TR’s fall 2008 system guide

The holiday season looms, and you can tell by just looking at hardware prices: processors, graphics cards, and memory are cheaper than ever, and some interesting new products have had time to slip out into the wild just before the impending shopping rush. It’s definitely time for a new system guide.

However, we faced a bit of a dilemma with this update. You see, Intel says it plans to release next-generation Core i7 processors next month, and the rumor mill has repeatedly hinted that those chips might cost as little as $284 when they come out. Telling readers to buy high-end Core 2 systems now would make no sense, but our system guide still needed an update. What to do?

In the end, we opted to rethink the guide’s price targets and focus on cheaper configurations. We had been planning such a move for a while, anyway, because the hardware pricing landscape has evolved quite a bit since we started publishing system guides. We’ve therefore replaced our traditional $500, $1,000, $1,500, and ~$2,500 builds with more wallet-friendly $300, $500, $800, and $1200 configurations. These new setups are more affordable, and you’d be surprised how much you can get for even 800 bucks these days.

We expect these builds are safely out of the way of the incoming Core i7 tide, as well. Even if Core i7 chips do cost as little as $284, you’ll still need to pair them with expensive DDR3 RAM and presumably pricy X58 motherboards. By contrast, our fastest config in this guide includes a $270 CPU, a $130 motherboard, and cheap DDR2 RAM. Read on for all the details.

Rules and regulations

The first thing you should know about this guide is that it’s geared toward helping you select the parts for a home-built PC. If you’re new to building your own systems and want a little extra help, our tutorial on how to build your own PC is a great place to start and a helpful complement to this guide.

Before tackling our recommended systems, we should explain some of the rules and guidelines we used to select components. The guiding philosophy behind our choices was to seek the best bang for the buck. That means we avoided recommending super-cheap parts that are barely capable of performing their jobs, just as we avoided breathtakingly expensive products that carry a hefty price premium for features or performance you probably don’t need. Instead, we looked to that mythical “sweet spot” where price and performance meet up in a pleasant, harmonic convergence. We also sought balance within each system configuration, choosing components that make sense together, so that a fast processor won’t be bottlenecked by a skimpy graphics card or too little system memory, for instance. The end result, we hope, is a series of balanced systems that offer decent performance as configured and provide ample room for future expandability.

We confined our selections to components that are currently available online. Paper launches and preorders don’t count, for obvious reasons. We also tried to stick to $300, $500, $800 and $1200 budgets for our desktop systems. Those budgets are loose guidelines rather than hard limits, to allow us some wiggle room for deals that may stretch the budget a little but are too good to resist.

We’ve continued our tradition of basing the guide’s component prices on listings at Newegg. We’ve found that sourcing prices from one large reseller allows us to maintain a more realistic sense of street prices than price search engine listings, which are sometimes artificially low. In the few cases where Newegg doesn’t have an item in stock, we’ll fall back to our trusty price search engine rather than limit our options.

Finally, price wasn’t the top factor in our component choices. Our own experiences with individual components weighed heavily on our decisions, and we’ve provided links to our own reviews of many of the products we’re recommending. We’ve also tried to confine our selections to name-brand rather than generic products, and to manufacturers with solid reputations for reliability. Warranty coverage was an important consideration, as well.

The Econobox Lite
As tight as it gets—but with room for more
What’s this? We priced out an ultra-compact “Mini-Econobox” with an Atom processor in our last system guide, but we were curious to see if you could get a faster, more upgrade-friendly desktop for the same price. Turns out we can. While it has a bigger footprint, the Econobox Lite packs far better components than any Atom rig—and you can easily upgrade it with a speedy dual-core processor and a state-of-the-art graphics card.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Celeron 430 $39.99
Motherboard Foxconn M7VMX-K $43.99
Memory 2GB Kingston DDR2-667 $28.99
Graphics Integrated $0
Storage Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB $59.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $26.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Antec NSK 4480B w/380W PSU $79.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $279.94

Processor

We’ve dumped the Intel Atom N230 in favor of the Conroe-based Celeron 430. Think of this chip as a 65nm Core 2 Duo with one of its cores lopped off, much of its L2 cache disabled, and a 35W power envelope. The Celeron 430 won’t blow your mind with its multitasking abilities, but it should perform far better overall than anything in the Atom line. This CPU uses the same LGA775 package as Intel’s fastest desktop CPUs, too, so we can pick a more full-featured motherboard to go with it.

Motherboard

You generally shouldn’t expect much from sub-$50 motherboards, but the Foxconn M7VMX-K looks surprisingly compelling for the price. This board’s GeForce 7050 “motherboard GPU” should beat the pants off cheaper Intel integrated graphics, and its PCI Express x16 slot can accommodate a full-blown graphics card. (By contrast, Atom Mini-ITX motherboards typically feature a lone PCI slot.) Best of all, the M7VMX-K supports Core 2 processors with 1066MHz front-side bus speeds, so you should be able to pop in something like a Core 2 Duo E7300 or a Core 2 Quad Q6600 if that Celeron starts feeling too slow. On the flip side, though, Foxconn only includes a VGA display connector.

We haven’t tried this board ourselves, but the customer reviews on Newegg look quite encouraging overall. Yes, we know—some of you might be about to jump in the comments section and say Newegg readers are clueless. Think about it this way, though: while Joe six-pack might not be able to appreciate the finer points of motherboard design, if 86% of Newegg users are giving this board four- or five-star ratings, we can probably discount show-stopping problems and major flaws.

Memory

With memory prices the way they are, 2GB is a great place to start for a budget system. Our recommended mobo apparently has a single memory channel, and Foxconn says it supports DDR2-800 RAM only by overclocking, so we’re playing it safe with a single 2GB module of DDR2-667 RAM. We’re going with a Kingston DIMM here because it’s the cheapest one Newegg has, and because it comes from a trusted manufacturer that offers a lifetime warranty and 24/7 technical support.

Storage

Western Digital’s 7,200-RPM hard drives tend to be fast, quiet, and cheap. This one is no exception. We actually recommended the 320GB Caviar SE16 for our $500 Econobox system in many previous system guides, and now that it costs just $60, we think it complements the Econobox Lite nicely.

On the optical side of things, Samsung’s SH-S223Q gets our vote because of its low price, solid feature set, and positive user reviews. If previous drives from the same series are any indication, this one should be pretty quiet, too.

Enclosure and power

We went a bit crazy here and picked the Antec NSK 4480B case and power supply bundle we usually recommend for our Econobox. Bear with us, though. If you’re buying a $300 system, we expect you’ll hold on to components like the case and power supply for as long as possible. The NSK 4480B will last not just because Antec uses quality components to make it, but also because its 380W EarthWatts power supply and roomy insides can accommodate much faster hardware (and more of it).

Besides, we think even a $300 system deserves a quality PSU. Cheap, bargain-bin units might look appealing, but their manufacturers often embellish specifications and cut corners where they shouldn’t. In the end, a cheap PSU can jeopardize system stability, damage sensitive components over time, and potentially even flame out in spectacular fashion, taking several system components with it in the process.

Incidentally, this is the black version of the NSK 4480. We picked it because Newegg inexplicably charges more for the silver-bezeled model we usually recommend.

The Econobox
Because speed doesn’t have to cost a fortune
Instead of being the cheapest possible combination of parts, the Econobox fills in as our affordable gaming and general use system. You won’t find too many fancy extras here, but we’ve tried to select a balanced mix of peppy, reliable components with headroom for future upgrades.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Pentium E5200 $83.99
Motherboard Asus P5Q SE/R $102.99
Memory 2GB Kingston DDR2-800 $30.49
Graphics BFG GeForce 9800 GT $119.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB $74.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $26.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Antec NSK 4480B w/380W PSU $79.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $519.43

Processor

Intel’s 45nm dual-core processors have finally trickled down well under the $100 mark, which gives us the opportunity to select one for our Econobox. The Pentium E5200 totes a pair of 45nm Penryn cores clocked at 2.5GHz with 2MB of shared L2 cache and an 800MHz FSB. Considering the clock-for-clock performance (never mind the overclocking potential) of Penryn CPUs, that’s an excellent starting point for our Econobox.

Motherboard

We’re once again recommending a P45-based mobo over a P35 model, since the Intel P45 chipset draws less power, has better overclocking potential, and offers PCI Express 2.0 support. Asus’ P5Q SE/R gets the nod this time because it’s slightly cheaper than the Gigabyte equivalent, and because it offers RAID support for those looking to improve performance, redundancy, or both. RAID is a rare commodity on budget boards that use Intel chipsets, so it’s refreshing to see it here.

Memory

In light of Windows Vista’s memory demands and current prices, 2GB of RAM has really become the minimum for a modern PC. Our 2GB Kingston DDR2-800 dual-channel kit is one of the cheapest in its class at just over $30, so it easily fits in the Econobox’s $500 budget. Kingston should have better quality control and customer service than you can expect from no-name module makers.

Graphics

We’ve swapped out the GeForce 8800 GT from our last Econobox for this BFG GeForce 9800 GT. On paper, the 9800 GT is effectively a re-branded 8800 GT that may or may not have a 55nm GPU. This BFG card is “factory overclocked” to 635MHz for the core and 925MHz for the memory, however, so it should outperform vanilla 8800 GTs. Considering the low price and the fact that BFG offers lifetime warranty coverage with 24/7 tech support, we’re happy with the upgrade.

Storage

This Caviar SE16 hard drive from Western Digital simultaneously delivers a 640GB storage capacity, excellent performance, very low noise levels, and a bargain-basement price. What’s not to like? Well, some folks won’t be too enamored with the drive’s three-year warranty. For that reason, we’re recommending Seagate’s competing offering as an alternative on the next page.

As for our optical drive, Samsung’s SH-S223Q fits in just as well here as in the Econobox Lite. Its Serial ATA interface should make it reasonably future-proof, and we like the combination of positive user reviews and low pricing.

Enclosure and power

Antec’s NSK 4480B case and power supply bundle returns from the Econobox Lite, too. We’re again going with the black 4480B model because Newegg charges more for the silver variant.

This bundle has everything the Econobox needs: a quality, high-efficiency power supply that provides a little upgrading headroom; a roomy case with good cooling; and a reasonable price tag. There are cheaper possibilities out there, but we don’t think you’d be able to save a whole lot by going with lower-quality components. And as we’ve noted on the previous page, using a cheap power supply can have disastrous effects in the long run.

Econobox alternatives

We’re happy with the selections on the previous page, but not everybody will want an Intel processor or integrated audio. Since users’ needs will invariably, er, vary, we’ve gathered a list of alternatives and extras on this page.

Component Item Price
Processor AMD Athlon X2 5400+ Black Edition $77.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H $79.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 4670 $79.99
Storage Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 640GB $79.99

Processor

AMD can’t quite match the performance and power efficiency of Intel’s Pentium E5200 in this price range. However, the Athlon X2 5400+ Black Edition costs less, should perform well enough, and has an unlocked upper multiplier that can make overclocking a breeze. Coupled with our 780G motherboard, this CPU can serve as a middle ground for folks who don’t care about discrete graphics but still want something better than the Econobox Lite.

Note that this processor doesn’t come with a cooler in the box, so you’ll need to purchase an aftermarket heatsink and fan. This Rosewill model costs only $20 with free shipping and has good user reviews. If you’d rather pay a little less overall, you can also grab a 3.1GHz Athlon X2 6000+ (which comes with a boxed cooler) for $92. That chip does have a higher thermal envelope, though.

Motherboard

Our Socket AM2 processor won’t plug into our primary system’s LGA775 socket, so we’ve selected a matching motherboard based on AMD’s 780G integrated graphics chipset. The 780G is blessed with a surprisingly competent Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics processor that can run recent games as long as you can live with lower resolutions and detail levels. Cinephiles will be glad to know that the Radeon HD 3200 can accelerate high-definition video decoding to facilitate buttery-smooth Blu-ray playback, too.

We have plenty of experience with Gigabyte’s GA-MA78GM-S2H motherboard, which we featured in our initial review of the 780G, so we’re confident that it’s a good match for our Econobox alternatives. The S2H also has great user reviews on Newegg.

As a side note, we should mention that motherboards based on Nvidia’s GeForce 8200- and 8300-series integrated graphics chipsets have hit stores, and they’re certainly interesting alternatives to the 780G. However, based on our experience with the GeForce 8300, we still favor the AMD chipset.

Graphics

If you’re a casual gamer and want to save a few bucks, the Radeon HD 4670 is a capable alternative to the GeForce 9800 GT. As we found in our review, AMD’s new budget card can run most current games (with the notable exceptions of Crysis and Crysis Warhead) at 1280×1024 or 1680×1050 with some of the detail turned up. Considering the sheer number of not-so-demanding console ports out there, you may find the 4670 capable enough for your needs.

Storage

As we hinted on the previous page, Seagate’s 640GB Barracuda 7200.11 is the drive to get if you crave five years of warranty coverage. This model costs $5 more than the Caviar SE16, though, and we don’t expect it to perform as well or run as quiet.

The Utility Player
Value without major compromises
Our reshuffling of traditional TR builds begins with the Utility Player. This machine packs a fast dual-core processor, one of the speediest sub-$200 graphics cards out there, and some nice extras—all for just over $800.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 $164.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3R $126.99
Memory Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-800 $56.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 $159.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB $74.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $26.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Enclosure Antec Sonata III w/500W PSU $129.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $830.92

Processor

The 3GHz Core 2 Duo E8400 really seems like the sweet spot in this price range. It costs $30 more than the 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E7300, but it has a higher clock speed, a faster front-side bus, and twice as much cache. The E8400 also costs $25 less than the Core 2 Duo E8500, and it’s only slower by a paltry 166MHz.

Motherboard

The Utility Player’s budget allows us to splurge on a fancier motherboard, and Gigabyte’s GA-EP45-DS3R looks like one of the best sub-$150 P45 offerings out there. As we explained in our review of the board, the DS3R delivers all the necessary goodies for an enthusiast system: two physical PCI Express x16 slots, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, FireWire, and excellent overclocking potential. We managed to push this particular board to an impressive 500MHz front-side bus speed in our labs, which would be enough to take our Core 2 Duo E8400 up to 4.5GHz.

Memory

Kingston happens to have some of the cheapest memory available on Newegg right now, so we keep going back to it. The firm’s 4GB DDR2-800 kit costs only $57, and we think that’s a steal for four gigs of speedy DDR2 RAM from a reputable company that offers lifetime warranty coverage. With Windows Vista and most newer games guzzling memory like there’s no tomorrow, 4GB of RAM is by no means over-indulgent, either.

Naturally, you’ll need a 64-bit operating system to take full advantage of this amount of memory. 32-bit OSes have enough address space for 4GB of memory, but that figure is an upper limit for all memory in a system, including video RAM. In practice, 32-bit versions of Windows will only be able to use 3 to 3.5GB of actual system RAM, and they’ll normally restrict each application’s RAM budget to 2GB. There are potential workarounds, but Microsoft says they can hurt compatibility; it recommends that folks run a 64-bit version of Windows instead. Because Vista x64 is quite mature these days, we also recommend it for this system. Check our operating system section on the second-to-last page of the guide for more details.

Graphics

The Radeon HD 4850 seems almost tailor-made for machines like the Utility Player. Variants like this Sapphire model cost as little as $160, yet the 4850 can effortlessly plow through most games at high resolutions with the detail turned up (and, depending on the title, some level of antialiasing enabled). Don’t look forward to playing Crysis Warhead at 2560×1600 with 8X antialiasing if you order this card, but do expect smooth frame rates in Call of Duty 4 and Race Driver: GRID at 1920×1200 with 4X AA.

Storage

As we pointed out earlier, Western Digital’s 640GB Caviar SE16 delivers excellent performance, very low noise levels, and an ample 640GB capacity at a very tantalizing price. Samsung’s 750GB SpinPoint F1 only costs about $25 more, but the Caviar offers more consistent performance across a wider range of applications, which is why we prefer it.

We’re sticking with the Samsung SH-S223Q for our optical drive. DVD burners have become commodity items these days, so we’re not terribly inclined to get something fancier just because of our more generous budget.

Audio

Lately, it seems that many folks are scoffing at the mere suggestion that one might want to use a discrete sound card. Integrated motherboard audio has certainly come a long way, but if you’re using analog outputs, even the best solutions still don’t sound very good when hooked up to half-way decent speakers or headphones. If you’re spending over $800 on a system like this one, we believe something like Asus’ Xonar DX is in order. This card sounds great, supports features like real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding, and does a decent job of emulating Creative’s EAX 5.0 positional audio effects in games. Unless you plan to use $5 RadioShack headphones forever, you won’t regret this purchase.

Enclosure and power

The Antec Sonata III costs more than the NSK 4480B in our two cheaper configs, but it has more perks: a beefy 500W power supply with an 80% efficiency rating, a clean layout with sideways-mounted hard drive bays, and a host of noise reduction features. Antec even slaps an eSATA port on the Sonata’s front bezel, should you wish to plug in an external hard drive without crawling behind the system.

Utility Player alternatives

As with the Econobox, we have some alternative propositions for how to fill out the Utility Player.

Component Item Price
Processor AMD Phenom 9850 Black Edition $169.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H $128.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 260 $239.99
Storage
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 640GB $89.99
LG GGC-H20L Blu-ray combo drive $149.99

Processor

Phenoms haven’t done very well against Intel’s 45nm Core 2 Quads, but AMD has cut prices dramatically, dropping the Phenom 9850 Black Edition to just under $170. That puts it on the same playing field as the E8400, which has a higher clock speed but two fewer cores. Depending on what kind of tasks you run from day to day, you may find the Phenom’s two extra cores more useful—like, say, if you do a lot of heavy multitasking or 3D rendering.

This chip has an unlocked upper multiplier, too. Coupled with our recommended motherboard’s SB750 south bridge, that could allow for a relatively meaty overclock, provided you don’t mind the extra heat output and fan noise.

Motherboard

Gigabyte’s GA-MA790GP-DS4H mates the SB750 with a 790GX chipset, two PCI Express x16 slots, and Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics at a very reasonable price. We actually recommended this board’s Asus counterpart in our previous system guide, but the Gigabyte specimen is now available, costs $20 less, and fared well enough on our test bench.

The SB750 south bridge has a feature AMD calls Advanced Clock Calibration that can significantly improve the overclocking headroom of Phenom processors. For that reason, we think an SB750-equipped motherboard is really a must if you’re getting our alternative CPU.

Graphics

Nvidia technically competes against the Radeon HD 4850 with its GeForce 9800 GTX+, but we’ve picked a GeForce GTX 260 as our alternative. Simply put, the GTX 260 is faster than either card, and it’s somewhat of a bargain at just $240. If you’d like to game on a larger monitor but can’t quite afford a Radeon HD 4870 or one of the new GTX 260s with 216 stream processors, this is the best step up from our primary recommendation.

Storage

Again, you should consider Seagate’s 640GB Barracuda 7200.11 if you’d like five years of warranty coverage instead of three. Be prepared for potentially lower performance and higher noise levels, though.

Finally, you might be wondering what LG’s GGC-H20L Blu-ray combo drive is doing in our alternatives section. We realize this is an expensive step up from our Samsung DVD burner, but we think some users will happily cough up a little extra for Blu-ray playback support. This drive can play HD DVDs, too, in case you find any of those lying around.

The Sweeter Spot
Indulgence without excess
The $1,500 Sweet Spot from system guides of old has gone, leaving its place to the $1,200 Sweeter Spot. Think of the Sweet Spot as brown sugar and the Sweeter Spot as white sugar. All we’ve done is cut the indulgent molasses, making the Sweeter Spot lighter on your wallet while keeping its payload of essential enthusiast hardware.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 $269.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3R $126.99
Memory Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-800 $56.99
Graphics Zotac GeForce 260 GTX Reloaded $299.99
Storage
Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB $74.99
Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB $74.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $26.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Power supply Antec NeoPower 550W $49.99
Enclosure Antec P182 $119.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $1190.90

Processor

With the Utility Player, we suggested a choice between fast dual-core and slower quad-core processors. You don’t have to make that choice here. The Core 2 Quad Q9400‘s 2.66GHz clock speed and Penryn cores should allow it to tailgate higher-clocked Core 2 Duos in single-threaded apps, and thanks to its four cores, it can zoom well ahead in multithreaded apps. We think that versatility makes the Q9400 a pretty sweet deal for just $270. Some of you may disagree and prefer a slightly faster model with more cache, though, in which case you’ll want to check out our alternatives section on the next page.

Motherboard

The Utility Player’s Gigabyte P45 motherboard doubles as our recommendation for the Sweeter Spot. Considering the GA-EP45-DS3R‘s features, overclocking potential, and price, we see no reason to outfit the Sweeter Spot with anything more extravagant—especially since we’re trying to stay reasonable here.

Memory

We’re also going with the same 4GB Kingston DDR2-800 kit we used in the Utility Player, largely because tricked-out modules rated for operation at higher speeds and tighter timings don’t deliver enough of a performance advantage to justify their associated price premiums. If you have extra cash to burn, you’ll see greater returns from other system components.

Again, you’ll want to run a 64-bit operating system to take full advantage of 4GB of RAM. More detailed operating system analysis is available on the second-to-last page of the guide.

Graphics

We’re shying away from multi-GPU setups for the Sweeter Spot’s primary config, since today’s $300 graphics cards perform beautifully even on big 24″ monitors with the detail turned up. Our recent analysis of the $300 GeForce GTX 260 “Reloaded” and Radeon HD 4870 1GB ended in a virtual tie, but when forced to choose here, we’ve decided to go with the GeForce. It’s not that the Nvidia card is faster (the two offerings are very closely matched); we just think the GeForce is more compelling for other reasons.

Nvidia has forged a close relationship with many game developers through its “The Way It’s Meant To Be Played” program and other initiatives. Often, lately, newly released titles have worked better on Nvidia GPUs. The GTX 260 Reloaded draws less power than the 4870 1GB, which should require less heat to be dissipated. The difference doesn’t amount to much under load, but we measured a 30W gap between the two cards at idle. (That’s at least two of those swirly light bulbs.) We could also make a case for Nvidia’s PhysX tech, but the list of consumer apps and games that support it is very short indeed right now.

The Zotac card we recommend has additional upsides, too. One of those is higher clocks: 649MHz core, 1404MHz shader, and 1053MHz memory speeds (up from the default 576/1242/999MHz). Also, this card comes bundled with Race Driver: GRID, and Zotac covers it with a lifetime warranty. Well, technically, the warranty coverage bumps down to two years if you don’t register within 30 days of purchase, but that’s not a bad deal either way.

As we noted in our recent review, the choice between this new GeForce GTX 260 with 216 SPs and the Radeon HD 4870 1GB is an exceptionally close one that may boil down to bundled extras or your personal preference. See our alternatives section for the other side of the story here.

Storage

Our storage recommendation might seem odd, but we find a pair of 640GB WD Caviar SE16s more compelling than a single, higher-capacity drive. You’d have to pay much more than $75 to get 750GB or 1TB hard drives with the same mix of great performance and low noise levels that the SE16s enjoy. Also, picking two identical drives like these opens the door to RAID—more specifically, a mirrored RAID 1 array.

RAID 1 arrays can improve read performance, and their redundancy allows systems to survive single drive failures without data loss. Having a real-time mirror of the contents of your system’s hard drive can save loads of time when a drive fails—so much so that at least two of TR’s editors run RAID 1 in their primary desktops. If you value storage capacity over redundancy, though, nothing stops you from running these two drives independently or combining them in a 1.28TB JBOD array (or an even riskier but potentially faster RAID 0 setup).

We’re leaving the Blu-ray drive from our Utility Player alternatives out of the primary config here, opting instead for Samsung’s SH-S223Q. Blu-ray is nice, but we’re striving to keep the Sweeter Spot relatively affordable, and we think most folks will be happy with just a DVD burner.

Audio

With fantastic sound quality, support for real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding, a PCI Express interface, and the ability to emulate the latest EAX effects, the Asus Xonar DX is easily the best mid-range sound card on the market—and a great match for the Sweeter Spot.

Power Supply

We picked a more upscale enclosure for this system, which forces us to go hunting for a separate power supply. Antec’s NeoPower 550W earned a TR Recommended award for its long warranty, high efficiency, and modular cabling. Considering Newegg now sells it for $50, this unit gets our vote here. We weren’t quite as impressed with the NeoPower’s noise levels, but it’s not loud by any means—just not as quiet as pricier offerings.

Enclosure
Antec’s P182 case isn’t particularly cheap, but it has many perks, including composite panels, adjustable-speed 120mm fans, partitioned cooling zones, and a cable management system that lets you run cables behind the motherboard tray. The cooling design and composite panels in particular should enable delightfully low noise levels given the Sweeter Spot’s relatively quiet components.

Sweeter Spot alternatives

Perhaps you want an AMD graphics card, or maybe you’d rather trick out the Sweeter Spot a little more. Either way, our Sweeter Spot alternatives should cover your needs.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 $319.99
Graphics
PowerColor Radeon HD 4870 1GB $299.99
Storage
Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB $279.99
Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB $124.99
LG GGC-H20L Blu-ray combo drive $149.99
Power supply
PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 $134.99
TV tuner
AVerMedia AVerTV Combo PCIe $94.99

Processor

Although it’s not a huge step up, the Core 2 Quad Q9550 has a clock speed advantage and twice the cache of the Core 2 Quad Q9400 in our primary recommendations. Since the Q9550 costs only $50 more, we think it’s a worthwhile step up for folks who have a little extra cash kicking around.

Graphics

We’ve already detailed our motives for picking the GeForce GTX 260 “Reloaded” on the previous page. If you disagree with us for whatever reason—be it a penchant for red circuit boards, AMD’s driver control panel, or monthly driver releases—you should be happy with the Radeon HD 4870 1GB. We’ve selected this particular variant because PowerColor clocks its core and memory at a respective 800MHz and 925MHz (up from the default 750MHz/900MHz). Unlike the Nvidia card, though, this offering doesn’t come with an excellent bundled game or optional lifetime warranty coverage.

Storage

We don’t expect you to trade our recommended 640GB drives for a speedier one that only has 300GB of capacity, but we do think Western Digital’s 300GB VelociRaptor can nicely complement slower, higher-capacity drives. Thanks to its 10,000-RPM spindle speed and high-density platters, the latest Raptor delivers excellent performance with random I/O seek loads, making it an ideal operating system and application drive.

If you get the Raptor, or you’re just after a higher-capacity solution for mass storage, the 1TB Caviar Green should make a fine secondary drive. This offering has a lower spindle speed, but its performance is adequate, its noise levels and power consumption are very low, and at $130, it’s pretty cheap. Do note that this is the “old” version of the drive with 250GB platters—the 333GB/platter version doesn’t seem to be available yet.

Last, but not least, movie lovers may want to complement the Sweeter Spot with LG’s GGC-H20L. This drive burns DVDs and reads both Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, so it should prove a capable all-around choice.

Power supply

Let’s be clear: you really don’t need a 750W power supply to feed the Sweeter Spot. However, we’d recommend PC Power & Cooling’s 750W Silencer if you’re planning to run a pair of Radeon HD 4870s in tandem. High-end graphics cards draw a lot of power, so you’ll want the additional headroom in that case. The Silencer won an Editor’s Choice Award in our enthusiast power supply round-up and retained that crown in our latest PSU comparo. With a five-year warranty, remarkably low noise levels, very clean power delivery, high efficiency, and dual 8-pin PCI Express power connectors, the Silencer should accommodate dual high-end GPUs perfectly. This PSU is quite long, though, and it’s somewhat of a tight fit in our recommended case.

TV tuner

The AVerMedia AVerTV Combo PCIe we picked for our last home-theater PC build has returned here, since we figure you might want to hook up the Sweeter Spot to a high-definition TV. This tuner has a PCI Express x1 interface, inputs for both analog and digital TV, support for ATSC and Clear QAM high-definition digital TV standards, and a hardware MPEG encoder with 3D comb and ghost reduction filters. On top of that, the AVerTV is certified for Windows Vista x86 and x64, and it comes with a Vista Media Center-ready remote control. The user reviews on Newegg are quite positive, too.

We suggest running either Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate if you get this tuner, since both OSes come with Microsoft’s Windows Media Center software (see the following page for details). You might also want to grab the Windows Media Center TV Pack, which adds support for tuning unencrypted digital cable and other improvements.

The operating system
Which Vista is right for you?
Before we begin, we should acknowledge that some readers may not feel comfortable with Windows’ prominent place on this page. We hold no particular grudge against Linux, FreeBSD, or other desktop PC operating systems, but we think most TR readers will want to stick with Windows. For starters, most of you play PC games, and we’ve tuned all of our main configs for gaming—something Linux doesn’t do nearly as well as Microsoft’s OSes. Also, we figure enthusiasts with enough expertise to run Linux on their primary desktops will already have a favorite Linux distribution picked out. As for Mac OS X, we find both the dubious legality and the lack of official support for running it on standard PCs too off-putting.

You may also be wondering whether Vista is really worth choosing over Windows XP. After all, Windows XP still works, and from a distance, Vista looks like little more than a prettied-up version of the same old OS. Appearances can be deceptive, however, and Windows Vista really is much more than that. Microsoft has overhauled the OS’s kernel with an emphasis on security, stability, power management, and performance. Because of those changes, Vista makes it much more difficult for malicious software or poorly crafted drivers to wreak havoc on the operating system. Vista’s built-in Windows Defender application and User Account Control mechanism both work to prevent malware and spyware infections. (Although we’ve found UAC to be a little annoying in practice, the extra hassle may be worth the peace of mind given the severity of the spyware/malware phenomenon.) Also, most device drivers no longer run at the kernel level, so if they crash, the effects should be no worse than if any random application were to take a dive.

Along with superior stability and security, Vista boasts system-wide instant search, a new networking stack, a new audio architecture with per-application volume control, and DirectX 10. If you want to take full advantage of a shiny new graphics card in DX10 games like Crytek’s Crysis or Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, then you’ll want Vista.

Which edition?

So if Vista is the right OS, which version should you get? To make things simple, here’s a chart that lists the four retail Vista editions and the major features they include for desktop systems:

As you can see, Windows Vista Home Basic is stripped to the bone and doesn’t come with any of the goodies the more expensive editions offer. If you’re going to bother with Vista at all, you might as well enjoy the additional features available with full-fat versions of the OS. Besides, Vista just isn’t Vista without shiny transparent windows and live thumbnails.

With the pricier Home Premium version of Vista, Microsoft has essentially produced a successor to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 that’s intended to be more of a jack-of-all-trades for home desktops than an OS aimed squarely at home theater PCs. Home Premium includes Microsoft’s Windows Media Center software, which rolls PVR and media playback functionality into an attractive GUI optimized for display on a television. That media-centric functionality is bolstered by Windows Media Extender, which allows you to access movies and music stored on your PC via compatible Media Center Extenders like set-top boxes and even the Xbox 360. You also get backup scheduling tools, as well as software to burn your own DVDs and make high-definition movies. This version of Vista would get our vote if it weren’t for the lack of Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) software.

RDC allows you to connect to your home PC remotely, and it’s not included in Vista Home Premium. Several of TR’s editors use RDC extensively in order to control their main PCs from their laptop computers. Thanks to RDC, there’s no need to install every last program on a mobile computer or to sync all data between one’s desktop and laptop systems. This is a great option, whether on the road or from the couch, so it’s not a capability we’d write off lightly.

Your least expensive option with RDC support used to be Vista Business, which oddly now sells for the same price as Vista Ultimate, at least in a retail package. As its name implies, Vista Business is designed mainly for professional users. This version lacks media center functionality, but makes up for it with industrial-strength backup and networking tools.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Vista Ultimate. Fragmented features sets may save you some cash, but there are some who just want it all. This edition contains all the features from the Home Premium and Business versions plus BitLocker, a real-time hard drive encryption tool that helps keep your data safe from prying eyes. Home Premium and Business editions used to be much better values than Vista Ultimate, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore.

32-bit or 64-bit?

The x64 version of Windows XP was somewhat of a dead end because of limited third-party support, but all retail editions of Windows Vista offer a license for one installation of the OS in either 32-bit or 64-bit form. (You’ll probably need to hit Microsoft’s website and cough up a $10 fee to get the actual 64-bit installation disc, though.) You therefore have the option of installing whichever version you please, and most companies releasing Vista drivers have done so in both 32-bit and 64-bit formats. Since all of the processors we recommend in this guide are 64-bit capable, and most of the systems have 4GB of memory or more, the 64-bit version of Windows Vista is the most sensible choice. (For some background on what makes 64-bit computing different at a hardware level, have a look at our take on the subject.)

Vista x64 also offers some security features the 32-bit version lacks. According to this article by Paul Thurrott, Vista x64 should “virtually eliminate” remote system attacks, prevent malicious software from patching the operating system kernel, and support the security features inside AMD’s and Intel’s latest processors at the hardware level.

There are some caveats, though.

For one, Vista x64 presents some device driver challenges. Older 32-bit drivers won’t work on this OS, so your hardware will either need to be supported by Vista’s built-in set of drivers or the device manufacturer will have to offer 64-bit Vista drivers. Most of the core system components we’ve recommended already have 64-bit Vista drivers, but if you’re carrying over peripherals like printers and scanners, you’ll want to look into drivers for them. Also, Vista x64 requires all drivers to be signed. Since bad drivers are frequently the culprit in an unstable system, this requirement makes sense in environments where stability is crucial. It’s not so great, though, if you’re the type to run user-customized graphics drivers or the like. Another compatibility snag comes from Vista x64’s lack of support for 16-bit software, which will matter to those folks who are attached to a really old application for some reason.

Despite these little downsides, we think most enthusiasts will want to the x64 version. As we’ve already explained, 32-bit flavors of Windows only support up to 4GB of RAM, and that upper limit covers things like video memory. In practice, that means that your 32-bit OS will only be able to use 3-3.5GB of system RAM on average and even less than 3GB if you have more than one discrete GPU. With both Vista and newer games pushing the envelope in terms of memory use, the 4GB limit can get a little uncomfortable for an enthusiast PC.

On top of that, Vista x64 has matured substantially since its retail release in January 2007, as has third-party software and driver support. Unless you have a good reason to stick with a 32-bit OS, we think Vista’s x64 higher memory support ceiling and security/stability improvements will serve you better. Besides, with a retail-boxed copy of Windows Vista, you can always scrap your installation and load up the 32-bit version if you run into any major problems.

OEM or retail?

Just like Windows XP, Vista is offered in both OEM and retail versions. The retail versions are intended for consumers, while the OEM versions are officially intended for use by PC system builders. You can get a nice discount by going with an OEM version of Windows, but you’ll be making some compromises in the process.

For one, the retail versions of Vista ship with both 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64) edition DVDs in the box, but the OEM versions require one to choose up front, because they come with only one of the two.

Additionally, Microsoft has stated that its licensing terms won’t stop enthusiasts who run retail versions of Windows Vista from changing major hardware components regularly or from transferring the OS installation to another PC. However, OEM versions are technically tied to the first systems on which they’re installed, and Microsoft may choose to enforce that limitation via its software activation scheme at any time. If all of this sounds confusing to you, that’s because it is. For more on Vista OEM and upgrade licensing issues, see our article on the subject. The bottom line here is that you’re taking a risk when buying an OEM version of Vista, and it may come back to bite you if Microsoft invalidates your software license after a hardware upgrade. If you’re likely to upgrade your PC before Microsoft releases the next version of Windows, you should probably get a retail copy of Vista. Then again, we don’t yet know how strictly Microsoft will enforce the OEM transfer limits. The gamble could pay off.

If you do choose to gamble on the OEM version of Vista, you will be saving some money up front. Here’s how the OEM and retail pricing compare.

Vista Home Basic

Vista Home Premium

Vista Business

Vista Ultimate

OEM price (32-bit) $89.99 $99.99 $139.99 $179.99
OEM price (64-bit) $89.99 $99.99 $139.99 $179.99
Retail price $159.99 $222.99 $278.99 $267.49

We aren’t keen on paying Microsoft’s retail prices when OEM versions are this much more affordable, but we dislike the limitations that the OEM versions of Vista impose, so our nod goes provisionally to retail. If you’ve already decided the 32-bit versus 64-bit question and you’re willing to risk it, though, the OEM discount might be worth taking.

Peripherals, accessories, and extras
Matters of religion and taste
Now that we’ve examined operating system choices in detail, let’s have a look at some accessories. We don’t have a full set of recommendations at multiple price levels in the categories below, but we can make general observations and point out specific products that are worthy of your consideration. What you ultimately choose in these areas will probably depend heavily on your own personal preferences.

Displays

The world of monitors has enough scope and variety that we can’t keep track of it all, especially because we don’t often review monitors. However, we do appreciate a good display—or two or three of them, since several of us are multi-monitor fanatics—so we can offer a few pieces of advice.

Let’s get one thing clear before we begin: LCDs have long since supplanted CRTs as the display type of choice for gamers and enthusiasts. LCDs might have been small and of insufficient quality for gaming and photo editing six or seven years ago, but the latest models have huge panels, lightning-quick response times, and impressive color definition. Unless you’re already content with a massive, power-guzzling CRT, there’s little reason to avoid LCDs.

Despite their near-universal sharpness and thin form factors, not all LCDs are created equal. Besides obvious differences in sizes and aspect ratios, LCDs have different panel types. Wikipedia has a good run-down of different kinds of LCD panels in this article, but most folks will only be bothered by one differentiating attribute: whether their display has a 6-bit twisted nematic + film (TN+film) panel. Most sub-$500 monitors have 6-bit TN panels, which means 18-bit color definition instead of standard 24-bit color. Those panels use dithering to simulate colors that are out of their scope, yielding sub-optimal color accuracy, and they often have poor viewing angles on top of that. 8-bit panels typically look better, although they tend to have higher response times and loftier prices.

So, what should you get? We think that largely depends on which of our systems you’re planning to build. For instance, folks who purchase the Sweeter Spot ought to splurge on a nice 8-bit, 24″ display—perhaps the latest revision of Dell’s 2408WFP, which seems to lack the kinks of the original model. Pairing the Sweeter Spot with a small, $200 display would really be a waste, since high-end graphics cards provide headroom specifically for gaming at high resolutions. It’d be a bit like hooking up a Blu-ray player to a standard-def TV.

We think the Utility Player matches up well with less expensive monitors, including cheaper 20″, 22″, and 24″ displays with TN panels. Picky users may scoff at 6-bit displays, but they’re quite a bit cheaper and more than adequate for most applications. As for the Econobox, something like a sub-$200 19″ or 20″ LCD should do fine. If you need something to pair with the Econobox Lite, we suggest either bargain-hunting on deal sites or dumpster-diving. Just make sure to avoid displays that only have DVI inputs—the Econobox Lite only has a VGA output.

Mice and keyboards

New mice seem to crop up every other week, but we tend to favor offerings from Logitech and Microsoft because both companies typically make quality products and offer great warranty coverage. (Nothing beats getting a free, retail-boxed mouse if your old one starts behaving erratically.) Everyone has his preferences when it comes to scroll wheel behavior, the number of buttons present, and control panel software features, but one particular attribute lies at the heart of debates: wirelessness.

Wireless mice have come a long way over the past few years, and you can expect a relatively high-end one to feel just as responsive as a wired mouse. However, some folks—typically gamers—find all wireless mice laggy, and they don’t like the extra weight of the batteries. Tactile preferences are largely subjective, but wireless mice do have a few clear advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, you can use them anywhere on your desk or from a distance, and you don’t run the risk of snagging the cable. That said, good wireless mice cost more than their wired cousins, and they force you to keep an eye on battery life. Some favor wireless mice with docking cradles for that reason, since those let you plug in at night and not have to worry about finding a pair of charged AAs in the middle of a Team Fortress 2 match.

We can also find two distinct schools of thoughts on the keyboard front. Some users will prefer the latest and fanciest offerings from Logitech and Microsoft, with their smorgasbord of media keys, sliders, knobs, scroll wheels, and even built-in LCD displays. Others like their keyboards loud, clicky, and heavy enough to beat a man to death with. If you’re one of the old-school types, you may want to try a Unicomp Customizer 101/104 or an original vintage-dated IBM Model M. Fifty bucks is a lot to put down for a keyboard, but these beasts can easily last a couple of decades.

Floppy drive/card reader combo

Since the advent of cheap USB thumb drives and broadband Internet access, floppy drives have essentially been rendered obsolete. They can still come in handy in some rare instances, though. You could just spend $10 on a run-of-the-mill internal floppy drive, but we prefer to opt for a floppy/multi-flash-card reader combo like this Koutech model instead. You’re still getting a floppy drive, but the added flash card reading functionality may prove more useful over the long run, and you’re not paying a whole lot more.

Cooling

We’re recommending retail processors in all of our configs because they come with longer warranties. Those CPUs also come bundled with stock cooling units that, these days, offer decent cooling performance with reasonably low noise levels. However, if you want an even quieter system, additional overclocking headroom, or both, you may want to look into an aftermarket CPU cooler. We’re fans of Zalman’s CNPS9500 AT (and the CNPS9500 AM2 for AMD Socket AM2 processors), but there are plenty of alternatives, from massive, tower-style heatsinks with 120mm fans (like Scythe’s SCINF-1000) to elaborate liquid cooling kits. We generally prefer air coolers paired with large fans because big fans move more air per revolution and can thus spin slower, producing less noise than their smaller counterparts.

Conclusions

Finishing up this system guide feels a bit like settling into a new house. While our structure and methodology has remained largely unchanged, we’ve essentially started from scratch and scrapped all but one of our usual builds. As a result, we think this latest guide is better suited to today’s cheaper hardware prices. The $830 Utility Player is a particularly important addition, since it reflects the kind of machine many enthusiasts will be eyeing.

As we stated at the beginning of the guide, Intel’s next-gen Core i7 processors should arrive next month. The new chips will likely give us an opportunity to add a higher-end system to our next guide, but we think you’re safe going with the configurations we recommended here. We may not see major changes in the sub-$250 processor arena until AMD rolls out its 45nm Phenoms either later this year or early in 2009.

If you need further assistance, feel free to take a stroll down to the System Builders Anonymous section of our forums. That forum is teeming with users asking for help with either building new machines or old ones, so you’ll find plenty of company—and help—if you’re not feeling particularly confident about a new build.

Comments closed
    • shank15217
    • 11 years ago

    Hey, everytime TR does a system guide, they fail to mention that having the full 8GB of ram for about $50 would probably help performance on lots of applications and multitasking environments, not to mention assist VM users. Also, I still dont understand why TR thinks XP x64 is a dead end. Its a dead end only if you play DX10 games. XP x64 is a good alternative if you have access to it ,and its certainly a better alternative to 32-bit XP.

    • holophrastic
    • 11 years ago

    Am I the only one upset that there are no high-end guides anymore? Yes I love the low-end guide, it’s certainly of interest, but the high end is now completely missing.

    It seems that the new 500 vs 800 is purely a “which way do you want to compromise” or “how much do you want to sacrifice” game. Which is fine. But I still need what I needed before.

    I need a “where do I stop seeing any return from continued investment”. I just bought a new machine last month. Without the monitor, I spent $4’000. It’s not that the extra $3’000 of stuff was worth $3’000, it’s that it was more beneficial than putting the money towards something else or towards a second machine.

    I spent $2’500 on the perfect monitor. Yes anything can drive it, but some things drive it better. I needed four drives not for the capacity, but for the redundancy and for the concurrent-access speed boost and stability.

    So what, now I don’t get any help in the future?

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 11 years ago

      You may have to wait for next month’s Nehalem review.

      • Flying Fox
      • 11 years ago

      What $2500 perfect monitor did you get? As far as I am concerned an LCD will never match the best CRTs, so did you get a $2500 ginormous CRT monitor?

        • holophrastic
        • 11 years ago

        Oh, no doubt, CRTs are infinitely better at image quality. Alas, I cannot find any good CRTs anymore, and my last one finally went blurry a short while ago.

        So now I’m on the NEC LCD3090WQXi.
        (http://www.HolophrasticEnterprises.com/NEC_LCD3090WQXi)

        And comparing it to everything currently available for purchase, it’s the best over-all in just about every way.

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      g[

        • holophrastic
        • 11 years ago

        If you call it a trap, then you mustn’t be using your machines for anything truly important. Some of us, well, it may only be me so, I had to purchase a new computer last month — it’s a business thing. Sometimes you need more capacity, and just can’t wait a month to get it.

        In my case, if I need to purchase a machine tomorrow, it still wouldn’t fit into the fall guide. I wouldn’t be able to wait a month for i7 and more than that, I wouldn’t be able to wait the six months for all of the various components to not only exist, be available, be locally available, be supported, and actually be tested, stable, and with available troubleshooting documentation. Business needs require stability — at least with my customers.

        Secondly, the cost of a business machine is not the cost of the hardware. It’s the cost of the installation. It takes a good three days before a machine is far-enough along to be usable, and about a week until it’s fully ready to take-over for an old machine. Applications need to be installed, preferences configured, keyboard shortcuts chosen, etc..

        In the end, there is no such thing as a “quick stand-in”, and it’s not worth doing twice.

        So, last month I spent $6’500 on this box and its monitor. Got decent prices on everything. Took a week before I could retire the old box. It’ll be at least five years before this machine is retired — probably closer to ten.

          • DrDillyBar
          • 11 years ago

          heh

          • MadManOriginal
          • 11 years ago

          If a machine is that important to you you ought to be able to invest the time to do enough research on your own. Some of the specifics may have changed but the general guidelines from TRs previous guides that did have a high-end system would suffice as a starting point.

            • holophrastic
            • 11 years ago

            Three things:
            Frst: when “important” meets “urgent”, “time” doesn’t exist.

            Second: it’s the less important decisions that anyone can make on their own easier because the consequences don’t really matter.

            Third: I can always do everything myself and it’ll turn out better than if I have someone’s assistance. The only difference is that sometimes alone means a lot more work or a lot more time or a lot more pain. The results are always better alone. So saying that sometimes I’d be better off doing it myself is redundant — that’s always true.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 11 years ago

            Then maybe you shouldn’t even be building machines for urgetn critical work. After all, building and validating that system takes time. There are a number of companies that are happy to make machines to your specs that have good service warranties. But all that matters is that your specific niche isn’t filled by this guide article right!?…and yet no one else really cares. Rather than complain about it in the comments just move on.

            • holophrastic
            • 11 years ago

            So your solution to my business scenario is to spend more money and get someone else to do the work? Congratulations on your multi-billion dollar business where you can afford to pay someone else to do work that you are capable of doing in-house. Most businesses don’t tend to work that way.

            Certainly, I care about my specific niche, and not about your specific niche. Welcome to democracy — it sucks but that’s the way that it works. We all vote for what we each want.

            The only way to know if my specific niche is representative of anyone else but me is to speak up — as I’m doing right now. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one; I doubt that I’m any kind of majority. I don’t think that TR is mistaken about their target audience. But if no one expresses their own interests, how is TR to know about their readership?

            This is simply my volunteering information about myself to TR who wishes to know how to please me. That’s all any business wants — to not have to be psychic in determining what its customers desire.

            What’s your excuse? Why are you so hell-bent on censoring me here?

            • MadManOriginal
            • 11 years ago

            No, one of my suggestions was a reply to q[

            • holophrastic
            • 11 years ago

            First off, the whole time=money thing is incomplete. Time is money only when you have more of both. It takes money to convert time into money, and it takes time to convert money into time. It’s a catalyst conversion, not a static one.

            And yes, I’d prefer to have the guide simply reproduce past advice if that’s what is indeed still current advice. It’s a history game. If nothing has changed, that’s a valid result, and should be listed as such. Otherwise, things look like they’ve become much cheaper.

            According to the current guide, it looks like I should have paid $1’200 for my current $4’000 machine if I had waiting two months. That just isn’t so. And when viewed as historical data, it’ll seem like hardware prices took a dive when the economy crashed — which it didn’t.

            What I’ve liked about the TR guides since they began was that they were budget-based, and not specifications based. So there were always <1K, 1K, 2K, & 4K options. And you got to see how the specifications for each budget level changed over time.

            Not only has that been interesting from a historical angle, but it also helped to see when waiting a month would mean something — because you saw the 1K just shy of something in the 2K.

            The day, was it early this year, when the 4K fell out wasn’t because it wasn’t worth spending 4K, it was because what used to be “double-stuff” was now fairly standard at the sweet-spot — or close to it. Dual storage options weren’t $200 anymore, they were $125. And dual video cards became a regular occurance, with single video cards offering the what used to be dual-power.

            So it becomes perfectly reasonable to say that 4K is out-side the realm of typical standard ATX the same way that dual CPU fell out a while back.

            So it winds up being a resolution thing. To say that there’s no benefit to spending the extra cash is just silly when it’s still within the realm of the same device.

            My $4K (before monitor) includes only desktop things, and doesn’t even include a dual video card. I’m running a single 4870, single cpu, and nothing particularly special. For me, things simply added up. I chose a quad xeon 3350 for $300, a wi-fi@n asus motherboard for $300, three hard drives for the physical data separation for $300, one velociraptor for $200, the 4870 for $300 (ddr5), 8Gb of ram for $300 (ddr3), the xonar for $150, a voice-modem for $80, optical drive for $75, a case for $200, etc. It just adds up until you reach $2’500, plus software, peripherals, speakers, and accessories, and a monitor.

            Again, of course the ddr3 isn’t worth the value compared to ddr2. But you can’t get that extra speed without the premium price, whether or not it’s worth the cost. And of course I don’t need four hard drives for the capacity — but I do for the data’s physical separation. And certainly I don’t need a 30″ $2’500 monitor — but I see incredible benefit to productivity from it.

            That’s the advice that seems to have fallen off of the guides. The “of course you don’t need all of this, and of course it isn’t the best bang for the buck, but if you want more, here’s what you’ll have to pay for it” which used to be the double-stuff workstation seems to be gone.

            I paid $4K for my machine ten years ago, too. That’s what I tend to find use for at every level of my computer purchase — because I use them all day every day for weird things. My grandmother needs a $2K machine — doesn’t need the power, but needs the reliability and the easy interface. My mother needs less than $1K, because she’s adept enough to handle a smaller screen without being frustrated, and she isn’t using much power. My father needs the $2.5K because he’s a business executive and if he gets impatient he’ll simply drop kick the machine out the window.

            In my case it’s an investment like any other. And like any other, I don’t invest pennies, I invest dollars. I’m simply not a penny-stock kind of guy.

            So yes, I want to know, when I’m planning to spend more money — in my case $4K on components — what should I get?

            • indeego
            • 11 years ago

            You say you want to keep your $5K system for 5-10 years, but I must warn you–and you may very well know this– that a $500 system three years from now is most likely going to perform better than a $5000 system today. Wouldn’t it be better to save money/interest and get a best bang/buck when appropriate than to go all out on the leading edge and suffer 9/10 of the time at such a large premium?

            As for your lamenting about the higher priced guides being removed, I tend to agree with you. I used those systems personally as reference points, they were more disk I/O heavy, which I’m much more interested in than graphics perf, and it was fun to look back at years worth of other high end stuffg{<.<}g

            • holophrastic
            • 11 years ago

            No actually, because the cost of a new machine has almost nothing to do with its purchase price. It takes a full week, and a lot of decision-making to reconfigure a new machine. Transfering applications, data, short-cuts, and everything else necessary to actually use the machine for work is insane. The difference between a cheap CPU and an expensive CPU is $200. The week of lost work is way more. It’s not something that I can do with any frequency without losing my sanity. Testing new drivers, dealing with new operating systems, deciding what’s mature and what’s unstable. It’s just not necessary. My last primary business machine lasted ten years almest to the day. I’d still be using it if win98 supported ie7.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Man I love this site. I know it’s late in posting a comment, but I’d like to say that the repositioning of the system’s was *[

    • SpotTheCat
    • 11 years ago

    Three comments:
    1. Thanks!

    2. There are a TON of ways to make a good econo box lite. I think this price bracket changes the most. The competition is fierce. I would, like a lot of people, ditch the Celeron.

    3. I’m amazed at how far your money goes these days! I remember when the double stuff workstation build would barely power through the top applications of the day… now there isn’t any need for them at all! The consumer is winning here.

    • StuG
    • 11 years ago

    I really don’t understand this, where TR comes up with that the 260 “Reloaded” and the HD4870 1GB are the mid/high end only options. Understandably they are both nice cards but as previous TR articles have pointed out, graphics cards these days do not need 1GB of ram to get the job done, 512mb is perfectly fine. With that fact, why would you compare the HD4870 vs. the 260 “Reloaded”, it should be the regular HD4870 vs teh 260 “Reloaded”, which in that case the HD4870 would be a “virtual tie”, but for a way better price than any 260 “Reloaded”. Just sounds like a way to say that Nvidia and ATI have meet at the same level on a playing field, when in-fact ATI still has got Nvidia, just TR is focusing on a more expensive, yet similarly performing model of the HD4870.

    *As an after thought, I love TR, one of my fav sites and my home-page on all my comps, just this one things has bothered me about the recent reviews/lists Ive seen produced by them.

      • eitje
      • 11 years ago

      times are changing, and there are a few games out there where 512 isn’t enough anymore. See GRID. That will just get more and more common, my friend.

    • clone
    • 11 years ago

    I haven’t read all of the article yet but I just felt compelled to mention this.

    when discussing the econobox computer if your going to be adding a better video card why choose a more expensive motherboard with integrated graphics.

    it’s a budget system….. I don’t get it.

    their are so many rock stable and reliable 690g motherboards selling for notably less than the 780g’s and your putting an add in graphics card……

    hybrid graphics are irrelavent at the moment and shouldn’t be factored given the budget and immediate use of an add in video card……. the cpu’s in question won’t drive them throw the money at a better graphics card……. you chose a 4670 but had you shifted your board choice you may have squeeze a 4850 after MIR or the newly released 8800 or 9800….. I mean really a compelling case for the 4850 alone could be made….. and if graphics are wanted which would seem to be the case then throwing an additional $50 when the room is available makes sense…… or use it for 4gb’s of ram or better cpu but throwing an extra $20 at a motherboard in a budget segment seems like a less than optimal choice.

    • Bombadil
    • 11 years ago

    I would also recommend ~$50 In Win cases (c.f., Arstechnica). The included 300/350W Power Man power supplies are only 79% efficient at best, but that is okay for the price.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 11 years ago

    I would be hesitant to recommend that Koutech floppy cf reader thing. it sparked my interest after reading the article. The reviews on the first page all talk about the power connector frying the line on the psu, Yikes! That is not a good sign.

    • PerfectCr
    • 11 years ago

    Articles like this are what make TR the best. Excellent work. I am not building my own PC’s right now but when the kids get a little older and I have some more time on my hands I’ll get back into it. 🙂

    • Umbragen
    • 11 years ago

    I’m seriously disappointed with the Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3R, I’ve had nothing but problems with it and wouldn’t recommend it at all. If I could take it all back, I would go with the ASUS P5Q Pro, it has a very similar configuration, isn’t that much more expensive and I doubt that it’s NEEDED 10 BIOS updates in the short time it’s been on the market.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 11 years ago

    You know, for $39.99 the ultra econobox could have an X2 4400+, right? Overall the system price might go up by $10-12 to add a cooler but it’s still under $300 (which is ultra econo IMO)

    • srg86
    • 11 years ago

    It’s a shame there aren’t any alternatives on the Econobox lite, if possible I’d rather have an Intel chipset than an nVidia one, and I wouldn’t mind Intel’s integrated graphics as I don’t game.

      • Prototyped
      • 11 years ago

      The Gigabyte GA-EG31M-S2 is nice and cheap, and I’ve only read good things about it from people who own the board. It has electrolytic capacitors, not solid ones, but what else can one expect at that price point?

    • Pax-UX
    • 11 years ago

    Flame on! I wounder will nVidia ever do a ‘The way it’s meant to be Reviewed’ scheme? hehe 😉

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 11 years ago

    I’d like to see TR make more concrete recommendations for monitors.

    At the low end, the $150 Acer X203Wbd (with free shipping) may be worth a look. You get a 20″ 1680×1050 LCD with DVI input and HDCP for a bargain price. Yes, it has an ugly TN panel, but that’s all that you will find at the low end.

    For folks with a more substantial budget, is the $700 DoubleSight DS-265W a reasonable alternative to the $619 Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP?

      • Prototyped
      • 11 years ago

      That has a pretty decent H-IPS panel, if I recall correctly, the same as found on the NEC LCD2690WUXi and Planar PX2611W if I’m not mistaken, and it has the polarizer like the NEC (and unlike the Planar). And it’s decidedly superior to the S-PVA 2408WFP.

      Another decent panel at a lower price point and smaller size is the 22″ Lenovo L220x. It’s S-PVA and has a native resolution of 1920×1200, and it’s pretty good for its price (~$400).

    • Fighterpilot
    • 11 years ago

    Ironic that the Zotac 216 comes with a free copy of GRID…a game where it gets owned by the HD4870 🙂
    To quote TR:l[

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      It’s really worth nothing how they don’t provide the same warranty and service with the Radeon though, not to mention the game bundle – I consider it bad value, but ATI purists will disagree anyway.

    • Prototyped
    • 11 years ago

    Anyone building the Econobox Lite as recommended should be aware that the GeForce 7050 chipset used in the Foxconn board *[http://www.foxconnchannel.com/product/Motherboards/detail_overview.aspx?ID=en-us0000367<]§ Also, the Econobox's Pentium Dual-core E5200 does *[http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/cpu/display/core2duo-e7300-pdc-e5200_3.html<]§ If the motherboard you choose doesn't have more than one PCI Express x16 slot, there's no reason to go P45 over the cheaper P4*[<3<]*. The major difference between them is CrossFire support. [3] g[<"And finally, P43 is the Low-End chipset in the series -- the same PCI Express 2.0 x16 graphics interface as in P45, but it cannot be split into two ports for CrossFire. [...] In fact, this is the only difference between P43 and P45. As a rule, the line of discrete chipsets from Intel used to have only two models (High- and Mid-End) and sometimes entry-level products. But now we have two Mid-End chipsets. No wonder motherboard manufacturers pay much more interest to the cheaper P43, announcing models on this chipset in the first place."<]g [3] §[<http://www.digit-life.com/articles3/mainboard/i43p-i45p-chipsets.html<]§ For the Utility Player, why go for the slower E8400 when the Core 2 Duo E8500 is only $25 more [4] [5]? Granted it's only 166 MHz faster, but when you need the performance, it's good to have it already, and $25 isn't much more when you consider the whole box costs $830. And if CrossFire isn't a priority, you could just use the GA-EP4*[<3<]*-DS3R to offset the cost of the more expensive processor a bit. [4] §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115037<]§ [5] §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115036<]§ Speaking of the -DS3R, the Ultra Durable 3 boards cost the same or /[http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103249<]§ [7] §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103291<]§ The Antec NeoPower you recommend, made by Channel Well, is widely known to use Fuhjyyu capacitors, a cause of the capacitor plague [8]. I'd be loath to recommend any Antecs aside from the Earthwatts. I'd prefer a nice Seasonic M12-II 500 W or S12 Energy Plus 550 W power supply instead -- Seasonic potentially makes the best consumer-grade power supplies in the market today (and in fact Antec's Earthwatts series power supplies are manufactured by Seasonic), using a combination of aluminum solid capacitors and high-quality Rubycon electrolytic capacitors. Alternatively, there's the Corsair HX Series 520W power supply, also Seasonic manufactured, and it comes with modular cables, although it /[http://www.jonnyguru.com/modules.php?name=NDArticles&file=print&ndar_id=8<]§ Your builds could therefore definitely be better than they were this time around.

      • donkeycrock
      • 11 years ago

      i definatly would have went with the UD3 mobo’s cheap and good the crossfire is $116 and the single pci is $106. I find it amusing that TR didnt recomend it considering they have a huge add on their homepage for these mobo’s.

      They also could have used the samsung F1 750 gig for $99

      And a much cheaper PSU, Antecs customer service is horrible.

        • Prototyped
        • 11 years ago

        Apparently these boards are of particular interest to overclockers. [1] The thread starter hit an FSB of 670 MHz (2,680 MT/s) with a Core 2 Duo E8500 (which ended up runnng at 4.7 GHz). And someone further into the thread [2] overclocked a r[http://www.xtremesystems.org/Forums/showthread.php?t=203272<]§ [2] §[<http://www.xtremesystems.org/Forums/showthread.php?t=203272&page=5#post3353697<]§

          • continuum
          • 11 years ago

          Man a GA-EP45-UD3P is tempting. I wonder if I can run my Areca ARC-1680 in the second PCI-e slot and still see a 500mhz+ FSB on a Q9450 or Q9550…

            • Prototyped
            • 11 years ago

            I seem to recall you could do that with the Intel chipsets at least.

      • PRIME1
      • 11 years ago

      r[

        • Prototyped
        • 11 years ago

        It was suggested in the article as a possible upgrade path down the road. g[<"Best of all, the M7VMX-K supports Core 2 processors with 1066MHz front-side bus speeds, so you should be able to pop in something like a Core 2 Duo E7300 or a Core 2 Quad Q6600 if that Celeron starts feeling too slow."<]g

      • StashTheVampede
      • 11 years ago

      The length of this post should have been in a reply.

        • Prototyped
        • 11 years ago

        The what now?

      • MadManOriginal
      • 11 years ago

      What;s the difference between DS and UD Gigabyte boards? I don’t read or really even see mobo reviews that much any more. Maybe companies come out with too many versions nowadays.

    • Kurotetsu
    • 11 years ago

    I realize the Celeron 430 was chosen for its 35W power usage, but might you still consider the Celeron E1200 instead?

    §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116064<]§ Yes, its TDP is 65W, but unless the Budget Lite is insteaded as an HTPC or something, I don't think the low wattage of the 430 is worth sacrificing the much, MUCH, higher productivity a dual core will provide you (and its only $10 more).

      • MadManOriginal
      • 11 years ago

      That’s a good point. Intel’s TDP isn’t as meaningful as people make it out to be and does not directly correlate to power draw or heat output. Just look at the fact that whole ranges of CPUs have the same TDP regardless of speed. A Celeron dual-core would be a better choice for a box that needs to be cheap but not be slowed down by common tasks.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 11 years ago

      I cannot understand choosing a Celeron at all when an Athlon64 X2 system would perform better and allow better integrated graphics.

      I also cannot understand choosing an inferior motherboard that lacks DVI or HDMI digital output.

        • Prototyped
        • 11 years ago

        I agree completely. Until the GeForce 9300 kinks are worked out and a GeForce 9300 board becomes viable, the Econobox Lite ought to come with an AMD processor, which will provide significantly better performance for the same price.

          • JustAnEngineer
          • 11 years ago

          How about a 740G motherboard with DVI output for $50 -10MIR or a 780G motherboard with DVI for $65?

          Add a $40 Athlon64 X2 4400+ at 2.3 GHz (needs a $13 cooler) or a $60 Athlon64 X2 5000+ at 2.6 GHz (includes HSF). That gives you dual-core 64-bit computing power for not much more than the lame Celeron.

      • Prototyped
      • 11 years ago

      The Celeron Dual-core E1x00 processors have much, much worse performance than even the Pentium Dual-core E2xx0 processors; they really start to feel the very limited L2 cache available (512 kiB shared between both cores).

        • MadManOriginal
        • 11 years ago

        Clock-for-clock it’s not i[http://xbitlabs.com/articles/cpu/display/celeron-e1200_6.html<]§ It's a dual core for $10 more than the single core so it's really a no brainer although the clock speed per core is slower. Then again as someone else said here an AMD system would probably be a better choice for lowest possibl cost if there's little chance a faster CPU will be added later.

          • Prototyped
          • 11 years ago

          You’re adding contention for the small cache, and in my opinion it /[

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 11 years ago

            To recap: the Celeron is junk, and a much better Pentium E21x0 or Athlon64 X2 dual-core processor would cost very little more money. The only way that the Celeron looks like anything at all is if you compare it to the performance joke that is Atom.

            To compound matters, we’ve stuck the Celeron on a motherboard with integrated video that lacks DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort digital output! ICK!

            • Kurotetsu
            • 11 years ago

            Well, in its defense, they do emphasize the presence of a x16 slot. I guess its expected that you’ll just drop in a graphics card if you get sick of the crappy onboard (and you will).

            Though, honestly, I agree in that it’d be simpler to just build an AMD system.

            • Bombadil
            • 11 years ago

            The Geforce 7xx0 series for Intel are horrible. The IGP is too cripled by the single channel DDR2, especially if you are putting slow DDR2 with it! G31 is the cheap way to go.

            The Celerons are also too crippled, and getting my Pentium Dual Core E2140 to run at 3.2 GHz required a $70 P35 motherboard to use cheap DDR2 (never got the BSEL mod working). Newegg only carries the E2180 now which might be okay with a G31. A $41 Gigabyte G31 motherboard had no trouble runnning a E7200 at 3.8 GHz.

            The situation with AMD is much simpler–no overclocking required. A 65W 2.9 GHz AMD Athlon X2 5600+ is $87. A nice 780G motherboard is $75. You could save a little messing around with a $40 X2 4400+ or BE-2400.

            • Prototyped
            • 11 years ago

            The E2200 is $4 more than the E2180 right now, and should drop about $10 in the coming weeks since it received a price cut on this past Sunday. The E2180 is well and superseded, and I expect you won’t find it listed for much longer.

            • Flying Fox
            • 11 years ago

            I upgraded my mom’s box from a Celeron D 33x to the Celeron E1200. It’s a good upgrade in that sense.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 11 years ago

    First, I like the idea of an upgradable super-budget system that can make the core of a decent system for a longer time than an Atom box.

    Second, regarding the mention on page 7 for RAID1 is fine but the statement that RAID1 ‘can’ improve read performance isn’t fleshed out enough. Afaik from personal and other user’s testing RAID1 on an ICHxR (10R for the recommended mobo,) those controllers do not do simultaneous reads in RAID1 – the RAID1 and single drive reads are the same. So an add-in controller card would be needed to have that advantage of RAID1. You could also mention Matrix RAID which allows different array types on one set of drives. RAID0/RAID1 would probably be a good mix on that machine.

    Third, the Radeon 4830 is coming out soon (today? I remember reading it would be out on the 21st.) If there won’t be another system guide for a whlie and if tat card is a viable alternative or a superior one to any of the recommendations you may want to add that in to the guide.

    • Forge
    • 11 years ago

    I still can’t recommend Vista to my friends in good conscience.

    I have a perfectly good box, Quad, gobs of ram, fast disks, high end GPU, the works.

    Vista thrashes the PISS out of my boot disk for 10-15 seconds right at the end of bootup. Makes an ungodly noise, seeks like a mofo.

    That’s cosmetic.

    When I’m using the machine, at semi-random intervals, my box will slow to a crawl and beat the snot out of my boot disk. I have a gadget that shows disk usage and drive C: PEGS out and won’t come down for 5-10 minutes. As far as my research can tell, it’s the Windows Search service marking the previous index bad and rebuilding it. No reason why.

    The boot time holy whoopass is unknown to me or MS’s KB, and nobody can explain it. A clean reinstall did not correct it.

    Not posting here looking for answers, but with questions like these I just can’t recommend Vista over XP.

      • tu2thepoo
      • 11 years ago

      I have nearly the opposite experience with Vista’s system-wide search index. It’s an absolute lifesaver when I’m in class and I have to track down that PDF from five days prior to look up a pharmaceutical term that my professor’s going on about. i haven’t had any random slowdowns that i could tie to the indexing engine, either.

      my post-login boot experience mirrors yours, though, especially on my media center PC. On that PC, my windows media player network share (UPnP to xbox/ps3/etc) and Steam thrash the disk continuously for what seems like forever on boot.

      i’ve noticed a lot of the new features of Vista come in handy during school with a decently-specced laptop. Flip3D and the aforementioned search have streamlined some major bottlenecks when i’m taking notes in class. on desktops, i think it’s a wash.

      still, i tell my friends to stick with XP unless they’re building a new system, especially my friends who use a lot of obscure software. I still can’t get TMPGenc to reliably transcode h.264 MKV files like I could under WinXP…

        • DrDillyBar
        • 11 years ago

        I just disable it, and update once a moon.

      • Nitrodist
      • 11 years ago

      Sounds like more of a personal problem to me.

        • Forge
        • 11 years ago

        Thanks for contributing to the thread. I likewise, think you have a personal problem.

      • Krogoth
      • 11 years ago

      I never experience any of those symptoms. I suppose it is because my swap is not on the boot disk. I cannot say if Windows Search does its rebuilding though. If it even does it. It never brought my rig to a crawl.

      I have experienced Vista’s infamous network performance problems and found them to go beyond multimedia-related content. o_O

        • Forge
        • 11 years ago

        My swap is not on the OS disk. This is something else. I should have phrased things differently. Where I said ‘it swaps the piss out of the C:’, I should have said ‘it thrashes the piss out of the C:’. It’s not swap file, I have no idea what it is. The box stops cold for a few seconds and the hard disk makes a very loud and alarming noise. Sounds like a cell phone on vibrate sitting on a glass table.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      What sort of ears do you have? No, that’s a serious question.

      Regarding the issues, they’re unknown to me, and I continue to recommend Vista to everyone. Of the 6 PCs in my family, all 6 use Vista now, and nobody complains (what’s more, they do the opposite usually).

        • cygnus1
        • 11 years ago

        I gotta second that. Even my Grandmother is good on Vista. Nobody I know has these sort of problems.

        What I think people are experiencing is craptastic hardware, coupled with craptastic 3rd party software.

        I have a couple terabytes of media files (mkv, mp4 and avi) and i don’t have this “green bar of morbidity”

        It never has to be rebooted and I can leave high end games (crysis warhead being the highest end) running for days on end and just alt-tab in and out of them with out any problems.

        I will stand by this observation, people with enough knowledge to be dangerous can bring even the best systems down pretty quickly.

          • Forge
          • 11 years ago

          My ‘crappy’ Intel CPU, ‘crappy’ Gigabyte motherboard, ‘crappy’ eVGA graphics card, and ‘crappy’ copy of Vista Ultimate think you might not have it all figured out just yet.

            • Meadows
            • 11 years ago

            I think it’s a crappy user.

        • Forge
        • 11 years ago

        Ears? Average. I think my hearing is fair to poor, some chats with Morphine make me think more ‘average’ than anything else. I’m not a quiet freak by any means, and my system is quiet but not to extremes (no rubber bands suspending my hard disks or anything). Normal system noise is very low, and disk access to the Raptor 150G is audible, but not unreasonable. The rest of the disks in the box are Seagates and inaudible.

        It’s not even heavy access, it’s got to be the most actuator movement I’ve ever encountered, and it’s freaking LOUD.

        I’m not laying this one at Vista’s door, since I don’t know what causes it, but I try things periodically to get rid of it. It’s a scary noise.

      • Thresher
      • 11 years ago

      That’s not the worst of it. If you have a folder full of media files, the green bar of morbidity is the worst. Every time you open the window, move or delete a file, or other random reasons, Vista starts re-indexing the folder. It rebuilds all the thumbnails and generally brings that window to a stop until it gets done. God help you if it comes to a video file that you don’t have a good decoder for because it brings the folder index to a complete halt and the window is more or less useless until it releases.

      I haven’t found a way to totally beat this, but I did turn off indexing and thumbnails. I now use Google’s desktop search instead because it’s faster and doesn’t seem to slow down the computer. As for thumbnails, I’ve just learned to live without them.

      It will STILL do this on occasion for reasons unknown, but with indexing and thumbnails off, it does it less frequently.

        • Forge
        • 11 years ago

        Yeah, I’ve seen that (less lately, I’m getting a real A team of codecs sussed out, 99% ffdshow and nothing else).

        I don’t really think of that as a Vista-specific ding though since XP does similar things and can make Explorer die and go to Hell if you have a crappy codec or two.

        Vista’s ‘OMFG WUT WAS THE FOLDR VIEW, I PICK NEW ONE AT RNDOM’ really cheeses me off, though. No one at MS has come clean as to what causes it, and it’s very easy to reproduce. None of the tricks I’ve found online 100% cure it, and it’s quite disruptive.

        Most people aren’t whining about this one because you seem to need a certain minimum number of folders to trigger it. Basically you browse a buttload of folders, Vista fills the little ‘folder view saved settings’ cache somewhere, and it starts forgetting the oldest view settings. Next time you open a folder that has been ‘forgotten’, Vista will analyse the contents and choose a folder view anew, and usually wrongly. A folder with ten million pictures and two or three short video clips off my camera gets ‘video’ settings, and my documents folder with a hundred text, pdf, and doc files gets tagged ‘pictures’ because of that one stray jpg that was clip art.

        THIS more than anything else makes me unhappy with Vista, but it’s the myriad smaller issues that seem universal that make me leery to use it.

          • Thresher
          • 11 years ago

          God, I hate that too, but to be honest, XP did that too.

          On my Mac, if I choose a view for a folder, that’s the view I will get the next time. It’s 100% reliable, no matter how many other folders I’ve opened and adjusted.

          XP and Vista lose their minds every time you open a folder. It doesn’t remember not only what view you had, but what type of folder it was. For instance, it may open the folder as a “media” folder one time, with columns specific to that view, or it might open it as a regular folder, with byte size, date, etc.

          I can’t figure it out because it has no rhyme or reason.

    • Jefferyfish
    • 11 years ago

    yes yes excellent site and this latest system guide has also pushed me to finally register and shower the TR team with accolades. Thx for the addition of the Utility player, exactly what I needed! Love the Podcast!

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    Floppy drives are 100% dead.

    Motherboards finally support bootable USB thumb drives and can directly flash their BIOS off them. (hugs his EP45-DS4P for this feature alone).

    Vista and later flavors of *nix installation programs can load 3rd-party drivers from non-floppy sources as well.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      I have a “floppy image” which I usually burn to a rewritable CD or DVD using Nero; the floppy image boots Caldera DR-DOS for me (I forgot where I found it online, but I was looking for a long time) and offers 1.44 “MB” of room <1,440 kiB>, usually BIOS updates or VGA BIOS flash tools fit in there just fine. I believe optical disks to be the most fail-safe, and this method has always worked nice for me (plus I’ve been hating floppy disks since a decade or so).

      • srg86
      • 11 years ago

      Even though I do still use Floppy disks for my older machines, I am with you on modern machines. I personally use an external USB floppy drive.

        • eitje
        • 11 years ago

        ditto on the external USB floppy. works great.

    • Ryhadar
    • 11 years ago

    Long time reader (I love this site by the way) but I figured I’d register an account now since I feel this is kind of important. Under the alternative for the EconBox you suggested the 5400+ X2 BE which does not come with a heatsink and fan, and there doesn’t seem to be any mention of an after market CPU cooler. At that rate you’re already spending at least $20 (~$15 on a cheapo cooler plus shipping) so why not bump the processor up to a 6000+ X2? §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103233<]§

      • Cyril
      • 11 years ago

      Thanks for the heads-up, I’ve updated the description to clarify things.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 11 years ago

    *reads*
    Edit: I am the sweeter spot. lol
    C2Q Q9300 | P5W DH | 6GB’s DDR2 667 | Radeon HD 4870 512MB / Theatre 650Pro | Intel PCIe NIC | X-Fi | ~1.6TB SATA2 ‘cuda’s | Dell 2005FPW | LG GSA-4160B | Ultimate x64
    Wait, the bragging thread is over here…
    Too bad I paid more for my system then that. 🙁

      • shaq_mobile
      • 11 years ago

      i love your name, drdillybar, its just so pimp.

    • SecretMaster
    • 11 years ago

    I got to the first page of the econobox before I felt compelled to comment.

    I thought the realms of PC hardware would be safe from the unholy words that are Joe-Sixpack. Palin has dealt a devastating blow which goes far deeper than I ever imagine it could in our society. Our nation will never truly recover from the wound of Joe-Sixpack.

    Back to reading I go!

      • PRIME1
      • 11 years ago

      Where have you been? It’s now “Joe the Plumber”.

        • Flying Fox
        • 11 years ago

        What about Mario?

      • Tamale
      • 11 years ago

      in all fairness, I’ve seen the usage of ‘joe sixpack’ on tech sites long for many years now

        • equivicus
        • 11 years ago

        Uhm and don’t forget Sally House Coat…any Simpson fans should remember Mr. Burns using Joe Six-pack and Sally House-coat terms from many years ago… can’t remember first episode. DOH!

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    Hey, perfect timing.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This