View Full Version : Computer building for the lazy or uninformed

June 30th, 2006, 11:51 AM
Okay I have nothing better to post right now so I will give you some info on how to make the most out of that prebuilt computer you bought from Best Buy or CompUSA or whatever major chain you have near you.

For many years now I have built my own computers... and I dont care much for store bought computers because companys like HP like it when you must buy a new computer every year or two. This guide might help you to get over on HP and simular companys. This sometimes even works for emachines.. homework must be done beforehand.

Last year I needed a new computer and did not have the time to research what was happining in the current hardware trend or what what was compatile...
I did the worse thing a computer junkie could do upon demand from my family, I went to best buy and bought a pre built HP computer. Store bought computers are not the end of the world.. after all they most of the time are composed of a good brand name motherboard but severly crippled by the special BIOS chip that the manufacture puts on the board to limit future updates so that you may purchase a new PC every year or two. The price involved in purchasing a pre-built computer can be MUCH cheaper.. however if you wish to do more than surf the internet and check email this store bought puppy is gonna need some upgrades.

Upgrade # 1 This is where research is needed BEFORE you buy the computer.. this is THE most important part. Do a web search for the EXACT model you want to buy, this search will probably turn up the motherboard that your new PC is using. In my case I have a MSI motherboard, many HP's and emachines also use ABIT and ASUS motherboards which are all high quality stuff but very limited by the BIOS chip that the computer manufacture installs. For those of you that do not know BIOS stands for "Basic Input Output System" and is installed as a memory chip on your motherboard. The computer manufacture severly limits your upgrade ability using this chip so that you will soon need a new computer. You CANNOT flash your BIOS chip from an HP machine from the equivilent motherboard as this will fry the motherboards ability to work at all... gauranteed. I have tried this myself. What you would need to do to make your computer updatable from the original manufacture is to update the BIOS chip by replacing it completly with a chip from the original manufacture.
I have delt with a few different motherboard manufactures in this respect and all of them have a charge of about $20 shipped to anywhere in the US for a BIOS chip. This normally comes already flashed with the most recent BIOS information. For replacing the chip I ask that you search Google for this as I am not intening on writing a book here. ( although it is long already )

So the most important thing here is not the price of the computer but the features and specs that you want.
An IMPORTANT NOTE once you replace the BIOS chip the Windows OS that came with the computer WILL NO LONGER WORK PERIOD. You can call and argue this with Microsoft but it will not work. You will need to install a new operating system.. either a legal copy of Windows or the Linux distro of your chioce.

So now we are down to motherboard options,... in my case I HAD to have a computer with an available PCI Express slot because I am a gamer.. if you are not a computer 3d gamer then ignore this option.

Next option, computer came with 512 MB RAM, updated that to 1 GIG RAM.
If you wish to update RAM then make sure you have some free RAM slots before you buy the thing. Most stores, even Best Buy nowdays will open the case and let you look inside because cases are much easier to open than in the past.

My next upgrade.. a PCI-E video card... because I like to play games.
I normally go for whatever card is in the $200 range at the time.. this time I splurged $300 on a better card. ( far from the best, but nice ) ATI x800 xl.
( Gaming is an expensive hobby )

Once I had the 3D video card in place I started noticing that my sound really sucked. I have seriously tried over a half dozen sound cards and the sound still sucked. I had a lot of crackling and popping niose. I have posted in several hardware help forums about this problem without any usefull advice.
It turns out that my power supply was not suffecient to provide power to my new 3D card and still have power left for the motherboard. Okay.. so my new 3D card required a motherboard with a special 24 pin connector ( not special anymore, pretty much standard ) as it consumed a lot of power. I ended up buying a 500W power supply.. it sounds crazy but I will not go LESS than 500 W in this day and age. The power supply that came with the system was only 250 W and not suffeciant. There will always be added power demands on the computer like an extra hard drive for a Linux install, or a TV card or whatever.
Todays computers need a heavy power supply. If you are not a gamer and only have standard hardware then a quality 300 W should do the trick.

End result is I have a pretty nice system disquised as a HP machine that a theif would be less interested in stealing because it looks like standard store junk. I also have the added plus of USB ports and such on the front of the machine that most home builds do not have. One day I am going to update this box to a dual core chip and 2 to 4 gigs of RAM.

Ubuntu recocnised and installed all the added USB ports and stuff without a hitch.

So those of you with store bought computers..there is hope for you after all.



Lord Illidan
June 30th, 2006, 12:00 PM
I would also say that video cards should preferably be NVIDIA, until ATI gets its drivers working better.

June 30th, 2006, 12:39 PM
I would also say that video cards should preferably be NVIDIA, until ATI gets its drivers working better.

DOH!! Yes you are right about that. I put this thing together before I thought about Linux. Yes even when working correctly the ATI driver is a real pain and causes me an occasional lock up. I dont like ATI even for Windows. The reason I got an ATI card this time around is because I have an ATI chipset on the motherboard. ATI cannot tell me that this chipset works equally well with Nvidia becuase I just wouldnt trust it. I have been Nvidia pro for most/all of my gaming needs. ATI under Windows is not much better than ATI under Linux. ATI has a history and reputation of not knowing how to write a driver for beans.. even though the hardware is decent.


June 30th, 2006, 01:36 PM
Good guide for those that have bought a computer from HP Dell or whatever, aside from the fact that they force windows on you they generally build SLOW computers that have lots of crap programs preinstalled. But I would recommend buying from small-mid size stores. They give you the best IMHO. Fast cheap computers built by guys who know what they are doing. (and often you can chose to not buy windows :D)

You should mention that this is mostly for stationary computers though, new graphics card in a laptop? I don't think so.