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Time for a New Computer

A couple weeks ago I bought a new computer. While my existing computer still had a lot of life in it, I was eager to laverage the power of the solid state drives (SSD) – specifically Intel’s 2nd generation X25. I figured that since I’d be updating the hard drive and installing a new OS (Win7), then there’d really be no better time to upgrade everything else.

You can see a video of the computer opening and building the NHibernate solution: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPdRwS3vEbE

A lot has been said about how fast SSDs are, and its all true. People who do straight up $/gb comparisons with normal mechanical hard drives are missing the point. Of course, if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it, but if you are in the market for a new computer, I’d strongly suggest that you see if you can’t get it to fit into your budget.

The core parts of my computer are:

Intel Core i7 860
G.SKILL DDR3-1600  4x2GB
Noctua NH-U12P SE2
Gigabyte P55-UD4P ATX
Intel X25-M 160GB G2
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Corsair TX650W 650W ATX
2x Scythe Ultra Kaze 120MM 1000RPM
Antec P183 ATX

Intel Core i7 860
The new Lynnfield processors from Intel fit the LGA1156 socket. You’ll likely be interested in the i7 860 or the i5 750. Both are quad cores, but the i7 supports hyperthreading. Benchmarks have shown that hyperthreading will improve performance from ~0-30%…with 10% often being cited.  Given that the i7 860 costs more than 10%, the i5 750 is definitely a better value – and getting it instead of the i7 860 is a great way to fit an SSD into your build.

On a side note, you might also be interested in the i7 920, which is based on the LGA1366 platform. The difference between the two is that the LGA1366 supports tripple channel memory and has more bandwidth to the pci-e slots. Only the most memory intensive applications have shown to benefit at all from triple channel memory. However, if you’re a heavy gamer and plan on doing SLI/Crossfire (2+ video cards), the LGA1366 and i7920 is probably for you.

Both types of chip have something called Turbo Mode – that is they detect when cores are being underutilized and speed up the working cores. The overall effect is that the chips all stay within the same thermal envelope while allowing single threaded applications run faster.

G.SKILL DDR3-1600  4x2GB

RAM is really cheap, so there’s no reason not to do 4-8gb nowadays. My old computer had 8gb also, and although I only managed to pass the 5gb barrier a couple times (that I noticed), I still think its money well spent. Do note that today’s systems are running on DDR3 RAM, and, as a consequence, DDR2 RAM is starting to go up in price. Do be mindful of the RAM’s voltage. Many DDR3 modules are currently rated above the spec’d 1.5V.

Noctua NH-U12P SE2
I bought an after-market cooler for my CPU because I like silent computers, and I like to overclock a little. Since I bought the CPU the day of their release, I had limited choice, and while I’m happy with the performance, there’s likely cheaper and/or better solutions currently available.

The i7 860 runs at 2.8ghz, with a maximum turbo mode of 3.46ghz. The maximum junction temperature (Tj. Max) for the chip is 100C – which is when things start to shut off, definitely something we want to stay away from. With this cooler, and my RAM which is rated at 1600mhz, I easily got the CPU running at 3.5ghz. My idle temperature is 40C, and my load temperature is 60C. My definition of “easy” is that I clicked a couple settings in the bios, didn’t have to adjust the voltage to any components, and the system is rock solid. There’s a lot more that could be done, but overall, this is good enough for me.

Gigabyte P55-UD4P ATX

Motherboards are very similar these days – especially since more and more features are being directly integrated into the CPU. The motherboard manufactures are trying all sorts of trick to differentiate themselves, but unless you are a power user just get a brand that you trust with the features that you like, compare the prices to make sure its reasonable, and buy it. 

There are a couple things that you do need to be careful of. First of all, uATX is becoming more and more popular, so don’t accidentally buy one of those (unless that’s what you want). Also, motherboard manufactures pay a licensing fee to Nvidia to include SLI support on their motherboards. If you plan on doing SLI, make sure your motherboard supports it. If you don’t, you can save $10 by buying a “lower” version (they don’t pay a licensing to AMD to Crossfire support, so most motherboards will support that).

Intel X25-M 160GB G2
Whether you pick up a 160GB or an 80GB it really doesn’t matter – both are plenty to store Windows, VS.NET, Office, a couple other core apps and a couple games. What is important is that you get this drive. It is as far beyond other SSDs as SSDs are beyond mechanical drives. It destroys everything else when looking at random reads and writes. Other SSDs are faster when doing sequential reads and writes, but that is meaningless to 95% of how your computer operates day to day.

The G2 will also (at some point in the near future) support the powerful TRIM command, which Windows 7 supports, via firmware upgrade. This is a command that Windows passes onto the SSD controller to tell it that a data block is no longer in use. Without it, SSDs slow down over time (Intel drives less than others).

Also of interest, Windows 7 does a handful of optimization tricks when it detects an SSD. It disables defragmentation and other features like ReadyBoost. I’ve also disabled Windows Indexing on the drive.

Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB

Although I’m running a NAS for backups, and file storage (mp3s, movies, pictures), I do feel a little claustrophobic with 160gb. Therefore I added another drive to my system to store files and applications which aren’t performance sensitive. There’s a lot of choice here…I’ve had great luck with WD.

Corsair TX650W 650W ATX

A lot of people pick overly powerful power supplies, the truth is that the 650W I got has plenty of headroom, and could easily power a dual video-card setup. Make sure that the efficiency of the PSU is clearly listed. At the very least you want a 80 PLUS Bronze rating.

2x Scythe Ultra Kaze 120MM 1000RPM

Just a couple case fans to keep everything cool. These puppies run at a very low 1000RPM, which means you can’t hear them.

Antec P183 ATX
There are a lot of cases to chose from, they vary in price and looks greatly. I’m largely interested in tool-less access (thumb screws), compartmentalization, and good cable management.

Video Card
I didn’t get a new video card, but I will be buying an ATI 5850 once 3rd party manufactures implement their own cooling solution to provide quieter operations. If you don’t play games at all, any video card will do – provided that it has the necessary outputs, and can do your monitor’s native resolution in 2d (and I bet they _all_ can). If you only play a little, an ATI 4870 or 5750 is currently a good buy. If you need something powerful right now, look at the 5850 or 5870.

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5 Responses to Time for a New Computer

  1. “You are a PC” :)

  2. Hehe :-) new benchmark: open and rebuild NHibernate source. :-)
    For me as a developer it’s really cool to see so fast operations in Visual Studio.
    Karl, your new benchmark is very intuitive for me, when I can feel the pain of slow VS response times.

  3. Dax says:

    Good point about the cooler making the computer quieter. I’d never considered getting one before since I don’t overclock much, but even though the fans aren’t too loud, a silent system would be nice. (Not to mention a good excuse to get rid of these dumb stock LED-lit fans.)

  4. karl says:

    @Rob:
    I’m generally an NVidia fan too, but if you haven’t been paying attention, then you probably don’t know that things aren’t great for them right now.

    They aren’t producing any mainstream chipsets because of licensing issues with Intel’s current platforms.

    On the video front, ATI beat them to the DirectX 11 punch by about 3 months (word is that NVidia’s cards (“Fermi”) won’t be available until 2010), and in single-card configuration, ATI is greatly outperforming the nearest NVidia alternative (through most segments). The official word is that NVidia has sent an End of Life warning to all its partners as it doesn’t expect to move many cards until its next chip comes out.

    All that to say that if you are an NVidia fan, I’d strongly suggest that you to wait until Fermi is out because, right now, they really don’t have a compelling product.

    Oh, and if you are a fan of small cases, do check out all the P55 uATX choices…it looks like it might be the next big thing, lots of choices.

  5. Rob says:

    Nice setup. I’ve sort of gone off the boil regarding self-builds. Could do with a new rig myself so might have to start reading up again.

    Not a big fan of ATI given their poor Linux support. Plus they (used to) run quite hot compared to NVidia’s.

    The Antec is nice. Big case, I’ve never opted it for it. Am slowly getting smaller cases these days as the other half is having a bigger say in things.

    I usually overclock so a motherboard that can do that is what I usually go for. One that can undervolt well. I’ve been lucky with my last few cpu’s, being able to run then at lower voltage, and overclock them. It reduces the temps a lot being able to undervolt them if you can get it running stable.