"The bland beige box is dead."
Thus reads the back cover of the latest book from Ilex Press, titled Digital Hot Rods
. The book is penned by Custom PC magazine
scribe Ben Hardwidge, and describes itself as:
"The ultimage guide to the world of PC modification and customisation. Both a scene showcase and a DIY handbook, it goes in-depth into system building, overclocking, cooling, and modification, reveals the secrets of optiisation and benchmarking, then moves onto cover some of the most exciting and inspiration hot rod systems around."
It's a fairly wide remit: how does the book stand up against these claims? Well, it's got a big picture of Orac3 on the front cover, so it can't be that bad.
The range of topics that the book covers is really interesting. It is part history lesson, part system explanation, part how-to, and part glossy coffee table book.
The book begins by tracing the routes of PC enthusiasm back to the 80s. Original Apple computers required users to add their own components to build a fully working system, and many early home computers were also available in kit form.
Hardwidge then moves on to cover each individual component in the PC separately - discussing the state of technology currently as well as explaining the ins and outs of various components. This section can be really interesting and informative if you've never quite grasped a bunch of the basics. The different Levels of cache are described, as well as pixel pipelines and the like. The differences between SATA and SATA 2, motherboard slots, PSU rails - they're all in here.
There's some further discussion of cooling, with some suggestions on which sort of cooling is suitable for which kind of situation - including quite a nifty section on air cooling principles. There's also some modding components included, including Matrix Orbital displays and Cooler Master Musketeers.
The next section is more of a how-to. Ben takes us through the process of building a rig from scratch, including some troubleshooting tips and some advice on setting up the BIOS. There's then a very in-depth guide to installing Windows XP and some great advice on optimising, customising and tweaking your install. There's even a few things in there that we
didn't know! This section is perhaps overly long, but really does have some decent tips in it.
Having gone from the basics of explaining components and installing Windows XP, there's a fairly hardcore jump upwards into overclocking, where CPU, memory and graphics are covered. There's even a section on the best ways to benchmark.
Lastly, there's a good number of showcase projects at the back, with glossy pictures and brief writeups on the mods and techniques used.
The bit-tech factor
It's hard to escape the mentions of bit-tech
throughout the book. We'd like to think that it's difficult to write a book about modding without referring to the wonderful people that make up this site (and that's you guys too) and we were right. Pride of place in the showcase section of the book are Orac3 and Hypercube. Many of the other showcase machines are systems that have featured in CustomPC
magazine over the past couple of years.