Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Time to upgrade...

The old computer is reaching the end of it's service life. Considering it's age (built by me in September of '98) and the fact that it's still doing a decent job of web service, basic media (downloading pictures from the camera and playing music) and handling all the Office apps I have been very pleased with it's performance.

To give an example of how much things have changed in 8 years: the DVD ROM drive that I installed originally cost right at $300 (just a DVD player). The HP CD burner (I think it was a 4x, 6x, 24x drive) cost about $125. The video card was a generic NVida TnT card with 32 mb of memory that cost about $100. The 12 gb hard drive cost over $300. I put in 128 MB of ram at a cost of $75. Asus mother board, P III 600 (just as they came out) overclocked to 700. Haven't had too many problems being able to do things until the last year or so. Due to age and cooling issues had to back the clock down to 660. It can do most of what I need, as long as I ask it to do them one at a time. On the web it's really not too bad.

My problem is this: go with a pre-built system from one of the big companies or build my own again? Cost wise, best as I can tell, the pre-built will be a little less expensive. I realize the trade off's will be in the area of the mother board with the on-board LAN/Sound cards on the pre-builts, probably cheaper power supply, ditto for the HD & the CD drives. Dell makes the XPS 410 with the new Core 2 processor that looks really promising. I've always been a fan of AlienWare computers too but they are more expensive and the extra cost comes from the same areas as a custom built. Besides, now they are just Dell's top tier line.

For usage: I don't do much with games, though on occasion there are those in the house who do. I do a tremendous amount of web related activity. My wife does quite a bit of streaming video and audio. I am a multi-tasking hound...right now at work have 7 browsers, 2 Excel spreadsheets, a mulitple IM client, email, weather monitor, and the occasional background antivirus/spyware scan all running...I don't think the home system could handle it. I don't need a top gun video card but would like to get a better one that will last a while...maybe something with 256 mb of memory. Because of the multi-tasking I think the Core 2 and at least a gig of RAM would definitely help (nothing makes me go insane with rage more than when the system is busy and nothing will come up). I wouldn't mind a decent sound card but a 5-1 will do fine for me. I would like to get into some photo/video/audio editing...just to have fun, nothing real serious. Hard drive isn't that big a deal now (I have 40 gb that is 3/4 full...just makes me keep things clean and tidy). I do realize that the 2 easiest upgrades later to make - and therefore the 2 best places to skimp now- are the RAM and HD size since these will traditionally continue to come down in price. I also realize one huge benefit of a system I build is I have control over how my HD is partitioned. I can't tell you how many times having all the setup and driver files on a separate partition has save my bacon.

I spent about $2000 on the system in '98, which included a 19" CRT monitor and 5-channel speakers. Did NOT include the OS. I had my own 'special' copy of the OS...but that's another story. I plan on upgrading monitor and speakers separately. I would like to keep the system cost down to about $1600. If that can include at least a 19" flat panel, great.

I've never used an AMD processor, though based on tests the Core 2 seems to be in the lead now. I would be very interested in a MAC except for the learning curve for the others in the house...I just want to stick with what they all know.

Based on the above usage: what say you, oh masters and guru's? what do you recommend: pre-built Dell/AlienWare/some other brand, store bought system or custom built? What will give me the best (not necessarily the most) bang for the buck?

I'm really looking to RAD, Jeremy, Allison, Laura ... any other opinions welcomed!



Blogger Laura said...

I have to admit I am lazy anymore because I married a bigger computer nerd than myself and whereas I have gotten jiggy with a screwdriver and IDE cables many a time, these days I typically just make him "fix my computer". The horror. That being said, all of our computers at home started out at least partially built and became customized to some degree afterward. I like to get the bare bones (as in, mobo + processor) together (as in, tested? working?) and then add my own components from there. And incidentally, I am an AMD fan.

7:18 PM, September 05, 2006  
Anonymous Allison said...

Wow. I am the wrong person to ask about this one. Try super-geek Jeremy. The Big J knows better about building machines. I, on the other hand, adore my Dell. I bought it back in 2001, I think. And I love it to pieces. It's served me well. I've upgraded a few things here and there.

7:58 PM, September 05, 2006  
Anonymous Jeremy said...

Custom build, hands down.

The overall price is cheaper. You have a better appreciation for your machine, and the parts are often better than what you find on the shelf.

Say a shelf computer is $1000.
For $500 you coulc build a computer that would sell for $2000.

And yes, AMD is my processor of choice as well.

Some great research, if not purchase, can be done at newegg.com

11:46 AM, September 06, 2006  
Anonymous russ said...

build your own
you will save

had nothing but good things from:


11:21 AM, September 11, 2006  

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