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Core i7 build with a clear upgrade path?

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June 14, 2009 7:46:12 PM

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: In the next two months (i.e. I cannot wait for a reliable Core i5/ Lynnfield platform!)

BUDGET RANGE: $1000 - $1200

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT:
First tier: Multitasking (I want to be able to do tons of things at once without slowing to a crawl)
Second tier: "Scientific number crunching" (think of it as Folding@Home), Photoshop+Illustrator, AV editing
Third tier: watching HD movies, gaming (FlightSim X, RTS, I'm not into FPS)
A big priority for me would be to have a clear upgrade path.


PARTS NOT REQUIRED:

General parts:
  • Peripherials (monitor, mouse, keyboard, speaker system...)
  • optical drive (I already got a SATA DVD burner and am not interested in BluRay... for now)
  • OS
    Specific components:
  • PSU: Antec TruePower 550 ATX (see specs). I know I will need to replace it eventually but I'd like to stick with it for now.
  • Case: Antec P180
  • CPU Cooler: Scythe MUGEN (not MUGEN 2!), I'll make it compatible with LGA1366 for a song using with this kit.
  • Most storage: 1x IDE HDD, 5x SATA HDD, (3 of them in RAID 5) not blazing fast but I want to keep them.
  • I also have an Accelero S2 GPU cooler, although I'm aware it may not be possible to reuse it.


    PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS:
    Newegg.com, Zipzoomfly.com, Amazon.com, any reliable site with good reviews listed by pricegrabber.com.


    PARTS PREFERENCES:
    I am strongly inclined to build a Core i7 920 rig. All my previous builds were AMD/ATI but I don't have any brand loyalty.

    However, my new rig must have the following characteristics (not negotiable):
  • at least 8 SATA compatible ports (SAS is fine), at least 7 of which must be internal
  • a legacy PATA IDE connector
  • an optical S/PDIF (Toslink) output (can be via add-on sound card). Coaxial S/PDIF is not absolutely required.
  • a QUIET setup as far as possible. I have a pretty silent PC currently and want to keep it that way if at all possible!


  • OVERCLOCKING: Yes, within reason. I will not be trying to set any records.


    SLI OR CROSSFIRE: Yes, but not yet. I want a single card setup to which I can add SLI / Crossfire at a later stage.


    MONITOR RESOLUTION:
    1680x1050 (22") for now but would like enough oomph to upgrade to at least 1920 x 1080 sometime in the future.


    ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:
    My current motherboard (AMD 739 socket, no PCI-e, DDR) hearks back to early 2004.
    I have kept relatively up to date by replacing almost everything else over the years, but now I have reached the limit.
    I am proud that my previous rig lasted so long and I would like to repeat this feat!
    Therefore, my main concern is to build a rig that has a clear upgrade path (I'm not naive enough to call it "future proof").
    Of course I want to build the best rig within my budget, but I also think a lot about how exactly I will extend its lifetime.
    From my system usage, I believe an Core i7 rig (hence LGA1366 and x58 since there's currently no alternative) is the way forward.
    I don't trust the AMD AM3 route exactly because it maintains large compatibility with the previous AM2 / AM2+:
    I'm afraid that "everything will change" come the next hypothetical "AM4" setup so I don't see a clear upgrade path that way.
    If you can prove me wrong on this assumption so much the better, but you may have a hard time convincing me :D 


    PARTS CURRENTLY UNDER CONSIDERATION:

    CPU:
    Intel Core i7 920 Nehalem 2.66GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Processor Model BX80601920 - Retail
    A no-brainer if I stick to the i7 route. I wish I could get an OEM version though since I'll the stock cooler anyway.


    Motherboard: I pretty much narrowed it down to the following 5 contenders.
    Remember I that I NEED 7+ internal SATA ports and an optical S/PDIF output!

    Foxconn Renaissance LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
    +: 4x PCI-e, spacing of the slots, Harp riser card (110 SNR, really?), great price.
    - : weird / stupid Northbridge cooler. Will my cooler fit? 2 of the connectors are SAS, are they reliable with SATA? Lackluster performance and reviews.
    From the same manufacturer: Renaissance II doesn't have enough SATA, Bloodrage doesn't have optical S/PDIF and is overkill.

    ASUS P6T Deluxe LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Intel Motherboard
    + : 16 power phases, PCIe 16/16/1, wide spacing between PCIe slots, good chips ("Marvell is better than Realtek and JMicron")
    - : Board appears to be discontinued! (WHY, ASUS?!), I can only get an open box item. Unreliable SAS ports?
    From the same manufacturer: Deluxe V2 does not have enough SATA and the WS boards are way too expensive.
    Is the vanilla Asus P6T an alternative? Rumors that the chips used are cheap quality and that PCI-e slot placement is poor for 3x SLI.

    EVGA 141-BL-E757-TR LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX X58 SLI LE Intel Motherboard - Retail
    +: 3x SLI possible in std ATX case, 9+1 SATA, 2 LAN, COM header (I need COM but can get it via USB-Serial adapter - still, nice to have).
    - : no FDD (haha!), 16/16 PCI-e 2 only if 3rd slot is empty, dreadful manual and website, unclear specs, a bit pricey for what it is.
    From the same manufacturer: CLASSIFIED has no IDE slot and is way too expensive.

    GIGABYTE GA-EX58-UD5 LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
    + : 10 SATA ports with easy access (but no eSATA, hence cabling). Great overclocker. Emphasizes "durability". Tons of features.
    - : Large CPU cooler interferes with 6x DIMM. Poor airflow between PCIe cards. Reports of BIOS issues and bad customer service. Pricey.
    From the same manufacturer: EXTREME is overkill. UDP4 and UDP4 have exactly 8 SATA and no eSATA. UD3P has only 4 DIMM slots.

    MSI X58 Pro-E LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
    + : Has (barely) all the features I need, with a nice COM header as a bonus. Good price.
    - : only 5 power phases, IDE and TWO SATA ports run by the same chip (bandwith!), not very good cooling setup,
    16/16/4 only so no real 3x SLI. Poor bundle. How stable would this be in the long run?
    From the same manufacturer: Pro has serious cooling issues. Platinum doesn't have 3x SLI and could do with updated chips.
    Eclipse is gimmicky and too expensive.
    I wish that MSI would make a board somewhere between Platinum and Eclipse... a Platinum Deluxe would be sweet!


    Memory:
    OCZ Gold 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Low Voltage Desktop Memory Model OCZ3G1600LV6GK - Retail
    According to the TH guides, DDR3 memory speed doesn't really matter.
    Hence I'm just going to take the optimal reliable manufacturer / low timings / best price combination at the time I pull the trigger.
    I'm budgeting no more than $100 for this part.


    Storage: I have enough storage space with my existing hardware but I want to speed up the OS as much as ever possible. Gimme SSD!

    My idea is to put the OS on a dedicated SSD (I want to stick with Windows XP and Linux, switching to Windows 7 in maybe 1-2 years)
    and combine it with a 2-3 GB RAM Drive for pagefile / temporary files to minimize writes.
    The Superspeed RAMDisk Plus software looks extremely interesting! Does anyone know more about it?
    I'm still learning about the whole OS aligning / wear leveling / performance loss avoidance issue. Does it still apply to all SSDs?

    Should I stomach the hard kick in the wallet and get a
    Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G1 80GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid state disk (SSD) - Retail?
    Or would a "cheaper" (haha!) alternative work too?
    I am not afraid of tweaking the drive by using arcane formatting tools to get better wear leveling if necessary.
    Where's the best bang for the buck at? Other examples I found:
    G.SKILL FALCON FM-25S2S-64GBF1 2.5" 64GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid state disk (SSD) - Retail
    OCZ Solid Series OCZSSD2-1SLD60G 2.5" 60GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid state disk (SSD) - Retail

    Currently my WinXP + tons of applications (but not games) fits comfortably in 20 GB.
    Obviously I keep all user data, pagefile etc somewhere else.
    Assuming I keep games installed on a different disk, would 60-64GB be enough for Windows 7?
    Or should I go with 80 or even 120 GB?


    Video Card: nVidia or ATI? This is the part I am the most uncertain about.

    I know ATI much better. My view used to be "nVidia dominates at FPS but ATI is better at everything else" but does that still hold true?

    What I want is something "just good enough" for now but that can later form part of a much beefier setup.
    Right now I am thinking about a Radeon HD 4850 or a Radeon HD 4870, that could be augmented down the road
    by an extra 4950 x2 / 4870 x2 crossfire (how do they compare?).
    I'm not that much of a gamer now but maybe in 2 years adding a 4870 x2 would be pretty cheap and make a lot of sense!

    What would be an NVIDIA equivalent? Is there any chance I can keep my Accelero S2 cooler, for example with a 8800 GT/GTX/Ultra card?
    Noise is a major concern so I will most likely rip out whatever fan comes with the card and replace it with a "quiet" aftermarket solution.


    Sound Card:
    Not a priority for me right now (depending on on-board solution) but I want to keep it in mind.
    I want a motherboard that can handle at least 2xSLI / Crossfire and still have an accessible slot for a sound card.
    I favor the ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 Channels PCI Express Interface Sound Card - Retail
    I could also get the ASUS Xonar D1 7.1 Channels PCI Interface Sound Card - Retail if I can't have an accessible PCIe slot.
    Oh, and I am boycotting Creative Labs.

    Thanks for reading!
  • More about : core build clear upgrade path

    June 15, 2009 7:33:00 PM

    CPU
    If you have a Microcenter near you, go there and pick up a D0 stepping i7 for 245$ (/w tax).
    http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml...

    Otherwise, get it from antaresdigital and select D0 stepping (runs cooler, newegg doesn't have them).
    http://www.antaresdigital.com/customer/product.php?prod...

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

    GIGABYTE GA-EX58-UD3R LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX

    seems to have everything unless I overlooked something. Gigabyte has a good reputation, I wouldn't hesitate to get one of their boards.

    Memory

    For 10$ more, get the OCZ Platinum (90$ /w MIR)

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

    Storage
    I would hold off on SSD until at least the end of the year. I think we'll see a big increase in performance along with a nice price drop. There are still a number of issues with OSes performing better with SSD because of optimization. If you want a faster drive I'd say you won't notice the difference between the SSD and a WD Black series drive, but you will notice the savings. Especially with your budget, a SSD just doesn't fit. Let someone else adopt the new technology and improve it for you.

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

    GPU
    3x SLI/XFIRE is almost always a complete waste as 1) if you're using higher end cards you won't need it (especially at 1920x1200) and 2) the drivers are worse than for 2x. You could get a 4890 now and add one later when you upgrade your monitor.

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

    Sound
    Unless you're an audiophile, onboard sound will be more than enough. It's come a long way in recent years.
    June 16, 2009 4:19:43 PM

    Thanks for your reply drunknmunky!

    CPU
    Quote:
    (...) get it from antaresdigital and select D0 stepping (runs cooler, newegg doesn't have them).
    http://www.antaresdigital.com/customer/product.php?prod...

    Awesome suggestion, will do. I didn't know you could "force" a particular stepping!

    Mobo
    Quote:
    GIGABYTE GA-EX58-UD3R LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX
    seems to have everything unless I overlooked something. Gigabyte has a good reputation, I wouldn't hesitate to get one of their boards.

    It has only 4 DIMM slots, which goes against my "upgrade path" philosophy.
    True, 12GB sounds crazy today but who knows what the situation will be in 2-3 years? Seems to me that getting a 6 DIMM slotted Mobo is an easy future-proof. The UDP4 seems to be more interesting in this regard.

    After more reasearching, I don't trust the Asus Deluxe (V1), the Foxconn and the MSI PRO-E anymore.

    My new short list would be:
    Asus P6T vanilla (leaning more and more towards that one)
    Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5
    Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD4P
    EVGA x58 SLI (141-BL-E757-TR model)

    Memory
    Quote:
    For 10$ more, get the OCZ Platinum (90$ /w MIR)
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

    Sure, if you say so!

    Storage
    Quote:

    I would hold off on SSD until at least the end of the year. I think we'll see a big increase in performance along with a nice price drop. There are still a number of issues with OSes performing better with SSD because of optimization. If you want a faster drive I'd say you won't notice the difference between the SSD and a WD Black series drive, but you will notice the savings. Especially with your budget, a SSD just doesn't fit. Let someone else adopt the new technology and improve it for you.

    Well, prices HAVE dropped. I can easily fit a X25-M 80GB or a OCZ Vertex 120GB in my budget.
    What you say makes a lot of sense, except that it would require me to reinstall the whole system just a few months later... a pain in the a$$. From what I understand I couldn't ghost it to another drive because it would mess up the alignment... so I'm willing to trade convenience for money here. Besides, since I'm not planning to jump to Windows 7 right after launch and Windows XP is just NOT optimized for SSD regardless of any manufacturer advances, there will be tweaking involved in any case.

    GPU
    Quote:
    3x SLI/XFIRE is almost always a complete waste as 1) if you're using higher end cards you won't need it (especially at 1920x1200) and 2) the drivers are worse than for 2x. You could get a 4890 now and add one later when you upgrade your monitor.

    First, I'm afraid I was not clear enough in my post. I think you got the impression that I was trying to get a crossfire setup and a SSD within my posted budget. This is not the case, I am looking for only ONE video card _for now_ but something that could be beefed up in a later system upgrade.

    I've been thinking a lot about this with the following results:
  • From this article, 4870 trifire looks very good indeed!
  • My PSU (TRUE550) is on the recommended list for a HD 4870 but not for a HD 4890.
  • 4890 seems to run (even) hotter and louder than 4780.
  • ATI will not release any 4890x2, so we may get the same situation as for the 4850x2 with only one manufacturer doing it -> may lead to availability, stability, support problems.

    I am now pretty firmly set on buying a HD 4870. I only lose about 10% performanfire ce compared to 4890 (less than that when comparing trifire 4780 and "frankenfire" 4890+4890x2) and it will be much cheaper to get it on board.
    Any recommendations for a good "quiet" 4870? I know that for my needs it may be a bit overkill, but I need to get a GPU in any case, the 4870 gives me lots of upgrade potential and it's reasonably priced.

    Sound
    Quote:
    Unless you're an audiophile, onboard sound will be more than enough. It's come a long way in recent years.

    That's what I understand, but never having experienced it I can't really decide. In any case I am not planning to buy a soundcard now, just trying to make sure that the mobo I get would be able to include a soundcard besides a trifire 4870 solution. Just from looking at the PCIex16 slot arrangements, the Asus P6T seems to fit the bill better than the Gigabyte boards?
    June 16, 2009 4:33:30 PM

    ^ you've been looking at the early benches for the 4890,now you'd expect a good 15-40% performance increase

    out of those mobo's, providing you're not going triple card (four GPU's in two cards for crossfire or three GPU's in two cards for SLI is fine), the P6T would be the best for your money option. I'm saying this now because the x4 slot (grey PCIe x16 slot) will seriously bottleneck the third card.

    for the storage, get 2x Seagate 1TB 32MB .12's as they are currently the fastest consumer HDD on the market and if you run them in RAID 0 you'd be getting close to SSD's speeds while having a lot more space and saving money.

    finally, Why on earth are you still using XP? Vista is a lot better than it was at SP0 stage, we're talking XP SP3 performance in general apps and better performance in DX10 gaming. Not to mention Win7 is pretty much just vista but it has been confirmed by sources to cost a lot more than vista does now.
    June 16, 2009 4:51:38 PM

    Thanks for the reply, that was fast!

    Quote:
    you've been looking at the early benches for the 4890,now you'd expect a good 15-40% performance increase

    Not according to the article I quoted above (comparing the stock cards only). And that was released yesterday!

    Quote:
    out of those mobo's, providing you're not going triple card (four GPU's in two cards for crossfire or three GPU's in two cards for SLI is fine), the P6T would be the best for your money option. I'm saying this now because the x4 slot (grey PCIe x16 slot) will seriously bottleneck the third card.

    Glad you agree! No, I'm not planning on 3 cards. IMO this is just a marketing gimmick for the current x58 boards. Running 3 cards sacrifices almost everything else (see the Asus Revolution, the only one that can actually run 16/16/16).
    On this topic, what's the current situation with the EVGA board? I read it can only do 16/16 as long as the third PCIe x16 slot remains empty (which is kinda stupid), is this still the case?

    Quote:
    for the storage, get 2x Seagate 1TB 32MB .12's as they are currently the fastest consumer HDD on the market and if you run them in RAID 0 you'd be getting close to SSD's speeds while having a lot more space and saving money.

    I'm not worried about space (I already got 3.5TB total), only about speeding up OS multitasking.

    Quote:
    finally, Why on earth are you still using XP? Vista is a lot better than it was at SP0 stage, we're talking XP SP3 performance in general apps and better performance in DX10 gaming. Not to mention Win7 is pretty much just vista but it has been confirmed by sources to cost a lot more than vista does now.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, IMO Vista sucks. I run Vista SP1 Business (SP2 refuses to install so far) on my tablet PC and except for the handwriting recognition, I am not all that impressed. Yes there are many pros but there too many cons. Just one example that drives me crazy: the @#$%!! winsxs folder!
    And with Windows 7 around the corner, I really don't see the point in buying Vista for my desktop now! Of course I'll get Windows 7 eventually (and looking forward to it, too) but not right at launch. So for the next year or so I'm all for Windows XP Pro SP3.
    June 16, 2009 5:05:56 PM

    ^ that article uses 9.5 drivers, so 9.6 would probably push the 4890 further in front of the 4870.

    and I believe there is a discount offer for win7 if you buy vista after a certain date so that may be a good option.
    June 16, 2009 6:41:02 PM

    The mobo's with only 4 DIMM slots still support up to 16GB RAM. I really don't think it's worth the premium to get the extra DIMM slots just in case 3 years from now you need 12 GB, because by that logic we'll also be buying memory in DIMMs more than 2GB. You're better off putting that extra money towards a new upgrade in 3 years, imo, you won't want the same CPU or mobo.

    I would still hesitate from getting a SSD now as I don't think they're much faster than a RAID0, but its your call :) 
    June 16, 2009 9:04:57 PM

    As far as the D0 stepping from microcenter, how can you be sure?

    The orange county one just shows $229, but no stepping version?
    June 16, 2009 9:27:15 PM

    Quote:
    As far as the D0 stepping from microcenter, how can you be sure?

    drunknmonky specified "If you have a Microcenter near you, go there and pick up a D0 stepping"... .

    Look for sSpec number SLBEJ (see http://processorfinder.intel.com/details.aspx?sSpec=SLBEJ).
    Unfortunately there isn't one near me :-(

    As for antaresdigital, I have obviously never ordered one, but the website lets you manually select a d0 for $8 extra.
    Wonder how much they charge for shipping?
    June 16, 2009 11:26:37 PM

    MCSmarties said:
    Quote:
    As far as the D0 stepping from microcenter, how can you be sure?

    drunknmonky specified "If you have a Microcenter near you, go there and pick up a D0 stepping"... .

    Look for sSpec number SLBEJ (see http://processorfinder.intel.com/details.aspx?sSpec=SLBEJ).
    Unfortunately there isn't one near me :-(

    As for antaresdigital, I have obviously never ordered one, but the website lets you manually select a d0 for $8 extra.
    Wonder how much they charge for shipping?



    I ordered it a couple of weeks ago and got it in a few days without a hitch ( I live in NJ and they ship out of NJ). They charge a flat $5.50 shipping which I believe is listed on the actual page where you select D0 stepping.
    June 17, 2009 12:31:48 AM

    Duh, I must be blind or something. Thanks for pointing it out!
    June 17, 2009 11:08:01 PM

    MCSmarties said:
    Quote:
    As far as the D0 stepping from microcenter, how can you be sure?

    drunknmonky specified "If you have a Microcenter near you, go there and pick up a D0 stepping"... .

    Look for sSpec number SLBEJ (see http://processorfinder.intel.com/details.aspx?sSpec=SLBEJ).
    Unfortunately there isn't one near me :-(

    As for antaresdigital, I have obviously never ordered one, but the website lets you manually select a d0 for $8 extra.
    Wonder how much they charge for shipping?


    And it says that on the box? I thought you could only tell in the BIOS
    !