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Keyboards,  CD-ROM, Mouse, Multi-I/O card & etc


I found a Windows 95 104-key keyboard at a computer superstore for $15 on the bargain rack. It was from a HP system that someone had returned, and it was a much better deal than the off-brand selling for $25. I go through keyboards about once every two years. Keys break, I'm not particular about what brand they are, and I generally don't care when and where I buy one. While buying components for a PC I was building once, I got bored and asked the salesman how much a keyboard was. I bought it sight-unseen for $30 and I was happy for two years.

The only useful thing I can add about keyboards is that there are two types of connectors in use: one is small (PS/2 style) and the other is a little bigger (AT style), but an adapter can be bought for either one if you have the wrong kind.

For the nostalgic, it is of note to mention that the IBM keyboard has a patented design, a heavy tactile feel, and generates a loud, monotonous click when used. For people who got used to the IBM clicky keyboard and if you had a cheap-o keyboard, there were many utilities available in the mid-80's that would cause your PC speaker to chirp every time you hit a key.



If you've ever watched an audio CD player that had a clear case, you may have noticed the head starts reading at the center while the CD spins fast, and continues to the outer edge where the CD spins much slower. Audio CD players and single-speed CD-ROM's read data at a constant 150 KB/sec. Each multiplier of this speed makes the data transfer rate faster, so a 12X drive reads 1800 KB/sec, still much slower than any hard disk. As with hard disks, SCSI and ATAPI IDE drives are available. For those laptop guys out there, there are parallel port drives, too.

A CD-ROM drive reads disks differently from a hard disk, in that it spins at a constant linear velocity (CLV), instead of a constant angular velocity (CAV). Let me revise that statement. I have just seen the specs on the latest "16X" drives. These newest drives borrow the CAV technology of hard disks so the drive can spin faster. This means that there is not a constant data transfer rate across the CD (more data per rotation can be stored in the outer regions). It's difficult to explain, but essentially by utilizing CAV techniques, the data transfer rate can be significantly increased for the majority of your data. In simple terms, the transfer rate may start at 1800 KB/sec (12X) and increase to 2400 KB/sec (16X) at the end of the disc.


Pointing device

I fell in love with my Logitech TrackMan. They now have a fresh, new Marble design that looks cool, too. Let me tell you, I've never met anyone who tried my TrackMan for an hour that didn't like it better than any mouse or trackball they've ever used. The thumb moves the little ball, and it is so more natural than those big trackballs that remind you of Centipede. Mine gets such heavy use that I clean it once a week, and it's never given me any problems in three years.


Multi-I/O card

Once necessary, now becoming scarce, these cards usually have two 16550 UART COM ports, a dual-channel EIDE interface, a floppy controller, one LPT port, and a PCI or VESA local bus card interface. You'll find them in most 486 computers and 5 V Pentiums.


Sound card

My Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 has kept me happy for many years. Don't install this until everything else is running.


SCSI card

Just remember that SCSI disks cannot boot if you install an IDE drive. I have used QLogic and now Initio SCSI cards, but Adaptec seems to be the leader.



If you're running Ethernet, chances are there's a hundred different manufacturers who want to sell you a NIC. For history buffs, the guy who started 3Com, Bob Metcalfe, invented Ethernet.

If you want two of your home PC's connected at a reasonable speed, Ethernet is perfect. You'll need Windows 95, two Ethernet cards, and a Category 5 cable that has had its send and receive wires crossed (you will usually have to make your own or buy it custom-made). Once you change a few network settings, you'll have a 10 Mbps (1.25 MBps) connection between the two computers, which is over six times faster than a T-1, ninety times faster than a serial port, and one-tenth the speed of SCSI-2.



This could be a major luxury or a necessity, depending on your needs. I haven't had one at home for years, and I rarely miss it. The perfect home printer: a LaserJet 5SiMX (just kidding). Used laser printers can be had for about $300.


Backup storage device

Tape drives are the most overlooked components in computers. Especially if you're going to tinker inside your computer, you will want to have your hard disk backed up. Losing data is the most frustrating thing about having a PC. Your hard disk is your life blood, so if it dies, you'll be in a world of hurt without a backup.

There are at least two options now: optical disks and magnetic tapes.

The PD is a hybrid CD-ROM 4X reader and a PD disk read/write drive made by about a half dozen companies in SCSI and IDE formats. It is quite a good compromise if you don't already have a CD-ROM or a tape drive. Each PD disk holds about 650 MB and can be written like a (slow) hard disk. The best thing: it isn't a WORM; you can rewrite it hundreds of times. Other good options are the new QIC drives called Travan. Try to get one that uses the TR-4 data cartridge, which holds 4 GB native. These things are as good as the DAT drives that cost much, much more.



Screws, cables, extension cords, power strips, adapter, mounting hardware, drive rails, and other random stuff may be had at a local office supply store or at a "cable warehouse" type store often found in Computer Shopper.


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