2002 era PC
Athlon XP 1800+; VIA KT266A motherboard; 256MB DDR266 RAM; 40GB 7,200rpm ATA/100 hard disk; CD-RW combo ; GeForce3 Ti200; SB Live! 5.1; 17in curved CRT; Windows XP Home
Last year the Pentium 4 was beginning to show its true colours as a top performance desktop CPU, but it was still squarely outmatched in the value stakes by the new Athlon processor. DDR RAM was also becoming the standard, with SDRAM finally going the way of the extinct plankton, graptolites.
With an Athlon XP 1700+, a KT266A-based motherboard and 256MB of DDR266 RAM, this system is still capable of performing most computing tasks today without too much trouble. The GeForce3 Ti200 card is also decent for gaming, although it will be put under stress shortly by the likes of Doom III and Half-Life 2. It also doesn't support all the advanced features in DirectX 9, so you'll be missing out on some great effects in the games to come over the next couple of years.
The SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 card is also pretty decent by today's standards, although the Audigy and Audigy 2 pack plenty more features if you're a sound enthusiast.
By 2002, most PCs were being shipped with CD-RW drives, and by the end of 2002, DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drives were also starting to proliferate.
You could live quite comfortably for another 12 months with this system before it really shows its age, but don't let that stop you from spending a little cash to bring it back up to speed.
The idea behind this upgrade was quite simple: bring this PC back up to full spec, and give it another year or so 'at the top'. Most components in the system are still of good enough quality that you only have to look at the performance-based parts. These include the CPU, RAM and graphics card.
A new motherboard is not absolutely necessary, as the KT266A will support today's Athlon XP processors (only at a 266MHz front side bus though) and DDR RAM, but if you have the extra cash it would probably be wise to invest in a KT400 for the extra FSB and RAM speed.
Throwing in an Athlon XP 2700+ will bring this system well and truly into 2003, and will give it quite a bit more longevity. Upping the RAM to 512MB will also give you a measure of headroom, and you can see the difference these two components make in the SYSmark2002 results.
On the 3D front the Radeon 9800 PRO gives unparalleled performance and includes all of the latest 3D features as well. If you haven't got the $900-$1,000 for a Radeon 9800 Pro, the older 9700 Pro is still a serious piece of kit, and you can pick one up for around $700.
The only other thing you might want to add to this system, if you have the cash, is a better monitor. 17in CRTs are looking a bit small and boring by today's standards, so a 19in CRT, or even a 17in TFT, is the way of the future.
3D workstation upgrade
The 2002-era PC already has a reasonable specification and some good quality components, so this makes a good starting point to build a powerful specialist 3D workstation.
3D applications like 3ds max, Lightwave and Maya are all incredibly CPU and graphic card-intensive, so you really need a powerhouse in order to work well. The Pentium 4 is still more expensive than the Athlon, but it clearly delivers the best performance. We've opted for an Intel 845PE-based motherboard with a Pentium 4 2.53GHz CPU with Hyper-Threading (HT). HT is a new processor technology that more efficiently uses the CPU's resources to specifically take advantage of multitasking environments and multi-threaded applications. The best thing is, most 3D applications are natively multi-threaded, so you'll get the most from HT straight out of the box.
Whacking in 512MB of RAM will also allow you to manipulate large files without slowing down access to the page file.