NOTICE: 08.november.2005 - Hear ye, hear ye. After two years with this system (designed in 2003), I have designed a new system: Le Black Beast 2006.
Note that many people are still using systems based on designs similar to what is detailed below (865/875 chipset). Those systems should work well for quite some time.
Design & Build your own PC
Building your own PC can be a blast. So whenever friends ask for advice on how to design a computer for themselves, I simply modify the components you see listed in the grid below to reflect their particular needs and budget.
Most want a computer that's fast,
versatile and stable. They don't mind paying a little extra for hardware, as long as it will buy them features & performance they can actually use. So economics is always a factor.
I enjoy this type of challenge and have
yet to disappoint. Aesthetics is also a factor, which means the system has *look* cool .. which (of course) means it has
to be BLACK.
The particular system you see detailed here was designed for a friend who does graphics &
video work by
day, before turning it over to the kids for online gaming at night.
All items listed should be in stock. I like Newegg.
They have competitive prices and ship fast. For an extra $2.99, they'll
rush your order. It usually takes 2 or 3
days for the FedEx man to show up
at your doorstep .. with all those beautiful boxes.
Newegg's impressive reseller rating is posted
here. More importantly, they have a lenient return/RMA policy. I know people who actually broke stuff, and Newegg *still* took
it back, even after the allotted time. If you've ever done business
online, you know how rare this is.
CrazyPC is a good alternate
to use for those times when Newegg is out-of-stock. Their similarly-impressive
reseller rating is posted here.
But Intel's new chipsets & CPUs are having problems
(see here &
they don't (yet) offer better performance than found with previously
existing technologies (875+Northwood-478,
So it might be best to stick with 875+Northwood-478,
because *stability* is always the most important consideration. At least, that's how I see it.
If you can wait a few months, Intel will release a new stepping
(upgraded version) of/for these new products, which should correct the problems. If you can wait until next year (2005),
that would be a better time to opt for something with the i925X chipset + the LGA-775 Prescott CPU,
because Intel should then be offering components that support an FSB
of 1066-MHz (see here
and here) and have all the kinks worked out.
Update 11.august.2004: Seeing that Intel's new chipset technology offers no performance improvements and would cost significantly more (need new DDR2 RAM, PCI-graphics card, etc), the smart people are sticking with 875+Northwood+DDR1 for the time being.
When a 3.6-GHz CPU can be purchased for less than US$400 and FSB 1066 is available, that would be the time to re-evaluate this question. Until then, I suggest sticking with what is listed below. We all love new technology, but we must use our wallet wisely and be good techno-capitalists. See here and here for more along these lines.
Links for DRIVERS have been coded (where
applicable) into the COMPONENT column. Some COMPONENTS listed below
(such as MONITOR and GRAPHICS CARD and SOUND CARD) have *two* items
to select from .. depending on your particular preferences.
* - Includes onboard Firewire (IEEE-1394) controller
chip). ** - You want68-pin connector, not the 80-pin connector.
### - I'm having trouble linking to the web page. $225. Here is the link:
http://www.axentmicro.com/huzrb/partdetails~af~gle~mp~8E036L0.htm .. the tilde (~) gets converted to "%7E".
*** - You might need one of these
dual-RCA to mini-sound adapters.
# - Graphics card selection is always a key decision. If you want to
edit video with Avid
Xpress Pro, I recommend the Matrox
which is only card
that supports 3 heads, to be used with two IDENTICAL monitors (either
panel or CRT)
+ 1 NTSC (TV) output. See HERE
!! - The Audigy2
offers best compatibility for editing with Avid Xpress DV. But only
install the drivers, not the software package that comes with the card.
For this reason, it's best to order an OEM version.
++ - This flat-panel monitor contains both an analog d-sub
*and* a digital DVI port. Even if your graphics card does not have a
DVI port, it's still a good idea to get a DVI-capable monitor because
DVI ports will become more popular in the future. You pay ~US$50 extra
for this feature over a monitor without a DVI port. You may (probably)
also need to purchase a DVI cable, such as this
one. They're not cheap. See HERE
Note: the external
drive comes pre-formatted as FAT32. It is best re-formatted as NTFS,
so you don't run into the 4-GB file-size limitation associated with
FAT32. It supports both USB 2.0 (60MB/sec) and Firewire (50MB/sec) interfaces.
## - Replaceable black front bezel included with the Plextor DVD burner.
The best thing about building your own rig - other than learning how
a computer goes together, and the pride that comes from using one you
built yourself - is that they're so easy to upgrade. No need to buy
a whole new computer every few years. The big name-brand houses like
Dell & Gateway
don't make it very easy for you to upgrade your rig. They'd rather you
buy a new one.
You won't find this system at Dell.
Of course, you can have the boys at GamePC
build it for you, but it will cost several hundred dollars more. See
for yourself at GamePC
It wouldn't be difficult to spend a lot more.
I don't mind *designing* systems like this one, but I don't like to
build them .. because people will call you every time
they have a problem or question .. which will invariably be right after
you go to sleep. It's best if they take the time to learn how to build
it themselves .. which isn't very difficult. I have built system for
friends .. long as they promise not to tell their wives how much they
spent. =) I've gotten too many calls from irate wives after the credit
card bill arrives.
With your car, wise folks advise you not to skimp on tires or brakes,
for obvious reasons. When it comes to your PC, you shouldn't skimp on
power supplies or memory. Troubles
with them are difficult to diagnose, and the difference in cost between
bargain-basement stuff and quality components is not very much.
I would also add the monitor to this strategy, since
most of your computing experience comes through it. Still, the #1
way to improve your computing experience is to upgrade from a dial-up
to broadband connection. It's
Update 07November2003 - Some readers have written to say they've built
this exact system. Others have built a similar design with minor changes.
Case: Surprisingly light. Well designed. Comes
with 4 fans and extra items other cases skimp on.
A separate plate on the back removes to easily install the power
Power Supply: Plenty of cable length Rock solid
Motherboard: Comes with all the extras you could
ever want, including adapters and cables for SATA drives. No skimping.
The v1011 BIOS
is the last to support Northwood-478 CPUs. Use that one if you have
a Northwood. Subsequent BIOS revisions are for Precotts. Use the
latest (v1016 or 1017) if you have a Prescott.
CPU: Comes with a thermal pad. You will get better
cooling by removing the pad and applying thermal paste. Make sure
to get the Retail CPU, as the non-Retail unit does not some with
a heat sink. Some have used after-market heat-sinks.
Memory: Make sure to get the *twin* pack.
Cheetah: If you are sensitive to sound, you do
not want this drive. While it is not loud per se, it is louder than
a 7,200-RPM IDE drive. If you put the case on the floor, under the
desk, it will be away from your ears. If the floor is carpeted,
it will help deaden the sound even more.
Monitor: A button outside of the case that allows
you to increase screen brightness with a single push. Nice feature
when playing 3D games. Note that this is an aperture grille tube.
Almost impossible to see the 2 horizontal stabilizing lines.
Speakers: More than adequate. Easy to wake the
Headphones: Like slippers for your ears. The
most comfortable headphones you will ever wear.
Mouse: The IntelliPoint
mouse drivers from Microsoft cause problems in some games. It's
best not to install them. The mouse works fine with the standard
Floppy: Easy to connect the data cable upside
down. If your data-transfer light remain lit constantly, simply
reverse it. No damage will occur. Light should only be lit during