Computer Build

Well, I had a number of emails asking for the specifics of my computer build, so all you non-geeks can move on.  Hopefully I will get a post up on the USA Today putting for-gods-sakes ethanol on the front page of today's paper.  Anyway, here is my computer build components:

  • ASUS A8N-SLI Premium motherboard.  This basic motherboard platform is rock-solid.  The premium version mainly brings a quieter heat-pipe design to cool the mobo chipset and a software rather than hardware switch for single to dual SLI.  It is one of the better overclocking platforms, with good BIOS options.  It has a couple of quirks, probably the most important of which is that it tends not to like RAM in 4 sticks -- better to use two.  I chose not to use the newer A8N32-SLI, which is supposed to increase the bandwidth when 2 SLI cards are used.  However, I think the Nvidia chipset for this was rushed (to please Dell) and tests show its not necessarily faster, even with 2 SLI cards, than the one I bought.  Also, I wanted to shy away from bleeding edge for my first build
  • AMD 64 Athlon X2 (dual core) 4400+ microprocessor.  This is the 2.2Ghz Toledo core with the larger cache.  As I mentioned yesterday, its a notch or two less fast than the top of the line, which tends to be a better value.  And the consensus opinion is that AMD is dusting Intel right now.  I got the large cache because you can always overclock but you can't overcache.  The dual core is clearly the wave of the future, and more games and programs will support it in the future.  I was a bit worried that I would have some compatibility problems at first, but I have had none, even on Star Wars Battlefront 2, which was reported to have a compatibility issue with dual core
  • 2 gigs of memory from Corsair, in 2 1GB sticks.  Corsair is a top company in memory.  I can't tell you how many people struggle to overclock their PC a few percent but have too little memory.  Tests show even going from 1 to 2 gigs shows real results.  I got the Twinx-2048-4000.  I debated between lower speed (ddr 400), lower latency memory and higher speed (ddr 500) higher latency memory.  I went with the latter, hoping that it was better for overclocking, but this is one issue not well addressed online.  The answer is probably here, but I decided it would not matter that much for me.  If you go with 512K sticks rather than 1 Gb sticks there are more options for memory that is both low latency and higher ddr.
  • I wanted to try my hand at overclocking, so I wanted a good CPU fan.  Zalman has a lot of great products, so I went with the CNPS9500, which looks cool too.  Its quiet and keeps the cpu ice cold.  It looks huge but it fit fine.
  • I may have made a mistake on the case.  I went with an Aspire X-Navigator, which is cool looking and keeps everything cool inside but is loud.  I might next time research for a quieter case.
  • I splurged and went with dual SLI, because I love games, and bought two evga 7800GT sli cards.  I never really understood the variations in their 7800GT cards - some variations of memory speed, I think.  The nvidia sli chipset right now blows anything else away - it is the ONLY choice for gaming.  A pair of GTX's would have cost me $400 more.  Again, I find the best price-value point a step or two below top-of-the-line.  I didn't realize until later that DirectX 10 will be a pretty substantial upgrade, which will require new chips to support it.  That means that if you are a gamer, you will probably want a new card in 12-18 months.  Knowing this, I certainly wouldn't pay for GTX right now and might have only gone with one rather than 2 cards.
  • I bought a couple of 250Gig Seagate SATA 3gb/s hard drives and put them in a raid 0 configuration.  This makes a 500 gig hard drive that is fast as hell.  This is cheaper than buying a single 500 gig and it is faster, but it will be less reliable since data is "striped" across the two drives, so that if either fails, you lose ALL the data.  Because of this issue, I bought a smaller 160 gig drive that runs separately as a backup for my data.  By the way, this was the one issue I had with my install.  Basically I had to leave this 160 gig drive unplugged until I get windows installed on the raid 0 drives and make them bootable, or else the system would get confused.  Once windows was installed on the raid drives and was bootable, then I plugged in the third drive and partitioned it and all was well.
  • Power supplies seem to be a nightmare in terms of failure rates.  I use a 650 watt Silverstone Zeus and it has been fine and it had all the cables I needed.  Note you need at least 500 watt and probably 600 if you are going dual sli.
  • Other components include a fast NEC DVD read-write drive (whichever one was highest rated on newegg), a floppy drive (you HAVE to have one to load the drivers for this self build if you are using a raid drive array) and a nifty little drive that accepts all kinds of memory cards on the front panel.  And windows of course.

This article on the Corsair web site provides an outstanding walk-through of how to build and set up your PC, demonstrably sufficient for even the noob since it got me through it.  I actually found this after I bought my components so I was happy to see that the component selection in the article for a high-performance gaming box was very similar to mine.  I also have the logitech cordless keyboard and mouse shown and love those too.

Have fun.

Update:  In response to the question in the comments, this build cost about $2000, which is expensive for a desktop, except that I expect to get much longer life out of this thing with performance that stays top notch for a while and many upgrade paths.  It might have been more but several parts were on weekend sale at newegg and others had cross-promotions (i.e. if you buy the AMD procesor and the evga card you get an extra $30 off).  Also note that this is a very competitive system to gaming rigs (e.g. Alienware) costing over $4000. You could take a few steps to bring this under $1500:  One 6800 GT rather than two 7800GT graphic cards would save almost $400.  One graphics card would let you save about $50 or more in the power supply, and you could easily get a good case for $50-$75 less.  Making these subs would get you a very very good rig for under $1500.  Dropping down a notch on the CPU could save another $200.  Smaller hard drive capacity could save $100-150, though hard drives are so cheap, I think it is short-sighted not to overdo it a bit.  I still remember my first hard drive card for my original IBM PC.  It was 10 meg, and my thought was "I'll never be able to fill that much memory".  LOL.

The build time was probably 8 hours, including windows installation and disk formatting.  This includes three false starts:  one, when I thought the power supply was bad but I had just forgotten to hook up the on/off signal wire; two, when the floppy drive actually was bad and I had to run to compUSA to get a new one; and three, when I struggled, as mentioned above, to get windows installed with the hard drive configuration I had chosen.  If everything had gone smoothly, I could easily have done it in 4-5 hours.

Did I mention I love this rig?  Its like the geek version of showing up to your high school reunion in a Ford GT.

  • How much did all of this cost and how long did it take you to put it all together?

    Thanks!

  • JD

    Good choice on the Motherboard + CPU combo. I bought the same parts for my new computer about a month ago and have been nothing but pleased.

    Since you seem to be running Windows XP, keep something in mind about the dual-core CPU. If you are using programs that aren't multi-threaded (meaning they aren't designed for using multiple CPU's), you might want to force them entirely to the second CPU by using Task Manager. For example, I was trying to recode my TiVo recordings to an iPod compatible format using a program called ffmpeg (it's free software). Since ffmpeg is single-threaded, I could open Task Manager, click on the Processes tab, and then find the ffmpeg process and change it's "CPU Affinity" to only the second core. This way I could run two ffmpeg processes at the same speed, or recode one and use my pc without a speed hit otherwise. If you see a process that maxes out at 49% CPU utilization, you can be pretty sure it's single-threaded.

    Just a friendly tip. Thanks for the great blog! --JD