Need help choosing best bang for the buck system ...

alright, i'm going to purchase a new computer build pretty soon, first time i've built a system in a while now, and i have one main question followed by some small questions.

main question is, i have 4 different builds right now, i7 build (obviously most expensive/best, a little bit out of my range, but still entertaining it) and 3 other builds i'm considering (q9550, amd 940 and 955).

question is, which of these will give me the best performance-to-price ratio? i'm going to be using the computer in my living room as a main desktop + htpc, the most intensive thing i'll be doing i imagine is a lot of multitasking. high-def rip or blu-ray playing/chat programs up/firefox up with multiple tabs/uTorrent running in background/something encoding in the background is probably the biggest load i'll ever put on the computer. i don't plan to do anything but light gaming, so that's not a big worry to me.


q9550 - core quad 9550 (219.99), asus p5q-e motherboard (139.99), g.skill 4gb ddr2 1066 memory (50.99)
940 - phenom ii x4 940 (174.99), gigabyte ga-ma790x-ud4p motherboard (109.99), g.skill 4gb ddr 1066 memory (50.99)
955 - phenom ii x4 955 be (215.00), msi 790fx-gd70 motherboard (169.99), ocz platinum amd edition 4gb ddr3 1600 memory (88.99)
i7 (just in case) - core i7 920 (279.99), gigabyte ga-ex58-ud3r (194.99), ocz gold 6gb ddr3 1600 (99.99)

aside from that, i also have a few small questions:

1. i honestly have no idea to remove stock heatsinks, as before i would buy oem chips and install aftermarket heatsinks, so, if anyone could point me to a guide, that'd be helpful.
2. is there anything recommended to do upon first boot? i know it's recommended to start out with one stick of ram, go into bios and set memory timings and then put other sticks in. is there anything else that one should tinker with in there upon first boot?
3. i plan on trying an undervolt/overclock. is it usually the best to run prime95 to test stability of an overclock? and also, what are the ideal/max temps i'm looking for on each of the processors above?

sorry if this is all a mouthful, thanks for any help you guys can offer.
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  1. The Phenom II x4 940 is probably the best value on your list.

    1. The processor should include a manual that describes this process.
    2. No, you do not want to be installing and booting single modules from dual channel or triple channel sets, nor do you want to be messing with the timings on the first boot. Just install the memory (as you purchased it, a set), along with all the other components you intend to use, and boot from the optical drive to install your OS.
    3. Undervolting an overclocked system is likely to cause stability issues. The stickied posts in the Overclocking forum will provide you the information you're looking for.
  2. ah, it's just that i've read in places (and even in the boot guide on here) that usually doing one stick seems to help. i'm guessing you're just saying to put all sticks in and see if it works, then go from there, if not, then one stick, right?

    and i've seen undervolt/overclocks before ... not HUGE overclocks, but just small ones. like an i7 920 undervolt to 3.0 ghz and stuff. i'm more interested in lengthening the life of the processor, saving some money on electricity, and keeping it cool than doing extreme overclocks, since i'll probably be fine without super blazing speeds for what i'm using the computer for. but i'll take your word for it.
  3. Speaking strictly performance vs cost, the PII 940 is the best.

    Don't build a Core 2 machine unless you don't care that you will have 0 upgradability in the future.

    For your usage, you would probably get the most from a Core i7, but it will cost you considerably more for that performance gain, which appears to be what you want to avoid.

    1) Stock heatsinks are easy as pie to remove. Most of them just clip onto the motherboard with 4 platic screw-like things, and you twist them to unlock them and pull them out one at a time.

    2) For a first boot, it's recommended that you benchtest everything piece by piece OUTSIDE of the case. To start put your CPU in the motherboard with it's heatsink, and 1 stick of RAM in the first slot and connect the PSU. If you don't have a motherboard speaker, or onboard video add your video card, or buy a cheap motherboard speaker and wait for it to POST and/or beep. You can find documentation for standard motherboard beep codes through Google if you go that route. A single short beep means a sucessful POST though.

    Add additional RAM 1 stick at a time and reboot each time and wait for a sucessful POST.

    Add in your other components (optical drives, HDD's, other expansion cards etc.) one at a time and reboot.

    If everything goes smoothly, it should POST everytime. If it ever fails to POST, remove the last component you added, and try again. Follow basic troubleshooting guidelines.

    3) Prime95 is a great program to test stability, and I recommend at least a 24 torture test since what you plan to do seems a little risky.

    Very generally speaking, you want to keep temperatures below 70C at all times. Other people may tell you differently, but it's really about what you are comfortable with. Stock-clocked processors on stock cooling usually run anywhere from 50-70C at maximum. My mini computer at work regularly hovers around 70-80C while I'm working, and it's using a mobile Core 2 Duo processor.
  4. yeah, that's the only thing that worries me. 'cause i don't really plan to ugprade in the future except for a soundcard and more ram. and i'm probably gonna be using this system at least 3-4 years. that's why i'm seriously thinking about the i7 because it'll probably carry me through for a while for all the things i wanna do. it's a little more than what i wanna spend, though.

    and i'm guessing the undervolt/overclock thing's not done all that often, huh? i assume i could undervolt with the i7 and keep it at stock and it'd still perform very well. not so sure about if the value is really there with the other processors to NOT overclock them.

    thanks for all the help so far guys.
  5. i just saw that microcenter has the i7 on sale for 200 dollars. the nearest one's not all that close, but it'd be worth driving to get it. that would cut down the price difference enough for me to grab the 920.

    i just have one more question that hopefully someone can answer ... does anyone have the antec 183 with the xigmatek dark knight? i was just wondering if it fit correctly.
  6. I have an Antec P182, and I was told the dark knight would fit. I know it's not exactly the answer you were looking for, but at least it's something. :)
  7. Y not look at a I5 750

    its almost as fast as a I7 920 but the mobos and CPU are cheaper

    as for all this building you PC outside of your case and only installing 1 stick of ram nonsense, Just biuld your PC in you case with everything as you want it in the end

    99.9% of the time everything will be fine and you will save a lot of time and effort

    your ram might be running at a lower than standard clock speed so you might have to go into the bios and change that along with the boot drive ect

    if you have a problem then start you can start troubleshooting the PC

    as for overclocking

    you should easily be able to get a i7 (maybe i5) to run using 1.1v at 3-3.6ghz

    mine is at 3.3ghz and i have seen people at over 3.6ghz on OCAU (from memory)
  8. @butcher - you need to check the date on the thread before posting. The i5 wasn't even available at the time the OP was looking for help.
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