Build your own super PC

The lowdown

What are they? Super PCs come with Intel Pentium 4 processors with multithreading technology running as fast as 3.06 GHz, or AMD Athlon XP 3000 and 3200 processors. They should have 512M or more of RAM, a large, 7,200-rpm or faster hard drive, at least one fast CD-RW optical drive, and one DVD-ROM read-only drive or a rewritable DVD drive. Don't forget video and sound cards, dial-up and 10/100 Ethernet cards, and IEEE 1394 FireWire and Universal Serial Bus ports.

How much do they cost? Most base units for this guide cost around $2,000. A super PC will cost more than $3,000 once fully configured with monitors, software and other extras.
When do I need one? If you do high-end graphics, computer-aided design, music copying, digital photo editing and digital video capture and editing tasks.

When don't I need one? If your main computing tasks require standard word processing, spreadsheet and e-mail applications, save your money and buy a unit priced around $1,000.

Must know info? For the best price and features, configure your PC online and then order it from a reputable vendor.

PC makers are improving their online workbenches for buyers who want a high-powered but relatively inexpensive desktop PC.

Manufacturers have online worksheets that allow you to set your own specifications, from the case to the central processing unit to the motherboard to video and graphics cards and on down to the best optical storage drives. The worksheets keep track of the price for each component and come up with a total at the end.

Building your own PC doesn't cost you anything, and you're almost guaranteed to learn a great deal. Select five or 10 models, press the "customize" button and get to work.

Everybody has a definition of a super PC. For me, a super PC has one fast processor, a motherboard and chip set that allows the processor to perform optimally; enough RAM to run multiple applications simultaneously without a slowdown; a fast and capacious hard drive; one or two optical drives capable of performing both CD and DVD read/write/rewrite tasks; and top-quality video and sound cards. Good dial-up or network communications options round up the list of basics.

But there are dozens of other options you'll want to sift through. Clearly, you'll want to match the PC with a great monitor, sound card and speakers, multitasking OS and applications. Plan on spending $3,000 or more once you've filled in all the blanks.

But hey, it's a super PC, right?

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@hawaii.rr.com.

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