It's the "editor's cut" of PC buyer's guides. Maximum PC 2005 Buyer's Guide takes the guesswork out of PC hardware and software purchases. Based on Maximum PC magazine's popular "In the Lab" section, all product reviews from the past year are included and expanded in this all-inclusive shopping guide to give you details that couldn't be included in the magazine. Organized into categories such as "Motherboards," "CPUs," and "Wi-Fi Networking," products are ranked from "kick ass" to "in the dog house." Maximum PC 2005 Buyer's Guide is your one-stop shop for all of your computer hardware and software needs!
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About the Author
George Jones is the editor-in-chief of Maximum PC. At the tender young age of 10, he discovered his joy for computing and his fascination with taking computers apart when his parents made him the happy benefactor of a Commodore VIC-20 computer. George lives in San Francisco with his wife Jane.
Table of Contents
Who Should Read This Book?
1. Maximum PC: The Year in Review.
Enter the BIOS!
Windows: The Next Generation.
In Other News…
3D Card Benchmarking Improprieties?
How to Share Your Broadband Connection.
Silence of the…Fans.
Legal Tussles, Begin!
The Secret Lives of Hard Drives.
In Other News…Your PC Is Sick!
Skip the Hologram—I’ll Have the Hologram Touchscreen!
AMD’s 64-Bit Gamble.
Internet Explorer Gets Defeated by a Brash Upstart.
nVidia Gets Dissed by Makers of Half-Life 2.
CPU Showdown: Intel vs. AMD vs. Apple!
”This Release Is Final”.
Case Mod of the Year!
But Wait, There Was More…
The Watchdog Bites.
Maximum PC Chooses Its Game of the Year.
Pentium 4 Prescott = Pentium 5?
RAM, RAM, Everywhere.
Google Boggles the Mind.
The Fastest Notebooks in the World!
Intel Shines and Gets Shined.
The Future of 3D.
Project: Budget PC.
Perfect 3D Card Timing.
Need for Speed.
*Top 10 Maximum PC Products.
2. Maximum PC Standards & Practices.
Experimentation, Torture Tests, and Lab Hi-jinks.
How Does Maximum PC Decide What to Review?
How We Review Products.
How We Determine a Verdict for the Products We Review.
The Gut-Wrenching Dilemma.
3. Motherboards & Core-Logic Chipsets.
What the North Bridge and South Bridge Do.
Mobo Integration Madness.
What We Look for When Testing Motherboards.
How We Test Motherboards.
Careful Considerations for New Mobos.
Our Top Pentium 4 Chipsets: Intel’s 875P and 865PE.
Also Solid: ATI’s Radeon 9100 IGP.
Pentium 4 Chipset Pretenders.
Our P4 Mobo Recommendations.
The Back Story: Summer of Athlon XP.
Enter the 64-bit Chipset.
Why Hasn’t Intel Integrated the Memory Controller?
Looking to Overclock?
Looking Ahead: Future Chipsets & Mobos.
VIA Makes Its Move.
Prepare for BTX.
New Sockets Forthcoming.
4. Cases & Formfactor Standards.
What to Look For in a Case.
Trend #1: More People Means More Case Personalities.
Trend #2: Prices Are Plummeting.
Smaller Is Better.
Cooling Is King.
Small Is the New Big.
Custom Modding Is Still Influential.
Looking Ahead: Case Design.
Summer 2003: Pentium 4 Domination.
AMD Leaps into the 64-bit Market.
Did Intel Possess Hidden 64-bit Code?
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition Is Released.
Along Came Prescott.
Why So Slow?
Intel Comes Clean Around 64-bit.
AMD Increases Clock Speeds.
Intel’s New Naming Conventions.
Looking Ahead: CPUs.
Our 5 Favorite CPUs of All Time.
AMD Maintains a Full Plate.
6. Hard Drives.
The Raptor Takes a Bite Out of the Competition.
Serial ATA Arrives.
Drives Get Buffer.
Portable Drives Get Potent.
IBM Sprinkles Pixie Dust on Its Drives.
10,000rpm ATA Arrives in Bulk.
Bigger and Faster.
Round 1: ATI Trumps nVidia.
But Where’s Half-Life 2?
Round 2: nVidia Misses the Mark.
nVidia Atones for Its Sins, But…
Half-Life 2 nVidia Brouhaha.
nVidia and ATI Release Fast New Cards.
Looking Ahead: PCI Express.
What’s Alienware Doing?
How Can a Soundcard Make a Game Look Better?
Up Close: Today’s Soundcards.
DirectSound, DirectSound3D, and the API Wars.
Integrated Onboard Audio Is Popular.
Creative: The Three-ton Gorilla.
The Move to 7.1.
The 24-bit Question.
Creative Swallows the Competition.
Looking Ahead: Integrated Sound Leaps Ahead.
And What About the Audigy?
When a Magazine Dreams.
9. Optical Drives.
The Big Trends for the Year Were…
Hello, Dual Layer.
What We Look For in Optical Drives.
Other Considerations Besides Speed.
CD-ROM Media Concerns.
Looking Ahead: Optical Drives.
More Prevalent and Faster Dual-layer Burning.
How to Read Speaker Specs.
What Makes a Perfect 10 Speaker System?
How to Put Your Speakers to the Test.
Looking Ahead: Speakers.
11. Pre-built PCs.
Rapidly Evolving PC Market.
Falcon Northwest Fires Out the Frag Box.
Alienware Goes Big-time.
Voodoo PC Innovates with the F50.
Dell Goes High-end with the XPS.
The New Trend: PCs for Gaming.
The Other New Trend: A PC in Every Living Room?
Looking Ahead: Pre-built PCs.
The Current State of Display.
The Great LCD Shootout.
Sony Discontinues Its “Best of the Best” CRT.
Multi Monitor Displays Take Off.
MaxiVista: An Innovative Display Solution.
Looking Ahead: Displays.
13. Mice & Keyboards.
Trends in Mice.
Trends in Keyboards.
How to Find the Right Mouse and/or Keyboard.
How We Test Mice.
How We Test Keyboards.
Looking Ahead: Mice & Keyboards.
802.11g Opens the Pipe.
Wi-Fi Product Categories.
Security Is a Major Concern.
Hey, What Happened to Bluetooth?
Looking Ahead: Wireless Technology.
15. Digital Devices.
Rise of the Smart Phones.
Portable Audio Devices.
Portable Video Makes Its Debut.
Looking Ahead: Digital Devices.
16. Ask the Doctor.
17. The Watchdog.
Look Before You Leave.
BestBuy.Com Spam Scam.
Rebate? What Rebate?
They’re Always After Me Lucky Charms.
IBM Manager: Failure Rate “Beyond Normal”.
February 2004 continued.
Internal Documents Indicate 30 Percent Failure.
”We Have Been Given False Data, Have Passed the Data on to Compaq”.
You Can’t Do That!
AMD Locks Down CPUs.
Appendix A: The Year in Reviews.
Graphics Cards, Video Devices, and Displays.
Soundcards and Speakers.
Networking Devices (Includes Media Servers).
Peripherals (Keyboards, Mice, Scanners, Printers, etc.).
Pre-Built Systems, Cases and Case Mods.
Software and Online Services.
Handhelds, Cameras, and Misc. Devices.
MaximumPC 2005 Buyer's Guide
Other magazines cover technology, but Maximum PC really covers technology. What's the difference? We cover it not from the corporate spendthrift perspective, but from a place of passion and pure enthusiasm. In short, the other guys cover hardware. We love hardware. So much so that the Maximum PC Lab (which you'll read about in Chapter 2, "Maximum PC Standards & Practices") is a hub of constant activity. Products' reputations are routinely made or destroyed. Experiments are constantly underway, and the results are made public on a monthly basis in our magazine.
Let's face it: Buying computers or computer components is a tricky, complex process, fraught with doubt and misrepresentation. Over the course of the last year, we found ourselves answering one question related to this situation more often than any other: Howand whydo we test products in our Lab?
After answering it the first 150 times, we began to think to ourselves, "We should write a book that describes our testing philosophy and methodology, so that the public will be better educatedboth about existing products and what to look for in the future." The end result is this book.
As I began to plan and write this book, I found that in order to describe our testing process and dispense tips regarding what you should look for when you're buying new gear, I found that the year's past events dovetailed nicely with our buying advice.
After reading the Maximum PC 2005 Buyer's Guide, you're probably going to find yourself thinking, "What a year!" Consider the following ground-breaking developments that occurred over the last 12 months:
- AMD rocked the tech world by releasing two new 64-bit CPUsthe Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX. For the first time ever, Intel found itself on the defensiveand chasing another company.
- In addition to completely changing its CPU naming conventions to de-emphasize clock speed, Intel also made a radical shift in CPU development strategy by abandoning several new P4 lines and embracing dual-core processors.
- ATI and nVidia released new videocardsnothing new there. But ATI's Radeon X800 XT and nVidia's GeForce 6800 each boasted an astonishing 150% improvement in game-related performance.
- Creative released a 7.1 speaker set, meaning that you can now play games and watch movies with a whopping total of eight speakers.
- Intel announced its upcoming HD Audio technology that, upon its release in the new Grantsdale mobo chipset, will allow full-fledged eight-channel sound integrated onto the motherboard.
- Alienware introduced a new high-end PC that uses two next-gen videocards (of the aforementioned 150% performance boost) to improve graphics performance by another 70%.
- Major PC manufacturers began to roll out Media Center PCs for usage in the living room. Based on a modified "Media Center" version of Windows XP, these systems provided TiVo-like capabilities and the ability to watch movies, share pictures, and surf the Internet.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of the last 12 months, we also saw Intel introduce its Pentium 4 Prescott, the debut of BTX, and spontaneous evolution in almost every PC component category.
As I was researching, writing, and compiling this book, I found myself thinking the same thing. But upon further reflection, I came to realize that I could easily say the same thing about any of the past 10 years. Although personal computers have been in households for 20 years now, PC technology evolves at a rate so rapid it would have made Darwin dizzy.
Hence this book. My intent here is threefold.
First, I want to explore and discuss all of the year's major and minor developments in each PC component category. This will allow you to better understand the capabilities and performance of the current state of the art, and how much it's changed over the course of last year.
Secondand this is the most important function of the Maximum PC 2005 Buyer's Guidethis book contains valuable information that will help you make better purchasing decisions. To this end, each chapter of this book contains our most significant product reviews from the last year in each PC component category. Each chapter also details the Maximum PC Lab's testing procedures and our criteria for judging each product we review. Armed with this information, you'll be able to ask the right questionsand get the details most pertinent to your purchase.
Finally, this book is meant to celebrate some of the magazine's best and worst moments. I know that many of our faithful readers and subscribers will be reading this book, and I hope that you enjoy the walk down memory lane. I know I have.
Who Should Read This Book?
The short answer is that anyone passionate about PCs will enjoy the Maximum PC 2005 Buyer's Guide. The longer answer is that everyone from PC novices to crusty veterans will find value on every single page of this book. Whether you're looking to get a better understanding of how to make smarter purchasing decisions, to gain insight into how Maximum PC tests each product we review, or to simply revel in our magazine's 12-month history, you'll get something out of this.
I've written this book with the expectation that our magazine will publish a new Buyer's Guide every year, so this will also serve as an almanac of sorts.
For your convenience, I've broken this book into chapters that correspond with the major PC categories. Here's a quick rundown of how it works and what you can look forward to:
Maximum PC: The Year in Review: Chapter 1 walks you through the last year's worth of Maximum PC magazine. We'll take a look at the highs and lows in each issue, and divulge some of the behind-the-scenes triumphs and disasters even our most faithful readers never heard about.
Maximum PC Standards & Practices: Chapter 2 is an in-depth look at Maximum PC's most hallowed groundour testing Lab. Inside, you'll meet the editors, get a glimpse at our product reviewing practices, and learn about a few tests that went horribly wrong. By horribly wrong, I mean explosions, fires, and the occasional frog or two.
Motherboards & Core-Logic Chipsets: The rest of the world takes motherboards for granted, but before power users decide on a case or CPU, they choose their mobo. Chapter 3 is an extensive look at the most underrated PC component of its time. You'll read reviews of recently released mobos and learn about future developments.
Cases & Formfactor Standards: Besides looking good and serving as the PC embodiment of your personality, PC cases protect your PC's innards. There are literally hundreds available. We'll tell you which ones are good and which ones are crap.
Processors: Small and powerful, your CPUalso known as a "proc"serves as the brain of your PC. The last year was an interesting and tumultuous period in this category, because chipmaking rivals AMD and Intel upped the competitive stakes with bold new designs and dazzling performance.
Hard Drives: Blazing speeds and astonishing capacities was the name of the game in this category last year. Can you say "400 gigabytes"? In this chapter, we'll show you how and why we test hard drives so rigorously, and explain what to look for when you're buying your next drive.
Videocards: Wow, what a year in the videocard space! In the middle of 2004, we saw the release of two ground-breaking cards. In Chapter 7, we put them through their pacesand come away duly impressed.
Soundcards: Back in the day, soundcards were like AM radio. Now, we're seeing the release of soundcards containing eight channels of audio surround sound. That's astonishing. Find out more in Chapter 8.
Optical Drives: Thanks to the new standards, burning your own music and movie CDs and DVDs has never been easier. And, shockingly, DVD capacities just doubled in size, thanks to dual-layer burners. Inside Chapter 9, you'll find details on how and why optical drives work, as well as insight into how we identify the fastest performers on the market.
Speakers: Like I mentioned, PC sound has climbed to new heights in terms of clarity and impact. While the speakers' category is one of the few to have slowed down in terms of evolution in design, prices have plummeted. This means the time is right for you to upgrade your PC speaker systems. We'll show you how.
Pre-built PCs: If you're like us, you prefer building your own rig to buying a pre-made one. But there comes a time in every person's life where they have to go the pre-built route. PC design has become more intricate and varied than ever. In Chapter 11, we focus on super-powerful high-end laptops and desktops. We think you'll be surprised at what you see.
Displays: To LCD or not to LCD. That's the question in Chapter 12. In the middle of 2004, we rounded up eight LCDs in order to determine whether or not they're close to the quality levels of traditional, but more bulky CRT displays.
Mice & Keyboards: Until you've suffered a nasty repetitive stress injury, input devices tend to be an afterthought. They shouldn't be. While your standard mouse and keyboard is way better than it was 10 years ago, it's important to find the ergonomic input rig that's right for you. We'll show you how.
Wi-Fi: 2003 and 2004 were big years for wireless technology. Millions of consumers took a gigantic leap into home networking, and untethered themselves from wires. If you haven't done the same, you owe it to yourself. Read Chapter 14 to get started. And if you've already surfed the Wi-Fi waters, our hard-hitting reviews will show which routers and gear to buy.
Digital Devices: The objects of lust and infatuation, digital devices such as MP3 players and PDAs have captured consumers' attention over the last few years. How does Maximum PC review these gadgets? Chapter 15 reveals all.
Ask the Doctor: For years, Maximum PC's resident tech expert has answered readers' toughest and most pressing questions. Here's the best of this year's answers.
The Watchdog: Maximum PC's consumer advocate is no joke. The Dog tackles misleading PC vendors across the world. In Chapter 17, you can read the Dog's best columns from the last year. His bite is definitely as powerful as his bark; that's for sure.
As you read the next 270+ pages, please keep this in mind: If you take your PC components and purchases for granted, you'll only be operating at 60% of your maximum capacity. This book will help you avoid that problem.
On behalf of myself and the entire Maximum PC 2005 Buyer's Guide staff, it is our sincere hope you enjoy the 2005 Maximum PC 2005 Buyer's Guide!
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