Slim pickings. There isn’t a whole lot of new content going up over the weekend, so I’ll hit two useful, if slightly flawed hardware articles. And I guess I’ve gotta come up with some of my own stuff.

Shopping. I went computer shopping Saturday for the first time in, oh, years probably. I build my own and have been doing so since 1996, so I normally take no interest in retail PCs. But a friend of a friend is in the market for a PC, and I didn’t want her to get ripped off, so I offered to go shopping with her to keep such a thing from happening. Note I didn’t offer to build her one–I’m trying to get out of the build-a-PC-for-a-friend business for the most part.

So we hit Office Depot. The superdupercheap trend seems to be abating a little; there’s a lot for under $1,000 still, but the $499-and-under market is waning. eMachines is playing there, but Compaq and HP seem to have retreated. I noticed plenty of Durons, which ought to make AMD happy.

We also hit Computer Renaissance. I’ve heard horror stories about the place, but figured I could probably handle the slimy salespeople. I can talk way over their heads when I want to (“I don’t care what anyone says, compared to Microchannel, PCI is rubbish. At least with Microchannel, I knew where the resources were going and I knew they’d stay put!”), and I can play intimidation by dropping OS/2 and Linux compatibility questions. They left us alone though, which was nice. I saw P200-based Compaq Deskpros for $199, including 15″ monitor. I wanted more power than that for her. HP Vectra PII266s were $399; PII233s were $379. Both included monitors. What caught my eye was a $299 Compaq Deskpro. It had a Pentium Pro-200, which was about as fast as the PII-233 due to its on-die, full-speed cache, and it had a SCSI hard drive. For productivity use, this Deskpro is fine. Its 32 MB RAM is awfully low, but that’s curable. DIMMs are cheap. The SCSI will be nice. And it’s hard to find a better-built machine than a Compaq Deskpro. Life expectancy of this machine will be much higher than that of a new Compaq Presario, eMachine, or HP Pavilion.

But if mail-order had been an option, I probably would have pushed her in the direction of a Compaq iPAQ. For about $399 (without monitor), you get Windows 2000 and a corporate-quality (as opposed to consumer-quality) PC. Expandability is nil, except for the memory, but for word processing and Internet use, it’s great, and that’s what she wants. And it’s got USB and Ethernet built-in. If I had to equip a small business with a fleet of PCs quickly, that’s probably the direction I’d go. And I like them for home use too.

On to the reviews.

ATA-66 vs. ATA-100 (Real World Tech)

Good methodology, at least as far as hardware selection goes, and he explains his methodology as well. Full disclosure is always good, as it shows confidence you have nothing to hide.

The testing is a little suspect though. Using three trials and taking the highest number isn’t the accepted method. It’s better to take 9 or 10 trials, discard the highest and lowest, and average the remaining scores. I say this because in my own tests, I sometimes get a string of two or three weird scores that are awfully high or low. Running more than that, then discarding the outliers gives scores more likely to reflect the real world.

For these purposes, the flawed method probably suffices; it shows the slight advantage of ATA-66 and ATA-100 over ATA-33, though it may be exaggerated. The tests show little or no advantage to using ATA-100 over ATA-66.

This isn’t the best online test I’ve seen, but it’s definitely not an atrocity either. There is carefully-planned research here, by someone whose experience shows.

Gigabyte GA-7ZXR review (BX Boards)

All I can say is this is a very unremarkable hardware review. They didn’t disclose the testbed setup other than the CPUs used. Benchmarks were limited to Winstone 99 and Quake 2, and then they didn’t list any competing boards, so you’ve got a bunch of numbers but nothing to directly compare them with!

Lots of pictures and a list of features, but frankly there’s nothing here that probably wouldn’t be on the manufacturer’s Web site.

The quality of writing is better than average, but this review’s usefulness is limited to introducing you to a board you may not be familiar with yet. Unfortunately to learn much of anything meaningful about it other than what it looks like, you’ll have to wait for one of the other sites to get their mitts on it.

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