The parts of a PC: G6JPG recommendations as of 2004-1-4.
A PC comprises the following. The column headed "basic system" is
what I - as of now - think is the minimum it's economic to buy (i. e. you
might be able to save a bit, but I think it would compromise
your PC for negligible saving). The column headed "costing" is the
lowest price I've seen (in about my last three visits to computer fairs) for
what I recommend, so allow at least 10% more.
The "second-hand" column is the minimum I'd say it was worth
bothering with - though this does depend on what you want a PC for; a
386-based system with 4M of memory can be adequate for word processing, or
with 16 (or at a pinch 8) for much web surfing. My
specification is based on what I think is a reasonable mix
(specifically excluding games - in fact that applies to my new
specification as well, as the latest games need the latest hardware, and then
other software (i. e. as well as the operating system): for ease of
transfer of your work to other people, the Microsoft Office suite
(Word, Excel, etc.) seems to have the lion's share of the market. The 97
version seems able to do all I've ever wanted; the Works suite is a
slightly cheaper alternative and needs considerably less in the way of
PC power, and, from the "99" version, includes the only part of
Office most people use - the word processor, Word - so may be worth looking
out for. As for other software, it depends what you want to do: some should
come with most of the peripherals you might buy (scanner, camera, CD-RW
drive), and for the rest, much is available from the internet and/or magazine
||basic system - G6JPG recommended minimum specification
|necessary to work at all:
|case (with power supply)
350W supply, front sockets, 4 + 2 bays
||midi should mean at least 3 5¼" bays.
||any; ATX better, slimline worse
||£35 to over £100
||(minimal socket 370 or socket A or P4, with sound)
||Pentium 233MMX system
||(Intel Pentium iii, 866 MHz)
|(main) memory||256 megabytes
|£21||or perhaps 512 (£37)
|hard drive||60 gigabytes||£50
4 to 6 suffices; it's just not economical to buy less than about
60, or 80 (£59).
||1½ to 2 gigabytes|
|monitor||17" SVGA colour
(non-CRT is nice!)
|£85 (15" non-CRT: £180)
||(17" £35 second-hand)||any SVGA colour
|graphics hardware||2M suffices
(TV-out is useful)
|(8M TV-out was £20)
but probably best to go for 8 or 16M.||(any)
|operating system||Windows 98SE||£35
||Or xp (home, £79.99; professional, £120)
||Windows 95 version 2.x
||Probably can't find (new) other than W98||any (that fits)
|cables||as needed||(too much)
Check: mains (monitor, PC, scanner/printer etc.), printer leads
(especially if buying switchboxes), video if not part of monitor,
internal ("Y") power leads (if case hasn't enough), CD
audio (to sound card), HD/FD ribbon cables.
|you'd almost certainly want these:
|floppy drive||3.5" 1.44 megabyte||£5.50
||Needed for data exchanges.||3.5" 1.44 megabyte
|BURn-proof CD-RW drive
(or combined with DVD player)
(£55 [48×24×48] with DVD player)
|DVD writers from £s;89 (which do CDs too)
||at least 4× CD-ROM drive
||(I personally prefer a trackerball.)||any (that fits)
|sound hardware||(on motherboard)
||0 (if on motherboard)
||Higher-spec. sound cards give little extra for most people.||any
||Try to get T-piece mains lead (saves a mains socket).
||any or none
||(I just like HP printers. YMMV.)
|MoDem||V90 internal hardware
Software ones use some processor power, which
can be more trouble.
||none or external
CD-R or CD-RW drive: the cheapest (though not
necessarily the easiest to use) system around for backing up large
amounts of data; also, you can make your own data CD-ROMs and audio CDs.
Having a (read-only) CD-ROM drive as well as a CD-RW drive is less of
an advantage than it might appear, especially for copying audio CDs (because
many read-only CD-ROM drives are not really capable of digital audio
extraction [even though they can play audio CDs]).
USB ("pen") drives: A very easy way to transfer files
between (Windows 98 or later) PCs; £45 for a 256M capacity one. For
somewhat more money, you can get ones that can alos play any .mp3 files you
load into them.
DVD drive: a DVD-ROM drive is nice to have, either to play movies or
to be able to read data that comes on DVD-ROMs rather than CDs. The most
convenient (and cheapest) way to provide DVD facility is via a so-called
"combo" drive, providing DVD playing in the same device as CD
(re)writing and reading; the disadvantages of early combo drives have now
been eliminated. [The playing of movies will, in some older computers, be
smoother with a hardware card for the purpose (replaces, or works with, the
original graphics card)]. DVD-RAM (writable) drives are becoming
cheaper (from £89), though there are still various different format
specifications that haven't settled down yet. Some drives cover several
scanner (and OCR software?): Nice to have, and from £11.74. USB
ones have the potential to scan faster. OCR software isn't really
necessary unless you want to transcribe a lot of printed material - though (a
"lite" version) often comes with the scanner anyway.
digital still camera: from £20 or
£35 to hundreds. Most
can also be used as a "webcam", though the converse isn't so.
TV and radio cards (receive radio and/or television via your PC; most
can also grab video). Can have multiple-channel monitoring, NICAM stereo
sound, remote control (all have teletext)
pounds for a basic one. (From £79 for one for digital
FireWire cards allow direct input from digital camcorders (and
other peripherals with a FireWire interface); from £18.
network cards (for connecting PCs together in a network - from
£6 per PC [if just 2 PCs, just a laplink cable - £3.50 - works
USB cards (from £9) provide USB connectivity (needed for many
peripherals - virtually all digital cameras, most scanners, and some
printers, for example) for older PCs. (Modern ones include USB ports on the
PROCESSOR AND MOTHERBOARD:
Unfortunately, there are currently at least three different incompatible
processor shapes; as a result, it is not really that possible to future-proof
a system in this area, as it is far from clear which (if any!) will prevail,
so it is necessary to decide what you want, and go for it. Fortunately, a
motherboard change is less difficult than it used to be, so if you later find
you've backed the wrong horse and have to upgrade, it's not the end of
the world - though expect to have to change some of your older
hardware too, and maybe to have to start from a blank disc to reduce problems
(i. e. be prepared to have to reinstall everything).
Processor speed is also a matter of argument - especially as it isn't
the same between families: a K6-III outperformed a K6-II of the same (or even
slightly faster) speed, for example. In fact, the figures is the names of the
Athlon range of processors reflect the speed of the Intel processors AMD
claim the Athlons are equivalent to; the actual clock speed they use
is in fact lower. On the whole, about 950 megahertz (or 1 gigahertz) is the
minimum I'd recommend at the moment - not that less won't suffice for most
purposes, just that a say 800 system is likely to have other more elderly or
lower-specified components in it (smaller hard drive, possibly slower memory,
and so on).
The currently available processor shapes (and thus motherboard styles) are:
So, to summarise: motherboards that can take processors from either of
the major manufacturers are no more, since AMD stopped making socket 7
processors. A socket 7 system is a decision not to intend to upgrade - though
possibly still usable (should be offered at a very knock-down price though).
Sockets 370 (Intel), A (AMD), and 478 (Intel) are the main choices.
Socket 370 gave a wide range of choice (mainly from Intel, though there is
the Cyrix MIII), but is now obsolescent, socket A lets you choose from the
AMD Duron and Athlon ranges, and socket 478 lets you use a recent Celeron or
Pentium 4 (socket 423 didn't last long, and you might even have to pay a
premium for a P4 to fit it - if you can find one at all).
socket 7 (strictly, super socket 7; the original Pentium had
slightly fewer pins or something). This is the oldest that is currently
likely to be offered, and then only in second-hand systems.
Nevertheless, such a system can be adequate for some uses. However, it
is likely to be limiting.
socket 370. Intel Pentium IIIs and some Celerons are in
this form. Cyrix's MIII fits this socket too.
socket A. AMD's Athlon and Duron are in this form.
(There was a slot A, but that is now obsolete.)
The Pentium 4 socket. The P4 uses a socket with either
423 or 478 pins. The 423-pin variant is being phased out.