It’s late, so I’ll save a lot of the gory details for tomorrow, but I built a PC over the course of the last couple of days. I did it a little bit differently than the last couple I’ve built.
All prices quoted are from as of last weekend when I ordered this stuff.


I used a Foxconn PC115. It’s a two-tone case that looks like the cases the big brands use. Since a lot of the big brands buy from Foxconn, it’s probably a derivative of the designs Foxconn sells to them. It’s heavy enough gauge steel that you won’t hurt yourself with it. The mounting points are labeled. It has 11 drive bays. The included 350W power supply is honestly labeled. It’s a lower midrange case. I absolutely wouldn’t buy any less case than this–c’mon, the thing costs 30 bucks–but it’s nice enough that nobody’s going to be embarrassed with it.


I used an AOpen AK75. It’s an AMD board, with a SiS 745 chipset. I’ve never had troubles with VIA chipsets, though to hear some people talk they make Yugos look reliable. I maintain that if you know what you’re doing, VIA chipsets are fine. But SiS has a great reputation of late so I thought I’d give a SiS-based board a try. It’s a nice board. It’s fast, and getting Windows to recognize and utilize the chipset is much nicer. Install the AGP driver and you’re in business.

One note about the board: Part of the Windows installation goes so slowly that I thought the board was defective. Right after the system check, it pauses for a long, long time. I’m talking longer than a Pentium 166. It seemed like minutes, though it probably wasn’t much longer than a minute in reality. Once it gets over that hurdle, it’s fast. This was with Win98 and 2000. I didn’t try XP. I had a legal copy of 98 for the system; I started to put 2000 on it in order to see if it ran into the same problems I thought 98 was having.

I only had a few hours’ experience with the board, which is anything but definitive, but it didn’t raise any red flags, and in my experience, most boards don’t wait until the second date to show their bad side. Usually the problems will show up either on the first day or sometime after the 366th.

I looked at an integrated Intel i815 board and very nearly bought it, but the supply dried up before I could pull the trigger. Buying AMD promotes competition, and the AK75 gives a lot more upgrade options in the future, so I’m not terribly sad about it.


I used a stick of Kingston DDR. It was on sale, I’ve never had a problem with Kingston memory, and back when I was working in an IBM shop, the IBM field techs trusted Kingston memory as much as the stuff IBM used from the factory.

DDR is cheaper than PC133 now, so if you’re building a new system, now’s the time to buy DDR instead. DDR-capable mobos are still more expensive, but they’re faster and you’ll save money in the long run by going with DDR now. DDR is the future. PC133 will stick around a while yet, but it’s headed to the same place EDO memory went.


I used the cheap Radeon flavor of the week. When you don’t do 3D games, video cards don’t matter much anymore. This one was a genuine made-by ATi and I think it cost $29. It’ll stink up the joint if you’re waiting in line to buy Doom 3, but for the rest of us, it’s more video card than we’ll ever need, for a fantastic price.

I don’t have anything against Nvidia, but lately it’s easier to find a full-featured Radeon in the $30-$40 range than an Nvidia offering.


I used a USR 2977. It’s a real hardware modem and it’s PCI so it’ll fit in modern boards. At $35, it’s not that much more expensive than a Winmodem. And Winmodems steal anywhere from 10-20% of your available CPU power. People go to great lengths–either doing lots of time-consuming and sometimes downright foolish stuff, or spending lots of money–to achieve much smaller performance gains, so it’s stupid not to buy something like the 2977.

Hard drive

I used the flavor-of-the-week 7200-rpm 20-gig Maxtor. It cost $65. At that price I’m not going to be too picky, especially because I was working on a tight budget.

Operating system

Windows 98. Why? It was legal and adequate. Linux would be fine except for a few apps the new owner needs to run. There’s definitely enough hardware here to run XP, and XP might even outperform 98, but when you’re building a $300 system, spending $100 on an operating system when you’ve already got one doesn’t make a lot of sense.


I stole the CD-ROM, floppy, keyboard, mouse, and monitor from the PC this one was replacing. Along with all the cables.