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The Computer Buzz July 20th, 2006

Nome and Paul Van Middlesworth - owners - The Computer Fact


Designing Your Own PC Part II

Last week we discussed designing a basic home or business workstation using AMD Sempron CPUs. This is the CPU of choice for about 75% of the business and home workstations we build.

The Athlon 64, like the Sempron, is a general purpose CPU. AMD manufactures three other CPU families; each designed to fill a specialized niche. The Athlon FX for high-end graphics, the Dual Core Athlon for parallel processing and the Opteron for servers.

The Athlon 64 is preferred where user emphasis is on Internet gaming or video and audio editing. The higher FSB speed (Front side bus) and added cache memory make Athlons faster than Semprons for high end applications.

Choosing the Athlon 64 for your new PC means selecting internal peripheral devices that compliment and utilize the power of the Athlon 64 CPU. A larger hard drive to accommodate gaming and video/audio storage, a more potent 256Mb video card and additional RAM (1.0 to 2.0Gb) are typical enhancements.

A decent 256Mb video card costs less than a hundred dollars but you can spend many times that for a specialized audio/video editing card like the ATI All in Wonder or a high end "gamer" card like the nVidia 7950GX. If you are unsure of your requirements when you buy your PC it is better to take a conservative approach than to buy an expensive video card on speculation. You can always upgrade later.

Once you decide on the size of your hard drive, you may want to consider adding a second bootable hard drive. This allows you to completely separate users or activities. The second hard drive also comes in handy for backing up data and programs. Spending the extra $100 to $150 for a second bootable drive can save hours of aggravation. When software problems hobble one of the drives, the other can be used to restore normalcy.

Your Athlon 64 PC will come with a DVD-R/W but you may wish to add a DVD/CD player to permit disc-to-disc recording. Firewire, TV out and TV tuners are some common options.

The PC case appearance is your choice but an Athlon 64 with a 256Mb video card and up to three drives (optical or HDD) will need a 450-Watt power supply. For each additional drive (HDD or optical) or non-integrated peripheral (sound or video) you should add 50 Watts to your power supply requirement.
"Media Center PCs" using Microsoft's four-year-old "Media Center" operating system are common in retail stores. Microsoft's clunky integrated media software is not highly regarded. Savvy users are staying with XP Home or Pro and buying "stand alone" media software to power their media applications.

In summary, for most home and business applications, the 64-bit Sempron family of CPUs will do nicely. They parallel the Intel Pentium IV CPUs in the 3.0 to 3.5 GHz range. If your emphasis is on gaming and graphics, design a system around the Athlon 64.





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