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First Ground-Up Build -- Please Evaluate and Critique

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September 2, 2007 9:49:41 PM

Hello - I'm new to the THG forums, although I've enjoyed browsing the benchmarks and reviews for a while.

I'm assembling a gaming / photo & audio editing / general home use computer. I'm a student, and I'm definitely on a budget, although I've been saving $ for a while and my computer needs an upgrade.

My current PC is a socket A Athlon with 1 GB DDR and a 7800GS AGP videocard. Newer games such as Oblivion and Company of Heroes are playable at medium settings, but games of the FPS genre have noticeable lag that always occurs at the worst of times, especially when multiple players/bots are engaged in combat.

My goal is to select components that provide excellent price/performance, and I'd also like some upgrade paths (CPU, VGA) for newer components down the road. It seems that this isn't a great time to build, with 45nm Core processors and Phenom around the corner, not to mention the rumored G92. However, I'd like to get this assembled now, and possibly make some upgrades next year.

Also, this is my first ground-up build (I've upgraded RAM, video, and power supply on current PC), so please bear with me. :D 

Here goes:

-Antec 900
-Corsair HX-620
-Gigabyte P35-DS3P
-Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 (will replace with quad-core Penryn when prices drop for Nehalem)
-ZALMAN 9700 LED 110mm CPU Cooler
-2x Scythe S-FLEX SFF21D 120mm Case Fan (Antec 900 places PSU at bottom, heat is pushed upwards at GPU - these will provide additional GPU cooling)
-2x1GB Crucial Ballistix DDR2 800 CAS 4 RAM (may upgrade to 4GB down the road)

Video card.... Lots of questions here. The video card will be powering a 1680x1050 monitor. I'm still unsure about which card to buy. Honestly, I'm a bit apprehensive about purchasing a card that will be 1/3 the power of G92 when it comes out in a few months. http://news.softpedia.com/news/NVIDIA-039-s-G92-Joins-t...

I'd like to buy a card that will have a good resale value (on ebay perhaps) when I upgrade to G92 or AMD/ATI's equivalent. I'm also considering EVGA's step-up, but if G92 doesn't come out within 90 days, I'm out of luck. Also, newegg seems to be much cheaper than EVGA's website.

My top 3 considerations are the GTS 320, GTS 640, and HD 2900XT. The 320 seems to out-perform the 640 in some benchmarks due to faster clock speed. How much VRAM do I need at 1680x1050? Will 320 MB be adequate?
I know nVidia's drivers are more mature (6 months more to tweak them); will that translate into better vista performance? I've heard of driver issues in vista from both companies - how will this relate to performance? Do AMD/ATI (or any ATI manufacturers) have a program equivalent to step up? In terms of price/performance, which card is superior? Thanks!

-Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 Perpendicular Recording 320 GB SATA Hard Drive
-LITE-ON 20X DVD±R Burner w/ LightScribe - SATA Model LH-20A1L-06
-Atech Flash Xm-4U 11-in-1 USB 2.0 Card Reader
-Saitek PZ30AU USB Eclipse Keyboard
-Logitech G5 Laser Mouse
-MS Windows Vista 64-Bit Home Premium
-Logitech X-530 70 watts RMS 5.1 Speaker System
-HP w2207 LCD monitor
-Sennheiser HD415 Open Dynamic Stereo Headphones

I have some questions regarding the next two items. I fear compatibility issues with 64-bit vista - are legendary games such as Starcraft and Diablo II still playable? These games are still immensely fun, and I've heard rumors that even some fairly recent games such as FEAR and BF2 have issues with vista. Is it worth purchasing the additional 80GB hard drive and XP pro to dual-boot and ensure compatibility, or am I just wasting money? I'm not willing to buy vista 64 if it means sacrificing such great games.

-Western Digital Caviar SE WD800JD 80GB 7200 RPM SATA Hard Drive
-Microsoft Windows XP Professional With SP2B

I'm purchasing the monitor at Circuit City, and the Corsair HX-620 & Sennheiser Headphones at zipzoomfly. Everything else I'm ordering at newegg. If you're aware of better deals at other locations, please let me know. =)

One more thing - I live in an area not serviced by cable companies/DSL, and satellite is ridiculously expensive. Can anyone recommend me a 56k modem that will work with 64-bit vista? I believe the modem in my current computer is only supported in XP/2000/98. For that matter, is any other hardware I've selected incompatible with 64-bit vista?

I'd love to shave off $ wherever possible!

Thanks for your patience! I really really appreciate the feedback!! and sorry for such a long post, lol. :lol: 
September 3, 2007 2:05:27 AM

Hey there, I think you picked out a really hardware set. If you get the 900 thought, I don't think you'll need that extra fan. I don't like that motherboard either, but that's just me lol. I don't think you'll be sacrificing anything if you get Vista 64bit, I use it and don't have any problems.

For video card, if you are looking to upgrade soon, you could try for the 1950PRo or XT, they are cheaper, great cards, but don't run DX10, which shouldn't be a problem if you're going to upgrade anyways.
September 3, 2007 2:12:01 AM

so far everything looks solid. Good choices...You should of just asked "What graphics card should I get"..lol..everything else is good.

Regarding dual booting. Up to you. I would dual boot if I was you...Vista has its problems with older software...Since I video edit and use a lot of various applications I need XP....So it's overall up to you. Regarding Seagate or WD Caviar SE it's up to you...Caviar's have higher write/read then raptors...But with a 3 year warranty. Great drives..but I've had my share of problems with WD drives dying on me...The Seagates have a 5 year warranty...and offer GREAT reliability...I've never had a seagate drive die on me..still using 2 for 6 years...also nabbed two new ones that have been running for 6 months...great drives.

About the GFX card...up to you..Step up program is nice. Why not nab a GTS and wait for the step up to a g92. I doubt nvidia will run into delays...But just incase something does happen you can just step up ot a GTX to last you...that way you atleast have something to last you a while with top notch performance. Or you could just nab a x1950XT just incase and wait for g92 to come out..then nab that...or you can get a x1950 pro.....around 140 so doesn't set you back a huge amount. Choice is yours...
Related resources
September 3, 2007 2:35:13 AM

You need to be careful with Vista-64.

It contains no support for 16-bit software.
Many 32-bit applications were written with 16-bit installs until very recently which would render them unusable on 64-bit versions of Vista.

While EVGA makes great cards and the last card I bought was EVGA, the step-up program is quite limited in usefulness.

You must buy the upgrade card from EVGA themselves and their prices there are far higher than the same card from any etailer. Often you are better off just selling the old card on e-bay and buying the new card on NewEgg.

September 3, 2007 2:46:52 AM

Nice Rig for choices and BTW what is the total for everything for the just the PC without the screen,mouse, etc....
September 3, 2007 3:59:56 AM

-Gigabyte P35-DS3P - if you don't need Firewire get GA-P35-DS3R instead, save a few bucks

-ZALMAN 9700 LED 110mm CPU Cooler: noisy. Get a Thermalright Ultra 120 EXtreme or Scythe Ninja instead.

- Scythe S-FLEX SFF21D - get SFF21E instead. I got 4, can't hear them, and they push 50% more air than the SFF21D.

- video card: you could get an 8800 GTX and stop thinking about upgrading for at least 2 years. Or get an x1950pro and resell it in December. Or wait and build your computer in December - just play Diablo 2 and Starcraft in the meantime. I'm playing Diablo 2 on Q6600/8800 GTX right now and TBH it feels very much like it felt on Pentium 3/MX 4000. I suspect it's bottlenecked by the hard disk, and it doesn't really have any special lighting effects where the 8800 GTX could show what it's worth.

September 3, 2007 4:13:30 AM

If you can wait- then definitely wait - X38 just in a week, Barcelona in 8 days, g90s in 2 months...penryn at Christmas........ packed 4th quarter!

BTW, which school do you go to? - do you live in CA?....cyberpower/ibuypower are somethiing you can check out if you don't want to build it yourself...or you can try customizing your rig on their site, and matching prices..I found out that's a good way to keep a logical head..
September 3, 2007 5:41:19 AM

Thanks for the responses everyone!

@zenmaster: I appreciate the info about the lack of 16-bit support in vista-64. I think I'll take the dual-boot route.

@solariscs & kamrooz: Regarding the video card, I checked the price of an x1950pro and $140 seems to be a steal. When G92 comes out, I guess I'll sell the x1950pro online. Thanks.

@aevm
I'm sticking with the DS3P because of its integrated firewire controller - However, thanks for the advice about the cooling solutions. I'll grab 3 of the fans you suggested, 2 for the case and 1 for the CPU heatsink. Between the two heatsinks you mentioned, which would you suggest? A quick web search suggests that the Thermalright is the higher rated heatsink but has qc issues with concave/convex surfaces. (By the way, should I consider mounting more than one fan on the CPU heatsink? Perhaps 2 in a push/pull configuration?)

@DeusEX: I'm eagerly anticipating the next-generation CPUs from Intel and AMD, as well as the X38 chipset. However, with budget in mind, I'm not planning on buying an X38 board due to the price premium one must pay for a top of the line model. For the same reason, I'm not planning on buying a Penryn CPU until it's been in the market for quite a while.

One of the main reasons I'm building now is that I'm entering my senior year in high school. I'm taking 4 college classes via the AP program, and with the college application process beginning in 2 months, and lots of studying to do, things will get very busy for me very soon. I doubt I'll have time to tinker and troubleshoot much after this.

I am very interested in building the PC myself, however. I've worked over the summer to earn $ for the components, and I've done some fairly thorough research. I suppose I could wait until next summer to build the computer, but then I'd be out of luck when I need some gaming relief after long hours of studying.. =)

By the way, I attend high school in WA

Anyway, thanks everyone for all the advice - and if there's anything else that might be beneficial to know, I'd be glad to hear it
September 3, 2007 6:07:36 AM

Sci_Tech said:
... I checked the price of an x1950pro and $140 seems to be a steal. When G92 comes out, I guess I'll sell the x1950pro online.
About the time you'll be thinking of flogging that x1950Pro online you're going to be seeing a LOT of other people doing the same thing. So with the G9Xs out and a lot of G8Xs available for sale online do you want to be trying to sell the X1950Pro? If the timing isnt right to grab a StepUp deal it might be better/easier trying to sell a 8600GTS ($145 after rebate) or 8800GTS ($270 after rebate) eVga 8600GTS 8800GTS
For CPU cooling look at this option: Thermalright Ultima-90 Ultima-90 review @ AnandTech
Just one fan should be fine. You'll start to have motherboard component heat problems before the CPU & HSF reaches it's limits.


September 3, 2007 7:04:53 AM

You raise a very valid point concerning the video card... From that perspective, it does make much more sense to buy an EVGA card and hope that nVidia releases G92 by December 1st.

I suppose the extra money I'll pay upgrading off EVGA's site via StepUP would be comparable to the money I'd lose selling a used video card online. I hope G92 comes out within 90 days though.

By the way, is 320MB of VRAM adequate at 1680x1050, or should I buy a GTS 640 and step up from there?
September 3, 2007 8:00:43 AM

"the extra money I'll pay upgrading off EVGA's site via StepUP"
Actually you could save money buying off the eVga's website early on. Some e-tailers (NewEgg, etc) have been known to mark up items (above suggested retail prices) that are in short supply and high demand.
Guessing that G92s should be available in the Christmas buying season (after Thanksgiving) make the 90day StepUp option look pretty good ATM.

The 640 vs 320 issue isnt always clear. With a lot of games you'll only see a very small percentage performance improvement. An exception would be HL2 Lost Coast. 8800GTS 640 vs 320 comparison in 6 games.
Seven games tested with different CPUs and 8800GTS 640 & 320
September 3, 2007 11:03:36 PM

Sci_Tech said:

I'm sticking with the DS3P because of its integrated firewire controller - However, thanks for the advice about the cooling solutions. I'll grab 3 of the fans you suggested, 2 for the case and 1 for the CPU heatsink. Between the two heatsinks you mentioned, which would you suggest? A quick web search suggests that the Thermalright is the higher rated heatsink but has qc issues with concave/convex surfaces. (By the way, should I consider mounting more than one fan on the CPU heatsink? Perhaps 2 in a push/pull configuration?)



That push/pull config can be great. I've seen reviews where Scythe Infinity coolers did better with two fans than with one. However, that's not true for all coolers. Most coolers will not see much improvement from a second fan. I would just use one fan. In fact, a Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme with one fan does better than a Scythe Infinity with two fans, and exactly the same as the Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme with two fans. BTW, I remember they used SilenX fans for that experiment. This was all detailed in a bunch of reviews at Anandtech or XbitLabs or other sites like that.

I think your best bet is to get the Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme. Let's say there's a 5% chance that you'll have to RMA it, it's still worth it.
September 3, 2007 11:17:36 PM

Sci_Tech said:
Hello, I'm assembling a gaming / photo & audio editing / general home use computer.

My goal is to select components that provide excellent price/performance, and I'd also like some upgrade paths (CPU, VGA) for newer components down the road. It seems that this isn't a great time to build, with 45nm Core processors and Phenom around the corner, not to mention the rumored G92. However, I'd like to get this assembled now, and possibly make some upgrades next year.

-Antec 900
-Corsair HX-620
-Gigabyte P35-DS3P
-Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 (will replace with quad-core Penryn when prices drop for Nehalem)
-ZALMAN 9700 LED 110mm CPU Cooler
-2x Scythe S-FLEX SFF21D 120mm Case Fan (Antec 900 places PSU at bottom, heat is pushed upwards at GPU - these will provide additional GPU cooling)
-2x1GB Crucial Ballistix DDR2 800 CAS 4 RAM (may upgrade to 4GB down the road)

Video card.... Lots of questions here. The video card will be powering a 1680x1050 monitor. I'm still unsure about which card to buy. Honestly, I'm a bit apprehensive about purchasing a card that will be 1/3 the power of G92 when it comes out in a few months. http://news.softpedia.com/news/NVIDIA-039-s-G92-Joins-t...

I'd like to buy a card that will have a good resale value (on ebay perhaps) when I upgrade to G92 or AMD/ATI's equivalent. I'm also considering EVGA's step-up, but if G92 doesn't come out within 90 days, I'm out of luck. Also, newegg seems to be much cheaper than EVGA's website.

My top 3 considerations are the GTS 320, GTS 640, and HD 2900XT. The 320 seems to out-perform the 640 in some benchmarks due to faster clock speed. How much VRAM do I need at 1680x1050? Will 320 MB be adequate?
I know nVidia's drivers are more mature (6 months more to tweak them); will that translate into better vista performance? I've heard of driver issues in vista from both companies - how will this relate to performance? Do AMD/ATI (or any ATI manufacturers) have a program equivalent to step up? In terms of price/performance, which card is superior? Thanks!

-Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 Perpendicular Recording 320 GB SATA Hard Drive
-LITE-ON 20X DVD±R Burner w/ LightScribe - SATA Model LH-20A1L-06
-Atech Flash Xm-4U 11-in-1 USB 2.0 Card Reader
-Saitek PZ30AU USB Eclipse Keyboard
-Logitech G5 Laser Mouse
-MS Windows Vista 64-Bit Home Premium
-Logitech X-530 70 watts RMS 5.1 Speaker System
-HP w2207 LCD monitor
-Sennheiser HD415 Open Dynamic Stereo Headphones

I have some questions regarding the next two items. I fear compatibility issues with 64-bit vista - are legendary games such as Starcraft and Diablo II still playable? These games are still immensely fun, and I've heard rumors that even some fairly recent games such as FEAR and BF2 have issues with vista. Is it worth purchasing the additional 80GB hard drive and XP pro to dual-boot and ensure compatibility, or am I just wasting money? I'm not willing to buy vista 64 if it means sacrificing such great games.

-Western Digital Caviar SE WD800JD 80GB 7200 RPM SATA Hard Drive
-Microsoft Windows XP Professional With SP2B

One more thing - I live in an area not serviced by cable companies/DSL, and satellite is ridiculously expensive. Can anyone recommend me a 56k modem that will work with 64-bit vista? I believe the modem in my current computer is only supported in XP/2000/98. For that matter, is any other hardware I've selected incompatible with 64-bit vista?


Heyyyyyyyy, for once a sensible build, very nice indeed, looks like ya did ur homework
September 4, 2007 3:02:18 AM

WR2, Thanks for the links. Based on those benchmarks, the GTS 320 is clearly the better deal in terms of price/performance; the price difference does not justify a few additional FPS. I appreciate the help.
!