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Build your own PC


3. Choose Your Bits

Now it may seem a bit obvious, but in order to build a computer, you first need to choose your bits and its better to do it carefully as the end job is both easier and better if you do.

One main Question that influences people is "Will it be upgradeable. This is one of the difficult questions that can change dramatically with component choice. There is however one simple rule about upgradeability and that is quite simply "If you could fit it now then it is upgradeable to that specification". Now this may sound a bit simple and unhelpful but I have come across so many times when things promised upgradeability that was just not delivered in the future. A few years ago the fastest processor you could buy was 233Mhz and at that time motherboards started appearing that would support 300Mhz processors. "Fabulous upgradeabilty" was promised but when 300Mhz processors arrived for one reason or another they didn't fit. There was the similar case of Slot 1 mainboards where intel suggested that all its faster processors would fit on Slot 1 and then they decided to put them in socket 370. There is also the case of the Coppermine Processors that physically fit on many motherboards but the bios will just not allow them to run and not all manufacturers provided a bios upgrade to overcome this. The fundamental reason for all this lies in the fact that it is trying to predict the future and like the predictions of Nostradamus some came true and some didn't. So lets choose our bits

Choice 1 - The Main Processor
I put it first because it changes so much else and especially the mainboards you can choose. Basically you have 3 different choices. Cheap, Middle and Expensive. At the time of writing cheap includes Cyrix MII/MIII, and AMD K6-2, Middle included Intel Celeron and AMD Duron, and expensive includes Pentium III and IV and AMD Athlon, athough there is some overlap between Middle and Expensive. Which should you choose?, well the cheap options are for people on a budget, the medium ones tend to be the best value overall and the expensive ones do give the best performance

Choice 2 - The Mainboard
The major choice here is between 'bare' boards or 'integrated' mainboards. Simply speaking integrated boards are designed with economy in mind and can come with video, sound, modem, network card all incorporated for virtually the same price as the bare board that was designed with performance and flexibility in mind. I always prefer the bare boards because you can choose to match them with whichever bits best suit your needs. For example if you play a lot of games you might wish to have a serious gaming graphics card, whereas if you are a musician then the sound card would be all important, and if you are on the internet a lot you may want to have an ISDN or ADSL card rather than a modem. Remember that with a bare board if you change your mind at a later stage then it is easy to change any of the cards so you might start with a standard AGP graphics but if you later decide on a games card you can take out the standard one and replace it with the new Gaming one However such systems are always more expensive than the integrated boards and if your budget won't stretch to it then having a computer is better than not having one !!. Your choice will of course be influenced by your processor since if you have an intel Celeron you will need a board with a socket 370 on it rather than a socket A or other socket/slot. You might also consider the fact that the Cyrix MIII fits in socket 370 and so does the intel Celeron and the Intel Pentium III which means you could start a system at the economy end of the scale and it could be upgraded later to a Celeron or pentium III

Choice 3 - Other Cards
These are entirely determined by what you want to do with your system. So the real thing is to try and draw up a list of what you want to do with your computer and see how that affects the choices. Obviously if you want to use it for office based tasks such as word processing then you will find any of the standard items to be more than satisfactory but other tasks such as games have specific requirements that are often listed on the software box.

A useful guideline to Software Requirements
Most software states on the box the minimum specifications to run it, and some is even more helpful by stating the recommended specification. If the software you are thinking of using only has a minimum requirement then as a rule of thumb to get a specification that will run it well simply double each of the hardware requirements. For example a minimum specification of Pentium 233 processor would suggest that approx 450MHz or above would be advisable, and a minimum specification of 64Mb ram would suggest you have 128Mb ram installed.

Choice 4 - All Other Bits
In addition to the stuff above you still need to buy a few more bits. Ram should be high on your list especially whilst it's cheap because ram prices are very volatile. Over the last 2 years the price of a 128Mb stick of ram has varied between £30 and £300 with no real account taken of the production costs at all. At the time of writing I would advise trying to get a minimum of 64Mb. For the other bits I would recommend :-

Floppy drive -
any at all, I always buy the cheapest.

CD/DVD-Rom -
These I have always found to be the worst and least reliable bit of kit in any computer. It is my firm belief that the only reason any CD Rom Drive ever gets through a warranty period is because it doesn't get used at all. How manufacturers get away with drives of such poor quality and durability never ceases to amaze me. Drives I have found to be better than average (which is pretty poor) are Panasonic, Sony, LG, Plextor and Samsung though there are doubtless others worth a mention too that I have not come across in sufficient quantity to be sure of their quality. The best advice here really is to make sure you keep the receipt in a safe place because if you use your CD you are likely to need it. As to the choice between CD or DVD then my advice is only buy a DVD if you know in advance you are going to need it. They are still relatively new and the prices are still dropping.

Hard Drive -
The differences here seem to be fairly minor for the average user and so the only advice is to make sure you have one large enough to cope with anything you are likely to throw at it. At the time of writing 20-40Gb is likely to be adequate though if it is just for office work then get the smallest you can as you are unlikely to fill up even 4Gb by writing letters and doing accounts.

Case -
Preferably get a look at the inside before you buy one and you will find that most of the cheap ones contain so many sharp edges that you would think they came from Gillette. If you value you hands and fingers then spend a little extra.

External Bits -
all to personal taste really. You will find that the quality is generally reflected in the price but I have used cheap keyboards, mice and monitors for many years with no ill effects. Personally speaking I do have a preference for Microsoft Mice though it is hard to justify their price by comparison with the cheap ones, and I love the sound of nice expensive speakers too, but then again no-one is perfect.

Buy the stuff.

Shop around lots because prices can vary wildly. If you want up to date prices then try the Local Directory because it gives links to websites many of which carry online pricing. If you prefer it in magazine form then try Micro Computer Mart which has price lists for some of the same suppliers.



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