Operating System

Both systems will be moving from XP to Vista. Some might consider that a downgrade of epic proportions, but I have grown fond of Vista 64-bit and even more fond of 4GB of memory utilized properly by the operation system. Setting up Windows 2008 Server in a workstation configuration crossed my mind as a way to utilize my MSDN subscription extras, but I decided in the end to just pop the Vista 64 install DVD in and go for it. For those who prefer Linux, I am not quite ready to use it 24/7 but one of these old platforms is now a dedicated Linux machine for my continuing educational needs.


The first item I went shopping for was memory. After spending the past few weeks testing multitudes of 2GB DDR2 modules, I concluded that I wanted a 2x2GB DDR2-800 CAS4 kit based on the best blend of price to performance in that category. Sure, CAS5 would more than suffice for our needs and most of the CAS5 modules could be coaxed into CAS4 operation with a bump in voltage or relaxing a couple of timings. However, having the security of plug in and forget about it was worth the extra couple of dollars for CAS4.

The next decision was which supplier to utilize. The easy choice would have been the companies we typically choose for our test bed components or those that have received great reviews from us or other reputable websites. To be honest, this was a difficult purchasing decision, made especially difficult after the testing we just completed. The choices and results clouded an already muddied mind, as there was not a bad kit in the bunch - certainly not one I would ever hesitate to purchase.

I let my budget constraints sway my search process but still ended up with a top-flight choice in the Patriot PVS24G6400LLK DDR2-800 CAS4 4GB kit. When I purchased the memory it was $74.99 for a 4GB kit with rebate, but I had to pay shipping costs so the current $79.99 price with free shipping is actually a better deal at Newegg. Considering both machines will have multiple browser windows, IM programs, and general office applications open at once along with a heavy dose of Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Premiere Pro activities, I broke the bank and bought 8GB for each machine. Stretching the budget will become a common theme throughout my component selections. (It is also a reason why I will need to eBay my John Travolta signature 70's Disco clothing lineup now.)

I figure 8GB should be good for the next three years and solidifies my thought process that you can never have enough memory with a 64-bit operating system. Patriot recommends 2.2V for CAS4 operation at DDR2-800 with 4GB. I tested this memory on several boards and got away with 1.85V~1.90V with 4GB at 4-4-3-10 timings, well under the 4-4-4-12 2.2V recommendation. I had to increase VDimm to 2.0V and timings to 4-4-4-12 at DDR2-800 with an 8GB configuration on the boards I purchased. To say that I have been pleasantly surprised with this choice would be an understatement. As usual, your mileage will vary depending upon other components and usage patterns.

Power Supply

Next up is the power supply. This is a component that I look at as an investment since a quality power supply will last for several years and is extremely important in ensuring stable operation of your system. I take this purchasing decision seriously and balance system needs, acoustical considerations, and unit quality when determining what item to select. The power supplies I have in the current systems have served me well for the last five years, but they are no longer up to spec for the components going into the new systems.

That said, I do have a budget to adhere to so I was extremely surprised to see the PC Power & Cooling S610EPS Silencer marked down from $199 to $89.99 with rebate. The power requirements for our systems do not call for this type of wattage and a high quality 380W~430W unit would do just fine. However, for the extra few dollars (Ed: here we go again…) the lure of the S610 Silencer was just too much to resist, especially if a mid-life GPU upgrade requires additional power or these power supplies migrate to other systems. One caveat: this power supply is a little longer than normal and required a shoehorn to get it into our SG03 case.

Another power supply that deserves special mention and one I purchased this week for another article is the Silverstone ST50EF-SC 500W unit that Silverstone designed with this case and other SFF units in mind. The unit features shorter than normal cables so your SFF case is not as cluttered. The unit is very quiet, has an excellent efficiency rating, uses high quality components, and comes with dual six-pin PCI Express connectors for the same price as the S610EPS Silencer.

Index The CPU
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  • deruberhanyok - Thursday, May 29, 2008 - link

    Just wanted to say I've never really understood the collective first person pronouns ("we" etc) in the context of an article, even when I was doing it myself. It seems to be accepted in journalism, but if an article is written by one person I don't understand why it isn't written with the singular terms.

    Also, nice writeup!
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, May 29, 2008 - link

    Myspace requires users to be at least 14, don't they? Are you encouraging your daughter to lie about her age already?
  • gochichi - Thursday, May 29, 2008 - link

    I wish I had found more value in this but I simply think these choices were pretty random. Whenever you include a sound card in a "budget system" you already lost me, particularly when the superior Q6600 is "out of budget" and you force the situation into an oddball 3-core processor... all of this for less than the price of the completely uneccessary/absurd sound card. My speakers were $150.00 a few months ago and there is simply no discernable difference between an Audigy and onboard sound, they both sound fantastic. (I made a mistake and purchased a sound card, I would never recommend it to anyone, certainly not anyone on any sort of budget... unless you were connecting it to $500+ of sound equipment).

    To me getting the best core components makes sense when "on a budget" rather than buying 8GB of RAM, buy 4GB and leave expanding to 8GB later. The oddball 3-core processor is pretty much non-upgradeable... it is replaceable, not upgradeable. I guess my main problem is with the Phenom choice... and to pretend that this is a budget driven decision is beyond me. But it feels more like a bribe induced decision (budget... you take the payout, it's good for your budget) than a logical decision, particularly for a system with 8GB of very fast RAM.

    Taking the rest of the selection into account, you have the fast RAM, the fancy-pants power supply... why not spend $50.00 on Q6600 and get your 3.0Ghz+ quad-core system?

    It's not the only random choice by any means, and calling this system a "budget system" is simply outdated, a budget computer system in 2008 means around $500.00 not around $1000.00. It is certainly a faux pas in this day and age to go above $500.00 and go AMD. I can't let that slide, and I'm not a fanboy either, I am just a reasonable guy that would buy a $75.00 AMD processor without flinching if it fit the need and the budget. AMD is a great choice for a one task system, particularly if that one task is playing bluray disks and media center because of the superior onboard graphics that are available. But for an 8GB of RAM workhorse?? Yikes!

    Basically for the reader of this website, the choices are simply too arbitrary to be useful. I concede that we were warned that this would be a blog and not an article, but still.

  • Comdrpopnfresh - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    I feel something should be made of the fact that all the builds were overbudget. Even more so, I feel that mail in rebates should be used to allow for a component in the system (processing, graphics, storage, etc.) to be expanded a bit further. I feel the mail in rebates for the builds were used to minimize the already rampant budgets. Considering the companies that release the rebates will look for every possible way to void them, it isn't smart to treat them in this way.

    I've had the same problem in making systems to fit a budget envelope. However, a good change I think that could have been made is no graphics. The words that really stuck out with me are that the sims three and spore are upcoming. If the integrated gfx meet the needs, and the taxing demands have not been released, why not wait (esp. in the case of a computer for your child) to either get the same gfx upgrade for less, or more for the same?

    I feel with current custom building, even with prices falling for components across the board, budgeting is the hardest part. I hope that this point is highlighted, because, even though this article shows the evils of this issue, it certainly brings it to the forefront nonetheless.
  • ishould - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    I would have liked to see a GPU with hybrid SLI technology chosen primarily because you said you don't use it for gaming much. Pairing the chipset with a 9600GT, while it may be a little more expensive, will likely make up the cost in power requirements multiple times over by not having to run 100W+ idle all the time. Just my 2 cents
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    It would seem to me that you would want a dual slot Video card, rather than a single slot, for an mATX system. That way you are blowing the video card heat out of the small case. Would a dual-slot card fit in the case?
  • jmurbank - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    It seems you selected components that you desperately want to get for your next setup. To decrease the price of each setup, you will need to rate each component what you need to get by and what you dream to have. I think you can get by with out a dedicated graphics card by playing games at the lowest quality settings and still use the LCD native resolution. Next I suggest go back in your junk closet and try to find AV receivers that are capable of handling digital audio. If you have three, you decrease the price by about $300. IMHO, card readers are not required for a setup. I suggest buy one unit that will work in each computer. Of course everybody in the household will be fighting over the device, but set rules where it should be placed. I think your dream components can wait for the upgrade budget that comes into play later.

    My opinion about Pioneer optical drives is they are poorly manufactured. I suggest change it to an ASUS optical drive. My Pioneer drive gave me problems at the beginning. The drive took hours to write a single layer DVD disc, so I use a 3rd party firmware to fix that. Then a few years later, it does not handle playing back movies from start to finish. My ASUS optical drive is lasting me 7 years and counting.

    I doubt you need 600 GB of hard drive space. I think users will be waiting for programs to load up, I suggest downgrade the space and upgrade to low latency. I suggest a Western Digital 'Raptor' 150 GB or 75 GB. To store more data, setup a file server for everybody in the household to access files.

    If you are thinking of over clocking the Phenom processor in the future, I suggest select motherboards with an EPS power connector. This does not guarantee the motherboard can handle the over clock or higher TDP processors, but provides a possibility.

    I prefer Seasonic power supplies because they are high quality for their price. Also they are very energy efficient, regulate voltage well, filter the power well (low ripple voltage), universal voltage, puts less strain on your electrical system (circuit box and AC oultet) because of its active PFC feature. Power and Cooling power supplies are poor for the price. Be careful with Silverstone power supplies because they have a high minimum wattage rating.
  • psychobriggsy - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    If you read the article, you can see his logic for a lot of your points.

    I really really don't understand why a ten year old needs such a setup. I'm sure we all have stories about the 14" monitors we had when we were 10, and how the computer had a single 2" speaker built in, and the like. We coped and the systems were awesome.

    My computer build for a ten year old would be my old system, handed down.

    Does she have a 42" plasma TV and personal satellite TV in her room as well?
  • Kobaljov - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Interesting article, but sometimes I didn't find the connections between the intended usage and the selected hw components. Look like the most common error in the "new PC" projects: performance (cost, power consumption, etc.) overkill.

    A Phenom CPU, 8 GB RAM, 640 GB HDD and a 8800 GT videocard is really needed for IM, MySpace, Sims, WoW, etc. in the next 3 years ?? I don't think so (maybe if the Sims 3 will use the CryEngine 2.. ;-)

    "Just the normal daily life for a ten year old who apparently needs at least a 24" monitor just to keep track of the thirty or so open windows at any given time"

    This come from a local PC Shop's marketing materials ? (The next "must have" will be the Optimus Maximus keyboard for word processing or a new Hi-Speed 256 GB SSD for listening online music) :-)
  • larson0699 - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link


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