Building the Perfect PC by Robert Bruce Thompson & Barbara Fritchman Thompson, ISBN: 0-596-00663-2

Reviewed by: Craig Bull, February 2005, send e-mail
Published by: O’Reilly, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $29.95 US, $43.95 CA, £20.95 UK

You just bought that new game and found out that your PC doesn't have the horsepower to run it. Or maybe you want a Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) server. What about a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) to handle your home entertainment needs. You want a new computer, but you're not sure you trust your local big-box retailer. Maybe you like a challenge and have thought about building your own PC, but you're not sure where to start. You aren't necessarily looking to save money but to get the computer that you want, and to get the satisfaction of doing it yourself, without having to mortgage your house. Enter Building the Perfect PC by Robert Bruce Thompson & Barbara Fritchman Thompson.

The book begins by discussing the fundamentals of building a PC—design criteria, component selection, things you need, and a general overview of motherboards—then talk about how to select the appropriate components. The remaining five chapters apply that information to building five different systems: a Mainstream PC, SOHO server, Kick-Ass LAN Party PC, Home Theater PC, and a Small Form Factor PC. For each system, they describe their requirements and design criteria. They then go over each component needed and describe what they selected and why they chose that piece over others. They also give what they consider good alternatives if your budget or requirements differ from theirs.

That portion of each chapter is useful on its own, but can be found on the Internet, although they've done a great job of compiling and discussion various options. What really makes this book an excellent resource is the 20-30 page section of each chapter in which the authors detail the building process. This section of each chapter describes the installation of each component of the system. Key steps are illustrated with very clear photographs showing the process. Each step is discussed, including suggestions as to the easiest order to connect cables and things to be aware of. Prior to each step, the authors discuss any considerations that should be made beforehand.

The authors do not claim to do it perfectly each time. They candidly discuss assumptions that got them into trouble, such as assuming the appropriate power cords would be present on the power supply for their system. They also identify those manufacturers who they feel provide the best components. They never put down a vendor, but they are clear about which vendors they like.

Cons: Some terminology is not readily defined. At several points, they discuss selecting a processor and mentioning the differing amount of L2 cache without actually defining L2 cache.

Pros: Excellent photo illustrations and clear, concise instructions really make this book. The authors’ style is very conversational, with the occasional joke thrown in, as well as a dig at each other once in a while.

A book like this can get dated very quickly. The authors provide a web site where they list any updates they've made to the configurations discussed in the book. They also have a message board where visitors can discuss their experiences and ask questions. While I didn't examine the site closely, it does appear that the authors take an active role in the discussions.

If you've been thinking about building your own PC, but have been intimidated by all the options, Building the Perfect PC should be at the top of your parts list. You'll find that building one isn't as hard as it seems, and can be extremely rewarding. Highly recommended.

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