As you know, I love building computers. I recently upgraded my main PC to a quad core, and built another HTPC (I’ll get photos up sooner or later). So when my co-worker asked for help looking for a new computer I said “I’ll do it!”
I know, I know. Everybody has their quirks, this is mine. I wouldn’t do it for everybody, but I do get a kick out if it. And I way prefer people asking me for this than “I got a virus, can you fix it?” because *that* is a real pain in the ass.
Well, here is an example of how I build computers. Read more about this by clicking the “Read the rest of this entry” link just below…
[youtube width=”425″ height=”335″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eu6iv_jI46g[/youtube]
(Note: I tried looking for the Office Space bashing computer scene… apparently, that must be copyrighted since its not on youtube. Who knew?)
Anyway, I digress… Shopping around is most of the fun for me (I understand now how women feel when they go shopping for clothes or shoes). We looked around for as “top of the line” as we could get, but still stay within a reasonable cost. This is a working PC, used mainly for graphics programs with an occasional game or two thrown in. So here’s my choices and why I went that way.
Processor (Intel Core 2 Duo E6550):
Initially, I looked at the Core 2 Quad (Q6600). It’s what I have in my main PC and I LOVE IT. Awesome at multi-tasking, video encodes are a breeze, and it overclocked nicely and easily. The price at about <$300 was a bit more than we wanted to go, so I started looking at the Core 2 Duos which are also awesome chips. I never really looked at the AMD X2 since I feel that dollar for dollar you get better performance/efficiency/overclockability out of the Core 2Duo (my opinion only, your mileage may vary)
I just retired a slightly older E6300 to my HTPC and it was awesome (altho not as awesome as the Q6600 :) ). It had a Front Side Buss (FSB) of 1066mhz and a 2MB shared cache running at 1.86Ghz.
The one I chose for my co-worker is an E6550 with a FSB of 1333mhz and 4MB shared cache running at a stock speed of 2.33Ghz (an odd number I thought…). I considered some of the lesser models such as the E4400/E4500, but I thought the 800mhz FSB would just be too limiting and coupled with the 2MB cache for only maybe $40 in price difference ($140 vs $180) it just wasn’t worth it. We could have gone *really* budget with something like an E2140 ($75) but it also has the slower FSB AND only 1MB cache!!!! Since we aren’t going to do any extreme overclocking with this (and maybe even leave it at stock) that would have been just crippling.
Looking up the scale you have the E6750 running at 2.66Ghz for another $20 and an additional multiplier (8x for overclocking this is important), but again we aren’t doing anything extreme in overclocking (and possibly leaving it at stock). The E6850 is a great chip running at 3Ghz and *another* multiplier (9x) but the price went into Quad Core range (same price of $280 right now) which we had previously decided was too much.
Motherboard (Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R):
What we needed here was a recent board that would support the higher FSB of the newer chip above (E6550), and give options to expand in the future. So if in 6 months or a year (or two) he wants to plop in a Quad Core (once prices drop) or once the new Intel chips come out (which are *supposed* to be compatible) he can drop in one of those and get an instant and easy performance boost.
I like the Intel P35 chipset. It’s tried and true, reasonable cost and is only one generation old. The Intel X38 chipset (the newest) is waaaaay more expensive and only offers a marginal performance increase (consensus around the net is about 5%). I could have gone with Nvidia chipsets, but they seem to run pretty hot. Heat means fans, fans mean noise, noise is annoying. So having narrowed it down to the Intel P35, there are TONS of choices. I went with best reviewed, least expensive that had the features needed. I had a slight preference for this board since I used a slightly lesser model (DS3L) for my HTPC build a few weeks ago.
Video Card (MSI NX8600GT-T2D256E OC GeForce 8600GT 256MB):
Nvidia has better color than ATI, so I didn’t even bother looking at ATI cards. Also, ATI’s Catalyst drivers are awful to configure in multi-monitor setups. The new Nvidia 8500 and 8600 series offer acceleration for many types of video including HD content to put less of a burden on the CPU, if you happen to watch that sort of thing on your computer (note, ATI has same/similar features to be fair). In case he wants to play a video game or two in his spare time, this card is up to the task using “reasonable” settings. “Bang for the buck” was really my main goal here.
RAM (SuperTalent T800UX2GC4 2GB 4-4-3-8):
Not much to say here. Same as the motherboard, I was looking for the least expensive model with good reviews with feature I needed. What features? Well, I wanted DDR2 800 since there wasn’t any plans for extreme overclocking (maybe none), and the lowest latency timings possible (within reason). As you can see the 4-4-3-8 timings are great (most are running 4-4-4-12 or 5-5-5-15) and the price was very reasonable.
Side note… I love what some of the memory manufacturers are doing now. They test these “high-performance” memory at really tight timings and guarantee those timings for that speed. So it takes all the guesswork and trial and error out of seeing “how far can I go”. I just purchased some G.Skill memory with 4-4-3-5 timings for my main PC and others like Crucial, Corsair, OCZ, and others have done the same as well. Of course, if you really want to push it, you can go extreme with some overclocking. Lots of people have some crazy numbers out there…
Hard Drives (Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS 320GB 7200 RPM):
Again, not much to see here. Needed a good “bang for the buck” price point which right now is about 320GB. Needed SATA 3GB/s and a 16MB cache. I like these Western Digitals since they are using the newer 160GB platter design (signified by the “AA” in the model number). With only 2 platters that means low noise, less energy, less heat, better performance than a comparable model with (usually) 3 platters. Hitachi, Seagate and Samsung all have good models in this range, its almost a “can’t miss.”
Power Supply (OCZ StealthXStream 600W):
Arguably the MOST important part of a new system. Putting a crappy power supply in a new build is a recipe for disaster. You could lose ALL of your components if the power supply goes, and on a less extreme level they can cause stability problems, crashes, etc. Here, I was very demanding… Had to have at least Passive PFC, but preferably Active PFC. Needed high efficiency, preferably “80+ Certified”, one large fan (keep noise down), good brand name, good reviews, and sufficient wattage. This power supply fit the bill perfectly.
DVD burner, case, Windows Vista, LCD Monitor, speakers…
Now for the pictures :)
To see ALL the photos of the construction, go to the photo gallery. Below are a few choice images, you can click on them for a larger version.
Here’s where it all started. All the parts laid out on the coffee table.
Here is the brains of the whole operation. The little silver thingy is the Intel Core 2 Duo E6550. The massive fan on the left is the Zalman 9700 CPU cooler. The one on the right is the stock heatsink and fan that comes with the CPU. The Zalman will keep the CPU cooler and do it much quieter than the stock one would.
The Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R motherboard. Very colorful.
Here’s a closeup of the “Gigabyte” branded heatsink on top of the Intel P35 Northbridge. The CPU socket is just behind it.
A closeup of the rear panel. You can clearly see the keyboard and mouse ports, S/PDIFcoaxial AND optical outs (for hookup to surround-sound systems), legacy parallel and serial ports, 4 USB ports, gigabit ethernet, and 6 channel audio out.
Here is the board after the CPU and cooler have been installed. The dark blue things poking up is the memory by SuperTalent.
I don’t know why…. but I’ve always found the boxes for video cards quite amusing…
Especially when their english is “Best Than Ever”
All the components are in, cables look like spaghetti
After I tidied up just a little bit…
A note on the case… It was really cheap. By looking at the outside, you can’t tell since its a really glossy black plastic and looks very sharp. But inside the metal is really… cheap. And the fan was loud and didn’t push much air. So i luckily had a couple of spares lying around. The one you see in the back is an Antec fan, which when I turned on the system sounded like a TORNADO. I replaced it (again) and the new one (some noname-brand) is substantially quieter, altho still louder than *I’d* like.
Finally…. IT’S ALIVE!!!!!!
Running at stock speeds it is pretty quick, and I’ve currently overclocked it *just a little* :) to see if I can boost the performance without adding to much heat, and of course it must remain stable. So far I’ve got it from 2.33Ghz up to 2.8Ghz, the RAM is running at a 1:1 ratio. Hopefully it will be Orthos stable, and if I have time I may try and drop the voltage a bit more to save on some heat.