Unsolicited Hardware Advice
Here are some random scribbling about various brands and types of hardware that I've bought over the years. These are all just my opinions, and you should always seek alternative opinions before making any judgements yourself. Topics are listed in no particular order.
There's no doubt about it, Plextor make the best drives around. They support the most features, have the best performance, and are bloody reliable. I've had an SCSI UltraPlex for years and it's never skipped a beat. Being able to lock the speed of the drive at different rates has been really useful for reading damaged or wonky CDs, and the audio-extraction features still look impressive against newer drives.
My first CD-R was a 2x Speed Sony, which broke about a month outside of warranty, and the repair cost was as much as a new drive. You can bet I'm never buying another Sony drive! My second was a rebadged Yamaha CD-RW, which I have found to be much more reliable. (I only ever buy SCSI CD-R(W) drives, by the way. You're mad not to if you already have a SCSI card.) I did have some overheating problems due to a combination of a very full computer case and a hot Australian summer, but getting a bigger case fixed that and everything was sweet again. So thumbs up for Yamaha.
I've got friends who swear by Plextor CD-R(W) drives too, and I'm not surprised given my experiences in the above section. One friend used one in his business, burning 10 to 20+ discs a day, 6 or 7 days a week, and his 8x speed Plextor never failed him.
Rid the world of RPC-2!! (Also known as "Region Protection".) Before you buy a DVD-ROM drive, make sure you can patch the firmware to remove this scourge on the earth. (See The DVD Firmware Page.)
Large Format Floppies
Die, ZIP, die! If you want a large format floppy, go with a LS-120 drive. It's non-proprietary, backward compatible, and is a standard supported by multiple manufacturers. Iomega has done some dodgy things in the past, trying to stop 3rd party media manufacturers, for example. Who's to say they won't do it again?
Of course, these days you can almost use CD-RW instead of floppy disks.
You can't avoid it... Creative Labs' SoundBlaster range are the only choice for most users. They're the most compatible, with reliable drivers and offer good features. I remember when Wavetable Synthesis first appeared on the PC scene, Creative Labs were pretty slow at getting a product out, and the Gravis Ultrasound became quite popular. But as soon as the next version of Windows came out, or people started to use Linux, the lack of good drivers for the Gravis proved their undoing.
So, unless you need some ultra-high-end features (in which case you should do some research on a site more detailed than this!), buy a SoundBlaster, you won't be sorry.
For a keyboard that lasts, buy an IBM or a Honeywell You pay a few extra bucks, but they just keep going.
This is the hardest one to call. I still remember when the choice was simple... a Tseng Labs ET4000 was the only choice for the serious user. You just had to decide whether to buy the 512k or 1Mb model. A little later, and Matrox ruled the PCI Video Card market. I've owned a few models and was always happy with them. They had 3D features long before it was a necessity.
Then the world went 3D in a big way, and the fight to be on top really began. It was Riva TNTs vs. 3DFX Voodoos, then GeForce based cards entered the fray, and all the rest. I've given up. Since my last big purchase was a notebook, where I had no choice in the video chipset, I've not worried myself to much about who's winning or losing these days.
But for a simple, cheap card for regular stuff, get a TNT2 based card for good performance and drivers. If you want the best, check a good hardware reviews site.
I love my DELL. That's about it really. <grin>
Ok, I may have bought an IBM Thinkpad if money had been no object. I don't like Compaqs, and I've seen a few NECs die before their time.
There was a time when I and everybody I knew had a Realtek 8029 based OEM network card. They were absolutely everywhere, and all these networks we were using in our jobs were working while using them, so they had to be OK, right? Wrong! When we got together for LAN Party Weekends, there'd always be unexplained crashes during our gameplay. More often than not, we put it down to bad software. Sometimes a later patch would improve the situation.
But when the time came for us to go 10/100, we got together and all bought identical cards, NetGear FA310TXs - a nice name brand card, but at a reasonable price. (In other words, half the price of the severely overpriced Intel and 3COM cards.) And you know, once we were all using them, a lot of our network gaming problems disappeared. (Not all, since there's still buggy software out there!)
So, it's all pretty anecdotal, but it worked for us, and I reckon NetGear cards are pretty good.
PCMCIA (PC Card) Network/Modem
There's no choice. Buy a Xircom. (Even now they've been bought by Intel.)
I've found A-bit motherboards to be well manufactured, and they were my favourite for a while, but like video cards, who's top of the heap seems to change almost weekly. Find a good hardware reviews site and go with their recommendations. (But don't get too hung-up on over-clocking issues. I'm not sure it's worth bothering these days.)
Luckily, most of the bad manufactures have disappeared over the years, or have got better. I'm not sure whether I'm willing to forgive Quantum yet for their awful "Bigfoot" series of drives though. I've never had a problem with IBM, Seagate or Fujitsu though. (I've especially liked IBM SCSI drives too.)
Just buy an Adaptec. And if it's a new model, make sure your OS supports it natively, or be prepared to do some mucking around during installation. It'll all work in the long run though. Adaptec cards aren't the cheapest, but their driver support is second to none.
Hewlett Packard for Laser printers and Epson for Colour Inkjets. Don't think I want to go into more detail than that.
Well, that about covers it. I guess I'll update this page as required, but I don't expect that to be very often!