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Time for a new machine, what should I do?

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October 14, 2006 10:35:51 AM

This is going to be a long post, so please bear with me :) 

I've had my current machine for 2 years now, the specs are as follows:

Athlon 64 3000+ S754
Biostar 200P Barebones System w/ 200W PSU
2x512MB DDR400 RAM
Geforce 6800 128MB AGP
Seagate 7200.10 250GB HD

When I built the machine, it was designed as an interim build really, since I didn't have much money available, and needed something portable whilst I was at Uni to replace my previous laptop. Speed wise it's still just about passable for playing todays games, and to be honest I could probably get another year out of it. My main issue with it is reliability however though. Sometimes, when I play games, the machine will lock up, sometimes it will return to normal after 5-10 systems, sometimes it will BSOD, saying that my display drivers are at fault. I've gone over pretty much everything - updated drivers, no overclocking etc. and still get the same issue. I've come to the conclusion it's probably the power supply to blame since it's only 200W. On top of this, the machine runs hot and is noisy, so the sooner I can get rid of it the better basically.

My original intention was to wait until Vista came out, before building a machine that would last me for 5 years or so with simple upgrades during it's lifetime such as graphics card, RAM or CPU upgrades. The base of the system though (motherboard, HDs etc) would remain the same. Having heard things lately about Vista however, such as the license restrictions, reduced games performance and the still fairly limited 64-bit support (the version I'd get since it would allow me to utilise 4 gigs of RAM effectively), I'm considering sticking with XP. Combined with the fact that my budget at present is somewhat less than I had planned on having, I'm not sure what to do anymore. I'm considering one of four options, and I'd appreciate your input as to which one to go for:

1) Wait until February/March and build a complete new system (funds permitting). This would include replacing my current 17" TFT monitor and getting Vista. I'm not certain about the specs I'd get yet, but it would most likely be something like this:

Core 2 Duo E6400
Gigabyte DS4 Mobo
530 Watt PSU
2x1GB DDR2-667 RAM
Top end single DX9 GFX Card
Creative X-Fi sound card
4x250 GB Seagate 7200.10 in RAID 10

Pros: (Relatively) Future proof machine, very powerful
Cons: Most expensive option, potential issues with Vista x64

2) Same as above, but get cheaper GFX card, no X-Fi and get a cheap single core Intel/AMD setup. Upgrade early 2008 with 2nd gen DX10 GFX card, X-Fi and Quad core Intel/AMD CPU.

Pros: Base system same as 1), spreads out cost of machine, more futureproof in long run
Cons: Still potential Vista x64 issues, upgrade initially not significant over current machine

3) Build another interim system based on XP. This would be a S939 AMD system, allowing me to move up to dual core and PCI-E whilst reusing the 1 gig of DDR RAM I currently have. Specs would likely be:

Athlon 64 X2 3800+ S939
Unknown matx S939 mobo
430 Watt PSU
2x512 MB DDR400 RAM
Radeon X1900XT 256MB
2x250 GB Seagate 7200.10 in RAID 1

Pros: Moderate price, considerable upgrade over current machine
Cons: No upgrade path, will only be usable for next 2 years

This option would probably lead me to building another new machine late 2008, by which time quad core will be mainstream and DDR3/Core 3 should be here

4) Upgrade current machine further with:

Additional HD for RAID-1
Geforce 7600GT GFX Card
250W PSU

Also overclock A64 from 2GHz to 2.3GHz (I know it can do this)

Pros: Cheapest upgrade
Cons: Poor performance increase for cost, game stability issues may still be a problem

The new PSU would be essential in this case, since my 12V rail on my current setup is already stretched, reaching 11.4V at times

Any comments/suggestions would be appreciated, thanks :) 

More about : time machine

October 14, 2006 11:55:09 AM

For gaming you don't need the fastest cpus and going 939 would be much cheaper than core 2 and they both do pcie. you could also get a board with pcie and agp to save some money if its not the gpu causing the crashes.
October 14, 2006 12:05:15 PM

Thanks for the advice. The reason I want all that HD space is because I don't want to have to touch the HD setup/do a full reinstall of everything if I get the Vista machine. 500 gigs is probably overkill atm, but in 5 years time it probably won't be if you consider how much more space you need now as opposed to 5 years ago. The reason I want RAID 10 really is for redundancy, and it's cheaper/faster to get 4 250 HD's in RAID 10 than 2 500's in RAID 1 (as well as the fact that I have 1 250 gig HD already that I can reuse).
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October 14, 2006 3:31:33 PM

okay dont worry about getting all those hdds. Get annother 7200 rpm drive and just use it in JBOD, adding drives as time moves on (e.g.when you need more space)

although it wont speed anything up, as you wont be using raid stripe if you do what i said above, though it would save you tremendos ammounts of money, now and in the long run. :) 
October 14, 2006 3:43:01 PM

This is true, I hadn't considered JBOD. My only concern with that would be that if I lose a drive, it's pot luck what data I lose. I've had a couple of system failures before that have really irritated me, because other than data loss (which isn't a huge issue on it's own as I back up critical stuff to DVD) it then takes me ages to get my system set up to the way I like it again because of the obligatory OS/app reinstalls then required. I thought about RAID 5 as well, which would reduce the drives I'd need by 1 in this case, but given that it would be software based write performance would be seriously bad.

I guess another option would be to get some disk cloning software, but it would have to be one that could compress the image really well, otherwise this wouldn't be any better than RAID 1, which has the advantage of backing up everything on the fly and increasing read speeds.
October 14, 2006 7:13:00 PM

Or you could just buy one 74gb or 150 gb raptor (both 10000rpm) and use this alongside your current hard disk?

all your personal data (eg. mydocs, music, photos, video, whatever) would be kept on the slower 7200rpm drive whilst the programs and windows would be located on the 10000 rpm drive. 8)

Problems: heat, noise(faster rpm)?, not much more data space than before, only 74~150gb more, money (a single 150gb raptor might cost the same as a high capacity 7200rpm disk drive).
October 15, 2006 8:25:10 AM

Tbh I'm not too bothered about performance (within reason), I'm more concerned about data security. Although I do backup critical stuff to DVD, ideally once I've gotten everything installed I don't want to have to format again during the lifetime of the machine (whether that will happen in practice or not is a different matter!). Aside from it being difficult to backup all my game saves for example since there isn't a standard area they are saved to (although devs are getting better at including them in your documents folder now), I have had single HD setups in the past with different partitions etc., with the theory being if the OS goes down I still have my programs/data. Whilst this has held true for data, I've found that having the program files still available is useless because the supporting OS registry entries are lost when the OS goes down. The idea with me having a RAID array of some form is so that the system can continue as normal with a single disk failure, with the added bonus of performance increases in certain situations.

I'd be willing to use a single drive if there was an alternative, be it software/hardware based that would allow me to take a complete snapshot of my system and restore it at need, provided that it's a significantly cheaper option than creating a RAID array. The only thing I can think of is imaging software with a great compression system, which I could then store on a smaller external HD. Having said that, I'm not really an expert on backup solutions.
October 15, 2006 11:30:48 AM

okay go for raid 1 then, if your'e not too worried about speed/performance.

That way if you loose one HDD then ou still have the other, ahh using raid 1 means you have half the disk space, as you can only fill up one drive and it is copied to the other. :) 
November 7, 2006 8:02:17 PM

Just got an update for you guys, I've ordered the bits for my new machine tonight :D  I decided to go with a S939 system in the end, and am reusing my old RAM and HD's in order to save money. The specs will be:

Athlon 64 X2 4200+
Silverstone Temjin TJ08 mATX case
Gigabyte K8N51PVM9-RH mATX mobo
Seasonic 380W PSU
1GB DDR400 RAM (I know overclocks to 460-480 fine)
Radeon x1950 Pro 256MB

And my HD setup will use my old disks:

250GB Seagate Baracuda 7200.10 (Main drive, single partition)
2x80GB Western Digital Caviar SE in RAID 1 (Data)

This way I get security of my data, if not my whole system, but without losing too much capacity.

Hopefully this machine will last me till H2 08 when DDR3 and Quad Core will be mainstream and Core 3 will be around :) 
November 12, 2006 11:41:38 AM

looks nice GL :D 
November 12, 2006 12:38:08 PM

You're right; your current PC should last you another year. The stability problems are from your PSU; I'm surprised that you're able to run that setup on 200W. You should get at least a 350W PSU with at least 20A on a single +12V rail, or 15A on two +12V rails.
November 12, 2006 12:58:38 PM

Quote:
Just got an update for you guys, I've ordered the bits for my new machine tonight :D  I decided to go with a S939 system in the end, and am reusing my old RAM and HD's in order to save money. The specs will be:

Athlon 64 X2 4200+
Silverstone Temjin TJ08 mATX case
Gigabyte K8N51PVM9-RH mATX mobo
Seasonic 380W PSU
1GB DDR400 RAM (I know overclocks to 460-480 fine)
Radeon x1950 Pro 256MB


You got youself a pretty decent machine and you should be fine for a while really.
November 12, 2006 1:06:33 PM

Thanks guys, I'll post some benchies when I get the machine up at running - still wating for ebuyer to deliver my x1950 pro :(  Will be interesting to see how much of an improvement I get over my old machine!
November 12, 2006 1:28:41 PM

Thanks for your advice.... I did consider going the Core 2 Duo route - I paid about as much for the X2 as I would a C2D - the thing is, I'd have had to spend an extra 60 pounds to get an equivalent amount of DDR2 RAM that I have of DDR now - and the motherboard I'd have been limited to with my budget wouldn't have overclocked as well as this setup.

In hindsight I'm a bit unsure about the PSU myself - was a big jump up in price to a 430W PSU. I know Seasonic is a top brand though, and according to the PSU calculator I used it recommends 370W - I increased the values to the worst case (max TDP etc.) and everything as well, so fingers crossed, it should be ok!
November 12, 2006 2:31:47 PM

Quote:
This is going to be a long post, so please bear with me :) 

I've had my current machine for 2 years now, the specs are as follows:

Athlon 64 3000+ S754
Biostar 200P Barebones System w/ 200W PSU
2x512MB DDR400 RAM
Geforce 6800 128MB AGP
Seagate 7200.10 250GB HD

When I built the machine, it was designed as an interim build really, since I didn't have much money available, and needed something portable whilst I was at Uni to replace my previous laptop. Speed wise it's still just about passable for playing todays games, and to be honest I could probably get another year out of it. My main issue with it is reliability however though. Sometimes, when I play games, the machine will lock up, sometimes it will return to normal after 5-10 systems, sometimes it will BSOD, saying that my display drivers are at fault. I've gone over pretty much everything - updated drivers, no overclocking etc. and still get the same issue. I've come to the conclusion it's probably the power supply to blame since it's only 200W. On top of this, the machine runs hot and is noisy, so the sooner I can get rid of it the better basically.

My original intention was to wait until Vista came out, before building a machine that would last me for 5 years or so with simple upgrades during it's lifetime such as graphics card, RAM or CPU upgrades. The base of the system though (motherboard, HDs etc) would remain the same. Having heard things lately about Vista however, such as the license restrictions, reduced games performance and the still fairly limited 64-bit support (the version I'd get since it would allow me to utilise 4 gigs of RAM effectively), I'm considering sticking with XP. Combined with the fact that my budget at present is somewhat less than I had planned on having, I'm not sure what to do anymore. I'm considering one of four options, and I'd appreciate your input as to which one to go for:

1) Wait until February/March and build a complete new system (funds permitting). This would include replacing my current 17" TFT monitor and getting Vista. I'm not certain about the specs I'd get yet, but it would most likely be something like this:

Core 2 Duo E6400
Gigabyte DS4 Mobo
530 Watt PSU
2x1GB DDR2-667 RAM
Top end single DX9 GFX Card
Creative X-Fi sound card
4x250 GB Seagate 7200.10 in RAID 10

Pros: (Relatively) Future proof machine, very powerful
Cons: Most expensive option, potential issues with Vista x64

2) Same as above, but get cheaper GFX card, no X-Fi and get a cheap single core Intel/AMD setup. Upgrade early 2008 with 2nd gen DX10 GFX card, X-Fi and Quad core Intel/AMD CPU.

Pros: Base system same as 1), spreads out cost of machine, more futureproof in long run
Cons: Still potential Vista x64 issues, upgrade initially not significant over current machine

3) Build another interim system based on XP. This would be a S939 AMD system, allowing me to move up to dual core and PCI-E whilst reusing the 1 gig of DDR RAM I currently have. Specs would likely be:

Athlon 64 X2 3800+ S939
Unknown matx S939 mobo
430 Watt PSU
2x512 MB DDR400 RAM
Radeon X1900XT 256MB
2x250 GB Seagate 7200.10 in RAID 1

Pros: Moderate price, considerable upgrade over current machine
Cons: No upgrade path, will only be usable for next 2 years

This option would probably lead me to building another new machine late 2008, by which time quad core will be mainstream and DDR3/Core 3 should be here

4) Upgrade current machine further with:

Additional HD for RAID-1
Geforce 7600GT GFX Card
250W PSU

Also overclock A64 from 2GHz to 2.3GHz (I know it can do this)

Pros: Cheapest upgrade
Cons: Poor performance increase for cost, game stability issues may still be a problem

The new PSU would be essential in this case, since my 12V rail on my current setup is already stretched, reaching 11.4V at times

Any comments/suggestions would be appreciated, thanks :) 


You ran all that on a 200w PSU?! Wow, suprised it lasted That long. Consider a heftier one for your new setup, preferably in the 450-550w range.
November 12, 2006 3:40:36 PM

It was because that was what came with the 200P, the problem is it's a custom size, so upgrading it wasn't an option! It is a top notch 200W PSU from what I gather, but from the speedfan readings it is operating on it's very limits - I've seen the +12V rail drop to 11.3 before when under load.

I'm having doubts now about the PSU I've ordered, hopefully it will be enough being a top quality brand. I've just double checked using this PSU Calculator and it came back with 364W - thats using 100% TDP, 2 PCI cards (I will be using 1) and 6 USB devices (normally using 3). Will just have to wait and see I guess!

EDIT: I've just checked the crucial 12V power on the PSU I've ordered. It has 2 12V rails, one rated at 10A and the other at 15A. Will I need to be careful which wires I use when I build my PC (are there certain wires routed to rail 1 and 2), or does the PSU ensure the rails power is distributed equally?
November 15, 2006 2:24:23 PM

Ok, I've got everything assembled and installed now, everything seems to be running fine :D 

I tried overclocking the CPU to 2.5GHz, but this wasn't prime stable. I then went to 2.4 with an FSB of 218, which seemed to work fine. I tried tightening my memory timings at this level but that also caused Prime95 to fail. Still, I'm pretty happy that I've got an extra speed grade out of my CPU without compromising stability. My graphics card seemed to suggest it could overclock quite far with the built in overdrive tool, but I've limited my overclock to 600 core / 1500 memory in order to ensure stability over long periods of time, and not stress the PSU too much.

I've run PCMark05 and 3DMark06 benchmarks, and here's the results:

PCMark05: 5918 (old PC: 3446)
3DMark06: 4820 (old PC: 1526)

So overall I'm pretty pleased with my new machine, things are so much more responsive with a dual core CPU, combined with 3x the graphics horespower it should be great for games :D 
!