neuromanta wrote:Get a motherboard with a decent chipset, a CPU with 2 cores (you won't get benefit from more cores, if you want to use the PC for the above purposes), at least 4GB RAM, and a 64bit OS.
Yes, chipset is more important then most people realize. However the bit about not benefiting from more then 2 cores is only some what true. I can understand how people would mistakenly think "i have 4 cores so my computers magically going to run 4 times faster" when in reality this is far from the case. Utilization of all cores must be engineered at the software development level (or compile time for some languages such as haskell). Simply, a program that wasn't designed to operate on multiple cores will only be executed on a single core. Also the average user doesn't entirely understand that load balancing across cores (or any load sort of load balancing really; clustered nodes and such) incurs additional overhead on the load delegating system as well as adding to complexity to software developers.
All that aside though, their is a lot of potential in parallelism. It's a fairly new thing (not really to the scientific community though) to most developers of client software and has caused a move towards a major paradigm shift in terms of how software is designed. Effectively using any given number of multiple cores isn't exactly possible in some situations as some problems simply can't be parallelized at all, also the opposite holds true with problems that can be parallelized endlessy (known as "dumb" parrallelization).
This is a "fairly" new grounds in terms of mass adoption and it being such, little is known how to effectively deal with problems in parrallel. We remain far far far away from anything Automatically Parallel
(which has been dubbed as the "holy grail" of the topic). However, our understanding on how to exploit more and more cores increases everyday and some day (just not today) we might see the day where we primarilly measure CPU performance in core quantity
"If art interprets our dreams, the computer executes them in the guise of programs!" - SICP
“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it” - Albert Einstein