Buying or upgrading a PC? : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread

I noticed the thread on the latest offering from Apple. Personally, I favor PCs and have owned every generation of processor since the IBM XT. In the dark ages, I remember decks of punch cards and the wonder of the first Apple computers with a whopping 64k of memory. When I could afford my first PC, it was an IBM XT with dual floppies and 640k of RAM. Since then, it has been a never-ending cycle of building and/or upgrading PCs... 286, 386, 486, Pentium, Pentium II, Pentium III and now, my leap into the world of the Pentium IV.

Since PCs seem a semi-disposable commodity, I'm always reluctant to spend the money required to stay on the bleeding edge of technology. Frankly, most of my applications simply do not require much computing power. For me, it's like owning a Ferrari when the speed limit is 55 mph.

I have had mixed success with non-Intel chips, so I'm building my latest system around a 1.7 gigahertz Pentium IV. Generally, I think processor speed is overrated because most systems have bottlenecks elsewhere.

When you buy a real bargain PC, you often get shorted on the mainboard (or motherboard). I like a board with lots of expansion slots, so I picked a Gigabyte board with 6 PCI slots, an AGP 4X slot and CNR slot. I don't like mainboards with integrated functions like video cards for a number of reasons including historical experience. Besides, I have a GeForce 3 video card that can migrate from an older system. As a side note, investing in a good video card can make a huge performance difference for some applications (like games).

Another annoyance with bargain systems is a cheap case. I like big cases with plenty expansion bays, a robust power supply and easy "no tool" access. If you tinker with your PC, the case will make this habit a dream (or a nightmare).

Memory is inexpensive, so I'll start with 256 meg. I'm not sure I'll really see a performance difference, but I may pick up another stick of 256.

I'm pretty skeptical about the new Microsoft operating systems. I generally prefer Windows 98 with all the service packs to Windows ME or 2000, particularly because I have some legacy software I still use. The jury is still out on Windows XP... I'll wait for the traditional service packs and hope that it eventually becomes rock solid.

Over the course of time, I've become used to having two hard drives. This makes backing up much easier than fooling with tapes or zip drives. For personal use, a pair of 40 gigabyte hard drives are more than ample.

The rest of the PC will come from older systems. Like many veteran users, I have keyboards, mice, monitors, modems, zip drives, CD/RW, DVD, etc.

With good components, it's surprisingly easy to build a PC. It's also rewarding to "recycle" quality components from your old system. As in many human activities, our opinions are shaped by experience. After some real hardware headaches, I'm inclined to pay a few dollars more for quality components from reputable firms. For about the same amount of money for a "value" PC, you can build a surprisingly strong system... and you have the added satisfaction of knowing what's "under the hood."

-- Ken Decker (, January 14, 2002



I'm stingy; I always buy the *previous* generation of Hot Thing. Right now with processors hitting 2 gigahertz, the older 700's are dropping down into my price range. I may get one this year, but my current box uses an AMD 350, and it's plenty fast for now.

You're absolutely right about the bottlenecks. The biggest one is still the hard drive; access to the hard drive takes from 1,000 to 1,000,000 times as long as accessing RAM. The benefits in speed are obtained with self-contained programs that can load all code and data from disk and then just rip away in the processor's internal cache; now THERE, you WILL see a dramatic improvement (especially if the program is calculation-intensive).

I haven't had the problems that you describe on the clone processors, but that's just me. I *like* AMD. To me, it's just as good as Intel for about 1/2 the price. Intel is horribly overpriced in my book -- but again, that's just me.

Where great minds think alike here is on the dual hard drives. I've been doing that for YEARS.

In fact, I back up our audio network at work with a 60 gigger on one of the workstations. It's a million times faster than ZIP, tape or CDW. I just set up an "xcopy /s /c" on my way home and let it rip overnight.

By the way ... you DO know that XP is NT, right? I refuse to use it (one reason why I recently began migrating to Linux). The security problems are only part of it; to me, it's just plain overkill for the home user. Plus, I have a lot of older DOS software that gives NT big problems.

-- Stephen M. Poole (, January 15, 2002.

Hmmm... I thought I was stingy keeping the system under a grand. I forgot to mention that another bottleneck is mainboard bus speed. Rarely do I find processor speed an issue, but I do like having enough RAM to stay off the hard drives. I'm a leftover from the DOS days when you could create a RAM drive and go.

I'm OK with AMD, but my tech pals tell me the newest AMD processors are not legacy OS friendly. I'm still recovering from the loss of my favorite OS MS DOS 5.0... though 6.22 was pretty decent. If you run MS XP, I hear AMD is the ticket, but I'm reluctant to part with some old DOS kernel software.

Yes, I know that XP is really just NT with more marketing. Actually, I have found NT Workstation fairly stable (by my low standards for any MS product), I just can't bear parting with my DOS toys. I detest NT Server for any number of reasons, mostly because I thought Novell Netware was ultra stable. I had a server go over two years without a hiccup.

I really don't know much about Linux, but have heard some positive buzz.

-- Ken Decker (, January 15, 2002.


Hmmm... I thought I was stingy keeping the system under a grand.

You are. You're just not as stingy as I am. :)

I forgot to mention that another bottleneck is mainboard bus speed.

Sure, and the PCs get around this with a byzantine layer of caching. You have main RAM, then motherboard cache, then the cache in the processor. What I was saying was, as long as your code and data are executing inside the processor's own cache, you will see a drastic improvement in performance.

The Pentiums (and clones) even include something called branch prediction, where they can guess (with high accuracy) where your program will branch in the code, and will preload the internal cache with that code.

I'm a leftover from the DOS days when you could create a RAM drive and go.

I found a freeware Ramdisk program that will let me create any size I want on the fly, and resize it on the fly. When I'm working in DOS, I love it. :)

I'm OK with AMD, but my tech pals tell me the newest AMD processors are not legacy OS friendly.

Well ... I don't know if I'm a "pal," but I *am* a "tech guy," and I don't buy that. The incompatibilities usually come from the OS trying to use new, un- or poorly-documented processor instructions.

It could be that they're thinking of a few *older* AMD processors that had some divide error bugs that would cause problems when booting, say, Windows 95. Microsoft provides a free patch for that. The latest AMD processors don't have that bug.

I'm still recovering from the loss of my favorite OS MS DOS 5.0...

I once helped write a complete anti-virus suite for DOS 5 and 6. That was fun, hacking around at the BIOS level. :)

But unfortunately, it was obsolete by the time we released it. Windows 95 killed it.

I'm reluctant to part with some old DOS kernel software.

Again, I think your "tech pals" are misleading you. I've run too much older DOS software to count and just haven't had that many problems.

I really don't know much about Linux, but have heard some positive buzz.

The sad truth is that Linux is still overkill for most home systems. If someone were to develop a simple 32-bit OS with a good Web browser, a Java VM (which would allow it to run a TON of software, including a complete Office-compatible package) and a good graphics and sound card, it would be basement priced and would sell like hotcakes.

But they never listen to me. :)

Instead, home users are stuck adapting the latest *business* systems, which isn't always the best fit.

-- Stephen M. Poole (, January 16, 2002.

PS - to that barebones machine, of course, you'd add a DOS VM so that all that old DOS software will run.

The FreeDOS project is doing a good job with keeping DOS alive. The VM could be built around that. Wouldn't be any long filenames, though ...

-- Stephen M. Poole (, January 16, 2002.

A question: From my experience with Dos, albeit limited, why in the world would anyone want to keep it alive?

-- capnfun (, January 16, 2002.

Capnfun, no reason at all except to preserve the work invested in DOS applications. My brother has an incredible number of files in Wordstar!! (Turdstar, for those in the know.)

-- Peter Errington (, January 16, 2002.

I agree on most points. As for AMD, I just haven't enough personal experience to make a conclusive judgement. I managed to get a sweet deal on the Intel 1.7 so I didn't mind too much. I'll keep my ear to the ground on AMD and may give them a spin the next time around. I agree completely on OS "Light." I remember a nifty GUI called GeoWorks that ran under the 640k RAM limit and worked like a champ without sucking memory. The Microsoft Windows family is a bloated OS mess.

As for my affection for DOS, I simply like the ability to do things in DOS quickly and elegantly that I cannot do in a Windows environment.

-- Ken Decker (, January 16, 2002.


The quick answer is, because there's TONS of legacy DOS software out there that's still being used.

For example, at the family insurance agency back in NC, almost all rating software from the companies is written for DOS (under 85-era COBOL, in fact[g]). When a rating change is issued, they mail out 1.44 floppies to all agencies with the "new" software. It *will not* run properly under Windows.

There are people like me who still have dozens of old DOS games that we don't want to part with (Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem, you name it). Not all of these have been ported to newer systems.

Many of the development tools that I use -- *especially* those for embedded/control applications -- were written for DOS. Some of these refuse to work under Windows, or Windows kills them when I try (because it doesn't like the way they access the ports).

A lot of the POS software that I've seen was written for DOS. The local grocer and video store both use DOS point of sale systems.

Microsoft has been facing this problem for years; they want everyone to rewrite and update their software, but for a smaller "cottage" industry-type business (such as the people who developed my PIC programmer), that software represents a huge investment of time and money. They literally had to hock the house and pawn the dog to pay for it the first time; they're (naturally) VERY reluctant to do it again.

Finally, because I'm used to command prompts, I'm much more comfortable with them. When I'm doing a bunch of grunt work on my drives (copying, deleting, etc.), I prefer scooting out to a prompt and using things like "DEL A???.BAK" and "XCOPY AB???.EX?", which can't be done (not easily, anyway) under Windows.

Does that answer your question? :)

-- Stephen M. Poole (, January 16, 2002.

Speaking of miserable Microsoft, the company is off the hook with a wrist slap, due to the First Commandment of this Bush Administration - Let no large contributor go unrewarded.

-- Peter Errington (, January 16, 2002.

Yeppers Stephen, I just thought that with all the new technology that the archaic stuff like DOS would naturally be left behind, never really stopped to think of all the things that might still utilize it. I seem to recall that the register system (MDS) at the old job was a DOS system, I allways thought it would one day peter out but that damn thing just keeps on keeping on, though the hardware for it has become the needle in the proverbial haystack.

DOS allways struck me as a 1st rate cluster**** and had me thinking that there had to be a better way.I found Apple.I guess if you got started on it and were use to it your opinion would be drastically different.

-- capnfun (, January 16, 2002.

The golden rule... those with the gold make the rules. And Cap, DOS is an acquired taste. For some, the DOS era was full of halycon days staying up late and pushing the envelope of limited systems. It was unabashed admiration for elegant code, not the bloated, undisciplined nonsense of today.

Best of all, DOS works. It is a remarkably robust little OS that keeps on going... and going... and going.

-- Ken Decker (, January 16, 2002.


I have used an Apple. The local newspaper back home in NC used them exclusively, and they called me to repair them time to time. I really liked them, but the problem was, they wouldn't run the boxes full of software that I already had on hand (read: old DOS and Windows software).

That's been Apple's weak spot for some years now. People who don't have a ton of old legacy software might consider migrating to it.

Do you know if Apple has a DOS VM or a DOS emulator that's worth a flip? I'm installing DOSEMU on Linux right now; I hope it works, because if so, I'll kiss WinTel goodbye. :)

-- Stephen M. Poole (, January 17, 2002.

Stephen, I don't think there is any "old legacy software " that fits into the Apple scheme. Jobs, in the early days realized what a waste it really was and abandoned it, favoring instead an OS that was based on user intuitiveness and ease over the more (lack of a better word) technical/code happy system that he/they at 1st devised.

I don't think that is a weakness, I call it forward thinking. Of course the free market disagrees with me.

You and or I could run a search for Apple/DOS emulators but without even doing a search on it I would have to wonder 'why?'

If you can master a pure Linux OS and somehow migrate (???) that which you love to that OS, that would seem to be the road to take.

I'm no diehard techie but if there were no such thing as Mac I would be all over Linux. Apple did think enough of it to make it the backbone of OS X.

-- capnfun (, January 17, 2002.

Virtual PC emulates the Intel chipset, so it allows you to run any OS that would run on an Intel box whether it's DOS, Windows98/98/2000/NT/XP, OS2, Linux, or whatever.

-- (what@i.think), January 17, 2002.

It's turned into pretty damn good software, it use to be so buggy that most Macer's only used it in a pinch. Now it's really stable and as a matter of fact I'm prolly gonna have to get it to run a photo app I can only find for windows. They also make a Virtual PC for Windows so that various MS OS's can run simultaneously.

-- capnfun (, January 17, 2002.

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