Computer questions...

Hey guys, back again w/ sum comp. questions. I want to learn more about the hardware end of it. I am going to buy myself a computer here in a few months and I just wanna know about all the different aspects of building one. Here are sum of the things I am looking for good solid info on:

-Power supply: everything about this, I know nothing except that it powers the machine. wanna know how much I should get, prefered brands, etc.

-Motherboards/processors: Want to know what the different parts of these are and how they affect you comp. Like front side bus and stuff like that.

-Video cards: What do all those damn numbers mean? all those millisecond pieces of shit.....they confuse me all to hell. I get specs for them and I am like


-Different types of ports: Like USB 2.0, Firewire, etc.

-Drives: I know a decent ammount about these, just mainly wanna know what brand to get....plextor?

Thanks guys, appreciate your help and I hope u have sum good links for me
. Well I gtg cruize, lata
 

ExCyber

Staff member
Power supply: arguably the most crucial component of the system - converts the AC mains voltage to DC voltages that the computer's parts need (3.3V, 5V, and 12V are the key ones, -5V and -12V are also supplied but rarely used) and hopefully isolates the computer from the rest of your house's loads in terms of "noise". Power supplies also provide an exhaust fan, which is often the main one in the PC. They're rated in terms of maximum power (watts), which can be misleading because of the fact that each voltage path usually has a different maximum. For a modern full-size system, anything less than a 250W supply is risky, and realistically it's not a bad idea to get a 350W or 400W supply. PC power supplies are switching (as opposed to linear) supplies, which means that they only draw power to satisfy the demand from the load - this means that e.g. a 400W supply is not burning 400W all the time, but rather whatever is being burned by the system (plus 10-15% or so power loss from resistive components in the supply). Preferred brands are Antec, Vantec, Enermax, and Thermaltake, among others. Do not get a cheap no-name PSU - bad power is an absolute bitch to diagnose because any component can behave as though it's faulty if it's not getting a good supply, and problems may only show up under relatively uncommon circumstances. Often when a system hard locks or resets out of nowhere it's because there was a power failure just large enough to hose the system.

Motherboards: The job of the motherboard is - put simply - to allow everything to talk to everything else. The main measures of a motherboard boil down to what/how many things it can connect and how fast it can let them talk. For practical intents, the bulk of the motherboard's work is done by two chips, traditionally known as the north bridge and the south bridge. These are typically sold together by chip manufacturers as the "chipset", but different combinations are sometimes used. Pentium chipsets are dominated by Intel (whose chipsets I'm not familair enough with to summarize). Athlon chipsets are currently dominated by the VIA KT400A and NVidia NForce2.

Key north bridge features are:

System Bus (sometimes called a "front side" bus, to distinguish it from a "back side" bus which is a bus dedicated to cache memory): connects the CPU to the rest of the system. Basically this will support an Intel (Pentium/VIA) or DEC (Athlon) interface standard at particular speeds. Pentium 3 bus speeds are 100MHz and 133MHz. Pentium 4 bus speeds are 100MHz, 133MHz, and 200MHz QDR (labeled 400MHz, 533MHz, and 800MHz respectively). Athlon bus speeds are 100MHz, 166MHz, and 200MHz DDR (labeled 200/333/400MHz).

DRAM Interface: connects the RAM to the rest of the system. Much like the CPU interface the main features are the interface standard (SDRAM, DDR SDRAM, RDRAM, etc.) and interface speed. Recently Intel has somwehat favored RDRAM while everyone else has favored DDR SDRAM. The current high end for DDR SDRAM is "DDR400" (200MHz DDR, also called PC3200), while the current high end for RDRAM is "PC1033" (533MHz DDR).

AGP Interface: Connects the graphics card to the rest of the system. AGP 8X is the current high end speed standard, and an extension called "AGP Pro" provides extra supply connections for certiain power-hungry cards.

South bridge Interface: Not much to say about this. In older chipsets this is done with PCI, in newer ones it's using a proprietary or semi-proprietary dedicated bus.

Key south bridge features:

ATA controller: Talks to ATA/IDE hard drives. The current high end standard is ATA133. Most south bridges support 2 ATA channels, each of which can support 2 drives. Many recent boards however supplement this with a dedicated ATA chip. Chipsets supporting Serial ATA will probably arrive soon (if they haven't already). Serial ATA actually has very little to do with ATA except that it's intended to replace the hardware side of it; it uses a 4-wire cable instead of the rather unwieldy 40/80-wire cables used by ATA.

High-speed serial I/O: USB 1.x, USB 2.0, or Firewire. USB 1.x is the most popular standard for most peripherals. Firewire has a substantial niche in external drives and digital video equipment, but USB 2.0 is taking away some of its dominance for external drives.

Ethernet: Connect your computer to a network. Requires an additional chip to do the voltage conversion / signal encoding as well as the connector, so not all boards with a particular chipset will actually have Ethernet support.

Audio: Usually pretty barebones compared to a good card but serviceable for anything that's not demanding (e.g. realtime audio composition, MIDI synthesis, "environmental effects" in games). Like Ethernet, requires another chip/connector to actually work, so not all boards will make use of this feature.

Legacy I/O: All the good stuff you expect to be on a standard PC - floppy interface, serial ports, parallel port, and PS/2 keyboard/mouse ports.

PCI: Lets you plug in PCI cards.


It's worth noting at this point that Athlon 64, due out later this year, will change this picture quite a bit. It will move the DRAM interface into the processor itself and will have a sort of "southbridge interface" built in for interfacing to AGP/PCI bridges and I/O chips. Basically it will shatter the concept of the system bus as we know it today. See you in September.


Video cards: What do all those damn numbers mean?
Your guess is as good as mine, but don't go getting a $400+ on a video card. They are not that much better.

-Drives: I know a decent ammount about these, just mainly wanna know what brand to get....plextor?
Hard drives: Every hard drive manufacturer has dark spots on its record, but the current overall price/performance/reputation winner seems to be the Western Digital "Special Edition" drives.

CD-R/RW: Plextor and/or Lite-On. I hear Plextor just came out with a drive that can record 1GB/111 minutes on standard media, readable by most standard drives...

Recordable DVD: Pioneer if you're willing to do without DVD+R, Sony if you want to go all the way and support both DVD-R (pronounced "dash-R" not "minus-R") and DVD+R.
 

racketboy

Member
Pioneer is coming out with a new drive soon that will have all the DVD formats on it.

Samsung makes good drives supposedly that are quiete -- worth mentioning if that matters to you
 
So the higest wattage is 400 on the power supply? and I should definately go for that then...

With the new AMD motherboards.....you said they are gunna revolutionize the whole bus thing. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I was pretty much gunn a wait till these new motherboardss came out but it is gunna be worth the wait?

also, with those numbers you gave me....I assume that the RDRAM is currently doing better than the DDR SDRAM?
 

racketboy

Member
probably regular fans unless you have good money to spend

if I remember right, water cooling is a bit expensive -- and not really necessary unless you're gonna overclock a lot

if you're like me though, you'll want to look for quiet, but effective fans -- not just cheapies

2000th post!

woohoo
 
congratz on the post....and ya, that's what I was thinkin, just wanted sum dif thoughts on it. WHat a good quality fan that cools good and is quiet? I should have a good 2 or so fans in there right?
 

ExCyber

Staff member
So the higest wattage is 400 on the power supply?
Actually it's possible to go higher, I'm just recommending a little headroom for the general case. Bumping it up a bit more might not be a bad idea if you intend to run something like a GeForceFX (that fan system isn't there because the chip is energy-efficient) and/or lots of drives.

With the new AMD motherboards.....you said they are gunna revolutionize the whole bus thing. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I was pretty much gunn a wait till these new motherboardss came out but it is gunna be worth the wait?
There's only one way to find out. I like it because it fits my vague design sensibilities, but real performance numbers are going to have to wait at least until engineering/review samples of Athlon 64 start shipping. Current glimpses of the Opteron (the server version, based on the same core architecture) seem to be pretty favorable, but it's not clear how much of that will be retained by the Athlon 64.

also, with those numbers you gave me....I assume that the RDRAM is currently doing better than the DDR SDRAM?
A little better, but not as much as the difference between the numbers would suggest. Clock speed is only really meaningful when comparing similar architectures. The usual metaphor used is that it's like rating a car's speed by RPM.

I should have a good 2 or so fans in there right?
It's a good idea to have at least one intake fan at the front and one exhaust fan at the rear. Be sure to get ball bearing fans (as opposed to sleeve bearing). Do whatever you can (neatly folding/tucking cables for example) to provide a relatively clear path for airflow from the front to the back, especially between the front and the video card. Be sure to put enough space between the back of the case and the wall to allow decent airflow. Also if the computer will be sitting on thick carpet, check your case to make sure its intake path won't be blocked by the carpet. Good cooling is more than having the right fans...
 

Tagrineth

New Member
BJammzz-

also, with those numbers you gave me....I assume that the RDRAM is currently doing better than the DDR SDRAM?
Depends. AMD doesn't have any DRDRAM chipsets at all.

Intel, OTOH, has both DDR and DRD interfaces, and it's a toss-up really. If you go all out with the best physically possible DRDRAM and overclock it to hell (and not back), it'll perform better... but DDR tends to overclock even farther. Right now, for P4 platforms, dual-channel DDR400 on i875 chipsets is the best possible performance.

IceMan2k-

[H]ard OCP owns you!
www.beyond3d.com and never look back.
 

gameboy900

New Member
DDR SDRAM is also more than half as expensive as RDRAM. Not to mention that Intel is now quietly moving away from it.

And for Athlon platforms the DDR400 on nForce2 boards is the best (the Asus nForce2 board is currently the BEST you can buy for Athlon chips). Not to mention it has so much built in stuff all you will ever need is a video card. Everything else in there is ultra good (for mobo standards). Heck the built in audio system rivals the best dedicated soundcards.
 
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