I could really use some extra help on this new system build. I have been building systems for myself, friends and family for over 15 years now and to be very honest I think I have been completely happy with only one or two of these. I think my last rock solid box was a dual boot NT4 Workstation and win 95 for gaming box that just worked like a horse.
For some dumb reason I got on this Shuttle SFF kick a few years ago and man what a mistake that was. I must have built over 15 of these little boxes and most of my family is now on them, and not one of them is without issues. I finally migrated off my SN95G5 and SN25P so I can ditch these piles of junk on ebay.
So long story short I am desperate to build a rock solid box and as I cannot seem to pull this off myself I could really use some extra feedback to make sure I don't make any major mistakes. I do not have much history around here as I wasted all those years posting issues with shuttle sff cubes over at sudhian.
What I want
The most important thing to me is stability, rock solid with no issues.
Second is speed
Third is features like firewire, usb 2.0, SATA and great onboard sound
Fourth is quiet, if all the above can come in passive heat pipe then even better.
I do not plan to overclock, and all the times I thought I would overclock, I usually tried it and then backed off to stock speed to keep things stable.
I also do not use RAID. I run 3 systems at home and a nice Linksys NAS so backups happen nightly hard drive to hard drive.
How I use my main rigs. I game a few times a week, always the latest turn based and strategy with a FPS once in a while. Currently AOE 3 and CIV 4, always having skype on for voice during gaming. I use my system to process my RAW digital photos, and Mini DV cam footage of my kids, family etc, so use a lot of Adobe CS2, and Avid etc. Everything else is typical stuff any computer can handle.
What I have already
ATI X800XL PCI-e Video card
Western Digital 400GB WD4000KD SATA ( just bought this and thinking of returning for the WD4000YR )
Western Digital 250GB WD250KS SATA
CORSAIR TWINX1024-3200LL 400MHZ 2X512MB (MATCHED PAIR) 2-3-2-6 DDR
PIONEER DVR-108BK DVD DUAL DOUBLE LAYER REWRITABLE DRIVE
AMD ATHLON 64 3700+ W/1MB CACHE 90NM (SAN DIEGO) 64-BIT SOCKET 939
What I am planning so far
Case: Antec P150
Video: keeping ATI X800XL PCI-e
Drive: Keeping the two WD above and setting up as
400GB (50gb C drive - XP, page file and all applications) (rest on D for storage)
250GB (50gb E drive - Games and second page file) (rest on F for storage)
From what I have gathered over the years two hard drives with a page file on both, a small partition for OS, and seprating the game install on seperate drive than OS gets the most performance. Keeping the applications games and page file to the first 50gb of a large drive also performs better.
Memory: Ditching the Corsair on ebay and getting OCZ's VX line or Mushkins Redline but not sure which and what specific chips yet. All I know is I want 2gb of ram and the best fit for the motherboard I choose.
Motherboard: I have no idea yet, but do know I want to go AMD X2 and am looking at Asus and DFI. I liked the idea of one of the latest asus boards with heat pipe for cooling but apparantly this board has issues and the onboard sound is no good? I liked the DFI Ultra D but not sure this is the perfect fit just yet. I could really use some help here.
CPU: Most likely AMD X2 4400+ since it is the cheapest one that has 1mb cache. If you think the 1mb cache is not needed then I might consider saving money and getting the 3800+ with 512 cache.
Sound: If I can get away with onboard sound I will, but the last thing I want is the sound eating up too much cpu, and definately do not want sound crackling, hissing, popping as I like my skype to be nice and clear while gaming. NOTE: This has been the biggest issue with those damn shuttle sff crap boxes. Always issues with the sound. At the moment I have 3 sets of speakers sitting in the closet, even a nice set of klipsch promedia 2.1. The reason they are in the closet is I hate cable clutter and rarely need a big sub and perfect sound as I have a nice home theather for that stuff. I currently game on some cheap internal mono speaker and find it is all I need in most cases. Eventually I might get a really tiny set of 2.0 speakers but only if they do not come with 40 cables to make them work. Built in speakers to my flat panel would be perfect but I have a Samsung 192T which does not have built in speakers and I probably wont replace this just yet.
Network: Ideally want a solid performer here, as I had a ton of issues on my last shuttle box which had the nforce4 ultra chipset which I believe was a marvel card. Most likely it was shuttles fault on this, but want to make sure which ever motherboard is picked that its network is rock solid. I run only 10/100 still at home as I have not upgraded all my linksys routers yet to 1000.
So now you have the whole story! Any pointers, advice, critiques would be greatly appreciated.
Any case with 120mm fan mounts and no significant restrictions at the integrated fan grills will offer reasonable cooling at low noise. I'd go into the motherboard forum and ask specifics given your needs there.
Yes, SFF sux, it's easy to see how you fell for it though as Tom's has been promoting this horrible design from the outset. Promoting, as in a sales pitch that's sided for the seller, not the buyer.
Mobo: Take a serious look at the Epox 9NPA+ Ultra or the Abit AN8 Ultra. Really stable, well-designed mobos with good onboard sound. The obvious answer for the best sound is to go with a separate sound card; something like the X-Fi or an Audgy 2ZS. Recommendation is to try a mobo with good onboard audio and if that is insufficient, then look at separate card options. Another factor to seriously look at for better stability - especially in modern rigs - is the PSU. Getting a high-quality PSU rated for more than you are using in your rig is a great path to increased system stability. The Seasonic S12 500W is a quiet, highly efficient PSU that you will never be disappointed in having purchased. There's also the 600W version, but your system specs don't require the 600W. $30 more for the 600W and a near certainty of being able to use in your next build may be a good investment - your decision.
Agree with Crash on a well-designed case with 120mm fans for quiet operation and good airflow. For the the uber quiet-oriented PC, there are places to buy sound insulation for the inside of the case or you can go the water-cooled route. If you go water-cooled, then research/buy separate, quality components - most of the kits out there aren't the best quality.