Updated: tech PC windows question

Updated: see new thread … so a reader/friend has offered to give me this CPU and this MoBo. Which looks to my unprofessional eye like the start of a system that could exceed my wildest dreams. I have two monitors and a couple of keyboards and mice. What else would I need to assemble the “system that FTB built”? A box shell with a power supply, a video card, and an OS right? Anything else?

In the spirit of Black Friday, if I make enough or bleg enough in December, I’m going to get a new desktop PC. But when you’re as poor as I am, new is relative. Refurbished or used with a limited one year warranty is more like it. I can maybe spend up to 200 bucks on the box. I’d like a reliable PC with a reliable OS. Does anyone have any suggestions? Ebay or store, Dell or HP, AMD vs Intel, Windows 7 vs Windows 8?

It’s probably not realistic, but I happen to have two decent flat screen monitors. Having side-by-side dual monitors on one box would be ideal for writing and blogging. What does that entail these days? Feel to free to email me at DarkSydOthemoon at aol or leave a comment below, thanks!


  1. chrisj says

    If you’re going to need windows, you definitely want 7 rather than 8 – you’ll almost certainly save money, and 8 seems to be worse for absolutely everything except pretending your PC is a tablet. I’m afraid I’ve got no ideas/comments about what’s best in other ways; sorry.

  2. says

    I tried sending you an email. but it bounced (DarkSydOfthemoon@aol.com). I’ll reproduce the content of the mail here:

    Hey Stephen,

    You asked if it was possible to get
    a pc for $200 on your blog, and yes, that’s totally possible.

    Here’s a video from august about just that:

    Generally I’d recommend going for a micro-ATX mobo with onboard sound
    (that’s most mobos these days) and a processor that has an embedded
    graphics card.
    For the operating system you could go with a linux distribution, fedora is
    nice if you want to do desktop publishing, but mint or ubuntu might be nice

    The installation process for each of these is fairly simple, so you can
    always just check out which one you’d prefer. If you do I’d recommend using
    a separate partion for “home”, which is where your personal files will be
    stored. [Removed line per reader request — DS]

  3. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Bah, windows 8 is just a slightly improved kernel (better performance and security) with a slightly screwy interface (no start menu). The latter is easily fixed by installing Classic Shell.

    As for running two monitors, any video card with the appropriate ports should be able top handle any desktop task you throw at it. If you want to run 3d games, that’s another matter but it doesn’t sound like yiou do.

  4. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Oh, and please don’t buy “refurbished” junk. It’s never worth it.

  5. says

    Thanks a lot for removing the last part of the post. I was only referring to signing it with my first name. I’m usually pretty anal about not having my online identity linked to me in-real-life one, because my in-laws are google savvy southern baptists.

  6. mastmaker says

    Stephen, if you need tech support on anything Windows, tell me. I will call you and help you out with any hardware/software issues. If you are within 200 miles of SF Bay Area, California, I will even visit you.

  7. mastmaker says

    Also, connecting two monitors is just a question of having two video outputs and most computers these days will have them. If the computer lists any two of DVI, HDMI and RGB15, you have it. There is full convertibility between HDMI and DVI-D, and conditional convertibility between DVI and RGB15.

  8. Steve Caldwell says

    If the best bargain you find has Windows 8 on it, there are two add-on programs that I’ve found useful in making Windows 8 look like Windows 7:



    Start8 gives you back the Windows 7 Start menu and bypasses the tiled interface on startup. ModernMix allows Metro (tiled interface) apps to run in re-sizeable windows along your old-style Windows apps.

    I’ve set up 4 Windows 8 laptops for folks used to the earlier versions of Windows (XP, Vista, 7) to ease their transition from the earlier versions of Windows to Windows 8.

    Startdock Software sells both apps as a bundle for $7.99 (vs. $9.98 if purchased separately).

    Hope this helps … good luck.


  9. Reginald Selkirk says

    Windows7 is better than 8 for a desktop. W8 should only be used for touchscreens in tablet/smartphone fashion.

    You could save money on an operating system by trying Linux, but if you don’t have the experience & tolerance for pain I can understand your not wanting to try this.

    Two monitors – should be easy peasy; although that depends on what input ports they each have. Most computers these days do fine with multiple monitors and the software can handle it.

    $200 – is that just for the box, or does that also include mouse & keyboard? Bottom drawer input devices are really cheap, and you could upgrade later.

    These days a computer is pretty useless if its not hooked up to Teh Interntz. And that means monthly money for a connection, unless you have a sweet deal worked out somehow.

  10. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    “Windows7 is better than 8 for a desktop. W8 should only be used for touchscreens in tablet/smartphone fashion.”

    This is utter nonsense, and could only have been written by someone with no actual windows 8 experience. Don’t believe the luddites.

  11. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    RE: your update

    That is certainly a good foundation for a budget build, and you should be able to put something quite nice together on top of it.

    If you can possibly stretch it (and assuming you have an interest in playing the occasional game, otherwise ignore this) I would suggest picking up an AMD Radeon R9 270, which is one of the best values the gaming PC market has seen in awhile and should give the PS4 and XBOne a run for their money. It won’t run the latest games on fully maxed out ultra ridiculous mode (unless you like 15 fps), but on medium settings you’ll be golden.

    Pick any old case that will fit the system (I have one I’d offer to donate but I suspect shipping would be more than it’s worth), and get a solid 80plus rated power supply. Bronze is fine, but silver or gold is better and will save you a few cents on your power bill in the long run. Don’t skimp on your PSU but don’t be drawn in by the hype of high wattage either – unless you have multiple GPUs or a very large RAID array even the beefiest systems rarely pull more than 300 watts, so a 400-500 watt PSU will be more than enough IF it’s good quality. The reason GPU boxes often claim they need a “650 Watt” PSU is because they’re expecting you to be using cheap overated junk.

  12. Holms says

    Updated: so a reader/friend has offered to give me this CPU and this MoBo. Which looks to my unprofessional eye like the start of a system that could exceed my wildest dreams. I have two monitors and a couple of keyboards and mice. What else would I need to assemble the “system that FTB built”? A box shell with a power supply, a video card, and an OS right? Anything else?

    With the budget you have in mind, you will have to forgo a standalone graphics cards and simply use the integrated graphics already on the mobo. This will limit the graphical power of your machine, but I doubt you were looking for high end gaming here anyway.

    There are still two major components missing: RAM and HDD. For your HDD you have the option of Western Digital and Seagate as the two biggest players. They are both highly reputable, I happen to prefer WD out of long habit rather than any technical difference. I suggest the WD ‘Blue’ line, which is pretty much their middle option. While I don’t know what size you want, you can get say 320GB for about $40-60.

    RAM can also be found for about the same price as the HDD; that price range will get you about 4 gig.

    I find staticice.com to be ridiculously handy in finding new components. It is effectively a nationwide search engine for components, ranking them in order of price, and linking directly to each store selling it. Note that it excludes any shipping costs, which vary from store to store. Although it lists them by price, it also mentions the state in which each is store is found, so you can either hunt far afield and hope they have good shipping deals, or keep your eye to your home state. I have sourced multiple PCs through that site (thankfully it has an Australian version fo the same thing), and always for lower prices than what I would get at a store… though, you do have to put it together yourself.

    That said, putting them together is surprisingly straight forward, as most components have standardised interfaces. There are copious guides for home assembly on say youtube.

  13. miles says

    One thing on dual monitors that the initiated often forget to mention…

    If you put a video card in to that PCIE slot, usually that’ll turn off your on-board video card (as in, the one built right into the mobo) so you need a card that has two outputs – can’t just use one there and one on your mobo.

    Then again you might be able to get by without a video card at all and just using the on-board one (if it allows using both ports at once – I see it has a VGA and a DVI plug). The spec says it’s a ATI Radeon HD 4250, so you might be able to get away with some gaming but that should definitely do it for some netflix and wordpress…

  14. Reginald Selkirk says

    dysomniak, darwinian socialist: This is utter nonsense, and could only have been written by someone with no actual windows 8 experience.

    He shoots, he scores! I actually have very little Windows experience of any number. I’m here when you need Linux advice though.

  15. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I’ve build plenty of computers … from scratch with a mobo and boards.

    You might not need a video card … that mobo has an Onboard Video Chipset ATI Radeon HD 4250 and it might even be able to handle dual monitors if the mobo has dual video ports. If you aren’t gaming or doing really graphics intensive stuff, onboard will work for you until you can add a video card.

    You WILL need some sort of hard drive that will work with the mobo, memory for .the mobo (aka RAM) (pay careful attention to the kind and size) and a DVD/CD player. The RAM will be the most expensive.

    For the OS, any of the Linux distributions will work, and are FREE, and come with lots of useful FREE things like photo editing and word processing. And the ability to handle dual monitors.

    For the box … check used computers in thrift stores for one with the port holes where the mobo needs them to be (two possibilities – old style or new style, you need new style). It’s just the holder for the components and can be SUPER cheap. If you can score one with a power supply and a working CD/DVD player it’s all to the good. My DVD player has been moved through a series of computers because it’s still working, and I only upgraded the box because a new mobo required holes in a different spot.

  16. mastmaker says

    Note that you cannot connect DVI and HDMI at the same time on this motherboard. However, you can connect one to DVI and one to RGB (15-pin) header and you are good.

  17. mck9 says

    Concerning operating systems, especially Linux:

    Some have touted Linux, others have commented on Windows (consensus: avoid Win8, or else find ways to make it look like Win7). But you can have both, in a dual-boot setup. You decide at boot time which one you want. Or you can run one as a virtual machine inside the other (Virtual Box is a free tool to do the virtualization). That way you can switch back and forth without rebooting.

    Important: if you want to dual boot, install Windows first. I don’t know if this is still true, but traditionally, a Windows install would obliterate any other operating systems that were already installed. Once Windows is installed, you can install a separate Linux partition, and Linux will play nice.

    For Linux you need to pick a distribution and a window manager. My recommendation: Linux Mint, with KDE as the window manager. Linux Mint is a repackaging of Ubuntu, designed to maximize usability right out of the box. KDE looks a lot like Windows and provides a lot of scope for customization.

    Longer story: there are two main strains of distributions: the ones based on Redhat (e.g. RHEL, Fedora, SuSe, OpenSUSE, CentOS) and Debian (e.g. Debian, Ubuntu, Linux Mint). They differ in three main ways:

    1. They tend to put various system files in different places. These differences are not likely to matter much until you get into the dirty details of system administration.

    2. Historically, the Redhat strain has been more oriented toward the enterprise, and toward servers. The Debian strain has been more oriented toward the desktop. That said, there’s a lot of overlap, and either kind of Linux can serve either kind of role.

    3. They use different ways to distribute and install software. The Redhat strain normally uses RPM, while the Debian strain normally uses Debian packages. The most popular software is available both ways. If a given bit of software is available only in the wrong kind of package, I believe there are usually ways to install it anyway, at the expense of extra trouble, but so far I haven’t had occasion to find out.

    Window managers usually come bundled with your choice of distro. It’s possible to switch, but I’ve never tried it.

    — KDE has a look and feel broadly similar to Windows, and allows for a lot of customization.

    — Gnome used to be the default window manager for Ubuntu. I haven’t used it, but I’ve heard it’s more like a Mac. It offers limited options for customization.

    — Unity is Ubuntu’s current default. It’s Gnome with extra goodies piled on top, making it fancier but more resource-hungry. I don’t think it has attracted much loyalty from users.

    — Xfce is similar to an older version of Gnome, but it is less resource-hungry. It can be a good choice if you want to keep using an older, less powerful computer.

    — Likewise for LXDE, except it has a look and feel more like Win98.

    Google for more information on distros and window managers.

    Some things still require Windows:

    1. Particular software packages such as AutoCAD, Photoshop, and QuickBooks. For one reason or another the free software equivalents just aren’t there, or they’re inadequate. For example, The GIMP is a pretty good graphics package, but there are certain things it can’t do because of patents.

    2. Your employer may require you to work from home using a tool that requires ActiveX, for example, or Internet Explorer.

    3. High-end gaming. Linux is perfectly capable of playing games, but the big game publishers mostly don’t target it as a platform.

    Otherwise, some form of Linux, and the free software available for it, can probably meet all of your computing needs. The money you don’t send to Redmond can be applied to more memory, or a bigger hard drive, or food.

    Another saving is on anti-virus software. You don’t need it. Infecting a Linux system is very difficult (though not impossible) unless the user goes out of his way to do something grossly stupid, like running routinely as root. The bad guys concentrate on the low-hanging fruit, and nothing hangs lower than Windows.

    For five or ten dollars you can you can order a CD filled with any of several popular distros and try it out. Try several. Most are available as a Live CD, so that you can run Linux on a trial basis without installing it, and without disturbing your present operating system.

    My experience has been that installing Linux is much easier than installing Windows. Pick a couple of options like language and time zone, accept the defaults in most cases, and come back a little later; done. Most people have no idea how painful it is to install Windows because they’ve always bought boxes with Windows already installed.

    Naturally you will be able to get more out of Linux if you’re already familiar with it, or with UNIX, or you’re ready to learn what you need. Windows is no different in that respect except that you’re probably already familiar with it.

    Yes, I’m one of those annoying Linux evangelists. I’ll get off my soap box now.

  18. cag says

    I run Ubuntu Linux on a PC built from parts. I have not encountered any situations where Windows was needed. If you provide a list of the software you use, there will be a number of people who can offer advice on how to do it using one of the Linux distros.

    Instead of Office, use LibreOffice and save $$$ as LibreOffice is free and fully licensed.

    My cost for software, all fully licensed, is $0 and I do not feel at all restricted in my computing.

    Firefox and Chrome replace IE. Skype, ICQ, Google Hangouts no problem.

    DVD copying that wouldn’t work on Windows works on Linux.

    You can run a “live” DVD or USB stick of Linux without destroying your Windows. I have used the “live” DVD/USB to rescue a Windows Vista machine which had a forgotten password (the Utilman exploit).

    If you can’t divorce yourself from Windows, you can still set up a dual boot. I don’t dual boot as Windows is not necessary.

    Try it, you may like it, especially $$$.

    I set up a first time computer user with Linux. She later bought a Win 7 laptop. She still reminesces about “the good old days” of Linux.

    Most hardware works. I just bought a Logitech C270 Webcam. Downloaded “Cheese Webcam Booth” and it just worked. No drivers to download. Tried it using Google Hangouts, no problem. I just had to change my microphone to the Webcam. My HP Pavilion 27bw IPS monitor just plugged in and worked. Dual monitors is no problem.

    You do not need to buy a Linux distro, just download the ISO to a stick (you should be able to do this on a Windows machine). Set your BIOS to boot from USB and “try before you buysave” $$$. You can also burn an ISO on a DVD.

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