Go Buy a SSD. Right Now.
PC performance is all about bottlenecks - understanding what they are and how to address them. I see people throw money at the wrong stuff all the time. CPU’s and video cards have hit a place where unless you are a hardcore gamer the law of diminishing returns is taking hold. Unless you run lots of virtual machines 4GB of RAM is usually more than enough.
The best thing you can do right now for PC performance for most use cases is to drop in a solid state drive (SSD) for the OS and applications. Unfortunately, SSD’s still pretty expensive. I just dropped $100 on a 40GB Intel SSD; $100 on a traditional drive will easily net you a terabyte or more. But the performance difference is enormous.
I shot a quick vid with my phone to give you an idea. I was going to have Stephen Spielberg shoot the video, but I decided to go for the modern Hollywood I’m using a cheap camera and shaking the bejesus out of it to make it seem more realistic thing instead. It’s an older AMD X2 with 4GB of RAM running Ubuntu Lucid Beta 2. / is mounted on the SSD and /home is mounted on a standard 250GB 7200rpm drive. It’s also mounting a NFS drive off the network on startup, which adds a few seconds. But after the BIOS posts, we’re talking ~10 seconds total. The desktop loads and is ready to go after login in ~2 seconds.
Note seeing the login screen on Linux is different from seeing it on Windows. When the login screen appears on Windows, it’s still loading a lot of services in the background. When you see it on Linux, everything is done loading.
I could have gone with a Core i7, dual SLI graphics, 16GB of RAM, and a divorce attorney, and $1000+ later I would not have had this kind of a performance jump. I can’t recommend getting a SSD enough. I may not install Ksplice just so I can watch it reboot every once in a blue moon.