BOOT CAMP 437 (15/08/06)
Build your own Vista-Ready PC, part 2
Having set out the basic design criteria for
our DIY Vista-ready PC last week, in part 2 we are going to be looking at the
components we’ll be using plus a few words about why they were chosen.
PCs are modular in construction and most parts
are built to a rigid set of technical standards to ensure a high degree of
compatibility. Nevertheless, things can and do go awry so it’s a good idea to
settle the two main components first, the processor chip or CPU and
motherboard, then the rest of the components should all fall into place.
But first a quick word about prices. Our £200
target is just about achievable, if you shop around, but it doesn’t take into account
extras, like postage and packing etc. The prices we’re quoting are fairly
typical for on-line retailers and include VAT. If you want to keep shipping
costs down it makes sense to buy as much as you can from one supplier.
The Mk 1 Daily Telegraph PC used a 2.6GHz
Celeron chip and it proved a good choice. Intel's Celeron family of CPUs may
not be the fastest or most highly specified but they are reliable workhorses
with an excellent track record. They’re quite reasonably priced too, so we’ve
decided to stick with the devil we know and on the DT Mk2 we’re using the Celeron D351.
It’s rated at 3.2GHz and is more than capable of running Windows XP and just
about any mainstream application. It has also proved to be well suited to
Windows Vista and so far we haven’t had any problems with the Beta 2 trial
program. The Celeron D351 is widely available and can be found for around £50.
The D351 has to be used with a ‘Socket 775’
motherboard. We wanted one with as many on-board facilities as possible but
with the option to upgrade. There are plenty of very capable Socket 775
motherboards on the market but our fairly tight budget narrowed the field and
in the end we chose the ASRock 775i945GZ,
which cost us £42.00.
It’s a standard ATX size and the key features include
a built-in graphics adaptor with up to 128Mb of shared system memory (128Mb is
required for Vista’s fancy ‘Aero’ graphics); it also has 7.1 channel surround
sound audio, on-board LAN socket plus a good selection of expansion sockets,
including 3 x PCI sockets and an AGI/AGP video adaptor slot. There’s also a
parallel printer socket, four on-board USB 2.0 ports on the back, provision for
four more on the front of the case and a HDMR (Hardware Direct MIDI Routing)
socket for connecting keyboards and musical instruments.
There are two slots for standard DDR2 DIMM
memory modules and the motherboard supports up to 2Gb of RAM. The only slightly
unusual feature is the SATA sockets for the hard disc drives. There are 4 of
them and in addition to being a faster and more efficient means of transferring
data between hard drives and the motherboard, SATA cables are much smaller than
those straggly IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) ribbon cables that make the
insides of most PCs look like an explosion in a pasta factory…
This motherboard also has one 2-channel IDE
socket for the CD/DVD drive and any IDE drives you might want to use. There’s
also a socket for a 3.5-inch floppy drive, we’re not using one but it’s there
if you need it.
We’re on the home straight now. Our prototype was fitted with a 80Gb Maxtor DMax10
SATA2 hard drive and this is great value at just
£35.00. You may well want more storage space and that’s not a problem, just
remember that the hard drive should be a SATA type. We have fitted 1Gb of RAM
and this is made up of two Elixir 512Mb DDR2
modules, which together cost £50.05. Single 1Gb RAM modules are not much more expensive and will make it easier to upgrade later on. In fact they may even be cheaper by the time you read this so shop around for the best deal.
If you want to run Vista you will need a
DVD drive. The one we’ve used is an NEC ND-3550A CD/DVD
writer; it’s a 16x multi-format model (CD-R.RW, DVD+R/RW & DVR-R/RW double
layer) and a snip at only £21. Ours has a black fascia, to match the case,
which was the biggest bargain of the lot! It’s listed as a Generic Black SIL
Midi Tower and costs just £16.45 and for that you get a
smart looking case with a 350 watt power supply, stacks of room inside for
extra drives plus front-mounted USB, audio in and headphone sockets.
For the record all of the components in our
prototype machine were purchased from Aria
Technology and we have been assured that they have good stocks of all
the components mentioned. If you want to start getting the parts together we’ll
be ready for the first stage of assembly next week.
NEXT WEEK – Build your own PC, part 3
7.1 CHANNEL SOUND
Multi-channel surround sound system with outputs for centre,
front, side, rear and bass speakers
ASRock Graphics Interface, proprietary variant of the industry
standard AGP (Advanced Graphics Port) interface for video adaptor cards,
compatible with some (but not all) AGP chipsets
Technology Attachment, fast, higher performance interface used to connect hard
disc drives to PC motherboards
There is no need to stick rigidly to our parts list and we suspect
many users will want to fit a larger hard drive. The motherboard’s built-in
graphics adaptor is fine for most applications but serious gamers will probably
want to use a more advanced video card, but check compatibility first as the
ASRock’s AGI interface doesn’t work with all AGP video card chipsets. If you
are on a very tight budget you can save some money with a slower CPU but
whatever you do don’t skimp on the memory. The graphics adaptor shares up to
128Mb of system memory, which is okay with 1Gb of RAM but if you try to use
only 512Mb you may find XP is a touch sluggish and Vista may not work at all.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go it alone on the CPU and motherboard,
just make sure they’re matched in terms of sockets and CPU specs and compatible
with the case and power supply.
© R. Maybury 2006, 0908
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