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~$400 Graphic Design Workstation

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May 9, 2010 5:33:15 PM

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: As soon as possible.

BUDGET RANGE: ~$400

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Graphic Design (Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash), Watching movies, Gaming (I'll play Guild Wars 2 when it comes out, but not much other than that)

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: newegg or if a deal can be found anywhere trustworthy and with a good return policy.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: United States

PARTS PREFERENCES: none

OVERCLOCKING: No

SLI OR CROSSFIRE: Doubt it

MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920x1080 + it would be nice to use my old 1024x768 lcd as a dual monitor to put photoshop tools to give more room for the canvas.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Quiet is good. I don't want to work next to a jet engine. I'd also like as small a case as possible. I like to move around a lot. It helps my creativity to rearrange my studio often.

My current computer is on it's last legs and it's like 10 years old. That means almost everything is out of date and breaking. My harddrive clicks and overheats. My monitor turns off randomly (but I have an old low res one as backup). My videocard randomly spazzes out. Even my ancient tiny graphire wacom tablet is dying slowly.

So, I need a new computer. I have around $1000 to get a new “workstation”. After looking at the options available I plan on buying an HP ZR22W LCD Monitor (cheapest IPS), and a Wacom Intuos 4 Medium. They are both roughly $300 each. That leaves me with around $400 for the tower. I'll be running Windows 7 64bit. I know with this small of a budget I won't get a beast of a machine. But, I'll be doing work on this computer and after getting more money I'll be able to upgrade. With upgrading in mind maybe I can settle for less RAM so I can get a good CPU and then buy more RAM later. As long as photoshop doesn't chug too much. I'm sure anything will feel lightning fast compared to what I'm currently using.

Edit: I haven't used a CD or DVD drive in years. If I can get a smaller case by not having a cd drive that would be great.

Edit Again: I have a 1TB external harddrive to store my work and media. I just need a harddrive large enough to hold windows 7, Adobe CS4 (the whole suite), my main programs (firefox, openoffice, etc.), and a game or two.

More about : 400 graphic design workstation

May 9, 2010 5:57:23 PM

You need $800 for an entry level graphics system ... $750 if you REALLY shave close.

Just the common infrastructure is $400, without the compute core.

Any less and you will be worse off than if you had nothing at all.

= Al =
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May 9, 2010 6:26:43 PM

Alvin Smith said:
You need $800 for an entry level graphics system ... $750 if you REALLY shave close.

Just the common infrastructure is $400, without the compute core.

Any less and you will be worse off than if you had nothing at all.

= Al =


I'm on a ten year old computer right now. Nothing at all would be much worse.

This site is more knowledgeable than I am, so I asked here. I was expecting a few responses like yours. Hopefully there will be somebody along to point me towards the better quality cheap parts.

I'm putting together a build right now on newegg and I'll post it here when I'm done. I'm just not 100% what criteria I should be filtering with. Things like if DDR3 are worth it (I'm guessing yes, especially since I plan to upgrade in the future).
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May 9, 2010 6:59:38 PM

Don't get me wrong .. we LOVE the classic "Value Challenge" around here ... and, we will certainly TRY to emphasize (enhance/select) those elements which would lend themselves to a graphics oriented usage profile ... but ... let us not be coy ... The fact is (outright) that at your price point, HUMAN SAFETY outweighs "balanced performance" as our primary concern.

Can we build a computer that will boot, for $400 ?? YOUooo-betcha (my best Palin) ...

Seriously, tho ... I'm sure you already know this but I am obligated to warn ...

Cheap PSUs are over 100% more likely to catch fire, fail early, or damage components ... people die ... not just a few ... just a statistic.

Cheap cases buckle if you lean-on/sit-on/fall-on/drop ... cheap power switches ground out and poorly sheilded front panel audio leads hum like an electric razor.

You are 1000% more likely to sustain a serious laceration, with a cheap case (conservatively) ... prepare to bleed.

You will need discreet graphics card, or give up on any pretense of "graphics ws".

4GB ram is a MINIMUM (but is also ample) ... $105 for a cheap generic kit.

$75 for the proc and $75 for the cheapest DDR3 mobo (DDR2 either, for that matter).

If you excersize EVERY possible combo (deal) and rebate and bundle discount ... then you can eek out a build ...

... There are techs here that are specialized in exploiting every penny of value, at the low end ... I am not that tech.

I'm just here to issue those caveats and disclaimers and to set your expectations, etc.

= Al = Something better than what you have can be done for $400 ... not without increased risks.

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May 9, 2010 7:01:16 PM

After looking for a while I don't think I'll need a video card right away. The onboard one should be all I need to begin with.

Am I correct that an onboard card like a GeForce 6100 or Radeon 3000 can handle HD video (not video editing), photoshop, and old games like World of Warcraft?
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May 9, 2010 7:07:33 PM


Consider my contribution (to this thread) as "complete". Others who are more versed in the history of various integrated graphics chipsets are better able to answer those questions with much more authority than myself.

... Best of luck ! ... I hope I am DAZZLED by the solutions that emerge from this process ... It won't be the first time.

= Alvin =
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May 9, 2010 7:09:53 PM

musedfable said:
After looking for a while I don't think I'll need a video card right away. The onboard one should be all I need to begin with.

Am I correct that an onboard card like a GeForce 6100 or Radeon 3000 can handle HD video (not video editing), photoshop, and old games like World of Warcraft?


I'm on a 2008 Black MacBook (integrated card, 2 gbs ram, 2.4 ghz core2duo CPU) and it runs WoW on low graphics settings at about 20-40 fps. It runs Photoshop well and I have done some HD video editing on it right now but it is really, really slow. I'm building a new system right now though
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May 9, 2010 7:27:29 PM

Thanks sathoro. I don't do any video editing, so the integrated should do fine for now. When Guild Wars 2 comes out I'll get a card.

Next question. When a motherboard says it takes 1333/1600(OC) ram what does that mean exactly. What would I have to do differently if I installed 1333 ram versus 1600? Is it better to get a board that handles 1600 without overclocking?
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May 9, 2010 11:29:22 PM

what I recommend is that you build the entry level machine for around $750. Then shop for deals on the parts. I am in the same situation, and just bought my case and PSU for $75 on sale, normally $130. With the deal hunting, I think you can get it down to $400. Just know what parts to look for so you buy the right ones when they do go on sale. slickdeals.net is a good place to start.

Right now they have some free cases when you buy a certain motherboard.

http://slickdeals.net/forums/showthread.php?sduid=0&t=2...

Also this thread could help you out a lot:

http://slickdeals.net/forums/showthread.php?sduid=0&t=5...

Keep on searching! Don't buy a crappy PSU...you can always look on craigslist or buy prebuilt as well. At $400 you might actually get a better computer that way
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May 9, 2010 11:42:18 PM

For any given part at newegg ... In the left column ... half way down the page ... there will be a combos tab ... expand that to see ALL combos listed for any given part ...
... there are usually 3 pages of daily deals and the shell-shocker, etc.

... DO NOT be tempted by "Open Box" specials ... moreso with mobos.

dig!

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May 10, 2010 12:56:50 AM

I was recently looking for a cheap as possible system for work. They wanted an atx computer to run a pdf reader and eagle circuit reviewing software. I got it down to $303 with the parts you need included. However, pretty much all of them would have to be upgraded soon. Source: newegg.

Rosewill Blackbone Black Steel / Plastic ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST380815AS 80GB 7200 RPM 8MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

ASUS M4A785T-M/CSM AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

COOLER MASTER eXtreme Power Plus RS-460-PMSR-A3 460W ATX12V V2.3 Power Supply
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Patriot 2GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Desktop Memory Model PSD32G13332
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz 2 x 1MB L2 Cache Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

So, here is a base, let's improve on it.
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May 10, 2010 1:01:10 AM

I'm sure that Alvin will be able to get a better PSU with $100. I think that the mobo is solid. You might get more ram also. And maybe a better case. The cpu will be easy to upgrade later.
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May 10, 2010 10:52:00 AM

What's the minimum quality standard I should be looking for in a PSU? How do I know when I'm getting a good deal versus getting a piece of ***?

Edit: For example. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Is that power supply worth buying? I can get a cheap case combo with it.

Edit Again: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
That one is 650w (way more power than I need). It has 85% efficiency and I can get a case combo.
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May 10, 2010 12:05:23 PM

That link gives me the impression that the PSUs I linked are low end. The 12v is under 20amps and it's not a well known brand.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
This OCZ500MXSP is highly ranked and reliable. The low newegg reviews are mostly complaints on the rebate system (which everyone knows is a pita). I can get a good combo with the PSU
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...
$155 for 4GB of ram and a good PSU plus a $25 rebate (which I never rely on getting).
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May 10, 2010 12:58:55 PM



Motherboard + CPU Combo
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...

Powersupply + RAM Combo
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...

500GB Harddrive
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

I like that case because it's small and has a handle. It seems like kind of a silly reason, but It will useful since I like to move around a lot.

I'd really like it if somebody would go over it and make sure everything is compatible. I'm not an expert and I'd hate to miss something.

You guys have been really helpful.
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May 10, 2010 6:05:10 PM

To the OP, can you please give more detailed description of what you are using Photoshop/illustrator for? What types of files/sizes are you working with? You said no video editing right? That's a huge load off the CPU right there. Maybe he CAN get by with a $400 "Workstation" but then at that budget, it technically just becomes a "Home PC" lol.

Guild Wars certainly is not GPU demanding, so not much $$ needs to be invested into a GPU, thats for sure.
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May 10, 2010 7:27:29 PM

PSU ...

That is why we pretty much (as a group) only recommend Corsair (any), Seasonic (any), Some of the better CoolerMasters and OCZs ... A couple of the Silverstones ...
... But, like I'm pretty sure I mentionned, there are only a scant handful of techs, on this forum, who REALLY know all the best models (because everybody second sources various models from different original manufacturers).

Can't go wrong with Corsair ... period. Can't go wrong with Seasonic.

It is not only safety and reliability ... it is the QUALITY OF POWER ....

... Under load and at full temp ... what can it sustainably "put out" ... 24/7 ?

... Is the DC output pure and smooth (full wave rectifier with 3 stage filtering using quality coils and caps? .. Close tolerance Zener diode(s)? ... What level of surge capacitence?)

Pure DC from a battery looks like a straight, flat line, on an oscilliscope. DC output from an AC-PSU can look VERY SCARY on an O-scope ... Huge gaps or nasty looking square or triangular edges ... Ripple? ... hell! ... IF ONLY it was just "ripple".

These steep edges and gaps (in what should be a straight line) are VERY hard on circuitry ... That harsh rise and fall of voltage causes RCL frequency induced impedence and "heat" within any circuits which are not filter-protected.

Weak fan motors fail under the weight of accumulated dust. Cheaper, thinner, softer, impure pot-metals (smelted in back-yards, in China) may be used in the rails and other critical components ... Copper coils? ... Are you kidding?

... That is the nature of this VERY crowded global commodity market segment ... The only way most companies can compete is to buy EVEN cheaper materials and to work their employees EVEN harder (for less pay) and to cut every corner possible, to shave just a few more pennys.

In the end ? Nobody wins.

RULE OF THUMB: If you are paying less than $60 for an ATX-PSU, you got crap.


= Al =
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May 10, 2010 11:11:05 PM

It would help if you could give the total, but if my quick calc in my head is right, you still have some headroom. Most of the build looks good. I very much like that motherboard. The cpu is pretty good, though if you need some cash to spend on other areas I would go to the one I suggested and plan on upgrading it. I would follow alvin's advice with the psu. The ram looks alright, though you might have to rma it once. The case - well, if it floats your boat, but it needs more fans and will probably end up being either hot or noisy. I'll look for another one when I get a chance.
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May 11, 2010 11:07:03 PM

I ordered it yesterday. You can see the total in the picture. It was $399.94 + $27.79 shipping. I didn't go over my $1000 total project budget because I saved a bit on the Monitor and Wacom thanks to slick deals (massive thanks for pointing that place out).

I'll take the fans out of my current computer and put them in the new one. The fans are pretty much the only new thing in there since they're the only things stopping it from overheating and finally dying.

The OCZ PSU was on that ranked list (ranked a 2) and was priced at $90 before the newegg discounts. So it should hopefully be good enough.

I tried to make the motherboard the first priority, so I could upgrade the other stuff later. The same for the CPU. It should hopefully last a while. That way I just need to add a video card and more ram.

I don't like normal computer cases. They're just ugly. I'd rather have an htpc case, but I didn't want to get a cheap one. Cheap htpc cases are worse than cheap normal cases since it's such a tight fit and airflow is extra important in htpc cases. That's why I got the cheap mini tower with a handle. I need to move it around and that should help.

I can't wait till it gets here and I can cobble it together. Hopefully I won't need any more help and everything will work perfectly.

You've all been really helpful, thanks.
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May 11, 2010 11:44:09 PM

Your welcome. I'd like to say again that I very much like the motherboard you found. The sideport memory should help the onboard graphics allot. I agree that the case handle is nice - it's the reason that I went with a storm scout for my current case.
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May 12, 2010 6:38:03 PM

you're welcome :) 
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May 13, 2010 12:50:27 AM


= Bur-r-r-r-r-P ! =

= Pff-f-f-f-T ! =

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May 13, 2010 12:52:27 AM

Err... what?
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May 13, 2010 12:28:53 PM

elel said:
Err... what?


Oh ... Y'all were being so formal and gracious and civil with all those "thanks" and "you are quite welcome"s, that I just thot it might be a nice contrast to belch and fart, at that moment. ... for comic relief ...

... or ... maybe not.

= It's the thought that counts =
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May 13, 2010 12:29:52 PM


And ... you should be imagining all of this occurring inside a sealed, Lunar EVA Suit.

= Al =
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May 13, 2010 7:55:34 PM

Well, at least it's you that has to live with yourself :) 
(in the literal sense, that is)
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May 14, 2010 2:31:10 AM


Nothin' but strawberry ice cream, in here!

= Al =
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May 14, 2010 12:13:19 PM

You read pogo, don't you?
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May 14, 2010 3:02:23 PM

clueless ... ... ... ?
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May 14, 2010 3:38:54 PM

Yes. In one of the episodes they go to the moon and find that it is made of strawberry ice cream. Actually, the story is more involved than that, but you get the point.
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May 14, 2010 10:28:23 PM

Cool ... no ... not a direct reference ...

Just meant to imply that my suit does not (could not) stink ...

= Pffff-f-f-f-T! = << i.e. ... That one was cherry-vanilla !

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!