Need advice w/ choosing up to date hardware for business pc

Hello, my name is Scott and this is my first post on this forum. I know that this thread is very long, and hopefully not too intimidating. I figured that a little time writing up this thread will save me weeks of research on my own. Should you take the time to read it, I promise that any advice towards the selection of hardware for this new computer is greatly appreciated.

Here it goes:

Over the past 10 years I have built approximately one dozen computers from the ground up for family & friends. I feel that I have a decent “general” idea of what I’m doing.

Now within the past 3 years I’ve started up a small ecommerce business. I am in a situation where I’m doing more multi-tasking than ever before and my current pc is starting to show its age (can't keep up with the latest software and I multi-task beyond its capabilities).

The last format happened about 6 months ago, so just last week I did a fresh format & reinstall of window xp pro to the entire pc. This “temporarily” helped to improve performance.

I say temporarily, because once all of the current windows updates were downloaded and all of the programs were installed, it went back to being pre-format slow. That is even with the system running “lean”.

I specifically go into “msconfig” and limit the amount of programs that open during computer start-up. So the computer is running as lean as possible when it first starts up. Even with just the bare minimum of programs running, after some time (depending on usage – it ranges from 30 minutes to a few hours) of using the computer, it bogs down to where it will take over 15-20 seconds sometimes to open just 1 internet browser page or over 30 seconds to open a larger program (Corel Draw or Outlook). I know that it isn’t that the computer is slowing down, but with the workload demand increasing it is just too much for the dated computer components.


I had built the pc from the ground up approximately 4-5 years ago. At the time, I did weeks of research and tailored every component of this computer to fit my needs.

At the time, this was approximately a $1500-1700 pc. It was not considered a “premier top of the line” computer however it was still on the cutting edge and very fast at the time.


Here is a general list of components from my current pc:

os – Windows xp pro
ps - Allied model al-b450eatx max 450w
mobo - Soyo Dragon Ultra Platinum P4x400
cpu - P4 2.53 – not overclocked (for stability reasons)
sc - Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Platinum
vc - Asus V9280 Ti4200-8x GPU 275 MHz Memory 600MHz DDR; 128 Mb
hd1 – 3 partitions Western Digital WD1200JB 120gb 8mb cache 7200rpm ATA100
hd2 – 3 partitions - pretty sure it is a Maxtor L01Y300 300gb 7200rpm ATA100
ram – (within the past 6 months I upgraded the ram to) 2 sticks of OCZ 1024 pc3200 EL Dual Ch Platinum Edition 2-3-2-5 (2048mb total)
Ethernet – 3com NIC – pci slot
cooling - Digital Doc 5 - 5 case fans - 2 hdd coolers -
dvd drive - generic compusa "rebate special" hi-val
cd burner - generic compusa "rebate special" hi-val
pci card 4 port usb expansion – I added this because the SOYO mobo only came with a couple usb slots in the rear. Those were quickly used up, and I didn’t want to run cables to the front of the computer for permanent devices like the printer or wireless keyboard / mouse.


Multi-tasking:

Almost all of the functions of this next computer are being built around managing my small ecommerce business. The new computer needs to be capable of efficiently running many programs at one time. Multi-tasking is what is killing the speed of this current computer.

For example, on a work day, here is what would be running on the computer at any given time. Several Word / Excel documents, Several windows explorer pages, at least 1-2 dozen internet explorer pages, CorelDraw 12 for light photo editing (resizing, adding watermark to pictures, etc..), ws_ftp for uploading / downloading to website, winamp internet radio, Outlook, transferring data between 2 internal hard drives, and more...


Now here are some detailed specs about this next computer:

For the most part, I would like to leave this current computer intact and build the new computer from the ground up. Two exceptions are the Audio card and the ram. Please read below:


Audio:

One exception is the Soundblaster audigy 2 platinum card & Audigy front 5.25 I/O Drive could be removed from this current computer and used with the new computer. The reason for this is 2 fold.

1. I want a good performing sound card with the next computer. I have a very nice sounding 5 channel Logitech speaker set which I currently use in my office as a theater for watching DVD’s on the TV. Even when I’m just listening to internet radio, I would still like to have it running through my Logitech speakers. Also, one important fuction of the Audigy 2 platinum card is that it has the 5.25” I/O drive that fits in the front of the computer. I really like this feature for connecting headphones or an MP3 player right on the front of the computer. Even if the next computer has a high quality onboard audio card, that alone is not enough. It still needs to have the features that I’m used to with the front 5.25 I/O drive.

Now, I looked into the soundblaster x-fi fatal1ty card, but I’m not sure if it is a “worth while expense” upgrade to my current Audigy 2 platinum card. I’m not an audiofile and I’m quite happy with the audio capability of my current system. I don’t think the Audigy 2 platinum card is bogging the system, so is there a need to upgrade this?

2. the reason I can get away with removing the soundcard from this computer and transferring it to the new computer is because the current SOYO mobo has onboard audio. Because the current computer will become just a backup 2nd computer, it will get a set of cheap desktop powered speakers. The onboard audio will be fine for this.


Video:

Although the current computer has onboard video capability, it is only single monitor output. Right now, I’m using a dual monitor setup, and even when this current computer becomes my backup computer, I still want it to have the dual monitors. That means I can’t afford to remove the Asus video card and use the onboard video capability of the Soyo mobo.

By the way, the next computer must also have dual monitor (maybe even triple monitor) capability, so please let me know of a good graphics card that can handle at least dual monitors and also handle some light photo editing work. I am not into gaming, so a mega expensive video card is simply not needed. But I don’t want something that is underpowered either.


Motherboard:

One request which I think is pretty much standard on new mobos is that it must allow for 2 front usb ports. For the new computer case, it will have usb ports on the front, and these need to be able to plug into the mobo. Another factor is that it has enough PCI slots to handle all of the cards.


Processor:

It seems there is much debate but all roads are leading to the new Intel Duo processors. Prices range up to $1000+ for a processor. I need a good one that will handle plenty of multi-tasking. If I only truly need a $300 processor, I do not care about bragging rights for the $1000 processor. My money is better spent elsewhere.


Hard drive:

I would like for the new computer to have faster hard drives. I believe one of the reasons why this current computer takes so long for programs to load, is because the hard drives are dated. I am currently using up 150gigs of space spread out over 2 ATA100 hard drives each drive being portioned 3 times. Out of the 150 gigs of stuff on the hard drives, only about 50 gigs are “active” (30 gigs for operating system & programs “C: drive”, and another 20 gigs for business documents). The remaining 100gigs are just a mix of everything (backup of my website, backup of business documents, mp3’s, etc..) With that explained, on the next computer, would it be worth while to possibly pick up 1 high speed 10,000 rmp SATA drive, and reuse the Maxtor 300gb drive from the current computer. Leaving the current computer to just have the Western Digital 120gb drive, which would be more than enough since it will be just a 2nd computer to access the internet, kids can do homework on it, etc..

Ethernet:

If the new mobo has onboard Ethernet, is it wise to use this or does it pull from the resources of the processor and bog down the system.

Years ago, when I first started building computers, all mobos had external cards. Very few used onboard graphics, sound, internet, etc.. Now it seems that all mobos companies are going with onboard for every function of the computer. My only question to this, is that it would seem as though when everything in onboard, it pulls from the capability of the main processor. Where if each device (sound, audio, internet) had its own card and own processor, it would lessen the load on the main processor and allow for a faster computer in general. Feel free to elaborate about this topic…

Ram:

I’ve always been a believer of going with a proven name brand high quality ram. It seems that ram is so finicky that if you don’t go with something high quality, you’re just asking for trouble. I would like to go with as much ram as possible, but I’m sure it will depend on the brand and type of mobo.

By the way, if the ram in the current computer (as listed above) is up to date, I can afford to remove this ram and use it in the next system. When I upgraded the ram a few months ago, I kept the older 2 sticks of 256 (512 total). It was a very high quality ram, just not enough of it. But because the current computer will be used just as a backup computer, I can resort back to the 512mb and use the current 2048mb ram for in the new system. But I’m guessing this is still a waste of time because the new system will use even more than 2048mb plus I could go with a faster ram as well. Feel free to elaborate about this topic…

Power Supply:

I will need a new power supply, and a good name brand one at that. I want to pick up one with plenty of power to run the system, hard drives, case fans, and whatever other 12v stuff I can pack into the case. What output wattage do you think will be sufficient.


I believe this covers just about everything that I can think of for the time being. Thank you taking the time to read this and posting a reply. –Scott-
7 answers Last reply
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  1. Okay, where to start.

    First off, we'll start with case, as it's the most basic necessity in any computer (right?)
    I suggest going to a local computer store and picking one out, as the cost of shipping is generally offset, and you can tell first hand if it will meet your space requirements.

    For multi-tasking performance that you require, I suggest the Core Duo E6600 with 4MB cache, better performance out of the box without spending 1,000$. You can easily get by with the 6300/6400, but the power out of the box is worth spending the extra money for in your case, not to mention the overclock potential is incredible as-is.

    Motherboards are hard to recommend, theres so many good ones! One that's been tossed around a lot is the Gigabyte DS3 as well as the Asus P5B-deluxe, both excellent, reliable boards that wont leave you disappointed, as they both offer 4x+ rear usb as well as 2 USB headers for up to 4 devices up front.

    Video card suggestion, for the best media experience, I would recommend the x1600XT or x1600PRO, both are relatively inexpensive, sitting around 100-120$, with most having rebates. You'll really enjoy the AVIVO (ATI video in video out) quality as well as the dual DVI connectors (with DVI>VGA connectors) you can still use 2 monitors.

    RAM is a toughy, your new ram wont work as you'll need DDR2, Kingston HyperX, Corsair, Cruicial, or Gskill are all excellent brands, My suggestion would be to grab some 667 DDR2, unless you plan on OCing, and with what you said, that's a negatory. 667 is quick enough to run at 1:1 ratio with the CPU and will give excellent performance.

    Audio: Keep your audigy 2, no reason to spend more money.

    HDD: I'd recommend a 74gig 16mb cache Western Digital raptor, you'll get a 10k rpm Sata hdd thats quick, and appears to have enough storage space for you, as well as you can take the 300g from your old computer and use it in this one.

    Power supply, I'd recommend an Enermax Noisetaker 500+W, they'll be quiet, reliable, and provide crisp power for a great price.

    Ethernet, you'll be okay with the gigabyte onboard NIC, the resouces it does use are very negligable, especially with the powerhouse of a CPU we've selected.

    Good luck!:)
  2. dmartin, thank you kindly. I was concerned that right off the bat some might flame, saying that I wasn't paying my dues or asking to be spoon fed, before doing research on my own.

    With so many options now-a-days, to have someone take much of the guesswork and reasearch out of the equation, is so very helpful.

    Your reply is exactly what I needed and will give me a good place to start.

    Thanks again! :)
  3. If your system is really slowing down during Multi-Tasking it may be due to insufficient RAM. I would use TaskMgr to track free memory and make sure you are not using what you have.

    From the sounds of it, most of your tasks are not CPU intensive which would be using lots of cycles. So in your case you may be able to get by with just a RAM upgrade. TaskMgr, however, should quickly let you know if you are swapping too much.
  4. Here are the stats in the task manager:

    At idle (just typing this message), CPU usage is around 4%, as soon as I open an internet browser page, or enter a new address and click go, CPU usage shoots to 100%.


    Physical Memory (K)
    Total 2096628
    Available 1634300
    System Cache 665388

    Kernel Memory (K)
    Total 61520
    Paged 29632
    Nonpaged 31952


    Here are a few questions which maybe I should have posted in the first thread, but better late than never...


    Approximately 6 months ago, I was only running the 1 WD HDD. This HDD wasn't enough capacity, so I added the Maxtor as the 2nd HDD.

    I added the Maxtor on the same ribbon cable as the Western Digital. This ribbon is then plugged into IDE1 on the mobo.

    Then I have the two drives (CD, DVD) on the second ribbon, and that is plugged into IDE2 on the mobo.


    Now, at the time that I installed the second HDD, that is only time out of the 4-5 years of owning this computer, where I noticed an immediate decrease in speed. Prior to that, the computer has just naturally been slowing down as the software progressively gets bigger and better over the years.


    Now, the reason I didn't go with Raiding the two drives, is because in the past I had another computer with 2 drives on a RAID controller. I had a problem with a corrupted OS which resulted in not being able to boot up the computer into Windows. At that time, I contacted Ontrack.com about their data recovery software. But the only problem with this, was that the software was only able to recover data from drives that were connected direct to the IDE1 / IDE2 slots on the mobo. If they were connected either, to a PCI RAID controller, or an onboard RAID controller such as what is on my SOYO board (IDE3 / IDE4), then their recovery software would not be capable of recovering the data.

    Now, I did learn my lesson from that situation, and I now backup my data. However, I still have a fear of something going terribly bad, which would cause me to need to run the data recovery software. If I were to have connected the WD & Maxtor HDDs to the Raid controller (IDE3 / IDE4) on my Soyo mobo, I will not be able to extract the data.

    So that is the single handed reason why I connected the two drives on the same IDE Ribbon cable. However, I feel that with the two drives trying to communicate over the same ribbon, they are constantly taking turns which ultimately leads to a slower computer.

    What are my options with this? Should I try putting 1 HDD and 1 CD rom drive together on the same IDE ribbon? That way each HDD will have its own ribbon, but they will remain on IDE1 & IDE2 on the mobo, since the raid controller is IDE3 & IDE4.

    Thanks again!! Scott
  5. Ram- 2 gigs should be enough to start, but yours is too slow. If you limit the CPU to match the memory, you would settle for something with half the processing power.
    Hard drives/DVD burner. Your 320 GB is good enough to keep for the data drive. I would get one DVD burner for the new system. Then get a SATA drive for boot/loading. You have to check the MB you get for an IDE port. Many have gone All SATA or just one. Then you can run HD on Master and DVD on slave and the other drive will be on other bus.
    Your slow downs are coming from 3 places, the HDD using the page swapping, the RAM Being bogged down with all the programs and the CPU is on the slow side.
    I would look at NV7300 or the X16xx series both with give plenty of graphics power. Higher prices card give gamers the more uses.
  6. 1) Go to Device Manager and check the properties of your "IDE Channels".

    2) Examine the Values for "Current Transfer Mode".

    Not Applicable means no device is on that connection is this is OK.

    Some form of DMA mode is good. (Mode 5 or UltraDMA is what we really want.)

    PIO Mode is very bad for performance and a sign you have driver issues.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Try uninstalling any AV or Internet Security software you have to see how your system responds. Certains varieties of this software can really impare performance. I find Norton Internet Security Suite a bane.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Have you tried reinstalling Windows Recently? Lots of little things over time can really slow a system as more hooks are added to IE, etc...
    Try using FireFox in Lieu of IE for browsing for a while to see if that helps.
    There is a chance lots of things have leeched onto IE which could be causing you issues.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    For Memory Use, you want to see how much memory is left when you have all of your stuff open.

    Start Task Manager when you start your PC.

    You showed that you have 1634300 free out of 2096628 Free.
    This is good.

    Also look at your "PF usage" number at this point.

    Now start loading up your programs, bring up big pictures to edit and all the stuff you normally have going............

    Does the PF usage go up significantly? If so you may be short on memory. How low does "Available" drop on the memory list.

    2Gig may be just fine for you but if memory drops too low or PF usage goes way up then Windows is swapping too much to disk and memory may help.

    In my case, I have 3.6Gig of Memory and only 680K is currently available because my current programs are using about 3Gig of RAM. For most folks 2GB is fine, but one of the things that can really eat memory is graphics work which is one thing you said you are doing.
  7. So you're looking at board with two PCI-e slots...

    If you don't overclock, an ECS EliteGroup motherboard should be good. A few of them have a PCIe x16 and an x4 slot (it is still the form of an x16 slot). That should be enough for two low-end (GeForce 7300GS) video cards.

    You will definately need new RAM. You can buy DDR2 533 if you don't overclock at all; if you want a little bit go with DDR2 667. Currently, Kingston has some good ValueRAM modules for about $70/gig... it's DDR2 667.

    I'd say pair of GeForce 7300GS would be good for 3+ monitor support. A C2D E6600 would be grand for now; the Q6400 will be released in time; it's the "low-end" quad-core.
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