Friday, 7 March 2014

It's PC Upgrade Time! (Part 2)

So the first question with a new PC is...Intel or AMD?  In benchmarks AMD consistently lag behind Intel, so the answer would seem obvious.  However there is a perceived wisdom on the web that AMD are better for gaming.  This seems to be little more than opinion, but could there be any truth in it?  Well the one edge that AMD does have over Intel is in price.  Clock for clock and speed for speed, AMD processors tend to be cheaper than Intel.  This does mean that the money you save on an AMD CPU could be spent buying a better graphics card, and graphics will affect gaming performance. 

If money isn't an object then I'd go with Intel every time, especially if you're after a Gaming Beast of a machine.  In my case though, I'm upgrading a couple of Pentium 4 machines that are probably just over a decade old, and all they are used for is Sims and Minecraft.  Anything I buy now will be an improvement.  So at the end of the day I'm going to follow the price.

Right, so how did they compare?  Well one thing I found was that some items were better value at one supplier than another, so I could have mixed and matched (for example, Aria sold the best value Windows 7, whereas Web Systems Online supplied the cheapest Graphics card).  However for Aria you have  to factor in carriage, so whatever I save on buying the software from them I'd probably lose in the postage.  However in all cases, Web Systems is just up the road from me, so wherever I bought the majority of the kit, it would make sense to buy the Graphics card from them.

In the case of MD Computers, Aria, Web Systems and Compuplus Direct the price quoted is minus Hard Drive and DVDRW (since I will be scavenging them from the 1st computer), and all prices are inclusive of VAT.  For the 2nd computer I just need to add an extra £60 (inclusive of VAT) for a 1TB Hard Drive.

Web Systems Online
Intel G2030 Dual Core 3Ghz
Compuplus Direct
AMD A4 3.4Ghz
Web Systems Online
AMD Athlon II 2.7Ghz
MD Computers
AMD Athlon Dual Core 3.8Ghz
Aria PC Technology
Intel Dual Core 3.0Ghz

So in the brand-new component stakes, Compuplus were completely out of the equation, as were Web Systems Online, while Aria pipped MD at the post by about £40.  Aria of course is mail order so I would have to factor in carriage, but that turns out to be only about  £20 inc VAT.

So there we go.  The winner is Aria at £272 (or £332 with a 1TB Hard Drive).

Ah but what about the ex-Corporate side of things?  Well for this I went solely with Bargain Hardware.  Their site allows you to configure bare bones base units with as much or as little as you want (although for some reason they don't allow you to pick No Optical Drive, so I had to select a £2.50 CDRom).  Also the RAM tends to be mostly DDR2 which is lower performing than DDR3, and a bit more expensive due to its scarcity. As before a 1TB Hard Drive is £60 inc VAT.  Note that all quotes include an extra £24 for a graphics card from Web Systems.  Bargain Hardware will supply the base unit with or without graphics, but all of their cards are more expensive than Web Systems.

Bargain Hardware
HP Z400 Tower with Intel Quad Core 3.06Ghz Zeon, DDR3
HP Z200 Tower with Intel Core i3 3.06Ghz, DDR3
HP DC5800 Tower with Intel Core Duo 3.16Ghz, DDR2
Dell Optiplex with Intel Core Duo 3Ghz, DDR2

Of course this is second-hand ex-corporate stock, and as such only comes with a 30 day warranty.  Plus it's lower spec than the brand new stuff.  That could be a consideration for some people, but is it for me?  Not really.  It's going to be a huge step up from my current P4s, and I'm sure going to notice the difference.  As to the lack of warranty, well only one component is likely to fail at one time, and the expense of replacement components is still offset by the cheapness of the deal.

So who's the winner?  Well at first glance it's the Dell Optiplex at just under £200.  However let's take a note of a few things here. The Optiplex was manufactured round about 2004, takes DDR2 RAM – and a maximum of 8GB at that.  On the other hand take a look at the £227 HP Z200.  Manufactured in 2011, it uses DDR3 RAM, up to a maximum of 16GB.  In my opinion it's worth paying the extra £31 for a machine that's better spec, newer, and more upgradeable.  Not only that, but it still beats Aria's quote by £40, and I don't have to build it myself!  Oh and the postage from Bargain Hardware? 

Free carriage for any items under 30kg.

HP Z200 for £227 from Bargain Hardware it is then.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

It's PC Upgrade Time! (Part 1)

OK, so April is fast approaching, bringing with it the Apocalypse of Windows XP End Of Support.  Yes, after April 8th my two XP machines will no longer receive Security Updates, leading to (if the tech community are to be believed) a veritable smorgasbord of vulnerable PCs for the criminal fraternity to feast upon. Nom Nom Nom. 

Plus as P4s with 2Gb of RAM they're both pretty long in the tooth anyways.  So now would be a good time to upgrade, for two main reasons.  Firstly the Home PC market has taken a bit of a knock recently while everyone goes Smartphone & Tablet mad, so prices are pretty low at present.  Secondly come April there may be a bit of a rush at least from the Corporate side as companies suddenly realise how little time they've got to to migrate from XP.  This will most likely result in a price hike for PCs and components between now and April.

So what do I need and where's the best (OK, read "cheapest") place for me to shop?  Well I don't need complete systems, as I'm keeping the monitors, keyboards and mice.  Both mini-towers have a brace of DVDRWs each, and two of those are SATA.  Plus I have a spare 500GB SATA hard drive from when I bumped one of Supernova's drives up to a terabyte.

Sorry, Supernova is the name of my linux server – a little 3-drive Athlon 64 Dual Core running 8GB RAM that holds my video and music files.  I tend to give all my PCs and shares astronomy-related names.  My smartphone is Apophis, my tablet is Sirius, and our two laptops are Luna and Oberon (satellites, you see?).
The two P4s, Alpha and Proxima (though the rest of the family refer to them as the "Left-Hand" and "Right-Hand" computers) are both 32-bit with AGP graphics and DDR RAM, so there's very little I can scavenge.  The hard drives are both around 160GB IDE so even if I got them running on a SATA-only board they'd be slow and there'd be hardly any space left after a full Windows 7 installation.  Alpha's  Intel motherboard does have two SATA interfaces, so I'll be reusing the two DVDRW's from there, but Proxima will have to be completely replaced.

So I'm looking at two base units, with 500+ GB hard drives, 8GB RAM, a 1GB graphics card, and two DVDRWs each (though I may just share the two SATAs between both for now).  But I'll only have to buy 1 HDD.  Let's shop around.
I have basically 3 avenues here:
  • Online vendor
  • Local shop
  • Online ex-Corporate dealer
In the first two cases I'll be doing the build myself, but the third option will get me a reconditioned re-used base unit from a corporation similar to the one I currently work for.  OK there won't be a full year's warranty, and it'll be second-hand, but I've been there before and it's not really an issue.  That's where my two P4s came from and they've lasted a good five years or more.
For online vendors I looked at Aria PC Technology.  I've ordered kit from them before and although they're not that cheap, they're also not fly-by-night box shifters. They've been around for a while and I trust them. They have a good range of kit and their components all have comments from potential buyers.

There's quite a few local computer shops in Nottingham/Long Eaton ranging from the rock-solid to the dubious, but I picked three that I've had long-term dealings with and who I trust:

I've bought either kit or full computers from all of these at one time or another (Supernova came from MD about 3-4 years ago), they've all been around for several years, and they seem to know what they're talking about.
Now, online ex-Corporate is a bit of a new ball-game for me, and I must say it's one that's looking very competitive at the moment.  I put this down to the low price of components at present, meaning large organisations can afford to upgrade for less, so they do it more often, making hay while the sun shines.  This means that there's a plethora of kit that's only a few years old flooding the market (look on eBay for "Dell optiplex" for example).
So there's my options.  The next thing to do is knock up some sample builds and compare prices.

To Be Continued...

Monday, 3 March 2014

OK, So Is My Bitcoin Post Irrelevant Now?

So here we are, a month later. MtGox the Bitcoin Exchange has admitted to losing 6% of the world's Bitcoins and has now filed for bankruptcy.  The price of Bitcoin is now hovering around the $580 mark (which means my 0.05 BTC is now worth about £17 instead of the £27 I paid for them).  

Does this consign my previous post to the Recycle Bin of Internet history?

Well a news item today leads me to think that far from irrelevant, my post wasn't actually definite enough:

You see, Bitcoin is never going to die.  Ever. 

Is there anything that has the potential to kill Bitcoin?

Banning it.

If every Government in the world bans the use of Bitcoin it will die, right?  Well no, because how do you ban Bitcoin?  You can fine legitimate organizations who offer to take it in payment for goods, but that doesn't stop me from firing up my Bitcoin client, generating an address, and getting you to fire up your client and send me Bitcoins.

Making online exchanges illegal

You don't need online exchanges.  In fact if trading in Bitcoins is banned, online exchanges are pretty pointless; you're far more secure keeping your wallet safe offline, and anyway online exchanges take commissions.

If no-one can trade Bitcoin it'll die

If no-one uses them at all, then yes.  But then no-one can stop you using them anyway, and there's a certain group of people that have a vested interest in continuing to do so.  The greatest strength of the Bitcoin network is its ability to transfer Bitcoins anonymously.  So long as the organized crime community (or indeed the organized paedophile community – which is where my recent news story comes in) agrees to continue exchanging Bitcoins as a way of paying for services, then who's to stop them?  As previously pointed out, you don't need an online exchange and you can't stop the Bitcoin network from being used.

But what if the price crashes?

What if it does?  So long as Bitcoin is just being used to transfer funds between individuals (which is after all what it was designed to do), and not as a commodity to speculate on, it doesn't matter what the current "value" is, so long as everyone agrees on that value and it remains relatively stable (and if no-one speculating on it, it should be).   

You can buy your pornography from me with Bitcoin, I can then use that Bitcoin to buy drugs, which I can sell to someone else for Bitcoin, which I can then use to buy tools to allow me to hack into websites to post my pornography for you to download.  I can also use Bitcoins to rent time on a botnet to send out spam to sell my legal highs…which (should you reply to one of my mails) I will even allow you to pay for…with Bitcoins.

How are you going to ban that?

Trust me, Bitcoin's here to stay.