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Need advice on new comp: architecture, components, timing

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October 13, 2006 10:55:31 AM

Hi all

I am thinking about acquiring a new computer, and need some help in deciding on some things.

Some years ago, I bought a single-core comp (P4 northwood @ 3GHz) on a classic Ultra-ATA HDD setup, which performance was rather disappointing compared to what I had before, i.e. a dual P3 Katmai @ 600MHz with U2W SCSI (mobo was Shuttle HOT 649A - I loved it), especially regarding disk performance and multitasking / multi-threaded apps, and when I was simultaneously writing/reading big files from (different) disks.

Now I want to replace the P4 with a new system which should give me similar comfort like my old dual P3 Katmai, and very good (not ridiculously extreme good) disk performance for reading and writing simultaneously big files.

Questions:
- Assuming I got antivirus, a media server, email client, browser, plus maybe one or two other apps running at the same time (none of them managing more than 2 threads at once), are the new dual core systems good enough for multitasking / multithreading or will a 2x2 system yield significant improvement over a dual core system?
- Which processors would perform best in the above variant you chose?
- How is the performance of SATA-II if I simultaneously write and read over the same bus? (I will use RAID 5). Do I need SCSI?
- Should I get a separate RAID controller over a mobo-integrated one? Are there exceptions? (for example, my old shuttle HOT 649A has a fully featured Adaptec SCSI controller integrated - no need for a controller card)
- Knowing that I want SLI-support, what are the best boards for following your advice?
- Timing: are there significant evolutions planned/upcoming in the CPU architecture? Is it adviseable to wait, i.e. if expected performance gain with the new line of CPUs and mobos is > 30% ?

Thank you for your insights.
October 13, 2006 12:13:27 PM

I think a dual core system would be fine for running all those tasks at once. Antivirus software, email and your browser I doubt are going to maximise your use of one core, leaving your second core for your media server/other apps, which again I wouldn't imagine would be maxed out. More than 2 cores is only really going to be useful for running multiple CPU intensive tasks. At the moment, the Core 2 E6300/6400 will probably give you most bang per buck, especially if you are willing to overclock.

On disk performance, SATA-II should be fine if your using a RAID array. SCSI probably will give you better peformance, but I seriously doubt the increase here is going to be worth the added cost. If you really want maximum performance on SATA, it's worth considering Western Digital's Raptor drives.

On SLI-support, I'm not an expert on what boards are best for this, so you'll have to ask someone else on this one.

To be honest, in terms of CPU architecture now is probably a great time to buy. Core 2 is the most significant improvement from Intel in years, and is reasonably priced. AMD's response and Intel's next revision of Core 2 isn't due out for a year or so. A good reason to maybe wait a few months however is that a) Windows Vista is just around the corner and b) DX10 graphics cards are also going to be out soon; even if you don't want one right now, their arrival will likely reduce the cost of DX9 cards.

Hope this helps :) 
October 13, 2006 2:29:49 PM

Thank you for your opinion! Sounds logical.
Does everyone agree?
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October 13, 2006 3:16:20 PM

Sounds good to me. But if you are mainly concerned about disk speed than it would be in your best interest to get a Hardware Raid Card (I have had the best luck with the 3ware brand). By using onboard Raid 5 it will be using your CPU to do all the processing of the files, where as a Raid 5 card will relieve the CPU of such duties allowing it to be focused on other things. The only downside to this is that the Hardware Raid 5 cards aren't cheap... and if they are cheap, then they are NOT hardware raid. So it's up to you on how much speed means to you. But if you stick with 3ware, they are all Hardware Raid and are compatible on any operating system. Hope that helps.
October 13, 2006 4:58:09 PM

ok, Hardware RAID - what about the Promise FastTrak SX4300 ?
My local reseller got these in stock

There is really no mobo with real RAID controllers?
October 13, 2006 7:13:29 PM

I have not used that card before. I checked it online and it looks fine to me. But it is local so you can go ahead and purchase it and try it out, and if there are any incompatability issues you can take it back and exchange it for another one.

Quote:
There is really no mobo with real RAID controllers?


Not entirely true... RAID on motherboards use what is known as Software RAID which uses system resources (such as your CPU and a small amount of memory) to handle the processing of the files. Becuase RAID 5 is more complex than a RAID 0 or RAID 1 there is more system resources that are tapped by it. So the motherboard does support RAID, but at the expense of speed.

A hardware RAID card has a memory chip on it that processes it all locally on the card, making the communication between hard drives faster and it doesn't slow down your PC. Which is why the card is so expensive, because it can be viewed as a "second CPU" for your system that just manages the hard drives. Also, these cards will send you e-mails (depending on the cards you get, I am not sure if your particular one will) that will give you the status of your drives. So if I drive starts to fail or does fail, it will e-mail you the drive number and whats wrong so you can repair it. It really is nice.

I have a media box that I store all my movies and video files on and I do a lot of video ripping/ conversion and I was amazed at the difference going to hardware RAID. My RAID configuration:

3ware 9590 SE 8 SATA II
6 - 250gb 7200RPM in RAID 5

Works like a charm, hope that all made sense, if not shoot me another reply
October 13, 2006 7:30:59 PM

It sounds like your key requirement is fast disk performance. The various PATA/SATA RAIDs are certainly improvements over single drive solutions, but the problem is that the underlying drive hardware is still pretty slow. You'll be better off sticking with high-performance SCSI drives (and perhaps a SCISI RAID system). Since you didn't mention price, I'm assuming you can afford SCSI drives.
Don't worry about SLI, as new individual graphics cards are introduced every few months which outperform a pair of the older ones in SLI configuration. In any case, new generation graphics cards (so-called DirectX 10) will be coming out in the next six months, so get one of those. They are likely to be major power hogs, so be sure to get a ridiculously high-power PS (700w or more), since the rest of your system won't be sipping power, either.
!