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programmermattc

Buying a New Computer

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So it's that time of the year, tax refunds! I just got mine back and seeing as I need a new computer and my parents need a slightly faster, I decided I'm going to give/sell them my current desktop for a new desktop. I priced out a computer for around $1800 (very expensive but planning on lasting me for 6+ years like my current one). Here are the specs: - Intel i7 CPU (quadcore 2.8 ghz) - 6 GB DDR3 1800 RAM (I think it was 1800...) - 2 x 1 GB ATI Radeon cards in crossfire mode (can't remember the model right now) - 2 x 1 TB HDD running in Raid 0 - Onboard 2 gb LAN - Some kind of Sound Blaster audio card (again, can't remember) - Windows 7 Ultimate Pre-Installed (accounts for about $200 of the price) - Other standard items include: About 600-700w power supply, standard mouse/keyboard (no monitor), case, MoBo (duh) This was priced out on iBuyPower.com (where I got my last desktop). My last desktop lasted me 5-6 years though wasn't super high end (it has an AGP slot...) I'm hoping since this one is a bit beefier it might last me a bit longer. So what do you guys think? Should I be looking at some other pieces of hardware? I am planning on ordering it this weekend if all goes well. Feel free to suggest other parts and I'll see what they have, the only thing I'm dead set on is the i7 CPU (the speed can vary). (Admins: Not sure if this can be here or should be in Hardware...)

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That seems pretty reasonable. The only thing I'd change, since your budget is so high, is to put in a high-end SSD like the X25-M for your system (OS/apps) drive, then use your giant RAID array for storage only. This is my setup in both my laptop and desktop, and it makes an incredible difference in system responsiveness. An 80GB X25-M will set you back about $200 if you get a good deal.

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I'd almost be tempted to go for some more ram and drop the crossfire card. I've got 8 GB of ram in my machine at work and 9 GB in my home machine. I've got a similar machine at home to what you've got spec'ed out - Core i7 920, 9 GB of ram, 2x500 GB HDD (not raided, though). I would like to get a better video card and a backup/storage server...

I guess it depends on what you are doing though. That, and I'd be tempted to ditch the SoundBlaster card. Onboard sound is pretty decent these days.

EDIT: Something else to consider, since you are piecing it together yourself: Try running the machine without the extra bits, like the second video card or the audio card. If it doesn't suit your tastes, then upgrade more. There's no point in blowing money on something that makes a negligible difference.

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My thoughts:

Ditch the sound card, use onboard, no reason not too.
Ditch Windows 7 Ultimate, go for Windows 7 Home Premium, unless you can give a valid reason for why you need the extra fluff.
Go for single graphics card instead of SLI/crossfire, upgrade when you need.
Add a high-performance SSD disk.
Get a really nice LCD :).

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Quote:
Original post by nem123
Ditch the sound card, use onboard, no reason not too.
Ditch Windows 7 Ultimate, go for Windows 7 Home Premium, unless you can give a valid reason for why you need the extra fluff.
Go for single graphics card instead of SLI/crossfire, upgrade when you need.
Add a high-performance SSD disk.
Get a really nice LCD :).
I'd go with these recommendations as well. Except to say "get two really nice LCDs :)" Technically, you could get one nice (& expensive) one and one cheaper one. Use the nice one for gaming, etc and the cheaper one for Visual Studio - you don't need an IPS panel just for text.

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my few bits,

if you can build your own computer do, you can make a machine that is easier to upgrade and if you chose the hardware carefully you'll get better quality hardware, for ~ $1200 i managed to build myself a

i7 920 2.66ghz oc to 3.03
x58 asrocks deluxe mb
12gb ddr3 1600mhz ram
2x nVidia 1gb gt 250s
1x sata 1tb hdds
1x sata 20x dvdrw
1x 850w power supply
1x mid size case
win 7 pro 64

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Regarding the sound card vs. onboard audio issue: if you use headphones a lot, onboard sound systems tend to have electrical interference (i.e. clicks, beeps, static) that can get really annoying with earbuds or headphones. If you're just using speakers though, I'd drop the sound card. You probably won't notice a difference.

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Firstly, I'll disclose that I'm the kind of person that believes spending much more than $1000 on a computer is a pointless endeavor, unless you're actively using your computer to earn money by doing a task that goes significantly faster with more expensive hardware (Artists, consultants, web developers who run a lot of VMs -- time is money after all.)

The reason I believe this is a preference to build a new (just behind the bell-curve -- aka price/performance sweet-spot) $1000 computer every 3 years or so, instead of building some uber-rig every 6. Out of 6 years, building two moderate PCs is going to give you more months of what I'd call a "comfortable" computing experience. Remember that building a bleeding-edge rig only buys you about 6 months at best before the same technology can be had for half the price in a moderately high-end, mainstream computer (the type I build for myself.)


That said, I'd agree for the most part with what's been said here. Go with a single (more powerful if you really must) graphics card -- going dual-GPU from the git-go is stupid unless you're putting in the most-powerful cards available (I presume you're not with only a 700W PSU.) A Single, faster card will perform better in a wider range of games, and leave a slot open to pair it with another in a couple years when its companions are on the clearance rack.

Also, its kind of stupid to put your OS on a RAID volume. Remember that RAID is fault-tolerance (meaning a physical hard disk failure won't take your data), it is not a backup solution -- you're far more likely to hose your OS than loose your drive, and RAID won't help you at all there. Instead, consider 4 hard drives -- 1 primary disk (with partitions for OS(s) and maybe data (anything that you're willing to loose (maybe re-ripping your CD collection is inconvenient, but not irrecoverable) or restore from a backup (I'm thinking non-HDD backup solutions, DVDs, tape, etc), 1 backup disk (optional) serves as more convenient backup for the primary data partition, as well as periodic backup for the RAID array, 2 in mirrored RAID for important data.

I think you'll find that your *truly* important data is nowhere near 2 terrabytes, unless you're doing ediiting, rendering or very serious audio work. In my desktop, my primary drive is 300GB, my backup drive is 500GB and my RAID drives are only 160GB.

Getting a good sound card is largely worthless for Windows Vista and Windows 7 because they do all their audio processing on the CPU anyways -- there's no such thing as hardware-accelerated sound on either of those OSes. If you're going to spend money on a sound device, its all about the quality of the DACs and analogue components. Nothing else will matter. Even look at the latest "X-Fi" cards from Creative -- all they are is, wait for it... nice DACs and quality analogue components! There's no X-Fi chip on these new cards, no on-board RAM... because neither Vista nor 7 would use it anyway. Don't get suckered into buying someone's old X-Fi stock because it "has a DSP and its own memory."

Finally, given the 6GB RAM you intend to get, it sounds like you're planning on the uber-high end i7s that support 3-channel memory... Don't... just don't. That third channel only buys you bandwidth on paper, and the only tangible benefit is for those few folks who can actually use and saturate the 30 or so PCIe lanes its chipset enables. Go with a cheaper, dual-channel i7 is you must have i7, or even one of the faster i5s. Socket 1156 (or there abouts) motherboards are significantly cheaper than their 1366 counterparts, and dual-channel RAM kits are typically cheaper than comparable amounts of RAM in a triple-channel package. All told, you can save $200 bucks, and still get a similarly speedy i7 CPU in socket 1156 form, on a motherboard with all the same features (save a few PCIe lanes).

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Quote:
Original post by Ravyne

Also, its kind of stupid to put your OS on a RAID volume. Remember that RAID is fault-tolerance (meaning a physical hard disk failure won't take your data), it is not a backup solution -- you're far more likely to hose your OS than loose your drive, and RAID won't help you at all there. Instead, consider 4 hard drives -- 1 primary disk (with partitions for OS(s) and maybe data (anything that you're willing to loose (maybe re-ripping your CD collection is inconvenient, but not irrecoverable) or restore from a backup (I'm thinking non-HDD backup solutions, DVDs, tape, etc), 1 backup disk (optional) serves as more convenient backup for the primary data partition, as well as periodic backup for the RAID array, 2 in mirrored RAID for important data.

I think you'll find that your *truly* important data is nowhere near 2 terrabytes, unless you're doing ediiting, rendering or very serious audio work. In my desktop, my primary drive is 300GB, my backup drive is 500GB and my RAID drives are only 160GB.


RAID 0 (as the OP said in the specs) is for performance (simultaneous seek and read across striped data) not fault tolerance, if anything goes wrong with RAID 0 all data is screwed as there is no parity check or mirroring of data.

I completely agree about staying a step behind bleeding edge and upgrading more regularly though. I also second a multi-monitor environment (obviously this is dependent upon your usage, but for any kind of development it's priceless).

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Ah, I missed that it was RAID0 somehow.

Honestly though, a single volume (2 drives in RAID 0) is even worse because, since it's stripped, if either drive goes down then you've lost all that data!

RAID 0 essentially doubles your risk that a hardware fault will take out your data (since you've got double the hardware with no fault tolerance.)

I think perhaps the OP has been reading too many gamer PC blogs in deciding what his system should look like.

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Thanks for all the advice everyone.

I agree that I should get bigger/better monitors but I figure that's something I can always get in the future.

The whole Raid 0 thing is just one of the specs I saw that sounded interesting. I've never done Raid before (currently I just have my main C: and another internal storage drive) so I'd be willing to do anything in this case. The only thing I'd like is to have like a TB drive since the storage one that I'll be bringing into that new box is considerably smaller (I think like 200-some gb). Of course I could always get 2 seperate HDD configs in the new box and just transfer from the old box to the new...

The reasoning behind the dual vid cards, from what I remember, is that to add a second video card it was like really cheap (like $20-50). I'll double check but I'll take your advice on going from Windows Ultimate to Windows Pro and ditching the sound card which will give me some cash I can push to a better vid card.

Primarily right now what I'm working on is modding Unreal Tournament 3, and even with 3 GB RAM in my single-core system, it still chops when I run the 'play in game' (it always has). Also, to build my current simple small level takes near 20 minutes. Granted I'll also be developing games in Visual Studio. Not to mention I'd get back into PC gaming since I'd have a machine capable of running games made this decade :p

Also, Ravyne, I haven't read any PC gaming blogs :D Plus, you guys are probably way more knowledgable about this stuff!

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Personally, there are only two good reasons to go with dual cheap sli/crossfire cards starting out. One is it's a zero cost option, i.e. you already have the cards. The other is you need the connectors, but not the horsepower, i.e. running 3-4 monitors in 2D. The reason is you're only upgrade path is to replace both cards. If you're pushing the limits, such as dual 5870's, then, yeah, it makes sense to start with dual cards. Whether you need it or not is irrelevant. You want it, you can afford it, you bought it. With bottom of the heap cards it doesn't make much sense to be. If you do your research you can buy a single card for the same expense that does just as well if not better.

As far as it will be obsolete that, to me, is an outdated view. Obsolence just isn't really a valid issue with replacing a computer today. I've been running a $600 machine for 3 years and I'm debating whether there's any point in replacing it with another $600 machine. So how, exactly, is an $1800 machine today going to be outdated a year from now when I'm not even sure a $600 machine from three years ago will be? It just isn't the reality of this market. No, really, if you buy a Ford Pinto today you'll be driving one tomorrow and if you buy a Lexus today you'll be driving one tomorrow. All that really matters is do you care, can you afford it and is it worth the price to drive a Lexus for the next several years rather than a Pinto.

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Original post by LilBudyWizer
As far as it will be obsolete that, to me, is an outdated view. Obsolence just isn't really a valid issue with replacing a computer today. I've been running a $600 machine for 3 years and I'm debating whether there's any point in replacing it with another $600 machine. So how, exactly, is an $1800 machine today going to be outdated a year from now when I'm not even sure a $600 machine from three years ago will be? It just isn't the reality of this market. No, really, if you buy a Ford Pinto today you'll be driving one tomorrow and if you buy a Lexus today you'll be driving one tomorrow. All that really matters is do you care, can you afford it and is it worth the price to drive a Lexus for the next several years rather than a Pinto.


The issue with my last desktop was I purchased it when AGP was still being sold though PCI-X was offered, yet I (stupidly) thought AGP was newer and purchased that. So my current desktop is at the point where and upgrade to the graphics card would essentially require a new mobo, card, and possibly new CPU. I'm hoping this next computer will not only last longer by itself, but will be able to upgrade for years after it begins slowing down. Obviously new hardware will be released, but at least I'm not at the end of a dying port like I was with the AGP slot almost from the get-go.

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Most likely you're not going to be able to upgrade for years to come. Why? A few things:
1. CPU sockets change, a few times within a single generation. For example the Core 2 Duo's came using a LGA 775 socket, and the generation of CPU's after being the Core i7 came using LGA 1366 and recently also LGA 1156. I doubt that even the next generation of CPU's (Sandy bridge...etc) is going to use either of these sockets.

Also, From my perspective it seems that i7 CPU's are maxed out in terms of performance apart from clockspeed differences, which you can always overcome by overclocking a lower end part. The only thing that will change is the number of cores.

2. GPU's. Every generation of GPU's has a sweet spot in terms of performance per dollar, and this generation isn't any difference. Usually that sweet spot will last you as long as the higher end ones will, and after a few years there usually won't be that big of a performance difference to justify spending an additional 1-200 dollars right now.

3. Memory. In many benchmarks I've seen for DDR3 there doesn't seem to be much performance gained by spending more $$$ for premium speeds. Same as the diminishing returns experienced in DDR2 land when going from DDR2 800 to DDR2 1000. This is probably the only thing that's upgradable in my view, and that's only by expanding storage rather than faster speeds. If your memory slots are full then you'll just be wasting money you spend right now if you expand in the future.



In my opinion, buying a $800-$1000 PC every 3 years is much more effective than buying an $1800 PC every 4-6 years.

Right now I'm running a C2D system, GF 9800, 4GB DDR2 RAM, and I don't see myself NEEDING to upgrade for a few more years yet, especially when we're on the verge of new technologies being introduced(SATA 3, USB 3, couple others). Right now pretty much all next gen systems(i7, DDR3...etc) are still at a premium price.

If I was going to grab a system right now I'd get a core i7 860(socket 1156), with 4-8 GB of RAM initially, a graphics card around $150-$200, a 64 or 128 GB SSD for the OS and some choice apps like VS...etc and a game or two, and a bigger magnetic drive for the remaining inconsequential apps and media that you're no doubt bound to have.

But like I said, with SATA 3, USB 3, and much faster SSD's that can utilize much more bandwidth than SATA 2 can provide, I'd wait a while.

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Original post by deathtrap
1. CPU sockets change, a few times within a single generation. For example the Core 2 Duo's came using a LGA 775 socket, and the generation of CPU's after being the Core i7 came using LGA 1366 and recently also LGA 1156. I doubt that even the next generation of CPU's (Sandy bridge...etc) is going to use either of these sockets.


With CPUs I feel the best game to play is the generation jump; I went from an AMD Athlon to an AMD X2 to a Corei7 (last March when brand new)

My next penciled in upgrade, all things being equal, is likely to be Haswell or whatever AMD have around 2012 or so as thats another major arch shift (from pure CPU to CPU/VPU hybrids) which should bring some improvements.

Sandy Bridge is apprently an LGA136X pin layout or a LGA1155; which is intresting but then how often do you keep mobos when jumping generations?

Quote:

2. GPU's. Every generation of GPU's has a sweet spot in terms of performance per dollar, and this generation isn't any difference. Usually that sweet spot will last you as long as the higher end ones will, and after a few years there usually won't be that big of a performance difference to justify spending an additional 1-200 dollars right now.


When it comes to GPUs the difference is very often memory bandwidth (although the HD5870 is core clock limited so if you could O/C a 5850 to the same level you should be able to match it), which does make a difference if you want to push everything to the max on recent games with a large resoluton and hold 60fps.

If you are gaming on less than a single 24" screen then you probably don't need top of the line.

When it comes to output; current HD5 series cards can all drive 3 monitors both in gaming and 2D terms and they can drive 6, although the boards which would support this aren't out yet.

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