TR’s Windows 7 system guide

Windows 7 is upon us. Microsoft’s new operating system has finally made it to retail stores across the country, bringing with it an improved user interface, layers of much-needed polish over Windows Vista, DirectX 11, and even a fresh version of the Windows Calculator. Also, that old Windows 3.1-era font dialog Microsoft inexplicably kept around forever is gone. You can see why everyone is excited.

Redmond’s latest operating system arrives at the dawn of a new graphics processor generation. Late last month, AMD introduced its first DirectX 11 GPU, the Radeon HD 5870. Since then, it’s added three other cards in the same lineup, the cheapest of which can be purchased today for only $130.

It’s about time for a new system guide, wouldn’t you say? We’re happy to oblige. Keep reading to see how we’ve updated our four builds with DirectX 11 goodness, not to mention our tips for outfitting your new PC with the right version of Windows 7.

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 generally 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 $500, $800 and $1200 budgets for our three cheapest 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
Because speed doesn’t have to cost a fortune

Instead of being the cheapest possible combination of parts, the Econobox is an 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 AMD Athlon II X4 620 $99.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA770T-UD3P $79.99
Memory Crucial 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 $79.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 5750 1GB $134.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $74.99
Samsung SH-S223B $28.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Antec NSK 4480B II w/380W PSU $84.95
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg $577.90

Processor

Well well, a quad-core processor in the Econobox. Imagine that! Truth is, we initially settled on AMD’s new triple-core Athlon II X3 435, which seems like a better deal in almost every respect than the Phenom II X3 720, our previous pick. Except the X3 435 has yet to materialize on Newegg or our price search engine, so we had to compromise.

We could have stuck with the Phenom II X3 720, but that processor costs $20 more than the Athlon II X4 620 and recently disappeared from AMD’s price list, suggesting that its departure from e-tail listings might soon follow. Also, looking at benchmarks of the X3 720 versus the X4 620 around the web, we can see the the latter performs better in almost all CPU-intensive, multithreaded tasks—image editing, video encoding, 3D rendering, and video editing.

The most notable exception is games, where the Phenom II X3 720’s higher clock speed (2.8GHz, up from 2.6GHz on the Athlon II X4 620) and large L3 cache allows for higher minimum frame rates. That said, the Econobox isn’t exactly a high-end gaming rig to begin with, and our $130 graphics card will probably cause bottlenecks before the Athlon II does. However, more committed gamers may want to check out our alternatives section on the following page.

Motherboard
Gigabyte’s MA770T-UD3P returns yet again because of its low price, robust assortment of ports and connectors, and positive user reviews on Newegg.

This board only takes DDR3 memory, by the way. That used to mean paying a small premium, but 4GB DDR2 and DDR3 kits have pretty much reached price parity at this point. Not only that, but DDR3 is slowly taking over the market, and DDR2 will likely become more expensive as DDR3 demand increases and DDR2 production wanes. The MA770T-UD3P’s DDR3 exclusivity therefore presents an advantage from an upgrading perspective.

Memory

We hunted for the cheapest 4GB DDR3 dual-channel kit from a big name-brand company with lifetime warranty coverage, and we ended up with this Crucial DDR3-1333 offering. For reference, the cheapest comparable DDR2-800 kit only costs around $3 less right now.

You’ll need a 64-bit operating system to take full advantage of all this memory, of course. 32-bit OSes do have enough address space for 4GB of RAM, 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 let you use 3 to 3.5GB of actual system memory, and they’ll normally restrict each application’s RAM budget to 2GB.

Workarounds exist for 32-bit Windows, but Microsoft says they can hurt compatibility; it advises that folks run a 64-bit version of Windows instead. Considering how mature Vista and Win7 x64 are these days, we’re inclined to echo that recommendation. Check out our OS section on the second-to-last page of the guide for more details.

Graphics

DirectX 11 graphics have made their way into the Econobox. Isn’t progress grand? Sure, the Radeon HD 5750 1GB is currently the slowest DX11 card on the market, and it’s selling at a premium that isn’t entirely justified by the card’s performance in current games. Compared to previous-gen cards with similar horsepower, though, the 5750 delivers higher-quality texture filtering, lower power consumption, and support for more displays (up to three). We think those advantages are worth paying a little extra on their own, but this card also has DirectX 11 support, which future games should exploit to enable more realistic graphics, smoother frame rates, or both.

Sapphire’s incarnation of the Radeon HD 5750 gets our vote for being the cheapest variant we found with a decent-looking heatsink and fan. Newegg does offer a similar Asus card with a different heatsink, but we had a bad experience with that same cooler on a pair of Asus’ older Radeon HD 4850s.

Storage

Western Digital has three 640GB hard drives priced around $70, and we think the Caviar Black is the one best suited for a system drive. Not only does it have a 32MB cache, a full 7,200-RPM spindle speed, and the same noise level ratings as the slower SE16 model, but WD also covers the Black with a five-year warranty. We haven’t seen another 640GB hard drive with specifications quite as good or warranty coverage quite as long. (Seagate no longer covers bare drives with a five-year warranty.)

For our optical storage option, Samsung’s SH-S223B makes another appearance here. It may not have LightScribe support, but we like the combination of positive user reviews and low pricing, and its Serial ATA interface is reasonably future-proof.

Enclosure and power

Antec looks to have retired the original NSK 4480 we used to recommend for the Econobox. Thankfully, Newegg now stocks the NSK 4480B II. This newer enclosure has a slightly different look, but it includes a 380W, 80%-efficient power supply and essentially the same feature set as the original.

You might find cheaper cases out there, but we don’t think you’ll be able to save a whole lot by going with lower-quality components. Besides, bargain-bin power supplies generally have inflated specifications. A cheap PSU can also jeopardize system stability, damage sensitive components over time, and potentially even flame out in spectacular fashion, taking system components with it in the process.

Econobox alternatives

We’re happy with our primary selections, but not everybody will want a quad-core processor or discrete graphics. Since users’ needs will invariably, er, vary, here are some alternatives.

Component Item Price
Processor AMD Athlon II X3 435 $87.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA785GMT-UD2H $89.99
Graphics Asus Radeon HD 5770 $159.99

Processor

We’ve kind of broken our own rules with this one, but the Athlon II X3 435 has already started to show up at some small online retailers, so its appearance at Newegg and other major e-tailers should only be a matter of time. Therefore, we’re including it here as a sort of provisional recommendation until it turns up.

As we said before, the Athlon II X4 620’s four cores perform great in just about everything except games. You can chalk up comparatively poor gaming performance to the X4 620’s 2.6GHz clock speed and the fact that most games don’t really take advantage of four cores yet. The Athlon II X3 435 has three cores clocked at 2.9GHz, so it’ll perform better in games and any other CPU-intensive app that’s not written to exploit four CPU cores. Gamers will probably want to pick up this processor along with our alternative graphics solution.

What about Intel? In this price range, the world’s biggest chipmaker only has dual-core Pentium processors to offer, and those don’t really tickle our fancy. Not when there are good triple- and quad-core alternatives.

Motherboard

Don’t play demanding games? Then why not skip the $130 Radeon and move down to integrated graphics? Gigabyte’s GA-MA785GMT-UD2H can accommodate either of our Athlon IIs, and it features AMD’s new 785G chipset with its very capable Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics processor. That integrated GPU can handle casual games just fine, and it comes with AMD’s latest high-definition video decoding logic. For many users, more graphics horsepower simply isn’t required in a PC like the Econobox.

This little MicroATX mobo also happens to have a nice set of features, including external Serial ATA, FireWire, HDMI, and Realtek’s ALC889A audio codec, which can do on-the-fly Dolby Digital Live and DTS encoding. The GA-MA785GMT-UD2H is almost identical to the GA-MA785GM-US2H we picked last time, in fact, but it takes DDR3 memory and costs $10 more. Now that DDR2 and DDR3 are at price parity, stepping down just to save 10 bucks doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—especially since DDR3’s faster data rates should help the board’s integrated GPU.

Graphics

Folks who do play state-of-the-art 3D games may want to spring for the new Radeon HD 5770. We saw first-hand that this card pretty much shadows the old Radeon HD 4870 1GB, generally reaching playable frame rates at 1920×1200 with 4X antialiasing. The $30 premium over the 5750 ain’t much in the grand scheme of things, but you’ll notice the difference at higher resolutions and detail levels.

Why not just get the 4870 1GB for $150 (or less these days)? Several reasons: the 5770 consumes quite a bit less power, generates less noise with the stock cooler, has a shorter circuit board, and has better texture filtering than its predecessor. Also, the 4870 lacks DirectX 11 support.

We chose this Asus incarnation of the 5770 because it uses AMD’s very capable (and quiet) stock cooler. We trust Asus to provide competent warranty coverage, too.

The Utility Player
Value without major compromises

Our Utility Player build packs a Core i5 processor, a fast DirectX 11 graphics card with plenty of memory, and some nice extras, all for just under $900.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-750 $199.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3R $139.99
Memory Crucial 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 $79.99
Graphics Asus Radeon HD 5770 $159.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $74.99
Samsung SH-S223B $28.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Enclosure Antec Sonata III w/500W PSU $109.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg $883.92

Processor

If you’ve read our review of Intel’s new Lynnfield-based Core i5 and i7 processors, then this pick should be self-explanatory. If not, well… we recommend reading the review anyway. To sum up, the Core i5-750 performs better overall than any previous-generation processor in its price range. Thanks to the matching P55 chipset, it also has prodigiously low idle power consumption—lower than many dual-core systems, in fact.

This performance and power-efficiency comes with very reasonable platform costs, too, since P55 motherboards and dual-channel DDR3 memory kits don’t suffer from the same markups as their X58 and triple-channel counterparts. We can therefore squeeze the Core i5-750 into this build without cutting corners. Oh, we might be stretching our budget a tad, but wouldn’t you?

Motherboard

We have a nice handful of sub-$150 P55 motherboards to choose from, and among them, Gigabyte’s GA-P55-UD3R looks like the best solution for the Utility Player. This mobo has dual PCI Express graphics slots with AMD CrossFire support, eight internal SATA ports, 10 USB 2.0 ports, a pair of external Serial ATA ports, and heatsinks on the power regulation circuitry.

Competing Asus boards may have more PCIe slots, but they’re all crammed right under the primary PCIe x16 slot, which is where you’re probably putting a double-wide graphics card. The GA-P55-UD3R smartly positions one PCIe x1 slot above the primary x16, so you can use it without impeding airflow even in a dual-GPU setup. Not even Asus’ more expensive P7P55D has as many USB and SATA ports as the UD3R, either.

Memory

The 4GB Crucial kit we picked for our Econobox should work just as well here. DDR3-1333 happens to be the fastest speed the Core i7-750 processor supports out of the box, so you shouldn’t miss out on any performance, either.

Graphics

What we wrote on the previous page is relevant here, also. The Radeon HD 5770 performs quite closely to the old Radeon HD 4870 1GB, but it has lower power consumption, quieter cooling, better texture filtering, and DirectX 11 support, so we think it’s worth the slight premium. If you’re after a little more performance and don’t mind getting a previous-gen part, or you just want to splurge for a Radeon HD 5850, see the next page.

Storage

This Caviar Black is the fastest member of Western Digital’s 640GB line, and it’s also the only 640GB hard drive we know of with five-year warranty coverage. The Black should be pretty quiet, too, making it a great all-around choice for both the Econobox and the Utility Player.

We’re sticking with the Samsung SH-S223B as our optical drive. DVD burners have become commodity items, so we’re not terribly inclined to get something fancier just because of our more generous budget.

Audio

Sound cards were absent from our first few Utility Player builds. We made that choice mainly because we were sticking with dual- or triple-core processors at the time, and we didn’t want to have to cut more corners to include a sound card. Today, however, we can outfit this system with a Core i5 processor, four gigs of RAM, and a fast graphics card with enough cash left over to grab a Xonar DX. And we’re doing just that.

We really believe the Xonar is a must-have for a system of this caliber, provided you’re using half-way-decent analog speakers or headphones. Onboard audio has certainly improved in recent years, but it still can’t match the output quality and noise shielding of a real sound card. The Xonar has extra goodies like real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding and support for EAX 5.0 emulation in games, as well.

Enclosure and power

The Antec Sonata III costs more than the NSK 4480 II we selected for the Econobox, but it has several advantages, including 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 a fast 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.

You might notice we’re not throwing in a processor alternative here. As we said earlier, the Core i5 outclasses all competitors in its price range. We mean that. You could go with a cheaper-but-still-capable quad-core CPU, like AMD’s Phenom II X4 945, but why do that when the Core i5 and all of its perks (like better overall performance, Turbo Boost, and excellent power efficiency) are so few dollars away?

Component Item Price
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 260 OC $179.99
Asus Radeon HD 5850 $259.99
Storage Lite-On iHOS104-08 Blu-ray reader $69.99

Graphics

You have two choices here. Either pay a little more for a previous-gen graphics card with better performance than the Radeon HD 5770 but no DirectX 11 support, or spend an extra $100 on the Radeon HD 5850, which outclasses any previous single-GPU card and has all of that yummy DX11 goodness.

Gigabyte’s “factory-overclocked” GeForce GTX 260 fits the bill as a quicker-but-still-affordable alternative to the 5770. While it won’t win any power efficiency contests, this card will nevertheless outrun the 5770 and 4870 1GB more often than not in current games. (Actually, this puppy’s clock speeds aren’t much different from those of the GeForce GTX 275, which lies in a class above the 4870 1GB.) We should probably mention that, being an Nvidia card, the GTX 260 also supports PhysX. So, you know, you’ll get realistically simulated debris and fog and other neat little effects in the handful of games with hardware PhysX support.

The Radeon HD 5850 doesn’t have PhysX, but it does bring DirectX 11 support and markedly higher performance than any of Nvidia’s current GPUs (and any AMD GPU besides the $380 Radeon HD 5870, for that matter). Our review will tell you all you need to know about this product, except perhaps where to find it in stock. Yes, the Radeon HD 5850 isn’t exactly flooding warehouse shelves right now—one or two models will occasionally pop up in stock at Newegg and other e-tailers, but never for long. We’re provisionally recommending Asus’ version of the card for its low price, great AMD stock cooler, and likely competent after-sales support. If it’s not in stock, feel free to hit our price search engine to track down a model that is.

Storage

LG has apparently discontinued the Blu-ray combo drive we recommended for so many months. None of the other combo offerings we’ve come across really stand out, usually because of lackluster software bundles or high prices. In the end, we figure you’re be better off pairing a standalone Blu-ray reader with the DVD burner from our primary parts list. Lite-On’s iHOS104-08 should do a fine job as a standalone Blu-ray reader; it has great user reviews, relatively recent software (PowerDVD 8), and an affordable price.

The Sweeter Spot
Indulgence without excess

The Utility Player might be good enough for many users, but the Sweeter Spot goes the extra mile to bring you more processing power, faster graphics, Blu-ray, and a bigger enclosure with more elaborate noise-dampening features.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-860 $289.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P $169.99
Memory Crucial 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 $79.99
Graphics Asus Radeon HD 5850 $259.99
Storage
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $74.99
Samsung SH-S223B $28.99
Lite-On iHOS104-08 Blu-ray reader $69.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Power supply Corsair TX650W $109.99
Enclosure Antec P183 $139.99
Total   $1,313.90

Processor

The Core i7-860 may cost 90 bucks more than the Utility Player’s Core i5-750, but it has two major advantages: a higher clock speed and Hyper-Threading. Thanks to Windows 7 and its SMT parking in particular, HT can help quite considerably in certain tasks without compromising performance in others. We’ve found that Core i7 CPUs are considerably faster than the i5-750 with 7-Zip compression, two-pass video encoding, and 3D rendering, all of which take advantage of the i7’s support for additional threads. We think that’s worth the premium in a $1,300 system.

Motherboard

Our chosen processor would work happily in the Utility Player’s motherboard, but our budget lets us spring for something a little nicer here. For an extra $30, Gigabyte’s GA-P55-UD4P adds more PCIe slots, FireWire, support for Nvidia SLI multi-GPU setups, dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers, and somewhat beefier cooling. This looks to be a mean overclocker, too: in our labs, we were able to push its base clock from 133MHz to 210MHz without increasing system voltages.

What about the slightly cheaper MSI P55-GD65 we gave such good marks to in our review? As good a board as that is, it doesn’t have as generous a feature set as the GA-P55-UD4P, and it doesn’t overclock as well. We’d rather spend $10 more on the Gigabyte board.

Memory

Our high-end config doesn’t typically share the Econobox’s memory recommendation. However, the reality here is that four gigs of DDR3-1333 RAM should be plenty even for multitasking-crazy overclockers.

Graphics

Again, the Radeon HD 5850 outpaces all older and cheaper GPUs, so it’s an easy pick. We found that this GPU is generally fast enough to run games at 2560×1600 with antialiasing cranked up, in fact. As icing on the cake, the 5850 consumes the same amount of power as the Radeon HD 5770 at idle, generates almost the same amount of noise under load, and doesn’t appear to run any hotter.

What we said about availability on the previous page still holds, however. If you can’t find this Asus model in stock, you can always hit our price search engine to find a different one.

Storage

We used to recommend a dual-drive setup for this build. However, overwhelmed by the wealth of hard-drive choices in this price range, we chose to recommend a straightforward single-drive config and leave more exotic suggestions to the alternatives page. The 640GB Western Digital Caviar Black is still an excellent drive, and we expect most users will find its storage capacity sufficient unless they need to store hundreds of gigs of, ahem, Linux ISOs.

Stepping up to this drive’s 1TB sibling wouldn’t add that much to the Sweeter Spot’s total price, but the 1TB Black is quite a bit louder than other drives. Since practically everything else in this build is quiet (or can be cooled quietly), we’d rather stick with the 640GB model.

As for our optical storage, the dual-drive solution we suggested on the previous page should also work great here: Samsung’s SH-S223B will be in charge of DVD burning, while Lite-On’s iHOS104-08 will take care of Blu-ray playback.

Audio

If we had room for Asus’ Xonar DX in the Utility Player, we certainly have a place for it here. 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, this is easily the best mid-range sound card on the market today.

Power Supply

A high-end Core i7 system calls for something a little meatier than a case-and-PSU bundle, so we’ve picked out a Corsair TX650W. This power supply has a single 12V rail, plenty of connectors, 80% or greater rated efficiency, active power factor correction, a single 120-mm fan for cooling, and, best of all, a five-year warranty. We weren’t all that thrilled with load noise levels when we tested this unit’s 750W big brother last year, but reviews around the web suggest that the TX650W is quieter. And the Newegg user reviews are excellent, which is usually a good sign.

Enclosure
Antec’s P183 case isn’t particularly cheap, but it has many upsides, including composite panels, adjustable-speed 120-mm fans, partitioned cooling zones, and a cable-management system that lets you snake 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 a different graphics setup, or maybe you’d just like more storage capacity. Either way, our alternatives should cover your needs.

Component Item Price
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 260 OC $179.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $74.99
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $74.99
Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB $84.99
Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB $84.99
TV tuner
Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE kit $105.99

Graphics

Not everybody needs to game at 2560×1600. Not everybody might be able to find a Radeon HD 5850 in stock, either. For those reasons, we’re recommending Gigabyte’s “factory-overclocked” GeForce GTX 260 as an alternative here. This product lacks DirectX 11 support and actually consumes more power than the Radeon, but it’s still quick enough to run just about any game at 1920×1200 with 4X AA and smooth frame rates—and it’s actually available right now.

Storage

In our view, three hard drives stand out the most in this price range: the 640GB Caviar Black, the 1TB Caviar Black, and the 1TB Caviar Green. The first of the three already has a choice spot in our primary config, but picking among the latter two is a trickier affair. The 1TB Caviar Black has great performance, but it’s noticeably louder than either alternative. The eco-friendly, Prius-driving Caviar Green is the opposite, with only decent performance but very low noise levels.

After much debating, we’ve decided to leave out the 1TB Caviar Black and recommend the following: use either one or two 640GB Caviar Blacks to store your operating system and applications, then grab one or two 1TB Caviar Greens if you require additional storage capacity. Getting two identical drives opens the door to RAID 1, which can improve read performance and allow a system to survive a single drive failure without data loss. Having a constant, real-time mirror of your system drive can save loads of time—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 drives independently, combining them in massive JBOD arrays, or setting up riskier but potentially faster RAID 0 configurations.

TV tuner

The AVerMedia AVerTV Combo PCIe tuner of system guides past has faded out of online listings. In its absence, we’ve chosen Hauppauge’s WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE kit to fill in. Just like the AVerTV, 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, a hardware MPEG encoder, Windows Vista certification, and a Windows Media Center-certified remote control. Newegg customers sound fairly happy with it, as well.

The Double-Stuff Workstation
Recession? What recession?

In the realm of enthusiast PC hardware, there’s good enough, better than good enough, and as good as it gets before becoming a waste of money. The Double-Stuff Workstation belongs to the third category.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-950 $574.99
Motherboard Asus P6T $239.99
Memory Corsair 6GB (3 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 $149.99
Corsair 6GB (3 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 $149.99
Graphics Diamond Radeon HD 5870 $389.99
Storage Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB $229.99
Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB $229.99
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB $109.99
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB $109.99
Samsung SH-S223B $28.99
Lite-On iHOS104-08 Blu-ray reader $69.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Power supply Corsair TX850W $139.99
Enclosure Cooler Master Cosmos 1000 $199.99
Total   $2,713.86

Processor

Some readers might now be asking themselves, “Hey, isn’t there a Lynnfield processor with the same price as the Core i7-950, similar or better performance, and lower power consumption?” That’s all true; you’re thinking of the Core i7-870. We have a couple of good reasons for picking the Core i7-950 anyway, however.

First, Intel plans to release six-core, 32-nm Gulftown processors next year, and those parts will fit exclusively in LGA1366 sockets. (They should be compatible with existing X58 mobos, as well.) On top of that, the i7-950’s three memory channels allow for both more RAM and more memory bandwidth. Gigabyte does make a top-of-the-line P55 board with three DIMM slots per channel, but it costs exactly the same as our X58-powered Asus P6T and supports less total memory.

Some might argue that we should have sprung for the new Core i7-975 Extreme Edition, since it’s even faster and has an unlocked upper multiplier. Problem is, that CPU also costs over a grand, and we’d rather avoid massive and not-entirely-justified price premiums, at least in our primary config. (We have, however, featured the 975 in our alternatives on the next page.)

Finally, a few sharp-eyed folks will have noticed the new Core i7-960 in Intel’s latest price list. That processor is meant to supplant the i7-950 with a slightly higher clock speed, which sounds great to us. Too bad we can’t actually find the retail-boxed version in stock anywhere right now.

Motherboard

We’re not going with the fanciest possible motherboard here, either. Asus’ P6T has three physical PCIe x16 slots (with CrossFire and SLI support), six DDR3 memory slots, and nine SATA ports (including one eSATA port), so it’s definitely better-equipped than the mobo we picked for the Sweeter Spot. With a price tag of less than $250, though, the P6T also isn’t an expensive step up. Well, at least not when your whole computer costs over $2,500.

Memory

Yeah, yeah. Most folks will be perfectly content with 4GB of RAM, so recommending three times that much might seem a little crazy. However, keep in mind that our second 6GB Corsair DDR3-1600 kit only raises the full system’s price by about $150. The extra memory will surely come in handy for users faced with actual workstation tasks, and who wouldn’t enjoy the bragging rights?

Graphics

How unusual—a Double-Stuff build without multiple graphics cards. We did consider outfitting this build with a tag-team of Radeon HD 5800-series GPUs, but we finally decided against it. The reality here is that a single Radeon HD 5870 has enough brawn to deliver silky smooth visuals at 2560×1600 with 4X antialiasing in pretty much every game out there (except for Crysis Warhead, as always). Generally speaking, a second 5870 would do little but push frame rates beyond (or further beyond) your monitor’s 60-Hz refresh rate, which would be rather pointless.

We also could have recommended dual Radeon HD 5850s, but such a setup would involve paying more and having to fall back to a single 5850 in games without good CrossFire support—and the 5870 is quite a bit faster than a single 5850.

Here again, though, supply has yet to catch up with demand. We chose Diamond’s incarnation of the 5870 because it’s one of the only two cards actually listed at Newegg, but you’ll want to swing by our price search engine if it’s out of stock. And it very well may be. Either that, or check out our Nvidia backup on the following page.

Storage

Thanks to their 10K-RPM spindle speed, Western Digital’s 300GB VelociRaptors have quicker access times than more pedestrian 7,200-RPM hard drives. We’re recommending two of ’em, which you can set up in a RAID-1 or RAID-0 array as you see fit, depending on whether you favor redundancy or potentially higher performance with a greater risk of data loss.

Why no SSDs? Intel’s new X25-Ms are formidable products, but after using the first-gen 80GB X25-M in desktop PCs for some time, we’ve found its limited capacity a little hard to swallow. More likely than not, you’ll be forced to run some applications and games off a mechanical drive—and that defeats the entire point of having an SSD. The VelociRaptors still offer great performance at a lower per-gigabyte cost, and their 300GB capacities will lift the constant threat of running out of space.

We’re combining the VelociRaptors with a pair of 1TB Western Digital Caviar Blacks for mass storage. Seagate’s current Barracudas can’t keep up with the Caviar overall, and while you can get low-power drives like the ‘cuda LP and Caviar Green with two-terabyte capacities, you pay quite a premium for the privilege. Those low-power drives also have much slower access times than 7,200-RPM models, which translates to poorer performance with demanding workloads. We’re not thrilled with the number of negative user reviews of high-capacity variants of the Barracuda LP or Caviar Green, either.

On the optical side of things, we’re featuring our standalone Samsung DVD burner and Lite-On Blu-ray reader once again.

Audio

Asus’ Xonar DX fits in just as well here as in our other builds. That said, musicians and others who require more connectivity options may want to consider the Xonar D2X in our alternatives section.

Eagle-eyed readers might notice that, with two dual-slot graphics cards installed, our recommended motherboard wouldn’t have any PCIe x1 slots free for the Xonar DX. That’s okay, though: you can put it into the remaining PCIe x16 slot. Doing so would admittedly prevent you from running a three-GPU setup, but as far as we’ve seen, that third GPU wouldn’t do much for performance, anyway.

Power Supply

We brought back PC & Cooling’s Silencer 750W power supply in our last guide, but that unit seems to have vanished from online stocks. We’ve therefore reverted to Corsair’s TX850W, which filled in as our interim pick for a couple of guides before. The TX850W is essentially a higher-wattage version of the Sweeter Spot’s PSU with similar perks—a greater-than-80% efficiency rating, five-year warranty, and a single 12V rail—but more juice and more cables (including two pairs of eight-pin PCIe power connectors). This unit might be louder than the Silencer, but we’re not as worried about noise levels here. All of these high-end parts will make some noise when they kick into high gear, anyway.

Enclosure

A good workstation can really use a big, roomy case, so we’ve brought back Cooler Master’s Cosmos 1000 for that purpose. This enclosure shares some design elements with the Antec P183 (like a flipped internal layout that houses the power supply at the bottom), but it’s bigger, badder, and more enthusiast-friendly. Four 120-mm fans generate plenty of airflow, and the Cosmos has enough space inside to accommodate six hard drives, five 5.25″ drives, multi-GPU configurations, and internal liquid cooling systems.

Cooler Master also primed the case for quiet operation by using insulated side panels and low-speed fans. Hit our full review of the Cosmos for additional details on this case’s unique features and swanky design.

Double-Stuff alternatives

As complete as our Double-Stuff Workstation is, we still have some alternative ideas for how to fill it out.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition $999.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 260 OC $179.99
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 260 OC $179.99
Storage Intel X25-M 160GB $659.00
Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB $199.99
Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB $199.99
Sound card
Asus Xonar D2X $199.99
TV tuner Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE kit $105.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian 800D $299.99

Processor

We’ve established that the Core i7-950 has a more sensible value proposition than the Core i7-975 Extreme. However, the Extreme chip has an unlocked upper multiplier that should allow for effortless overclocking. Couple that with a 3.33GHz default core clock speed (up from 3.06GHz on the Core i7-950) and a higher out-of-the-box L3 cache clock, and you really are getting the fastest desktop processor ever. The Core i7-975 Extreme even outpaced a Core 2 Extreme QX9775 “Skulltrail” dual-CPU configuration in several of our benchmarks.

Graphics

What if, no matter how hard you look, you just can’t find a Radeon HD 5870 in stock? You could then opt for a pair of “factory overclocked” Gigabyte GeForce GTX 260s. Don’t consider this so much an alternative as a backup. The Nvidia cards might pull higher frame rates in some titles, but they’ll be slower in any instance that forces you to revert to single-GPU mode, and they won’t let you use fancy DirectX 11 effects in future titles. This setup will also take more room inside your case, draw more power, and generate more noise.

Storage

An 80GB solid-state drive might be a little too restrictive for a system like the Double-Stuff, but we also see the appeal of running your operating system and games off of a super-quiet, super-fast SSD. That’s why we’re throwing in Intel’s second-generation 160GB X25-M here. $659 isn’t exactly cheap, and 160GB could still be a tight fit if you need to install more than a handful of games, but you really can’t beat this drive’s raw performance. Intel will release a firmware update later this quarter with support for Windows 7’s TRIM command, as well, which should help the X25-M’s used-state performance.

For mass storage, Western Digital’s 2TB Caviar Greens are slower and considerably more expensive than their 1TB Black counterparts, but they can also store twice as much data. Depending on your needs, that might be preferable. Seagate’s 2TB Barracuda LP is a superior product on paper and a cheaper one, too, but Seagate’s past track record has left us wary of potential reliability issues. Maybe we’re totally unjustified, but we’d rather play it safe for now and opt for the Caviar.

Sound card

Asus’ Xonar DX will do a fantastic job in games and with analog speakers or headphones, but audio professionals might want something with a few more ports. The Xonar D2X is effectively the same product, but with more bundled cables and coaxial S/PDIF input and output ports. Oh, and the rear ports light up in the dark.

TV tuner

If you feel like making your high-powered workstation double as a digital video recorder, Hauppauge’s WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE kit should be a fine addition. If anyone gives you funny looks, just tell them how fast the Core i7-975 can encode video. By the way, our Asus P6T motherboard doesn’t have enough PCIe slots for two GPUs, this tuner card, and a PCIe Xonar, so you’ll have to run the PCI-based Xonar D2 instead if you go with dual GeForces instead of the single Radeon.

Enclosure

If you’re building a high-powered workstation-cum-gaming-rig and like to tinker and upgrade often, then enclosures don’t get much better than Corsair’s Obsidian 800D. Oh, sure, $300 is downright exorbitant, but this case has it all: exceptionally roomy internals, hot-swap hard drive bays at the front, excellent cable management with oodles of cable routing holes, a gap in the motherboard backplate for easy access to the back of the CPU socket, three included 140-mm fans, room for an additional four 120-mm fans, support for all kinds of liquid cooling setups, a tough steel frame, and a window.

And we really do mean it when we say this thing is roomy. At two feet tall and two feet deep, the Obsidian 800D absolutely dwarfs a full-sized ATX motherboard—see the image below. Anyone who’s ever cut their hands on a sharp case corner while trying to plug in an unruly connector should see the appeal.

The operating system
Which one 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 or other desktop 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.

Now, if you’re buying a copy of Windows today, you should really be thinking about Windows 7. We explained in our review that this OS may well be Microsoft’s finest to date, because it draws from Vista’s strengths while adding a healthy dose of polish, not to mention improved performance and non-disastrous backward compatibility. Building a new system with Windows 7 instead of Vista or XP is really a no-brainer at this point.

Windows 7 officially launches today, so it should already be weighing down shelves in retail stores and shipping out from e-tailers. Just like its predecessors, Windows 7 comes in several different editions, three of which you’ll find in stores: Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate. What makes them different from one another? The table below should help answer that question:

  Windows 7 Home Premium
Windows 7 Professional
Windows 7 Ultimate
New Aero features
Windows Search
Internet Explorer 8
Windows Media Center
HomeGroups
Full-system Backup and Restore
Remote Desktop client
Backups across network  
Remote Desktop host  
Windows XP Mode  
Domain Join  
BitLocker    
Interface language switching    
Price—full license $199.99 $299.99 $319.99
Price—upgrade license $119.99 $199.99 $219.99
Price—OEM (64-bit) license $109.99 $149.99 $189.99
Price—OEM (32-bit) license $109.99 $149.99 $189.99
Price—Anytime Upgrade $89.99 $139.99

As you can see, Windows 7 editions follow a kind of Russian nesting doll pattern: Professional has all of the Home Premium features, and Ultimate has everything. Since most users probably won’t find the Ultimate edition’s extras terribly exciting, the choice ought to come down to Home Premium vs. Professional for almost everyone.

Some of TR’s editors like hosting Remote Desktop sessions and running network backups, so we’d probably go with the Professional package unless we were on a tight budget. However, we should also note that Windows 7 Home Premium includes some features formerly exclusive to more upscale editions, namely full-system backups and Previous Versions (a.k.a. Shadow Copy). See our review for more details.

If you go with Home Premium and find you need some of the Professional features down the road, you can always use the Anytime Upgrade program to step up. It’ll only set you back $90.

Speaking of upgrades, you’ll notice upgrade licenses are quite a bit cheaper than full ones. That’s because you need a legit version of Windows XP or Windows Vista to use them. The edition doesn’t matter, but you do need the previous OS to be activated and installed on your hard drive for the Windows 7 upgrade to work. Mind you, Vista upgrade installers don’t seem to protest when a user does a clean install of Vista without a product key and then runs an upgrade installation over that. Windows 7 could allow for the same trick. Microsoft doesn’t sanction this method, however, and who knows how future updates to the Windows activation system might affect it.

To save even more, you could also opt for an OEM license. Microsoft aims these at pre-built PCs, and for that reason, it prohibits users from carrying an OEM license over from one PC to another one. You may therefore be forced to buy a new copy of Windows 7 after a major upgrade. (Retail editions have no such limitation, as far as we’re aware.) Also unlike their retail brethren, OEM licenses only cover one version of the software—32-bit or 64-bit—so you’ll have to pick one or the other up front and stick with it.

That brings us to another point: should you go 32-bit or 64-bit? Since all of the processors we recommend in this guide are 64-bit-capable and all of our systems have 4GB of memory or more, the x64 release strikes us as the most sensible choice. This recommendation is relevant to folks who buy retail and upgrade editions, too—you might have to ask Microsoft to ship you x64 installation media first, but installing an x64 variant looks like the best idea.

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 new OSes and games pushing the envelope in terms of memory use, the 4GB limit can get a little uncomfortable for an enthusiast PC.

There are some caveats, however. 64-bit versions of Windows don’t support 32-bit drivers, and they won’t run 16-bit software. You’ll probably want to make sure all of your peripherals have compatible drivers, and vintage game lovers may also have to check out emulators like DOSBox. Still, hardware makers have improved x64 support quite a bit since Vista came out two and a half years ago, so you’ll probably be fine unless you have something like a really old printer. (For some background on what makes 64-bit computing different at a hardware level, have a look at our take on the subject.)

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 users will probably care about one major differentiating attribute: whether their display has a 6-bit twisted nematic + film (TN+film) panel or not. The majority of sub-$400 monitors have 6-bit TN panels, which means 18-bit, rather than 24-bit, color definition. 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 builds you’re going with. For instance, those who purchase the Sweeter Spot ought to splurge on a nice 8-bit, 24″ display—perhaps the latest revision of Dell’s UltraSharp 2408WFP, which seems to lack the kinks of the original model, or HP’s LP2475w, which has a reasonable price tag despite its fancier IPS panel. 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 recommend something bigger, like Dell’s 30″ UltraSharp 3007WFP-HC, for use with the Double-Stuff Workstation. Our workstation build has two high-end graphics cards, after all, and you ought to have an ample monitor budget if you’re purchasing a $2,600 machine, anyway.

On the lower end of the spectrum, we think the Utility Player matches up well with less expensive monitors, like 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. With the Econobox, something like a sub-$200 20″ LCD should do fine.

By the way, we should point out that the Radeon HD 5000-series graphics cards we recommended throughout this guide support triple-monitor configurations. This scheme, which AMD calls Eyefinity, even works in existing games. You’ll just need either an adapter or a display with a native HDMI or DisplayPort input, since new Radeons all have two DVI outputs with one DisplayPort and one HDMI on the side.

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 here, too, one particular attribute lies at the heart of many 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, certain folks—typically hard-core 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. Because of that last issue, some favor wireless mice with docking cradles, which let you charge your mouse at night and not have to worry about finding charged AAs during 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 simple, 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. $50-70 is a lot to put down for a keyboard, but these beasts can easily last a couple of decades.

If you’re part of the mechanical keyboard club and are looking for something a little less… well, ugly, then Metadot’s Das Keyboard Professional or ABS’s M1 might interest you. The Das Keyboard is pretty pricey (over $100), but it has a more stylish look and a softer feel than the Model M and its modern derivatives. The M1 costs less and has non-clicky mechanical switches, which are softer still, even though they make typing feel more solid than the rubber-dome switches on the average multimedia keyboard.

Another intriguing option is a keyboard with laptop-style scissor switch key mechanisms like the Enermax Aurora, which we found to be surprisingly pleasing, both in terms of tactile feedback and industrial design.

Card reader

This section has always included a floppy drive/card reader combo, but we’re in 2009 now. Windows Vista has been out for over two years. We’ve had the Internet, USB thumb drives, and Windows-based BIOS flashing tools for considerably longer than that. It’s time to let go.

If you absolutely must stick something in that external 3.5″ drive bay, we suggest this Super Talent all-in-one card reader. It’s only $10, it has good user reviews on Newegg, and it should happily gobble up any flash card you find lying around.

Cooling

We’re recommending retail processors in all of our configs because they come with longer warranties. Those CPUs also come bundled with stock heatsinks 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.

Our latest cooler roundup has left us particularly impressed with Noctua’s NH-U12P tower-style cooler, and a new version of it that supports all current Intel and AMD socket types is now available. This mass of metal is exceedingly quiet with the accompanying fan, and it managed to keep our test CPU a couple degrees cooler than a pricier liquid-cooling setup. Impressive stuff.

For a cheaper solution, we suggest taking a look at Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 Plus. Despite the $30 price tag, this heatsink has a large, tower-style design, three copper heat pipes, and a 120-mm fan with a four-pin PWM connector. The mounting system also works happily with LGA1156, LGA775, AM2, and AM3 sockets, so like the Noctua, you can use it with any of our recommended builds.

Conclusions

It’s a bit unusual for us to release a system guide barely a month after the previous edition, but waiting any longer would have been almost criminal. AMD’s new DirectX 11 GPUs have altered the graphics landscape quite dramatically, and the new Athlon II processors have made quad-core processing accessible to our cheapest build. Also, of course, Windows 7’s arrival warranted an update to our operating system page.

“What’s coming next,” you might now be asking. Well, we already have $200 Nehalem processors and $130 DX11 GPUs—what more do you want? In all seriousness, the rumor mill suggests Intel’s first 32-nm Clarkdale dual-core CPUs will debut in the cold days of January, and Nvidia’s next-gen DX11 GPUs shouldn’t take long to follow (unless Nvidia manages to squeeze them out before Christmas). Still, we’d say the hardware landscape is pretty much primed for the holiday season right now. Go wild.

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

Comments closed
    • gerryg
    • 10 years ago

    Just checked on a couple of the listed items at Newegg, and the Asus 5770 has been “deactivated”. I don’t recall seeing that at Newegg before. Does that mean “no longer sold” or “terminated with prejudice” or what? Is it just availability issues, or was there a limited run and they’re gone never to return, or there were technical failures and pulled for the good of the people? I’m wondering if it’s the latter and AMD has a quality issue. I hope not, since I’d like to buy one of these things.

    • Traz
    • 10 years ago

    I miss the Pocket swiss army knife builds, it’s always fun to see how much power you can cram into the smallest space possible.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      I guess they could copy and paste that build from previous guides but really mini-ITX hasn’t changed since the last guide. Intel did demo Clarkfield with a mini-ITX board so that would probably be the next time it needs updating.

    • moriz
    • 10 years ago

    i personally cannot recommend the xonar dx.

    i have one. it’s audio quality is superb. however, its stability is terrible in games. GX mode often cause games to crash, or have very weird audio. turning it on often limits audio output to stereo, even when i have a 5.1 setup. it doesn’t even do it properly, since it doesn’t integrate all the other channels, so i’m essentially left with a 5.1 setup with two of the channels muted.

    i might just have a dud card, but i find many of the same issues on the web, so this is certainly not an isolated case.

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      Stop using GX mode then, foo’.
      New games don’t even need it for effect-packed surround sound anymore. Die, Creative.

        • moriz
        • 10 years ago

        without GX mode, its performance in games is no different than your standard onboard. gunshots in mass effect still stutters badly, for instance.

        i bought the card primarily to get better sound effects in games. so far, it doesn’t deliver. $100 to listen to music with a tiny bit better sound quality is not worth it.

      • Kaleid
      • 10 years ago

      Still? Shame. For those (and other) reasons I sold my card. At first I thought there was a great replacement for the X-fi cards but nope. Creative has the best game support there is and I need it for some old games.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        I have had a DX and now a D2X. When I had 5.1 speakers they seemed to work OK, now I use 2.0 speakers. However I don’t play a ton of different games. I’ve rarely had problems although there were occasional game crashes I’m not sure I can point to the sound cards for sure, or if so it was with older drivers because I haven’t had any problems for some time. GX mode works ok and it does give environmental effects although a few games have refused to allow EAX effects. A real X-Fi could make sense for older game compatability but going forward it’s not a reason in itself to get a certain card.

    • branchingfactor
    • 10 years ago

    Let’s say we want to store the OS/Applications/Swap on the raptors for speed and use the green drives to store user data including media. In Unix, we would put the / directory on the raptor, put the user home directories on the green drives, and then mount the green drives to /home on the raptor to make that seamless to the user. How would we configure such a setup in Windows 7 so that works out seamlessly to the user?

    • tfp
    • 10 years ago

    Maybe this has been asked before but it would be nice to see some general benchmarks in the write up for the the different configurations suggested. It would be easier to see what one was really getting for the money instead of the guess work it requires now.

    I do realize it would take a lot of effort to do so.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago

      yeah, and it’s not just TR – every system guide I look at seems pretty well devoid of benchmarks.

    • flip-mode
    • 10 years ago

    #52, I somewhat agree, but there are /[<_[<*[

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      How are 5770 and 5570 completely unattractive? They run cooler, eat less power, smaller profile, support newer standards for only $5-20 more over 4870/4850 for roughly the same performance. They all are still under $199 range.

      Your position makes more sense if you are already on 4xxx/GT2xx bandwagon.

        • flip-mode
        • 10 years ago

        It’s more expensive and it’s slower. It’s not a lot slower, probably not meaningfully slower, but it’s slower. There’s a psychological mechanism at work there that makes it “unattractive”. I’m not saying it makes it a bad deal or a rip off, but the way price and performance shake out at the moment I’d be second guessing myself all day no matter which card I chose. Right now, the cheapest 5750 is $129. You can get a 4870 for less ($126). The 5770 is running $159-$175 right now, while a 4870 1GB can be had for $144. That’s a frustrating decision to have to make.

    • Freon
    • 10 years ago

    I’m severely disheartened and disappointed at the recommendations for the 5750 and 5770. These cards just do not add up right now. Maybe in another 3-6 months their prices will be more in line with value, but right now the justifications given are not worth enough consideration to put them in the running, let alone be the primary recommendation.

    I’m not fooled by the DX11 flag waving, not for a second. It’s a giant, rotting, stinking red herring. Not only has history shown that getting on the latest DX bandwagon right out of the gate does one little good, there has never been a time where the likelihood of it being quickly integrated into new releases is lower.

    In particular, $134.99 for a 5750 is a very poor recommendation. I’m sure someone will come up with a bizarre situation where it seems to make sense, maybe you’re running your desktop computer on solar power, you have a sleeping disorder and the few dB difference keeps you up at night, or you can actually spot the texture filter difference in real games (unlikely), I dunno.

    These cards do not stand on their own two feet. This may change with price changes in the future, but for now, these are no-go’s. 🙁

      • Skrying
      • 10 years ago

      I’ve heard this a lot lately but… DirectX 9… the 9700 Pro was about the best buy I can think of in recent history. DirectX 10… the GeForce 8800 series was also a tremendous buy. Can you make a mistake? Sure, but generally if the card was good otherwise at the launch of a new DirectX in the last two revisions it was a great buy.

      The 5750 and 5770 are not really that great of a buy right now, but I do have a bit of an issue with blanket DirectX statement.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        But the 5700s are not 9700 Pro or early 8800 GTX/GTS range cards. If you want to make that argument you need to talk about the 5800s.

          • Skrying
          • 10 years ago

          I noted that my issue was with the blanket statement about buying for the new DirectX release. For two revisions now it has actually worked out extremely well.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 10 years ago

        Radeon 9700 Pro and Geforce 8800 were top of the heap. 5770 is mid-range.

          • Skrying
          • 10 years ago

          As I noted, I don’t believe the 5750 and 5770 to be the great buys right now (FOR ME, so there is no confusion…). I simply have an issue with statements that say buying for the new DirectX is a bad idea. In general it has worked out pretty well.

          I actually do think it will work out in the 5750 and 5770 favor for someone who plans to own this card for longer than a one year period. But for someone who upgrades more often than that probably not. Though I think there are valid arguments for picking the 5750 and 5770 up anyway if you’re not a heavy gamer.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            Weasel all you want, it doesn’t change the flawed comparison of the HD5700 vs high-end new DX release cards. You’re not the only one to make such a comparison you just happen to be the one I replied to about it.

            • Skrying
            • 10 years ago

            I didn’t make the comparison. If you would take the time to read my reply to Freon you would see that the only mentioning of the 5700 series of cards was that they were not a great buy. The meat of my post dealt with debunking a blanket statement about how buying for a new DirectX doesn’t work. When it has actually worked out quite well for the last two major releases of DirectX and probably has in the past as well.

    • elmopuddy
    • 10 years ago

    Do you need the extra features of “Pro” version if you are running a WHS? Backups and I believe RDP are a core feature..

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago

      backup to a network is not a feature of the Home version. What I don’t know, however, is if Win7 Home has a “sanctioned” backup to a WHS.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        I haven’t read it specifically but there’s pretty much no way MS would kill WHS backups for Win 7 Home Premium. First off it’s usable with Vista Home Premium right now (the limited backup feature in Vista Home Premium versus Business and Ultimate is not the same thing) and second off they are both ‘Home’ 😉 products. Having an RDP capable PC is not necessary for WHS either although of course it is necessary if you want to RDP to a PC remotely at all whether from inside or outside the network. There are alternatives to RDP at least even if they aren’t always as good.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 10 years ago

          I would like to THINK that MS didn’t just make WHS totally irrelevant by making 7 Home unable to back up to it, but I haven’t seen it specifically mentioned. Hopefully in the coming days it’ll become more obvious.

          WRT RDP, I think the home version still has the RDP client, just not the RDP server. That should be all you need to connect to WHS, right?

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      Running W7 Home Premium & Home Server w/ PP1 at my parents’ house – no issues.

      Home Server installs some software onto the client computers which does the backup and gives you access to the Home Server via a “fake” remote desktop connection.

      • khands
      • 10 years ago

      I think in order to get the Professional, you just go through the Home Premium version and eventually it will ask you if you need to “Join your school’s domain” at which point you say yes and they bump you up to Professional.

        • jstern
        • 10 years ago

        Thanks, I found it.

        Now let me ask you or anyone who would know, since I would have to do a custom installation, does it matter that I have the Vista Home OEM disc? Or does it have to be a regular version disc?

        Maybe I should get the home, since upgrading from Vista was the only way I could keep some drivers on the RC version, including sound drivers. Plus some programs. Damn Macbook.

    • adisor19
    • 10 years ago

    I do have 1 problem with the article. I am not liking that SSD is just an afterthought on most of the systems. An SSD based on the Indilix or Intel controller would smoke that WD Velociraptor in any circumstance and it’s THE most important component that affects the multitasking in a system these days. Even at 80GB, having your main OS and a few of the most used apps one it, would make a world of difference.

    It makes no sense to reccomend a Velociraptor against an SSD these days especially when the OCZ Agility 120GB can be had for as low as 330$.

    Adi

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      You’re probably right for the less busget-constrained builds like the Sweeter spot and up. You could do an SSD + ‘green’ mass storage drive since those are even less expensive than 7200RPM drives.

        • adisor19
        • 10 years ago

        Indeed. And even for the cheap builds, one could add a 30GB OCZ Agility (the cheapest Indilx based SSD around) coupled with a cheap 7200 drive.

        The speed that an SSD brings to a system is out of this world.

        Adi

          • MadManOriginal
          • 10 years ago

          Nah 30GB is too small for a PC that will do any kind of gaming, even for a non-gaming PC it leaves little room for applications after an OS install. If you load stuff other than the OS on a separate hard drive it rather defeats the purpose of the SSD.

            • DrDillyBar
            • 10 years ago

            Yeah, nothing below ~64GB.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            32 GB might actually still be good for 32-bit W7 folks, although Vista would feel in a pickle on such a drive. After installing the new OS, half of the drive would still be available, and if you move games and Steam and whatnot to a secondary drive, I dare you to fill 15 gigs with stupid restore points and everyday applications.

            64-bit W7 might also be usable, but that’ll leave less room (20 GB minimum drive requirement). 64-bit Vista is practically not an option here.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            You do know that you’re allowed to read beyond the first period in a post right? 😉

            q[

            • UberGerbil
            • 10 years ago

            But if you use hibernation, you probably want the hiberfile on the SSD, and that eats 4 or more GB. It adds up. I’ve been looking at doing this for my mother’s machine, because she literally is the “email and solitaire” user, but even with 32bit XP a 30GB drive looks too small to me.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            For 32-bit XP, I would’ve never considered anything more than a 20 GB partition (or a comparable old drive, waste not).

      • flip-mode
      • 10 years ago

      Agree.

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 10 years ago

      And then for a few bucks more on the Velociraptor, you can get two 80s and RAID 0 them for 160 and that is plenty of space for tremendous speed! That is my goal, now I just need to find 500 bucks…

        • UberGerbil
        • 10 years ago

        “Tremendous speed” on sustained transfer rate, which you mostly won’t use, and exactly the same seek time, which is much more the gating factor on most workloads.

        • oldDummy
        • 10 years ago

        Yep, 2 x 80G G1 in raid0 for the OS and twin 2Tb WD in raid1 for storage.

        It works well. Win7 rates performance by the raid1 but it runs well.

      • alphaGulp
      • 10 years ago

      I totally agree. It baffles my mind that TR continues to essentially exclude SSD’s from their builds.

      I think one issue is WRT whether TR’s sole criteria is to get the highest FPS in games. If so, then indeed a 100$ loss from your graphics/CPU budget towards SSD would cost you a fair amount of FPS.

      However, for EVERYTHING else, the SSD completely transforms your experience. My switch from Vista to Win7 included a switch to SSD and I would attribute the majority of the vast improvement in user experience as being due to the SSD.

      In addition, given that even with a 2560×1600 monitor (which 3% of people have?) there are few games that requires more than the mid-level card, why not give up some FPS for a transformed experience?

      Right now, it seems to me that the builds suggested here are similar to the HP/Compaq/etc builds of old that paired processors with insufficient RAM: sure, in some scenarios you will have better results, but for vast the majority of the time you are going to be waiting painfully long for shit to load from your hard drive.

    • adisor19
    • 10 years ago

    Excellent article as usual ! I have recently updated my MCE PC to Win7 final with great success.

    Now, how about a second article in the series titled : TR’s Hackintosh system guide 🙂

    Adi

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago

      I’ll write that one, I really enjoy playing with Hackintosh builds.

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      What a short article.

      “Since OSX only works with specific hardware, we’ve picked the same stuff that shows up in a normal Mac workstation.

      Enjoy!”

        • derFunkenstein
        • 10 years ago

        well, for the most part. The big thing is finding the right motherboard.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 10 years ago

    Page 3:

    l[< but not everybody will want a triple-core processor or discrete graphics<]l ...and then you recommend a triple-core processor. I think you just missed this tiny typo when you had to go quad on the previous page. 😉

    • valrandir
    • 10 years ago

    I would stop recommending the 640GB WD hard drives. They were good last year, but now that the new Samsung F3 500GB platter 7200 rpm drives are out, the WDs have lost the performance crown in every review I’ve seen.

    tl;dr get the Samsung F3 hard drives.

    • oldDummy
    • 10 years ago

    *[

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      Maybe you should take that as it’s not compatible :p

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      the 1501 has similar parts as a Latitude D631, and I’m running Windows 7 with absolutely no issue on the D631.

      have you considered that the multi-boot nature of your system could be potentially causing a problem with the upgrade advisor?

        • dpaus
        • 10 years ago

        Yeah, I thought about that (especially since I clearly remember what Win2K did to my QNX partitions…), but if that’s a problem, I would expect a message to that effect, not an “Unexpected error…” I mean, given the intent of this tool, I would expect it to be pretty robust at surviving the detection of simple issues like that. In fact, I simply expected it to be pretty robust – that’s why I’m so disappointed, dammnit.

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 10 years ago

      Try this: Can you run Vista on it, if yes, then you should be good to go. Not? Um, say “dammit” again.

        • dpaus
        • 10 years ago

        Damnit, I’m running Vista Home Basic on it now (because that’s what it came with, damnit!!). I’m a /[

          • DrDillyBar
          • 10 years ago

          Basic works just fine.

    • ste_mark
    • 10 years ago

    “Eagle-eyed readers might notice that, with two dual-slot graphics cards installed, our recommended motherboard won’t have any PCIe x1 slots free for the Xonar DX.”
    Except that you only reccomend a single graphics card this time round…
    Too much copy and paste, maybe?

      • dpaus
      • 10 years ago

      You know, they really hate you eagle-eyed readers!

      • oldDummy
      • 10 years ago

      l[

    • shank15217
    • 10 years ago

    After AMDs massive processor price drop, the top end Phenoms deserve a second look. The 3.4 ghz phenom II is very competitive with Lynnfield i5 750

    • Dagwood
    • 10 years ago

    TR has rightly criticized Nvidia for hyping PhysX, but in this guide you take every opportunity to sell DirectX 11. I would argue (and I am) that DirectX 11 is even less relevant to purchasing a video card than PhysX.

    AMD’s graphics cards can stand on their performance alone, there is no need to give us marketing shrill about how good it is to be an early adopter of DirrectX 11.

    I would have liked to see a last generation card for a choice in the econobox, it would have helped get your total back down to your stated budget of 500 greenbacks.

      • khands
      • 10 years ago

      Right now, yes there’s less reason for DX11 than PhysX, if you intend on keeping that GFX card for a year, it will be just as important.

    • Voldenuit
    • 10 years ago

    Should we stop using newegg reviews as any sort of impartial indicator of quality? There are a lot of allegations that newegg deletes unfavourable reviews. I’ve seen that happen to myself a few times, even when I take care not to break the rules (mentioning prices, competing products etc etc).

    • wiak
    • 10 years ago

    LG has CH08 and BH08 DVD Blu-ray Combos now

      • DrDillyBar
      • 10 years ago

      do they write? would be nice.

    • obarthelemy
    • 10 years ago

    I’d like to take 1 minute to step back.

    CPU manufacturers have found they can no longer increase clock speed, nor core performance, much. Too bad.

    They’re trying to get customers to keep buying into the high end by putting out 3x, 4x, 6x cores on a single die… and conditioning us to equate that with 3x, 4x, 6x the performance. It’s not true. Except in the most specific and “massaged” situations, you won’t see a smidgen of performance gains from those extra cores. You’ll get more power consumption, more noise, and more cost, with nothing to show for it.

    Don’t be a multi-sucker: don’t fall for multi-core.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      I was totally waiting for a ‘what’s wrong with multicore?’ finish but you left me unsatisifed 🙁

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      Dual-cores are very handy and useful even for mainstream users. The ability to smoothly, multi-task between demanding applications is always welcomed.

      I do agree that quad-core and beyond are still overkill for mainstream users, but power users are still craving for more cores. 😉

      • Farting Bob
      • 10 years ago

      Yea, single core FTW! Everything else is just a conspiracy by Intel….

      Seriously, your telling techreport readers to not fall for it when we are the people who read many reviews before buying anything for your PC’s. We know how much of a performance boost we’d get depends entirely on the application being used.
      Tell it to your computer illiterate friends who would actually be fooled by the marketing.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 10 years ago

        I agree. As foolish as some people seem around here, most of us nerds are more prepared to buy a computer than the general public. We don’t need a lecture on this supposed “multicore conspiracy.”

          • SomeOtherGeek
          • 10 years ago

          You calling me a NERD!? Why, thank you very much!

      • oldDummy
      • 10 years ago

      ha, while I generally agree there are not many options out there.

      • zagortenay
      • 10 years ago

      More cores are generally better. 3 and 4 core processors are also future proof (if you plan to keep your processor 2 or 3 years). The only drawback is that, they are expensive than 2 cores. Wait a minute, holly shit!
      E 8400: 170$
      X3 435: 87$
      X4 620: 100$

      You can actually buy X4 620 100 and X3 435 87 together, instead of buying a ridiculously expensive E8500 and still save a few bucks (190$ “one hundred and ninety”. Reminds me of smartass Apple products.)

      Dont fool people. Most dual cores (especially E8000 series) have little value compared to those X3s and X4s.

      • designerfx
      • 10 years ago

      uh, what about the improvements that have been brought to processors, avoiding altogether your little cores are bad parade?

      you know, that over the lifetime of development, errors in processors have been removed/fixed leading to better efficiency per core than you would even have on a single core level before? You know, northbridge/southbridge changes, etc?

      whether 1 core or 4, getting newer processors will still have a gain from this technology.

      • idgarad
      • 10 years ago

      Ignorance in action. Think MPG not MPH.

      You seem uneducated on how “cores” function in workload management.

      You say that you will not see any performance increase except for specific scenarios. This is incorrect in how most people equate performance. It is as ill informed as saying, “Adding RAM makes your system faster.” Adding RAM prevents slowing down, much like a spoiler\air foil doesn’t make the car go faster (doesn’t add thrust), is mearly reduces drag which allows the car to run closer to 100%.

      Lets say you have 4 single threaded applications running. On a dual core each of the cores is running 2 applications. We increase to 4 cores now each application gets their own core. No performance gain? Depends if they were at 100% or not.

      What happens then if application 4 decides to pin it’s core; it is in fact, not impacting the remaining 3 applications in our 4 core setup. (We won’t get into IO outside of the processor for now).

      Your measure of performance, which I can only assume is the result of too much NASCAR is that performance is how fast you go. Why not turn that inside out and say, “How less slow you go.” 🙂

      Each core is a form of isolation. In fact you are worse off having a multi-core optimized program running across ALL CORES rather then bound to individual cores when processes misbehave (which is far more likely then on a server for instance.)

      Scenario: A pair of applications running, a single threaded SIMPLE application, and some fancy MULTI threaded application that runs across all cores.

      If the Multicore application decides to pin the processors it could drag all 4 cores down leaving poor SIMPLE task gasping for air. CPU scheuling will only take you so far. There is a reason job, thread, and process management is serious research these days.

      More cores means more concurrent applications that run WITHOUT a slow down. That means 2 cores could support say:

      Core 1: A, B
      Core 2: C, D

      Yeah none run faster when you add 2 more cores ala:

      Core 1: A
      Core 2: B
      Core 3: C
      Core 4: D

      But what happens when I start E,F,G, and H?

      Core 1: A,B,C,D
      Core 2: E,F,G,H

      Double the workload could easily mean a performance loss. Again you think like NASCAR where cars go faster. This is more like a monster truck pull. How far you can go before the weight brings you to a halt.

      With 4 cores we can handle more ‘weight’ then with 2 cores before we see a slow down.

      Think of it this way: The cores are all running at top speed. How much crap can we throw at it before is starts to slow down.

      CPUs != Racing, CPUs = Tractor Pull in the simplest terms.

      It’s about efficency in workloads. Think MPG not MPH. Perhaps some racing guru can use a torque vs acceleration vs rpms vs speed.

      That is the problem with benchmarks. Even synthetic. You need to do concurrency loads.

      Here is an example:

      Start WinRaR compressing 5 GB of data from disk A to disk B
      Start 7 zip compressing 1Gb in ram to an additional ram disk (cutting disk io out of the picture)
      all the while running a virus scan on a network drive
      running Prime 95

      Then tell me how performance scales across cores.

      If you want a REAL world example how about this:

      Ripping your favorite DVD in the background while playing streaming radio while playing your favorite MMO while a background virus scanner runs.

      Simply play until the ripping is done.

      Switch systems (from 2 core to 4 core) and rip a different DVD while playing streaming radio while playing your favorite MMO while a background virus scanner runs.

      I’ve done the test with an AMD and came to this conclusion:

      Cores have diminishing returns with about a 10% loss per core cumulative for most gamers. Thus after 4 cores a desktop cannot throw enough processes at 4 cores to keep the cores at least at 50% load.

      Remember for gamers your game is usually pulse based timing (unlike the old days where the fast the computer the faster the game litereally ran) so you will reach a top speed at which the processor isn’t loaded any more (running task manager in another monitor) you wil eventually not pin the processor at 100%. If a program is multicore optimized you can spread that load across more cores. If you have a dual core and both are at 100% you can go to 4,8, etc. Eventually you will hit a point where the processors are not pinned but I have found that due to how x86 is structured the diminishing return, I think, is an effect of branch prediction and L2, L3 cache issues. But that aside, more cores gives the OS scheduler more flexability in keeping processes moving rather then hitting that scheduler thrashing point (usually considered 95% or 98% load or high depending on client, server, MF standards.)

        • jackaroon
        • 10 years ago

        Everyone here already knows what you’ve just said. There was a time when I searched for parallel processing power, and valued it more than gold or jewels. You’re trying to tell people in 2009 why they want more cores, yet you cite prime95 as a perfect example of what to do with them. What are gigaflops compared to the hand that wield them? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this! Such a waste. Contemplate this on the tree of woe.

        *to slaves* CRUCIFY HIM.

    • DancinJack
    • 10 years ago

    I wish TR would recommend some TN panels along with the higher end ones you include in the last page. I know there isn’t a huge difference between TN models but there are a few that include certain features that i’d be happy to buy one based on a TR recommendation. Maybe we could include that in the next system guide?

    • obarthelemy
    • 10 years ago

    Also, my take is that multiple cores do NOTHING for you, except in specifically multi-threaded apps: video/photo editing, and a handful of games.

    For all other uses, more cores increase power consumption and noise, and are slower than fewer cores at a higher clock rate.

    My choice for Econobox CPU is AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor . Faster clock speed. More cache. You’ll find out it does everything quicker. AND is cheaper.

    My econobox is down to $400 ! And prolly faster than yours for everything that counts.

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      More cores = ability to multi-task between demanding applications without hic-cips (anti-virus scans, video editing, compiling documents etc).

      • bcronce
      • 10 years ago

      I can run 2 virus scans, defrag, have my grid prog crank 10.8gigflops on 4 logical CPUs curing cancer/AIDS/etc, and play any video game and not feel a thing.(This assumes defrag/Virus scanners set to low priority since Vista/Win7 also reduce IO priority)

      Or I could just disable 3 of my 4 cores and still out perform you on my low-end Best Buy POS Dell. I love my Corei7

        • designerfx
        • 10 years ago

        why are you bragging about 10 gflops? a 4890 will do 1.5 Tflops while playing at game at 1920×1200 (i’ve been there at and done this).

        meanwhile you are correct, people don’t get that processors have been made more efficient, it’s not like we just slapped on cores. L3 caches have gotten bigger which plays into a lot too.

    • obarthelemy
    • 10 years ago

    I’m very surprised to see a graphics card in the econobox. Everything except playing works fine without one, so I think graphics card should only be on gamers configs.

    You guys think $440 is too cheap ?

      • wibeasley
      • 10 years ago

      Would you have been satisfied if the Econobox description included a paragraph like, “l[http://www.techreport.com/articles.x/17787/3<]§

      • jackaroon
      • 10 years ago

      People who don’t game don’t need a guide, they can just buy whatever’s cheapest or prettiest

        • Skrying
        • 10 years ago

        That’s an absolutely ridiculous statement. All buyers should do proper research for their computing needs. Just because you don’t need a powerful graphics chip doesn’t mean you don’t need a intelligently designed system. There are many demanding applications that are not games.

          • BoBzeBuilder
          • 10 years ago

          What he meant is that for everyday tasks like web surfing and email, you’d be fine with pretty much the cheapest choice.
          If users are knowledgeable enough to be able to use demanding or professional applications, chances are they know what hardware they need.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            Wellll, he only said people who don’t game not people who do everyday basic tasks. You are right within the limits of what you said of course but there are certainly cases where people could use lots of CPU power but don’t need graphics power. (That’s the nice non-jerky way of saying it 😉 ‘Someone else’ may come in and jump down your throat all flamey-like.)

    • StuG
    • 10 years ago

    Had thought the 5870 would have been in the sweater spot 😛

      • UberGerbil
      • 10 years ago

      Because it’ll keep you warmer? I’d go for a Merino pullover myself…

    • herothezero
    • 10 years ago

    That Corsair Obsidian case looks great…might have to upgrade from the P182.

    • cqcumber
    • 10 years ago

    as a high end system, the Asus Xonar Essence STX should be a valid choice.

    • indeego
    • 10 years ago

    I think the DS workstation with an intel 160G+160G raid0 for the OS/core apps, and everything else nonessential on mechanical would be the way to go. Remember when workstations were $5 Grand to start? Those were the daysg{

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      Why RAID 0?

      Just get a single drive and be happy.

      RAID 0 make only makes sense with heavy-duty I/O loads with data that is either expendable or rigorously back-up. That itself is a tiny niche within workstations.

        • indeego
        • 10 years ago

        My main justification is it gives you the single best performance for workstation-level tasks, the RAID0 gives you space/leeway for your primary/boot partition to work with core apps and data, it’s likely the cheapest way currently to get such performance without going into noisy mechanicals+raid cards. Factor in SSD’s increased reliability/MTBF with easy image and file level backups due to increased read speeds, and you have a very kick ass system.

        Well, I have a few X-25’s at work and I can’t imagine going back to mechanical, even if it means the slight hardship or partitioning creativelyg{<.<}g

          • Krogoth
          • 10 years ago

          Wouldn’t a single disk be still cheaper?

          Besides, an OS disk is hardly intensive at I/O loads outside of booting-up.

            • UberGerbil
            • 10 years ago

            It depends on what exactly is on the OS volume. If the page file is there, it can see heavy random IO loads when memory is overcommitted. Since all the system (and many shared) DLLs are there, some apps can hit it a lot during startup. If temp files are there, you can see random IO loads there from a variety of things (even the web cache for browsers).

    • Skrying
    • 10 years ago

    This reminded me how annoying the mATX case market is right now. Why can’t someone like Silverstone move the PSU above the video card in the SUGO 02 or 03/04? Yes, it’ll increase the height of the case but it’ll still be shorter than say their TJ08. It’ll also allow a 120mm in the rear behind the CPU and allow tower heat sinks.

    Sorry… just stems from the mentioning of the 785G based Gigabyte mATX board in the Econobox. I’ve been pricing a quad core build and I want to go no larger than mATX. While the case mentioned is very small for ATX it is still a bit tall.

    Also, why not spend $10 more for the 7200 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F1? Seems worth it to me.

    • indeego
    • 10 years ago

    Too early! SP1 isn’t out yetg{

      • jcw122
      • 10 years ago

      Who cares. I’ve been using Windows 7 for two weeks now and it’s worth an immediate upgrade.

      • obarthelemy
      • 10 years ago

      7 is Vista’s SP1+SP2.

        • bcronce
        • 10 years ago

        Win7 was independently developed from Vista. It’s just that MS took 8 years to make Vista, so 7 came out about the same time. Win7 will also use (on average) 17% less power than Vista when on a Corei7 because of the new thread scheduler. Win7 also handles locks better, so you should see fewer visual hick-ups on your desktop. Better “perceived” performance .

        Another decent change is in Vista, each of your applications use a certain amount of rendering memory when using Areo. The problem is in Vista, to reduce videocard latency and bandwidth contention. it kept a copy of all this rendering back-end in local system memory. This allowed Vista to quickly access and make changes to special affects/textures/previews/etc.

        Win7, they changed this. They no longer keep a duplicate copy of this data in system memory. Instead, Win7 accesses your video memory. This can lead to less system memory wasted. If you’re on any recent system, this means going from 20GB/s+ system memory to an 8GB/s PCIe link, but PCIe3.0 should make it a bit peppier

          • indeego
          • 10 years ago

          According to the ars article, feedback from Vista directly created 7g{<.<}g

            • Byte Storm
            • 10 years ago

            Because they were going to take 7 in a similar direction, but feedback from Vista changed that direction. Still separate from Vista.

      • oldDummy
      • 10 years ago

      Win7 is the demon spawn of twin devils within the digital WOW.

      Install at your own risk. Mind You, grasp your soul with both hands and never let go.

      You have been warned.

    • BoBzeBuilder
    • 10 years ago

    First!! FYI.

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 10 years ago

      Last!! FYI.

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