If I Were Building a Computer Today...
Editor: This document has become a part of our Archives for historical perspective. To View the current Build Spec Info, please go to the appropriate BuildOrBuy Domain Index Page. The Current PC Build Specs will be easily located from the top of the page. (Thursday, 3/11/2004)
Our Build Specs consist of Three Main Documents:
(Revised Monday, 8/25/2003)
By Joe Whinery
The purpose of this on going article is to give some guidance on what the above 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 October, 2003. 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 publication. On any given weekend either hard drives, input devices or other items 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, and modems. 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, side vent for the CPU, two fans, plenty of space for drives, all drives are clipped in (easy removal or changing). For my purposes, I need 4 5.25” external drive bays. One for the DVD, CD-RW and two for the Mobile Racks I use for my hard drives. [Other BuildOrBuy options, see: Cases.]
DVD: We have dropped the CD-ROM in favor of the DVD. This can do all the CD-ROM can do plus play movie, photography and game disks.
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 2600+ 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. Do you really want to put one in your new system?
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 or 133 drive with the best buffer size (at least 2 MB) and quickest average access time (8.5ms or less) that is large enough (60GB or bigger if you are into music or photography) to meet your requirements.
Input Devices: Wireless and ball-less is the way to go if you can. Microsoft has caught up with Logitech and now has a better ergonomic design, but do not put the right components in the package. [See: Pointing Devices.]
Mother Board: Gigabyte 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 six USB 2.0 ports. Third, it has onboard IEEE 1394 (FireWire). With digital cameras becoming more popular, this is a very useful feature. Fourth it has RAID. Now, I realize that most of us do not need or want RAID, but this board gives us the ability to use the RAID connectors as standard IDE connectors, thereby allowing more IDE devices. Also included are on-board Realtek sound and 10/100 baseT Ethernet. This saves PCI slots. This M/B has no AMR, CNR or ISA slots. Lastly, this board comes with a nice bundle of useable and necessary software.
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. I have switched to the Powered by ATI card made by Sapphire. Be sure to download the current drivers before you start your assembly.
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. (or greater) flat panel display. Within the next year, the prices on flat panels should come down to an affordable price range. Look at the Planar models. This is a very good buy for the buck.
Modem: Don't care. Just make sure it plays with Windows XP. If a modem is the way you connect to the Internet (as apposed to Cable or DSL), you may want to seriously consider getting a hardware modem. Pricing is in the $40.00 range.
Speakers: These are good speakers, but I have a tin ear. Use your own tastes to select the best speakers for you. Had to upgrade since the previous speakers were discontinued. [See: Speakers.]
Operating System: Windows XP has been around long enough to get several Updates and fixes from Microsoft. Stay on top of the security fixes and carefully monitor your setup. 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 (which is why I use the mobile racks) 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
Maybe now is the time to consider using removable trays and two extra hard drives instead of one. This would make restoring the entire drive much simpler.
Memory: Pricing is very volatile and prices are rising, at least for now.
Your comments are welcome: Joe Whinery
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