If you’re looking for a cheap motherboard

If you need a dirt-cheap, dependable motherboard, Computer Geeks Discount Outlet has a refurbished Asus M4N68T-M V2 available for under $34. It’s a socket AM3 board, so it uses readily available AMD Sempron/Athlon II/Phenom CPUs and up to 8 GB of DDR3 memory (and there’s little reason not to put the full 8 GB in–4 GB DIMMs cost $19). I’ve been running one of these boards since September or so and I’m thrilled with it.

You can build a nice 4-core system around this board, or, for a budget build, drop in a $40 Sempron and 4 GB of RAM for $19 to upgrade an aging system on the cheap, or build an affordable, low-power HTPC. A low-end Sempron will outperform an Atom while using less than 45 watts.

I spotted that this weekend, and thought you might like to know.

Is that price a good deal or not?

So you’re shopping online, and want to know if you’re getting a good deal on something. It’s pretty easy to shop around, and check multiple web sites to see how they’re pricing an item. But sometimes prices change over time, and wouldn’t it be nice to know if pricing on the item is relatively stable, or if it’s something that frequently goes on sale for less?

Enter the Camelizer.
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PC Magazine’s sub-$200 PC

PC Magazine has reprised its sub-$200 PC. I think it’s a good guide, and a savvy shopper can potentially do a little bit better with some care and some luck. At that price, it’s running Linux, but it also serves as a good guide for upgraders looking to upgrade an existing PC inexpensively. If you have a case and hard drive you can reuse, you can either buy better parts, or just pocket the savings.

Here’s my take on their selections.

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64 bits or bust

I’ve resisted the pull to 64 bits, for a variety of reasons. I’ve had other priorities, like lowering debt, fixing up a house, kids in diapers… But eventually the limitations of living with 2003-era technology caught up with me. Last week I broke down and bought an AMD Phenom II 560 and an Asus M4N68T-M v2 motherboard. Entry-level stuff by today’s standards. But wow.

If you can get one, an AMD Phenom II x4 840 is a better choice, but those are getting hard to find. And if you can’t afford a $100 CPU there are bargains at the very low end too: A Sempron 145 costs less than $45, and a dual-core Athlon II x2 250 costs $60.  The second core is worth the money.
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Tradeoffs at the low end: Cores or Cache?

I’m looking at building myself a new PC for the first time in years. That’s a little bit of a misnomer though. Today, building a PC can mean bolting as few as two components into a case and connecting four cables. Building PCs in the 1990s was a lot more difficult. I remember in 1994, during one of my first builds, someone walking past in the hall, looking at the mess of cards and cables, and asking, “How do you know which one goes where?”

Today, the assembly is pretty easy. Figuring out what to buy is harder. In 1994, the differences between the various flavors of 386 and 486 chips available was confusing, but it all fit on an index card. Mainly the difference came down to the amount of memory the chip could address (386) and whether it had a math coprocessor (486). Beyond that all you really had to worry about was clock speed. Back then the research took 30 minutes and the system took hours to build.

Today there are two chip manufacturers (down from four) but they both have half a dozen product lines. And nobody really talks about clock speed anymore. That’s fine because clock speed was a crude measure of performance, but is throwing numbers like 560 or 840 or 965 on the chips really any better? Today the research takes hours (if not days) and the system goes together in about 5 minutes. Shake the bag right and it could just come out of the bag fully assembled.
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How to decide if a computer upgrade will pay for itself in power savings

I occasionally read an offhand comment where someone says he or she just bought a new computer, and the new computer is so much more power efficient than the old one, it’s going to pay for itself.

I wonder if they did the math, or if that’s what the salesperson told them. Because while I can see circumstances where that assertion would be true, but it typically would involve extremes, like replacing an aged Pentium 4 computer with, well, a netbook. They probably didn’t do that.

Part of the reason I got into computers professionally was because I was tired of hearing lies from salespeople and technicians. So let’s just take a look at this claim.
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