Building A Computer

It was about time. The machine I was doing my main work on is now over six years old. That's older than me in dog years, but in computer years it is even worse. It is ancient. A Pentium II running at 450MHz, 384 MB of RAM, a 16GB hard drive (I added an 80GB drive a year ago), and a 16MB graphics card. Pretty much state of the art in 1998, but nowadays...

Ok, so I need a new computer. So what are the requirements?

It has to be fast (duh).
It has to be silent.
It has to be able to capture my analog video and convert it to DVDs.
It has to look nice.

And it can't cost too much money...

Yeah, right.

Oh, and I want to be able to watch TV on it. And play music.

Ok, so what does it not have to do?

It doesn't need a side window to show what the inside looks like.
It does not need to be able to run the latest 3D games at ridiculous speeds.
It does nor need to be overclocked (geek speak)

Whatever. Let's get more specific.

Component Selection

One of the most difficult task when building a computer is selecting the components. This is a time consuming and arduous process, and I won't go into much detail. It's just too tiring.

Anyway, here it goes.

Power Supply

A much negelected component. Wrongly so. The power supply is one of the most crucial components of a computer. It has to be able to supply enough (stable) power, and it has to be reliable. Trying to cut corners here is a bad idea. So, I'm going with a power supply of a reputable brand with plenty of "juice" to spare. After much deliberation, the Antec True 480 was the winner. By no means the cheapest power supply available, but very good (supposedly).

Processor (CPU)

Computers cannot do anything without a processor. The choice of processor is quite important, since it determines a lot of other things, most importantly the motherboard. Anyway, after going with Intel for years, I decided to give AMD a try. Main reason because their processors are still quite a bit cheaper when compared to Intel processors. Secondary reason: let's go with the underdog. Even after deciding on AMD, there are still a lot of choices to be made. Long story short: AMD Athlon 64, 3400+, retail version. Should be fast, reliable, and a lot of value for money.

Why the retail version of this procssor? Mainly because it carries a 3 year warranty rather than a 60 day waranty. And it hardly costs any more than the OEM version. It also comes with a cooler that I'm not going to use.


Speaking of which, a cooler is needed to keep the CPU temperature down. This is serious business nowadays, a CPU without a cooler can fry itself in a matter of seconds. Anyway, I wanted a quiet one, So I went with the Zalman C7000A, the version that is made of copper and aluminum.
A little explanation: copper conducts heat better than aluminum. It is also more expensive. And it is quite a bit heavier. Since I don't plan to do any overclocking, I decided to go with the copper/aluminum version rather than the all-copper version. Even though its cooling performance is a bit less, it is quite a bit lighter, you see, and I worry about these heavy things hanging from a motherboard.


I could write a book about selecting the motherboard. All sorts of things to consider, like chipset, features, reliabilty, and price. Bottom line: I chose the ASUS K8N-E DeLuxe for its NVidia chipset, rich set of features, and the fact that ASUS is probably the most renowned motherboard manufacturer around. This board is a little pricey, though. Oh well.


Always go with a known brand when it comes to Memory (RAM). My choice: Corsair ValueRAM 1GB kit (two 512 MB modules). I could have gone with their XMS series, but the only advantage is that that type is marginally faster. The price difference is quite substantial (+ 67%), so I decided to take the economical route here.


CoolerMaster WaveMaster. Possibly the best looking case around. All Aluminum, black exterior, and a door to hide ugly looking drives. Rather hard on the wallet, but beauty has it's price...

One disadvantage is that it has only one external 3.5" drive bay. That means either a floppy drive or a memory card reader, since the internal versions of the latter only seem to com in 3.5" form factor. Or maybe not...

Floppy Drive

Have I taken leave of my senses? Who in their right mind uses floppies these days? Well, yours truly. Not very often, but still. And the drive costs less than $10. It is beyond me how anyone can produce them for that price.

Anyway, might as well throw one in.

CD-RW Drive

Also gotten ridiculously cheap these days. For less than $25 you can have one of these puppies. In this case (no pun intended) a LiteOn SOHR-5238S.

DVD-RW Drive

Needed to burn DVDs. Both for backup purposes and burning DVDs of my home movies. The LiteOn SOHW-1633S is a 16x speed, dual standard (+RW/-RW), double layer DVD burner, and surprisingly affordable.

Hard Drive

Going with SATA these days. A Western Digital WD2500JB drive: 250GB, 8MB buffer, and SATA, as mentioned. Should be large enough for the next 6 months. I may buy more of these puppies and put them in a RAID configuration (since the motherboard has plenty of ports for drives, both RAID and non-RAID).


Another legacy component. Who uses modems nowadays (apart from people who don't have access to broadband Internet)? Well, you never know when you might want to send a fax. So. It only cost $10 anyway.


For playing music. And games. Most games become quite useless without sound. Going with the Logitech Z-5300 set. Something like 280 Watts RMS, although about 100 Watts go to the subwoofer. Still, I read a lot of good things about this set, and it is THX certified, so maybe I'll even start watching movies on my computer. Who knows.

Keyboard and Mouse

Components that are often neglected. You use these all the time, though. I replaced my old ball mouse some years ago with an optical mouse, and I never want to go back. No more cleaning mouse balls, no more need for a mousepad. Also, I wanted to have a wireless mouse and keyboard, just to get rid of some of the cable clutter, and also to be able to lean back every now and then. Logitech MX700 mouse + keyboard. The mouse is a little heavy due to the rechargable batteries. We'll see if this is annoying over time.


Err, no monitor. That seems rather silly, but I cannot decide between a flat screen (expensive, fixed native resolution) and a CRT (big, heavy, outdated technology). So, for now, no monitor. I do have a 19" Trinitron tube sitting around, so I'll use that for now.

Update: So, the old Trinitron tube turned out to be quite of a nuisance. For no good reason at all, it started to emit high pitched noises. Also, it was of the opinion that "black" really means "dark green". Got rid of it and bought a 19" LCD screen. Boy is that thing bright. Had to dim it down quite a bit. Kind of nice, though.

Video Card

Almost forgot about that. You need one of these things. Well, I chose the ATI AIW 9600XT. Not the fastest card available, but should be plenty fast enough, and offers a lot of value for money. Features analog video capture, TV tuner, FM tuner, a remote control (you can watch TV on it, you see), and a whole bunch of cables and software. Should be able to function as a Digital Video Recorder as well (like 'TiVo'). Quite exciting.

Network Card

Nope, network adapter is integrated on the motherboard (1000T Ethernet, no less). No need for a separate card.

Sound Card

Integrated sound on the motherboard. Probably not as good as an expensive sound card, but I'll just wait and listen if the onboard sound is good enough. I can always add a sound card.

Memory Card Drive

Not just yet. The one drive that meets all requirements (must take just about any memory card, must be black, and must fit in a 5.25" drive bay) is temporarily out of stock. So, maybe later.

Operating System

Computers don't do a whole lot without an operating system. The choice: Windows XP Professional. Why not go with Linux? Answer: games. Although I'm not a hardcore gamer, I still like to play games every now and then. Too many games on the shelf that require Windows. Besides, I could get it really cheap (completely legal, thank you). So there.

Phew, that was quite a bit of babbling. Now, let's see if I can get this thing together.

Next: Assembly

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