Build A PC

A custom PC configuration guide. © 2000,2001,2002 by Jef Poskanzer.

Other Components

I require a three-button optical mouse. These are getting somewhat hard to find. Mouse Systems was one of the original makers of optical mice, since back in the early 1980s, and made a nice simple & solid three-button optical mouse. Unfortunately they got bought out recently and the new owners, KYE International, are making the same two-button mice as everyone else. Logitech and Belkin both make three-button mice, but not optical ones so far.

There are some two-button optical mice with one of those wheel thingies between the two buttons. You can use the wheel as a middle button if you're careful not to turn it while pressing. That's about the best you can do at the moment.

Aside from that, check if the OS you will be running supports USB mice - some of the Unix varieties don't, yet. USB mice are generally better because the sampling rate is higher, so you can move the cursor more smoothly and accurately.

I like the Happy Hacking keyboard. It's expensive for a keyboard, but worth it. All the keys are in the right place, and it doesn't have keys you don't need. Plus it feels great.

Second choice is probably the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite, which also feels great. This has the usual Windows key arrangement of course.

I don't configure my systems with a modem any more. If you need one, just be sure to avoid WinModems, assuming you'll ever want to run an OS besides Windows.

Ethernet Card
Back in the ISA days, the best NIC was the 3Com 3C509. I still have one in my firewall system, talking to the DSL box. But this is the PCI era. Two good PCI NICs:

You can now get a combined CD-ROM/DVD player for just a couple bucks more than a CD-ROM-only player, so you might as well. Note that the DVD players are available with and without a decoder card. At the moment I think you do *not* want the decoder.

CD-R Writer
Sony, Yamaha, and HP all make good ones. What I haven't seen so far is a combined CD-ROM reader / DVD reader / CD-R writer. Dunno why this combination hasn't shown up. Current Macintoshes come with it built-in, but you can't seem to buy one separately.

DVD Writer
This is still getting sorted out, with multiple candidate formats battling for mindshare. DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW - it's not clear which will win. Don't buy one yet.

Sound Card
My only opinion on this is, get an actual Creative Labs Sound Blaster card of some variety, not a clone.

Video Card
I could write a whole separate page just on video cards. It's a very complicated fast-changing subject, kind of similar to the motherboard scene in that there are a few different video chipsets which are used in different manufacturers' boards. However, this only matters if you're going to be playing the very latest ultra-cool-graphics video games. For any other use, the raw horsepower of modern CPUs gives you plenty of graphical rendering speed, so you can use whatever el-cheapo AGP video card you like.

Anyway, if you do want a high-end video card, look at nVidia and Matrox.

Case and Power Supply
These are usually sold together, although you can certainly buy them separately. Some people make a major fetish out of computer cases, with modifications, special paint jobs, neon lighting effects, etc. I'm not into that. All I require is that the case be made of metal, for RFI shielding. Power supplies weren't much of an issue until recently, any random ~300W supply would do. But some recent CPUs such as the Pentium IV and the latest Athlon need special power supplies with an extra connector. Look into this before buying.

Sony Trinitron is the best. Mitsubishi Diamondtron and NEC are also good. Get at least 17". Look in the specs for the dot pitch number - it should be at most .25, and smaller is better.

If you want an LCD flat panel, see if your video card has digital output (DVI). This makes flat panels look better.

If you're going to be playing any games, spend a few extra bucks here. Good sound quality really enhances the immersive quality of a video game. The Yamaha YST-M15 speakers seem pretty good. Also look at the Boston Acoustics 635 and the Cambridge SoundWorks Digital, both of which include a sub-woofer.

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