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BuildOrBuy News - Build Today Rev 3
../images/new1a.gif Assembling your PC (1/26/2002).
../images/update.gif Video Card Notice (1/26/2002).
../images/bullet2.gifIf I Were... (HTML Version Of Specs; Rev 2.)
If I Were Building a Computer Today… Rev 3
(January 12, 2002; Updated 3-6-02)

By Joe Whinery

The purpose of this on going article is to give some guidance on what the average well-built computer contains. This is not the ultimate gamer machine nor is it the ultimate CAD machine or over clocking machine. It is a machine that will do all those tasks very nicely without specializing in any of them.

These are the specifications that will be frozen in time when our next build comes due, which looks like March 2002. All prices and part numbers are for reference only and reflect those prices and part numbers available on the Axion Technologies Web page on the date of each revision of the list. (www.axiontech.com) Keep your eye on the local sales and on any given weekend either hard drives or input devices or something else on this list are on sale at some very attractive prices.

Some of the components are “don’t care” pieces, which means I really don’t care who the manufacturer is or, within reason, what the speed of the device is. These devices include but are not limited to: floppy drives, CD ROM drives, modems and Ethernet cards.  Most of these devices are on their way out, or are at least on the steep downward slope of their live cycle. 

Now, for each item on the list I will give you an input on why it was chosen.

Case: Good solid case, no sharp edges inside, two fans, plenty of space for drives, all       drives are clipped in (easy removal or changing).

CD-ROM: Don’t care (also not required). Any 50X or higher speed will do.

CD-RW: The important feature here is Buffer Under Run Protection. Don’t buy any CD-RW that does not have this feature regardless of price or manufacturer. 

CPU: Athlon Xp 1700 Retail Box. Stick with the retail box because it has a CPU fan included and the CPU has a 3 year warranty (as opposed to a 1 yr warranty for the OEM CPU).  Watch this part because it changes as quickly as the price drops on the faster speeds. The Athlon was chosen over the Intel P4 because of its price/performance advantage.

Floppy Drive: Don’t care.

Hard Drive: Failure rate differences of IBM, Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and the other hard drives are minimal. So that makes this a case of faster and bigger is better.

Look for the fastest (7200 RPM or better) UDMA 100 drive with the best buffer size (at least 2 MB) and quickest average access time (8.5ms or less) that is large enough (40GB or bigger if you are into music or photography) to meet your requirements. 

Keyboard and mouse: Wireless and ball-less is the way to go. Logitech is the current leader in this technology, but watch for Microsoft to catch up fast.

Mother Board: Giga-Byte was chosen here for several reasons. First it has the dual BIOS. This makes it almost impossible to mess up during an upgrade of the BIOS. Second it has both 10/100 baseT Ethernet and Sound Blaster 128 sound on board.  This saves PCI slots. Thirdly, it has no AMR, CNR or ISA slots.

Lastly, this board comes with a nice bundle of useable and necessary software.

Almost any board with the VIA KT266A chipset would be a close second choice.

A good second choice would be the Soyo Dragon board. However unless you are going to set up a RAID array, the $40 to $50 extra cost is not worth it.

Video Card: This is an excellent 2D/3D card.  Not quite as fast as some of the $200 to $300 cards on the market, but fast enough for all but the most ardent gamer. It has come to my attention that there are different ATI 7500 Radeon cards available. There are those that are “Made by ATI” and those that are “Powered by ATI”. Those Powered by ATI have their own drivers, and updates to the driver set must come from the manufacturer, not from the ATI web site. 

Monitor: This is the best bargain I have seen so far. This flat screen monitor is clear and has an excellent picture and controls.  My next choice would to go for an 18 in. flat panel display.  Within the next year, the prices on flat panels should come down to an affordable price range.

Operating System: Until Windows Xp has been around long enough to get at least Service Pack 1, I am not too sure I would feel too comfortable with it. There seems to be too many compatibility issues still haunting them. Linux, which is worth considering, has a long way to go to be an average users operating system.

Lastly, one should consider how the best way to back up your system is in today’s environment. Tape is too slow and a thing of the past for personal desktop systems. With the back up software available today, the best way to protect your data would be to use a second hard drive and schedule a total system back up every other week to alternate backup sets. This way you can never lose more than one week of data. Since we are using this drive for backup only, it need not be the fastest drive on the market. Therefore, go for a less expensive slower 5400-RPM drive.

There have been a couple of changes since my last update. Memory is increasing in price rapidly, so look around. Hard drive prices are slowly decreasing but the IBM seems to be the best buy for the buck today. Video cards are a fast moving target and the subject of much debate. You will notice I have switch to the slightly higher priced 7500 series from ATI. Primarily because it has double the memory on board and its specs are much better. The slight price increase is worth the money.

Lastly, I changed the Plextor CD-RW for the Lite-On unit. 12x10x24 performance from the Plextor cannot compare to the 24x10x40 of the Lite-On. Both have the required Buffer Under run Protection and both are recognized by Nero, which seems to be the burning software of choice (the fact that the Lite-On is $40.00 less does not go unnoticed).


../images/bullet2.gififiwere_2--.xls  Excel Spreadsheet (January 26, 2002).

../images/bullet2.gifIf I were... HTML Version of Specs (January 26, 2002).


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