There are several advantages to building your own PC, and I'll be getting into detailed instructions below. First let's take a look at some benefits of building your own PC:
PC prices have plummeted during the past few years. We're constantly being bombarded with ads for PC's in the few hundred dollars range, and in some cases free if one signs up for a lengthy ISP service contract.
Look carefully at the low cost name brand systems. While they may be a significant bargain for a pre-assembled ready to run system, and may offer significant performance gains over what was offered only weeks ago, there are still likely to be several limitations with regards to the upgradability of these systems.
While the name brand systems often offer the same processors and motherboard chipsets as do the motherboards available for do-it-yourselfers, the name brand motherboards are generally less flexible with regards to which processors will run, and which bus and memory settings you may select. The big system vendors would very much appreciate if you never opened the machine, and simply discarded it every few months, and purchased one of their newer and faster systems.
Let's take a look at what you really need components wise, what they cost, and then take another look at costs.
A typical mid-range desktop system consists of the following:
15" or 17" VGA Monitor
ATX Mini Tower Case
ATX Motherboard (Intel 440BX)
Pentium Class CPU (400Mhz Celeron to 600Mhz PIII)
AGP Video Card
EIDE Hard Disk (6-13GB)
3.5" Floppy Drive
128MB RAM (PC 100 compliant 168 pin SDRAM)
Keyboard and Mouse
A System with the above components would run Windows 98, NT 4, Windows 2000, Linux, and FreeBSD very well, and should satisfy most PC users as of the time of this writing (August 3, 1999).
A system from a name brand vendor, for example a Dell Dimension L with no monitor, and a 433Mhz Intel Celeron Processor, 128MB RAM, 13.6GB IDE drive, and 40X CD-ROM drive costs about $998.
Couple the above Dell system with a nice 17" monitor, and network card or modem, and you have a pretty good state-of-the art office system and with a few modifications a nice office or web server...for a few months. While it is generally trivial to add external peripherals, and to an extent, even internal upgrades such as CDR or DVD drives, internal ZIP drives, advanced graphics cards, etc., it is extremely difficult to upgrade the main Intel processor, which decrease in price almost weekly, and increase in speeds almost monthly.
Buy all of the above components as above and put them together yourself in an hour or two. Buy a motherboard that will support the affordable Intel Celeron today, as well as the fastest Intel PIII's available today (and possibly even processors not yet released!), so you can simply upgrade processors as their price comes down significantly in the coming months.
Here's a sample system that you can build yourself, with prices. As with the Dell, we will assume you either already have a Monitor, or will be acquiring it separately.
ATX Mini Tower Case $35
ATX Motherboard (Intel 440BX) $106 (Asus BX6 R2)
Pentium Class CPU (400Mhz Celeron to 600Mhz PIII) $124 (Intel Celeron 433A)
AGP Video Card $34 (4MB SGRAM)
EIDE Hard Disk (6-13GB) $157 (Maxtor)
3.5" Floppy Drive $17
CD-ROM Drive $39 (40X)
128MB RAM (PC 100 compliant 168 pin SDRAM) $115
Keyboard and Mouse $20
The above prices came from www.atacom.com, and can be closely matched by prices at www.astak.com or www.mwave.com, or even www.buycomp.com -- check the buying section at www.tedm.com and also check the price comparison sites such as www.pricewatch.com and check the product reviews and lowest price tables at www.cnet.com.
With our home built system we're at about $647, significantly less than the name brand system, and even more significantly, easily upgradable. The motherboard and BIOS in the system above will fully support the fastest Intel PIII 600Mhz which today cost about $800 for the CPU itself, versus the 433Mhz Celeron selected in the above systems and priced out for the home built system at $124.
To keep this article simple, I'm going to make some basic recommendations, and then provide some resources to help you make your own decisions on which way to go.
I recommend that you purchase a motherboard based on the 440BX chipset that supports the Intel Slot 1 type CPU's. These CPU's are available only from Intel, and this form factor is available on the Celeron, PII, and PIII types of CPU's. Alternatives are Slot 7 motherboards and Slot 370 motherboards. Reasons to go with a Slot 7, or Slot 370 motherboard is to save a few more dollars, but you would then lose some upgrade flexibility.
I recommend the Abit (http://www.abit.com.tw/english/index.htm) BX6 R2 and Asus (http://www.asus.com.tw/Products/index.html) P2B motherboards, both of which are ATX form factor size, and use the Intel 440BX chipset and support Slot 1 type Intel processors, with BIOS support for the complete line of Intel Pentium Celeron, PII, and PIII processors.
The Abit motherboards have a jumperless CPU "softswitch" mode, which allows configuration for various CPU's in a soft BIOS setting, rather than having to adjust jumpers to adjust the motherboard clock speed to match the specific CPU you are using. This "softswitch" mode also makes "overclocking" experimentation much simpler.
"Overclocking" is a method of getting faster performance from your specific CPU than it was designed for. There are many excellent resources on the web that cover this topic in great deal. Some of them are:
www.tomshardware.com, www.anandtech.com, www.overclockers.com, www.bxboards.com, www.agnhardware.com, www.pcguide.com, www.hardwarecentral.com, www.sharkyextreme.com, www.firingsquad.com
One quick recommendation for those interested in experimenting with Overclocking is to purchase a tested configuration. i.e. purchase your motherboard, CPU, CPU fan, and main memory all from the same vendor who will guarantee the overclocking capability and will provide test results and support or return capabilities. This will eliminate a lot of headaches and questions about specific parts, and generally doesn't cost any more. www.atacom.com offers these pre-configured overclocking systems, and I'm sure other vendors do as well, or will begin shortly. When overclocking, the quality and speed of your SDRAM, and the efficiency of your CPU cooling system are very critical, much more critical than when running a CPU at it's rated speed. The atacom offering comprises of an Abit motherboard, Intel Celeron 366A processor, special cooling fan and 128MB of select SDRAM which they test and guarantee to run at 550Mhz!
For additional information on resources, check the main www.tedm.com page, and feel free to email me with suggestions for updates on this document at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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