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Please help optimizing this build

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September 1, 2008 8:31:01 AM

I'm planning to build a mid-range all-round/gaming system with a budget of about $700. I'm a casual gamer and a casual user. I don't do hardcore video editing or play Crysis at super high resolution, so I figure the budget should suit me just fine as long as it constitutes a major upgrade from my 4 year old system. In fact, I'm reusing my old 15in LCD monitor at 1024x768 resolution. I'll also be recycling speakers, keyboard, mouse and other basic peripherals.

I've been doing my research and came up with this system, prices are taken from newegg. I hope you guys can help me trim the budget as much as possible while maximizing performance. In other words, feel free to replace or remove whatever items you feel unnecessary. I'd also purchase the system around next month so prices should drop quite a bit. I also hope this build can last me at least 2-3 years. Thanks in advance.

Power Supply ~$40
500W ATX
I have no idea how much power I need, but if my old 400W works fine on this build, I can save around $40.

Motherboard ~$110
ASUS P5K PRO LGA 775 Intel P35 ATX
Had a bit of trouble deciding on one. It must be able to support the processor (LGA 775, 1333MHz) as well as memory (1066 DDR2). This looks like a good deal, given its price.

Processor ~$190
Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 3.16GHz 65W
This should be a major upgrade from my P4, greatly boosting performance in all my computing experience.

RAM ~$50
2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR2 1066 Dual Channel
I'll be running XP, so this should be sufficient for most tasks.

Hard Drive ~$50
160GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s
My current hard drive is also a 160GB but it's nearly full at the moment, though perhaps I can shave off a further 40GB or so, I think another hard drive is a good investment.

Optical Drive ~$30
LG 20X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA
My current optical drive can only read DVDs, so this should be a good upgrade.

Video Card ~$120
GeForce 9600 GT 512MB
I used to use GeForce 8400GS as my video card. I'm not sure if I should upgrade to the more powerful 9600GT or maybe even a 9800GTX+. The games I play tend to be quite demanding (BioShock, Simcity 4, Oblivion and the likes) but since I play on a relatively low resolution, I'm not sure if I should keep the 8400GS. With this card, I tend to settle on the mid-quality with AA off to get playable fps. However, it may also be my old P4 that's being a bottleneck, hence the indecision.

Sound Card ~$30
Creative Sound Blaster, PCI
I heard they improve gaming performance and produce a much higher audio quality than onboard sound cards. At a reasonable price, it sounds like a good deal.

Fan ~$10
Scythe Case Fan 120mm 1900 RPM
I use the PC in the living room near an open window, and I live in a tropical country, so I think this is necessary, although my current build works fine without any additional fan.

Casing ~$40

Also, I won't be shopping online so it'll be difficult for me to purchase very specific models (I'm in SE Asia), except for popular parts like the processor, video cards, etc. All in all, they amount to around $700. For a comparison, this is my old system:

P4 3.0GHz
ASUS P5GZ-MX
GeForce 8400GS
1GB (2x 512MB) RAM
400W PSU

Here's the above system summarized:

Core 2 Duo E8500 3.16GHz
ASUS P5K PRO Intel P35
GeForce 9600GT
2GB (2x 1GB) RAM
500W PSU

More about : optimizing build

September 1, 2008 8:34:26 AM

You can make a few adjustments to get more performance... list incoming.
September 1, 2008 8:46:14 AM

Motherboard:
Get a P43 or P45 chipset. Asus makes these and they should be easy to find.

CPU:
Save a few dollars on an E8400. Still very fast and you need the money for RAM.

Memory:
You only need 800Mhz RAM unless you intend to overclock a lot. Get a 2x2gig kit, preferably 1.8V.

You should find a PSU then come back with the name and model. Never buy PSUs based on rated wattage alone. You will need to be quite careful on that one.

The 9600GT is a good choice, but again you will need to find a very good 500W to back it up.

Antec often sells their Sonata cases with decent 500W power supplies. If you happen to find one of these it would be ideal for your budget.

Related resources
September 1, 2008 10:45:22 AM

Thanks for the reply. As you've noticed I'm a real newbie when it comes to computer hardware, so I'll appreciate it if you can list some recommendations. On the other hand, I have some things that need clarification.

-how much better is the P45? The price seems to be quite a bit higher than the P35, while having similar specs.
-isn't a 4GB RAM an overkill? Not to mention the much higher price... though I see that it's a good long-term investment.
-is Kingston RAM good enough? What if the volts are 2.0V?
-not sure about the PSU, with so many models and huge price ranges I don't know if they're good. How would I know a good PSU, other than looking at the output?
September 1, 2008 12:45:23 PM

Here you can find P45 or P43 boards for the same price as P35. They tend to have a few more features and should come with a BIOS that supports newer CPUs already. A P35 board may need a BIOS update before working with an E8400 or higher, and that's the main reason to get one really. For your needs it's not a big deal.

4Gb is no longer overkill. Some newer games show clear performance gains with more than 2Gb RAM. Vista 64 bit is needed to make full use of 4Gb, but you will get over 3Gb in XP 32 bit, usually, and it's a good inexpensive upgrade.

Kingston makes good RAM. If 2.0V is what you can find, it will probably work. 1.8V tends to be better.

As far as the PSU goes there are only two or three names that you can pretty much count on: PC Power & Cooling, Zippy, Corsair.

Many other brands such as Antec and OCZ make many good PSUs, but not all models they make are good. Antec Earthwatts is generally a good 500W PSU. Corsair 450 would likely be fine.
September 1, 2008 1:41:38 PM

I've taken your advice and here's the rundown:

Power Supply ~$50
Corsair, Zippy, Antec Earthwatts, PC Power & Cooling

Motherboard ~$130
ASUS P5Q LGA 775 Intel P45

Processor ~$170
Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 3.0GHz 65W

RAM ~$80
4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 Dual Channel

Hard Drive ~$50
160GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s

Optical Drive ~$30
LG 20X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA

Video Card ~$120
GeForce 9600 GT 512MB

Sound Card ~$30
Creative Sound Blaster, PCI

Fan ~$10
Case fan 120mm

Casing ~$40

Price is now $710, the doubling of RAM hurts a lot, and the slight drop in the processor doesn't help much. Is my pricing more or less accurate?
September 1, 2008 1:48:48 PM

Oh you do not need a sound card like that. The onboard sound will be fine... better than that old PCI card. Creative stopped supporting that card properly long ago.

Save the cash for the PSU ;) 
September 1, 2008 1:57:15 PM

The P45 chipset supports PCI-e 2.0 ....which has double the bandwidth of normal PCI-e x 16 slots.....it also has Crossfire support at x8. (note not all P45 motherboards have 2 PCI-e 2.0 x 16 slots even though the chipset supports them). I recommend the Asus P5Q Pro as it has 2.....not to be confused with the Asus P5QL Pro which only has one.

4GB is the Sweet Spot for DDR2 800 ......with that amount of memory you can run any windows OS be it 32 or 64 bit. DDR2 800 is inexpensive now days. Having more memory is the best performance/value upgrade you can make, so theres no reason to get less then 4 gb. Kingston is a good brand. The reason he recommends 1.8v is because it gives off less heat and can be overclocked higher.....also look for low latency with good timings.

The PSU is the most overlooked component in most systems........and the primary cause of electronic device failure (talking about all electronics not just computers). This is the reason hybrid devices like TV's with VCRs built in (ones that share the same PSU) dont last as long as separate component device's. As a cost cutting measure manufacturers put underpowered poor quality PSU's in hybird devices.

I suggest you calculate how much power your sytem will use then add 30% more wattage for reserve.......purchase a name brand PSU based on that wattage. Names like PC power and cooling, Corsair, Silverstone, Fortron Source Power Group, Thermaltake, and Antec....there are many others ....if you have found one you are interested in do some reseach on it before you buy.

For my money, I would look for an older 8800 gt (about $20 less then the 9600 gt) or 9800 gt (about $20 more then the 9600gt) before I considered the weaker 9600gt.

If you get the Asus P5Q Pro then ATI/AMD is a better way to go then Nvidia. It gives you the option to crossfire later on.....In which case the 4850 is the ideal GPU (its more $ but offers better bang for your $).

And lose the sound blaster, most modern Motherboards have good on board sound.

For that new burner I wouldnt suggest a Blue-ray cause they are still not cost effective, but Lightscribe is and its neat. If your not familiar with what lightscribe is .....its a labeling system that uses special discs and the Burners lazar to make a grey scale like image on the printed side.
September 1, 2008 2:05:55 PM

Your revised list with help from Proximon looks really good.

You do NOT need a sound card.
On-board sound these days is quite good, and will not affect the overall performance of your PC. Unless you are just an extreme audiophile, you just don't it.

While the 9600GT should probably suffice for your 15" monitor, once you get this thing up and running, you are going to want more real estate to look at. Take the money you save from the sound card and buy a 9800GTX.
Then, when you do upgrade to that 19" or 22" monitor, (which you will do) you have a video card to run the resolutions with eye candy turned up.
September 1, 2008 2:25:00 PM

How much does a 9800GTX cost? Price varies greatly from different sites, but most average at about $200, which is a very significant increase from 9600GT's $120. Also, 9800GTX or 9800GTX+?

By the way, how much more heat will this build generate? My current PC has been working fine for years with stock fan, do I need a cooling fan?

About the PSU, is 500W a good number? I have no idea what kind of power output is expected from this build. Also, how much does a good one usually cost? If I'm reading this correctly, I'd need to spend some good money for a quality PSU, yet the ones I've been looking at cost around $50.
September 1, 2008 2:37:28 PM

go for P45 with crossfire like MSI P45 Neo 2 it is around $150 at newegg and go for ATI HD4850
September 1, 2008 5:48:55 PM

You know, I have been doing too many of these lately.
I got confused and thought you could not use newegg..... I can just pick out some parts for you.

Really sorry, I thought you were out of the US. I have re-read everything and based the build on your stated needs and budget.

Please ignore fshaharyar :p 

NEVER buy a generic PSU in a case.


Antec case + PSU 100.00
E8400 170.00
Memory 70.00
320Gb WD HD 65.00
Lite-on DVD burner 25.00
EVGA 9600 GT 120.00
ASUS P43 MB 110.00

That comes to 660.00 before shipping and tax, but there are also a few rebates in there.

The Antec earthwatts 500W is JUST enough in my opinion.

If you act today:
600W OCZ $45 after rebate

You could pair that up with:
Antec 300 case 60.00

That gives you some choioces and should be enough info ;) 
September 1, 2008 6:51:33 PM

Yes get the 8800 GT... just missed that. Although, 9600GT is not as slow as you think. It actually is faster than the 8800GT in a few games... although overall the 8800GT beats it.
September 1, 2008 8:09:48 PM

I would recommend this mobo:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Unfortunately it cost 99$ free shipping right there on Newegg yestarday, but now it cost 17$ more, a true shame... that mobo was a great bang for the buck for those who dont mind to SLI or xfire in he future... believe me, that mobo has a great OC capability and might still being a bang for the buck, i haven't checked yet other sites.

In case you want to go for a p43 mobo, i'd recommend this one:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

saving 40-50$ with these 100$~ mobos im suggesting, you can save for a hd 4850! and with an e8400... a true rig once its OCed...

I would even recommend e2180 to low the prices, it gives you more performance than a stock e8400 once its overlocked beyond 3.0ghz... so you might want to give it a shot.

If you ever get the hd 4850, take the corsair 550w psu:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Its single 41A rail for no GPU overclocking problems...
September 1, 2008 10:55:11 PM

Thanks again for the replies. I noticed that I forgot to mention a few key points.

1) I don't OC and I don't know how to OC, nor do I know any relative who does. I've read online tuts but I wouldn't dare testing the limits of my hardware unless I have some $$$ to spare. Unless I'm convinced it's a really safe thing to do.

2) I don't plan to SLI or Crossfire. Like I've said, I'm just a casual gamer and a single (good) video card should be enough for me, as long as it's not too hot.

Hopefully these points can further decimate the price :D 

8800GT sounds like a good choice, spec-wise it's actually slightly better than 9600GT. Wow, I'm actually a year behind the popular trend :p 

Can someone clarify a bit regarding the PSU output/rail? What's a good number?

@realyeti: I'm actually pretty satisfied with the last build I posted. Now I'm trying to bring the price down as much as possible while preserving as much performance as possible. :) 
September 1, 2008 11:35:05 PM

Power supplies are fairly complex. There are a number of articles around, but really it's all best left to experts.

http://www.jonnyguru.com/

The pros over at that site are pretty much the best. All my recommendations for PSUs come from over there.

There is no "good number" for 12V rail output really. There are many factors in PSU selection. However, given that the PSU is high quality and all the other criteria are met, it just becomes a matter of matching the system to the PSU, with a comfortable margin, that will last a reasonable time.

The earthwatts 500 has 34 amps on the 12V... that's enough.
The corsair 550 has 41... that a real nice cushion and it's a well regarded PSU
The OCZ 600W I listed will have about 45A available on the 12V rails, has more connections, and would likely last you through the next build as well.
!