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Powerful PC primarily for scientific simulation

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December 15, 2009 9:12:47 PM

Hi, I am a chemist/biophysicist that needs a new PC. I am a bench chemist but I run a lot of simulations on the side. My main goal is to get great performance with simple C++ programs running purely on the CPU (Monte Carlo simulations) and to also get high end performance with programs running on the GPU (IE, Folding @ Home). I also need the PC to do the usual stuff - office work, watch DVDs, listen to music etc.

I can spend up to $1500 but I really, really would rather spend less than $1300. My tech level is low. I have built one system before but I don't know much about RAID, SLI, water cooling, etc. etc.

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: Probably in January BUDGET RANGE: 1300 or less after rebates

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Folding @ Home and simple C++ programs going as fast as freaking possible, office work, watching DVDs, etc.

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: I need everything! I only have a laptop now.

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: I probably will buy mainly through newegg.com

PARTS PREFERENCES: I like Corsair power units, and I am partial to Intel CPU's and NVIDIA GPU's because of CUDA (but who knows if I'll ever even use CUDA). I really have no other preference!

OVERCLOCKING: Yes, yes, yes
SLI OR CROSSFIRE: Maybe

MONITOR RESOLUTION: anything 1600x1200 or bigger

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: I run two types of programs: GPU-intensive and CPU-intensive. Right now my laptop is 2.53 ghz intel duo and I am not really getting the speed I need for my CPU simulations. I need a powerful GPU and a powerful CPU. I don't know much about overclocking but I plan on overclocking - I would like over 3.6 ghz.

I don't really know what I need in terms of RAM, motherboard etc. Here's a "sample build" I was looking at (all parts and prices from newegg):

Asus P6T Deluxe V2 LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Motherboard ($218.99 OPEN BOX)
Intel Core i7-920 Bloomfield 2.66 GHz 130W Quad-Core ($231.99 OPEN BOX)
OCZ Gold 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 Low Voltage OCZ3G1600LV6GK ($119.99 After Rebate)
Corsair CMPSU-400CX 400W ATX12V V2.2 80+ Certified with Core i7 Power supply ($44.99 after Rebate)
EVGA GTX 285 1GB 512-bit DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP ($379.99)
Western Digital Caviar Blue WD6400AAKS 640GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive ($69.99)
Logitech Deluxe 250 Black 104 Normal Keys USB Wired Standard Keyboard - OEM ($14.99)
Microsoft D66-00069 Black 3 Buttons 1 x Wheel USB or PS/2 Wired Optical Mouse ($12.99)
HannsĀ·G Hi-221DPB Black 22" 5ms Widescreen LCD Monitor 300 cd/m2 ($149.99)
Antec Nine Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case ($89.99)

Which adds up to somewhere around $1340, with two open box items. I don't know if I need the 6GB RAM (I honestly don't know much about RAM!); I think I could settle with a GTX 260; I don't know if I will do SLI but maybe in the future; I think I'm pretty much set on the i7-920 unless someone can convince me otherwise. Everything else is pretty much randomly picked.

Any recommendations for decreasing my price (or increasing my GPU/CPU power without increasing my price too much!) would be more than welcome. It would be nice to do this as cheap as possible. If I can clarify anything, let me know.

And mm... well, I suppose my helping me you're helping to advance science! Thanks!
December 15, 2009 9:41:48 PM

Thats not enough power for a GTX 285. You should have a Corsair 650W or so for an overclocked i7 and a GTX 285.

ATIs HD 5850 beats the GTX 285 in performance, is cheaper, uses less power and has DX11.

Caviar Blue is a low performance cool & quiet HDD. Caviar black is for performance, but the new single 500GB platters (Samsung F3 and Seagate 7200.12) are faster and cheaper.

If you are overclocking you will need a good CPU cooler. The Coolermaster Hyper 212 and is the cheapest of the good coolers. The Xigmatek Dark Knight is a slightly stronger cooler at a bit higher price.
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December 15, 2009 10:42:23 PM

The GTX285 will require a quality 550w psu.
The corsair 550vx should do the job:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
but I think for not much more the 650TX would be a bit more conservative:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

The ati cards will do folding, and the 5850/5870 are good cards for the money. I suspect that Nvidia might be more interested in scientific applications

I would avoid oppen box motherboards; they might be missing parts. Open box units are returned for a reason, and should have a compelling price break to make them worthwhile. For the cpu, see if there is a microcenter near you. They have been having incredible prices on i7-920 cpu's.

6gb of ram is appropriate, X58 kits will be 3x2gb which is good. Don't pay extra for faster ram or lower latencies, there is little real application speed to be gained. Think 2-3%.

Get an oem cpu cooler if you will overclock. How wasy it is, and how high you can go is limited by the cpu temperature. Xigmatek dark knight is good and reasonable.

You can save some on the case. The Antec illusion comes with fans at a good price with free shipping:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Cases are heavy, and can cost $20 to ship.

You will want a sata dvd drive, samsung is good at about $30.

The i7-920 is about as good as it gets, and is easy to overclock to 3.2 or so. higher is possible.
Intel is supposed launch the clarkdale 32nm cpu's next quarter. These cpu's will reach higher clocks, but are dual core with hyperthreading. If your simulations can not use multiple cores, it might pay you to wait a bit. Nvidia is rumored to introduce it's next generation gpu units in the same timeframe, so it might be good to wait for them also.

---good luck---
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December 16, 2009 5:26:30 PM

Hey, thanks for the note! My simulations won't use multiple cores, but how much might the Clarkdale CPUs cost? More importantly, does anyone know when they'll be released? I'm going to buy probably in early February. I suppose I could buy a cheaper processor like an E5300 or an AMD while I wait for the clarkdales.

As for the NVIDIA next-gen GPUs, they're probably definitely out of my price range.

Thanks for the case recommendation. I really don't know about cases, but if that case will work to fit what I need then I will definitely get it instead!

Can anyone comment on the motherboard I've chosen (ASUS P6T Deluxe v2)? It's $290 on Newegg, could I get a cheaper or better motherboard?

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December 16, 2009 6:09:04 PM

The least expensive good x58 motherboard is the ASRock x58 Extreme ($170 at newegg).

The CPU and motherboard go together. If you want to use a different CPU you will need a different motherboard also. If your application is single core and you will only run one then a fast dual core like a Phenom II x2 550 might be as good as anything. If you are looking at the new intel dual cores coming out, they will be for the 1156 socket/P55 motherboard, not the 1366/x58 you have in your initial post.

If you are not buying until february, you will want to check back in late January since prices change and new products are released.
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December 16, 2009 6:54:40 PM

The clarkdales are supposed to be out 1Q2010. They will use the 1156 socket motherboards which will be<$200. i5-650 will be clocked at 3.2 stock with turbo boost to 3.46 stock. 1000 unit tray prices are supposed to be $176. I expect that the 32nm cpu's will be better overclockers because of their lower power profiles. The high end i5-670 will be @ 3.46 with turbo to 3.73 and a price of $284. I would think that by February more things will be clear. If you need to build earlier, then go the 1156 motherboard route and use a i5-750 in the interim.

The P6T deluxe v2 is a good motherboard. I use a P6T deluxe(original version) and have had no problems.

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December 16, 2009 7:10:56 PM

Historically Intel drops cpu prices at end of february
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December 16, 2009 7:46:34 PM

I like geofelt's points.
Some things that might save cash:
The Antec Illusion looks nice and has good cooling. If shipping on it is no longer free when you're ready to buy, I've had good results with the low-end Rosewill cases. They come with a rear 120mm fan, and another one can be added in front if desired. They are wide enough to take decent-sized coolers. This might save you $20-$30.
Since you aren't gaming, you may not need such a powerful GPU, even for fast folding. Perhaps some professional colleagues can share performance results they've obtained, or you might post a question specifically about folding performance of various GPUs. A lesser GPU will of course cost less.
Between Corsair and Antec, let the price decide at time of purchase. Newegg often has an excellent deal on one or more Earthwatts and/or Truepower PSU models (and sometimes on a Corsair model).
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December 17, 2009 1:22:14 AM

These comments are really helpful. At least I think I can confidently buy a case, a cooler and a hard drive! That's a start.

Well, since I am not going to use any applications that can run on multiple cores, I am interested in the power of an overclocked dual-core Clarkdale, but I would most likely want to get an "interim" processor until the Clarkdales come out and we've seen what overclockers can get with them.

Of course this may mean an 'interim' motherboard... as I don't know if I could find a motherboard that would work well with both some cheap processor now and the Clarkdales.

While I'm here, I may as well ask: what dual-cores have people had good success overclocking to high speeds? If I am specifically not interested in a quad-core processor, what ghz could I think about obtaining?

Thanks for all the patience!

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December 17, 2009 2:25:22 AM

parisha said:
These comments are really helpful. At least I think I can confidently buy a case, a cooler and a hard drive! That's a start.

Well, since I am not going to use any applications that can run on multiple cores, I am interested in the power of an overclocked dual-core Clarkdale, but I would most likely want to get an "interim" processor until the Clarkdales come out and we've seen what overclockers can get with them.

Of course this may mean an 'interim' motherboard... as I don't know if I could find a motherboard that would work well with both some cheap processor now and the Clarkdales.

While I'm here, I may as well ask: what dual-cores have people had good success overclocking to high speeds? If I am specifically not interested in a quad-core processor, what ghz could I think about obtaining?

Thanks for all the patience!


Do not be seduced by high clock rates. The cpu architecture counts a lot. The core 2 cpu's were faster than the pentium4's, and the nehalem cpu's are faster than the core 2 duo's, clock for clock. If you are near a microcenter, they offer i7-920's for $199. Coupled with a 1366 motherboard, you may never need more. Even with a quad and hyperthreading, you might get higher overclocks by disabling hyperthreading and perhaps two cores.
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December 17, 2009 4:47:21 PM

Sadly I'm not near a microcenter. If I'm waiting until February, perhaps the prices on the i7 920's will drop a bit or somewhere in there I can find a deal at Newegg.

I will try to resist clock rate seduction. I've been thinking about getting an i7 920 for months. Still, though, looking at the overclocking results of (for instance) an E8600 or E8500 is seductive.

I suppose the i7 920 would be the best bet overall, and would give me better results than an E8500 or E8600.
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