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Advice, please, re: +-$800 mainstream system

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March 10, 2009 7:49:09 PM

Not being into intense, shooter games, the major stress on the system, apart from office applications and the internet, will be editing family photos using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 (supplemented by one or more of LightZone, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2, or Adobe Photoshop Elements 7. None of these applications is as demanding as Adobe Photoshop itself. Occasionally, I'm likely to rip music to flac (for storage) and ogg vorbis or mp3 (for portability); and use DVD-Rebuilder to backup DVDs.

The photo orientation, combined with my budget, lead me to the new Dell Ultra Sharp 2209WA e-IPS display. It currently lists for $299, but I ordered it last week from Dell for $212 plus 5% tax. That leaves me with about $577 for everything else.

I'd appreciate your thoughts. My current thinking about the rest of the system follows. All prices include any shipping and are net of any rebates.


CPU: Athlon X2 7750 Kuma 2.7GHz 95W $59.99 (currently available for $56.99). In my price range, I think AMD gives me the most bang for the buck, especially considering my intention to use on-board video.

Heat sink: stock; OCZ OCZTFRZTC Freeze Extreme Thermal Conductivity Compound $8.98


Motherboard: ASRock AOD790GX/128M $112.91. ASRock appears to have vocal supporters and detractors. I'm concerned about the $35 charge for in-warranty service, but am heavily influenced by AnandTech's favorable recommendation. I've also looked at Gigabyte, maker of my current system's motherboard, but an active -- and apparently knowledgeable -- poster at the AMD processor forum report quality control problems.

Memory: 4GB OCZ DDR2 1066 Platinum (2 x 2GB) 2.2V 5-5-5-18 OCZ2P10065GK bundled with OCZ OCZTXTCC Memory Cooler $35.99 N.b. The Guide to Choosing Parts
says: "Most folks will only need DDR2 800Mhz 1.8V RAM, preferably with timings 5-5-5-15 or lower. This is also enough for moderate overclocks. Buying faster RAM and running it at faster speeds will not have much of an impact on computer performance." That RAM currently seems more expensive at Newegg, but I could buy OCZ DDR2 800 Reaper HPC Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 4-4-4-15 2.1V for $33.99.


Video: onboard HD3300 integrated graphics

Audio: onboard

Hard Drive for OS: Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB (recycled) This will come out of my current system, which otherwise has two IDE hard drives, and which I will pass on to another family member.

Hard Drive: WD Caviar Green WD6400AACS 640GB $69.99. Until recently, I had been focusing on the Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS 640GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA $79.99, primarily because of its five-year warranty. But the performance of the Caviar Green drive will be, I think, "good enough," and it apparently is very quiet and comparatively energy-efficient.

Optical Drive: LG GH22LS30 Black 22X SATA LightScribe $25.99 My impression is that DVD/CD burners have become commodities. I'm happy with my current LG optical drive. Should I care whether the optical drive is SATA, as this one is, or IDE?

Case: COOLER MASTER Sileo 500 RC-500-KKN1-GP Black ATX Mid-Tower $74.47 (Provantage) I had been focusing on the Antec NSK6580B ATX Mid-Tower with Antec EarthWatts 430W psu at $104.17. As I've increasingly come to value quiet operation, my attention turned to this Cooler Master case and the Antec Sonata Elite, which costs $121.75. The Antec, however, stretches my budget more than I'd like, and from what I've read it's not that much better than the Cooler Master.

Power Supply: CORSAIR CMPSU-450VX $59.99. This PSU probably has more power than I need, but I'm impressed by its reviews and five-year warranty.

Display: Dell Ultra Sharp 2209WA e-IPS LCD on order from Dell $222.60 Within my budget, I can't touch other IPS displays.

Speakers: Logitech S220 2.1 Speaker System $24.99 (Amazon). Hey, it should give me acceptable sound. When I want hi-fi, I'll listen on my hi-fi system.

Keyboard: Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 2000 $19.67

Mouse: Logitech Trackman Marble (recycled)

OS: Vista Home Premium 64 $99.99. I considered recycling an unused copy of XP Home, waiting on Windows 7. I've been persuaded, however, of the benefits of switching to a 64-bit OS.


So, there it is. The total cost, including shipping and mail-in rebates, is $812.56, just over my target. I could come in within budget by changing the motherboard to, e.g., the ASRock A780GXE/128M.

I welcome your thoughts.
March 10, 2009 8:41:42 PM

The Phenom 9600 (quad core) is a good processor for apps at its price point http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... its $35 more though.

Depending on what 3D games your going to run, if any, you can save on money by moving to 780G mATX board. One from Asus or Gigabyte are $80.
March 10, 2009 11:53:40 PM

MykC said:
The Phenom 9600 (quad core) is a good processor for apps at its price point http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... its $35 more though.

Depending on what 3D games your going to run, if any, you can save on money by moving to 780G mATX board. One from Asus or Gigabyte are $80.


Thank you, but I'm not inclined to get an mATX board.
Related resources
March 11, 2009 12:28:47 AM

Not all paste is the same. Get MX-2 as it does the same thing but has been tested and is known to work well.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Be sure to clean off the stock TIM well before applying the new stuff, and follow directions. Use a very small amount.

ASRock is a great deal like MSI. They make boards that seem to work well and have nice features at good prices... but they don't hold up over time. They remind me of that Fiat Sport Coupe I owned in the 70's...

I see I'll need to edit my guide a bit more. The DDR2 800Mhz reference applies more to Intel CPUs. There is SOME gain to be had from 1066R RAM on an AMD platform, as long as you don't pay too much for it.

The whole memory cooler thing is a bit gimmicky, but the price is right. Be aware though that you might end up needing another lower voltage stick of DDR2 in order to POST.

Other than that, it will do what you want. You can always upgrade the CPU later.




March 11, 2009 9:56:00 AM

Proximon said:
Not all paste is the same. Get MX-2 as it does the same thing but has been tested and is known to work well.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Be sure to clean off the stock TIM well before applying the new stuff, and follow directions. Use a very small amount.

ASRock is a great deal like MSI. They make boards that seem to work well and have nice features at good prices... but they don't hold up over time. They remind me of that Fiat Sport Coupe I owned in the 70's...

I see I'll need to edit my guide a bit more. The DDR2 800Mhz reference applies more to Intel CPUs. There is SOME gain to be had from 1066R RAM on an AMD platform, as long as you don't pay too much for it.

The whole memory cooler thing is a bit gimmicky, but the price is right. Be aware though that you might end up needing another lower voltage stick of DDR2 in order to POST.

Other than that, it will do what you want. You can always upgrade the CPU later.


Thank you.

When you say ASRock and MSI boards "don't hold up over time," how much time did you have in mind? What maker(s) would you suggest as an alternative?

I built my current system in August, 2006, using a Gigabyte GA-M51GM-S2G. It's still going strong.

MX-2 had been my choice for paste. OCZ OCZTFRZTC, however, has gotten good reviews. In Xbit's tests, OCZ ran 1.5C cooler than MX-2. "The new OCZ Freezer Extreme performed extremely well as a highly efficient, relatively inexpensive and very easy to work with."

Hardware Canucks found that it came within 0.5C of MX-2: "Even though the MX-2 stays at the top of the heap in terms of overall performance OCZ's Freeze keeps things extremely close and that in itself is remarkable." In favor of OCZ: "What makes the OCZ Freeze stand out from alot of the competition is its ease of installation and how easy it is to remove. Not only is it the absolute perfect consistency for speading acoss your CPU but it solidifies to just the right texture for it not to become an unholy mess when it comes time to clean the bottom of your heatsink."

See also OverClocking Intelligence Agency
March 11, 2009 10:53:59 AM

I've seen many instances of ASRock and MSI going bad after about a year. I've personally owned both in the past as well... the ASRock limped along crippled for 3 years, but really only worked right one of those.

A decided majority of people who build and sell computers I have spoken with avoid MSI. Not all of them though, just enough to leave me with that impression.

I stand corrected on the OCZ paste. There was a company, recently, that was found to have shipped a bunch of bad paste out and I guess it's made me nervous to recommend anything but AS5 and MX-2. Xbit labs is certainly a strong recommendation.

One thing they did not test there is cure time. AS5 will actually drop several degrees Celsius over a month or so as it cures, which would make it the leader by a wide margin in the Xbit chart.

If you are concerned about mess, you are planning on using too much.
I just lifted this out of Arctic Silver's directions. Hope they don't mind:

The red line indicates the AMOUNT of paste used. It's like drawing a line with a pen. It's not a messy operation. That's for AS5, but the amount of other paste used is similar.
March 11, 2009 12:05:20 PM

Proximon said:
I've seen many instances of ASRock and MSI going bad after about a year. I've personally owned both in the past as well... the ASRock limped along crippled for 3 years, but really only worked right one of those.

A decided majority of people who build and sell computers I have spoken with avoid MSI. Not all of them though, just enough to leave me with that impression.


i have had both MSI and ASRock boards and they are fine. the ASRock Dual sata2 i had has been running overclocked (245mhz fsb) for nearly 3 years. and thats with heavy use. ASRock get bad press because not a high end manufacturer but it does not deserve alot of the bad press it receives.

and as for MSI, ive owned 4. one for a socket A, one for a socket 754, one socket 939 and a intel p35. none of them had short life spans. for every bad story you hear of a manufacturer there are hundreds of good ones.
March 11, 2009 2:10:05 PM

Proximon said:
I've seen many instances of ASRock and MSI going bad after about a year. I've personally owned both in the past as well... the ASRock limped along crippled for 3 years, but really only worked right one of those.

A decided majority of people who build and sell computers I have spoken with avoid MSI. Not all of them though, just enough to leave me with that impression.

I stand corrected on the OCZ paste. There was a company, recently, that was found to have shipped a bunch of bad paste out and I guess it's made me nervous to recommend anything but AS5 and MX-2. Xbit labs is certainly a strong recommendation.

One thing they did not test there is cure time. AS5 will actually drop several degrees Celsius over a month or so as it cures, which would make it the leader by a wide margin in the Xbit chart.

If you are concerned about mess, you are planning on using too much.
I just lifted this out of Arctic Silver's directions. Hope they don't mind:
http://www.gwprox.com/pastesize.jpg
The red line indicates the AMOUNT of paste used. It's like drawing a line with a pen. It's not a messy operation. That's for AS5, but the amount of other paste used is similar.


If I switch from the ASRock motherboard and stay with a 790GX, the Asus M3A78-T 790GX/SB750 with 128MB DDR3 Sideport memory and Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-UD4H 790GX/SB750 with 128MB DDR3 Sideport memory are both interesting. Both are available at Newegg for $146.91, which stretches my budget to the maximum. The Foxconn A7DA-S would cost only $107.91, $5 less than the ASRock. Do you have an opinion regarding initial quality and durability?

Alternatively, to stay more comfortably within my budget, I could step back to a 780G North Bridge. This raises at least two questions: (1) How much am I giving up in value (performance v. cost)? (2) Will the 790GX North Bridge be significantly more likely to take me 3-4 years into the future, with a CPU upgrade, than the 780? Here's what looks interesting, avoiding ASRock and MSI: Asus M4A78 PRO ($117.91); GA-MA780G-UD3H ($972.91); and ASUS M3A78 Pro ($94.99 - free shipping).

What do you think?
March 11, 2009 6:13:21 PM

Proximon said:
Well, you would be breaking new ground, but this board looks promising:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
This board might just give you even more longevity if AMD get's the memory controllers on AM3 CPUs worked out.


But wouldn't I then have to bust my budget to buy a video card?

Stretching my $800 budget to just under $840, and using common components so far as possible, I can build a system around a Wolfdale E5200 and GIGABYTE GA-EP43-UD3L LGA 775 Intel P43. On a performance and value basis, how would you compare such a system to what we've been discussing?
March 12, 2009 5:59:52 AM

Oh sorry, too many threads going. Ya you really should stick to a 790GX then.

That P43 build does have advantages. P43 is a quality chipset. Of course you would need a GPU for that board.

At stock speeds and with equal RAM, the Intel build would be faster than the AMD.

On the other hand, you would be missing out on the onboard graphics of the 790GX, and the upgrade CPUs would be more expensive for the Intel line.
March 12, 2009 10:03:06 AM

Proximon said:
Oh sorry, too many threads going. Ya you really should stick to a 790GX then.

That P43 build does have advantages. P43 is a quality chipset. Of course you would need a GPU for that board.

At stock speeds and with equal RAM, the Intel build would be faster than the AMD.

On the other hand, you would be missing out on the onboard graphics of the 790GX, and the upgrade CPUs would be more expensive for the Intel line.


Thanks. Not having built a system since August 2006, I've had to play catch up.

The problem, for me, with the GIGABYTE GA-MA790X-UD4P you mentioned is that it's a 790X and, therefore, lacks on-board video.

At the top end, at least in price, are two 790GX boards by Asus and one by Gigabyte.

The ASUS M3A78-T is well-liked at Newegg and priced, including shipping, at $146.91. The ASUS M4A78-E is a dollar more. It seems to be a newer model. At any rate, it has only a few reviews. Comparing the specifications of both, I have difficulty distinguishing them. As someone who intends to use the on-board video, however, I wonder whether, were I to buy either, the deciding point would be that the T board has 128MB of DDR3 1333 sideport memory while the E board has only 64MB of DDR2 800.

The GIGABYTE GA-MA790GP-UD4H is the same price as the Asus T. Only 13, pretty favorable, comments, though.

More comfortably priced 790GX boards include the ASRockAOD790GX/128M, the Foxconn A7DA-S , and BIOSTAR TFORCE TA790GX 128M. But for (possibly unwarranted) concerns about quality, my budget would lead me to choose between them and a 780GX, such as the GIGABYTE GA-MA780G-UD3H, ASUS M3A78 Pro , ASRock A780GXE/128M, and , and ASUS M4A78 PRO.

Color me, still confused.
March 12, 2009 6:33:41 PM

Until very recently, AMD was completely out of favor. Before Phenom II the only time we recommended AMD was for occasional office builds and extremely low budget builds.

Because of that, which had been the case for the last two or three years, there were very few reviews done of AMD boards and a very small selection of boards.

Consider the P45 chipset. ASUS released 6 or 7 different models for just the P45 chipset, quickly followed by 3 or 4 P43 boards. They may have made two 790GX boards and two 790FX boards.

I wouldn't agonize over the choice. We know that the 790GX chipset is good and we know that both ASUS and Gigabyte have solid reputations for quality. The ASUS M4A78-E comes with a combo deal on the Kuma however, making it the better deal.
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