Friday, April 27, 2012

A tale of two towers

When I started my search for a new computer to replace my aging system, I naturally began looking for the appropriate hard drive. This is the heart of any personal computer. It *IS* the desktop after all, and comes in many different shapes, sizes and configurations.

Many of us think of name brands such as Microsoft or Apple Macintosh, when we think of owning a PC, but it all starts with the humble computer tower, where motherboards nurse their internal hardware to external peripherals. Manufacturers build the parts, and companies such as IBM, Acer and Dell put them together to make your "name-brand" PC - complete with trademark software (most likely Microsoft).

The old Acer Standard Desktop Computer

When you want to configure your own system however, it takes a bit of research. First you have to know what you want to use the computer for, and then secondly, limit yourself to that benchmark. Because when I first started looking, I wanted the MOST RAM (Random Access Memory) and the MOST HDD (Hard Disk Drive) space, because I naturally assumed more meant faster processing speeds.

It's true, the more RAM (Random Access Memory) you have available, the faster the processes of your computer will run. But there are other parts of your computer which can be delegated specific tasks too. Enter the graphics card. I never had one in my old PC, but in my new second-hand tower they provided one. It's the only reason I allowed myself to compromise on less memory than I wanted. Because with a graphics card, it could handle the video footage you're watching, while your RAM is being used elsewhere on the computer. In other words, it takes the pressure off the RAM if you have a graphics card.

Still, I asked the company I purchased the second-hand unit from, to upgrade my RAM (Random Access Memory). It was really the HDD (Hard Disk Drive) memory I had to live with. It was only 160GB when most computers come with a hefty 500GB nowadays. It was way more than the 40GB of my old system, but still, that memory can get eaten up over time with repair patches, as I discovered with all my Microsoft Windows operating systems.

But here again, I found a solution. Microsoft Windows in one option for an operating system, which traditionally eats up a lot of HDD memory, but Linux based software uses a lot less. As it doesn't get hacked as much as Microsoft, there are less repair patches constantly being downloaded. Plus as the operator, Linux allows you to pick what downloads you want to install. With Windows you just had to accept ALL the automatic downloads it decided your system needed, whether you actually used the programs on it or not.

I will do a more in-depth post on Linux and Ubuntu which was the operating system I eventually chose. For now however, I want to break down the cost of my new system, and how it compares to my old system.

The new Acer Mini Computer

The Acer Media Centre V1000 cost:     $169.00
Upgrade from 2GB to 4GB RAM cost:  $  45.00
Postage from NSW to QLD cost:           $  16.50
Insurance cost:                                       $    5.30
USB TO ps2 adapter cost:                     $  20.00

Total:                                                       $255.80

Because I wanted to use my existing Monitor and Keyboard/Mouse, I checked the cable fittings which were PS2. The Mini computer I was purchasing however, didn't have those fixtures at the back, so I had to buy a USB to PS2 adapter. It looks like this:

Image credit

I kicked myself, because the company I was buying the second-hand computer from were selling those same adapters for $11. I didn't buy one at the time because I thought Dave had one with his laptop! Silly me, he didn't, and after my run around town the cheapest I found it for was $20. I could have paid less than $2 however, if I wanted to wait over a month for it to arrive from Hong Kong. Just goes to show the mark-up rate in Australia, doesn't it?

The company I purchased my mini computer from was Express PC Parts. I liked how thorough they were with pictures on their website, plus links to manufacturers the parts were from. At a glance, I could see what I was getting and if it was going to suit my purposes. The only downside was it came with Windows Vista that was originally installed on the hard drive. But I deleted it when I installed Ubuntu.

Still, for just over $255 I'm not complaining. Compared to my old system, I've got double the RAM, 120GB more HDD memory, uses less than half the electricity than my bigger tower, plus I didn't have to pay a manufacturer for the software packages. I hated all those pesky "free trial" offers for security programs, using up valuable memory, which I could never delete.

Linux was indeed a breath of fresh air! So was the final price.

What I found most interesting from this exercise however, was the difference in size between the large tower and small. Do you want to know the real reason why one is big and the other is small? The larger towers are manufactured to allow future upgrades for internal devices. I found this interesting, because most people who buy a cheap package deal, have absolutely no intention of opening up the tower for upgrades. Yet all "cheap" package deals sell the large towers. Feels like a bit of unnecessary waste. The mini computers nowadays only house the system it is being purchased for - only a general PC for general use. If more people spend on mini-computers (for their intended purpose) maybe manufacturers will get the message?

My old tower won't go to waste however. I'm going to rebuild it. For the first time I'm going to pull apart my own computer and upgrade it myself. I don't expect it to be a pain free experience, but it will most definitely be an enlightening one. There won't be any pressure to rush finishing either. I predict my second-hand new unit has about another 6 years use ahead of it.

In fact, if I learn how to upgrade computers from scratch, I may never have to buy a new computer again! Just keep recycling the old ones and replacing the parts which are broken.


  1. Chris, get ahold of A+ certification books. They are more geared towards the windows environment but they are very good at explaining the differant hardware and the concepts if you want to build from scratch.
    It's not painless but it's very fun( I took A+ classes long ago)

  2. You are recycling old computers? Cool! Not to mention very practical, since when a computer crashes, only parts of it were malfunctioning, and some parts are still usable. Just always conduct some test to check if the parts you were importing to a new set are in good running condition. By the way, that’s nice to hear that you are not superficial when it comes to computers. The computer tower certainly is an important part of the computer.

    Benita Bolland


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