Just because I built my daughter's computer backward doesn't mean you have to do the same.
As I told you last week, the main inspiration for Annie's new PC was her heartfelt desire to own a translucent green machine with matching keyboard and mouse. The particular model she wanted came from a company called Suntek (www.suntekgroup.com), which, while it would sell me a case, didn't make computers.
Well, OK, it does look pretty neat, even if a tad pricey. By the time I'd bought and equipped it with a power supply and fan, it cost more than $150, and I hadn't even bought the rest of the components. Let's say, hypothetically, you don't love your daughter and are willing to settle for something less fancy. You could get by for about half as much. Here's what to look for:
Type of case: Most of the time you're going to want a midsized vertical ATX case. Smaller, and you run out of expansion bays rather quickly; bigger, unless you're building a file server, is unwieldy. These guys are all standardized, so if you buy an ATX case, and an ATX motherboard, all the relevant holes and slots line up. We'll talk more about board specifications in the coming weeks, but for now, plan on using the ATX standard.
A decent midtower case should have room for three 31/2-inch drives, three 51/4- inch drives, and accommodate a board with up to seven input/output slots.
The power supply is a big deal. This is the transformer thingy with a fan and a bunch of wires running out of it that you plug into the motherboard, disk drives and other powered components. While there are premium-grade power supplies worth buying (see www.pcpowercooling.com), the biggest determinant of quality is sheer wattage. A lot of people will tell you that you can get away with a 250- or even a 200-watt power supply. Sure, if you're willing to put up with occasional crashes. Don't get cheap on us here: Go for 300 watts. Not only does this give you more power for additional drives and cards, it gives you a cushion against voltage fluctuations. If you opt for an AMD Duron or Athlon processor, as you probably will, be sure the power supply is rated to handle them.
As long as we're overbuilding our computer, also try for an extra case fan or two that you'll install yourself. Most computers benefit from more cooling since excess heat shortens component life and can also bring down your system. Most cases come with one fan, with room for more. I've added one to my daughter's PC, and two to my own.
People who overclock their systems, i.e., run the processor at higher-than-rated speed, could have four or even six fans. More cooling also helps the computer cope with odd environmental conditions. Mine, for example, is stuffed underneath a corner desk, an area that gets particularly warm. The add-on fans easily cured overheating.
Figure about 10 bucks per fan. About the only downside with more fans is more noise.
Accessibility may or may not matter to you. With the usual case, you undo three or four screws at the back, then slide the whole cover to the back, which often means disconnecting all the cables that run into it - a pain in the neck. Better cases such as Annie's allow you to remove the side panels individually, and retain the wires that are attached in the back. This is a great convenience when changing cards, but for goodness sake be sure to unplug the power cord on the PC and monitor when you mess with the innards.
Some manufacturers worth checking out because they make high-performance cases: www.in-win.com, www.coolermaster.com and www.antec-inc.com. Tiger Direct (www.tigerdirect.com) has a pretty good selection of ho-hum but sturdy and not-too- expensive cases, but get the company's paper catalog. If you love your daughter or son, see www.colorcase.com for the good stuff. If you're into the weird, take a look at www.pcmods.com. Not that a window and sound-sensitive neon lighting in the side of your case will necessarily make it run any better, but it sure impresses the neighbors.
Just about any company that sells computer components can sell you a decent case, and many offer packages that include a motherboard and processor that are often the best deal. Check the exact specs of what you're buying: The number of fans may vary, some throw in a floppy drive for free, while others charge extra for a power supply.
While we're on the subject of cases, here's another electromechanical component that's worth a bigger than usual investment: the heat sink and cooling fan that clips onto your microprocessor. Without this type of active cooling, most of today microprocessors get so hot they'll burn out quickly.
Most chip vendors will sell you a fan, too, but it's usually better to buy the fan and chip separately. A top-of-the-line fan such as the $80 Swiftech MC462 allows your processor to run as much as 20degrees cooler than a $15 so-so unit, which in turn translates into longer life and better overclocking. Tom's Hardware Guide, which covers all kinds of components, has a super review that will tell you everything you need to know about chip coolers. See www4.tomshardware.com/cpu/01q2/010521. While you're a t it, check out his plans for a liquid chip cooler you can build yourself for about $150 - a tad crazy for normal people, but no worse than windowed neon cases. Heck, maybe you can figure out how to make circulating fluid glow.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.