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What kind of computer system should I buy? What company? Should I build one?

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Chose an OEM
Desktop, Laptop or Notebook?
Should I build my own?
Build now or string it out for 6 months?
What does BV recommend?


What kind of computer system should I buy? The answer to these types of questions is always another question:

“What do you plan to do with it?”

Everyone expects a computer system to do different things. Whether checking E-Mail is a top priority or the latest graphics intensive games on the shelf is your grand plan, a computer can be built to suit what you desire. Usually, each system can accomplish the “easier” tasks, but not the other way around…

For example, if all you wanted was E-Mail, a P90 satisfied that need many years ago, but attempting to play the current gaming goodness is pointless and equally frustrating with that type of computer.

A good checklist to think about with “The Good and The Reality” of each:

Chose an OEM, computer vendor or parts manufacture to meet your needs

I, personally, would only recommend a “pre-built” system for users that are not willing to spend the extra time to “get to know their computer” and learn how they work. Usually, the same components that are included in the system are the same ones that you can purchase at any computer “parts” store for less money than what the OEM is asking for them. Two examples of that would be “Falcon” and “Alienware.”

Previously, components installed in “pre-built” systems were rather proprietary (plenty of times it was the connectors) and you were required to go back to that company to get replacement parts… of which were also usually overpriced.

That is no longer the case for most vendors. Standards have been established, and for the most part, adhered to.

The Good:

One good thing about the large PC integrators is the “easy to access, always available, mostly helpful” tech support. If you have a requirement that you absolutely need someone on the other end of the phone to give you that answer to a question about your PC… The Big Guys are the only way to go…

The Reality:

Unfortunately, from the tech support questions that fill my inbox on a daily basis that begin with:

“I just purchased a new (insert company here) computer and I am having problems… Their tech support blames others or is very unhelpful… Can you help?”

I have concluded that the “extra money” that is out of your pocket for a brand new “blah” computer should be better spent on higher quality, faster, better components or education on how to solve the simple problems. Trust me when I say that, usually, the only answers the tech support people at Big Guys can solve are either defects in equipment, because they are the only ones that know the problem/solution, or “simple” problems that can be solved by you with a little research on the web or enlisting the services of your local neighborhood geek.

Desktop, Laptop, Notebook?

If you lived in California USA during the (ongoing) “power crisis,” you would understand.

Power and space savings is a concern whether deciding between a desktop and a laptop or other portable PC device. If you have zero problems with “high” electricity use and have plenty of desk space, there would be no reason (other than cost) not to get a full tower PC with a high watt power supply capable of powering additions for years. However, if power and space used is a factor, a portable laptop is the only way to go! Plenty of laptops have just as much capability and more when compared with equivalent desktop counterparts. Take note: Even though desktops and CRT’s use much more power than LCD screens and Laptops, the majority of your power bill will be consumed with hungry appliances like an electric stove, air conditioner, and big screen TV. PC’s, by comparison, are not “that” power hungry.

The Good:

Laptops are perfect for conserving power, portability and sheer convenience. There is nothing like surfing the Internet from your front porch via an 802.11 wireless connection.

The Reality:

Laptops are pricey! All things equal, laptops are about 2 to 3 times more money. As such, they become “obsolete” just as fast as “cheaper” desktops do… but lose much more value much faster.

To cut costs, identify the components that you would settle for and make a listing of what you “can not possibly do without.”

I hate cutting corners. I prefer spending the money on the “best” equipment rather than breaking cheap equipment and having down time trying to replace it.

Example: I went through 5 “cheap” $10 mice before I realized that it would be better to get an “expensive” $40 mouse with a 5 year warranty attached to it… I just hated spending 40 bucks on a mouse! Funny thing is… It has lasted two years with zero problems. The previous mice would make it about four to six months. Always remember, most warranties do not cover “normal wear and tear” of which “cheap” products are more prone to fail with.

An example of “cost cutting” of which I feel is acceptable is figuring what your needs are and fulfilling that requirement.

If graphic design is your passion, there really is no need for a $300 polished aluminum case when you could use the money for a higher quality 21″ or greater monitor that is capable of high resolutions (1920×1200). As a side note, you stare at the monitor constantly; you usually do not stare at the case while using your system. Spare no expense; your eyes will thank you.

If you wish to collect every song ever created and archive it on MP3, you should be checking out the largest hard drives, fast DVD/DVDRW drives and a quality sound card… that $100+ wireless “ergonomic” internet keyboard would then be a bad investment.

If you feel that multitasking is your specialty, get more memory! Plans may include:

  • Checking E-Mail every 5 minutes
  • Surfing the web for stock tips
  • Listening to your MP3 collection
  • Downloading important files
  • Writing a manuscript with your favorite word processor
  • Finishing the last touches on work from the office…

All at the same time! To have multiple applications running, you will need more and more memory. With the latest price drops, 4 GB of RAM is relatively cheap and will be enough to last some time. Well, at least until the “next” version of Windows hits the streets (see also, W7).

The current crop of computer games (actually, past and present) require extreme processing power of the graphics card… not the CPU. Sparing no expense on a fast card with mega memory has much more value than a top of the line CPU and “onboard” video.

The Good:

Quality components are everywhere. Information on those components, including reviews from people that have used them is more abundant and easily accessible via the Internet than ever!

The Reality:

Quality, performance, and stability do not come cheap. “Budget” PC vendors can afford to sell “low cost” PC’s for a reason: Quality is not the finest. If you want the best, you must be willing to pay for it.

Should I build my own?

My opinion? Yes. Really, it is not that difficult. Trust me when I say that I am not mechanically inclined. I do, however, enjoy tearing stuff apart to “see” what makes things work.

The PC’s guts are all based on smaller components that are connected somehow to all the others. The cool thing is that almost all connectors go on either one way or have only one application. For example, you cannot plug your hard drive into a floppy connector and vice versa.

Instructions on exactly how to do this are available everywhere, but a great source of information is the manuals that come with your products. From what I have experienced, each expansion card (sound, Ethernet) usually contain a “getting started” guide or an “installation” manual to be able to walk you through the process. I am rather partial to AsusTek when it comes to Motherboards for many reasons, but for a new comer to the exciting world of building your own PC’s, AsusTek manuals are by far the most helpful I have ever viewed.

The Good:

Pride in knowing “you built it.” Did I mention that you will also know what components are in your system? I cannot count how many times I have asked “what CPU or graphics card” do you have and the replay is “Dell, Gateway, Compaq, etc.”

Another good reason is the “ease” of being able to upgrade in the future. I will admit that I am not totally aware of the Big Guys warranty policies, but from what I have been told, “if you open your case, your warranty is void.” If you build your system from components, each manufacture has their own warranty policy. Sometimes quite a good one.

The Reality:

Building your own system takes time. Time to research what you want. Time to open up your existing case to not be “scared” of the future (disclaimer: doing so may void your warranty). Time to put all the hand picked components together to make a running system.

Build now or string it out for 6 months?

There is no rule that says you have to purchase all of your components from the same vendor, nor even at the same time. But, I do recommend that you purchase your components to build your system “at one time” and not wait months between components. Mainly it is due to the rapid improvement on components and the even more rapid drop in price for components that have been out “for awhile.” A Motherboard for $153 now may be $110 down the road “when you actually install it.”

Now for the burning question… What does Black Viper Recommend?

Opinions are just that. Opinions. If yours differs, great! That means you are a thinker and not a follower, but if you are still unsure of “what” to do because of the lack of information, take into consideration what I have here.

Note: I will not post exact prices due to the volatile nature of the PC industry. I just do not have the time to keep up. I will also not post “exact” links to the manufactures web sites. From my experience, they tend to change often and I can not baby-sit the URL’s as much as I would like to.

Updated February 18, 2011

Case: I prefer Addtronics or SilverStone. Quality power supplies coupled with a well-built case equals my satisfaction.

CPU: Intel.

  • An Intel 64-bit capabile CPU that is Dual Core (such as an Intel Core 2 Duo). The “average” user has zero use for Quad Cores. Save the cash and spend it on a nice monitor. If you desire to use your 64-bit extensions and have greater than 3GB of memory, you will require a 64-bit capable OS, such as XP Pro x64, Vista 64-bit editions or Windows 7 64-bit editions. Absolutely no reason “not” to go 64-bit.

Motherboard: I like AsusTek, as explained in the article. Never had a lick of troubles.

Memory: Get as much as you can afford. Ensure that your motherboard supports, not only the amount of memory (3GB, 4GB, 6GB, 8GB, etc) but also how many separate “sticks” will need to be installed. Intel i7 CPU and associated hardware use “triple channel” memory vice “dual channel” memory. As a result, instead of getting 2 or 4 sticks of memory, you will have to purchase 3 or 6, depending on motherboard design.

Graphics card: You now have the choice of nVidia or ATI, as of right now. Most manufacturers go by the “reference” board for nVidia and usually follow along with the same “numbering” or “model” system nVidia does. What does that mean? Only differences in the cards are usually looks (different color PCB’s), factory overclocking or software added. Check around for the best value for your situation. An Nvidia GTX 400 series cards are dropping in price and is really nice. It also is DirectX 11 compatible.

Hard Drives: I love Maxtor. Seagate has purchased them, so now I have to recommend them instead. I have had very bad luck with several Western Digital drives… so I do not recommend them. Your results may vary.

SSD: I have been working with Crucial SSD’s for awhile now and I highly recommend them.

CD/DVD drive: Really, you have no reason to get a CD drive. Get DVD instead and spring the extra few dollars for a DVD burner which also burns CD’s. Plextor is my particular manufacture of choice.

Monitor: Get the biggest and best you can afford. I like Viewsonic or if cost “really” is no object, get a Sony.

Sound Card: Soundblaster by Creative has been the reigning champ in my book for many moons. I tend not to bother with anyone else. However, if you are not conserned with hardware accelerated audio, keep the onboard audio as an option. They have made great improvements to onboard audio over the years and it is a solid option for cost savings. Even I have a hard time justifying a $200 sound card these days.

Network Card: 3com has been my choice of Networking gear for some time. Unfortunately, you pay “much” for the name and “life time warranty.” Well worth it, in my humble opinion. Another option would just to use the onboard network card embedded on the motherboard. Often times, you can come up with a motherboard that supports 1Gbps.

Battery Backup: I do not trust my equipment with anything other than APC. Get the largest UPS you can afford and ensure that it puts out enough power to support all of your equipment.

Accessories that are all personal preference are:

  • Mouse: Logitech G5 optical mouse is great. You can also splurge for a G700.
  • Keyboard: Logitech G15 or go for the G19 with a color LCD.
Posted in FAQ, General FAQ

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