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Advanced System Building Guide 523

Posted by Zonk
from the clothes-can-be-an-impediment dept.
Alan writes "FiringSquad has up an Advanced System Building Guide, detailing how to construct your own rig. The first half deals with hardware selection and even esoteric concepts such as PCI slot placement. The second half is focused on Windows XP, and makes recommendations such as moving the swap file and scratch disk to a separate partition." From the article: "You laugh at the so-called expertise of Best Buy's GeekSquad, and are the one doing the teaching when calling technical support. If this sounds like you, you've come to the right place if you're looking to take your system building skills to the next level."
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Advanced System Building Guide

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:47PM (#12016288)
    If this sounds like you, you've come to the right place if you're looking to take your system building skills to the next level."

    If this sounds like you then you have almost reached nirvana. Soon, you will learn the advanced knowledge of how to call Dell.
  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:47PM (#12016289) Homepage Journal
    You should always have a dedicated partition for your temp files and swap file. It's tempting to actually put this on a separate physical drive to reduce the wear and tear on the main drive, but the disadvantage is that upgrading to a larger hard drive a more involved process.

    Reduce wear and tear? Really? I've heard many reasons why one should do this (improving perfmance & reducing fragmentations which he mentions later), but reducing wear and tear?

    Also, I'd love to find a pointer to building an inexpensive (not cheap, there's a difference), reliable machine... much more interesting to me anyway.
    • Yes, reducing (Score:2, Informative)

      by 2names (531755)
      wear and tear. Each time the machine has to swap or write temp files, the physical moving parts of the hard drive experience wear.

      If you can reduce the amount of this wear on your OS and data drives by placing swap and temp on a physically seperate drive, you may prevent major data loss.

      I would think this would be obvious, but I guess not.

      • Re:Yes, reducing (Score:5, Informative)

        by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:54PM (#12016391) Homepage Journal
        Insignificant in the MTBF calculation. Ask a hw engineer. The rotational assembley that spins the platters (the speed of which is constant) is by far the biggest failure mechanism.
        • Hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

          by 2names (531755)
          It has been my personal experience that the armature fails on drives much more often than the rotational assembly.

          Your experience may vary, but I'll stick with seperate drives for temp and swap.

          • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

            by meatspray (59961) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @08:05PM (#12017806) Homepage
            Given, I've only been in this since the early 386 days, but I've had the chance to work at several big installations, wharehouses, a few pc shops and the occasional help desk. Every time I see a new type of problem, I conduct a post mortem on the drive. (I'm more after magnets these days)

            Most common problems I've seen:

            #1 Media has an electromagnetic defect that appears over time: (new regular bad sectors without physical signs of dmg on the platters)
            Until 1996, I had seen more of this than anything. Some cases might have been heat or one of the next few problems but far too many succombed to this fate for it to be a symptom of another physical problem. I haven't seen this in quite some time.

            #2 On drive controller board failure:
            This also used to happen quite frequently, I've seen a few cases of this recently, It's the failure I see most often today.

            #3 Spindle bearing failure:
            I've seen a few handfulls of these only. They generally get replaced when they get noisy before the failure is complete. The best part was removing a siezed drive from the pc and giving it a whack flat on it's back to watch the user in amazement when you put it back in and it spins up.

            Armature failure:
            I've seen a few cases of this only. Some of the media defects might have been this in disguise. The best armature failure I ever saw was an old full height SCSI drive that probably got too hot, the heads caught on the platter and over the years whittled themselves down to stubs while cutting through the platters. It was a QNX box that was perfectly content to boot from the master server after it's hard drive failed. The platters ended up being razor sharp rings of death. Nice christmas tree ornaments through.

        • Re:Yes, reducing (Score:3, Informative)

          by ashmedai (869288)
          I hang out over at StorageReview, and a while ago there was a post where someone did so. The feedback amounted to that:
          1. Concentrated seeks from pagefiles etc do not negatively impact the hard drive's life span because the head does not ever come in physical contact with the disk, and in fact
          2. Concentrated reads/writes actually increase the hard drive's reliability because it remagnetizes that region every time it is written to.
          • Re:Yes, reducing (Score:3, Informative)

            by Taladar (717494)
            Your second point is bullshit. If you constantly write a sector, let us say it is the page-file/partition you probably won't need access to this data after several months of not touching it which is about the only situation where remagnetization helps.
        • Re:Yes, reducing (Score:3, Interesting)

          by glesga_kiss (596639)
          The rotational assembley that spins the platters (the speed of which is constant) is by far the biggest failure mechanism.

          Not that you can do anything about that anyway. On any OS, there are enough services and daemons to make sure that the drive NEVER powers down. I haven't seen a drive do that on anything other than a laptop in years, don't know why I bother enabling it on desktops.

          Besides, the best reason IMHO to have two drives for the OS is fragmentation, or lack of.

          One thing I have wondered, and

          • Re:Yes, reducing (Score:4, Interesting)

            by budgenator (254554) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @08:13PM (#12017879) Journal
            We used to partion drive so the swap was in the middle, the next two most likely to be used next to the swap, and unlikely to be used on the outside. I don't think you can do that now as cylinders have so little to do with physical location on the platters now-a-days.

            Shit now a disk drives has a bigger ram buffer cache than the machines we used to do that with have. the rule of thumb was 4 Mb for linux, 4 Mb for X Windows and 4Mb for each user; now we just slap in a half gig and call it good enough.

            I did see a site where the guy ripped apart old hard disks and hooked them up to his stereo so the platters would spin and the heads twitch back and forth to the beat of the music. interesting thing to do to those old sub-Gigabyte drives in every computer geek's junk drawer!
          • Re:Yes, reducing (Score:3, Interesting)

            by aaronl (43811)
            On modern systems it's not really an issue. Drives seek fast enough for it not to be noticable, and have sufficient memory to rarely need swap.

            It used to be enough of an issue that in OS/2's HPFS all the FS structures were located in the middle of the partition to speed up access. It was a discernable gain in performance.
      • Re:Yes, reducing (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Some_Llama (763766)
        "If you can reduce the amount of this wear on your OS and data drives by placing swap and temp on a physically seperate drive, you may prevent major data loss."

        OR if you buy a gig of ram or more you won't even need a swap partition.

        I have 1 gig in my current rig and completely turned off the swap partition, in the last year of usage with heavy multitasking i haven't even needed it.

        With Ram prices as low as they are currently your just better off going with 1-2 gigs of ram rather than waste disk space or
        • If you regularly edit several photos at a time (or do video editing), you can have a GB or two and still hit swap. Or if you use Linux it'll automagically pre-emptively write any inactive pages to swap incase it needs to free them (this is a good thing).
    • Reduce wear and tear?

      I agree. To avoid wear and tear, it's better to have the swap file on a separate harddrive whose main task is that alone (perhaps a drive for periodic archival?). That would also give the extra performance.

      If you need the extra performance by moving the swap, moving it to a separate partition will just slow everything down because the head has to move further on the platter to get there. If it's interspersed among your data, the chances it needs to hunt for the right track is that

      • by RapmasterT (787426) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:54PM (#12017094)
        The article shows it's roots in voodoo and urban myth with the statement about moving the swap file to a separate partition.

        A separate partition is STILL THE SAME DRIVE. Same platters, same heads. The only benefit is that it's a little cleaner to look at.

        If you need better swap performance, the ONLY way to get it is to move the swapfile to a seperate, hopefully faster, drive.

        However, if you're looking for ways to improve your swapfile performance, you're a freakin' idiot who needs to stop touching PC's.

        Swapfile is a necessary evil, if swapping is degrading your performance YOU NEED MORE RAM, not a faster swapfile. It's not rocket science. That $150 you'd spend on a dedicated swap drive would buy you a gigabyle of RAM and end the problem forever.

        I guess anyone can write an article...

        • by pg110404 (836120) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:59PM (#12017149)
          Hey, here's an idea!

          Create a ram drive and put the swap file on that. That'll speed things up.
        • Start it up and it will soon start swapping. No matter how much RAM you have.

          Since it is going to do it anyway, you'll want a nice, clean, ORGANIZED place for it to do it in.

          The problem is that adding a partition usually puts that partition near the spindle which is the SLOWEST portion of the disk. But it will still cut down on fragmentation and crap.

          With a Linux system, I put the swap drive down first. It gets the fastest portion of the disk. It should never use it, but just in case ...

          With Windows, if
        • Placing the swap file on a dedicated partition can indeed improve things. Why?

          1. You don't have to go through an intermediary filesystem, with associated overhead.

          2. You can give the swap partition priority or at least balance in queuing on a single disk.

          3. I'm sure there's a third reason that also validates my theory, given that pretty much every linux distro I know of makes a seperate swap partition. We'll call item #3 the "appeal to authority" argument.

          I would also like to take this opportunity to po
    • by WidescreenFreak (830043) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:59PM (#12016462) Homepage Journal
      You need to remember that hard drives are NOT solid state devices. They have bearings and mechanical parts. The first rule of thumb when it comes to PCs or any kind of equipment is that "The question is not if the parts will wear out but when the parts will wear out."

      That being said, the hard drives will wear out. Period. End of story. Some might die in a few months, some in a few years, and some might never die before you replace them.

      Even more important is the conecpt of multiple spindles to do multiple jobs. If you have one drive that suddenly hits swap because you're doing something, not only will your system grind to a halt because the drive head is loaded with contention (it can only do one job at once, obviously) but you're adding that much more wear and tear.

      With the swap on a separate drive (and preferably on a separate IDE channel, assuming that that's what you're doing), the main drive can do whatever it needs to do while letting the other drive take care of the swap. So, not only are you greatly increasing potential throughput and system efficiency, you're dramatically reducing wear and tear on the drive head mechanism.
      • by Fizzlewhiff (256410) <jeffshannon&hotmail,com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:39PM (#12016912) Homepage
        Yeah but he's talking about partitioning a drive to save wear and tear. It is still the same drive. Would you partition a drive into two equal partitions and mirror them for redundancy? Makes no sense.
    • by Quantum Fizz (860218) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:09PM (#12016560)
      The article was weak, only the first page dealt with hardware, and that focused primarily on fans and hard drive with brief mentions of case and power supply. No talk about mobo's, busses, CPUs, etc. The next 4 pages dealt with tweaking Windows XP, which was useless for me. And the slashdot summary implied half the article was about hardware, what a bunch of crap.

      Perhaps the only interesting tidbit in the article was the mention of using ferrite bead chokes on the analog lines, which was interesting to me only as far as it's the first time I've seen any mention of ferrite chokes outside of EE circles.

      Only after reading that horrid article did I see it was on a gamers website, so that makes sense why they focus so much time on tweaking XP, but even for the hard-core gamers I'm surprised they didn't talk about more hardware options.

      Maybe there are some interesting things in the 4 pages of Windows XP stuff, but for me that article was pretty useless.

    • I created a separate partition for my xp install at home. But (and this depends on how much physical memory you have), I did it to reduce fragmentation and so I could format the partition as FAT32.

      FAT32 is not as space efficient as NTFS for larger partitions (and you're way limited, but it allows drive sizes large enough for most user's memory space), but it works faster as there's not the same overhead as NTFS. Having it on a separate drive will also improve performance (much like having SWAP on a separ
      • The speed differences between the two are almost nil on current drives. The larger the drive, generally speaking, the better NTFS does in comparison to FAT32. However, the performance difference is usually so tiny that you have to measure it with benchmarking software to see a tiny difference, and then you're just getting pedantic. By going with FAT32, you lose out on security, robustness, and access speeds as fragmentation increases.

    • Yes, the extra ten minutes you need to spend going through config dialogs every time you upgrade to a larger hard drive (and how often does one do that? About once a year? Once every two years?) is more than enough justification to subject your system drive to more "wear and tear" every day.

      Disappointed. I assumed an article on "advanced" system building would include a lot more work with a soldering iron and tin snips.
    • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:19PM (#12016680)
      You want a _reliable_ machine, the #1 piece of advice I'd give is this:

      Don't skimp on the power supply and memory! Get a _Good_ PSU (PC Power & Cooling has served me _very_ well), and life is much nicer.

      Cheap out on either of these things, and you're asking for a lot of headaches that can show up as just about any symptom you can imagine.

      A good quality online ('smart') UPS is also a good idea.

      Most reliability problems I've seen can be traced back to bad power or bad memory.
  • GeekSquad? (Score:3, Funny)

    by yetdog (760930) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:48PM (#12016295)
    They actually call themselves that? Come on - like any retail store paying their clerks $7 an hour is going to have top notch techies there.

    People are stupid. That's how these businesses stay afloat.
    • Re:GeekSquad? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by boingyzain (739759)
      I actually worked in Best Buy out here when I was 16 years old and they started the "BAY TECHNICIANS" at $7/hr. It was sad... Then the geek squad came in. Man, I have never seen so much advertising for a crew that works on computers. I did not join the Geek Squad because I didn't want to wear a uniform that rivals Burger King... But the customer line speaks for itself, and everyone in that line wasn't happy. I started dropping off my card to people telling them to call me if they wanted a better deal. Well
    • Re:GeekSquad? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I recently heard an employee at Best Buy use the term "Geek Squad." The irony was overwhelming, so I had to ask.

      Turns out that "Geek Squad" was a small company in some middle-sized town (Columbus, maybe.) They were competing with Best Buy. So Best Buy did what corporate giants always do. (No, they didn't study the competition and analyze it's strengths. Funny suggestion, though.) Of course, they just bought them out.

      And, to add insult to table salt (or whatever), they decided that the one part of th
      • Re:GeekSquad? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SynapseLapse (644398)
        Just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota as a matter of fact.
        A co-worker of mine used to work for them.
        Best Buy purchased Geek Sqaud a few years back, (Although, if you ask any of the original Geek Squad crew, they formed a "Strategic Business alliance) and they still run independent of Best Buy which is the main reason their competent. At least, here in the twin cities they're still really good. I can't speak for the rest of the country...
  • by Otter (3800) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:48PM (#12016299) Journal
    Just because your case comes with 60 brass standoffs doesn't mean it's a good idea to use them all!
  • so sad (Score:4, Funny)

    by notsoanonymouscoward (102492) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:49PM (#12016315) Journal
    He lost me at "I like Maxtor". Anyone who recommends maxtor hdds is either on the take, or hasn't been building systems for very long. Either case... I'd pass a bestbuy job application his way.
    • Can you provide any figures of relative failure rates between different manufacturers/model numbers of hard drives? My understanding was that, excepting certain infamous models (120 GXP "Death Star") made by IBM/Hitachi, all consumer-level hard drives have the same, small, failure rate.
      • Re:so sad (Score:2, Informative)

        by pianoman113 (204449)
        I suspect that hdd brand choice could spark a small-scale religious war.

        I've had great success with almost every brand out there (those that I've tried, have worked great), and I've seen spectacular failures with most of them.
        • Re:so sad (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cortana (588495)
          Precicely! Someone who gets it. :)

          For other readers of this thread, I will now present Sam's amazing guide to having reliable hard disks.

          1. Secure the drive with four screws, two on each side.
          2. Ensure your drives are adequatly cooled.
          3. Install SMART monitoring software, and obey the following mantra.

          When the software says the drive is too old, replace it. When the software says the drive is about to fail, swap it out and RMA it[0]. When the software predicts a failure in the future, plan[1] to replace
      • Do you actually mean the 75 instead of 120GXP? It's well known that the first generation of 75GB IBM/Hitachi had major issues. Is 120 really a problem too? I thought they fixed it.

      • nope. nor is it my job to do so. i'm just stating an opinion, which you are free to validate, disagree with, or ignore. being more familiar with the maxtor RMA process than anyone else i know makes me feel capable of making such statements. every time i get suckered in by their lower prices, i have had to re-learn this lesson.
      • Re:so sad (Score:2, Insightful)

        by SquadBoy (167263)
        A lot of these things are impressions formed early on and never really change. And you are right nobody who goes on about them can ever really produce solid numbers. I've used Maxtors for years and never had a minutes trouble with one. OTOH don't get me started about Seagate. This is mostly due to the fact that I had 3 die on me in a row many years back. They were all bought within days of each other from the same store. The correct lesson is, of course, that batch sucked. The emotional lesson is that Seaga
      • My understanding was that, excepting certain infamous models (120 GXP "Death Star") made by IBM/Hitachi, all consumer-level hard drives have the same, small, failure rate.

        That having been said, there are some brands I wouldn't touch with a bargepole. I wasn't surprised to learn that Fujitsu had left the HDD business after their notorious denial [ttp] of [computing.co.uk] problems [theregister.com] with certain HDDs. Obviously batches of faulty HDDs will happen now and again, but to weasel out of responsibility like that doesn't exactly promote c
    • Re:so sad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by scharkalvin (72228) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:58PM (#12016446) Homepage
      Anyone who recommends maxtor hdds is either on the take, or hasn't been building systems for very long. No matter which HD brand you recommend SOMEONE is going to tell you they had bad luck with them. I've actually had fairly GOOD luck with Maxtor. I have had two go bad on me, one was due to overheating (4 disk drives stacked one next to each other in a tight case and not enough air flow). The middle drive would go south (seek errors up the wazoo). The other failure was a case of static zap. I should have grounded myself before yanking cables to swap drives around. First time I EVER had a hd stop working. COMPLETLY. The bios couldn't find it. Maxtor replaced the zapped drive by mail real quick. The other drive actually starting working again when I gave it some room to breath (removed the extra drives from the box and cut down on the heat).

      BTW the CompUSA branded Maxtor drives just might be better made. And I've heard nothing but bad news about Segate and WD (and in the past IBM. Don't know if Hattachi has made things any better).
      • Re:so sad (Score:3, Informative)

        by badasscat (563442)
        No matter which HD brand you recommend SOMEONE is going to tell you they had bad luck with them. I've actually had fairly GOOD luck with Maxtor.

        Ditto. I've got two Maxtors running right now with no problems whatsoever - neither even gets warm to the touch, and they are both inaudible to boot.

        Like you, I have had one go bad on me in the past, but then I've also had two WD's and a Seagate go bad on me, and know numerous people who've had IBM's, Samsungs, and other drives go bad too. It's sort of a badge
        • Just something invalid: Personal experience. Your personal experience isn't a representitive sample of the actual facts of the matter. Also, even within that, people don't usually consider all the factors.

          Like I've had seen more Maxtors fail than any other drive. More unreliably right? No, not so much. Rather they are what are in just about every desktop in the building, many of which are crammed in areas with inadiquate ventelation. The small number of other drives we have are in servers and so on in prop
    • Re:so sad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by curunir (98273) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:40PM (#12016920) Homepage Journal
      Hard Drives are like types of hard liquor. Everyone has at least one that they had a horrible experience with and now avoid like the plague.

      Seriously, given that hard drives are one the most common computer failures, most serious computer users will experience them eventually. And given the consequences (data loss), users don't easily forget that it happened. The result is that almost everyone has their trusted brand of hard drive. Also, chances are that if you were to post your preference for your trusted brand, you'd get 20+ responses from people who've had a nightmarish experience with your favorite brand.
  • Boring (Score:5, Funny)

    by bigbadbob0 (726480) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:49PM (#12016325)
    Next week on slashdot: "How to get a cooler screensaver."
  • Pci slots? (Score:4, Funny)

    by iwearnosox (630981) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:50PM (#12016327)
    Professional tip: I try to line my PCI slots up with the case, the cards work better that way.
  • Boring (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Necrotica (241109) <.ac.drolnal. .ta. .recnepsc.> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:51PM (#12016340)
    "...you've come to the right place if you're looking to take your system building skills to the next level."
    The next level isn't very good on details, but full of personal opinions put forth by the author. I wouldn't call that the next level whatsoever. I'd call his article "Things you may want to consider when building a machine." YAWN.
  • I have to say, an advanced tweaking guide isn't really news at this point - if you want it, you go google it. (Or microsoft it, on msdn, liek l33t winhax0rze should) This seems more like a plug for someone's website to me.
  • Um... swap file? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by artifex2004 (766107)
    Shouldn't you have enough RAM to disable swap entirely? No more fragmentation worries, and you're just a bit more secure, too. I don't run anything big, so I get by with a single GB.
    • Re:Um... swap file? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by stratjakt (596332) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:59PM (#12016452) Journal
      Not possible for many of us. My system can't support enough RAM for some of the DB stuff I'll do. I had a 7 gig swap file last week as my poor box choked through 25 gigs of data.

      What I want are 5-10 gig or larger "drives" that are made up of cheaper 66mhz SDRAM modules, yet have an IDE/SATA/SCSI/(Whatever) interface, and use one of those for swap.

      Do they exist? If not, why not?
      • Re:Um... swap file? (Score:3, Informative)

        by SScorpio (595836)
        I've need seen or heard of an actual one made up of placing actually SIMMS or DIMMS, but what you are wishing for are called solid state hard drives.

        I did a quite Google of the term and got http://www.bitmicro.com/products_edisk_35_ide.php [bitmicro.com].

        I also found a dicussion on Sharky's forums from back in 2001 about this very issue. I doubt we'll ever see one, but you never know what those crazy people in Hong Kong will hack out next.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        What I want are 5-10 gig or larger "drives" that are made up of cheaper 66mhz SDRAM modules, yet have an IDE/SATA/SCSI/(Whatever) interface, and use one of those for swap.

        I never thought I'd see the day when a /.er actually got modded-up for the idea of putting their swapfile on a ramdisk...

        If you need more RAM, buy it. We have 64-bit x86 systems now, so they can handle as much as you might need. Old PC-133 DIMMs are only nominally cheaper than DDR RAM, and even the newest motherboards can accept the ol

    • by Enigma_Man (756516)
      I don't have the details handy, but running a swap, even if RAM is bountiful and plenty is always a good idea. It's something to the effect of the system really likes seeing the swap there, even if you technically don't need it.

      -Jesse
      • Re:Um... swap file? (Score:3, Informative)

        by badasscat (563442)
        I don't have the details handy, but running a swap, even if RAM is bountiful and plenty is always a good idea. It's something to the effect of the system really likes seeing the swap there, even if you technically don't need it.

        It's more that it's good to have it there just in case, because you never know when you will need it (even with 2GB, you can multi-task yourself straight to hell if you're doing image editing, watching videos, and running crap in the background all at the same time), and it doesn't
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:55PM (#12016401) Journal
    Putting a PC system together is fucking easy. And I'm sick of the "Xtreme l337 d00dz0rz" who spout off about the little LCD temp display in their Corsair RAM modules like they're some kind of gods of Comp. Sci.

    It's easy. Build your own, I do, it's fun, and cheaper in the long run. But for fuck sakes, stop bragging about it.

    Also, anyone who puts their "specs" in their sig line on any forum is a complete knob. Especially the ones who go on to list nonsense shit like "Vantec 80mm exhaust fan" or "OCZ Xtreme RAM coolers" or "Zalman Copper Northbridge Cooler".

    If you don't know who I'm talking about, it's probably you.
    • Hey, I think I have that northbridge cooler. Though I've never mentioned it in a sig. I actually only have it because the fan that was there started making the most horrendous noise.

      Actually I was laughing out loud (when's the last time you saw that spelled out) reading your comment.
    • by OneOver137 (674481) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:20PM (#12016694) Journal
      These are the same cool-guys with "2.2 L VTEC Sooper Duper Turbo Racer" stickers plastered all over their cars. Most of these guys couldn't tell a liter from a gallon, and think torque is just low RPM horsepower.
    • by schapman (703722) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:24PM (#12016742)
      I always put my system specs in my sig on hardware forums (a basic one at least) and I do it for good reason. It lets everyone know what I'm using if I'm asking questions, and that I have experience with certain things when answering theirs. I will however, agree with you on the people who list every last litte detail.
    • by That's Unpossible! (722232) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:47PM (#12017005)
      Also, anyone who puts their "specs" in their sig line on any forum is a complete knob.

      Yeah, and what is with these morons in forums that respond with a single line of content, and then its followed by an 800x400 animated gif of their favorite lead singer rocking out?

      More importantly, wtf is wrong with the moderators of these forums that they would allow this kind of nonsense?
  • by dauthur (828910) <johannesmozart@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:56PM (#12016413)
    Here in Oklahoma City (No, I'm not native. I'm from MA), I work on the Geek Squad. I'm the only one with either an A+, N+ or C++ in the whole store, let alone the GS. It turns out that most people, when they think they know what they're talking about, say nothing but buzzwords like Pentium and Windows. They don't know what the difference between 802.11b and g are, and the other blokes on the Geek Squad don't even know that there IS a g. Building a computer isn't anything near as difficult as remembering what FSB freqencies are possible on a socket 370, building a computer is more like a Lego set. Things can go a few certain ways, but there's only one right way. If it doesn't fit, it doesn't belong. If only people knew even the basics about computers, Best Buy's tech bench would go out of business, and I'd move back into my Kenmore vacuum box in the alleyway.
  • by guitaristx (791223) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:56PM (#12016414) Journal
    I'll spare you the trouble - if you are aware of the list below, and do it by default when setting up a system, don't waste your time reading the article.

    • Good components = good (and bad components = bad)
    • space out PCI cards
    • use a separate partition for swap and temp
    • use a fixed-size swap file
    • don't get online with an unpatched system
    • use TweakUI
    • disable stupid windows crap



    • "-use a separate partition for swap and temp" ;linux, check

      "-use a fixed-size swap file" ;linux, check

      "-don't get online with an unpatched system" ;I recompile regularly.

      "-use TweakUI" ;No

      "-disable stupid windows crap" ;linux, check
  • by Dacmot (266348) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:57PM (#12016434)
    they want their employees back.
  • by gosand (234100) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:58PM (#12016449)
    I have built my own systems since I don't remember when. But my first rule of thumb when building a new system - research all the technology that changed since the last time you built a system.

    To put it in perspective, all of my systems at home have PC-133 memory in them. The last time I built an entire system from scratch, 80 gig drives were expensive, DDR memory didn't exist, 12x CD-RW drives were getting affordable, and we were just breaking the gigahertz barrier in CPUs.

    Now I have sort of been following things, but not enough to know off the top of my head what to grab off the e-shelf to build a system. I have found that this has been the biggest challenge in building new systems.

    • First figure out what you want in your custom-built system. After all, that's why you are building your own instead of buying from Dell. If it's price, then it's questionable whether you'll be able to beat a huge distributor like Dell when they have special sales or outlet sales. Then it's some tradeoff between silence, looks, and power. When you start hunting around for cutting-edge motherboards, graphics cards, SATA 10k RPM drives, and also trying to make it generally silent with large diameter fans, sil
  • by bonch (38532) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:00PM (#12016467)
    I'm an experience system builder, so this article is intriguing. However, I feel he does things the long way or is unaware of better ways to do things when building custom advanced systems. For instance, when I'm building a new freelance gig for use at home, I typically click the drop-down list make sure to select exactly what is going into my custom rig. Or if there are multiple color options available (like when I'm rigging up a new custom-built MP3 player), I will click the drop-down list and select which one I want. Sometimes I might even want to put my mark on the thing and type in a custom message to be engraved on the back, just to remind people of the customization work I put into it.

    I'm also curious about the PCI slot positioning part of the article, as my custom-built rigs skip that step entirely. Why bother? Often, I store my parts directly in the monitor itself or even without a monitor so I can hook the box up to anything. Then I might carefully select those drop-down lists to hot-rod the box to my liking and really custom-build an advanced freelance system by upping RAM or processor speed via careful direction of the mouse cursor when selecting drop-down lists. My system-building buddy down the street doesn't even bother with upping the RAM via the drop-down lists and just uses a putty knife to up the RAM with a custom-bought chip of his own liking, but that's getting into levels of extraneous advanced system-building that I don't have time for.

    I hope my experience in advanced system building is helpful for you all. If you want to read more about my advanced system building skills, I suggest you check this out [apple.com] and take notes.
  • hey now (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Menotti M (846491) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:02PM (#12016495) Homepage
    As a part time Geek Squad agent (in the summer and during intersession), I kinda resent the author's disdain for us. True, you may run into some who don't know their ass from their elbow. But, in general, the in-store agents have much more expertise than the sales people, many have at least some certification, and the agents who do field work (Double Agents) go through a pretty legitimate training and testing period. Even if you considered Geek Squad members to be useless, the article does not provide a ton of information for individuals who "built dozens of desktop computers on your own and for others and consider yourself a seasoned system builder." The author has a bias towards Maxtor, for example, without providing any empirical evidence beside the fact that he's had good experience with them. Personally, I've had pretty good experiences with Western Digital drives too, but those aren't mentioned. He also arbitrarily comments on things like adjusting the page file, justifying his recommendations by "thinking" they are good settings. Yes, there are many great points in there, but the author has a bit too much confidence with him/herself and not enough data to back up some his more specific recommendations, not to mention some unfounded commentary on Geek Squad representatives.
  • by JawzX (3756) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:02PM (#12016501) Homepage Journal
    that aperently people didn't already know most of this or it wouldn't have been worth writing an article about. Imagine! placing hot PCI cards where they are easy to cool? Or perhaps moving the big RFI producers away from the sound card? jeez people. And who'da ever thunk of partitioning a drive? I've been using scratch partitions and/or redundant OS partitions for, literaly, 17 years. Since I got my first Mac with an HD. (SE with a 20 meg External!)... I mean really most of this is about how to setup XP, not how to BUILD a system.

    My Karma's getting too good, So I thought I'd bitch a little.
  • by angle_slam (623817) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:06PM (#12016535)
    Things that I learned from building my XP system:
    • He talks about installing SP 2 after installing XP. That's fine, if you have an SP 1 CD. But if you have a pre-SP1 CD like I do, XP will not recognize any hard drive space over 127 GB. You can't partition it or anything. XP thinks the drive is 127 GB and you're stuck. The solution (and probably a better idea even if you have an SP1 disc) is to Slipstream SP2 onto your XP install disc. Here is an explanation [winsupersite.com] of the process. Basically, you integrate SP2 into XP and burn a new CD. So when you install XP, it is automatically SP2 and recognizes the full size of the hard drive.
    • My system would not Standby properly. The fans were still on, which defeats the purpose of putting the system into Standby. You have to go into the BIOS and enable S2 or S3 Standby mode if you want the system to appear off in Standby mode, but still have 5 second startup.
    • For some odd reason, my motherboard BIOS didn't have USB 2.0 defaulted on. I have no idea why they would do that. Make sure it is changed to enable USB 2.0 support.
    • Don't forget the Administrator password. I had to do a reinstall because I forgot it. Luckily, I hadn't transferred any info at the time.
  • Why all the trouble to optimize IE? Shouldn't you be using Firefox anyway to increase system stability. It's when you're browser crashes and doesn't take your desktop with it.
  • by Niet3sche (534663) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:10PM (#12016571)

    I'm going to studiously ignore saying anything about the article. If you can benefit from it, that's great. If not, that's fine too. Here's the meat of my post: with prices coming down and package / rebate deals on new boxes all the time, it might be tempting to ask why should I build my own box at all?.

    My personal take on this (yes, I build all my boxes) used to be cost-effectiveness and component picking, but now it is simply that I can dictate exactly which components I want in my system for the same price as buying something bundled. There is no longer any real cost savings here, but I do like to maintain control over what I put in my machines (up very very very nearly 24/7 thanks to this, with downtime only to upgrade or blow out dust). So there is still merit in "rolling your own" box, as far as I am concerned.

    I wanted to beat the cries of, "why would I build when I can buy for the same price?". ;)

  • by -Harlequin- (169395) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:12PM (#12016592)
    Sure, criticise that he calls the article "advanced" when you're all light-years ahead, but I read the article expected to be a noobie way over my head, and discovered that I was actually an advanced system builder who simply hadn't realised how 1337 I was.

    It left me with a warm fuzzy feeling.
  • On page 4, he talks about optimising IE, changing the cache size and stuff... But what kind of "professional" uses IE? Houston, we have a problem...
  • The next level (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NeedleSurfer (768029) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @07:09PM (#12017243)
    " If this sounds like you, you've come to the right place if you're looking to take your system building skills to the next level."

    And I would still be using winXP? How is the next level just a few tweaks? If I'm that good shouldn't you teach me really advanced stuff like how to use the serial interface to monitor my computer or access my hardware firmwares to modify them... shouldn't you teach me how to boot several system in one computer, depending on which "startup button" I have pressed (imagine an external keypad, each button labeled with a different OS it boots when pressed). I mean, what if I'm beyond swap file relocation, what if I'm truly advanced but don't have the money to learn computer engineering?

    I mean, I have tried MIT online electrical engineering courses but I was lacking a tutor or someone to explain to me some of the concept shown there without explanation...

    anyway you get it, this is just another winXP tweak guide, gazillion of them are on the net, none of them actually does something truly usefull..

    show me ADVANCED and then we'll talk!
  • by tweek (18111) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @07:20PM (#12017357) Homepage Journal
    n general I think 1GB is good for 512MB systems, 1.5GB is good for 1GB systems, and 2GB is good for 2GB systems.

    There is no frelling way I'm going to set a swap space to 2GB. I'm sorry. I made this mistake with a production server and I've been paying for it ever since.

    Sure the general rule used to be double your physical memory but that rule just doesn't fly anymore.

    We've got a few RHEL servers that were installed with 2GB of memory. I couldn't bring myself to create a 4GB swap space so I set it to 2GB. It was the single worst choice I've ever made.

    There is no way in hell I want to swap out a full 2GB of memory. If my system needs to swap out a full 2GB of something, I've got other issues. There is no way you're going to be able to fit that back in when it wants to go from swap to RAM so something else is going to get paged out and the cycle continues.

    I've contented myself to set a max of 768MB no matter how much memory I have. One of my DB2 servers has 16GB of RAM. There is no way I'm creating a 32GB swap vol much less a 16GB one.
  • by ktwombley (682915) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @03:55AM (#12021222)
    This guy sounds like one of Geek Squad's best customers. The guy who thinks he's a pro.

    Working in the Geek Squad I find that most customers are pretty clueless; they don't know how to set up internet, or if they do, they've got a million popups. Pretty run of the mill.

    The other 5% of customers I see are just like this guy. They go to best buy (cause that's where all the pros buy stuff) for some shiny new gadget for their machine, go home and spend all night shoehorning it in, and it doesn't work. Next day they show up at my bench and I've got to fix this idiot's computer and install his new hard drive. $50 well earned.

    Most computer professionals can laugh in the face of geek squad all they want. Geek Squad simply isn't for people like us. In other words, if you build cars for a living, you don't go to jiffy lube, and if you build computers for a living, you don't go to geek squad. No need to be dismissive or rude about it; you're simply not the target market. Be pleased that you don't need to spend $120 every couple of months to get your machine de-spywared and move on with your life.

    Geek Squad is for the unwashed masses out there. The truely clueless (or even worse, the clueless who think they're clueful). And it does just fine a job at that.

As the trials of life continue to take their toll, remember that there is always a future in Computer Maintenance. -- National Lampoon, "Deteriorata"

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