A Christmas Computer 1442

I have a relative. He’s wanted a new computer for a while. I told him to wait a while until a few events panned out. Well, they panned out.

This is not going to be an adventurous computer system. No great needs, no gaming. Stability is extremely important since he and it are going to be next door.

I figure more than a few of you are going to be in the same boat, so this article is going to say what I bought, why I bought it, and what I would have bought if I needed to get more radical.

Where I Bought: I didn’t have time to agonize over a few bucks, so the two places I looked at for the bulk of the items were Newegg and Multiwave. Both are good “cheap and get them out the door fast” type places. Newegg worked out a little better, though it was very close.

Something to keep in mind when you shop is that shipping costs will eat you alive if you order from eight places. Unless you’re getting free shipping or simply can’t get the item you need, try to keep your order to one or two places.

The Crucial I picked up from, well, Crucial (the link gets you an extra 6% off, thank to Anandtech). Free shipping on that.

Unfortunately, most of the warehouse outlets don’t sell good coolers, so I went over to CoolingGears to get that.

CPU: Athlon XP 1600+ Retail Normally, I don’t buy retail because then I can’t do code voodoo. No point in getting a warranty when: 1) the first thing I’m going to do with the chip is invalidate it and 2) the average useful life
of the CPU for me is less than three months.

In contrast, this CPU is going to be around a while. In this particular case, buying retail only cost $10 more than buying OEM, and the 1600+ cost just about the same as the 1500+. Since he’s graduating from a K6-2 300, he should notice enough of a difference. 🙂

I could have bought a TBird, but I wouldn’t have saved too much, and less heat from the XP means more piece of mind for me.

CPU Cooler: Millennium Glaciator Probably would have gone with an Alpha 8045 in a more aggressive system, but I’m using one with an XP right now, it works fine, it’s relatively quiet, and at $30, it’s relatively cheap.

Motherboard: Shuttle AK31 I know, I carried on a bit about it not being the greatest KT266A overclocking board in the world, but I don’t need the greatest overclocking board in the world here. I went back to the Shuttle
after the greatest KT266A overclocking board in the world died on me. It’s worked reasonably well in the meantime, and it’s cheap.

I really don’t know what I would recommend to the more adventurous at this point. The Epox on paper looks good, but that’s the only place where it looks good if all yours does is show you an FF BIOS code and nothing else.

The Asus A7V266-E is a little lacking on overclocking features, and costs a lot, but some have found it more stable in overclocking situation, and it can use the Palomino thermal probe. We’ve ordered one, and after Joe probes the probes, I’ll take a look at the rest.

The Abit KR7 isn’t out yet, but initial indications are it’s much like the Asus.

As you might have guessed, the nForce boards leave me cold. To summarize, the dual DDR does you no real good, the onboard video is wimpy if you use it and a waste of money if you don’t, the numbers don’t look better than the KT266A, and there’s some real doubts about how well or even if some of the promised features work.

Memory: Crucial PC2100 I don’t think he needs it, but after seeing the price of Crucial PC2100, he bought two 256Mb sticks.

Video: Matrox G450 Hey, he’s not a gamer. I’ve been using this card quite a while, it gets the job done.

If he were a gamer, I’d probably go with a GF3 Ti200 card equipped with at least 4ns RAM. A number of manufacturers have that now.

I would lean towards the Leadtek card with the better RFI filters, but since there’s some confusion as to which ones do or don’t have these filters, can’t say exactly which one (there’s two Leadtek Ti200s, a T with just TV-out, and a TDH with DVI-out and hardware monitoring)

Hard Drive: IBM I have a 45Gb 75GXP I never got around to using. I haven’t had the problems reported with the 75GXP, and it isn’t one of those with the funky Mitsubishi chip. If there’s problems, I’ll just take it back. However, the 75GXP seems to tolerate FSB overclocking pretty well, so that’s a plus in this situation.

If I had to pick a new one, while I’d rather wait for the IBM 120GXPs to come out, it probably would be a choice between the Seagate Barracuda IV and the 60GXP. The WD Special Edition with 8MB cache? What do I need 100Gb for?

CD-RW: None As I’ve mentioned a couple times, 32X drives are coming out, which at the least should make 24X drives cheap.

DVD-ROM: Lite-On LTD-163 Storage Review likes it, it’s supposed to be quiet playing DVDs, and at $50, the price is right.

Sound Card: Soundblaster Live! 5.1 Don’t take this too seriously; I rarely even hook speakers up. I believe computers should only speak when told to. 🙂

If the Shuttle had had something like the CMI8738 chip for onboard sound, I would have gone with that, but this was reasonably priced (about $30) for less than strenuous use. The speakers will be a discontinued Compaq PS-330 system which I picked up a few months back for $40. Big subwoofer and little else, but for $40 . . . .

NIC: 3Com 905CX He’ll have cable modem, and I just feel more comfortable with a hardware-based NIC.

Keyboard and Mouse: Microsoft Internet Whatever and Intellimouse He doesn’t mind mushy keys, so I got him an MS keyboard. I got him the simpler optical Intellimouse since all I do with extra buttons is hit them by accident. 🙂

Floppy: Teac Generic would have been fine.

Case: InWin IW-J508P. I prefer full-tower cases, but he doesn’t, and InWin at least uses a good power supply (AMD Certified) in there. 300 watts will be fine for this setup.

OS: Windows XP Home Edition From what I’ve seen so far, XP is Windows2000 with some more driver support and a lot of eye candy. Crash-proof? No, but when it does, they’re well-behaved crashes. Haven’t seen a BSOD yet.

Monitor: Another storage-space clearer. Ever since I got the dual Sonys, the Eizo TX-D7S has been gathering dust, so I’ll let him have that as a bargain.

If I had to buy something new? Well, I like big Trinitrons. I’m looking at dual 21-inchers right now.

I understand some people can’t stand Trinitrons, and some people don’t have the room for these beasts, but consider this:

If you want to impress the neighbors, a big monitor is a sure-fire way to do so. Nobody looks at your processor. Everybody looks at your monitor, and it’s pretty safe that if you include a 21″ as part of someone’s computer, they’ll have the biggest one on the block. 🙂

Nor are they unrealistically priced. I have two Compaq P1100s. Those are rebadged Sony G500s. (Dell, HP and IBM also sold these.)

The model is discontinued, but the new G520 isn’t any better.

If you shop around, you should be able to find one for about $500 or a bit more. Here’s one place.

Not for everybody, but in the appropriate situation, it can get you major kudos.

Overclocking Strategy: I’m not going to invalidate the warranty by unlocking the CPU. I also have two memory sticks to contend with.

On the other hand, I’m not going to let ALL those potential cycles go to waste, either. Want to impress just a little despite the handicaps.

So here’s the plan:

Shoot for about 1600Mhz through an FSB overclock. That means 150-153Mhz FSB. The only piece of equipment I’m worried about is the RAM, so what I’ll do is just not be too aggressive with the memory settings.

After all, not like he’s going to go into a benchmarking orgy once he gets the machine. You say Sandra to him, he’ll think you’re asking about one of his neighbors.

I’m not going to paralyze the machine, if push comes to shove, I’ll lower the MHz. Not trying to delude or cheat him, he has the bill and knows what I bought, and I already explained PR to him.

Just a little tip for anyone who needs to get a little higher number on that BIOS screen.

Cost: The items I bought came out to about $640 including shipping. Had I bought an equivalent new video card and hard drive, the bill would have been more like $850 without monitor.

That’s without monitor. With the 21″ Trinitron I mentioned above, total bill would be about $1,400. Not so long ago, the monitor alone would have cost that much.

I’ll probably build this tomorrow, and burn it in over the next few days. I’ll update to tell you how it went.

Email Ed

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