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Assignment 9: PC Configuration

Due Date: Monday, November 25, 2002

This take-home section of Test #3 is worth 50 points. Late work will not be accepted.



The objective of this exercise is to provide you with experience in assessing different personal computer (PC) configurations, based on the expected use of that computer, and in the process help you reach a comfort level with the materials in the text book.


People often ask for recommendations regarding “the best” computer. However, there is no such thing given the number of vendors, configurations and purchasing options, not to mention platform considerations (PC vs. Apple). For starters, the person asking this question is often not taking two key criteria into consideration: how they intend to use the computer and their budget. Fortunately, there are some guiding principles, or rules of thumb, that you can use to help identify some acceptable options.


NOTE: the directions below assume the purchase of a desktop computer. If you would like to consider a laptop please let me know as you will likely need some additional information. You will still be responsible for understanding the key issues/concepts related to desktop PC configuration.


The Task

Configure and price a personal computer. You must use at least 2 sources or references. In other words, these sources must represent a comparison between a similar configuration from 2 different vendors, or a comparison of 2 different models from the same vendor (be sure to explain why you’ve chosen to consider only a single vendor and why you’ve chosen the 2 models in particular). I will also accept the submission of a single model & vendor if you provide information from a supporting editorial review of that model (again, be sure to describe why you decided to focus on single vendor). The supporting review must be of the same model but you may choose some different configuration options. For example, you might find a great review of Dell Model 8200 but you decide to configure your PC with a small hard drive, additional memory or a different monitor to best meet your needs.


Examples of sources:

PC Vendors offering on-line, direct sales





Trade Publications, with on-line reviews






Note: these are just examples. You can use these or find additional references by using a search engine or visiting your favorite magazine rack.  If you are using a review to support your decision, it should be no more than 3-6 months old.


Note: different resources have different strategies for evaluating computers. Some tend to focus on ‘generic’ brand, low-cost PCs. Others focus on more name-brand (Compaq, IBM, HP, Dell, Gateway, etc.) vendors. Both approaches have their place.


Start by identifying a budget. Be sure to include any printer or peripherals you intend to purchase at the same time. Doing so will reduce the amount you have available for the PC itself, but sometimes you can get a good deal on these items when purchased with the PC. However, caution is advised as you can often get better pricing by picking something up on sale at the local Office Supply or Electronics retail outlet (e.g. Staples, Office Max, Circuit City, Best Buy, etc). After more detailed analysis of your needs and the options available, you may alter that budget if appropriate.


To Be Handed In

The assignment will be handed in electronically (e-mail or diskette) and must include the following items:

(You can use a Microsoft Word table or embed an Excel spreadsheet, as you’ve done in one of the labs).

(Make sure that the URL addresses are correct. I should be able to type them into the address bar of my browser and get directly to the web page that you reference).


The body of the paper must address each of the following topics:









On a separate page, include a table listing the details of your final configuration. Your configuration, or specifications, should include each of the items listed in the following sample.


PC Configuration for: Michael Daigle







Example - Intel Pentium IV


Example – 2.4 GHz

Memory/RAM (capacity & type):

256 Megabytes (MB) RDRAM

Hard Drive


30 GB (optionally include more details, e.g. Ultra ATA/100 7200 RPM)


(size & type):

Example – 17 in. Flat Trinitron Monitor or 15 in. Flat Panel (LCD) Display

Operating system (OS):

Example – Microsoft XP Home or Microsoft XP Professional

Productivity Software:

Example – Microsoft Office  or Microsoft Works

Video Card

(brand, model & amount of video memory):

Example – Nvidia brand, 64 MB GEForce 4 MX or

ATI brand, 64 MB Radeon 9000 Pro

CD and/or DVD drives  (type & number):

Example – 16x DVD-ROM and 4x DVD+RW/+R Drives

Sound Card

(brand & type):

Example – SoundBlaster (brand) Live! 5.1 (type)


(brand & model):

Example – Harmon Kardon HK-695 or Monsoon Planar Media 7 with Subwoofer



Network Card:

Example - 10/100 PCI Fast Ethernet NIC

Other Software:

Example – Antivirus, image editing, etc. or indicate “None”

Other Peripherals:

Example – Zip drive, printer, video capture card, etc. or indicate “None”


Example – 1 year limited warranty or 3 year Warranty with At-Home service


Figure 1: Specifications & Pricing


Last but not least your paper should document the cost of the computer. Don’t forget to consider shipping charges, sales tax (in some cases when ordering on-line you will not be charged sales tax) and other incidentals. You may show the costs on an itemized basis, i.e. for each item in your configuration, or as a total, showing tax and shipping separately.


PC Configuration Tips


The tips that follow likely reflect some of my own biases. If you ask another computer professional you will get some different responses. Also, the technology described will become dated. Six months or a year from now, the technology available will differ. Still, the concepts will be fairly constant and with a little review of the latest technology specifications you should be able to make good purchasing decisions well into the future.


Remember that the material in Chapter 2, of the Concepts text, covers much of this material. Also, see page 21 of the section titled “Essential Computing Concepts” (at the end of the Hands-on Lab book, Exploring Microsoft Office 2000 Professional) for additional tips, which may provide another perspective.




·        If on a budget, consider a Celeron processor. If you are using your computer for productivity software this class of microprocessor will do fine.

·        Spend a lot of time playing computer games or expect to do a lot of image or video editing, consider the fastest Pentium 4 class (currently 2.8 GHz for Intel P4) microprocessor that you can afford. You’ll pay a bit of a premium for the fastest, i.e. newest, chips.

·        If your expected computer use falls somewhere in the middle, that is to say you may try out a little image editing or game play but you can’t justify the premium associated with the latest, greatest microprocessor chips, get a slightly slower, older chip. You’ll likely never notice the difference.

·        Note: that the microprocessor is not a component that you are likely to upgrade so you want to give it proper consideration up front.



·        Some people hold the opinion that “you can never have enough memory”. While having sufficient memory is a key component in terms of the impact on your computing experience you can easily add more memory at a later time. Sometimes this works out because the prices for a given memory chip often drops. Recommend a minimum of 128 MB. Start with 256 MB if your budget allows it. Consider 512 MB or 1 GB if you intend to do a lot of image or video editing, gaming, programming, etc.

·        The fastest type of memory is RDRAM (good for gamers). Needless to say, it is the most expensive. Your budget PC will likely be configured with SDRAM. Nothing wrong with that and its cheaper. If you’re looking for performance without the premium price tag, consider a PC with DDR SDRAM.

·        Tip: if you’re purchasing a PC from a vendor that allows you to alter the PC configuration be sure to ask for a memory configuration that leaves 1 or more of the memory slots open. This will enable you to easily add in additional memory in the future, without having to replace/upgrade the existing chips. In other words, if all the memory slots are used you will need to remove some of the existing memory chips to replace them with higher capacity memory chips in order to upgrade your total memory capacity.


Hard Drive

·        Like memory, disk space is one item that you will likely want more of at some point. Disk capacities seem to increase exponentially and the price of that disk storage always comes down. It can be mind-boggling that we will ever fill that huge ‘n’ GB drive (however big it is) that we just got but the trend is that software keeps getting more complex and consequently requires more space. That is not to say anything about all the music, image & video files that you’ll accumulate. However, as with memory, it is pretty easy to add a 2nd hard drive later. Also, sacrificing a little bit here, for the sake of your budget, is not likely to impact your computing experience.

·        Having said that, I suggest at least a 30 or 40GB hard drive. You may be able to get an 80 GB drive for a minimal price increase and the price for 120 GB drives seem to be dropping. We recently purchased a new name-brand 120 GB drive, to add to one of our workstations, for $200 and I’ve seen $50 rebates on some recently.

·        When comparing 2 drives, remember to consider hard drive speed and access time.



·        LCD panels are dropping and 15” panels are quite affordable and it is not difficult to justify a 17” flat panel display, given their benefits.

·        See page 93 for a brief discussion of monitor resolutions. A point of consideration that is not discussed in the book is that current LCD, i.e. flat panel, monitors have a “native” resolution. That is, although they will support multiple resolutions they work best at their “native” resolution. This is not the case with CRT technology.

·        Although a monitor upgrade is one of the simplest to add, monitors last a long time and it is not unusual to upgrade an entire computer system before upgrading the monitor. Alternatively, you might find yourself “handing down” your old monitor to a friend or for use on a secondary system.


Video (or Graphics) Card

·        There are a few well known vendors of video cards (NVidia and ATI Technologies to name two) and most of them will suffice just fine, unless you are a hard-core gamer or doing a lot of video capture/editing. This is another item that you can easily upgrade in the future. The key feature driving price difference is the amount of video memory on these expansion cards (remember these devices connect to the PC’s Expansion bus, i.e. slots).


CD vs. DVD

·        See pages 84-87 of the Concepts book.


Sound Card

·        Consider any model of the SoundBlaster card by Creative Labs. If you’re a music aficionado consider the Turtle Beach brand.



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