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PC Buyers Guide - September 2002

We're at it again. With all the new toys hitting the marketplace, it was time to update the TweakTown Buyers Guide. There are some mighty hot tickets that have been added to the list so come join Nick Swan as he tells you what is hot... and what is not!
@TweakTown
TweakTown Staff
Published Sun, Sep 1 2002 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:25 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none

PC Buyers Guide - Introduction

IntroductionOriginally, the buyers guide was going to be every two or three weeks, which turned out to be a little crazy, as a lot of the time, you won't have anything that's worthy of being included here being released in that time frame. Thus, the guide is going to take a little longer to come out, and will make appearances once a month, or a little longer if nothing really decent comes out in the time frame. Mind you, if something really good comes out, it will be added ASAP!This month sees the addition of quite a few items which, in some cases, will change the way PC games will be played for a while. This is of course the new Radeon 9700 from ATi, which amongst other things, has support for the yet to be released Direct X 9. Other additions to this guide are the brand new Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz, Samsung RIMM 4200 (32-bit PC1066) RDRAM sticks, Corsair PC3200 CAS 2 DDR RAM and the EPoX 8K5A3+.Amazingly, the new AMD flagship processor was released a few days ago, and such is the competitiveness of the CPU market, it isn't good enough to slot into this guide. As a result, there are a lot of great products not on here. Remember, this is just a collection of some of the best products on the market, not all of them, so there are others about if you don't want to take one on here.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 2.80GHz/133MHz FSB (Northwood)Times on list: NewIntel's website for this product
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 SSE2, has a 400MHz FSB (100 Quad Pumped) 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 now all but replaced the 100MHz FSB version, and are starting to slowly come down in price. These processors come in 2.26, 2.4, 2.53, 2.66 and 2.80GHz varieties, and the 2.80GHz 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, i845E/G, SiS645DX/648, or P4X400 motherboard (the motherboard in the guide is one of these). To go with the new i850E motherboard, which will give the best performance of the five options, you need to buy PC1066 or RIMM 4200 RDRAM. This RAM is rather expensive (although close to a quality DDR RAM stick in price) and doesn't overclock all that well. However, since this is the top of the line section, I have still gone with an i850E board with RIMM 4200 which will give the absolute best performance possible with this CPU. Looking to the future, the new AMD Athlon XP based on the Thoroughbred core has been released, 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. To add to this, Intel has released their new 2.8GHz P4, which has easily become the fastest CPU on sale and extends Intel's lead in the marketplace.Because of Intel's giant lead in the performance stakes, there have been rumors of AMD releasing a new Athlon XP based on a 166MHz FSB at speeds of over 2GHz. Whether this proves to be true will remain to be seen, but if this does happen and AMD can sell chips at 2.2GHz or more, they will definitely be back in the race for the fastest CPU on sale. But for now, the P4 2.80GHz is the fastest chip on the block, so it's going in this guide.- Find the best price on Intel Pentium 4 2.53GHz (Northwood 'B')!- AMD Athlon XP 1900+Times on list: 4 AMD's website for this product
At lower clock speeds, the Athlon XP still rules over the Pentium 4, so it is a definite inclusion in the value section of this guide. 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 performance of the 1900+ isn't that far behind the 2200+ and is quite a bit cheaper, so you're not missing out on much performance wise, but still saving a few dollars. 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 2400+ and 2600+ based on the Thoroughbred core. This processor has a new revision core over the last Thoroughbred, which only had a die shrink to 0.13 microns over the Palomino, which is what the 1900+ is based on. The introduction of the two new Athlon XP's have, along with AMD's normal price cuts, reduced the price of other AMD chips. It may be worth spending a few extra dollars on a XP2000+ if your not going to overclock, as it will give you a little more performance for not much more dollars. If you can wait even longer, see if the rumors about the 166MHz FSB Athlon XP's are correct. If they are released, the price of the all the Athlon XP's should drop quite a bit, which means you might be able to afford the just released XP2400 or XP2600+- Find the best price on AMD Athlon XP 1900+!

PC Buyers Guide - Motherboards

Motherboards- EPoX 4G4A+Times on List: 2EPoX website for this product
This motherboard scored a handy 10 out of 10 in a TweakTown review, and has nearly everything you would want on a motherboard, so its certainly a worthy addition to this guide. Visit here for the full review of the board.Seeing as there is a 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 the latest i845 generation of motherboards (along with the i845E), and supports both the 100/133 (400/533)MHz FSB's P4's, which means it will be compatible with many future releases of P4's. The board 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 accessible, 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 don't think you will be getting 255MHz FSB - That's a hefty 1.020GHz FSB!). The board also has VCore adjustments from 1.1v - 1.85v in 0.025v increments, AGP Voltage adjustments 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 (and will support the super new 2.80GHz P4's with a BIOS update). What more could you want? Mind you, if you're after the most feature packed board on the market, go for the Abit IT72 (probably not quite released when this is published). It should have Serial ATA support, amongst a very long list of other features.- Find the best price on EPoX motherboards!- Asus P4T-533Times on list: 2Asus' website for this product
I won't say much about this board considering that I don't 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 RIMM 3200 (PC800)/RIMM 4200(PC1066) RDRAM, which is 32-bit wide (note that its RIMM 4200 and not straight PC1066 RDRAM, which is basically two sticks of PC1066 RDRAM stuck together to give one 32-bit stick), which means you do not have to install the RAM in pairs. It also has 6 PCI Slots, AGP PRO (1.5 Volt cards only), ATA-133 and ATA-133 RAID support (RAID 0,1), 6 channel audio, USB 2.0 support, integrated 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, but at least you can set the FSB in 1MHz increments to 200MHz.Seeing as I have said I don't really recommend it, the reason it's on here is because with the very elusive RIMM 4200 (PC1066) RDRAM, it offers by far the best out of the box speed. However, RIMM 4200 RDRAM defines elusive, and currently in Australia, I have only seen it for sale in a bundle with this board, so forget trying to run 512MB of RAM.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 8K5A3+Times on List: NewEPoX' website for this product
This board is based on the KT333 chipset from VIA and is an evolution of the board that was previously here, the 8K3A/+.The EPoX 8K5A3+ was chosen over its older sibling (8K3A+) because of its added features (will get to this later), as well as a slightly redesigned PCB and a cool looking Northbridge heatsink (I like it!). Feature wise the board contains 4 (up from 3) DIMM Sockets that support a total of 4GB of DDR 333 RAM (PC2700), an AGP 4x slot, 6 PCI slots, 6 USB 2.0 ports (4 rear accessible, 2 more optional), quad channel RAID (Highpoint HPT374), as well as the usual IDE channels, 6 channel onboard sound, onboard LAN, and serial/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, but a little better than the 8K3A+, which was no slouch. However, to achieve really good performance from the two EPoX boards, you will need to fiddle a little, as the 8K3A+ was a little slow when running off default BIOS settings, but once the board was tweaked, it ran like a missile. The overclocking of the board continues EPoX's traditions in this area, and when it comes to overclocking, this is the board to get. The features are basically the same as the 8K3A+, so it has VCore of up to 2.2Volts, and DIMM voltage of up to 3.2v. Add to that the usual options to move the FSB in 1MHz increments up to 200MHz, the important PCI/AGP dividers, the usual RAM tweaks, and a stable board when overclocked, and you have an overclocking winner. The 8K5A3+'s overclocking and great performance after a little tweaking have led it to being named here, but if your after features, don't look past the AT7 from Abit .- Find the best price on EPoX motherboards!

PC Buyers Guide - Memory

RDRAM- Samsung RIMM 4200Times on list: New
The new RIMM 4200 (and 3200) sticks are like dual channel RIMM's that are based on a 1066MHz RDRAM and 800MHz RDRAM designs. As they are dual channel, they are basically two sticks of PC1066 or PC800 RDRAM stuck on one PCB. This means you do not have to install RDRAM in pairs, as the 32-bit wide bus is present on just the one stick. Other than that, its the same as conventional PC1066 RDRAM.At the moment, the only board this will fit into is the ASUS P4T533, and getting that board is still a little difficult. However, getting these RIMM 4200 sticks in Australia is even more difficult and I have only seen them for sale in a bundle with the mobo. If you can find this combination, and aren't into overclocking too much, this will suit you nicely, but other than that, I'd leave it alone, as its way to hard to find, and doesn't overclock as well as the DDR RAM below.- Find the best price on RDRAMDDR Memory- Corsair CAS 2 XMS3200 (PC3200) DDR SDRAM 256/512MBTimes on list: NewCorsair's website for this product
While Kingmax, Samsung and Winbond 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 200MHz FSB (400MHz 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 Winbond PC3200 DDR RAM sticks. They are rated for CAS 2.5 at 400MHz, and the RAM chips on these sticks are also used by Corsair on their PC3200 sticks (both CAS 2 and 2.5 varieties). If you are going to buy one of these, make sure its the 5ns variety, or you're actually buying PC2700 RAM.Samsung also has a PC3200 DDR RAM stick on the market, but they are having problems working on many boards, because a lot of boards have trouble with the RAM's CAS 3 timing. Thus, I would steer clear from that stick until its problems are sorted.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, but if your after no frills RAM, but still decent performance, without the cost of RDRAM, look below.- Find the best price on Corsair DDR memory!- Kingmax PC2700 DDR RAMTimes on list: NewKingmax's website for this product
This time I'm going to take a different slant on the value RAM, and recommend some that's not really an overclockers friend, but certainly does get the job done at default, and a little above default speeds.If you're after overclocking DDR RAM, the only real option left to you is Corsair, now that the generic Samsung PC2700 sticks have changed revisions (from CTL to DTL) and now won't overclock anywhere near as well. To add to the argument, Corsair has the new CAS 2 PC3200 sticks on the market, which has taken overclocking RAM to new heights, so the stick to get is certainly that one. As a result, I've gone for a RAM stick that will work brilliantly in a PC that's running at or near default speeds, and one that is a lot cheaper than the Corsair RAM.This Kingmax PC2700 stick is rated for PC2700 speeds at CAS 2.5, is built from the newer TinyBGA RAM chips, comes in 128/256/512MB varieties, and costs about AUD$160, which is very reasonable for a 256MB stick. Lately there have been rumors of a 166MHz FSB Athlon XP (333MHz DDR FSB), and soon Intel will be releasing i845 Chipsets that support DDR 333 RAM, so buying PC2700 RAM will be a good, cost effective choice in the future.If your after some RAM that won't break the bank, but isn't cheap and nasty, this is going to be it. If your after some to overclock with, look above, but otherwise, head to your local PC shop and get some of this.- Find the best price on Kingmax PC2700 DDR RAM

PC Buyers Guide - Video Cards

Video Cards- ATI Radeon 9700 PROTimes on list: NewATI's website for this product
The Radeon 9700 PRO (from now on referred to as the R9700) has only just (i.e. a few days) been released at the time of writing, so at first this card is going to prove very difficult to find, but if you can get one, you certainly wont be disappointed!The R9700 has replaced the Radeon 8500 and 8500LE as ATi's high performance cards, and has turned out to be a very worthy competitor to the nVidia juggernaut and its upcoming NV30 video card. In the past, ATi has often tried to sell its video cards based upon special features they have, which in the end hasn't really worked for ATi as the mainstream consumer market has no reason for this fancy stuff. This time, ATi has gone for a more brute force approach, and the R9700 doesn't have obscure features, but instead ones that are more than likely going to be used to full advantage in upcoming games.While we're on the topic of features, I'll have a quick(ish) rundown of them. Firstly off the block is the nice fact that the R9700 is about the same size as the GeForce 3 - no video cards covering DRAM slots! Importantly, while the actual chip that runs the R9700 hasn't gone up bit-wise, the DDR RAM has doubled in bits to 256-bit. While this may not seem special, if you look at the Memory Bandwidth equation:Mem Bandwidth = Memory Speed * Memory Bus Width / 8On a Ti4600 (the previous card here), this then becomes10.4Gb/s=650MHz*128-bit/8However! The R9700 looks like this: 19.8=620MHz*256-bit/8As you can see, the move to 256-bit DDR RAM has resulted in the bandwidth being nearly double the Ti4600, but still having a slower memory speed! As well as supporting the new 256-bit DDR RAM, it also supports AGP 8x, which is a new AGP standard running at 0.8V and is being released on the newest motherboards from now. At the present time only the KT400, SiS648 and P4X400 support this. AGP 8x allows the AGP card to access system memory at 1066MB/s, which is double the AGP 4x limit, but unfortunately, it doesn't give much more performance, but it does help! (Remember that the card only accesses the memory when its run out of its own memory, so it won't be helpful all that often). While on the topic of memory, the card supports 128MB, and can have 256MB (I believe - I have only seen 128MB versions so far) of 2.86ns RAM, which is good for a theoretical 700MHz. The memory controller on the card is the Hyper Z III, which is an evolution of the Hyper Z II on the R8500 and the new R9000. Chip wise, the R9700 has a handy 100-110 million transistors on a 0.15 micron die, which is about 40 million over the Ti4600, which is also on a 0.15 micron die. The R9700 has some other handy new features like the inclusion of 4 vertex shaders, 8 pixel pipelines, which are both double the Ti4600. While that won't mean anything to most people, it firstly means increased performance, and secondly, the inclusion of things like that, as well as upgrades to the Vertex and Pixel shaders, means that the R9700 is DX9 compliant, even though DX9 isn't out yet! The card also supports multisampling instead of supersampling, which is said to improve FSAA performance, and after seeing its FSAA performance, I'd have to believe them.Now that I've rambled on about the R9700's great features, you'd expect that it performs rather well. The card is faster than the Ti4600 by around 150% in most tests. In the 3DMark 2001SE section of the THG R9700 review, the R9700 is able to score 10000 points at 1600*1200/32-bit/85Hz in 3DMark 2001 SE. That score is enough said on the performance!Price wise, it's quite steep, at US$399 RRP, so its only for the ones with deep pockets, but hey, this is the top of the line card section. If your after the best card, bar none, take this, if you can find it!- Find the best price on ATi Radeon 9700- Any (decent) brand GeForce 4 Ti4200Times on list: OnenVidia'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) have come done markedly and now you can buy a quality 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. However, nVidia released the GeForce 4 Ti4200, which is designed to slot into the budget high performance market (if you can have such a thing). The Ti4200 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 (around the R9700 size). 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 configurations 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 the R9700 when its price drops, 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 the ASUS or SUMA Ti4200 128MB, because they also feature 3.3ns RAM, which will make overclocking that much better.- Find the best price on GeForce4 Ti4200 graphics card!

PC Buyers Guide - Hard Disk Drives

Hard Disk Drives- Western Digital Caviar Special Edition Hard DiskTimes on list: 4Western Digital's website for this product
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 (thankfully the newer GXP120 is better) 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. 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.One thing to remember is that the new Serial ATA format is going to be released soon, and a new range of hard drives will follow. At the moment, the Seagate Barracuda V is reported to have a 8MB cache like this WD drive, and come in sizes up to 120GB. Add to this the faster data transfer rate of Serial ATA, and these drives will be the way of the future. If you can hold off buying a hard drive, I'd look into a Serial ATA drive (but you will need either an onboard Serial ATA connector, or you will have to buy a Serial ATA card, as they use a different format to the current drives). - Find the best price on Western Digital Caviar Special Edition 100GB!- Seagate Barracuda ATA IV Hard DriveTimes on list: 4Seagate'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. Finally, when the Barracuda IV was first released, it had issues with running in RAID at any decent speed. However, the new Barracuda IV's do not have this problem, due to a firmware upgrade, so these drives are a decent choice for a RAID array.- 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.
Other good brands of DVD drives include Sony and Pioneer.- Find the best price on Toshiba SD-M1612 DVD drive!Burners- LiteOn 48x12x48x IDE CD-RW (LTR 40125S)Times on list: New (Last time it was burning 8x slower)LiteOn's website for this product
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 48x (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$200 (about US$100 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 40x12x48x IDE CD-RW (LTR 32123S)Times on list: New (last time this one was also burning 8x slower, and reading 8x slower)LiteOn's website for this product
This drive is exactly the same as the one above, except it has 40x (Z-CLV) recording, 12x(CLV) re-writing and 48x (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 $130, which makes them a hard drive to pass up.- Find the best price on LiteOn burners!

PC Buyers Guide - Sound Cards and Monitors

Soundcards- Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum eXTimes on list: 4Creative's website for this product
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: 4Creative'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: 4Sony'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: 4LG'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 and 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 internal 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 aluminum 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 aluminum 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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