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The AMAZING Gato video!
Video - Gato the amazing rafter cat

Lesser Goldfinch family preening


LCD Vs. CRT - Do LCDs finally match CRTs in picture quality?

ECS P965T-A Motherboard

ABIT AN8 SLI Motherboard

Foxconn 975X7AB-8EKRS2H Motherboard

Foxconn BlackOps Motherboard

My misadventures flying with Allegiant Air
My misadventures flying with Allegiant Air


The Missing Post Mystery
A post I made to a Vista newsgroup was missing from the Outlook newsreader
Where did it go?

The Missing Post Mystery Revisited
It happened again! A post I made to a Vista newsgroup was missing from the Vista Mail newsreader
Where did it go?

A Case of Maxtaken Identity
When is a hard drive not a hard drive? Find out when!

How To

Changes to the Windows 7 Taskbar You Should Know About

Vista Image Capture 'Slipstream' SP1 and SP2 into a single Vista install disc
Detailed Instructions for Reverse Integrating SP1 and SP2 into Vista

What is RAID? Some RAID Basics
RAID 5 on a Desktop PC

How to Personalize Windows Vista

Develop and Implement a Personal Backup Plan

Ten things you can do to create better documentation
(Tech Republic)

Flash Your BIOS
Three Good Reasons for Flashing Your BIOS

Ten common mistakes you should avoid when flashing your BIOS
(Tech Republic)

Find a new dial-up ISP
Sign up for 10 free hours of NetZero access!

Create a Shutdown/Sleep/Restart or Continue Icon For the Vista Desktop

What is a computer guy doing with home remodeling projects on his Website?

The Upscale Utility Room Remodel with Catch Basin and Wraparound Ceramic Tile Wall

The Bathroom Remodel for Under $1000 Project

The Do It Yourself Bedroom Engineered Prefinished Red Oak Wood Flooring Installation From Hell

Bedroom Remodel With Wood Parquet Flooring

Use Comodo Internet Security 4.0 to Lock Down Your PC Following a Windows Install or Reinstall


The Northstar Horizon Microcomputer


Round-Tailed Ground Squirrels
View More Round-Tailed Ground Squirrel Photos
Prairie Dogs
View More Prairie Dog Photos
American Kestrel Falcons "Sparrow Hawk"
View More American Kestrel Falcon Photos
Arizona Sonoran Desert
View More Arizona Sonoran Desert Photos
Arizona Sunsets
View More Arizona Sunsets Photos
Cienega Creek
View More Cienega Creek Photos
Trains In the Desert
View More Trains In the Desert Photos
Desert and Mountain Flowers
View More Desert and Mountain Flower Photos
Fox Squirrels View More Fox Squirrel Photos


eBay ePacket Direct Shipping From Hong Kong - Should You Risk it? eBay Buyer Protection and What You Should Know About Buying From Overseas

The Other Reason Why Your Irrigation Valve Might be Leaking

My Response to the Newegg Affiliates Program Changes

Playing the Rebate Game
Know the Rules Before You Play

Vista Confusion
The four questions you need to ask before buying Vista

AMD Component Reviews

Caveats: I am an admitted hardware novice, or at least I was when I started this project. I wanted to write a review of the components of the super $500 PC I was building from a beginners perspective, hence this website. Except for the Maxtor hard drive, all of the components were purchased by me from Newegg and Tiger Direct.

AMD 3000+ 64 1.8 GHz CPU
CORSAIR XMS 1GB (2 x 512MB) 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400 (PC 3200) CAS Latency 2 timing 2-3-3-3-6
eVGA 128-TC-2N27-SX Geforce 6200 LE TC Supporting 512MB (On board 128MB) 64-bit DDR PCI Express x16 Video Card
Maxtor DiamondMax 10, Seagate Barracuda, NEC CD/DVD Burner, Teac CD Burner
Hiro 56K V.92 PCI Modem S/W W/O Voice Intel 537EP Chip 56 Kbs Modem
Rosewill RE502-SLV ATX12V 2.01 500W Aluminum Power Supply with 2 x 80 mm blue LED fans
ThermalTake VA3000BWA Aluminum Case with 1 x 120 mm blue LED, 1 x 120 mm and 1 x 90 mm fans
GWC USB to Parallel Cable (Bi-Directional) Model 80000 OEM

AMD 3000+ 64 CPU 1.8 GHz Venice Core
Full Item Description At Tiger Direct

I am now just learning how to properly overclock. I have read reviews where others have gotten 2.2 GHz and higher speeds with this CPU. More later.....

This is a socket 939 CPU. The nice thing about that is that you can buy a slower AMD 64 processor now and get decent performance until the dual core FX series CPU's come down in price since they use the same socket.

The Vista Performance Rating is 3.3.

Good CPU for the price. I would recommend it.

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CORSAIR XMS 1GB (2 x 512MB) 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400 (PC 3200) CAS Latency 2 timing 2-3-3-3-6
Full Item Description At Newegg

This memory is highly rated and often used by reviewers when testing systems, thus my surprise when I was unable to get the advertised DDR 400 speed. I was playing around with some overclocking (not the voltages!) and was unable to manually set the DDR 400 2-3-3-6 timings. After resetting the overclocking settings, I was able to get the advertised speed of this memory.

The memory seems to be quite stable and very fast. It is rated 5.1 in the Vista Beta 2 Performace Rating, whatever that means. Highly recommended.

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eVGA 128-TC-2N27-SX Geforce 6200 LE TC Supporting 512MB (On board 128MB) 64-bit DDR PCI Express x16 Video Card
Full Item Description At Newegg

I was pleasantly surprised with this little inexpensive video card. The price was very good at about $40 and it works well in NT 4.0, XP Pro x64 and Vista x86 and x64. The drivers have to be downloaded from the eVGA website for these operating systems, but that is a minor concern.

I like the fact that there is no fan on the card, just a large heat dissipating chunk of metal (aluminum?). I don't want to have to deal with a non-standard fan dying on the card in a few years.

The video card comes with 128 MB of on board RAM and borrows available system RAM up to 512 MB total, although somewhat confusing is the fact that the nVIDIA Display option accessible from the desktop by right clicking on the desktop shows the memory at 256 MB . This seems to work well for my needs. I have one GB of system memory and I am not a big gamer. I have tried to run Half Life Blue Shift using this card and was very happy to see that I could run it in max resolution mode.

I was able to readily contact a tech at eVGA before I got the card to determine that the card would work in both NT and x64 Windows. The XP Pro x64 drivers have a device driver listed for this model, but the NT drivers do not. I chose a similar driver, the 6200 SE and it seems to work just fine.

This card comes with nVIDIA nView Destop Manager that is loaded with all types of configurable settings. I am able to run my desktop at 1024 by 768 at 85 Hz and 1152 by 864 at 75 Hz.

Even though this card was ordered more than a week after my case, memory, motherboard and processor, I received my rebate before the rebates on the memory and case. Very fast service.

The Vista Beta 2 drivers are already available, both the 32 and 64 bit versions, and they really show off the Aero features of Vista. This card meets the minimum requirements for Vista. The Vista Performance Rating is Graphics 3.4 and Gaming Graphics 2.4.

This card gave me a lot more than I expected for the price and I am extremely pleased with it and the service I got on the phone. It is not SLI capable and it isn't for gamers, but it was perfect for my current needs.

These guys really have their act together. I plan to replace this card for two low to medium end SLI cards and they will definitely be eVGA cards.

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Maxtor DiamondMax 10 300 GB ATA Hard Drive 6B300R0
Maxtor Specs
It's fast, quiet and big, 300 GB with a 16 MB cache. If this drive lasts as long as my last drive, it will be a great performer! Here is a 'Product Reliability Report' on my last Maxtor drive:

The Vista Performance Rating is 3.3.

Obituary or Funeral for A Friend

'Max', a tireless worker finally gave up the ghost yesterday, April 19, 2006. He was about seven and a half years old.

His best friend and employer Alan said that he was flawless until the very end. "I worked him hard, perhaps too hard", Alan said, "but don't tell that to the labor board! I will miss him very much. Rest in peace little buddy."

Causes of death have not been determined at this time, but may be linked to advanced sudden Alzheimer's onset. "He was sounding less 'chipper' than normal for more than a year now", Alan said. "He was forgetting simple things on Wednesday and his normal fast attention to and completion of his tasks was slowing considerably. I tried various treatments, but had to finally declare his demise at 11:48 PM yesterday."

A memorial for Max was held at Alan's desk on Saturday, April 22, 2006, where Max worked in a Micron Millennia.

'Max', a Maxtor Pulsar 13.6 GB Ultra DMA/33 IDE hard drive. b Sep. 1998, d April 2006
Component design life, 5 years. Actual life, 7.5 years.

Seagate Barracuda 30GB ATA Hard Drive ST330013A
Seagate Specs

NEC ND3550A / 16x8x16x DVD+RW / 16x6x16x DVD-RW / 8x DVD+R DL / 6x DVD-R DL / 48x32x48x CD-RW / Black / Dual Layer / Retail Box DVD Burner with Software
Full Description At Tiger Direct

Teac CD R/W 4x4x32 CD-W54E
Teac Specs

Unknown 1994 Floppy Drive
scavenged from my twelve year old Zeos PC

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3Com Coyote internal PCI 56 Kbps Winmodem (for NT 4.0)
Scavenged from my seven and a half year old Micron PC

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Hiro 56K V.92 PCI Modem S/W W/O Voice Intel 537EP Chip 56 Kbps Modem (For XP Pro x64)
Full Item Description At Tiger Direct

This is a great little modem for about $10. I wanted a controller-based modem, but couldn't find one that would work in XP Pro x64. This modem will work in XP Pro x64 and Vista Beta 2 x86 and x64. You will need to download the x64 drivers from the Intel website for the 64 bit version of Windows. Once downloaded, extract to a temporary directory and install from the Add Hardware icon in the control panel. Do not use the Phone and Modem Options in the control panel. I was unable to get this to work but didn't spend much time with it. I was also unable to get this modem to work in NT 4.0, but didn't spend a lot of time trying that either. I have had a lot of trouble in the past getting modems to work in NT 4.0!

I did have trouble when I didn't properly install the drivers from the Found New Hardware wizard in XP Pro x64 and from the initial Device Installer in Vista Beta 2 x64 and trying to install them later, but I haven't confirmed that it is a problem that can't be solved.

I was pleasantly surprised when I connected at 44.0 Kbps and regularly connect at 46.6 Kbps and rarely at even 50.6 Kbps in XP Pro x64 and 40.0 Kbps in Vista Beta 2 x86 (32 bit) using the XP drivers. I am hopeful that the Vista performance will improve when the Vista drivers are available. (Update: Vista automatically found and installed new drivers as of mid Aug 06 and I now regularly connect at 46.6 Kbps.) This is much better than the 33.6 Kbps connections that I was getting with my old 3Com Winmodem in NT 4.0. I have also noticed that if I wait 45-60 seconds after Windows starts before trying to connect, I can get faster connect speeds, probably because this is a software modem and various system and user services are still starting in the first minute after Windows startup.

Update 08/31/06: Be careful installing or removing this card. There are resisters on the card that are not surface mount and stick out. They can be easily bent and broken of the circuit board. I accidentally did this in frustration trying to remove the card. It was hung up on a slot cover and I should have been more patient and careful! I was fortunate to bend it back in place and the board still works even though I definitely broke it from the circuit card.

If you are looking for a cheap, basic, good performing modem, this is a modem that you shouldn't be disappointed with.

This modem is highly recommended.

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Rosewill RE502-SLV ATX12V 2.01 500W Aluminum Power Supply with 2 x 80 mm blue LED fans
Full Item Description At Newegg
This is a very nice aluminum dual +12 volt 500 Watt power supply with two 80 mm blue LED fans. Efficiency is good at better than 70%. The fans are positioned one on the bottom and one on the rear of the power supply. I could do without the fancy LED's, but that is a matter of taste. There are plenty of connectors and they are long enough for the components in my ThermalTake mid-size case. I have four IDE devices, one floppy drive the motherboard with CPU power and additional SLI power connector and a total of four other fans (three case and one CPU) and the power is stable. All of these connectors are sleeved very neatly with nylon mesh keeping the interior clean.

There is the typical On / Off power switch on the back and a not so typical variable manual fan control which is nice when you want to turn down the fan speed in cooler temps. The LED's change brightness when you adjust the fan speed. Oddly, the power supply installs upside down, not a major issue just makes you wonder "what were they thinking?" One of the predrilled holes on the rear was slightly out of alignment, but easily fixed with a regular screw driver to enlarge the hole. The soft aluminum was easy to modify, just be sure any metal shavings end up on the table and not in the computer or power supply! The power supply case has screen type large holes built into the aluminum sheeting on both sides. This allows a tiny bit of warm air in the power supply to escape into the PC case. This isn't a problem for most users. I have a large 120 mm fan that vents air from the case out the back of the case that pulls any of the warm air from the power supply directory out the back.

Voltages As Reported In The BIOS

Voltages Actual Voltage
ATX +12 V 12.55 V
ATX +5 V 5.11 V
ATX +3.3 V 3.34 V
ATX +5 VSB 5.09 V

Peeking into the interior, the power supply looks solid with large capacitors. The overall look and feel of the power supply says 'quality' from the case to the nylon mesh on the connectors. The fan speed control knob is a solid chrome knob, again quality look and feel.

Highly Recommended - I like this power supply. It is nice to see a manufacturer that doesn't forget about the quality of the details.

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ThermalTake mid-size VA3000BWA Aluminum Case with 1 x 120 mm blue LED, 1 x 120 mm and 1 x 90 mm fans
Full Item Description At Newegg
Nice aluminum case with mirror black finish. Case comes with a nice cleaning cloth. (??) The interior edges are neatly rolled and there are no sharp edges anywhere on the case except for on the rear panel where the power supply is mounted. Don't use this large hole to pick up the case!

The front door is a work of art; I don't know how else to describe it. It is a nice solid chunk of brushed molded aluminum with modest French curves. There are eight unobtrusive slots located on the lower left of the door to allow airflow into the case. Two brand name insignias spoil the look a bit, but aren't overly garish. The right side of the front door curves around to create a handle. Inside this handle there are two blue LED lights. They are just too bright at night in a dark room for my tastes, especially if the computer is angled on your desktop and you look at them head on. Finally, there is a chrome metal (I think) strip that runs across the case from left to right positioned just below the midway point from top to bottom. This breaks up the clean design of the door in my opinion and would be best left out, but that is clearly a matter of taste. The thin strip implies that the door can be opened in two separate sections, top and bottom, but this is not the case. The strip is simply a design feature.

Inside the front door is another story. There is an inner door made of black plastic and both doors are hinged with a cheap stamped metal hinge. The power and reset buttons are located on the inner door along with the blue power LED and the red LED disk activity LED. Again here, the bright blue LED completely overpowers the red disk activity LED. I taped a piece of paper over the LED, but it is still very bright. I would like to see all of these on a top panel visible with both doors closed. The inner door is lockable, a nice feature if you need it. A large non-LED 120 mm fan is positioned on the lower one third of the front just inside the second door. It is positioned well to provide airflow over the hard drives.

The left side panel is transparent plastic so I can see all of the pretty blue LED's on the fans and the LED's on the motherboard. It's OK, just not sure the whole arrangement is to my conservative tastes. A 90 mm non-LED fan is on this side panel. Two sliding latches snap into place on the back panel and one of these is lockable. Toward the bottom of the panel there is a cheesy (hate that term but it is appropriate here) very large Thermatake Cool All Your Life logo molded into the clear plastic. Come on guys, we don't need to see this here! I almost didn't buy this case simply because of the design of the transparent side panel. It is not a square transparent window. There are these strange bulges where the metal side panel curves in to interrupt the view. This doesn't seem to provide any functional use, and personally, I would rather have a cleaner looking square window.

The side panel is removable for easy access to the inside of the case. Unfortunately, the panel is not hinged and the whole panel has to be removed, but the power cable for the fan is not long enough to allow you to move the panel far enough away from the computer where it is completely out of the way. A connector at the fan side would be handy or hinges on the panel allowing it to be swung out of the way while you are working inside the case.

On the top panel there is a push button style trapezoid shaped door in the very middle where two USB 2.0, one IEEE 1394 Firewire, one mini jack audio and one mini jack speaker ports are located. This is a very poor design for several reasons. First, it an awkward place to get to to plug in your headphones, USB devices, etc. The cables leading to the motherboard from these ports are routed directly behind the motherboard. It would have been a simple task to route them around the motherboard and put the ports on a panel on the front of the case.

The back panel comes with a nice removable solid metal panel where the motherboard ports reside. Unfortunately, I had to remove this and use a cheap stamped metal panel for my ABIT AN8 SLI motherboard. A large 120 mm very nice blue LED fan exhausts the warm interior air of the case out the back. There are seven slots for the motherboard cards. Instead of a screw arrangement for locking the cards in place, there are green plastic hinged card holders that swing in place to lock down the cards. One of these came off several times when trying to lock down one of my cards. These could be designed better.

Inside the case there is a nice metal cage with room for four standard height devices. Devices slide and lock into places with plastic pieces that you attach to the device. This was quite acceptable and easy to use. Your CD, DVD, etc devices go here in these 5.25 inch internal drive bays. Under that, there is room for two 3.5 inch floppy disk drives in another metal cage that pulls toward the back of the case. Under the floppy cage, there is yet another metal cage with room for five 3.5 inch hard drives. I like this one the best. It can be removed by sliding the entire cage out towards you. This came in very handy when I had to change the Master/Slave settings on the hard drives. There are rubber grommets where large-headed screws are placed to hold the drives. The 'screws' (more like heavy duty bolts) can be turned by hand or a Phillips screwdriver or a regular screwdriver, but to be honest, I can't remember at this point if they came with the case or the motherboard.

There is a perforated metal screen on the side 90mm fan and a plastic screen like you would see in a window frame in front of the large 120mm front fan just inside the inner front door. It has a small plastic tab perpendicular to the screen frame and I was unable to pull it free with my fingers. I used a pair of pliers and some cloth to remove it. This screen needs to be cleaned periodically. I plan to check and clean it every two to four weeks, but I live in a dusty region. It seems to do a good job of keeping dust out of the interior of the case. A lot of dust fell off the screen when I removed it. Part of the inner door locking mechanism came apart when trying to put the screen back in place, easily fixed with a screwdriver.

The connectors for the audio, front panel LED's, and IEEE 1394 Firewire are tiny little individual connectors, fine if you have the patience of a saint and hands of a leprechaun, but really tedious for the rest of us. I found the best way to put these on was with a pair of pliers. I managed to put the LED connectors on backwards which seems to be a common occurence among PC builders.

Last, but not least, there are four large black plastic feet on the bottom of the case that are very well designed.. They can each be rotated 360 degrees and locked in place every 45 degrees. When they are pointed away from the case to allow for maximum stability, they only stick out from the case about an inch. I left them configured the way they came, pointed inward from front to back and this seems to be stable enough for my needs.

Internal Case Temperatures As Reported In the BIOS

Based On Ambient Room Temperature of 90 Degrees Fahrenheit

Sensor Actual Temperature
CPU Temp 105 Degrees
SYS Temp 102 Degrees
PWM Temp 111 Degrees

Overall, I am happy enough with the case, primarily because of the cooling. It is not much louder than my old computer that had just one case fan and one power supply fan. I would give it a moderately recommended rating. With a few minor design changes, this could be a really great case.

I have received my rebate for this case (thank you!), although it wasn't fast, it was within the time stated on the rebate form.

Update August 11, 2007: A recent visit to my parents allowed me to see firsthand the damage that had occurred by UPS during shipping of the computer using this case. The IDE to SATA converter had fallen off the hard drive and my dad was unable to get it working again. He settled for IDE. I was afraid that the converter may have been damaged when he turned the computer on and the converter not connected to the drive. Applying power to the converter with the converter disconnected from the drive can damage the converter. I was able to get the converter working again with no problems.

In the process of installing the IDE cable, my non-hardware oriented dad accidentally pulled the IEEE 1394 pins from the motherboard jumpers. The IEEE 1394 connectors that come with the ThermalTake Tsunami case are individual pin type connectors. After a little bit of work and careful reference of the manual I got the connectors back in place.

The metal locking mechanism on the inside door had fallen off and fortunately ended up on the bottom of the case and not on the graphics card.

One of the thumb screws holding the hard drive in place had fallen off and with some luck it too ended up at the bottom of the case.

The aluminum case frame had been crumpled in the rear and the DVD burner had been pushed in more than inch from the front of the case. The case didn't keep the drive in place during shipping. To my surprise and horror, the drive had pushed back quite a few capacitors in the motherboard. I pushed the DVD drive back into place and started to push the capacitors back into their former position and then thought better of that. The board was working, though looking at all of those bent over capacitors I have to consider that fact pure dumb luck.

This computer and case was shipped in the original ThemalTake box and Styrofoam packing. While there is little doubt that the package received very rough handling, I would think twice before shipping a computer made with this case or at least find a better way to insure that parts would remain in place.

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GWC USB to Parallel Cable (Bi-Directional) Model 80000 OEM
Full Item Description At Newegg
Wow! This was almost too easy to install. I was trying to make it more difficult than it was. I didn't need the drivers that came with this cable. I simply plugged it in and turned on my printer and Windows XP Pro x64 recognized it and the printer. It really was plug and play! At about $13, this is a great way to save a PCI slot by not having to purchase a parallel port card. Works great in Vista Beta 2 (plug and play). Highly recommended.

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