Tuesday, February 8, 2011

(Assembled is a series in which The Indian Geek is looking at how to choose the components for assembling your own home Desktop PC. This article provides help on choosing optical drives, add-on cards and external peripherals for your new PC)

Optical Drive - DVD, CD

Optical Drives

USB flash drives might seem like the future, but for now, you really can’t do without a trusty optical drive. For the uninformed, an optical drive is the classification of drives which consist of CD drives, DVD drives and Blu-Ray drives. With falling prices, the very minimum you should get is a DVD-RW drive. At about Rs.1000, they are about as cheap as they will ever get. They can read and write any form of CDs and DVDs. Sadly, Blu-Ray drives, as well as media are still beyond the wallets of mere mortals, so we’re going to skip them all together. In case you are loaded with cash, you should be able to pick up a Blu-Ray Disc (BD) reader drive for around Rs. 5,000/- with a BD-writer costing upwards of Rs. 8,000/-

Add-on cards

Add-on cards expand your computer’s capabilities, giving you access to additional hardware and and/or features. The common expansion slots are PCI and PCIe X4, though the latter is slowly replacing the former. While only few years ago they were the only option, now-a-days a lot of devices use high speed external ports instead (namely USB). There are still a plethora of types of add-on cards available, but we’re just going to briefly look into a few common useful ones.

TV Tuner cardTV Tuner : These cards let you use your computer as a TV. You hook up your antenna/satellite cable to your computer, and all your TV shows and channels are mouse clicks away. Not only can you watch TV, you can also record it. Software like Windows Media Center convert your computer into a DVR, letting you pause and resume live TV as well as schedule recordings. These cards usually come in the PCI form. However, getting it in the USB form might be a better option. They make installation a lot easier and can be used with laptops as well. If you plan to use your computer as an HTPC (Home Theatre PC), a TV tuner is a must. The low-cost ones range from Rs. 700/- and above, while decent, branded solutions with assured Windows 7 support could cost Rs. 1000/- and above. HD capable models are also available, but they would also be costlier; we don’t see the point in getting an HD-capable TV tuner card when most of our channels and providers are not yet HD-capable. Admittedly, there are a few DTH providers giving HD-capable DTH boxes, but the real HD channels available on them are very few.

Creative X-Fi software interfaceSound cards : Back in the mid-90s, sound cards (or multimedia kits, as they were called) used to be the only way to make your computers play music. Now-a-days, all motherboards come with built-in sound controllers. However, these sound controllers are usually very basic, with very few features. They often have poor bass output and no hardware accelerated features. They also often suffer from interference caused by other hardware. A common one you can hear if you use headphones is a buzzing noise whenever hard drive activity occurs. An good add-on sound card like the Creative X-Fi series will give you very clear balanced audio and a lot of audio adjustment features. Good USB sound cards are few and expensive. At the end though, unless you’re a gamer or an audiophile with a set of good speakers, the on-board audio controller in your computer will be more than enough.

Wi-Fi : As its name suggests, it gives your desktop computer Wi-Fi connectivity. So if you want to set your computer up in a room other than the one where your broadband router is placed, you’ll need one of these (provided you have a Wi-Fi signal around). We would however recommend going in for a USB Wi-Fi dongle instead.

USB/Firewire : These cards expand the number of ports on your computer. If your motherboard does not have enough USB 2.0 or Firewire ports, one of there cards might come in handy. If you just need additional USB ports, we would recommend getting a USB hub instead.

Peripherals

We’re going to look at the three most commonly used PC peripherals.

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000Keyboard : This is one of the most important components of your computer. Think about it : this article has about 7500 characters; taking corrections and retyping into consideration, that makes it about 8500-9000 keystrokes. If you are an office user and type just one such document every weekday for one year, that’s over 20 lakh keystrokes your fingers have to make! So please keep that in mind when you buy a keyboard and don’t just buy the cheapest one you can find. Check for the overall shape, the feel of the keys, keystrokes and wrist support. Some cheaper keyboard tend to have sticky keys, which hinder fast typing. Also, if you have a roommate/spouse that you don’t want to keep up at night with your typing, look for a keyboard that does not make too much noise while typing.

Logitech K350 keyboard (part of MK260 Desktop)Additional features you can look for are multimedia keys and wireless connectivity. These will really come in handy if you have a large monitor/TV and like to sit back on the sofa/bed. A budget Wireless keyboard and mouse combo option is the Microsoft Wireless Desktop 800 that we previously reviewed, which is available for a little over Rs. 1300/-

Mouse : Same as the keyboard, make sure you buy an ergonomic mouse that feels comfortable in your hand. Portable mice tend to be smaller and are meant for when you’re on the move; avoid them for home use, unless you’ve got really small hands. Get a full size mouse that fills your hand. Both optical and laser mice work well on a variety of surface. While the former has a red light, the latter has none. Mice with additional buttons might also come in handy. Some let you tilt the scroll wheel for additional features. Wireless mice give you additional freedom and make manoeuvring easier. Getting a gel-padded mouse pad and wrist support will also help. Gaming mice will also let you adjust resolution and the weight of the mouse.

Speakers : These depend purely on where and what you’re going to use your computer for. While office computers may not need speakers at all, your gaming rig would do well with a 1000 W 7.1 speaker set! The best way to decide on speakers is to actually listen to them, though there are a couple of things that can be kept in mind. First thing is the number of speakers. If you just like background music and occasionally listen to that wacky YouTube video your friend forwarded, a simple two-speaker stereo set will do. If you enjoy music and want a little bass, get a 2.1 set. That will get you two speakers and a sub-woofer. If you enjoy watching films and hard-core gaming, you need a 5.1 surround sound set. Once you decide on the number of speakers, look for the RMS power output. Do not look at the PMPO output; its just a marketing ploy. For a simple pair of desk speakers, 10W RMS (per speaker) speakers will do. Decent 5.1 speakers sets start at about 70W RMS total. Always keep your neighbours in mind. There’s no point selling your kidney for a 3000W set of speakers if you live in an apartment building with neighbours on all sides!

This brings our Assembled series to a close. We trust we have addressed the questions that were gnawing at you and have given you the knowledge and wisdom to outsmart the computer store guy who’s out to rip you off. Though we’ve done our best in explaining what to look for and what to avoid, the final decision comes down to what’s available at the store and how much it costs. We’re sure that you will now be able to get the most out of your wallet and your computer. If there are questions still bothering you about the purchase and assembly of your new Desktop PC, feel free to call our attention to your issues by commenting on any article in the Assembled series. You could also drop us a line at admin [at] theindiangeek [dot] com

Other articles in our Assembled series:

Choosing the right CPU

How to choose your graphics card

Hard drives made easy

All about motherboard basics

Selecting RAM, chassis case and Power Supply Unit

Features to look for in a PC display – monitor or TV

4 comments:

Arun Kumar said...

Brilliant article! The whole Assembled series is simply superb. The presentation is very neat and easy to understand. Anyone who wants to build a PC for the first time will get lot of knowledge and know what to look for when shopping for the hardwares. I myself is building a PC and after reading the complete series i did so many changes in my plan!!

Well, i need some help in finalizing my configuration and sent an e-mail to the admins. Hopefully get an answer for my queries. . :-))

The Indian Geek said...

Thank you for reading our Assembled Series and liking it, Arun! We appreciate that you took the time to tap out a comment AND a nice e-mail. Your feedback is very encouraging; thanks.

We definitely have received your e-mail and are in the process of replying. Since your queries are exact and varied in nature, it could take a few days. We'll keep you posted.

Again, thanks for reading. We're glad this Series helped.

SAIPRASAD P M said...

Great series of articles catering specially to Indian consumers! Very useful and enlightening!

The Indian Geek said...

Thank you, Saiprasad!

It was a pleasure for us to write about the technology that we use, know and care about.

Cheers!

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