Suitcase Computer - serious please help !

I realize many of you are tired of this "please help me put together ...." but I'm seriously screwed if I don't get this right the first time :(

My company is transferring me to of all places Central Africa for a year , no joke !

So I really need help putting together a system that I can take with me .
(micro ATX or similar that would fit into a Med-Lrg suitcase, but that still fits standard size components without having the bulk of a full sized desktop).

Since I'd prefer to order everything in one shot (probably NewEgg ), I'd really appreciate any input for suggestions on each and every component (especially details like : "doesn't come with 6-pin cable, so order that seperately !", etc...)

My primary uses: lots of HD-Video editing (so Firewire and DVI/HDMI full 1080p connection also needed !)
heavy graphic apps (Photoshop on 250Mb+ images)
gaming, internet, watch movies

OS - 64bit, probably Vista64 with upgrade to Win7

512Mb-1Tb Graphic

DDR3 Ram (4-8Gb +), 2x 1Tb HD's, Dual layer /Bluray

6+ USB2 ports, and Wireless

quiet PSU (a generally quiet setup)

BUDGET: I'm hoping to stay within the $1300 mark (more only if absolutely justifiable).

To all who are up to the task - thanks (I have about 2 weeks to get this set up )

14 answers Last reply
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  1. Find out immediately the details of the electrical power supply where you're going. This includes:
    1. What is the voltage - usually 110 to 125 V AC, or 220 to 240 V AC
    2. What is the frequency - 60 Hz in North America, 50 Hz common in Europe - usually a PSU for one frequency can handle the other. BUT if it's not 50 or 60 Hz, could be a problem.
    3. Exact plug configuration to plug into the wall.
    4. Does the supply provide a secure Ground connection also (like the third round prong on our systems). Some do, some have nothing, some have a prong in the socket but no reliable actual connection to true earth ground. If you cannot be confident of good Ground, think about a way to rig your own while there, or have it done by a competent local.
    5. What about disruptions? If there are frequent surges, you need protection. If there are brownouts (low voltage) you may need a UPS to prevent data damage while you shut down in an orderly manner.
  2. Going by your needs, I think you really should consider as high powered of a laptop as you can afford.
    First of all, you aren't going to beat a laptop's portability. The most ridiculously expensive laptops out there are at most 15 lbs, the majority are well under 10.

    Unless your company is paying for your extra baggage fees, every lb. counts.
    Second, it will solve most of your power concerns. I also think it's a good idea to find out what kind of power situation you're getting into, but laptops are much more tolerant with foreign power distribution. All you will need is the regional plug adapter. Since laptops can run on their battery power, there's no need to worry about brownouts, a small surge protector should meet your needs. Bringing a UPS to Africa would probably use up the rest of your weight allowance, so if you want to bring more than a change of underwear to Africa, you'll have to stay small.

    I'm not sure how long you will be in Africa, but is there any specific reason why you absolutely have to bring a compact desktop? All your tasks can be performed by any laptop that's over $1,000, a $1,500 laptop would not be far behind desktop performance. As I see it, the major reason to own a desktop computer is that they are easy to repair and upgrade. The performance advantage is there, but in your case I think it takes a backseat to portability. You probably won't be doing many upgrades in central Africa, the closest Fry's or Microcenter is a long ways off.
  3. Thanks for both those posts, and I checked that the Republic of Congo (former French colony) is 220V/50Hz (French plug with grounding) electric system, and a UPS is probably a good idea.
    I'll have to stay there for a year (with a month break in between), and already have a 3 year old laptop that would do the trick for field trips and when on the road. However the main bulk of my work I'll probably do out of my base in Brazzaville where I will be put up in a house. Since the company will pay for the excess baggage, I'd prefer the power of a less portable computer (just need to fit into the suitcase (the 24"monitor I'll take in the cabin on the flight).
    On my month break , I can always buy a new laptop if I absolutely see the balance between being at the house or on the road is off.
    As you noticed - the nearest Fry's is quite a swim away, so I'll have to get the configuration right the first time, or live with the consequences for 5 months !
    Look forward to your suggestions :)
  4. Here's a quick build I put together, though there's still plenty of room for tailoring. The Gfx card could possibly be bumped up, though I wouldn't go all out on a card just now. Unfortunately your timeframe is 2 weeks, and that might not be enough time to get the 5000 series ATI cards that are due out on the 22nd. I just put in 2 Samsung F3's for a 2 TB RAID array, or for use as 2 separate drives since they are priced well right now. Not sure what kind of I/O performance you're looking for out of this build. As for PSU, silverstone makes a good PSU to match the SG03-B that includes short cables, but it was almost $40 more than the Corsair. I figure for $40 in savings for a top notch PSU, you can deal with using a couple extra twisty ties to manage cord length.

    Total cost comes out to $939.92 before adding an OS, so plenty of room to change things. You could even put in a 60 GB OCZ Vertex for a OS/Apps drive. x2
  5. 17" 1920 x 1200 WUXGA GlassView LCD, Super-Wide Viewing Angles
    Intel Core 2 Duo P8800 2.66GHz, 3MB L2 Cache, 1066MHz FSB
    Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound
    4GB, PC3-8500/1066Mhz DDR3 - 2 DIMM
    NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280M w/1GB DDR3
    500/7200rpm GB SATA-300 with G-Force Protection
    Free 90 Day Trial of Windows 7 (till OS officially released)
    8X Max. DVD±R/RW Burner/4X Max. +DL Super-Mulit Drive
    Intel Wi-Fi Link 5300AGN 802.11a/g/n
    Internal Bluetooth Card
    Built-In 2.0M Pixels Digital Video Camera
    Built-In Fingerprint Reader
    Built-in 56K V90 Fax/Modem
    Built-In 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet LAN Card
    Built-In 7-IN-1 Flash Memory Reader(MMC/RSMMC/MS/MS Pro/MS DUO/SD/Mini-SD)
    1 Express Card 34/54 Slot
    IEEE 1394 Port (Mini DC in Jack)
    3 USB 2.0 Ports
    1 eSATA share with USB Port
    1 HDMI Output
    1 DVI-I port
    1 Kensington Lock Port
    4 Audio Jacks for Line-Out, Line-In, Microphone-In, and S/PDIF-Out
    100/240V Autoswitch AC Adapter
    Standard Carrying Bag with Strap

    $2000 @

    I have 5 of these, one just repaired for free (replaced vid card and screen back) which was 37 months old and out of warranty
  6. I think the most "mobile" case you will find is an HTPC case. To give you a rough idea, think "VCR" size, shape, and orientation (horizontal, true desktop-type).

    For example, I have two PCs in this form. Both cases are now discontinued, but there are others:

    1) ZALMAN Silver Aluminum HD160XT-S ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail

    This case is 6.75" high, 17 1/8" wide, and 18 1/8 deep (but cables extend the needed depth by 3" or so). It is large by HTPC standards. This case holds an Intel quad OC'd to 3.6GHz, a GTS 250, 4 HD, 1 DVD, and two PCI cards (TV and Wireless Network). It maintains very acceptable temperatures when gaming with a good aftermarket cooler.

    2) Antec Aluminum Veris Fusion Black 430 Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case with IR receiver - Retail

    This box is smaller (don't have measurements atm) holds an E8400 (stock), 1HD, 1 DVD, 8800GTS, stock cooler. Runs fine.

    If you happen to cram a really hot vid card in one, you can cover your mistake by running with the top off :)

    Take a look here:

    Antec New Solution NSK2480 Black/Silver 0.8mm cold-rolled steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 380W (Antec Earthwatts) Power Supply - Retail $110

    Put a small LCD on top of it in a suitcase, surround with old clothes, pop a new i5 in there, and have something still useful when you get back.
  7. Do your self a favor and use laptop. Use external monitor and keyboard,mouse if you need to.
  8. And here I was hoping you were going to build a system inside a suitcase...boooooo
  9. Just got back from a quick trip, and appreciated the inputs so far - thanks a million!

    Was curious on your thoughts to a build around an i7 860 (or 920 - if the extra cost justifies it ?)

    Is heat from this graphic card (SAPPHIRE 100279-1GL Radeon HD 4870 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express) going to be a problem in this case (if I don't overclock)

    Would 2x4Gb RAM be overkill ?

    So any more suggestions for an i7 configuration ?

  10. All the benchmarks I've seen have shown the i7 860 as a more capable processor at stock speeds, and with overclocking the i7 920 doesn't beat it by much at comparable percentages of overclock. the only reasons to stick with i7 920 are if you are an extremely hardcore gamer and need all the PCI-E lanes you can get for dual and triple Gfx card configurations. the X38 platform still performs much better than the p55 chipset in this area. The other reason is if you plan on upgrading to the 6-core processors coming with intel's core i9 processors sometime next year. These will work with the x38 architecture, and not the p55.

    I don't think you won't have problems with heat with just a single 4870, even in Africa.

    I wouldn't go so far as to say 2x4GB RAM is overkill, but you may be better off with 4GB of higher quality RAM that has lower stock voltages and better timings. If we all could throw the budget out of the window, 8GB of high quality RAM would be best.
  11. Hi there Wathman,
    given the priority on High Def. Video editing and heavy graphic apps, would you recommend going with high quality 8Mb RAM, or would the price difference not get me appreciable performance increase ?

    So for the i7 860 configuration, would you make some different suggestions on the MBO ( or previous OK?)?, and what would you recommend on the Memory (I guess the other components could probably stay as is , or what would you change ?)

    In essence , what would the complete i7 860 package look like ?

    Thanks again
  12. The parts list I put up earlier would work just fine, if you have no plans of overclocking, there isn't a whole lot to gain by getting a more expensive motherboard. You want to spend enough on the board so you get quality parts, but you will not need advanced overclocking features, optimizations for multiple GPU configurations, additional host controllers for more SATA drives, or extra LAN ports.

    As for the 8GB vs 4GB high quality RAM performance increase, theoretically there should be a small gain, but I don't know of anyone who has done benchmarks to actually show a difference. The main issue is if the editing programs you are using are coded to be native 64-bit, and are the applications able to address that much RAM for multithreaded tasks?

    Otherwise, I don't think there's much more to add to the build.
  13. HI there again to all,
    back from another trip and about ready to wrap this project up.

    just a few last Q's which I hope you'll get around to answering to I can put in the order :)

    Given possible space constraints with given MBO/i7 860 Combo and smaller Case, what cooler would you recommend that would certainly fit ?

    Same with Fans, which ones ? (I believe connectors may be absent - which ones are appropriate for this MBO, - Molex 4-Pin ?)

    Also need a video Capture Card to grab regular video , and recommendations ? (Should also have SVHS input)

    Recommendations for BluRay drive (brand that is popular enough to find region/zone code bypass)

    If i went for high quality 2x4Gb RAM, would you recommend same brand as previous?

    Thanks again, really appreciate the input !
  14. the Xigmatek i7 coolers seem to be pretty size friendly, but I've never used one personally so I can't say for sure.

    Case fan connectors aren't going to be a huge issue. If you get molex fans, you can connect them directly to the PSU. Only advantage to the 4-pin ones is that they are variable speed, and can be controlled by the motherboard and/or fan controller software. Personally I think if you get good quality fans that are quiet enough at full speed, don't worry about speed control.

    It's been ages since I've worked with capture cards, sparkle used to make nice digitizers back in the day, but I'm not current on what the experts like now.

    I haven't jumped on the BluRay wagon simply because the drives and media are way more expensive than DVD-R still.

    As for RAM, I don't have that much brand loyalty, as long as the specs are good and the price is good, that's what I go with. I'd just make sure you do your build with enough time to do an RMA in case you get a bum module.
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