With so many items for sale in the markets, it can sometimes be difficult to decide what's hot and what's not. Come join Nick Swan as he brings us another installment of the TweakTown Buyer's Guide. There are some new toys out there, but we'll try to see which ones deserve a place within our own special systems. Come check it out!
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 thing, 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 - Whats New This Month?
New for this month:EPoX 4G4A+ (i845G)Intel Pentium 4 with 533MHz Front Side BusAsus P4T-533 (i850E)Kingston PC1066 RDRAMCorsair XMS2700 (PC2700) DDR SDRAM (256MB or 512MB) with Heat SpreaderGeForce 4 Ti4200Aopen H600A ATX CaseLian Li or some similarly fancy caseEnermax 350 Watt Power Supply
Intel's rise back to the top of the CPU ladder took a long time, as the P4 Willamette certainly wasn't the world's fastest processor. 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 (100MHz 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.The next evolution of the P4 Northwood was the move to a FSB (Front Side Bus) of 133MHz, quad pumped, which gives a very handy 533MHz effective. The 133MHz FSB version P4 has become a lot easier to find in retail shops since last guide, so I have decided to include the processor. These processors come in 2.4 and 2.53GHz varieties, and the 2.53GHz is obviously the one of choice for a power user. However, to run these new processors at their default speed, you will need to own a new i850E, or i845E/G motherboard. These are also becoming much easier to find in the marketplace. To go with the new i850E motherboard, which will give the best performance of the three new options, you need to buy PC1066 RDRAM. This is, unfortunately, extremely hard to buy (will explain later). However, since this is the top of the line section, I have still gone with an i850E board with PC1066 RDRAM which will give the absolute best performance possible with this CPU.The change from the Willamette to the Northwood core worked wonders for Intel and the Pentium 4 regained the speed crown, although not by too much. The move to the new 133MHz FSB has moved the Pentium 4 even further in front of the Athlon XP. Without PC1066 RDRAM, the new P4 can't take full benefit of the increased bus speed, but using DDR RAM still gives a handy performance increase. The move to a 133MHz FSB has also allowed Intel to increase processor speeds by 133MHz instead of 100MHz. This is now double the speed increase's AMD makes when it releases new processors. This new, larger MHz increase will allow the P4 to jump even further ahead of AMD in the future. Talking of the future, the new AMD Athlon XP based on the Thoroughbred core is going to be released relitively soon, but it has no additions other than a 0.13 micron die size. While this allows AMD to scale the CPU higher, it also means the chip will perform the same as a similarly clocked XP (Palomino), which means AMD won't be catching up to Intel on the speed scale just yet. In fact, AMD looks to be in trouble until the Hammer CPU is released.- Find the best price on Intel Pentium 4 2.53GHz (Northwood 'B')!- AMD Athlon XP 1900+Times on list: 3 AMD's website for this product
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 1900+ because of its excellent price/performance ratio. The extra speed in this processor, compared to the 1800+ here last time, is a measly 66MHz. However, the price has dropped, and a 1900+ can be found for a few measly dollars more than the 1800+, making it an excellent choice. The performance of the 1900+ isn't that far behind the 2100+ and it costs half as much. Add to that the above average overclocking ability of the 1900+ and you have yourself a winner, especially when placed with the right motherboard and RAM.One thing to note is the release of the Athlon XP based on the Thoroughbred core. This processor only has a die shrink to 0.13 microns, but its introduction should reduce the price of other AMD chips. It may be worth waiting a few weeks or a month until the Thoroughbred has hit the stores.- Find the best price on AMD Athlon XP 1900+!
This motherboard is the latest product on Tweaktown to score a perfect 10 and is certainly a worthy addition to this guide. Visit here for the full review of the board.Seeing as there is a new 9 page review of the motherboard, I will outline some of the more important features and if you're still interested, you can look for yourself. The board is based on the i845G chipset, which is fairly new and supports both the 100/133 (400/533)MHz FSB's, which gives it support for the new 133MHz FSB P4's. The board also comes with 6 PCI slots, a 1.5v AGP 4x slot, 1 CNR slot, 2 PS2 ports, 6 USB ports (USB 2.0 - 4 are rear accesible, and 2 need the expansion bracket), the usual serial and parallel ports, a Highpoint ATA-133 RAID controller, 3 DIMM slots (DDR RAM), Realtek Ethernet Controller and AC'97 sound. The overclocking potential of the board is also excellent. It has FSB adjustments of 1MHz from 100-255MHz (somehow I dont think you will be getting 255MHz FSB - Thats a handy 1.020GHz FSB!). The board also has VCore adjustments from 1.1v - 1.85v in 0.025v increments, AGP Voltage adjustmens from 1.5v - 1.9v in 0.1v increments and DRAM Voltage adjustments from 2.5v - 3.2v in 0.1v increments.Obviously for this board to score 10, it would need to have excellent performance, so there is no need to talk about it here. Overall, this board is feature packed, overclocks well, has excellent performance and supports the new 133MHz FSB P4's. What more could you want?- Find the best price on EPoX motherboards!- Asus P4T-533Times on list: NewAsus' website for this product
I won't say much about this board considering that I dont really recommend it; but I suppose I need to add it because it offers the best out of the box performance for the new 133MHz FSB P4's. Feature-wise, the board has 2 RIMM slots for up to 2GB of PC800/PC1066 RDRAM (remeber you need to install RDRAM in pairs!), 6 PCI Slots, ATA-133 and ATA-133 RAID support, 6 channel audio, USB 2.0 support, intergrated NIC and a few other not so important things. BIOS wise, the board supports VCore changes up to 1.85v, but unfortunately no AGP or memory voltage options. There is also very limited memory tweaking options, and the FSB can only be set to a max. of 150MHz.Seeing as I have said I don't really recommend it, the reason it's on here is because with the very elusive PC1066 RDRAM, it offers by far the best out of the box speed. However, real (ie not overclocked PC800) PC1066 RDRAM defines elusive and the performance of the i850E isn't really worth the extra cost over the i845E/G with DDR RAM if you only use PC800 RDRAM.If you're looking to do any overclocking or tweaking, I would recommend an i845E board like the Abit BD7 II or an i845G board like the EPoX 4G4A+ (above), as the features for overclocking and tweaking are very thin on this board. That said, if you're not a tweaker and want the best performance, this is for you..- Find the best price on ASUS P4T 533-C motherboards!- EPoX 8KA3/8KA3+Times on List: 3EPoX' website for this product
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 chose 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 more 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 can't 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 be 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 - Memory
RDRAM- PC1066 RDRAMTimes on list: NewPC1066 RDRAM is extremely hard to find, especially so in Australia. Instead, many companies are offering so called PC1066 RDRAM which is actually overclocked PC800 RDRAM, which isn't what you're after. At the moment, the only real PC1066 RDRAM that I am aware of is made by Kingston, so anything other than that should be ignored.Note: This RAM is only for the Asus P4T 533 board, and not the other two motherboards listed, which both use DDR RAM (below).If you can't get real PC1066 RDRAM, I would personally ignore it all together and get the Epox 4G4A+ or a similar board which, when used with PC2700 DDR RAM, will give performance that is reasonably close to the P4T533; and for much less money.- Find the best price on Kingston PC1066 RDRAM!DDR Memory- Corsair CAS 2 XMS3000 (PC3000) DDR SDRAM 256MBTimes on list: 3Corsair's website for this product
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. These modules use eight 8*32M chips and comes 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 chips. They are rated for CAS 2.5 at 400MHz and CAS 2 at 366MHz. Corsair also has a PC3200 DDR RAM stick on the market, although these are hard to find. However, if you can get hold of them, go for it. They are only slightly more, and will overclock slightly better (being rated for 400MHz). If you want to buy a P4/533MHz FSB and an i845E/G motherboard, this is the best DDR RAM to buy. It will overclock the best allowing you to regain some of the extra memory bandwidth you can't obtain without PC1066 RDRAM.- Find the best price on Corsair DDR memory!- Corsair XMS2700 DDR RAM (PC2700 - 333MHz)Times on list: NewCorsair's website for this product
The RAM here is the same as the RAM above, except it is only rated to PC2700 (333MHz) which means it will not overclock quite as well. This RAM is rated for 2-2-2/1T at 333MHz DDR (166MHz) and 2-3-3/2T at 370MHz DDR (185MHz). The RAM also comes with the heatspreader seen on the PC3000 RAM above. The reason this RAM was chosen over the Kingmax RAM was its added overclocking ability. Recently, numerous tests have shown the Corsair RAM overclocks far better than the Kingmax. The price of the PC2700 RAM is, in Australia at least, not much less than the price of PC3000 RAM. If you have a few extra dollars (about AU$40 last time I checked), you may want to go for the PC3000 Corsair RAM, but the PC2700 will certainly suffice.- Find the best price on Corsair XMS2700 (PC2700 - 333MHz) DDR SDRAM!
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 GeForce 3 Ti500.The GeForce4 is available in three flavors, the top of the range GeForce4 Ti4600, the middle of the range GeForce4 Ti4400 and the GeForce4 Ti4200 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 (Light Speed 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 RAM, 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)Times on list: 3Leadtek's website for this productThis 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!- Any (decent) brand GeForce 4 Ti4200Times on list: NewnVidia's website for this product
While the GeForce 4 has been on the market for quite a while now, the cards on the market were based on the high/middle end versions of the chipset and were thus quite expensive. Fortunately, the prices of these two cards (the Ti4400/4600, which are above) have come done markedly and now you can buy a quality (like the Leadtek above) Ti4600 for less than the original price of the Ti4400. However, the Ti4400 is still more than AU$500 in most shops, which is a lot of money. But, nVidia has recently released the newest GeForce 4, the Ti4200. The probable reason for the delay is that nVidia was looking to sell off the remaining GeForce 3 cards, as the new GeForce 4 was very likely to take their market spot (and it has). The card is essentially the same as the two cards above, but has some slight, but nevertheless important, changes which should be looked at.Firstly, the card is not based on the same PCB (printed circuit board) design as the Ti4400 and 4600. The PCB is only 6 layers instead of the 8 on the Ti4400/4600 and is a lot smaller. I believe this is because the card has a far lower power requirement than the Ti4400/4600's and thus needs less space to fit the capacitors. Most importantly, this reduction in size means the Ti4200 will fit in boards the Ti4400/4600's won't; the EPoX 8KHA+ being an example.The other important difference between the Ti4200 and the Ti4400/4600 is the choice of two different types; either 64MB or 128MB. The different memory confiurations also come with different memory speeds, but they have the same core speed of 250MHz. The 64MB version has 250MHz DDR RAM (500MHz) and the 128MB version has 222MHz DDR RAM (444MHz). The Ti4200 doesn't use BGA RAM like the Ti4400/4600's either.Performance wise, they are obviously not as fast as the other GeForce 4's, but they will beat all of the GeForce 3 models comfortably, which is impressive considering many GF3Ti500's still sell for more than these boards. The overclocking of the Ti4200 is also very good and is certainly one of the biggest selling points. For 65% of the price of a Ti4400 you are almost certain to be able to overclock your card to a similar level of performance and there is also a good chance that you will be able to obtain higher. I certainly wouldn't be complaining with a cheap Ti4400 (mind you, you're not guaranteed to get to Ti4400 speeds, but I would consider you very unlucky not to). The question that remains is what memory size to buy and what brand. Basically, if you are after a short term upgrade before the NV30 (next nVidia card) and R300 (next ATI card) or even the Matrox Parhelia, then I would go for the 64MB version. It has faster memory, will (or should) overclock better due to lower ns RAM and currently only one popular game really makes use of the 128MB of RAM; Jedi Knight 2. Having said that, future games will make use of 128MB of RAM, so if you're looking to keep the card for a while, I would definitely get a 128MB version. Brand-wise, I would go for a Triplex Ti4200 with 3.3ns RAM if you are getting the 64MB version (because it will overclock better) and any decent brand if you're after 128MB.- Find the best price on GeForce4 Ti4200 graphics card!
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, supports ATA-100, spins at 7200 RPM (revolutions per minute), has a 2MB buffer, an average Read Seek time of 8.9ms and comes 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 tries 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 are 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 you're 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 DriveTimes on list: 3Seagate's website for this product
The Seagate Barracuda IV 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 CD Burners
DVD DrivesThere's no point 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.
Not too long ago, CD-RW and CD-R drives were hellishly expensive and relatively slow. Times have changed and its 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 AU$300 (about US$150 and take a bit more away because the computer companies like the raise the price a bit). With the extra money, go and buy more RAM, hard drive space, or save the money, or even better, send it to me.- LiteOn 32x12x40x IDE CD-RW (LTR 32123S)Times on list: 3LiteOn's website for this product
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 2 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 to 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!
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! but 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 which includes support for the new EAX advanced HD, which is like EAX 3, but won't have support in mainstream titles until later this year, 24-bit music playback, the new Audigy processor, which has approx. 4 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's 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 EntertainmentTimes on list: 3Creative's website for this product
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 price of the Platinum and Platinum eX.If AU$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 TrinitronTimes on list: 3Sony's website for this product
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, then 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+Times on list: 3LG's website for this product
Most people can't afford to spend AU$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 an excellent quality picture 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 3 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 - Cases/Power Supplies
Just as you have horses for courses, you have cases for people (Ok, it doesn't go well together, but I thought it was clever). Obviously, different people will want different cases for different things, but regardless of this, I think there are a few cases that are worthy of mention. The first of these is an awful lot cheaper than the other and fulfills its job perfectly. This case is the Aopen H600A. Aopen describes the case as a "Super Mid-Tower" which would indicate that it is larger than your run of the mill mid-tower, but not as large as the full towers. The case has four external 5.25" bays (no internal ones), two external 3.5" bays and one interal 3.5" bay, a front USB port (for 2 USB devices), 1 fan with another four optional, some cool looking stands and a 300/350/400 Watt P4 ready power supply. The power supply in this case is actually decent quality, unlike most of the PSU's that come with cheaper cases and the 300W model should suffice for most PC's, but 350W might be a better bet as it leaves some head room.The most impressive part of this case is the price tag. They are around AU$180 with a 300W power supply and I have seen them for AU$120 without a power supply (that translates to around US$95/$65). If you don't want to shell out AU$350+ for a case, I would certainly recommend it.The high level case market is flooded with aluminium cases with different features and gimmicks to try and get your hard earned dollars. While most of these cases are very good quality, the Lian Li cases stand above the rest. It comes with loads of features, excellent build quality, but unfortunately a rather high price. The Lian Li cases to look out for are the cheap PC5/6 (Beige/Silver) and the PC60/65 and PC61/65B (Silver/Black - The PC65/65B come with pre-installed windows). All of these cases are made from aluminium and feature four 5.25" bays (all external). the PC6x has five internal 3.5" bays and three external ones, while the PC5/6 has two external and three internal 3.5" bays.Since these cases don't come with PSU's, you will need to purchase one. I would recommend any Enermax PSU as they actually have a power rating that is similar to what they put out (unlike many cheap PSU's), are reliable, come with 2-speed adjustable fans and don't cost too much; about AU$160 for a 350W version. If you have a new PC, 300W is the bare minimum, but I would recommend 350+ for the future, and for reliability.Lian Li's webpage for their casesAopen's webpage for their casesEnermax's webpage for this productThe cases I have recommended look like this:
The one on the left is the Aopen H600A. The one on the right is the Lian Li PC65 - The PC60 has no window.For those who like looking at PSU's, the PSU looks like:
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 III 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) that's fine with me, but remember these products are certainly among the best on the market, so you won't be disappointed if you buy them.Just remember; always get quality over a cheap price. They will last longer, perform better and you will have a lot more fun with them. And whatever you do, don't believe the man in these "certain retail outlets..."We'll be keeping this Buyers Guide updated every month, so keep your eye out for the next edition!If you have just purchased a new product from this list, or want to see just how good your PC is, head to the new Tweaktown files section located here
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