04/20/2001

Games. Anyone who knows me well knows that, in my mind, there are three computer games worth owning: Railroad Tycoon II, Civilization II, and whatever the year’s hot statistical baseball simulation might be (but I’m always disappointed with the lack of a financial aspect–gimme a lineup of Ty Cobb, Rod Carew, George Brett, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Nomar Garciaparra, and Mickey Cochrane, along with a pitching rotation of Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Cy Young, and Denny McLain, and I’ll slaughter you no matter who you’ve got–though my payroll would probably be upwards of $200 million just for those core 13 guys).

But if I were stranded on a desert island with a computer and could only have one game…? I’d take Civ 2.

Well, Sid Meier’s working on Civilization III now, and expecting a late-2001 or early-2002 release. And I found a great Civ site at www.civfanatics.com , with info on the upcoming Civ 3, along with info on the rest of the series, including strategies, loadable scenarios, patches, and other good stuff.

Hardware. Now that I suddenly don’t owe four figures to the government like I suspected I might, the irrational part of me has been saying to go buy some new computer gear. The rational part of me is reminding me that the markets are down, interest rates are down, interest rates are going to be cut again, and thus it’s probably a good time to sink some money into the market, preferably unsexy, proven blue-chips like General Electric, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch. No matter what the economy does, people aren’t going to stop buying light bulbs, soda and beer, right? And I don’t care about dividends or short-term gains. I’m reading up about nutrition with the goal of increasing my life expectancy into three digits. I’m in this for the long, long haul.

But computer hardware is a lot more fun than stock certificates. And no one wants to read about me buying GE stock, right? So, let’s talk hardware.

First off, some people say you shouldn’t swap out motherboards because you should never take down a working system. Build a new system, then part out the system you’re replacing. I understand the logic behind that. That means starting off with a case and power supply. Time to buy for the long haul. For the long haul, there are two names in power supplies: PC Power and Cooling, and Enermax. Where to go, where to go? I hit PriceWatch and searched on Enermax. Bingo, I found Directron.com , which stocks both brands, along with a good selection of cases and allows you to swap out the stock power supply with whatever you want. Sounds great, but you generally only get about a $12 credit when you do that. Bummer. I went to resellerratings.com, looked up Enermax, and found a rating of 6 on 42 reports. That’s comparable to companies like Dirt Cheap Drives and Mwave, both of whom have given me excellent service over the years and get my business without hesitation.

What else have they got? Well, if you want to build a stealth black system, black cases, floppy, CD/DVD/CDRW drives and keyboards, for one. Nice.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to offer PCP&C’s cases. They do offer the ultimate l33t case, the Lian Li line. Cost of entry: $159 and up, no power supply included. The ultimate l33t solution would be a Lian Li case and an Enermax power supply. But would I really want to spend $200 on just a housing and power…? They also offer cases from Palo Alto, who makes cases for Dell and Micron. Working in a Micron shop, I’m very familiar with the Palo Altos, and they look good and won’t slice you up, though sometimes you have to disassemble them more than you might like. Cost of entry: about $70, including a 235W power supply, which you’ll want to swap out for something better. They also offer InWin and Antec cases, both of whom I’ve had good luck with. Reading further on their site, they claim only to stock cases their technicians have been able to work with easily and without injury.

And unfortunately, their commitment to quality doesn’t necessarily seem to extend to motherboards. I found the accursed PC Chips amongst their offerings. Boo hiss!

On the good side, if you want a PC on the cheap, here’s the secret formula: At Directon, grab an Enermax MicroATX case for $29, a Seagate 20 GB HD for $89, a socket 370 PC Power & Cooling fan for $19, a vial of heatsink compound for $1, and a Celeron-433 for $69 (highway robbery, but watch what I do next), then head over to Tekram and grab a closeout S-381M Intel 810-based motherboard for $34. Then head over to Crucial and pick up whatever size memory module you want (a 64-megger goes for $35, while a 128er goes for $60). Boom. You’ve got a real computer for well under $350, even accounting for shipping and a reasonable floppy, CD-ROM, keyboard and mouse. Or salvage them from an older PC. Get it and spend the money you save on a really nice monitor. For most of the things you do, you need a nice monitor more than you need clock cycles.

You could save a few bucks by picking up an old PPGA Celeron at your favorite Web closeout store, or on eBay, but the extra shipping will probably chew up all the savings. The going rate for a PPGA Celeron, regardless of speed, seems to be right around $60. You’ll pay $10 to ship it, while adding a CPU to an order that already includes a case and other stuff won’t add much to the shipping cost. One thing that did impress me about Directron is they don’t seem to be profiting off shipping, so they get honesty points. I’d rather pay $5 more up front and pay less shipping, because at least the dealer’s being honest.

I didn’t come to any conclusions and my credit card stayed in my wallet, but maybe I’m a little further down the road now.

And I guess it’s time for me to go to work.

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