I am searching for the perfect multimedia personal computer for my family. The problem, as always, is sticking to a budget. Even though the cost of PC components is falling steadily, the features available in some top-end machines these days are so attractive that it is hard to resist paying top dollar for a home PC. If I did not need to economise, I would certainly buy a dual-processor G5 PowerMac - with a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display and the new microphone cum webcam iSight. It might be grossly overpowered for what my family and I plan to do with it but would be enormously satisfying to have. I am not willing to skimp on features, so I have given myself a maximum allowance of HK$15,000. Multimedia PCs are high-performance systems because the uses they are put to, such as digital video editing, can be very demanding on the system's resources. For that reason, I immediately excluded the possibility of upgrading an old Dell PC handed down from my brother. Turning an ordinary PC, especially a dated system, into an entertainment centre capable of delivering audio and video of equal or better quality than that which is available from a decent off-the-shelf home media system comes at a great cost. Even if you were willing to spend the money to upgrade your old system, the patchwork solution you put together might result in a less than optimum performance. In terms of stability on a Windows-based system, Windows XP or XP Pro is the best choice. An older OS running on an older CPU will probably find digital video editing and graphics rendering tasks too demanding. My advice for those who nevertheless want to turn their old PCs to dream music and video entertainment systems is to limit their budgets. If you spend more than HK$5,000 on enhancements, you may as well spend a little extra and pick up a new dream machine. When shopping for a multimedia system, the temptation to go off the deep end is overwhelming when you see what's available. Firstly, a multi-format DVD-writer is essential. There are two in the market that support the two prevailing DVD formats - DVD+RW/+R/-RW. It is important to get such a DVD-writer so you need not worry about compatibility issues. The Sony DRU500AX, part from being able to burn DVDs that can be read on consumer DVD players, also writes to CDs. Both internal and external models are available. One shop in Windsor House offered the internal model for HK$1,950, though if you are willing shop in Mongkok or Shamshuipo in the sweltering heat, you are likely to get a better deal. The ND-1300A DVD writer from NEC supports 2.4x DVD+RW, 2x DVD-RW, 16x CD-R and 10x CD-RW recording. It received good reviews when it was introduced in April at CeBIT but, at HK$3,800, it is more expensive than the Sony model and delivers about the same performance. Secondly, a core piece of the perfect multimedia system is a 21-inch or larger display. My heart is set on the 20-inch Apple Cinema Display priced HK$10,500 but there are cheaper options. While LCD screens are all the rage, CRT monitors are a better option if you need a large, high-resolution display, especially if you work with video, as a CRT handles video better than an LCD monitor. For between HK$5,000 and HK$7,000, you can pick a 21-inch CRT monitor from Hitachi or Viewsonic used by graphic arts firms or CAD professionals. The Apple Cinema display will work with a PC system but you will need at least a Radeon PCI 128MB VRam Geoforce 3 display card and a Digital Video Interface-Apple Display Connector adapter. The DVI-ADC adapter allows you to connect an Apple Display to a Mac and PC. Thirdly, in terms of CPU, you will need a Pentium 4 machine with a 3GHz or faster chip. Many applications, such as Adobe Photoshop and the newly released Adobe Video Collection, are optimised to work with the P4 and on Windows XP and XP Pro. The latest, top-of-the-line multimedia PCs from Dell, HP and IBM all have hyper-threading found on the 3GHz and 3.06GHz Pentium 4 chips, which is good for intensive multi-tasking. For Apple users, a G4 or better machine will do. I am leaning towards the Sony Vaio Digital Studio RZ series of desktops available through parallel importers at Windsor House, 298 and Wan Chai Computer Centre. I would like to buy it from Sony but Sony Hong Kong does not support the desktop series. A value-for-money system is the Dell Dimension 8300. Most of these multimedia systems come with a minimum hard-drive storage capacity of 80 gigabytes. It is essential to have at least two hard drives. If you are doing digital video editing, you will need to save that work separately from the rest of your data. To work with large video files, you will need a lot of random access memory and, ideally, about 2GB of DDR400 SDRam. A core specification in a multimedia system would be a good graphics chip. The most popular choices are the ATI Radeon 9500 Pro and nVidia GeForce4 Ti 4200, both with 128 megabytes of graphics memory. As I am more concerned with photo and video editing, which are 2D functions, I am holding back from splurging on a top-of-the-line card for 3D tasks such as 3D graphics rendering and gaming. The final touches to the dream multimedia machine would be to add great audio. For that, a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 card (priced at about HK$900) and a home theatre speaker system are the way to go. Other essentials are at least six USB 2.0 ports, two FireWire connections and a 6-in-1 flash card reader. If, after buying all of that, I can still find change from HK$15,000 for a refill for my printer, I will be very satisfied.