Build Your Own PC - Part 3

It's time to pick the best hard disk, optical drive and power supply for your dream computer. WINDOWS MIDDLE EAST presents the third part of its exclusive guide to building your own PC

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By  Chris Fernando Published  July 1, 2005

|~|Building-a-PC---3-2.jpg|~||~|The hard disk is a key component in your PC, as it holds all your data, and enables your PC to remember things when it's switched off. There are three types of hard disk interfaces available on the market: IDE, SATA and SCSI. Data centre Intelligent Drive Electronics (IDE) - also called Parallel ATA (PATA) - is a parallel interface. This uses a 40-wire, 40-pin connector cable to connect to the motherboard, though newer IDE drives use an 80-wire, 40-pin connector cable for top performance. IDE cables tend to take up lots of room in the PC case and so can disrupt airflow. Each cable and port has a limit of just two devices per channel, so you're limited to only four devices should your motherboard have only two IDE ports. Serial ATA (SATA) is a serial interface that uses two pairs of high-frequency cables working at lower voltages than IDE cables. This makes the data cables much thinner than their IDE counterparts, thereby allowing more efficient airflow inside the case. SATA drives are also faster than IDE drives, as the former sends one bit of data at a time, while the latter sends 12 bits at a time, thus ensuring the processor doesn't get overloaded. Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) hard disks are designed for high-performance PCs. SCSI's major strength is that it can support up to 16 devices on a single channel (or controller), and you can have multiple channels in a PC. SCSI hard disks also require less attention from your processor and are therefore preferable in situations where quick disk performance and low processor usage is paramount such as in research institutes. However, SCSI hard disks cost more than IDE or SATA and are more complicated to install. Most motherboards today support both IDE and SATA disk interfaces, though you'll need to insert a separate SCSI board in one of your board's PCI expansion slots to use a SCSI hard disk. SATA is perhaps the preferred interface for hard disks today and is expected to oust IDE in the future. SCSI is a better, albeit pricey, option for servers but is not really recommended for use in home PCs unless you want to build a super computer. Your best bet then will probably be a Serial ATA hard drive. Besides the interface, consider the drive's spindle speed, as this also affects performance. RPM (revolutions per minute) is the speed at which the hard disk's spindle rotates. 5,400rpm is the lowest you should consider, while 7,200rpm is the most common today. 10,000rpm drives will become the next big thing, with hard disks such as Western Digital's Raptor already offering this spindle speed and a SATA interface. The data access time is also an important factor to consider when shopping for a drive. As the name suggests, this refers to the time taken to get data from the drive to your processor, and is stated in milliseconds (ms). A basic rule of thumb is - the quicker the spindle speed, the faster the access time. The disk storage capacity you opt for really depends on what type of user you are. If you plan to work with applications such as Microsoft Office, with occasional internet browsing and gaming, then a hard disk with a capacity of between 40GB and 60GB should do the trick. However, if you're into hardcore gaming or multimedia work, you should opt for a hard disk with a rotation speed of 7,200rpm or higher and a storage capacity of 80GB upwards. Hard disk prices start at around $90 (for a 40GB IDE disk). Spinning around Every PC today contains an optical drive, be it a CD (Compact Disc) drive or a DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) drive. These read information optically, using a low-powered laser. CDs come in two formats - CD-R and CD-RW - the former allows you to record data just once and the latter lets you rewrite data over and over again, as you would with any floppy or hard disk. A DVD is similar to a CD, but has a much larger storage capacity. A standard DVD holds about seven times more data than a CD does and some feature multiple layers for recording data. The most common DVD has a single recording layer on a single side of the disc, which holds 4.7GB, while double sided and double layered discs can hold up to 17GB of data. Optical drives normally tout an ‘x’ rating, which represents the speed of the drive. For example, a CD-ROM drive may be specified as '40x' (or 40-speed), or a DVD drive as '6x'. This means these units operate at 40 times and six times the speed of the first ever CD-ROM and DVD drives. Each DVD 'x' speed is equivalent to nine CD 'x' speeds because DVD 1x is 1.35MB per second, while CD-ROM 1x is only 150KB. The speeds quoted actually refer to the rate of data transfer between the drive and computer. Choosing the right optical drive for your PC depends on what you intend to do with it. A DVD drive is what you need if watching DVD movies is key. However, burning CDs with huge amounts of data will require you to install a CD writer, while you'll require a DVD writer to burn chunks of music and movies onto a single disc. If simply watching DVD movies and burning CDs is good enough for you, go for a combo drive such as MSI's XA52P, which costs around $60. Remember that DVD drives can read CDs and DVD writers can write to CDs, but it's not the same in reverse. Internal optical drives connect to your PC the same way hard disks do. For instance, IDE optical drives connect the same way IDE hard disks do. Power house Now that you've decided on most components for your PC, you need to power them up! While your PC gets plugged into a wall outlet that typically has 220 volts (v) of output, the power needed by most of your PC's components is much lower. The function of converting 220v into three different voltages such as 3.3v (fans and floppy drives), 5v (hard disks and optical drives) and 12v (motherboards) is done by the power supply unit (PSU) or switched mode power supply (SMPS). Most PC cases come with a PSU already installed. But, if you plan to build a monster PC with a high-end graphic card, powerful processor, large storage system and additional fancy stuff (fans, LEDs and neon lights), you need to buy a separate power supply that better suits your requirements. All PSUs are generally sold on the basis of wattage (W) ratings. The total wattage required to run the system really depends on all the components inside the PC. So, if you have chosen a small form factor (SFF) cabinet that can support a maximum of two hard disks and an optical drive, go for a PSU with 250W. However, if you're aiming for a performance PC, you will need a PSU with at least 550W. There are two types of PSUs available on the market - a 20-pin PSU and a 24-pin PSU. A 20-pin PSU is a regular PSU that is connected to a motherboard with a 20-pin socket. 24-pin PSUs are the newest PSUs on the market and are connected to motherboards with 24-pin power sockets. These provide better system stability for PCs running powerful processors. If you already have a PSU, you’ll find that most new motherboards are available in 20- and 24-pin form. PSU prices start at around $50. The Vantec ION 350 - a 350W PSU - for instance costs $59. POWER OPTIONS Form Factor / PC Type: Small Form Factor (SFF) / Lifestyle PC Recommended Wattage (W): 200 - 300W Form Factor / PC Type: Mini-Tower Recommended Wattage (W): 330 - 350W Form Factor / PC Type: Mid-Tower Recommended Wattage (W): 350 - 380W Form Factor / PC Type: Full Tower Recommended Wattage (W): 380 - 450W Form Factor / PC Type: Server Tower/ Performance PC Recommended Wattage (W): 450 - 550W WINDOWS MIDDLE EAST RECOMMENDS HARD DISK DRIVES Maxtor DiamondMax 10 Contact: +9714 367 0292 Price: $299 Reviewed: April 2005 Winner of the Windows Middle East ‘Editor’s Choice’ award Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 Contact: +9714 881 1211 Price: $450 Reviewed: May 2005 OPTICAL DRIVES MSI DR16-B2 DVD Writer Contact: +9714 355 5715 Price: $117 Reviewed: May 2005 Winner of the Windows Middle East ‘Editor’s Choice’ award Benq DW1620 PRO Contact: +9714 800 4668 Price: $73 Reviewed: May 2005 Winner of the Windows Middle East ‘Editor’s Choice’ award||**||

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