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PC based workstation (mid range) LONG POST

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June 29, 2008 10:09:20 AM

LONG POST ALERT

Synopsis

Summary: Hello all. First time posting, but I figure this is the place to ask about a new graphics station I am building for my cousin. It would be easy to make a 35k system that can stream uncompressed 1080p, but this system does not need to be that powerful. Also the price I am shooting for is $2250 with the possibility to hit $3000 with good reason. A Tyan board with twin Xeons and oodles of RAM would be great, but waaaay too expensive. I will add my thoughts on each component along with fears, expectations and reasoning. For those who haven't jumped into higher end hardware yet this might be pretty informative.

My Background: Built my first PC in 92 and have run gaming machines up until the Army when I switched to laptops. Very familiar with tweaking for games with which I leaned towards stability/FPS vs pretty colors. Now that I am out I just built a simple desktop running Ubuntu Hardy and Ubuntu server for playing around and learning. This computer will be my first foray into workstation graphics. Also I hate PC cases with lighting, but that doesn't have anything to do with this post.

Usage of System: She is a landscape architect and runs AutoCAD 2k (considering an upgrade to AutoCad LT 8/9 since she mainly does 2d with it), Sketchup and Adobe Creative Suite. She is comfortable with windows XP 32bit but might run into problems with 64bit because of legacy issues. I want to keep the possibility open to upgrade OS later, but for now just work with 32bit XP in mind. These considerations in place I have come up with the following requirements: Excellent OpenGL acceleration, fast board components (RAM, HDs...etc) and a minimization of bottlenecks. Yeah, I know that last one is a toughy.


Current Build
All links will be to NewEgg
Specifically looking for help with CPU and Mobo along with TONS of help for the storage setup

Motherboard: ASUS P5Q Deluxe http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131297
Since this system will only utilize one graphics card I wanted to stay away from nVidia motherboards. After looking at p35, x38, x48 and a dozen others I selected the P45 because of the PCIe 2.0 x16 slots (despite its switch to twin 8x in Crossfire), the nice FSB speed, possibility of hitting 1200 on the RAM and the 775 socket of course. I tend to stay away from ASUS boards, but from everything I have heard this one might redeem the company. Also if you start stepping up into the workstation/server board realm the price dramatically increases. I thought about Skulltrail for about half a second until I realized it is a modified workstation board for more money...come on Intel. Be serious.

Graphics Card: PNY FX3700 Quadro 512MB http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814133218
This one is pretty much an easy pick. Quadro is basically Geforce at twice the price for better drivers. What you receive in return for the extra price is a significant gain in OpenGL processing capability. For professional graphics use I am a big fan of Quadro series. ATI definitely had a fighting chance, but nVidia released a SDK (CUDA) quicker and better. If you don't know what CUDA is do a search. It or something similar is the future of the PC in my opinion. The FX1700 is more bang for the buck, except I thought this was a justifiable expenditure. I know you can soft mod a 8800GT into an FX3700 (I think that is the equivalent), and for the money savings you run into massive amounts of stability issues and incompatibilities.

RAM: G. Skill 4GB (2x2) 1066http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231166
It is RAM that is listed as supported. 1200 just doesn't seem worth the price to me. Otherwise it is just RAM.

PSU: PC Power & Cool 610 Continuous http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817703005
These PSUs have been known to be excellent. If you guys have any other opinions please share. I didn't want modular cables because the wear and tear does become a problem over extended periods. I went through the components and 610W should be good.

CPU: Q9300 Yorkfield http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115043
Now we are getting into the territory where I can use everyone's help. I selected this CPU over a slightly quicker same priced one because I like 45nm. Runs cooler and takes less juice. The only thing necessary for this item is LGA 775 (mobo) and quad core. I looked at the extreme selection and threw up a little bit at the price. Any opinions on this selection would be welcomed.

Storage: ??1xVelociRaptor w/4x320GB RAID 5??
This part is driving me nuts. Here is the breakdown as I see it: Needs to be very speedy; Because of client files backup and continuity are a priority; Photoshop sketch disk takes speed priority over program/os. My cousin does work in the 446MP range and above with Photoshop and Autodesk products are all bandwidth hogs. I do not have much experience with these things besides my research so any input is greatly welcomed. RAID in this situation seems to be very well suited. On the other hand I do not want to spend the money for a Raptor RAID setup (looking at 1300 alone for that). What I came up with is use a VelociRaptor for OS and programs. Then for the sketch disk and project storage a 4x320GB RAID 5. This would give her ~850GB of usable space with some good bandwidth. Raid 1+0 or 0+1 are good, but not the best. RAID 0 is, I know, faster. If something happens to a HD, though, it would take a substantial amount of time to re-stripe the HDs from a backup image. At least with a RAID5 you can toss in a HD quickly and keep going. Now I would like to use a hardware RAID controller for the 4x320 and the onboard SATA for the rest. This should be possible, right? Once again this is the area I would greatly appreciate the most feedback in.

Backup: 1 TB eSATA HD along with judicious use of online storage and DVD burning.
This is a big issue with her so I figured automated software back up of all drives during use (interval) and a complete image upon nightly shutdown. Let me know what you guys think.

The Rest: Case, DVD drives, cooling...etc
These items I am not worried about at all. I have enough experience with this area that I can keep it cool and quiet without much effort. The only thing I worry about is if she likes the color of the case. DVD drives are almost at the point where dime a dozen isn't much of an exaggeration.


Conclusion

As it stands with the build I suggested the system would run about $2800. Of course I can cut a corner here of shave off an HD there depending upon her desires. After all she still has to buy the yearly software upgrades which are ridiculous.

The point was to build a solid, stable and fast workstation like PC with the budget of a mid to high end gaming machine. I think I did a pretty solid job with most components, but I'm sure most of you guys have more experience than I do so I would like to get your feedback. BTW it is about 6 AM and I am dead tired so please excuse any typos. I promise I will fix them tomorrow.

Cheers.
June 29, 2008 11:17:37 AM

?????
Did anyone still have the willingness to write something beside this one which I have written, after reading the long long post above?
Anonymous
June 29, 2008 12:09:25 PM

PSU

CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750W $129

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

CORSAIR CMPSU-620HX 620W $154 - modular cables (still like the way it gets rid of case clutter)

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

Motherboard

GIGABYTE GA-X48-DS4 $225
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Memory

CRUCIAL ECC - 4 gig now + another 4 gig if you can go x64

OS Vista x64 - $99 OEM
- give it a try to see if all your hardware runs

Software - AutoCad LT 8/9 x64 version - use the 30 day free trial

http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/oc/offer/form?site...
June 29, 2008 6:58:59 PM

I looked at that motherboard originally a few days ago since I own a p35 Gigabyte and love it. There must have been some reason I discarded it, but I guess after learning a bit more about the project I do indeed think it is better than the ASUS I listed.

Crucial mem...good call.

After writing the post last night and sleeping on it I wouldn't mind a migration of products to x64. 8 gigs of RAM would solve some of the HD issues I was facing.

Cheers.
!