Owners of aging computers enter speed limbo


September 17, 2001|By Lou Dolinar | Lou Dolinar,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My PC is a couple of years old with these specs: AMD K6-2, 450 megahertz with 128 megabytes memory and a Diamond SpeedStar A50 (8 MB memory) graphics card. I hoped the new Max Payne game would work on my machine (minimum requirements include 16 MB memory graphics card), but it doesn't. I assume this is because of the video card.

Should I get a new video card or buy another PC? If I get a new PC, should I go for the Pentium 4 or Pentium III or AMD Athlon? I want this PC to last, so it seems crazy not to buy the latest technology (i.e., Pentium 4). Will the game work in the old PC with the new video card?

A few observations:

1. Your computer is at that awkward age where it's too fast to replace but too slow to do everything you want it to do. It should work fine as an Internet browser but is painfully slow for gaming. You're looking at about $1,000 for a gigahertz PC.

2. The K6-2 is slower than it seems in a comparison based strictly on megahertz. A new Athlon gets more work done in the same number of clock cycles. So it is more like a third as fast as a 900-MHz Athlon, rather than half as fast.

3. Yes, you can replace the graphics card. That should enable you to run the software.

4. Consider a motherboard upgrade.

I'm building a house, and I plan to stay with a cable modem for Internet service. I'll look to buy PCs for my kids and network them. What do you recommend in terms of Cat-5 hardwiring during construction vs. going wireless?

I love my 802.11b wireless, but it isn't as fast as 100 megabit-per-second Ethernet. I wouldn't relish punching holes in the wall to hardwire a network, and I'd probably use wireless in an existing home.

On the other hand, new homes offer you an opportunity to easily prep for future wiring. You might want to run some empty 3/4 -inch plastic conduit from the basement into one or more empty electrical boxes in each room. It is cheap, so you can run lots of boxes.

The basic idea is to give yourself lots of places to snake wires in future. No code problems, as long as you stick to low-voltage circuits, e.g. networking, speaker connections, phone lines, coaxial, etc. Fifty bucks at Home Depot will buy you enough conduit and wall boxes for the whole house.

The weekend before they put up the Sheetrock, drill down through the plates in between the studs so you have a clear run to the basement.

Line up your new boxes at the same height above floor as the one the electrician put in. Slip your conduit through the holes and let it stick out an inch or so beneath the unfinished basement ceiling. Cover the boxes with blank wall plates.

When you're ready to wire, just push the cable through the conduit. Leviton makes nice wall plates that take interchangeable modular connectors, so you could, for example, have three Cat-5 sockets, a coaxial feed and speaker connectors in one box. Also at Home Depot.

Jim Coates is on vacation. Newsday's Lou Dolinar is our guest guru.

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