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Trade offs - present use vs future proof

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April 7, 2010 6:40:38 PM

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APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: Want to start building in the next couple of weeks, but expect to take a year to get to sig rig status.

BUDGET RANGE: Looking to spend $700 right now, with another $600 or so by the end of the year

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Gaming - primarily WoW (yes, I know it doesn't take a kick### system for WoW, but want to expand and play on full settings), would also like to start playing some other games, streaming video (to a lesser degree), photos, uploading, etc.

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: I have most peripherals (keyboard, mouse, usb wireless-N, speakers, monitor is getting a bit old and isn't widescreen but should do the trick for now). I have a BFG EcoIntelligence 9800 GT 1GB in my current computer (Dell Dimension 9100 with a P4 - 3.0 GHz). I was thinking I could re-use this in the short term, but looking for input.

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: I have a local Fry's that I'd like to use to avoid shipping, or Newegg.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA

PARTS PREFERENCES: Here's where it get's tough

Case: would like a nice sized mid-tower, preferably with side window. I like the Antec 900/902. Trying to decide if I should just get a passable case right now in the $50 range to put towards other parts, but don't know if the $50 savings is worth it if I end up wanting a better case long term.

PSU: similar to the case argument. I would like a good Corsair/Antec/Kingwin PSU in the 600+W range, but not sure if I should just get a 400 - 500W right now as I won't need more to drive the short term. Again, savings is about $50 between the two options.

CPU: The Intel i5s are sexy, the i7s are overpriced, and the i3s don't seem to be worth it, so I'm looking mostly at AMD, although I'm open to ideas here. The PIIx4 965s seem to be king of the block, but the 955s are a little cheaper - not sure if the extra GHz are worth the extra $30 or so. I am definitely thinking quad core, but I could save some funds if I went with the PII 555 x2. Not sure if I really need those extra cores or not - seems like a future proof option more than anything. My thought is that at least with the AM3 socket I'd have some room for a new processor in the longer term. Figuring on stock CPU cooler here in the short term as well. As far as Intel goes, it seems like the 1156 socket is kind of a compromise in terms of future use - and the 1366s are astronomical in cost, so that's also part of what's pushing me AMD.

GPU: I'm running a NVIDIA 9800GT 1GB right now, which from what I've heard, is still a pretty decent card. I can save quite a bit of money in the short term by just moving this out of my current home computer (I've got an old Radeon X1300 I can drop in it instead). That's about where my video card experience ends. I'm not completely a "NVIDIA or Die" person, but I do have a SLIGHT preference for NVIDIA...not really sure why...other than it seems like they outperform in a single card application. The big thing that I'm considering here is my MOBO. If I go with my current 9800GT, it seems like I ought to have an SLI chipset like the 750 or 980, which pushes me into one of those MSI boards. If I don't care and want to go ATI in the future, I have more board options. I'd like to see how the Fermi cards do after they release, as that seems like a nice longer term addon. Alternatively, I could grab a 5770 pretty cheap and Xfire them in the long run...not sure...this is probably my biggest dilema at this point. Of course, all of this stems from the Intel vs. AMD decision on CPU as well (see CPU and MOBO).

MOBO: Like I covered in the GPU section, I'm still somewhat torn on which direction to go here as far as chipsets. I want a full ATX, but there are a few combo deals out there for mATX boards that would essentially get me a "free" MOBO in the short term. If I expand later, though, that seems like a pretty major overhaul that may not be worth it. Still not sure about SLI/Xfire, a decision that can save me between $60 - $100 in this category as well. Brandwise, I've been looking primarily at MSI and ASUS. MSI seems about the only option for SLI.

RAM: I'm pretty sure I want to get DDR3 - seems like the only option at this point. I have 4GB of DDR2-667 in my current PC (max it can handle) that I thought about stealing for this build, but that seems like it will push me into a lower level MOBO, and trickle down from there. Big question here is do I need 4 GB right away? I can save about $50 if I just get 2x1 GB right now instead of 2x2GB. I'm just not sure if that's going to be enough.

HD: Well, I'd like a Raptor, but don't think that's really a good use of cash on hand at this point in the build. I'm seeing good reviews on the Samsung Spinpoints, and WD Blacks. I don't need a ton of space off the bat, and I can always add more later or use my main PC as a storage server. I want something that is going to be reasonably fast. 7200 rpm seems like the bare minimum. How much does cache play into it? Not a huge increase in price from 16 MB to 32 MB, but if the performance is worth it, I'd like to consider it. Someone told me HD can impact WoW significantly due to constant texture loading, but I'm not sure if that's BS or not.

Optical: Just the cheapest DVDRW I can get right now. Long term I'd like BluRay, but I just want to be able to load software at this point. I could probably steal one out of my current computer, but they are both IDE, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to pull that off, or if it's worth it for $25.

OS: This part is killing me. The OEM Win7 64 is $100+...I'm thinking that's the only option, but it's a killer on my immediate hardware funds. What really sucks is that I just bought the upgrade version in December for my current PC. In hindsight, I should have saved that money for the new build. With licenses and that, I guess I'm sunk.

OVERCLOCKING: Maybe...I haven't done it yet (Dell MOBO, boo). I think I would like to, though.

SLI OR CROSSFIRE: Maybe...I've heard it's overkill for WoW...but like I said, I want to get into other games. I considered getting another 9800GT for SLI, but I'm not sure that's worth it either, and if that money would just be better spent on an upgrade. I also don't believe I can overclock my 9800GT as it's the EcoIntelligence low power version, but I'm not real sure on that. If I went the ATI route, xfire seems like a good option.

MONITOR RESOLUTION: I'd like to run at max in the future on a widescreen, so I think that's 1900x1200? My current 19" Dell is not a widescreen, and I think the max is 1280 x 1064. A monitor is probably needed, but pricey, so this will be an addition in the future.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: This is my first build, but I've been doing lots of research and reading, and I'm pretty comfortable messing around inside my current case (and haven't fried it yet). I want something solid, with any cheap parts being something I plan on replacing in the near future. Yes, I want the side window, and eventually some LED fans for color, but hey, I figure if I'm going to build something cool I might as well. Longish post, but I'm getting to the point where I can only parse these options myself so many times. I also know I can't just keep waiting for prices to drop...by then it seems like it's too late.

First time poster, long time reader...I very much appreciate any help you all can provide.

Thanks!

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April 7, 2010 6:53:37 PM

I like the Antec 900 cases. Good airflow through the case yields great cooling. But the cable management is truly awful. About the only way to fix that is to cut some holes into the fixed motherboard tray.

Go to Frye's and to a closer look at the CoolerMaster HAF cases.

A Corsair 550VX (41 amp 12 volt rail):
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
will power practically any CPU and single video card.
April 7, 2010 6:58:53 PM

Yeah, I like the HAFs also. I'll take a look at those and compare. Thanks for the input!
Related resources
a b Ý World of Warcraft
April 7, 2010 7:08:27 PM

Kingwin is so far below the quality of Antec and Corsair that they may not belong in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence. The preceding may have been the exception that proves the rule :-).
A budget of $700 buys some nice parts, with plenty of upgrade room. How you spend it now can depend in part on how much you want to play "with" your PC as opposed to playing "on" your PC. For example, if you're willing to do more of the former, don't get a GPU until you see how well your 9800GT performs. Use that performance to judge how much improvement you want.
Get a mobo that can do x8,x8 or x16,x16 Crossfire, even though you will have or buy just one GPU for now. Don't settle for x16,x4 unless you will NEVER run Crossfire. If you do decide to buy a GPU right away, get a HD5770; your upgrade path is to Crossfire another one later. Otherwise, see how that 9800GT performs before deciding what to get.
If you will never Crossfire, get a 500W-550W PSU like an Antec Earthwatts or Truepower (both 80+ bronze) or a Corsair 550-VX (80+). If you might run Crossfire, get a 650W version of either Antec or a Corsair TX or HX. You'll only need 4GB of RAM.
For the CPU, get an Athlon II X3 440. Read about the excellent results Paul got with that chip in the last $750 SBM article. Your upgrade path is either a Phenom II 955BE, or whatever hexacore CPU AMD releases later this year. The 890G mobos should support it, and most of the 785's and 790's probably will with a BIOS upgrade. Check the recent article about the "lowly" i3 and gaming though; you may not need a CPU upgrade at all.
a b Ý World of Warcraft
April 7, 2010 7:33:27 PM

Read the following article which compares several cpu's used in a modest build and a 5850. The cpu's include i3-530, X4-965, i7-870, and X3-720, both stock and overclocked. The conclusion is that the CPU made negligible difference in gaming with a 5850. http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/core-i3-gaming,2588...
I would consider the i3-530 for your system along with a 5850, or possibly the GTX470. Forget about anything stronger or crossfire unless you have a 2560 x 1600 30" monitor.

Do not plan on "throwaway" items. It will be cheaper to get what you want up front. Cases, Psu's and Monitors do not seem to become obsolete fast, so they can be bought anytime. Just get a good quality component and expect it to last several PC generations.


If your old PC will be dismantled, you can reuse your upgrade windows-7 license. It is considered retail with full microsoft support. Even if your current version is 32 bit, you can install using a borrowed 64 bit dvd and activate using your old 32 bit product ID. Microsoft used to be willing to mail you a 32 or 64 bit different vista dvd for just a $10 handling charge. They might still do that for windows-7.

There is a legitimate two step instalation process to clean install an upgrade version
You install windows-7 from the cd, but do not initially enter the product code or activate.
After it installs, you have a fully functional OS for 30 days.
Step 2 is to insert the dvd again, while running Windows and then do an upgrade.
This time, enter your product code, and activate.
After activation. you may delete the initial version which is named windows.old.
You may have to talk with microsoft to activate. You tell them that your old motherboard is inoperative, and assure them that your replacement is the only one using this license.

Consider the INtel X25-V 40gb drive for the OS. Prices are coming down, newegg recently had them on sale for $99. Otherwise just reuse your old hard drive. All 7200 Hard drives will perform so much alike that only benchmarks can tell much difference.
April 7, 2010 7:50:02 PM

Thanks for the heads up on the i3s. An early review that I read kind of dismissed them...good to see they are viable! Unfortunately, I want to maintain my old PC as a home computer for other family members, so I can't take the HD or the Windows license..although I did kick that idea around.
a b Ý World of Warcraft
April 7, 2010 9:12:35 PM

Here's a build that should satisfy your needs

Case
HAF 922 $89.98 w/ $10 MIR
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

OPtical
Liteon $21.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

HSF
Cm Hyper 212 Plus $35
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

MOBO
GIGABYTE GA-790XTA-UD4 $139.99 w/ $15 MIR
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

CPU
Athlon II X4 630 $99.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

RAM/GPU
OCZ Platinum DDR3 1333 7-7-7-20 and 5770 $262.98 w/ $35 MIR
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...

PSU/HD
OCZ Modxstream pro 600w and Spinpoint F3 500gb $109.98 w/ $20 MIR
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...

Comes out to $693.59 after MIR and shipping to NYC



Future upgrade, actually all you'd need to do is drop in a second 5770 in the future. PSU and MOBO are both ready for it.
Definitely OC that CPU, you've got a nice HSF that'll take it easily to 3.6.

Could throw in a nice 1920 x 1080 monitor with it and that'll be around $400.
a b Ý World of Warcraft
April 7, 2010 9:18:55 PM

I'd like to add that in general, incremental upgrading is waste of money. It's better to get a solid system with immediate upgrade room than to get the best for a budget and then change out entire parts in the near future.
April 7, 2010 10:50:35 PM

Thanks, banthracis! Nice build there. I still need to include the OEM Win7, so I had to do some shuffling. I dropped the HD5770 and I'll go with my existing 9800GT for now. Still leaves me room to upgrade to Xfire in the longer run.

Since I was buying a HSF anyway, I swapped processors for the OEM Phenom II X3 720 BE: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168....

Added the OCZ 4 GB of RAM back in, and I'm sitting at $740 shipped to CA after MIR (stupid CA sales tax...tacks $70 on).

Any thoughts on the PII X3?
a b Ý World of Warcraft
April 7, 2010 11:57:52 PM

Boo tax. Yea, you're better off with the swap then.

Regarding the Phenom II X3, there's actually a chance you can unlock the fourth core and get a free upgrade to a Phenom II x4.

Also, if you have a family member or friend in college grab a retail version of Win 7 Premium or Pro for $65 off here
http://win741.com/

That'll let you stay in the $700 budget.

Technically a student has to buy it, but the student doesn't have to be the end user.

edit: Link to Unlocking guide
http://www.overclock.net/amd-cpus/535501-amd-phenom-ii-...
a b Ý World of Warcraft
April 8, 2010 8:54:30 AM

Future Proof?? Go read on Moore's Law +1 build as per needs Even more so for budget rigs ^^
April 8, 2010 7:00:13 PM

There's no such thing as "future proof". The closest thing is to build the most powerful computer you can afford and use it until you find something it won't do. At that point you either upgrade or replace.
a b Ý World of Warcraft
April 8, 2010 7:16:33 PM

I think the OP's idea for future proofing in this case is something he can build now and easily expand on over the next few months. In this case it's doable by just getting a solid base system where he can easily drop in 2 new GPU's over the next few months.


Personally I think the best policy is to build a brand new system for ~$1500 every year and sell last years system for about $400 less than it cost. Keeps you with top of the line stuff and is cheaper than a new system every 3 years.

April 8, 2010 11:16:29 PM

Thanks to everyone for the comments and advice. Based on what I've seen here, I'm going to stick with the best AMD X3 I can find (be it a deal on the Phenom II OEM or an Athalon), but get the Asus AMD 890 board. I figure that at least gives me Xfire and X6 capability in the intermediate term, DDR3, and as a suitable CPU/GPU set up for gaming (using my current 9800GT). Maybe even an unlocked 4th core, although I'm not betting the farm on it.

I won't be skimping on the case and PSU, as I had at one time considered, because I realize that if anything is "future proof," these are probably the most likely to make it from one build to the next. We'll see how it all comes out. Next step is just figure out if it's Newegg, Fry's, Microcenter, or a combination :) .
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