We're not going to spend your money for you
One of the most common emails we get at FiringSquad is "I have [x] dollars to spend on a new computer. What do you think I should get?" We cannot and do not answer these questions because everyone's needs are different. It's like sending an email to Car and Driver magazine out of the blue and asking them "what kind of car should I buy?" Well, if you live in New England and have to deal with snow and ice every winter, then maybe you should consider a 4x4 vehicle. But if you live in LA and just drive to the mall everyday, maybe you shouldn't get an SUV. They guzzle gas and are difficult for unskilled drivers to handle (**cough**suburban soccer moms**cough**). People's needs for a computer can vary just as much as their needs in transportation.
So instead of trying to recommend some kind of catch-all system configuration, I thought I'd just list down all the components I used to build my computer and the thought process I went through as I chose each part.
SECC2 Pentium 3 Coppermine 700MHz - $234
: In terms of price/performance, 700MHz is currently the sweet spot for Coppermine overclocking. But why a P3 Coppermine? The new Celerons
do make great overclockers, but their performance lags significantly behind
that of the P3s. I wasn't interested in a bargain chip for my own gaming rig. What about an Athlon? The main reason I didn't pick an Athlon is because I'm not as familiar with how to build and overclock Athlon systems. I know some of the newer motherboards like the Abit KA7
make Athlon overclocking easier so that you don't have to deal with golden fingers and such, but in this particular case I felt more comfortable dealing with stuff I've used before.
Abit BE6-II - $113
: The BE6-II is a proven board for P3 overclocking. I've had great experiences with Abit motherboards in the past, specifically the BH6. Abit's "Softmenu" makes it easy to dial in front side bus and multiplier settings from the BIOS (no more fiddling with jumpers), so I thought I'd stick with them again for this Coppermine project.
128MB Micron PC133 SDRAM - $138
: There's not too much to say about the RAM, other than that Micron is a good, reliable brand name. I figured 128MB would be enough for general gaming use. In retrospect I think I should have gotten some CAS 2 latency RAM because it's faster and not too much more expensive than standard SDRAM.
NVIDIA GeForce 2 GTS board - $250 to $270
: For my box I borrowed both the Aopen PA 256
and the Leadtek GeForce 2 GTS
cards from the FS testbed. What's interesting is that I found the Aopen card to be slightly slower than the Leadtek in my machine but generally more stable. The Leadtek tends to crash when my machine is clocked to 1001MHz. I suppose this indicates that the Leadtek is a bit more sensitive to the AGP bus being overclocked.
Why not a Voodoo 5? It was actually a very tough decision. I used a Voodoo 5 in my old Klamath box for a couple of weeks and I was floored by how good Counter-Strike looked with 4x FSAA turned on. The image quality in the GTS just isn't as good as it was with the Voodoo 5. But when push comes to shove I'm a still a speed guy at heart, so I elected to stick with the GTS at first. On the other hand, I find myself playing mostly Counter-Strike and Deus Ex (that Unreal engine still likes Glide) over Quake 3 these days, so I'll probably put the Voodoo 5 5500 back in for now. Maybe if the Voodoo 5 6000 or the ATI Radeon turn out to be faster than NVIDIA's GTS I'll pick up one of those cards.
IBM Deskstar 75GXP 45GB Hard drive- $256
: This drive is ATA 100 compatible, and spins at 7200 RPM. I could have picked up a 60GB, 5400 RPM, Maxtor drive for the same price, but elected to stick with the IBM mainly because I was curious to see if Quake 3 would load up any faster in between map changes (because of the 7200RPM speed). I didn't make any formal measurements, but the drive doesn't seem to load any faster than a normal 5400RPM drive. So I guess I lost out on 15GB of space. Talk about curiosity killing the cat! Maybe I should try getting an ATA-100 controller card and see if that helps matters - the BE6-II has ATA 66 on board but no ATA 100 controller.