March 13, 2007
I recently had the opportunity to rebuild my work PC. It strongly resembles the "Little Bang" D.I.Y. system I outlined in my previous post on the philosophy of building your own computer.
See, I do take my own advice.
Here's a quick breakdown of the components and the rationale behind each. Every aspect of this system has been a blog post at one point or another.
- ASUS Vento 3600 case (green)
Is there anything more boring than a beige box? The Vento is a little aggravating to work on, and it's a bit bulky. But it's unique, a total conversation starter, and the sparkly green model fits the Vertigo color scheme to a T. I even built my wife a PC using the red Vento. The 3600 has been discontinued in favor of the 7700; the newest version is, sadly, much uglier.
- MSI P6N SLI, NVIDIA 650i chipset
The 650i is a far more economic variation of the ridiculously expensive NVIDIA 680i chipset, but offering the same excellent performance. Dual PCI express slots, for two video cards, is a must in my three-monitor world. It also has a fairly large, passive thin-fin northbridge cooler; quality of the motherboard chipset cooling is important, because modern motherboard chipsets can dissipate upwards of 20-30 watts all by themselves. And it still runs blazingly hot, even at idle.
- Intel Core 2 Duo E6600
The Core 2 Duo is Intel's best processor in years. I opted for the E6600 because I have an unnatural love for large L2 caches, but even the cheapest Core Duo 2 runs rings around the competition. And all the Core 2 Duos overclock like mad. This one is running at 3 GHz with a very minor voltage bump for peace of mind.
- Antec NeoHE 380 watt power supply
Great modular cable power supply, with around 80% efficiency at typical load levels. It's extremely quiet, per the SPCR review. It's a myth that you "need" a 500 watt power supply, but 380 W is about the lowest model you can buy these days. The quality of the power supply is far more important than any arbitrary watt number printed on its side.
- Scythe Ninja heatsink
The Ninja, despite the goofy name, offers superlative performance. It is easily one of the all-time greatest heatsinks ever made, and still a top-rank performer. It's quite inexpensive these days, too. As you can see, I am running it fanless. The Ninja is particularly suited for passive operation because of the widely-spaced fins. It's easily cooled passively, even under overclocked, dual prime 95 load, by the 120 mm exhaust fan directly behind it. (Disclaimer: I have a giant heatsink fetish.)
- Dual passive GeForce 7600 GT 256 MB video cards
The 7600 GT was the runaway champ in the video card power/performance analysis research I did last summer. The model I chose is a passively cooled, dual slot design from Gigabyte (model NX76T256D). It offers outstanding performance, it runs cool, it has dual DVI, and the design is clever. I liked this card so much, I bought two of them. Not for SLI (although that's now an option) but for more than two monitors. It's inexpensive, too, at around $115 per card.
- 2 GB of generic PC800 DDR2
I don't believe in buying expensive memory. It's not worth it, unless you're an extreme overclocker. I buy cheap, reasonable quality memory. Even the cheap stuff overclocks fairly well, at least for the moderate overclocks I'm shooting for.
- 74 GB 10,000 RPM primary hard drive; 300 GB 7,200 RPM secondary hard drive
I cannot emphasize enough how big the performance difference is between 10,000 RPM drives and 7,200 RPM drives. I know it's a little expensive, but the merits of the faster drive, plus the flexibility of having two spindles in your system, makes it well worth the investment.
And it's quiet, too. The entire system is cooled by three fans: one 120mm exhaust, the 80mm fan in the power supply, and an optional 80 mm fan I installed in the front of the case to keep hard drive temperatures down. Airflow in the hard drive area is quite limited on the Vento.
One of the advantages of a D.I.Y. system is that you can perform relatively inexpensive upgrades instead of buying an entirely new computer. The most recent one was plopping in the new motherboard/cpu/memory/heatsink combo. With that upgrade, I now have a top of the line dual-core PC running at 3.0 GHz-- and it only cost me $650 to get there.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I guess gratuitious lights strike me as about as gauche as a "Ninja" heatsink. Not sure I'd want to lay those two firestarters (hard drives) atop each other.
In general I agree with you re. specs for a decent development machine. I don't buy the "build so you can upgrade" spiel though. By the time you're ready for anything significant in an upgrade you'll have to toss the motherboard and probably the RAM. Tomorrow's "good stuff" won't fit that CPU socket. Home-build machines are a sucker's bet today, and pretty much have been since the late Pentium II days.
By the time you're ready for anything significant in an upgrade you'll have to toss the motherboard and probably the RAM
Agree, but why should I toss the video card, case, power supply, hard drives, and DVD-R along with it?
Motherboards aren't that expensive, and DDR2 RAM is finally coming down now ($150 for 2 GB).
Windows for Workgroups 3.11. Just kidding, it's even worse. Vista!
I've been begging for a better machine for months, and finally got a laptop (wanted a laptop) that's half a Ghz slower than my current slow dev pc... :(
Nice rig! The heatsink with the cheesy name is fantastic. Running fanless is the way to go.
Home-build machines are a sucker's bet today, and pretty much have been since the late Pentium II days.
Wow what nonsense. Who says you have to toss anything? You can take the older parts and ease them into testbed machines, servers or machines for friends and family. My dad is using my old 754 socket that I had a couple years ago and with a $89 proc upgrade it was plenty fast enough for him to run vista and VM him some linux and XP. Generally I get about 2 processor upgrades per platform. I'me never going to spend $1,000 on a processor but I'm happy to pay $300 a year later and get a refreshed machine out of it. For instance, a while ago I upgraded just my processor to a dual core and handed my old processor off to my brother for whom it was perfect for gaming. I can't imagine overpaying for a criminally crippled Dell or the like that I then have to take a bunch of crapware off of. Getting a whole new machine everytime out isn't just wasteful, it's for suckers.
The case is not boring but it's uuuuugly ;)
I love you cabling. Wish my cases were so clean :-)
My only objection is the Antec PSU, they have done nothing but go down in quality in the last couple years. I've been through 3 of em here at work in the past 2 months. If you're curious, I'd go with a PC Power and Cooling PSU or maybe a Seasonic....
There is nothing wrong with the "Ninja" heatsink... :)
How about upgrading your system on a shoestring budget? I currently am running a AMD FX55 processor and am thinking about upgrading, but I don't want too spend as much as I did when I bought the AMD FX55 CPU. I came across this article on Anand-Tech: http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/intel/showdoc.aspx?i=2903
I checked out the prices and for 2GB (2x1gb) ram, mobo and the CPU it will only cost about $515. That's less then what I paid for my old AMD FX55 alone.
I think the low end today is cheaper and faster then what I have and rather then tread towards the high end and pay for it, I am going to stay on the lower end and save some money.
Lucky bastard! I've been begging for a better machine for months
To be clear, I pay for all my own PCs out of my own pocket. So I'm either "lucky" or "stupid" depending on how you calculate such things.
Well, you're probably lucky enough to be paid more than me then. ;)
hmmm.. I guess it wouldn't hurt to toss in that SLI bridge (with the case open and all).. I wonder, with 3 monitors and 2 cards, can you get that 3-monitor panoramic effect like what the matrox triplehead dongle offers?
I'm in the process of getting all the excess development machines (aka workstations pressed into dev server slavery) in our environment..
I'm planning something with many cores (4 to 8), many bits (64), tons of memory, three 2x300gb 10kRPM raptor raid 0 arrays, and vmware server! that way I can have several virtual dev environments running at all times, with the option of rolling more as needed.. all in one box that will hopefully sit under my desk and warm my feet..
SLI is mostly of interest to gamers; it doubles 3D rendering speed by splitting the work between two cards. This is done either by alternating frames on each card, or splitting the screen in half so the left half is rendered by card #1 and the right half is rendered by card #2. Note that 3D graphics is highly parallelizable, far more so than CPU stuff.
SLI unfortunately interferes with multiple monitors; you usually have to switch off multi-mon before enabling SLI. They are mutually exclusive features. This makes it of limited use to me.
4) Displays: When SLI is enabled, only one monitor can be active. When SLI is disabled in the control panel, multiple monitors can be used. The latest driver does not require a reboot to enable and disable SLI.
That said, I guess I might as well put the SLI bridge in place, even if I don't plan to use it.. can't hurt.
panoramic effect with SLI
When I had SLI working in my system it would only drive 1 monitor. If you wanted to use mutiple monitors you had to disable SLI
I guess I'm one of those lucky ones that gets free PCs from work... but man, they suck. I've been begging for a new one (and hopefully better) for such a long time that I'm thinking of following Jeff's advise and build my own.
I'm sure the current crapware I have will make for a nice server running Windows 3.1. :)
Quickly, video cards that are in SLI mode means that they act together to form one image for one monitor (or two sometimes.) With independant video cards, you can have as many monitors as the cards support, so with two cards like that, he should be able to run up to 4 monitors.
Dude, what's up with all the LEDs?
I like the idea of building my own pc, but it always turns into a huge time suck. I never use my desktops these days anyway. I'm all about my laptop. My Core Duo laptop works as good or better than my Dual Core P4 workstation at the office. Except for the hard drive of course, but next time I'm going to spring for the 7200rpm. I like the flexibility of working at my desk, couch, or coffee shop with equal ease.
But seriously, what /is/ up with those LEDs?
Hej Jeff, I was hoping you might be able to provide som insight into an issue I'm having.
I'm in the middle of deciding about new storage for my current PC. I'm looking at the WD Raptor 74gb 10k rpm disc and it's smaller sibling, the 36gb. The latter is about 2/3 of the price of the larger one here in sweden and I'm trying to justify the cost. Will I actually NEED 74 gb for the system and any apps I may run (I rarely if ever play games) or will 36gb be sufficient you think? I will be running Vista and probably be content with that. I'm not much of a dual boot kinda guy.
I will however be running several developer tools, some of which are notorious disc space munchers, including Visual Studio, SQL server and Virtual PC (for testing) along with a few images of course.
I did some behind-the-napkin math and came to the conclusion that I might be able to squeeze it into 36 gb, leaving a few gb to spare for swap files and what not. I did account for fluctuations in space usage by Vista, but I did not account for possible upscaling of the VPC images. I haven't had the need to do that yet however so I left that out on purpose. Still, I wouldn't want to be caught with my hands in the jar, wanting more space.
Just for the curiosity, for the storage drive I was thinking of going for the WD Caviar 500gb 7200rpm. It's the cheapest per mb and the cost distance from the 320gb drive isn't something to cry about.
Thanks for a great blog!
How do you partition your drives? Which drive is the OS installed to? Which drive do you store data to? Which drive is used for code sync/build?
Jeff, since you just swapped out the mobo, memory, cpu, and heatsink, what did you do with the old hardware? I'm a fellow DIY system builder, and I keep accumulating parts in a section of my basement (I figured I'd never get much for 'em on eBay).
I just don't know what to do with 'em. Do you just toss 'em, try to actually sell them on eBay, or what?
Jeff, do you run any distributed computing on your machine? I'm a big Rosetta@home fan myself, but there are tons of worthwhile projects.
Dude, what's up with all the LEDs?
What do you mean, "all the LEDs"?
The rear fan is a white LED model which matches the white LEDs in the front panel and front power switch (this is from the black Vento 3600, which is.. Darth Vader-esque)
The fan in front of the hard drives is an LED model, but not by choice-- it's what I had on hand at the time I dealt with the hard drive temps.
The other LEDs are soldered on to the motherboard.
Nice work Jeff. It is refreshing to see a programmer who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty - or rather cut - working on hardware!
Couple of things caught my eye;
What made you decide to go with a 380w PSU? Especially with dual GPUs and an overclocked CPU, I would have thought a 50w safety margin would have been in order.
Also, might want to be careful with your fan configurations, having 2 exhaust fans and only one intake will cause dust to get into all the especially hard to reach places, as air will be
sucked in through gaps in the case. Best to try and equalise airflow inside the case if possible.
Besides that it looks like a great setup. I have an E6600 running @ 3Ghz on stock voltage and Intel HSF. I'd like to get a Scythe or Big Typhoon and crank her up but I'm a bit over the instability and $$$ required for such a job... I'm getting old!
Jeff - Any experience building a rackmount audio recording machine? I think most of what you outlined here might work... except for maybe the height issue with a rackmount case.
most integrated graphics tend to disable themselves when a video card is added
I'm typing this on a machine running Intel integrated graphics and an NVIDIA graphics card simultaneously. Intel ships the most PC graphics devices last market numbers I saw. Even if this did happen, there would probably be a BIOS setting to prevent it.
where you don't actually take an interest in the hardware that you use
So buying the wrong hardware for the job is taking an interest in the hardware? I call it being ignorant about hardware. What next, should those of us who don't copyright infringe and don't work with large multimedia files buy 800GB hard drives just to take an interest?
Well... its $650 in the US.
In latin america, its like $900 - $1000.
Damn, I want the Core 2 Duo!
Hi Jeff, I've been using the Ninja with a fan but looking at your system I'm starting to think it might be a bit overkill since my processor is slower than yours. My case (Lian Li V1000) already has two 12cm fans, so I should be ok.
The video cards are a waste unless you are a game developer. Could have saved ~200 dollars just by going with a motherboard with integrated graphics and then adding some budget line card with two outputs for your other monitors.
: The video cards are a waste unless you are a game developer. Could
: have saved ~200 dollars just by going with a motherboard with
: integrated graphics and then adding some budget line card with
: two outputs for your other monitors.
I believe you are at the wrong website... you want the "Coding for money only" website where you don't actually take an interest in the hardware that you use. Besides, most integrated graphics tend to disable themselves when a video card is added.
Unfortunately, turning SLI off requires a full system reboot.
Is this a vista thing? I toggle SLI both ways with XP quite frequently.. having to reboot would drive me insane :/
I see nothing goofy about the name ninja. I do believe you're required by ancient ninja law to only apply the name to the most awesome things in the world. Or face the wrath of ninja.
Why is the case hard to work with? Are we talking 'a little cramped,' or 'cut yourself on the edges'?
And if hard drive heat is a concern, why stack them both right on top of each other like that instead of using multiple slots? It strikes me as a rather odd design.
In response to Dylan, the Ninja takes up so much space in my case
RAID 0 is evil! I don't understand why people even consider it, unless your data means NOTHING to you.
I've never understood the philosophy of all the bells and whistles. If you had a boring case, no lights and a "normal" heatsink. Wouldn't the savings justify for the performance difference.. or possibly the savings could add more RAM or a nicer video card, then again this is your work machine....So why go with a more expensive motherboard with SLI when your only running one mid grade video card. If its a work machine, onboard should be fine.
I guess we all have our differences :)
I go more for the sexy vs. shocking personally :) Something along the Shuttle line of cases, I don't have much data on how well they perform but I sure like how they look.
My ideal system would actually be a suite of components housed in identical bookshelf cases, such as the Western Digital MyBook series, all chained together with external SATA, so you could chain together a barebones or beefy system as your heart desires. Ahh, it's good to dream.
You should of included a shot of your desk to see the 3 monitor setup. Or do you not want us to see how messy your desktop really is?
You have a heatsink fetish, I have a multi-monitor fetish. Show it to us and stop talking about it! :)
I hooked up the SLI bridge because I was curious. As others have pointed out, it doesn't hurt to have it there, even if I don't plan to use it.
Enabling SLI mode can be done through the latest beta NVIDIA Vista drivers. You can pick which *single* monitor is used when you enable SLI, of all the attached monitors. But you are limited to 1 monitor in SLI mode. It takes about a full minute for the system to initialize the change to SLI. After I did, 3DMark05 scores went up nearly 2x, so it's working. (But if you wanted 2x the performance, you'd be better off buying a single card that is inherently 2x faster, such as the 7900 GT or the X1950 Pro.. but then I guess you could double up on those as well)
Unfortunately, turning SLI off requires a full system reboot.
SLI is not exactly convenient for multiple monitor users..
Jeff - did you buy the parts locally or online? If online - do you mind telling us where you bought them and the cost?
Joe Claborn - If you are looking for a place to buy on-line goto www.newegg.com or www.mwave.com.
They are both about the same in price; also watch shipping costs they can be high. Both do an excellent job and are used by home builders, the biggest difference is who has the item on stock, also newegg seems to ship a little faster.
The nice thing about mwave is that they sell motherboard,CPU, fan and memory bundles where they put the fan on, install the memory and then do a quick test for under $20, worth it just to make sure everything initially works.
Looks like a rice rocket. Wish you could build an American machine for us rednecks. I live in a third world country and we need more Bloggggggg. power gone. No more blog youuuuuuuu
Hmm, I'm almost thinking that one could buy a rackmount server and use that instead. Servers usually outperform desktop-style machines from the same era, and are inherently heavy duty and stable. Try getting a desktop with hardware raid SCSI 10k or even 15k drives, redundant power supplies/fans/memory etc. If you dwell on it long enough, it could be had on eBay for $2000, even if you factor in a good graphics card. You can keep it in your basement, and use a KVM extender for a 100% noise-free work environment. All you need next to the desk is a power strip, nearby CAT5e drop, monitor, mouse and keyboard.
At work I'm considering slowly farming out the assorted floor-cluttering desktops (some 15 of them) to a puchased lot of identical previous-generation 1U Xeon servers. Those will perform better than the yesteryear's low-end Dell/Intel desktops. The KVM would be run via plentiful CAT6 wiring -- we have two cat6 drops per person, one for phone w/integrated managed switch, another for the desktop which will now be unused.
IMHO, most desktops suck. They may consume less power than server-class machines, but they don't really last all that long if you keep them on 24/7 like it becomes commonplace in many offices.
I bought my Pentium 4 3.0GHz almost 2 years ago and I can't rice it -- I have to replace the motherboard, CPU *AND* RAM.
I bought my Pentium 4 3.0GHz almost 2 years ago and I can't rice it -- I have to replace the motherboard, CPU *AND* RAM.
This has lead me to very seriously consider my next machine to be prebuilt -- most likely a Dell.
Nice rig but i would reccomend getting a at least an antec 450 watt like ur rig may work fine now but pwr supplies do degrade performance over time and it would be a waste to see all ur components wrecked. Lol i like my microATX rig better though got a 7900gtx in it- powerful and small is the way to go!
hey can someone help me , i enabled SLI on my 4 monitor system , and then a window popped up telling me my other displays might go out. Of course they did and as I read here that's what happens because it can run only on one monitor.....
Now my question is... how do I disable SLI????
I need to get these displays running been workin all night to get this set up... if anyone can help i'd greatly appreciate it.
Yeah thats cool well i build my computer too, it has a silver atx case with 5 Antec TriCool 120mm Blue LED Case Fan ,and a Thermaltake TMG SL1 Dual Slot Fan. It also has 3 375GB Hard Drives 10,000 RPM's
And an AMD Althon 2800+ Processor. Also a DVD and CD with lightscrive burner ,And an EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GS Graphic Card,dam
it looks so good it looks as if you were playing on an Xbox 360
Also have a 600W power supply. and to finish it off i have a 22 inch
widescreen LCD monitor, and also have 2 gigabites of RAM
I recently bought ASUS Vento 3600 - Black.....it's so sleek and cool. Kinda different from the others. It's my first DIY and been doing a fair amount of homework to get the right stuff and within my budget.
Am choosing Asus P5K Deluxe, Q6600 (cooled by ASUS Silent Square - may change that to Zalman CNPS9500), Western Digital Caviar SE16, Corsair XMS2 - 2GB 2x1GB DDR2, Sapphire HD2600XT (cooled by Zalman VF900) and powered by Cooler Master (will change to OCZ, soon). Need ultra quiet machine. 2 units LD DVD burner, one with lightscribe and ACER X192W 19" monitor and Klipsch 2.0 speakers.
Probably not one of the best, I guess my 1st entree should be modest. However, I do need cable management tips to organize my cables. Kinda messy right now. Any tips?
Will post pics of it when I am done.
Love the blog keep it up. Talking about blogs why don't you visit my blog @ system.builder.blogspot.com where i give tips and regular free e-books. What OS are you running I am on Windows Vista Home Basic (as part of a new laptop) and I got it last year and it takes 5min to load. All my previous PC's have been prebuilds (2x Packard Bell and 1 Dell) handed down (I am 11) but now have been looking at self-builds. I have priced up my first PC and it is 245.95 including VAT and it is on a P4 3.2GHz CPU! I got my stuff at www.autdirect.co.uk.
Perhaps I should research it more, but I figured I could get a quick answer here. What is the difference in running your video card in SLI and just running 3 monitors off of two video cards?
"I just don't know what to do with 'em. Do you just toss 'em, try to actually sell them on eBay, or what?"
That's easy...save them until you have enough to build a spare machine. I have 3 machines laying around that I built that way...comes in handy for building ad-hoc networks (I prefer the old fashioned way over setting up virtual networks).
Great post, guess I should snap a pic of my 2 home brews.