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xJoseph Auman

Thoughts on Upgrading

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Upgrading your own PC

With processor speeds going beyond 1Ghz (thatís 1000MHz), we wonder and dream of a faster and more powerful computer. Then we think of upgrading.

When we upgrade, we still may not get the bang for our buck that we want. I will take a small detour into why upgrading can and cannot help.
July 2000


We first think of upgrading the RAM. It all depends on what kind of RAM you have. SDRAM is the factory standard. 133MHz SDRAM is preferred, but there is the older and slower 100MHz SDRAM still out. Mind you, the 100MHz is cheaper, which would draw in price conscious consumers. But for the price, 133MHz is about the same, just faster. There is also the slower 66MHz SDRAM. If possible, upgrade all the RAM to at least 100MHz.

Then is the new RDRAM, which is much faster than SDRAM but also much more expensive. It is currently only in the higher range computers; put with the soon to be introduced PIV, it will only take RDRAM. On the horizon is brand new DDR SDRAM. Standing for Double Data Rate Sync Dynamic Random Access Memory, it is 2x as fast as the standard 133MHz SDRAM. This type of memory is so new, it is only in use on video cards. But some major motherboard companies are looking into the introduction of DDR SDRAM.

The more RAM, the faster is a general rule. The computer will not have to scan the hard drive for files as often, i.e. a file used often must be removed from memory to make room for other programs/files. Then the computer has to load that file again, which slows it down. When upgrading, beyond 64Mb on some Pentium computers can actually slow down the computer. The original chipset and BIOS was not designed to handle that much memory, so it is unable to efficiently and speedily handle it. So when encountering a Pentium, draw the line at 64Mb. 128Mb for W98 is great, but for W2K, 256Mb is minimum. With even some server computers holding over 2Gb of RAM, we wonder why we're stuck with only 32Mb. Of course, for 2Gb of RAM, we could have bought ourselves a top of the line computer. Then there are even some super computers with 2Tb (2 terabytes, thatís 2,000Gb) of RAM.

Hard Drive:

When we hit the RAM, we go onto the hard drive. Newer hard drives will have a rotation of 10,000 rpm, which improves performance greatly. But the standard is 7,200rpm. The faster it is, the faster the computer can load files, which is very good. SCSI drives are faster than your standard IDE drive, but they are very expensive in comparison. Also, you will have to get a translator card so that you can run the SCSI drive. The larger the drive doesn't necessarily means the slower. A 825Mb 3 year old hard drive will act like its dragging lead weights around compared to the brand new 30Gb drive in the same computer. If you get a second drive, the most it is used is to install programs on there and relieve some room on the older one. The general rule is if you get a faster and larger second drive, use it as the primary drive and set the older one as a secondary. The newer drive will improve performance and you'll get the second backup/storage drive that you want.

CD-ROM Drive:

Some people consider upgrading the CD-ROM. If you ask any computer store, they will say to get a CD-RW if you have the money. They do not have the read time as most newer CD-ROM drives have (around 72x compared to 32x) but burning CDs is a nice feature. CD-RWs do have their drawbacks. Some are very error prone, and they can be slow. Hopefully within the next few years, CD burning will cause fewer errors, or coasters as most people call them. If you have one of those kits from Creative that have the CD-ROM run through the sound card, remove it! They are very slow, even if the speed says 4x, you'll be running around 3x. It is best to run through the IDE cable to the motherboard instead of through the sound card, and then through a slower PCI slot.

Sound Card and Speakers:

Speaking of sound cards, upgrading them is not a necessity. You'll expect little or no improvement in performance. The most youíll get is some nice sound for games or other things you do, such as listening to MP3s. The best (in my opinion) is the SoundBlaster Live! series. The Value is great, but the Platinum is the best, especially combined with the Live! Drive. The SoundBlaster Live! series is a little expensive, but it is well worth it.

The speakers are another limitation. Altec Lansing in the past few years have started to improve their speaker quality and prices. I highly suggest them. Cambridge Sound Works were the best in the days, but since Creative bought them out, their speakers have not been living up to the expectations of their name. Kiplisch is the best manufacture of computer speakers today. They have always produced great speaker quality and will continue to. They are the higher range speakers, which means that they are also very expensive.

Then there is the great option of a sound decoder. They can be adjusted to use your home sound system, or even have a tuner for your radio listening. There are two types of speaker, digital and analog. Digital is a new technology, but speaker manufacturers just started to incorporate this technology which is far superior in quality compared to the older analog speakers. Then comes along the setup of speakers. A three speaker system should be bought when you're upgrading. Consisting of two satellites and a subwoofer, it is the best sound for the price. Then there are the higher range systems that have five speakers, two front satellites, two rear satellites, and a sub. This is a must for a heavy gamer, but you need to account for the budget.

Continued . . .


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