I just built a PC

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 Newegg.com as of last weekend when I ordered this stuff.

Case

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.

Mobo

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.

Memory

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.

Video

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.

Modem

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.

Extras

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

13 thoughts on “I just built a PC

  • February 23, 2003 at 7:39 am
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    Dave,

    My main machine is running a SIS735 mobo from ECS and it is simply wonderful. I am running Linux on it and everything gets detected and everything simply works. I have built a couple of solutions using this motherboard running W2k as the OS of choice and even those work without a glitch.

    The best part about this board is that ECS has continued upgrading the BIOS so it now supports XP2400 which I will be buying next week! You can still buy the 735 mobos out there for peanuts and I would recommend it over any cheap VIA solution simply because you are getting a very stable, well supported motherboard with lots of features for less than a comparable VIA. One note for overclockers: these boards are not built to support any type of overclocking. Buy VIA instead.

    Oh, and you forgot to mention what CPU you bought ๐Ÿ™‚

    Dave T.

  • February 23, 2003 at 9:37 am
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    CPU was nothing special, just the cheapest Duron I could find. I wanted to get them into a Duron or Athlon cheap, with the idea of dropping in a faster CPU when needed.

    The AOpen supports overclocking but warns sternly against playing too much with bus speeds. I don’t think the AOpen AK75 would be a very good overclocker either. Since I don’t overclock, I don’t worry about that.

  • February 23, 2003 at 11:25 am
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    I don’t know much about computers. I can usually figure out how to get one to do what I need for it to do. If anything goes wrong, I make a phone call. But this one seems to be working great. We love our new computer! Thanks, Son!

  • February 23, 2003 at 12:59 pm
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    Quote: 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.

    All of my Windows 2000 installations that I perform at work do exactly the same thing: a very long pause after the system check. I don’t know what the system is doing but I know it consistent on every PC I installed at worked. With XP, you don’t get that delay because the installation program is much different.

    mb

  • February 23, 2003 at 4:28 pm
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    Getting ready for the same sort of project myself. Picked up an ECS P4VXASD2+ and 2.4 GHz P4 combo last Friday at Fry’s for $159 (couldn’t pass it up, the CPU alone was worth the price ๐Ÿ™‚ The board has a VIA Pentium 4 chipset that has been well spoken of on several H/W review websites, USB 2.0 support, on-board NIC and support for both DDR and SDRAM. Just need to pickup some DDR memory and a case – got all the other bits and pieces in the old parts bin already ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 23, 2003 at 6:50 pm
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    What do u think of Lindows notebook, $799

    http://www.lindows.com/799

    Lindows.com Inc said it is selling its first notebook computer, with a retail price of $799, or half the cost of similarly equipped notebook computers from Apple, IBM and Toshiba

  • February 23, 2003 at 7:49 pm
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    Nice enough, and certainly light. Bit underpowered, though. I think that http://ww.macobserver.com had some issues with the claims made of the LindowsOS machine, and you should consider those comments in your purchasing decision.

    If you’re a LindowsOS user, it will be good for you. Otherwise, you could buy the notebook but put another Linux distro on it. Xandros, Lycoris, Mandrake, Red Hat and SuSe come to mind. Debian, Gentoo or Slackware if you’re a hardcore Linux user.

    Or even Windows, if you have a spare license.

  • February 23, 2003 at 8:11 pm
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    NewEgg is great man… I also just built a new system… (still configuring it as we speak) and I got about 95% of the parts from NewEgg (except for some specially items.)

    Here’s the specs.

    AMD Athlon XP2800+ (T-Bred B)
    Asus A7N8X (nForce2)
    Koolance PC2-601W Watercooling Case (w/Gold Cooler)
    ExoticPC SilenX 350W PSU
    512MB Corsair XMS3200 DDR
    128MB Radeon 9700 Pro
    Winfast 2000XP TV Tuner
    Maxtor 80GB DiamondMax+ 9 8MB cache (System Files)
    Maxtor 80GB DiamondMax+ 9 8MB cache (Audio Files)
    Pioneer 16X DVD (Slotload..! whoo hoo!!)
    Lite-On LTR-52246S 52X CD-RW

    I’ll let you figure out what the “specialty items” were… :p

    I can also vouch for those SiS 735 chipset mobos from ECS. I’ve built a number of entry level systems on those things and they always work great.

    WATYF

  • May 26, 2003 at 12:26 pm
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    I’ve just bought an AMD Athlon XP2800+ Barton core and an Asus A7N8X deluxe M/B with 2 x 512MB Samsung PC3200 DDR. Also have a Radeon 9500 128MB DDR etc.
    The question is that I dont know if my CPU and RAM is running the best, can anyone advise on what settings to put into the M/B to get the fastest performance, and what should I expect? Machine seems quick but memory is running at 200MHz which seems a bit slow in benchmarks. Also My Computer reports CPU running at 2.08GHz.

    Simon

  • May 27, 2003 at 7:31 pm
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    An Athlon XP2800+ reporting 2.08 GHz is to be expected, as that’s the actual frequency of the chip. It runs nearly as fast as a P4 2.8GHz and costs considerably less, so this hasn’t turned into a huge brouhaha.

    The tricky thing about DDR is that the memory speed is clock-doubled, so it’s hard to know if the 200 MHz your system is reporting is before or after doubling. Chances are it’s before, and PC3200 is capable of 400 MHz, so I’d set the setting in the BIOS as high as it will go (not sure if that’s 333 MHz or 400 MHz) and see what difference that makes.

    Aside from setting the CAS latency to whatever the correct rating is for your modules, I wouldn’t mess with any of the other settings. They’ll improve your scores in some benchmarks but they won’t help real world performance noticably, but they probably will affect your system stability.

  • December 25, 2003 at 10:50 am
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    This is good info. Do you have suggestion(s) for where to go to have a system built if I know what I want, but don’t know how to build?(east Bay Area)

  • January 13, 2004 at 11:11 am
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    Sounds like a nice system. I’ve been upgrading mine piecemeal, but it’s about time i built a cheap pc from mobo up.

    On modems … I use a USR external, partially because the built in win modem was dead, and second, for better compatibility with linux and bsd. But i suspect i lose out on the advantages of v. 44 (?) compression. I’ve done some test downloads with text files and it usually peaks at 88 kbps, which makes sense since it’s limited to well below the 115 kbps of the UART. Seems like most hardware and external modems have this limitation. That’s assuming the ISP supports v .44 (i hear most don’t). And depends on the how much the content can be compressed, very little with some images and binaries.

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