PCs: Building vs. Buying

PCs: Building vs. Buying

Hey guys, I get asked this question all the time by friends who either want to get started with PCs or are tired of the way their current computer is working. The goal, in either instance, is to have a working PC, that fits their needs, for the lowest cost possible. The problem, though, is that they always expect a quick, one word answer – BUILD or BUY. But that's really not how it works; it all depends on what you intend to use your setup for.

For BASIC USES like web surfing or writing, you should BUY

It actually ends up being cheaper to just buy a PC as a whole, if you don't plan on using it for high-powered applications. The company you buy it from is able to build it MUCH cheaper than you by means of buying in bulk, using automated assembly lines, etc. Therefore they are able to sell at low prices and still make profit.greenhpdesktop There are lots of necessities for a computer that start adding up in price. You need the RAM, the motherboard, the processor, the power supply, the fans, the video card, the case, etc. That's not even mentioning all the equipment outside of the tower itself. You also need a keyboard, mouse, monitor(s), speakers, and all the wires. That's a lot of stuff. Once you add on the software - like the operating system, maybe Microsoft office, any anti-malware or anti-virus software you may need – the price adds up very quickly. Most of this is included in the package when you buy new. I can pretty much guarantee you'll be better off just buying a pre-built PC online or from a store.

For gaming, movie/music making and overclocking, you should BUILD

This is when it starts getting cheaper to do it all yourself. Huge brands like Alienware and Razer have ridiculous prices because every gamer knows the name. It's like buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle. It's just for showing off to your friends, really. In no way am I saying it's not awesome to have one of these PCs. They're quite beautiful pieces of machinery. I'm just saying the cost is so high because people are willing to pay for it for the name. But there's more to building your own PC than just getting it cheaper. Building a PC for yourself means you can customize it for YOUR personal needs. If you wanna run GTA V or Dark Souls II on the highest graphic settings, pick up a sweet video card. But maybe you don't care if your keyboard lights up in three different colors, or if you have the greatest headset in the world. You can make all of that happen exactly the way you want it, which you can't do just by buying a set that's been made for you. There's a certain amount of pride that goes into having built your own setup.system_topside-11361660 In addition to this, finding all your own parts and putting them together means it will be very easy to upgrade or change components in the future. A lot of the time, pre-built computers will have components that aren't compatible with components from other computers. They do this to make sure that people have to buy a full product from them, instead of just going somewhere else and picking up one part. With a custom PC, you can always upgrade that video card that just isn't cutting it anymore, or put in some extra RAM. Hypothetically, you could completely change your entire set up – motherboard and all. Although, there is a point where it becomes a completely different computer, and you're not really just changing components anymore.

In short, here's the answer:

BUY if you just want a computer for web surfing or other low-power activities. BUILD if you want to game or do anything requiring high power.

EXCEPTION – LAPTOPS:

I would almost always recommend just buying a laptop. This is a completely different game, and building is only recommended for people who have been building for a long time. For example, I wouldn't even know where to begin.

Vim Scripting Interfaces for Perl, Python and Ruby

Introduction

Vim is a scriptable editor which includes a built-in scripting language. The problem with the built-in language is that it is yet another language for a programmer to learn and remember. In my opinion it would be more efficient if Vim scripts could be written in a language that the programmer already knows, rather than having to learn Vim’s special language. The built-in scripting language is not hard to learn, as programming languages go. But, in my experience, the more programming language syntaxes one has to remember, the harder it is to remember them all in sufficient detail that one can be productive with them all. So, the goal of this article is to show how Vim can be scripted with the normal programming languages that programmers already know, like Perl, Python, Ruby, etc. Vim supports alternate scripting languages with a feature called “Interfaces.” The following languages are among those that are supported:
  1. Perl
  2. Python
  3. Tcl
  4. Ruby

Getting Help in Vim

You can jump directly to the help page for a particular language interface by typing :help . For example,
  • help perl
  • help python
  • help tcl
  • help ruby

Requirements

There are several requirements that have to be met before Vim will recognize an alternate scripting language.
  1. Support for the language must be selected at compile time. When Vim is built, there are options to either include or exclude language interfaces. The
    :version
    command will show which ones are available in a given instance of Vim.
  2. The dll or shared library for the language must be available at run-time. For example, Perl support requires the perl814.dll to be available in the PATH.
  3. The “word size” of the dll or shared library must match with the Vim executable. In other words, if Vim is a 32-bit executable, then perl814.dll must be a 32-bit dll. You can’t mix 32-bit and 64-bit components.

Setup the Perl Interface in Vim on Windows

Install the Perl Version Required by Vim

You should download Perl from Strawberry Perl. I prefer Strawberry Perl because it is completely open source, whereas ActiveState Perl is partly proprietary. You should choose a “32bit PortableZip edition”. Vim is 32-bit only, so it requires a 32-bit Perl. The PortableZip version will allow you to unzip it where ever you prefer. This is important if you already have a 64-bit Perl as your primary version. I would suggest unzipping it into C:\opt\perl-for-vim. You also have to match the Perl version with your Vim version because the name of the dll that Vim is hardcoded into Vim.
  • For Vim 7.4 get Perl 5.14.x.x – 32-bit PortableZip edition
  • For Vim 7.3 get Perl 5.12.x.x – 32-bit PortableZip edition
Unzip into C:\opt\perl-for-vim. I suggest using 7-Zip rather than Windows' built-in Zip functionality because Windows' Zip/Unzip is very slow. 7-Zip is much faster.

Put Perl Dll in the PATH

If this is the only version of Perl you have installed, you should put it into the system path. If you have another version of Perl, and this installation is just for Vim, you can add it to the PATH inside your _vimrc startup file. Edit C:\Users\[yourid]\_vimrc. Add these lines to the top of the file:
		" This puts the Perl dll in the PATH.
let $PATH = 'C:/opt/perl-for-vim/perl/bin;' . $PATH

Test Vim’s Access to Perl

Add these lines to _vimrc and restart Vim:
		if has('perl')
    perl VIM::Msg("The Perl interface is operational.");
endif

If you see a popup dialog with the above message, then it is working.

Write a Perl Script

How to Setup cc65

Introduction

The cc65 compiler is a C compiler that builds programs for computers with a 6502 CPU, like the Apple II series and the Commodore 64.  It runs on Windows and Linux. So it is actually called a cross-compiler because it runs on a different type of system than the type for which it builds programs. Why would you want to write C programs for a 30 year old computer? If you're asking yourself that question then maybe this is the wrong article for you.

Setup Instructions for Windows

Coming soon.

Setup Instructions for Fedora Linux

I have determined the optimal way to setup cc65 on Fedora. I would like to build a package for Fedora but that is another effort in itself. These instructions will provide package-like system integration for cc65. The cc65 compiler is distributed in source form. But this is not a problem because it builds flawlessly on Fedora.

Fedora Step1: Install Dependencies

The following command not only installs the necessary tools to build the cc65 executable programs, it also installs all the tools to build the documentation.
sudo dnf install git gcc make linuxdoc-tools texinfo

Fedora Step 2: Create a Place for the Source Code

If you don't have a "git" directory, create it with the below commands. You don't need to create a ~/git/cc65 directory because that will be done automatically by git.
cd ~
mkdir git
cd git

Fedora Step 3: Retrieve the Source Code

From the ~/src directory, enter the following command to download the cc65 code from github.com. A cc65 subdirectory will automatically be created.
git clone https://github.com/cc65/cc65.git

Fedora Step 4: Build the Compiler from Source

The build process works flawlessly on Fedora. Simply type:
cd cc65
make

Fedora Step 5: Build the Documentation

You will want to refer to the documentation. It will be quicker to access it locally. Build it with this command:
make doc

Fedora Step 6: Install the Compiler

The below command installs the following:
  1. cc65 executables in /usr/local/bin
  2. cc65 documentation in info format in /usr/local/share/info. View it with the command: info /usr/local/share/info/index.info
  3. cc65 documentation in HTML format in /usr/local/share/doc/html/cc65.
sudo make install prefix=/usr/local

Fedora Step 7: Bookmark the Documentation

To be successful working with software development tools you need quick access to the documentation. I keep a very organized set of bookmarks in my browser so that I can quickly get answers to questions that come up during development. One can waste a lot of time looking for information if it is not readily available. So I suggest creating a bookmark in your browser for the following local file which is the starting point for the cc65 documentation in HTML format. In Firefox you can press Ctrl-O to open a file. Enter the below path. Then bookmark it with Ctrl-D.
/usr/local/share/doc/cc65/html/index.html

Fedora Step 8: Build a Program

Fedora Step 9: Run Your Program

 

Apple II Dev Links

All the information necessary to build programs for an Apple II is unfortunately not collected into one place. There are bits and pieces everywhere.
  • 6502 CPU Instruction Set
  • ProDOS Memory Map
  • ProDOS Commands
  • ProDOS API
  • Built-in Machine Language Subroutines
  • Monitor Commands

Updating an Expired Windows 10 Insider Preview Build

Introduction

I recently let my Windows 10 Insider Preview build expire. After October 15, 2015 it would not boot. Winload produced a blue-screen error about expired components. After much research and work I figured out how to get it back to good standing, despite Microsoft's attempts to block it.

Process Summary

First, the date on the computer must be set back to a date before the expiration so that Windows will think it is not yet expired. However Microsoft tries to prevent users from doing this by storing the expiry status on the hard disk. To overcome this, the file C:\Windows\bootstat.dat must be deleted. But because the computer can't be booted, not even for recovery, you can't get to point where you can delete the file.

Delete C:\Windows\bootstat.dat

The solution is to boot the computer from a non-Windows 10 install/recovery DVD or USB drive.

Boot from a Recovery CD

These are three options you can use:
  1. A Windows 8.1 Install DVD which has a recovery mode that would allow you to run a Command Prompt and delete the file from the command line.
  2. A Linux Install DVD with a recovery mode, like Fedora Linux's install media. To use this method you'd have to be proficient with Linux because you'd have to use the command line to mount the Windows C: drive and delete the file.
  3. A specialized boot disk like Hiren's BootCD and use Windows Explorer to delete the file.
Number 3 might be the easiest but you'll need another computer to download the CD image and burn it to a CD.

Delete bootstat.dat

Whichever boot option you use, you must delete C:\Windows\bootstat.dat.

Set the Date Back

Next, you'll need to reboot the computer. During the reboot the you'll need to enter the BIOS setup to set the date back to before the expiry.  The exact process for doing this will depend on your computer type.

Turn Off Network Time Synchronization

If you're system was configured to synchronize the date and time with a network server, you'll have to turn that off and then repeat the above steps because Windows will figure out that the date is set back when you boot it and reset it to the current date and again create C:\Windows\bootstat.dat.

Disable Network Card

For me this also required disabling my wireless network card because if you boot with it on, Windows immediately discovers what the true date is an refuses to load. I disabled my wireless network card by unscrewing the antennas. If you don't have antennas you will probably have to remove it from the computer. If its built-in, then you may be able to disable it in the BIOS setup screen.

Update to Latest Preview Build

When the computer successfully boots with the date set back and network time sync turned off, you can update to the latest build. If you disabled your network card to get to this point, you'll have to re-enable it so that Windows Update will work. If you're in the insider program, Windows Update should already be set to update to the latest build. Use Windows Update to make sure it is configured to download and install builds when they're available. It should automatically find and install the most recent build, which could be newer than the final public Windows 10 release as it was in my case. An update to the latest build will require a reboot. At that point it is safe to let Windows discover the true date and time, which it most likely will do automatically as it did in my case.

Activation - CRITICAL

If, during the update, Windows asks you for an Activation Key, you should not enter one. If you do, it will assume you need to enter a key and will forever keep trying to get you to enter one. You should instead click "Don't have a key" or "Skip" to get past the key entry screen. Windows will thereafter automatically figure out that you're in the Insider program and eventually retrieve your activation information from the network.  

7 Simple Ways to Make Your PC Faster

7 Simple Ways to Make Your PC Faster
  1. Uninstall unused programs
    1. Whether it's a visual effect or some type of background process, your computer is most likely running at least a few programs that aren't completely necessary (especially if you bought it brand new.)
    2. To fix this, go to the “Programs and Features” page in the Control Panel. There, you can find any programs that are obviously not doing anything important, and delete them. BUT MAKE SURE THEY'RE ACTUALLY UNNECESSARY. Be sure to leave hardware drivers, consistently used applications. Generally, I would just say use some common sense in choosing what to delete.
  2. Manage hard drive storage
    1. Your computer has a limited amount of storage space on its hard drive (some more-so than others.) Having a maxed out, or even close-to-full, hard drive can make your PC slow down, and eventually stop working altogether.
    2. To manage this, you can either get rid of some larger programs you don't use anymore, or get some extra space. If you're like me at all, you can't stand the thought of losing any those programs that you just might use later on. I have quite a few 10+ gigabyte games that I will most likely never play again. THERE IS SUCH THING AS A VIRTUAL HOARDER.
  3. Reduce unnecessary start-ups
    1. Lots of people are guilty of having a variety of programs open on cold-boot, that SERVE NO PURPOSE. This can make your computer start up painfully slow. And nothing is more frustrating that sitting there for 5-10 minutes waiting for your computer to be ready, just so you can google something. Now that's probably not always the case, but you get the point.
    2. If you use windows, you fix this by going to the start menu and searching for “msconfig”. In this program, you can choose from a huge, categorized list of programs to enable or disable. Go to the “startup” tab at the top of the window, and then decide which programs you want to get rid of. TAKE CARE with this, though. Some startup programs are completely necessary. Use the same advice I gave about uninstalling unused programs.
  4. Get more RAM
    1. If you haven't already read our article titled “Should You Upgrade Your PCs RAM?”, we explain this point in much more detail there, and I recommend it. But basically, RAM will make every aspect of your computer run faster. From loading screens on games and programs, to cold boots to running multiple programs simultaneously, this is always an effective fix.
  5. Run a “Disk Clean-up” periodically
    1. This is basically an automated way to “uninstall unused programs”. It empties your recycling bin, and removes temporary files that are unnecessary. Just search “disk cleanup” in the start menu, click on the program and select the drive you want to clean. You can then check the file types you want deleted, hit “okay” and then confirm the deletion in the pop up window.
  6. Do a scan through malwarebytes periodically
    1. Your computer can accumulate a lot of malicious software if you're not active about protecting it. It is mostly agreed that Malwarebytes is the best way of blocking, scanning for, and deleting these malicious files. It's much more effective than an antivirus, and will block any seemingly harmful site that attempts to take your personal information. You can even scan for existing malware, and malwarebytes will get rid of it. We highly recommend downloading a copy.
  7. Reinstall windows
    1. This should only be used a last resort. If you've tried all of the above methods, and nothing is restoring your computer to its former glory, you can reinstalling windows to give yourself a completely clean slate. You'll have to reinstall everything you had before, and still want to use, and all of your personalized features will be gone, but you'll have a chance to start over completely.
    2. I cannot stress enough, though, that this only makes a difference if you refrain from downloading malicious software and unnecessary programs after the reinstall. Take better care of your PC and follow the steps above, proactively, and you and your PC should have a beautiful relationship.

Should You Upgrade Your PCs RAM?

Hey guys,

Whether you're a die-hard PC gamer, a digital artist or a software designer, one question always stands – do I need more RAM?

In short, the answer is it can never hurt.

But what will it actually do? Well the way we, here at AX see it, there are two ways more RAM can improve your performance. Improved performance of a SINGLE PROGRAM and the ability to run MULTIPLE PROGRAMS simultaneously. Let me explain.

  1. Single Program – Often the highest priority of people looking to increase their computing power, this serves a few different purposes, depending on what exactly you're using your PC for. If you're most interested in gaming, you most likely already know some modern games require 4 or even 8 Gbs to run.

    Star Citizen for instance, one of the most graphic-intensive games of the modern age, poised to come out later in 2015, requires 8 Gbs and a fairly expensive video card just to run at the lowest possible settings. In addition to this, extra RAM can make loading screens and program start-ups drastically faster. For example, when I upgraded from 4 to 8 Gigs, I noticed a HUGE difference in load times (an important detail for us impatient gamers).

    BUT gaming is not the only thing extra RAM will improve. For you digital artists and meme-creators out there, more RAM will make your programs much more responsive, and your upload times much faster – which means more hilarious memes for the rest of us.

  1. Background Programs – In addition to having improved initial performance, extra RAM will make it easier to run more than one program in the background. This is especially useful for those gamers who want to watch twitch streams or youtube videos during their games. But even if gaming isn't your thing, this can let you run all kinds of program simultaneously, like web browsers, music streaming programs, skype, microsoft office, etc. More RAM is essential for content creators of any kind, who want to get their work done more efficiently.

Prices for extra memory vary a bit, and have actually seen a substantial increase in price in the past few years. Right now you can expect to pay ABOUT $10 per GB. So in conclusion, I would say adding extra RAM to your arsenal of computing power is ABSOLUTELY worth it (given that you are into one of the activities listed above, and your budget allows it).

For MORE INFORMATION on this topic and a wealth of other PC related topics, visit the AX website at accumulatorx.com