Purchasing a Computer

INTRODUCTION

Computers are now an integral part in our everyday lives. Over sixty percent of households have at least one computer. About forty percent of homes have an internet connection. (Thierer) Buying a computer can be a complicated process. While you can simply go into a computer store or an online store and ask a salesperson for assistance, it is much more beneficial to do some research before hand. Are you experienced enough or feel confident enough to follow directions and build a computer from the ground up? Would you feel more comfortable buying a preconfigured computer from a company like Dell, Gateway, IBM, HP, Compaq, or eMachines?

This document will greatly assist you in purchasing a pre-configured PC or individual PC parts. It is organized by sections. Each section is comprised of included parts of a computer or other noted topic, an explanation of how it works, why you need it, and a specific recommended commercial part. The recommendations are based on what I would put into my own computer. Most parts have received awards from reputable computer review agencies. An included Table of Contents provides an easy navigation to specific sections referred to with page numbers. This document provides a great start to building your ideal PC, however, it should not be your only reference. Please consult the manuals that come with your PC and parts as they provide useful suggestions, directions, and warnings.

This document will also introduce different types of computers and computer setups. It will also briefly explain several jobs in the IT field. The Bibliography/Sources Cited located at the end of this document provide a great reference for further reading on this subject.

A NOTE ABOUT THE PICTURES

All pictures noted “NewEgg.com” were taken from the online computer store “NewEgg.com”, which offers individual computer parts, full computer systems, laptops, digital cameras, and many other electronics. Full credit is given to NewEgg.com for supplying high quality digital images. All pictures are actual pictures of the components noted.

ABOUT THE PROJECT PC

This document is based around the purchasing and configuring of a specific single desktop PC. Each part will be individually picked from NewEgg.com. Note that with a preconfigured PC from Dell or a company of the like will not offer as many options. Only main parts will be open for including. It will be a Intel based personal computer running Windows XP Professional designed for enhanced gaming, video editing, and multimedia manipulating. It will employ the latest computer technologies currently on the market. This is not a budget PC, rather, it is a high end PC. The estimated price of the project pc is about $5,500. While this is an very expensive upfront cost, it offers the most sought after and latest parts which will deliver the fastest performance and provide room for upgrades for years to come.

CORE COMPONENTS

The core components consist of necessary parts to a computer that decide what else can be connected to the computer. The core components are comprised of the CPU, motherboard, RAM, case, and powersupply. In most cases, you should buy these parts in the order given to ensure compatibility with each other and future peripherals.

MOTHERBOARD

Also called the “system board,” it is the main printed circuit board in an electronic device, which contains sockets that accept additional boards. In a desktop computer, the motherboard contains the CPU, chipset, PCI bus slots, AGP slot, memory sockets and controller circuits for the keyboard, mouse, disks and printer. It may also have built-in controllers for modem, sound, display and network, obviating the need to plug in a card. A laptop motherboard typically has all peripheral controllers built in. An expansion slot is a receptacle inside a computer or other electronic system that accepts a printed circuit board. The number of slots determines future expansion. There are hundreds of types of motherboards to choose from. The motherboard used in this project, the ASUS P5N32-SLI Deluxe Socket T which can be bought from NewEgg.com for $210, is dual PCI-express based and SLI-ready. The motherboard has two x16 PCI-express expansion slots and is SLI-ready for dual SLI-ready video cards offered by nVidia, a leading graphics card provider. The cards, mentioned in greater detail later, combine processing power to create an explosive video experience. The board is based on Socket-T LGA775 which will support any Intel Pentium 4 EE, HT, Pentium 4, or Celeron based LGA775 processor, or CPU. As with most modern motherboards, this Asus motherboard boasts onboard 7.1 sound, dual gigabit network ports, 2 PCI slots, 4 USB ports, 2 firewire ports, support for 4 SATA and 2 IDE devices, and supports up to 16 gigabytes of memory.  

CPU (CENTRAL PROCESSING UNIT)

The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is the computing part of the computer. Also called the “processor,” it is made up of the control unit and ALU. Today, the CPUs of almost all computers are contained on a single chip. The CPU, clock and main memory make up a computer. A complete computer system requires the addition of control units, input, output and storage devices and an operating system.

The processor used in this project is the Intel Pentium 4 650 Prescott 800MHz FSB 2MB L2 Cache LGA 775 EM64T, which can be found on NewEgg.com for $270, runs at 3.4 gigahertz which is a billion cycles per second. It is capable of parallel processing which allows multiple instructions to be executed at the same time. Cache is used to speed up data transfer and may be either temporary or permanent. Cache is usually measure in Kilobytes, 1,024 bytes, which is often misread as Kilobits, 1,024 bits. Processors use word size which determines the number of bits that a microprocessor can manipulate at one time. Although, higher end processors such as the one used in this project PC have 2MB of cache. This processor scored very high benchmarks, which are a series of tests used to gauge the overall speed of the microprocessor. Because the processor is so powerful, it must be connected to a heat sink. Heat sinks are similar to a radiator in an automobile. It is usually made of copper, which dissipates heat very well, and connected to a small fan that draws the hot air from the processor, through the heat sink, and out into the case to be drawn out of the case by exhaust fans. The processor usually always includes a heat sink specific to that processor; however, you can buy a custom heat sink. A widely recognized heat sink made for many processor types is the ThermalTake Tt, which costs approximately $40.

RAM (RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY)

RAM, or Random Access Memory, is the name given to a group of memory chips, typically of the dynamic RAM (DRAM) type, which function as the computer’s primary workspace. The “random access” in RAM means that the contents of each byte of storage in the chip can be directly accessed without regard to the bytes before or after it. Because of the processor selected for this system the memory must be very specific. (This is true for every PC. Every type of motherboard requires a specific type of RAM.) This project PC uses Patriot Signature Series 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM Unbuffered DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Dual Channel Kit System Memory. It is comprised of 2 sticks of 1 gigabit DDR2 SDRRAM. This kit of 2 sticks of ram can be found on NewEgg.com for $198.

CASE

There are a wide variety of cases available on the market from plain functional cases to large, gaudy, and colorful cases. The only stipulation when choosing a case is that it is the proper family size, mini-ATX, ATX, full tower, etc. For this project I choose a full tower case to ensure that all the drives and peripherals have ample room and excellent air flow. The high end components in this PC create a lot of heat and a large case allows for proper placement of them. While the PC may not have 6 hard drives as the case allows, we can space the hard drives so they will not be right on top of each other which will reduce heat. The case chosen from NewEgg.com is the Thermaltake Kandalf VA9000BWS Black Aluminum/Steel ATX Full Tower Computer Case which can be purchased for $189. It has room for 10 optical drives, which are DVD or CD drives, 6 disk drives, and 7 expansion cards. It is twenty-two inches high and comes with 4 fans; 2 80mm and 2 120mm.

POWER SUPPLY UNIT (PSU)

Almost as critical as the motherboard or processor is the power supply. The PSU converts electrical power from a wall outlet into useable power for the PC components. It is important to look at your components to see what type of PSU to buy. For example, the PC in this project requires SLI power, PCI-express power, and SATA (Serial ATA for hard drives). The wattage is also important. For most systems, you should not have less than 300 watts of available power. With very expensive components in this machine, spending extra money for a quality and possibly overkill PSU is not extravagant. A great power supply by a great company is the PC Power & Cooling 510 SLI-PFC ATX12V 510W Power Supply. It can handle 510 watts of power and contains all the necessary plugs for all the parts in the project PC.

AGP/PCI COMPONENTS

The AGP and PCI components consist of the graphics cars, network card, sound card, and TV tuner. AGP stands for Accelerated Graphics Port, which used to be the leading technology of video cards. Now, PCI-express is the popular technology. Before there was AGP or PCI there was ISA which stands for Industry Standard Architecture. Compared to PCI, AGP, and especially PCI-express it was extremely slow. The physical shape was also very different. Although AGP cards are still in manufacturing and still offer very good performance, they are slowly being faded out as the new PCI-express cards offer incredibly better performance. PCI, which stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect. is also being faded out as the standard for expansion cards as PCI-express cards are coming to the market.

GRAPHICS CARD

The graphics card, or video card, is the expansion device that connects to the mother board and display device to produce images. Video cards nowadays are more powerful than computers of 8 years ago. VGA, or Video Graphics Array, was the earliest graphics card. PCI-express cards are the new technology. For this project, I selected a motherboard that could handle 2 video cards connected to each other running simultaneously to perform the task twice as fast. The chosen cards, 2 identical ones, were the 3D Fuzion 3DFW78256GTX Geforce 7800GTX 256MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express x16’s. This already extremely powerful card combined in SLI mode makes for extremely intense processing capabilities and video game play.

NETWORK CARD

The motherboard selected for this project already has a network card. In face, it has two network cards. Both are gigabit, or 10/100/1000, speed. As most commercial networks operate at only 10/100 megabit speed, or 1,048,576 bits, a 10/100/1000 card is not necessary at this point in time. Some larger businesses are switching over to the higher network speed, so having a 10/100/1000 card is a good investment for the future.

SOUND CARD

As with the network card, the motherboard has a built in sound device which is sufficient for the average consumer. However, this is a high end system designed for someone who knows a lot about computers. So, a separate expansion sound card should be used. A high end PC calls for a high end card. The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum was used in this project for the shear incredible quality of sound this card produces. It retails for $176 which is very expensive for a sound card, but in a system like this, it only adds to the high quality reputation.

TV TUNER

A TV tuner is by no means necessary for a PC. But, it offers more entertainment and functionality. In addition to being able to watch live television from your PC, you can connect DVD-devices or other stereo components to your computer. This is useful in video editing when you need to connect cameras to your computer to transfer video. TV Tuners are not very different from one another. In this project, I choose the Hauppauge 980 ( WinTV-PVR-250 ) PCI Interface which retails for $135. It is a full featured card that offers great performance.


IDE/SATA DRIVES

IDE devices consist of hard drives, optical drives, tape backup drives, and zip drives. These are also called storage mediums. Storage mediums are anything that contain data. The new SATA technology replaces IDE for hard drives and some optical drives. It is a faster interface than IDE. EIDE, or Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics, is another form of IDE.

HARD DRIVES

Hard drives are the physical component that stores data on a computer. Hard drive capacity used to be measure in megabytes (MB) but as technology has advanced, hard drives are now measure in gigabytes (GB) and even terabytes (TB). A megabyte (MB) consists of 1,048, 576 bytes. When looking at a hard drives to purchase you should take into account the speed or access time, the capacity, the rotation speed, and the brand. Access time is the average time it takes a computer to locate data on the storage medium and read it. Capacity is important. Usually, as with this project, you should have a smaller capacity but faster hard drive as the main boot device, and 1 or more large capacity hard drives for data-storage. The rotation speed is measured in RPM, or revolutions per minute. Hard drives are 5,400, 7,200, 10,000, or 15,000rpm. Most are 7,200rpm. For this project, the boot drive is 10,000rpm, and the data-storage drives are 7,200rpm; although they could be 10,000rpm, it is unnecessary. As hard drives hold your valuable data, you want to make sure you spend the extra money to buy one from a reputable manufacturer. Western Digital, Maxtor, Seagate, and IBM are the top choices for hard drives. Since the motherboard in this project supports the faster SATA, or Serial ATA interface, I chose four SATA drives. The boot drive is a Western Digital Raptor WD740GD 74GB 10,000 RPM 8MB Cache Serial ATA150 which retails for $168. The data-stoarge drives are consist of 3 Western Digital Caviar SE WD2500JD 250GB 7200 RPM Serial ATA150 which retail for $111 each. This setup offers great speed and great storage options. One can put different files on different hard drives to alleviate the stress to one particular hard drive or to prevent users from accessing certain hard drives. A hard disk has a platter called the hard disk platter which is a flat, rigid disk made of aluminum or glass and coated with magnetic iron oxide particles. Hard drives have a feature that prevents access to data being written on a disk. This feature is the write-protect window and occurs when the window is open. A backup solution for a hard drive is a tape backup drive which writes a copy of the data on a hard disk to a magnetic tape. The operands specify data, or the address of the data, for the operation. A head crash refers to the physical destruction of a hard disk. Misalignment or contamination with dust can cause the read/write head to collide with the disk’s recording surface. The data are destroyed, and both the disk platter and head have to be replaced.

OPTICAL DRIVES

Optical drives, or optical storage, stores data as microscopic light and dark spots on the disk surface. Optical drives are either DVD-R, DVD+RW, CD-Rom, CD-R, or CD-RW drives. They are used most often to store software and music. The commonly found drive in a system is a CD-RW drive. It allows the reading of CD-Rom disk but also allows the writing and re-writing to a CD-R medium to store data. Just like a hard drive, data is written in binary digits, which are a collection of 1’s and 0’s. Modern optical drives do not need a device driver which is a software to set up communication between the device and the computer. Optical drives are able to boot up a computer. For example, Windows located of a CD-Rom, is placed into an optical drive on an empty computer which is then turned on and immediately recognized through the bios of the computer and then installs Windows. For this project, I chose a dual optical drive solution: 2 DVD+RW drives. This is done in order to be able to copy a DVD without putting the DVD’s content onto the hard drive. The DVD video is placed in one DVD+RW drive and a blank DVD+R/W is placed into the other, and a software program “burns” or writes the image from the video DVD to the blank DVD. The DVD+RW drive used in this project is the LITE-ON Black IDE 16x DVD Burner which retails for $40. It offers good speed and when newer technology comes out, such as laser printing burners, it will not have been a waste to buy an expensive burner. DVD storage capacity is 4.7GB and 9.4GB.

PERIPHERALS

Peripherals are usually devices that are not need to make a computer function properly. While a computer will function without a optical drive, it must be present to install certain operating systems or programs not available on the internet. Peripherals can be a pointing device, an input device, a display, removable storage, or a printer. They are ingenious gadgets that help with computing and everyday tasks.

POINTING DEVICES

The most recognizable pointing device is the mouse. It translates the users movement into movement on the screen following a cursor. Other input devices are touchpads/trackpad, trackballs, or joysticks. A touchpad/trackpad is usually found on a laptop or notebook. It is defined as a touch-sensitive surface that controls the movement of an onscreen pointer. The mouse  used in this project is the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 4.0 which retails for about $25. It is very quick and features forward and back buttons as well as a tilt-scroll wheel. It is USB (Universal Serial Bus). Other mice can be PS/2 which is an older technology being replaced by USB. It is optical, meaning there is no ball, rather a red light that tracks movement. Laser mice are also becoming popular as they offer superior tracking.

INPUT DEVICES

An input device could be a keyboard, fingerprint reader, or keypad. The keyboard contains keys that when pushed trigger binary code to make letters, numbers, symbols, or commands appear on screen. Keyboards are either PS/2 or USB. The keyboard used for this project is the Microsoft Digital Media Pro USB, which retails for $30. It has 22 shortcut keys and a zoom slider to zoom in and out of documents, enlarge, or decrease onscreen text size. A fingerprint reader is a USB device that reads an individuals fingerprint which is translated by a software program that is able to automatically log in to specified programs of stored websites. A keypad is simply a separate numeric keypad as found on a keyboard. It is used for entering in numbers quickly, usually placed away from where a keyboard is located.

DISPLAYS

Displays are usually monitors, although they can be presenters that project an image onto a screen or wall. In the past, CRT’s, or Cathode Ray Tube, were the standard monitor type. However, in the digital age, LCD’s, or Liquid Crystal Display, are the current rave. Plasma gas displays are starting to become popular. While CRT’s are still preferred for their quick refresh rate, LCD’s offer a brighter and higher resolution, or the degree of sharpness of a displayed or printed character or image, picture. On screen, resolution is expressed as a matrix of dots. XGA, or Extended Graphics Array, provides a 1024×768 (vertical x horizontal) resolution. High end laptop LCD displays called LCD – UXGA provide resolutions up  to 1600 x 1200. LCD displays produce images by manipulating light within a layer pf liquid crystal cells. For this project, I chose the DELL UltraSharp 2005FPW 20.1-inch Wide Aspect Flat Panel LCD Monitor which retails for about $550. LCD’s have drastically gone down in price. 3 years ago a nine-teen inch LCD monitor retailed for about $900. The twenty inch Dell LCD is the top rated LCD on the market. A very nice CRT monitor is the twenty-one inch ViewSonic G-Series. A CRT is a vacuum tube where the viewing end of the tube is coated with phosphors, which emit light when struck by electrons.

REMOVABLE STORAGE

Removable storage has seem a rise in popularity as PC users transfer work between computers at work and home or school and home. A USB flash drive is the most popular form of removable media. It is a portable storage device with a connector that plugs into the computers USB port. There are no moving parts, rather data is stored on a flash disk. Because these drives are the size of a thumb, they have been affectionately named “thumb drives”. Another type of removable storage is found in many digital cameras. SecureDigital is a solid state storage card that offers fast data transfer rates and high security. These devices are called SD cards. Some laptops have a PCMCIA slot, or Personal Computer Memory Card International Association External Slot, which can read SD cards used in cameras and transfer pictures to the computer to share, print, or edit.

PRINTERS

Once a user has created a document on a PC, they may want to print it to share with others. This is a job for a printer. There are 2 basic types of printers: the laser and the ink jet printer. The common household printer is ink jet. Ink jet printers have a nozzle-like print head that sprays ink onto paper to form characters and graphics. Laser printers, which use the same technology as a photocopier to paint dots of light on a light-sensitive drum, are usually reserved for businesses as they cost a significant amount more than ink jet printers. Many printers have media card readers for SD or other memory cards so you can print without a computer. The printer chosen for this project PC is the HP PhotoSmart 8250 Q3470A, which prints thirty-two pages per minute and supports resolution up to 4800 x 1200. It retails for about $200.

TYPES OF COMPUTERS

Besides the desktop based PC as built in this project, there are several other types of computers. Notebooks and laptops come to mind. They are capable of packing the power of a desktop with the portability of a binder. Servers are very powerful desktop PC’s with lots of hard drive space, lots of RAM, and fast processors. Servers are what power websites and networks. Servers are designed and configured to perform specific duties within a company client-server network. Some specific roles a server could play in a client-server network are domain controller, terminal server, web server, database server, mail/exchange server, data storage server, processing server, virus definition distribution server, application server, or DNS server. This lightens the workload on one specific server and provides for a more efficient and streamlined processing method. There are also tablet PC’s which are laptops that you can rotate the screens and write on as if it were a sheet of paper.

JOBS IN THE IT FIELD

There are many jobs in the Information Technology field ranging from software designer, to forensic investigator, to hard ware technician. There are many possibilities to choose from depending on what your likes are. If you are into the software side of computing, a software engineer or designer would be a good fit. If you like the technical hardware side of PC’s then a network engineer/administrator or systems analyst would be a good fit. If you like looking at something and figuring out what happened and how it happened, then a career in Information Forensics might be of interest. That field deals with white collar computer crimes. As more and more companies are switching their business method over to computers and databases, security has become a great concern. There are many positions for trustworthy and reliable men and women who enjoy working on hacking countermeasures and tracing hackers and weak points in a system. The IT field is growing and with more and more dependence on computers in daily life, the need for individuals to back up those computers is on the rise.

SUMMARY

This document should have adequately prepared an individual to purchase a personal computer, whether configuring it by scratch and building it, or choosing one from a vendor. As stated, it is important to refer to the manuals that come with PC parts to ensure correct installation and use.

The project PC is a complete high-end multimedia powerhouse built with the most highly sought after parts from a reliable and prompt vendor.

Computers are becoming an integral part to everyday life. They save lives, provide jobs, and make everyday life easier and more efficient.