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Advice Speccing High-end, quiet, efficient workstation.

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October 13, 2008 4:01:34 PM

I haven't built my own PC for over 8 years, and I'd welcome some help with latest products making sure I spec something that will all run efficiently together.

My Requirements for a system are:
1. Very quiet. Silent if possible.
2. Low power consumption when idle.
3. Dual DVI display, 22"
4. Capable of running Vista 32, hackintosh and Ubuntu.
5. Main Use: Office, photoshop, internet, research. Lots and lots of multi-tasking. Typically 20-30 windows open at once. Lots of flicking between different files looking for info and cross-referencing etc. Wait time moving between windows can be up to 10 seconds on my old single processor machine with 20 windows open and I want this to be quicker than an eyeblink (of course, it might be windows that's the bottleneck here). No processor hungry apps at the moment, (I am planning to start doing video editing. Happy to upgrade later is this become a frequent thing.
6. Not much requirement for 3d. No gaming whatsoever. Some 3d CAD, but rendering not necessary.



Motherboard and processor - Probably dual core intel but open to suggestions. I found this really interesting: Core 2 Duo E7200 and G31 - Article about efficiency.
http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/intel-e7200-g31,review-31...
I will probably go for a 10,000 rpm HDD as I used to get great results using SCSI + high speed drives back in early pentium days. I'll set it to spin down when not in use to keep the volume low. Size is not a factor - All data is on NAS.

What I need advice with is processor / motherboard / memory compatibility, and then with a dual DVI running hi-res, what's the leanest (and quietest) power supply I can get away with.


October 13, 2008 4:38:59 PM

No fixed ideas for motherboard / psu part numbers here, but a few thoughts-

CPU. With 20-30 Windows (Apps?) running a cheaper Quad-Core might be there way to go, eg Intel Q6600, AMD Phenom.

Graphics. Pretty much any low-end 512mb dual-DVI card. Eg 8400GT/8500GT/ATI 4650 should work nicely. Personally prefer NVidia driver approach to Dual-Monitor setups

PSU. Many Manufacturers offer 'Quiet' or 'Silent' PSU's, Xilence, Silverstone, Zalman, Antec to name a few. Without a fast £D card drawing power 500W should do nicely.

OS/Memory. With 20-30 Windows in play a lot of your speed issues are probably down to the OS swapping memory in and out of the hard-drive cache. You need more memory for this type of usage. Lots more memory. The trouble is that Vista 32 is limited to around 3Gb of physical memory, is there anyway you can get away with using 64-bit OS's? Vista 64 gives you a theoretical 128Gb limit to physical memory and while, off the top of my head, no mainboard exists that will accomodate that much memory right now many will accept upto 8Gb. If you can answer this question it may give others on the forum ideas for MB/Memory.

Stuart
October 13, 2008 5:39:08 PM

Thanks for the thoughts so far. I'd need to try a 64bit machine to see if it gives any advantage with many windows open. When I say "Windows", think maybe half a dozen excel files, a dozen firefox windows, various text files, usually google maps / earth, photoshop and probably MS Autoroute too.

If the OS handles this better then that makes sense. At the moment though, I'm suffering the natural aversion to new offerings from microsoft. I don't have the spare time to have to do white paper level research in order to get something to install because its 64 drivers aren't out yet.

I guess I'd need a system which can run both. But let's focus on 32 bit for now and I'll throw memory at it. Virtual memory on a 10krpm drive works OK.
Related resources
October 13, 2008 5:49:37 PM

What is your budget? I have ideas, but a nice round number will allow me to give specific recommendations.
October 13, 2008 6:08:21 PM

With your usage, more ram and a quad core will put you in muti-tasking heaven. I strongly recommend a 64 bit operating system and at least 4 gigs of RAM. Vista 32 bit and Vista 64 bit cost the same and are both well-supported with drivers etc. , so IMO there is no real reason to go with 32 bit Vista.
October 13, 2008 6:31:16 PM

Hmm. Interesting! I'll need to check that our old licences of software will run on the 64bit OS.
The boss says the budget is "open", but I was asked not to get a SLC SSD for the OS to run on unless I could justify it, so I guess it's not that open. Probably £1k as a starting point, and I can justify any expenditure above that on the merits of the options.

So, quad core and maxed out on Ram. Are there energy efficient quad core offerings?


October 13, 2008 7:43:09 PM

Abssorb said:
So, quad core and maxed out on Ram. Are there energy efficient quad core offerings?

Yes, on the Intel side:
Server 50W - L5410, L5420 (2.0, 2.33ghz)
Server 80W - E5405, E5410, E5420, E5430 (2.0, 2.33, 2.5, 2.66ghz)

AMD side:
Server 55W - 2346HE, 2347HE (1.8, 1.9ghz)
Server 75W - 1352, 1354, 1356, 2352, 2354, 2356 (2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3ghz)
Desktop 65W - 9150E, 9350E (1.8, 2.0ghz)

All Intel desktop QCs are listed as 95W thermal power, but they are very efficient. I'd recommend going with an Intel Q8200, 9300, 9400, or 9550 since the platform will be considerably less expensive than a LGA771 server platform with FBDIMM ram.

Here's what I would do:
CPU - Q8200, 9300, 9400, or 9550
MB - P45-based board
Mem - anything at DDR2 800 and 1.8V (8GB - 4 x 2GB)
GPU - nVidia 9500GT (or ATI HD 4550) - whichever you prefer with dual DVI
Pri. HDD - WD VelociRaptor 150/300GB (or 2 in RAID 0, if needed)
Sec. HDD - WD Greenpower (if needed)
PSU - Enermax Pro82+
Case - Antec P182 (fan recommendations are also available if you want it super quiet)
October 14, 2008 9:43:05 AM

Thank you KyleSTL! That's very helpful.
I'm going to go and check all those components out today. :) 
October 14, 2008 1:38:34 PM

A quick question. If the processor and MB can run at 1333Mhz, what is the implication of having 800Mhz RAM?
October 14, 2008 2:26:16 PM

The 1333Mhz is more a marketing number.

The actual front side bus in this case would be 333Mhz.

333 "quad pumped" is 1333.
DDR = Double Data Rate. 333 x2 = 667mhz which is the minimum speed RAM you would need.

There is no significant performance gain in buying faster RAM. You get very small gains when you run the RAM faster than it's minimum 1:1 ratio with the FSB... measurable, yes, but not significant.

DDR2 800 because it's cheap, stable, and allows for an overclock should you or someone else get the urge. 1.8V because it tends to be more compatible with any motherboard.

KyleSTL gave you some great suggestions, although I might have picked a different PSU.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

A passively cooled video card such as this would be good:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

I realize you aren't in the US but it's just easy for us to point at parts there. :)  You should be able to find Seasonic in the UK, and at least a similar video card.
October 14, 2008 3:52:58 PM

Yes, M12, S12, M12II and S12II Seasonics would also be highly efficient and near-silent. Passive video card is definitely a good idea. Currently it appears nVidia has the edge on idle power consumption, and ATI in full load, so nVidia 9500GT is probably your best bet.
October 21, 2008 12:10:23 PM

Hi Again, sorry for the delay in replying. I've listed some prospective purchases with links:


Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83GHz 12M Cache S775 1333MHZ
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=4YCTQ2

Gigabyte S775 Intel P45 DDR2 ATX Audio Lan 10SATA RAID
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=54HPQ2

BFG Graphics GeForce 9500GT 1GB DDR2 CC 550MHz PCIE 2xDVI
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=57RQQ2

Corsair Memory 4GBKIT (2X2GB) 800MHZ NON ECC CL5 x2 (8Gb)
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=4PDNQ2
Not sure about this memory - not in the MB compatibility list.

Western Digital 150GB VelociRaptor 10,000RPM SATA 16MB
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=56WHQ2

Antec P182 Advanced Super Mid Tower - No PSU Black
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=4JV3Q2

Nesteq Semi-Fanless ASM PSU, 450W
(or 500w if 450 is discontinued. Seasonics weren't so easy to find in the UK)
http://www.quietpc.com/gb-en-gbp/products/powersupplies...

LiteOn 20X DVD-RW SATA LS black + Nero
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=56M1Q2



Any thoughts on coolers? One of.....
Thermaltake K7/K8/-4/775 BIG TYP RET
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=4QSNQ2
I like the idea of the large dia fan

Asustek Silent Knight II Pure Copper Quiet CPU Cooler
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=554VQ2

Asustek Silent Square EVO Quiet CPU Cooler
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=554WQ2


This all comes in well under budget. Really grateful to you guys for your experience and guidance. Does this component list sound OK?
October 21, 2008 12:14:06 PM

Oh, and I guess as I have budget left, I could go for 2x VelociRaptor drives and set up RAID 0. Is the onboard RAID adequate or should I go for a separate card?
October 21, 2008 1:45:34 PM

+1 on the Enermax 525W

Cooling suggestions:
OCZ Vendetta
Scythe Shiriken
Scythe Mugen

The Thermaltake Big Typhoon (the one you linked to) is also good, but stay away from the Asus HSFs, they aren't as 'silent' as their names suggest and they're WAY overpriced.
October 22, 2008 5:37:48 PM

KyleSTL, petevsdrm, Proximon - Thank you so much guys for your expert advice.
Order being placed as soon as I've cleared enough space in my workload to put it together.
:D 
October 22, 2008 7:00:03 PM

in all honesty, getting a q9550 for multitasking is overkill.

Firefox, excel and whatnot will definitely not eat 4gig of ram or quad 3ghz. That being said, if you do wish to game in your downtime, that will be plenty fine.

To fill your needs (and not go above), you could go with something like this (bear with me here, I checked canadian retailers so prices are in monopoly money):

E8400 (3ghz dual core) 170$cad
EVGA nForce 650i Ultra 61$cad
OCZ Dual Channel 4096MB PC6400 DDR2 800MHz 40$cad
OCZ OCZ500SXS StealthXStream 500-Watt Power Supply 54$cad
XFX GeForce 8600 GT Video Card - 512MB DDR2 78$
hard drive: Here if you say all your data is to be stored on a NAS, then you pretty much just need a small HDD to load programs + OS. Going solid state would actually make sense in that scenario.
Patriot Warp 32GB is 121$cad (at tigerdirect) and if not, there's always
Western Digital Caviar SE 160GB 61$cad
403$ + hdd solution (either 524$ or 464$ total).
Reuse your old tower for free or buy a relatively silent case for 150$ or buy a cheapo one for 70$ and hide it under your desk. Don't get any extra fans, don't OC and you won't need any special fans. After that, if you are bothered by the noise, you could get a 30-40$ cpu fan that's bigger and slower and drop 2-5dB.

That's pretty much what you "need" to multitask office-type applications and do some light CAD work. I really don't think you need to go crazy on the CPU/vidcard/hdd if you don't plan to use those features for the useful life of your computer.
If you found yourself in possession of a large amount of free cash to spend on whatever you wanted, I'd still advise on choosing those components because they should help you attain your initial goals of:
-silent pc
-low power drain
-fast access time
-handling office multitasking

If anything, you could shop around for a passively cooled GPU and get 2x 120mm scythe s-flex 800rpm fans for 35$ from newegg for exhaust/intake.
October 24, 2008 6:37:00 PM

Antiacid, Why in the world would you suggest a nVidia chipset 1 generation behind, let alone with SLI capabilities (that will never be used)? The Intel P31, P35, P43 and P45 chipsets are far superior.

All the suggestions you have made for his workstation I would put in the "terrible" category, save for the E8400 CPU and the OCZ ram.
October 24, 2008 6:45:28 PM

KyleSTL said:
Antiacid, Why in the world would you suggest a nVidia chipset 1 generation behind, let alone with SLI capabilities (that will never be used)? The Intel P31, P35, P43 and P45 chipsets are far superior.

All the suggestions you have made for his workstation I would put in the "terrible" category, save for the E8400 CPU and the OCZ ram.


There's no point in buying a motherboard 100$ more expensive than what he actually *needs* just for the sake of buying stuff. No overclocking capacities needed, lots of heatsinks for passive cooling and decent capacities overall.

If you are aiming for office type of tasks with very little computing needed and very little graphics needed (flash and javascript isn't exactly intensive by any stretch of the imagination), then I suggest you buy a cheap machine now and upgrade it in a year or two with the next generation of low-powered components.

Let me repeat that again: You do NOT need overkill components. Aim for something that isn't producing lots of heat and you'll get silent! I am aware of several types of graphic cards that are passively cooled (no fans) which would fit great with your "silent" goal.

IMO, don't listen to the kids who project themselves into computer hardware and put their needs into a wishlist for you. I do not work for any computer related company, I am not a fanboi for any company either and I am trying to find you components that will fit your needs without breaking the bank. This is as close as you'll get to an unbiased opinion.
October 24, 2008 7:23:40 PM

antiacid said:
There's no point in buying a motherboard 100$ more expensive than what he actually *needs* just for the sake of buying stuff. No overclocking capacities needed, lots of heatsinks for passive cooling and decent capacities overall.

If you are aiming for office type of tasks with very little computing needed and very little graphics needed (flash and javascript isn't exactly intensive by any stretch of the imagination), then I suggest you buy a cheap machine now and upgrade it in a year or two with the next generation of low-powered components.

Let me repeat that again: You do NOT need overkill components. Aim for something that isn't producing lots of heat and you'll get silent! I am aware of several types of graphic cards that are passively cooled (no fans) which would fit great with your "silent" goal.

IMO, don't listen to the kids who project themselves into computer hardware and put their needs into a wishlist for you. I do not work for any computer related company, I am not a fanboi for any company either and I am trying to find you components that will fit your needs without breaking the bank. This is as close as you'll get to an unbiased opinion.

So you're trying to suggest that nVidia chipsets (especially those in the nForce 600 family) 'don't produce a lot of heat' [i.e. are energy efficient]?!?!?

You can pick up P31/P35 boards for as little as $60/$80 (Link), and P43/P45 motherboards for $60/$95 (Link), so don't give me this "$100 more than you need to spend crap". Also, a more appropriate power supply would be an Antec Earthwatts 380W/430W for $30/$40 for a single mid-range GPU configuration.

If he were truly just running multiple windows of IE or FF all the time then I would suggest a nVidia 71x0 or Intel G31-based board for far less and not even get a discrete graphics card, but he's also running AutoCAD (in 3D), which really shines with a decent GPU (which the 8600 is NOT). If he does spend his budget (~$1200) then he will have a more future-proof rig and it won't feel like it's dragging for at least a few years (as long as the demand doesn't drastically change). In the business world, that's a good decision, since they tend to hang onto rigs as long as possible.
October 30, 2008 7:50:28 PM

Well, it's all here - all together and powered up :) 
Nice quality kit. The case is vast. I mean , really, really HUGE! Obviously "mid" is subjective these days. Build quality is superb though.
I went for an OCZ vanquisher CPU cooler as that was all I could get from their stock, and it's pretty quiet. Machine temp sitting at BIOS is 30-35 degC, CPU at 30. So it seems to be a good one.


KyleSTL said:
ABS, I would like to suggest an alternative to the 9500GT you listed. The HD 4670 is much more powerful, cheaper, and uses far less energy:

http://www.dabs.com/productview.aspx?Quicklinx=58GN&Sea...

Thanks - I went for that - I'm sure it'll be great but man is it LOUD! I'm going to have to swap the cooler on that.


I'm having trouble getting it to recognise the twin velociraptors at the moment. I want to configure them in RAID 0, but the RAID BIOS won't show. I've set the CMOS integrated peripherals to be RAID and they are connected to GS-0 Source and GS1, but no joy as yet.
October 30, 2008 9:05:47 PM

Ah - Turns out that unless the drives are connected to the SATA ports managed by the Southbridge chip, the RAID util doesn't run. Next question was stripe size.

There are lots of debates on the net about best stripe size and comparison with disc protocols etc. But none of them seem to take into account HDD cache aspects, which would skew any test (IIRC from early SCSI days).

In the end, after my research, I felt I would get a better overall result from a strategy of relying on the 10k spin speed to give me the performance, and to have dual-boot with a disc each for Vista 64 and Ubuntu 64.
October 30, 2008 10:22:22 PM

Vista 64bit running and man is it fast!
October 31, 2008 6:25:59 AM

Glad it's working out ;) 
October 31, 2008 8:07:44 PM

Got a Zalman VF900-CU on the video card now and I'm much happier.

Quite elated as today I virus scanned a 576Mb iso file with AVG. "Scan finished" in under 1 second. :) 

I can get used to this high-end stuff. ;) 
November 1, 2008 7:38:39 PM

Nice. The VF900 is a great cooler, especially at 5V (I have one on my HD 3650 in my HTPC). Sounds like it's plenty fast, I hope it's also at an acceptable sound level. Congrats.
!