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Homework research - some opinions needed

by seakiwi / August 4, 2006 4:16 PM PDT


I've just started a Diploma in ICT and as part of our Hardware Fundamentals class we have to build (on paper) two machines, one for use in a small lawyer's office, and the other for a newspaper advertising department (graphics). Our tutor wants us first to ask quesions of people, Google, read and gather as much information as possible on what kinds of specs we'd need to consider for both machines. The first one I think I can probably handle OK, but I have no graphics experience whatsoever so I'm struggling a little with the second machine.

Some things I've got sussed but the things I'm looking for advice/suggestions on are:

- CPU (Brand, speed, dual core etc) I'm thinking AMD at this point but that's purely guesswork. I'm also thinking L2 cache on the CPU might be helpful.

- graphics card (I know NOTHING about these other than what I've read. Both my machines have onboard graphics) I'm thinking the graphics machine will need a quality graphics card, with a decent amount of memory, but I basically have no clue which way to go with that.

- monitor - I WAS thinking wide(r) screen LCD but again I have no experience with LCD. A lot of what I've read suggests that for graphics work CRT is actually better.

- RAM - at least 1GB but would more be better?

If anyone could give me some suggestions/advice with any of this I'd really appreciate it. I'm not looking for you to do my homework for me (I'm 45 btw ) - I'm just looking for guidance and our tutor is happy for us to do that.

Many thanks!

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specing out a fast computer for graphics work
by gibsonbernath / August 5, 2006 4:24 AM PDT

As you said the first machine should be easy as preformance is not that important. You should be able to get a good machine with out the monitor for under 500 USD in the US. A 19 or 20 inch flat screen monitor (LCD) (acer, viewsonic etc.) should run between 200 and 350 UDS. You should be able to get an AMD or Intel machine from (e-machine). You can also get a good flat screen (LCD) 20 inch monitor there also. At a price of 500 USD for the machine alone it should come with a decent video card ATI or nVidia GeForce some times these video cards are right on the mother board but I would not get those as they use up resources (ie memory and CPU time.) Because of that I would be sure that you get 1 GB of main memory but 512MB will do. Windows XP pro is about 80 USD more that Windows XP home but it is better for networking if there are future plans in that direction. It is quite a hassel to upgrade in the future I think. Don't go for a Dell or HP bundle as you will pay 200 to 300 dollars (unless waranty and service are a big issue) more than a white box assembled by someone local. This person will also be quite helpful in configureing your high end grahics machine. CPU performance is not a big issue for the office machine and CPU prices from Intel and AMD are dropping quite fast. I would hold off making the purchase as long as you can as prices will keep falling. Don't get sucked in to getting a faster and faster CPU just because the price is falling. Try to keep the cost of the base machine under 500 USD and spend the extra money on a good quality flat screen monitor ( 19 or 20 inch as I mentioned above ) You look at the screen not the box. I live in Canada and my prices my be a bit high so check every thing out on google and or ebay or

Things are quite a bit different for the grahics application. Speed is every thing for almost all components.

First find the fastest Grahics Card that you can find look for the best GPU engine, not just the amount of memory on the card. Memory can be important but the GPU is 10X more important. This would be the first area that I would not go cheap on. You could easily pay 300 USD to 400USD for a top of the line video card take some time to research this item as it is the most important. Look into SLI offerings ( two video cards on the same board but be sure the motherboard can handle it.

Second, Find a very good monitor no smaller than 20 inch. If realestate on your desk is not an issue there are exceptional prices on CRT monitors 90 USD to 150USD. Prices go up the bigger the the monitor but so does the size and weight. LCD Monitors are fantastic but are 3 to 4 time more expensive I have and Acer and It cost 400CND including sales taxes here in Canada which would come out to about 360 USD. The practical size for an LCD monitor is 20 inch from a cost point of view.

Third, find a good motherboard and CPU combination as they seem to be cheaper when bought together. I have a AMD opteron 165 which is overclocked by 15% and is very stable. I paid 300USD for a TYAN Tomcat K8E S2865 motherboard and an AMD opteron 165 CPU over Ebay, The normal cost of the CPU is 275USD over Ebay plus shipping of 20USD and the motherboard is 75USD plus shipping of 20USD. I saved 70USD which could put toward a better monitor or graphics card.

The CPU has two processors on it and each processor has a 1MB cache. This processor really smokes. Get an AMD opteron 170 or 175 939socket if they are not to much more than the 165.

If you are interacting a lot with the hard disk then get the fastest interface (SCSI) for performance and the largest amount of storage you can afford. Buying 2 or 4 hard disks sometimes works out to be less costly but speed of the conection should be you first consideration. Drives with a transfer rate of 10K or 15K should be considered but costly.

This should be enough to get you started but there are a lot of thing to be considered and that is why I said you should get a local PC builder to help you out. His per hour rate will be in the 50 to 60 dollar range to build a sytem for you he/she will have a lot of information that will be most helpfull. Don't pick the first one you find shop around and let them know what you are trying to do and you are not just trying to get free information.

email me at if you want clarification of any items I have presented or any other questions you might have. I am semi-retired and have 25 years experience in the computer hardware and software area and don't mind helping.

Kind regards

Gibson Bernath
455 Drew Street
Woodstock, Ontario
N4S 4V4
519-532-7287 cell

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Re:specing out a fast computer for graphics work
by seakiwi / August 5, 2006 6:54 AM PDT

Many, many thanks for that! Happy

Just to clarify I don't actually have to physically build these machines - I just have to design them from scratch on paper, source and price components and justify clearly why I chose the specs I did. I should also have mentioned that I live in NZ, but your prices did give me a good guideline even if they were in US dollars.

Somebody suggested that AMD is possibly not the best choice for graphics - they suggested Intel Conroe. Any ideas on that? I haven't had a chance yet to Google that particular CPU but I'll do so later today.

As for the monitor - someone also suggested that generally graphics people prefer CRT over LCD. Again, I've never had an LDC monitor so I have no personal experience of them.

I'll definitely keep your email address and will probably take you up on the offer of further help. I have a few weeks to get this done and have a couple of other assignments to get out of the way first, but I'll be getting started on this one as soon as possible.

Many thanks again - I really appreciate your input Happy

~ Carren

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Re specing out a fast comuter for graphics work
by gibsonbernath / August 6, 2006 3:37 AM PDT

Now that I know that you live in NZ things change a little bit. My recomendations stay the same but your reliance on someone local is very important. Shipping cost from the US or Canada would be very costly and if any thing goes wrong it will be a real problem. I have an Australian internet site you can do a lot of reshearch(spelling) on. It has an AMD bias, but you can find a lot of info on every aspect of putting a computer together especialy on Graphics cards which are not my strong point. They are a lot closer to you and would be more intuned with that area of the world. Shipping from Australia would be cheaper than from North America and they get some posts from NZ. Most of the prices quoted are AUD. You can get a currency converter called Just google it. It is about the first one that comes up. I use it all the time.



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A bit more help for you...
by mcallij / August 6, 2006 11:08 PM PDT

When someone talks about AMD Athlon or Intel Conroe, they're talking about the actual processor for the computer, not the graphics card. Another name (what you'll actually be able to find on the internet) is Core 2 Duo, with the highest end chip being Core 2 Extreme. For the graphics machine, Core 2 Duo/Extreme will probably be your best bet. It is the fastest processor line on the market, and for about $319US, you'll get a processor that can beat everything on the market, save faster Core 2 processors. As was mentioned, however, the longer you can wait/look for prices on these machines, the better. Currently, no motherboards support SLI for 2 graphics cards and a socket for Core 2 Duo processors.

Here's another thing to think about along those same lines. Many animated 3D movies today have been created on Mac computers, which use ATI videocards. ATI has their own dual-videocard option, called Crossfire. There are some major differences between ATI's Crossfire and Nvidia's SLI, and I'll go into detail on these if you'd like me to later, but at this point, it's not a big deal. The major difference is that for a Crossfire setup, you will need 2 different cards: a regular ATI card, and then a second "Crossfire"-dubbed master card of the same type. Currently, Crossfire is supported by motherboards for Core 2 Duo chips, so if you don't have much time to complete this project, and a dual-card setup is your preference, this is something you'll have to watch for. Hope this assists you a bit.


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Re: A bit more help
by seakiwi / August 7, 2006 6:13 AM PDT

Many thanks for your help Happy

At this point I don't think a dual video card option is necessary. This machine is to be used for newspaper advertising - graphics but not 3D or animations - so I think a single quality card would probably do. Having said that though, as I said before, graphics is an area I have no experience in so I could be totally wrong!

As for the processors. The core 2 Extreme is a horrendous price here! Somewhere in the vicinity of $1000NZ! The Core 2 Duo is a little better - about half that. Our tutor hasn't given us a budget for this case study but I need to check with him what kind of ball park figure he's expecting us to come up with. At this point I'm thinking I'll go with the Core 2 Duo for the graphics machine and a Pentium D for the lawyer's office machine.

Gotta get to class! More later!

Thanks again!

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Good choice
by mcallij / August 7, 2006 9:26 AM PDT
In reply to: Re: A bit more help

Core 2 Duo will be just fine, Core 2 Extreme runs a bit higher than that here in the States! And as far as the business computer goes, a Pentium D won't perform quite as well as an AMD Athlon 64 X2, but that's up to you when it comes to pricing.

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