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ThePerfectCore's PC Building Guide

Video Card

- This is where things can get sticky. Obviously, a video card is an extremely important piece of your computer, so you can expect to put alot of thought into what card you want to buy. I will give you a few pointers, though.

First, a picture of my (now defunct) GeForce4 Ti4200:

Mmmm... pretty.


-Make sure the card is at least DirectX 8 compatible. Most modern video cards are DX8 compatible. If you can get DirectX 9 support, that's even better.

-Make sure the card is an AGP video card, as opposed to a PCI video card. Remember that slot I talked about while describing the motherboard? That's where you video card should go. Unless worse comes to worse and you simply can't afford a good video card, be sure to get a card that uses the AGP port.

-Another thing about AGP. Make sure the card uses at least 4x AGP. This is one of the ways video cards describe their speed. If you buy an AGP video card that runs at 1XAGP, you're hurting yourself, because that's about the same as buying a PCI video card.

-Make sure your card comes with plenty of video RAM. Video RAM is where the card stores textures and other fun things needed to run a game/application properly. I recommend at least 64MB of DDR video RAM - do not be fooled by cards that have a ton of SDRAM, as they are slower than cards that use DDR RAM. I have a card with 128MB of RAM, and it serves me well.

-Most importantly, do research! Don't just go buy any ol' video card meets the above requirements; you probably won't be happy with the results! Compare benchmarks and if possible, try the card first hand on a demo or buddy's machine.

 

Sound Card

- Whatever you choose it up to you, depending on whether your system is going to be playing DVDs, or just surfing around the 'net - just don't skimp. If you have to decide between a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz and a $9.95 "Mondo Sound" from a no-name company, you will have issues. For office or internet machines, the onboard sound controller (if your board has one) will suffice. In my experience, though, onboard sound controllers don't cooperate well with headphones.

It's a sound card.


Research research research.

 

Modem

- If you're still stuck with on a dial-up connection, too-bad so sad, but there is hope. I'd like to take this oppurtunity to direct everyone on a dial-up connection right here.

That thread explains that Winmodems aren't modems. Don't ever forget this. If you're on a phone line and you're tired of getting 2.2kb/sec max, then you could invest in a hardware modem (as opposed to a "soft" modem) for your new machine. If you must skimp and get a cheap modem, make sure it supports V92, and has two phone jacks, so you don't have to switch lines between the PC and the phone. Duh.

Here is a picture of a Winmodem:

If the internet is so high tech, why does it sound like a train wreck when I sign on?

 

Hard drive

- The thing that holds all of your data. A fast hard drive isn't always the best; a 120GB disk would be good for you downloaders/data diggers, but for someone who uses the PC for 10 minutes out of each day to check email and read the news, it's overkill. When shopping for a hard drive, you might see a term like ATA66 or ATA100. This describes how fast data can be moved between the hard disk and the motherboard controller. Note that this speed is theorectical - an ATA66 hard disk will probably never actually transfer things to the system at 66 Megs a second.

Picture of one of mine:

Of parts that you shouldn't drop, this one has the highest priority.


Currently ATA 133 is the fastest available out side of Serial ATA. ATA33/66/100/133 drives are backwards-compatible, so if you buy an ATA133 hard disk and plug it into a motherboard that only supports ATA33, it'll work - but you'll still have crappy performance. Similairly, an ATA33 hard drive will work just fine on an ATA100 motherboard. Like I just implied, check your motherboard, and make sure it supports at least ATA100.

Another thing you'll see in a hard disk's specs is the RPMs, or Rotations Per Minute. A 7200 RPM hard disk will be perfectly fine for any home user, although faster hard drives are available. In the other direction, though, are 5400 RPM hard disks. Don't purchase one unless you are seriously that strapped for cash.

Seek times are another thing to pay attention to. A 12 ms (milliseconds) seek time isn't uncommon nowadays, but I'd look for something that is at most, 10 ms.

Lastly, is the hard drive's Cache. The cache is were data is stuffed before being sent to the system (CPU, RAM, etc.) A 2MB cache is extremely common, but if you can afford it, grab a hard disk with an 8MB cache. More cache = better performance.

Next: CD-Rom/Writer, CPU, and Cooling Systems
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