(updated April 2002 & May 2003)
My machine at the end of 2000 was an AMD K6 233/64 Megs Ram/3 or 4 Gigs Disk/NT 4.0. Opening up a new copy of IE took a minute or more, everything was slow, it was time for a change.
<>Unless I state otherwise all prices are from www.pricewatch.com and are current as of 1/18/2001.</>
Processor – An article I read pointed out that for most people two good processors are better than one amazing processor. I tend to run big applications like IE, Office, etc. For the cost of one AMD 1.2 GHZ Thunderbird ($262) I could get two Pentium III 600 or 700 MHz CPUs. Tom's Hardware Guide and AnandTech are the best sites I found for processor information.
Motherboard – A basic Thunderbird motherboard would go for somewhere around $60. The best dual proc Pentium motherboard I could find was MSI's which costs around $140. (BTW, the MSI motherboard was awful, in early 2002 it just decided to stop booting windows or much of anything else. So I had to have it replaced with ASUS dual proc motherboard that has worked just fine) Tom's Hardware Guide and AnandTech hold the price for best motherboard sites as well.
Memory – Wow, memory is a really deep subject on which reams have been written. In the end I got PC133 SDRAM DIMMs. Mostly because most chips are throttled by memory (unless your doing big time math) and so you want your memory as fast as possible. Rambus's memory is faster but costs twice as much. http://www.bxboards.com had a great review on PC133. Guru3D has a good explanation for the difference between CAS2 & CAS3. AnandTech also had great memory reviews.
Fan – This article at AnandTech explains how fans works and they had reviews. Web4Friends also had a bunch of fan reviews (although those reviews don't seem to be there anymore) as did BxBoards. Over all the JMC Arctic Breeze Plus looked like the best choice for me since I wasn't going to over clock. (In late 2002 the case fan started making noise on occasion, especially after being turned off. It looks like a bearing problem but I haven't had to replace it yet.)
By this point in my research I had found a company in Florida called NexGen Technologies. They had a great website for configuring a machine and their choices for components were both wide and first class. I started to confine my search to the components they listed and was able to confirm that they had a good case, excellent storage, great video cards, etc. I finally put together my dream machine:
2 PE 800/133
MSI – Dual Processor
2 PC 133 SDRAM DIMM 256MB
60 GIG/7200 RPM IBM Drive
Pioneer 16x DVD/CD-ROM
ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon
SoundBlaster Live! Value
10/100 MB PCI Network Card
Aopen KF-45A ATX Mid-Tower Case
Microsoft Intellimouse Optical
They offered the option of sending them your W2K registration number instead of buying an OS from them so I took that. All together with shipping and handling the total price was $1786. The Radeon card was an extravagance because I wanted its TIVOesque features. I got mega memory and storage because I tend to keep computers for four years so I wanted to make sure the machine would last.
I took these same specs and priced them out myself. I forget the exact numbers but I think it came out that if I didn't include shipping I could beat their price by about $4. I figured I would rather have them deal with putting the machine together and handling burn in.
I ordered the machine from NexGen and they got it to me about three weeks later. The NexGen website still has some glitches but nothing fatal. My main complaint is that they weren't able to use the ID # I sent them for W2K. My number was from a boxed version of W2K I bought at the MS company store, it's about as kosher as you can get and they couldn't use it. So I ended up with a computer without an OS and got to spend two days fighting to get all the drivers working. I should have just paid them the $250 or so for W2K professional and let them handle the configuration. They also forgot one of my DIMMs but when I mailed them about it they promised to ship me out a replacement.
I got the replacement but unfortunately the DIMM they sent me was a CAS 3 and won't work with my CAS 2. In addition the All-in-One Radeon card just plain doesn't work as a digital VCR. I can watch T.V. but that's it. Everything else freezes up or causes the machine to POST. As I did even more research I found that a lot of people have had the same problem. (Follow Up: Even with the ASUS motherboard running the latest driver updates the Radeon's digital VCR features still don't work properly, what a waste of money) I called up NexGen to complain and they said they would replace the memory and send me a new Herculeus video card and refund the price difference. They even agreed to send me everything and then I could return the Radeon and the CAS 2 DIMM back to them in the same box. I even called a second time to confirm everything. Unfortunately it has been several months and nothing has happened. I have been so swamped with my new job that I haven't had time to follow up. (Follow Up: It's now April 2002 and nothing ever happened so I just gave up)
I am really sorry that NexGen has been such an unpleasant experience. It is clear that they have a lot of promise and their prices are great but in my opinion they aren't ready for prime time.