Buying Computers on eBay / building your own computer

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In this guide, I am going to run you through the basics of buying computers on eBay.
   To start off with, you need to know your facts. These include components, value and performance. Before buying any computer (not just on eBay), you need to make sure that you are getting the most for your money. It is always annoying when you buy something, and then realise that you could have got something better for the same price. Have a search around on desktop PC's/laptops for more than one day. This is important, because you need to ascertain whether or not the computer you are interested in is worth it. Leaving about 3 days from your initial search to your final buy is probably enough, if you research enough each day (around an hour or two), since people might list an item after your initial search that is better than your first choice.
   Processors - or "CPU" 's - are the main calculating component of a computer. There are, like other components, vast differences between one processor and another. AMD and Intel are the two main processing companies, and I recommend you do not buy any others - purely because they are almost definitely inferior and overpriced. Probably the most popular processor today is the Intel Pentium Core 2 Duo. Unlike previous Intel Pentiums, the Duo has 2 cores. You do not really need to know what they do, except that the more cores, the faster your computer will run. These are excellent processors for running more than one application at a time (multi-tasking). AMD do some fast processors, but at the moment, considering price, Intel are better. I recommend the Core 2 Duo E6300 processor for anyone looking for a fast, yet cheap processor. The two models above it are £40 and £90 more expensive respectively, yet not that much faster, so do not bother getting these unless you are desperate for power. An E6300 should set you back around £100,  although price varies depending on the seller. Always remember to add up prices of components in a computer you are buying on eBay, to make sure the seller is not ripping you off. Also, if the computer is pre-assembled, expect around £50 more than the components' cost due to building costs -- computers can take hours to assemble, and can get very frustrating!
    Motherboards are large chipboards that every component of the computer will plug into. Absolutely everything goes in - fans, power supply, and drives. ALWAYS make sure that, if you are buying certain parts of a computer, the components FIT. It is crucial that every single part has the right parameters to slot inside the motherboard. If even one doesn't, the chances are that your computer will not work. Things to check for are : CPU socket type, RAM type, FSB speed, PCI-Express or AGP compatibility and hard drive type. Now, the motherboard doesn't have to be anything fancy to be good. As long as the components on the computer are good, the chances are that your computer will not be too heavily affected by the quality of the motherboard. Good manufacturers are Asus, ECS and Abit. There are others, but generally, MSI motherboards are cheap and are worth spending money to get a different manufacturer.
   RAM -- Random Access Memory -- handles all loading from the hard drive. For example, a file will be on your hard drive and will be loaded onto your cache. The cache is for quick access to files. The file will then be loaded onto the RAM so that it can be viewed. This means that, if you don't have adequate RAM, loading up your computer, or even opening a document, will be slow. Therefore, I recommend getting at least 1gb of RAM, as it is cheap but fast. 2 gigabytes of RAM is excessive for simple Word/Powerpoint applications, but for playing modern games, it is occasionally necessary. There are two main types of RAM - DDR and DDR2. DDR2 is the later version, and is much faster. Aim to get this RAM if you are buying a computer, as it will benifit your system much more than the older DDR RAM, which is out-dated and slower.
   Hard Drive is the term used for the main data storage device in your computer. They hold every single file and folder used to make your computer run, as well as anything and everything you put on it. I'd say that an 80gigabyte/gb hard drive is a bit small for nowadays use, with all of these large files and operating systems. 250gb is a good medium, since it costs barely more than 160gb or even a good 80gb hard drive, but has much more storage capacity. Serial ATA 2 is the latest installment of hard drive, and has a file transfer rate of 300 megabytes per second. Standard Serial ATA hard drives are generally cheaper, but can only transfer 150 megabytes per second. Even older than this are simple ATA/IDE hard drives, with a maximum data transfer rate of 133 megabytes per second. I recommend Serial ATA 2 (AKA SATA2) for all modern needs. Another factor of a hard drive is RPM. Put simply, the lower the RPM, the slower your hard drive will be at loading. Currently, the commercial highest RPM is 10,000 , but this is unnecessary. I recommend 7,200 RPM hard drives for your computer.
   Graphics cards are responsible for all display coming from your computer. These do not need to be very good for simple office applications, but for games they are crucial. Nvidia and ATI are the two best companies of graphics cards. However, these companies do not manufacture cards. Any manufacturer of an Nvidia or ATI card will do, since it's the main 2 companies' responsibility for the quality of the card. Nvidia's latest range of cards is the 8800 series. These have an average starting price of £250, moving up to higher prices as the specifications get better. Unless you are a gaming nut, an Nvidia 7 series graphics card, or an ATI X-series card (X800 up to X1950) is good. Take note, however, that you must be sure that your screen is compatible with the output of the graphics card, otherwise you will not be able to see anything!
   Sound cards are used for all of your computer's audio output. Almost all modern motherboards have integrated 5.1 surround sound, so there is not much need for a sound card unless you are a serious audiophile. If integrated isn't enough for you, then the Creative X-Fi Gamer Edition is a good sound card. Not only is it cheap, but has a very high quality audio processing chip, so you get HD audio.
   The final "part" of your computer is the Operating System. I have always been a fan of Microsoft Windows, but Apple OS and Linux are both fine for your needs. The latest installment of Microsoft Windows is Vista, which I am using. I would say that if you are buying a new computer, aim to get Vista. However, do not bother upgrading from XP yet, as there are some glitches with Vista that haven't been solved yet. Without an Operating System, you will not be able to get past the BIOS on your computer -- something that is designed for advanced computer users ONLY. Do NOT try to fiddle around with your BIOS settings as this can seriously mess up your computer. If a computer you are buying on eBay has an Operating System, it is probable that it is installed. However, if the operating system is Windows XP or Vista, and is not installed, here is a very quick guide as to how to install it:
   Firstly, turn on your computer. Press either "delete" or "f5" and repeatedly press it as soon as you have pressed your power-on button. If this doesn't do anything, just wait for your computer to start up, and look at the very first page it displays. You should be able to see something like "press x for setup". I have put "x" since it is an unknown value. Different motherboards have different keystrokes for setup. Once inside "setup" (which is actually BIOS), search for your boot sequence. You must set your boot priority to 1st as ":D", or whatever your disk drive is. Now, save, exit and turn off.
   Next, take your Windows XP or Vista CD/DVD and put it in your disk drive. Turn on your computer. You should now see, generally at the top of the screen after the first screen has been shown, "press any key to boot from CD" or "press any key to boot from disk". Press any key on your keyboard to get into your setup for Windows. For XP, the background should turn to blue, and for Vista, the background should be similar to the Vista standard wallpaper. It should be straightforward what to do from here, as the instructions are fairly clear. However, there is a bit of technical jargon, so I will help you. If it asks you where to install Windows, select a hard drive. It should, by default, have a folder market out where to install Windows into. It will start to install, and then after the progress bar has filled up, you will be ready to start configuring all of your personal files. The setup is now complete!

   When buying a computer on eBay, you must know what kind of system you want. Whether it's a gaming PC, or a business workstation, or even a media centre. If the computer you are buying is not manufactured by a major brand, do not worry. Simply check the seller's feedback rating, or his feedback comments. If they are good, then it is safe to buy of the seller. Certain sellers have only just started selling, so they might not have any feedback. However, eBay is excellent in its way of handling unfair auctions, so do not worry if the seller doesn't have any feedback. Companies such as MESH and DELL are excellent and stable, while Alienware is designed for the pro gamer. All 3 of these brands I highly recommend. Computers without a manufacturer can be safely assumed to be home made. There is very little risk that the computer will not work if the computer is homemade.
   If you want a gaming PC, you should aim to get a large amount of RAM - preferably 2GB - , a 250GB or more hard drive, at least a GeForce 7 series Nvidia card or ATI X800 and above graphics card, a dual core processor that is at least as good as an Intel E6300 Core 2 Duo, and finally a supporting motherboard with a large RAM capacity.
   If you want a business workstation, you should aim to get around 1 gigabyte of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, an Intel Pentium D dual core 64-bit processor (such as the Pentium D 915) with around 2.8Ghz, and a motherboard with integrated graphics processing and audio. You do not need to get a smaller case, but generally, in an office environment, space can be an issue, so Midi ATX cases and Micro ATX cases are ideal.
   If all you need the computer for is a media centre then here is what you'll need : 512mb to 1gb of RAM, a 320GB or 500GB hard drive for all of your videos and audio, a motherboard with an integrated graphics card or a cheap PCI-Express/AGP sub£40 card, a fairly cheap souncard, such as the Creative Audigy SE or Creative X-Fi Audio Edition, and finally a Pentium 4 3.0Ghz processor, or Pentium D dual core processor. This setup will be ideal with either a projector, or a large flat-panel screen. Also, I recommend the Creative T6100 5.1 surround sound home cinema hi-fi audio system, as for it's price (a mere £50), it rocks your ears. Its audio quality is second-to-none in it's price range.

   So, there you have it. You're quick and easy guide to buying computers on eBay!
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