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Mr. Home P. C. 
Computer advice for the average to advanced
user of the Windows PC*
 My PC System

My old system:
My first Windows PC was a borrowed generic 50 mhz 486 with 20mb of RAM, 1.2 gig. hard drive, 3.5" floppy drive, 256 color video card, 24x CD rom, 33.6k modem, a tape drive, 14" UVGA monitor, TBS Malibu sound card, and Windows 95.  I upgraded the modem to a 56k USR V90 Winmodem and put in a 3.5" LS-120 superdrive in place of the tape drive; but I decided any more upgrading than that was not cost effective.

My present system:
My next system was a generic 400 mhz AMD K6-2 with 3Dnow, a Gigabyte 5AX super socket 7 motherboard with a 100mhz system bus, 512k onboard cache, mid-tower ATX case, 64mb (32+32) of PC 100 SDRAM, 4.3 gig. hard drive, 3.5" floppy drive, 4mb AGP graphics card, 2 USB ports, 50x CD rom, 17" multimedia monitor, Sound Blaster Live MP3 sound card, a Cannon BJC-2000 printer, a Logitech Marble Mouse trackball, and windows 98SE.  I transfered the modem and the superdrive from the 486 to the new system.

I have added more RAM for a total of 352 mb (256+64+32), upgraded to an Aopen 32mb G Force 2MX video card, and to a 450 mhz AMD K6-3+ processor slightly overclocked to 500 mhz.  This makes for a system plenty fast enough for my current needs.

 
 Hardware Selection

The computer box: 
Since I like to get inside and customize my computers, I chose a generic box rather than a computer from one of the popular major computer retailers -- they reportedly use proprietary architecture inside reportedly making them less upgradeable than a generic.  With the generic, it was easy to look inside before I bought to check out the components, the available slots, etc.  If you don't plan to tinker with the insides of the computer very much, you may find that you can get better specs. for less money with a name brand with sales, rebates, etc. 

The ATX form factor case is the best and has a software shut off feature, so when you shut down from Windows, it turns off the computer.  I use a computer power cable (available at your local computer store if you don't have one already) to plug the monitor into the computer, so the monitor turns off along with the computer.  I got a mid tower case which is not too bulky, but has ample room for expansion.  Some cases come with individually removable sides.  These allow easier access and are an advantage in tight spaces or if you need to get inside the case frequently.  You can plug the computer and peripherals into a circuit breaker power strip to protect against power surges.  I unplug the power strip from the wall during lightening storms to make absolutely sure my computer won't get zapped.

The guts: 
Try to get a good quality motherboard and chipset -- this is the heart of the machine.  You need an AGP slot so you can use enhanced graphics cards, and several PCI slots.  If you have any ISA cards you need to use in the new system, then you will need an ISA slot or two.  Mine has an AGP slot, 5 PCI slots, two ISA slots.  Memory should be 32 to 64 MB expandible to 128 MB or more.  If memory is cheap, for a little more speed, you should have at least 128 MB for Windows 9x and 256 MB for Windows XP.  Mine has three memory slots expandible to more memory than I will ever need in this system.  Right now, I have one 32 MB, one 64 MB, and one 256 MB card installed for a total of 352 MB.  You need extra memory if you crave a little extra speed, for running multiple applications at the same time, or for programs that use a lot of memory.  Adding more memory won't double the speed of your system or anything, but it will speed things up a little.  Motherboards usually have 512 KB or more of  level 2 cach on the board.   Some motherboards have the video, sound and modem built onto the motherboard; but, the word is that you get better quality if they are on separate cards. You need USB ports as well as the usual serial and parallel ports.  A super socket 7 motherboard will accept a variety of processors.  Mine will take up to a 550 mhz AMD K-6 III+ and came with a 400 mhz AMD K-6 2 with 3D now.  This processor works well, is 100% Windows compatible, and makes for a less expensive system than a Pentium II.  For home use, any of the systems in the area of 400-500 mhz should be plenty fast enough.  Programs that used to take a minute to load on the 486 snap right up on the screen with the new system.  So you don't really need a superfast system for regular home use.  PC technology has advanced to such a level that the top of the line systems are much more powerful than the average home user really needs.  So unless you really need it, you can save yourself some money and buy something less than top of the line. 

The cards:
An 8mb 3D graphics card is generally recommended.  Mine came with a 4mb 3D/2X AGP card and it works fine with nice graphics.  The upgrade to the upgrade to an Aopen 32mb G Force 2MX video card gives even better graphics and a little more speed.  Some systems don't have the memory on a graphics card, but take up to 8mb from main memory instead.  For regular telephone line internet access, you need a 56K V90 or V92 modem.  Just about any sound card will do; but if you want great sound, then you will want something like the Sound Blaster Live.  I got the SB Live MP-3+ because it's a great music oriented card and software package.  The SB Live Platinum is a more expensive package with the Live Drive for music hookups on the front of the machine; and the SB Live X-gamer is for gamers.  The basic sound card is the same with all three.  The difference is in the software packages and the addition of the Live Drive with the Platinum.

The drives:
An 8 GB, UDMA hard disk drive is generally recommended.  Mine came with a Fujitsu 4.3 GB, UDMA hard drive; and after loading it with lots of software, data, and more programs than I really need, I've used only about 50% of the drive space.  So, unless you think you may need the space, you don't have to go out of your way to get a big hard drive. 
 
 Software Selection

 
 System Setup

 
 System Optimization

 
 Internet Setup

 
 Internet Optimization

Speed up dialup:
Upgrade your modem:  Upgrade your modem to V.92/V.44 when your ISP offers this type of connection.  This new standard promises faster downloads and other advantages.  Check it out at http://808hi.com/56k/v92.htm .

Get a good telephone line:  If you have a slow connection, the wiring in the house is not usually the problem.  If it works for voice, it should be fine for a 56K modem.  The problem comes with the telephone line from the telephone office to your site.  If the distance is far and the branches are many, you probably will not be able to get a fast connection.  If you have the option to get your telephone service from a cable company through fiber optic cable, try that.  The signal should be better through the fiber optic cable; and it worked for me.  I got a slow connection through the regular telephone line; and now I get a fast connection through fiber optic cable.  If you get a faster line, and browsing is unusually slow with a connection, you can disconnect and reconnect and this will often yield a faster connection. 

Get the right modem driver:  Download and install the latest drivers for your modem.  Sometimes the generic drivers for the modem chip are better than the drivers from the PC manufacturer.  For example, the LT winmodem in my Toshiba laptop, with the latest drivers from Toshiba, would not connect when I got a faster telephone line; but when I installed the generic driver available from http://www.agere.com, it worked just fine.

Get the latest browser:  I prefer the latest (non beta) version of Internet Explorer which is IE 6.0 at present.  It seems to be the fastest yet.  If you have enough disk space, you can set the cache size to 10-30 mb to speed loading of previously viewed pages.  You can select the custom install option from windowsupdate.com to keep down the size of the download.  You can browse faster by turning off graphics. 

Use IEQuickStart:  If you have several favorite websites that you like to check, you can load them all at once with this program.  Then when you finish with one site, the next site is right there ready to view.  The program is a free download from http://www.iequickstart.com/ .  To get your selected favorites into the program, right click and select import.  Click start to launch the links, take a break while the pages load, and then enjoy fast browsing.

Use Download Express:  This is also a free download from http://www.metaproducts.com/DE.html , and it speeds up the process by splitting the download into several channels.  Resume is also supported.

Unbind TCP/IP:  Having TCP/IP bound to Microsoft network and Windows family logon can slow down browsing, so go to contol panel/network/TCP/IP -> Dial-Up Adapter/properties/bindings and uncheck any that are in there.  Click ok and ignore the Windows warning since the bindings are not necessary.  This trick also improves your internet security.

Add more memory:  Having enough memory will decrease the use of virtual memory on the hard drive which slows down page loading.  Increasing ram from 32 or 64 mb to 256 mb or more will usually make pages load a little faster.  With more memory you can set the computer, under file system properties/hard disk, to network server, set conservative swap file usage in Windows 98 or ME (in system.ini, find the [386Enh] section and add a new line reading "ConservativeSwapfileUsage=1"), and set a fixed size for virtual memory which will decrease hard drive usage and add to the speed. 

Maximize the Internet Explorer window view:
You can press F11 or the Full Screen button to get the largest browsing window in Internet Explorer.  This is good for those with a small screen, those using a free ISP with an ad banner that takes up screen space, and for those who just want a larger window on the web.

With a regular window, the viewing area can be maximized by moving and reducing the size of the toolbars:  In Internet Explorer, go to view and uncheck or check Status Bar to suit your needs, then go to view/toolbars and check only Standard Buttons and Address Bar.  Uncheck Lock the Toolbars.  Next, go to view/toolbars/customize and select "No text lables" in "Text options" and "Small icons" in "Icon options".  Then add or remove toolbar buttons and sort them with the Move Up and Move Down buttons to suit your needs.  I use Back, Forward, Refresh, Home, and Full Screen.  Click on "Close".  Now you can combine toolbars.  Click and hold near the left margin of the Standard Buttons toolbar and drag it up onto the top bar.  Then do the same for the Address Bar, or just click and hold on the lower margin of the taskbars and drag them all up.  When combined, you can slide these bars to the left to hide the options you don't use often and give more space for the address bar.  Now you can toggle between regular and full screen setups as shown in the images by clicking the Full Screen button.  In full screen mode, right click on the toolbar and check Menu Bar, Address Bar, and Auto-Hide.  You can slide these bars from side to side to suit your needs.  Now the toolbar will auto-hide when browsing and give a true full screen, nothing but net, view.

When using this setup with a free ISP such as Netzero with an ad banner, park the ad banner and the Windows Taskbar at the bottom of the screen and use Auto-hide and Always on top for the Windows Taskbar.  This will allow viewing of the Internet Explorer toolbar when in full screen mode and full viewing of web pages as well. 
You can do similar toolbar tricks in other Windows programs such as Windows Explorer.
 
 
 Web Page Design

 
 MIDI System Setup

 
 Troubleshooting

 
 FAQ


 
*Covering IBM PC compatable computers running Windows 95 and Windows 98SE.
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Copyright © 2000 MHPCC.   All Rights Reserved.  Last updated March 1, 2002.