The Marketpro Computer Fair at the Pavilion

17th May 2003

Time for me to build a new computer. MY work computer is four years old, and I've upgraded most of the guts over the last three years but a 300 Mhz processor just doesn't cut it anymore. So I'm going to build a new machine for work that's all mine. Guts, case, everything. I decided to build my own machine on Friday and discovered quite conveniently that the next Marketpro Computer Fair happened to be next day.

Saturday was a busy day, so I got to the computer fair at the Pavilion fairly early so I had time to wander round and enjoy myself, not just get in, buy my gear and get out.

First stop is the TWUUG Stand. I like to stop by and see the latest displays, and watch the regulars in action. I enjoy watching enthusiastic people. It always amazes me how much attention the stand gets and how many people stop to talk and get cds and handouts. And everyone's so pleasant.

[TWUUG Stand at the computer

[TWUUG Stand at the computer

I went round a few times and got some minor stuff. I bought another Soundblaster Live card for $25. I really like them and you can never have too many good quality sound cards. And I bought an 8 speed DVD player for $18. I plan on using that in the new computer. There are usually a lot of stands selling motherboards and CPUs and cases. Lots of new faces this time, but I went for the same guys I've bought my last few motherboards from. I don't know their names or the company name, but I recognise the faces.

I bought another ASUS Motherboard, a P4S533-X board and an Intel Celeron 1.7 Mhz CPU. That was $149 for the two. The motherboard gives me all the usual stuff including a built-in soundcard and a builtin network card. No built in video though. If I had my way I would get a motherboard without any of these components onboard, but they all seem to have them these days. I don't use the onboard ones, I just add my own sound card (Souxp0dnblaster LIve or Audigy) and a 3Com 3C905B network card. I prefer to standardise on these as it makes driver handling a lot easier. The CPU is only a Celeron, and only 1.7 Mhz, but that's still twice as fast as anything else I have at home, and 6 times faster than my work computer. It's good enough for my needs.

And I got a small case for $31. I don't get excited about the cases. They're all pretty much the same. This one's got a 350 watt power supply, an additionla fan on the side, and USB ports on the front. Now that I'm finally using USB, I want the front ports. I'm still struggling to connect them to the motherboard, but I will succeed. This case also had a reset button as well as he power switch. I've recently had to work on a home-grade Hewlett-Packard computer without a reset button, and I swear I'll never work on a machine without a reset button ever again.

I wandered round a bit more, then headed on home to start building. Stopped at BestBuy on the way home for memory. I don't like to buy memory at the fairs, as I had a bad experience once. Now I only buy Kingston memory from somewhere that I can easily return bad stuff to. 256 meg PCI133 SDRAM for $80 wasn't too bad. I've already got 256 meg of my memory in the machine I'm replacing, so that will give me half a gig. I like to have at least half a gig of RAM these days. You get a small speed boost when you aren't swapping to disk frequently.

Started building the box. I like to put it together and let it burn in overnight. If there's a problem, it gives me a chance to take bad bits back to the fair on the second day if necessary. The CPU came with it's own fan from Intel. I was very pleased with that. Last time I got a fan with a CPU it was terrible and I had to throw it out and buy a good one. Looks like the motherboard makers and CPU makers have worked out a deal on easy to install fans. This one was a snap to install (pun intended), easy to get on and easy to get off. And it's quiet and doesn't vibrate. Oh yes, I am very happy with the fan this time round. Motherboard was easy to install. Case is a little cheap so it needs to be pushed and pulled a little bit for things to settle. Easy to connect everything except the front-loading USB port. I can't match the labels on the connectors with the pins on the motherboard. I'll keep working on this because I really want the front loaders.

I bolted it all together, fired it up, and watched fro smoke. I blew one CPU up a few years ago, but luckily it wasn't a new one. I had shifted a CPU from one machine to another and inserted it incorrectly. Smoke, stink, burn, toss the lot in the bin. So I'm very cautious about the same sort of thing. I take it slow, I check things, I put them in a few times, check it a bit more, then flick the switch and expect the worst. EVerything was fine. It fired up okay, so I put in the DVD player, put in my memtest cdrom and let it run overnight.

[Running memtest86]

[The guts]

I left all that running, while I headed off to the Virginia Beer Festival.