Ultimate Developer Rig – Kovacs Edition

As I mentioned here, my motherboard died a horrible death two days after its warranty expired. The motherboard was based on the 939 platform for AMD processors, which has been discontinued in favour of the newer AM2 platform. My choice was to either start hunting around eBay for a used (and hopefully still working) 939 motherboard or get a new one based on a different chipset. The problem with getting a new one is that AM2 uses a different processor socket (hence new processor) and DDR2 RAM (hence new RAM as 939 uses DDR). So I’d be replacing a lot of components. Decisions, decisions…

Lately I’m doing a lot of podcasting and screencasting, as well as development. Encoding audio and video is time-consuming and if you’ve got a decent encoder, is one of the few places you’ll benefit from a quad-core processor. So I started doing some research. I’ve been a big fan of AMD for years, but the reality is that the Phenom quad-core has had some problems such as the TLB bug (fixed in the B3 stepping), higher TDW than the Core 2 (125W vs. 95W), and mediocre performance compared to the Q6600. The Core 2 platform has been out for awhile, it’s stable, and has excellent performance. Since I had to buy a new processor and RAM as well as motherboard, I decided that a Core 2 quad was the way to go…

It was time to do my homework. My primary starting point was Jeff Atwood’s (aka Coding Horror) Building a PC series where he builds the Ultimate Developer Rig for Scott Hanselman – hence the title of this blogpost. With some initial ideas, I started looking for more information at Tom’s Hardware and AnandTech. (I’ve been a fan of Tom’s Hardware for years – ever since Thomas Pabst, the founder, was running the site as a hobby while interning as a physician.) One of my goals was to re-use as many of the components as I had. Here is what I ended up with:

  Scott’s My Old My New
Case Antec P182 Antec Sonata II Antec Sonata II
PSU Corsair 520HX SilverStone Strider 750W SilverStone Strider 750W
Mobo MSI P6N SLI Platinum Gigabyte K8N Ultra-SLI MSI P7N SLI Platinum
Memory 2 x Kingston ValueRAM 2GB 2 x Corsair 2GB (DDR) 2 x Patriot 4GB (DDR2)
CPU Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 AMD Athlon X2 4800+ Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450
CPU cooler Scythe Mine Stock Zalman CNPS9700NT
Video 2x GeForce 8600GTS GeForce 7900GS GeForce 8800GTS
HDD 1 x 150GB 10,000rpm Western Digital
1 x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate
4 x 320GB 7200rpm Seagate 4 x 320GB 7200rpm Seagate
DVD 20X DVD+/-R Burner 16X DVD+/-R Burner 16X DVD+/-R Burner

* I’m linking to Memory Express, an awesome computer parts store here in Calgary. They also have a location in Edmonton with another one opening in Winnipeg soon. They’ll ship anywhere anywhere in Canada, though they cannot ship outside Canada unfortunately.

I’m not going to bother with prices as those change so quickly. I ended up replacing mobo, CPU, cooler, RAM, and graphics card for about $1000. Let’s examine the parts and my reasoning for each…

Case

My Antec Sonata II case has been serviceable and I didn’t have any major complaints. Overall I’ve been very pleased with Antec cases. If I had to buy one right now, I’d buy the P182 (same as Scott’s) or the Nine Hundred Ultimate. Neither come with power supplies, but you’re better off buying a separate power supply than using the stock supply that comes with a case like the Sonata III. I replaced my stock supply when I put in a RAID array awhile ago as the stock supply would have been dangerously close to its limit with the 4 hard drives plus other components.

PSU

I’m running a SilverStone Strider 750W and highly recommend it. Previously I was running a SilverStone Zeus, but had to replace it under warranty a year ago. I bought a Strider so that I had a spare PSU while waiting for the Zeus to return. I’ve got the Zeus sitting in my closet as a spare because I prefer the Strider. My favourite feature… detachable cables. You only attach the cables that you need, which dramatically reduces cable clutter in your case.

HDD/DVD

I know that Jeff Atwood swears by 10,000rpm drives for your boot partition. I’m running 4 x 7200rpm drives in a RAID 0+1, which provides stripping and mirroring. Stripping for increased performance. Mirroring for data integrity. I considered running RAID 5 for awhile, but everything I’ve read indicates that the parity calculations kill performance. The advantage of RAID 5 is that you get more usable space. Maybe I’ll try a 10,000rpm boot drive at some point, but for the time being, I’ll stick with my RAID 0+1 array.

As for DVD, get yourself a good burner that does DVD+R, DVD-R, and any other format you care about. Not much to say here as you can get a decent 16x or 20x DVD+/-R for $25 to $50. You likely won’t see much difference between 16x and 20x drives as they only reach full speed at the outer edge of the disk. (CDs and DVDs are written in a continuous spiral from inner hub to outer edge.)

Moboimage

Gigabyte is a good name in motherboards, but I’ve never been terribly happy with the K8N – aside from it dying 2 days after warranty. Lots of minor annoyances such as a non-standard 1394 connector so I couldn’t use the front Firewire connection, SATA connectors that prevent newer (and longer) graphics cards from being installed, poor memory timings when using 4GB rather than 2GB of RAM, and a nForce4 bug that caused awful static for my Creative Xi-Fi audio card, though some of those deficiencies can be attributed to chipset limitations.

So it was time to figure out which new mobo to choose. First choice was the basic platform, not manufacturer. When choosing a motherboard, choose a chipset to match your processor, memory, and graphics card requirements, then choose a manufacturer that makes a motherboard with the desired extras, such as built-in high def audio, eSATA ports, extra SATA connectors, RAID levels, etc.

X38 and X48 boards are getting good reviews and have nice features, but they’re currently only available with CrossFire – ATI’s SLI technology. This isn’t a huge deal if you’re only running one NVidia video card, which I am, but it doesn’t leave a lot of options for the future. Plus X38/X48 boards are stupidly expensive. If you want a board capable of handling multiple NVidia cards, I would recommend a nForce-based board. (I was a bit worried given my experiences with the K8N, which uses nForce4.)

The MSI P6N, which Scott has, is based on the nForce 650i chipset. I decided on the MSI P7N SLI Platinum, which is an updated version of Scott’s board and based on the nForce 750i. It has a nice range of features and the extra cost of the nForce 780i boards didn’t seem worth it. (The 780i can handle faster RAM and has better PCIe speeds in SLI mode.) Reviewers had positive things to say about the MSI P7N SLI in terms of features, overclockability, and stability.

Memoryimage

I loaded the system up with 8GB of RAM. Why? Because the motherboard supports it, I’m running Vista x64, and you can never have enough memory. Most importantly, it was dirt cheap. $180 for 8GB of DDR2-800 RAM!

I decided to go with DDR2 rather than DDR3. DDR3 is much more expensive (8GB would have cost upwards of $650) and the performance difference is negligible. (Read AnandTech’s DDR3 vs. DDR2 and Tom’s Ultimate RAM Speed Tests.) DDR3 is the future, but from what I’ve read, you don’t see a difference until you get DDR3 clocked at 1.8GHz, which is just becoming available. (The DDR3 above for $650 was for 1333MHz sticks.) Additionally, motherboards capable of supporting DDR3 are more expensive. So you’re paying more for your mobo and more for your RAM without seeing any real performance difference – usually in the neighbourhood of 1-3%.

What is the downside of DDR2? Everyone is going DDR3. So when you want to move up, you have to replace your mobo and RAM. The upside… By the time we’re seeing real differences between DDR2 and DDR3, prices will have dropped for DDR3 RAM and mobos such that the money you saved by buying DDR2 will more than pay for the upgrade, IMHO.

Once I chose DDR2, the next choice was manufacturer and speed. DDR2-1066 or DDR2-1200 is more expensive than DDR2-800 (aka PC6400) and once again doesn’t offer significant performance advantages. I was also warned of stability problems with the higher frequencies even with good RAM and a quality mobo. Getting good quality DDR2-800 with good timings gives you better stability and more overclocking headroom. Patriot got good scores on overclocking. Also noted in Tom’s Ultimate RAM Speed Tests is that you’re better going with high quality DDR2-800 or DDR2-1066 RAM with good timings rather than DDR2-1200 or DDR3 with average timings. So I chose two sets of Patriot Extreme Performance DDR2 4GB (2 x 2GB) PC2-6400 Enhanced Latency Dual Channel Kit, which run at 800MHz stock with 5-5-5-12 timings.

CPUimage

The Intel Core 2 chip is a well-engineered piece of hardware. Quad-core Core 2’s routinely out-perform quad-core Phenoms. The top-of-the-line Phenom – the 9600 Black Edition – when overclocked to 2.7 GHz is still marginally slower than a stock Intel Core 2 Q6600. At stock speeds, Q6600 beats the Phenom 9600 by over 13% on average. Yes, there are certain benchmarks where the Phenom does better, but overall, the winner is the Q6600. In most audio and video encoding benchmarks at stock speeds, the Q6600 is the clear winner.

Now Q9450 vs. Q6600… The Q6600 is an excellent chip as you can see from the benchmarks above. It runs at 2.4 GHz, has 2x4MB of cache, and currently costs about $240 CAD. The Q9450 runs at 2.66 GHz, has 12 MB of cache, and currently costs about $380 CAD. You can always overclock the Q6600, but you’ll never increase the cache size. Since trips to main memory are often a bottleneck, more cache seems like a good idea. I wasn’t able to find any benchmarks comparing the Q9450 vs. Q6600, but $140 for the extra stock speed and cache seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

CPU Coolerimage

I know that Jeff Atwood swears by Scythe coolers. After reading a few reviews, especially this Scythe Infinity review at AnandTech, I wasn’t wild about the coolers. The deal breaker for me was this quote from the AnandTech review:

Installation is very easy after the mounting plate is installed. The 775 mount uses push pins – just like the Intel retail design. However easy the mount is, the fact that the Infinity weighs right at 2.2 lbs, or a kilogram, gives reason for pause. It is very uncomfortable having so much weight held by just those pop clips.

A kilogram of metal held by pop clips? I checked the data sheet for the Infinity and it is listed as 960 grams – just shy of a kilogram. The Sonata II is a tower case, which means the motherboard is on end and the full weight of the cooler would be held by the pop clips. This just makes me nervous. If the clips gave way (or I didn’t install the cooler properly), I would have a big hunk of metal falling onto my graphics card. The sudden loss of cooling would likely have dire repercussions on my Q9450 too!

Tom’s New Reference System is equipped with a Zalman CNPS9700 cooler. This seemed like a solid cooler with good marks. Take a look at the AnandTech Infinity review where the Zalman CNPS9700 ranks near the top both at idle and under load. You’ll also note that aftermarket coolers are much better than the stock cooler that comes with your processor. Do your research though as some Zalman coolers, such as the CNPS8700LED are not recommended. A good place to start is Tom’s Hardware CPU Cooler Charts 2008, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The biggest complaint from reviewers regarding the Zalman 9700 was the installation. You have to remove your mobo to secure the cooler. I was replacing the mobo anyway. So this wasn’t a concern and I liked the idea of a secure mounting system for such a crucial component that meant the life or heat death of my processor. No surprise – I opted for the Zalman CNPS9700NT.

Videoimage

The perennial question… NVidia or ATI… NVidia’s GeForce cards are winning most benchmarks, but the ATI Radeon 3870 supports DirectX 10.1. Given that most software barely supports DirectX 10, 10.1 support wasn’t high on my must-have list. I’ve been using GeForce boards for years and they generally have good driver stability. (ATI is historically known for problematic drivers – especially with newer cards. This may have changed in recent years.) I wanted a card with dual DVI out to run my two Acer x243w monitors. (Great monitors. Highly recommended.) The GeForce 8800GTS fit the bill.

If you’re in the market for a new video card, compare the GeForce 8800GT and GeForce 8800GTS. The main difference between the two is that the GT has 112 while the GTS has 128 universal shaders. The GTS is a dual-slot card, which flows air from outside the case, resulting in a cooler case. You won’t see much difference between the two cards in benchmarks and both are good buys. I chose the 8800GTS because the sale price was virtually the same as the 8800GT. And whenever I’m looking for a new card, my first stop is Tom’s Hardware Best Graphics Cards for the Money. Look for the latest edition to see what is your best bang for the buck.

Conclusion

One of the key advantages of building your own developer rig is the ease of replacing or upgrading parts. You learn a lot about computer hardware, which I believe is valuable for any developer. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to build a computer. Just some research and asking around. I don’t consider myself in the same league as Jeff Atwood when it comes to building PCs, but I still find it enjoyable and rewarding to build out my own systems.

How hard is it to build a PC? Ask my wife. The first time I did it, I spent hours swearing and fiddling with parts. (I had built systems a decade previous, but connectors, cases, mobos, and everything else had changed dramatically. Plus I was out of practice.) It was a learning experience. The second one that I built, I had it assembled in less than an hour. This latest upgrade, which was sizable because I was replacing the mobo, took around 30 to 45 minutes. Most upgrades can be done in much less time. It’s not as hard as you might think.

The end result of my mobo upgrade (with corresponding CPU and RAM upgrades) was going from this:

image

to this:

image

The speed boost over the old system is noticeable. (I haven’t overclocked the system, though it is amenable to it. I’ll get around to some light tweaking eventually.) I can encode a half-hour episode of Plumbers @ Work using the Lame encoder in under 7 minutes. (As I recall, it used to take around 15 minutes to encode or about half the length of the audio.) Encoding screencasts is also much faster, though I haven’t timed it. (The old system would take roughly twice as much time as the video length for encoding. So a 10 minute screencast would take 20 minutes to encode. The new system takes about as much time to encode as the length of the video.) More importantly, the system remains responsive and usable even when encoding audio or video. I can simultaneously encode a screencast, compile in Visual Studio 2008, listen to music (without skips), and check my email without a hiccup. Multitasking at its best. I’m a happy developer. Do yourself a favour and consider building your own Ultimate Developer Rig.

About James Kovacs

James Kovacs is a Technical Evangelist for JetBrains. He is passionate in sharing his knowledge about OO, SOLID, TDD/BDD, testing, object-relational mapping, dependency injection, refactoring, continuous integration, and related techniques. He blogs on CodeBetter.com as well as his own blog, is a technical contributor for Pluralsight, writes articles for MSDN Magazine and CoDe Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and user groups. He is the creator of psake, a PowerShell-based build automation tool, intended to save developers from XML Hell. James is the Ruby Track Chair for DevTeach, one of Canada’s largest independent developer conferences. He received his Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto and his Masters degree from Harvard University.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gram-Josi/100001561755581 Gram Josi

    Oh my goodness! That is so rough when computers have their motherboard die. Good thing you knew how to handle the situation. Best of luck! http://www.tracs.ca

  • http://www.visualanand.net Anand

    Is there any value in buying a Corei7 based system? I intend to use it for daily tasks and multitasking. No gaming.

    Anand

  • http://erichauser.net/ Eric Hauser

    In case anyone is interested, I just posted the specs on my i7 edition of the ultimate developer rig:

    http://erichauser.net/2009/02/05/ultimate-developer-rig-2009/

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @Ubercoder – I don’t recall whether Vista x64 saw 3 or 8GB of RAM during install. When the install was complete, the OS saw the full 8GB.

    Hope the build goes well for you and you enjoy your new rig. Glad I could assist with the information.

    As far as UPS… I’m using an APC Back-UPS ES 750.
    http://www.staples.ca/ENG/Catalog/cat_sku.asp?CatIds=&webid=727518&affixedcode=WW
    I can’t say that I put much thought or research into it. It had reasonable capacity and was on sale. :)

  • Ubercoder

    James,

    Did you have the usual problem with Vista 64 not seeing over 3GB of RAM during install? If yes, how did you handle it?

    BTW, I got all the parts and I’m ready to build my PC. I bought all parts you are using except the two raptors.
    Any suggestion for a UPS?

    Thanks.
    Ubercoder

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @Ubercoder – The Zalman cooler works just fine on the MSI P7N SLI Platinum board. I honestly don’t know how much of a benefit PWM is. The Diamond board is more expensive and I didn’t need the features. One nice bonus is the Creative X-Fi Xtreme audio chip. I’m running a X-Fi Platinum add-in card and am quite happy with it in the P7N. I need the midi connectors which comes with the X-Fi Platinum, but aren’t available on the Xtreme Audio edition. I didn’t need the other extras on the P7N Diamond. So the extra cost wasn’t warranted for me.

  • Ubercoder

    James,

    I did some research on the Zalman CNPS9700NT and I found out that it supports PWM (Pulse Width Modulation).

    The problem is that the MSI P7N SLI Platinum doesn’t seems it has that feature (the MSI P7N Diamond has).
    Check the manual at MSI site: http://www.msi.eu/news/press/PR_P7N.pdf

    Any thoughts?

    Ubercoder

  • Ubercoder

    James,

    Great answer and article, thanks.

    I’m shopping around for the parts.
    I can’t wait to put my hands on my new PC.

    Ubercoder

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @Ubercoder – Your suggested setup sounds good. RAID does not remove the need for backup. Read my post here about why:
    http://codebetter.com/blogs/james.kovacs/archive/2008/05/26/next-episode-coming-soon-or-why-backups-are-important.aspx
    RAID provides:
    – Increased throughput (RAID 0 striping) as you’re reading/writing to more than a single spindle, though you lose some data safety because failure of any RAID 0 drive results in loss of all data.
    – Better data integrity (RAID 1 mirroring) as you write the data to multiple drives. Lower storage because you’re writing data twice.
    – RAID 0+1 provides both striping and mirroring, which gives you better throughput at the cost of 50% of your space. (i.e. My 4x320GB HDDs provide 640GB of space in RAID 0+1.)
    – RAID 5 provides redundancy through parity bits, but uses less space than RAID1 or 0+1. The cost of parity calculation tends to hurt performance though.

    Those are the major RAID levels. There are others, but you don’t commonly encounter them. In general, RAID gives you better sustained throughput because you’re reading/writing to multiple drives at the expense of worse access times. So it’s great for video/audio processing that requires lots of sustained disk reads.

    Hope that helps.

  • Ubercoder

    James,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I was thinking twp 10,000 raptors (one boot drive and the other for the VMs). Then add another 7,200 drive for storage.

    I’m not very familiar with RAID.
    Is a daily backup to an external drive replace the need for the RAID array?

    Ubercoder

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @Ubercoder – The rig would perform well for running virtual machines. I would consider running the virtual machines on a separate spindle from the host OS. You may want to go 10,000rpm or SSD for your boot drive and then a RAID array for your VMs. That way, you don’t have your host and VMs fighting for optimal hard drive head placement while reading data.

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @Mike Smith – The card you’re looking at is a Quadro FX 4700 X2. NVidia’s Quadro line is for workstation-class graphics – high-end cadcam, renderman, and similar. Unless you’re working on the next Pixar movie, you’re not going to need it. Take another look at the price though. It’s $3,500, not $350. For that money, I would hope that they’d throw in free shipping!

  • http://fxvideocards.com/PNY-NVIDIA-Quadro-FX-4700-X2-1GB-GDDR3-PNY-Video-Card-p-16271.html Mike Smith

    Hello!
    I was searching for a new Video Card last night and came across this:

    1GB GDDR3 frame buffer per GPU (2GB total)
    256-bit memory interface
    51.2 GB/sec memory bandwidth
    Quad dual-link DVI-I display connectors
    3-pin mini-DIN stereo connector
    Two 6-pin PCI Express auxiliary power connectors
    PCI Express x16 bus interface
    226W maximum power consumption
    ATX form factor, 4.36” (H) x 10.5” (L)
    Number of slots, 2

    I think you are supposed to preorder this but the price is pretty good at $350.00 and with shipping charges of only $8.99. Its at http://fxvideocards.com if any one is interested please let me know.

  • Ubercoder

    This is the best build I’ve found so far and my new rig!!!

    I have a question:

    I’m doing development solely in virtual machines on a separate external drive.

    Is this built good for running Virtual PC Server with multiple vms active at the same time?

    Should I change the build or it will work as is?

    Ubercoder

  • Ray

    Vista is ok. A lot of fuss about Vista is made on purpose by folks from the Mac and Linux camps and there is always people who will blindly repeat anything bad said about Windows…
    I personally don’t give a flying jack about such statements anymore – I only do a judgements from my own experience.

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @Dave – Yes, I would go with the P182 as well. I’ve had the Sonata II for years now and didn’t want to add the cost of another case since it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

    As for Vista, I don’t find it as awful as everyone claims. Some things are worse, some are better than XP. I’ll get flamed for this, but overall I prefer Vista, though I’m hoping that Windows 7 fixes the glaring Vista issues.

    @Ray – Same argument for the HDDs. It was an existing array and I didn’t want to replace it. A 10,000rpm or SSD will likely happen in the future. I’m hoping that the RAID array will serve well enough for the next year or so by which time the cost of SSDs will have dropped to reasonable levels. :)

  • Ray

    Consider using SSD.
    Difference between 10-14ms access times for HDDs and 0.1ms for SSD’s is _really_ huge.
    It’s a wee bit pricy, but it makes so noticable difference it totally worth it!

  • http://www.build-your-own-computer.net Dave

    Nice build James – personally I would have gone with the P182 case – it truly is a sweet case. Nice choice on the mobo – you can’t go wrong with Gigabyte (99% of the time at least :) )

    I also use Patriot memory – very nicely priced and performs great. It is able to keep up nicely with my overclock.

    Oh, and good luck with Vista….

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @Jason – Amusing that your mom has a better rig, but understandable if she does video encoding. Definitely something to be envious of.

    From some additional reading, it looks like a 4-drive RAID 0+1 has better bandwidth (more drives), but worse access times than a 10,000rpm drive. Makes me wonder if I should give a 10,000rpm boot drive a whirl… If you’re doing video encoding, where bandwidth is king, you want to go RAID.

    As for the X2 4800, I was considering putting it on eBay along with the 4GB of DDR RAM. If you’re interested, drop me an email via the contact link in the top right.

  • jason lepp

    Looks like a killer system. I built a very similar one for my mom (as she does video encoding) with a Q6600 and a raid 0+1 with 4 drives and that thing _flies_. I’m quite envious right now πŸ˜€

    As a side note, being in calgary, if that X2 4800 socket 939 isn’t in use, I’d really like to put out an offer on it πŸ˜€

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @ theothersteve256 – Sounds like you’ve got a great system too. I can understand sticking to known quantities like Intel, Kingston, and Crucial, but there are other excellent hardware companies out there.

    One thing I would like to point out is not to use the stock cooler. Before this latest system, I always used the stock cooler. Then I read Tom’s Hardware CPU Cooler Charts 2008 – Part 3 (linked above) and saw what a difference a good aftermarket cooler can make.

    As for my Gigabyte mobo, I think it was honestly bad luck. It’s the first mobo that I’ve ever had go bad on me, either in a pre-built (I used to buy Dell) or home-built.

    As for memory, Crucial and Kingston are both excellent names. Unfortunately the Crucial Ballistix DDR2 (4-4-4-12) that I wanted was out of stock. I’ve never run Patriot before, but it has received excellent marks from hardware sites I trust. So I decided to give it a shot.

    Buy from reputable companies, whether they be Intel, MSI, Asus, or even Gigabyte, … Do your research. When I was considering the MSI P7N, I looked for reviews specifically of that board. There were some other contenders before the P7N that I eliminated based on poor reviews. When I’ve had problems, it’s been my fault for not having done my research. (For example, the incompatibility issue between the nForce 4 and Creative Xi-Fi was widely reported.)

    I hope that people realize that you don’t have to be some uber-hardware geek to build your own Ultimate Developer Rig. A bit of careful research and manual dexterity is all that’s required.

    Happy building!

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @Rhys – Apple makes nice hardware, but it is expensive. $1500 to upgrade from 2GB to 8GB of 800MHz RAM??? As I mentioned, I bought 16GB of DDR2-800 for $180 CAD. A 500GB 7200rpm hard drive will cost you $85 CAD, not $200. For the cost of the base system without the extras, you can build a fully loaded, kick-ass developer rig. And all of these components are from well-known manufacturers like Crucial, Hitachi, Seagate, … Likely the same suppliers that Apple uses.

    My upgrades cost about $1000. Buying the components I already had would be another $700 for the main system. So you’d be looking at less than $2000 CAD including tax for the entire system that I built compared to $4200 USD for the system that you’re considering. (I’m ignoring the flat panel as you can run either system with a 30″ display, though I prefer two 24″ LCDs for half the price.) Personally I can’t see paying the premium that Apple demands for its hardware. I don’t think that over $2000 extra for less memory, an older graphics card, and less hard drive space is worth the Apple logo. But that’s me. On the flip side, I have many friends who love Apple hardware. We just agree to disagree on that point. If you don’t want build it yourself, there are a lot of reputable PC manufacturers who will build high-end system for a lot less than Apple. If you do decide to go with Apple, I have heard many people buying base Apple systems and then buying aftermarket RAM, hard drives, video cards, etc. to install in their Macs. It’s a lot cheaper as PCs – Macs included – are built from commodity hardware, but you would want to investigate how that affects your warranty. Hope that helps.

  • theothersteve256@gmail.com

    I take a more conservative approach, I guess. I only buy Intel motherboards and intel processors. I buy memory from Crucial or Kingston. I use the stock heatsink that comes with the processor.

    And my systems don’t die two days after the warranty expires. :-)

    My system is a D865PERL with a Intel E6600, 4 gigs of DDR-2 800 ram, two WD 320Gig YS drives running in RAID 1, and a nVidia 7900GS graphics card, all in a P180 case with an Antec 550W power supply.

    Works great, performs great. In the past 10 years or so I’ve only ever had one intel motherboard go bad on me and that was from a goofed up bios update.

    Anyway, sounds like a rocking system!

  • http://www.fullstack.co.uk RhysC

    For those of us just up to scrath with hardware and the whole building of PC’s thing is there anything blatantly wrong with the Mac pros? I am thinking of treating myself and getting a bit of a beast:
    its the std mac pro: http://www.apple.com/macpro/specs.html
    with these options
    3 harddrives (320gb, 500gb, 500gb)
    30 inch monitor
    Quad core 2 X 2.8
    10GB ram
    (its a deal i may get through work, hense some of the odditties).
    Thoughts?

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    @Blair – I guess your mileage will vary. I can’t say I’ve had any problems with the NVidia drivers and Vista x64. They’ve just worked. I was most surprised when I updated my video driver and didn’t need a reboot in Vista. (In Vista, certain drivers have been split been user mode and kernel mode. If the kernel mode portion of the driver isn’t updated, no reboot is required as the user mode portion just restarts like any other program.) Your point is well taken. Do your own research and figure out what is going to work for you.

  • Blair

    Dude,
    The worst graphics drivers for Vista are still coming out of NVidia you should have gone with ATI they just work on Vista. I have 3 vista machines with Nvidia chips and none of them are working quite right but the 1 ATI machine has never had a problem.

  • http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/ Jeff Atwood

    Hi James — looks like a great build! Kudos!

    Although I still swear by the Scythe coolers, I do wish they had a more secure and simpler mounting mechanism, it’s true..