Takes a workhorse to know one, another quarter, another assemble-it-yourself PC that outperforms costly pre-mades.
LAST week, when Bleeding Edge was editing an article in PC Update, the journal of the 4500-member Melbourne PC User Group, we were surprised to find a reference to our own life with computers.
Kathy Rouse, who is now convener of one of Melb PC’s many thriving ”special-interest groups”, or SIGs – which have extended well beyond PCs to include Macs and Linux, iPads, iPhones and Android devices – wrote that in 2003, when she’d bought her first PC, she’d used Bleeding Edge’s quarterly ”workhorse PC” specifications.
It had slipped our mind that we’d been producing those specifications for quite that long. In fact, it was even longer.
The first time we did the exercise, on which the purchase of many thousands of computers has been based, was February 2001.
The system we recommended in 2001 cost $2625. When we compare it with what’s available today, it seems pathetic: 128MB of RAM, 30GB hard drive, a 900MHz AMD Athlon Thunderbird CPU – at that time, Intel was experiencing serious difficulties with the production of its Pentium III chip – and a graphics card that would now be seen as primitive.
This quarter’s workhorse PC is immensely faster and more powerful, but costs less than $1000, so one thing hasn’t changed: when you choose the right components, it still costs considerably less to assemble something that is more powerful, and almost certainly more reliable, than the big brands. And the $70 assembly fee hasn’t changed since 2003.
It’s been a long time since we recommended AMD processors, although if we were building a home-theatre PC we would definitely consider that company’s ”Trinity” offering because of its superior integrated GPU.
We are sticking with the $233 Intel i5 3550K for the workhorse. If you are doing things such as video encoding or calculating Third World debt on your spreadsheets, the i7 is a better choice, but relatively few people can justify that investment.
The Gigabyte Z77M-DH3 motherboard is $21 cheaper than last quarter, at $85, and the 8GB Kingston 1333MHz memory kit is also down, at $40.
The dramatic drop in the price of SSDs continues, with the 120GB Intel 520 now $139.
Hard-drive prices still haven’t reached the level we enjoyed before flooding in Thailand disrupted supplies and pushed our favoured 2TB Western Digital Green drive up from $89. It’s now $104. Consider that 11 years ago we paid $310 for a 30GB hard disk, however: it seems ridiculously cheap.
The LG Blu-ray writer is $84. It’s fast, quiet and handles a good variety of blank media.
We are still delighted by SilverStone’s TJ08E case at $99, although we are tempted by the same company’s Precision PS07. We are also sticking with the Silverstone Strider 600W ST60F-P power supply, at $109.
Most users will be perfectly happy with the integrated graphics on the Intel Z77 chipset, but when we connected two 24-inch 1920-pixel by 1200-pixel monitors, we experienced the occasional flickering when playing movies full-screen on one monitor while working on the other. We solved that by hooking up a Gigabyte HD 7770 graphics card at $125, which uses an AMD Radeon graphics chip.