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Build A Dual-Core PC Without Busting Your Budget

Want to roll your own cutting-edge computer? We've got advice on everything from the hot AMD Athlon X2 processor and the graphics subsystem to hints on putting the PC together.

Heart Of The PC



The PC Probe II utility monitors CPU temperature, voltages, and fan speed.
Click image to enlarge.

Better to take the approach Intel does with its boards: include large, fold out "idiot guides" that graphically illustrate the 20 sequential steps you need to take to connect up your board. On the plus side, the Asus M2N32-SLI was a bit bigger than the average motherboard (the better to hold its massive heat sink), which made navigating the manual's desultory diagrams a bit easier. The acid test of a PC construction project is the initial boot-up. To save a few bucks on the build, I hooked the completed box up to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse I had lying around. After an initial blank screen due to a monitor connector that had fallen onto the floor, I'm happy to report the Athlon box performed like a champ.

The first order of business was getting into the BIOS setup to change the boot order and put the CD-ROM/DVD drive at the head of the list. This was necessary so that the system would recognize the Windows XP disk and install the operating system.

Forty minutes later, I was set to go. The next difficulty I encountered was I couldn't connect to the Internet, despite an icon that assured me I was the proud user of a 400-Mbps link. Turns out the high-performance Asus mobo's LAN ports support Gigabit connections, which don't work and play well with my low-end Belkin router. An old 100-Mbps networking card, which I retrieved from my junk pile and plugged into a PCI slot on the Asus, got me online.

Windows XP clearly recognized my Athlon 64 x2 5000+ as a dual-core, 2.612-GHz processor. I can't quote PCMark or SYSMark benchmarks because I'm not a corporate subscriber to those tools. The best anecdotal -- albeit non-technical -- testimonial I can quote is from my teenaged daughter, who happened by and remarked, "Wow, Dad, that's fast."

On the downside, the unit runs hotter than I had hoped. That must be something the manufacturers are aware of because AMD's Cool 'n Quiet driver is included to rein in processor power consumption.

In addition, Asus included PC Probe II, a utility that posts on the screen a dashboard monitoring the CPU temperature, voltages, and fan speed. This allows you to keep a constant eye on whether you're about to red-zone. While there's no need to get extreme and water cool the CPU, I am planning to add an extra case fan.