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New rig, group purchase, for gaming, photo, video and audio editing

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July 22, 2007 12:51:26 AM

Hello there!

Myself and two friends are about to make a fairly major computer purchase, with a budget around 2,500.00 EUR (3,451.03 USD) each.

We've done a little research and at the moment we're looking at getting a:

* NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI motherboard (Ultra, maybe)

* Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 Box 4096 Kb, LGA775, 64bit

* Standard Dual NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX SLI

* 4096MB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM, possibly going with DDR3, with an option of taking it up to 8GB in future. Should we use DDR3?

* At the moment we're looking at 1TB Serial ATA RAID 0 Stripe for HD, though we'll probably configure this differently between ourselves.

* We haven't thought about the sound card yet, so we're open to ideas.

* Ditto about the case.

We're still looking around for the best deal, but we happened upon something which is, well, I think sorta taboo around here...

It seems possible for us to get a machine like the above from Dell - a customised Dimension XPS 710. Sure it'll have a loada crap on it which we'll have to burn off the hard drive, but we'd get the components soon, they'd be professionally built and come complete with a warranty.

We're competent enough to build the machines ourselves (with a little help) - but it seems as though the Dell system is surprisingly solid. We'd be very happy to take on board any arguments on the topic, pro and con - especially if you can provide a faster and/or cheaper solution...! =)

Last couple of questions:

Cooling - is there any benefit in using liquid cooling over fan cooling, apart from noise and novelty factors?

SLI - If we purchase the motherboard above, when the 8800 comes down in price, we should be able to buy a second card for the machines?

Firewire - Can anybody recommend a firewire card?

Games for Windows - Dumb question... Vista doesn't RESTRICT you to the Games for Windows platform? One would assume that you can run programs on Windows however you like - but my friend is a little worried.

Thanks for your time, fellas - we surely appreciate it!

All the best,

--Nuce
July 22, 2007 1:25:03 AM

Go with the Q6600 over the E6600 because for tasks like audio and video editing it is shown the Q6600 can perform reasonably better.

This motherboard may serve you better but note that it only supports DDR2:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

I highly suggest building the system yourselves because prebuilt is definitely going to cost you more. It's also a great learning experience, you get the hand pick all of your parts, and customize it all yourself...just make sure none of your friends are retarded. Anyways, sorry I can't answer all your questions but I'm also wondering about the DDR3 RAM question too as I'll be building my rig in September.
July 22, 2007 4:28:33 AM

Unlike most posters on this board I actually support the idea of buying pre-built equipment.

As you stated, there are warranty and convenience issues. Even more than those issues, there are the issues of time, effort and risk.

Intalling a stick of RAM is easy. My idiot sister can do that.

A video card is a wee bit harder. No really. It is actually harder because you must actually determine if the card will fit and read the owners manufal to check to see if the PSU has enough power to handle the video card. My idiot sister can not do that, but 99% of the rest of the world can.

Adding an audio card is as easy as the video card.

So building a computer is not difficult. Yes, installing a Mother Board and CPU takes a little more time. Wiring a PSU can take a few minutes. Installing and formating a HD might cause you to re-read the instructions (once). All in all this is not rocket science.

BUT, it does take a bit of time. And care. Bending a pin on the CPU will most likely be a terminal event. Not properly grounding a component will result in bad things. There is stuff that can and will go wrong.

And those prebuilt computers are actually a good deal. They really are. Especially the entry level computers. The mid range and upper range computers are another story.

Take the Q6600 processor. The Q6600 (for USA small busines customers) adds about $600 to the base price of your XPS 710. Seems like a good deal? No, because Dell will sell you a box (retail version) of the Q6600 for $568.65 (USA at 10:30 PM on July 21st). There are online companies that are most likely selling the Q6600 for a few bucks less.

By the way, in a few hours there is anticiapated to be a massive price reduction in retail price of the Q6600. Dell will be sure to lower their prices appropriately sometime in the next week.


But back to my value comparision. In the XPS 710 the stock computer comes equipped with an Intel E6320. Dell's price for that E6320 is unknown, but I did find an E6300 for $203.15 at Dell.

This is actually important. That E6320 is included in the $1835 (USA, small business July 21st) price of the basic XPS 710.

In other words, just over $200+ of CPU plus associated installation costs was already included in the computer.

When you upgrade to the Q6600 Dell is charging you $600, which really only costs $568.65 according to Dell, AND you have already paid $200 for the basic CPU to be installed in the computer.

IF Dell was charging for actual price of the upgrade, the upgraded Q6600 should cost $365.50 (using current Dell retail prices of $568.65 less $203.15), but Dell is charging and excess of $234.50 over the combined costs of the CPUs.

Hmmmmm.

Let's take a look at the graphics card.

The stock XPS 710 comes with a 8600 GTS that Dell sells for $330.65. The 8800 GTX is sold by Dell for $509.15. But Dell is charging $400 over the base computer price with the 8600 GTS for the upgrade to the 8800 GTX.

Remember, the base computer already includes $330.65 of graphics card plus any installation costs. Doing the math ($509.15 less $330.65) the upgrade should only cost $178.15, yet Dell is charging $400, or another way to say it, Dell is overcharging by $221.50.

By my math, on just the graphics card and CPU Dell has overcharged $221.50 + $234.50 for a combined total of $456.

Now Dell is going to argue that they did installed these units and provide a warranty of those units. Yep, they also installed the base units and included the installation costs and warranty costs within the cost of the basic computer. And they still have the original basic units, unopened, ready to sell to another computer buyer.


Bottom line, this is where Dell makes their $$$$.

(oh, and Dell makes really nice $$$$$ on extended warranties)


Not everything from Dell is a rip-off, or expensive. Those sub $1000 computers are hard to beat. Those sub $500 computers are next to impossible to beat. And some items really are sold at a nice price. Pre-installed software is usually sold at or near Street prices, and sometimes for less. Common accessories, such as mice, and installed DVD players are usually a good value. Monitors are always a solid value.

The flip side of this issue, IF you build your own, you can save some $. Maybe even some serious $$$$. And you are on your own. Oh sure, there is a manufacturer warranty. But bend the pin on the CPU and see how fast the warranty claim is voided. Fry the motherboard and you are on your own. Break a stick of RAM (yes some idiots have done that) and it is $ out of your poocket.

So it comes down to a balancing act ..... risk versus cost.

IF I was going to buy a Dell, I would watch the current prices for the next week or possibly two. IF, or I should say, WHEN Dell applies the much anticipated Intel price decreases, there should be some very nice computer prices ..... for basic computers.

I would then buy the most basic computer system that I could buy. Ignore the frills and upgrades. Like I said, those sub $1000 systems are hard to beat. Maybe I would have Dell install the CPU. Then I would upgrade the components that I can afford to risk upgrading myself. By all means install your own 4 sticks of RAM. That 8800 GTX can be installed and updated drivers downloaded in just a few minutes.

Oh, and Dell's prices for HD's? Dell brand 320gb HD is $89.10, the 500gb HD is $143.10. Dell includes the 320gb with the XPS 710 and the upgrade to the 500gb costs $130. Let me see if I have this right. $89 of HD is included with the basic computer and the upgrade which only costs $54 more than the base unit will actually cost you $130?

How hard is it to install a HD?


Dell sure is not going broke. Oh, by the way, HP and Gateway's prices are usually within 1% of Dell's prices. Switching brands, especially on a midrange computer, will not save you $. Building your own will save you $, but the bulk of the risk and most of the aggravation will be absorbed by you.

Related resources
July 22, 2007 9:01:38 AM

That's... just... fantastic! Wonderful information from both of you - especially the clear breakdown on Dell's policies. I'm going to pass this onto the others and absorb your advice myself - and then I'll have a few questions more...! =)

Thanks very much for the fast and informative reply!

--Nuce
July 22, 2007 4:58:38 PM

Thought I would throw in my 2 cents on this.. Stevie did an amazing job of the cost/performance issue associated with a pre-built system, so I can't add anything to that.
I'll just throw in my opinions on your equipment choices :) 

Motherboard - I would wait on the 680 boards. They are an excellent chipset, but the X38 intel chips should be out relatively soon, they'll support boards with both DDR2 and DDR3(gigabyte and asus both have P35 combo boards, but the P35 doesn't support true SLI, the have too few channels). There is speculation on the price for the X38, but it won't be more than probably 100 more than the 680i.

CPU - I agree with going to the Q6600, they just did a huge price drop on them, so you'll be getting a great deal, and it sounds like with the type of work you'll be doing, the extra cores would be invaluable.

Video - Yes, if you only grab one GPU now, you can get the second later and upgrade to SLi, but, they must be the same exact card. For the money you are willing to lay out, you can get both now and save the trouble of hunting down the second card later.

Sound - your header shows you plan on going to do some video/audio editing. I would definitely recommend finding a good midi card. If you were just doing general use/coding and gamin, I would say the onboard stuff would be more than enough, but if you are doing any serious editing, get a card. Can't recommend one, don't know enough about multimedia editing.

The case is a funny thing, I would just hop over to the Cases section here to look over some of the reviews. A good case with proper cooling can really help out, and you can dodge the water cooling... unless you plan on some serious Overclocking here, I would go with a good, high-flow case and a air cooler for the CPU. There are some serious tower air coolers out there now that can compete with the water coolers during moderate OCing, and they have the benfit of not needing maintenance, or potentially leaking.

Most of the newer chipsets come with at least one Fire-wire port now built in. Not sure if you would need more, since even Apple has mostly abandon the firewire in favor of USB 2...

also, the smaller concern, Vista is no different than other Win OSes, it should install and run any games you'd care to run at it... I think the latest round of drivers from the various MB and GPU manufacturers have even cleaned up most of the issues( but there is still some work to be done there).

Hope my ramblings helped!

Cheers!
July 23, 2007 3:47:18 PM

Guys, the information you're giving us is invaluable. We're taking it all on board and discussing amongst ourselves.

As one of our group and I are likely to get near-identical computers, I can probably talk for him here. So we have a couple of questions...

We have it on good authority that the performance difference from DDR2 to DDR3 is negligible - so we're going to take your advice and spend that money on upgrading to the Q6600. But not taking the DDR3 means that something like the Asus Striker Extreme (I think) is looking more and more attractive as a motherboard - any screams of horror out there? There's a note or two on the Tom Marathon System Build Day 3 that seems to indicate that the board is quite competent in handling SLI.

As far as picking up a second GFX card, scary thought... though there's a ring of wisdom to it. I'll put it to the group and we'll come up with something entirely inconclusive. =)

We've identified the Creative Fatal1ty X-FI as the premier sound card at the moment - it seems to have midi connections, but do you this this is outright overkill? Personally, I'll probably be happy with the mobo onboard, but I kinda want to make sure my friend will be satisfied with his purchase.

Case-wise, right now I'm looking at the Lian-Li PC-60A Plus II, though this also may be a little much (we're shooting in the region of our projected budget and then we're going to tighten up the spec).

...

Yeah, that Dell breakdown was pretty incredible. Shoulda seen the look of dawning outrage on my friend's face as I talked him through it. Nice one, StevieD. =)

Thank you Mysticarcane, thank you asdftt123, thank you StevieD. If it's acceptable, I'll update this thread on our system choices - ideally we'd like to get the purchase process moving before the end of the month, so it shouldn't drag too much.

Time to buy some anti-static bracelets... =)

All the best,

--Nuce
July 23, 2007 4:54:48 PM

Nuce, I have some follow up opinions on your last post.

IMO, I would not even consider forking out the extra money on the DDR3 since DDR2 will serve you well for the time being. If you would like to upgrade in the future once DDR3 has better cost-performance, consider buying a more upgradable (and cheaper) motherboard.

If you're purchasing now, as many will agree, I suggest the GIGABYTE GA-P35C-DS3R motherboard as it's both DDR2 and 3 compatable over the Extreme Striker. It's also about 1/2 cheaper and will support future 45nm CPU's. The board does not support SLI (as far as I know), but IMO, SLI is nothing more than a waste of money and far from worth the cost-performance that you'll get out of it. However, if you most go with SLI then the Extreme Striker would be a fine choice.

If you consider the money you save from DDR3, Extreme Striker, and another 8800GTX, which amounts to about $850+ easily, you'll have enough funds right there to put together a fairly decent computer for video/audio editing, plus a decent gaming experience...plus maybe then you and your friends won't be fighting over one system. =P

Also, I've personally heard bad things about the Creative line of sound cards as they're slow on Vista drivers, I would recommend looking at other companies such as bluegears:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...


Then again, it might be helpful to get some advice from other people since I know very little about sound cards.

I think the bottom line is, if you're looking to save some money, I'd look towards weighing the cost-performance benefits of each component unless money is not an issue. And since you guys are looking to share, it may be wise to use extra funds in possibly constructing another system which many double your productivity instead of using it on gimmicky things such as SLI. I hope this helps. =)
July 24, 2007 9:33:23 AM

Hello again!

asdftt123 thanks very much for your notes on the Gigabyte motherboard - I'm now very seriously considering dropping the SLI config and picking up this board.

There appears to have been a slight miscommunication - something I should have been much more clear about earlier on:

We're buying multiple computers, one for each member of our group. When I say group purchase, I don't mean lots of people buying one computer, I mean a few people buying computers at the same time (and perhaps getting something like a group discount, he said hopefully and with little realistic expectation).

We're not all working together, nor are we all doing video editing etc - but we're interested in getting a similar basic spec.

The notes on soundcards are most appreciated - our sound experts got onto us and highlighted that we'd need to buy a €200 cable to make the most of the X-FI Elite (so the hell with that) before launching into an exhaustive dissertation on the relative merits and minutia of sound components.

So the rest of us are a little shaky and dazed now, but at least we're fairly convinced that we'll be happy with the onboard mobo sound functions.

Our objective now is to track down some fast DDR2 ram, decide on the mobo once and for all and start vetting vendors. Either tomorrow or the day after, I'll post our specs and let you guys tear into 'em. =)

Again, thanks so much for your help folks. Literally could not make this purchase without your good selves.

All the best,

--RoB
July 27, 2007 11:38:48 AM

Hey folks - hoped I could get you to cast your eyes over our tentative specs...

We'd be most grateful for information on fans, heatsinks, cases and GFX OEMs. We're also a little unsure of how we stand with the HD - should we buy a terrabyte and be done with it or should we get multiple drives (supposedly faster access)?

At present, our spec is unlikely to meet our budget (though it should be within the ballpark) - we're hoping to narrow it down over the next couple of days.
---------------------------------------------------------

Group Purchase initial computer specs | Budget: ~ €2500 (3,451.03 USD)

CPU:
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600

Motherboard :
GIGABYTE GA-P35-DQ6 LGA 775 Intel P35 ATX

Power Supply:
Seasonic M12 Modular 700W PSU
or
Silencer 750 Quad

Graphics Card:
Standard Dual NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX SLI

Sound Card:
For the GIGABYTE GA-P35-DQ6, this is the Realtek ALC889A with 8 channels.

System RAM:
4096MB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM
Crucial 4GB kit (2GBx2) DDR2 PC2-4200

HD:
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 1.0 terabyte storage drive.

Samsung SpinPoint T133

Might be worth looking into getting a smaller set of raid 1s to store and backup my most important current workload, though .

Optical Drive:
Sony NEC Optiarc 7170 Serial ATA

Other Media Drive:
Generic Card Reader

Software:
Windows XP

Case:
Antec 900 Mid Tower Case
Antec P-190
Antec P-182
Lian-Li PC-60A Plus II

Heatsink:
Thermalright Ultra-120 Extreme (Socket AM2/LGA775) Heatsink

CPU Fan:
AcoustiFan DustProof Quiet 92mm Fan - 3 pin

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

Thanks again for your time and experience!

All the best,

--Nuce
July 27, 2007 11:52:45 AM

Am I right in interpreting that as two 8800GTX cards? If so then you surely want a 680i chipset motherboard? The Asus Striker Extreme & DFI Lanparty are good, or the EVGA board if you want to pay a little less.

If you're using 32-bit Windows XP then there's no point in getting 4GB of RAM. Stick to 2GB for now and add more when you upgrade to a 64-bit OS that can actually utilise it.
July 27, 2007 12:21:28 PM

dont bother with 667 Mhz RAM. get 800 or above.

I have a Creative Xfi gamer (the one for £50) and it works fine in Vista 64. Okay I havent done lots of testing, but no problems so far.

you could even think about getting 1x Raptor drive and 1 x 750 GB storage drive.
July 27, 2007 12:26:45 PM

Hello Nuce,

Would suggest going with 2 x 500gb or even 2 x 750gb HD's , since the Hitachi 1tb will cost between (depending on which model) 360 to 400 US.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=2010150014+50001984+103530090&name=800GB+and+higher

I personally like the Seagate Barracuda ES ST3500630NS 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive that uses the Perpendicular recording technology and costs 150 US.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822148151

But you could go with Western Digital's 500gb HD, costing between 105 to 135 US.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=2010150014+50001306+103530113+1035307886&name=500GB

Raid is good, but you could go with just 2 HD's, one as main and other as backup.

Now on Ram, ddr2 4200 is so so, would go for DDR2 6400 Crucual Ballistix, since they use Micron D9 memory chip modules, which is top rated ram chip modules around for stability and overclocking if you wish.

Hope this helps you out some.
July 27, 2007 12:48:04 PM

Yeah I didn't notice you had lower speed RAM down. Yoosty's recommendation of Crucial Ballistix DDR800 is sound; get 2GB if using a 32-bit OS or more if using a 64-bit one.
September 29, 2008 1:09:37 AM

Quad core is a must if you're not just gaming. Vista is a must if you want an OS beyond 2009. Unless you're doing video editing where you know the GPU is contributing don't do dual graphics. I'd stick with single graphics and I'd be getting a Radeon 4870 (I'm an AMD/ATI guy). I run 2x8600GTs at work and occasionally SLI them for fun - if I'd bought them for games I'd be pissed at the performance gain. At home I used to run x1950s XFire and while performance gain is better than SLI, driver support is worse.

Note: THG members have a tendency to go for all out performance and tweaking because there're a lot of overclockers here. Intel / Nvidia is fastest at any cost. AMD/ATI have performance/dollar (mostly). XFire motherboards are also cheaper than SLI.
!