Sub US$850 PC for math research and light entertainment

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: There isn't a significant rush, I can see myself waiting months if necessary for prices to come down. But I would like to have it in the next three to four months.

BUDGET RANGE: Sub US$850 (realistically I am sure I can be talked into sub US$950 should the need arise)

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Mathematical research primarily with Magma, a high level algebra system (as I only have single-core computers, I cannot tell you if Magma is able to use multiple-cores, but the fact that they only allow 4 cores on per license would have me believe it does), some programming in c++ (wxWidgets), playing games via emulators (e.g. Project64 (whose site appears to be down) and Dolphin), and then the other daily tasks one encounters on the pc (e.g. internet, latex, word processing, watching movies). I will not be doing any video editing, using any CAD software or any serious photo processing. Nor do I plan on buying the latest, greatest pc games, or any pc games for that matter.

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: I will not need a keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, nor an OS (I am a student; hence through Microsoft DreamSpark I can legally obtain a free copy of Windows Server 2008, which I plan to do. I will also be installing 64-bit Ubuntu). Apart from this, I have nothing.

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: I've been looking around, but I am open to any suggestions



SLI OR CROSSFIRE: I do not know anything about these, and my gaming needs are very light; so my answer is no, unless someone knows that this will benefit me for said gaming needs.

MONITOR RESOLUTION: Again with my gaming needs so low, I cannot imagine there is even a motherboard with on-board graphics poor enough to not offer a reasonable resolution for me. Please note that I am not too concerned with having an extremely clear picture, as long as it's not noticeably poor to the average person, I'm content.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: This will be my first complete build, so preferably parts that are easier to install than not. My budget is inspired by the fact that dell offers an Intel Core i7 920 pc for US$750 (factoring in the discount I would receive for being a student, it would be roughly US$700). Now I understand this would include sub-par parts used by Dell to make this price so low, which is why I wish to build my own. Similarly, from iBuyPower I did a test configuration for a Core i7 920 with 6gb of RAM which came out to $822. Do not let these comments force you into thinking I want a Core i7 pc, I just have included these to justify my budget.

Regarding the emulator graphics, I just want to play the games. I don't need 100fps. I just need the image to load fast enough that I can't notice (which is what like 40 or 50?)

I might note that from my understanding hard drives can be a real bottleneck. My research will at times include the need to store more information than a reasonable amount of memory can hold. For example, a calculation which I wish to perform in the future (unless I can find a way to get around it) will perform approximately 2^19*(3 + 2*19 + 2*19^2 + ... + 2*19^8) calculations and store ~400 bytes of information per calculation. Because of this, I feel as though I should invest in a VERY fast hard drive. If there is a smarter way that I could store this information instead of writing it to the hard drive as I go, I would like to know about this, but from my understanding that's what RAM is.

Parts that I know I would like:

I really enjoy the clean aesthetics of the Lian Li cases (and I understand they make installation of parts easier?) However they do not really adhere to a budget. If there's anything more affordable with a similar aesthetics, I'd like that. Most of all I just want a quiet case that does not look like it should be some prop in a sci-fi movie (which seems to be the trend?)

I am looking to have at least 8gb of memory, as calculations with many iterations and nested loops sometimes need to hold quite a bit.

In my readings, I found a combo of AMD Phenom II 940 CPU with BIOSTAR TA790GXB mobo., which was certainly tempting with my budget in mind. But it seems like that particular motherboard has caused a lot of trouble? Really a lot of my confusion comes from not knowing enough about hardware to tell who on new egg reviews is providing a realistic review and who is not. This is why I have posted to this website.

Hopefully I haven't written too much/Asked for too much. For someone on a budget that can't tell an honest review from a deceptive one, I really need some guidance. Judging from the reviews on new egg it almost seems like spending less than $150 on a motherboard you will end up with a dud!

Thanks for any help anyone has to offer,
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  1. This is a lazy suggestion, but I think this build will meet your needs, even if you don't overclock as the Tom's Hardware Team did:,2310.html
  2. Since you can put off building for a few months and prices change, new tech comes out i'd continue doing research. In a couple of months (rumor sept.) the new intel i5 will be coming out. It looks to be a bit slower then the i7, but not by much on the top end. If you need it sooner, then in your shoes i'd try to pick up the i7 920 and one of the cheaper, but 6 RAM socket motherboards that support up to 24GB of RAM. RAID 0 with 2 640GB hard drives for speed since SSDs are too expensive so far. Research your apps, see what CPU does the best/fastest for what you use it for.
    Gaming cases usually have extreme cooling and lots of lights, something you don't want or need, go with an Antec 300 for budget and decent cooling or something like a Coolermaster Sileo/Antec SonataIII for quiet. You really have to take the newegg reviews with a grain of salt, they are usually skewed to people that have had problems. While Biostar isn't one of the top motherboard builders, they usually do a decent job.
  3. Just something of a trial build under $800. Only 1 HD so no RAID, no DVD burner, low cost graphic card and balanced for quiet rather then cooling.

    CPU/RAM combo deal. I7 920, 2x3 GB of DDR3 1600 8-8-8-24 $368

    Motherboard - MSI X58 $170

    Case/PSU - Antec Sonata III Earthwatts 500w $100

    HD- Western Digital caviar black 640GB SATA $80

    GPU - HD4670 $68

    $785 +shipping, not counting any rebates
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