help me upgrade my computer
November 29, 2005 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Help me, a hardware ignoramus, upgrade my computer...

I'm pretty computer literate, but the hardware world moves so fast I can't keep track of it. I'm going to begin building a new computer, and need some recommendations for specific hardware I should check out:

-motherboard: I am completely out of my depth in this category. I prefer intel combined with an nvidia graphics card, and would like to use SATA hard drives from now on, so I suppose that's something to keep in mind.

-processor: what are these different processors that I'm looking at? Northwood? 540? Prescott? Xeon? What are the differences, other than price?

-optical: I would like a dvd burner and a cd burner that don't produce coasters, and I absolutely do not understand the + and - difference. Should I get two dedicated drives or one combo?

-case: I would like a QUIET case with a decent layout, USB, firewire, and headphone jacks IN FRONT, and good cooling options, preferably fans in the front, side, and several in the back. Anyone have any good experiences with a particular case?

I use my PC to play games and to organize everything in my life (music, photos, etc.). Is now even a good time to upgrade, or is there some new technology just beyond the hill that I should wait for, like the next iteration of windows? Any experience with specific hardware would be greatly appreciated.
posted by deafmute to Technology (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is your budget?
posted by meta87 at 5:28 PM on November 29, 2005

What games do you play?
posted by box at 5:36 PM on November 29, 2005

The Ars Technica System Guides are worth reading. The latest just came out on Nov 20th.

Note that the DVD burner they recommend has been replaced already. The new model is the NEC ND-3550A.
posted by smackfu at 5:40 PM on November 29, 2005

smackfu beat me to the Ars System Guide. I've always found it to contain good straightforward recommendations. I used to spend hours trawling through reviews and articles to get this information.

Regarding the DVD+, DVD- thing: basically they're competing formats. A DVD+R disc is not the same as a DVD-R disc. I vaguely remember the original argument being that DVD+R was somehow more reliable for data, but less compatible with older DVD readers... but I've no idea how that holds up these days.

In any case, you might as well get a DVD±RW Dual Layer drive, which can pretty much read and write anything, so I wouldn't worry about it too much. I personally have a NEC ND4550, and it's never let me down.

Only bother getting two separate optical drives if you're going to want to do a lot of disc-to-disc copying. Otherwise it's not necessary.
posted by chrismear at 5:46 PM on November 29, 2005

Read this and skim this and read the "related articles" here, and, if you want to know everything there is about building a quiet computer (and it's so much more than just tha case), read all the recommended hardware articles at SilentPCReview and check their forums.

This and this should shed some light on burning DVDs. These folks know everything about hard drives.

When you say "play games" does that mean you like to play the latest graphics-intensive games that are forever driving new hardware sales?

Any reason you prefer Intel? My next computer's going to be a 64-bit AMD with a 90nm core -- a lot more computing power/watt = cheaper running cost, and less heat generated, which means less need for airflow, which makes it easier to keep the system quieter.

And don't go overboard on the CPU. The curve on price over performance gets really steep really fast, and ordinary use isn't terribly CPU-bound (but it might make a difference for your games.)

The case I'm drooling over is an Antec P150 -- see the Silent PC Review review.

I'm not sure you can get a DVD burner that doesn't also burn CDs, so I'd definitely advise against getting two.

There's always new hardware just beyond the hill. If you worry too much about it, you'll never get anything.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 5:55 PM on November 29, 2005

(Ignore my first link above; read smackfu's link to the more recent Ars Technica guides.)

And someone just asked this on Slashdot; the comments there might introduce more considerations and inspire more research.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 6:17 PM on November 29, 2005

With regards to the Windows part of your question, they've recently promised that Vista will hit stores by August 31 2006. Whilst there's no point waiting for it to launch, make sure your system is powerful enough to support it.
posted by djgh at 7:15 PM on November 29, 2005

best budget system at the moment would be:
cheapest athlon64
dfi nforce4 motherboard
2x1gb ram
nvidia 6600 or 6800

-amd is superior to intel at the moment, dont spend extra for historic intel qualities that are long gone
-don't get a fancy cpu cooler, athlon64s don't run hot even with moderate overclocking (the amd boxed cooler or any midprice cooler is absolutely sufficient)
-nforce4 boards have sata and everything else you might need (sound, usb, raid, firewire)
-which graphics card depends on the latest and future games you want to play in high quality settings and your budget (nvidia is superior to amd at the moment and still has better drivers)
-unless your budget really doesn't allow it buy 2 gigs of ram, it doesn't have to be expensive low latency ram or allow more than 200mhz, ram size makes a bigger difference than cpu speed/ram speed
-power unit shouldn't be too cheap, brand name, high amperes, google for reviews, spend close to 100$ (if budget doesn't allow: in the realm of cheapos "lc power" psus kinda rule, they won't burn down your house when you leave the puter on over night^^)
-good sata hard disks are hitachi deskstar (3 years warranty) or maxtor maxline3 (5 years warranty)
-the bestest dvd burner changes every month, get 2 drives: a burner and a dvd-rom, i also recommend getting a burner that supports quality checks, + and - is not an issue anymore ( is a nice place for optical drives info)
-to silence your puter a fan controller that allows you to regulate the voltage of each fan is a very helpful thing (google "fan controller", those things with the knobs, not those with lights)

sorry for a sloppy post, hope the info helps a little : )

oh, and don't worry about windows vista
posted by suni at 2:22 AM on November 30, 2005

It's really easy to blow a lot of dough on the graphics card. Luckily XFX recently released a budget 6600-series card with upgraded DDR2 ram for under $100. It's one of the best deals out there that won't break the bank, yet still plays all the games (if you're into that.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:57 AM on November 30, 2005

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