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PC Buyers Guide - 29th April 2002

When it comes to buying new hardware for your beloved system, those who aren't entirely up-to-date on all the latest news or what's Hot or Not often need a bit of guidance to make an informed decision on their all important purchases. In what will be a guide which is updated every two weeks by our newest writer Nick Swan, we present you with the first installment of our PC Buyers Guide.
@TweakTown
TweakTown Staff
Published Sun, Apr 28 2002 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:25 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none

PC Buyers Guide - Introduction

IntroductionReading a lot of tech related websites gives you the impression that some people have been conned into buying product A, which is rubbish, while others have just bought it cause it looks cool. Other people go out and buy a brand name computer like Dell, Compaq etc, and wonder why it can't be upgraded in the future. Yet more people are asking if product B is better than A or C, and eventually go back to square one because they get so many different opinions.This guide is here to give you a good idea of the products on the market that can fulfill your requirements. The first product listed is the top of the range model, which you will find hard to obtain a better product. Mind you, different people will have different opinions over what is the best, so this is giving you a product that is definitely up there with the best. The second product listed is one that gives excellent performance relative to its price. Again, different people will like different things, but this also gives you an idea of what to look for.Ed. Note : Throughout this guide, at the end of each section, you will see links to our Pricegrabber feature. Pricegrabber is a 3rd party feature of TweakTown which allows you to search for the best price on a particular product, saving you searching the entire Internet for the best prices. Additionally, prices are listed in Australian dollars, for USD; divide by two for the rough conversation.

PC Buyers Guide - Processors

Processors- Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz (Northwood)
Many of the people reading this will surely be surprised, if not shocked, that an Intel processor is being recommended as the top of the line product. The original Pentium 4 (Willamette) couldn't keep up with AMD produced processors, and some of the lower clocked P4's were being beaten by Pentium 3's in certain applications. When the Athlon XP was released, the P4 Willamette fell even further behind, and Intel had to do something. Their answer was the Pentium 4 Northwood. The Northwood is essentially the same as a Willamette, so it supports the 400MHz FSB (100 Quad-Pumped), SSE2 and runs in Socket 478 format. But Intel has added an additional 256KB of L2 Cache to give a total of 512KB, and a die shrink to 0.13micron core. These changes have worked wonders for Intel, and the Pentium 4 has regained the speed crown, although not by too much. The extra cache has really allowed the P4 to catch up to, and then pass the Athlon XP's performance. The die shrink has reduced voltage requirements, and thus heat, which gives Intel the ability to scale the chip higher, and that means that overclocking is much, much easier. Talking of Northwood overclocking, the 1.6GHz variant is almost certainly guaranteed to overclock to 2GHz +, and the 2.4GHz model can get past 2.6GHz with decent cooling. The downside of this chip? The price! AUD$1400...ouch! However, this section is the top of the line processor, so money isn't an issue.- Find the best price on Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz (Northwood)!- AMD Athlon XP 1800+
Thankfully for us Athlon lovers, all versions of the P4 are beaten by the Athlon XP at lower clock speeds. The Athlon XP (Palomino) was the processor released after the Thunderbird by AMD, and was quite heavily redesigned. A lot of things were changed, but the things that stayed were the 266MHz FSB (133MHz DDR), 128KB of L1 cache and the 256KB L2 cache. The things that were introduced centered on the hyped QuantiSpeed Architecture, which is basically a name given to special things the processor has that lead to it being able to carry out more instructions per clock cycle (IPC). This boils down to it doing things like Hardware data prefetching, which gives it the ability to do more IPC's per clock cycle.This then leads to the slightly confusing PR rating system. The PR system is designed to show users what the performance of the processor is really like, as most people who purchase a CPU think the more megahertz, the more speed. An example is my XP 1600+ processor. The processor is actually running at 1400MHz, but because it can carry out more IPC's than a P4, AMD thinks its performance is equal to a P4 running at 1600MHz. This actually holds out to be fairly true, and is usually underestimated!Anyway, why did I choose this processor? The choice of processors is only really between the Athlon XP's, as at lower clock speeds they easily account for the comparative Pentium 4. I chose the XP 1800+ because of its excellent price/performance ratio. The performance of the 1800+ isn't that far behind the 2100+ (currently the fastest AMD processor) and it costs half as much. Add to that the above average overclocking ability of the 1800+ and you have yourself a winner, especially when placed with the right motherboard and ram.- Find the best price on AMD Athlon XP 1800+!

PC Buyers Guide - Motherboards

Motherboards- Soyo P4 Fire Dragon
Since we recommended a P4 processor, we obviously need a motherboard to suit. I've chosen the Fire Dragon because of its very long list of features, its excellent performance, and its excellent overclockability. The motherboard is running on the Intel 845 DDR chipset (i845D), which is a very competent competitor to the i850 running RDRAM.The board itself includes 6 PCI slots, AGP Pro slot, 2 DIMM sockets, 4 USB ports (no USB 2.0 support though), a 100Mbit Ethernet controller, 2 Firewire ports onboard (it's called the Fire Dragon because of the Firewire ports), a Highpoint IDE RAID controller that supports ATA133 and RAID 0, 1, and 0+1, 5 fan headers with monitoring software, and an integrated 6 channel audio chip. In the box you also get four 80 pin ATA cables, drivers, manual and a chip card/reader. The PC will only boot if the chip card is inserted into the reader. A nifty security function, but it may get very annoying.That a very nice list of features! The performance of this board matches its list of features. In benchmarks it is beating the Abit BD7, which itself is an excellent board. In many benchmarks this board comes out on top of every other board tested, whether they be using the same chipset or a different one. The overclocking ability of the card is also excellent. The BIOS is made by Award and contains the usual list of tweaks, including DIMM, AGP and CPU voltages, RAM tweaks and FSB overclocking in 1MHz increments from 100MHz to 250MHz FSB.To cap it all off, US$5 from every sale of the board goes to the Red Cross to help families of September 11 victims.- Find the best price on Soyo P4 Fire Dragon!- EPoX 8KA3/8KA3+
This board is based on the relatively new KT333 chipset from VIA. The KT333 chipset is an evolution of the KT266A chipset, and it adds DDR 333 memory support. The market isn't as flooded as the KT266A market, but there are still quite a few boards to choose from.The EPoX 8KA3/+ (+ signifies RAID) was chosen because of its reasonable amount of features, strong performance and good overclocking ability. The board contains 3 DIMM Sockets that support DDR 333 RAM (PC2700), an AGP 4x slot, 6 PCI slots, 2 USB ports (2 optional), support for up to 4 IDE devices including ATA-133, an ATA-133 RAID controller supporting RAID 0,1,0+1, and the usual Serial and PS/2 ports. The performance of the board is very similar to the other KT333 boards, usually not varying by more than a few frames. Nevertheless, the KT333 boards are the fastest Socket A boards on the planet at the moment, so you cant go wrong with it or any of the other KT333 boards.The overclocking potential of this board is the selling point. There are options to move the FSB in 1MHz increments up to 200MHz, the important PCI/AGP dividers, the usual RAM tweaks, and the usual Voltage changes, and the board is very stable when overclocked.The 8KA3's performance and overclocking ability lead to it being chosen here, but if you are after USB 2.0, the MSI KT3U will suffice, and if you want something different without legacy ports, go for the Abit AT7.- Find the best price on EPoX motherboards!

PC Buyers Guide - DDR Memory

DDR Memory- Corsair CAS 2 XMS3000 (PC3000) DDR SDRAM 256MB
While Kingmax may have PC3200 DDR RAM on the market, the Corsair RAM was chosen because of its proven reliability at very high FSB speeds. This model of RAM is certified to run at 185MHz FSB (370Mhz DDR) with settings of 2-3-3 and a 1T command rate. At 166MHz FSB (333 DDR) they are certified to run at 2-2-2 and a 1T command rate. The module uses eight 8*32M chips and come with a pre-installed heat sink to help keep the temperature down when running extreme FSB's. They also come with a lifetime warranty.Another module to look out for is the Kingmax PC3200 DDR RAM chip. They are rated for CAS 2.5 at 400MHz and CAS 2 at 366MHz. - Find the best price on Corsair DDR memory!- Kingmax PC2700 (333Mhz) DDR SDRAM
Kingmax have been the pioneers in using the TinyBGA format, which greatly reduces the size and heat production allowing for better overclocking. This RAM is one that uses this new format of packaging.This RAM module is rated for CL2.5 at 333MHz, but runs CL2 at 333MHz with ease. Like the Corsair RAM, you get a lifetime warranty on this product.If you're looking to buy some sticks of DDR RAM, make sure you go for PC2700, like the RAM mentioned here. PC2100 (266MHz) is the next common step down (there is PC2400/300MHz RAM, but not every company makes it), and the price differences between quality PC2100 RAM and PC2700 RAM are so small, you'd be crazy not to get PC2700 RAM. Now that's all clear, go and buy some of this stuff, it's the best price/performance RAM on the market. - Find the best price on Kingmax PC2700 (333Mhz) DDR SDRAM!

PC Buyers Guide - Video Cards

Video Cards- Leadtek A250 Ultra TDH (GeForce4 Ti4600)
Since the GeForce4 was released onto the market a bit more than a month ago, it has redefined the meaning of performance desktop graphics. In some tests, the GeForce4 scored more than 50% higher than the previous speed champions, the Radeon 8500 and GeForce3 Ti500.The GeForce4 is available in 2 flavors at the moment, the top of the range GeForce4 Ti4600, and the middle of the range GeForce4 Ti4400. In the coming month, the GeForce4 Ti4200 will be released, which is a sub US$200 performance card. The only difference between the GeForce4 models lies in the speeds they are clocked at. The specs are:- GeForce4 Ti4600Core: 300MHz RAM: 325MHz- GeForce4 Ti4400Core: 275MHzRAM: 275MHz- GeForce4 Ti420064MB versionCore: 250MHzRAM: 250MHz128MB versionCore: 250MHzRAM: 222MHzNote: Remember, these cards use DDR RAM which means the RAM speed is doubled.All GeForce4 Ti4400/4600 cards have 128MB of RAM. The GeForce4 has been updated quite heavily since the GeForce3, but it doesn't include any major steps forward. The main additions to the GeForce4 are the nFiniteFX II engine, the addition of a second vertex shader, improvements to the pixel shaders, Accuview, nView, which is basically the ability to use a dual monitor set up, and LMA II (Lightspeed Memory Architecture), which is one of the biggest reasons why the GeForce4 has such a performance increase over the GeForce3.Enough about the GeForce4 and onto the Leadtek card. The Leadtek card certainly isn't the most feature rich on the market, but it can still hold its own. The card comes clocked at the standard 300/650, has 128MB of 2.8ns DDR memory, an analogue monitor port, TV out, DVI, hardware monitoring (only on the TDH model), Winfox suite of tools (ranging from overclocking utilities to games), and the mother of all heatsinks! If you look at most other GeForce4 Ti4600's, they feature no RAM sinks, and a solitary core fan. Leadtek obviously wanted to prove a point and increase the overclocking potential of the card, so they put on a massive heat sink that covers both the RAM and the core, and put two 30mm fans onto it. To cap it off, they put a passive heat sink on the back of the card (the same size as the front heat sink). The performance of this card is unbelievable; like the other Ti4600 cards but doesn't have any real advantage over the other cards. Nearly all the cards these days are scoring within a few frames of each other. The real selling point of the card is its excellent overclockability. The massive heat sink and dual fans give it an edge over the other cards, which often don't even have RAM sinks.The GeForce4 Ti4600 is without a doubt the leading video card on the market. If you're looking for performance and overclockability, you can't go past this Leadtek card.However, if you want the performance without the overclocking ability and a much lower price, try the Sparkle GeForce4. If you're looking for features, the MSI GeForce4 is an excellent bet.- Find the best price on Leadtek A250 Ultra!- Leadtek A250 TDH (GeForce4 Ti4400)This card is exactly the same as the one above, except it is classed as a Ti4400, which means it has a lower core/memory speed (see above for speeds). The performance on the card is excellent, but obviously not up to Ti4600 speeds. The overclocking of the card is also very good, but you won't be able to get the RAM to the same levels as a Ti4600 overclock, as this card runs slower 3.6ns memory.Again, if you're after features, go the MSI route, and price is the Sparkle route. But if you want performance and excellent overclocking, the Leadtek is the card for you.- Find the best price on Leadtek A250!- GeForce3 Ti200
While the GeForce4 Ti4400 is an excellent price/performance card, it's still AUD$700 dollars, which is a lot of money. If you're after something that is a lot cheaper, but still provides excellent performance, then the GeForce3 Ti200 is for you.The GeForce3 has the nfiniteFX engine, which supports programmable vertex and pixel shaders. This is the main reason the card was chosen over the cheaper GeForce4 MX as it gives the card DX8 hardware support, which the GeForce4 MX (all versions) lacks.The GeForce3 also has the first incarnation of LMA, supports shadow buffers, and according to nVidia, the nfiniteFX engine of the GeForce3 gives consumers true 3D textures. When the GeForce4 MX was released, nVidia ceased production of the GeForce3 line. However, nearly all online stores still stock the Titanium versions, so supply shouldn't be an issue.The best brands to go for include ASUS, Abit, Gainward, Hercules, Leadtek and MSI. The Hercules card will be very difficult to find as they switched camps to ATI a while ago, but they are worth getting if you can. All the other cards perform well and usually overclock well. The choice is yours; go for whichever one suits your budget and your desires for features.- Find the best price on GeForce3 Ti200 graphics cards!

PC Buyers Guide - Hard Disk Drives

Hard Disk Drives- Western Digital Caviar Special Edition Hard Disk
When Quantum and Maxtor joined forces some time ago, the competition in the hard disk industry began to thin out. Add to that IBM's woeful 60GXP and 75GXP hard drives which suffered very frequent data loss and complete failure, and the market is left with three main forces. Maxtor, Seagate and Western Digital. In recent times, all three companies have put out excellent drives, and Maxtor went the next step and added ATA-133 support to their drives.The Western Digital drives, or WD for short, support ATA-100, spin at 7200 RPM (revolutions per minute), have a 2MB buffer, an average Read Seek time of 8.9ms, and come in sizes from 20-120GB. If you're in need of some serious space, the 80-120 GB models also come in a "special edition" format, which ups the buffer to a massive 8MB's. All the drives come with WD's special data lifeguard, which is a group of software utilities that try to identify problems on the disk, and then fix them before they result in data loss. You also get a 3-year warranty.The performance of the normal WD drives is excellent, but the performance of the special edition drives is unbelievable. In many cases, they can outperform a SCSI drive, which obviously puts them ahead of the Maxtor and Seagate IDE drives. With a buffer of 8MB and performance that can beat SCSI drives, the WD Caviar Special Edition drives are the ones to get. Couple these together in a RAID array and you can get even higher performance (and an awful lot of HDD space seeing as they only come in 80-120 GB sizes). The choice of size is yours, but it's going to take a lot of programs, MP3's and DIVX to fill even the 80GB model up.If your in the market for a hard drive that can support insane FSB speeds, the Seagate Barracuda IV drives have been getting a reputation for just that. Take a look if that's your cup of tea.- Find the best price on Western Digital Caviar Special Edition 100gb!- Seagate Barracuda ATA IV Hard Drive
The Seagate Barracuda IV's can't keep up to the Special Edition WD's, thanks to their massive buffer size, but they can surpass the normal WD Caviar drives in performance and are slightly cheaper.The Barracuda IV comes in sizes ranging from 20-80GB, has a 2MB buffer, spins at 7200 RPM, has an average Read Seek Time of 9ms, and supports ATA-100. Like the WD drives, they have a data protection system, in this case called 3D Defense System. They also come with a 3-year warranty.As I've said, the performance is better than the normal WD drives, and they are priced slightly cheaper. The Maxtor drives support ATA-133, but you will rarely exceed a transfer rate of 100MBytes a second, so there's nothing to worry about. To cap it all off, they have a reputation for supporting crazy FSB speeds, which is a big plus for extreme overclockers.- Find the best price on Seagate Barracuda ATA IV Hard Drives!

PC Buyers Guide - DVD and Burner Drives

DVD DrivesThere's no point in buying a plain CD-ROM drive now, as DVD drives have fallen in price, and have a 40x CD read speed which is just below the 52x most CD-ROM drives have. Movies are now being released on DVD, which means you can watch them on your PC. If you have a separate DVD player, you should still get a PC DVD player. Some PC games and applications are being released on DVD because they can hold way more data than a normal CD *Thinks of his copy of Commando's 2 which came with three(!) CD's* . There are a lot of quality DVD drives on the market at the moment, but one that stands out is the Toshiba SD-M1612. It reads at 16x, reads CD's at 48x, can read DVD-RAM disks, has a 512KB buffer, has an access time of 85ms and is tray loading.
Other good brands of DVD drives include Sony and Pioneer.- Find the best price on Toshiba SD-M1612 DVD drive!Burners- LiteOn 40x12x48x IDE CD-RW (LTR 40125S)
Not too long ago, CD-RW and CD-R drives were hellishly expensive and relatively slow. Times have changed and it's now very quick and easy to make those "backups" of your important software.This LiteOn CD-RW has 40x (Z-CLV) recording, 12x (CLV) re-writing, and 48x (CAV) reading. It supports RAW DAO 96 mode, which lets you burn what was previously unburnable, such as SafeDisk 2. The drive also comes with SMART-BURN buffer underrun to avoid coasters, supports ATA-33, has a 2MB buffer and is tray loading. While the drives' performance is slightly behind other drives on the market, the margin is very, very small.So why does it get recommended as the top of the line burner? Its price is so low that it's impossible to pass up. I have seen these for sale in Australia for less than AUD$300 (about US$150, and take a bit more away because the computer companies like to raise the price a bit). With the extra money, go and buy more RAM, hard drive space, or save the cash.- LiteOn 32x12x40x IDE CD-RW (LTR 32123S)
This drive is exactly the same as the one above, except it has 32x (Z-CLV) recording, 12x (CLV) re-writing and 40x (CAV) reading. Obviously the performance will be lower, but surprisingly the difference is very small. One thing to note is these drives use the Z-CLV (Zone-Constant Linear Velocity) writing method, which means the CD, gets written to at different speeds at different stages. On this drive the first two minutes are at 16x, then the next ten at 20x then 26 minutes at 24x and the rest at 32x. If you write to the whole CD, you get an average speed of 26x; not too shabby.Again the real selling point of this drive is the price. In Australia they are less than $200, which makes them a hard drive to pass up.- Find the best price on LiteOn burners!

PC Buyers Guide - Soundcards and Monitors

Soundcards- Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum eX
Creative has had a reputation for making quality sound cards for some time, and the new Audigy certainly upholds this reputation. They are the evolution of the SB Live! with a lot more features and processing power. The Audigy comes in three flavors, the DE (Digital Entertainment), which is just the sound card and no extras, the Platinum internal, which has an internal Audigy Drive, and the Platinum eX, which has an external Audigy Drive.The new Audigy comes with a whole host of new features including support for the new EAX advanced HD, which is like EAX 3, but won't have support in mainstream titles until later this year, 24bit music playback, the new Audigy processor, which has approx. four times the power of the EMU10K1 processor seen in the SB Live!, 100dB SNR, a handy remote controller and a whole host of new software. The Audigy Drive has a host of ports, which include Firewire, a whole host of RCA ports, Optical In/Out, headphone/microphone jack and midi In/Out.The performance of the SB Audigy is excellent, both in terms of audio quality and CPU utilization. The Audigy is relatively new, so other companies haven't had a chance to put out competing products, but the Audigy is clearly the best sound card for mainstream users. If you're into serious things to do with sound, there are better cards for your needs, but for most people, the Audigy is perfect.- Sound Blaster Audigy Digital Entertainment
This card is exactly the same as the one above, except it lacks the Audigy Drive. However, you still get the Firewire port, which is placed on the card itself. The card supports the same things as the Platinum, so you lose nothing there, and the performance is identical. The biggest selling point is the price, which is less than half the cost of the Platinum and Platinum eX.If AUD$200 is still too much for a soundcard, the SB Live! is still an excellent card for an amazingly cheap price.- Find the best price on Sound Blaster Audigy!Monitors- Sony 21" CPD-G520 FD Trinitron
Sony has been making exceptional monitors for some time now, and this monitor is no exception. This monster has a viewable screen size of 19.8", has an aperture grille pitch of 0.24mm, horizontal scan range of 30-130kHz, vertical scan range of 48-170Hz, max resolution is a gigantic 2048*1536 and it weighs a massive 64.7lbs, which is about 30kg's!The picture quality of this monster is crystal clear, as you would hope for the rather large price. With a GeForce4 under the bonnet, you will be able to see this monitor at its best, but if you have a much less powerful video card, you should really look at a 19" model. Sony makes excellent quality 19" monitors as well, and they are far cheaper.If you're not going to use your PC for gaming, you may want to buy an LCD monitor. They are reasonably expensive but have excellent picture quality and are small compared to a similar sized CRT monitor. The model to get is up to you, but go for a quality brand such as Sony, and the one that most suites your eyes. If you're after something that looks a little different, try the Hercules Prophetview 720.- Find the best price on Sony 21" CPD-G520 FD Trinitron!- LG Flatron 795FT+
Most people cant afford to spend AUD$2000 on a monitor like the Sony 21" and are stuck looking for a monitor for a quarter of the price. This LG CRT monitor is just that, a quarter of the price, and gives excellent picture quality for a much more affordable price.The monitor has a 16" viewable Flat CRT screen, has a max resolution of 1600*1200, an aperture grille pitch of 0.24mm, a horizontal frequency of 30-96kHz, vertical frequency of 50-160Hz, weighs 22.7kg and has a three year warranty. You will be doing very well to find a better monitor than this one for the same price.- Find the best price on LG Flatron 795FT+!

PC Buyers Guide - Conclusion

ConclusionA lot of people get conned into buying computer parts that are, honestly, pathetic. If you walk into certain retail outlets in Australia, and I'm sure this happens in other countries, the salesman will probably try and sell you a TNT2 M64, which they claim gives super fast frame rates, and comes with a massive 32MB of RAM! Obviously, these salespeople don't know that they are talking about, but a lot of people do believe them, and will be very disappointed when they throw Quake 3 at the TNT2.By reading this guide you can get an understanding of what is good in the crowded marketplace, and can make an informed decision. The products here are not always the number one performers, or the most feature packed on the market, but they are a product that excels in both of those fields. If you don't agree with what I list (which I imagine will happen with the P4 2.4Ghz) that's fine with me, but remember these products are certainly among the best on the market, so you wont be disappointed if you buy them.Just remember; always opt for quality over a cheap price. They will last longer, perform better, and you will have a lot more fun with them.We'll be keeping this Buyers Guide updated every two weeks, keep your eye out for the next edition!

PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.

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