Before we start, I would like to state that this "article" started out as a short blog a couple of days ago about component choices I selected based on price/performance, and it ended up becoming this multi-page story written in blog form. My apologies upfront for anyone offended by the first person writing style, but providing additional content to the original subject matter sounded like a good idea. So let's see what I purchased before we move on to how well the selected components work in our next article, one that will be more formal.

I recently decided to upgrade a couple of computers in the household. Both upgrades come out of necessity as each machine was nearing the end of its lifecycle and each one started to develop ghost in the machine behavioral patterns. One is my general workstation that more or less serves as a jack-of-all-trades system and the other is my youngest daughter's personal computer that serves as the hub of her communication universe.

Her vast communication universe consists of all the popular instant messaging programs that keep her in constant contact and communication with dozens of friends who always seem to be online even when they are traveling or playing outside. Of course, constant visits to MySpace and other online communities are of upmost priority as is the ability to update her school's website since she is part of the Web Team responsible for it. Just the normal daily life for a ten year old who apparently needs at least a 24" monitor just to keep track of the thirty or so open windows at any given time.

It is certainly different times now compared to when I was growing up. I used to think attaching kite string between two paper cups qualified as a major means of communication with my friends next door when growing up. Yes, the invention of the walkie-talkie had already occurred - and probably fire now that I think about it. However, trying to get the string/cup combination to work as well as that old issue of Popular Science said it would was a real challenge, as was not trying to blow up the garage again.

Getting back to the original task, I had an $850 budget allocated for each system, with a little leeway since I was expecting a three-year cycle for each platform. Of course, I already had in mind that both platforms would be easily upgradable to extend their lifespan a little longer if required. We generally adhere to a very strict budget in our household and this was going to be one of those major expenses for the year so the leeway was not that much.

Fortunately, I had bought new monitors for each of us last year so that major expense was out of the way. We both upgraded from first generation Acer 22" LCD panels (Ed: wonder what the parents will get for Christmas this year…) to the Gateway 24" FHD2400 we recently reviewed. I ended up purchasing a couple of under 30 day open box returns for $279 each, a major expense yes, but about $200 less than street price along with a new warranty.

At this point, I like to quip with the wife that you have to spend money to save money. However, I have to admit that finding a bargain is of upmost importance when spending my own money on computer equipment. You might find that statement perplexing considering the website I work for, but there is rarely an opportunity to utilize products we review. When that opportunity does strike, I like to use my lab pass to score components for my son's gaming habits.

As such, hunting for bargains online and at local stores like Frys' - along with trading components with friends just as obsessive about computers - is the standard operating procedure. Still, I have to admit that just ordering components from an e-tailor like Newegg, NCIXUS, or several other sites is sometimes the quickest method I utilize when time is not on my side.

I had also secured a couple of SilverStone SG03 cases from a distributor that was going out of business for a price I am embarrassed to print. Like most users, space is an issue so going smaller on the case was going to help reduce clutter in both rooms by replacing a couple of custom Lian Li cases I had built during the case mod craze a few years ago. They looked spectacular at the time, but now they seem to be completely out of place. (My daughter covers hers up with a small blanket when friends are over.) In fact, even visitors to the house seem quietly offended by them. It's kind of like when old "Uncle Burt" comes over and tries the "pull my finger" trick on our kids who no longer find it amusing.

Memory and Power Supplies
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  • PCMerlin - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Lightning, looking through the article he mentions Vista drivers, media streaming and other features that one would assume is only available in Vista Ultimate Edition (64-bit, of course with 8GB of RAM). Being that it is not included in the budget, one must also assume that he is transferring the OS from the original PC's, which indicates that he is using the retail, and not the OEM version.
    Armed with that info, users who want to build a system just like this should add another $269 to the total, based on average retailer figures.

    Note: As the cost of the case is note mentioned as well, those trying to replicate the total cost of the system would need to compensate for that as well.
  • darkmarc - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Good article, I also went down SFF SG03 route - with Nehalem just around the corner and my ageing amd X2 creeking away, I wanted a system that wouldn't suffer obsolescence to quickly. The SFF is a great intermediate solution, once Nehalem has matured I can then turn it into home server. I went for the Asus P5E-VM mobo with Q6600, 8gb ddr2, 8800GTS (as it runs cooler then the GT) a Creative X-Fi sound card that I canabalised from my old system and two Samsung 1tb hhd's. I kept the stock cooler, went for the 600w Silverstone psu and two Noctua fans keeping it cool at the front. The Asus board lets me run the Q6600 at 3ghz without a problem so with the 8gig of ram it's great for running VM's. I have the LG GGC-H20L drive for all my Blu-ray/HD-dvd needs, hooked up to a Hyundai 24" panel. It is very quiet and has all the power I need and I don't have to worry about upgrading it as it will fulfill a secondary role.
  • Viditor - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    In most all of the build articles I've read, the one thing everyone forgets is to add the price of the OS in. Even though it's the same, many people forget that cost when they plan their next system (leads to disappointment from the unitiated).
  • amphionuk - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    Why pay for your OS?

    If you don't want to play the latest games, you can install Ubuntu or one of the other Linux distros for free.

  • drfelip - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Good article, I think SFF computers are a good option for most users, and I like the small cases a lot, but sometimes it's difficult to find reviews and comparisions of SFF cases micro-ATX boards and barebones. I think this is an area to expand!
  • Visual - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    A very nice looking case recommendation for the next part of your guide: GMC AVC-S7">

    Not for everyone, obviously, with its single PCI card limit. But some people like smaller is better. If you go with integrated video and all you need is a tuner, this is as small as you can get. It's also possible, though more hassle, to get this with a pci-express riser instead of pci riser, so you can have a graphic card.
  • DXRick - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    The Silverstone SG03 takes micro-ATX mobos. Why limit it to uATX?
  • Visual - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    I'm confused... uATX is micro-ATX. So what are you asking, again?
  • Flunk - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    The official short for for micro-ATX is mATX. Sometimes the greek ltter µ (Mu) is substituted for the word micro, particularly for scientific purposes. Sometimes people use u as a substitute for µ because it doesn't appear on the standard keyboard map. This is confusing (as evidenced above) and inaccurate.
  • DXRick - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    I looked it up on Newegg before replying (try it sometime).

    Micro-ATX is 9.6 x 9.6.
    uATX is 9.6 x 8.4.

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