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SHOWS YOU HOW TO... 



OTHER PC 

BUILD-IT MAG 

SHOWS YOU 

EXACTLY 




Step-by-step instructions for builders AND upgraders 


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11-Page Illustrated 
Construction Guide 


component explained! 






PICK THE BEST: 

VCPU 

> MOTHERBOARD 

> VIDEOCARD 
HARD DRIVE 

> CD BURNER 

> DVD BURNER 

> SOUNDCARD 

> POWER SUPPLY 

> CASE 

> MONITOR 

> MINI SYSTEM 

> MOUSE 

> COOLING 


S9.99US S12.99CAN 


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I wish 





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I hadn't blown my paycheck at vegasbonanza.com 




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'I' lit* Power of Vo u 


Simply visit Staples, Best Buy, Circuit City, Micro Center, Fry's Electronics, Comp USA, Buy.com, J&R Computer World, and other fine retailers, www.antec-inc.com 


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Copyrighted material 




Cooking With 
Maximum PC 


B uilding a PC strikes some people as something 
that must be really hard to do. It seems compli- 
cated. It seems the kind of thing — like airplane 
design — best left to professionals and engineers. 

But it's not as hard as something like, say, cooking. 
Think about it. You've got to troll the supermarket, 
choosing among thousands of disparate ingredients, 
almost none of which were designed to work with the 
others. You risk scalding, poisoning, and being brand- 
ed for life by a red-hot stove element. Salmonella 
squats on the counter waiting for the right moment 
to strike. Knives can't wait to be dropped tip-first onto 
feet. And ail this for what? Less than a half-hour's 
chow time. And then there are the dishes. 

Building a PC, on the other hand, is easy. The 
entire process can be accomplished with the aid of 
a single screwdriver. Thanks to standards developed 
over the years, components are designed to work 
together with a minimum of fuss and cajoling. Check 
out our "Build It" guide on page 8, and you'll see that 
if you're talented enough to plug part A into slot B, 
well, you're already halfway there. 

OK, we'll admit that choosing the right compo- 
nents is tough, but that's why we've devoted many of 
the pages in this special issue to helping you with this 
very task. You 'll learn the essentials of w r hat distin- 
guishes an ordinary piece of gear from a true power- 
user's pride and joy. And if you haven't got time for 
the nitty-gritty, you can go directly to the end of each 
section for our specific component recommendations 
(along with review excerpts culled from our monthly 
magazine). Every single recommended part has been 
tested in the Maximum PC Lab under the most brutal 
and unforgiving conditions, and only the ones that 
provide the most bang for the buck get our blessing. 
Once you've got the parts, w r e'll w T alk you through 
each step of putting them together and making them 
play well with each other. 

Consider the benefits. When you build your own 
PC, you'll have a no-compromises machine tailored 
to your own requirements, whether you're building a 
state-of-the-art gaming rig or a frame-crunching digi- 
tal video workstation. You can whip together a low- 
profile home entertainment center for the living 
room that beats the pants off anybody's TiVo, or 
supersize to a full-tow r er case that's sure to impress 
your friends and frighten your enemies. The best part 
is that your PC will last for years, a trusted friend and 
companion, and the heart of your digital life. 

And that sure beats cooking. 

Sal nd! 


—LOGAN DECKER 



We've selected the applications, utilities, and drivers that every new 
system should have. Load up the drivers, check out the demos. 


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) EDI KNIGHT: 

(EDI ACADEMY 


You are a new student at Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy. Continue an ancient tradition as you learn the powers and dangers of the Force. Customize your 
character. Construct your own lightsaber from handle to blade. And develop your fighting stance-from the classic single-blade to the rare and powerful 
double-bladed lightsaber. Then hone your Jedi skills in single player missions or fight it out in multiplayer modes. May the Force be with you, young Jedi. 


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BLASTER 


Don't take fright at those strange, alien specs on 
the boxes of PC components. With our crafty 
guide to decoding specs, you'll be able to take 
full advantage of the information. 


The fun has just begun. Here's 
how to build a tiny PC that will 
make your game console. DVD 
player, and TiVo weep with envy, 


BUILO THE PERFECT PC 2003 


EDITORIAL 

Logan Decker editor in chief 
Katherine Stevenson managing EDITOR 
Cireg V’edennan DISC EDITOR 

ART 

Boni Uzilevsky art director 
Mark Madeo photo editor 

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS 

Omeed Chandra. Brian Lam, Dwight Looi, 

Jon Phillips, Cordon Mah Ung, Will Smith 

PRODUCTION 

Ric hard Lesovoy PRODUCTION DIRECTOR 
Lawrence Briseno production COORDINATOR 

ADVERTISING 

PUBLISHER 

EASTERN AD DIRECTOR 
212.768.2966 EXT. 4001 
WESTERN AD DIRECTOR 
949 360 4443 

NATIONAL SALES MANAGER 
925 964 1205 

DIRECT SALES MANAGER 
781.4162018 

NATIONAL ACCT MANAGER 
415.656.8536 

ADVERTISING COORDINATOR 
415.656.8313 

SENIOR MARKETING MANAGER 


Chris Coelho 
Bernard Lanigan 

Dave Lynn 

Stacey Levy 

Sharon Kiernan 

Nate Hunt 

Jose Cmitia 

Kathleen keillv 


CIRCULATION 


Jlna K. Kodich 

Angela Martinez 
Mimi Hall 
Janet Ainistoso 


GROUP CIRCULATION 
DIRECTOR 

NEW BUSINESS DIRECTOR 
NEWSSTAND MANAGER 
DIRECT MARKETING 
SPECIALIST 


BACK ISSUE REQUESTS 

1.800.865.7240 

REPRINTS PRINT AND DIGITAL 
Reprint Management Services 
Maggie French. 717.399.1900 *178 
mfrench * rephntbuyer.com 

How to contact us: 

All subscription Inquiries BOO 274 3421 or 
rm*custs«rv©cdsfutfil!rr»ent com 
Editorial stall nputOmawmumpc.com 



FUTURE NETWORK USA 

150 North Hill Dr. Brisbane. CA 94005 
415.468.4684 www.futurenetwortcusa.com 


CHEF EXECUTIVE 
PRESIDENT 
V1CEPRESCENTCFO 
VPf OrTCHUVL DIRECTOR 
VICE PRESCENTORCULATION 
GENERAL COUNSEL 
CXR Of CENTRAL SERVICES 


Greg Ingliam 
Jonathan Simjivin Bint 
lom Valentino 
Matt Hrme 
Holly Klingel 
( hariev St hug 
Nancy l )ur letter 


Future NotWOfkUSAis aimed at people who have a passion 
A passion (or games For business For computers Or lor the Internal 
These are passions we share Our goal is to feed your 
passion with the greatest magazines, web sites, and CD-ROMs 
imaginable We love to innovate, we love to have tun. and we 
have a cast-iron ride always to deliver spectacular edrtonal value 
That means doetg whatever it takes to give you the information 
you need With any luck, wel even make you smrle sometimes 
Thanks for iwning us 

Future NodwortcUSAis part of The Future Network pic 
The Future Network pic serves the information needs of groups 
of people \Mm share a passion We aim to sattsty Owir 
passion by creating magazines and web sites 
that offer superb value for money, trustworthy nformaoon. 
multiple ways to save time and money, and are a pleasure to read 
or visit This simple strategy has helped create one 
of the fastest-growing media companies m the world we publish 
more than 1 00 magazines, 20 magazine web sites, and a number 
of web networks from offices m five countries The company 
also licenses 42 magaznes m 30 countnes. 

The Future Network is a public company quoted on the 
London Stock Exchange (symbol FNET) 


BATH LONDON MILAN MUNICH NEW YORK PARIS SAN FRANCISCO 


MAXIMUM PC (ISSN 1522-4279) is published monthly by Future 
Network USA. 150 North Hill Drive. Suite 40. Brisbane. CA 94005. 
USA. Periodical class postage paid in Bnsbane. CA. and at additional 
mailing offices Newsstand distribution is handled by Curtis Circulation 
Company. Basic subscription rates: one year (12 issues) US: $20; 
Canada. $26. Foreign: $42. Basic subscription rates ■ Deluxe” version 
(w/CD): one year {12 issues/12 CD-ROMs) U.S.: $30; Canada: $40; 


Foreign $56. US funds only. Canadian price includes postage and GST 
<GST#R 128220688) Postmaster: Send changes of address to Maximum 
PC. PO Box 5159. Harlan. IA 51593-0659 Standard Ma«l enclosed in 
the following edition: none Ride-Along enclosed in the following edi- 
tions: B. Int i F*ub Mail# 0781029. For customer service, write Maximum 
PC. PO Box 5159 Harlan, IA 51593-0659; Maximum PC. 150 North Hill 
Drive, Brisbane. CA 94005. Future Network USA also publishes PC 


Gamer. MacAddict. Official Xbox. and PSM. Entire contents copyright 
2002. Future Network USA. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole 
or in part is prohibited Future Network USA is not affiliated with the 
companies or products covered in Maximum PC. PRODUCED AND 
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 


BUIIB m PlBflCT PC 2003 05 


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APPLICATIONS 

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Partition Magic 8.0 



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VST support, and more. } 


port. High Definition, OHCI, ASIO, AAF, and 



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Partition Magic allows you to partition your hard 
drive quickly and easily, so you can have sepa- 
rate sections for multiple operating systems, data 
storage, and testing areas for unstable programs. 


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Norton AntiVirus 2003 

A/orton is one of the oldest most popular, and 
most up-to-date AV apps out there. This new ver- 
sion includes Instant Message scanning, in addi- 
tion to Trojan and worm blocking and removal. 


* jtov 




A Norton AntiVirus 


I Scan Progre ss: Scan for Viruses 


2 Repair Wizard 



Scanttfog for vtirsrs: 


Current R«n 

C (Documents and 8 ettn 0 $WVMI\Locai 
SetUngstTemcKTemporarv Directory 1 for 
Drrv»*mag«?002 rptUTlUTYiDOS 


Mozilla is a premier open-source web browser, 
mail client, newsreader, WYSIWYG editor, and 
Paint Shop Pro 8.01 IRC client. Pop-up filtering, download manage- 

W- PSP provides a comprehensive image retouch- ment, dynamic profile switching, tabbed browse 
ing and manipulation feature set Enhance ing, Bayesian junkmailH^MBH 

images in batches, use manual color correction, and/or image blocking, yEnc encoding, Palm 
and play around with the Background Remover, syncing, newsgroup filters, and more, 
which allows you to separate elements in fine j||§ 

detail such as hair and grass. Advanced Audio CD Ripper 1.049b 

AACR rips CD audio and turns it into MP3s 

Ulead Photoimpact 8.0 WMAs using the vaunted and highly config- 

This image retouching and manipulation pro- urable LAME codec. Do batch rips from multi 

gram features image editing macros, pie CD-ROM drives simultaneously, and use 
iHlilll DVD player slide shows, e-mail CDDB/FreeDB integration to automatically 

attachment optimization, a WYSI- complete ID3 tags. 

WYG web page creation tool, £ 

JavaScript functions, extensive text 

effects, and more. ■ UTILITIES 


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Action 

Scanned 

Infected 

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Fftes 

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Norton AntiVirus 2003 





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:.Vs 


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Agent 1.93 

Forte Agent is a Usenet newsreader 
featuring "ignore" and "watch" 
lists, integrated e-mail, spellcheck- 
ing, internal multitasking, advanced 
searching, and more. 




Undelete 3.0 


u 


,Te 


Eudora 521 


- — 

Eudora is an e-mail client featuring True Image 6.0 


• -w- *^a*\ 

•.<£ 

Undelete replaces the Recycle Bin with a 
"Recovery" Bin. You can recover files purged 
from the Bin and even excavate files that werf 
deleted before Undelete was installed. Works 
over a network and includes SecureDelete, 
which can completely wipe sensitive files. 

S"> ^ i5L t * 5 ‘ * « 

* 


/ 


Diskeeper 7.0 Second Edition 

This full-fledged version of the defragger under 
the hood of Windows XP defrags multiple drives 
simultaneously in the background, prevents frag- 
mentation of core system files, intelligently deter- 
mines when to automatically kick in, and bills 
itself as the fastest defrag technology available. 

Zone Alarm Pro 4.0 

ZAP provides e-mail filtering, cache cleaning, 
precision settings, IP tracing, pop-up and ad 
blocking, password protection, mobile features, 
cookie handling, and more. 


SSL support, shell extensions, 
Kerberos V authentication, mail fil- 
tering that matches addresses against the * - 
address book, word-and-phrase flagging to 
determine a "mood" level, drag-and-drop 
attachments, and more. 


•V 




vsV. 


T/'-.y 


ACDSfi 5.0.1 ' 

ACDSee is a powerful thumbnail browser that 








allows you to edit and convert images in batch- 
es, create slide shows, view video files, use 
multiple browsing techniques, organize chrono- 
logically, eliminate duplicates, use free 30-day 
web image hosting, and order prints online. 


True Image operates in the background, creat- 
ing and restoring disk images without reboot- 
ing to DOS, and uses an intuitive XP-style ini 
face. User-defined compression levels, pass- 
word protection, Windows 95/98/ME support, 
NTFS, FAT16/32, and morel 

•' ,s ‘ ;1 % ?$&&•**’ * * '*/, * • • . 

Po werStrip 3.45 

PowerStrip offers deep configurability for mul^ 
tiple monitors and a massive range of video- 


cards. Over 500 controls cover color correc- 
tion, clock speed adjustment, vertical sync, 






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Adobe Premiere 6.0 

Adobe Premiere is a pro-level, nonlinear digi- 
tal video editor. Real-time editing, color cor- 
rection, audio editing, multiple nestable time- 
lines, multithreading and hyper-threading sup- 


FileZilla 2.1 9a 

FileZilla is a free open-source FT P client which 
includes download/upload resuming (when sup- 
ported by the server), timeout detection, firewall 


performance tweaks, resource monitoring 
optimization, icon management, and more. 

- 

Offers complete support of ZIP and RAR files, 
and unpacks CAB, ARJ, LZH, and more. Up to 


* '5v faiCT *> 

WinRAR 3.20 


30% better compression with RAR than with 
— in , . . 




support GSS Kerberos authentication and ZIP when using this program, 

encryption, SSL, SFTP, queuing, multi-language 
support and more. FileZilla Server is available at WinACE 2.5 

the web site. v • WinACE compresses ACE, ZIP, LHA, MS-CAB, 

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and JAVA JAR and decompresses ACE, ZIP, LHA, 
MS-CAB, RAR, ARC, ARJ, and more. 

DivX codec 5.05 

Create and view DivX videos, a highly com- 
pressed but relatively high-quality video file for- 
mat which can fit a full-length DVD onto a CD. 
Includes the DivX Player 

XviD 0.92 

This is the popular open-source version of the 
DivX codec. A handy guide is available at 
http://doom9.org/xvid-guides.htin. 


> EXTRAS 


Pack 1 must be installed first. 
Chaintech 7NJS audio drivers 
must be obtained from Chaintech 
(www.chaintech.com.tw). 

nForce unified driver for 
Windows 98SE/ME 2.41 

The latest nForce and nForce2 
drivers for Windows 98SE/ME. 
USB2 drivers must be obtained 
from the individual vendor, and 
Chaintech 7NJS audio drivers 
must be obtained from Chaintech 
(www.chaintech .com.tw). 
Windows 95 and 98 
First Edition are not supported. 


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Partition Magic 8. 


DirectX 


nVidia Windows 2000/XP drivers 45.23 

The latest nVidia Win2K/XP drivers for GeForce 
and TNT cards. 

nVidia Windows 95/98/ME drivers 45.23 

The latest nVidia Windows 95/98/ME drivers for 
GeForce and TNT cards. 

nVidia Windows NT 4.0 drivers 43.45 


SiS AGP driver for 
Windows 9x/ME/XP/2000 1.16a 

The AGP driver for SiS motherboards for 
Windows 9x/ME/X P/2000. 


SiS IDE driver for 
Windows 9x/ME/XP/2000 2.03 

This will enable PCI IDE bus mastering in SiS 
motherboards under Windows 9x/ME/XP/200C 


The latest nVidia Windows NT 4.0 drivers for 
GeForce and TNT cards. 

ATI Radeon display drivers for Windows 
XP/2000 3.6 

The latest ATI Radeon display drivers for 
Windows XP and 2000. 

ATI Control Panel 3.6 

The latest ATI control panel. 

ATI Radeon display drivers for 
Windows 95/98/ME 3.6 

The latest ATI Radeon display drivers for 
Windows 95/98/ME. 


VIA 4-in-l driver for 
Windows XP/2000 4.49 

Chipset drivers for VIA chipsets. This package 
will enable IDE bus mastering, AGP support, 
IRQ routing, and give your chipset proper iden- 
tification in the Device Manager in Windows 
XP/2000. 

VIA 4-in-1 driver for 
Windows 95/98/98SE 4.35 

These drivers are supported by VIA as being 
more responsive for Windows 95/98/98SE than 
the latest 4-in-1 drivers. 


Intel 875/865 INF installer 5.0.2.1002 

Chipset drivers for the following Intel chipsets: 
865 G/PE/P/GV and 875P. Works with Windows 
98SE through Windows XP and Server 2003. 


Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 drivers for 
Windows XP/2000 

This will install the latest SBLive! 5.1 drivers for 



nForce unified driver for 
Windows 2000/XP 2.45 

The latest nForce and nForce2 drivers for 
Windows 2000/XP. For Windows XP, Service 



Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 drivers for 
Windows 95/98/98SE/ME 

This will install the latest SBLive! 5.1 drivers for 
95/98/98SE/ME. 


Sound Blaster Audigy 

drivers for 

Windows XP/2000 

This will install the latest 
Audigy 1 drivers for 
XP/2000. 

Sound Blaster Audigy 2 
drivers for Windows 
98/ME/XP/2000 

This will install the latest 
Audigy 2 drivers for 
Windows 98/M E/X P/2000. 


9.0b 

The latest version of DX9 patches a security 
flaw where a malformed MIDI file could create 
a buffer overrun. This version does not require 
an Internet connection during installation. 

Windows Media Player 9.0 for 
Windows XP 

Windows Media Player plays just about every 
major media file, plus will stream Internet 
media, convert file formats, and burn audio and 
data CDs. 

Windows Media Player for 
Windows 98S E/M E/2000 

Windows Media Player plays just about every 
major media file, streams Internet media, con- 
verts file formats, and burns audio and data CDs. 

Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP 

PowerToys is a set of 11 apps that will enable 
things like icons for Alt+Tab task-switching, vir- 
tual desktops, a graphing calculator, and the 
famous TweakUI. 

Windows XP Service Pack la 

The first official compilation of Windows XP 
Critical Updates. 

Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer 

1.1.1 

The MBSA allows you to scan multiple com- 
puters for common security holes and miscon- 
figurations, and will make sure the system is 
up to date with the latest Windows Update 

patches. 

Microsoft Bootvis 1.3.37.0 

Bootvis is designed to trace your system start- 
up process and optimize it to boot in 30 sec- 
onds, resume from Hibernate in 20 seconds, 
and resume from Standby in 10 seconds. 

Microsoft Bootvis Guide 1.3.37.0 

This self-extracting ZIP file contains a 
Microsoft Word document describing in detail 
how to get the most out of Microsoft Bootvis . 


B0I10 THl PERFECT PC 2003 07 

CopyrignTed material 






By the Maximum PC Staff 


I 


een thinking about L 

building your own I Li 

Dream Machine? We y Tw 

bet you have. If you're 
like most PC enthusiasts, n tvvjf 

you want to experience 
true pride of ownership — "I M 

that indescribable feeling P5 

one gets from having built a 
computer completely from , ^ c 

scratch. Sure, you can have 
fun with a prefab machine, 
but you'll never really be 
able to call it your own 
flesh and blood. 

So it's time you built your 
very own. On the following 
pages, you'll find the neces- 
sary blueprints to conceive, build, and 
troubleshoot your own PC screamer. You'll 
get to decide your personal Dream 
Machine's exact component configuration, 
one tailored to your personal passions and 
proclivities. Gamers can splurge on the 
very, very best videocard and dispense 
with the funky RAID setup. Videographers 
can ditch the DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives 
in favor of a do-it-all DVD/CD combo burn- 
er. You make the choices, and you decide 
on the compromises — that is, if you intend 
to make any compromises at all. 

This guide is just a starting point to help 
you get moving on the fundamentals of PC 
building. What you make of this project is 
limited by only your budget and imagina- 
tion. You can buy every part we used in the 
step-by-step tutorial, and configure your PC 
as a mirror image of our own. Or you can 
go hog wild with 1GB of memory, SCSI 








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RAID, and twin plasma screens hooked up 
to a dual-monitor videocard. Get the idea? 

Before you take the plunge, we've got 
two pieces of advice. Make sure you read 
this entire issue before you begin buying 
components. It's an important precaution 
that will help you avoid, for example, pair- 
ing a Serial ATA drive with a motherboard 
that doesn't have a Serial ATA connector 
(dohl). Then, thoroughly read this "Build It" 
article, from beginning to end, before snap- 
ping Part A into Part B so you get the "big 
picture" of the process. Building a PC isn't 
difficult, but paying close attention to 
details is absolutely essential if you want a 
quick, trouble-free assembly. 


How to construct the ultimate PC 



All your questions answered, every step explained 




08 BUM m PMm PC 2B03 







BOIIO TOl PUftCT PC 2003 09 

S Copy t tyhtod itj«3 










Remove Mobo Tray 

Using a case with a removable motherboard 
tray can make your assembly job much easier. 
Luckily, our mid-tower case from PC Power and 
Cooling has a removable tray. The case comes 
without a power supply, so we ordered the company's 
300W Turbo-Cool supply. A good place to build your project 




Fewer and fewer companies use removable motherboard 
trays these days. Fortunately. PC Power and Cooling’s mid- 
tower case includes this amenity. 


is in the kitchen, where there's plenty of light and no carpet 
to create static electricity. If you're in a particularly dry 
environment where the risk of static discharge is higher, 
consider getting an antistatic wrist strap from a local elec- 
tronics store before you touch any items of value. 



Mount the Motherboard 


Begin by matching the mounting 
holes in the motherboard with the 
holes in the tray. Ideally, brass or 
aluminum standoffs should be 
used to support the motherboard in all four 
corners, as well as in the center. If your tray 
doesn't have a screw hole in a section of the 
motherboard that you'll be applying pressure 
to (such as near the IDE cables or PCI slots), 
then you can use plastic standoffs for addition- 
al structural integrity. 

Make sure you can account for all the metal 
standoffs you've used. An errant metal stand- 
off that's poking into a random point of the 
motherboard could potentially short out the 
PC. Also, be sure to firmly screw down any 
brass standoffs so they don't back off by acci- 
dent Once you've mounted the motherboard, 
you should push on different sections of it to 
make sure it feels solid. 

Our Soyo motherboard uses a BIOS setup 
menu to configure most of the board's essen- 
tial settings, but other motherboards may 
require that you switch physical jumpers to 
change settings. Now would be a good time to 
familiarize yourself with where these jumpers 
reside and what they do. For our motherboard, 
we did have to throw a jumper to instruct the 
onboard RAID controller to act as a normal 
ATA/100 controller for our single IDE drive. 






(a) Make sure the I/O shield that came with 
your case or motherboard matches the I/O 
holes on the motherboard. 

(b) Make sure the standoffs are tightened so 
they don't back off. 

(c) When screwing the motherboard into the 
backplate. leave it a little loose while you 
ensure that PCI cards will fit properly, then 
tighten the screw. 


Install the CPU 


■ 

M Modern CPUs are as delicate as butterflies. Don't manhandle them. 
To install a socketed CPU, lift the arm on the socket straight up in 
the open position. You'll notice that pins are missing from two cor- 
ners of the Athlon XP (only one corner is missing pins on a Socket 478 Pentium 
4). These notched corners should match the two notched corners of the sock- 
et. Drop the CPU straight into the socket, and take care not to bend any pins 


(see a). Once the CPU is sitting flat in the socket, lock the arm back down. 

If you're sure your heatsink already has a thermal pad or thermal tape on it, 
you don't need to apply thermal compound. Our heatsink came "raw," so we 
used Arctic Silver II thermal compound for its low electrical conductivity and 
good heat transfer characteristics. A tiny 1mm or 2mm dab of goop is generally 
sufficient; apply it to the core (see b). Use enough to cover the core, but not so 
much that it oozes all over the CPU and motherboard. Obviously, you'll want to 
use more thermal compound for Pentium 4s with their larger cores. You can find 
more instructions at www.articsilver.com. 

Mount the heatsink fan by placing the 

fan flat against the CPU. Clip one side of 
the heatsink to the socket. To clip the 
other side, use a screwdriver or 
needlenose pliers to nudge the other clip 
into place (see c). Press on only the clip 
and keep the heatsink flat on the CPU, not 
at an angle. BE VERY CAREFUL— it's 
ridiculously easy to crush AMD CPUs dur- 
ing heatsink application. While you're 
here, plug the fan into a nearby power 
header that's marked CPU1. 





10 BUIIB THt PfRHCT PC 2BB3 


Copyrighted material 


















(a) Before you rush out and buy the largest chunk of memory you can find, make 
sure the memory type is supported by your motherboard. You should also verify 
which slot to use if you're populating your board with only one stick of memory. 

(b) Most motherboards come with their own IDE cables. Usually, the blue 
connector goes on the motherboard. 

(c) No one ever connects the front panel connectors correctly the first time. If 
your new PC won't boot at first, make sure your power switch connector has 
been inserted properly. 




Set IDE 

This step 


access to four 


, 


IDE channels and might need to put two IDE devices on a sin- 
gle channel. 

Let s say you have three IDE drives: one hard dnve, one 
DVD-ROM drive, and one CD-RW drive. Because each IDE channel sup- 


ports two devices, you can accommodate all your drives — but you'll 


.»ii <; 


fileed to set each drive in the proper position. You'll want to plug the hard 


drive into the master interface of the primary IDE channel; the DVD-ROM 
drive into the slave interface of the primary channel; and the CD-RW 
drive into the master interface of the secondary channel. Now for the 
kicker: Each IDE device must be appropriately set as either a master or 


slave device. You can do this by setting a jumper on the back of each 

... -. r ... . r . v • w-> - - ^ i m » • . i •»••• . .--j. 




drive; a little map next to the jumpers will indicate proper settings. To 






ensure reliable operation, we recommend that you eschew the. "cable 
select’ option and instead opt for either a master or slave setting. 


m 


vV> 




_ 








s 


s 






















too.::. 




The jumpers on the back of an IDE drive usually let you choose master, slave, 
or cable select. Move the jumper around to change the relationship. 


•r. ••.•'•.vV ■iw/.i-'Z • ■Wm&gi : : :Xv. *> ; . • ■ \7 GBr. 


Accessorize the Mobo with Memory, Cables, and Wires 


It's time to install RAM, cables, and 
the front-panel connectors. Open 
/our motherboard manual and deter- 
mine which memory slot should be 
populated first. Some motherboard makers 




actually label the slots 1, 2, and 3. While your 
RAM may ostensibly work fine in any memory 
slot, using the correct slot can help ensure 
trouble-free performance. PC100 and PC133 
memory modules boast two notches that make 

it easy to determine 
which way the memo- 
ry fits into the slots. 
But the DDR memory 
module that we used 
has just one notch, 
and it's nearly in the 
middle of the module, 
making it easy to 
inadvertently insert 
the memory in the 
wrong direction. Line 
up the notches and 
press the memory into 
the slot until it locks 
into place (see a). 

Now insert the IDE 
cables. The cables 


should be notched to fit in only one direction 
(see b). Use the fine-wired 80-pin conductor 
cables for your hard drives, and the coarse- 
wired 40-pin cables for your optical and 
removable storage drives. Try to keep the boot 
hard drive on the primary IDE channel, and try 
to keep optical drives on separate channels — 
high-speed CD burners won't perform at full 
spec if they're pulling data from a CD-ROM 
drive that's sitting on the same channel. In our 
case, we actually isolated all of our IDE drives 
on their own channels by using the mobo's two 
regular IDE channels, as well as the two extra 
IDE channels enabled by the motherboard's 
onboard IDE RAID controller. (Unless your sys- 
tem is equipped with an IDE RAID controller, 
you'll have only two IDE channels total.) 

Finally, carefully examine the motherboard 
and its manual to determine which way to con- 
nect the power-on, reset and hard-disk activi- 
ty lights located on your PC's front panel (see 
c). If you put the connectors in backward, you 
won't kill anything, but the lights won't work. 


BBIU TUI Fam K 203 11 











Slap in the Drives 

We staggered our CD-RW drive and DVD- 
ROM drive in order to keep an empty 
drive bay between the devices. Stacking 
optical drives on top of each other usu- 
ally won't hurt anything, but it makes sense to 
encourage as much airflow as possible inside your 
case. Because our mid-tower case is intended to 
sit on the floor, and because our DVD-ROM drive 
will be used to play DVD movies and audio CDs, we 




placed the DVD-ROM drive in the top bay for con- 
venience. We have a small case, so we weren't 
worried about the length of our IDE cables. But if 
you're using a relatively tall case, rememberto get 
extended IDE and floppy cables. 

When actually screwing your drives into the case, 
we recommend that you do so on both sides of the 
drive — this will require removing the starboard- 
side case cover. Today's optical drives spin at 



(a) We put the PlexWriter CD-RW drive on the bottom and the Pioneer DVD-ROM drive on top 
because we ll want quicker access to the DVD-ROM drive — but that's just us. (b) The floppy 
drive is the PC's appendix — but we kept it in our project for sentimental reasons, (c) It's 
important to tightly fasten screws on both sides of your IDE drives, such as this 7200rpm hard 
drive. Excessive rattling may hurt the performance. 


increasingly high speeds, and excessive vibration 
or rattling can actually hurt performance, so you'll 
want your drives properly secured to your chassis. 
We recommend that you use a non-magnetized 
screwdriver for this type of work. 

Go ahead and mount your optical drives and floppy 
drive (if you have one), and pop in the front case 
bezel if it's been removed. Since both sides of your 
case are open at this point, take the time to align 
the floppy and optical drives so they sit flush with 
the front case bezel. If you have a hard drive gon- 
dola like the one that came with our case, screw 
your hard drive into it. Just don't insert the gondola 
back into the case; we'll get to that later. 




Put the Motherboard 
in the Case 

It's now time to fit the whole motherboard enchilada into 
the case — but before you do, make sure the holes in 
your case's metal I/O shield match the I/O ports on your 
motherboard. Also, make sure all the shield's metal holes are 
punched out. If the holes don't match the ports, don't proceed ! Get 
a proper I/O shield to save yourself heartbreak down the line. When 
you install the motherboard tray into the PC, make sure you don't 

crimp any cables. We 


usually leave the moth- 
erboard screws a tiny 
bit loose and tighten 
them only after we're 
sure there's enough 
space between the back 
of our PCI add-in cards 
and the edge of the 
motherboard. 


Fold in the 
motherboard tray 
carefully, and 
check to see if 
the case's I/O 
shield matches 
your motherboard 
I/O ports. 



Connect the Power 

Match the clip of the 20-pin power connector with the notch in the plug, 
and firmly clip it in place. Like most desktop Athlon mobos, our Soyo 
needs just the 20-pin for power. Motherboards for the Pentium 4 add a 
small four-pin connector (labeled 1 2V) for additional 1 2-volt power needed 
by the CPU. So, if you're building a Pentium 4, attach that connector as well. For 
all power connections, check your motherboard manual for anomalies. Some 
boards, such as the original Athlon MP mobos, use proprietary plugs. Many dual 
Athlon boards also make use of the 12V connector, and may require that you plug 
a hard drive power plug directly from the power supply into the motherboard. 




Make sure you 
plug the ATX 
power connector 
to the motherboard 
in the correct 
direction. The 
power plug will 
usually include 
a notch that 
prohibits improper 
insertion. An 
incorrectly 
inserted power 
plug will kill 
your PC. 


Copy rig f 


12 BUIID THl PIRFHT PC 2003 












Connect Your Drives 

It's now time to connect your IDE cables to your 
optical drives. The cables are notched and should 
fit only one way into the drives and motherboard. 
If your case is so cramped that you can't see 
where the notch is, remember that the red stripe on the IDE 
cable corresponds with pin 1 on an IDE drive, and pin 1 is 
the pin closest to the drive's power connector. 

Afteryou've hooked up the IDE cables, insert the four-pin 
power cables to the optical drives. The power cables are 
keyed so they'll fit in only one way, but we've seen worn- 
out and cheap power cables that magically fit in the wrong 
direction. The short lesson is to make sure you have your 
power plugs facing the right direction. 




Hook up the Hard 

In our PC Power and Cooling mid- 
tower, we used the included hard 
drive gondola to mount our hard 
drive. While the gondola design 
restricts the use of tall fans and heatsinks, it 
does aid in cooling the 7200rpm hard drive — 
because the gondola is more or less sus- 
pended in the middle of nowhere, air gets to 
flow all around it 

If you're not using a gondola, just screw 
the hard drive into an available 3.5-inch drive 
bay and remember to leave open space for 
cooling. Once we screwed our gondola back 


Drive 

into its original position, we hooked up our 
IDE and power cables, just as we did with our 
optical drives. Your CD-ROM drive probably 
doesn't need the dense 80-conductor cables, 
but all ATA/66 and ATA/100 hard drives do. 
You can tell the difference between 80- and 
40-conductor cables by looking at their wires. 
80-conductor cables use very fine wires; 40- 
conductor cables use relatively thick wires. 
Because we have four independent IDE chan- 
nels available, we set the hard drive to master 
and plugged it into the master interface of the 
primary IDE controller. 




(a) First goes the IDE cable.... (b) Then goes the 
power connector. For both insertions, be gentle and 
make sure everything is facing the correct direction. 



The gondola in our PC Power and Cooling case provides our 7200rpm hard drive 
with a slightly cooler environment than a drive bay would. 


Adding the Videocard and the Soundcard 


11 WVHKHP 

The first add-in card we installed was the Leadtek GeForce3 AGP 
| | card. The Soyo Dragon, like many Athlon motherboards, features 
the slightly longer AGP Pro slot to accommodate cards that need 
to draw extra power. Our GeForce3 card, however, is a normal AGP 
card (a). Both the card and slot are keyed so it's near impossible to screw up 
the insertion of the card — but we have heard of people jamming the card into 
the wrong slot and frying their systems. If your motherboard has a sticker or 
small piece of plastic that plugs up part of the slot, leave it in place; this will 
prevent the card from shifting backward and shorting out. 


Back in the day, we would have recommended that you boot your system 
and verify its health before installing your PCI cards. But because we have so 
much confidence in today's hardware, we went ahead and also installed a 
Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy soundcard. Because videocards gen- 
erate so much heat, we placed the Sound Blaster in an open slot away from 
the AGP card (b). 

We're not going to tidy up our wiring until we've "burned in" the PC for a 
72-hour period. In fact, you should never, ever, ever put the side back on your 
case before you boot If you do, your PC will refuse to boot just to spite you. 


13 

Copyrighted mated 




















Set up the 

Weve come this far without detecting 
the acrid smell of charred silicon — so 
far, so good. Now it's time to set up 


BIOS 

your PC's BIOS. The term BIOS stands for "basic 
input/output system." This is the software that con- 
tains all the rudimentary instructions on how your 


Frequency 1MHz Stepping 

133 a| 

CPU Ratio Select 

Auto 

CPU Ucore Select 

Default 

Quick Power On Self Test 

Enabled 

First Boot Device 

CDROM 

Second Boot Device 

Floppy 

Third Boot Device 

hdd-i ill 

Boot Other Device 

Enabled 

RAID/ATA 8 SCSI Boot Order BAID/ATA.SCSI 

C.I.H. 4-WAY Protection 

Disabled 

Onboard Pronise IDE RAID 

Enabled 

Onboard 6Ch H/W Audio 

Disabled 


operating system should communicate with your 
hardware. 

First, turn on your newly constructed PC and 
punch the key that lets you enter the BIOS. It's nor- 
mally the FI, F2, or DEL key. If you get a full-screen 
logo but no key prompt to "enter setup," hit the 
ESC key. This will spawn your hidden boot sequence. 
Now you can hit FI, F2, or DEL to enter the BIOS 
setup screen. Once you're inside the setup menus, 
you can adjust a number of parameters that will 
affect OS-hardware communication. But for the 
purpose of this tutorial, we'll focus on just a few 
necessities: 

■ Because you'll soon be loading Windows XP 
Home from scratch, directly off its CD, the first 
thing you'll want to do in the BIOS is set the First 
Boot Device to the CD-ROM drive (see a). This tells 
the computer to boot from the CD drive before 
trying to boot from the hard drive, which is still 
blank. While you're in the BIOS, you'll also want 
to disable the onboard audio to make way for the 
Sound Blaster Audigy card. 

■ Make sure your system bus is clocked correctly. 
For AMD systems, like ours, this means a setting 
of either 100MHz or 133MHz, depending on the 
CPU you have — 100MHz for Duron and 133MHz 

for Athlon XP. Remember 



that you can't manually 
setthe CPU multiplier (or 
ratio) for Athlon XP or any 
Intel processors, so leave 
the BIOS setting at Auto 
(see b). If at any place in 
the BIOS you encounter 
options for "Maximum" 
or "Normal," go with the 
normal setting— you want 
to make sure everything 
is working fine before you 
try to optimize for max- 
imum performance. 

■Checkthe System Health 
or Status tab for details 
on your CPU temperature 
and CPU fan speed. Our 
1.53GHz Athlon XP was 
running at a mere 111 
degrees Fahrenheit, and 
the fan was turning atabout 
5500rpm — all within spec. 


14 BBiiBmmmmm 


Copyrighted material 












Install Windows XP Home 


We're in the final stretch, and lucky 
you, the Windows XP setup routine is 
much easier than that of earlier ver- 
sions of Windows. 

After following our BIOS instructions, your system 
should be set to boot from the CD, so insert your 
WinXP disk and reboot your computer. You should 
eventually see a screen prompting you to "Press 
any key to bootfrom CD," at which point you'll need 
to press the "any" key. 


WolcoiMt to Setup. 

Iltit portion ol the Setup pro^ren prepares Microsof t<R> 
Ui«>dovr.(R) XP to run on your conputer. 


To set up Windows XP now. press ENTER. 

To repair e Windows XP inslellat ion usioy 
Recovery Console, press R. 

To quit Setup without installing Windows XP. press F3. 

■ ssift 'i&r • i 







XP Mom Edition Setup 


llowino list shows the existing pertitiens «i»d 
it Sotted space en this cenputer. 

e UP and DOWN ARROW keys te select eo lien in the list. 

Ie set op Windows XP on the selected iten. press ENTER. 

Te create e partitien in the unpart itiened space, press C. 
Te delete Che selected partitien. press A. 


KB Bisk W at Id B en bus B en etepl (USUI 


Before the GUI 

After your system has booted off the CD, the installer 
will start the non-GUI portion of setup (GUI stands 
for "graphical user interface"). If you wantto install 
Windows on a SCSI drive or RAID array that XP 
doesn't include built-in drivers for, you'll need to press 
F6 as soon as you see the blue screen. Otherwise, 
you can waitforthe Welcome screen (a). 


Follow the prompts until you get to the parti- 
tioning screen (b). Assuming you're using a new 
hard drive, you'll need to tell Windows how you 
wantto configure your disk. If you're using your 
old drive, be extra careful at this step — this part 
of the installer is the WinXP equivalent of FDISK 
and can easily wipe your drive. For maximum per- 
formance with XP, we recommend creating one 


big partition that spans the entire drive. If you 
decide you need two partitions later, it's easy to 
repartition the drive using a utility like Partition 
Magic. Unless you plan on dual-booting Win98 or 
WinME, we recommend that you use the NTFS 
format for your new drive. And always do a thor- 
ough format on a brand-new hard drive! 

Once you've started the format it's usually safe 
to leave the machine for 20 or 30 minutes. The for- 
matting process is even more mind-bogglingly dull 
than watching paint dry. 

Halfway there! 

When you return, your PC should be into the GUI 
stage of the install. The first screen you'll see is the 
language options screen (c). Unless you have a 
nonstandard keyboard layout, or don't live in the 
U.S., you can safely continue to the next step. 

Next, you'll need to enter your name (d). Since 
we're giving this machine to our friend Dick Matthews, 
we used his name. 

The last major step you have to wade through is 
the setup of your network. Typical settings work for 
most cable modems and DSL connections, although 
you'll need to use manual settings if you have a stat- 
ically assigned IP address or use some sort of wonky 
PPPoE connection. Afterthe network is configured, 
Windows should reboot one last time. 

Finishing up 

Following the final reboot, you'll be prompted to acti- 
vate Windows. We recommend that you hold off 
until you have all the drivers set up for your hard- 
ware and everything is working properly. You should 
have at least 30 days before your unactivated copy 
of Windows stops working, so take your time. 

Now that WinXP is installed, hit the web and grab 
the latest drivers for your motherboard, 3D accel- 
erator, soundcard, and anything else that might 
need an update (always install new motherboard 
drivers first). Finally, have fun with your new system! 


S Windows * 


9 


© 



' 


0 

© 


Collecting 

information 

Dynamic 

Update 

Preparing 

installation 


Windows XP Home Edition Setup 


Regional anti Language Options 

You can customize Windows XP foi different regions and languages 


O 




rnoanang 

refaction 


Setup will complete 
approximately: 

33 minutes 




Regional and Language Options allow you to change the way numbers, dates, 
currencies and the time are displayed You can also add support for additional 
languages, and change your location setting 

The Standards and formats setting is set to English (United States), and the 
location is set to United States. 


T o change these swings, click Customize. 


Customize ... 


T ext Input Languages allow you to enter text rn many different languages, using 
a variety of input methods and devices. 


Your default text input language and method is: US keyboard layout 


T o view or change your current configuration , click Details 


Details... 


•J Windows'' 




© 

0 

o 


Collecting 

information 

Dynamic 


Preparing 

installation 


WllldOWrJ 


Windows XP Home Edition Setup 







Personalize Your Software 

Setup uses the information you provide about yourself to personalize your Windows 
XP software 



Type your full name and the name of your company or organization. 


Name: 

Organization: 


Dick Matthews 


Maximum PC| 



15 


niumnm 


rial 















A rogue's gallery of the most common problems that plague new PCs 


Can't See the Optical 

If your PC ignores the CD-ROM during the boot 
process, preventing you from booting off the 
Windows XP disc in the drive, double-check the boot 
sequence in the BIOS. The BIOS is a set of all the 
hard-coded instructions and drivers needed to start 
your PC before other software— namely, your OS— 
can take over. It's easy to get into the BIOS. With 
most motherboards, you can enter the BIOS by hit- 
ting the FI, F2, or Delete key during the initial boot 
sequence. If the onscreen instructions indicating 
which key to press go by too quickly, just press the 
Pause key. 

Once you're in the BIOS, you'll need to find a 
menu or menu option called "Boot Device Priority." 
This is where you establish the order in which your 
PC turns to different components looking for an OS. 
Make sure CD-ROM is designated as the first boot 
device. After you're finished installing the OS, you 
can speed up future boot times by making the hard 
drive your first boot device. 



Mayday, Mayday! 

Sometimes your PC simply won't boot at all, and 
only emits a series of beeps from your PC speaker. 
This is called a POST, or "power on self test," error, 
and it means that a component crucial to booting 
(like a videocard or hard drive) is broken, improperly 
seated, or improperly configured. 

The sequence of beeps you hear isn't random. 
The number and/or length of the beeps describe the 
nature of the problem. For instance, two beeps on a 
motherboard that uses an AMI-manufactured BIOS 
means there's something amiss with your RAM 
modules. 

Your motherboard's manual will help you decode 
the sequence of beeps for troubleshooting. 



Sound Off 

If your system powers up, but won't boot and does- 
n't elicit any beeps, make sure you have your case 
speaker connected to the motherboard; you'll want 
to hear any error messages that the system might 
issue. Some motherboards come with their own 
onboard speakers, precluding the need to connect 
a case speaker. 



Code Red 

If your system doesn't respond at all when 
you press the power button— no whirring of fans, no 
beeps, no nothing— don't panic. The first thing to do 
is make sure it's plugged in. No need to be embar- 
rassed— it still happens to us on occasion. Make 
sure the plug is firmly inserted into the power sup- 
ply as well as the outlet. If you're using a UPS (unin- 
terruptible power supply), make sure that's plugged 
in too. If that doesn't do the trick, reseat the graphics 
card, RAM, and any PCI cards you've connected, and 
then make sure the motherboard power connector is 
firmly plugged in. Take it out, and reattach it. 



Exile the Riffraff 

It's always possible you were sold a bum part that's 
preventing your PC from booting, or that you're 
using a fully functioning part that's saddled with bro- 
ken drivers. To determine if this is the problem, fol- 
low this most basic of troubleshooting methods: the 
process of elimination. Working backwards from the 
order in which you installed the cards and/or drivers, 
remove a card or driver, and try rebooting. If that 
doesn't work, replace the component and/or driver, 
and try removing the next part down the line. 

If you've got a replacement part that you know is 
healthy, like an older network card that you're 
replacing with a new wireless card, try swapping 
that and rebooting. 

It takes patience, but eventually you'll find the 
driver or subsystem that's giving you trouble. 



Drive on the Left Side 

PC power supplies support both the 115-volt power 
used in the U.S. and the 230-volt power used in 
other parts of the globe. Most power supplies are 
already set to 115, but we have occasionally seen 
them set to 230. Make sure your supply is set prop- 
erly before you fire it up. This problem is rare, but 
when it happens, it stumps even the pros. 


Hot Flashes 

If your system starts up fine but reboots after a few 
seconds, it's likely you have an overheating prob- 
lem. You're heatsink may be inadequate for your 
CPU, or you may have forgotten to install the ther- 



16 00110 TM PtBffCT PC 2003 






mal pad or thermal compound between the CPU 
and heatsink. If you have indeed applied the pad or 
compound properly, make sure your CPU/heatsink 
fan is connected to the motherboard headers for 
power. If it does work, you may have to upgrade to 
more advanced cooling paraphernalia (see page 74 
for more information on this subject). Also, make 
sure your CPU is clocked within its specified range. 

Lights On 

If the floppy drive refuses to work and the access 
light stays lit, then the cable was attached incor- 
rectly (this is very common, because there isn't 
any notch or block to prevent the cable from being 
installed the wrong way). Power down the system, 
and simply flip the cable over on the floppy end of 
the chain. 


Disappearing Drives 

If your PC can't detect your hard drive, the first 
thing to do is completely power off the PC, reseat 
the IDE cables on both ends, and power back on. If 
you've got more than one hard drive, and your PC 
can't see either of them, double-check their mas- 
ter/slave settings. Each IDE channel can support 
two drives: one master, and one slave. The drive 
that will house the OS should be set to master, and 
the other drive set as slave. These settings are 
determined by moving a jumper next to the IDE 



connector on the drive itself. On most drive labels, 
you will find a diagram that indicates jumper 
placements for master and slave designations, but 
sometimes you'll have to refer to the documenta- 
tion for instructions. 

If your PC can't see your hard drive and your 
motherboard comes with built-in IDE RAID, make 
sure your jumper settings or BIOS are properly 
configured. Check your documentation to deter- 
mine how to switch between RAID and Ultra DMA 
settings, depending on which you are using. 

X 

Underclocked CPU 

The initial boot screen should post your CPU's 
speed (although with Athlon XP CPUs, you won't 

i 

get the clock speed, but rather AMD's "perform- 
ance rating"). If it's lower than you expected, the 
frontside bus speed is probably underclocked. On 
a Pentium 4 motherboard, the frontside bus will 
run at either 400MHz, 533MHz, or 800MHz. On an 
Athlon XP motherboard, it will be either 133MHz, 
166MHz, or 200MHz. Make sure you know what 
frontside bus your CPU supports before you clock 
it up. 

Most modern motherboards allow you to 
set the frontside bus in the BIOS, while others 
require that you configure jumpers on the 
board's surface for the correct speed. Your moth- 
erboard manual will tell all. 





An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of fried 
hardware — five crucial safety tips for PC builders 


Unplug the Power Supply! 

Don't work on your PC with the power 
supply still plugged into the wall. Even 
when the PC is off, the power supply 
transmits a small amount of electricity 
to the motherboard, and removing com- 
ponents with the PC still plugged in 
could fry them. 


^ Static Be Gone! 

V jf Static electricity can, and does, kill com- 

puter components. So pick up a cheap 
antistatic strap at the local electronics 
store, and make sure it's connected to 
/ something grounded. Don't start your 
building project on the shag carpet of your living room, 
and for God's sake, don't build the PC while dressed in a 
polyester leisure suit. At the very least, touch your PC's 
power supply, or some type of metal object that's ground- 
ed, before working on your PC. 






Clean the Sink! 

Today's high-performance heatsinks and CPUs need to be in 
firm contact with each other to dissipate heat properly. If 
they're not, your CPU can crack. If you're reusing an old 
heatsink, make sure you use rubbing alcohol to thoroughly 
clean off the old thermal goop, and apply just enough thermal 
compound to cover the core. Don't apply so much that it oozes 
out and shorts contacts. 

Be an AGP Pro! 

When inserting a regular AGP card into an AGP Pro socket, 
make sure you don't hammer the card into the wrong part of the 
socket, as it may short out your mobo or videocard. Most AGP 
Pro sockets have safety tabs to keep the card from being 
inserted incorrectly, so don't remove these tabs unless you 
absolutely need to. 

Insert Your Cable Slowly! 

As with any cable connector, be especially careful when 
inserting the flat IDE cable into your hard drive or optical 
drive. If the cable doesn't have a safety tab that prevents it 
from being put in upside down, you can easily destroy a pin — 
or two or three or four — on your brand new 200GB hard drive. 


BBI10 TOf PtOflCT PC 2003 17 






MGER! 


Don't let your 2GHz PC turn into a four-alarm fire! 


Edmar Dominicci sent us 
this grim example of what 
happens when you fail to 
plug in your heatsink's fan. 



fhen their circuit counts are combined, 
the Athlon XP CPU and GeForce3 
graphics processor account for more 
than 90 million transistors— and every 
single one of those transistors gets 
hot, hot hot when under duress. Worried about 
heat stroke?You should be. So before you put 
your PC together, develop a cooling strategy 
to prevent a serious meltdown. Here are the 
10 most important things to consider when 
contemplating meltdown-prevention. If you 
follow these tips— and don't overclock your 
parts— you should never run into problems. 

1 Front to back, top to bottom 

Your rig's airflow should be the same 
regardless of the number, shape, and 
size of your fans. Air should come in at the 
bottom of the case and be blown toward the 
back. It should then be sucked up and out 
the top of the system.To this end, fans at the 
front and bottom of your case should draw 
air into the case, while fans at the back and 



Thermaltake's 

Volcano 7 fan is a heavy-duty 
fever-reducer for today's monster CPUs. 


top of the case should blow air 
out. This includes blowhole fans, 
drive bay fans, and PCI slot fans. 

2 1 Keep a clear path 

When you design the cooling 
j scheme for your case, make 
absolutely certain you maintain a nice "jet 
stream" through your case's interior. This 
essentially means removing unnecessary 
obstructions. Using cable ties to reduce the 
clutter of IDE and floppy cables can dramati- 
cally improve your cooling. 

3 Basic cooling precedes exotica 

Before you add a heat pipe or peltier 
cooler in order to overclock your CPU, 
devise a good cooling layout based on a 
normal system bus speed and rudimentary 
case fans. If your rig doesn't behave properly 
with basic cooling, it probably won't appre- 
ciate being overclocked with exotic cooling. 

Know what's hot and what's not 

Take advantage of the temperature 
monitors that are built into your moth- 
erboard, but don't rely on them 
exclusively. To this end, 
you should pick up 
a good electronic 
wired thermometer 
at your local Radio 
Shack. Attach its 
probe to a suspect 
area of your case inte- 
rior, close the case's 
side panel, run the PC 
for a few hours, then 
check the probe's dig- 
ital readout. Record the 
temperature, then move 
the probe to a new loca- 
tion. Repeat this procedure 
for different parts of your 
case— if you find any hot 
spots, consider additional 
cooling for those areas. 

Optimize airflow! 

A good way to perfect your 
system's flow (assuming 
you have a sufficient number of fans) 
is to use clear packing tape to seal any 
extra case holes, or cool air will leak from 
the back of your PCI slots before it can run 
over your CPU and memory. Also ensure 



that you have an 
equal number of fans 
blowing air into and 
out of your system. 
You don't want to 
have more air coming 
in than going out, and 
you don't want to 
create a vacuum 
inside either. 


6 i Use a filter over your intake fans 

Dust kills PCs, so grab some "filter 
media" to protect your computer. It's 
the same stuff that filters air going into 
your house's central air system, and most 
hardware stores stock it (but you'll need to 
cut it to the proper size). Electrostatic filters 
grab more dust, so they're preferable. Just 
remember to clean out your filter every 
month or two! 

7 Hot, hotter, hottest 

In most systems, the CPU is the hottest 
component, followed by the videocard, 
the motherboard's core-logic chipset, the 
memory, and finally the hard drives. Don't 
neglect any of these components, but 
remember to make cooling the CPU and 
videocard a priority. 

8 Keep your hard drives cool 

High-speed hard drives— such as the 
7200rpm beasts that are common 
today— generate a lot of heat. Make sure 
you have sufficient air flowing over them 
to increase their lifespan. 

9 Don't overstress your mobo 

Don't plug massive dual fans into your 
motherboard fan headers.Those 
headers are designed to power a single 
8cm fan, not three 10cm fans. 

Get the right fan/heatsink combo 

If a reseller sold you an AMD 
processor that didn't come with a 
companion heatsink and/or fan already 
attached, go to www1.amd.com/ 
products/athlon/thermals for a list of 
"thermal solutions" recommended by 
AMD for its entire line-up of CPUs. 

Intel doesn't have an equivalent table on its 
web site, but it does have voluminous notes 
on thermal management for its CPUs; go to 
support.intel.com/support/processors. 
When you buy a fan/heatsink combo for your 
Intel processor, make sure it is specifically 
designed for your type of proc. ■ 




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name 

handle : Mod__God 
DOB: 1/6/83 

LAST SEEN : ly 

salivating copious y 

over an AntecPl6° 
Ultimate Gaming Ca 


He disappeared five days ago. 
He's gotta be on Level 928 by now. 




He had good grades. Nice parents. A bright future. But then he built a mind-altering gaming machine and escaped 
to a different reality. A reality where victory is vasdy more important than piddling distractions like sleep, food, 
or ‘the real world; Good thing he’s got an Antec gaming case in his arsenal. Take our new PI 60 and Super 
LANBOY, for example. Carved from supremely strong anodized aluminum, our gaming cases boast a drool- 
inducing array of features. like ten drive bays and a swiveling control panel on the PI 60. Or nine drive bays 
and a clear side window on the effortlessly portable Super LANBOY. So get an Antec gaming case. And escape 
to a more stimulating reality. Now that’s the Power of You. To view our full line of 
products, visit www.antec-inc.com. 



The Power of You 




HP © 



buy.com 









SJV'^Hyw® 
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Build quality: If you don't intend on stacking compo- 
nents on top of your PC, the strength of your case 
probably isn't of paramount concern. But keep in 
mind that a hefty case made of steel or thick alu- 
minum doesn't just prevent crumpling if your super- 
sized friend takes a breather on it — it also helps 
dampen the noise from your components. 

You should also be on the lookout for details such 
as folded or blunted edges in the interior. It doesn't 
seem important until you've had some of the truly 
gross experiences we've had inside cases with sharp, 
burled edges. 


Cooling features: A well-designed casef will allow 
good airflow, with adequate ventilation and plenty 

of mounts for cooling fans in strategic locations. 
The ideal case will also include several codling 
fans. This particular case includes three fans., one 
of which is a tilted front intake fan cleverly posi- 


the case. And please don't block the intake' fans by 
placing them against walls or barricading them with 

peripherals! 


PC 2003 


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Upgradeability: Don't decide on a PC 
case just for today. Think about what 
you might want tomorrow. Unless you 
are designing a system specifically for 
portability (squeezing your goods into a 
petit Shuttle case, for example), don't 
settle for less than three external 5.25- 
inch and three internal 3.5-inch drive 
bays, and ample room for maneuvering 
during upgrades. 






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Removable motherboard tray: Many cases pro- 
vide a removable motherboard tray, making it much 
easier to swap out the mobo, CPU. and memory. 
Better yet, some cases boast a motherboard cage, 
allowing you to pull out your mobo without first 
removing all your expansion cards — frequent 
upgraders take, note. 




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Front-mounted I/O ports. The convenience of front- 
mounted I/O ports should never be underestimated, as 
anyone who is sick of crawling underneath his or her 
desk to plug in an MP3 player will agree. Ideally, the 
internal connectors for the ports will be cut up into 
individual wires (instead of a single block) for compat- 
ibility with the widest possible range of mother- 
boards. This particular case features two front-mount- 
ed USB ports, though many cases now come with 
front-mounted FireWire, audio, and more. 




8 



* 


BOIID TOE PEHFECT PC 2003 21 





uwbPiaMSM 

CASE 

Finding the ideal habitat for your components 


W e've lost track of how many times 
we've espoused the importance of 
choosing a quality case, but it's time 
for a recap. A case is more than just a shoebox 
for your components. A good case improves the 
stability of your system by channeling punishing 
heat away from your parts. It can reduce noise 
by stabilizing noisemakers such as optical 
drives and side-panels that resonate. A well- 
thought-out case makes using your PC more 
convenient by trundling vital connections like 
USB and FireWire to the front And last but defi- 
nitely not least a good case looks cool. 

While choosing a case is one of the most 
important decisions you'll make when designing 
a PC, it can also be one of the most vexing. 
There are literally hundreds of cases from vari- 
ous manufacturers vying for your attention, all 
claiming to be the best of the best Even the 
hardiest geek would tire of sorting through all 
the riffraff, but hey, that's why we're here. We've 
broken down all the important attributes you 
should look for when choosing a case, and 
included reviews from our monthly magazine of 
some of the best cases we've seen recently. So 
if you're ready to begin your search for the per- 
fect case, let's get started! 

BASIC STRUCTURAL RESIGN 

The first thing you need to establish 
before buying a case is whether porta- 
bility is an important factor. If you often 
tote your rig to friends' houses or LAN 
parties, you'll want a smaller, more 
lightweight case. If portability is para- 
mount, you'll want a mini-case like the 
one pictured on this page. But for a PC 
that's going to stay put, we strongly 
recommend choosing a case that's rela- 
tively large— this will improve airflow 
and give you more room for upgrades. 

In any event, the case is bound to be 
pushed around now and then, so you'll 
want to consider sturdiness. Steel cases 
tend to be more rigid, while aluminum 
cases are generally more flimsy. You 
should also check out the thickness of 
a case's material — if it seems no thicker 
than a Coke can, it's probably no 


stronger either. Try pushing down firmly 
on the top of the case when it's fully 
closed. Any give is a bad sign. You 
wouldn't think that a case could be that 
fragile, but we've seen a few that are. 
Lastly, to avoid any undue trips to the 
emergency room, make sure that any 
rough metal edges on the interior of the 
case have been folded over to protect 
your fingers— you'd be surprised how 
many cases have carnivorous interiors. 

TH0U6HTFUL AMENITIES 

Planning the interior of your case and 
installing all your components doesn't 
have to be a chore. A well-designed case 
can make the process easy. Seek out a 
case with enough ventilation holes and 
strategically positioned fan mounts to 
keep all your piping-hot components run- 
ning cool. At the very least, you'll want 
mounts for front intake and rear 
exhaust fans; ideally, you should have 
cool air blowing across your CPU, 
videocard, and hard drives, as these 
are the hottest-running components in 
your system. Some particularly well- 
thought-out cases even include filters 
for those vents to help keep out 
unwelcome dust particles. Premium 
cases will include wire guides and 
clips to help you tidy up your PC's 
internal wiring. Although these fea- 
tures can dramatically reduce internal 
temperatures, they remain pathetically 
uncommon. 

If you do a lot of upgrading and 
drive-swapping, look for a case that 
features thumbscrews for the side 
panels and expansion slots (thumb- 
screws don't require a screwdriver 
every time you want to peek into the 
works). A case with drive rails— a lock- 
ing system that lets you pull drives in 
and out of your system without screw- 
ing and unscrewing them every 
time— will make drive-swapping a 
snap. One caveat: Given the high 
speeds that hard drives and optical 


drives spin at these days, it's absolutely 
critical to make sure that a drive-rail sys- 
tem is well-designed and sturdily con- 
structed. Make sure you can return the 
case from where it was purchased with- 
out a restocking penalty if you find the 
drive rails don't fit snugly enough to pre- 
vent rattle. 

For those who are tired of listening 
to a PC that sounds like a vacuum 
cleaner, this may come as music to 
your ears: Some manufacturers are 
now offering cases specifically geared 
toward a quieter computing experience. 
In these cases, look for features such as 
rubber grommets on the hard drive 
mounts (to absorb vibration and noise), 
bundled-in fans that are quiet and 
preferably speed-adjustable, and a stur- 
dy construction that helps dampen 
noise rather than amplify it. This is the 
kind of thing you may only be able to 
evaluate after you've bought the case, 
so make sure you can return it without 
penalty if it's a dud. 

Nothing elicits more swearing from 
Maximum PC staffers than having to 
crawl around to the back of a PC just to 
plug in an external device. Front-mount- 
ed I/O ports will spare you pitched bat- 
tles with dust and roaches every time 
you want to plug in your USB key. 
Almost every case comes with front- 
mounted USB ports these days, and 
some even come with front-mounted 
FireWire and audio ports. Internally, 
you'll need to connect these ports to the 



Xoxide's UV-reactive case glows under 
ultraviolet light, illustrating just how crazy 
you can get with your case if you're game. 


22 mBmpumn2M3 


Copyrighted material 





appropriate headers on your 
motherboard. Headers are groups 
of pins used to hook up devices 
and I/O ports to your mobo, and 
the arrangement of these pins 
varies from motherboard to moth- 
erboard. As such, you should look 
for a case that has its USB and 
FireWire connectors cut up into 
individual leads that can be con- 
nected in any order, as opposed 
to a fixed block of leads that may 
be incompatible with your mobo. 
Or if you prefer, some cases fea- 
ture pass-through connectors for 
their front-mounted I/O ports that 
simply hook up to the appropriate 
ports on the back of your system. 

LEAVE ROOM FOR 
IMPROVEMENTS 

Any case that can be opened 
without an engineering degree 
could be advertised as having 
"easy access." But the devil's in 
the details. An upgrade-friendly 
case should be large enough to 
hold all your existing components 
comfortably, as well as any com- 
ponents you think you might pur- 
chase in the future. The case 
should also be easy to work on- 
features such as drive rails, 
removable drive cages, and par- 
ticularly a removable mother- 
board cage or tray are optimal. 

Finally, the ideal case will 
accommodate a variety of moth- 
erboard sizes. If you're interested 
in running a dual-processor rig, 
for example, make sure your case 
can fit a full-size ATX mother- 
board (few can). 

RODY MODS 

How do you know when a once- 
underground craze like case mod- 
ifying has truly gone mainstream? 
When your local computer store 
starts to carry a staggering array 
of pre-modded cases, all mass- 
produced and ready for purchase. 
Many manufacturers now offer 
enclosures that come complete 
with side-panel windows, neon- 
colored LEDs, and even sound- 
sensitive cold-cathode lights. 
Some companies also offer their 
cases in a variety of slick color 
schemes. That means you can 
now own a trick-looking rig with- 
out the dangers of using a Dremel 
tool. 

Of course, if you're the do-it- 


yourself type, you may want to 
bust out that Dremel anyway 
and do your own custom case- 
modding job. If that piques 
your interest, look for a case 
that facilitates easy modding. A 
case with thin side panels, or 
at least panels that aren't par- 
ticularly thick, is probably best. 
But at the very least, make sure 
you get a metal case— cutting 
holes in a plastic case is almost 
impossible, and it sure as hell 
won't be pretty. 

RUNDIED-IN EXTRAS 

To differentiate their products 
from the masses of me-too 
offerings, some manufacturers 
bundle extra goodies with 
their cases. Case fans are per- 
haps the most commonly bun- 
dled extras; almost every case 
comes with at least one. Ideally, 
the included fans will be temper- 
ature-sensing, speed-adjustable, 
or at least quiet. Some case man- 
ufacturers include fans with 
bright neon LEDs, which look 
slick when viewed through a win- 
dow. You may want to spring a 
few extra bucks for a case that 
comes with a fanbus to control 
the speed of your fans, such as 
Thermaltake's Xaser III. 

Power supplies are also com- 
monly bundled with cases, but 
most of the time, they're cheap 
throwaway units. Try to find a 
case that bundles a quality 
power supply if possible, as this 
can be a real money saver (see 
our article on page 71 about how 
to identify a high-quality power 
supply). If the case you buy 
comes with a crappy no-name 
unit, we highly— highly— recom- 
mend buying your own add-in 
power supply. 

Another extra you might want 
to look for in a case is a tempera- 
ture sensor with an overheating 
alarm and an LCD readout on the 
front of the case. And if you 
move your system a lot, a carry- 
ing strap could prove invalu- 
able— yes, believe it or not, some 
manufacturers are now bundling 
carrying straps with their cases! 

APPEARANCE AND PRICE 

Appearance is a highly subjective 
thing, so we can't really give you 
any advice other than to get a case 
that is aesthetically pleasing to 



Lian Li's PC-6070A has noise-absorbing foam, 
a soft rubber seal around the front door, and 
three nearly silent 80mm case fans. 


your own eyes. There are plenty of 
cases out there that strike a bal- 
ance between form and function, 
so you don't need to sacrifice good 
looks to get a case with all the fea- 
tures you want. 

Be forewarned that when you 
find the perfect case with all the 
features you're looking for, it prob- 



If you've found the "almost 


perfect" case, don't forget you can make up 
for its shortcomings with mods of your own. 
The Enermax A07FATR2, for example, adds 
front-mounted I/O and temperature monitors 
among other things to your PC. 


ably won't come cheap. So be pre- 
pared to spend a fair chunk of 
change on your case, and know 
that it's a worthwhile investment. 

Now that you know what to look 
for in a case, let's take a look at 
some examples of quality cases. 
Turn the page to check out reviews 
of some of the best cases that have 
passed through our lab recently. 


BUIIO m PWICT PC 20B3 23 

ertal 


top picks 



Thennaltake xaser ■ 


For extreme upgraders, Thermaltake offers the Xaser III, which 
sports no fewer than seven 80mm fans. On top of that, the Xaser III 
K has an integrated baybus featuring four knobs for fan-speed 

adjustment (each knob controls two 
fans, which can be turned up or 
down in a continuous fashion). You 
can precisely monitor interior tem- 
peratures via an integrated LCD dis- 
play on the baybus, and the system 
will even trip an alarm should the 
interior overheat 

Construction is all-aluminum 
<= except for a few minor plastic parts, 
and the side window is optional. 
There are four 5.25-inch and two 3.5- 
inch front accessible bays, as well 
as an additional six internal 3.5-inch 
bays. A familiar rail system is ready 
for drive mounting, and Thermaltake 
includes internal storage racks for 
unused rails, so they won't be mis- 
placed. There's also an "intrusion switch" 






IE that can warn you when someone tries to get to your rig's insides. 
We would never call a $198 enclosure "low cost,” but the Xaser 
III is a lot of case for the money. 




fa 


flntec 




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SB® 


One of this tower's best attributes is its industrial-strength con- 
struction — you can sit on the Imm-thick galvanized steel without 
squashing it like a tin can. Cooling comes courtesy of two rear 

fans and one side fan, and there are mounts 
for extra blowers in the front of the 
case and next to the hard drives. Antec 
also had the presence of mind to install 
a filter on the PLUS1080AMG's front air- 
intake and a wire loom on the ATX 
power cable, both of which are impor- 
tant but often overlooked features. The 
aforementioned power cable is 
attached to a beefy 430-watt Antec 
TruePower power supply. One FireWire 
and two USB ports provide front-panel 
I/O. 

The edges of the case are folded, so 

there's no danger of slicing open your 

thumb while installing a new videocard. 

The drive-bay roll call includes four 

5.25-inch bays, two external 3.5-inch 

i bays, and four internal 3.5-inch bays in 

a pop-out cage. Screw-on drive rails are 

r _ included, and unused rails can be strapped to 
\ .. 1*1 . 


mi 


the floor of the case so they don't get lost|^ 
Unfortunately, the PLUS1080AMG uses standard t\ 
screws instead of convenient thumbscrews, and the motherboard 
tray is nonremovable. 




flntec unboy 







The LANBOY offers a cunning mix of 
practicality and aggression. Four 5.25- 
inch railed drive bays and two 3.5-inch 
external bays hide behind a plastic, 
faux-silver door. The case also features 
two internal 3.5-inch bays. The cooling 
configuration is minimal: There's room for 
a single 80mm fan in front and another in ^ 


the rear exhaust position. 

& For pimp and swagger, the LAN- 
BOY includes a 350-watt SmartBlue 
LED power supply, which casts a nice glow off your 
components when viewed through the included case 
window. Two front-mounted USB ports put to rest any 
notion that the LANBOY is a barren 

The LANBOY might be polished and feature-laden, but it's no hog. 
Standing at 17 inches high, the full-featured case doesn't take up 
much room, and the LANBOY's light aluminum construction allows for 






1 


swift deployment, especially when you use the included case carrier. 

Unfortunately, the LANBOY's weight-saving design sacrifices the | 

sturdiness of a hefty steel case. The mobo tray isn't removable, but we 
loved the included screw compartment— super-handy when swapping 
hardware in the field. We also dig the locking tray cover, which keeps 
unauthorized swapping from occurring at all. 



Cooler MasterOTCflOl 


With its metallic design and optional 
Plexiglas case window, the Cooler 
Master ATC-101 is as sleek and slick as 
an international jewel thief. But this 
enclosure's not just pretty, it's also ready 
to perform under pressure. 

The case comes bundled with a nice 
load-out of fans, which isn't surprising 
considering Cooler Master's vast experi- 
ence with cooling apparatus. The ATX- 
compatible motherboard tray slides out 
effortlessly for convenient upgrading, 
and as the tray slides out, so does most 
of the back panel, so your cooling setup 
doesn't bang its head during egress. 
Thumbscrews are used for the side panels, 

PCI slots, and the removable motherboard tray. 
This makes it easy to swap add-in cards. 


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The Cooler Master's front-mounted USB ports should appeal to 

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anyone who wants to avoid crawling underneath a desk. But don't 
worry about an unsightly port marring the case's picture-perfect 
facade, because both ports are hidden behind a tiny aluminum door. 

The edges of the case aren't particularly sharp, but we'd still pre- 
fer folded edges. We've also grown quite fond of drive rails, so we 
were disappointed that the ATC-101 lacks them. But these are minor 
gripes in light of all the Cooler Master's perks. 


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24 BUIIO THE PERfECT PC 2003 







Alienwares snooting w 
prototype reinvents the 

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Prepaid in U.S. funds only. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery of first issue. 

Copyrighted material 













How lo Pick the BEST 

SYSTEM 



Little boxes don't have to mean 
big compromises 


O nce upon a time, owning a powerful 
system meant sacrificing a fat chunk of 
desk real estate to a massive tower. If 
you wanted a computer that was slim, stylish, 
and portable, you pretty much had to buy a 
Mac (shudder). Thanks in large part to the 
efforts of a Taiwanese motherboard maker 
called Shuttle, those days are long gone. The 
company made a name for itself selling do-it- 
yourself kits that included a small, attractive 
case and a tiny motherboard with tons of 
built-in features. 

Shuttle's innovative idea has since been 
mimicked by countless competitors, and it has 
become a daunting task to pick out the perfect 
mini-system kit. Choosing the right mini-sys- 
tem is a critical decision, too. The kits lean 
toward the expensive side, and since most of 
the components in a given kit are proprietary 
(meaning they were designed for that particu- 
lar case, and not to be used with other manu- 
facturers' products), you can't easily swap out 
the core parts. So we're going to tell you 
exactly what to look for in a mini-system, 
and dish out some of our recent mini-system 
reviews so you know which ones are hot and 
which ones are not. 

ENGINEERING AND BASIC DESIGN 

There are generally three types of peo- 
ple who buy mini-systems: People 
who lack desk space, people who 
move their computers around a lot, 
and people who just can't get over 
how darned cute the wee things are. 
Unless you fall exclusively into the 
third category, you'll want your mini- 
system to be small, light, and easily 
portable. Frequent LAN party atten- 
dees will also want to look for a model 
that has a built-in carrying handle. And 
of course, regardless of your reason 
for buying a mini-system, chances are 
you'll want to look for one that's sleek 
and stylish. Some of the latest mini- 
systems even come tricked out with 
case windows and neon LED-adorned 


fans — if that's your fancy. 

If you've ever tried to 
build a mini-system before, 
you know what a pain it can 
be to cram all your hard- 
ware into such a tiny space. All 
mini-system kits are not created equal 
in this regard, however. Some kits 
include features such as a removable 
top and removable drive cage that 
make component installation less of a 
chore. Trust us: If you're planning on 
ever upgrading or replacing the hard- 
ware inside your mini-system after the 
initial installation, you'll want these 
features. Unless you're a skilled con- 
tortionist, of course. 

Finally, it is of utmost importance 
that a mini-system come with a quality 
power supply. Mini-systems often can't 
fit more than a 200-watt power supply 
within their cramped quarters. Thus, it's 
necessary that this power supply be 
high-quality and capable of consistent- 
ly delivering its maximum wattage. 
Upgrading the power supply in a mini- 
system is not usually an option, so if 
you want to run the latest hardware, 
make sure your mini-system's PSU is 
up to the task. 

Unfortunately, it's difficult to ascertain 
the quality of a power supply without 
actually operating the mini-system. So 
if you decide to deviate from our recom- 
mendations at the end of this article, be 
sure to check out the Maximum PC 
forums and listen in on the chatter about 
the system you are considering. In partic- 
ular, look out for posts that complain of 
instability running the latest hardware 
under high-stress situations. 

KEEPING YODR COOL 

A mini-system's dearth of internal 
space makes the management of heat 
an issue. A well-designed cooling 
setup should keep all the parts in your 




Shuttle pioneered the mini-case as we 
know it today, and the company has 
no problem keeping up with current 
technologies, like a chipset that 
supports Hyper-Threading in this XPC 
SB51G. 


rig from overheating by channeling 
heat away from components and 
directing it out of the case. However, 
it shouldn't sound like a wind tunnel. 
This is a tricky balancing act to pull off. 
In our experience, Shuttle comes clos- 
est to the sweet spot, thanks to the 
innovative heat pipe (a hollowed-out 
tube that transfers heat energy away 
from your CPU and out the case) that 
ships with its mini-systems. Many 
mini-systems will also include wire 
clips and guides and rounded cables 
to help improve internal airflow— a 
nice touch that not only looks good, 
but is utilitarian as well. 

LITTLE CASES, BIG TECHNOLOGY 

The wee, proprietary motherboard that 
comes in a mini-system is generally not 
upgradeable, so you'll want to make 
sure it's a good one. Intel fanboys and 
girls will want a chipset that supports 
Hyper-Threading technology, as well 
as an 800MHz (or at least 533MHz) 
frontside bus. Meanwhile, AMD loyal- 
ists should seek out a mini-system that 
uses nVidia's fast and reliable nForce2 
chipset— preferably one that can run 
the new 400MHz FSB. 

As for memory, it's typical for mini- 


28 BOIIB M PIBFICT PC 2003 


Copyrighted material 







systems these days to have two DIMM slots. The 
nForce2 chipset offers dual-channel capability 
(which doubles memory bandwidth when at 
least two sticks of RAM are installed)— a boon 
for performance. We haven't yet tested any dual- 
channel Pentium 4 mini-systems, but the first 
wave of them was hitting the streets as of this 
writing. If the option is available, pounce on it, 
since dual-channel technology dramatically 
boosts P4 performance. 

Expansion-wise, most mini-systems come 
with one AGP slot and one PCI slot— avoid any 
system that denies you either of these slots. 
Because a mini-system's expansion capabilities 
are severely limited, you'll want yours to come 
with as many integrated features as possible to 
minimize the need for add-in cards. Most com- 
panies' offerings include onboard LAN, audio, 
and video. Granted, integrated audio and video 
aren't top quality; if we could get by relying on 
just one, it would be integrated audio. 

Finally, avoid squandering your PCI slot on an 
add-in USB 2.0 or FireWire card by buying a mini- 
system that sports built-in USB 2.0 and FireWire 
(remember that USB 2.0 is about 40 times faster 
than USB 1.1 !).The majority of mini-systems have 
a plethora of convenient front-panel I/O ports, 
including USB, FireWire, and even audio. If you 
want easy access to a headphone jack, or if you 
often use USB keys or external drives, don't 
deprive yourself of front I/O. 

With that said, let's move on to the reviews 
so you can get a good idea of what's out there in 
the mini-system market today. 



Front-mounted I/O ports (that let you jack in 
headphones, USB and FireWire devices, and 
even line-in audio) are easily overlooked 
when shopping for a mini-case, but you'll 
kick yourself later if you don't have them. 


SHUTTLE SN45G 



The SN45G comes in a beautiful 
brushed-aluminum case that will fit right 
in with your living room hi-fi equipment 
On the front, you'll find convenient audio 
and USB ports, plus a lone FireWire port. 

Unfortunately, the front-mounted 
FireWire port is four-pin. Two six-pin 
ports are found on the back, too far 
out of the way for our liking. We also 
would've been happier if the case 
came with a carrying handle. 

On the inside, things are near-per- 
fect. The SN45G boasts nVidia's 
nForce2 Ultra 400 chipset, and offers 
plenty of overclocking options in the 
BIOS. Shuttle's trademark CPU heat 
pipe is included, and Shuttle throws in 
a copper shim to protect your Athlon's 
delicate core during CPU cooler 

installation. Expansion options are handled by one AGP and one PCI slot — 
and you'll need the AGP slot, since the SN45G doesn't include integrated 
graphics. The power supply is a mere 200 watts, but was up to the task of 
running a Radeon 9800 Pro, 7200rpm hard drive, and high-speed optical 
drive. Overall, the Shuttle SN45G is a beautiful piece of work, bringing 
mini-system salvation to Athlon lovers. 


SHUTTLE SPECS 

Power supply 

Enhance ENP-2320 
l/V) 

Mobo/chipset 

Shuttle FN45G/nVidia 
nForce2 Ultra 400 

Expansion 

Two DDR DIMMs, one 
PCI. one AGP 8x 





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L, 


¥ 


FIC ICE CUBE-VG61 

With two see-through sides, a glow- jj» 
ing translucent heatsink/fan combo, 
and a great curving handle that 
arches over the length of its top, this 
system is perfect for parading across 
promenades on a sunny Sunday after- 
noon. The small box also packs a nice 
punch in the performance department. 

Working inside the case, you'll 
find that the removable 3.5-inch 
drive cage helps mitigate the space 
restrictions that are created by the 
enclosure's design (which lets you 
remove only the sides, not the top). 

The IDE cables have been short- 
ened and folded, adding to the rig's 
coolness and overall space econo- 
my. Side-by-side AGP and PCI slots 

allow you to get busy with expansion matters, and three FireWire ports 
are ready for DV cam and external hard drive action. 

Though this tiny titan lacks the side venting that's present in the other 
boxes, the airflow seemed to be well-planned, as we didn't notice any 
scary heat buildup. The lack of venting also significantly reduces the 
overall noise of the system by restricting the noise emission to the two 
rear-mounted fans. 

With solid performance, easy internal access, airflow happiness, and 
a sturdy handle, the FIC is a fine choice for LAN partyers looking for a bit 
of flash and dash. 

k: • .v 

f • . .* >• \ <•+• 

# ’ ** '*4 . J. r * 



/ 


FIC SPECS 


Power supply 

CWT-220 FXC (220W) 

Mobo/chipset 

Ctiyang Fun CF-S96/ 


Intel 845GE + ICH4 

Expansion 

Two DDH DIMMs. 

slots 

one AGP. one PCI 


■ yhj • 






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BtlllD m PlRflCT PC 2003 27 

Copy I : : n 





era 


We picked our brains to help 
you pick your PC's brains 


O ne of the most important decisions 
you're going to make when building 
your new PC is which CPU to use. 
Choosing an Athlon XP or Pentium 4 will 
dictate what motherboard you buy, what 
kind of RAM you'll want, and how fast 
your applications can do what they do. 

Before we look at what each of the 
two major CPU manufacturers has to 
offer, lets take a quick look at the first 
thing on everyone's mind when choosing 
a CPU — the mighty megahertz. 

MEGAHERTZ: DOES IT 


Do your proper research! Only a sucker would invest 
in the Pentium 4 "Willamette" in Socket 423 trim. 



REALLY MATTER? 

Watching the meteoric rise of the 
Pentium 4's clock speeds, we've 
certainly been conditioned to think 
that megahertz is the final word on 
processor speed. But the truth is 
that given the differences between 
the architectures of the two lead- 
ing CPU families (the Athlon XP 
and the Pentium 4), clock speed 
can be misleading. Although it's 
still an important metric of brute 
strength, factors such as applica- 
tion-specific optimizations can be 
just as crucial. 

To give you an idea of how 
drastically different the design can 
be from CPU to CPU, consider the 
original Pentium 4. Launched at 
1.5GHz, many people reasonably 
assumed the Pentium 4 was much 
faster than the Pentium III, which 
at the time was limited to 1.1GHz. 
Due to the core architecture differ- 
ences, the Pentium 4 was actually 
slower in many applications that 
were out at the time, despite its 
400MHz clock-speed advantage. 
One reason was that applications 
weren't yet optimized to take 
advantage of the P4's architecture. 
But the other culprit was the P4's 


lengthy instruction "pipeline." 

If you think of a CPU as a car fac- 
tory, then there would be 12 people 
working on the assembly line at the 
Pentium III factory (in what's called 
a 12-stage pipeline). Each person 
performs a few tasks on the job at 
hand before it's moved to the next 
person. At the Pentium 4 factory, 
there are 20 people working on the 
assembly line (a 20-stage pipeline). 
Because each person does less at 
each stage, the assembly line can 
move much faster than at the 
Pentium III factory. However, 
sometimes things go wrong and 
the entire job has to be scrapped 
("oops— we ordered the wrong 
part"). In a CPU, that's called a 
"branch misprediction," and it's 
quicker to get the assembly line 
back up to speed in a Pentium III 
because there are fewer stages. 

Originally the P-lll, as well as 
AMD's Athlon, gave the Pentium 4 
fits by being as fast or even faster 
than the new flagship Intel chip. But 
that was nearly three-years ago. 
Buzzing along at more than twice 
the speed it was introduced at, the 
Pentium 4 is the recognized speed 


leader today. The long pipeline of 
the P4, which Intel designed to hit 
high clock speeds, is now paying 
off. 

That doesn't mean, however, 
that an Athlon XP running at 
2.2GHz is always going to be slow- 
er than a Pentium 4 running at 
2.5GHz. Because of the Athlon XP 
architecture, and the amount of 
older applications that rely heavily 
on such things as floating-point 
math, the Athlon XP is still quite 
a competent performer. Although 
clock speed still matters, you have 
to treat the CPUs as though they 
are on different scales. The mega- 
hertz in a P4 and an Athlon may 
not be equivalent in terms of the 
amount of work that gets done 
within each clock cycle. 

Nonetheless, the P4's scale prob- 
ably goes all the way to 5GHz or 
10GHz, whereas the Athlon XP stops 
at 2.25GHz. 

INTEL— THE PROCESSOR GIANT 

Intel is the largest semiconductor 
manufacturer on the planet, and as 
such, they've had a hand in devel- 
oping a majority of the technolo- 


28 mB m PwtcT pc 2U3 


Copyrighted material 





gies powering today's PCs, includ- 
ing PCI, AGP, PC100, AC97, USB, 
and PCI Express. The company's 
biggest hit has been the Pentium 
processor and its heirs. The 
Pentium 4 is the company's flag- 
ship CPU today. Although you can 
still buy Pentium Ills, they've long 
been banished from desktop sys- 
tems in stores. We'll still touch on 
them a bit, but we strongly advise 
against purchasing a P-lll in favor 
of a P4 or AMD processor. There 
are far better ways to shave off 
costs than going cheapo on this 
crucial component. We, of course, 
recommend that you buy the 
newest, fastest P4 possible. 

THE PENTIUM 4 

There are several different ver- 
sions of Intel's flagship on the 
market today: the P4A, the origi- 
nal "Northwood" Pentium 4 with 
512KB of cache that ran on a 
400MHz bus and used a 0.13- 
micron core; the P4B, which is the 
Northwood running on a 533MHz 
bus; and the new P4C, which uses 
an 800MHz bus. 

The P4 architecture has a lot of 
headroom left— it's expected to 
reach 5GHz and beyond! The P4 is 
also unique in its support for 
Hyper-Threading. 

A good portion of a CPU's 
resources aren't used all the time. 
If it's calculating something with 
the floating-point unit, the other 
portions are sitting idle. To 
address that, Intel added Hyper- 
Threading to the core. Hyper- 
Threading essentially splits a sin- 
gle physical CPU into two virtual 
CPUs. So while one application is 
running floating-point operations, 
another can use the remaining 
free resources of the CPU. It's a 
boon to people who run multiple 
applications simultaneously. 
Hyper-Threading is generally rec- 
ognized to be a performance 
booster, especially for multi- 
taskers. There are occasions when 
the CPU can run slower because 
two floating-point-heavy applica- 
tions are trying to vie for the same 
physical resources, but we've 
mostly found it to be useful. 
Hyper-Threading is only available 
on the 3.06GHz P4 and the newer 
800MHz bus Pentium 4 CPUs. 

Next year, Intel will retrofit the 
chip with even more cache and 
move it to a 0.09-micron process. 


Today's Celeron is a Pentium 4 die 
with just 128KB of cache and is 
confined to a 400MHz bus. It even 
fits the same socket and operates 
in most motherboards built for the 
400MHz and 533MHz Pentium 4s. 
It's more than enough for granny 
to browse the net, but we can't rec- 
ommend it for power users. 


If you want a dual processor box, 
your only option is Xeon. But 
you'll pay dearly for the privilege. 
Based on the Pentium 4, the Xeon 
adds a host of features 
designed for high-end 
servers— such as a 
whopping 2MB of 
cache— that make 
these procs enor- 
mously expensive. 

AMD— 

THE FEISTY UPSTART 

In the four years since the 
introduction of AMD's 
Athlon line of processors, the 
Athlon has consistently given 
the Pentium III and Pentium 4 a 
run for the money. The ultimate 
humiliation came when AMD beat 
Intel to the 1GHz mark. After years 
of eating dust, AMD has tasted the 
sweet nectar of victory and has no 
intention of giving up. The compa- 
ny's Athlon XP is its flagship con- 
sumer CPU, but by the time you 
read this, AMD should be in transi- 
tion to the Athlon 64, which will be 
the first desktop CPU for the PC 
with 64-bit support. 

ATHLON XP 

The fastest Athlon XP available 
today clocks in at 2.2GHz, uses a 
0.13-micron process, packs 512KB 
of L2 cache, and runs on a 400MHz 
bus. AMD designed the CPU with a 
pragmatic approach. Its older CPUs 
were criticized for having poor 
floating-point performance, so the 
Athlon XP was designed to be a 
screamer at floating-point math. 
(Intel took the opposite approach — 
the P4 is fairly weak in floating- 
point performance, but strong in 
special instructions, which Intel 
believes are more appropriate for 
the future of intense math on com- 
puter chips.)The Athlon XP's FPU 
performance makes it ideally suit- 
ed for older mathematic and scien- 


tific applications that have not 
been optimized for the Pentium 4. 

With the Athlon XP, AMD also 
implemented a controversial per- 
formance rating. Instead of using 
the standard metric of megahertz, 
a 2.167GHz CPU with 256KB of L2 
cache and running on a 333MHz 
bus is marketed as an Athlon XP 
3000+. What does the 3000+ 
mean? AMD swears on a stack of 
Maximum PCs that it's not analo- 
gous to a 3GHz Intel CPU. Despite 
this claim, it's just a little too con- 
venient that the performance num- 



The "Barton" version of the 
Athlon XP features 512KB of L 2 
cache and supports up to a 
400MHz frontside bus. 


bers perfectly line up with Intel's 
frequencies. 

For consumers, the numbering 
scheme actually makes sense, as 
the average Joe and Jane don't 
have the time or technical prowess 
to understand that a 2.2GHz CPU 
can run as fast as an Intel 2.8GHz 
CPU in some applications. For hob- 
byists though, it's a confusing mess. 
For example, AMD has two 3000+ 
CPUs. The original one clocked at 
2.167GHz using a 333MHz bus, and 
a newer version clocked at 2.1GHz 
using a 400MHz bus. 

AMD CPUs with the larger L2 
cache of 512KB are generally pre- 
ferred, especially when running on 
a 400MHz bus. You'll have to do a 
little research when buying the 
CPU, but most stores and web 
sites are very clear about labeling 
the attributes of the Athlon XP so 


BUHD TM PMICT PC 2BD3 29 




The original Athlon XP brought SSE 
to AMD's plate and introduced the 
controversial set of performance ratings. 



AMD's new Athlon 64 series of CPUs brings 
64-bit computing to the desktop. With 1MB 
of L2 cache and an integrated memory 
controller, the chip promises to be faster 
than the P4. 



Intel keeps the Celeron in the CPU ghetto 
by limiting it to a 400MHz bus and cutting 
the cache down to a mere 128KB. 


you don't get mixed up. AMD has 
plans for one more derivative of the 
Athlon XP with only 256KB of L2 
cache, but that will likely be it for the 
Athlon XP lineup as the company 
begins pushing the Athlon 64. 

ATHLON NIP 

Take an Athlon, test it for compatibility 
in a dual processor configuration, and 
you have an Athlon MR The Athlon MP 
was supposed to be AMD's big push 
into small scale servers, but it's hin- 
dered by a lack of chipset support. The 
760MPX chipset with support for just a 
266MHz bus and DDR266 is still the 
sole chipset. Not being a candidate for 
higher bus speeds, higher RAM speeds, 
or such amenities as high-speed USB 
2.0, the Athlon MP is pretty much an 
end-of-life product. The final chip, the 
Athlon MP 2800+ features 512KB of 
cache and runs at 2.13GHz. 

DURON 

This is AMD's version of the Celeron. 
A budget chip built off a derivative of 
the Athlon, the Duron has just 64KB 
of cache and is limited to a 200MHz 
system bus. In the early days, the 
Duron could outbox a low-end 
Celeron, but today it's outclassed by 
Intel's current generation of Celerons. 
AMD shelved the Duron earlier this 
year and will push the Athlon XP, or 
rumored Athlon "FX," into the low- 
end market to compete with the 
Celeron. 

OPTIRON 

The Opteron adds 64-bit extensions to 
AMD's original processor recipe. The 
Opteron also breaks from convention 
by embedding a dual-channel memory 
controller directly into the die. 
Combined with the 1MB of L2, the 
Opteron looks like its well on the way 
to being a hit even at the low clock 
speeds of 1.8GHz. Opteron, however, 
isn't intended for desktop use— it's 
designed and priced for servers. 

ATHLON 64 

By the time you read this, AMD should 
have released the first 64-bit CPU for 
consumer use in a Windows-based PC. 
(Apple was the first to rush one out of 
the stables with their G5 series.) Based 
on the same "Hammer" core as the 
Opteron, the Athlon 64 has a few key 
features that differentiate it from its 
server/workstation big brother. While 
Opteron only supports ECC registered 
DDR memory at DDR333, Athlon 64 can 
run non-registered RAM at DDR400 
speeds. The Athlon 64, however, is 


handcuffed by its single-channel mem- 
ory controller. For some odd reason, 
AMD chose to only support a 64-bit 
memory controller in the initial Athlon 
64. Many believe the company will cor- 
rect that early next year when it releas- 
es a CPU that supports 128-bit. Such a 
move will be painful for early adopters, 
though. Because the Athlon 64 uses an 
integrated memory controller, you can't 
swap out an early single-channel 
Athlon 64 for a dual-channel Athlon 64 
without changing motherboards. The 
Athlon 64 will no doubt help move the 
PC forward, and it'll put a lot of heat on 
Intel, which has no 64-bit option for 
consumers at all. 

SO WHOSE SIDE ARE 
YOU ON NOWP 

"Intel or AMD?" It can be a tough 
choice. But it's not all about cache sizes, 
transistor counts, and which one has 
the better commercials. The perfect 
CPU for you will greatly depend on 
what you intend to do with it. 

If you're interested in playing games, 
the Pentium 4 is the recognized leader 
for now. We haven't seen numbers 
from an Athlon 64 yet, but even AMD 
die-hards will admit that the P4 and its 
800MHz bus have a leg up on the 
fastest Athlon XP available. 

If gaming isn't your top priority, 
there are other factors that should con- 
tribute to your choice. If you use mostly 
older applications that have not been 
optimized for the P4, then you'll want 
Athlon XR One such app is Adobe's 
Premiere. Even with a 1GHz lead, the 
P4 still can't beat the Athlon XP in this 
old but popular application. If there is 
an application that you use frequently 
and rely upon, you should fire up your 
browser and check out newsgroups or 
the software vendor's web page to see 
what CPU is recommended. 

If you intend to handle a lot of 
media-intense chores such as MP3 
encoding and DV editing with opti- 
mized apps, or 3D rendering with such 
programs as Newtek Lightwave 3D, go 
with the P4. We don't recommend 
investing cash on P-lll, Duron, Celeron, 
or Athlon MP chips, as these are all 
dead-end chips. Xeon and Opteron are 
also too expensive in dual-CPU trim for 
consumers, and too much to tackle for 
a first-time build-it project. If you're 
unsure whether to build a P4 or Athlon 
XP box and you can suffer the wait, we 
recommend holding off a month or two 
to see how the Athlon 64 is received. 

See page 32 for details about actual- 
ly building an Athlon or P4 rig. 


30 BUIID THf PWfCT PC 2003 


Copyrighted material 







> 



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Copyrighted material 




















>:gM 


















<s> 








i 


i 


KNOW YOUR OPTIONS 

There's a bewildering array of Pentium 4 CPUs on the 
market.The original 400MHz version, the second-gen 
533MHz bus version, and the new 800MHz version. Intel 
only uses the designations A (400), B (533), and C (800) on 
chips that overlap in speed. So you can get a 2.4GHz A, B, or C 
version, but the 3.06GHz CPU doesn't come in a "B" since there's 
no 3GHz A version. Still we like to use the letters amongst our- 
selves for all P4s as a way of easily denoting a procs bus speed. 
Today, you want the C version for the best performance and 
Hyper-Threading capability. 


THE SOCKET SWITCH 

When browsing for a motherboard at Rutherford's Mobo 
Bazaar, don't grab the first box that screams "Pentium 4 
compatible!" Although rare, there are still some old Socket 
423 P4 boards among the Socket 478 boards.Today's tech- 
nology demands the Socket 478, and you should settle for 
nothing less. That, of course, must be coupled with the proper 
chipset and bus support. 


MEMORY MATTERS 

Sometimes, choice is a pain. Chipsets for the P4 support 
PC 133 SDRAM, PC800 and PC1066 RDRAM, and 
DDR266/333/400 in both single and dual modes. Whew. 
Unless you've got a closet full of RDRAM, PC133, or low- 
grade DDR, you should only buy a motherboard and chipset that 
supports DDR400 in dual-channel mode and 800MHz Pentium 4 
chips. Intel's 875P, 865PE and 865G are the chipsets of choice, but 
VIA and SIS have compelling chipsets that also support DDR. Just 
remember that you need to pair the chip with the chipset and 
RAM. The 875R for example, only runs at DDR400 with an 
800MHz frontside bus CPU. 








4 






PERFECT PAIRS 

Dual-channel DDR isn't new RAM, it's just two of the same 
single-channel modules run in tandem. The big question for 
builders is whether to pay more for a pair of modules that are 
"matched" from the factory, or to skimp and use an old 
module paired with a new one. If you choose the latter, make sure 
the new module is the same size as the old module and close in 
speed.The best performance will come from matched modules, 
but we've had some luck running mismatched modules. We rec- 
ommend shelling out the cash for the least amount of trouble. 



THE FUNNY PLUG 

Because the Pentium 4 requires so much power, Intel 
ordained a new square-shaped plug that supplies extra 
juice to the CPU. So, when buying your case or power 
supply, make sure it reads "Pentium 4 compatible" or 
"ATX12V." Most P4-ready power supplies should handle any 
hardware config you throw at 'em, but just to play it safe, you 
should buy at least a 350-watt supply from a reputable vendor 
such as PC Power and Cooling, Enermax, or Antec. 




CASE STUDY 

When Intel introduced the P4 in January 2001, the CPU's 
heatsink required a computer case with four strategically 
placed screw holes— the heatsink was so heavy, it had to 
be bolted directly to the case! So, if you're going with a 
Socket 423 Pentium 4 CPU, make sure your case is compatible. 
Later Socket 478 Pentium 4 heatsinks use a plastic clip that 
firmly bolts to the motherboard, thus doing away with the need 
for a special case. 


DRIVE SAFELY 

Make sure you load your motherboard's chipset drivers 
immediately after loading your OS (you can get them from 
your motherboard vendor's web site— check back often for 
new and improved updates). If you don't load these 
drivers, the chipset and OS will never really work correctly and 
you'll suffer a big performance hit. 


PREPARE FOR PRESCOTT 

Sometime this fall, winter, or early next year, Intel will intro- 
duce a new chip code-named Prescott that will use a 0.09- 
micron process. This chip will have 1MB of L2 cache as well 
as other new features. It'll also be a big fat power hog, and 
it's quite possible that today's motherboards, even the 875R 
won't support the voltage requirements of the new chip at 
speeds above 3.4GHz. If you really want to future-proof yourself 
(good luck because Intel is planning a new CPU interface for 
late next year) you'll want a motherboard that will not only sup- 
port Prescott, but also higher clock speeds. 


MAKE MINE HYPER-THREADED 

Intel's Hyper-Threading splits the resources of a single 
CPU in two so the chip can process two things at once. To 
the end user, it's like the computer has two CPUs. 
Although there are times when Hyper-Threading can 
hinder performance, for the most part, it's pretty useful stuff. 
If you're into encoding MP3s while running Photoshop, HT 
can provide up to a 30 percent performance boost. HT is only 
available on the 3.06GHz Pentium 4B and all C versions. 


SMACK TALK 

Even a die-hard with "Athlon Ruiz!" tattooed on this chest 
has to admit that today's 3.2GHz Pentium 4 smokes the 
Athlon XP in most applications and games. Sure, odd appli 
cations like Premiere are still faster on the Athlon XP, but 
the P4 is the recognized speed king. If you really want to steam 
them up, point out that at least Intel doesn't resort to bogus PR 
ratings of 3000+ and 3200+ to sell its chips. Nyah ! 


I 











MAY THE NFORCE BE WITH YOU 

Oh, how the worm turns. Just two years ago, VIA chipsets 
helped push the Athlon to the forefront of performance.That 
ain't the case today. If you want the highest performing 
Athlon system today, you buy a motherboard with nVidia's 
nForce2 Ultra chipset in it. The nForce supports dual-channel 
DDR400, gives you real-time Dolby Digital encoding and does 
away with, well, those VIA southbridge issues that have plagued 
its chipsets. While nForce2 boards once cost $200 or $1 50, we've 
seen $90 boards with the chipset. 


HEAVY HEATSINKS 

By far the hairiest aspect of building an Athlon XP system is 
the installation of the CPU heatsink. If you're not careful, you 
run the risk of hearing the dreaded "crack" of your processor's 
core. Safety starts with choosing the correct heatsink. There 
are literally hundreds of them available for the Socket A format, 
but you need to pick the safest one for your purposes. Check out 
the approved heatsink list at the AMD web site. Go to www.amd.com 
and type "Athlon XP thermal solutions heatsinks" into the main 
search engine. 


SWEATY PALMS 

Once you've got an approved heatsink, follow these precau- 
tions for installation: First, remove all the tape and plastic that 
might cover any thermal grease or thermal tape that the 
heatsink manufacturer provided. Second, never angle the heatsink 
more than a few degrees off of level with the motherboard. Doing 
so may put pressure on the corners of the processor core and 
could cause them to collapse and crumble. The correct way to 
install the heatsink is to lay it flat on the processor, without applying 
any pressure to the heatsink itself. While gently holding the heatsink 
in place, move the clip over the bottom side of the socket and onto 
the center lug. Now take the other side of the clip, and use either 
a screwdriver or socket adapter to gently move it to the center lug 
on top of the socket. Finally, immediately plug in the fan to avoid 
any chance of CPU burnout. 


PROPER POWER 

Because Athlon XPs run more efficiently and use slightly less 
power than previous Athlons, they're more forgiving when it 
comes to minimum power supply specs. Go backto theAMD 
web site and type in "Athlon XP recommended power sup- 
plies" for a list of approved supplies (the slowest XPs require at 
least a 250-watt supply, while the high-end CPUs need 300-wat- 
ters). All Athlon XP power supplies should have a +5VDC rail from 
the supply to the motherboard. 


MEMORY MAHERS 

There are a lot of people who believe that dual-channel DDR400 
for the Athlon XP is plain overkill. While that may be true in 
some benchmarks, we've seen plenty of tests that prove dual- 
channel is the way to go. If you never intend to upgrade beyond 
a CPU that supports a 333MHz frontside bus, don't waste the 
money on low-latency DDR400. Just pick up a couple sticks of 
DDR333 and get over it. 

FRESHLY CLEANED WINDOWS 

Among other improvements, the new Athlon XPs include the 
3D Now! Professional instruction set, which natively supports 
Intel's SSE instructions. But please note:To leverage the new 
instructions, you'll need native support in the applications 
you run, as well as support in your operating system. Microsoft 
was able to leverage SSE to yield a few noticeable performance 
improvements in Windows XR so a clean installation of the OS 
will give you the best Athlon XP performance. 

DRIVERS WANTED 

After installing your OS, you absolutely must install your 
motherboard chipset drivers in order to ensure reliability and 
optimum performance for all your parts.The driver CD that 
came with your motherboard should have everything you 
need, but if you're looking for the latest drivers, check online at 
either the chipset manufacturer's web site or at www.amd.com. 

BESTEST BIOS 

Chances are, your motherboard was sitting in a warehouse 
for a couple months before you ever got a chance to take it 
home. This means it might be saddled with an old BIOS ver- 
sion, robbing you of the performance enhancements that 
have been released since the boards' initial introduction. Downloading 
the latest BIOS and flashing it to the motherboard is the best way 
to make sure your motherboard is operating at top form. 


PESKY PROBLEMS 

System lockups aren't infrequent in freshly built Athlon sys- 
tems.To prevent them, make sure you are (1 ) running the latest 
drivers for your all your parts— especially your motherboard 
and videocard, (2) using an officially supported frontside bus 
speed, and (3) using adequate processor and case cooling. 


SMACK TALK 

As the owner of a new Athlon XP system, you'll find your- 
self battling the hearsay of the Intel faithful. Just remind them 
that your system probably saved you a couple hundred bucks 
and that even though Intel's CPU has a one-third higher clock 
speed, it's just five or 10 percent faster. 














Audio CODEC: Most new motherboaie 
feature integrated audio that's quite 
advanced from stereo output. The Anae 
Devices chip here supports multichanm 
output and advanced 3D audio. 


I/O controller: The keyboard controller, PS/2 
ports, serial port, parallel port, and floppy drive 
are controlled by this chip. 


PCI slots: The peripheral component interconnect, or PCI, slot 
pushed aside the creaky old VESA local bus and ISA slots for 
peripheral cards. But with a 32-bit bus, a 33MHz pipeline, and a 
5V power requirement per slot, it's now looking pretty old itself. 
Although PCI Express will replace it in 2004, we'll see mother- 
boards with both PCI and PCI Express for the next few years. 
Don't settle for less than five slots on an ATX motherboard. 


RAID and FireWire: Motherboard manufacturers 
build features into a motherboard by simply adding 
additional chips to the PCB, such as the Serial ATA 
RAID and FireWire A support on this board. 


BIOS: The basic input/output system 
of your motherboard is contained in 
a small nonvolatile piece of memory. 
When you update the BIOS, this is the 
chip that gets reprogrammed. Generally, 
socketed designs are preferred. If you 
kill the BIOS during an update, or cor- 
rupt it with static electricity, you simply 
pry out the old one and replace it. 


Front panel connectors: Plug your case's 
power-on switch, reset switch, hard drive 
light, and power lights into these pins. 


Serial ATA: Serial ATA is on a rapid pace 
to replace parallel ATA. These slim ports 
support only one device per port. The two 
shown here are controlled by the south 
bridge, and another two are controlled by 
the Promise RAID controller chip. 



Fan header: These three pins let 
you hook up auxiliary fans to your 
motherboard that can be intelli- 
gently controlled by the board (if 
it supports software control). 


34 BUIID m PIRFICJ PC 2003 

















NIC: Most modern motherboards have 
built-in networking. The chip here is a 
3Com Gigabit Ethernet chip. 


AGP slot: Intel introduced the accelerat- 
ed graphics port as a kind of express lane 
to the north bridge, so that graphics data 
wouldn't get tied up in traffic with data 
from other PCI cards. The most modern 
form of AGP is 8x, which can theoretically 
transfer 2.1GB/S of data. This mother- 
board sports an AGP Pro slot which adds 
additional ground and power lines for 
higher-wattage graphics cards. 


Clock generator: The clock generator on 
a motherboard does what it sounds like; it 
controls the clock on the PC that deter- 
mines the clock speed. Don't confuse this 
with the real-time clock which controls 
the time and date stashed in a battery- 
backed chip called the CMOS. 



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CPU socket: This is where the 
brain of your PC wields its awesome 
power. This motherboard supports 
most iterations of the Socket 478 
Pentium 4 and Socket 478 Celerons. 


Power connectors: The 20-pin 
ATX connector powers a majority of 
the circuitry on motherboards and 
provides 5. 3.3, and 12V power, as 
well as ground lines. On Pentium 4 
and Athlon XP motherboards, you're 
also likely to find a square power 
connector that provides additional 
12V power and ground lines. 


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RAM: The state of the art in 
motherboard technology is now 
DDR400 in dual-channels. Don't 
be confused — dual-channel DDR 
doesn't require new RAM. If you 
currently have DDR RAM, you sim- 
ply get another piece of RAM that 
matches it in size and speed. By 
running the RAM in pairs, you 
greatly increase the memory band- 
width. The notches in the center 
prevent you from incorrectly 
inserting the RAM, and the colors 
indicate corresponding channels 
that RAM should be paired up in. 




ATA/IDE ports: Most motherboards support two IDE/ATA 
ports for up to four devices. ATA100 is the industry stan- 
dard. Sadly, we’ve observed no real performance improve- 
ment from drives supporting the latest ATA133 spec. 


Floppy port: Hook your ancient floppy drive to this port 
if you must. Enough said. 


BUIID THf PfRffCT PC 2003 35 



























HowTo Pick the BEST 

P4M060 

s 

A quality processor deserves a quality home 


I ntel's Pentium 4 line of processors 
has scaled to enormously high fre- 
quencies, going from a mere 1.3GHz 
to an unprecedented 3.2GHz in less than 
three years. Today, Intel dominates the 
high-performance computing sector 
almost indisputably. We think that 
AMD's Athlon XP is a better value, but 
if you care only about getting the 
absolute fastest performance possible, 
then you need a P4. 

But you can't just drop a P4 CPU 
into any old motherboard and expect to 
get bruising performance — mobos are 
definitely not created equal. Your moth- 
erboard choice will have a major 
impact on your system's stability, 



Modder alert: If you're going to install 
a case window, make sure you get a 
foxy looking motherboard, like DFI's 
fluorescent LAN Party Pro875. 


upgrading potential, and overclockabil- 
ity. A good motherboard can also save 
you money by integrating features such 
as a RAID controller or sound chip, so 
you won't have to buy them separately. 

There's a dizzying array of mother- 
board choices out there for the Pentium 
4 right now, each offering support for 


different kinds of memory, bus speeds, 
and CPUs. Here's a guide to everything 
you need to know when selecting a P4 
motherboard, with reviews of our top 
picks at the end for those who know a 
good shortcut when they see one. 

THE PRESCOTT “ISSUE” 

First, there have been recent 
rumors that none of the current 
P4 motherboards will support 
Prescott, Intel's next-generation 
CPU core. This is, quite simply, a 
bunch of hooey. While it is true 
that not all current P4 boards will 
be able to run Prescott proces- 
sors, some will. The root cause of 
the problem is the voltage regula- 
tor module (VRM), which regu- 
lates the voltage fed 

. to the CPU. The 

Pentium 4 proces- 
sor will work with 
a VRM that's com- 
pliant with version 
1.0 of the voltage 
regulation spec, but 
Prescott demands a 
version 1.5 VRM. 
Thus, any current P4 
motherboard that 
uses a version 1.5 
VRM should be com- 
patible with Prescott, 

in theory. Personally, 

though, we wouldn't 
count on Prescott sup- 
port from any motherboard that 
doesn't specifically claim to offer 
it. To get the final word on 
Prescott support, check the web 
site for any mobo you're consid- 
ering. 

CH00SIN6 A CHIPSET 

Before you can begin your search 
for the perfect motherboard, you 
need to know what chipset you 


want— and there are a lot to 
choose from. As you might 
expect, the two best P4 chipsets 
out there right now are made by 
Intel. The 875P is Intel's top-of- 
the-line offering, sporting a dual- 
channel DDR400 memory con- 
troller, 800MHz frontside bus sup- 
port, AGP 8x, and Hyper- 
Threading. Meanwhile, the 865PE 
is targeted more toward the 
budget market; it supports the 
same technologies as its older 
sibling, but can't sustain the same 
level of performance. However, 
many motherboard manufactur- 
ers have successfully hacked the 
865PE to bring its performance to 
near-875P levels. We recommend 
both the 865PE and the 875P as 
our top picks for P4 chipsets. 

ATI's Radeon 9100 IGP is 
another excellent chipset. It sup- 
ports all the latest technologies— 
dual-channel DDR400, 800MHz 
FSB, AGP 8x, Hyper-Threading — 
and also boasts an integrated 
graphics core. Hardcore gamers 
and true performance enthusiasts 
will want to buy an add-in graph- 
ics card, but if your budget is 
tight, the 9100 IGP offers the best 
integrated graphics core of any 
chipset on the market. It's also the 
only chipset with integrated 
graphics to offer programmable 
shader support (which you'll need 
if you want to see next generation 
games like Doom3 and Half-Life 2 
in all their glory). 

Now that you've seen the con- 
tenders, let's look at the pre- 
tenders— the P4 chipsets you 
want to avoid at all costs. Intel's 
865G and 865P chipsets are the 
bastard children of the 865 family. 
The former offers a GeForce2 MX- 
level integrated graphics core, but 
lacks the raw performance of the 
865PE, while the latter is restrict- 
ed to FSB speeds of just 533MHz. 
Meanwhile, from outside the Intel 
camp come the VIA PT600 and 
SiS 655FX. Both are dual-channel 
DDR400 offerings with 800MHz 
FSB support, but neither can 
match the speed or robustness 
of Intel's finest. 

The future of chipsets on the 
Intel platform looks brighter than 
ever. VIA has two chipsets on the 
horizon that look quite com- 
pelling. The PT880 will boast a 
dual-channel DDR400 memory 
controller as well as support for 


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* 



quad-band memory (QBM)— a 
special type of memory that 
offers twice the bandwidth of nor- 
mal DDR. Motherboards based on 
the PT880 should be available by 
the time you read this. 

Meanwhile, the PT890 will bring 
DDR-II and PCI-X support to the 
table, and is on track for release 
in the first half of 2004. Finally, 
Intel itself has an extra-fancy 
chipset in the works, code-named 
Grantsdale.This chipset will sup- 
port PCI-X and DDR-II, as well as 
the new LGA 775 socket that will 
be used by later versions of 
Prescott as well as the still-distant 
Tejas processor. There will also be 
a version of Grantsdale with a 
third-generation integrated graph- 
ics core, for those on a budget. 

BASIC FEATURES TO 
LOOK FOR 

Chipset aside, there are certain 
basic features you should look for 
in any P4 motherboard. For one, 
you'll want support for dual-chan- 
nel DDR400 memory. When sticks 
of memory are installed in pairs 
in a dual-channel-capable mother- 
board, the effective memory 
bandwidth of the system is dou- 
bled. This nifty trick works with 
standard DDR memory— no 
expensive special memory is 
required. The Pentium 4 processor 
thirsts for the bandwidth afforded 
by dual-channel DDR; when sand- 
bagged by single-channel memo- 
ry, the P4 loses much of its per- 
formance edge. 

You'll also want to make sure 
the motherboard you choose can 
support the CPUs of today and 
tomorrow. Don't even consider a 
mobo that can't get on the 800MHz 
bus or run a 3.2GHz Pentium 4, 


Some motherboard manufacturers 
offer an insane number of extras, 
including front bay-mounted media 
readers and even remote controls! 



Abit motherboards are synonymous 
with overclocking, and the IC7-G 
Intel board lives up to expectations 
with a galore of features for practi- 
tioners of the dirty deeds 


which is likely to be the final 
Northwood core CPU released. 

Other than that, look for a 
mobo that supports AGP 8x and 
features a retention clip to keep 
your videocard snug in its slot. 
Also, most motherboards 
released in the past few years fea- 
ture a clean, jumperless design 
whereby key settings such as FSB 
speed are accessed through the 
BIOS. We still see evil mobos that 
use jumpers or DIP switches, so 
make sure you get one that's 
jumperless. 

Finally, insist on a board that 
offers USB 2.0 and FireWire I/O, 
so you'll have high-bandwidth 
connections to your MP3 player. 


digital camera, external hard 
drive, and any other peripherals 
you may have that support these 
high-bandwidth connections. 


Pentium 4 owners don't have as 
many overclocking options as 
Athlon owners, simply because 
the multipliers on a P4 can't be 
unlocked. Still, a good mother- 
board will allow you to make the 
best of the options you do have. If 
you're planning to do any over- 
clocking at all, you'll want a mobo 
that allows FSB speed adjust- 
ments through the BIOS, at the 
very least. Otherwise you'll be 
stuck with the chore of fiddling 


BUIIB m PlBflCT PC 20B3 37 

Copyrighted material 







with hardware jumpers on the board itself. An ideal 
overclocker's board will allow the speeds of the 
FSB and memory to be set independently of the 
AGP and PCI bus clocks. In the past, overclocking 
the frontside and/or memory buses caused the 
AGP and PCI buses to run out of spec as well, 
which often limited the extent to which a system 
could be overclocked. Lately, however, some 
enthusiast boards have begun offering the ability 
to set these bus speeds independently. 

EXTRA FEATURES 

These days, integration is the name of the mother- 
board game. In a mad dash to one-up each other, 
motherboard and chipset manufacturers have start- 
ed offering all sorts of extra features that can save 
you both money and expansion slots. Any mother- 
board you buy should offer integrated 10/100Mbps 
Ethernet at the very least. Depending on your 
needs, you may want to get a mobo with dual- 
Ethernet capability or Gigabit Ethernet. Should you 
decide to get a board with Gigabit Ethernet, look 
for one with a network controller that takes advan- 
tage of Inters communications streaming architec- 
ture (CSA), such as the Intel Pro/1000. CSA allows 
the network controller to plug directly into the 
northbridge, so it doesn't suck bandwidth from the 
PCI bus— especially critical for the 1000Mbps trans- 
fer rates of Gigabit Ethernet. 

Many boards these days also include a built-in 
RAID controller, allowing you to stripe your hard 
drives (for better performance) or mirror them (for 
data backup). The latest RAID controllers, however, 
offer what's known as RAID 1.5, a new spec that 
allows you to simultaneously perform striping and 
mirroring using just two hard drives. RAID defi- 
nitely isn't for everyone, but if you're interested in 
taking advantage of it, look for a board that sup- 
ports RAID 1.5, so you can get the best of both 
worlds. Meanwhile, if you want to plug in a next- 
generation 10,000rpm hard drive, make sure the 
motherboard you choose has a built-in Serial ATA 
controller. 

Almost every motherboard now includes inte- 
grated audio, but it's hard to find one with quality 
integrated audio. In fact, for the Pentium 4, it's 
almost impossible— if you care at all about sound 
quality, we recommend you get an add-in sound- 
card, like Creative Labs' Audigy 2. You should also 
keep an eye out for any cool peripherals that may 
come bundled with a motherboard. Many boards 
now come with bonus-round toys like a remote 
control or even a carrying case for your PC. Others 
come dressed in sexy color schemes complete 
with fluorescent expansion slots, catering specifi- 
cally to the case-modding crowd. And lastly, don't 
brush off the software bundle— while most mobos 
ship with a bunch of trashy programs, some come 
with useful apps such as a temperature monitor or 
virus scanner. 

It's not easy to remember all the criteria for 
a good motherboard. But you've got another 
option— check out our top picks for Pentium 4 
motherboards, tested and approved in the 
Maximum PC Lab. 


Intel D87PBZ 



Built on the new 875P chipset, this 
board — code-named "Bonanza" — 
introduces Intel's move to dual- 
channel DDR400 RAM, and also 
showcases a host of new goodies, 
including an 800MHz system bus, 8x 
AGP, native Serial ATA support, and a 
special port that hooks gigabit Ethernet 
directly to the northbridge. The 
Bonanza board also features the ICH5R 
southbridge, which adds soft RAID 
Serial ATA to the equation as well. 

To test its mettle, we pitted the 875P 
against the RDRAM-loving 850E; the 

DDR266 E7205; and SiS's hot new, DDR-crazy 655. We tested all four 
boards using common components and drivers (save respective RAM 
types). When all the smoke had cleared, we were left with super per- 
formance from the Bonanza and the 875P. The Bonanza was the fastest 
of the four in all our tests. 

The Bonanza is also a departure from Intel's historically straight- 
laced board design. Outfitted to appeal to the moderate tweaker, Intel 
has included a "burn-in" mode that's really just an overclocking switch. 
Sure, the feature offers just a 5 percent overclock, and the switch does- 
n't let you juice up your voltage, but that protects nut cases from frying 
their CPUs, and maybe that's for the best. 


Chaintech 9CJS Zenith 


Chaintech took the Ginsu knife approach with its 875P motherboard 
bundle: You not only get the motherboard. You get a screw driver, 
SATA data cables, and SATA power cables. You also get a full set of 
rounded Parallel ATA cables, a bay-mounted media reader, and front- 
mounted USB and FireWire ports. And if you order now, you also get 
an infrared remote control and an LED read-out that displays the 
POST codes as you boot! 

And Chaintech didn't just go nuts with its 
accessories. The company loaded the 
motherboard with features. There's 
the full 875P chipset with the 
ICH5-R southbridge for RAID 
support, support for 
Intel's CSA LAN, and, 
for good measure, a 
RealTek Fast Ethernet con- 
troller. This dual-LAN arrangement 
gives you the ability to run the board as a router 
without having to add any PCI cards. Chaintech actually ran 
out of room on the board, so it added a small daughterboard bearing 
additional audio jacks, an optical SPDIF out, and two FireWire ports. 

There's just one catch with the 9CJS. The price. The accessories 
aren't free, Homer. Chaintech wants you to shell out $269 for its 
board. The street price will likely be lower, but that's a pretty penny 
for a motherboard. 



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Copyrighted material 









How To Pick the BEST 

ATHLON MOBO 

Bad mobo's mean bad mojo. Here's how to pair your Athlon 
with the right motherboard 


M ore than four years after the 
debut of the Athlon, AMD is 
still giving Intel — once the 
unchallenged king of the desktop — a 
run for its money. In fact, megahertz for 
megahertz, the Athlon still provides 
more bang for your buck than anything 
Intel has to offer. But the Athlon XP 
can't take on the P4 without the proper 
support infrastructure, so choose your 
motherboard wisely. As the backbone 
of your rig, the motherboard has the 
most profound effect of any component 
on the overall stability of your system. 
What's more, today's motherboards 
come with tons of extra features, such 
as built-in networking and onboard 
RAID controllers, that can save you 





The A7N8X Deluxe motherboard from Asus 
goes nuts with sweet features like built-in 
Ethernet, USB 2.0, and FireWire, all piped 
in through the high-bandwidth 
HyperTransport interconnect. 


expansion slots and money. 

Perhaps most importantly, the moth- 
erboard you choose today will deter- 
mine what upgrades you'll be able to 
plug into your system tomorrow, and 
next year. As such, you'll want to be as 
informed as possible before making this 
critical choice — and we've got you cov- 
ered. We've come up with this short list 
of everything you need to know about 
picking the right mobo for your needs, 
as well as reviews from our monthly 
mag of the two finest Athlon XP boards 
we've tested. 

DEBUNKING THE MYTHS 

Before we get started, there are a 
few misconceptions out there that 
may need to be cleared up. First of 
all, contrary to what Intel fanboys 
would have you believe, the 
Athlon XP is still 
a perfectly viable 
alternative to the 
Pentium 4. Is the 
P4 faster right 
now? Yes, but not 
by a particularly 
large margin, and 
AMD still offers 
more bang for the 
buck. So if you're 
looking for the most 
performance for the 
least price, the Athlon 
XP is your processor. 
That said, the 32-bit 
Athlon series has 
reached the end of the 
line— the future lies with 
the imminent Athlon 64 
and its 64-bit instruction 
set, so be forewarned 
that buying an Athlon XP 
right now won't provide 
you with much upgrading 
headroom. 


There are also some popular 
misconceptions out there that 
apply to motherboards in general. 
Many people believe that having 
more PCB layers— in other words, 
a thicker motherboard— makes for 
better quality and reliability. 
Though this may be true in some 
cases, it is not a valid rule of 
thumb. A skilled engineer may be 
able to accomplish in four layers 
what an incompetent engineer 
needs six layers to do. Thus, it's 
not a good idea to use "more is 
better" as a general rule when it 
comes to motherboard layers. 

The same thing applies to 
capacitors, which can be thought 
of as tiny "storage tanks" that 
hold an electrical charge. The 
stored charge helps compensate 
for an uneven flow of electricity to 
the motherboard. While some 
folks think that having bigger 
capacitors makes a motherboard 
more reliable, it's not necessarily 
the case. As with PCB layers, 
more is not necessarily better, and 
good design in this instance isn't 
apparent to the naked eye. 

CHOOSING A CHIPSET 

The first decision you need to 
make when shopping for a moth- 
erboard is what chipset you want. 
There are really only two compa- 
nies making performance chipsets 
for the Athlon platform today: 
nVidia and VIA. SiS also makes 
Athlon chipsets, but they tend to 
be targeted at the budget market, 
and generally aren't as refined or 
feature-filled as those from nVidia 
and VIA. 

Of all the Athlon chipsets out 
there, nVidia's nForce2 Ultra 
earns our highest recommenda- 
tion. The nForce2 line sports such 
features as built-in Dolby 5.1 
audio, 10/100Mbps LAN, AGP 8x 
support, a dual-channel DDR400 
memory controller for maximum 
memory bandwidth, and optional 
GeForce4 MX-level integrated 
graphics. The Ultra version adds 
excellent support for the 400MHz 
frontside bus— earlier versions of 
the nForce2 promised this sup- 
port, but didn't deliver it consis- 
tently. If you don't care about 
400MHz FSB support, though, any 
version of the nForce2 should 
give you great performance and 
rock-solid stability. 

VIA's KT400A is the other main 


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contender for the Athlon XP 
chipset throne. It offers DDR400 
memory support, but only in sin- 
gle-channel configurations, and 
lacks 400MHz FSB support. The 
KT400A does include built-in net- 
working and AGP 8x capability, 
but feature-for-feature it's still out- 
classed by the nForce2 line. The 
KT600 chipset will soon succeed 
the KT400A, boasting such ameni- 
ties as 400MHz FSB support, six- 
channel audio, and built-in RAID 
support. Performance-wise, the 
KT600 could put nVidia and VIA 
neck and neck. Be forewarned, 
however, that VIA has a reputa- 
tion for problems with stability 
and robustness, both of which 
are hallmarks of the nForce2. 


Surprisingly, even if the 
chipset on your motherboard 
claims to support a certain FSB 
speed, that's no guarantee that 
the motherboard itself will sup- 
port it. Some Athlon boards only 
offer 400MHz FSB support on cer- 
tain revisions, so make sure to 
check the manufacturer's web site 
or motherboard documentation 
for this important feature. 

Next up is memory. To maxi- 
mize your performance, you'll 
want a board that uses a dual- 
channel memory controller, such 
as that of the nForce2. When at 
least two sticks of memory are 
installed in a dual-channel-capa- 
ble motherboard, the system's 
effective memory bandwidth is 
doubled — no special type of 


USB 2.0 and FireWire is important 
as well, so you can hook up all the 
latest peripherals to your rig. 

Motherboards with a jumper- 
less design are always preferable. 
If you catch overclocking fever 
someday, you'll be able to manip- 
ulate clock settings without mess- 
ing around with physical jumpers. 

Comprehensive thermal moni- 
toring is another invaluable fea- 
ture— you'll want a mobo that can 
automatically shut down your PC if 
the CPU overheats or its fan dies. 
Lastly, make sure the motherboard 
you want doesn't have capacitors 
positioned too close to the proces- 
sor socket, as this can make it diffi- 
cult to install a CPU cooler. 



Some motherboards 
throw in extremely 
handy extras like these 
rear»panel brackets that 
give you additional I/O ports 
and diagnostic lights (that might help 
you diagnose hardware trauma). 


* : 



BASIC FEATURES TO LOOK FOR 

Having chosen your chipset, it's 
important to know what basic 
features to look for in a mother- 
board. Most important is proces- 
sor support— any motherboard 
you buy should be able to work 
with the Athlon XP 3200+, the 
final Athlon XP to be released. 
The 3200+ chip runs on a 400MHz 
FSB (frontside bus), so this 
means that whatever mother- 
board you choose should support 
this bus speed as well (if your 
motherboard has a slower FSB, 
the Athlon XP 3200+ will still 
function, but at nowhere near its 
full potential). 


memory is required. In general, 
you'll want to synchronize the 
speed of your memory with the 
speed of your frontside bus, e.g. 
DDR333 memory with a 333MHz 
FSB. So, make sure the mobo you 
buy supports a high enough 
grade of DDR for your CPU's FSB. 
Also, try to get a board with three 
memory slots; some cheapo 
boards offers just two. 

Another basic feature you'll 
want to look for is an AGP 8x slot 
with a retention clip at the end. A 
retention clip is a good safety 
measure to have, helping to keep 
your videocard from coming loose 
in its slot over time. Support for 


OVERCLOCKING FEATURES 

Hoping to overclock your system 
to get the most from your invest- 
ment? If so, there are a few addi- 
tional motherboard features 
you'll want to look out for. For 
instance, the ability to adjust 
frontside bus speeds and clock 
multipliers through the BIOS is 
very desirable. Some mobos still 
use jumpers or DIP switches for 
this task. Even worse, others sim- 
ply don't allow you to overclock 
at all— so make sure you're get- 
ting the real deal. 

Lately, some motherboards 
have begun offering the ability to 
adjust memory and FSB speeds 


BBIIO THl PIBFtCT PC 2BB3 41 

Copyrighted material 




independently of AGP and PCI bus speeds. If 
you're planning significant overclocking, this is a 
feature you'll definitely want to have. Traditionally, 
overclocking the frontside and/or memory buses 
resulted in the AGP and PCI buses being over- 
clocked as well, thus increasing the number of 
possible failure points. A motherboard that allows 
your AGP and PCI devices to run at spec even 
when other parts of your system are overclocked 
will significantly increase your chances of over- 
clocking success. 


EXTRA FEATURES 

Today's motherboards are so feature-filled that 
it's quite possible to build a complete system 
without buying a single expansion card. Many 
once-exotic features, such as onboard network- 
ing and RAID, are practically standard fare on 
today's motherboards. Any motherboard you 
buy should at least have built-in 10/100Mbps 
Ethernet— though, depending on your needs, 
you may want to look for one with dual Ethernet 
ports or even Gigabit Ethernet. 

Integrated RAID is another common feature, 
but one that's definitely not for everyone. Should 
you decide to spring for a mobo with a RAID 
controller, look for one that supports the new 
RAID 1.5 spec, which allows you to perform both 
striping and mirroring simultaneously with just 
two hard drives— a very cool feature. Meanwhile, 
if you want to run the new generation of 
10,000rpm hard drives, make sure you get 
a board that boasts a Serial ATA controller. 

A hard-to-find feature that might be worth 
seeking out is quality integrated audio. Most 
chipsets offer little more than crappy-sounding 
generic sound circuitry. However, nVidia's 
nForce2 can pump out some high-quality vibes, 
roughly matching the audio prowess of a Sound 
Blaster Live! card. Additionally, it features real- 
time Dolby 5.1 encoding and decoding. If you're 
planning to buy (or already own) a soundcard 
you're happy with, you don't need to worry 
about the quality of your motherboard's integrat- 
ed audio. 

There are also a few other features you may 
want to keep an eye out for. Many motherboards 
now come bundled with cool bonus peripherals, 
such as flash memory reader/writers or a remote 
control. In addition, some mobo manufacturers 
have started catering to case modders with fea- 
tures such as colorful PCBs or fluorescent expan- 
sion slots that look positively slick through a win- 
dow. And finally, don't underestimate the value 
of a decent software bundle. Most mobos come 
with a bunch of crusty old apps that you'll never 
use, but some toss in a temperature monitoring 
program or free antivirus software, both of which 
are good to have on hand. 

All of that should give you a pretty good idea 
of what to look for in an Athlon XP motherboard. 
Now, flip the page and check out our reviews of 
the two best Athlon mobos that have passed 
through our lab in recent months. 




ASUS A7N8X Deluxe 



For starters, the A7N8X Deluxe takes full 
advantage of the nForce2's advanced inte- 
grated features. With the nForce2, your 
Ethernet, USB 2.0, audio, and FireWire 
controllers all plug directly into the 
chipset via the high-bandwidth 
FlyperTransport interconnect. In theory, 
this should give the nForce2 superior 
performance when accessing network 
or FireWire devices, especially when 
transferring large amounts of data. 

The Asus board's overall layout is clean, with no pre- 
cariously positioned capacitors near the CPU socket. The board features 
an AGP Pro slot, as well as a warning LED that tells you if you've put the 
wrong kind of videocard in the system. There's also support for Serial ATA 
RAID, and not one but two Ethernet ports. 

But the real story with the A7N8X is its performance. In all the bench- 
marks that get a boost from memory bandwidth, the nForce2 runs away 
from the VIA KT400. 

For now, the nForce2 stands as the dominant chipset for the latest 
Athlon XPs. This Asus board offers a good upgrade path should AMD offer 
400MHz CPUs, and it's already head and shoulders above the KT400 mobos. 

Caveat emptor: Early PCB revs do not support the 400MHz FSB. Be sure 
to look for a Rev 2 or higher version of this motherboard to get 400MFIz 
FSB support. 


MSI K7N2 Delta-IISR 


Besides offering official 400MHz bus support, the Ultra 400 can theoreti- 
cally be clocked even farther, though how far depends on your system's 
CPU, RAM, and power supply. Still, for overclockers, the Ultra is the label 
to look for. 

The board sports MSI's trademark crimson finish and an interesting 
assortment of PlaySkool-colored connectors. The I/O options are nice for 
an Athlon board, but seem average compared with the 
Intel 875P boards' offerings. There's a 
Promise Serial ATA RAID chip, an 
onboard Fast Ethernet port (care of the 
nVidia MCP2-T southbridge), and two 
FireWire A headers. Instead of jamming 
up its I/O shield with sundry ports, MSI 
provides several rear-panel brackets for 
USB, FireWire, and diagnostic POST lights. 

This offers system builders some welcome 
flexibility, but if you decide to install all 
three rear-panel brackets, you'll need to 
give up three slots in the back of your rig. 

As for pure core-system performance, we saw the K7N2 Delta-ILSR 
outperform the DFI Lan Party KT400A in just about every test. Consider this 
a ringing endorsement for the dual-channel memory controller in the 
nForce2. 

We love this MSI mobo, but our review unit lacked one necessary 
component: a badge proudly declaring that an nForce2 Ultra 400 was sol- 
dered to the PCB. You'll want to make sure the board you buy has the 
goods inside. 



42 bum m paw pc 20B3 


Copyrighted material 






All rights reserved. eWiz is not responsible for photo, typographical errors, or any pricing errors. All products and company names are trademarks of their respective owners. 
Free shipping applies only to selected items and must be shipped within the contiguous 48 states. Offer expires October 31 , 2003. 


Copyrighted material 















TV tuner. This metal box, sometimes called a 
"tuner can," houses an analog tuner capable of 
pulling TV signals from the airwaves or cable. 



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and regulate voltage levels going to your GPU 


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in tandem with the capacitors to ensure that the 
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Diodes: Handy diodes do a neat trick: They conduct electricity in only one direction. By plac- 
ing them on a circuit, these diodes prevent ESD (electrostatic discharge) from damaging the 
videocard's sensitive components, such as the GPU. Still, they can't block every shock, so we 
consider the antistatic wrist strap a must every time you handle a component with an 
exposed circuit board. Especially the videocard — it probably cost you a bundle. 


Auxiliary power connector: Scotty, we need more power! Even the 
AGP slot can't provide enough juice for today's enormous graphics 
processors that have millions and millions of transistors. This auxiliary 
power connector draws additional power from the system's power 
supply to supplement the juice provided by the AGP slot. 



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More capacitors: 

These capacitors sit on 
the signal lines going to 
memory and scrub the 
juice of any spikes or 
irregularities before it's 
introduced into the deli- 
cate RAM modules. This 
clean, consistent power 
allows card manufactur- 
ers to crank up memory 
clock speeds without 
having to worry about 
shoddy power preventing 
the card from completing 
important calculations. 


Onboard RAM: The graphics 
card's DDR memory will give 
the R350 processing unit any- 
where from 128MB to 256MB 
of fast storage (the model pic- 
tured here has 128). 


Graphics processing unit Also known as the GPU, the whole enchilada 
lies underneath this heatsink and fan. The ATI R350 core is designed to per- 
form millions of specialized graphical calculations every second. Its design 
is, believe it or not, far more complex than the Pentium 4 or Athlon XP. 


Crystal: The crystal inside this housing vibrates at a specific frequency, 
providing a reference clock that controls your card's memory and core 
clocks (just like a quartz crystal keeps time in a watch). 


BUIIO THE PMCT PC 2003 45 














How To Pick the BEST 

VIDEOCARD 

It's a life-and-death decision for gamers 


T he single*most important PC component 
for gamers — trumping even the almighty 
CPU — is the videocard. The videocard is 
responsible for drawing every polygon, tex- 
ture, and particle effect in every game you 
play. A fast videocard will carry you into 

videogame nirvana, where everything runs at 

♦ 

60 frames per second and graphic detail is set 
to "Maximum." A slow videocard will doom 
you to frame rate hell, where your games will 
resemble a slideshow. 

For the uninitiated, reading the specs of a 
typical videocard can be a terrifying experi- 
ence. But you don't have to be cowed into 
picking up the most expensive card on the 
shelf and hoping for the best. We're going to 
explain everything you need to know about 
buying the right graphics accelerator for your 
PC, whether you're a gamer, a graphic artist, 
or an evil genius. And by the time we're done, 
you'll know everything we know. 

(At least until the next generation of video- 
cards arrives.) 


a result of these grueling prod- 
uct cycles, the fastest card can 
change three, four, or even more 
times a year. 

There are two different types of 
videocard interfaces inside your PC. 

The accelerated graphics port (AGP) is 
designed specifically for 3D accelerators, 
which require massive data transfers 
between the videocard and the rest of 
the system. The other interface is the 
classic PCI slot that your other cards 
use (soundcard, network adapter, etc.). 
Because PCI slots aren't capable of 
transferring graphics data as fast as AGP 
slots, you'll want to avoid buying a PCI 
videocard unless it's absolutely neces- 
sary. Your motherboard, for instance, 
may have a videocard built into it and 
not have any AGP slot at all. If this is the 
case, we recommend upgrading to a bet- 
ter motherboard if you're up to the task. 

REGULAR OR EXTRA STRENGTH? 





The GeForce FX 5800 used 
uber-high memory and core clocks 
to maximize performance, and 
needs a massive heatsink/fan 
combo to cool its chips. 


cards, but still include the same basic 
functionality as the $500 cards. 
Generally, cards under $200 are at least 
one generation old, include even less 
memory, and are significantly slower 
than the other cards. 

What you sacrifice by purchasing a 
$200 card versus a $500 card varies 
from manufacturer to manufacturer, but 
speed is virtually always the first victim. 
Read on to understand why. 


THE RASICS 

At the heart of every videocard is a chip 
called a graphics processing unit, or 
GPU. Two major players design most of 
the GPUs suitable for gaming 3D accel- 
erators: ATI and nVidia. Both companies 
sell their chips— which are significantly 
more complex than CPUs— to other 
companies, which then build the actual 
videocards you buy at Ye Olde 
Videocard Shoppe. These boards are 
generally labeled with either the ATI or 
nVidia logo. (ATI also sells its own ATI- 
branded boards.) 

If somebody tells you that one com- 
pany's GPU is superior, take that advice 
with a big fat grain of salt, because the 
technologies each company deploys are 
leapfrogging over each other constant- 
ly. In fierce competition with each other, 
ATI and nVidia release new versions of 
existing chips at least every six months, 
with entirely new chip generations 
appearing every year to 18 months. As 


There is a wide price range for video- 
cards. For the most part, all the cards 
from the same vendor (ATI or nVidia, 
for example) use the same basic chip, 
but performance-enhancing functions 
are disabled as the cards get cheaper. 
The highest-end cards are priced 
between $400 and $500, and have more 
memory and higher clock speeds than 
anything else on the market (we'll talk 
about what those specs mean in the 
next section). These are the brawniest 
of the videocards, capable of drawing 
more polygons at higher resolutions 
and higher frame rates than anything 
else at the consumer level. 

In the $300 range, the boards are 
generally based on the same basic chip 
as the hyper-expensive cards, but have 
less onboard memory or have features 
intentionally disabled to slow them 
down. Videocards priced in the $200 
range generally have less memory and 
are even more crippled than the $300 


CLOCK SPEEDS 

Just about every component in your PC 
has a "clock" speed, including your 
videocard. In fact, there are two differ- 

i 

ent clocks on the videocard. One con- 
trols the speed of the GPU, while the 
other sets the speed of the memory. The 
GPU clock is called the "core" clock, 
and the other is called the "memory" 
clock. Increasing the core clock ups the 
number of calculations the GPU can do 
every second, while adjusting the mem- 
ory clock changes the bandwidth, or 
amount of data the memory can trans- 
fer to the GPU every second. If every- 
thing else is equal, a card with faster 
core and memory clocks will be faster 
than a card with slower clocks. 

Even though high-end videocards 
use the same basic core as cheap video- 
cards, GPU cores that will run at the 
requisite super-high speeds are rare. 
Only a small percentage of GPUs can 
run at the 400MHz+ speeds required by 


4B BUIIO THf PMfCT PC 2003 


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a high-end videocard. Memory is much 
the same. System memory that's in 
most PCs runs somewhere between 
100MHz and 200MHz— one MHz, or 
megahertz, is one million memory 
transfers per second. The memory on 
high-end videocards runs at 500MHz. 
Memory this fast doesn't come cheap. 

The easiest way for a GPU manufac- 
turer to slow down a videocard is to 
lower the core and memory clocks. The 
default clocks for each card are pro- 
grammed on a BIOS chip that's sol- 
dered to the motherboard, but those 
clock speeds are easy to adjust by an 
adventuresome end-user. Using an 
application like Powerstrip 
(www.entech.co.tw), it's easy to overclock 
most videocards' GPU and memory. But 
overclocking isn't for everyone. It can 
create heat-related visual glitches in 
your games, jeopardize your machine's 
stability, and even permanently damage 
your videocard if it isn't properly 
cooled. You've been warned. 

MEMORY BANDWIDTH 

The amount of data your card can move 
between the GPU and the videocard's 
onboard memory (called memory band- 
width) is the biggest bottleneck on the 
videocard. The memory bandwidth is 
controlled by three things, the memory 
clock, the size of each 'chunk' of data 
transferred every clock cycle, and the 
number of chunks of data transferred 


each cycle. 

The GPU reads and writes small 
chunks of data to the memory almost 
a billion times per second. Right now, 
most videocards use double data rate 
(DDR) memory. DDR memory can trans- 
fer two chunks of data every clock cycle 
instead of just one. (The type of memo- 
ry supported by a board is configured at 
the chip level, and it's not user config- 
urable.) In addition to original DDR 
memory, which is in wide use now, 
there are also newer DDR-II and G-DDR 
memory specs. DDR-II is designed to 
run at much higher clock speeds than 
vanilla DDR and will be used for main 
system memory and some videocards. 
G-DDR (or graphics DDR) memory is 
designed specifically for videocards, but 
it's not available yet. When it is, we 
expect it to become the standard on 
high-end videocards. It doesn't require 
as many extra components soldered on 
the graphics board, and it runs at higher 
clock speeds than even DDR-II. We don't 
expect to see any videocards equipped 
with anything other than one of these 
flavors of DDR memory going forward. 

GPU manufacturers design their 
chips to accommodate specific-size 
chunks of data; this isn't user config- 
urable either. The size of the data chunks 
is also referred to as the width of the 
memory pipeline. A wider pipeline 
means more memory bandwidth for the 
GPU. Most high-end cards today trans- 
fer 256-bit chunks of data 
at a time, while budget 
boards transfer just 128-bit 
or 64-bit chunks. It's 
always best to get a card 
with the widest pipeline 
possible. You can always 
overclock your memory 
to make it faster, but you 
can't adjust the width of 
the memory pipeline on 
most cards. There are 
some hardware hacks that 
enable wider pipelines on 
some videocards, but this 
is the exception, not the 
norm. 

MEMORY SIZE 

The fastest memory in the 
world won't do you any 
good if there's not enough 
of it to hold all the data 
your games and applica- 
tions will toss at it. Even 
crappy-looking old games 
can fill a 64MB card's 
onboard RAM, and when 
that happens, the game will 



Half-Life 2 will use programmable shaders to make 
every surface in the game look more real. It will 
bring old 3D cards to their knees. 


have to store its data in your significant- 
ly slower system memory. As a result, 
your frame rates will tank. 

Games use onboard memory to store 
both the textures and models that make 
up a 3D scene, and the work in progress 
as an image is rendered. Modern GPUs 
read and write to video memory just like 
a CPU does with system memory, but 
video memory is an order of magnitude 
faster than the memory the CPU has to 
work with. Where even the fastest sys- 
tem memory can only transfer 2GB/sec, 
video memory on a high-end card can 
transfer more than 20GB/sec of data. 

We recommend a minimum of 
128MB of RAM for optimum results in 
most games. People who primarily favor 
single-player games can probably get 
by with 64MB, but online multiplayer 
gamers need as much video memory 
as possible. Even 256MB isn't out of the 
question. Consider going with less than 
64MB of RAM only if you don't intend to 
play any games at all. 



The GPU is the heart of your 3D 
accelerator. It’s responsible for 
drawing, texturing, and lighting 
everything 3D on your PC. 


GPU ARCHITECTURE 

Memory bandwidth is an important part 
of the videocard speed equation, but 
the inner workings of the GPU have a 
lot to do with it too. To understand how 
GPU architecture affects performance, 
you need to understand a bit about how 
3D accelerators work. 

The image displayed on your moni- 
tor is made up of many tiny dots of 
color called pixels. The 3D accelerator 
has to draw each pixel and form them 
into a single frame, which is then dis- 
played on the monitor. This has to hap- 
pen at least 30 times a second to create 


mampuftciKiBU 47 




the illusion of motion. 

Drawing individual pixels isn't a sim- 
ple process. To draw a 3D scene, the 
videocard first determines the shape of 
the world from the program that's run- 
ning, then it draws wireframes out of 
polygons. At this point, the hardware 
T&L (transform and lighting) engine 
converts the polygon-based wireframes 
into individual pixels that make up the 
scene. After that, textures are applied to 
each pixel. For example, a wall might 
get a stone texture applied to it, while a 
human model will get a skin texture. 
More advanced techniques, like bump 
maps, are then applied to the textures 
to make them look less flat and more 
real (a bump map would help the stone 
wall look rougher, more dimensional, 
and realistic). If the pixel being drawn is 
behind glass or fog, those effects are 
blended in too. Finally, any lighting cal- 
culations are performed and applied to 
the texture. In today's games, each pixel 
can sometimes have 12 or more effects 
applied to it! 

To speed up this process, modern 3D 
accelerators can process more than one 
pixel at a time. High-end 3D cards sport 
four or even eight pipelines capable of 
applying one texture or effect to a pixel 
per clock cycle. Because 3D accelerators 
perform the same functions over and 
over for millions of pixels each frame, 
adding extra pipelines makes them sig- 
nificantly faster. Budget cards usually 
have just two or four pipelines. 

PROGRAMMABLE SHADERS 

An important advance of the last two gen- 
erations of videocards are programmable 


shader units, which let developers create 
much better looking games. Before pro- 
grammable shader cards were introduced, 
the fixed-function 3D pipeline was highly 
specialized. Although it worked much 
faster than a more general-purpose 
processor, such as a CPU, it was also 
extremely inflexible. 

Programmable shader units make 
GPUs more CPU-like. In addition to the 
basic 3D tasks that fixed-function cards 
perform, shader units can execute shader 
programs that run complex algorithms 
on pixels, which are similar to regular 
computer programs.These shader pro- 
grams can be thousands of instructions 
long and calculate everything from the 
lighting for an entire scene to the reflec- 
tions in a simple mirror. 

Like everything else we've talked about, 
high-end videocards will have the most 
powerful, most flexible shader units. These 
days, even sub-$200 videocards support 
rudimentary shader programs, but to run 
upcoming shader games (like Half-Life 2 
and Doom3) at reasonable resolutions and 
frame rates, a high-end card is necessary. 

DRIVERS 

In the early days of 3D accelerators, dif- 
ferent hardware manufacturers wrote 
customized drivers with special fea- 
tures— including exhaustive monitor 
databases and support for funky 3D 
glasses. Now driver development is too 
onerous a task for a mere board vendor. 
Drivers that used to take small teams a 
few weeks to write, now take massive 
teams of a hundred or more people sev- 
eral months to complete. Board vendors 
just don't have the resources to do much 

more than add their logo 
to a driver. The practical 
upshot is: If you want the 
most up-to-date, reliable 
driver, you should go to 
your chipset's vendor, not 
the board vendor. Driver 
updates are easily accessi- 
ble from www.ati.com and 
www.nvidia.com. 

THE WORKSTATIOH 
QUESTION 

We're frequently asked if 
professional-level worksta- 
tion videocards are faster 
than consumer-level gam- 
ing cards. For a long time, 
it was true that worksta- 
tion boards, which cost 
thousands of dollars, 
would provide faster 
frame rates in early 3D 





This pachyderm's textures weren't made in Photoshop. 
His skin (and the marble pedestal on which he stands) 
are dynamically textured with shader programs. 


games, such as GLQuake. 

That's not the case anymore. Modern 
workstation boards are based on the 
same chipsets as the consumer boards, 
but those consumer boards are usually 
significantly faster than their workstation 
kin. Consumers need speed for games, 
but workstations need precision and 
accuracy above all else. Besides, most 
pro-level applications are much less 
intensive than even an old game. One 
thing hasn't changed: Workstation boards 
are significantly more expensive than 
consumer parts, starting at about $500. 
People who shell out the additional 
scratch for a pro-level part usually get 
24/7 customer support— including help 
for specific apps— and drivers guaran- 
teed to work perfectly with CAD and con- 
tent creation applications. 

GENERAL GUIDELINES 

We can't give hard and fast rules for 
videocard purchases because the mar- 
ket changes so quickly, but we can give 
soft and slow suggestions to help you 
make a more informed decision. 

For gamers who infrequently 
upgrade their videocard, it makes sense 
to spend the money for a high-end 
videocard. A $400 investment now gets 
you a card that's damn fast and will 
continue to perform acceptably for two 
or more years. As a general rule, high- 
end boards don't overclock terribly well, 
though. Overclockers can find great 
deals in the $150 price range, if they 
don't mind slightly more frequent 
upgrades. Non-gamers needn't shell out 
the big bucks for great 2D performance. 
There's no reason to pay big for all that 
3D research and development if you 
don't play PC games, and even the 
cheapest 3D cards are extremely fast 2D 
accelerators. 

We're starting to see some specialty 
cards designed for people who spend 
a lot of time manipulating large digital 
images. Creative Labs announced a new 
Graphics Blaster Picture Perfect board 
based on a 3Dlabs workstation chip that 
claims to be significantly faster than a 
standard videocard when manipulating 
large image files. The board is available 
for about $1 50. We think the image 
manipulation sounds cool, but we're con- 
cerned that these cards won't be able to 
handle even minor 3D applications. 

Read on for reviews of our favorite 
videocards. These reviews are accurate 
as of mid-July, but things may have 
changed since then. The videocard mar- 
ket changes rapidly, so you may want to 
check out the latest issue of Maximum 
PC before you make a purchase. 


48 bihib m FtmcT n 2U3 


Copyrighted material 


I 




nVidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 256MB 


HIGH-END 


The 5900 Ultra is powered by the NV35 core, 

an upgraded version of the 

NV30, which powered 
the GeForce FX 5800 and 5800 Ultra. 
Although the double-wide 256-bit memory 
interface is responsible for most of the 
NV35's performance gains, the new core 
includes several other enhancements. 
New shadow-rendering techniques maxi- 
mize performance by running the complex 
math calculations to draw shadows only in 
areas where it's physically possible for shad- 
ows to be. nVidia has also improved many of 
the image quality problems we experienced 
with the 5800 boards. 

In short, the 5900 Ultra is everything the 
NV30 should have been, and more. Like the 5800 Ultra, it has full 
DirectX 9 support, including 128-bit floating point color, but the 5900 

Ultra is signif- 





noAA/no aniso 

4xAA/8x aniso 

i nr? |Vu a mb 1 1 

5983 1 

3529 

| Quake 3 

154.4 

7.8 

| UTflKB Flyby 


^83.6 


All benchmarks are run on our Pentium 4 36 Hz test rig. Everything is run at 
1800x1200 in 32-bit color except for the3DMark2003 tests, in which we use 
the default settings. 


icantly faster, 
especially 
when running 
bandwidth- 
intensive fea- 
tures like AA 
and aniso. 


mi All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro 


TV/ 

MULTIMEDIA 


The All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro is the only option 
if you want fast 3D acceleration and TV view- 
ing features in the same AGP slot. The card's per- 
formance is on par with the initial 128MB version 
of the Radeon 9800 Pro, which isn't sur- 
prising because this AiW 
runs the same 380MHz core 
and 330MHz DDR memory 
as that board. Image quality in 
3D games is up to ATI's usual 
high standards, and the quality of 
TV images is excellent as well. 
Indeed, the new AiW is well-suit- 
ed to take the center seat in a home theater 
PC. A bundled remote control easily handles 
all traditional mousing duties and most of 
the common tasks you'd need while couch 
surfing. The bundled Multimedia Center app includes a "10-foot 
interface," designed to be visible from 10 feet away. Add to this 
Multimedia 




Quake 3 

immRrby 


noAA/no aniso 4xAA/8x aniso 


5778 




2834 


148 




85.7 


78 


All benchmarks are run on our Pentium 4 3GHz test rig. Everything is run at 
1600x1200 in 32 -bit color except for the30Mark2003 tests, in which we use 
the default settings 


Center's ver- 
satile and 
user-friendly 
TV-recording 
capabilities, 
and you've 
got yourself a 
winner. 


jm Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB 


HIGH-END 


Hands down, the nicest thing about the 9800 Pro is 
that you can run most of today's games with all 
their detail settings cranked to the max. The Radeon 
9800's 8-pixel pipelines and 21.6GB/S of raw memory 
bandwidth don't just help the card excel at today's 
3D applications, though. The 9800's programmable 
shaders are fully compliant with both of the 
DirectX 9 programmable shader specs, and this 
ensures future game compatibility. Prepare 
yourself for bump-mapped everything, gra- 
tuitous use of reflective surfaces, and volu- 
metric shadows for every single model. 

You'll also have complete support for 
full 128-bit floating point color, which 
helps minimize artifacts caused by 
rounding errors and the imprecision that results when blend- 
ing integer-based colors. 

The 9800 Pro sports both a DB-15 analog VGA jack and a DVI inter- 
face suitable for 
flat-panels, as 





noAA/no aniso 

4xAA/8x aniso 

L 3DMark«3 

i Overall 

5532 ^T\ 

^ 2655 

Quake 3 

147.5 

82.1 

[ UT20B3Fly 

by 

135.3 

75.9 


All benchmarks are run on our Pentium 4 36Hz test rig. Everything is run at 
1600x1200 in 32-bit color except for the3DMark2003 tests, in which we use 
the default settings. 


well as a stan- 
dard S-video out, 
and a component 
output option 
suitable for use 
with HDTVs. 


ATI Radeon 9600 Pro 


BUDGET 


The Radeon 9600 Pro is based on ATI's RV350, a 
modified 0.13-micron version of the R300 core 
used by the Radeon 9800 Pro. The GPU is clocked 
at 400MHz, while the 128MB of DDR memory 
rides a 128-bit pipe, and is clocked at 300MHz. 

At its default clock speeds, the Radeon 9600 
offers better performance than the GeForce 
FX 5600 Ultra. 

Plus, this card has major overclocking 
potential. With a utility called Powerstrip 
we were able to push the core an extra 
150MHz! The memory didn't have as 
much headroom, but we got it run- 
ning at 350MHz without any visual 
artifacts. If you add an aftermarket 
cooler and maybe even some 
memory heatsinks, you might be 
able to take your 9600 Pro even farther. 

The card doesn't include any fancy video-inputs, but it does 

feature an S- 
video output. 



\ 




noAA/no aniso 

4xAA/8x aniso 

. m ^ n 

oUNtani »3 overall 

3283 li 

1523 

Quake 3 

85.5 

43.1 


M T" T??" .T ' : M| 

25.1 


All benchmarks are run on our Pentium 4 3GHz test rig. Everything is run at 
1600x1200 in 32-bit color except for the30Mark2003 tests, in which we use 
the default settings. 


BBIM THE PtBHCT PC 2003 48 















TAD: For about 10 minutes in the early 1990s, some people thought it would be clever 
to use their $4,000 PCs as telephone answering machines. This connector hooked your 
internal dialup modem to your soundcard for that purpose. 






MODEL :SB0240 





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Digital-out The SPDIF, or digital-out. con- 
nector allows your soundcard to send digi- 
tal audio to such devices as Dolby Digital 
or DTS surround sound decoders. Some 
soundcards feature optical {or "Toslink") 
versions of this interface. 


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8 .4 


Line-in: This is used to input audio from 
an MP3, tape, or record player. 


i 




Mic-in: A mic-level port used for micro- 
phones. 


Line-out 1 , 2 , 3: Modern multichannel 
soundcards use three outputs to achieve 
5.1 or 6.1 audio. Line 1 is commonly the 
front speakers, line 2 the rear, and line 3 
for center, sub, and rear channels. 


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SB1394: The standard six-pin FireWire 
port used to connect to digital video and 
storage devices. 


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BUM THf PtRFICT PC 2003 




















CD-in/aux-in/CD SPDIF: CD-in and aux-in were used for analog audio play- 
back from your optical drive and other multimedia devices (such as TV tuners). 
CD SPDIF introduced a cleaner digital connection to your optical drive. When 
manufacturers figured out how to pull digital audio through the IDE cable, all 

aL . i • , .1 i | * « n i i ^ 



SB1394: Creative gave soundcards a cool 
twist when it began embedding IEEE 1394 or 
"FireWire" into its soundcards. These six-pin 
ports can be used to connect with DV cams, 
iPods, and other storage devices. This internal 
header brings a FireWire port to the front of 
your case. 



DAC: The second-most important chip on any 
soundcard is the digital analog converter. Its job 
is to convert the digital sound the computer 
understands to analog that you can hear. The 
Audigy 2 features a Cirrus Logic CS4382 chipset 
which supports 24-bit audio in multiple chan- 
nels. The second Sigmatel chip functions as an 
analog mixer for the CD, line-in, mic, and aux-in 
ports on the board. 





Joystick header: In the unlikely event your 
joystick uses the old-fashioned game port 
instead of USB, this header allows you to add a 
joystick/MIDI port to the back of your PC. 


AD EXT / SPDIF JO: This port is used to plug 
the Audigy 2 drive into the soundcard, which 
adds front-mounted optical, FireWire, analog 
1/0, and MIDI ports to the card. 


DSP: The digital signal processor is the heart of the soundcard, the equiva- 
lent to the GPU on a videocard. DSPs are special chips designed to, well, 
process signals. DSPs can be much more efficient than general purpose 
CPUs when crunching audio signals — you might say that these chips are 
"trained" to do audio processing tasks very quickly. The DSP not only han- 
dles the processing of environmental sounds for gamers, but its also integral 
to home audio production and effects processing that used to cost thousands 
of dollars in outboard equipment. 



0UI10 THt PfRffCT PC 2003 SI 

Copyrighted materia! 
























HowTo Pick the BEST 

SOUNDCARD 

Advice that's music to your ears 


T here's a popular adage in the soundcard 
industry: If you show an audience a movie 

using a busted speaker running in mono, 

* 

and then you show the same audience the 
exact same movie but with state-of-the-art 
speakers and in surround sound, they're bound 
to say the second movie looked better. The 
parable highlights the genral perception of PC 
audio — it's often an afterthought to concerns 
about megahertz, pixels, and gigabytes. 

But PC audio has come a long way since its 
days of scratchy hiss. Today's PCs sing in full 
surround sound and can play full 24-bit audio, 
producing realistic audio that seems to be 
emanating from all sides. 

The first soundcards, most notably the orig- 
inal Creative Labs Sound Blaster, fit into the 
ISA slot. Today's soundcards are all PCI-based. 
When choosing a soundcard, you'll first have 
to decide how many channels you want. 
Several different multichannel outputs are 
supported today: 

> Two-channel: Common stereo output from two 
speakers arranged in front of you, with one on 
each side of your monitor. 

> Four-channel: PCs first adapted to "sur- 
round sound" by adding two speakers posi- 
tioned to the left and right behind a user. 

> Five-channel: To help fill the gaps, a center 
channel gets positioned directly between the 
left and right front speakers. In most DVD 
movies, dialog is played through the center 
channel. 

> Six-channel: A sixth speaker positioned 
directly behind the listener's head helps fill out 
the rear audio. 

> Seven-channel: Although there's little speak- 
er support for it the 7.1 configuration adds two 
speakers behind you for even higher precision in 
distinguishing rear audio cues. 

Of the choices here, two-, four-, and five- 
channel are the most common. You'll easily be 
able to find speakers of these configurations. 
You'll see a ".1" behind the channels, as in 2.1 or 
5.1. The .1 refers to a separate subwoofer in the 
speaker set. If you have a 2.1 set of speakers and 
you're worried about buying a soundcard with 
7.1 support don't sweat it. All consumer sound- 
cards are capable of running with fewer than the 
maximum number of speakers. A 5.1 soundcard, 


for example, will support 4.1 and 2.1. Soundcards 
cannot, however, run more than their maximum, 
so an older Sound Blaster Live! 4.1 soundcard 
will not support 5.1 audio. 

Although multichannel soundcards are com- 
mon, the majority of PC users run 2 or 2.1 speak- 
ers, or use headphones. Because of that most 
soundcard vendors spend an inordinate amount 
of time trying to develop filtering algorithms that 
will fool you into believing that the audio from 
just two speakers is coming from behind you. It's 
an inexact science and the faux surround sound 
will not be equally satisfying to everyone. So we 
don't recommend basing a soundcard purchase 
on "virtual" surround sound. 

The most effective technique for most people 
is nothing less than full 4.1, 5.1, or better, with 
speakers positioned behind their heads. 



AND IKE API WARS 

It's difficult to discuss soundcards with- 
out dredging up the past. In the begin- 
ning, DOS-based video games, such as 
the original Doom , required that game 
developers write drivers for each video- 
card. On the other hand, Microsoft's API 
DirectSound and DirectSound3D let 
developers write to a common API 
(application programming interface) 
and not worry about the different 
soundcards. 

But soundcard vendors, eager to dif- 
ferentiate themselves from each other, 
continued to develop their own APIs and 
features. Aureal's A3D was one of the 
strongest rebel APIs and garnered a fair 
amount of support from gaming develop- 
ers, while Creative Labs pushed its own 
EAX API, which worked in conjunction 

with DirectX. 

# 

In the end, Creative's simpler API 
won out. Today, DirectSound3D and 
Creative's EAX are the prevailing API's for 
games. EAX has also vastly improved 
with more subtle controls that affect how 
something sounds going through an 
object or reflecting off an object. As long 
as the soundcard you buy supports 


Creative Labs' Audigy 2 is the prince of 
consumer soundcard families, offering 
24-bit audio, a popular API, and niceties 
such as built-in FireWire. 

DirectSound3D and some level 
of EAX, you're in good shape. 

WHAT ABOUT ONBOARD AUDIO? 

Just as soundcards have evolved, so has 
the audio on motherboards. Years ago, 
motherboard makers simply bought audio 
chips, such as a Sound Blaster, to embed 
on their boards. Onboard audio offered 
few frills then, but today onboard audio 
provides an amazing amount of functional- 
ity such as multichannel, coax, and optical 
digital links for truly finicky audiophiles, 
and even the ability to sense whether a 
microphone is plugged into a speaker jack. 
The overwhelming majority of today's 
onboard audio, however, relies on the CPU 
and drivers to do most of the heavy lifting. 
We remain suspicious of onboard audio, 
not so much because of the hardware, but 
because on many motherboards that 
we've reviewed, the audio software has 
been poorly implemented. 

Among the most popular onboard ven- 
dors are Analog Devices, C-Media,VIA, 
RealTek, and nVidia. nVidia's nForce2 MCP- 
T audio solution is fairly unique in the 
audio space. Unlike the other onboard 
competitors, the nForce2 MCP-T is an 
audio "accelerator," and just like a graphics 
accelerator, it offloads processing of audio 
from the CPU. The nForce2 is also unique 
because it can encode audio in real-time to 
Dolby Digital. Hook any of the other audio 
solutions to a home entertainment sys- 
tem's Dolby Digital decoder, and all you'll 
get is DVD audio or stereo for games. 
Because the nForce2 MCP-T uses technolo- 
gy developed for the Xbox, it can output 
games in multichannel to a decoder. 

Although onboard audio is clearly 
becoming increasingly sophisticated, we 


52 BUIIB THE PERFECT PC 2003 


Copyrighted materi 




still prefer the feature orgy associated with add-in cards. The 
Audigy 2, for example, does 24-bit audio, offers a multitude 
of I/O options (including a FireWire port) and is unique in its 
ability to play DVD Audio discs (in the event you happen to 
have one of those lying around). 

THE 24-BIT QUISI10N 

Creative Lab's original Audigy helped take PC audio to the 
next level. Offering limited 24-bit audio support, the Audigy 
sounded head and shoulders better than the Sound Blaster 
Live! and the majority of other consumer PC soundcards. As 
its name implies, 24-bit audio simply packs in more audio 
information than 16-bit audio. If you imagine a sound file as 
a gentle curve, 16-bit is a jagged stair-step approximation of 
that curve. By increasing it to 24-bit, the jaggedness is 
reduced significantly and the sound is smoother and richer. 
Creative has been the sole retailer of consumer-level 24-bit 
audio cards for the last few years (as opposed to brawny, 
but expensive professional audio soundcards) but the com- 
petition is heating up. AudioTrak and M-Audio are among 
several vendors now offering affordable, multichannel 24-bit 
products. One limiting factor of the higher resolution is the 
lack of source material. Since the majority of PC audio is 16- 
bit (audio CDs are 16-bit as well), the benefit of 24-bit isn't 
as noticeable. The higher resolution, however, can benefit 
even the average game or MP3 file. Because 24-bit sound- 
cards generally use higher-quality digital audio converters 
and codecs, 16-bit audio source material can sound 
improved over the garden variety 16-bit soundcard. Our 
endorsement of the Audigy 2 for consumer use stands. 



AwNoTrak Protlgy 7.1 

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Like M-Audio's card, the Prodigy boasts 24/192kHz output, uses 
VIA's Envy24HT chip to handle I/O chores, and has Creative's 
Audigy 2 in its cross hairs. And just like the M-Audio card, the 
Prodigy relies on the powerful CPU inside your PC for most of its 
heavy audio-related number crunching. 

In the battle for gaming frame rates in a 3.06GHz P4 B system, 
we saw the Prodigy trail the Audigy 2 by 4.6 percent in Comanche 
and 2 percent in Quake III Arena. In 3DMaii(2003, the Prodigy 

lagged behind the Audigy 2 by about 8.5 percent 
These aren't ringing endorsements ! 
for host-based audio, but these per- 
formance losses wouldn't threaten 
the fun of anyone owning a kick-ass 
computer. 

Compared with the Revolution, 
and its sparse control panel and 
mixer, the Prodigy is much more fea- 
ture rich. The Prodigy also boasts a 
unique feature called DirectWIRE, 
which lets you redirect an audio chan- 
nel from a DVD movie or protect- 
ed WMA file, so you can record 
it to your hard drive. 

In subjective listening tests with 24-bit/96kHz samples (the 
highest-quality audio most of us will ever encounter), we found 
the Prodigy 7.1 to sound just about the same as the Audigy 2, and 
just a hair worse than the Revolution 7.1. 







-SSl 


top picks 


*. • :i -• ... ' \. 

M-Audto Revolution 7.1 


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As CPU speeds have climbed to 3GHz and beyond, there's been a move 
afoot to throw more processing chores in the direction of under-taxed 
CPUs. Thus we have M-Audio's Revolution 7.1, a sweet-sounding, 24-bit 
soundcard designed for host-based processing. 

The Revolution in many ways acts as a simple conduit to get audio 
from your games and applications to your audio-out jacks. Make no 
mistake, its 24-bit converters and codecs sound 
huge, but the card itself is bereft of internal 
audio connectors and looks like it's been 
stripped down and left on blocks. There are 
four analog-out ports (that support 7.1 
analog speakers), as well as an RCA 
SPDIF out a line-in, and a mic input. 

But that's pretty much it 

The Revolution also supports . 

recording at 24-bit/96kHz with , ^ 

ASIO drivers— something the ^ 

• I* ^ 

Audigy 2 will do only in the pricey 

Audigy 2 Platinum EX bundle. During subjective listening tests of games 
and music, some of us thought the Revolution 7.1 offered better audio 
rendering than the Audigy 2, while others called a tie, and still others 
stuck by Creative's mainstay. 

On one hand, we have the first soundcard to sound as good as — or 
possibly better than — the Audigy 2. But all this comes with a frame rate 
penalty in games. Are you ready to trade 67fps for 52fps? Maybe, 
maybe not 


Creative Labs Audgy 2 Platinum 

# Y*# 1 ♦ « | * l 

Already an Eagle Scout the Audigy 2 adds several new merit badges to 
its chest support for DVD-Audio, Dolby Digital EX, and 24-bit recording. 
DVD-Audio is a format for a new breed of music discs — it provides 

high-res 24-bit/1 92kHz sound for stereo output and 24-bit/96kHz for sur- 

% 

round-sound output (that's right 5.1 sound for regular musicl). Having 
heard it ourselves, we can tell you that the improved fidelity of DVD- 
Audio makes today's 16-bit/44.1kHz audio CDs sound like bad MP3s. 

Dolby Digital EX is your ticket to 6.1 surround sound, which adds a 
rear center-channel speaker to the existing 5.1 mix. Just as the front 
center-channel in a 5.1 system fills gaps in your soundscape, a sixth 
satellite directly behind your head helps audio dance around you in 
stark realism. ; 

Creative has finally added 24-bit recording to the Audigy series, but 
you can't record in 24-bit using ASIO drivers (which 
reduce latency). Other notable features 
include less-annoying bundled soft- 
ware, an easy-to-use audio 
clean-up tool, improved 
CMSS algorithms for 
listening to stereo output 1 
on 5.1 speakers, and a real-time 
normalizing mode to equalize your 
MP3s. 

When you make the best consumer sound- 
card on the market, it's tough to top yourself, but 
Creative Labs has succeeded with Audigy Part Deux. 


\ 





BUI10 m PlRffCT PC 2003 53 









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, 

Logic board: Once upon a time, 
drives were pretty dumb and need- 
ed to be plugged into controller 
cards (via a PC slot) in order to 




work. These days, the controller is 
built right into the PCB beneath the 


drive, along with the drive cache, 
and lots of shiny things. 




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Voico coil/voice coil magnet Hidden beneath this curved piece of metal is an 
extremely strong rare earth magnet. If you were to look closely underneath the 
metal shield, you'd just barely see the copper wire coiled beneath. When current 
is passed through the wire, the resulting electromagnetic field pushes or pulls the 
drive head assembly across the platters. The drive head assembly can sweep 
across the platter hundreds of times a second; each sweep causes a faint click 
that is the sound of a hard drive earning its keep. 



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Read/write head assembly: Like the old cas- 
sette recorders of yore, there are two separate 
heads in a hard drive head assembly for reading 
and writing data. We're pointing out the 
"assembly" here because the actual read/write 
heads could be hidden behind the leg of a gnat. 

Most modem hard drives employ GMR 
heads, which, oddly enough, is an acronym for 
"giant magnetoresistive" heads. Nobody was 
trying to be funny or ironic; the name comes 
from the "giant magnetoresistive effect," a sly 
technique discovered in the 1980s that allows 
weaker magnetic fields from the disk media to 
be picked up by the read/write heads. The 
result is more data packed into less space. 



Disk media: Modern drives have several platters 
stacked one on top of the other like a stack of 
pancakes. Each platter is two-sided, and both 
sides are used for data storage. On the surface of 
each platter is an extremely thin layer of magnet- 
ic particles. Using a very delicate electromagnetic 
write head, these particles are organized and 
reorganized into neat groups that represent either 
Is or Os. The read head then reads these "bits" 
and translates them back into digital data. 




Spindle motor. This is the motor 
that spins the platters of a hard 
drive. Each platter is supported by 
ball bearings around the circumfer- 
ence of the spindle motor to prevent 
excess wobbling. Newer hard drives 
use fluid dynamic bearings, however, 
which use a thick oil to stabilize the 
platters without the whirring racket 
of ball bearings. 





Master/slave jumpers 


BUIID THl PfflICT PC 2003 









How lo Pick die BEST 

HARD DRIVE 

Bigger, faster, and smarter — meet the 
new crop of hard drives 


Y our CPU and videocard are 
glamorous components, with 
impressive-sounding 
descriptors like “gigahertz," 
and faster iterations popping 
up every few months. But 
the hard drive is the heart 
of your PC. It's the basket 
where your PC puts all the 
goods — your OS, your applica- 
tions, and, of course, all your valu- 
able data. 

Not much more than a decade ago 
hard disk storage was expensive and 
fairly limited in capacity. But today, it's 
almost an afterthought. A high-perform- 
ance drive from a major manufacturer 
like Western Digital will cost you less 
than a buck per gigabyte. So it's tempting 
to just grab the biggest one you can find 
and assume you're set for a year or so. 
Not so fast, big guy. 

Your hard drive is a mechanical 
device, and it won't ever challenge 
solid-state components like your CPU 
and RAM in the speed category. But it 
does do its job — keeping your CPU and 
RAM fed with the data they hunger for — 
reliably and cheaply. So given that we're 
stuck with the technology for the time 
being, we may as well minimize the drag 
on our system's performance by intelli- 
gently selecting the right hard drive. 

A FEW NANOSECONDS IN THE 
LIFE OF A HARD DRIVE 

If you want to understand what 
makes one hard drive faster than 
another, well, wouldn't you know, 
you need to understand a bit 
about how they work. It's a lot 
more interesting than you might 
imagine. 

Suppose a program is looking 
for a file. Your operating system 



and hard drive work 
together (mediated by a 
disk controller built into the 
drive) to find out where the file 
is physically situated on the disk. 
Disk addressing is done in terms 
of tracks and sectors (which can 
be thought of as rings and points 
on the rings). If the data has 
already been read and stored into 
a small amount of built-in memo- 
ry called the "cache," then the 
data is served up directly from 
the chip. This would be the case, 
for example, if you reopened a 
document that you just closed. If 
the data isn't there, then the 
drive needs to retrieve the data 
by moving the read and write 
heads to the right disk location. 

The read and write heads (they 
are separate) are mounted at the 
very tip of the arm assembly. The 
assembly is similar to the arm 
and stylus of a classjc record 
player, except that instead of 
being driven by a motor and belt, 
the arm is moved by a very 
strong and precise magnet capa- 
ble of rapidly twitching the arm 


Cross- 
licensing 
accounts for 
the similarities 
in hard drives 
from different 
manufacturers. 

But drives do exhibit 
subtle differences, like 
the ramp-style head 
parking mechanism in this 
Hitachi drive. 


to and fro. The read and write 
heads float above the surface of 
the drive platters, which store 
digital information in a thin layer 
of magnetic particles (like cas- 
sette tapes). 

Once the read head arrives at 
the correct track, the drive needs 
to wait for the platter to spin to 
the correct sector before reading. 
Once the data is picked up, it is 
passed to the cache, and then on 
to the rest of your PC for process- 
ing. 

SPEED METRICS FOR 
POWER USERS 

Now that you know some of the 
essentials of how a hard drive 
works, let's look at the attributes 
that determine what kind of per- 
formance you'll get from your 


BBIIB THt PtBffCT PC 2083 


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drive. Again, it comes down to 
the efficiency of physically mov- 
ing parts. 

Rotational speed is the speed 
at which the spindle motor spins 
your drive platters. The faster the 
rotational speed, the less you'll 
have to deal with the effects of 
rotational latency, which is the 
time it takes for a disc to spin the 
right sectors past your drive's 
read or write head. Think about it 
like this: If a bus runs through a 
city loop at 10 miles per hour ver- 
sus one that runs at 20 mph, and 
you just missed both of them, the 
20mph bus will come back your 
way sooner. Faster rotational 
speeds also help with transfer 
rates, by way of passing more 
bits under the head with every 
rotation. Don't settle for a desktop 
drive that runs at less than 
7200rpm. 

Another number getting a lot 
of attention in the past few years 
is the cache size. Western Digital 
turned over the desktop drive 
industry with 8MB caches (com- 
pared with the then typical 2MB) 
and other vendors soon followed 



"Are you sure we can't fit in one more?" Jeff, Betty, and Bernard check out the 
first IBM hard drive, boasting 50 platters, each 24 inches across. 


suit. A larger cache has more 
room for stored data, thus 
increasing cache "hits," which are 


successful retrievals from the fast 
cache instead of the relatively 
pokey drive platters. A 2MB cache 


YOUR GUIDE TO SERIAL ATA 


s ■ 1 


Why the PC industry is rushing away 
from parallel ATA 

• e 1 i 

4 4 ^ 1 • 4 f » 

Take a look at a machine equipped with Serial ATA, and 
its most striking feature will be the skinny data cables. 
While skinny cables have a positive impact on a case's 
internal airflow, this isn't the main reason why the PC 
industry is dropping parallel ATA (and its flat, wide 
cables) for SATA. The main reason is that the current 
parallel interface is facing a performance wall. 

Parallel ATA cables send data along multiple wires. 
Each piece of data must travel along the length of the 
familiar ribbon cable, and arrive at the same time in 
order to maintain data integrity. In order to get more 
speed from this scheme, the only option is to push the 
data to higher frequencies or make the data path wider. 
That's where the problems lie. Making the data path 
wider is impractical, as there are already 80 conductors 
in the ribbon. And increasing speed adds to the likeli- 
hood of data corruption. 

Because serial interfaces don't have to deal with coor- 
dinating multiple lanes of data, we're able to push them 
to much higher speeds. SATA' is currently rated for 
150MB/S, slightly higher than the 133MB/S offered by 
the fastest parallel ATA spec (which still hasn't been 



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• . I 


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widely adopted). SATA will eventually double to 
300MB/S in 2004, and then again to 600MB/S by 2007. 

The first SATA implementations on motherboards 

. . * « 

were kludgey: Serial ATA chips were piped 
through the PCI bus. This limited the 
150MB/S potential of SATA to PCI's 

133MB/S throughput, and required 

• * • 

the loading of drivers just to rec- 

*■ 

ognize the chip. But current-genera- 
tion SATA-equipped motherboards should be 
plug-and-play. In Intel's new ICH5 southbridge chip, for 
example, SATA is native. Plug a SATA hard drive into an 
875P motherboard, and you can load WinXP without 
needing to install any drivers. 

r J ' * 

Because of their bandwidth 
needs, hard drives were the first i 
SATA candidates, but next year 
we'll likely see the first optical : 
drives with SATA interfaces. 

Because of the glut of parallel devices, 
it'll probably take two to three years for 
the PC industry to drop parallel ATA entirely. 

Although current hard drive data rates fall far short 
of the maximum throughput of even parallel ATA specs, 
companies are laying the foundation for the future. You 
don't, after all, wait for the traffic jam before you try to 
build the roads (unless you run the state of California). 


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MUD m PtMCT PC 2M3 57 


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is acceptable, but we've observed dramatic 
improvements in performance with hard drives 
that utilize the brawnier 8MB cache. 

The most misunderstood performance stat is 
the interface speed. Interface speeds like ATA66, 
ATA100, and ATA133 are, for the most part, 
much faster than what your desktop drive is 
able to continuously transfer, and rarely, if ever, 
constrict your data flow. These standards (repre- 
senting megabytes per second) are more than 
capable of handling the 60MB per second or so 
of traffic that a drive can continuously deliver. 
For proof, we tested an identical ATA133 capa- 
ble drive with an ATA100 and ATA133 controller, 
and came out with identical scores. Even the 
new SATA150 interface had virtually no per- 
formance advantage over an identical drive with 
an ATA100 interface. You don't need an ATA133 
drive if you've already got an ATA100 drive. In 
fact, we question whether buying an ATA133 is 
wise at all— you'd be better off trading up to a 
Serial ATA drive (but make sure you get a moth- 
erboard or controller card that supports it). 

Note that more than one drive on a single 
channel will overload an ATA66, and will likely 
strain even an ATA100 interface at times. The 
lesson: Always keep your hard drives on sepa- 
rate channels! 

Seek time describes how quickly a drive can 
move from one place on the drive platter to 
another. It can be expressed as average seek 
time (meaning how long it takes to go from one 
random position to another), and full stroke 
(which measures the travel time between the 
outermost and innermost tracks). Most current 
drives post average seek times between 8 and 
10ms (milliseconds). These numbers are useful, 
but don't go overboard. For example, some 
SCSI drives have average seek times as low as 
5ms; you'll notice a difference between this and 
your bread-and-butter 9.5ms desktop drive. Less 
urgent is the difference between a drive with 
8.5ms and a 10ms average seek time — and the 
lower rated one may be much more expensive. 
Stick with a high-rpm drive, and use common 
sense. Lower average seek times are better, but 
you won't want to pay through the nose for a 
slightly lower figure. If performance is that cru- 
cial, consider a RAID setup. 

DESKTOP VS. SERVER DRIVES 

Hard drives are designed for specific tasks that 
generally fall into two categories: server and 
desktop duties. The high-rpm SCSI drives can 
handle many simultaneous tasks— essential for 
servers that get requests from many different 
users at the same time. Desktop IDE drives are 
designed to work most efficiently when data is 
requested in relatively bulky chunks, although 
many contemporary drives are handling server- 
type requests with greater efficiency. Server 
drives are much more expensive, however. 

Overall, you'd be better served by a Serial ATA 

or IDE RAID setup. 




Western Digital Raptor 10K 


The new 360GD Raptor is the first ATA drive to offer a five-digit rotational 
speed (SCSI drives have offered 15,000rpm for quite a few years). Faster 
platters make random access times go down, while transfer rates go up. 
The Raptor is a Serial ATA drive (Western Digital's first), 
and it's intended for light server duty (despite the fact 
that Serial ATA will become the new desktop stan- 
dard). But the real story here is the drive's 
mastery of data handling and throughput. 

HD face's sequential read test 
(which calculates the average data 
reading rate across a whole 
platter) coughed up a score of 1 
55.1 MB/s. Writing across an 
entire platter was equally 
impressive at 33.5MB/S. 

In our custom-configured lOMeter desk- 
top test, we thrash hard drives with so many ran- 
dom input/output operations, they usually puke and beg 
for mercy. The Raptor, however, finished with a score that was roughly 30 
percent faster than the former record-holder. 

There is a downside to putting this server drive in your desktop rig. Its 
capacity is limited to 36GB. Server storage usually consists of several 
smaller drives conjoined in RAID, so smaller drives are preferred. Still, we 
don't mind the puny capacity. 

Go for the Raptor if the capacity doesn't bug you, you need break-neck 
speed, or have a reason to upgrade to SATA. This is the swiftest non-SCSI 
drive around. We just can't wait until WD comes up with a desktop-orient- 
ed version. 



Western Digital 2500JB 


The new Western Digital 2500JB doesn't spin at 10,000rpm, but the 
7200rpm drive does offer desktop users a compelling 
argument in its favor. Capacity reaches 250GB 
across three incredibly dense platters, and an 
8MB cache provides a boost for regular-old 
home PCs. 

So what makes the latest 8MB cache 
Western Digital “JB" drive worthy of 
your attention? It really comes down to 
speedy sequential transfer read 
speeds and a cache optimized for 
desktop work. Read speed is 
important for everyday work 
activity, and sure enough, the 
2500JB beat Hitachi's top-per- 
forming 180GXP drive in SYSmark2002, 
a benchmark suite based on real-world apps. 

The Western Digital won by just two points, but its 
SYSmark2002 showing only backed up the drive's even better show- 
ing in HDTachs read test. 

If you're doing video-capture or file serving, the Hitachi 180GXP, with 
its higher areal density would be the better purchase. But if you're stick- 
ing to normal everyday desktop tasks and need a huge primary drive, then 
this 250GB drivezilla is a wise choice. 



Copyrighted rr 


58 BBIIB TBI PfBFICT PC 2BB3 




How To Pick the BEST 



CRT or LCD — what's the diff, 
and which one is best? 


V ery few power users consider the 
CRT monitor to be a glamour com- 
ponent. After all, cathode ray tube 
displays are based on essentially the 
same technology found in common TV 
sets — that old-school technology was 
invented way, way back in the 1920s 
(the date of television's official birth is 
open to debate, but that's another story 
altogether). 

Yes, CRTs are completely 
"yestertech" compared with videocards 
and optical drives, which seem to be 
reinvented every six months, but they 
cannot, must not, be underestimated. 
Think about it. A good CRT can poten- 
tially be a system's most expensive com- 
ponent. Even more importantly, CRT life 
cycles are relatively long, so the monitor 
you buy this year will likely be the same 
one you're using in 2006. Think you'll be 
running the same CPU, hard drives, and 
videocard in 2006? For the sake of your 
games and applications, we certainly 
hope not. But you'll probably be running 
the same CRT, so you best take your CRT 
purchasing decision seriously. 

CRTs offer a few key benefits over 
flat-panel LCDs: (1) In most cases, they 
offer more square inches of screen real 
estate for every dollar spent. (2) They 
can display quick-moving video and 3D 
gaming content without any hint of 
streaking and trailing whatsoever. (3) 
They can display every single color a 
videocard can produce — no excuses, no 
ifs, ands, or buts. (4) They can display 
multiple resolutions, from 640x480 to 
1600x1200 and beyond. (LCDs have only 
one "native'' resolution, and this can 
lead to problems.) 

But CRTs are not without their 
foibles: (1) Compared with LCDs, they're 
heavy as all get-out, emit more heat, and 
consume much more desk space. (2) 
Their screen image is more prone to 
geometric distortion. (3) Bad CRTs can 


exhibit a fuzzy pic- 
ture. 

Maximum PC 
prefers CRTs over 
LCDs for gaming 
and image-editing 
work. A flat- 
panel LCD is eas- 
ier to transport to 
LAN parties, but 
we are loath to 
give up native support for 
multiple game resolutions. 

As for image editing, very few LCDs 
can accurately display the full range of 
color and grayscale gradation in contin- 
uous-tone images. That said, if you're 
only going to be typing and web surfing 
on your new computer, we think that 
high-quality, high-resolution LCDs are 
hard to beat. 

OK, so you've weighed the strengths 
and weaknesses, and you've decided a 
good CRT is the best monitor for you. The 
next step is to choose between shadow 
mask and aperture grille technology. 

POKING HOLES 

Shadow mask and aperture grille 
are two different technologies that 
perform the same function: By 
using either a perforated sheet of 
metal (a "mask," if you will), or a 
series of narrow, vertical metal 
strips (a grille, by any other name), 
shadow masks and aperture grilles 
help confine a CRT's electron 
beam, ensuring that the beam trig- 
gers only the red, green, or blue 
phosphor dots that need to be illu- 
minated (these dots congregate in 
triangular arrangements called tri- 
ads). Once a phosphor dot is trig- 
gered, it glows with color, and, 
voila, you have a screen image. 
This is a gross simplification, of 
course, and we wish we had 



The Cornerstone P1750 is a good, honest, 
inexpensive 21-incher. It doesn't offer the 
exacting visual quality of the Sony F520, 
but it's a very respectable $600 monitor. 


enough space to explain how CRTs 
actually work. But for the purpose 
of this article, we'll simply explain 
the pluses and minuses of each 
"masking" approach. 

► Shadow Mask: Shadow 
mask CRTs tend to be less expen- 
sive than aperture grilles. They 
also lack the faint, horizontal lines 
that span the screens of aperture 
grille CRTs. On the downside, 
shadow mask CRTs usually offer 
dimmer, less vibrant screens than 
aperture grilles, and they typically 
don't match their cousins' fine 
detail reproduction. 

> Aperture Grille: Every CRT 
monitor company's highest-quali- 
ty, pro-level offering is an aperture 
grille display— does that give you 
an idea of which technology is 
superior?The key thing to remem- 
ber is that grilles allow more elec- 
trons (and thus light) to pass 


BUIID M PIRFICT PC 2003 59 

Copyrighted material 




through to the phosphor layer, 
and this fosters a brighter, more 
brilliant screen image. The best 
aperture grille CRTs also boast the 
finest pitches. 

SPEC TECH 

Buying a monitor based on its 
advertised specs is always a dubi- 
ous proposition. Still, the specs 
you see on CRT cartons do mean 
something, so let's get to the bot- 
tom of them: 

► Size/viewing area: You've 
probably already figured out that 
a "19-inch" monitor doesn't offer 
19 diagonal inches of screen real 
estate— it actually comes in at 
around 18 inches. Then you have 
the problem of 21- and 22-inch 
monitors essentially falling into 
the same size category. Sony 
specs its best 21-inch CRT at 19.8 
viewable inches, while NEC specs 
its primo-grande 22-inch CRT as 
having 20.0 viewable inches. 

NEC's viewable diagonal is just 
0.2 inches longer than Sony's, but 



Apple's LCDs do in fact work with PCs. And their 
visual quality is absolutely kick-ass. Just be aware that 
all of Apple's display controls are accessed via a 
MacOS menu, so if you run the 23-inch, 1920x1200 
Apple Cinema Display on your PC, you will not be able 
to tweak its pixel properties! 


box advertising would suggest a 
full inch of difference. Buyer 
beware. 

Our overall advice is to pay 
closest attention to actual visible 
viewing area specs, and always 
purchase the largest, most bril- 
liant CRT that your desk (and 
budget) can support. Actual visual 
quality is very important, yes, but 
we'd still rather have a 21-inch 
CRT with "good" visual quality 
over a 17-inch CRT with "category- 
leading" visual quality. There's 
just no replacement for screen 
real estate. 

► Dot and grille pitch: A 

CRT's sharpness is directly related 
to its dot or grille pitch (dot pitch 
applies to shadow mask displays; 
grille pitch to aperture grille dis- 
plays). In simple terms, a moni- 
tor's pitch describes the distance 
between one of its phosphor dots 
and the next closest dot of exactly 
the same color. The CRT industry 
doesn't use a standard way to 
measure this distance, but, in gen- 
eral, regardless of which type of 
CRT you buy, you'll 
want to go with the 
lowest pitch spec pos- 
sible. For example, 
Sony's 0.22mm grille 
pitch CRT is preferred 
to its 0.24mm pitch 
CRT. The smaller the 
pitch, the finer your 
screen pixels will be, 
and thus the sharper 
your overall image. 

With some aperture 
grille monitors, you'll 
see a grille pitch spec 
that describes a range; 
for example, 
"0.25mm-0.27mm." 
This means that the 
pixels in the center of 
the display are sharp- 
er than the pixels on 
the display's perime- 
ter— they ramp from a 
0.25mm pitch to a 
0.27mm pitch. Is the 
gradation noticeable? 
We don't think so. 

However, you 
should be concerned 
with shadow mask 
specs that describe a 
"horizontal dot pitch" 
of a super-low figure 
like 0.22mm. Shadow 
mask vendors have 


traditionally quoted diagonal pitch 
specs, despite the fact that diago- 
nal pitch numbers never look as 
attractive on a spec sheet. To wit, 
a CRT's horizontal dot pitch equals 
0.866 times its diagonal dot pitch. 
The upshot is that a 0.22mm hori- 
zontal dot pitch offers the same 
level of screen sharpness as a 
0.25mm diagonal dot pitch. 

► Resolutions/refresh rates: 
Every CRT displays a matrix of 
dots to describe whatever image 
is being presented on screen. This 
matrix is called its resolution. The 
lowest standard resolution you'll 
ever see supported is 640x480 
(480 lines of 640 individual dots), 
but the best consumer CRTs can 
display 2048x1536. The higher 
your resolution, the more visual 
information can be displayed on 
your screen. Do you really need a 
2048x1536 display? Probably not, 
unless you're doing high-end 
graphic design. Still, high-resolu- 
tion support is the hallmark of a 
good CRT. 

A monitor's refresh rate is 
directly related to its resolution. 

In simple terms, the refresh rate 
describes how many times per 
second a CRT redraws its screen. 
But here's the catch: The higher 
the resolution setting, the more 
difficult it is to redraw the screen. 
Thus, as resolutions go up, 
refresh rates go down. This is 
true for all CRTs. The key is find- 
ing a CRT that can maintain high 
refresh rates (75Hz and above) at 
high resolutions. 

We suggest that you avoid any 
CRT that can't maintain a refresh 
rate of at least 85Hz at 1600x1200. 
A refresh rate below 75Hz will 
give you eyestrain, and any rate 
above 85Hz could possibly lead to 
blurry pixels. 

AIN’T LCDs GOOD 
FOR NOTHING? 

Flat-panel LCDs are seemingly 
taking over the PC market. But are 
they really the best choice? First, 
let's consider their pluses: (1) 
They're light and easy to carry, 
they don't take up much physical 
desk space, and they don't con- 
sume much electricity or emit 
much heat. (2) Because LCD pixels 
are arranged on a fixed, physical 
grid, geometric distortion is an 
impossibility. (3) They offer a 


60 BHIIB m PISHCT PC 2003 


Copyrighted material 





sharp, crystal-clear image when running in 
their native resolution. 

Sounds like one big pixel-loving party, 
right? Well, LCDs also have their problems: 
(1)They still cost more than CRTs, all screen 
sizes being equal. (2) Some can't display 
fast-moving video and games without 
streaking (for example, a quick-moving 
hockey puck might look like a comet with a 
tail). (3)They don't have the color accuracy 
of CRTs, thus they're not ideal for image- 
editing work. (4) When running in their non- 
native resolution, they must "interpolate" 
pixels, and this leads to horribly degraded 
visual quality. 

OK, so let's say you're copasetic with the 
inherent weaknesses of LCDs. It's now time 
to deconstruct their specs. 

>Viewing area: When an LCD is mar- 
keted as a 17-inch display, you really do get 
17 diagonal inches of screen real estate. 
More is better— buy as much screen as you 
can possibly afford. 

> Pixel pitch: A smaller pitch is better, 
and will provide a sharper screen image. 
And unlike CRTs, all LCD pixel pitches are 
measured in a consistent manner. So when 
comparing flat-panels, you might as well 
opt for those with the smallest pitch specs. 

> Resolution: Because your LCD will 
essentially be fixed at a single resolution, 
you better make sure it's the right resolu- 
tion for your screen size. For 17- and 18-inch 
LCDs, we prefer 1280x1024. For larger moni- 
tors, 1600x1200 is preferred. (Note: LCDs 
don't have refresh rates, per se, so don't be 
worried if you see that an LCD is preset to 
run at a low 60Hz or 75Hz.) 

> Pixel response: This spec, expressed 
in milliseconds (ms), refers to the speed at 
which the LCD's pixels can change color. 
Speed is important because if the pixels 
can't switch quickly enough, fast-moving 
screen content will exhibit streaking. 
Generally speaking, any LCD with a pixel 
response spec of 25ms or faster should be 
problem-free. That said, just because an 
LCD is advertised to hit 25ms doesn't mean 
it can switch at 25ms, so buyer beware. It 
always pays to run some content on the 
LCD before purchasing. But for what it's 
worth, even today's lamest LCDs can switch 
pretty damn quickly, and we haven't seen 
horrible streaking problems in a while, even 
in budget models. 

> Brightness: This spec is expressed in 
candelas per square foot or meter (a can- 
dela is the total amount of light emitted by 
a single, standard candle). For example, a 
particular Sharp LCD can display 200cd/m2 
— 200 candles per square meter. Higher 
brightness specs are preferred. 

And with that, it's time to name our 
favorite CRT and LCD displays! 


Sony F520 




This is it, folks, the best CRT monitor available today. The F520 boasts a perfectly 
flat screen surface that not only fosters a more natural viewing experience (it turns 
out that humans actually prefer seeing flat images on fiat displays), but also helps 
reduce reflections from ambient light The F520 
also offers colorful brilliance, a 19.8-inch diago- 
nal viewing area, and a 0.22mm grille pitch, 
which is the finest grille pitch in the known con- 
sumer universe. 

The F520 can reach as high as 2048x1536, 
and at 1800x1440, it can hit 85Hz. Now, CAD-level 
resolutions are all fine and dandy for bragging 
rights, but even hardcore home enthusiasts can 
appreciate faster refresh rates (which can 
remove frame rate bottlenecks in 30 games), as 
well as the F520's improved geometric accuracy. 

Unfortunately, the consumer public wants 
s/rorter-depth monitors with flatter screens, so flat- 
screen 21-inchers have always suffered heinous corner 
geometry. Until now. Through the magic of correction circuit- 
ry, Sony has managed to achieve near-perfect geometric accuracy in the corners 
of their top-of-the-line, flat-screen CRTs. 

Kudos to Sony's R&D department for correcting a subtle though nonetheless 
significant flaw. 

Sony's industry-leading grille pitch is what separates the F520 from all other 
competitors. Simply stated, the F520 offers the sharpest, most detailed picture of 
any monitor we've ever seen. 



Sham U1820 




This 18-inch Sharp doesn't look like anything special — 
but don't let the ugly-duckling act fool you. Underneath 
the mousy exterior are two new technologies that can 
measurably improve image quality: 10-bit gamma 
correction and Zero Voltage Black. 

10-bit gamma correction increases the num- 
ber of colors the monitor is able to resolve, and 
this in turn can produce much finer color gra- 
dations in photographic images. Traditional 8-bit 
gamma correction allows for 256 graytones per pixel, but Sharp's 
new 10-bit gamma correction allows for 1,024 graytones per pixel — 
and those extra color tones can make a difference when viewing 
high-detail pics. 

Zero Voltage Black is an engineering trick that practi- 
cally renders the annoying broken pixel effect obsolete. If 
you have a broken subpixel, applying voltage has no effect on the alignment of 
the liquid crystal material — light permanently shines through. The result is a per- 
sistent fleck of beaming bright light that mars an otherwise normal screen image 
(and, of course, most LCD displays ship with a few broken pixels; it's a manufac- 
turing inevitability). Zero Voltage Black reverses the voltage model. The applica- 
tion of voltage opens the subpixel's window shade, while the absence of voltage 
closes the window shade. The upshot is that broken subpixels on Sharp's new 
displays are relatively unobtrusive. 

It would be easy to knock the LL-T1820 because it's not a 20-incher, but that 
would be missing the point Its technology is truly bleeding-edge, and has already 
found its way into larger Sharp displays. 



B0I10 TM PHKCT PC 2003 61 


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Sequel to PC Game 


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Command the fleet that stands between 

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your Homeworld 

and the enemy that would destroy it. 




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Control nimble lighters, massive destroyers. Improved controls make it easy to give 
and the rest of your battle-ready fleet orders and watch battles untold. 




Combine units into strike groups that Go online for intense multi-player 
work together to combat the enemy. action with up to 6 people. 





C) 2003 Sierra Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved Homeworld is a registered trademark and Sierra, and the Sierra logo are trademarks of Sierra Entertainment, inc. Vivendi Universal Games and the Vivendi Universal Games logo are trademarks of Vivendi Universal Games. 
Inc. Relic and the Rehc logo are trademarks of Relic Entertainment Inc. AH Rights Reserved. GameSpy and the Powered by GameSpy' design are trademarks of GameSpy Industries. Inc All fights reserved All other trademarks are property of their respective owners 

Copyrighted material 




ame of the Year 




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Vivendi 

universal 


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Space. Strategy. Survival 

www.homeworld2.com 


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HowTo Pick the BEST 

CD BURNER 

Spinning the newest generation of CD burners 


E ven Luddites who once scoffed at the idea 
of owning a personal computer fell under 
the seductive spell of CD burning. At the 
same time CD burners were plunging in price, 
certain applications that could be used with 
them (read: Napstei) were growing in popular- 
ity, reinforcing the PC's inextricability in all 
our lives. 

Today, ultra-fast CD burners are so ubiqui- 
tous, they may as well be sold in blister-packs 
at the local drugstore. But make no mistake: 
"High speed" does not mean "high quality." It's 
worth it to pay a premium for a quality drive 
and brand-name media. Those extra dollars 
today will pay big dividends tomorrow. 

Before we talk about the features you need 
in a CD burner, let's look at the basics of how a 
burner works. 

THE EZ BAKE OVEN OF YOUR PC 

Compact discs store data in a single, con- 
tinuous track that begins at the inner ring 
of the disc. The data is stored digitally — 
that is, every bit of text, imagery, or 
sound is stored as a sequence of Is and 
Os. On a commercially pressed disc, 
these Is and Os are represented by pits 
(areas that have been microscopically 
indented) and lands (areas that have 
been left flat). The laser on your CD-ROM 
drive or CD player is reflected to an opti- 
cal sensor when it hits a land, which 
results in a "1." When the laser hits a pit, 


L • uhaha 

jo ^ 

Yamaha's cool image- 
burning CRW-F1 is no 
longer manufactured — 

Yamaha ditched its optical 
drive division— but that's what 
eBay is for. 




the light is reflected away from the sen- 
sor, resulting in a "0." 

Home CD burners don't really create 
pits and lands like commercial CD 
presses do, but they function in the 
same manner. Instead of pressing an 
indentation into a disc's surface, a 
consumer drive "burns" a mark into 
a photosensitive dye on the disc that's 
protected by a transparent plastic layer. 
Wherever the disc is left untouched, the 
laser light is reflected and a "t" is 
registered. Wherever the disc has been 
burned, the laser light is absorbed and a 
"0" is registered. When you finish 
burning a disc, you can actually see the 
difference between the used and unused 
portions of a disc— the burned areas are 
slightly darker. (In its day, Yamaha's 
clever CRW-F1 allowed you to burn 
images and text in the unused portions 
of a disc by taking advantage of the 
difference in reflectivity of burned and 
unburned areas.) Rewriteable media 
works similarly, except that the 
photosensitive layer is replaced by a 
polymorphous layer. Like theT-1000 
Terminator, this layer can change from 
one form to another and back again; 
from burned to unburned, in other 
words. 

WHY MEDIA MATTERS 

How a particular CD burner interacts with 
a particular type of media is called a 
"write strategy." Believe it or not, optical 
drive manufacturers tailor the strength of 
their laser to different brands and dye 
formulations on different kinds of media. 
This information is stored in the drive's 
firmware, a piece of rewriteable, non- 
volatile memory in your CD burner. When 
you pop in a disc, the CD burner reads 
information about the disc imprinted in 
a small area called the ATIP, and adjusts 
itself accordingly. Quality drive manufac- 
turers like Plextor and Lite-On constantly 
update their firmware to accommodate 
different kinds of media and implement 


new write strategies for them. No-name 
manufacturers are more apt to let this 
kind of thing slide. 

This is your hint to buy quality, brand- 
name media. You'll find that manufactur- 
ers such as Verbatim and Memorex con- 
sistently deliver a more reliable product 
as a result of using higher-quality dyes 
that not only provide higher reflectivity, 
but longer-lasting discs as well. 

BUFFER-UNDERRUN PROTECTION 

Insist on a drive that offers some kind 
of buffer-underrun protection. (Actually, 
the point is somewhat moot as virtually 
every CD burner has it these days.)There 
are times when a PC can't feed data to 
the CD burner fast enough; this is known 
as buffer-underruns. If a drive is 
unequipped to protect against buffer- 
underruns it will stop running at the 
moment the buffer is depleted, resulting 
in an unreadable disc. Buffer-underrun 
protection enables a drive to pause while 
the buffer is replenished and then 
resume burning chores where it left off. 

DIGITAL AUDIO EXTRACTION: 

GETTING EVERY LAST DROP 

The "Red Book" CD Audio specification 
was designed for fault-tolerant playback, 
not flawless digital audio extraction (aka 
"ripping" music tracks from audio CDs). 
In order to understand why a good opti- 
cal drive matters, it's important to under- 
stand how error-correction schemes 
work, and why digital audio extraction 
can be such a tough job. 

The pits and lands that represent digi- 
tal information on an audio CD are 
microscopic, so a scratch on the surface, 

even a tiny one, is bound to obliterate a 

+ 

few bits of data. The CD spec was 
designed to compensate for this 
inevitable wear and tear with a number 
of error-correcting schemes. The first, and 
relatively simplest, is called Cl correc- 
tion. Data written to a CD is surrounded 
by a matrix of confirmation bits that are 
referenced when data is obscured. It 
works a lot like algebra: When you see 
the equation 9 + x = 10, you know x has 
to represent the number 1, even though 
the middle digit is missing. By the same 
token, if 9 is the available audio data, and 
10 is the confirmation bit, the error-cor- 
rection scheme knows the missing audio 
data is 1. 

C2 error correction is far more com- 
plex. With C2, one block of audio CD 
information is interleaved with informa- 
tion from many other blocks. This way, a 
surface scratch will affect only small 
parts of many blocks, instead of a large 


Copyrighted material 


64 BlillO THE PERFECT PC 2003 




part of one block (for this very reason, you should 
never clean a CD by wiping in a circular motion— 
you're far more likely to scratch several contiguous 
blocks that way). Just look at C2 error correction 
this way: It's fairly easy to guess the evenly distrib- 
uted missing letters in 
"M_XIMU_ PC MAG_ZIN_" but much more 
difficult with a contiguous missing block such 

as "M UM PC MAGAZINE" (which could be 

"MAGNUM PC MAGAZINE"). C2 error correction 
performs an analysis similar to Cl error correction, 
but across many interleaved frames instead of 
within just one. 

If error correction somehow fails, then the play- 
er attempts to hide the glitch by essentially guess- 
ing what a value should have been. It does this by 
referencing the information in nearby blocks, a 
process called interpolation that results in signal 
degradation and distortion. Even worse, during the 
ripping process, your optical drive may just skip 
errant blocks altogether, resulting in clicks, pops, 
and dropouts. 

Your best defense against audio flaws is to get 
an optical drive with good hardware error correc- 
tion that is capable of reporting C2 error informa- 
tion to your PC. Our favorite drives for digital 
audio extraction — by a long shot— come from 
Plextor. This manufacturer's drives are legendary 
for their reliability, and offer optimized circuits for 
cleaner power and black CD trays that absorb 
laser light to reduce disc errors caused by stray 
bits of light. 



Lite-On may not be a household name, but in our 
tests, its drives consistently hit the top speeds 
for the bottom dollar. 


HOW FAST IS FAST ENOUGHP 

A 52x burner sounds sexier than a 40x, no doubt 
about it. But the difference in speed is minute— 
about 45 seconds at the most, and you'll only 
realize that advantage when writing to the full 
capacity of a 700MB disc. That's because the top 
burning speed of the drive is reached at only the 
outer extremities of a disc (where the track cir- 
cumferences are longer and the data rate increas- 
es). If you've already got a 32x drive or above 
and are happy with its features, there's no com- 
pelling argument to upgrade to a faster drive. But 
then again, optical drive prices are so low these 
days, you might not have to pay much simply to 
have 52x burner bragging rights. 

See page 79 for more information on CD burner 
specs. 


top picks 






•• 




a * 




Plextor PlexWhter Premium 



The latest optical drive from Plextor is not only the 52x burner that 
Plextor said it wouldn't make, but it also includes such a 
cavalcade of features, it's unlikely another com- 
pany will ever be able to match the 
drive's utility. 

. First the basics: 2:41 ~ 

(minutes:seconds) to write a full, 

700MB CD. Seek times were the low- 
est in the business at 66ms and 114ms 
for random and full-stroke access, respectively. And 
digital audio extraction appears to have been approached with 
Plextor's characteristic perfectionism. 

Now let's get to the ''premium'' aspects of the PlexWriter 52x 
package: 

►By brazenly ignoring the "Orange Book" (data) and "Red Book" 
(audio) authoring standards for recordable CDs, the PlexWriter 
Premium can stuff a little less than a gig of data on a 700MB CD I 

►Upon your request, the SecuRec feature password-protects 
discs written with the bundled PlextTools Professional software. 

►VariRec allows you to subtly adjust the strength of your drive's 

laser to make discs more compatible with a CD player or CD-ROM 
■ • 

drive. 

►Silent Mode gives you the option of throttling down read and 
write speeds for quieter drive operation. 

In this age of super-fast burning, a small decrease in CD burning 
time no longer warrants applause. But fusing fast operation, a quality 
build, and oodles of innovative features does deserve our accolades. 




* «£. n SS 




Lite-On 52x 



We never dreamed we'd be singing the praises of CD rewriting, but 
here we are: 32x rewriting speeds rock. For the first time, we wrote 
647MB to a CD-RW in less than three minutes — 2:57 (min:sec), to be 
exact Granted, 32x CD-RW hardware isn't exactly new, but 32x 
media has taken its sweet time to arrive. Now that it has, we're 
impressed. We might actually stop wasting our 700MB CD-Rs just 

to transfer files to and fro. — 

Rewriting at 32x wasn't 
Lite-On's only surprise. The 
drive case shrunk down to a 
mere 6.75 inches long. That's 
almost an inch shorter than 
previous Lite-Ons, clearly a nod to the 
vast number of folks adopting low-profile or Shuttle cases. 

The rest of Lite-On's benchmarks yielded neither surprises nor 
disappointments. We extracted 74-plus minutes of audio from a 
commercially pressed CD in a category-leading 2:20. We also 
burned a full data CD in 2:39, and observed just slightly less than a 
full 40x write transfer-speed average across the span of the entire 

* -SvV-.w «. 

disc. 

Lite-On quickly built a name for itself making quality drives for 
suspiciously low prices. That tradition continues. 


S2 


* 3 **»a« 




.U 





. % - 



BOIIO M PUftCT PC 2003 65 


Copyrighted material 






Interface PCB (underside of drive): This is the main PCB (printed circuit 
board) that contains the chips and connectors for interfacing the drive to 
the PC. It also contains special chips for adding all the control information 
necessary for creating the DVD structure on the disc. 






Optics control PCB: This PCB accepts the signals from the interface 
PCB and translates them into the laser pulses needed to actually 
burn the disc, and to control the focusing and tracking of the laser. 



Spindle motor: This motor controls the 
rotation of the DVD or CD when it's 
loaded into the drive. Unlike a typical 
hard drive which has only one fixed 
rotation speed, the motor in this DVD 
burner has to spin at different speeds 
depending on the burning task and the 
media being used. And it has to maintain 
these speeds with absolute precision. 


Laser optics: This is an amazing assembly consisting of the laser, prisms, and servo motors 
for focusing and tracking the laser on the DVD or CD for reading and writing. The Sony 
DRU- 510 A pictured here can read/write to a staggering number of optical formats, including 
CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+R, and DVD-RW, among others. Each format has its own finicky 
positioning and burning requirements, which makes this assembly one of the most versatile 
of the mechanical components in your PC. 


Loading tray motor: This 
motor controls the opening 
and closing of the drive's 
loading tray. A good motor 
should be quiet, and smoothly 
open and close the tray with- 
out funky rattling noises. 


BimomnBncTPC2m 





HowTo Pick the BEST 

DVD BURNER 

Formats, shwormats... here's all you 
really need to know about DVD burning 



I f the launch of recordable DVD drives for 
consumers went the way it should've, this 
section wouldn't be necessary. But it didn't 
and it is. 

The good news is that choosing the right 
DVD burner isn't as difficult as it might first 
seem. In fact, we're going to tell you which 
burners are the best. But first, let's recap the 
individual DVD formats so you'll understand 
what all the fuss has been about. 


DVD-RAM was the first recordable, 
rewriteable DVD standard introduced 
at the consumer level. DVD-RAM discs 
hold up to 4.7GB per side, so double- 
sided discs can hold up to 9.4GB per 
disc. In our opinion, the format wasn't 
particularly well thought out. Although 
the discs themselves resemble typical 
DVDs, they are encased in cartridges. 
Ick. DVD-RAM wasn't designed to be 
compatible with set-top DVD players, 
so you couldn't author your own 
videos to play for a bunch of bored 



DVD-RAM starts to look good for 
home use only when it's combined 
with DVD-R, as in Panasonic's 
MultiDrive II. 


house guests. And although you can 
remove the discs from the cartridges, 
there isn't much point, because not 
even DVD-ROM drives can read the 
discs without support for the 
MultiRead2 spec, which is common 
today, but wasn't back when DVD-RAM 
was introduced. The format lives on 
today as a storage and backup device 
for businesses. In this regard, the car- 
tridges are an effective deterrent 
against wear and tear. But for home 
use, there isn't much argument for 
DVD-RAM. 

DVD-R/W 

The write-once DVD-R format was 
developed by Pioneer Electronics and 
had the distinction of being the first for- 
mat that offered some compatibility 
with set-top players and DVD-ROMs. 

We say "some" because not all DVD 
readers could handle the subtle dif- 
ferences between commercially 
"stamped" DVDs and the less 
reflective DVD-Rs. DVD-R discs 
hold 4.7GB per side, although 
double-sided discs are rare. 

Pioneer introduced rewriteable 
DVD-RW discs two years later, but 
the thrill of being able to reuse 
media was mitigated by DVD-RW's 
far lower compatibility with set-top 
players and DVD-ROM drives com- 
pared with the write-once DVD-R. 

DVD+R/W 

Although Pioneer's DVD-RA/V technol- 
ogy worked fairly well as a consumer 
format, other manufacturers balked 
at having to pay Pioneer for every 
drive they produced and sold. So a 
cadre of companies including Sony, 
Philips, and Hewlett-Packard got 



Sony's DRU-500A was the first 
burner to offer both leading DVD 
formats in a single drive. 


together and created their own format. 
The first DVD+RW drives appeared in 
March 2001, accompanied by a huge 
marketing push that touted the techni- 
cal advantages of the format, such as 
"lossless linking" and "defect manage- 
ment." But the rewriteable 4.7GB discs 
had an even lower rate of compatibility 
with set-top players and DVD-ROMs 
than did DVD-RW. 

The write-once DVD+R format was 
released later in the year. Although 
DVD+R offered greater compatibility 
with other players, many early adopters 
of recordable DVD drives were sur- 
prised to find that their drives weren't 
upgradeable to the new format, even 
though some manufacturers suggested 
they would be able to do just that. 

Let's see: a confusing VHS vs. 
Betamax-style standards slugout, bro- 
ken promises, and compatibility issues. 
Talk about a traumatic birth. What kept 
the momentum going for DVD burners 
despite all of this was plummeting 
prices. Once sub-$300 burners were 
released (not to mention software pack- 
ages that decrypted and copied com- 
mercial DVDs), the prospect became 
irresistible. Which led to yet another 
embarrassing problem: product returns. 
Happy consumer walks into a store, 
buys a DVD-RW drive, and then picks up 
some DVD+RW media on his way out, 
not realizing that the two different stan- 
dards are incompatible. The disc won't 
work in the burner, so the whole kit and 
caboodle is brought back to the store 
for a refund. How do you impress upon 
people the differences between for- 
mats?You don't. Hence, the introduc- 


BUM M PMC J PC 2003 67 

Copyrighted material 




tion of the dual-format DVD burner. 

Sony was the first to bite the bullet with the 
DRU-500A, a sparkling, silvery beaut that wrote 
to both DVD+R/W and DVD-R/W discs. It was the 
first DVD burner to allow consumers to experi- 
ment with different types of media to figure out 
which format or formats were most compatible 
with their players. In our experience, DVD-R 
remains the compatibility leader for DVD Video, 
while DVD+RW is the most efficient for data stor- 
age and retrieval. 

Today's dual-format DVD burners are ringing 
in at less than $300, and 8x burners should be 
available before the ink dries on this page. 

Now that the format issue is moot, you need 
only pick your manufacturer. Read on for our top 
picks in dual-format DVD burners. 



Sony's DRU- 500 A was the first drive to 
offer both leading DVD formats in a 
single drive. 


- .*i 


•x ‘ . vr, , 


• - « 

’ : \Wt 






i 


* ■% 












DOUBLE-SIDED VS. 

< 

DUAL-LAYER 

* Iff ? 1 ,v u - '*>*»*♦ « {*' m 

- v * * 

Double-sided DVD-RAM discs can hold up to 
9.4G6 of data and video, but you have to liter- 
ally flip the disc to access the latter half of 
the information. Commercial DVDs can also 

» H f • - * *■ mb 

hold up to 9.4GB of data and video, but disc- 

V 

flipping is unnecessary. That's because they 
have two layers: When the end of one layer is 
reached, the reading laser adjusts its focus to 
zoom onto the second layer of the disc. That's 
why, on some very long movies, you'll notice a 
brief pause or stuttering as the laser adjusts 
itself to read the second layer. In Titanic, this 
happens just after Leonardo de Caprio gets 
hauled away for stealing the necklace. 

Home DVD burners can read dual-layer 
discs, but can't create them. If anyone is 
planning to make a consumer DVD burner that 

"I " T; ~v/' i • ;,V ’ 

can create dual-layers discs, they're not talk- 
ing about it. 




top picks 


Pioneer DVR-A06 




The DVR-A06 has the distinction of being the fastest DVD burner 
we've ever tested. We packed 4.25GB of data onto a DVD-R disc 
in 14:20 (minisec), and the same amount of data to a rewriteable 
DVD+RW disc in 22:13. But what you really came here for is the thrill 
of burning your own DVD Video, isn't it? Pioneer takes the cake in this 
category as well. Although the bundled Ulead MovieFactory doesn't 
have some of the fancy features available in Sonic's MyDVD 4.5 (like 
groovy full-motion backgrounds in menus), it has a transcoding 
engine that converts files into the proper format 
for burning much faster than MyDVD. 

Surprisingly, the A06 
is also a fast and flawless 
audio ripper, extracting 
more than 74 minutes of 
tracks from a commercially 
pressed audio CD in a 
mere 3:10, which is sure to 
infuriate the RIAA. 

Unfortunately, the A06 is bogged down by 
last year's CD burning speeds, writing to CD-R at only 16x 
and reading CD-ROMs at a relatively pokey 32x. If you already have a 
fast CD burner this isn't a big deal. Otherwise, take a look at the clos- 
est competitor, Sony's DRU-510A. 




Sony DRU-510A 


Although Sony's dual-format DVD burner isn't quite as fast as Pioneer's 
DVR-A06, the differences aren't dramatic — just over 30 seconds writing 
to a DVD-R disc, for example. The DRU-510A outruns the A06, rewriting 
to DVD+RW at 4x (instead of 2.4x writing with the Pioneer drive), and 
supports CD burning up to a brisk 24x, and CD rewriting up to 16x. The 
drive did spin down some at the extreme outer edges of our music CD 
during the ripping test, but CDs are rarely packed this full, and the drive 
still clocked in at 3:38 (min:sec). 

We love the bundled MyDVD disc authoring program. MyDVD allows 
you to import your own 
background and 
menu graphics, sup- 
ports looping videos 
for chapter buttons 
and looping back- 
ground audio, and 
throws in some accept- 
able templates if you aren't 
feeling ambitious. And the drive 
itself, with its transparent plate 
over a silver bezel, is a handsome 
addition to any habitat. 

The DRU-510A, with its superior CD burning times, makes a better 
all-in-one drive than the A06; in fact, it's a perfect complement to a 
compact Shuttle box. 

If you can wait, however, drives that burn to write-once formats at 
8x — including ones from Sony — are just around the corner. 



Copyrighted material 


68 mo m FWfCT PC 2BD3 




1999 , 2000 , 2001 , 2002 , 2003 


The New Turbo-Cool ® 510 Deluxe , 



Turbo-Cool® Power Supplies have Powered 
Maximum PC’s Dream Machine 5 Years in a Row. 



Choice 


Here’s why the Turbo-Cool® 510 Deluxe 
Should Power Your Dream Machine. 

• The Top Power Supply on Intel’s ATX12V List 

• The Beefiest Caps, Inductors, Heat Sinks, etc. 

• The Best Protection Against Sags and Surges 

• The Highest +12VDC Output (34A, 38A Peak) 

• The Tightest Voltage Regulation (*VDC 5 > 1%) 

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PC POWER Et CO CL IMG, IOC. 

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Complete specifications and pricing available on website. Turbo-Cool is a registered trademark of PC Power & Cooling, Inc. ©2003 


Copyrighted material 





Output capacitors (underneath): Essential 
for system stability, these help the PSU pro- 
vide the excess muscle required when the 
electrical demands from your PC’s compo- 
nents suddenly changes, such as when two 
optical drives spin up simultaneously. 


Power factor correction circuit Computers, like many electrical appli- 
ances, draw a lot more power at the instant they are turned on — as much as 
four times the amount drawn under regular use. While this spike in power 
demand lasts just a fraction of a second, it may be enough to trip a circuit 
breaker in a home or office that has numerous electrical appliances. The 
duty of the power factor correction circuit is to smooth out this initial spike 
as much as possible, reducing its amplitude and preventing circuit overloads. 


Heatsinks: Transistor switches and power 
diodes in the PSU produce loads of heat. The 
heatsink helps whisk away the heat from 
these components, a vital task considering 
that a power supply becomes less efficient 
as its temperature rises. 




Line-conditioning circuitry: This is another 
of the phalanx of components within your 
power supply that help maintain consistent 
power levels from notoriously unreliable home 
sockets. Generally, you’ll find line-conditioning 
circuitry only in top-tier power supplies. 

sV r< VV Vj“ \>»V ? * >, 4 


Input capacitor Usually the largest capacitor in a 
PSU. this provides reserve power when input power 
suddenly plummets (like, for example, when someone 
fires up the blow-dryer). In fact, it’s one of a battery of 
devices built into a power supply (including the EMI fil- 
ter and line-conditioning circuitry) that are intended to 
compensate for the unstable and interference-prone 
electricity from common household power outlets. In 
general, the bigger the capacitor, the better. 


Fan: Heatsinks alone are not enough. The fan is 
necessary to prevent your power supply from 
becoming an EZ Bake Oven. 


Electro magnetic interference (EMI) filter. Found in 
better power supply units, EMI circuitry smoothes out 
the small fluctuations in the incoming AC current. 


PC 2003 


s 






Copyrighted material 


1 













How To Pick the BEST 

pome slimy 

Don't starve your prized components of power! 


Y ou don't hear a lot of folks bragging 
about the power supply in their custom 
rig. With the frantic arms race between 
AMD and Intel, and the leapfrog of one video- 
card technology over another, it's easy to for- 
get the basic necessity of a steady and ample 
supply of power. 

Granted, even the brawniest power supply 
unit (PSU) won't yield an extra ounce of com- 
puting power, but an inadequate power supply 
could result in unreliable operation, component 
damage, or even the inability to boot your PC in 
the first place. 

If you don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of 
power supplies, we understand. Here's some 
simple advice: You'll want at least a 350-watt 
PSU from a name-brand company like PC Power 
and Cooling (www.pcpowerandcooling.com), 
Antec (www.antec-inc.com), or Enermax 
(www.enermax.com.tw). 

But if you want to get down and dirty with 
us, here's some clear guidelines that will help 
you select a PSU that meets all your needs. 

GET THE POWER YOU NEED 

Before shopping for a PSU, it behooves 
you to first tally up how much power 
you need. You do this by adding up the 
power requirements of each component 
in your PC. Most components in your PC 
will display the power requirements 
(either on the part itself or in the doc- 
umentation) in the form of voltage 
and current ratings. For example, 
a 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda 
160GB hard drive has the follow- 
ing power information imprinted 
on it: +5V (volts) 0.72A (amps) and 
+12V (volts) 0.35A (amps). This 
means it uses both 5V and 12V 
power (one for the drive and 
another for the circuitry). First, we 
need to multiply the volts and 
amps of each line to find the total 
wattage the drive needs: 5 volts 
multiplied by .72 amps gives us 
3.6 watts, and 12 volts multiplied 
by .35 amps gives us 4.2 watts, for 


a total requirement of 7.8 watts. The 
drive should be given plenty of head- 
room, so well round this up to 10 watts 
total. Tally up the requirements for the 
rest of your components to find out the 
minimum wattage you need from your 
power supply. 

If you're upgrading, or just afraid of 
math, refer to the chart below to esti- 
mate the amount of power some com- 
ponents typically require. 

When you are figuring out how 
much power you'll need, don't forget to 
leave plenty of room for the compo- 
nents you may want to add later, such 
as a second optical drive or a video- 
card that requires additional power 
beyond what the AGP bus can provide 
(some recent videocards demand as 
much as 50 watts!). In addition to the 
total power requirement of your sys- 
tem, it is often useful to calculate a 
separate power requirement for all the 
devices that use 3.3V and all those that 
use 5V power. This is helpful because 
most PSUs list a separate (lower) rating 
indicating the maximum power draw 
possible in each of these categories. 

We can't emphasize enough how 
important it is to allow for plenty of 



3.3 volt connector 



5 volt connector 



12 volt connector 


COMPONENT 

POWER REQUIREMENT 

LINE(S) USED 

P4 or Athlon XP CPU 

70~90 watts 

+3.3v or +12v 

RAM 

16 watts per 256MB 

+3.3v 

CD/DVD drive 

10-20 watts 

+5v and +12v 

Hard drive 

10-20 watts 

+5v and +12v 

Floppy 

5 watts 

+5v 

AGP videocard 

20-50 watts 

+3.3v 

Typical (non-video) PCI card 

5-10 watts 

+5v 

Motherboard 

20-40 watts 

+3.3v, +5v, and +12v 

CPU/case fans 

2-4 watts 

+12v 




mo m PfiffCT K 2883 71 

Copyrighted material 










If you plan to 
purchase Serial ATA 
drives, make sure 
you buy a power 
supply with Serial- 
ATA connectors, 
pictured above. 


headroom — in fact, we recom- 
mend at least 30 percent more 
wattage than you've calculated. 
This provides more than just 
headroom for upgrades. 

PSUs actually lose efficiency 
as heat rises. Remarkably, under 
a typical operating temperature 
of around 100° F, many PSUs 
can lose 25 percent or more of 
their posted power ratings! (The 
problem is that there is no legal 
or conventional requirement for 
a power rating to be accompa- 
nied by a temperature rating. 
That is, manufacturers aren't 
required to say "This 

power supply out- 
puts 400 watts— 
but only at 40° 
Fahrenheit." 
That's nearly 
freezing, and it's 
never that cold inside 
your computer. The truth is 
that the unit may only be worth 
250W at a more likely 100° F!) 

The bottom line is that you 
should purchase a PSU with 
as high a power rating as 
you can afford, given 
that it has the fea- 
tures you want. 
Contrary to a widely 
held misconception, a PSU 
with a higher rating will not use 
more power than one with a 
lower rating ; both will draw only 
as much power as your compo- 
nents demand. 

GET THE FEATURES YOU NEED 

With the exception of very small 
or "slimline" designs, most PC 
enclosures accept a standard-size 
power supply. However, newer 
motherboards typically require a 
PSU that complies with the new 
ATX12V standard. These PSUs 
have the same dimensions as tra- 
ditional power supplies, but they 
also include an additional four- 
pin 12-volt power connector and 
an increased wattage rating for 
+12V output. Therefore, if you're 
planning to build a Pentium 4 
machine or any computer using a 
recent Athlon mobo— and you 
are, aren't you?— be sure to get a 
PSU with an ATX12V connector. 

In addition, if you plan on run- 
ning a Serial-ATA drive, you'll 
need a PSU with the new Serial- 
ATA power connectors. It's possi- 
ble to buy adapters that will 
allow you to use the standard 



It looks menacing, but you can't 
accidentally plug a power connector 
into the wrong socket and blow up 
everything, because they're all different sizes. 


hard drive power connectors, but 
there's a catch: These adapters 
will not supply 3.3 volt power. 
Although no Serial ATA drives 
require this voltage at this time, 
future drives may— and then 
you'll be out of luck. 

For utmost reliability and sta- 
bility— and especially if you're 
planning to overclock— you 
should also look for a PSU with 
line-conditioning circuitry. The 
power we get from the AC out- 
lets in most U.S. homes and 
offices is full of ripples and 
spikes. This is just fine for your 
hair dryer, but can lead to harm- 
ful voltage instabilities in your 
computer. Line conditioners keep 
your system fed with clean, con- 
sistent power, thus reducing the 
chances of a brownout causing 
hard drive write errors or system 
lockups. 

Because a power supply gen- 
erates considerable heat, a good 
PSU should feature the more 
durable ball-bearing fan(s).These 
fans are less likely to get rattly or 
even fail over time. Ball-bearing 
fans are significantly more costly 
than conventional fans, so if a 
manufacturer puts one in a prod- 
uct, you can be sure that the 
packaging and/or documentation 
will state as much. Just be sure 
to look for it! 

If you plan on using your sys- 
tem beyond the boundaries of 
North America, pick up a PSU 
that will accept both 110-1 20v 
(the U.S. standard) and 220~240v 
AC inputs. Many PSUs sport uni- 
versal voltage capability as a fea- 


ture. These can be identified by 
either a label stating their voltage 
compatibility range (e.g.,110- 
240v) or a switch in the back 
marked with two input voltages 
you can select from. 

THE UNSCIENTIFIC METHOD 

If you're trying to gauge whether 
or not to go with a lesser-known 
manufacturer, or if you can get 
away with the power supply 
included with your case, you may 
be surprised to know that weight 
is often a reliable indicator of 
quality. When it comes to the 
innards of a PSU, bigger is better. 
A good power supply typically 
has huge capacitors and beefy 
heatsinks. Hence, a good PSU 
usually has substantial heft, while 
featherweight units are likely to 
be system-damaging junk. 


Voltage is a measurement 
of electrical potential differ- 
ence, while current is the 
rate of the flow of electrons. 
Voltage is expressed in volts 
(V) and current in amperes 
(A). If you imagine electricity 
as water in a garden hose, 
voltage is the pressure of the 
water and current is the rate 
at which water is flowing. 

J 



IIECTRON TALK 


72 mBmmteiK2BQ3 


Copyrighted material 


How To Pick the BEST 

MOUSE & KEYBOARD 

Our input on your input 


Y es, we've proselytized about the 
importance of every single compo- 
nent in your PC, and the mouse and 
keyboard, however unglamorous, are no 
exception. Think about it: The right key- 
board can keep you merrily typing away 
after 10 hours at the office (we know this 
all too well). The wrong keyboard can put 
you in the hospital. The right mouse can 
make you the badass Counter-Strike god; 
the wrong mouse will have you serving 
snacks to your compadres after they've 
owned you in deathmatch. 

Please, please , dump the craptacular 
$3 mouse and $10 keyboard that came 
with your PC. By now, you're probably 
tired of hearing about the freaky mechan- 
ics of every component. Well, you're in 
luck. Choosing a good mouse and key- 
board for optimum gaming and 
ergonomics is pretty easy. 

The keyboard part doesn't require any 
brainwork. Go to the store and fiddle with 
them all— standard keyboards, split key- 
boards, quiet ones, "dicky" models. Keep 
going until you find one that's comfort- 
able. Even the sligh test discomfort you 

♦ 

feel is going to be magnified several times 
over within an hour or two of typing. 

Many keyboards also offer bells and whis- 
ties like multimedia control, wireless 
transmitters, and the like. If you want 
those features, great. But only on those 
keyboards that pass the comfort test. 

Now on to our little rodent friends. 

There are a few things every mouse 
should have. Three buttons are 
absolutely mandatory, as is a scroll- 
wheel, preferably positioned in the 
center of your mouse. More buttons 
are optional, but not required. Truth be 
told, we don't use them that often, even 
though they can be extremely handy for 
web designers and Excel wonks who can 
program the buttons to do all sorts of 
parlor tricks. 

In addition to the aforementioned 
prerequisites, there are really just two 
other things to consider before pur- 


chasing a mouse: comfort and accuracy. 

Comfort's self-explanatory. You want a 
mouse that's sized for your hand, has 
buttons within easy reach, and can be 
used for extended periods without dis- 
comfort. If your fingers seize up after a 
marathon Rise of Nations session, you're 
going to have serious carpal tunnel prob- 
lems down the road. If a demo unit is 
unavailable, don't hesitate to take your 
prospective mouse out of the package 
right there in the store. Fondle it. Skim it 
across the display shelf. Knock yourself 
out (not literally, of course). 

Gamers need an optical mouse that 
senses movement via a small beam of 
red light at the base. These can be far 
more accurate than the old-fashioned 
roller-ball mice, which have to be cleaned 
periodically (another chore you don't 
need). But not all optical sensors are cre- 
ated equal. A slow optical sensor will turn 
your smooth-as-buttah mouse move- 


ments into stuttery cursor spasms. Not 
everyone measures mouse responsive- 
ness the same way, but testing a mouse 
for gaming is easy. To test the rodent, 
firmly grab it, then move it from one side 
of your mousepad to the other as fast as 
you can. Watch the cursor as you do this. 
If it matches your movements across the 
screen, the mouse is golden. If it jumps 
madly across the desktop, ditch that 
mouse for another one. 

Some of us are driven crazy by the 
constant tug-of-war with mice cords, so 
cordless mice can be a relief. But cord- 
less-mice manufacturers have been slow 
to provide transmission rates sufficient 
for gaming. In fact, we think there's only 
one cordless mouse that comes close to 
performing well enough for gamers, and 
that's the Logitech MX700 (reviewed 
below). Most other mice sacrifice update 
frequency for longer battery life, and the 
result is piss-poor game performance. 


lop pick 


LOGITECH MX700 CORDLESS OPTICAL MOUSE 

Gaming. Cordless. Mouse. Three tastes that just don't go together. But fortunately for 
the gaming public, the folks at Logitech didn't get the memo about “New Standards in 
Cordless Mouse Ineptitude." Quite extraordinarily, the MX700 is actually suitable for 
gaming, despite its cordless character. 

The MX700's main features are a high-resolution 800dpi sensor and a radio 
transmitter that sends updates at 125Hz, just like a normal wired USB mouse. 
During our extensive testing process, we weren't able to make the MX700 
lose track of its position, even when we moved the mouse as fast as we 
were able to. Neither the refresh frequency nor the update rate seemed 
to slow down. 

- The MX700 includes rechargeable NiMH batteries and a recharging 
AlJ 1 cradle. It took about an hour to charge to full, and that charge lasted for 
several days of normal mousing. Button layout on the MX700 is solid. 
The two main buttons and the wheel are easily accessible, and the 
two thumb buttons are simple to use. The Logitech also has three 
extra buttons that can be programmed to serve any function 
you'd like. 

If you're looking for a new mouse and cordless is a require- 
ment, the MX700 is really the only choice. 



BIIIIB THl PttftCI Pi J 


Copy 






How To Pick the BEST 

COOLER FOR YOUR CFU 

Fever reducers for your binary reactor! 



The more surface 
area your heatsink 
has, the more it will 
be able to transfer 
your CPU's heat to 
the air inside your 
case. Hence the 
"blooming flower" 
design of Zalman's 
CNPS6500B-CU. 


M odem CPUs pack millions of tran- 
sistors into a tiny amount of 
space. As a result they're not 
just highly advanced silicon brains, 

they're also intense furnaces that 
generate massive amounts of 
heat. And heat reduces per- 
formance, introduces 
instability, and can 
seriously abbreviate 
the life of your compo- 
nents. 

If you don't plan to over- 
clock your CPU (running it at a 
higher clock frequency than its 
official, posted rating) you'll most likely 
be satisfied with the heatsink and fan 
combo that came with your CPU. But if 
you intend on raising some overclocked 
hell with your processor, or if you bought 
a "bare" CPU in some shady back-alley 
deal, you'll need to devise your own cool- 
ing strategy. Here's how to go about it . 

FUN MOTH CLASSIC 


The job of any CPU cooling setup is 
to move heat from your CPU and 
dissipate that heat into the air. 
Heatsinks squat directly on your 
CPU and transfer heat from the die 
(or, in Intel's case, a heat spreader 
plate) to its fins or spires, which 


pass the heat into the air, which 
should then be swept out of the 
case by your case fans (as long as 
airflow isn't obstructed by tangled 
cables and whatnot). 

There are four major factors 
affecting cooler performance: the 
kind of metal the heatsink is cast 
from, the design of the radiating 
fins, the fan (if present as part of a 
heatsink/fan combo), and the con- 
tact surface between the heatsink 
and the CPU. 

As far as the material goes, cop- 
per is the finest material a heatsink 
can realistically be made from. Ifs 
the third-best conductor of heat 
after silver and diamond, which are 
somewhat more expensive. So look 
for a cooler with a copper heatsink, 
or at the very least, a heatsink with 
a copper contact plate. 

Heat is dissipated from the 
heatsink through contact with air, so 
the more surface area on your 
heatsink, the better. That's why you 
want to look for heatsinks with 
numerous thin fins or spires rather 
than a few thicker ones. 

A heatsink alone won't cut it for 
overclocked CPUs. A heatsink/fan 
combination will wick the heat off 
the heatsink radials much faster. 
Keep in mind, however, that the 


AMD FANS BEWARE! 

Massive heatsinks may look impres- 
sive, but we've seen many tragedies 
involving colossal contraptions that 
have been slapped onto delicate AMD 
CPUs. Unlike Pentium 4 processors 
which are protected by thick metal heat 
spreaders. AMDs have exposed cores 
that are easily damaged by applying 
too much pressure to the CPU when 




\ 

locking down the heatsink. A single 
scratch could take out a whole neigh- 
borhood of transistors, while a fracture 
could mean a very short life for your 
CPU. AMD's specification for Socket A 
processors requires the heatsink and 
fan combo to be no more than 300 
grams. But even with a cooling setup 
lighter than this, be careful to latch it 
down slowly while applying steady 
pressure. 

J 


bigger the fan, the more noise it's 
likely to make. 

Finally, it's important that the sur- 
face where the cooler contacts the 
CPU be as smooth as possible. 
Although the base of a heatsink 
may look smooth to your eye, it's 
actually replete with microscopic 
gaps and crevices that inhibit maxi- 
mum heat transfer. That's where 
thermal paste enters the picture. 
Thermal paste, like our preferred 
Arctic Silver 3 (www.arcticsilver.com), 
fills in these tiny gaps to improve 
the conductivity of your heatsink. 
But don't go crazy with this stuff; 
more is not better here. When 
applying thermal paste, apply just 
enough to create a very thin film 
over the CPU. Remember, we're just 
trying to fill in microscopic gaps, 
not to smother your CPU or clean 
up goop that spills out over your 
mobo's circuitry! 


Good heatsink/fan combos can be 
very efficient, but they may not be 
good enough for hardware fanatics 
who plan on pushing their CPUs to 
insane speeds. If you fall into this 
category, you should consider more 
robust cooling options. One is 
water cooling. 

Water-cooling systems send liq- 
uid to "heat blocks" attached to 
your key components (candidates 
include your CPU, GPU, and hard 
drive). The cool liquid draws heat 
away from your searing compo- 
nent, then transports it to some 
type of cooling device (usually a 
fan-cooled radiator), which dissi- 
pates the heat outside of your case. 
The liquid is circulated through 
each heat block with the help of 


mPBf01K2U3 


Copyrighted material 






a pump— the literal heart of the water-cooling system. 
This ticker, usually a high-end fish tank pump, can cycle 
the equivalent of a thousand of gallons a day through- 
out your rig. 

The water within a heat block can absorb four times 
the heat of a traditional heatsink/fan combo. Even bet- 
ter, it can transfer heat 30 times more effectively than 
regular cooling methods, and doesn't produce exces- 
sive noise. In short, water-cooling is an extremely effec- 
tive tool for overclockers— it not only cools key compo- 
nents, it also helps keep heat away from your case's 
general interior. That said, be aware that there 
is, after all, liquid running through your system. If it's 
installed incorrectly, or if there is a manufacturing 
defect and a circulation tube pops loose, well, there 
goes the neighborhood. 

There's another way to achieve overclocking-class 
cooling that doesn't involve a fish-tank pump. It's called 
phase-change cooling, and to understand how it works, 
you'll need to brush up on some basic physics. 

A "phase change" occurs when matter shifts between 
any of its liquid, gaseous, or solid states. For example, 
water phase-changes when it turns to ice in your freezer, 
when it boils away in a cooking pot, and when steam 
condenses back into water. 

In order to change from liquid to gas, water (like all 
matter) needs a significant amount of energy. At room 
temperature, for example, one gram of water needs just 
one calorie of energy to increase in temperature by 1 
degree Celsius. But at 100 degrees Celsius (the boiling 
point of water), water needs to absorb 540 times that 



No, this isn't a menacing lab experiment— it's 
the apparatus for a water-cooling kit, including 
water blocks for videocards and hard drives. 


amount of energy to phase-change into steam. 
Conversely, all that energy is released again when the 
steam vapor condenses back into a liquid. 

Here's the plot twist that makes phase-change cool- 
ing possible: Boiling and condensation can be forced to 
occur by manipulating pressure, and if you put water in 
a container holding a vacuum, the water will boil at a 
lower temperature than it would at regular room pres- 
sure. Water in this vacuum still requires 540 calories of 
energy to convert to steam, and it will absorb this ener- 
gy from the most convenient heat source— such as a 
scorching-hot CPU. Fantastic, yes, but true: By boiling 
refrigerant over your CPU and "stealing" its heat ener- 
gy to do so, the processor is cooled. 

Now that's exotic cooling, and the prices reflect it. 
The most effective phase-change cooler we've tested is 
Chip-Con's Prometeia (www.chip-con.com), and it'll set you 
back about $600. 


top picks 


vantec Tornado TD8030H 









Vantec says this beast moves 84 cubic feet of air per 
minute. We bet the AC in your Honda Civic doesn't move 
that much air. 

In order to completely upend the microclimate of every 
host case it enters, the Tornado spins at a whopping 5700rpm. 

As one might expect, the tornado is loud. 

We can't argue with the numbers: The Tornado yielded more cooling 
than any other case fan we've ever encountered. If you want to stuff your 
rig to the brim, you've found your boy. 


j&: 


Alpha PAL 8942T 


This intimidating P4 heatsink is constructed of black 
anodized aluminum and features a copper base. 

While the CPU was being hammered by CPU Burn-in 
at 2GHz, the Alpha kept it downright chilly at 93 
degrees-9 degrees cooler than stock cooling. When we 
stepped it up to 2.3GHz for another half-hour-plus of CPU hell, 
the temp topped out at 96 degrees, making the Alpha the only cooler that 
could keep a P4 from breeching 100 degrees under maximum duress. 

That said, the Alpha was the most time-consuming P4 cooler to install. 



Koolance ixos 


The Exos was the best-performing water-cooling 
system we've ever tested. The kit's entire func- 
tional system is housed in an external unit that's 
home to a Koolance fan control unit, dual cus- 
tom-built submersible water pumps, and three 
80mm fans perched atop a radiator. The only 
thing not residing in the external unit is the 
Koolance CPU heat block. Water passes from 
the heat block to the outside unit and back 
again via a clever PCI slot cover modified with 
holes for water tubing. 

In the business for eight years, Koolance has a mature product that's 
ready to be integrated swiftly and easily into any system. 



Chip-Con Prometia 


Standing tall and proud, the Prometia full tower is 
the most powerful mass-produced PC cooling sys- 
tem ever built. 

This thing runs Ice Age cold. After overclocking 
our CPU and running it at full steam, we were able 
to hit 3600MHz at 5 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The Prometia has the polish to go along with its 
performance, too. The manual is well-written and 
complete with 3D illustrations, and putting the kit 
together is easy thanks to a fool-proof clamping 
system. 

Everything important to the cooling system sits 
in a box that sits under the main chassis. So if you 
wanted to swap cases, you could simply drill a few holes for the mounting 

bolts and evaporator cables. 



•y . 


BBIIB THf PIBFFCT PC 2BB3 75 

Copyrighted material 





Reading the performance specs on a hardware box can feel like reading the menu 
at a French restaurant. If you don't actually understand the words on the page, 
you'll have no idea what you're about to sink your teeth into. And so go hardware 
specs. But choosing hardware doesn't have to be that tough. Simply learn the 
language of specs with our handy guide, and you'll never have to worry about 
buying something disgusting and distasteful. Sweetbreads, anyone? 

Bon appetit... 

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ARNOLD TIOSEJO ANO MARK MAOEO 


MONITORS 


Tube: Many CRT companies like to pimp the 
specific, trademarked name of their monitor 
technology. Because these hyperbolic names 
often impart little information about the actual 
product, skip this hoo-ha and zip on down 

to the "CRT type" entry. 


CRT type: Here you'll learn some legitimately 
important information about the display — 
specifically, whether it's a shadow-mask or 
aperture-grille CRT (that's cathode ray tube, 
the same technology used in traditional television 
sets). Shadow-mask CRTs tend to be dimmer 
than aperture-grille CRTs and have more prob- 
lems with color consistency (aka "screen 
mottling"). But shadow-masks do lack the two 
razor-thin horizontal lines found on all aperture- 
grille displays (some people find these lines to 
be distracting). Invar is an iron-nickel alloy that's 
used in the monitor’s mask. The mask is essen- 
lally a perforated piece of metal that guides the 
monitor’s electron gun to the precise phosphor 

dots it needs to illuminate. 


Size: You'll most likely find 15. 17 19, or 21 
inches listed here. But the "size" spec only 
refers to the size class the monitor belongs 
to, not the actual viewing area. 



♦Tube: SupaFlat™ ZFT 

• CRT type: INVAR shadow 
mask 

• Size: 19 in. 

• Viewable image size: 18.0 in. — 

• Dot pitch: 0.20mm (horizontal) 

• Maximum refresh rates: 

640x480: 160Hz 
800x600: 160Hz 
1024x768: 155Hz 
1157x870: 140Hz 
1280x1024: 120Hz 
1600x1200: 100Hz 
1600x1280:95Hz 
1856x1392: 87Hz 
1920x1440: 85Hz 
2048x1536:75Hz 


Viewable image size: The screen on any CRT 
features a perimeter that can’t display actual 
colored pixels, so it's only fair that CRT vendors 
share information on a monitor's actual viewable 
image area. This area is always expressed as a 
diagonal measurement. 


Dot pitch: A CRT’s pitch refers to the distance 
between two neighboring phosphor dots of 
the same color. This spec is always described 
in fractions of a millimeter and is usually 
measured diagonally. Smaller numbers are 
always better, because the closer the dots 
are to each other, the crisper the picture will 
be. Shadow-mask monitors boast a dot pitch, 
while aperture grilles boast a stripe pitch. Be 
aware that some shadow-mask monitor 
vendors define pitch as a horizontal dot pitch, 
yielding a number that’s a bit smaller than the 
traditional diagonal pitch measurement. To wit: 
A monitor with a 0.28mm dot pitch will boast a 
0.24mm dot pitch if measured horizontally. 
Caveat emptor. 


Maximum refresh rates: As you increase a 
monitor's resolution, its refresh rate will drop 
accordingly. For this very reason, maximum 
refresh rates and resolutions are usually grouped 
together in the same spec slot. These numbers 
should always be as high as possible — you never 
want to see low refresh and resolution specs. 
Ideally, your monitor will still be able to support 
high refresh rates (85Hz and above) at its highest 
resolution settings. Refresh rates below 75Hz 
can cause a flickering effect that will eventually 
strain your eyes. As for resolutions, 1600x1200 
is considered the lowest "pro-level" resolution 
acceptable for serious graphic design work. 




Copyrighted material 


76 UIU THE PMtCJ PC 2003 





























Chipset: It's the driving force behind everything 
your videocard is capable of. There are two 
chipsets worth considering right now: the 
GeForce line from nVidia and the Radeon line from 
ATI. The GeForce and Radeon lines each boast sev- 
eral subdivisions, so you'll find everything from 
$80 budget cards to $400 ultimate gaming cards 
under their umbrellas. Nonetheless, each card in 
each product line is based on the same chipset. 


Memory size: All videocards include a certain 
amount of onboard, high-speed memory. 
This RAM is used to store information about 
the geometry of the 3D models the card is 
rendering, as well as the actual textures that are 
being stretched across those models. Many 
current games use the full 128MB that most 
cards offer and even take advantage of the extra 
space that a 256MB card offers. A 128MB card 
will serve you well for the next few months, but 
a forward-thinking buyer would get a card with 
256MB to accommodate future games. 


VIDEOCARDS 








GEE 





Memory type: The first portion of our example 
(256-bit) refers to the amount of data that the 
card's memory can transfer each clock cycle. 
Most videocards support 256-bit, 128-bit or 
64-bit transfers— the larger the number, the 
better. 

The second number is the speed rating of the 
memory in megahertz. A larger number is better 
here as well. 

Memory can be single data-rate (SDR) or 
double data-rate (DDR). SDR memory can 
complete one data transfer per clock cycle. 
DDR can complete two, making it effectively 
two times faster than SDR memory of the 
same frequency. 

When you put all of the memory specs 
together, they essentially tell you the maximum 
theoretical memory bandwidth of the card. 

For example, this card is able to transfer two 
256-bit chunks of data 330,000,000 times every 
second, yielding a maximum theoretical 
memory bandwidth of 21.12GB/sec. 


RAMDAC:The RAMDAC (random access 
memory digital-to-analog converter) converts 
the digital signal produced by the videocard 
into an analog signal that a CRT monitor can 
display. The faster the RAMDAC, the higher 
the maximum resolution and refresh rate that 
the videocard can drive. 


NOTE: A videocard's spec box won't typically 
define which specific 3D visual effects the card 
supports; this information usually appears on a 
different part of the product packaging. For infor- 
mation on what terms like "anisotropic filtering" 
and "24-bit Z-buffer" mean, check out our guide 
to 3D terms in the June 2003 "Videocard 
Answers" feature in Maximum PC magazine. 


Because all spec boxes are different — after all, vendors 
are going to highlight the specs that make their product 
look best and avoid those that make it look bad— what 
you'll see here are "spec lists" we created to deliver 
details on as many specs as possible. You may not see 
all of our examples on a given box, but you'll definitely 
see them as you look over multiple boxes. 




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256 MB 
128 MB 


Max resolution: This is the maximum resolution 
and refresh rate that the videocard will drive, and 
is a direct function of its RAMDAC speed. Most 
modern videocards should be capable of running 
1600x1200 at 85Hz or faster. 


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MEMORY 

Capacity: This is how much memory is installed 
on the PCB (printed circuit board— the green 
board that the memory is stuck onto). RAM slots 
on most PCs are sparse, so you should try to 
purchase large-capacity modules whenever 
possible. In other words, if you want a 256MB 
upgrade, buy a single 256MB stick instead of 
two 128MB sticks. This way, you'll still have an 
open slot for another upgrade in the future. 

Formfactor: This refers to the actual physical 
form of the memory module. Our example has a 
168-pin connector and is identified as a DIMM 
(dual inline memory module). Different mobos 
are built to house different memory formfactors, 
so you'll need to refer to your system documen- 
tation or peek at the motherboard to determine 
exactly what kind of RAM you need. 

ECC/Parity: Parity memory can detect compro- 
mises in data integrity, while ECC (error correc- 
tion code) memory is not only able to detect 
errors, but can also correct them. Data-mtegrity 
schemes in memory modules are on their way 
out in most systems, with the exception of 
critical high-end servers. ECC and parity memory 
modules are more expensive than traditional 
memory, and manufacturing processes over 
the past decade have vastly improved reliability 
among memory components, so you won't 
often see error correction offered on memory. 



- • Capacity: 256MB 

• Memory speed: 133MHz 
“•Formfactor: 168-pin DIMM 

•Type: PCI 33 SDRAM 
-• ECC/Parity: None 
•Voltage: 2.5v 

• CAS latency: CL3 


CAS latency: Column address strobe (CAS) is used in 
conjunction with row address strobe to locate informa- 
tion in RAM. The CAS latency, or CAS rating, refers to 
the number of clock cycles it takes to perform this 
locating function. A CL3 factor means it takes three 
clock cycles to locate information, whereas memory 
with a CL2 factor takes just two clock cycles. This 
doesn't mean you get 33 percent faster performance 
with CL2. In fact, the difference in most systems will be 
nominal. Still, memory-intensive applications and over- 
clocked processors may get a boost from lower latency 
ratings. You can mix CL2 and CL3 
modules, but they'll all run at CL3. 


Memory speed: There are two methods of 
classifying the speed of your RAM. Traditionally, 
memory speed has been measured in 
nanoseconds, with ratings that range from 
80ns to 50ns. Lower numbers indicate faster 
access times. But SDRAM (synchronous 
dynamic RAM) memory chips synchronize 
themselves with your PC's system clock. (No, 
it's not the one that tells you the time; it's the 
one that sends out a regular signal, like a 
metronome, to which all of the machine's 
components can synchronize). As a result, 
the speed of most new memory modules is 
expressed in megahertz, just like your CPU. 

In this case, higher numbers are better. 

Type: RAM type usually refers to the clock speed 
of the chips and the technology they use. Our 
example is SDRAM running at 133MHz. You can 
sometimes mix RAM configured at different clock 
speeds, but all modules will synchronize to the 
speed of the slowest module. Regardless, you'll 
need to refer to your system documentation to 
match up the proper RAM with your motherboard 
and processor. 

Voltage: This is the amount of power your 
memory requires. Older systems used memory 
modules that operated at 5v, but these days, 
most RAM operates at 2.5v. Don't even think 
about using chips that can't operate at the voltage 
your motherboard requires. 


NETWORK INTERFACE CARDS 

Standards: This lets you know what network pro- 
tocols your card supports. Our example card sup- 
ports the classic Ethernet 10BASE-T which oper- 
ates at 10 megabits per second, or 1.25MB/sec. as 
well as the beefier 100BASE-T that ups the 
throughput to a (theoretical) 100Mbps, or _ 
12.5MB/sec. If that's not enough for you. there's 
always Gigabit Ethernet which ups the ante to a 
breathtaking 1000Mbps. Remember, though, that 
all nodes on your network share this bandwidth, so 
the actual throughput on any given machine will 
depend on the amount of network traffic. 



LEDs: They're more than just pretty lights. Light- 
emitting diodes, or LEDs, can help you diagnose 
problems with your network. This card conve- 
niently offers separate LEDs that indicate when 
data is being transmitted over a 100BASE-T 
network or a 10BASE-T network, as well as a 
handy extra light that illuminates when you're 
connected to the network and flashes whenever 
you're transmitting or receiving data. 



• Standards: 10Mbps 
10BASE-T, 100Mbps 
100BASE-T 

• Interface: 

PC PCI, Network RJ-45 

• LEDs: 100Mbps, 
10Mbps, Activity 

•Auto-sensing 

•Wake on LAN 


Interface: This indicates how your NIC connects 
to your PC and your network. This card is intended 
for a PC PCI slot and requires cables with RJ-45 
(registered jack) connectors. These connectors 
look like telephone jacks, but are slightly wider and 
hold up to eight wires each. 


Auto-sensing: An auto-sensing card can identify 
whether you've plugged into a 100BASE-T net- 
work or a 10BASE-T network and configure itself 
accordingly. Without this capability, you’d have to 
manually switch the network through software or 
a hardware jumper. 


Wake on LAN: Wake on LAN cards support ACPI 
(advanced configuration and power interface) 
remote wake up, which is a long-winded way of 
saying that they're capable of remotely powering 
up your Windows 98 or Windows 2000 PC. 


78 buho m Plum pc 2003 




Interface: Internal optical drives use either the 
SCSI or EIDE (also known as ATAPI) interfaces. 
At the risk of bringing up the age-old SCSI vs. 
IDE brouhaha, most users will be perfectly happy 
with the cheaper IDE drives (though SCSI does 
have the advantage of dedicated controllers that 
don't place the burden of I/O tasks on your CPU, 
and the capacity for chaining more than two 

drives on a single cable). 


Data buffer size: Data buffers are crucial to pre- 
venting the buffer underruns that cause you to 
burn coasters instead of usable CDs. Buffers 
essentially ensure that a constant stream of 
information is available to your burner's laser. If 
the data buffer runs dry during the burning 
process, the laser stops recording, and the disc is 
ruined. When writing at 16x speed, a data-starved 
2MB buffer can survive for just under a second 
before it drains completely. Buffer-underrun 
protection technology (such as Burn Proof) can 
eliminate the consequences of this problem. 


Formats supported: Among the glut of formats out 
there, these are recognized by most optical drives: 


•CD-DA ("Red Book") is a garden-variety audio CD. 
•CD-Text is an audio CD with extended text 
information containing artist and track names, 

credits, etc. 

•CD-ROM ("Yellow Book”) is a standard data CD. 
•Mixed-mode CD-ROM contains audio CD and 

data CD information. 
•CD-ROM XA is a photo-CD format, or a data CD 
with interactive multimedia content. 
•Photo-CD is based on the CDROM-XA format 
and is used to store photographic images. 
•Video CD ("White Book") is for video 
compressed in the MPEG-1 standard. Video CDs 
can be played by most stand-alone DVD players. 
•CD-I ("Green Book") is a precursor to the 

CD-ROM XA format. 
•CD-Extra ("Blue Book") is another stab at a 
mixed-mode format, but with a hokier name. 


DAE speed: DAE, or digital audio extraction, 
indicates how fast an optical drive can extract 
tracks from an audio CD using the 1 x= 1 50KB/sec 
ratio. Again, higher numbers are better. DAE 
times tend to be slower than general read times 
because audio tracks on compact discs aren't 
recorded in the same way that files are recorded 
on a hard disk. The laser in your optical drive 
must not only decode the digital data, but must 
also use complex algorithms and error-correction 
bits to play a kind of guessing game about 
exactly where tracks begin and end. 


Max data transfer rate: This is just another 
expression of the drive's maximum data-read 
speed. A 52x drive transfers 150KB/sec 
multiplied by 52, resulting in a maximum 
data-transfer rate of 7800KB/sec. 








OPTICAL DRIVES 


• Interface: E-IDE (ATAPI) 


•52x32x52x 


DAE speed: 40x 


•Seek time: 140ms 
(reading) 


Max data transfer rate: 
7,800KB/sec 


Data buffer size: 2MB 


Buffer underrun protection 


’ Recording modes: 

Disc-at-once, track-at-once 

(multisession), session-at- 

once, packet writing 


' Formats supported: 

CD-DA, CD-ROM, Photo-CD, 

Video CD, CD-I, CD-Extra, 

CD-Text, CD-ROMXA 


Flash upgradeable 



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JMIKt-MWI 

5MWI-X 

Hit. 


Write/rewrite/read speed: Optical drives 
capable of burning to CD-R and CD-RW always 
indicate speeds in the AxBxCx format, in which A 
describes the maximum write speed to CD-R, B 
describes the maximum write speed to CD-RW, 
and C describes the drive's maximum data read 
speed. A speed of 1 x is 150KB/sec, so data rates 
higher than this are multiples of this base figure. 
Needless to say, higher numbers are better 
across the board. Note that the maximum speed 
a drive can actually hit before physics begins to 
upset the process is around 52-56x. Drives that 
advertise faster rates, such as Kenwood ’sTrue-X 
drives, have multiple lasers reading simultane- 
ously to achieve higher speeds. 


Seek time: This is the amount of time it takes a 
drive to locate and deliver information. The lower 
the number, the faster the drive should be. But 
don't make this the determining factor in selecting 
a drive. Though most optical drives claim an access 
time of around 150 milliseconds, there really aren't 
any specific standards for measuring this type of 
performance 


Buffer underrun protection: If you're a 
CD-burning freak, buffer underrun protection 
is just about the greatest thing since Cocoa 
Krispies. Branded under such names as Burn 
Proof, SafeBurn, and JustLink, these technolo- 
gies can pause recording when the data buffer 
is empty, then resume recording when it’s been 
refreshed. These pauses, however, can extend 
burning times and are considered verboten by 
nitpicky audio-mastering professionals because 
they leave tiny gaps between data streams. 


Recording modes: The options are as follows: 

• Disc-at-once: Writes the entire CD in one pass. After 
writing, your disc is "closed" and you can't add any 
additional information. 

•Track-at-once or multisession CD can be written to in 
multiple passes at different times. However, until the 
disc is "closed," some players — especially consumer 
devices — may be unable to read the disc. 

• Session-at-once:This hybrid mode allows disc-at- 
once control over gaps left between tracks by track-at- 
once recording. This method is often used when cre- 
ating discs in the CD-Extra format, such as audio CDs 
that include digitized video. 

• Packet writing: Formats your disc into small blocks of 
data holders, like a floppy disk. Data can be added or 
erased incrementally. Erased blocks can be reused on 
a CD-RW. 



Flash upgradeable: Trust us, you want this. 
Flash-upgradeable optical drives have a chip 
similar to your PC’s BIOS that can be "flashed' 
with new instructions from the manufacturer. 
These updates can fix bugs, improve perform- 
ance, and add support for new CD formats. 







BUIIB 101 PIRftCT PC 2003 79 aterial 



SPEAKERS 

Frequency response: The sensitivity of the 
human ear ranges from 20Hz to 22KHz, and 
most speaker systems closely approximate 
that range. Speaker sets without subwoofers, 
however, may only reach down to 120Hz. Such a 
set can still pump out bass, but it probably won't 
rattle windows when you crank up the volume. 
Speaker sets that do include subs usually come 
with satellites that boast a frequency response 
of 150MHz to 250MHz — which is just fine, 
because the subwoofer takes care of 
everything below this range. 


Crossover points: Take the dust cover off the 
front of a good stereo speaker and you'll usually 
see a little speaker (the tweeter) and a big 
speaker (the woofer). The crossover point is the 
boundary between the two — the tweeter 
handles all frequencies above that point, and the 
woofer handles all frequencies below. In a really 
good set of PC speakers, the crossover point 
falls around 200Hz. If individual satellite speakers 
have two speakers inside, the crossover point 
usually falls around 5KHz. Dolby Digital speakers 
have a subwoofer-to-woofer crossover point 

around 250Hz. 



-• Frequency response: 
20Hz-22KHz 


• Maximum output: 

lOOdB at 20 feet 

-• Crossover points: 

5KHz high-frequency crossover 

• Power output per channel 

or total power output: 

400W total output (25W 
midrange X 4, 85W subwoofer) 

• Input connectors: 

1 /8 inch, S/PDIF, optical 

i I 



Maximum output: Audio volume is stated 
in decibels, a figure that's calculated with a 
complex formula that takes into account the 
distance between the audio source and where 
the decibel reading was recorded. That's why 
manufacturers often include a distance in the 
maximum output rating, as in " IIOdB (decibels) 
at 10 feet." A volume of 60dB is roughly equivalent 
to the quiet of a golf course. Dance clubs average 
between 100 and IIOdB. For most people, painful 
sound levels begin at 120dB. At 140dB, run for your 
life — a jumbo jet is about to land on your head. 


Power per channel: Often, a speaker system s 
power per channel (reported in watts) has more 
to do with marketing than audio quality Indeed, 
an inefficient speaker might use a lot of power 
to generate average volume levels, while an 
efficient speaker might use only an average 
amount of power to generate superior volume 
levels. Producing bass frequencies always 
requires more power than producing treble fre- 
quencies, which is why subwoofers may draw 
65W while satellites may draw only 25W. All of 
these variables should tell you that the power- 
per-channel spec is a vague measure of speaker 
quality at best. As a general rule, though, higher 
numbers in the power-per-channel spec indicate 
better-designed speakers. 


Input connectors: PC speakers are usually equipped with 1/8-mch "mini" plugs that 
connect directly into the jacks of your soundcard. Most PC speakers plug into the 
analog connectors, but some can work with digital connections. These speaker sets 
have a built-in analog-to-digital converter, and they connect with a mini plug or a S/PDIF 
digital input that uses an RCA plug. Dolby Digital speakers often come with a box that 
contains an amplifier, a Dolby Digital decoder, and a digital-to-audio converter, and they 
often connect to a soundcard with a single optical input. Some PC speakers also have 
auxiliary inputs, so you can connect more than one PC or other device. 


WIRELESS 
LAN 

Standards: If you plan to set up a wireless LAN 
using hardware from more than one company, be 
sure it all follows the same standard. The two most 
popularWi-Fi standards are 802.11b and 802. 1 1 g. 
802. 11g networks are faster, and the equipment 
should be backwards-compatible with 802.11b. 
802.11a operates in the 5Ghz range, but isn't back- 
wards-compatible with the other standards. 

Frequency range: This is the area of the radio 
spectrum in which your wireless kit works. Wi-Fi 
and Bluetooth operate in the 2.4GHz spectrum, 
which is also shared by some cordless phones. 
Microwaves can also cause interference in that 
region and can affect the range of Wi-Fi kits. 

External interfaces: This details the means by I 
which your router or bridge connects to the 
Internet. Most routers include a standard RJ-45 
port that connects to a 10/IOObaseT LAN. 
Some also include an internal modem so you 

can dial into your ISP 



-• Standards: 802.11b, Wi-FI 

• Data transmission rate: 

11 Mbps/5.5 Mbps/ 

2 Mbps/1 Mbps 

-• Frequency range: 2400- 
2483.5MHz 

• Max distance between 

terminals: 100 feet indoors, 
200 feet outdoors 

-• External interfaces: V.90 56K 
modem, 10/IOObaseT 

• Router or bridge: Router — 


Data transmission rate: Usually listed in 
megabits per second, this is the speed at which 
your wireless connection moves data. As you 
move farther from the base station, the speed 
of the connection will drop. Those diminishing 
speeds are also listed. 

Max distance between terminals: This is simply 
the maximum distance at which the LAN kit will 
work, usually reported for both indoors and outdoors. 
FYI: We've found the indoor settings listed to be very 
optimistic, especially in crowded urban areas. 

Router or bridge: Wireless Ethernet access 
points are available as either bridges or routers. 

A bridge is like any other section of network 
cable — it does nothing but pass data from your 
wired LAN to your wireless LAN. If you use a 
bridge, you need an IP address for each wireless 
machine. A router can share a single IP address 
with more than one wireless machine by using 
Network Address Translation (NAT). 


80 B0I10 THl PlRflCT PC 2003 


Copyrighted mal 


rial 





Audio DSP chipset: The digital signal processing 
(DSP) chip determines the basic features of a 
soundcard. Creative Labs’ Sound Blaster Audigy 
2 uses the CA0102 DSP chipset, which caters to 
digital-music enthusiasts by offering such fea- 
tures as DVD-Audio playback. Among sound- 
cards, there's Creative Labs and then there's 
everybody else, so the EMU10K1 (in the original 
Audigy) and the CA0102 are ubiquitous. However 
there are challengers, with several soundcard 
makers including Turtle Beach and Hercules 
offering products based on another DSP from 
Crystal Semiconductors. Soundcards from 
Philips and Yamaha make their own DSPs for 
exclusive use in their own soundcards. 


Hardware voices/hardware audio channels: 

This is the number of audio streams that a sound- 
card can play back simultaneously. A single audio 
stream can be anything from a sound effect to a 
character vocalization in a game to individual 
musical notes in a MIDI synthesizer. Most sound- 
cards support 64 hardware voices, which means 
they can play up to 64 different sounds at one 
time. Some manufacturers claim simultaneous 
playback of up to 256 audio streams, but that 
figure usually combines hardware voices and 
software voices. Hardware voices run on the 
soundcard only, while software voices rely on 
system resources (i.e., your PC's processor and 
memory). Performance in demanding applications 
such as 3D games suffers when your soundcard 
relies on software voices, so be sure your sound- 
card supports at least 64 hardware voices. 


Input/output connectors: PC soundcards output 
audio at "line level" so you can't connect a sound- 
card directly to a speaker and get significant 
volume. Fortunately, most PC speaker sets have a 
built-in amplifier that brings the audio signal up to 
"speaker level” If you don't have a set of PC 
speakers, you can connect the soundcard's out- 
puts to a stereo receiver, which also has a built-in 
amplifier. In all cases, you’ll have to match the 
soundcard's connectors to your speakers' or stereo 
receiver's connectors. Most PC soundcards are 
equipped with 1 /8-inch "mini" connectors, to 
which most PC speaker sets can be directly 
connected. Some soundcards, such as Creative's 
Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Platinum eX and Hercules' 
Game Theater XR come with "breakout boxes" 
that attach to the soundcard and offer many 
additional connector options, such as RCA connec- 
tors for stereo receivers and optical pass-through 
connectors for Dolby Digital 5.1 speaker sets. 


SOUNDCARDS 



Audio DSP chipset: CA0102 


•ADC/DAC resolution and 
sampling rate: 

24-bit audio at 192KHz 


ADC/DAC resolution and sampling frequency: 

Even if you create music on your PC and play it 
through digital speakers, all audio must at some 
point be converted to analog in order for you to 
hear it. All soundcards support signal conversion, 
both analog-to-digital (ADC) and digital-to-analog 
(DAC), but not all have the same resolution and 
sampling frequency, which are measured in 
bitrate and hertz, respectively. The higher the resolu- 
tion and sampling frequency offered by your 
soundcard, the more precise your PC can be in 
audio reproduction. Accept nothing less than CD 
quality in these categories: 16-bit resolution, and 
a 44.1 KHz sampling frequency (most consumer- 
level soundcards support sampling frequency 
up to 48KHz.) 


Hardware voices/hardware 
audio channels: 64 


3D audio formats supported: - 
DirectSound3D, EAX 2.0, EAX 
Advanced HD 



Input/output connectors: 
1/8-in., S/PDIF, optical 
pass-through 


3D audio formats: When attached to a set of 
PC speakers that includes at least four speaker 
boxes, most soundcards can render 3D or 
"positional" audio, which generates sounds from 
any direction around a listener During gaming or 
DVD-watching, positional audio sounds like you're 
standing in the middle of all the action. A good 
soundcard will support DirectSound3D, EAX (now 
at version 3.0), and A3D. DirectSound3D, which is 
part of Windows' DirectX suite, provides a stan- 
dardized and relatively simple way for program- 
mers to create 3D positional audio. Creative's EAX 
extends DirectSound3D with additional audio pro- 
cessing features. 





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HARD 

DRIVES 


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Capacity: Even a hard drive's advertised size can 
be misleading. In the hard-drive industry, 1 MB is 
defined as 1 million bytes, not the more technically 
accurate 1 ,048,576 bytes. So what does this mean 
to you at the end of the day? Well, if you're buying 
a 75GB drive, be aware that if you believe 1 MB to 
be 1 .048.576 bytes, your "75GB " hard drive is 
closer to 72GB. Better yet, just get a 200GB drive 
and don't sweat the missing few gigs. 


Buffer size: This is the amount of memory, or 
cache, that's used to store recently read data, or 
buffer data, that's being written to the disk. Many 
drives today come with a generous 8MB of 
cache, but after that, diminishing returns actually 
make the difference inconsequential. However, 
super-large buffers do come into play when run- 
ning servers. 


Spindle speed: This describes how quickly a 
hard drive can spin its disk platters (which are 
attached to a shaft or spindle), and is measured 
in revolutions per minute (rpm). Most consumer 
hard-drive speeds range from 5400rpm to 
15.000rpm, with the average performance of an 
IDE drive ringing in at 7200rpm. A drive's spindle 
speed and areal density are among the most 
important specs to consider, because the two 
combined essentially determine the personality 
of the drive. A higher spindle speed typically sug- 
gests faster drive performance, but not always. 
To wit. a drive with a high spindle speed and low 
areal density might actually deliver less 
throughput than a drive with a low spindle speed 
and high areal density — in some cases. That 
stated, given the specifics of the models 
currently on the market, you should always take 
a 7200rpm drive over a 5400rpm drive. 


Sustained (or sequential) transfer rate: This 
tells you how quickly a hard drive can serve up a 
contiguous file and is usually expressed in giga- 
bytes per second. Sustained data rate is among 
the most telling hard drive specs — but it can be 
easily misrepresented. Sustained transfer rates 
describe the speed at which a hard drive can 
move a single large file that's laid out sequentially 
on the disk. But if you typically work with smaller 
files that are scrambled all over the disk, seek 

time is a more relevant spec. 



Seek time: Measured in milliseconds (ms) 
and usually expressed as an average, seek time 
tells you how long it takes for a drive's read 
heads to move back and forth across the platters 
that actually store the drive's data. Seek time can 
be an important factor in determining how fast a 
drive performs, but most modern 7200rpm 
drives have very similar seek times. They all 
seem to hover in the 9ms range, and the differ- 
ence between an 8.5ms and 9ms seek time is 
negligible. You won't see real differences until 
you're looking at a drive with a seek time in the 
ultra-high-performance 5ms range (such as that 
offered in the Seagate XI 5). 


Interface: Don't be fooled by boxes emblazoned 
with the promise "133MB/S transfer rate!" An 
ATA/133 drive can indeed handle 133MB/sec 
transfers, but you’ll never experience such speeds 
during actual use. The problem is that the internal 
machinery of even the fastest IDE hard drives 
can’t pump data at such a fast rate. In fact, none of 
the ATA/133 drives currently available will hit even 
50MB/sec transfers during peak operation. This 
doesn't mean you shouldn't buy ATA/133 — it is. 
after all. the fastest hard-drive technology avail- 
able. But ATA/100 is more than adequate until 
Serial ATA drives take over. If your immediate con- 
sideration is speed, pay more attention to areal 
density, the number of platters, spindle speed, 
and seek time. 


Areal density: This defines the amount of data 
that can be packed onto a square inch of magnetic 
platter surface. The closer together you can corral 
your data, the higher the areal density. Usually 
expressed in gigabits per square inch, higher den- 
sities generally indicate faster drives. For example, 
if you double the areal density of a disk platter, the 
drive head needs to move only half as far in order 
to read or write the same amount of data on the 
platter. Increasing areal density also allows for a 
reduction in the drive's platter size, which gives 
you other benefits, such as reduced power con- 
sumption. 


82 BUIID THI PIBHCT PC 2003 


Copyrighted material 



SYSTEM 

REQUIREMENTS 

If game companies told you what your system really needed in order to get the most our of their 
games, you probably wouldn't buy the games at all. The "System Requirements" example below 

was pulled directly from the box of Battlefield 1942. 


CPU: A 500MHz Pentium III? For Battlefield 
1942 ? Maybe if you don’t mind games with 
frame rates slower than filmstrips. We think 
that even the recommended 800MHz Pentium 
III is a farce. To get the most from a game, our 
rule of thumb is to triple the minimum require- 
ment or double the recommended CPU. 


Memory: 128MB of RAM isn't enough 
for Windows XP alone, much less running 
a game on top of the OS. We recommend 
no less than 512MB for optimal perform- 
ance under Windows XP 


CD-ROM: It's often said that few games take 
advantage of CD-ROM speeds beyond 4x 
because they use only low-quality video and 
because most of a game's levels are installed on 
your hard drive. For the most part, this adage 
holds up. The reasoning, however, doesn’t take 
into account the long install times of new games. 
If a game takes two CDs to load, you'll cut your 
time by a third — possibly by half — by using a 
CD-ROM that spins at 32x or better. 


Hard drive: The box specs rarely lie in this case. If 
a game requires 650MB to run, you'd better have 
that much hard-drive space available. But also con- 
sider the fact that many games can now be 
loaded onto the hard drive in their entirety — 
where they'll lay claim to a helluva lot of space. 
We recommend you have between three and 10 
times more space available than the game says it 
needs. Since hard drives tend to slow down when 
they’re almost full, you'll get the most perform- 
ance from a drive that isn't packed. 


MINIMUM 

• CPU: Pentium III 500/AMD 
Athlon 

• Memory: 128MB 

• CD-ROM: 4x 

•Videocard: 32MB supported - 
Direct3D and Hardware and 
Transform & Lighting capable 
video card with DirectX 8.1 
compatible sound card 

• Hard drive: 1.2GB free space 

RECOMMENDED 

• CPU: Pentium III 800 / AMD 
Athlon 

• Memory: 256MB 

• CD-ROM: 16x 

•Videocard: 64MB supported 
Direct3D and Hardware and 
Transform & Lighting capable 
video card with DirectX 8.1 
compatible sound card 

• Hard drive: 650MB free space 


Videocard: As we may have mentioned, game pub- 
lishers tend to distort reality when describing the 
minimum videocard needed to render their master- 
pieces. We'd be surprised if a 32MB card could run 
any triple-A game titles. If they did, it would be 
because you’d turned off so many of the game's 
details, you might as well load up the text-based 
Zork. Our recommended bare minimum is a 
GeForce4Ti 4200 or a Radeon 9000 Pro. 




material 




■ ■ ■ A step-by-step guide to tweaking your PC Experience 



Throw away your game 
console, DVD player, and 
TiVb. Here's how to 
make the perfect PC for 
living room deployment 


H P and Alienware are doing it, so why aren't 
you? Media Center PCs— which play DVDs, 
record liveTV, and manage entire digital 
music collections— are the latest craze. 

Unfortunately, the Windows XP Media Center 
Edition isn't available for retail purchase. You can 
get it only if you buy a prefab Media Center 
system from a system manufacturer.The Media 
Center extension to the basic WinXP operating 
system is expressly designed to work with a hard- 
ware remote control unit and lets you use your PC 
as a turnkey digital media command center. We 


can understand why the Media Center software 
isn't going retail: Our OEM friends tell us it works 
with just a very short list of approved hardware 
configurations. 

The good news is that you don't need Media 
Center software to enjoy Media Center features. 
The software just streamlines the entertainment 
experience for couch-potato convenience.This 
month, we'll show you how to build your own PC 
entertainment center, using readily available, off- 
the-shelf parts. 


Shopping List 



We used the following parts, but substitutions are discussed later in the article. 

► Shuttle SN45G nForce2 XPC (a bare-bones mini-case with a preinstalled nForce2 motherboard) 
^ Athlon XP 2000+ processor: SI 00 
^ 512MB PC2400 DDR SDRAM: SI 00 
^ 200GB Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 hard drive: $275 

► Sony DRU510A DVD recorder S300 

► ATI All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro videocard: $450 

► Mini headphone-jack extension cable: $10 

► A TV, HDTV, or PC monitor 

► 5.1 speaker set with a digital decoder 

► Music Match Jukebox Plus : $30 


slight 


84 BBIIB TUI PtBfKT PC 2003 





Entertainment Center 


Components in Detail 


Before you configure your entertainment 
center, you need to decide exactly what you 
want to do with it. We wanted to play DVDs; 
play, pause, and record liveTV; play digital 
music; enjoy an occasional game; and 
archive everything to a recordable DVD. 

We tailored our project PC to these specifica- 
tions, but in the following paragraphs, we 
tell you where you can scrimp if you want 
to ditch some of these features. 


CPU, CHIPSET, AND MEMORY 

jprne nForce2 core-logic chipset can do Dolby 
Digital 5.1 encoding in real-time, so we were 
intent on buying a bare-bones Shuttle case 
that features this chipset.This chipset is com- 
patible only with Athlon CPUs, so if you don't 
want to be locked into the AMD platform, you 
might consider the Shuttle SB51G, which 
runs Pentium 4s. 

As long as you have sufficient CPU speed 
and memory capacity (1.5GHz and 256MB, 
respectively), you should be fine, even if 
you're using ATI's software encoder forTV 
recording duties. If you're not planning to 
use your PC as aTiVo replacement, you can 


skimp on CPU power. DVD and MP3 playback 
are much less CPU-intensive than on-the-fly 
video encoding. 

3D ACCELERATION AND 
TV FUNCTIONALITY 

ForTV viewing and recording and 3D acceler- 
ation in a single AGP slot, there's really no 
better alternative than the ATI All-in-Wonder 
9800 Pro. It combines the awesome 3D 
speed of a Radeon 9800 Pro with the multi- 
media prowess of previous All-in-Wonder 
products, and even includes a handy wireless 
remote control. 

If you're looking for theTV viewing good- 
ness, but don't need top-shelf 3D power, con- 
sider the ATI All-in-Wonder VE. It has all the 
sameTV functionality as the 9800 Pro without 
the expensive 3D accelerator. 

s STORAGE 

len it comes to your storage subsys- 
tems— i.e., your hard drive and optical 
drive— bigger is always better. However, if 
you're not planning on using your entertain- 
ment PC forTV recording and "timeshifting" 



duties, your hard drive can be significantly 
smaller. While 40 hours of recordedTV can 
consume 128GB of hard drive space in a 
flash, even a massive MP3 collection with 
more than 3,000 tunes will absorb just 1 5GB 
of space. 

If burning DVDs isn't your bag but you 
still want to watch DVDs and burn music CDs, 
you should get a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo 
drive. We recommend the Samsung SM-332. 
It will burn CDs at 32x, and rips audio quickly, 
too. It's also significantly cheaper than the 
Sony DVD-RW/+RW drive. 

INPUT OPTIONS 

Even though the All-in-Wonder ships with a 
good remote, you'll still want a reliable wire- 
less keyboard and mouse, for games if 
nothing else. Logitech's Cordless Keyboard 
is quite nice and reasonably priced at $40. 
We're also fans of the Gyration Ultra mouse, 
which works as either a normal optical 
mouse or by waving it around in mid-air. It's 
perfect for couch gaming! Gyration also sells 
a compact wireless keyboard, but we haven't 
yet tested it. 


Putting It All Together 

You'll need to install the CPU, memory, drives, and AGP card before 
you can start using your new PC. If you've never built a PC before, 
see our "Build It" feature on page 8. If you have built a PC before, but 
are nervous about digging around the Shuttle box's guts, here's a short 
cheat sheet. 


STEP ONE CPU AND MEMORY 

First, you'll need to open your Shuttle case and remove the drive 
cage (the big U-shaped metal thing near the optical bays at the 
front of the case). Next, you'll need to remove the CPU cooling 
assembly. First, unscrew the thumbscrews holding the fan mount 
on the outside of the back of the case. Second, lift the fan assembly 
off the radiator, and remove the screws that hold the heat pipe to 
the CPU socket (figure 1 ). 

Now you can lift the CPU locking lever and gently drop the CPU 
into its socket, making sure not to force it in. Push the lever back 
down until it clicks into place (figure 2). After the CPU is seated, apply 
a small amount of thermal grease to the core, then replace the CPU 
cooling mechanism. Make sure not to over-tighten the heatsink when 
you lock it down.You should tighten the screws by hand, and then 
give them a quarter twist with your screwdriver. Over-tightening can 
kill your Athlon. 

Next, install the memory. All you need to do is slide it into the slot, 
then push down until it clicks into place. It's an absolute pain in the 
ass to install the RAM after you've reinstalled the drive cage, so make 
sure you do things in order! 


i 




mum mm mm 85 

Copyrighted 


kV\ 





Entertainment Center 


STEP TWO INSTALLING YOUR DRIVES 

Now that your CPU and memory are installed, it's time to plug in 
your drives.Take a look at your Shuttle's drive cage. We recommend 
putting the hard drive in the bottom slot and the optical drive in the 
top slot, and forgoing a floppy drive— 1.44MB just isn't enough 
space to fool with these days.There are specific holes lined up in 
the bottom slot of the drive rack for the hard drive, but you'll need to 
make sure the optical drive's front panel lines up properly with the 
front of your Shuttle case. You can do this by lining up the bezel of 
the drive with the 3.5-inch slot cover that's mounted in the drive . 
caddy (figure 1). 

Once the drives are mounted in the drive cage, you'll need to 




slide the cage into the case. Before you do, make sure the jumpers 
for the drives are set properly. The hard drive should be set to be 
master and the optical drive should be set to slave. We recommend 
plugging the IDE and power cables into your hard drive before you 
set the cage in your case.They're difficult to access once the drive 
cage is screwed down. 

Slide the drive cage into the case bezel first, and then lower the 
back end until it's flush with the top of the case (figure 2). Be very 
careful not to force it. You may need to adjust the IDE and power 
cables to get everything in. If you're using an All-in-Wonder 9800 
Pro, you'll also need to keep a floppy power connector available 
on the left side of the case to give the board the additional juice it 
needs. Once the cage is in the case, you can slide it all the way 
forward and lock it in place using the screws on the top. 


STEP THREE INSTALLING YOUR VIDEOCARD 


All that's left on the hardware front is the All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro. 
Turn the case around until you have easy access to the left side, 
and remove the slot cover from the AGP slot's faceplate. Next, 
slide the 9800 into the slot and screw it into the mounting bracket. 
Last, you'll want to plug a floppy power connector into the All-in- 
Wonder's power jack (see image). 

Make sure you pick the proper output dongle for the video- 
card. If you're going to use a monitor or normalTV as your display, 
use the black dongle. HDTV users will need the red dongle. 
Connect the audio output on the dongle to the microphone input 
on the front of the PC using your headphone extension cable. 


STEP FOUR CLOSING THE CASE 

Everything's installed, so you can plug the keyboard, monitor, 
and power into the PC and power it up to make sure it passes 
the power on self test (POST). If the PC POSTs properly and all 
your drives are detected by the BIOS, you can pull the power 
and put the cover back on the Shuttle box. Make sure you don't 
catch any wires when you're closing the cover, and that the 
sides get into their guide grooves. 




86 BHIIB TK PIRffCT K 2903 


Copyrighted material 





Getting the Software Working 


Next up, well install the software you'll need 
to run your entertainment PC. You'll need a 
copy of Windows XP Home or Professional 
and some of the bundled software that 
comes with the videocard (the ATI drivers, 
Pinnacle Studio 8, and Mediator 7). 

INSTALLING WINDOWS 

Htetalling Windows XP is generally pretty 
easy. If you have a hard drive that's larger 
than 133GB, you'll need to pay close atten- 
tion during the hard drive partitioning sec- 
tions of the install. 

If a hard drive is larger than 133GB, any- 
thing beyond the 133GB mark won't show 
up in the Windows XP partitioning tool. To 
fix this, we recommend that you create a 
small 40GB partition using the XP installer, 
install the OS on that partition, install the 
chipset drivers for your motherboard, and 
then create a large partition using the rest 
of the drive. 

Why create just a 40GB install partition? 
Because we plan on using that drive only 
for the OS, the important applications, and 
digital music. Even a massive music collec- 


tion probably won't be more than 20 or 
30GB, leaving plenty of room forWindows 
XP and your applications on the C: parti- 
tion. Don't partition or format the rest of the 
drive until Windows and the chipset drivers 
are installed. 

Once yourWindows install is up and run- 
ning, go into the Computer Management 
tool by going to Start, then Run, and typing 
compmgmt . msc . From there, go to the 
Storage section and look under Disk 
Management. Right-click the unformatted 
section of the drive, select Create partition, 
and make a primary partition. Then you'll 
need to format your new partition by right- 
clicking it and choosing Format. 

After you've installed XP, you'll want 
to install Service Pack 1 (available at www 
.windowsupdate.com) and reboot. You'll also 
need to install your chipset drivers and 
ATI's All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro drivers, 
rebooting as prompted. 

IMMENDED SOFTWARE 

ice your drivers are installed, we recom- 
mend installing the software bundled with 



Entertainment Center 


the All-in-Wonder. The ATI Multimedia Center 
and remote control software will let you use 
the PC without a keyboard and mouse, and 
seamlessly switch between watchingTV, lis- 
tening to music, and viewing DVDs. 

The first time you launch the ATI'sTV app, 
you'll be prompted to start a setup wizard. 
When you're in the wizard, make sure you 
set ATI'sTV timeshifting app to use the large 
hard drive partition you just created instead 
of your smaller C: partition. By isolating the 
video on the large partition, you'll maximize 
the amount of video you can record as well 
as minimize the drive fragmentation that 
inevitably occurs duringTV timeshifting. 

Pinnacle Studio and M ediator— which 
are bundled with the All-in-Wonder— will 
let you encode capturedTV shows in the 
proper MPEG-2 format so they will work on 
set-top DVD players. You'll then be able to 
burn your videos and capturedTV shows 
to disk using MyDVD4.5, which is bundled 
with the Sony drive we recommend. 

Finally, we like MusicMatch Jukebox to 
play all our digital music, organize playlists, 
manage ID3 tags, and burn songs to CD. 


Output Options 

Now that your media center is set up, you 
need to configure it for your particular 
output options. Everyone knows how to 
plug a normal PC monitor into a PC, but 
using a normalTV or an HDTV as your dis- 
play can be tricky. Besides discussing dis- 
play connectors in this section, we'll also 
show you how to hook up your home stereo 
speakers to your PC (in the event your "mul- 
timedia speakers" are $10 throwaway job- 
bies). 

Before you disconnect the monitor you 
used during setup, make sure you set the 
resolution in the Display control panel to the 
minimum.That will help ensure that you'll 
be able to see and configure your new dis- 
play when you connect it. 

USING AN HDTV AS 
YOUR MONITOR 

The All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro includes an 
HDTV output that will work with any HDTV 
at any of the HDTV resolutions.The dongle 
is red, and has five outputs. You'll use the 
red, green, and blue RCA outputs to con- 
nect to your HDTV. The orange is a coaxial 
digital output, which you won't use.The 
blue mini-headphone plug needs to be con- 
nected to the microphone input on the front 


of the PC (if you don't connect it, you won't 
get any audio when you're watchingTV). 


USING A NORMAL TV 

The resolution of a normalTV is pretty 
shameful in this age of 1600x1200 flat 
panels. However, the low resolution 
doesn't preclude you from using your 
entertainment PC to watch TV, view DVDs, 
and listen to tunes. Just connect either the 
RCA composite or S-video outputs of the 
videocard to yourTV (your videocard 
should have the necessary cables). 

The max resolution mostTVs will display 
is 800x600 at 60Hz, so you'll need to make 
sure that your PC's display settings are 
adjusted to these specs before you connect 
yourTV to your PC. Also, the OS is much 
easier to use if you set it to use large fonts 
and icons. Go to the Appearance tab in 
Windows' Display Properties control panel, 
and change the font size to Extra Large.Then 
click the Advanced button, select the Icon 
item, and change the size from 32 to 45. 
Press OK and then press Apply. 



G A DIGITAL 5.1 
AKER RIG 


If your home theater receiver has a free 


Toslink optical SPDIF input, use it— it's the 
best interface for PC connections, and it's 
simple as pie to use. All you need to do is 
plug one end of the optical cable into your 
receiver and the other end into your PC. 

Then go into the nForce control panel (by 
double-clicking the system tray icon), and 
make sure that the Digital output box is 
checked. Select the proper digital input on 
your receiver, and you should be good to go. 

USING AN ANALOG 
SPEAKER RIG 

To connect your PC to a stereo, you'll need a 
mini headphone-to-stereo-RCA cable. You 
can get these at Radio Shack for less than 
$10. Plug the headphone end into your PC's 
main sound output (the green jack), and the 
other end into a spare set of inputs on your 
receiver. 

If your receiver has 5.1 analog inputs, 
you might be able to use the analog 5.1 out- 
puts on the back of the Shuttle box and three 
mini headphone-to-RCA cables. 
Unfortunately, we weren't able to test this 
config with the hardware we had in the lab. 

Believe it or not, you now have a fully 
functioning PC that's perfectly outfitted for 
living room entertainment. Have fun! ■ 


mimmmKmt 87 

Copyrighted material 



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Copyrighted material 






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2400+ Retail 266Mhz $92 Opteron 240 1.4Ghz 64bit $289 

2500+ Retail 333Mhz $100 Opteron 242 1 .6Ghz 64bit $498 

2600+ Retail 333Mhz $114 Opteron 244 1.8Ghz 64bit $744 

2700+ Retail 333Mhz $152 Chock out our website 
2800+ Retail 333Mhz $198 lor all the NCW AMO 


[Athlon 


Video Cards Step 6 


Hard Drives step s 


T Creative Labs Audigy 2 Platinum m ~ 
is also available in Black. Silver. CT~ ^ 

Blue. Yellow & Green O' 

Audigy 2 Platinum Black Bezel $19 

Turtle Beach Santa Cruz 32-bit $75 

Creative Labs Audigy Live! 5.1 $34 

Creative Labs Audigy X Gamer $76 

Creative Labs Audigy MP3 $83 

Creative Labs Audigy 2 $115 

Creative Labs Audigy 2 Platinum $176 

Creative Labs Audigy 2 Platinum Ex $219 

Creative Labs Sound Blaster 
N Extigy USB External Sound 

C i o *> Card With Remote. 


256A8N328AX GEFORCE FX 5900 256MB DDR V0/ DVI $476^ 

128A8N308T4 GEFORCE FX 5200 128MB DDR V0/ DVI $141 

256A8N318T3 GEFORCE FX 5600 256M8 DDR VIVO/ DVI $188 
ULTRA6508X GEF0RCE4 ULTRA/650 128MB DDR $195 

VG4T142DTF GEF0RCE4 ULTRA/650 64MB TV/DVI $1 50 

ULTRA 750 8XXP GEF0RCE4 TI4800 SE 128MB 8XAGP $220 

FX5800DV128 GEFORCE FX 5800 128MB DDRII TV/DVI $370 

9105210310 GEFORCE FX 5600 256MB VIVO/OVI $193 

900510655 GEFORCE 2 MX400 64MB DOR VIVO/OVI $42 

FX580DTD1Z8 GtFORCt4 FXM0O 128MB DOR VI /DVI 5350 

FX5900TD1 28 GEFORCE4 FX5900 1 28MB DOR DTV/DV1 $409 

FX5900UVTD GEFORCE4 FX5900 256MB DDR VIVO/DVI$530 

10CM 36006 Radeon 9200 128MB DOR TV-Out $121 

100437001 Radeon 9600 Pro 128MB DOR VI/DVI $183 

1 00135002 Radeon 9800 Pro 1 28MB DOR 8x AGP $394 
10071 3100 Radeon AIW Radeon 9800Pro 1 28MB DOR$408j 


EVGA 

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Maxtor 80GB 
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Seagate 40GB 
Seagate 80GB 
Seagate 120GB 
Seagate 80GB 
Seagate 120GB 
Seagate 160GB 
WD 80GB 
WD 120GB 
WD 180GB 
WD 200GB 
WD 250GB 


CD-R/RW/DVD/jtiTb 



. " \ — CDRW Drives Beige Color 

• . A V~ 48x12x48 IDE Pacific Digital U-301 27 $70 $85 

48x24x48 IDE Plextor PXW4824TA $93 $108 

s* » ■ i 52x35x52 IDE Plextor PXPREMIUM $109 $124 

Hill -A 52x24x48 IDE TDKAI-5200 $82 $97 

_ 1 “giilMrwIr ■ 52x24x52 IDE Samsung SW252BRNS $50 $65 

Rkkn 52x24x52 IDE Lite-On LTR5224 $49 $64 

m. C ftmA m ■■■■■■' 52x24x52 IDE BenQ5224P $50 $65 

tti-O tin 52x24x52 IDE Pacific Digital U-30146 $70 $85 

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scratches, stains, heat, washability, and durability 


Keyboard / Mouse 


Removable 


USBl.O Hard Drives 

Bustfnk 60GB 7200rpm UII-6072E 

Buslink 80GB 7200rpm UII-8072E 

Buslink 120GB 7200rpm UIM207E 

Iomega 120GB 7200rpm 32394 

WD 120GB 7200rpm wd1200B05 

Maxtor 250GB 5400rpm S01J250 

USB Removable Drives 
Iomega 100MB Zip Ext USB Drive 31714 
Iomega 250MB Zip Ext USB Drive 31310 
Iomega 750MB Zip Ext USB Drive 32324 


HDC KoyBoard & Mouse 
Combo Available in Black, Rod 
Silver, Blue. Yellow & Green 

535 

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Klipsch 

Promedia21 

Promedia51 

GMXD51 

Logitech 

Pulse350 

Z560 

Z680 

Creative Labs 
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2.1 THX 200w $179 

5.1 THX 500w $399 
5.1 GMX 108dB $299 


ElummX 
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$89 

Logitech MX700 
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Optical Mouse 
L w/Base 


3 Piece 25w 

4.1 400w 

5.1 500w 


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x. Microsoft 
/ ritellimousc 

Explo 

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400-3499 


ThorTek Corn 15355 Blackhawk Friendswood Texas 77 

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[pnrne HIE! technical siuumtL 

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BIOSTAR IDIQ 200N 
SFF BARIBONI 

Small PC; Big Idea. 

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INTEL PROCESSORS 

PENTIUM 4-Retail Box 


32 GHz 800FSB 512K 

$663 

3.0 GHz 800FSB 512K 

$419 

2.8 GHz 800FSB 51 2K 

$279 

3.06 GHz 533FSB512K 

S391 

2.8 GHz 533FSB 512K 

$264 

2.66 GHz 533FSB 51 2K 

$198 

2.53 GHz 533FSB512K 

$199 

2.4B GHz 533FSB 51 2K 

$167 

2.0 GHz 40OFSB 512K 

$181 

1.8A GHz 400FSB 512K 

$128 

CELERON FCPGA2/478 


Celeron 2.4GHz s478 

$89 

Celeron 2.3GHz s478 

$86 

Celeron 2.2GHz s478 

$ 77 

Celeron 20GHz s478 

$67 

Celeron 1 8GHzs478 

$62 

Celeron 1.7GHz s478 

$58 

AMD PROCESSORS 

ATHLON XP 


Athlon XP 3200-*- 400FSB 

$446 

Athlon XP 3000+ 400FSB 

$284 

Athlon XP Barton 3000+ 

$252 

Athlon XP Barton 2800+ 

$179 

Athlon XP Barton 2500+ 

$92 

Athlon XP 2700+ 

$138 

Athlon XP 2600+ 

$104 

Athlon XP 2400+ 

$85 

Athlon XP 2200+ 

$66 

Athlon XP 2000+ 

$62 

Athlon XP 1900+ 

$55 

USB 

64MB USB Thumb Drive 

$21 

128MB USB Thumb Drive 

$33 

1GB USB 2.0 Thumb Drive 

$264 

USB 2.0 5port PCI Card 

$20 

USB 2.0 4port HUB 

$30 

US8 2.0 EXT IDE End. 

$47 

USB 2.0 A-to-B cable 6ft 

$4 


STORAGE 


MAXTOR 


30GB 1 33/7200 2MB 

$57 

40GB 1 33/7200/2MB 

$66 

60GB 133/7200/2MB 

$72 

80GB 133/7200/2MB 

$84 

120GB 133/720G2MB 

$101 

WESTERN DIGITAL 


20GB 100/7200 2MB 

$59 

40GB 100/7200/2MB 

$67 

80GB 100/7200/2MB 

$78 

80GB 10Q/7200/8MB 

$90 

120GB 10072002MB 

$101 

120GB 100/7200 '8MB 

$115 

180GB 100/7200 ■'SMB 

$191 

HfTACHI/IBM 


40GB 10072002MB 

$63 

60GB I0O/720O/2MB 

$69 

80GB 100.7200/2MB 

$78 

120GB 1007200 2MB 

$106 

SATA-SEAGATE 


80GB 150,7200,' 8MB 

$105 

120GB 15Q-7200/8MB 

$132 

SATA-WESTERN DIGITAL 


36.7GB 150/1000Q/8MB 

$156 

250GB 15O720a«Mb 

$341 

IOMEGA 


250MB Internal 

$68 

750MB Internal 

$107 

250MB EXT USB 

$96 

COOLING ACCESSORIES 


COOLERMASTER 
SocketA & 370 


Jumbo Aluminum Fan 

$9 

7k RPM Cu Pipe 

$32 

Low noise Cu Pipe 

$30 

Univ 80MM Case 

$B 

ZALMAN 


CNPS 3100+ SKT A 

$24 

CNPS 6000-CU SKT A 

$32 

CNPS 7000A-CU 

$39 

CNPS 57000-D SKT 478 

$32 


CD-RW 

52x24x52 Samsung w/DVD 

$70 

52x32x52 Lite-On BLK 

$54 

52x32x52 Ute-On 

$52 

52x24x52 MSI Retail 

$44 

52x24x52 Samsung 

$47 

DVD R/RW 

PIONEER 


DVR-A06 DVD+-R/RW 

$266 

TDK 


AID+440 DVD+/-RRW 

$225 

DVD-R RW Media (SINGLE) 

$5 

SOUND CARDS 

CREATIVE LABS 


Audigy X-Gamet 5.1 

$74 

Audigy 2 

$120 

Audigy2 Platinum 

$175 

Extlgy 

$140 

WIRELESS NETWORKING 

LINKSYS 


WIFI USB LAN Adapter 

$56 

PCMCIA WIFI Adapter v2.5 

$60 

PCI WIFI Adapter 

$63 

WIFI PCMCIA -> PCI AOAP 

$43 

WIFI Access Point 

S83 

Cable/DSL Router 

$68 

NETWORKING 

SWITCHES/HUBS 


8port 10Mb 

$26 

8port 10/100 Switch 

$28 

16por1 10/100 Switch 

$54 

NETWORK ADAPTERS 


TCW Reattek 10 100 

$9 

3Com 10100 

$29 

Intel Pro 10/100 

$28 

Intel Pro/IOOOMT 

S55 

CABLE/DSL ROUTERS 


Linksys 4 Port Ro 

$57 

Belkin4 Port Router 

$58 


Great Add-on to any Aluminum System. 

Improve the looks of any system. 


CD ROMS 

54X Mitsumi 

$22 

52X Asus 

$22 

52X Creative Labs 

$24 

52X Ute-On 

$23 

DVD ROMS 

16X Samsung 

$40 

16X Ltte-On 

$37 

16X Lite -On Black 

$40 

MEMORY 

DDR 


256MB PC2100 

$49 

512MB PC2100 

$92 

256MB PC2 100 REG ECC 

$69 

512MB PC2 100 REG ECC 

$115 

1.0GB PC2 100 REG ECC 

$275 

256MB PC2700 

$48 

512MB PC2700 

$91 

256MB PC3200 

$50 

512MB PC3200 

$97 

SDRAM 


64MB PC 100 

S21 

128MB PC 100 

$35 

256MB PC 100 

$63 

64MB PC 133 

$21 

128MB PC 133 

$34 

256MB PC 133 

$41 

512MB PC 133 

$63 

256MB REG NON-ECC 

$66 

256MB REG ECC 

$61 

512MB REG NON-ECC 

$88 

512MB REG ECC 

$99 

RAMBUS 


128MB PC800 NON-ECC 

$47 

256MB PC800 NON-ECC 

$89 

128MB PC800 ECC 

$50 

256MB PC800 ECC 

$99 

512MB PC800 ECC 

$243 

256MB PC 1066 16bit 

$92 

256MB PC 1066 32bit 

$87 


LIFETIME WARRANTY 


VIDEO CARDS 

EVGA • NVIDIA 


GeForce FX 5200 64MB 

$82 

GeForce FX 5200 128MB 

$87 

GeForce FX 5600 256MB 

$186 

MSI 


TV Anywhere 

$52 

AH - Built by ATI 


AIW 9000 PRO 128MB 

CALL 

MATROX 


Millennium G550 32MB 

$99 

FIC-Powered by ATI 


RADEON 9200 64MB 

$82 

RADEON 9600 128MB 

$195 

RADEON 9800 128MB 

$369 

RADEON 9800 256MB 

$502 

CASES 

TCW 


Midtower 350w 

$57 

Enlight Mid 7237 USB 

$68 

FullTower 300w 

$75 

Aluminum w/Wmdow 

$182 

Blk Aluminum w, Window 

$182 

ANTEC 


Sonata Piano Black 

$109 

SX630II 300W Mini-Tower 

$73 

SX1040BII 400W File Server 

$99 

SLK3700AMB 350W 

$74 

CASE ACCESSORIES 


80MM fan guard 

$2 

6pk Case thumbscrews 

$3 

Blue Cold Cathode 

$18 

Green Cold Cathode 

$18 

CAMERAS 


LOGITECH 

Quickcam Express $32 

Quickcam Pro 4000 $80 


MOTHERBOARDS 


PENTIUM4/ CELERON 


ASUS 

P4PEi845PE $124 

P4C8000X 1875P $194 

INTEL 

D845PEBT2L I845PE DOR $129 
D865 PERKLK I865PE $158 
D865GBFL I865G SI 25 

MSI 

845PE MAX-L I845PE DDR $92 
865 PE NE02-FIS2R $155 

865PE NE02-LS $105 

BIOSTAR 

U8668-D DVIA P4M266A $57 

FIC 

VC19E+I845PE DDR $94 

P4865PE I865PE CALL 


ATHLON / DURON 
EPOX 

8RDA+ NVIDIA nForoo? DOR $96 

BIOSTAR 

M7VIG PRO KM266 ODfVSOH $59 


M7VIT PRO KT400 DOR $59 

M7VIK KT400 DOR $74 

M7NCD NVIDIA nForoeZ DOR $76 
M7NCG NVIDIA nForc*2 00fl $99 

MICROSTAR 

MSI KT4V-L KT400 DOR $72 

K7N2G-L NVIDIA ftForw? DOR $115 

K7N2G-DELTA-ILSR 

NVIDIA nForc *2 DOR $135 

ASUS 

A7S333 SiS DOR $62 

A7V8-X KT400 DDR $72 


A7N8X-DX NFORCE2 DDR $140 

MICROSTAR DUAL SCKTA 

K7D MASTER LA760MPX $203 

FIC 

AU 1 3 w/FW NVIDIA NFORCE2 $87 
AN19E KT400 DDR $90 


irsma. 



Visit us on the web at www.tcwo.com or Call Toll-Free: 800.941.2750 

Sales Hours : Mon-Fri 9AM-7PM EST Sales and Customer Service : 800.394.4503 

Prtaa, •pocfttcatlon. and Hwme art subject to ctiango wrtthoot nodes. Thompson'* Compulse Warehouse is not ro*pon*Jb4# fix errors In typography eruVo# photography 


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The Fab-Me-Fabulous Six-Layer Dream Shoppe™ does not support 
IEEE-approved components. The Fab-Me-Fabulous Six-Layer 
Dream Shoppe™ should only be used with My LiT Mobo™ Fun Fab 
component kits including Mother Moxley's Ole Time Transitor 
Factory™, Miss Lady Merryweather's Core-Logic Cottage™, and 
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Six-Layer Dream Shoppe™ is intended for demonstration 
purposes only, and should not be used for mission-critical 
computing enviornments, including corporate file servers, early 
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Two Secret Weapons Your 
LAN Party Buddies Don't 
Want You To Have... 


New tests reveal the power 
of this killer combo! 


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Okay, the first "secret" isn't really so secret. You probably know 
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Prices may vary according to specific system requirements. The price listed was valid on 8/8/03 when we sent this ad to the publisher; however, prices may have dramatically increased or decreased since then Visit the FAQ 
section of Crucial.com to learn more about why memory prices go up and down. 

© 2003 Micron Technology, Inc. All rights reserved. Crucial, Crucial Technology, the Crucial Technology logo, and The Memory Experts are trademarks/service marks of Micron Technology. Inc. in the U.S. and outside of the U S. RadeonTM 
is a trademark of ATI, Inc. and is used under license by Micron Technology, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Crucial Technology is not responsible for omissions or errors in typography or 
photography. 


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