$1000 for a top of the line processor. $600 for a high end video card. Computer enthusiasts are known for spending serious money to getting every last little bit of performance out of their rig, but often this performance is wasted because they forget that the most important piece of the tech equation: the user.
While a fast CPU and lots of RAM are useful during demanding applications, the majority of users only require a fraction of their PC's true capabilities for their usual letter writing, web surfing, and instant messaging. Though these activities put little stress on a high end system, without the correct peripherals, they can take a serious toll on the user, including RSIs (Repetitive Strain Injuries) like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
I recently moved, and with the move came a new computer setup. Immediately I noticed that I couldn't use the computer for nearly as long without discomfort, and that overall computer usage was less pleasant. It wasn't that things were loading slower; like most people, much of my computer time is spent doing tasks which require very little processing power. What had changed was that I switched from a 20.1” LCD to a 17” CRT, from a MX Duo to a 1999 era mouse and keyboard, and from a high backed office chair to a kitchen chair. The effect was profound – without losing any processing power, my productivity took a big hit.
First, let's look at monitors. No matter what you're doing with your computer, your monitor is going to make a big difference. What kind of monitor you get depends on your needs, your desk space, and your wallet, but this is not an area where you should skimp. I personally suggest LCDs for almost everyone now; they have come down enough in price to compete with CRTs, and new LCDs are just as good (at least to my eyes) for gaming and movies as CRTs are. Because of the way that a Liquid Crystal Display works, there isn't the same high speed flickering you get with a CRT, which causes headaches for some. Resolution is an important factor too; those who like higher resolutions should buy larger monitors for less eye strain.