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PC Buyers Guide - October 2002

You've all been waiting for it and now its here! Come join Nick Swan as he gives us the newest edition of the TweakTown Buyer's Guide. With some very interesting additions to the PC world this past month, it is time to see what was worthy to be added to the ranks of the best. Come see for yourself!
TweakTown Staff
Published Fri, Oct 11 2002 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:25 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none

PC Buyers Guide - Introduction

IntroductionSeptember in the computing world has been a very interesting one, although nowhere near as interesting as prior months, as the R9700 PRO video card wasn't released this month, and that was a product that certainly caught my attention. However, there have still been some interesting releases in September, probably centering on the release of the Athlon XP 2700+ and 2800+ with the nForce 2. They haven't been included in this guide, and won't for a long time to come as they are not expected to be released until around December, and only in quantity in Q1 2003.Nevertheless, a few new things have been added to this guide. First up we have the new Corsair PC3500 DDR RAM based on the very overclockable Winbond 5ns chips, as well as the return of all the GeForce4 video cards, although this time in a budget role (I never imagined I'd see a Ti4600 recommended as a good budget card). Other than that, we have a new DVD drive, new sound cards, none of which come from Creative, and the introduction of speakers, as well two new cases and the Antec TruePower range of PSU's.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: 2Intel's website for this product
Ever since AMD released the original Athlon, Intel has been behind AMD, or only just keeping up. The only time Intel had any real advantage over AMD was when they released the P4 Willamette 2.0GHz, and AMD only had the Thunderbird 1.4GHz on the market. After the Athlon XP was released, AMD once again took the performance crown by quite a margin, and Intel was left in its wake with its P4 Willamette. However, Intel's rise back to the top of the CPU ladder came with the release of the Northwood cored Pentium 4. The Northwood cored P4 introduced two main things - double the case size, and an increase in the FSB speed. The cache went from 256KB to 512KB, running at the CPU speed, and on some Northwood variants, the FSB went from 100MHz quad pumped to 133MHz quad pumped. The improvement in these two areas went a long way to bridge the performance gap between the two competing processors, and when Intel started to ramp up the speed of the Northwood core to 2.4GHz+, AMD hasn't been able to respond. Thus, the fastest performing CPU's at this time all come from the Intel fab plant. In previous press releases by AMD, they have claimed they have the fastest performing desktop CPU (this was a theme of the XP2600+ release), but remember that this CPU is not actually available at the current moment, nor is the CPU that it was released with, the XP2400+. On October 1, AMD released the XP2700/2800+ CPU's, which do indeed have enough power to take it up with the Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU, partly due to AMD raising the FSB speed of the Athlon XP to 166MHz DDR. But there is a problem with the new 2700+ and 2800+ CPU's - you can't buy them, and won't be able to for quite a while. In the meantime, The Pentium 4 from Intel holds the speed crown by quite a margin, so obviously it's going to be the performance processor of choice. Currently, there are about six P4's that will perform better than AMD's XP2200+ (their current top performing processor that you can buy), which are the P4 2.4, 2.5, and 2.6GHz on the 100MHz quad pumped FSB (mind you, I have never seen a 2.6GHz/400 P4 for sale, but I am told they exist), and the 2.4, 2.53, 2.66 and 2.8GHz on the 133MHz quad pumped FSB. The choice of which processor is really up to your wallet. If you're after the absolute best performance, I would certainly go for the 2.8GHz, but if your looking to save some money, I would look at the 2.53GHz P4. They have come down in price quite a bit lately (62% price drop on that product about a month ago), and thus represent an excellent speed/value ratio. This processor should also overclock quite well, but if you're into overclocking, I would either purchase the P4 2.66GHz, which is based on the new C1 stepping, or wait for the P4 2.53 C1, which is said to begin production on October 4 and will probably make retail stores at the start of November.To take advantage of the new 133MHz quad pumped FSB, as well as to have the ability to actually support the new, high frequency P4's, you will need to have a motherboard based on one of Intel's i845E/G or i850E chipsets, SiS 648 or 645DX chipset, or VIA's problem-plagued P4X400 chipset. Apart from having one of these new chipset motherboards, I would make sure you have a decent power supply as the P4 can be a bit more demanding on your PSU. If you're not into overclocking, a 350W or more PSU, from a decent brand should be fine.So the choice is yours, but remember, don't be fooled by AMD's processor releases - you can't buy them, so just think of it as if they don't exist.- Find the best price on Intel Pentium 4 2.80GHz (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.About a month ago, AMD released what it called the fastest performing processors available, which were the XP 2400+ and 2600+. On October 1, AMD released the 2700+ and 2800+, which were, amazingly, released before the 2400+ and 2600+ made it into the retail channels. While they are decent and very fast processors, AMD really needs to get their act together when releasing new products. So, if you're looking to buy an AMD processor, don't be fooled. The XP2200+ is the fastest you can buy right now and the 1900+ is probably the best value.Feature-wise, the new 2700+ and 2800+ have the updated Thoroughbred B core which allows the CPU to scale a lot higher and have lower heat output, and of course overclock better, and even more importantly, the new CPU's run on a 166MHz DDR FSB. This means you will need a KT333, KT400 or nForce 2 board to run these chipsets at the right speed. The increase in FSB speed has given the processors a nice performance boost, which has meant they can keep up with the P4 2.8GHz running DDR 333. However, they won't be here before Christmas in all likelihood, so I wouldn't hold my breath (and Intel should have the P4 3.06GHz on the market by then).- Find the best price on AMD Athlon XP 1900+!

PC Buyers Guide - Motherboards

Motherboards- EPoX 4G4A+Times on List: 3EPoX 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: 1EPoX 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 2.2v 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 you're after features, don't look past the AT7 from Abit (or their new AT7 2 if you can find it).Recently, VIA launched the KT400 chipset for the Athlon XP, which was supposed to make available a lot of new features, including AGP 8x support, and unofficial DDR 400 support. However, in a lot of cases, the KT400 boards were performing well below the KT333 boards levels, and the unofficial DDR 400 support was often not stable or would simply not work. As a result, I would recommend you stay away from any KT400 board until a new revision of the chipset, or at least a board that runs properly, is released.On the horizon is the nForce 2 from nVidia. This board brings DDR 400 support to the Athlon XP, in both single and dual channel configurations, which on paper looks very promising, but in reality is rather less promising, although still very useful. As well as its dual channel DDR RAM abilities, the board is extremely feature packed, and has almost every feature you would want for your PC. The nForce 2 was released on October 1, and while it performed extremely well, beating the KT333/KT400, it was said to be quite a buggy chipset. If nVidia can fix the problems it has, no doubt the nForce 2 will be a big winner.- Find the best price on EPoX motherboards!

PC Buyers Guide - Memory

RDRAM- Samsung RIMM 4200Times on list: 1
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, it is 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 motherboard. 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 it is way too hard to find and doesn't overclock as well as the DDR RAM below.- Find the best price on RDRAMDDR Memory- Corsair XMS3500 DDR RAM (PC3500)Times on list: NewCorsair's website for this product
Corsair only just managed to scrape into this section of the memory guide as I was originally going to recommend TwinMos PC3200 DDR RAM, which uses the brand new 5ns Winbond chips. The reason I was going to recommend RAM that would probably look like generic rubbish to a lot of people was the fact that it used the new Winbond 5ns chips. The previous performance king, Corsair's XMS3200, only used 6ns chips which are actually rated to just 166MHz. This means that the Corsair XMS3200 modules are actually overclocked PC2700 RAM - the TwinMos stick and its 5ns chips are not overclocked RAM. Thus, the TwinMos sticks were ideal. Add to that reports that the sticks could go upwards of 225MHz in CAS 2, and the TwinMos sticks were perfect for overclocking.Only a few days ago, Corsair released their PC3500 DDR RAM based on the Winbond 5ns chips. With Corsairs excellent quality, and excellent overclocking, I have decided to recommend these, even though I haven't seen any results about their overclocking. It is a gamble, but I think it will pay off. 5 minutes before writing this sentence I looked at the Corsair website and they now list the RAM as being able to run at 217MHz using the timings: 2-4-4-8-1T. To most people that won't mean anything, and if your one of them, think of it this way: To get this stick of RAM to only be able to run at relaxed timings (i.e. slower performance), you will need to do some SERIOUS overclocking, and thus wouldn't be reading this. For most people, the RAM will run at their everyday speed at the most aggressive timings possible (i.e. best possible performance), without raising a sweat.In terms of pure number crunching performance, these Corsair sticks, along with most of their other XMS range of RAM, are among the best performing sticks. The only real downside with this product is the price - all the XMS sticks from Corsair are quite a bit more expensive than sticks of the same speed rating from other manufacturers. However, remember that Corsair sticks perform brilliantly and are by far the best overclockers, and to cap it off, they all come with a lifetime warranty which would certainly account for some of the price difference.If you're after the best DDR RAM on the market, get this and nothing else, but try and ignore the price tag.- Find the best price on Corsair DDR memory!- Kingmax PC2700 DDR RAMTimes on list: NewKingmax 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, as well as 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 AU$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 you're after some RAM that won't break the bank, but isn't cheap and nasty, this is going to be it. If you're 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: 1ATi website for this product
The Radeon 9700 PRO (from now on referred to as the R9700) has now been on the market for about a month and its sales have been at such high levels that companies like Gigabyte have had to order more R9700 PRO cores from ATi to fill the demand.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 GeForce3 - 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 it's run out of its own memory, so it won't be helpful all that often. However, there have been a lot of issues with the AE2 stepping R9700, which lead to it not being able to run AGP 8x on a lot of boards. New versions don't have this problem, and if you bought an AE2 R9700, I believe that you can send it back to ATi to get it fixed. Memory-wise, 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 four vertex shaders, eight 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, but has recently started to come down quite a bit. In Australia you can get some Powercolor R9700's for AU$750, which is about 350 American dollars. If you're after the best card, bar none, take this, if you can find it!- Find the best price on ATi Radeon 9700- Any (decent) brand GeForce4, based on any GeForce4 Ti chipsetTimes on list: In different forms - every guidenVidia's website for this product
The GeForce4 chipset has been on the market for quite a long time now, and while it has no doubt been surpassed by the ATi Radeon 9700 Pro video card, it still packs a very big punch in the performance stakes. Originally, the GeForce4 Ti4600 retailed at about AU$950, but the card has now fallen to about AU$550 in quite a few shops, which makes it a very tantalizing purchase. On the same note, the Ti4400 has also fallen quite a bit in price and can now be bought for less than AU$440. The Ti4200 on the other hand hasn't fallen in price as much as the Ti4400/4600, which is partly due to its already low price and partly due to the fact it was released a fair while after the Ti4400/4600.If you look at the features of the GeForce4 and then compare them against the Radeon 9700 Pro from ATi, the GeForce4 looks like an old style card only worthy for web browsing, but you have to remember that many of the features of the R9700 are very advanced, and won't be supported in games for quite a while to come. The GeForce4 Ti cards are based on the NV25 chipset, which brought quite a few improvements over the previous card, the GeForce3. The GeForce4 has two vertex/pixel shaders, up from one on the GeForce3, but only half the number of shaders on the R9700. The cards also support LMA II - Light Speed Memory Architecture II - which was one of the main reasons the GF4 had a nice speed boost over the GF3. Accuview and nView are also on the GF4's, which allow you to have two different monitors running off the same card, although I am told ATi's Hydravision is a much better method of running two monitors. If you're after a dual monitor setup, Matrox or an ATi Radeon 8500 might be for you.The GF4 Ti4400/4600's come in 128MB sizes, with the memory running at 550MHz for the Ti4400 and 650MHz for the Ti4600. The core speeds are 275 and 300MHz respectively. The Ti4200 on the other hand comes in either 64MB or 128MB sizes, running at 444MHz for the 128MB and 500MHz for the 64MB cards - the core on both runs at 250MHz. The choice between 64MB or 128MB really comes down to how long you will be keeping the card. If its not for too long, i.e. you're looking to get either the NV30 (nVidia's next chipset) as soon as it comes out, or if your going to get an R9700 in the future, say at Christmas, then 64MB will be perfect. However, if you're going to keep the card for a while, I would look at getting a 128MB card. While the memory may run slower, newer games will start to use more than 64MB of textures, which means the video card will have to access the system memory, which will give a large performance drop. You could try and avoid this by getting the Asus Ti4200 128MB Deluxe, which has 3.3ns RAM, good for 606MHz theoretically, and 550MHz default. If you're just going for the 64MB version, try and get Triplex's Ti4200, which also comes with 3.3ns RAM.The choice of which GF4 to get will come down to price, but the price drops have made the Ti4600 very affordable. However, if you're going to spend more than about AU$600, then I would save up and grab the R9700 Pro instead.- Find the best price on GeForce4 graphics cards!

PC Buyers Guide - Hard Disk Drives

Hard Disk Drives- Western Digital Caviar Special Edition Hard DiskTimes on list: 5Western 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.Warranty IssuesAs of a few days ago, around the 20th of September in Australia, nearly every hard drive sold in Australia, and I would assume the world, now comes with a one year warranty. This is down on the previous 3-year warranty, so be wary of this. Previously there were a lot of issues with the IBM GXP 60 and 75 DeskStar hard drives (leading to them being called DeathStars), where they were blowing up (literally in some cases). These two drives, the WD and Seagate, are not know to blow up, but be wary of this issue.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.Even though a few motherboards with SATA (serial ATA) support are filtering through, like the Abit IT7 MAX 2, there still doesn't seem to be any SATA drives for sale. I have seen some benchmarks of the Seagate Barracuda 5 SATA HDD, in which it murdered this drive performance-wise. If you can hold on until the Seagate Barracuda 5 is out, I'd certainly wait.- 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, which all sell for a very reasonable price. I recently got a recommendation for the Asus E616 DVD-ROM, which reads DVD's at 16x, CD's at 48x, and has a 512KB buffer. The thing that stood out about this drive is the fact that it is relatively easy to reset the region counter on the drive, which means you can play DVD's from all regions and number of times on the drive. But because we are very law abiding and always purchase the DVD's we watch, we wouldn't need that feature would we?Other good brands of DVD drives include Sony, Pioneer and Toshiba.- Find the best price on Asus E616 16x/48x DVD Drive!Burners- LiteOn 48x12x48x IDE CD-RW (LTR 40125S)Times on list: OneLiteOn'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$135 (about US$70 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: OneLiteOn'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 $110, which makes them a hard drive to pass up.- Find the best price on LiteOn burners!

PC Buyers Guide - Sound Cards, Monitors and Speakers

SoundcardsThe first thing to note here is that I haven't recommended any top of the line sound card this month, and that is due to the impending release of the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy II sound card which Creative promises will be a whole lot better than the last Audigy. The reason why I didn't recommend the old Audigy is partly due to the new Audigy, but also due to some very bad driver support by Creative, which will limit the effectiveness of the Audigy I, especially if you're having problems with it. Seeing as there is no support for the old card, it might not be a very good idea for you to splash out on the older version if you can pick up the new one in a month.However, if you are looking to buy a new sound card right now, I received a recommendation from a reader regarding the Philips Acoustic Edge sound card. I had a look at the card and some reviews of it, and it seemed to have the goods in a lot of areas, as well as being able to support a lot of features in use right now. To cap it off, I'm told the Doom III presentation at E3 and QuakeCon used the Acoustic Edge card for its sound, so someone up there must like it.So, if you can, wait and see how the Audigy II turns out. Otherwise I'd have a look at the Acoustic Edge from Philips. Have a look here for details- Hercules Fortissimo III Sound CardTimes on list: NewHercules website for this product
A lot of people couldn't really care about their PC audio (to a point obviously, you don't want garble coming out), and thus aren't looking to spend much money on a sound card, or in some cases, no money. The Audigy DE sound card that previously occupied this slot was no doubt a very capable and feature rich card, but the price was a little high, at about AU$170. When taking that fact into consideration, along with the pathetic support described above, I decided that a change was in order.The Fortissimo III soundcard is, as the name suggests, an evolution of the Fortissimo II soundcard that brought very decent sound to desktop PC's for about AU$100. Feature-wise, the Fortissimo III runs on the PCI bus, as you would expect, and has a sampling rate of up to 48kHz, a DSP accelerated engine for unlimited number of voices, DSL 1.0 compatibility, supports DirectSound 3D, EAX 1.0, EAX 2.0, A3D 1.0, I3DL2 in games and Microsoft DirectSound/DirectMusic, Dolby Surround and Dolby Digital/Dolby Digital EX in other audio tasks (Hercules simply describes it as "Audio Compatibility"). Input and output-wise, it features a digital S/PDIF out, and enough different speaker plugs to support 2,4,5.1 and 7.1 speaker setups.As of yet, you cannot buy these cards in Australia, although I have been informed that they should be available in the middle of October, but the price isn't set yet. However, their official U.S. price is $50, so they should be very well priced in Australia, possibly under 100 dollars.If you're looking for a cheap and not nasty sound card, look no further than Hercules latest release.- Find the best price on Hercules sound cards!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+! -SpeakersSpeakers are probably the most "personal" thing in all of computing, so its not really worth saying that everyone finds speaker X brilliant, while everyone finds speaker Y very poor. Obviously, some speakers will be of better quality than others, but a lot of people are willing to put up with dodgy speakers because they don't listen to things that require quality speakers.However, if you are after a good set of speakers to listen to music and play games in surround sound and the other features you can now utilize, there are certainly some speakers that I would recommend to you. This is the same for someone looking for some cheap speakers to play games and listen to a bit of music, but not willing to shell out the massive sums of money a really good set of speakers sets you back.At the very top of the speaker range sits the company Klipsch. They make PC speakers in 2.1, 4.1 and 5.1 varieties, and are regarded as the best speakers bar none, just about everywhere. The 5.1 set of speakers, which I would have to recommend as the "best" speakers, feature 5 tweeters and one subwoofer (obviously...), a frequency response of 20Hz to 25Khz, a 113dB maximum audio output, and are THX certified. These speakers themselves are not digital, but you can purchase a "DD 5.1 Digital Decoder" from Klipsch to add this ability and add to the price tag. While those speakers certainly are excellent, there are definitely other very good quality speakers around, so have a look round, and most importantly, listen to them and see what suits you!Recently there have been a lot of entrants into the cheap but feature packed speaker market. One product that caught my attention was the Hercules XPS510 speakers - a cheap set of 5.1 speakers. The Hercules speakers are rated for 60 Watts RMS total, comprised of 20 Watts from the subwoofer, and 8 from each tweeter. While the speakers may not seem special, and I have heard their sound quality isn't stunning, you can't argue with their price. They are about AU$160, which is extremely good value compared with other 5.1 speaker setups. If you add a good quality cheap soundcard like the Fortissimo III to this, you have a very cheap, but still very capable setup on your hands. Have a look at the speakers here!Take a look at the Klipsch range of speakers hereSome pictures - The first one is the Klipsch ProMedia 5.1's, and the second is the Hercules XPS510.

PC Buyers Guide - Cases and Power Supplies

At the moment, the market for computer cases is flooded with all sorts of things that range from total rubbish to brilliant designs and prices. 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 a lot cheaper than the others in its category 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. The 300W model should suffice for most AMD Athlon XP PC's, but 350W might be a better bet for new P4 systems, which are a little tougher on power supplies.The most impressive part of this case is the price tag. They are around AU$170 with a 300W power supply and I have seen them for AU$110 without a power supply (that translates to around US$80/$50). 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. Three cases that stand out in this market segment are the Antec "Performance Plus" 1080 case, and the Thermaltake Xaser 5000 Plus and 6000 Plus cases.The Antec case is a full tower case that comes with a high quality Antec TruePower 430W PSU, and comes in either beige or black. The case features 10 drive bays - 4 5.25" internal, 2 3.5" external and 4 3.5" internal, along with 5 case fans, of which 3 are standard, a swing out side panel that can be locked, a front air filter to protect the intake fans which can quite often get clogged with dust, and finally the case comes with 2 front USB ports and 1 front IE1394 port (Firewire). Price-wise the case is very good, coming in at about AU$240 with PSU and about AU$180 without. Take a look at the Antec case hereThe two Thermaltake cases are based on the same design, but have two major differences. One, they are different colors, and two, they are made out of different materials. Other than that, they are the same case. The Xaser 5000 Plus is the cheaper of the two, and is made from steel, unlike the more expensive Xaser 6000 Plus, which is made from aluminum. Feature wise, both have 10 drive bays, which are comprised of 4 5.25" internal bays, 2 3.5" external bays and 4 3.5", 5 fans - 2 rear exhaust, 1 side and 2 front intake, a lockable side panel, and most impressively for the price, a Thermaltake HardCano unit, which brings two USB ports to the front, along with a IEE1934 port (Firewire), a fan speed adjuster, and a small LCD screen to report temperatures. For the price, especially for the Xaser 5000 Plus price, you get a lot of features for your money. Remember though that you will need to purchase a PSU with this case, as they don't come with them. Visit Thermaltake and the Xaser 5000/6000 Plus cases right here!Like the case market, there are a lot of PSU's for sale, and some of these redefine the word "crap" (or even worse words). A lot of the PSU's that come with the cheap cases won't work at their rated output, and sometimes won't even work at an output that is quite a long way below their rated output. However, there are certainly a number of quality PSU's on the market which are vying for your money. The pick of these PSU's would have to be the Antec TruePower range - these PSU's are used in the Performance Plus 1080 case above. The Antec TruePower range of PSU's come in 330, 380, 430, 480 and 550W, so there should be a PSU for everyone's needs, including the crazy overclockers. Features-wise, if that matters to people in relation to PSU's, the Antec comes with dual fans, a switch on the back of the PSU to kill the power, seven 4-pin Molex connectors, two floppy drive Molex connectors, a ATX 12v connector for P4 systems, two 3-pin Molex connectors, and obviously, the ATX power connector. These PSU's are definitely more expensive than a lot of the competition, but the money you outlay for one of these PSU's is certainly worth it. Visit Antec and their range of PSU's right here!If you're into blue lights, check out Antec's 480W TrueBlue PSU. It has a blue neon light inside it for a nice glow and I believe its internals are exactly the same as the TruePower range.Now for the picture gallery:
Starting from the top, we have the Antec TrueBlue 480W PSU, with its funky blue lights - kinda cool if you ask me. Moving down, we have the Antec Performance Plus 1080 case. Next we have the two Xaser cases, and finally, we have the Aopen H600A.

PC Buyers Guide - Conclusion

ConclusionAnd that is that for another month. While this months releases havnt been as interesting or ground breaking as last months, there is certainly a few new items around that are worth taking a look at. On the same note, there are certainly a few items that are floating around that are not worth buying. If an item isnt listed here, dont think that its not worth buying - there are literally thousands of items around that are good quality, but dont appeal to all sectors of the market as most of the products listed here do. An example is the Abit BD7 II. The BD7 II is probably the number 1 motherboard for overclocking Pentium 4's with, but its lack of features stop it from being listed here. This happens for a lot of other items as well, so if you think an item suits your needs, by all means go for it, but make sure you take a look at reviews of the product so you dont end up buying rubbish.Stay tuned for next months guide, where we may well see the appearance of the Intel I845PE and GE chipsets, which bring official DDR 333 support to the Pentium 4. Other than that, there isnt anything really big comming along, but there is sure to be something released that is worth of purchasing.

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