May 15, 2009

Buying or Building - System Options

I'm probably slightly older than the average member here at Linux.com at 47 years of age. I was an early... and a late comer to computers. How could I be both? Well, it's a long story. Go grab that cup of coffee you wanted. I'll wait for you to get back...

My actual career, which no longer exists in the U.S., was RF communication (radio) and audio repair specialist. I was something you may have heard your dad talk about... a component level bench technician. I did this for about twenty years. Then one day I woke up and my job had moved to Korea, then on to China, eventually.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s I was in college learning about microprocessors and machine language. Some of you older folks might remember the 8080A, 8085, and the Z80 processors. They were the bleeding edge of the technology at that time. Nowadays, they're used to control sprinkler timer systems to keep your neighbor's grass pretty and green.

My first experience with what you might call a modern computer was the Commodore Vic 20. It was a pretty amazing machine at the time. Shortly after that I acquired a Commodore SX-64 briefcase computer system. This thing was the cat's meow. Let me tell you! It had a built-in 5¼" floppy, a game slot, and a 5" color monitor. With 64K, you were rockin' and rollin'. Here's what one looked like:

It has a 300 Baud modem that I used to access Compuserve and some local BBS (electronic bulletin boards). Lotsa' fun! I wasted hours with this thing online or playing text-based adventure games like Infocom's Zork series. Shortly after this time (early 80s), I moved on in life and left the computer in the closet collecting dust. 

One day in '93, I was at my brother's office. He showed me his new system. It was a 486 DX-66 running a new operating system called Windows. Cool! This thing was amazing compared to my old Commodore. Time went on by... Early in 2000, my brother asked my advice about purchasing a new personal computer system. He knew I had friends who were big muckity-mucks locally for the Gateway store. I set my brother up with them. He got a nice new system.

He called me a few days later and asked if I'd like his old system. He knew that I didn't have a computer. At this time, I had just started flirting around with the World Wide Web and USENET using a friend's system or the one at the public library. I told my brother that I would definitely like that old system. I went over to his place and picked it up right away.

It was a Pentium I 90 with a 2Gig hard drive and 64M RAM. It was running Windows 98SE. With that little system, I entered what was to me the modern computer age. This Windows stuff was pretty cool! Oops! What's this blue screen error notice I get once or twice a day?

Hey! This is frustrating!  Heh-heh. Ah... the memories.

Anyway, that's when I became a serious USENET/boards/forums junkie. To me the Internet is about two things: knowledge and community. I've spent the last nine years partaking of both. So, getting to the point of this entire, long-winded posting... is it better to buy or build your own systems?

For me, with my technical experience, it's much better to build I can build a very customized, top-of-the-line machine for about a third of what it would cost me to buy one. That's how the ericsbane series started. I built ericsbane01 with an AMD K7 Thunderbird CPU. I built ericsbane02 with an AMD Athlon 2600+. And I built my current ericsbane03 with an AMD Athlon XP-64 3800+. Yeah, I kinda' like AMD processors.

Building your own system is not for everyone, but it's really not that difficult. Do your research. Price your hardware and peripherals. Put it all together. Install your favorite GNU/Linux distro and you're all set.

Until next time...

V. T. Eric Layton

***Tempus Fugits***

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