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Old 05-17-2008, 04:20 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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PC Purchasing Decision Help...

Hi guys,

I have an unusual set of requirements for a new (inexpensive) desktop computer and am having trouble finding one that fits the bill at a good price. With the nearly infinite wisdom of this group, I figure that you guys might be able to point me in the right direction. Even some good forums or web sites with useful info would be fine.

My perfect system would be a competent Vista Home Premium or Ultimate desktop at ~$600 or less with:
* Dual core processor and reasonable FSB speed
* 2 gig RAM, plus two empty sockets to add 2 gig later
* Adequate video driver which won't drag down the system
* 500 gig HD (SATA?) - or a throwaway drive I replace myself
* TWO additional FOUR (now that I see it's possible as I start to look at Jon's suggestions!) open hard drive slots and available power/data cables. (I want to add 2x1TB 4x1TB more internal drives later)
* DVD drive bay and cables - I already have a DVD drive from another system
* A video card slot (to upgrade if needed in the future)
* Ethernet, 802.11g and 6-12 USB ports
* A decent power supply that I can leave on without worry about fire hazard or the fan failing
* In addition, if there was a bundle price break to add a (black) 17" widescreen LCD with speakers, I could also save on the monitor cost.

Obviously the price and the three hard drive requirement is the tricky part. I would be happy to put together a barebones kit, but don't want the hassle of choosing one and picking all the right parts and pieces and connectors to go with it, or the headache of fighting with things that don't work together.

So I've been looking for deals at Best Buy, TigerDirect, NewEgg, MicroCenter, various office supply stores, etc. But for the cheaper systems, it's really hard to get the right combination or sometimes even to understand whether there is a drive bay that I can use to add a hard drive without cable or power supply problems.

This is what I currently plan to buy unless something better pops up...
Quote:
$550 Compaq Presario SR5450F Computer
W1707 17-in. Widescreen LCD Monitor
and a cheap printer (which I would throw away)

Intel Pentium dual core E2180 processor,
2GB DDR2 memory,
500GB hard drive,
Dual layer DVD +-RW Light Scribe Drive.
GeForce 7100 graphics.
Vista Home Premium SP1
But while it's a great deal, it won't get me the THREE internal hard drives, and there seems to be some issues with adding another hard drive according to this comment...
Quote:
The machine will take one more large internal device under the DVD writier. It will also take two additional internal drives. Another note. If you buy another SATA drive, you must buy a "Molex power connector-to-SATA power connector to provide it power. I don't know why, but the machine only comes with 2 spare IDE type power connectors (so you need the Molex [IDE type power connector-to-SATA connector) and one smaller power connector. No big deal, but you cannot install another SATA device without the SATA power connector.
Thanks MUCH if you have any suggestions.

P.S. If a system has two optical drive bays, I know you can't put a HD on the same controller cable as the optical drive without a huge performance hit, but can you put three drives together on other same controller and use the empty optical bay only for physically holding the HD?
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Old 05-17-2008, 04:39 PM   #2
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I just had a look at the monitor and I know for a fact you'll have it. The resolution is way too low. 1440 x 900 is a not all that nice.

For just a little more, you can get a monitor from newegg.com that 20", higher resolution, and the brightness and contrast are a bit better.

Acer AL2016WBbd Black 20" 5ms Widescreen LCD Monitor 300 cd/m2 800:1 - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16824009108

Question... would you mind putting together a system from parts? If you don't mind, I can try to put together a lit of parts from Newegg.
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Old 05-17-2008, 08:57 PM   #3
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Why not build one yourself? I stopped buying desktops several years ago and built a couple of PCs, one for myself and one for the kids. I upgrade when I need to do so for far less than purchasing something new.
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Old 05-17-2008, 09:06 PM   #4
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Spec out a system at IBuypower.com. They have some good prices. YOu can choose any case the meets you need, power supply, mother board, etc. They build it and warranty the system. I've found that there prices are not much more than buying everything seperately at Newegg and building your own.

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Old 05-17-2008, 09:23 PM   #5
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My answer isn't going to help Bob, but it might help someone.

I decided to forever give up buying a new desktop last fall. That's when I first came across Microcenter's refurbished computers. For under $250 you can find some powerful, slightly out of date PCs with XP installed.

I was originally looking to assemble a high end multi core computer for a couple long running jobs. Then I realized that I could nearly the same performance from 2 $250 machines that I would have gotten from a $1500 machine.
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Old 05-18-2008, 09:32 AM   #6
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ASUS M2N-SLI Deluxe AM2 NVIDIA nForce 570 SLI MCP ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail - $129.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16813131013

CORSAIR XMS2 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM Desktop - Retail - $58
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16820145034

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST3750330AS 750GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM - $129.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16822148298

Sony NEC Optiarc Black 20X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 8X DVD+R DL 20X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA 20X DVD±R Burner - Retail - $26.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16827118012

Rosewill R5604-TBK 0.8mm SECC Screw-less Dual 120mm Fans ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail - $54.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16811147033

Antec BP550 Plus 550W ATX12V V2.2 Power Supply 100 - 240 V UL, CE, TUV, CB, FCC, CCC, C-TICK - Retail - $59.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16817371016

ASUS EN8600GT MAGIC/HTP/512M GeForce 8600GT 512MB 128-bit GDDR2 PCI Express x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card - Retail - $79.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16814121231

ViewSonic X Series VX1940w Black&Silver 19" 2ms(GTG) Super High Resolution 1680x1050 DVI Widescreen LCD Monitor 300 cd/m2 1000:1 static (typ), 3000:1 dynamic (typ) - Retail - $219
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16824116095
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Old 05-19-2008, 09:43 AM   #7
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Red face I grabbed the package store deal after all...

Thanks Jon for the information.

It was an agonizing decision process, especially after spending MANY hours looking at your suggested parts, and reading comments and other web sites with info. The idea of being able to use five hard drives was absolutely making me giddy with anticipation.

But in the end, and after discussing with my wife for a sanity check, I ordered the Compaq Presario system because of cost, simplicity and time. It just didn't seem like there was a reason (other than the fun of it) to spend the extra money. The system would have been better, but a bit more costly and not necessary. And more important to my wife, it's additional computer work -- with a home built system she might not see me for weeks after I dive into the office with all the pieces and parts!

Here is the motherboard info...
http://h10061.www1.hp.com/ccsearch/s...ry=motherboard
(I was astounded to see this info on the HP support site, and of course now it means a lot more to me after learning more about these things!)

But now that I'm more familiar and much more enticed by the possibilities after getting your input and some other great info (thanks RWood!) as well, I'm thinking about doing the following with the system. It's my own idea based on just enough knowledge to become dangerous, so I'm wondering if I am crazy or if this is a good idea?

1) Upgrade the power supply from 350W to 450W, and add additional hard drives. There is one open hard drive bay, another empty optical bay, an external 3.5" (for the digital media reader I assume) and 4 SATA controller sockets on the mother board to drive it all. Plus, I can use the existing power supply for another old computer that needs one.

So can't I now add three hard drives if I'm willing and able to remove the card reader?...
* One in the empty hard drive 3.5" bay
* One in the empty optical 5.25" bay (with a bay adapter)
* One in place of the card reader in the 3.5" external bay

A little reading seems to indicate that hard drive max power consumption tends to run around 30W/hard drive on spin up, half that on activity, and almost nothing when idle. So I figure if I beef up the power supply by 100W, I should be good if the fan can ventilate enough. I'm tempted to try leaving the power supply it has, but am afraid of problems if I do that (e.g. if all four drives spin up or are active at the same time and the system melts down or writes bad data).

2) Then after the warranty expires in a year (so I don't have to worry about voiding the warranty), move the whole thing to a new case so I can give better ventilation and more easily upgrade the system incrementally as if it was a custom build to start with. Other than maybe not having the same instruction books or needing different cables, it shouldn't be any harder than building from scratch, should it?

Oddly enough, the incredible flexibility of expanding a home built box with incremental part swapping reminds me of the human body -- urban legend has it that each of us replace our cells (or is it molecules in the cells?) throughout our life periodically, so really the stuff we are made up of is constantly changing, even though we keep our structure and identity. A home built system seems very much like that as you can continue to add on or replace all the bits and even the case over time, yet it's still your "same" computer.

So is this getting me in over my head and likely to cause problems, or are these things a good idea? One person whispered to me that putting it all in a new case is possible, but he didn't exactly go out of his way to say it was a good idea or easy. What do you guys think?

Anyone done this sort of thing before? If it's possible and practical, I think this could catch on with tech types. Or maybe all you guys/gals are already doing such a thing routinely anyway?
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Old 05-19-2008, 10:30 PM   #8
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What's this system going to be used for and why would you want 4-5 hard drives in a system?

I rarely upgrade a system over time; unless I know that I can use the old parts in another system. Instead I'll often donate it or hand it off to a relative who's fried their ancient system.

As for changing out cases... yes it's doable, but not always a great idea; pray that it's not a custom case and you don't break anything. I've done it a few times. The last time was for a dual socket rendering system at work that was overheating & far too loud; new case, fans and heatsinks. It was a severe PITA.
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Old 05-20-2008, 09:40 AM   #9
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That's a great point about potential damages if trying to rebuild the Compaq in another case. I suppose I shouldn't make the move to a new case until I'm willing to replace the motherboard if necessary. At least that way it wouldn't be a big risk.

Technically, I don't really need that many hard drives. But I do have a lot of data, and a bunch of external hard drives that would be nice to put internal. I also tend to always have extra drives that I prefer to make use of rather than to spend money on a larger replacement drive. A lot of current systems also support RAID options, which I would like to try out. Plus I also like to have an internal drive to do frequent backups. (An external drive is still needed for backups on a less regular basis, but for the frequent stuff a separate internal drive should be sufficient.)

But the new system with the stock case, maybe with a new power supply, should be plenty sufficient to handle an OS drive, a data drive and an internal backup drive. My external drives can stick around until I either upgrade next time or I create a network storage server.

Come to think of it, with my newfound knowledge about the internal components, I might just take a look at beefing up my old DELL or Compaq (one will be my wife's and the other will be a Linux box) to handle some extra storage and share the drives. (Will have to look at whether you can share a Linux drive to a Windows computer.)

This stuff has really opened up a whole new world to me! I just hope I'm not going to get in over my head!
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Old 05-20-2008, 11:12 AM   #10
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Dell made a fortune using components designed for them that fit only their machine. They claimed that they had built the better mouse trap. Power supplies for example fit only their machines and standard ones would fry the motherboards. Recently they announced that they would start using standard components.
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Old 05-20-2008, 11:24 AM   #11
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RAID is good and all, but still requires regular external backups; something that I really need to be better about myself at home. Also.. if you decided to try out the onboard RAID array stuff for redundancy, I'd suggest only using it to store data and not the entire system; page file, system drive, etc. Any data you really value should be regularly backed up on an external drive that's only on/connected when you do the actual backup. An act of God/virus/whatever can take out both the internal system and backup drives.

Yep. With some work Windows and Linux can share drives. Which Linux distro are you using?

*grin* Yeah. It's fun. The last PC I built was a low power mini-ITX system that I put into a small humidor. The next one, which I should have parts for on Thursday, is going to be an overclocked quad core setup with 8GB of RAM for a home workstation/rendering system. I have another project to build a low power system out of an interesting 50's flatware chest and some used industrial components; including the LCD screen and drive it should use about 30 Watts peak.
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Old 05-20-2008, 12:49 PM   #12
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I plan to install Ubuntu. It's mainstream consumer Linux these days and has steady development cycles. And of course I like the price as well!
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Old 05-20-2008, 12:59 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell View Post
I plan to install Ubuntu. It's mainstream consumer Linux these days and has steady development cycles. And of course I like the price as well!
Yes, I "want" a new PC and was between getting an iMac or an Ubuntu Linux (build own or iBuyPower machine). I decided on the iMac. Ask for it for my b-day... better half says it's too expensive... and why do you want a mac, none of your software will run on it. Decided not to go down that road.

Ho hum.

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Old 05-20-2008, 01:10 PM   #14
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Yep, it's a tough balance to be considerate about a joint budget, and to be careful to distinguish between the multitude of "wants" and the practical needs.

With all the great options now coming out in computers and handhelds, I might be spending like there was no tomorrow if I didn't have family and future to think about and to keep me sane!
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Old 05-20-2008, 01:58 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell View Post
Technically, I don't really need that many hard drives. But I do have a lot of data, and a bunch of external hard drives that would be nice to put internal. I also tend to always have extra drives that I prefer to make use of rather than to spend money on a larger replacement drive. A lot of current systems also support RAID options, which I would like to try out. Plus I also like to have an internal drive to do frequent backups. (An external drive is still needed for backups on a less regular basis, but for the frequent stuff a separate internal drive should be sufficient.)
Hi bob,

From my experience traditional RAID it's rarely worth it for home users, as it tends to be tricky to config and manage.
For your needs I'd take a look at Drobo (or infrant readyNAS if you are up to it)
Basically it's an auto-expanding usb RAID array. (so no need to ever rebuild)
You'll have ever-expanding redundant storage
While a bit expensive, and slow, Drobo it's easy, somehow portable and transparent to the OS and the user. (plus, then you have your external backup...)

So, my advice, get a value (>$400) brand pc and a Drobo.(or even better , an infrant)

(on the other hand if you are gonna use Ubuntu then, by all means, go for it )

Just my two cents, anyway.


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