Friday, December 26, 2008

What would you build if money was no object?

I've been asked this question a few times over the years, and my current answer would look something like this:

I would start off with an Antec Twelve Hundred case. There are more expensive cases I could choose, without a doubt, but anyone can simply choose the most expensive items they can find. The Twelve Hundred has all of features that I would want in an expensive case - tons of fans, for good cooling, lots of room, and I like the power supply being located on the bottom. I just wish it had a left side motherboard mount option - but I've only seen that in one case and it's no where near big enough for what I would pack into this beast.

Antec Twelve Hundred - $159.99

To power this machine I would need one serious power supply - the only choice for me in this case would be a PC Power and Cooling 1200W power supply. You'll see why later on.

PC Power and Cooling 1200W power supply - $449.99

Now for the motherboard. Intel socket 1366 is a no brainer, for the new Core i7 processor, but which one? The most obvious choice would be the ASUS Rampage II at 398 dollars, but I'm just not a fan of ASUS - honestly, I think the Evga board is a better product here mainly because of the top-notch customer service from Evga. The difference in customer support is eye-opening when you read the customer reviews. All of the ASUS manufacturer responses were essentially 'canned' answers directing the reviewer to visit the ASUS tech support website, and signed 'The ASUS support team'; while the Evga responses were all personally written and signed by Jacob, in one instance asking for the name of a tech that gave less than stellar customer service!

Evga X58 chipset motherboard - $299.99

There are three Core i7 processors to choose from - since this is a 'money is no object' build, the natural choice is the Extreme Edition.

Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition 3.2 Ghz Quad Core processor - $1012.99

Next comes the RAM. This beast uses DDR3, and is easily capable of 1600 mhz memory bus speed. Its 'triple channel' as well so its best to get 6 identical modules and populate all 6 memory slots. I decided to choose some memory with a little headroom and selected Corsair Dominator DDR3-1800 2x2GB module pairs (three of them) for a total of 12 GB of RAM.

12 GB (6x2GB) Corsair Dominator DDR#-1800 RAM - $987

Next comes the reason for that 1200W power supply - VIDEO CARDS! This motherboard supports 3 way SLI. That means 3 Geforce GTX-280 1GB Video cards from Evga. I would have preferred two or three Radeon HD 4870x2 cards but this board only supports SLI. The next generation of these Core i7 boards will likely suport both SLI and CrossfireX.

3 Geforce GTX-280 1 GB Video cards - $1199.97

Next comes our hard drives. At first I considered a four WD Velociraptors in RAID 0 for the boot drive, but after looking at SSD's they are definitely the way to go if you have the money. The read performance is far faster then anything else available. Users typically report boot times for Vista at under 8 seconds - and thats just using ONE! The best performers seem to be made by Intel, so thats what I selected for the boot drive - four of them actually, in a RAID 0 array for positively insane program loading loading speeds. Don't blink or you'll miss the Windows splash screen.

4 Intel X25-E Extreme High performance solid state 32 GB drive - $2876.00

Since these drives are only 32 GB each for a total of 128GB for the boot drive, we're going to need some insanely huge storage drive to match. This one is actually an easy choice to make - Seagate's 1.5 TB Barracuda SATA 3.0 Gb/s hard drive. We can alway add more when this one fills up.

Seagate 1.5 TB hard drive - $139.99

Next we need an optical drive - Of course we are going to want a blu-ray drive here. I'm not really into multiple optical drives so one is all I need.

LG Blu-ray burner - $249.99

Well, that takes care of the internals, and we're only up to $7,375 - what a bargain! Now for some peripherals that can really take advantage of all this computing power. First thing is a monitor - a really BIG monitor, otherwise the $1200 spent on video cards is wasted. Heres a nice one:

30" HP LCD monitor - $1259.99

I'm not really into fancy keyboards, but a nice wireless heyboard and mouse would be sweet. Logitech makes a nice set with a curved ergo design similar to the MS comfort curve keyboards that I like.

Logitech Wave Pro Desktop wireless keyboard and mouse - $129.99

Last but not least is a killer set of speakers. I would have liked to get a speaker set from Bose, but they don't have a 5.1 configuration available. So the next choice was Logitech's top end Z-5500 surround sound system.

Logitech Z-5500 5.1 surround speaker system - $302.99

Total cost for this entire dream system? a mere $9,068.88 before shipping and taxes. about 3 months pay for me. Next time I'll put together a serious high performance system thats actually affordable.

Upgrade Your Computer

Thursday, December 25, 2008

New $1000 Intel build

Ok, now its time for a new Intel based Gaming build for under $1000. Like the previous AMD build I posted a few days ago, prices favor us such that we can get a substantially more powerful system than you could just 18 months ago. Here we go!

We start out with the same Cooler Master case we used for the AMD build. Its a good buy even without the $10 instant rebate.

Cooler Master Elite RC-330 with 350 W power supply - $49.99

Next is the motherboard - Biostar makes a very good Intel motherboard based on the Intel P45 chipset. Its a bit pricey at $159, but that's what you get when you go with Intel over AMD. For the CPU I selected the Core 2 quad Q6600. Its pretty affordable (for Intel) at $189. You could also go with the Q8200 at about the same price but some users have reported temperature sensing issues with that CPU.

BiostarTpower I45 motherboard - $159.99
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU - $184.99

Now comes the RAM. Since this motherboard supports DDR2-1200 as standard, I figured we might as well use something faster than the usual DDR2-800. Affordable DDR2-1200 is not available at this time, so I selected some DDR2-1066 - its still very affordable at under $15 per GB for Kingston HyperX. I decided to go with 2 GB.

2gb Kingston HyperX DDR2-1066 RAM - $27.98

For the video card, I again chose the ATI Radeon HD 4850, with 512 MB of onboard Video RAM. Its a very capable card with about twice the power of the Geforce 7900 GS used in 2007's version of this build.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 512 MB Video card - $149.99

OK, next comes the drives. Like the AMD build, I selected a 500 GB Seagate hard drive and a 20X DVD burner from LiteOn

Seagate 500 GB SATA 3.0 Gb/s hard drive - $64.99
LiteOn 20 x DVD burner - 20.99

Next come the peripherals - monito,r keyboard, mouse and speakers. Because this motherboard has a 'better than average' Realtek ALC888S sound chip rather than the usual AC97 chip, I decided not to select an add-on sound card.

Hanns-G 22" Widescreen LCD monitor - $159.99
Microsoft Comfort Curve 2000 Keyboard with Mouse - $21.99
Altec Lansing 2.1 Speaker set - $29.99

Total price of all components is $870.89, with another $51.15 for shipping, for a total of $922.04. A similarly configured Dell XPS 420 rang in at $1339 by comparison. Even when you figure in the cost of an OEM license for Windows (whatever version you want), you'll still save a couple of bills easily. Who says you can't save by building yourself?

Upgrade Your Computer

New $400 build

Well, since my $1000 gaming system update was so much better than the previous one, I thought I would see what a person could do with $400 again.

OK, here we go:

I start off with the same case and power supply from Rosewill:

Rosewill R103A Black Steel Case with 350W power supply - $29.99

This is a very popular budget case with excellent customer reviews - 561 reviews with 88% 4 0r 5 eggs. I've used quite a few of Rosewill's products over the years and I've never been disappointed in their quality or performance.

Next comes the motherboard and processor. I went with a GigabyteSocket AM2+ motherboard this time around, with the AMD 740G chipset and SB700 Graphics chip. Seems to be a good solid board with good rewiews. Coupled with an AMD Athlon 64X2 5000+ processor running at 2.6 Ghz, and you'll have a pretty powerful machine - its the same processor I selected for my "$1000 dollar Gaming Build" post in june of 2007. You could use a Sempron chip and save about $25, but the performance hit would be pretty big. At $49, the 5000+ dual core chip is a no-brainer.

Gigabyte GA-MA74GM motherboard - $54.99
AMD Athlon 64X2 5000+ CPU - $49.50

Next comes memory - in summer of 2007, PC2-6400 RAM was selling for $50-$70 per GB, making it difficult to get more than 512 MB in a budget build like this one. But at todays prices we can pack 2 GB of RAM into this build and spend less $$ than last time!

Kingston 1GB 240 pin DDR2-800 RAM (x2) - $18.98

Next we need to add some drives. I selected the Seagate SATA 3.0 Gb/s 80 GB hard drive. Its actually a dollar cheaper than its IDE counterpart. If you are willing to splurge and go over your $400 budget, you can get the 160 GB model for merely 5 dollars more.

Seagate 80 GB SATA 3.0 Gb/s hard drive - $36.99

OK, now for the optical drive. Last time I went with my old workhorse, the LiteOn 52x combo drive. This time I was able to work in a 20x DVD burner from LiteOn.

LiteOn 20x DVD Burner - $20.99

That takes care of the case andthe internals - all that left is the peripheral items - monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers.

For the monitor, I chose a 17" WS monitor from Hanns-G. Its a steal at $99.99.

Hanns-G 17" widescreen monitor - $99.99

For mouse and keyboard, I went with my usual, the ergonomic comfort curve keyboard from Microsoft with mouse included.

Microsoft Comfort Curve 2000 keyboard and mouse - 21.99

Last of all, we need some speakers. One of the best deals I have found on speakers is the Altec Lansing BX1020. Small and lightwieght, but they have the best sound quality I have ever heard in the sub $20 dollar price range. I've got a pair of these on my gaming system and they sound great.

Altec Lansing BX1020 2.0 Stereo speaker pair - $15.99

Alright - this gives us a subtotal of $348.41, with a shipping cost of $53.89. Thats just slightly higher than our budget of $400, by $3.30. But since newegg is constantly shifting prices by adding discounts (the gigabyte motherboard had a $5 discount when I selected it, but its gone now) and offering free shipping, you may be able to squeeze under the $400 limit.

This machine is actually quite powerful - its essentially just a video card away from being my current gaming rig, in fact. You could probably shop around a bit and find some cheaper components, getting the cost down another $50 or so, but the performance hit you would take doing so is pretty huge. You'd have to drop down to a single core Sempron processor, and use less RAM. Both changes would reduce the performance considerably.