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The Incredible Machine (or Preng's Computer Project)


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Preng
Title: All right, that's cool!
Joined: Jan 11 2010
Location: Accounting Dept.
PostPosted: Mar 08 2013 05:33 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Howdy, folks! It's high time I get started in my long-desired project to build a beefy Windows computer. My current Dell Dimension 3000 with on-board graphics, 1 GB RAM, and 30 GB Hard Drive (thank goodness for externals!) has soldiered on since early 2005, but it's time to be movin' on up to the upper East side and finally get a piece of the pie.

Problem is, although I understand some of the easier basics behind the process, I am currently uneducated on much of the finer details. In short, this is hopefully a machine that I can continue to upgrade in the future as needed, but again I have limited foresight in computer technology and how the components interact.

I believe the best way to get where I need to be is to pose questions on a piece-by-piece basis. The kingly computer guide known by all as GPFontaine will be assisting me in this quest of hard drives, cooling fans, and galvatron reactor core toggling. However, if anyone else has any relevant and reliable advice, tips or recommendations, I would certainly be grateful for your counsel. This thread may also be generally useful to others as a means of learning about computers, or building a behemoth of their own.

Right, let's talk about the direction this thing will be going in, and my preferences. I will get more specific into most of these areas as the project progresses, but if you're down with helping me, this should give you an idea of the intended use.

Windows 7 64-bit is a must. I have not heard many...well, any enticing arguments for Windows 8.

Most of my computing needs come from running multiple programs at once - converting music files, watching a YouTube video, running a virus scan, et cetera. Furthermore, I plan in the future to purchase an audio/visual capture card for my Xbox 360 and the computer, so tinkering around with or rendering video files will also be pretty common. A friend and I will also be delving into Ableton Live, a music creation program, although I am not sure how resource intensive it is. My hopes are that the machine can handle much of this simultaneously with minimal slowdown, as my current computer pretty much limits these activities one-at-a-time.

On that note, I'm going to want at least two 2+ TB hard drives to be storing these files. Perhaps more, but I am very good about keeping my computer neat and organized. Solid state drives are also an option I will likely elect.

High amounts of RAM also sound desirable.

Dual monitors. I want them.

Graphics are nice, but as my presence is largely attached to the Xbox 360, I don't plan to be buying too many big-name games on the machine. As of now, I only play smaller indie games and emulators on the computer, so that will probably continue in the future. Thus, a mid/mid-high level graphics card will be just fine for me. I don't need to run any of the Crysis games on maximum settings, but I certainly need a sizable upgrade from the current on-board graphics setting.

I probably listen to music through headphones 90% of the time I'm at the computer, and I'm a semi-audiophile that uses FLAC files, so a ballin' sound card is a must.

I have been saving up for this over the years and am pretty comfortable with spending the money to make it happen. However, in most cases I don't want to be buying the most expensive components unless they are, far and away, tried-and-true and repeatedly recommended. For the most part, let's keep cost-benefit in mind.

The previous points should have covered most of my needs - I'll add to it if other ideas pop up - though again, the ability to easily upgrade the machine's components down the road would be much enjoyed. From here on out, let's look at the components in a greater bit of detail. Thanks in advance to anyone who offers any assistance!

Also, inspiration for the thread title, if it pleases you.
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Preng
Title: All right, that's cool!
Joined: Jan 11 2010
Location: Accounting Dept.
PostPosted: Mar 08 2013 05:46 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Part One - The Motherboard and CPU

Yeah, this is likely the component I'll need the most advice on. I basically realize that a crappy motherboard and CPU will bottleneck your computer pretty quickly; that a multi-core, large GHz CPU is generally desirable; and that the motherboard determines how much RAM the computer can have. That's really about the extent of it, though.

What I would like are relevant and reliable articles that would educate me more in what to look for in these components. What factors are important, and what is just blast-processing? That way, I could look through this GPFontaine-supplied PCPartPicker website and have a better idea of what's great and what isn't.

I don't mind specific model recommendations if you have one, although I will need to understand why the model would suit my needs.

Thank you for any advice you care to share!
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GPFontaine
Joined: Dec 06 2007
Location: Connecticut
PostPosted: Mar 12 2013 11:04 am Reply with quote Back to top

Lets start with this. MaximumPC's issue this month covers the pitfalls of most computer builds. If you read that article, and have access to the back three pages of the magazine, you will be in a great position to move forwards. I'll write more soon.



 
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Sarge
Title: The Self-Titler
Joined: Aug 14 2010
PostPosted: Mar 12 2013 10:17 pm Reply with quote Back to top

I know a little bit about hardware, but not a ton. I don't know anything about motherboards, give me 3 of those fancy PCI slots and some SATA3 ports for my hard drives and I'm good. Oh, most Gigabyte boards look pretty awesome. For things like video editing I'm guessing you'd probably want an Intel i7 series processor, especially if you don't mind spending a bit extra for it. They support hyperthreading (4 cores/8 threads). I can't help you with AMD processors, I think Intel is more reliable. I like the i7-3770K personally; about $325, and can handle anything you throw at it for the next few years. Overclock to 4.2 GHz should be no problem with that one too. If you're going macho you could get the 3930K with 6 cores/12 threads, but it'll run you about a grand, and I'd guess a lot of software today couldn't even take full advantage of it. Oh, and you'd probably need a more expensive mobo too.


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GPFontaine
Joined: Dec 06 2007
Location: Connecticut
PostPosted: Mar 13 2013 08:00 am Reply with quote Back to top

Preng, what is your budget? Are we looking at $500, $1000, $2000, $4000?

Also, lets start to think about timeframe. In early June of this year, it is expected that Intel will release a new processor microarchitecture code named Haswell. This means new sockets and therefore new motherboards. Can you stomach buying a computer now knowing that it will use more energy and be less effective than one that is slated for release in 2-3 months?

Sarge, PCI slots have been out of style for a while now, and SATA 3 still exists, but only as suplemental to 6.



 
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Preng
Title: All right, that's cool!
Joined: Jan 11 2010
Location: Accounting Dept.
PostPosted: Mar 13 2013 07:53 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Let's go with about $1,500 - $2,000 for now, GPF. There will definitely be some components that I'll be comfortable with splurging, and the motherboard, CPU, and sound card are some examples off the top of my head.

I don't mind waiting until June to get in on some Haswell goodness - I don't follow the minutiae, but the Wikipedia page colors me intrigued - although I am assuming that this will work with most current technology. Also, I will be studying for the fourth part of the CPA exam between 3/22 and 4/26, and I only plan to buy all the components when the entire design is figured out - so waiting a bit longer is completely fine. I would hope to start building sometime around July or August, but I am a patient man.

Crawling around on the internet reading about this stuff frequently points out that Intel is pretty reliable with their motherboards, although I am a bit curious if there are any useful features or important capabilities from current Ivy Bridge processors that this introduction of Haswell technology will drop.

Thank both of you for the advice! I appreciate any future suggestions you have. GPFontaine, I would like to hear a bit more about Haswell if you have anything to say, and if the technology sounds good enough we might just want to put motherboards on pause and check out CPUs or other components.
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GPFontaine
Joined: Dec 06 2007
Location: Connecticut
PostPosted: Mar 17 2013 03:29 pm Reply with quote Back to top

I love the idea that Haswell uses almost no power when it isn't churning. When I started paying my own bills, I realized that a badass computer can be quite expensive to run all the time. If it only cost me $10/month to run 100% of the time though, I would never turn it off.

Does your budget include keyboard, display, and mouse?



 
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Preng
Title: All right, that's cool!
Joined: Jan 11 2010
Location: Accounting Dept.
PostPosted: Mar 17 2013 04:25 pm Reply with quote Back to top

That sounds very beneficial. On top of that, I'm usually pretty good on setting my computer to hibernate mode when I'm not using it.

My budget does include those items, although it may be most appropriate to break down my budget's expectations. I'm willing to spend higher dollar amounts on important items than unimportant items - if you have other arguments, GPF, I'll definitely consider them.

---

Motherboard: Important. My current mindset is that this component is potentially upgradable, although I think it may be simplest (and financially wise over the longer run) to start off with something reliable.

CPU: Same as motherboard.

Video Card: Probably more towards unimportant. I think a mid-range graphics card will suit me just fine, since I don't plan on playing most modern-generation games on the PC.

Power supply and cooling: I have not done much research in this area, although obviously these are crucial needs for the machine. We'll probably have a better idea of what is specifically needed when we cover the motherboard and CPU.

Case unit - Unimportant. If it provides enough room for the components and potential upgrades, and there's no major design flaws, then I would think the mission is accomplished. Still, USB 3.0/device slots could be important So, I don't really need an ultra-sexy case, and I wouldn't even mind taking an aesthetically blank case and spray-painting my own designs on it.

RAM: Important in the regard that I would like to outfit the initial machine with a healthy amount, but this seems like an extremely quick upgrade should future needs arise. Let's just assume I'll start off with 8 GB x 2 RAM sticks, or even a 16 x 1 RAM stick, neither of which don't look particularly expensive and would be a huge, satisfiable boost over my current machine. A final note, whatever motherboard I get, I want to understand what its maximum RAM capacity is, and what type of RAM is needed.

Storage: Like RAM, important for a good starting amount, and again this shouldn't be a very difficult future upgrade. A solid state drive sounds like a wise investment, and I would install Windows 7 on it and perhaps some other frequently-used programs, but I am uncertain as to what size SSD is necessary. At least one 2 TB hard drive is also desired (I said two 2 TB drives in the opening posts, but this is an area where I could likely settle for one drive depending on what the running total reaches at this point).

Monitor: Important - I definitely want to set up the computer to be ready for a dual-monitor setup, but I can always hold off on the second monitor for awhile.

Sound Card - Important, although this will probably be an area of self-study since I have some familiarity with audio device research.

CD/DVD Drive - Unimportant, I primarily use these drives to insert CDs and convert them to FLAC (lossless) audio files, but I am under the impression that most current models should work with the necessary software.

Keyboard - Unimportant. A few programmable buttons are neat, but I'm not planning on playing many current-generation games on the PC, so I don't need a ultra-class anti-phantom-key edition board. I most likely won't cover this in the thread, although recommendations are still welcome.

Mouse - Unimportant, see keyboard. I most likely won't cover this in the thread, although recommendations are still welcome.

Speakers - Unimportant since I am using headphones about 90% of the time at the computer. I most likely won't cover this in the thread, although recommendations are still welcome.

On top of this, I realize that I will need to buy a Windows 7 64-bit installation product. I'm not really sure what differences are present across the different versions. Windows 8 is unneeded. Thankfully, I already have access to a legitimate Windows 7 Office 2010 basic suite which has Word, Powerpoint, Excel (and maybe Access, but I'm not certain), so that won't be an additional cost. Finally, I'm hooked up through ethernet cable, so wireless goodies aren't needed.

Quick summary of stuff that I don't mind upgrading some time after the initial build: additional RAM, traditional hard disk drives, the second monitor.
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Sarge
Title: The Self-Titler
Joined: Aug 14 2010
PostPosted: Mar 17 2013 10:22 pm Reply with quote Back to top

GPF: I mean PCIe x16, or whatever the usual standard is these days. Some blue slot that my video cards fit in, that's what matters. I just checked SATA- I meant the 3.0 standard, at 6 Gbit/s.

Preng: That seems like a lot of RAM. Without heavy video or super intense audio editing, or VM-type stuff, not sure it would do you a ton of good. But like you say, it's probably only 100 bucks of difference anyways. I've never used a SSD because I hear about the supposedly short lifespan and it makes me nervous. I personally stick with giant normal hard drives because that 1 TB sounds big but disappears fast with all the totally legit backup copies of movies, music, and TV shows.


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GPFontaine
Joined: Dec 06 2007
Location: Connecticut
PostPosted: Mar 23 2013 03:50 pm Reply with quote Back to top

If you are doing AV stuff, I would say that the case & cooling are important from a noise perspective. Also, since you are doing your own build, you might want to consider buying a case that is easier to work with. $10-$20 extra on a case might be the difference between an hour of effort when putting an upgrade in place, such as a cooling system replacement.

A mid-range 3D gaming card will serve you well with all of your needs. I expect that $180-$210 will be plenty for that part. For example:
http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/searchtools/item-Details.asp?EdpNo=5121339&SRCCODE=WEM3571&cm_mmc=RSS-_-TigerDirect-_-Main-_-RSS&utm_source=EML&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=WEM3571&MobileOptOut=1

No reason to buy a $500 card if you won't be playing modern games. The trick is for the card to do the job you need over the next 2-3 years. Things like: http://support.google.com/maps/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1630790 will become normal over the next few years.

Keyboard and mouse... well, consider that this is how you get stuff into the computer. You don't need a gaming keyboard, but you probably want a good one if you plan to spend hours at a time on the computer. And with multiple monitors, high DPS is a requirement on the mouse. I'll make recommendations as you get closer to the purchase of the system.

Storage is going down in price, wait and make that one of your last purchases.

Ram with Haswell will be dual channel an require pairs of sticks to perform correctly. How much, honestly, the price is on the move, so less might be reasonable if it goes up too high. I would say 8-16GB right now is a good working amount. More if you run VMs, less wouldn't make sense.



 
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Preng
Title: All right, that's cool!
Joined: Jan 11 2010
Location: Accounting Dept.
PostPosted: Mar 23 2013 07:26 pm Reply with quote Back to top

The graphics card looks pretty good to me for the time being, thanks for the recommendation. At some point in the future, I will probably still want to talk about the ins and outs of graphics cards, just so that I fully understand what's useful and such.

I am guessing if we're waiting on Haswell technology to come out, and since I've pretty much described most of the components I'm expecting to buy, should we just start looking at cases?

I'll probably spend some time around Newegg, Amazon and PCPartPicker looking at cases, so any features that are must-haves would be neat to know.

Thanks again for your help, Sarge and GPF.
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Preng
Title: All right, that's cool!
Joined: Jan 11 2010
Location: Accounting Dept.
PostPosted: May 18 2013 12:29 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Yeah, things have been pretty busy over the last two months what with studying for the CPA exam and such! I am trying to spend some time reviewing cases and based on my needs, would like your opinions on the following models. I have selected these two because they have consistently high ratings on PCPartPicker and Newegg, and many of these appear to be quite excellent for somewhat medium- or long-term use.

One thing I would like input on is whether any of these cases will constrain which future components I can use (for example, video card length, et cetera). So, if any one of these comes with any such worries, please let me know.

Also, as I understand it larger fans are more advantageous (less noise) and if possible I would like a model that won't need excessive tooling to install parts. Dust filters would be great. I am not looking into watercooling. Recommendations beyond these models are welcome, but please explain advantages.

Cooler Master HAF XM - ~$100, 2x 200mm and 1x 140mm fans. 9 expansion slots. I'm not sure what the 2x "X-Dock" External 3.5" drive bays means. Seems to be a pretty useful case without an excessive price tag. I think this comes with side exhaust potential? Two USB 3.0 ports in the front is neat but not required.

Corsair 600T Graphite - ~$150, 2x 200mm and 1x 120mm fans. 8 expansion slots. I must admit I am aesthetically fond of this case - but that's the lowest priority element in buying the case. No side air duct. Having only one USB 3.0 port in the front won't be a problem. I am not entirely sure what premium this offers over the Cooler Master HAF XM - an optional ability to mount side fans, and an additional 5.25" bay, if I'm correct?

Many thanks for helping me understand all of this. I look forward to everyone's input. After choosing a case, I will probably look at the power supply and if any other fans are desired.

Edit: Just came across a May 2013 MaximumPC article which also recommended the Corsair Carbide 200R at ~$60 - I don't believe any fans are included, 7 expansion slots, no side air duct - and the Thermaltake Soprano at ~$120 - 1x 200mm fan, 1x 120mm fan, 7 expansion slots, no side air duct.
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Preng
Title: All right, that's cool!
Joined: Jan 11 2010
Location: Accounting Dept.
PostPosted: May 27 2013 04:48 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Hey, at this time I am also taking a peek at solid state drives. Does anyone have any recommendations as to brands or models? The Samsung 840 looks tempting if I can find a sale. Thank you!
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Preng
Title: All right, that's cool!
Joined: Jan 11 2010
Location: Accounting Dept.
PostPosted: Jun 23 2013 04:36 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Some new comments based on research. This part selection list is still a work in process.

Operating System:
I would be grateful if someone would please summarize this for me. There are various versions of Windows 7; I desire 64-bit, am I safe with just going with Premium? If so, what is the difference between this and this? Do Professional or Ultimate have any beneficial features?

Motherboard & Processor:
I am still holding off on selecting a Haswell processor and LGA1550 motherboard. The i7-4770K looks pretty nice, although according to this MaximumPC article by the third quarter an i7-4771 will be released, so it may be worthwhile to wait for comparison's sake. It sounds like Haswells have been generally reliable, if a bit hot.

Power Supply Unit:
The Cooler Master Silent Pro 2 620W and Master GX 750W both look pretty good. I've selected the Silent Pro 2 for now; both are pretty efficient, but I have a gut feeling that I won't need 750W, and the Silent Pro 2 has a larger fan. It is advertised as a 4x PCIe 6+2 pin, but reviews state it is actually a 2x 8 pin and 2x 6+2 pin. So, I would like to thoroughly review this as I get closer to ordering the parts to ensure that the unit can power my needs. Questions: Is there any advantage in modular over semi-modular? What about 80 Plus Bronze versus 80 Plus Gold certification?

Storage:
Dropped the SSD from 128 GB to 64 GB, as I likely will not be installing much other than Windows 7 on it. Will likely get a Seagate mechanical drive as well.
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