A Hardware Bear: The Build-A-PC Plan

So the first fun-project of 2003 is to build a new PC, as I threatened to do late last year.
I’ve been hitting the research hard, and am now beginning to feel like I vaguely know what I’m up to, which is probably a bad sign. So, this seemed a reasonable juncture to give y’all an update on what I’m planning, and call for comments.
So here are the components I’ve selected, along with the best prices I’ve found and links to the retailers who are offering them. I’d welcome feedback of any kind, and have pointed out specific areas that I’m still scratching my head on.
Case: Antec Plus 1080AMG ($101.21 + shipping at Page Computers). Antec seems to be a default choice for a reasonably-priced quality case. I prefer a full tower configuration; I’ve got the space and for a neophyte like me having the extra room inside will probably make life easier. The Antec comes with a well-regarded power supply and fans are included, so that’s a good thing. My only quibble with the case itself is that it has front USB ports — a good thing — but I believe they are not USB2.0 ports. While I don’t have any 2.0-devices yet, this is an annoyance. And at $125 or so with shipping, I would have preferred to be able to bring the price down a bit, but oh well.
Processor: AMD Athlon 2400+ (about $165 + shipping according to Pricewatch; vendor suggestions welcome). All the build-it-yourself advice seems to say ditch Intel, and I’m now convinced. So off into the great unknown I go. The 2400 seemed to me at about the sweet spot of value-for-performance; AMD’s more powerful chips still command a steep price premium.
Motherboard: Asus A7N8X Deluxe ($145 + shipping at Page Computer, but as of this morning its backordered, so vendor suggestions welcome). This is probably more motherboard than I need, so to speak, but it has gotten consistently great reviews and has room for future expansion. It comes with on-board LAN and sound capabilities, which I’m hoping will save me from having to buy dedicated cards for those functions. I’ll certainly listen to arguments as to why I should downgrade to a cheaper board here, though.
Memory: 512MB of PC2100 RAM ($131 from Crucial). I want to go up to 512 MB; I’m running with 256 MB now and given my tendency to massively multitask apps, I suspect the increase will help. The Asus motherboard would support PC2700 RAM (and even one level above that in speed, I think…) but I decided to spend the money on more, not faster, memory. I’ve seen some lower prices on memory than from Crucial, but they seem well regarded quality-wise and I was reluctant to stray into generic territory.
Video Card: ATI Radeon 9500 Pro (about $190 according to PriceGrabber, vendor suggestions welcome). Yes, I want the 9700 Pro; no, I’m not going to spend the extra money for it. I’m a bit constrained here as I actually have a GeForce4 Ti4400 in the current ‘big’ machine, and I don’t want to downgrade (remember that one purpose here is to upgrade the home computer network so we have two fully functional and modern PCs). The 9500 Pro sounds to be about equal performance wise, with the future benefit of including DirectX 9.0 support (whatever the hell that’s going to mean). Yes, I play games, and while I try not to spend too much time doing so, when I do, I like them to look pretty, so high-end graphics is a must. (Besides all the digital photography stuff I do).
Hard Drive: I plan to shop around for the next week or so and see what I can find as a good deal; I saw a special for a Western Digital 60GB drive for about $60 at Best Buy, but it didn’t seem to actually exist. But that price point is in my head now, so that’s what I’m aiming for. Suggestions welcome.
Operating System: Windows XP Professional. I’ll probably end up buying the full version; the price tag definately irks me. Looks like I can get it for about $150 on eBay; better suggestions are welcome as that’s too damned much.
Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse, CD-RW Drive: All of these I’ll be re-using from one of my old systems, so no real need for new ones.
All told, I expect the full system to come in at about $1000, which is a bit more than I was hoping, but acceptable.
In my research, obviously PriceWatch and PriceGrabber have been useful. A site I continue to return to for a general guide is Rob Williams’ MySuperPC; he’s got a great overview of everything you need to know, and includes real helpful links to vendors as well.
So, where am I going wrong? Or even better, where can I get this stuff cheaper? Suggestions, thoughts, and alternatives are all very much welcome.
Update: OK, a new wrinkle. I walked into MicroCenter today, and they have this PowerSpec system for $750. It also includes a full 512MB RAM for now extra $$$$ after a rebate.
The specs are damned similar to what I’m pricing — the P4 2.4GHz is pretty comparable with the Athlon 2400, I think. And this rig includes keyboard, mouse, CD-RW drive, and a CD-ROM drive, which I wasn’t including.
I’m very, very tempted — especially given that my pricing for the custom setup has been, shall we say, aggressive, and I’m not truly sure I can get the components at those prices.
Anybody have any experience with PowerSpec? They’re clearly a budget vendor, but there’s a warranty, so I’m not sure why I care too much. Thoughts, oh great peanut gallery?
And oh yeah: I’d welcome suggestions for any local vendors who will build custom systems in the Los Angeles / Orange County area.
But wait! How much will I pay now?: Here’s an even more attractive option, from ABS Computers: their Bravado 2100 model can be configured/upgraded to basically exactly meet or exceed my proposed specs, for a total cost (after tax, but with no shipping — I can pick it up locally), of $1050. (Sorry, can’t link directly to the exact config, but play with it yourself).
This is extremely tempting, as it’s almost exactly the same system as I’d end up with myself, for pretty much the same price…. decisions, decisions…
Final Update For Now: Well, it’s done. I decided the ABS Computer deal was the best choice, and placed my order. So hopefully in a week or so, I’ll have a shiny new toy. No joy of learning how to assemble it myself, of course… but perhaps that’s a good thing…