PC Hardware Buyer's Guide

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Choosing the Perfect Components

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide, by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson is intended for readers seeking advice on how to build their own PC. From the power supply to the mouse, it provides purchase recommendations and warns of potential hazards. This review will approach the book from the perspective of an experienced Macintosh user looking to build an Intel-based Linux system.

The components covered in the book are:

  • Case
  • Power Supply
  • Processor
  • Heatsink/Fan
  • Motherboard
  • Memory
  • Floppy Drive
  • Hard DRive
  • Optical Drive
  • Video Adapter
  • Display
  • Audio Adapter
  • Speakers
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Network Adapter
  • Modem

Thompsons' advice on choosing a case is all common sense, but the discussion of power supplies is very helpful, providing quite a bit of information on output ratings and operational temperatures. They explain how much current you'll need based on several sample systems.

Next, processors are explained. This section covers a lot of topics Mac users are probably unfamiliar with, including choosing a fabrication size and socket type. As usual, the Thompsons provide buying advice based on what sort of system the reader is building. They also provide recommendations for heatsinks, processor fans, and thermal compounds - not topics I've traditionally had to worry about!

The explanation of motherboards is adequate and explains which chipsets are appropriate for which types of systems and how to check processor compatibility. It also covers such features as power management, wakeup functions, and boot device support.

The section on RAM is a straightforward discussion of different RAM types and their abilities. The discussion of hard drives and optical drives contains nothing a Mac user will be unfamiliar with. They also cover floppy drives, which I scoffed at, until I saw this cool device.

The Thompsons recommend embedded video for most applications, but still provide a lot of information on possible video cards. They recommend most users stick with onboard audio, but also suggest a few high-end audio cards. Linux compatibility is discussed.

The section discussing the relative merits of CRTs and LCDs seems dated to the point of uselessness. Keyboard, mouse, and speakers are also covered, but there's nothing here particularly surprising. Network cards are covered but these are such a commodity there isn't much to discuss. Wireless cards and modems are addressed, but there's not a lot in these sections a Mac user won't already be familiar with.

The book ends with a discussion of where to buy components that's not particularly useful. As a whole, though, the book is an excellent reference when choosing components. For the reader who isn't familiar with the PC architecture, this is an excellent guide with which to navigate the specification-laden component listings on sites like PriceWatch.

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