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 Review, Bargain Basement PC
Visual Inspection
By: Steffen Scheibler, April 9, 2002  Print this article


The first thing I did once I got the system to the office was to open her up. After removing the bag containing the extra screws and other assorted parts of the casing that weren't used I had a good look at how everything was assembled.

Chassis & The Interior

The chassis, as mentioned before, is nothing spectacular. It has an On/Off/Suspend all-in-one button and a reset button, which requires a pin to use. It also has two LEDs: Power (Green) and HDD (Yellow). A lot of the interior is all sharp edges and care is required when adding or removing drives, RAM or the heatsink from the CPU. The casing is of a particularly solid design and I gives me the general impression that it could take a lot of abuse. I was also unable to make it rattle or produce any unpleasant resonance.

The PC - Inside, as assembled by the retailer

The PC - Inside, as assembled by the retailer

As you can probably guess, the inside was not done particularly well. The IDE and floppy cables were on the verge of obstructing the airflow to the CPU and their proximity was also needlessly adding to the noise level of the computer. In addition to this the video card and the two PCI cards were all placed next to each other, obstructing airflow to the video card's heatsink.

The PC - Inside, as improved by myself in under 10 minutes

The PC - Inside, as improved by myself in under 10 minutes

The PC - Inside, as improved by myself in under 10 minutes (alternate view)

The PC - Inside, as improved by myself in under 10 minutes (alternate view)

Some minor re-arrangement of the cables solved a lot of (potential) problems and only took a few minutes. In my experience, all you will need to drastically improve the airflow in a cheap assembled PC is a few rubber bands, string or anything that will hold a few IDE, floppy and LED cables together. I also moved the SBLive! and NIC as far away from the GeForce2 MX as I could. This made some difference as the video card got really hot before and is now just warm to the touch.

A touch irritating was the fact that the audio cable from the CD-ROM was connected to the onboard audio device as opposed to the installed SBLive!'s CD-input. This was clearly an oversight, but one which might cause a lot of problems for someone who has no idea of how these things are supposed to be connected.

The hardware

The Heatsink on the CPU, which is quite large for a Pentium 3 CPU, is copper-based and has a quiet ball-bearing fan on it. Its design reminds me a great deal of a brand-name cooler called a "Volcano II" but I could not find any recognisable markings on the heatsink or the fan.

Never one to shy away from looking under the bonnet, I decided to remove the heatsink. The heatsink came off very easily and after removing the heatsink I noticed that the retailer applied WAY too much thermal paste. I have no real way of knowing the quality of the thermal paste they applied, however anything more than a hair's width of a smear is usually too much and will end up impeding the heat-transfer. I always keep some "arctic silver" thermal paste around, so I removed the white paste from the CPU and the heatsink using a tissue and a cotton bud and then applied a thin smear on the CPU. This reduced the temperature of the CPU by a staggering 7C!

The floppy drive (Mitsumi), CD-ROM (ASUS) and HDD (IBM) are all standard makes and models often found in brand-name PCs, but I was a bit disappointed to find that the IBM drive was a model DTLA-305070 (30GB, 2MB buffer, 8.5ms seek, 7200rpm) as it has a high rate of failure and the series was quietly discontinued because of this design flaw.

The GeForceII MX video card, RealTek network card and SBLive! sound card are all very proven, reliable but slightly dated products. The SBLive! model in this machine is in fact 3 years old now.

The RAM was a pleasant surprise. The retailer promised "PC133" which almost always means some no-name CL3 (slower) memory module. The memory included with this computer was CL2 Infineon RAM, which is, on the whole, pretty decent stuff. This stick would most likely make 150MHz at CL2.

The bottom line

The computer could be relatively painlessly upgraded as there is room for another HDD and 2 more CD-ROM sized devices. There are also 4 PCI slots are available, although I would only recommend adding 3 more devices, because of the video card. This basic system would also give you two more DIMM slots to expand RAM (which I have done). There is no Firewire connector on this machine.
All the standard connectors are present and accounted for:
- 2x USB
- 2x COM
- 1x LPT
- PS/2 Mouse & Keyboard
- Onboard Audio (should you choose to use that over the SBLive!).

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