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My new toy...

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January 27, 2007 4:12:11 AM

The build has begun! My four year old workstation's days are numbered. Yep, the 2.53GHz P4 with Windows 2000 Pro (yes, really) will be transformed into a server or somesuch and put off to the side. Here comes a Vista-ready kick-@$$ box, and I wish to thank everyone on the forums here (as well as a few other places) for their help with my choices.

I started with the Cooler Master Mystique 631 case, p/n RC-631-KKN1-GP. It's black brushed aluminum, fairly well-made, attractive but conservative, uses 120mm fans all around for quietness, places the sound/USB ports on top where they're useful to me, and offers no top ingress points for stray Coca-Cola. And no RFI -leaking Lucite side panel. Only I will know for sure how neat my cabling work is. After scratching my head and bugging the crap out of the forum participants here for two months, I settled on this and paid just $96 from NewEgg.

Not being able to leave well-enough alone, I replaced the two included Cooler Master case fans with Noctua's allegedly super-quiet 120mm fans for $20 apiece. Using their included sound-dampening fasteners required some ingenuity however, as the front fan's placement makes it impossible to get fingers or tools in to pull the fasteners through from behind on the two motherboard -facing mounting points. Thinking "what would MacGyver do", I attached some 20lb fishing line to the pull-tips of the fasteners and fished the line into the front of the case, allowing me to pull the fasteners into place with the line snaking through the case's fan mounting holes, the fan's mounting holes and the ventilation holes in the drive cage. Since I don't fish, add $6 for the small spool of filament.

I spec'd this build around Intel's Core 2 Duo "Extreme" EX6800. A factory-fresh, sealed retail box cost me $750 on eBay - still costly but a whopping $200 less than most retail discounters. Since Intel motherboards have never let me down in the past, that pricey CPU is going onto an Intel D975XBX2 "Bad Axe 2" motherboard, which I ordered through Page Computers for $215, but which took two weeks to arrive. A 2x2GB set of Kingston KVR667D2E5K2/4G ECC DDR2-667 cost me $716. Just a week later the price is back up by $60! That too took two weeks to arrive. Later this year when the RAM prices settle down some, I'll add another set for a total of 8GB RAM.

Since Microsoft won't have the DirectX-10 code out for Flight Simulator until late 2007 and that's the only gaming I do, I chose to avoid the DX10 hardware scramble and scarfed up a used ATI (real, honest to goodness ATI because in this case I'm a brand-name whore) X1950 XTX, retail setup with original packaging. I was hoping to keep that cost down toward $250 or so but ended up paying $305 on eBay. Later this year I'll put this back on eBay and buy ATI's "XT" version of their R600 -based card, assuming it doesn't need a nuclear reactor to power it.

An ATI TV Wonder 650 TV tuner card with the remote control in all the original packaging cost me $104 via eBay, which saves me about $35 and saves me the hassle of mailing in the request for the remote control. I wish a separate tuner weren't necessary but ATI never puts the tuner on their better cards, making the All In Wonder purchases a trade-off

For the storage subsystem I bought four WD1500ADFD 150GB "Raptors", $220 each at NewEgg and a $30 apiece rebate brings that to $190 each. Though the model is a year old and it's a bit unsettling to buy such "old" technology for a cutting-edge build, the Raptors are still top of the performance heap short of going to SAS/SCSI at twice the cost. They connect to an AMCC 3ware 9650SE-4LPML RAID controller ($285 on eBay still in factory shrink-wrap, at least a $50 savings) with the BBU module (another $110 elsewhere) where they will operate as a RAID-10 set with 256MB read/write cache, without loading the CPU appreciably.

For now I will have two optical drives. One optical is the Plextor PX-755SA (SATA DVD burner), $106 from NewEgg, and the second is Samsung's $43 SH-S183L SATA DVD burner featuring LightScribe. Both are black to match the case. I chose two different burners knowing that different burners can be better with differing media, and because however elite it may seem, the Plextor unit doesn't feature LightScribe. SATA all around will keep cabling neat. Two bays remain available for Blue-Ray/HD hardware once those prices settle down and the standards work themselves out a bit more.

An Atech XM-28U flash memory reader (reads pretty much everything) and a Sony FP920 floppy drive (still necessary to load RAID drivers for XP) cost me $35 and $8 respectively. Both again are black to match the case of course.

To keep everything both cool and quiet, I tossed Intel's stock heat sink & fan combo and replaced it with Zalman's big, heavy CNPS7700-Cu, $35 from NewEgg. And since it seems totally idiotic to me that a four thousand (and then some) dollar computer system should need a manual fan control, I retrofitted a JMC Products 1225-12H PWM -controlled fan onto the Zalman for another $20. This required cutting the frame and struts off the JMC, drilling two holes in its baseplate, manufacturing a 1/8" thick shim to compensate for the thinner baseplate, and cutting a couple of #4 screws to size.

Powering the new beast is a Thermaltake W0128RU modular 650 Watt high-efficiency modular power supply, $149 shipped from Directron.

This all plugs into an existing Logitech Z-680 speaker system, Viewsonic VP930b LCD, Microsoft Force Feedback 2 USB joystick and CH Pro (rudder) pedals, Icom PCR-1000 radio scanner, 8-port KVM switch and a Samson PL-1602 8x2 channel sound mixer. The icing on the cake - pun intended - is a D├ęck Legend "Ice" keyboard, which set me back a totally ridiculous $159 plus $12 S&H.

The only widget I still may soon need to replace is my Suncore class 2 Bluetooth USB dongle, whose Broadcom 2045 chipset may not be natively supported in Windows Vista. Suncore seems to have disappeared a few months ago, and the hope of drivers with it. Guess I'll find out in a week or two.

I'll be conducting some tests in the next week or so to see how the performance compares between the motherboard's own ICH7R and the 3ware SATA controllers in various JBOD and RAID 0, 1 and 10 configurations, and may consider putting the 3ware back on eBay if the difference is too small. Doubt it though.

Observations...

It lit up OK on the first run. There's nothing like triple-checking everything, and using a high-intensity flashlight for final inspection. That last step helped me catch a USB connection to the motherboard that was misplaced by one pin. It also reminded me to remove the HD activity light connector from the motherboard and place it on the 3ware controller instead.

Oh yeah, this puppy is quiet. I'm just starting burn-in so it hasn't ramped all the way up yet, but so far I'm really, really happy with the relative lack of noise, pretty much inaudible at idle, and the character of the whoosh there is when the fans kick up.

Folks who buy an aluminum case thinking the weight savings will help with transportability, are in my opinion, nuts. The weight of the power supply, hard drives and heavy duty cooling equipment really adds up. Unless we're talking about a middle aged arthritic guy hitting LAN parties, the case seems like a drop in the bucket.

The Mystique is a nice case but a few of the aluminum guide bits inside the 4" cage were not bent quite into the correct position, requiring some persuasion with right-angle pliers before the removable drives would slide in completely. The hard drive cage puts the drives sideways which helps keeping wiring out of the way of air flow and expansion cards. I find no issue with the strength of the magnetic catch on the door, about which I've read a few complaints. It's just strong enough to keep the door closed without interfering with optical drive trays popping it open. Those of you buying enormous video cards will want to know not to bother with this case if your cards' circuit boards will be more than about 10-1/2" long. And don't forget about PCIe power connectors if they point backwards. The HD sound connector mates nicely with the header on the Bad Axe 2 - all the extra connectors on that cable can be snipped off for neatness. Cleaning the front filter - really just a metal mesh by the way - is impossibly awkward without disassembling the front facade, a task made difficult how the facade is fastened and by the routing of the panel's wires. On the other hand, the Mystique looks just as nice even without the two wavy front aluminum pieces altogether. Maybe I'll leave it nekkid. Lastly, the side panel snorkel doesn't line up evenly with the CPU placement. But it's not off by enough to worry about.

The blades on the JMC fan seem unusually roughly finished. Wonder if that'll be a bad thing. I could always try out one of Arctic Cooling's new PWM fans, or at least I suppose I could if they'd get off their respective behinds and get their new PWM product line into the North American retail channel. It blows my ugly American center of the universe mind that folks in the Czech Republic can get one and I cannot.

If you relied on Intel's published documentation on the Bad Axe 2 motherboard, you'd think all you were going to get is a motherboard and maybe driver CDs and some instructions. I ordered with optimism and luckily this is not the case. Along with a decent booklet and a really nice full color fold-out setup guide, the retail box includes four SATA cables, a rounded IDE cable supporting two drives, and a rounded floppy cable. The SATA cables are nice FoxConn bits but the IDE and floppy cables seem a little cheesy. All are shades of Intel blue, which happen to match the stock CPU cooler's fan. You also do get an expansion backplane connector for two USB ports, but I won't be using it because of the flash card reader. And RAID driver floppies are thoughtfully included so you don't have to scramble to make your own, which is more than can be said for the 3ware RAID controller.

Modular power supplies are hyped with the promise of making cabling more manageable and efficient, but this is not necessarily so. For example I have four SATA HDs and two SATA optical drives but the two provided SATA cables only support three drives each. Yes, that's just enough, at least for now, but the distance between the HD cage and the optical slots is an issue for one of those cables, and what will happen when I add a third optical? And the cable I need to employ to power the diskette drive has three Molex connectors hanging from it, for which I have no need at all. I may just modify the included cables to suit. So it's nice that there's a couple less cables stuffed into a drive bay or tie-wrapped to the roof the case, but modular deal may not be all it's cracked up to be.

The state of graphics processor technology is overdue for a serious reality check. Right now all this box is doing is a MEMTEST-86 run - not exactly a huge GPU challenge - and there's substantially more heat coming off the XTX' heat sink than from the area of the CPU or RAM. It's time for a revolution. Seriously. This is just absurd.

Oh well, more observations to come once I load up an OS...

More about : toy

January 27, 2007 4:37:45 AM

lol dont you think you wrote a little too much?
January 27, 2007 5:12:22 AM

Quote:
lol dont you think you wrote a little too much?



agreed

lets see some PIC'S MAN !!!!!!!!!!!!
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January 27, 2007 5:49:17 AM

What can he say he just spent over 4 large on a new monster rig I would be bragging too. LOL Nice rig by the way you should post some benchmark and like the previous poster said a few pics, I wish I had that kind of money to build my new rig, but sadly my budget will be a paltry 1500 that is when I can get ahold of the money. I assume you are planning on using your new rig as a workstation like your old (or really new compared to my athlon thunderbird corca 2000) rig. What kind of programs are you running on your workstation just out of curosity?
January 27, 2007 6:16:13 AM

How long did it take you to type all of that?

P.S I wish to delete above post, sorry to the OP
January 27, 2007 6:25:21 AM

Quote:
How long did it take you to type all of that?


First book I've read since college...maybe before!
January 27, 2007 2:34:42 PM

Quote:
What kind of programs are you running on your workstation just out of curosity?

Aside of the usual office crap, newsreader, etc. primarily this box was built with Flight Simulator in mind. Some of the other heavy-hitting stuff that will enjoy the fast CPU includes Adobe CS Production Studio, MS Visual Studio and some other dev tools, VMware, some password recovery software, AutoCAD, etc.

I think by the time it's all done I'll have pissed away a month of net but what the hell, it's not like I do this every year. And it's a tax write-off. And since the wife has two workstations under her desk (er, not to mention a whopper of a rock on her finger) she's in no position to bitch.

Quote:
lets see some PIC'S MAN !!!!!!!!!!!!

Not that interesting since there's no translucent side panel but if you're interested in what the innards and front facade look like I'll post pics tomorrow. I was actually going to post some pics about how to modify the Zalman with a new fan, anyway.

-Brad
January 27, 2007 3:15:43 PM

Ya that must have taken him forever. Thats a lot of words. 8O
January 27, 2007 4:10:20 PM

Quote:
Ya that must have taken him forever. Thats a lot of words. 8O

Unlike many of the mouseketeers here, I can touch-type.

Although you're correct, it's more substantive than a few of THG's recent reviews.

But that's not saying much for those reviews. If it weren't for the fact that having to write for a living takes much of the fun out of it, I'd consider changing careers.

Anyway, RAM burn-in is done now. I'm picking up the third and fourth hard drives from the mail drop tomorrow, then following 24 hours of HD burn-in I'll consider the New Toy more or less complete (I want to modify some of the power supply cables but no hurry) and ready for configuration and benchmarking.

-Brad
January 27, 2007 4:30:21 PM

for everybody

dont even think about quoting that thing! that will make your browser to lag :twisted:
Anonymous
January 27, 2007 5:00:24 PM

Quote:
lol dont you think you wrote a little too much?



Ummm try reading any of WizardOz's posts sheesh. hes long winded and thinks always using his large words makes him intelligent.



Great post bud...
January 27, 2007 6:22:13 PM

I dont even read this kind of topics....
January 28, 2007 1:39:38 AM

Pics, if they're to be accurate about the finished product, will have to wait a few more days. I've hit an engineering glitch.

3ware's RAID controller brags of passive cooling. But apparently I should have taken the vent holes in its backplane plate as a sign of trouble ahead. With the BBU attached the assembly can't stay cool enough unless there's a massive high-pressure breeze being force-fed from the front of the case. The result is an alarm and a disabled BBU.

A front-fed hurricane is no option as far as I'm concerned, there's no room to sandwich another 120mm fan between the HD cage and the cards, and the RAID controller is too low in the case to be helped by a case side fan, so I think I'll Velcro a low-speed 80mm fan to the bottom of the case and aim it across the RAID controller toward the back of the case. Time to go shopping...

Meanwhile, the software angle has not been without its own challenges. I broke the first rule of building a new system - having absolutely every last card and gadget plugged in while installing the OS. As a result what should have been my C: drive is I: !!! Glad it's just a test run.

And usually the first thing to install is the motherboard drivers, right? The motherboard drivers and on-board Ethernet drivers would not install until after the ATI software was all loaded up and the on-board sound drivers would not install until I downloaded an update from Intel's web site.
January 28, 2007 3:12:38 AM

Quote:
lol dont you think you wrote a little too much?



Ummm try reading any of WizardOz's posts sheesh. hes long winded and thinks always using his large words makes him intelligent.



Great post bud...

And this has what to do with anything connected to this thread or the OP's question?

The good readership may wish to consider the following trivial details:

thecompukids irrelevant and spurious rerference to a disagreement between him and myself in a completely different thread. On a completely different matter to boot

the use of a blanket attack without any appropriate qualifiers is equally entertaining. We won't get into the issue of the relative value of a "Informed consent" post vs a yes/no grunt.

thecompikid's characterization of posters that don't agree exactly with him as "stupid", "ignorant" and other similar positive terms of endearment is another reason to treat anything he posts as divine revelation. NOT!!!
Anonymous
January 28, 2007 3:21:29 AM

Quote:
lol dont you think you wrote a little too much?



Ummm try reading any of WizardOz's posts sheesh. hes long winded and thinks always using his large words makes him intelligent.



Great post bud...

And this has what to do with anything connected to this thread or the OP's question?

The good readership may wish to consider the following trivial details:

thecompukids irrelevant and spurious rerference to a disagreement between him and myself in a completely different thread. On a completely different matter to boot

the use of a blanket attack without any appropriate qualifiers is equally entertaining. We won't get into the issue of the relative value of a "Informed consent" post vs a yes/no grunt.

thecompikid's characterization of posters that don't agree exactly with him as "stupid", "ignorant" and other similar positive terms of endearment is another reason to treat anything he posts as divine revelation. NOT!!!


LoL, I rest my case.
January 28, 2007 3:55:06 AM

Quote:
It blows my ugly American center of the universe mind that folks in the Czech Republic can get one and I cannot.


lol, that was funny stuff.

Very informative post. Thanks man, I enjoyed reading it. I would like to see some pics too if you don't mind.

Thanks
January 29, 2007 1:13:51 AM

Troll.

Personal vendettas are most appropriately pursued via PM. Why are you inflicting yourself on the rest of the good readership?

Feeling lonely, unappreciated and misunderstood are you?

BTW - Bucko claims to be an IT specialist for assorted major banks.

Have you had any problems due to bank computer glitches? Or outright lies from your bank about how their electronic banking allegedly works as opposed to reality? Here's the "man" to ask - thecompukid - please direct your questions and comments to him. After all, he claimed, in a public post, to be directly involved in the programming of said systems.

This person claims to be employed by three (3) - count em, three (3) - major banks - as an IT specialist. His comments to me clearly indicate that he is directly responsible for significant aspects of how these bank computers actually operate.

Here you are, one of the people directly responsible for any pain you may have experienced due to bank computer screw-ups.
January 29, 2007 1:58:15 AM

That is one nice sounding computer. And it was a better read than the book I'm reading. Much better to tell the whole story than to leave out the fun details.
January 29, 2007 2:05:34 AM

Quote:
Troll.

Yes, apparently, and yet you responded to it anyway.

And as you said two posts ago, "And this has what to do with anything connected to this thread or the OP's question?"

Thanks for your input.

Anyway, I noticed the drive I: thing... doing that math, that means the Bad Axe arranged both the card reader (equals four logical drives) and the two opticals as preceding the RAID container on the 3ware controller.

Any thoughts before my next imaging?

-Brad
January 29, 2007 2:06:27 AM

Quote:
That is one nice sounding computer. And it was a better read than the book I'm reading. Much better to tell the whole story than to leave out the fun details.

Humble thanks, kind sir!
January 29, 2007 4:04:45 AM

bberson, nice read. As with your rig, my primary mission is Flight Simulator. I noted that you made no mention of overclocking, probably due to the X6800. Since Flight Simulator X is nearly 90% CPU bound, (similar to Flight Simulator 04), and will bring the most powerful PC to it's knees, you'll need all the CPU horsepower that you can muster, since extreme GPU horsepower has little effect on FPS.

I ran FPS tests on my rig using 6 sample points at 2.4, 2.7, 3.0, 3.3, 3.6 and 3.7 Ghz. Results showed that FPS scaled 48.6% while CPU scaled 54.2%. This indicates that FSX is 89.7% CPU bound on my rig's configuration, with an X1900XT OC'd to 700/1700.

My findings agree with the following articles, which offer some excellent insight regarding the performance characteristics of Flight Simulator X.

http://www.fox-fam.com/wordpress/?page_id=41

http://flyawaysimulation.com/forum24.html

http://enthusiast.hardocp.com/article.html?art=MTIxOCwx...

If I may make 2 recommendations:

(1) OC the beejeezus out of that X6800, as it's a high bin C2D, and it would be very disappointing to see less than the highest possible FPS in FSX. The additional Vcore plays into the next item.

(2) Purchase a better CPU cooler. The 7700 is barely on par with the boxed C2D cooler. Many enthusiasts insist that the Tuniq Tower is the present pinnacle, so such a high end rig should be crowned with one. Liquid cooling may even get you close to 4.0 Ghz, which again means even higher FPS in FSX.

I hope this helps. Happy landings, and good luck with your new toy. 8)
January 29, 2007 1:15:32 PM

Quote:
(1) OC the beejeezus out of that X6800 [...] (2) Purchase a better CPU cooler. The 7700 is barely on par with the boxed C2D cooler. Many enthusiasts insist that the Tuniq Tower

Thanks for the advice. I've been doing lots of reading and I've been using FS since the first DOS version so I'm pretty well aware of how CPU -bound it is. My RAM choice leaves some wiggle room for ramping up the entire system bus but more likely I'm probably just going to crank up the multiplier when I need to. The graphics card choice is mostly pee-pee wagging but the 512MB RAM is useful for FS-X' storage of textures.

Funny thing, the stock C2D cooler is actually not bad at all. Too bad it makes such a racket when it ramps up. There is actually distinct and well thought-out logic in my selection of the 7700Cu. It was chosen to keep noise down as well as to ensure that the VRMs and the MCH get adequate cooling. If this limits OC potential, so be it. My plans are to avoid compromising reliability, so any OC adventures will be limited anyway.

-Brad
January 30, 2007 1:47:48 AM

Quote:
...I've been using FS since the first DOS version so I'm pretty well aware of how CPU -bound it is...


I'm on the same page with you...gotta love it! :D 

Quote:
The graphics card choice is mostly pee-pee wagging but the 512MB RAM is useful for FS-X' storage of textures.


I'm waiting for ATI's DX10 offerings to be released to provide competition, product variety, and lower prices, so I'm standing fast for the present.

Quote:
...the 7700Cu. It was chosen to keep noise down as well as to ensure that the VRMs and the MCH get adequate cooling.


Due to it's radial design and subsequent airflow disbursal pattern, I chose the 9500 for exactly the same reason. 8)
January 30, 2007 2:45:20 AM

Every word is a help for those of us who are listening and absorbing the information.
January 30, 2007 2:46:33 AM

Quote:
...the 7700Cu. It was chosen to keep noise down as well as to ensure that the VRMs and the MCH get adequate cooling.

Due to it's radial design and subsequent airflow disbursal pattern, I chose the 9500 for exactly the same reason. 8)
Ummm, I didn't really think so, but OK...

As for folks who have been asking for pics, here's a shot of the front:



Nothing special, except the brushed aluminum shows every bloody fingerprint and dust mark in intense light. Oh, and while the blue lights look nice on the black case, they are not bi-color LEDs and so do not indicate if the unit is asleep. Further, behind the facade they share a piece of translucent plastic so the power and HD lights bleed together.

And here's a shot of the innards:



The Intel fan was robbed from the stock heat sink. I have other 80mm fans lying around but there's a PWM case fan connector just inches away that was begging to be used. It'll have to do until I can find something less clumsy - either an 80mm JMC or an Arctic Cooling PWM unit. I'll order it from CZ ;-).

I've kept the wiring fairly neat but most importantly, out of the way of air flow. So far I only used two or three ties to keep it all put.

The Mystique's top audio port cable sports an HD audio connector, an AC'97 audio connector hanging from it, and Azalia sound connector pigtails hanging from that! I carefully snipped off everything past the HD connector, which works perfectly on the Intel motherboard.

Very sharp-eyed readers will note the topmost hard drive is using the molex for power, not the SATA power connector. This is due to the limitations of the cabling provided. Not that it really matters.

-Brad
January 30, 2007 3:36:01 AM

Wow, really nice looking. Thanks for sharing.
January 30, 2007 11:51:31 PM

That is understandable since FSX is turning out to be the new Oblivian. As in it just beats down just about any rig you run it on. I don't think I have read a review yet with a rig that can max out FSX with decent frame rates. And yes I know that Oblivian was GPU limited until the new 8800 series and FSX is cpu limited not unlike The Sims 2
February 2, 2007 11:05:29 PM

A quick update on my new toy...

The Noctua fans are not working out well AT ALL. They exhibit a weird behavior where any interfering structures in close proximity cause a huge reductions in static pressure. Just the fan grill on the case was enough to make it difficult to tell which way the fan was blowing! And if you placed your spread fingers in close to the intake side of the fan, half of the air flow actually REVERSED!!!

I could always cut out the rear grill but the front fan presents a far larger problem, sandwiched between the HD cage and the front grill. These Noctua fans seemed like a great idea but they're gonna have to go.

The 3ware RAID-10 is showing some performance challenges right now. While HD_Speed shows reads cranking along around 160 MB/s, and XP installed super-quick (four minutes from entering the key to rebooting), HDTach's long running variable zone test shows a hard bottleneck at 110, and the 8MB and 32MB zone tests show wild broad sawtooth variations between 175 to as little as 80 or 85, with burst speeds of 215 MB/s.

Over the next few days I'll be testing variations of RAID 1, 0 and 10 and JBOD (just to rule out screwy drives) both on the 9650SE and the ICH7. I'll also experiment with DISKPART a bit to see if the partition boundary is an issue.

And the JMC fan I installed on the Zalman is supposed to be rated for 2600 RPM, but the fastest the motherboard ever gets it going is 1600 RPM. The stock Zalman fan is rated for 2000 RPM max. I might buy another JMC fan - the higher speed model - and put that on.

By the way, the SATA cable that came with the Plextor drive was FORTY INCHES long. Who the hell needs such a long cable?!

-Brad
!