What to look for in a motherboard

What to look for in a motherboard

I’ve been building PCs for more than 20 years and I tend to keep them a very long time, so it occurred to me that someone might be interested in what I look for in a motherboard to ensure both a long, reliable life and a long useful life.

Technology has changed a lot but what I look for has remained surprisingly consistent over the years.

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A DVR without a subscription or monthly fees

What if I told you that you could have a DVR without a subscription that worked with free over-the-air antenna-based TV, and it cost less than $35, saving those monthly subscription fees month after month?

It’s called the Mediasonic Homeworx HW180STB. If you want to record and time-shift television without loss of quality and without paying a fortune in subscription fees, it’s a tremendous value. You have to provide an antenna–which you can even make yourself–and USB-based storage, but it means you can get whatever capacity you want, and if you fill up a drive, just get another one.

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What to look for in a monitor

What to look for in a monitor

Most buying guides for monitors assume you’re buying a really expensive monitor for gaming. But there’s a lot more to look for than refresh rate and response time.

A good monitor can last 10 years and multiple computers, so it pays to make a good decision when buying one, even when you’re not spending $500. There can be a significant difference even between two $100 models, or between a $60 model and a $70 model, that will save you money in the long run.

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Connect more than one game system to a TV with one HDMI port

I was reading reviews of televisions and found several televisions had negative reviews because they only had a single HDMI port. The guy who bought it had wanted to connect two game systems to it. But you usually can connect more than one game system to a TV with one HDMI port.

I’m not sure who buys a television without first making sure it has all of the inputs you’ll need in order to connect stuff to it. But this problem has a solution other than buying a more expensive TV with two HDMI ports.

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HP’s Stream Minis aren’t a new innovation but bring legitimacy

Last week, HP introduced two new PCs, the HP Stream Mini and HP Pavillion Mini. They’re small, silent in the case of the Stream Mini, and cheap, starting at $180 for a Stream Mini with a 1.4 GHz dual-core CPU, 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage.

Motley Fool is asking if HP just invented a new category of PC. No, they didn’t–mini PCs have been around a long time, but previously they’ve been limited to the enthusiast market. Now there’s a big-name company with big-name retail distribution entering the market.

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How to build a Christmas day cable emergency kit

Most consumer electronics don’t come with the cables, because cables are a high-margin, high-markup item. Many people don’t know that. And many people give and receive consumer electronics on Christmas day.

If you want to be a hero, I recommend paying Monoprice a visit. Monoprice sells all of the most common cables at deep discounts. I recommend picking up a couple of the most common types of USB cables and at least one HDMI cable to start with. If you think of others, go for it. For around $20, you can build up a sizable emergency kit.

And if this is the first you’ve heard of Monoprice, pay them a visit. They’re the best source I’ve found for inexpensive cables of reasonable quality, and if you want premium cables, their premium offerings are still reasonably priced.

My $30 desktop PC upgrade

I built my main desktop PC three and a half years ago and have no complaints about it, save one. Hard to believe, but PC hardware has improved considerably in recent years. This weekend, I sunk $30 into it to solve my single complaint, and now I can reasonably expect to get another three years out of it, if not longer.

The integrated video on my system tended to bluescreen once a year or so. The troubleshooting always pointed to the video driver, which hasn’t been updated since the previous decade and probably never will, since Nvidia has abandoned its Nforce desktop chipsets. That may be why I got a good deal on the board in the first place–it was an orphan. The solution? A $30 PCIe Geforce 210 card, which is about 6x faster than the built-in video anyway. It’s not a gamer card, but it’s fine for productivity use. I was satisfied with the built-in video except for that bluescreen issue, so I’ll be happy with this. Plus it gives me more outputs, so I can connect to a monitor via DVI, or a television via HDMI.

My Windows performance index score went from 3.9 for Aero and 3.2 for business/gaming graphics to 4.2 for Aero and 5.6 for business/gaming graphics.  But that’s secondary; what I really cared about was getting rid of those bluescreens; getting something no slower than what I already had and digital output was what finally convinced me to spend 30 bucks.

A lot of people regard desktops as passe, but this is why I still like them. I can build them for a couple hundred dollars, drop a $30-$40 upgrade into them periodically, and run them for nearly a decade. I’ll need to put a bigger SSD in this machine once the one I’m using now gets too crowded, but this has been a very low-maintenance machine, which is how I like them.

I got a Chromecast. I think you should too.

So, I read about the Chromecast, wondered how it could possibly work, and thought it might be too good to be true.

But, since it costs $35, I thought I’d take a chance on it. I’m glad I did. Think of it like this: You can use a smartphone or a tablet like a remote. Pull up what you want to watch on Youtube or Hulu Plus or Netflix, tap an icon, and boom, it moves over to your TV screen. You can rewind or fast-forward with the mobile device. Or look for more videos and queue them up.

And it’s not at all hard to set up, which was what I wondered about. Read more

How to build Lifehacker’s retro coffee table on the cheap

Lifehacker posted a nice weekend project this week, a retro coffee table, but the price tag seems steeper than it needs to be. If you’re craving some retro goodness but think $300 is a bit much to spend to play old video games, I have some ideas for you.

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