantage of that instruction set, and RDRAM is still very expensive.
I would recommend, if you want a P4, that you wait until around this time next year, and see where the situation stands. It could be the processor of the future, especially when Intel shifts to a 0.13 silicon wafer ... but I don't think it's quite ready for prime time ... yet.
My last suggestion is that you should pay more attention to the "other" components that you install in your system, instead of spending time worrying about the processor. Do everything you can afford to reduce memory bottlenecks in your new system ... such as getting large, fast hard drives, a good video card with proven drivers, fast memory and lots of it ... (Whistler is right around the horizon!), and a decent case with a good cooling solution.
Personally, despite the extra money, I prefer SCSI hard drives and SCSI controllers ... other people like EIDE RAID configurations. Why do I mention this? Because upgrading to these kinds of peripherals can give more of a performance boast to your new machine than any processor. If I had to make a choice between an extra 100Mhz of processor speed, or EIDE/SCSI RAID disk-striping .. there would be no contest. Disk-striping wins. Modern processors, say, 733Mhz and up, are fast enough for nearly any application. It's the rest of the computer that needs to come up to speed.
That's my opinion. Comments, suggestions, from the message board forum? Tell it like it is, boys.