Misc. New PC Questions - Mobo +

I'm interested in purchasing a gamers PC in the next month.  I've amassed questions in regards to the endless terminologies encountered and I hope you can answer a few for me.  

- What is the difference between an AMD Duron 900 and Thunderbird 900?

- I've heard that an AMD Thunderbird 900MHZ would be ideal for PC gaming but to look out for a decent motherboard for it.  People have suggested ASUS A7V and ABIT.  What should I look for in a motherboard so that I can identify it as a decent mobo for a TBird 900MHZ for highend PC gaming?  For starters, someone suggested 200MHZ FSB.

- I've seen the motherboard Asus A7V133 200/266MHZ.  What is this 200/266 MHZ? I've also seen 133/266 and at times I've just seen Asus A7V-E 200MHZ FSB (what happened to the slash? Does this mean 200/200?).  

- I've heard that a CPU that is overclocked can lead to spontatenous crashes.  How is one able to tell whether a TBird 800MHZ +  is being overclocked ?

- I've seen the spec 4x2x24 for an HP CDRW drive.  What does this spec mean?  I know it represents Read, Write, and ReWrite but in what order?  Is the drive capable of writing at 1x (For my old P133 PC I have to write at 1x to get burning to work properly)?

- For PC cases that house the motherboard and drives of the computer.  If I were to purchase any old motherboard am I able to purchase any old case for it?  That is, are all cases capable of housing any motherboard and drive as a one size houses all?  Is the case's power supply WATTS important to note or is 250W, that I've seen standard, fine for all situations?

- AMD Athlon, Thunderbid, and K7.  Are these just synonyms for a thunderbird CPU?

- Is it still useful to have an ISA slot on the mother board or has ISA been completely phased out by PCI hardware?  I've noticed most highend mobos don't have ISA slots.

- How many PCI slots, minimum, should a decent motherboard have?

- I've seen 20 Gig ATA100 Hard drives.  What is ATA100?  

- A motherboard: Asus A7A Socket A DDR/SDR 266 FSB - $259 CAN.  What is DDR/SDR?  Is this important for a Thunderbird 900 MHZ?  I suspect SDR is SDRAM.

- How many USB ports, minimum, should a decent motherboard have?


I'm leaning towards:
AMD Thunderbird 900MHZ
Asus A7V-E Mobo?
4x2x24 CDRW
Geforce2 Pro Videocard
128 Megs Ram
20 Gig HD (5400 RPM?)
16 Bit Sound card (Generic - cheap)
It should cost around $800 CAN ($600 PC from a dealer + $200 for the Geforce 2Pro)  after taxes, I hope.  If you can suggest a better setup let me know.

Who is Participating?
magarityConnect With a Mentor Commented:
You've certainly asked a lot!  I've tried to copy-n-paste your questions preceeded by *s to organize my answers and opinions:

**** What is the difference between an AMD Duron 900 and Thunderbird 900?

The 'Duron' versus 'Thunderbird' lines are similar to Intel's 'Celeron' versus 'Pentium3' lines; less CPU cache and thus less flat out performance in the Durons and Celerons.

****What should I look for in a motherboard?

IMHO, the ability to handle DDR memory.  Built in RAID level 0 is really nice if you can buy a couple or more hard drives for the most drive IO performance.

**** How is one able to tell whether a TBird 800MHZ +  is being overclocked ?

You, the user of the system, would have to purposefully do this.  Shady dealers of prebuilt systems have been know to do this for you, but otherwise it won't just happen by itself.

**** AMD Athlon, Thunderbid, and K7.  Are these just synonyms for a thunderbird CPU?

Athlon is the name for the K7 chip the same way that Pentium is the name for the 80586 Intel chip.  Before they were branched into several products and revisions, there was only 'Athlon'.  Now, 'Athlon' denotes the core of the AMD processors.  The core is the innermost workings of the actual silicone pattern.  For example, Durons have Athlon cores.  The 'Thunderbird' line has faster bus speeds than the original Athlon line, but the inner design is still the same.

**** I've seen the spec 4x2x24

That's write, rewrite, and read.  The largest number is the read-only speed, second highest is the write-only, and the lowest is the re-writing.  That's just the nature of how reading, writing, and rewiting discs goes.  There is no standard way of reporting these numbers, so don't think that another advertisment is going to order them the same way.

**** If I were to purchase any old motherboard am I able to purchase any old case for it?

This multipart question also states that 250 watts is standard.  Not for Athlon systems, and especially not for Ghz+ systems with multiple drives installed.  Get a *minimum* of 300 watts.  350 to 400 is not uncommon anymore.  While you could get 'any old case' it is likely to contain any old power supply.  Get a brand name case, like EnLight, which is more likely to contain a brand name power supply (yes, brand names on power supplies are worth nitpicking these days) like SparklePower.

*** Is it still useful to have an ISA slot

Not unless you absolutely have to have some old propreitary ISA card that is needed to control some peice of hardware you can't live without.  Get a legacy free system, if at all possible.

*** How many PCI slots, minimum, should a decent motherboard have?

Quantity is not a measure of quality.  Therefore:  It depends on how many PCI cards you need.  Count how many PCI devices you need to start with for your system and then add two for future expansion.

***  What is ATA100?

This is the name of a specification that says the drive can burst-send data over the IDE bus at up to 100 megabytes per second.  Note that this is *burst* speed.  In sustained use, I find 20MB ATA100 drives typically send 30 to 35 megabytes per second.  This is, of course, blazingly fast.  Pre-UltraATA drives were lucky to get 9 or 10 megabytes per second.  Any new motherboard will have an ATA-100 controller, which is required to make full use of ATA-100 drives.  Note that *ALL* IDE-ATAPI compliant devices and controllers will work happily together, but at the lowest speed.  Thus ATA-100 drives with an ATA-33 controller will run perfectly well at a max 33 megabytes per second.

When buying drives for performance, note that larger capacity denote higher data density.  If that's over your head, just take my word for it that a larger capacity drive with the same specs (7200 RPMs, ATA-100) will transfer sustained at a faster speed than a slower one.

***What is DDR/SDR?

'DDR' stands for Double Data Rate.  'SDR' stands for Single Data Rate.  'Why' is a technical discussion by itself, but suffice to say that DDR is double the speed.  This motherboard indicates that it can accept both types, which is useful to people migrating memory from an old system.  Get DDR.  It costs the same or close enough.

***How many USB ports

See 'How many PCI slots?'  Depends on your USB usage.  You can always get a USB hub if you really go crazy with the USB devices.  But the general trend is towards Firewire anyway.  I haven't seen any motherboards for sale with FireWire built in, so you may want to count a Firewire card as one of the PCI devices you'll need in a slot.

Well, that looks like about it.  I think I hit them all in a reasonably thorough manner.

It sounds like a good system.

<< Asus A7V133 200/266MHZ.  What is this 200/266 MHZ? I've also seen 133/266.
    These are Front Side/ CPU/ RAM speed busses. the faster the better.
<< 4x2x24 CDR  4 x  CD R, 2 X CD-RW, and 24 x speed cd rom
The below link has listings and superb information concerning CD-R and CD-RW's:
                     (Make sure to double-click the brand-name for indepth information.

                     This one includes such stuff as media, software, (section on CD-Writers):

ATA100 is the fastest IDE type drive interface available, compare with 66 and ATA 33.

http://www.tomshardware.com/  for more info and specs.

I hope this helps !
To follow magarity's definitions is priceless but for one portion on the newer ASUS board the Northbridge you can work around this portion of statement


Make sure when they put the system together for you (unless you do it yourself) to have the Harddrive by itself on the Primary with a ATA66/100 cable (double 40 pin IDE) then placing the CD-RW and a regular cd rom on the secondary IDE with the regular CD-rom being the master and the CD-RW being the slave for the best performance
A little amplifying info:

The extra cache that magarity speaks of provides a performance benefit because CPU's perform a lot of redundant calculations.  This cache is extra memory right in the processor (on die) or very near it (L1, L2) which stores some of the data required to perform these redundant calculations.  The more redundancy is eliminated, the faster the processor performs.  This is the main advantage the the Thunderbird has over the Duron processor, even at the same MHz rating.  While I am not a hard-core gamer, I have run some recent games (e.g. Diablo II) on my home-built system that uses a Duron 700 processor and have had no problems.  Other systems will run faster but the MHz of the processor has been over-hyped in the marketing of pre-built computers as being the single indicator of system performance.  In fact, the Front Side Bus (FSB) speed (of which the processor speed is a multiple) has a much greater impact on system performance since it is a bottleneck in the system.  Durons will only work (without overclocking) on the 200 MHz Front Side Bus whereas there are Thunderbird processors made for the 200 MHz FSB and separate ones for the 266 MHz FSB.  Since you seem to be looking for performance, I'd recommend getting a motherboard with the 266 MHz FSB and a Thunderbird processor made for the 266 MHz FSB.  

DDR system memory, though it doubles the bandwidth with which data can be written and read from the system memory, does not double the overall performance of your computer.  I've read various reviews stating that it provides between a 5% and 15% overall performance boost, depending on the specific system configuration and the applications being used.  I agree with magarity in that it costs almost no more than SDR system memory, so why not go for it?  The max benefit is gained when the RAM clock and FSB clock are in sync, so if you go with the recommendation of 266 MHz FSB processor and motherboard, then get 266 MHz DDR RAM to match.

Yes, as far as I know, any CD-RW drive will work at 1x.  The speeds listed are the maximum the drives are capable of and they can step down their speed as necessary.  The detailed info on the manufacturer's website about any drive should tell you all of the specific speeds the drive is capable of burning at.  Whether the drives will burn at the stated maximum speeds on your system depends on many factors beyond the drive, as always.  Typically, the speeds are listed Write-x/ReWrite-x/Read-x but, as magarity points out, they can be advertised in any order.

About the number of USB ports.  Typically, motherboards will have 2 ports and some will be expandable to 4.  One USB port is theoretically capable of having 64 USB devices plugged into it and working at the same time (I've heard), assuming that you have an enormous hub/splitter or a splitter on a splitter on a splitter, etc.  Thompson's Computer Warehouse Online (www.tcwo.com), for example, sells a neat little hub that takes one USB port and splits it into 4, fitting into a 3 1/2" bay on the front of your computer case.  I don't own such a hub (not using enough USB devices to bother) so I can't speak to the quality of the product.  There are numerous other external hubs to put a mere one USB port to use for you.  I wouldn't base my decision of a motherboard on the number of USB ports it has.

Have fun designing your machine!
ljaquesAuthor Commented:
brilliant reply
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