Saturday, 7 July 2007

This will sound odd.

I've not been on here because I've been on at computers.

For a long time we've wanted to put a DVD-playing system into Sarah's room so that Ben could go there with friends to watch DVDs and talk, rather than them have to sit on his bed or trip over beetle parts. Some will also remember that I used to have a bit of a computer thing going, humorously called Turtle Information Technology Services.

Technology moves pretty darn quick when it stops being your hobby.

It's taken about 4 days of on-and-off study to become pretty much up to speed with what's required to create a decent mid-level system from bits. Thanks to AMD and Intel competing in their own fashions it's got a lot more complex choosing the right processor and Mobo, however I seemed to find EXACTLY the right mobo at a great price. Graphics card choices have pretty much unchanged - the more cash you throw at it the faster it gets, but they all plug into one kind of slot and guzzle stupid amounts of power (more than the entire rest of the PC! More later on that). Hard drives were slightly tricky too, because SATA seems to push them harder (or they're being made too cheaply) and every drive seems to have nearly as many reports of failure as of reliability, so I just bought Seagate. RAM has also multiplied in its types and speeds but dropping one level down from the very fastest dropped the price by around 35%, and it seems very cheap right now. Sound and speaker system was easy too - cheapish 8.1 channel sound card and a cheap but VERY well reported 5.1 speaker system. For the first time in ages too it seems I can build a system for significantly less than it can be bought at similar spec.

Friday evening I ordered the bits, with 'just' a monitor to source. That's when the search started in earnest.

LCD monitors are a complete nightmare. Quality is just all over the place, with little indication by price or even maker and model. Worst of all, there's a particular Samsung model that I really liked with panels made in 3 different locations - the Samsung-made panel has a refresh time of 2ms grey-grey and a 3000: contrast ratio. The Chinese made panel doesn't - gamers report bad smearing and light bleeding round the edges. It seems many of the screens shipping to the UK are fitted with the duff panel, and that's a £170 lottery I won't play. I'd really wanted something a little better than this screen for general use: black fonts are often greenish and a little smudgy, and the lighting isn't totally even. Colours aren't absolutely smooth eithers, with a little banding sometimes visible and a loss of detail in dark areas when watching DVDs. I bought a computer shopper mag this morning after the prayer meeting, which had a review of a whole bunch of monitors (none of which I'd been considering). Bucket of worms No.1.

Said magazine also had a review of PSUs. I'd intended to use the 350W power supply in the case I was buying, but an evening discussion with Ben (who arguable IS an IT professional) suggested it would last as far as the first boot. So having picked out a nice cheap 500W supply I made the mistake of reading another article reviewing power supplies too. Bucket of worms No.2.

I've discovered I could spend more on a power supply than on a decent 19" widescreen monitor!

The order has been suitably amended (and become a little more expensive). Overall it's coming in a bit more expensive than I first intended (now there's a novelty) but it should remain a decently viable system for the next 3 years and withstand a downgrade to Vista if M$ decide that XP can't support a whole raft of essential features. The sound card and speakers will be grafted into this PC (the old creative card will get grafted into the new machine and this one go upstairs).

Just one last interesting exercise related to the build. I have a spare XP license for the new machine, but unfortunately it's a pre-service pack 2 copy of XP and I need SP2 for SATA support in the new system. So I'm going to have to do the install (and wipe/rebuild of this machine) and probably call M$ helpline to get the software activated. I understand that they tend to be unsympathetic to to owners of 'home' licenses, although this version is professional so they might play ball.

If anyone cares, the spec. is as follows:

Innovision GeForce 7900GS 256MB DDR3 PCI-E Graphics Card 119692
Corsair 2GB Kit (2x1GB) DDR2 675MHz/PC2-5400 XMS Memory Non-ECC Unbuffered CL4(4-4-4-12) Heat Spreader Lifetime Warranty 98708
Foxconn 6100M2MA-RS2H SKT AM2 nForce 6100 onboard VGA PCI-E SATAII mATX 114772
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ (2GHz) Socket AM2 L2 1MB 2x512KB Retail Boxed Processor 122942
NEC Optiarc AD-5170A-0S 18xDVD±RW DL Silver - Bare Drive 117544
Asonic 8 Channel Soundcard C-media 8738 Chipset 3D - PCI 98073
Yatai 5.1 Black/Silver 33W RMS Surround Sound Speaker System - With LCD Front Panel/Wireless Remote 105960
Sweex Black/Silver Concorde Case - With 300W PSU 127086
Seagate ST3250820AS 250GB 7200RPM SATA300 8MB Cache - OEM 111515
Extra Value Gold 600W 12cm Fan Silent PSU - PFC 20+4pin 119227
Extra Value 120mm Internal Case Fan In Black - 4 pin connector 63281

I've left the ebuyer codes in if anyone is interested/bored enough to go look the items up.

The one thing I haven't listed is the monitor. This was a major source of grief as it's the single most expensive component of the whole system, and no supplier will accept one back just because 'it isn't very good'. There was a Hanns.G unit that got rave reviews in the magazine, and Ben's comment was that Hanns.G are usually very good. In typical style it was another £15 more than my already re-revised upper limit. Also in typical style, that particular model was out of stock with the sole UK vendor. 2nd best was an Iiyama, and it was both cheaper and in stock with half a dozen vendors. It doesn't have a DVI input but the image was apparently fully the other unit, so that's on the way too.

I'm rather looking forward to trying this one. It's been a long time since I drove a PC with a little muscle under the hood.

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