Gotta love a new desktop computer.

7. March 2010 14:50
CPU Usage

Okay, so I've been coveting some new hardware for some time now, I setup pretty much my whole family and most of my friends with updated hardware over the holidays, and wanted to get something for myself after the tax return came in.

I tried to pick hardware with decent value along with some higher customer ratings on various sites like newegg and amazon. For the most part I wanted to strike a performance balance. With my son's computer I went with a Core i7-750 and a massive ATI Radeon HD 5870. My goals were slightly different, I don't have a need for maximum gaming performance, and wanted a bit more CPU oomph for today's video encoders, and for my virtual machines. I went with Windows 7, simply because I like the UI. I considered Ubuntu's 10.04 development release, but decided to go for the stability of Windows 7. Cable management is usually a concern for me, as I like to be proud to show what's under the hood, so to speak. I also really wanted the performance boost that an SSD gives, I'm really happy the pricing has come down to a fairly reasonable point. All in all, the build cost me around $1350 altogether. I'm including links to the products I used on Amazon, but you can find it all on newegg pretty easily as well.  

Okay, IMHO, this is awesome. :) My Windows Experience Index in Windows 7 is a solid 7.4, and most of the hardware I picked comes in around the same values. Very nice indeed. I'm going to go ahead and list the hardware below.

Windows Experience Index

Case - Cooler Master CM-690

Cooler Master CM-690 Case

I went with this case for a few features. Aesthetically, I like fairly straight forward cases, my last case was a nice Lian-Li mid tower. I like a lot of the features in this case. The 3.5 inch bays mount to the side, so it's easy to get drives in and out. The trays are screw-less, and work well. The 5.25 inch bays have a quickmount, in addition to the screws that are mounted to the case, so you don't loose them. The motherboard mounts are a standard threading. There's a nice set of cable management clips mounted inside the case. I had to remove one of them as it did block a couple of the side-mounted SATA ports. They're also just beyond the edge of a standard ATX motherboard, so if you have a long video card this may be an issue. I'm not using a large video card, and wanted the cable management. The bottom mounted PSU position is nice as well, you can mount so a modern PSU can take in air directly from the bottom, or mount upside down to draw from inside the case. The PSU mounts have some rubber around them to limit vibration and noise. The large fans also keep the noise down a bit, my GPU fan is the loudest in the case. It would be nice to have the option of a solid side panel, so that you can apply some foam padding to reduce the noise a bit further. I think the only gotcha is the effort to remove the front panel in order to clear the 5.25 inch drive plates for your external drives.

Power Supply - Cooler Master Silent Pro M600

Cooler Master Silent Pro M600 Modular Power Supply

This thing is awesome. The modular cables are flat, which actually makes the routing for them look really nice. The PSU itself is rated and sold at 600W, but it is comparable to a lesser 700W PSU. It's a solid unit. Lately I've been going with Antec, Corsair and Cooler Master power supplies, they tend to do really well in the middle tiers, and aren't priced too high. If you are planning on a dual-GPU powerhouse you may want to consider a bigger PSU, since some of the higher end video cards will drain over 200W each at load. This had dual-GPU ability, and if you are going with more modest cards, this will work. There is also a 700W version in this line, if you do go dual GPU that I'd recommend. This unit has plenty of overhead for a typical setup, or even one with a few extra drives if that's what you need.

Drive Bay - StarTech Trayless Hot Swap

StarTech SATA 5.25 to 3.5 Trayless Hot Swap

It's nice to have a quick bay you can eject a drive from and swap a new one in. The controller port this is plugged into should be set to AHCI mode so you can do an eject/swap of the drive while the computer is on. Windows 7 and Linux both support this pretty well. I really wish that there were an option in windows to add an Eject to the context menu for the drive bay though. Overall, it works quite well, but I wouldn't suggest putting anything that gets VERY hot in there, as there is no direct cooling over the bay. There are some bays that do, and multiple bay adapters that do. The fans on single-bay devices are very noisy though.

DVD Drive - LITE-ON 24x DVD Writer

LITE-ON 24x DVD Writer

It's a DVD burner. The reliability is decent, but to be honest, I don't use it much aside from archiving so I'm a bad judge here. Just the same, it's working well. I've used plenty of LITE-ON drives and have found them to be as good as any others. Though at the $30 price point, there isn't much point in worrying much about it. I will probably go with a BluRay drive in the near future, for now DVD works for me.

Motherboard - Gigabyte P55A-UD3

Gigabyte P55A-UD3 i7/i7 LGA-1156 Motherboard

I've been really happy with Gigabyte boards the past few years. This one is no exception. The only short coming for my needs was the lack of firewire ports. USB3 is nice as well. I wound up setting the SATA 3 controller to AHCI mode for my external ports and left the Intel controller to IDE (Native) mode. AHCI is needed to support the hotswap and eSATA bays properly. It would be nice if there were an option to set a couple of the Intel ports to AHCI while keeping the rest in IDE mode. I may get a PCIe SATA controller specifically for the external SATA drives (the hotswap and the eSATA port). It has every feature you'd want in a desktop board. If you don't have a big case, you may want to look into a Micro ATX equivalent. The Intel P55 chipset has been very solid, a lot of the work has been migrated into the CPU. This limits you to one PCIe x16 slot, which is a non-issue if sticking to a single GPU.

CPU - Intel Core i7-860

Intel Core i7-860 LGA-1156 CPU

What can I say, it's a great CPU. If you need more than 8GB of ram, the extra cost for a 1366 based CPU would be more than offset by the price difference of going from 2GB sticks to 4GB sticks. If you aren't doing video editing or re-encoding, you may well be best served by a Core i5-750. For me, this is a great fit. I tend to work in Virtual Machines so the extra CPU oomph is helpful. Along with some video edits, and re-encodes. I may bite the bullet and go up to 16GB of ram in the future. I really didn't have the need for more than 8GB at least at the moment, and I don't feel the 1366 platform is worth it for most people. The biggest limitation is the onboard PCIe controller is pretty limited, so you won't get a dual GPU setup that works optimally. However, there are some REALLY fast GPUs out there, some with two procs on a single PCB card.

HSF - Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus

Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus

This thing is a beast. It's a bit on the large side, and if you aren't overclocking, I'd suggest looking at Cooler Master's TX3 instead. It's big and heavy. It honestly is less than a quarter inch from the side of the case (no second side fan here). The fan when mounted to push air through to the back overlaps one of the memory slots on my motherboard. Meaning if I need to change out the ram, the fan needs to be removed. Thankfully this is easy with the clip mount. It comes with an extra set if clip mounts for a second fan though. Beyond this, I did a short CPU burn with Prime95 64-bit and it never went above 55C, and my apartment's ambient temperature is around 78F. I'm not overclocking currently, but it's nice to have that head room in the future.

Memory - G.Skill 4GB DDR3 1600 (x2)

G.Skill 4GB DDR3 1600 CL9 Kit

What can I say, it runs, it's relatively quick. I never really saw the point in spending a lot on Uber-RAM that needs to be bumped up to higher voltages. I've run "Performance Memory" in the past, and didn't see any real difference. This time around I got the highest rated (via newegg) memory for DDR3-1600 that was available. I had to manually set it to 1600 (vs 1333) in the BIOS, but it's running great.

Video Card - HIS ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB

HIS Radeon HD 5770 1GB GPU

I actually got this video card a few weeks ahead of everything else. When I removed the old video drivers and tried installing this card's it was like pulling teeth. On a fresh install, the first thing I did after install was to install the latest drivers, and it all went in smooth. The performance is decent for my resolution 1920x1080 (1080p), and to be honest I tend not to install any games with DRM, so my gaming is rather limited. Runs what I have thrown at it great just the same. Accelerated video playback runs smooth as well, really wish AMD/ATI would get the lead out and get OpenCL drivers out the door already. It does support MS DirectCompute already though, so that's a nice thing. I mainly got this card looking a bit to the future, as I do a bit of video archival and re-encoding to MP4+AVC (h.264).

SSD - Intel X25-M 80GB

Intel X25-M 80GB SSD

Love it, love it, love it! This thing is wicked fast. I migrated my old AppData over, and did a search for something in my profile with CubicExplorer (I was looking for a particular file) and it was done so quick, I had to do it twice. This thing seeks like butter melts in a hot pan, quick. I went with this drive because it was the best option in my price range. I've got it about half full after installing windows and all my applications. If you go with a smaller drive, you will probably want to get familiar with the mklink command to create symbolic directory links. I think 80 is probably a good size when combined with a spinning disk for large storage.

HDD - Western Digital AV-GP 1.5TB

Western Digital AV-GP 1.5TB

This drive is supposedly geared towards "Long Term Storage", but only comes with a 3 year warranty. To be honest, I was a fan of Seagate drives for quite a while until their reliability slipped a little. I'd really like to see a return to 5 year warranties for drives. At least this one works properly connected to a controller in AHCI mode. This is currently seated in my hotswap bay, so I can use it for mass/media storage.

Firewire - Syba SD-VIA-FW1E1H

Syba SD-VIA-FW1E1H PCI Firewire Adapter with internal 9-pin header

I mainly wanted this to be able to hook a camera to the top port on my case, since my motherboard choice didn't come with firewire ports. I haven't used it yet, and there's an alert icon over the device in Device Manager. I have another card I'll swap out to see if it works better.

OS - Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit)

Windows 7 Ultimate

I have to be honest here, I absolutely love Windows 7, but if you're going to be buying it, you'll probably be best off with the Home Premium edition, or Professional. I have an MSDN account, so I went with the Ultimate version, but to be honest don't gain much from it. The add-ons for ultimate aside from BitLocker are about useless. Even then, I'm not using BitLocker on my desktop. Professional does get you some networking functionality if you are running on a Windows Domain though. Overall, I find Windows 7 simply performs better than XP or Vista. The features started in Vista are more polished and completed in Windows 7. The new task bar is awesome, it takes the best of what I like about the Vista start menu, and combines it with all the features I like in the OSX dock.


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Michael J. Ryan aka Tracker1

My name is Michael J. Ryan and I've been developing web based applications since the mid 90's.

I am an advanced Web UX developer with a near expert knowledge of JavaScript.