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Budget workstation

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April 16, 2006 3:03:05 PM

Hi folks!

I'm upgrading my desktop-pc, and it's a poor object. Abused and forgotten, running 24/7 without a case cover for years. It's an old P3-500 I built in 1999, running at 200mhz or else it blacks out. It has done it's job faithfully, travelled the globe, and I now want to relieve it from its pain..

I've been using laptop as primary computer for the last years, so that kept me going. Well, I'm not using the computer for gaming, however I often run lots of programs at the same time and with two displays. Laptop is choked up so I need this upgrade to be a good leap from the laptop performance. Which is a Dell c640 P4-M 2ghz ATI Radeon 7500 32mb with 384mb ram and 7200rpm disk.

Since I'm not into gaming, I suppose I might be fine with keeping the AGP graphic cards? I'm building more like a workstation. And allthough the applications I use need lots of memory, the display is not that heavy 3D graphics, so I guess system RAM is more important for me. (?) I'll run 3 lcd's I think.

Components I plan to keep:

Case / PSU
HD: WD 120 IDE
DVD/RW: NEC ND 3550
Graphic card1: Sapphire Radeon 9200 128mb
Graphic card2: Sapphire Radeon 7000 PCI 64mb

New components planned:

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 2200 San Diego
MB: EPoX 9NDA3+ nForce3 Ultra
RAM: Corsair TWINX2048-3200C2 DDR-DIMM 2048MB Kit
HD: Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB SATA2 16MB 7200RPM

Other options to evaluate:

AMD Athlon 64 2200 Venice
AMD Opteron 146 (2000) 1024kb
MSI K8N NEO2-FX,nForce3
TwinMOS PC3200 DDR-DIMM 2048MB Dual Pack Kit
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 300GB SATA2 16MB 7200RPM
Western Digital Caviar RAID Editon 250 GB S-ATA


CPU: What's the performance difference of Opteron vs San Diego? I don't care about OCing, as stability is extremely important for my use.
HD: Barracuda is tempting, but for workstation programs is maybe random access time more important? that's why I put WD on top.
Graphic Cards: Should I be concerned about running ATI cards on NVIDIA MB?

Please comment about my selections. I don't have too much knowledge about uptodate components, just read some tests and reviews and came up with this.. Maybe I'll still go for PCI-e, but can't really see any major benefits.. I guess in that case I must also swap out the case/PSU, as I believe it's only 300w..

More about : budget workstation

April 16, 2006 4:04:10 PM

> CPU: AMD Athlon 64 2200 San Diego
If you run lots of applications at once, your only choice is a dual-core processor. You'll see a massive improvement in system responsiveness with, say, an Athlon X2 3800+. I'm currently running an X2 4400+ OC to 2.4 GHz, and being able to run simulations while doing other stuff is really a dream come true. Since you mention stability as a primary concern, I'd actually recommend an Opteron, as they're essentially Athlon X2's hand-picked for maximum stability.

> MB: EPoX 9NDA3+ nForce3 Ultra
I don't know much about EPoX. When it comes to motherboards, I usually go to ASUS for stability. Consider an A8N-E.

> RAM: Corsair TWINX2048-3200C2 DDR-DIMM 2048MB Kit
Corsair is a great choice for RAM. It's a bit more expensive than other brands, but it does give you excellent performance.

> HD: Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB SATA2 16MB 7200RPM
Random access time is an issue if your programs use so much memory that lots of paging occurs, but if that happens, you just need to buy more RAM. The only WD drives that offer a benefit in terms of access time are the 10000 RPM Raptors, not their larger-capacity 7200 RPM drives. I bought a Seagate 300GB SATA drive and a WD 300GB SATA drive at Christmas time, and the WD just died a couple of days ago--so I'm very much turned off to WD at the moment. Plus, Seagate has a 5-year warranty. And if you live near a Fry's Electronics, I think they're currently having a sale on the Seagate drives for around $100.

As for your other concerns: you shouldn't have any problems with running ATI video cards on an NVidia chipset. Make sure the motherboard you buy supports AGP, or else get a new PCI-Express card. For your purposes, even an ATI X300 would work fine--as long as you don't want to play games, go with the cheapest card you can find.

Your 300W power supply is a bit weak for the kind of system you're putting together. I'd recommend picking up at least a 500W supply from a reputable brand, especially if you go the dual-core route.

Good luck with this system. It should blow your laptop out of the water, performance-wise.
April 16, 2006 5:25:29 PM

ATi cards on nVidia motherboard is no problem. If you want stability, Opteron is for servers - should say it all.
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April 16, 2006 6:55:59 PM

Thanks! :) 

CPU:
I thought dual core didn't give any better performance unless the program was written for it. But if i understand you correctly, running several programs will still make absolute use of it. That sounds very interesting for me... Hmm.. doesn't really sound like budget anymore.. but would definately rock :D 

So I will look at these I guess:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ (2000mhz, 1024kb)
AMD Opteron 165 (1800mhz, 2048kb)

Yes I focus on stability, but to stay away from OC should be sufficient. Unless the Opteron has some other benifits that I need.. I see it has 2mb L2-cache.. I kind of like the sound of that, but don't know if it will make any difference. ?

Must I get a special MB for dual core cpu in this case?

Will think about this some more...
April 16, 2006 11:05:09 PM

you might also want to consider an intel solution... (being an amd fan this may be somewhat heretical)
intel's lower-end dual cores are pretty inexpensive these days (the pent. d 805 is under $150), but you'd have to deal with a space heater around your feet every time you wanted to use your workstation. you would also have to switch to the somewhat more expensive ddr2 for that.
just a thought...
April 17, 2006 3:39:59 AM

Quote:
Thanks! :) 

CPU:
I thought dual core didn't give any better performance unless the program was written for it. But if i understand you correctly, running several programs will still make absolute use of it. That sounds very interesting for me... Hmm.. doesn't really sound like budget anymore.. but would definately rock :D 

So I will look at these I guess:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ (2000mhz, 1024kb)
AMD Opteron 165 (1800mhz, 2048kb)

Yes I focus on stability, but to stay away from OC should be sufficient. Unless the Opteron has some other benifits that I need.. I see it has 2mb L2-cache.. I kind of like the sound of that, but don't know if it will make any difference. ?

Must I get a special MB for dual core cpu in this case?

Will think about this some more...


No you don't need a special board, but do not purchase the board you picked out above. Its Nforce3 which is a generation old. EpoX is fine, but make sure you are getting an NF4 board. As another poster suggested, the Asus A8N-E is a great board also, as well as the DFI Lanparty Ultra D ($122). DFI is the better overclocking board, has 2 PCI-E slots, and overclocks better. Come to think of it, I know you picked the EPoX board, because it has an AGP slot, but AGP is dead. Get a 7600GT PCI-E card, you will be much happier, and it wont cry running Vista. If you really want to keep the AGP card, consider the $68 AsROCK Dual939 SATA II board. It has both AGP and PCI-E slots. So you could keep your AGP card, and slap in a DX10 PCI-E card with Vista comes out. (And yes, that board supports both AGP and PCI-E cards installed at the same time).

As another poster said- 300W PSU is weak, you need at least 450W. Consider the $68 Antec Smartpower 500W.

The Opterons advantages of the X2 3800+:
1) Its a server chip, its QCed to be in a system running 24/7
2) It runs cooler and the fan makes less noise
3) 1MB cache per core- double the X2 3800
4) Overclocking to FX-60 (2.6GHz speeds)

You can overclock the Opteron easily to 2.2-2.4 and not have to worry about your system crashing. Ask around the forum, many people have done it, and their systems are very stable.
April 17, 2006 3:56:48 AM

I just bought an Opteron 170 a few weeks ago...dual core, socket 939...awesome processor. I bought an Asrock 939 dual sata2 it is called (under $100 too), which has both AGP and PCI Express slots and benchmarks as fast as the Nforce4 boards. It also has a "future cpu slot" for an add on AMD socket M2 proc board. OCWorkbench has also released a couple good overclocking BIOS for the board which allows me to run at 2.6 GHZ perfectly stable 24/7. I figure for a cheap workstation this is a good alternative...a very overclockable dual core Opteron and motherboard for the price of a dual socket 940 Opteron motherboard without the registered RAM requirement too. Just my suggestion though...worth checking out.
April 17, 2006 11:12:21 AM

Thanks guys! very good information! Sorry I'm a bit late to post, I'm in Europe time zone.

I have decided definetely to go with a dual core cpu and also PCI-E. I don't really care if it's AMD or Intel, I have no preference, what gives best performance for the price is what I'm after. Since I see Intel now is cutting hard prices on dual core I'm not sure what is the best way to go..

Where I live (Norway) all these cpu's are about the same price level:

Intel Pentium D 930 (3000mhz, 4096kb, 65nm)
AMD Opteron 165 (1800mhz, 2048kb)
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ (2200mhz, 1024kb)

May the Intel D930 be a better option?

Totally objective about AMD vs Intel: is there any difference in software compatibility (performance vise)? Thinking about more special workstation programs, if they are written more to the benifit of intel?
April 17, 2006 12:02:47 PM

Consider also the Opteron 170 as it would be the best of both worlds being directly between the Opty 165 and the 4200. Your idea of Corsair RAM is a good one. Since you plan on running 3 LCD displays, you may wish to use an SLI motherboard and not run it in SLI mode (2 PCIe slots). I too would recommend a good power supply (Antec of Enermax ~ 500-550) and perhaps a good case (my case preference is Lian Li... expensive but VERY worth it). I prefer Seagate drives due to their 5 year warranty and they do run quiet but WD is my second choice. You can't go wrong either way.

Something like the above will last you nearly as long as your PIII has but you'll get several times more work done.
April 17, 2006 12:16:48 PM

All i read about SLI is just trouble. And that's the last thing I want. I don't need much graphic power, so it will be stupid to buy into expensive frustration. My number one aim is to have a system that will never black out. PSU problems I expect, but the rest should be stable as a rock.

Yes Opty 170 is probably even nicer, but it's another price step up. Actually I will most likely be perfectly fine with the AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+. A bit hard to evaluate these opty cpus as I haven't seen benchmarks against the X2s.. As I understand a 200mhz step gives significantly more performance than the extra L2 cache. So the question is really if the opty can be clocked up to equal speed without loosing life expectancy or stability..
April 17, 2006 12:45:59 PM

Quote:
All i read about SLI is just trouble. And that's the last thing I want. I don't need much graphic power, so it will be stupid to buy into expensive frustration. My number one aim is to have a system that will never black out. PSU problems I expect, but the rest should be stable as a rock.

Yes Opty 170 is probably even nicer, but it's another price step up. Actually I will most likely be perfectly fine with the AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+. A bit hard to evaluate these opty cpus as I haven't seen benchmarks against the X2s.. As I understand a 200mhz step gives significantly more performance than the extra L2 cache. So the question is really if the opty can be clocked up to equal speed without loosing life expectancy or stability..


I suspect that most have trouble with SLI because they bridge them together seeking to eek out every last bit of performance. If you can live with two displays, any good PCIe (single card solution) should work fine. Most cards will only support two, which is why I suggested SLI.

As far as benches (Opteron VS X2), well, they're essentially the same CPU. And you're correct about the clock VS cache except the cache is more generally helpful with business applications. I was thinking Opty170 VS the 165 where that 200 MHz does come into play, and the Opty170 VS the X2 3800 (same clock speed) where the extra cache will be more helpful. The 4200 is an awesome CPU. I run with an Opty175, which is exactly the same as the X2 4400. Benchmarks between these (175 VS 4400) will be no different whatsoever.

As I said, you won't go wrong with any of these choices. You will see a serious WOW compared to what you're now using and will be awed with how much work you'll be able to get done.

You may find this to make for some interesting reading.
April 17, 2006 1:06:03 PM

The programs I want to build this pc for are mainly trading programs, like tradestation, eSignal and some others which are java-based (unfortunately). I might run several of these at the same time. I don't know exactly how these programs run, but it's said that they "cache data", like huge number of data points for many charts. Don't know what that means, but I suspect it just means these are stored in RAM, not in the cache, even if they use that term.. The bottleneck with these programs is when swapping between different charts, or tabs of charts. If I load the program too heavy, the swaps will be slower. So nomatter what's the generally fastest processor, I want what may be best for this particular thing. Huge data series, and java.

For the graphics, I was thinking to go with a new PCI-E card, and use the old PCI card as a second graphic card. Then I can run up to 4 screens.
April 17, 2006 2:21:40 PM

Quote:
The programs I want to build this pc for are mainly trading programs, like tradestation, eSignal and some others which are java-based (unfortunately). I might run several of these at the same time. I don't know exactly how these programs run, but it's said that they "cache data", like huge number of data points for many charts. Don't know what that means, but I suspect it just means these are stored in RAM, not in the cache, even if they use that term.. The bottleneck with these programs is when swapping between different charts, or tabs of charts. If I load the program too heavy, the swaps will be slower. So nomatter what's the generally fastest processor, I want what may be best for this particular thing. Huge data series, and java.

For the graphics, I was thinking to go with a new PCI-E card, and use the old PCI card as a second graphic card. Then I can run up to 4 screens.


In almost every test, short of video/MP3 encoding, right now AMD smacks Intel around. Go AMD. The Opteron 165/170 is your best choice. As for video card, something like a 7600GT PCI-E will do just fine. It will allow you to do gaming if you wish, and cruise through all your apps. Something like this:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16814130284
April 18, 2006 2:44:04 AM

Ok, I let AMD rule.. Think I will go for something like this:

CPU: AMD Opteron 165 (1800mhz, 2048kb)
MB: Epox 9NPA+ Ultra (PCI-E)
RAM: Corsair TWINX2048-3200C2 DDR-DIMM 2048MB Kit
Graphics: Sapphire Radeon X700 128mb DDR PCI-E
HD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 300GB SATA2 16MB 7200RPM

If I can find it, I think I will swap the mobo for an Abit AN8 Ultra instead, cause it has passive cooling, which I like, both for noise level and long term durability.
!