Stop Popup Ads For Free Newsletter (Winrag) - ( 14th June 2004 )

Season 2 - Issue 2

 (c), Mark Walmsley 2004

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Welcome, its time for issue 2, season 2. This month we are going to give you the entire inside your computer series, including some unpublished work, this will be a great guide to help explain internal computer parts and what to look for when buying. We hope you enjoy this bumper issue.

If this is your first newsletter then feel free to read previous issues. Click here to go to the main index page.

Remember at anytime you can unsubscribe. The subscribe/unsubscribe link is at the bottom of this page, click here.

Anyway, we hope you enjoy this issue, if you wish to have a subject covered, wish to send feedback or have an article of your own you want featured then mail


1 Hardware and Buyers Guide - The Base Unit


Your base unit is the main part of your PC, also known as a desktop computer (Lies flat) or tower unit (Stands upright). This is the main box where you insert the CDís and/or disks, sometimes incorrectly called the processor, the monitor or the hard drive, amongst other things. This is the heart of your PC.

Buyers Guide


The base unit is referred to the case and all components inside it. You can refresh the look of your computer by buying a new case, and moving all components from the old case to the new. (All your friends and family will think you have a new computer)


Many different designs and styles are available for base units. Mini Towers, midi towers, and full Towers are the most popular. At present you are best to buy an ATX (P4 ready) case. (The only exception will be computers that are around 8 years old or older which will be in AT cases, generally you can tell the difference by shutting down your computer. If it says ďIt is safe to shutoff your computerĒ and you have to press the power button to shut it off, then you have an AT computer).



Cases come in many different sizes and colours. Some are even see through; this is one the best ways to customise your computer.


An important note is to make sure than when you buy make sure the case has at least a 300w power supply and is P4 ready (Even some Athlon computers require the P4 connections). Also if you are not comfortable with moving your computer components over then get a trained computer technician to do it for you.


So for as little as £40 you can make your computer look new, more powerful and most of all impressive to all you know.


2 Hardware and Buyers Guide - The Motherboard


The aptly named motherboard is the backbone of your computer; this is where all the other components plug directly into.

Your motherboard will determine your processor support, memory type, peripheral connections, and quite often will have many integrated components. (Onboard video, sound, network, modem, etc.)

It is essential that your computer has a high quality, expandable & easily configurable board, without this you will find your computer wanting in the not so distant future. You will also find that integrated components are best avoided, especially video if you are an avid gamer. These devices tend to be of a lower quality than their plug in counterparts.


Buyers Guide


So if buying a computer or changing your motherboard then you will need to determine your needs.

An important question is what are you going to use the computer for? There is no point in buying an all singing and dancing system if all you want to do is surf the net, but do remember that 6 months after buying the system you may decide to use it for other things, and if it is not upgradeable, then you could be looking at an expensive change.

So to round up, make sure that when buying, even if all the components are onboard that you have free expansion slots so that the system is future proof. An AGP port (allows for graphics card changes) and free PCI slots (used for adding expansion cards), support for Pentium 4 or Athlon XP processors, and DDR memory are some of the important, and presently modern items that you would look for.


3  Hardware and Buyers Guide - Processors


We will now look at the processor. So what is the processor? Well in the simplest of terms, itís your computers brain. The processor tells your computer what to do and when to do it, it decides which tasks are more important and prioritises them to your computers needs.

There is and has been many processors on the market, running at many different speeds. The speed is measured in Megahertz or MHz. A single MHz is a calculation of 1 million cycles per second (or computer instructions), so if you have a processor running at 2000 MHz, then your computer is running at 2000,000,000 cycles per second, which in more basic terms is the amount of instructions your computer can carry out. Another important abbreviation is Gigahertz or GHz. A single GHz or 1 GHz is the same as 1000 MHz . Sounds a bit confusing, so here is a simple conversion :

1000 MHz (Megahertz) = 1GHz (Gigahertz) = 1000,000,000 Cycles per second (or computer instructions).

Now you can see why they abbreviate it, could you imagine going to a PC store and asking for ďA one thousand million cycle PC pleaseĒ. A bit of a mouth full isnít it?


So when buying a new computer always look for fastest you can afford. The fastest on the market at the time of writing this article is 3.4 GHz (3400 MHz). Remember though that it is not necessary to purchase such a fast processor, balance your needs, do you really need top of the range? Especially when the difference between a 2.8 GHz (2800 MHz) and a 3.4 GHz (3400 MHz) processor will be barely noticed (if noticed at all) by you, while the price difference is around  £100. With the money you save you could get a nice printer and scanner package.

Now that we have covered the speeds, there is one more important subject to cover. Which processor? There are 3 competitors at present, the AMD Athlon XP, Intel Pentium 4 and the Intel Celeron. 

The Intel Pentium 4 is the most expensive of them all, and remains today the most popular on the market. In laymanís terms itís the designer processor. Personally I would purchase a Pentium 4 processor quicker than any of the others as I find it more reliable.

The AMD Athlon XP processor is a direct competitor to the Pentium 4, and if you want quality without the expense than this should be your choice. One thing to note though is that AMD lists its processor speeds at what it calls a comparable rating to the Intel Pentium 4. An example of this would be the 2200+ Athlon XP processor, which actually only runs at 1.8 GHz (1800 MHz). To me it feels like a bit of a rip off.

Lastly there is the Intel Celeron; this processor is a budget version of the Intel Pentium 4, the processor you find in most budget computers. If the purse is tight, and you need a computer, then this is your port of call. You will find many sub £500 computers fitted with this processor.


4 Hardware and Buyers Guide - Memory


Continuing with the ďInside Your ComputerĒ series, this week we will look at memory. Memory is simply a part of your computer which has information uploaded to it temporarily, allowing instant access. The more memory you have the more information that can be uploaded, enhancing your computers performance.

Memory comes in many shapes and sizes, and has changed throughout the history of computers. For the sake of simplicity I will only cover memory sold with computers in todayís market.

The memory sold today is called DDR. It is broken into two main groups. DDR 184-Pin DIMMs, (Desktop computer memory) and DDR 200 Pin SoDIMM (Laptop/Notebook memory). The DDR 200-Pin SoDIMM memory is available in one speed (2100) and is usually half the physical size of its counterpart, whereas the DDR 184-Pin DIMM comes in several speeds (2100, 2700 and 3200). The picture below shows a DDR 184-Pin DIMM.

Most desktop computers sold in todayís market will be sold only with DDR2100 (this is how you abbreviate DDR 184-Pin DIMMs running at 2100), and it best not to mix with the faster types (DDR2700, or DDR3200) which can cause instability within your computer. If you decide to change to the higher speed memory remember to replace all of it.

So now that you know about different sizes and types, the next thing you need to know the sizes. DDR memory comes in 64mb, 128mb, 256mb, 512mb and 1gb chips.

So how much memory can you install? Well unfortunately this is down to the motherboard installed in your computer. There is three ways to find out, phone the manufacturer of your computer, look up the motherboard manufacturers website, and if you are lucky check out the motherboard manual.

In general though most new computers should be Ok with two 256mb chips of memory, but it is best confirming this before buying.

Finally, this memory can be installed a chip at a time, some people still carry the old belief that you have to install two of the same or it wonít work. Donít worry as that was along time ago, and PCís have changed since then


5 Hardware and Buyers Guide - Hard Drive


The hard drive is abbreviated to HDD, as in Hard Disk Drive. The HDD is used as storage by your computer, think of it as a large bookshelf that you can put everything into. This allows access to this information, without the need to insert disks, CD's, or other items that you can store information in. Your programs, personal information and operating system will all be here. 

The Hard Disk is often mistakenly called the tower unit (or case).

There are 4 main different types of hard drives, SCSI, IDE, Serial ATA, and external. We will cover these briefly.

SCSI HDD - these drives are for high end users or servers, they are high speed, but at the same time come with a high price bracket. They can be around 3 times the price of a standard IDE drive, if not more. You should put series thought and research into SCSI drives before buying.

Recommended for : Workstations, mid-level to high-end servers, storage area networks, network attached storage, RAID storage arrays, filing and printing, EMA/Groupware, databases, data mining, CAD, Data Streaming, and intensive graphic applications.

IDE HDD - The IDE drive is standard in today's computers, it attaches to the same connection as your CD and DVD drives, because of the competitiveness of this market you should expect to buy  at a very low price. If you wish to change or add a new HDD then you should think IDE first. Remember always buy the largest and fastest you can afford. In present day, as long as your computer supports it, look for at least an 80GB drive that runs at 7200 rpm, and has a 2mb cache.

Recommended for : Home users, small businesses and most gamers

SERIAL ATA - These drives are the new competitor for IDE. I can see in the not so distant future these drives becoming the new standard. Most new motherboards now come with connections for the serial ATA. These drives have large capacity, big buffers and have fast transfer rates. 

The way of the future, but best left alone until you do a major system upgrade. Check with your motherboard manufacturer or manual for support of these drives.

EXTERNAL HDD - Not to be used as your main drive, these are best kept for backup and large data transfer. With the USB 2.0 drives now being the leader of the market this is the best to buy, but remember that before buying, make sure you have USB ports on your computer, and that these ports will support the drive. Always check with manufacturer, as older computers will only have USB 1.1 ports. The drive should work OK, but just make sure.

There are other types of connectors used by external hard drives, ie PCMCIA and Firewire. Always check compatibility with your computer before purchasing.

Buyers Guide

CAPACITY: Depending on what you are using your computer for, will help determine the hard drive size.

Home user with low usage - 20 to 80GB (mostly internet/word processing use)

Video and photo Editing user - 80GB plus (Video and photo scans are very large)

Gamer - 80GB plus (due to large install sizes of games)

Remember Hard Drive prices are not consistent, the difference between a 20GB drive and a 80GB drive is very low. Doubling, even quadrupling size does not double or quadruple the price. At time of writing a 40GB drive can be bought for £38 to £50 sterling and an 80GB drive is £53 to £71 sterling.

ROTATION SPEED: There two main speeds. 5400rpm and 7200rpm. We will make this simple, always buy 7200rpm. Although you may find the larger drives are mainly sold with 5400 rpm drives, it is well worth the extra (small) expense. 

BUFFER SIZE: Most hard drives come with a generous size, usually 2mb or above, only buy the large buffer size (i.e. 8mb) if you are a heavy computer user.

INTERFACE SPEED: One again always buy the fastest you can get, although this can all depend on your motherboard and what it can support. To get maximum performance from your computer make sure the interface speeds match. ie buy ATA/100 IDE Hard Drive for an ATA/100 motherboard. Although the ATA/133 drive will still work, just not at that speed.

INTERFACE TYPE: Buy IDE for IDE, don't buy SCSI if you don't have a SCSI interface, or Serial ATA if you don't have a motherboard that supports it. Always check with your motherboard manufacturer, or manual for support.

SEEK SPEED: This is listed in milliseconds, so of very little concern to you the user.


6 Hardware and Buyers Guide - DVD-Writers 


Create your own home movies on DVD, backup your DVD collection, or use to backup your hard drive, for whatever reason go buy one now. A DVD writer is used for exactly what it is named for, writing DVD's.

Lets explain the formats. DVD writers come in several formats. DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM.

So which do you buy? Lets explain the different types:

DVD-R/RW - This is the first format that was compatible with home DVD players. This drive would be the more popular, although not as technologically advanced as the DVD+R/RW drives this format are ruling the market and is supported by 92% of DVD-rom drives and DVD players.

DVD+R/RW - This is the more technologically advanced drive. Supported by Microsoft in their next version of Windows, this drive format is getting more popular, but is slightly less compatible than its friend the DVD-R/RW drives, it comes in at 87%.

DVD-RAM - This format is out years, but unfortunately is better suited for large backups of your Hard drive. Do not buy if you want to backup your DVD collection, or make home DVD's.



So what do you buy, well luckily enough in today's market you can remove the decision making and just buy a drive that support DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW. The DVD-RAM drives are no good unless you wish to use solely for backup, but even then I would consider buying a 2nd hard drive first.

So which drive do you buy?

At time of writing we recommend the Pioneer DVRA06 Internal DVD Writer. A very reliable and fast drive, supporting both DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW formats, plus it is a CD-writer also. Of course this article will eventually date, so always look for the highest speed, duel compatible drive, and if possible stay with branded models, i.e. TDK, Liteon, Pioneer , Sony, etc


7  Hardware and Buyers Guide - The CD-writers, DVD & CD-Rom drives


There are other drives you can get for your computer, CD-writers (CDRW), DVD-Rom and CD-Rom drives.

CDRW drives are basically what they say, they allow you to create your own CDís. There are 2 basic types of CDís you can use, CDRís and CDRWís.

CDRís are the write once versions of these disks, this means that once data has been added to the disk then it cannot be removed. These are more compatible with other drives. (eg  car stereos, computer CD-rom drives, Hi-fiís etc)

CDRWís are blank disks that can be written to time and time again. They are mainly used as a backup medium. Through the CD-writer software you will be able to add and remove data from the disks. They can also be formatted allowing the disks to be used as mini hard drives.

CD-Rom drives are for reading CDís. They are the essential minimal standard for your PC.

DVD-Rom drives allow your computer to read DVD disks, as well as CDís. Modern drives have all levelled out in the quality and compatibility standards, but older ones you may find will not read DVD copies or backups. You can also use these drives to watch DVD movies on your PC. To do this will require DVD software to be installed on your computer.



So now that you have a fair idea of whatís available, it is time to decide what to buy for your computer.

The price of the drives have dropped a lot in the last few years, so no longer incur the large costs that they once help. A CD-writer for example use to cost around £300 just 4 years ago, but now can be bought with software for less than £30.

Instead of buying separate drives you should consider just one. This drive is called a combo drive. Combo drives consist of a single drive that allows you to burn CDís, read CDís, and use DVD disks also, basically all the functions of the drives listed above.


8 Hardware and Buyers Guide Ė Graphics Cards


A graphics card is used to display images on your monitor. Without one you will not be able to see what your computer is doing.

There are three main types, AGP graphics cards (requires an AGP slot in your computer), PCI graphics cards (requires a PCI slot in your computer), and onboard video (this is a video card that is merged with the motherboard.)

The more powerful the graphics card the quicker and smoother images will appear on your monitor.



So when buying what do you look for? If the budget is tight and you are buying a computer, you will find the cheaper range will have onboard video. Make sure that you ask if an AGP slot is available inside, for future expansion.

AGP cards are the choice for graphics, but can only be used in an AGP slot. Without this expansion slot you will find yourself replacing the motherboard as well, incurring a larger expense.

Picture below is a free brown AGP slot

When buying a new graphics card, always look for what was top of the range 6 months previous. This will allow you to buy a card that was maybe £200 plus for less than £100. This will save you a lot of money.

PCI cards are best avoided as they usually only provide minor performance enhancements.

Laptops come with onboard video, remember this cannot be upgraded so look for the best thatís available at time of purchase.


9 Hardware and Buyers Guide Ė Sound Cards and Speakers


Sound cards are a very important part of computing in the modern age. Without them you will have no music, no effects and no voices when using your computer. Making the experience very bland and business like.

Fortunately in the modern day 99% of computers are supplied with sound cards, usually part of the motherboard, but only able to supply a basic 2 speaker set up with audio, but this can be changed. Enhance your computer experience by upgrading the sound card and your speaker system.

With speakers placed around the room you will create a new gaming, and movie experience, with noises coming from all directions of your room. Imagine a helicopter flying around you in a game, well with the correct speaker set up this experience will be much more real, by just closing your eyes you will feel like you are actually there. Someone walking behind you in a game will have you looking behind in real life. The experience can be unbelievable and unreal.

Buyers Guide

So what do you look for? Well its quite simple, soundcards and speakers, come in several formats, all of which will be written on the box. They are rated as 2.1, 4.1, 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1.  For example 7.1 means 7 satellite speakers and 1 sub-woofer, 5.1 means 5 satellite speakers and 1 sub-woofer. (I hope you get the idea) The more speakers the higher quality the sound will be, and the more amazing the effects.

When it comes to sound always buy quality. Creative Labs Sound card and speakers series is well recommended, and always buy the speakers that match the sound card.

An important note, when buying is to check your DVDís, Games or Music CDís to see what they support. Most say 5.1 audio, this will work fine on all cards and speakers 5.1 and below, but you will only receive 5.1 audio on a 7.1 system. So if you have 7.1 set up, donít get annoyed if two of your speakers donít work.


10 Hardware and Buyers Guide Ė Internet connections


So you have your computer, and you are wishing to go on the Internet, or you are on the Internet and want to upgrade. So what is available in todayís market?

(Please note 1024k = 1 MB)

A modem is one such item. It uses standard analogue phone lines to connect to the Internet. This is now the slowest and oldest method to connect, but comes with a very low price tag. V92 is the latest and probably the last type of modem released in the market and allows connections speeds of up to 56kb. It can be bought from as low as £10. All Internet providers allow modem dialups.


ISDN is the next step, but is still an older technology, which requires the use of two phone lines to connect to the web. This service is becoming harder and harder to find as most Internet providers do not wish to be burdened with it. ISDN allows connection speeds of up to 128kb, and usually requires you to rent two phone lines, and pay a monthly bill. Unless you are really desperate for faster speeds then it is best avoided.

ADSL & Cable is the fastest growing way to connect to the Internet. ADSL uses standard analogue lines with advanced circuit boards to allow high-speed connections on the Internet. In theory the ADSL can allow connection speeds of up to 9 MB a second, but no provider gives these types of speeds. The ranges typically available are from 256kb to 2mb per second. If available in your area, I would recommend using this type of connection, which is typically 10 times the speed to a standard modem connection. Cable modems are much the same, but use fibre optic cables to transmit the data, the same cables that carry your TV signals.

Wireless broadband is a new product on the market, and not a lot of people know of its existence. It allows users in areas not covered by an ADSL upgraded exchanges to receive broadband. The biggest problem with this service is the coverage presently only includes major cities, towns and their surrounding villages, and only in certain parts of the world.  

Satellite broadband is another technology, which is in development; the biggest problem with it is most companies canít decide which technology to use, either 1-way (Download from satellite only) or 2-way (Download and upload from satellite). 2-way broadband seems the obvious answer but it comes with complications, to use a 2-way satellite requires a license, as you are using a transmitting device, where as 1-way does not, but this still limits you to phone line upload speeds.


Buyers Guide

So the question is what do you buy? Well the good news, is that most, if not all computers are sold with modems, and almost all companies provide ISDN/cable/ADSL modems when you signup. (Check with the Companies that you have decided to go with before buying.) Remember though, if all you use the internet for is to collect and send emails, then a modem dialup on a pay as you go contract, is basically all you require.

Alternatively though you can opt for an internal ADSL cards or an external modem. ADSL and Cable also come with the option of being used on multiple computers in a home using wireless, or wired routers with built in ADSL/Cable modems, but that is another story which we will cover at a later date.

One great advantage of using Satellite, wireless, ADSL and Cable is that the phone is not engaged while in use, meaning you can talk and browse the internet at the same time.

Wireless broadband is actually quite an affordable option (This is mainly available in the UK). UK prices start at £1 per day, plus an installation charge of £99. This is only slightly more expensive to run than standard ADSL. Speed starts at 512kb download/upload and the higher range service is 1024kb download/upload, this service does offer higher upload speeds than ADSL, which is commonly half the download speed, if not less. You need to search the internet for availability in your area.

1024kb = 1mb

Satellite broadband in the other hand is very expensive; searching the UK was quite difficult to find providers, and the cheapest monthly charge I could find was £75. (This was a 512kb download/upload rate). This service seems aimed at businesses, not the home user, it can be affected by adverse weather, and may require a license to be used.

The US in other hand seems to be a lot more competitive, and satellite broadband is definitely an option for the home user.


Looking at these two services I would advise users in the UK to wait it out as ADSL is expanding next year with the introduction of new technology to the BT exchanges. This will increase coverage to over 90% of the UK population (Presently at 60%). Remember though if you donít have broadband in your area register your interest on BTís website, the more people that do it, the quicker ADSL will arrive.


11 Hardware and Buyers Guide - Other Essentials


Firewire - Firewire connections are important for Digital video cameras. These allow you to download your movies onto your computer so that you can edit the film then send back to the camera or burn onto DVD.

If you don't have Firewire, don't worry as an expansion card can be bought (Fits in PCI slot) which can be added to your computer at a later stage.  

PCI Slots - These are essential for future additions to your computer, like TV cards, editing cards, USB, Firewire, etc etc. Make sure when buying you have at least 2 free.


USB - A computer without USB ports can be an extreme disadvantage, most external hardware, including printers and scanners, nearly all require USB ports, but to add a new twist to the tale, USB 2.0 has appeared on the market. Backward compatible, these ports are the ones you are looking for, allowing USB 2.0 devices to run 10 times faster, while at the same time allowing older, slower USB devices to still work.

If you don't have USB 2.0, don't worry as an expansion card can be bought (Fits in PCI slot) which can be added to your computer at a later stage.  




Well that's it for this month, I hope you all enjoyed this issue, and we look forward to seeing you next month, 

Best Regards





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