My previous column discussed the death of my desktop computer and my desire to build a fast, affordable, and--most important--superquiet new PC. I discussed my choices for processor (Intel E8400), CPU cooler (Scythe Ninja Plus), motherboard (Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3L), and graphics board (ECS N8800GT). Total cost at the time of purchase (before $60 in pending rebates): $632. Now let's finish the build.
RAM: Should I buy 2GB of high-performance DDR2 1066 RAM, or 4GB of basic DDR2 800 RAM for roughly the same amount of money ($70, ultimately). In the end, I went with 4GB of MWave RAM. Only 3.5GB of memory shows under System Properties, owing to the 0.5GB on my video card and to the way my operating system addresses memory. But that's plenty, and this PC could eventually see a 64-bit OS, so stocking up on RAM makes sense.
Hard drive: I briefly considered a 1TB drive, just for kicks, but settled on a more economical 500GB model instead. I'm a big fan of Western Digital's superquiet drives, which have never failed on me. I picked up the $100 WD Caviar SE16, a SATA drive that carries a 16MB cache; it appears on PCW's Top 10 Internal Hard Drives chart.
Chassis: So far I've upgraded with newer, faster, quieter parts. For the case, though, I decided not to mess with a good thing, and reused my Antec Performance One P150 midsize tower with its 430-watt Neo HE power supply. These days, Antec refers to this case as the Sonata Designer 500; it retains the Performance P150's quiet 120mm case fan, its sound-deadening interior panels, and its unique hard-drive quieting suspension system. The company has, however, added blue exterior accents and upgraded the power supply to a 500-watt EarthWatts version. Total cost: $150.
Sound card and speakers: Even if you're happy listening to low-bit-rate MP3s, you shouldn't settle for motherboard sound. For an outstanding audio experience, invest $90 in Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi ExtremeGamer, and pump the sound out to something like Audioengine's A2 powered speakers. These $199 gems offer superb clarity and imaging, and powerful bass--all without a space-hogging subwoofer.
Optical drive: I'm not interested in purchasing a Blu-ray drive (not at their current prices, anyway), but I did want to get a new DVD-RW drive. I chose Lite-On's LH20A1L06 ($40), the SATA cousin of the IDE-based Lite-On drive currently ranked third on PCW's chart Top 5 Internal DVD Drives.
Operating system: I have yet to install Windows Vista on any PC in my house, and it won't go on this PC, either--for various reasons. For one thing, Windows XP works. Sure, it has a million patches, but for the most part it's stable, all of my hardware plays well with it, and I know it like the back of my hand. I have yet to hear a compelling reason to move to Vista, which has nagging driver issues and generates too many stories like that of PCW's own Jon Jacobi. XP it is (OEM pricing: $135).
This round of parts cost $784. With last month's total of $632 factored in, the final cost is $1416--not cheap, but not bad for the fastest, quietest, and best PC I've built to date.
RAM: MWave DDR2 800 (4GB)
Hard drive: Western Digital Caviar SE16 (500GB)
Chassis: Antec Sonata Designer 500
Sound card: Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Extreme
Speakers: Audioengine A2 Desktop Speakers
Optical drive: Lite-On LH20A1L06
Operating system: Windows XP Pro (OEM)