Adventures in do it yourself computer building!

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...

No, this is not a story of bad television. Instead, it is a cautionary tale of my recent experiences with rebuilding my computer. And there are lessons enough for us all.

See below for a Special Note

I can't say that I'm late to the computer age. I took my first classes in computer programming using punch cards entered onto a main frame and on an early Apple II computer in 1980 at my community college. Microsoft was not yet a world power. All though college, I worked off of main frame type computers, but when I got to the real world, I found myself working on IBM PC clone type machines. They were always available, and had all of the processing and application software that I needed. My company that I worked for at the time offered $5000 in interest free loans to anyone who would take the money and use it to purchase a computer. I vowed from those days that I'd never need to buy my own computer. The ones at work were free!

This all changed late in 1995. My father was in town, and in order to spend quality time and to do manly things together, we went to various computer stores. One of these stores was a local outfit that would assemble used PC parts together for sale at prices lower than new computers could be had. I dropped about $600 bucks on a used computer and monitor. It was after I took it home and discovered that it was a 386 that could not be upgraded to a 486 that I took it back and exchanged it for a 486 that could (supposedly) be upgraded. (I never was very happy with that particular business, and their lack of support in trying to get their product to work earns them a non-mention on this page. OK, I will mention them: If you do business with RE-PC, you're taking chances, and they won't help you. The problem turned out to be a computer case whose sides didn't meet at right angles. Maybe the case had been dropped?) That began a year of computer awareness and exploration. I didn't get an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for a long time. Instead, I satisfied my desire for on-line computer activity with several local bulletin boards (BBS), including one that ate up a lot of my time called King of the Cats. (My cat's name was Fester). There was a period in my life where I had activity on three different BBS every day. For the most part it was free, or at least very cheap. But eventually I wanted to gain access to as well as to maintain a presence on the World Wide Webb, and I needed an ISP. I did the 50 free hours on AOL, but I wasn't happy with the pressure of the advertising on that forum. People on AOL suffer from a perhaps justified discrimination, and I knew that AOL wasn't for me. I had a Prodigy address for a while, but it was concurrent with my experiences with two other services, and I let that one drop too. My first ISP was Netcom, but when their power went out at their local service center and I spent close to an hour on hold trying to get through to them, I decided to take my business elsewhere. I spent some time with a local ISP, but when GTE offered a good rate for employees of my company allowing unlimited access to the Webb, as well as 5MB of web page storage space, I changed again, and have been with them ever since.

I realized that I still didn't use my computer all that much, but what I did do was look at pages that I couldn't peruse at work. I started to collect images of nekkid wymyn that had been released by Scanmaster, Scanbyte, and other scan series. Eventually, these collections filled up my paltry 360MB hard disk. I was starting to think about upgrading my computer.

Another impetus to upgrade came from my brother-in-law. He owns an apartment building, and one of his tenants had to leave town in a hurry. In doing so, the tenant left behind two pairs of identical mother board and disk controller cards, which my brother-in-law gave to me. The mother boards represented slight upgrades of my current processor, and the die was cast. It was time to upgrade.

All I really wanted to do was to upgrade my processor and add a bigger hard drive. (The road to hell is paved with tiny upgrade plans...) By the time I was done, the only thing that remained from my old computer was the monitor, and keeping that is looking pretty dicey too!

To start with, I knew that there wasn't enough room in my old case for a new hard drive and a CD-ROM, so I bought a new case. I wanted the biggest damn case I could find, so I'd be sure that there was plenty of room and power for anything that I might want to put into it. It was kind of an expensive trip, as that credit card just begged to be used for a new modem:

Full Tower case $68.95
US Robotics Sportster 36.6 Internal modem, capable of being upgraded to 56.6 $115.95
-With tax, total $200.80

Then came the other reason to upgrade:

Quantum Fireball Hard Drive, 4.3 GB$249.00
- With tax, total $270.41

As long as I had the box open, the RAM that I had wasn't going to be enough, so:

- With tax, total $90.08

The most foolish and least used purchase was the removable storage. I COULD use it to back stuff up, but so far I haven't:

ZIP drive $98.95
- plus $8.00 shipping
- With tax (and shipping), total $116.15

And what is a modern computer without a full multimedia experience?

IDE 16X CD-ROM$80.00
Sound Blaster 64 IDE Sound Card$90.00
- With tax, total $184.62

That's when I found out that the disk controller card that I'd kept (I traded the other one for technical help in getting this all together) was broken. To replace it, as well as to operate the two floppies and four internal devices, I needed to get a motherboard that would have the function of this broken card contained on it. And I might as well buy a new processor to go onto it. And because this new mother board wouldn't work without paired memory, I had to buy more RAM to form a balance.

AMD K6-166 CPU, MMX enhanced, and VX-Pro Pentium Mother Board with 512KB cache$195.00
Cooling Fan, Ball Bearing type$14.95
Memory 32MB RAM EDO SIMM$79.95
(notice that the price had gone down in a single month?)
-With tax, total $315.86

That's when I found out that the only configuration of devices inside the computer that would fit well wouldn't allow the standard cables that I had to reach all of the devices. I bought two custom made cables that were plenty long enough to reach:

Two cables$22.00
-With tax, total $23.90

Then I bought a game where the graphics weren't quite right on it, so I decided to get a new video card too:

Matrox Millennium II video accelerator card with 8MB memory$265.00
-With tax, total $287.79

Because I didn't want to help Bill Gates own the world (or my butt) with the upcoming Windows 98 release, I needed a new operating system to tie it all together. I bought this at an on-line auction:

Windows 95 Operating System, OSR2 version $64.00 + shipping and money order fee
- With shipping and fee, total $73.80

For the ultimate game machine, I bought a Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback Pro joystick: Big mistake: there's only a couple of games that use the force feedback technology, and even though three of them come either full or partial version on the accompanying software, none of the Jedi Knight series from LucasArts are compatible with my graphics card!

Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback Pro joystick$149.99
-With tax, total $162.89

By my count, when all was said and done, I spent $1563.41 between September 18, 1997 and December 18, 1997, and that was just on hardware. I bought a CD with the Office 97 suite of programs through work for $30, and a game or two, plus I installed a dedicated phone extension for the modem because I was tired of tripping over the phone cord that I'd been stringing from the next room. I'd never spent that much money on myself in such a short period of time without getting something that I could either drive in or sleep in. And I also have the joy and satisfaction of seeing each and every one of these purchases get cheaper and cheaper every time I open up a new issue of the Puget Sound Computer User newspaper. The cheap date in me is kicking and screaming. On the other hand, I've now got a truly bitchin computer, one that should last me several years, or until the next time the upgrade bug bytes.

Copyright 1998 by Rich Webb, aka The Outsider.

This page is authored and maintained by Rich Webb. You can send E-mail to me by following this link to the contact page. And feel free to contact me if you have any comments, criticisms, or suggestions. I remain, however, perfectly capable of ignoring your useless opinion... 

Feel free to visit my home page while you're out surfing, or just go back to the rantpage index.

This document was placed here on January 11, 1998, and has been viewed countless times.

Special Note: One of the prime motivations for me to create this page was so I'd have a quick place to go to when I had to answer the question that the tech reps always ask: What's your system configuration?

Windows 95 Operating System, OSR2 version
AMD K6-166 CPU, MMX enhanced, on a VX-Pro Pentium Mother Board with 512KB cache
2 banks of 32MB RAM EDO SIMM
Matrox Millennium II video accelerator card with 8MB memory
Sound Blaster 64 IDE Sound Card
Quantum Fireball Hard Drive, 4.3 GB
US Robotics Sportster 36.6 Internal modem
Full Tower case
ZIP drive
Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback Pro joystick

Now you know too...