Build A Computer Like My Super PC
So Welcome! It's good to have you here to share my experiences researching and building My Super PC! The information on these pages should streamline your research and save you hours of time, a fair amount of money, and you'll end up building your own super computer! Although technology changes quickly, I update this site frequently to keep it up-to-date. This site provides:
The older site which you are now viewing describes My Super PC as it first came to be. Unlike my official site, I do not update this older site so it is getting out of date. I update my official site almost every day! For the latest and greatest information on My Super PC with fully updated pricing, component recommendations and assembly instructions, please click this link for:
I used entirely hiqh quality components in the "sweet spot" to build The Super PC, meaning each component gives the most bang for the buck. This also means that the ultimate money-is-no-object component was not used. Doing so could easily double the cost, while only marginally improving on the final result. It's very important to restrict your purchases to components of very high quality. Many lock-ups and blue-screens-of-death can be traced to insufficient power supplies, low quality RAM, and the like.
The case is outstanding. It includes a top-quality, AMD approved, 300 watt power-supply (the PP303X), which is a must. It's cooling characteristics are excellent! It's also not imposingly big, standing about 18” tall and fitting nicely into the 20” tall cubby space I have in my computer desk. Yet it still has all the 3.5” and 5” drive bays you can reasonably want. To me, there's not a thing wrong with it. The only nit-pick I've read is the reset button is too small, which I don't think is true, and that there are not enough open 3.5” bays, but I think one for the floppy is plenty. Of course, you can always convert one of the open 5” bays to a 3.5” bay if you really wanted to. And it's even available from Best Buy for $80! (I even beat that deal, as you can see above). This case can't be beat for price and quality. The case and the sound card (described later) are the no-brainer decisions. Click on the picture to see it enlarged.
The Amd Thunderbird is the way to go. It's cheaper and faster than Intel's offering, and the quality is there. The AMD Duron 800Mhz is actually the “sweet spot” winner, but the 1.0 Ghz Thunderbird dropped $100 in one day and I couldn't resist the snob appeal of claiming 1.0GHZ – and for only $200! If you'd like to know more about the differences between the AMD processors, namely the Athlon, Duron and Thunderbird, a good reference is this article from Hardware One. Click on either picture to see it enlarged.
|View from top||View from underneath|
The ABit KT7 is the hands-down favorite. The quality and stability are extremely high, it's completely jumperless, and it even includes an ISA slot in case you have a legacy card of some type you want to use. In my case, I used an ISA modem. It makes overclocking a breeze, if you're into that sort of thing. The socket A accommodates either an Athlon, Duron or Thunderbird processor, so upgrading the processor is no problem. The reviews are always stellar, such as this one from Hardware Central.Click Here To Get The Latest On How To Build A Computer Like My Super PC - Motherboard
RAM prices fell so fast just as I was purchasing components that I went ahead and bought two sticks of 128MB RAM. Of course, they quickly fell much further in price. CAS 2 RAM is faster than CAS 3 RAM, and the peformance difference shows up more with the faster bus speeds and faster processors. This comparison by TweakMax is very informative. The best RAM comes from Mushkin, but it costs more. Crucial makes outstanding RAM and makes it the “sweet spot” winner. My experiences indicate it's not a good idea to overclock Crucial RAM, whereas the best Mushkin RAM is widely reported to be overclockable. But the bottleneck on system performance will be the graphics card, so you won't get too much bang for your buck by spending more on RAM to overclock it. Look here to see the specifications for the Crucial RAM in The Super PC.
The four key components of overall system performance are the motherboard, processor, RAM and the video card. As good as the video cards of today are, they still are the bottleneck when used with high-end processors and RAM. The MX video cards are very tempting. They are excellent performers, low in price, and frequently packaged with nice software. But it's a waste of money to get a high-end processor and not follow-up with the video card. The video card to get is any GeForce2 GTS. I was lucky. I got the ELSA video card for only about $30 more than a MX video card! A review like this one, from The TechZone will send you running for this board! And as an illustration of how prices drop, look at the price quoted in the review, dated 5/26/2000, of $349! That's nearly three times what I paid only eight months later! And although this comparison by Anandtech does not include a GTS video card, it is a recent article (November 27, 2000) and illustrates quite clearly how the video card is the bottleneck in a performance system. Click on the picture to see it enlarged.
The other no-brainer decision. The Creative Labs SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 is the way to go. Outstanding quality from an outstanding company, and available at a very low price if you get the value edition, but not much more for the X-Gamer or MP3 editions which are the same hardware but are also packed with software that more than make up the difference. This card is the answer regardless of the type of computer you plan to build – from high-end to low-end. Click on the picture to see it enlarged.
Top performance of a hard drive is not so critical, but the high-quality IBM Deskstars are about the same price as the other quality contenders and the IBM Deskstar is the fastest IDE drive on the market! And as a nice little bonus it also happens to be the quietest! The 45GB size is the “sweet spot” winner. I recommend getting one drive. It reduces the heat burden on your computer. And it won't be long before other storage options are available, such as rewritable DVD's, which may end the search for ever larger hard drives. For a comprehensive review, check out this article at Anandtech. In general, I don't like to use "white boxes" since they are not as complete as the retail box. The hard drive is the exception. The retail box does not include much more. It includes mounting brackets and screws, which I wouldn't even have needed. It includes disk utilities, but these can be downloaded from the manufacturer. The disk utilities for the IBM Deskstar drives can be downloaded from here.
First, have you ever heard of 4in1 drivers? I hadn't. And if you are using a Via chipset then you need to know about them! They don't get installed when you install Windows. And without them the AGP is disabled – even if it's marked as enabled in the BIOS – which means the performance of the graphics card is drastically reduced. Once installed, my graphics performance tripled – yes, tripled! It's very devious this absence of 4in1 drivers because everything looks fine, both in terms of detail and performance. And, if you're like me and upgrading from a slower system, the new speed will be impressive and you'll think everything's fine. But the 3Dmark2000 benchmark results made me suspicious – even though all the demos and games I tried looked great! – so I scouted around and stumbled upon a mysterious reference to 4in1 drivers. I've talked to very knowledgable computer enthusiasts who've never heard of the 4in1 drivers.
To check if your AGP is disabled, download and install a freeware program called "wcpuid", available from (among other places) this page on The Ctl-Alt-Del. When you run it, the first screen will look something like this (these screen shots are from WCPUID V3.0 Beta).
Pushing the "Chipset Information" icon on this page (the mostly green icon with a chip looking thing in the middle of it, it's near the top of the page), brings up a screen that looks like this.
Notice the right-hand side of this screen shows the AGP Information. I have AGP Spec. Revision 2.0 and it shows as enabled. It showed disabled before I installed the 4in1 drivers.
I wonder how many computer users are running merrily along thinking everything is swell and in reality their AGP is disabled? More than a few, I'll bet! Lucky you if you've never heard of them and you're reading this! I include a link to the drivers later! Again, they are only for Via chipsets.
With this vital bit of information out of the way, let's get on to the benchmarks. SiSoft Sandra Standard provides the system benchmarks.
My results were achieved with absolutely no overclocking used on either the processor or memory. Not that I have anything against overclocking. The ABit KT7 makes it very easy to do. It's just that even with a small amount of overclocking, system stability did not hold up over extended use (say, two hours of a graphics intensive game). Maybe if I added cooling capacity I could push it a little further, but that seems a waste of time to me.
On the other hand, I did tweak the BIOS settings to give myself every performance advantage I could. Again, the ABit KT7 is a beautiful board because it gives you complete control over your system. For detailed information on my BIOS settings, check out the table later on this page describing the value for every setting.
Note that in the following diagrams for the CPU Benchmark and the Memory Benchmark that The Super PC is the first pair of measurement bars. The middle pair of bars is a typical Intel Pentium 4 system running at 1.5Ghz (you can ignore this - it's only shown because I couldn't find a way not to show it!) and the final pair of bars is a typical computer with identical hardware to The Super PC. In theory, the first and third sets of bars should be about the same, but they may not be due to the quality of the components and the type of tweaking done in the BIOS. If you use SiSoft Sandra Standard to measure your own computer, it will include bars somewhere on the results indicating how your typical computer should do. And if you're not meeting or exceeding those numbers then you've got something to think about!
Here are the results of the processor test.
Eye-popping results ! If you know your mips (million instructions per second) and mflops (million floating-point operations per second), that is. It's nice to see the numbers actually come in a little higher than expectations! In fact, the ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit) measurement is nearly identical to the expectations for the typical Intel Pentium 4 running at 1.5GHz!
Here are the results of the memory test.
Great! And substantially better than expectations! Looks like the BIOS tweaking is paying dividends!
Ok. But what about the graphics performance? Now here's where overclocking can give you more bang-for-the-buck because, as I've mentioned, the graphics card is the bottleneck. I followed the recommendations from MadOnion on Driver Tweaks to maximize performance.
Here are the Direct3D settings I used.
And here are the OpenGL settings I used. Notice the window in the diagram does not show all the possible check-boxes. However, only the first two check-boxes as shown are actually checked.
And here are the overclocking values I set on the ELSA Gladiac GeForce2 GTS 32MB DDR graphics card. It's more important to push the graphics memory than the graphics processor, since it's the bottleneck on the graphics board itself. If you don't see the overclocking option then you may need a freeware program called "coolbits", available from The Ctl-Alt-Del (among other places) to activate it.
With this in place, I used MadOnion's 3Dmark2000 which showed that I had achieved this overall benchmark measurement. and these frame rates.
Wow!! It takes at least 30 frames-per-second to have nice fluid movement. The Super PC nearly doubles that under the most rigorous of test conditions! And under more normal conditions, frame rates exceed 150 per second !!
Now I should point out the warning on the overclocking panel above. It indicates that display errors can occur under overclocking conditions. In fact, this occurs with the overclocking values I used. However, the display errors are very minor under nearly all conditions, and tolerable under all conditions that I have observed so far. The display errors I see are difficult to describe, but I'll give it a try. Here are some examples. I have not observed them occuring at the same time.
Graphics images do look perfect without the graphic card overclocked. So this is a gray area in terms of declaring performance. The system is not unstable and the graphics imperfections are, as I say, minor and tolerable, so I'll allow it. You may decide otherwise.Click Here To Get The Latest On How To Build A Computer Like My Super PC - Computer Speed
For the latest on how to build a computer, including how to assemble the PC parts, see my frequently updated official site:
Not too many really. That's one reason to use quality components. But things didn't go perfectly trouble-free, and when anything goes wrong it can be intimidating. After all, you're staring at $1000 worth of sensitive equipment that's acting like a pile of junk, and you're wondering if it was such a good idea to give up the Customer Service that comes with a store-bought computer. Fortuntately, the internet is a wonderful place filled with information. I was able to search my problem description and find solutions.
|The first time I tried to do a power-up, pretty much nothing happened. The fans were turning and I could tell the system had power. The CD-ROM drive light came on and I could tell it was getting power. But the LED on the monitor never turned green, it just kept blinking orange as if the computer were turned off. The screen was blank. I felt sure the processor must be bad. But I pulled it out and gave it a thorough visual inspection and it looked ok. My search of the internet did not turn up anything on my specific problem, but I did happen to read about someone having a problem with their CD-ROM and it was due to their IDE cable being the wrong length. Do tell! I didn't even know they had to be a certain length. So I checked and sure enough, they should not exceed 18 inches. Mine was a 24 inch cable I had purchased from Radio Shack. I don't know why I'm buying cables from Radio Shack when I'm so keen on quality - but who knew? I didn't really see how the CD-ROM cable could be the problem, but it sounded like I had an improper cable anyway. So I purchased a quality cable, namely a Belkin Ultra 66 IDE 18 inch cable, and replaced the 24 inch Radio Shack cable. I tried powering up again, and, Voila!, It's Alive !! I had a living, breathing computer that now only needed proper preparation and grooming! I did my first "Dance Of Joy" for The Super PC.|
|I encountered an error when I tried to re-do my disk partitioning. I used FDISK to partition my hard drive. I accidentally didn't partition my hard drive exactly the way I wanted it the first time. But when I tried to do it over, FDISK gave me "Error Reading Fixed Disk" immediately after the first prompt for "use FAT32". The hard drive looked fine in the BIOS. I fixed this problem by using the "Drive Fitness Test" utility. This utility is available from IBM via the link I provided above in the hard drive description. It includes a capability to erase the MBR (Master Boot Record). Erasing this record removes all information regarding partitioning. After using the "Drive Fitness Test" utility to erase the MBR, I re-booted using the Windows 98 Startup Disk (floppy disk). I used the FDISK on this disk and did not encounter the error message, so I was able to start over. The utility can also do a "low level format", but that was not necessary.|
Sound Card IRQ Conflict
|After installing the Creative Labs SoundBlaster Live! sound card, an IRQ conflict was reported by Creative SB16 emulation during boot. Everything came up fine and nothing seemed wrong. No sound was missing. But IRQ conflicts are not good, so I looked into it. Searching for the problem on the internet was easy! Seems like everyone's encountered this! It's even a FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) at Creative's site. They phrase the FAQ as "The SB16 Emulation is causing an Interrupt (IRQ) conflict on my computer. How can I disable this device?" The response provides the instructions for disabling, with the closing remark "Note that this will disable your sound device in MS-DOS mode". Swell. I can probably clear the conflict by removing the card, too, and then live without sound. But here's a simple, better solution that worked for me: Open the Control Panel, then open the System icon. On the Device Manager tab, left click the plus (+) in front of the "Creative Miscellaneous Devices" line. Highlight the "Creative SB16 Emulation" line, left click the Properties button, then select the Settings tab. At the bottom of the Settings properties page, check the "Allow LPT Interrupt Sharing" checkbox, select "Apply", then "OK". Restart the computer and the problem was solved.|
This table shows the BIOS settings I am using on the ABit KT7 motherboard.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Now is probably a good time for me to remind you about GoBack. If you're having a software problem and you just wish you could somehow restore your computer to where it was before you installed that new application or driver then - you could if you had installed GoBack! Keep that in mind as one of the first things you should purchased and install once your problem is under control. It's saved me no less than 10 times so that rather than dealing with some nightmare problem instead I'm right back to getting good use out of My Super PC.
But even if you follow the references and instructions I provide under Build A Computer Like My Super PC - Assemble you may still find you need help, if not when you build your computer then some time later.
Here are the steps I normally take to troubleshoot problems.
|1||For any software problem, the first thing to do is visit the manufacturer's web-site and download the latest patchset. Viturally any software product will have patches available. Also, scout around the support section of the web-site for a Frequently Asked Questions section or Knowledge Database section that may be helpful.|
|2||Check the Frequently Ask Questions (FAQ) relevant to the component or problem.|
|3||If the FAQ don't do the trick, try these Message Boards, Discussion Boards, And Forums. I've used these message boards and forums myself and they are all very good. Along with a detailed description of the problem and the steps that cause it, include details regarding your computer configuration such as the processor brand and speed, video card type and drivers version, amount of RAM, and version of Windows. Keep your question as clear and concise as possible. Be polite and gracious. Use proper grammar and punctuation. Try each message board and forum, one at a time. You should get a response fairly quickly - within 24 hours. If the problem is something you can live with or work-around and you don't have any luck the first time, try again in a couple of months.|
|4||After giving the message boards and forums a try, the next step is to get a little desparate and call the manufacturer relevant to the problem. Actually, they can be quite helpful. It's not that they provide bad support, it's just that the FAQ's and message boards I've given you are so good! I'm not kidding! At least once the manufacturer has serviced my call by E-mailing text that had been cut-and-pasted from a FAQ site I've mentioned! You should check the manufacturer's web-site to see what online suppor they already provide, such as their own FAQ and Knowledge Base. Get nice and comfy before you call and be prepared to be put on hold. Hopefully they have a toll-free number. As with the message boards and forums, have all the details ready and be patient, polite and cooperative while the service representative tries to understand and solve the problem. If he's not having any luck and he's running out of plausible options then don't be afraid to ask if there's a senior representative with whom you can consult.|
|5||If you still need help, try searching the internet using keywords appropriate for your problem. Try putting appropriate keywords in quotes since "boot error" with quotes (meaning they have to appear together and in that order) narrows it down a lot more than without quotes.|
|6||If still no luck then you're just about at the end of your help-for-free rope. Time to seriously consider if this is a problem you can live with, workaround, or fix through replacement. As a last resort, you can try a pay service. Widely regarded as the best is ExpertCity. The experts set their own fees and give quick, efficient, reasonably priced help. The site includes a chat tool for interactive help sessions, which is especially useful for step-by-step instructions. You can reach the expert over the phone, if necessary. You can click here to get live help now!|
Try looking for your problem at Paul's Unofficial ABIT KT7 KT7A KT7E Motherboard FAQ, which covers the KT7, KT7A, KT7-RAID and KT7A-RAID. You can also try the official ABIT KT7 KT7A KT7E Motherboard FAQ, but Paul's site is much better.
Try looking for your problem at GeForce FAQ - For NVIDIA GeForce, GeForce2 and GeForce3 Video Cards, which covers all the different types of GeForce boards, including the GeForce2 GTS.
Try looking for your problem at Sound Font Central - FAQ - SoundBlaster Live!. You can also try the official SoundBlaster FAQ and the support options provided on the Creative Labs SoundBlaster home page. You may also contact Creative Labs SoundBlaster technical support directly to follow-up on specific problems and questions.
For detailed questions and troubleshooting help, I have found the message boards, discussion boards and forums listed below very helpful. Along with a detailed description of the problem and the steps that cause it, include details regarding your computer configuration such as the processor brand and speed, video card type and drivers version, amount of RAM, and version of Windows. Keep your question as clear and concise as possible. Be polite and gracious. Use proper grammar and punctuation. Try each board, one at a time. You should get a response fairly quickly - within 24 hours. If the problem is something you can live with or work-around and you don't have any luck the first time, try again in a couple of months.
|The Anandtech Forums||Many message boards with much activity followed by many knowledgable computer enthusiasts.|
|Guru Of 3D Forums||Excellent forums for video card related problems.|
|Icronic Forums||Many message boards with much activity followed by many knowledgable computer enthusiasts.|
|MadOnion's Discussion Board||Excellent message boards for video card related problems.|
|Official ABit Message Board||Includes the official ABit Forum for the KT7 / KT7-RAID / KT7A / KT7A-RAID / KT7E motherboards.|
|PC Guide Discussion Forums||Has good message boards to help get problems resolved and questions answered.|
|RealPCHelp||More than just message boards. Real People. Real PC Help. 'Nuff said!|
|VIA Hardware Forums||Excellent forums for problems and questions regarding the Via chipset drivers.|