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Hexus System Guide

by David Ross on 16 January 2002, 00:00

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qaid

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Hexus System Guide

Systems Guide

Putting together a guide on what components to buy to build a system has many variables, such as what the system will be used for, where it will be used and not least how much it all will cost. I have put together what I feel would give the user good value in three different segments; starter system suitable for home office type use, performance system for gamers and a dream system – something we all want!!

Obviously this is intended solely as a guide and I know some people will disagree with what I have suggested – if so post in the forums to air your opinions.

It is also worth noting that if you are in the process of buying new components to build a PC system it is sometimes better to get most of the parts from one supplier. This has a few benefits – support can often be better from one supplier and also postage on items can work out a lot cheaper. Sometimes the cheapest items may not be so cheap when postage and packing is added. Also be wary of VAT – many suppliers advertise prices excluding VAT, so again bear this in mind when pricing components.

I’ve included an operating system in these guides but have not included this in the final price. This is because many people contemplating building their own systems will have an operating system they are currently using, and don’t need to buy a new OS.

I have included reviews where applicable, and in many cases more information can be found on the company website. I have included these also at the end of this guide.

On with the guide and we start with system 1 – starter system.

A starter system is designed as a ‘jack of all trades’ – a user will need a computer system that will perform well when running standard Windows applications such as Microsoft Office, with the possibility of playing the odd game or two when the urge takes them. To that end the starter system should be relatively cheap, very stable with excellent 2D and fairly good 3D performance.

CPU – AMD Duron 850

£52.88 from Overclockers UK

Since the introduction of the AMD Athlon and Duron processors, performance computing coupled with value for money has been within the reach of everyone. The Duron CPU’s perform within 10-20% of the Athlon processors. For our starter system the Duron 850 CPU is a solid performer and at a price point of under £50 it simply can’t be beaten. Review here.

CPU Cooler – Taisol CGK760092

£17.62 from The Overclocking Store

Good cooling ability and quiet – perfect!! Nuff said.

Motherboard – MSI K7N420 Pro

£142 from VGI Computers

With the introduction of the nForce chipset from NVIDIA, and excellent examples of what can be done with this chipset, MSI have introduced the K7N420 Pro. This motherboard is not the cheapest board available, but with its integrated video, excellent sound and NIC, it will save the added expense of purchasing these components separately. A review of this board can be found here.

Memory – 256Mb Crucial 2100 DDR

£53.70 from Crucial UK

Memory prices are on the increase, but it doesn’t make sense to go with anything less than 256Mb. There are many brands of memory available, but some are more reliable than others. Crucial memory (made by Micron) has the reputation of top quality and is extremely reliable, and with prices currently at approximately £50 for 256Mb it’s worth every penny. Review here.

Video card – Integrated into chipset (effectively free)

The integrated GeForce 2MX video will perform more than adequately for 2D work, as well as offering quite good 3D for gaming. And because it is integrated into the chipset the cost is free. MSI do provide a 4x AGP slot on the motherboard to allow for expansion if and when needed.

Soundcard – Integrated into chipset (effectively free)

The excellent ALU built into the nForce chipset produces the best sound of any integrated chipset sound solution, bar none. Again because this is part of the chipset it negates the need for any external soundcard, so is effectively free.

NIC – Integrated into chipset (effectively free)

Although this item may not be considered part of a starter system, the fact once again that it is included with the chipset means that users wanting to integrate the system into a network or use broadband internet access don’t need to purchase a separate network card, so is once again future-proofing the initial purchase.

Hard Disk – IBM 60GXP 41.2Gb

£88.71 from Overclockers UK

Storage space has come down in price by quite a big margin in recent months, and the IBM drives are some of the fastest available. Utilising the IDE ATA100 standard, this will provide more than enough speed and storage space for this type of user. A review can be found here.

CD-ROM – Named brand

From £25

There are a lot of CD-ROM manufacturers producing generic cd-rom drives at very cheap price points. Beware of these lesser-known brands as they often don’t perform as promised and have trouble reading CDR disks or less than perfect cd’s. Always look for a named brand such as Teac, Creative Labs, and Mitsumi etc as it is worth paying a few quid more for these than find your generic cd-rom isn’t performing as expected.

Monitor – 17” Hansol 710P

£150.05 from Overclockers UK

I have always been a fan of Hansol monitors, and have no problem recommending the 710P as the monitor of choice for this system. The quality is excellent and the price is extremely good too for a monitor of this quality. Coupled with the fact that it comes with a 3 year on-site warranty and you can’t go wrong. Bear in mind that if you use a PC a lot, you will probably spend more time looking at your monitor than your loved ones, so it’s not worth skimping here!

Modem – Diamond Supra 56k PCI

£29.38 Various Suppliers

Diamond has built up an enviable reputation as supplying probably the fastest 56k PCI modem available. At prices around it is worth fitting into any PC system. It can also be used to send and receive faxes as well as connect to the internet for browsing and email.

Case – Globalwin 802

£44.65 from The Overclocking Store

Again, this is probably not the cheapest case available, but it will allow future upgrades and expandability solely because of its design and overall build quality. An excellent case and a worthwhile investment. If you want to save a few quid cheaper cases are available, but you really do get what you pay for. Find the review here.

Operating System: Microsoft Windows ME

£84.22 from Overclockers UK

Although Windows XP is now available in both Home and Pro versions, Windows ME is a proven OS and offers good hardware support with a stable OS environment. Ideal for a starter system. Review here.

Total price:£574.61 (excluding delivery and OS, includes VAT)

Gaming System

The needs of the gamer are quite different from the starter system. Speed coupled with fast performance from the CPU and video system, fast hard disk access and lots of storage differentiates the two systems. Again, stability and performance are the two indicators for this type of system.

CPU – AMD Athlon XP 1800+

£182.95 from Komplett

The introduction of the AMD Athlon XP series of CPU’s has raised the performance bar yet again, as review after review placed the XP line of processors above the Intel Pentium 4 CPU. It is a close run contest, but based on price and performance the XP CPU is the processor of choice. Review here.

CPU Cooler – Taisol CGK760092

£17.62 from The Overclocking Store

Good cooling ability and quiet – perfect!! Nuff said.

Motherboard – Abit KG7 RAID

£128.08 from Dabs

Building on the success of its KT7 series of motherboards, Abit released the KG7 motherboard. Providing support for DDR RAM and the AMD Athlon XP processors and providing backwards compatibility for earlier Athlon and Duron processors, the Abit offers exceptional performance. And as always including Abit’s jumperless BIOS makes tweaking the system for performance straight forward. An excellent motherboard. Review here.

Memory – Crucial 512Mb DDR RAM

£138.69 from Crucial UK

For gamers, more RAM means less hard disk access to load levels, textures etc. Less hard disk access means faster uninterrupted game play! Because memory is reasonably at the minute, buying 512Mb makes sense, and with the KG7 having 4 DIMM slots on board, upgrading later is easy and straightforward. Review here.

Video Card – Hercules 3D Prophet III Titanium 500

£301.98 from Hercules UK

The current flagship of the GeForce GPU based cards, the GeForce Titanium 500 series is the ultimate gamer’s video card. Boasting an impressive feature set and fully supporting DirectX 8.1, it’s all a gaming rig needs to blow you away with its incredible 3D graphics and smooth game play. Read more here.

Soundcard – Creative Labs Audigy

£52.52 from VGI Computers

The latest soundcard from Creative Labs offers something for everyone – Dolby Digital sound, 4, 5 or 6 speaker support, firewire connectivity and excellent sound reproduction. Coupled with EAX 2, it allows gamers to hear sound unheard of from previous cards.

NIC – D-Link DFE 530 TX PCI NIC

£19.98 from VGI Computers

A network card is not a vital component of this system, but again offers the option of connecting to a network for multiplayer gaming at LAN parties, broadband internet access etc and at a price point of under £20 is worth considering.

Hard Disk – IBM 60GXP 61.5Gb

£112.92 from Misco UK

The Abit KG7 RAID offers the option of using 2 or more HDD in a RAID configuration, offering faster performance than a single HDD at the cost of less reliability. Because of this, a single drive is an option but two drives configured as a RAID 0 array is desirable. Because we are looking for speed here, this offers the best overall performance.

CD-ROM – Named Brand

From £25

Fast access is needed here, and again sticking to a named brand id recommended simply because generic drives may not deliver what they promise.

Monitor – Hansol 910A

£197.40 from Ebuyer UK

Again I’m sticking with Hansol, and for the reasons stated above. However, at 19” there are lots of different monitor manufacturers offering similar monitors at a similar price, so it really is a case of settling on a make or brand you like.

Modem – Diamond Supra 56k PCI

£29.38 Various Suppliers

Dial up connections using a modem may not be ideal for today’s game players, with ISDN and broadband being preferable because of faster ping times. However, not everyone (me included) is able to take advantage of these, so a modem is the only option for some people. The Diamond modem has again consistently offered the fastest ping times of any analogue dial up modem.

Case – Globalwin 802

£44.65 from The Overclocking Store

Again I would recommend this case because if its build quality, price and upgradeability. With enough room in the case to mount up to 6 hard drives, it will easily meet the most demanding user’s needs.

Operating System – Windows XP Pro

£123.73 from VGI Computers

Windows XP offers stability, performance and compatibility. Microsoft’s latest and greatest OS is the way to go. Review here.

Total Price: £1251.17 (Excluding delivery and OS, includes VAT)

Dream System

All of us who own a PC system always want something more, and with that in mind, and of course from my own personal point of view, this is what I would call my ‘dream system’. Probably a lot more computing power than I’ll ever need, but I want one!!

CPU – Dual Athlon XP1900+

£225.60 each from The Overclocking Store

What more can be said about the fastest processor available. Simply superb!

CPU Cooler – Super Thermalright SK6

£38.89 each from The Overclocking Store

One of the best copper-based coolers available, unbelievable cooling ability for such a small heatsink. Not the quietest available though.

Motherboard – Tyan Tiger Dual Athlon

£201.51 from The Overclocking Store

To run those two monster CPU’s we need a suitable motherboard, and they don’t come more suitable than this!

Memory – 1Gb Crucial 2100 DDR

£118.03 for 512Mb

No need to skimp here too – let’s have 1Gb DDR RAM!!

Video Card – Hercules 3D Prophet III Titanium 500

£301.98 from Hercules UK

Once again we stick to the best on the market. The current flagship of the GeForce GPU based cards, the GeForce Titanium 500 series is the ultimate gamer’s video card. Boasting an impressive feature set and fully supporting DirectX 8.1, it’s all a gaming rig needs to blow you away with its incredible 3D graphics and smooth game play. Read more here.

Soundcard – Creative Labs Audigy Platinum eX

£210.56 from Overclockers UK

Again the best sound setup around at the price. With the inclusion of the breakout box offering all the connections you will need.

NIC – D-Link DFE 530 TX PCI NIC

£19.98 from VGI Computers

A network card is not a vital component of this system, but again offers the option of connecting to a network for multiplayer gaming at LAN parties, broadband internet access etc and at a price point of under £20 is worth considering.

Hard Disk – IBM Ultrastar 36LZX 18.3Gb SCSI U160

£173.55 from VGI Computers

For ultimate speed and reliability I choose SCSI, and these drives are certainly among the fastest available today. We need at least two, though!!

SCSI Adapter – Adaptec 29160N U160 SCSI Adapter

£234.30 from VGI Computers

We need an adapter to run those SCSI drives, and this is one of the best available.

CD-ROM – Named Brand

From £25

Fast access is needed here, and again sticking to a named brand id recommended simply because generic drives may not deliver what they promise. SCSI of course!!

Monitor – Hansol 2100A 21”

£480.34 from VGI Computers

The bigger the better and they don’t come much bigger than this. (They do, but where could I put it!!)

Modem – Diamond Supra 56k PCI

£29.38 Various Suppliers

Dial up connections using a modem may not be ideal for today’s game players, with ISDN and broadband being preferable because of faster ping times. However, not everyone (me included) is able to take advantage of these, so a modem is the only option for some people. The Diamond modem has again consistently offered the fastest ping times of any analogue dial up modem.

Case – Coolermaster ATCS 101

£257.03 from VGI Computers

The flagship all-aluminium case from Coolermaster. Stylish looks, lightweight and excellent build quality make this case the best available. And its aluminium (drool!!)

Total Price:£2872.22 (excluding delivery and OS, includes VAT)

So there you have it. These systems have been put together as a guide to what I feel are solid systems based on hardware available today. Having read through the specs, you may feel that I am pro-AMD, not including an Intel-based system in this round up. I do feel that Intel have quite a bit of catching up to do as far as (primarily) price and performance is concerned, and I feel the best value for money systems are firmly embedded in AMD’s camp. However, saying that things may change rapidly, and as and when things do then this guide will be updated to reflect these changes.

I have not included things like mouse or keyboard because these are personal preference items and what I prefer is not necessarily what you, the end user will like.

Not everyone will agree with what I have suggested here, and please do bear in mind that these systems are just a suggested spec. Please air your views in the forums and any comments or suggestions you have can be posted there.