Section 3.1. Determining Functional Requirements

3.1. Determining Functional Requirements

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

Many consumer-grade systems, particularly those sold in office superstores and big-box stores and by some large OEMs, masquerade as mainstream PCs but are really budget PCs with a few extra bells and whistles. These PCs have faster CPUs and more memorycomponents whose specifications are easily visiblebut use the same low-end motherboards, marginal power supplies, and inferior optical drives found in their less expensive budget lines. True mainstream PCs, at least as we define them, are a vanishing breed. Marketers believe that spending $5 more on a better power supply or $10 more on a better motherboard will only boost the price of their systems, making them uncompetitive with other brands, without increasing sales or profit. From their point of view, consumers are too ignorant to appreciate the difference between cheap components and good components that cost only slightly more. The best way to prove them wrong is to build your own mainstream PC from top-notch components.

We sat down to think through our own requirements for a mainstream PC. Here's the list of functional requirements we came up with:


First and foremost, the mainstream PC must be reliable. We expect it to run all day, every day, for years without complaint. The key to reliability is choosing top-quality components, particularly the motherboard, memory, hard drive, and power supply. Those components don't need to be the largest or fastest available, but they do need to be of high quality.

Balanced performance

A mainstream PC is a jack of all trades and master of none. We expect it to perform any task we might give it, at least competently if not better. But, because this is not a cost-no-object system, we need to balance component performance against price. For example, we expect this system to be capable of serious number crunching, but the fastest processors cost more than we can justify for this system. Accordingly, we aimed for a balanced design that allows the system to do most things very well and everything else at least acceptably well.

Data safety

Although most of our data resides on our network server, which is backed up six ways to Sunday, a hard drive failure in our mainstream system could still wipe out local configuration files and cost us hours to rebuild and reconfigure the system. We decided that the small incremental cost of RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) was justified to protect against a hard drive failure.

Video capture

Although we built a full-feature dual-tuner media center system as another of the projects for this book, there are times when that system may be fully occupied, recording one program while we watch another. For those rare occasions when we need to record yet another program at the same time, we decided it made sense to add basic PVR capabilities to this system. The cost to do so is less than the cost of a standalone DVD recorder, and a PC-based solution provides much more flexibility.

Noise level

Most mainstream PCs are used in environments where noise is an issue. Accordingly, we designed this system for quiet operation, but we didn't spend much extra money to do so. That means, for example, that we chose the hard drive, case, and power supply based on noise level, but we did not spend $50 extra to replace the stock CPU cooling fan with a silent unit or $100 extra for a fanless power supply. Our goal is a quiet PC, not a silent PC (if there can truly be such a thing).

Building the Perfect PC
Building the Perfect PC, Second Edition
ISBN: 0596526865
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 84

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