Advice for wife's new Christmas computer

Adcadet

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hey all -
I haven't been around much with med school in full swing and all. My wife's old P2-400 is really getting too slow for her to use these days. She really wants it rebuilt, probably around Christmas. I'm going to talk to her family and mine and encourage people to just send me a check so I can buy parts for her new computer. If all works out, my gift to her will be organizing this, building the machine, and moving all her software etc over. And hopefully I won't have to spend any money on this, which would be nice considering my tight budget of late (see first sentence).

Current Computer from Gateway:
-19" monitor (will keep)
-P2-400, 384 MB PC100 (has to go, too slow)
-Old ATi Rage Pro graphics card (I think I want to replace it)
-integrated sound card (can't keep it)
-IBM 30GB 75GXP and an 8 GB Quantum that came with the computer (might keep the 30 GB drive in there)
-DVD drive (will keep)
-Zip drive (will keep if she wants it still)
-floppy (will keep)
-new 52X burner (will keep)
-NIC (will keep)
-Gateway PS and Case (think it will probably have to go)


OK, so I need a new case and power supply most likely, a new motherboard and ram, sound card, probably a new HD (as her old one is pretty full), and maybe a new graphics card. So, seeing that this will be getting ordered in mid-December, what do you guys recommend? She mostly does office work (MS Word, Excel), some light Photoshop editing, and a lot of internet stuff. My budget is limited - maybe $300, depending on who will want to contribute and how much. I'm assuming buying a Dell or Gateway would not be best since I've got a number of the parts already.

Thanks everybody!
Adcadet
 

jtr1962

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1)Keep the M/B and RAM, and just replace the processor with a Powerleap 1.4GHz Celeron upgrade. That's what I did on my machine. Less chance for things to go wrong than replacing the whole M/B, and you get to use your old RAM. Maybe consider maxing out the RAM on the machine as well. My machine is 3 times faster than before in almost everything. The only caveat here is that you need to make sure on Powerleap's web site that your M/B is compatible with their upgrade. 99% seem to be, but check to make sure. If not, you will need to go the new M/B and processor route.

2)Any run of the mill $69, 80GB, 7200RPM, 8MB cache hard drive available these days will be much faster than what's in there.

3)New case and power supply are probably unneeded unless you need to replace the M/B, and the current ones are proprietary. Assuming your wife's machine is compatible with the Powerleap upgrade you can keep the exisiting power supply since the power consumption is about the same as the PII(~35W). The new HD will only take a few watts more(at most) than the old one, so no problems there, either.
 

LiamC

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Adcadet,

are you sure it's just the machine slowing it down?

My in-laws inherited my old Celeron 300A/BH6/G200/128MB SDRAM/Quantum Fireball ST (4.3GB)

When I first built it with Win95C/Office95/IE4.0 it chugged along just nicely. It served them well for a couple of years.

Office 95 gave way to Office 2000. IE went from 4 to 5.5 and a couple of dodgy installs. A whole heap of dodgy "toolbars" were installed, wallpaper changers etc. etc.

Ran like crap. Can you fix it? Well I tried. Installed AV, Adaware etc. Deleted a lot of crap. Uninstalled/reinstalled IE, updated drivers, defragged. Still ran like crap. Used system monitor and found that it now used 140~150MB of RAM on start up.

Hmmm. Installed Win98SE over the top hoping that it would "cure" things. Nope, same old crap. I blamed IE 6.0 for "bloat".

Tried a clean install of WP Pro. Ran OK but was very slow to load. Blamed the hard drive. Replaced the Fireball SE with a WD 30GB BB. That improved things a lot but still was too slow. So I bit the bullet and upgraded them to a Palomino 1600+/8KHA+/WD 300BB with XP Pro and things were fine.

A little while ago, I formatted the Fireball, and loaded Win98SE clean. Installed all the patches and stuff and because it ran surprisingly fast, I checked SysMonitor. It only uses up around 50MB.

The moral is/was - cut out the clutter. What I was blaming for the problem wasn't the problem. Your wife's problem may not be the hardware. If you have a spare disk lying around, stick it in and install the OS of choice with a custom install (only install what you need). Then add you apps and see how it performs. You might burn up an evening or so doing this, but you should have a good idea if it is processor power that's causing the wait.

As an alternative, if you really want to upgrade, hunt down a VIA 266A chipset board that supports SDRAM and DDR. That way you could install an AthlonXP and motherboard for about the same price as one of the PowerLeap upgrade kits and still keep all of the rest of the hardware. When your wife really needed more RAM, you could easily upgrade to DDR, and you'd probably have it lying around.

HTH[/b]
 

Mercutio

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I'd suggest going the "almost all new" route.
$400 will, by xmastime, buy a pretty decent XP2500 machine. I'm building KT600-based XP2200s/256MB/80GB systems for $425 right now (no OS). I can give specific configuration advice but I'd probably be overruled by some of the other builders. :)
 

Adcadet

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I should be in bed by now as I have class at 8 AM....damn, why did I have a Churchill-sized Cuban cigar at 10 PM with my bud. Oh well, what are best friends for?

a few thoughts:

-she loves WinXP, and would scream if I loaded a Win9x or 2K on her machine. The install is old (about a year old by now, and a good number of program install/uninstalls). Yeah, a minimal re-install would probably help.

-the OS is still running on her old HD, I imagine I'd get a speed boost out of loading the OS onto her 75GXP. She has ~4GB free over all of her drives, so I'm thinking she'll be itching for a new HD sooner or later. A 7200 RPM/8MB cache drive sounds really good about now.

-The machine is a G-series IIRC, not an E-series.

-Overclocking is not really an option (not that anybody suggested this)

-I would like her rebuilt computer to last a good long time (her old one has lasted 5 years with only a RAM upgrade!) - at least 2 years. So I think an upgrade is probably out. I'm thinking SDRAM is probably not the way to go.

-using her old computer as a file server would be a nice side-benefit to a new computer :)


OK, specific question time:
1. RAM. Should I be looking at some of the newer RAM speeds (DDR333 or DDR400) if I'm planning on keeping this machine for >2 years? My friend (see the preface) has an Athlon/DDR266 motherboard I could buy for cheap - is DDR266 too slow?

2. Is there any point in looking into P4s or do the Athlons still hold a much greater price/performance ratio (esp. at the low to mid-level)?

3. Is there any point in keeping her old Rage Pro video card? Should I only be looking at AGP cards as opposed to considering onboard? Are the onboard cards good enough for her office, Photoshop, and DVD playing needs?

4. (related to #3) should I be looking at highly integraded boards like the nForce stuff?

If anybody has specific hardware recommendations, I'd love to hear them (bear in mind that I'd order stuff in early to mid-December).

Thanks all!

Adcadet
 

Tea

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Well, first bear in mind that none of this will still hold god in December. But let's imagine you were doing it today, and see hgow far that gets us. I'll start with your specific questions.

1: RAM: Buy DDR-333 or 400. DDR-266 isn't really available anymore, unless you are going with no-name C Grade stuff, and even then we are talking ~$1 a stick cheaper. Buy Micron, Crucial, Kingston , any of the quality brands - it's always worth spending a fraction extra for quality RAM. 333 or 400 will work just fine in that old board. (At 266MHz, of course.) Your main problem will be lack of USB2 and difficulty in finding compatible CPUs.


2. Any point in looking into P4s? No. Not even close. For a while there, we had the P4 3000 listed at the same price as the XP3000+ - which made for quite a difficult decision. In the lower speed grades the Athlons rule supreme, but from around 2800 up, the P4 catches up and (some say) even passes the XP. Normally the price difference is massive, so it remains a non-question, but for a couple of weeks, we actually had the P4-3000 cheaper than the XP.Tannin was thionking about trying his first Intel CPU since the overclocked Pentium MMX-166 gave way to the K6- 233. Then he realised that he had the 3000 listed at the 2800 price. Lucky that no-one ordered one!

3. Video: On-board is just fine for office & DVD. Photoshop .... hmmm .... probably not. A\n Nforce II would be about the only one that you might consider. (Any Photoshop experts here?)

4. (related to #3) Nforce maybe. Anything else, no. Absolutely not if it has an Intel chipset or doesn't have an AGP slot.

Here is what I would sell you:

New case. Nothing fancy, just plain vanilla with a decent 350W PSU. About $45US.

Athlon XP 2500+, Gigabyte or Albatron KT-400 or KT-600 main board. On board LAN or add a cheap NIC (about $10US). You'll pay comfortably less than $US200- for those.

512MB of quality DDR-333. About $100US.

Gforce 4MX-440, 64MB. Ample for her needs (even with Photoshop it will do OK), cost about $45 US. Or scrub the KT-400/600 and go with an Nforce II board.

If you want to get a little carried away, Gigabyte have a very snazzy Nforce II board with the lot and pineapple too, which they are selling for about $140 US..Gigabit ethernet, RAID on the ATA and on the SATA , Firewire, the lot.

Hard drives, there is only one choice. Nothing else comes with an across the board 3 year warranty, and nothing else is anywhere near Samsung for reliability.
 

Adcadet

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Tea - thanks for the response. But I must ask....why does your picture look like a fat balding ape? And why does your post include so few typos? Is that really Tannin logged on as Tea?

Damn memory prices have gone up! I was thinking I could get 512MB for ~$50.

Question: should I insist on SATA? Do all newer motherboards come with SATA?
 

Fushigi

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Nforce2 Ultra mobo with integrated audio, LAN, USB but not graphics. Something like this: http://secure.newegg.com/app/specification.asp?item=13-128-194 Or this if you also want firewire: http://secure.newegg.com/app/specification.asp?item=13-128-199

Graphics: Radeon 8500 or better. This Radeon 9000 is only $55.

Get an AthlonXP 1700, read the real speed off the chip, and set it for that in the PC BIOS .. more than likely it'll be a 2600 or better. That saves about $40-45 compared to a 2600 and it should run fine at 333FSB vs. 266.

DDR 333 or 400 RAM, 2x256MB. For her it's probably not worth it to get the fancy high-speed RAM so just stick with the standard offerings from any decent brand like Tea mentioned.

I agree with Tea on the case/PSU. I tend to get cheap cases and expensive PSUs like Antec TruePower but for her needs an average mid-range PSU should be sufficient.

As for the HD, any with a 3 year warranty. Just be sure to back up the data on occasion.

How's her printer?
 

Mercutio

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The Gigabyte KT600 (7VT600L) is essentially the same board as the 7VAX-series that I've been exceedingly happy with for well over a year now. The upgraded sound is quite a bit better than the old KT400, and my only complaint about the new model is that it uses a nonstandard backplate. It's a generic board with audio and USB2.

I still don't trust nForce2 but at this point they are utterly affordable. I think I saw a Biostar model in the $60 range last time I looked.

RAM is dead simple: PC3200 and as much as you can afford. Two sticks of whatever if you're doing the nforce thing. DDR-II will be coming next year but unfortunately, that day isn't here yet.

P4 comes in two flavors: Uncompelling and expensive. The AMD 2500 and 2600 chips have a huge bang for the buck and don't need to be overclocked to be good choices.

For video cards, I'd look at a 64MB Radeon 7000 ($35, maybe) or something in a 9200 (128MB models are in the $80 range, I think). Good value either way.
 

CougTek

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Fushigi said:
Graphics: Radeon 8500 or better. This Radeon 9000 is only $55.
The Radeon 9000 is slower than the 8500. All current DirectX 8.1 GPU from ATI are in fact slower than the original 8500. For "better than 8500", you have to jump to the 9500 and above. The 9600 can be purchased for roughly 115$ these days, which is too much for your budget (and I doubt your wife is a hard-core gamer). A tad slower 9100 with 64MB of RAM sells for 61$ shipped. Same chip as the 8500, but clocked slower. Enough for an average office system. But then, the 9000 that Fush mentioned would be sufficient too.

RAM will be the dream breaker in your case. Even by Christmas, you won't be able to build a mainstream system for 300$, mostly because of the RAM. Either you'll have to settle for 256MB of RAM, or take a chance with cheaper 4-layer generic modules for 512MB (not recomended).

Better to prepare to spend at least 400$.

Oh and there's a 120GB, 7200rpm Maxtor hard disk drive with an 8MB buffer available for 80$ after a 30$ mail-in rebate at Amazon.com. I think there's free shipping too. In case she needs more space than the 80GB you were planning.
 

CougTek

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Adcadet said:
Question: should I insist on SATA? Do all newer motherboards come with SATA?
Answer : No. Your budget doesn't allow to and there still isn't many drives (like CD-writers/DVD) using that interface. And if there is, those must not be cheap. So you'll need to plug your optical drive with a PATA cable. Better save some cash on the interface and not mix things. SATA won't give you any cooling advantage since you'll already have large, obtrusive PATA cables inside your case. It would, but only if all your cables were slim, serial ones.
 

Fushigi

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Mercutio said:
I still don't trust nForce2 but at this point they are utterly affordable. I think I saw a Biostar model in the $60 range last time I looked.

P4 comes in two flavors: Uncompelling and expensive. The AMD 2500 and 2600 chips have a huge bang for the buck and don't need to be overclocked to be good choices.

For video cards, I'd look at a 64MB Radeon 7000 ($35, maybe) or something in a 9200 (128MB models are in the $80 range, I think). Good value either way.
nForce2's are fine. Check around and I doubt you'll find many current issues with them. I went with the base driver that came with my $63 FIC AU13 (el cheapo) and have yet to have to update to anything more current.

Just to be clear: I'm not advising overclocking the AXP1700. Just run it at what it passed QC as. Most XP1700s will have passed QC as a 2500 or better; AMD just stamps them as 1700s to fill the parts bins as their yields are so good that relatively few chips only pass QC as a 1700. The CPUs are not being pushed beyond their ability (although you could certainly try that if you were interested). My AXP1700 was rated as a 2600. After running it like that I goosed it up to be a 2800 equivalent so I am slightly overclocking my personal rig. But that's only for improved Folding performance; in reality anything in that speed range, even the base 1700 speed, will be just fine for her needs unless her Photoshopping is using truly huge files.

Based on Merc's prices, I'd recommend a 64MB video card over a 128MB unit. The extra RAM would probably only be useful in gaming and it doesn't sound like that's a requirement. I run dual 1600x1200x32 bit displays off my 32MB GeForce4 440 (mobile) graphics in my laptop; no sweat.

I'll happily defer to Merc's and CougTek's more in-depth knowledge of ATI product numbering; I can't keep up with this newer-&-higher-number-but-slower-chip stuff.
 

Mercutio

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I know the 8500 is theoretically a little faster than the 9100 and 9200 but both of the latter are a little cheaper and by-and-large you'd need to do benchmarking to notice the difference. That's why I don't have a problem with recommending the 9x00s over the 8500.

I can't say I've had any problems with nForce2, but then, I don't sell them and don't run into them that often (I've got one at home and I've worked on maybe four others). It's still nVidia, though, and to me that's just not a good thing.
 

Handruin

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FWIW, the abit NF7-S you guys sent me has been running strong with no problems 24x7 (minus about 10 days total of being powered off) since the day it arrived on my doorstep.
 

Adcadet

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hey all - thanks for the advice. I'll definitely shoot for ~$400. My wife's brother, parents and grandparents are coming over tonight, so hopefully I can feel them out and get them to commit to a number. It would be very nice if I only have to arrange things then built the machine, and get away spending $0 on her machine. We'll see.

anyway, a few questions:

-given that she only does light Photoshop and office work, does she really need a good ATi card? Can I get away with a cheap GForceMX card? Is it possible these days to get a decent 2D card for <$50? Seems strange to be considering paying more for a cheap video card then a motherboard.

-remember that I will be ordering stuff in December....how will the graphics card, CPU, and motherboard recommendations hold? Coug mentioned that he things ram will still be expensive in December, so I'm definitely think of spending ~100 for two 256MB modules and an overall budget of $400.
 

Clocker

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Adcadet-
I HIGHLY recommend this nForce2 Ultra board Aopen AK79D-400VN. I have built two systems (one is my own) and it has been flawless. At $71 it is a steal. I can't think of any reason not to go an Nforce2 route (especially Ultra).

C
 

Clocker

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BTW: One really nice thing about the Aopen board I mentioned is that you can independently control the speed of your CPU fan and case fans either from within the BIOS or using the Windows utility provided. It really works great and let's you tune your fan speeds to your cooling and noise level needs.

More info here:
http://english.aopen.com.tw/tech/techinside/SilentTek.htm

and a SilentPC review here:
http://www.silentpcreview.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=64&page=1

I thought it was BS when I first read about it but it actually works very nicely.

C
 

Clocker

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Yes but I don't think the difference is noticeable. I've run systems with the same board side by side and you can't tell. If you want to run benchmarks all day it might make a difference thought.... :lol:

C
 

Mercutio

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IMO the only advantage nForce2 has is the Soundstorm encoder. If you aren't interested, I think the Via chipsets are a better choice. The Via KT600 is a little slower, yes, but this is a difference expressed in tenths of a percentage point. The KTxxx chipset has been around forever and IMO everything seems to just work with it.
 

CougTek

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Adcadet said:
It would be very nice if I only have to arrange things then built the machine, and get away spending $0 on her machine.
You missed your branch, you should have been a lawyer.
 

Adcadet

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CougTek said:
Adcadet said:
It would be very nice if I only have to arrange things then built the machine, and get away spending $0 on her machine.
You missed your branch, you should have been a lawyer.
If I were a lawyer I would at least be charging a heavy hourly rate or a get a nice cut. But then again, my wife does give me priviladges...... uh, nevermind.
 

Mercutio

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AllStarMicro will sell you a 64MB Radeon 9200 VIVO for like $60. Even if you think "I'll never need Video In", it's very cool to have.

The 9600 is a very respectable card though. If it fits your budget, I don't see a problem with buying one.
 

blakerwry

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yeah, but that extra $ could be used to buy an additional 512MB of RAM or additional HDD... better overall PC experience for an office/photoshop user.

I agree VIVO is a cool thing to have... I didnt realize the price had gone down so much.
 
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