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Buy or Build

I prefer to build my own computers. The price of all the pieces will be around the price of an assembled unit, but you gain some knowledge from building it. I also think you can get better parts than the equivalent assembled computer. Comparing prices between any two computers is pointless because you're most likely comparing apples to oranges.

At one point, I got some weird noise from my computer and then it finally wouldn't boot because of a problem with the CPU fan. I just opened up the case, took out the CPU, removed the fan/heatsink and found a replacement at the MicroCenter. I liked the old heatsink better so I just removed the new fan from its heatsink and attached it to the old heatsink. Total cost? $10. At this point, I don't bother putting the screws back on the computers' cases because I know I'll eventually be opening them up again.

Learning how to install Windows® on the computers makes it more likely that I will be able to trouble-shoot any problems that arise with the operating system. And many times I managed to rebuild Windows or fix serious Windows problems without wiping the hard drive.

I prefer full ATX motherboards because they come with full set of peripheral sockets. I also prefer at least Mid-tower cases so I have the capacity to add multiple devices (e.g., CD burner, DVD player, ZIP drive, 3.5" and 5.25" floppies, etc.)

Maintenance on laptops are pain since they suffer from the same problems as desktops but in a much more compact form. It's like the difference between fixing a Chevy and fixing an Audi. The Chevy uses old technology for which there is a long record of proven parts and therefore is cheaper and easier to fix. On an Audi, they use new technology and pack everything in to make a smaller car; of course, you have to take everything apart to get to the broken pieces. I had to take an Inspiron 1521 apart to take out the thickest hairball I've ever seen in a computer fan. Since the air intake for a lot of laptop fans are on the bottom of the computer, it's not a good idea to use them on a bed or on a carpeted floor.

Broadband and Networking

My favorite website for broadband information has got to be Broadbrand Reports. This has everything you need to know about Broadband Service around the US, which vendors are preferred and what equipment you might want.

Practically Networked has a variety of useful information for networking your computers at home.

Operating Systems

One important difference between Microsoft Windows' "Home" and "Professional" editions of their operating systems: The Professional version is geared for businesses so it'll be supported much longer than the home version. If you build a Windows 98 machine now, you can't get any patches for it off the Microsoft website (it's 2008 right now). Sales for the various Windows home operating systems is suppose to end two years after the next version comes out.

A lot of my favorite games of all time will work only on Windows 98 so I'll need one of those machines around. Since I can't get new antivirus software for Windows 98, I won't bother putting Internet access on it.

Supported for Windows XP Professional ends in July, 2014. I expect to go to Windows 7 by then deprived Microsoft of the joy of separating me and my money for at least one, possibly two, generations of Windows.


Disk Drives

I try to use at least two hard drives on my computers, with a smaller one for the C: drive.

I will install the operating system on the C: drive and not put anything else on it. This isolates the operating system from the data and the applications. If I need to reinstall Windows®, I can just reformat the C: drive without affecting my data (though you'll probably have to reinstall all your applications). I then try to put the swap file on another hard drive. If you have only one (larger) hard drive, you can still benefit from this by creating several partitions for your OS, data, and applications, respectively.

I will put my data files on the D: drive. If the C: drive goes bad, then the data on the D: drive will be safe (unless you had only one hard drive with several partitions instead). With all the data in one place, it's easier to find all your information in one place when it comes time to back up your information. If you have to defrag your partitions/hard drives, you can just defrag the partition that is fragmented and not have to do the others.

If at all possible, I put all the applications on a E: drive, separate from the operating system. The applications rarely "move" around on the hard drive, especially if you don't store your data on that drive. This means that you'll rarely have to defrag your E: drive.

Some hard drive vendors:

Video Cards

These days, unless you're a serious gamer, it doesn't matter which video card you buy because they're now better than most of the older top-of-the-line cards that came out a few years ago. Back in those days, you needed a special add-on 3D card on top of your legacy card to handle some of the cool game graphics. Most cards today or even the on-board graphic chips offer more graphic memory than the add-on cards I bought.

For those with a brand-name computer where the video is built into the motherboard, a better video card with more memory might be a low-cost alternative to buying a new (faster) computer to handle certain games that don't display correctly. An add-on card can easily be installed and used in computers with the built-in video; just plug the monitor into the new card. Check to see if you have to shut off the on-board video in the BIOS.

The current battle is between NVidia and ATI Technologies, Inc. for the fastest GPU. Most other vendors use the chips provided by these two companies.

Some graphics vendors:






Computer Magazines

Last updated September 29, 2006.
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