Need advice: building a new workstation, workhorse for next 4-6 years


I need some help identifying the right components for the workstation that I want to build. A little bit about what I need it for: I work for of a software company based in Southern California and I work from home majority of that time. I am looking for a desktop/workstation that will handle all my computing needs. Everything from watching (HD) movies, use of business productivity software, internet browsing, internet video conference (like skype), Google Apps .... to more intensive applications including HD home movie editing, editing photos with photoshop, mass data manipulation/compression/encryption, hosting VM appliances and running multiple VMs simultaneously. I don't play much games on my computer, and am not planning to do much of that either, at least not yet. I want this workstation to be able to handle everything I can throw at it today, plus 2 times more.

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: All parts to be purchased by Jan 15, 2009
BUDGET RANGE: No set budget, but would like it to be less than $3,000 after Rebates
SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Internet Video Telephony, VM hosting/testing, mass data manipulation, web applications, office productivity, surfing the internet, watching/editing movies
PARTS NOT REQUIRED: Keyboard, Mouse, Monitor, Speakers, Camera, Mic
PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: No preferred website. Just prefer for the site to be based in US
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Not sure I fully understand. I live in US. And I don't care of origin of parts
PARTS PREFERENCES: Not too concerned about brand, as long as it is reliable. I would hate for DVD drive to break I would have to contact the manufacturer for support. Another preferences for parts is that the manufacturer to have a support organization in US.
OVERCLOCKING: I don't know what this is or how I can benefit from it
SLI OR CROSSFIRE: I don't know what this is or how I can benefit from it
MONITOR RESOLUTION: Out of scope for this, I've got two 24 inch HD monitors
MOTHERBOARD: Prefer to get a motherboard with a lot of upgrade options
OS: Windows 7 Pro 64bit (OEM is fine)
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Being quiet is important to me also, I wouldn't mind humming, but if it sounds like a server, then that's not good. If there is something in here that will be loud, I am open for replacing it with parts. I'm not too concerned about power, yet, although the less power consumption the better.

Based on what I'm looking for in a workstation, Dell/Lenovo are just way too pricey for me. So, I've come up with below list of components that I think I would need to build my own workstation:

Intel Core i7-960 Quad Processor (8M Cache, 3.20 GHz, 4.80 GT/s Intel QPI)
Found it for $589.99
Question: Would you suggest I get a Xeon instead of i7-960? If so, which one would you suggest?

Asus P6T6 WS Revolution
Found it for $338.70
The reason why I chose ASUS over Intel was because I couldn't find any Intel boards that took the i7-960 processor. I want a motherboard that has many upgrade options. I picked this one because it was upgradable to 24GB RAM. There are many things on here that I don't understand (like # True @16 3-Way SLI, # True 16+2 Power Phase Design, # ASUS EPU 6-Engine & TurboV, # ATI CrossFireX & NVIDIA SLI Support) but I'm assuming they're all good and may be useful in future. Initially, I wanted to get a board which supports two quad-core processors, but from the looks of it getting a board with 2 processors may end up to be much more pricier. If I can get one with 2 processors and still be under my high level budget (of $3K), then I'd be very interested.
Question: Can someone help me confirm all the components below will be compatible with this motherboard?

Kingston KVR1066D3N7K3/12G 12GB 1066MHz DDR3 Non-ECC CL7 DIMM (Kit of 3)
Found it for $507.00 for the kit of 3
I was thinking about getting the entire 24 GB memory at once. But I'm hoping that the price would come down in next few months so I had decided to wait.

Seagate ST31500341AS 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11 SATA 3Gb s NCQ Internal Hard Drive - 32MB Cache (will get 4 drives in total)
Found it for $114.95 each totaling $459.80 for the 4 drives
I'm thinking of using one drive for the OS and the other three in RAID 5 to be used as data storage.
Another option that I've thought about is getting the 2 SAS drives (that this motherboard also supports) and set them up for RAID 0 for the OS and use the 4 SATA drives as data storage.
Question: What are your thoughts about the abvoe SAS setup?

Video card:
nVidia GeForce 9800 GX2 eVGA nVIDIA GeForce 9800GX2 KO PCI Express 16x 2.0 1GB DDR3 VGA Card, Dual DVI-I, HDMI/HDTV
Found it for $479.00
I'm not so very sure on this one, as this is the first (practical) time I'm getting a video card. I am really shooting in the dark here. The only pieces I recognize are: 1 GB DDR3, Dual DVI and HDMI/HDTV. All of that is good. But I don't know what the rest mean. I want something that will support HDMI and at least dual DVI monitors. Support for dual HDMI monitors would be best, but I couldn't find that card. I picked nVidiasimply because I know nVidia makes video cards, but I am open for other manufacturers also.

Prudent Way PWI-SC1000A Tool-less Premium ATX Case with ESATA
Found it for $119.00
I do need the case height to be below 20 inches. Besides that nothing special here. I don't want anything tacky, just something that is practical for what I need and is half decent to look at. For me, the case is just a container for all the parts.

1st Optical drive:
LG Electronics 8x SATA Blu-ray DVD Combo Drive Model: GBC-H20L
Found it for $86.95

2nd Optical drive:
Samsung SH-S223L/BEBS 22X SATA DVD+/-RW Internal Drive
Found it for $30.99

Power supply:
Thermaltake W0317RU Purepower 700W Power Supply
Found it for $98.99
Would like for this to be less, but I'm concerned about not being able to support all of above. I don't know if 700W is good or bad.
Question: This is another big question for me, will this powersupply be enough for all the above parts? Is this over-kill?

Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Found it for $139.00
I may setup dual-boot with Ubuntu some day, but for now it'll just be Windows 7. Besides Win 7, all other OSes are out of scope for this build.

So far the total is $2,849.42, without tax or shipping.

Appreciate your advice in helping me build it.

27 answers Last reply Best Answer
More about need advice building workstation workhorse years
  1. What kind of VM hosting/Testing? That's really the only task on your list that you should be even remotely considering building a PC of this caliber.

    Also.. I'll tell you right now to forget that GPU. If you're not playing games. Get an ATI 5770 or even 5750.

    I'd also take a look at Solid State HD's and forget about the SAS setup.
  2. During testing we have to test out our software packages on many different environments and each environment runs a server OS, with 2-4 gigs of memory per system. Right now I shutdown one VM and start another to test, if there is something I need to compare, then I take screen shots (or exports) and boot the first one again. A big pain in the butt!

    Will ATI 5770 work with the motherboard that I am suggesting?

    SSDs are a good idea! I didn't even think about using them. I did few searches online right now but couldn't find a whole lot of desktop drives. So far I've found this one for $283.99 Kingston SSDNow V-Series SNV125-S2BD/128GB 2.5" 128GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid state disk (SSD) Desktop bundled

    Any drive that you would suggest?
  3. Best answer
    ^ For your usage, I would suggest a Duak-Xeon workstation...

    Here is a config...

    CPU 1 + Mobo
    Xeon 5520 + ASUS

    CPU 2

    RAM - x2 kits - These works with server boards only...
    SUPER TALENT 12GB (3 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM ECC Registered DDR3 1333

    PSU - you might not need a 750W PSU...A quality 550W like this one should do...
    Antec TP550
    Or this Modular 600W -
    CM Silent PRO

    SSD - I would suggest this one - Intel 80GB Gen2

    HDD - Samsung F3H 2TB

    or 2x 1TB in RAID 1 for data redundancy...

    CASE - Same - That case is roomy and add 1 more fan to the back for better airflow...

    Video card - This would suffice for your needs(Assuming that you will only use it for watching HD movies and not games...

    Sound card - Server boards dont come with one...

    Total - ~$2550 - Doesnt include the DVD and the BD drives...

    With the above workstation, you would get 8 Physical cores and 16 Logical cores, 24GB of RAM to work with...So you would have a very powerful setup and can run more than 1 VM at a time...
  4. I think gkay09's Build is excellant. If that 80GB SSD isn't enough to run your main programs get 2 and put them in Raid 0. I'm not sure on the Ram. 24GB seems a little excessive. BUT... I hear rumors that prices are probably going to increase. So if you've got the money you probably can't go wrong getting it all now.

    The Video Card is pretty weak but sufficient for HD video... Not sure if it'll be able to run HD video in two simultaneous independant streams to both of your monitors though. If that's something you want to do I'd step it up a bit. Also.. as mentioned. It won't be able to play any modern games.

    Sound Card. Those are nice cards. Unless you have it hooked up to an amplifier and have expensive speakers you could probably save a little money going with something cheaper. $9
  5. Thanks gkay09 for that setup, that is very helpful. I really like it and am considering it like that with some minor adjustments.

    aethm, I am thinking about upgrading the video card just slightly and get a bigger SSD drive.

    In looking at this site for CPU, it looks to me that CPU only supports 1066 memory types. Is this true, if so, is getting 1066 memory be cheaper than 1333?
  6. ^ Those are good...
    Get the 2nd SSD - It is a Gen 2 unlike the 1st one, which is Gen 1...
    Gen 2 supports TRIM(The SSDs clean up the dump files internally and keep the SSD in near new state)
    And as for the graphics card, that is fine...and is very very powerful for your needs...
    Even a HD 5750 would do...

    And as for the RAM, you can install faster RAM sets with no just would have to set the speed in the BIOS or leave it at the default 1066MHz speed...
    And the 1066MHz memory are costlier than the 1333MHz right now(but the 1066MHz have better timings but IMO the 1333MHz are better and available at a good price)
  7. ok, great! I'll get the Gen 2 SSD drive.

    I'm about to start placing orders and noticed that I can't order the case from that site for some reason.

    So, I started another online search for another case and came up with this:

    I don't know if this is good or will case some problem with the motherboard and/or the graphics card that I've selected.

    I have to be below 20" in height. What would you say I should get?
  8. Below 20.5", to be precise
  9. ^ Yes that is a very good case...and to an extent helps in reducing the sound from the components...
  10. The motherboard says it's form factor is SSI EEB 3.61, but the case' compatibility is: Micro ATX , Standard ATX only.

    Will it work?
  11. ^ Am extremely sorry...You are right it wont be compatible..,I dint notice the mobo's form factor(E-ATX/ SSI EEB 3.61/ 12"x13")
    Check out these cases...

    And will get back to you in some time about other possible incompatablities(Most probably the PSU might not have the required power connectors for a Server board)...
  12. ^ hey just found this...Will solve the problem of needing 2 - 8Pin EPS power for the mobo...
    Athena Power 6" EPS-12V 8-pin Y-splitter

    And which PSU did you buy? Or what have you decide on ?
  13. And also it would be good that you also check for any possible issues/ incompatiblities(f any) and do some research before you actually place the order because even I might be wrong sometimes in choosing the components like I did with the case... :??:
  14. I went with this PSU
    CM Silent PRO
    Will this 600W work for all of the above including the graphics card?

    By the way, why do I need the Y-splitter?

    I know how it could be in giving advice, so I am trying to do what I can in terms of identifying any incompatibilities. All I could ask is best effort from you, so appreciate all your efforts! But I have to admit, I am relying on advice from here more, as I am not versed in hardware.
  15. EDIT: Dint refresh before posting....

    And yes even that case is good...and at newegg, you get Frree shipping and price is same...

    ^ Yes that PSU has enough power for the above config...
    The only concern that I have here is the 8-Pin CPU power connector...
    For a server board, you would need 2x 8-Pin CPU power connector, but most of the PSUs have only 1x 8-Pin(4+4) CPU power connector...So you would need to use that splitter...
    But if you can I would suggest you to change the PSU to this -
    SILVERSTONE ST75F-P 750W ATX 12V v2.3 / EPS 12V 80 PLUS SILVER Certified Modular Active PFC
    This one has 2x 8-Pin CPU power connector for the CPU...And is very efficient and modular too...
    I said so because later on there shouldn't be any issues that would pop up...So before building itself, look for incompatablilities...

    And also found this info in a thread about a similar ASUS mobo -

    "I just finished building a system with the Asus Z8NR-D12. Heres some MAJOR things to keep in mind with this mobo and the new Xeons:

    - SSI EEB will fit in a EATX case. Its dimensions are exactly the same 12x13. However the screw holes wouldnt line up, 3 to be exact. The corners line up and some intermediate ones do, and that might seem like enough, the mobo is held tight and safe... until you want to install ram or the cpu fans. Those missing screw hold around that area and you might end up bending it, so be careful. I recommend drill your own holes, I'm using a workaround, little holders to keep it up but its not secure in on the tray, but I'm definitely looking to get a new case.

    - Asus already comes with a backplate for the CPU, integrated into the board, do NOT get Corei7 fans and expect them to work (some will but you have to throw away the . Get the Intel CPU Fan designed for this chip. You'll save yourself a lot of headache.

    - Finally the power supply!!! This was a headache! you need a power supply with a 24pin (ATX main power) and x2 8pin (EPS12v sever power) motherboard connectors. Most dont have this, I've looked. Dont be fooled by EPS certification that only means they have 1 8pin connecter and probably a 4 pin. Coupla of solutions, if your personally attached to your powersupply get a molex to 8pin adapter, make sure its not PCI-e 8pin but mobo 8pin. You run the risk of mixing voltages with this. Other solution is get the right power supply, so far I've only 2: Corsair HX1000 and PC Power and Cooling 860w.

    Other things to keep in mind with this motherboard is:
    - no audio (has PCI-E x1 thats ONLY for sound but cant find the special Asus MIO card thats suppose to work with it)
    - the D12 has not PCIx slots, D12x does. Go with D12x if you plan to install firewire card,
    - no firewire
    - 2 USB ports in back but has connection for front panel USB
    - latest manual is on the internet, the one boxed is missing a couple of pages
    - cool it well and the cheap E5520 2.24 can ramp up to 3... thats just amazing.

    This is a server board not a entertainment board. I'm using mine for VFX and animation and I think its a great workstation mobo, but for gaming and entertainment your better off with something else. "

    Like I said Server boards dont come with sound cards and generally low powered video cards...
  16. So, it sounds like I should definitely get SSI EEB case. And if I get the 2x 8-Pin PSU unit, as you suggested, I shouldn't have to worry about the power supply issue the other fellow had.

    I don't know what to do different from the setup I have so far for the fan issue he mentioned in his post.

    Other things that he mentioned, like manual, firewire card, audio, etc. I'm not too concerned about since I'm installing an audio card anyway.

    I still don't know what to do for a SSI EEB case.
  17. ^ As for the case, check these out...
    This Silverstone would be of top quality but the assembling might be a little different from other cases...
    Research welll and finalize the case...
    As for the PSU, Yes, that PSU that I have linked comes with 2x 8Pin(4+4) CPU power connector...

    And as for the CPU cooler, he was saying about the retention a cooler like this which comes with a similar retention mechanism as the Intel one should be fine...
  18. I'll get the CPU coolers, thanks.

    Since I have a 20.5" height limitation, I can't get either of those cases. How about if I get this one:

    This is eATX, which, I think, is compatible with SSI EEB.

    Also, this has a PSU unit built into it. Not sure if it's a 2x 8-pin PSU. If not, I should be able to replace the built-in PSU with this:
  19. This one specifically says it supports "SSI EEB 3.6"
  20. ^ Just make sure than you will be able to replace the PSU if required as the description says 670W Fixed PSU...So better off to ask the customer care people about that and also if possible, you talk to Intel reps about that PSU and its support...
    And again do more research on the possible incompatibilities/ issues if any, that might occur with a workstation build and its workaround...So that you are well prepared...The reason am saying this again and again is because the workstation components are different from the regular ones...

    And also about the PSU, it doesnt mean that if the PSU doesnt have 2-8 Pin CPU connector, it cant run that setup...I had given a link to the splitter, which can be used in such cases...
    Athena Power 6" EPS-12V 8-pin Y-splitter Power Cable
  21. Hey, I sent this message to Intel pre-sales:

    Hello, I am looking to build a workstation using Server Chassis SC5299DP. It says this chassis has a built-in PSU. Is the PSU removable in case I would need to put a different PSU?

    And I got this response from the pre-sales:
    Thank you for your email regarding a fixed power supply. The fixed voltage power supply is useful in applications where an adjustable output is not required. This supply is simple, but very flexible as the voltage it outputs is dependant only on the regulator and transformer you choose.

    Please view the following link to review the recommended configuration and order codes for the Intel® server chassis SC5299DP.

    If you have any further questions or need assistance please call 800-538-3373 or visit: Thank you again for contacting the Intel® Presales Support Team.

    What does that mean? Should I look for regulator and transformer?
  22. ^ I think they are talking about the backup power generator and transformer that are generally used in the Workstation and server environments to give uninterrupted power to the system...
    I dont think you would need a transformer and regulator for that...

    And I think they have not answered for your question still...
  23. Looks like I got an answer that I was hoping for from Intel:

    I apologize if my answer was unclear. Yes, the power supply can be replaced.

    I guess now I can go ahead and get the case, motherboard, Y-splitter and hold off on the PSU until I know the PSU in the case is no good for my setup. If I need to get that PSU, I'll get it later. Sound good? From the looks of it, I suppose all pieces of the puzzle are ok. What do you think?
  24. ^ Yes like I said that splitter will do the job...and assuming that a company like Intel wont put a crappy PSU on a server case, it is safe to say that the PSU might work...
    And before you place your order, I would suggest you do a good research about the server components and about building the server and the possible difficulties, etc...
    I have never built a PC with workstation components...So I might have missed some pointers...
    This will be a good start -

    Good Luck with your build...
  25. Best answer selected by bika.
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