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Computer Parts Buying Guide


This guide will not be focusing on building a PC. There are plenty of sites out there that deal with that. Instead, I will be dealing with choosing the parts for your new box. I will try and be unbiased to certain companies and products, as not to mislead you into buying a product that you dislike. So, onto the guide!

Part 1: The Case
 There are a few things to consider when buying a case. Number one is space. Make sure you have enough room for both the physical size of the case, i.e. on your desktop, under the desk, wherever; and enough room inside the case for your components. You probably wouldn’t want to choose a minitower for a multiprocessor RAID server.
The second thing is to make sure your components will have adequate cooling, especially the CPU. One problem noticeable in a lot of midtower cases is the manufacturer placing the power supply directly above the CPU. Most manufacturers have remedied this problem, however, but some cheap-o cases still have this problem.

 Next is to make sure that an adequate power supply is either included, or buy a decent one. With today’s processors, notably the AMD Athlon, AGP cards, and alternative cooling techniques, the power supply is taxed extremely heavily. A 250 watt is good, but 300 watts is better.

Part 2: The CPU
 You may be wondering why I chose to put the CPU before the motherboard. Well, depending on which CPU you choose, the motherboard will be completely different that all the others.

 There are basically only four classes of CPU’s (Mainstream PC) right now. The Intel Pentium 3 (both in slot 1 and socket 370), Celeron and Celeron 2 (socket 370), The AMD Athlon (slot a), and the K6-2 series (Super Socket 7). More are on the way, but as of this writing, have not arrived.

 The high end Pentium 3 and Athlon processors cost a bit more than the other choices, but pack a much larger punch. With competition rising and prices falling, you can pick up these CPU’s for not much dunero.  You can check prices on Sharky’s CPU Price Page.

 The lower priced Celeron’s and k6-2 CPU’s offer good performance at a great price. I would recommend these CPU’s  for machines that are going to be used for the internet and light gaming. Although they do offer great gaming and overclocking potential, with the price margin so low, I would say buy more than what you need for the CPU, you will need it later. With the newer games, the CPU needs to be top notch.

 Each CPU has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. The Athlon’s speed is on top of the Pentium 3, but is so picky about the other components. The Pentium 3 is a tad slower, but will run with pretty much anything.
 Basically the only recommendation I can give on the CPU is buy the fastest CPU you can afford. I cannot recommend a brand, as all of them are very strong contenders and you are the only one that can choose it for what you are going to use your machine for.

Part 3: The Motherboard
 Based on your CPU choice, the motherboard has certain options for you to choose from. As stated before, an Athlon needs a Slot A, A Pentium 3 uses either a Slot 1 or Socket 370, etc. You have many choices: CPU count, chipset, memory type, expansion, and brand. First CPU count, most are single CPU, but some have dual (or more) CPU slots. For the beginner, I recommend single. Next is the chipset. Basically, shoot for the most stable that works with your CPU. Also look for the options that you want, like Rambus, 4x AGP, etc. Newer chipsets support 133mhz bus speed, which is highly recommended, even is your CPU does not require a 133mhz bus.

 Along with your motherboard choice comes the memory. Your motherboard will support regulart SDRAM (PC66, 100, 133), RDRAM (Rambus), or the upcoming and very anticipated DDR RAM.

Part 4: The Memory
 Basically, buy what your motherboard will support and what you can afford. With PC133 memory prices a few dollars more than PC100 & PC66, it is highly advisable to purchase this for your motherboard. If you are overclocking or looking for a more stable system, look for high quality RAM (Micron, Muchkin, etc.). As for Rambus, there is only a handful of it out there, so buy what you can afford.

 As for the amount, I would use 128MB as a minimum for all machines, relieving you of an upgrade within  a few months. And the jump from 64MB to 128MB provides a good performance gain.

Part 5: Video Card
 Aside from video editing, a 2D/3D card combo is pretty much the standard. Even most video editing cards include rudimentary 3D acceleration. When choosing your card, look for the features you want. All out speed is important, but not if the image quality is crap. I would recommend bump mapping, high resolution, 32 bit color, and an AGP card. For cost efficiency, look to cards one generation behind what the current technology. With new technology coming from video card manufacturers every six months, and the newer cards costing a fortune, you usually don’t lose too much speed and features by buying a generation behind.

Part 6: Sound Card
 Buy 3D sound. The choices are basically only opinion. Go to a store or a friend’s house and listen. Listen to his speakers.  All have strengths and weaknesses that you will have to consider. Everyone’s  ears are different, so only you can pick the best one.

Part 7: Storage
 You will need a 3 ½” floppy to install some drivers (Network card, for example), and another form of removable storage is recommended: CD-R, ZIP drive, ORB, etc.

 For your hard drive, buy the biggest, fastest (7200 rpm) drive you can afford and that your motherboard supports (IDE, SCSI). A year or two later, it will be tiny, slow, and almost full.

 If you want all out speed and/or reliability, look to RAID. IDE RAID is inexpensive, and packs a great speed gain. You do need 2 hard drives and a controller card, though.

Part 8: Monitor
 SIZE DOES MATTER! Make sure it supports at least a 85hz refresh rate in whatever resolution you prefer.  17” is good, 19” is better.

Part 9: Input Devices
 A good quality keyboard and mouse are inexpensive, required, and a crappy one can make your computer time suck!
For flight sims, a good joystick is highly recommended, and most of the time, a necessity. Look for one with a throttle control.
As for specialty mouses, they are based on preference. Some people love them, some people hate them. This is another instance where you need to actually go try them out at a store or someones house.

Part 10: Putting it all together
 Here are some sites for building your computer, overclocking it, modifying the case, and cooling it: