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HTPC, music server, some photo editing, main work computer

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July 24, 2010 12:48:23 AM

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: This week to get the bing cashback, or any upcoming sales, but definitely within the next 2 weeks

BUDGET RANGE: Around $1000 on parts I don't already have. I can spend more to fit my needs if necessary, but I don't want to spend more than I need to. On the other hand, I'm willing to invest in this machine because I'll be using it at least 12-14 hours a day.

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: "office work", e-mail, web browsing, web development, some photo editing with Photoshop and Lightroom, photo cataloging, music storage, TV capture and playback (DVR), maybe watching Blu-Ray movies next year, and I'd like to start looking into games, such as FPS and auto racing.

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

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: newegg.com, amazon.com, tigerdirect.com for bing cashback, centralcomputers.com for local pickup to save on shipping costs, maybe Microcenter

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA

PARTS PREFERENCES: Western Digital drives, unless you recommend otherwise. Maybe G.Skill RAM because they seem to have good support. I'm willing to pay more for good companies with good support and solid products.

OVERCLOCKING: Maybe in 2-3 years if there's a need for more CPU speed. If I really get into games (which may or may not be likely), I think it might be better to build a dedicated gaming machine or upgrade my CPU and motherboard then.

SLI OR CROSSFIRE: Maybe, for the same reasons as overclocking.

MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920x1200 for the HP ZR24w 24" monitor I just bought. Also need output via S-video to TV. Might go dual monitor in the future.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

This is my first true build from scratch, although I've swapped internal components in the past. I'm not up to speed on the latest tech, so I need help with CPU, motherboard, power supply, and graphics card selection.

I want this thing to be fast, snappy, and quick, but I don't want to go overboard and spend money on CPU speed that I won't use in the next 5-7 years. I'm willing to invest because I'll be using this machine almost every waking hour. I won't try gaming for the next 6-12 months.

I'd like as many components as possible to last a long time (10+ years) or as long as possible, so I won't need to replace them in a few years and I can reuse them as necessary. For example, I can get new hard drives when they fail, but I'm expecting to keep this case and monitor for a long time or repurpose them.

Also, I want this machine to be very quiet. I don't want to be able to tell if it's on or not. I can replace the stock fans and, unless there's a good reason not to, I'll probably use SpeedFan or something like it to monitor temperatures and control fan speeds. I'm also considering adding some internal lights or front fan with lights, but that's definitely not a high priority and can be added later.

I will use this computer for at least 12-14 hours a day with music playing the entire time, but my HTPC use will be less than an hour a day, so I'd like this computer to be as low power as possible but ramp up as needed. I'm thinking of spinning down the hard drives and caching music, OS, and "office work" as much as possible. I don't know if that's feasible with 4GB RAM (or even more) or even with Windows as the OS, but it's an idea. I also realize that it may not even be cost efficient.

This box started off as an HTPC/music server and backup server, but since my MacBook Pro 17" died and Apple can't properly repair it, I'm moving to Windows. Portability isn't imperative for me right now -- obviously, as you'll see the case I picked. :-)


Case:

ARK 4U-500-CA Black 4U Rackmount Case 3 External 5.25" Drive Bays
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

I looked for a good-looking, well-built HTPC desktop case, but I couldn't find one I liked. I did a lot of research (almost too much) into Silverstone, Lian Li, etc. and nothing really fit what I was looking for. There aren't a lot of desktop cases these days -- mostly tower cases, as you know. Incidentally, the computer will be stacked under my desk with audio amps on top.


Drives:

I have a bunch of 250GB 7200rpm IDE drives that I'd like to wear out before I replace them. I suspect I won't see much performance hit in the short term, but let me know if otherwise. If these drives are already dead or useless, I'll probably replace them with a Western Digital 1TB or 2TB SATA drive.

I want a hotswap bay with two drive trays so I can rotate two backup drives. Let me know if you have any suggestions on hotswap bays, otherwise I'll just shop around. I'm planning on using Western Digital Green 2TB drives for the backup drives. I've seen them on sale recently for $99, so I'll wait for that price point.

I'll add a DVD burner for $20 by reading the reviews on newegg. I was initially leaning towards the Sony, but will consider others.

I might add an SSD in the future as a boot drive to boost performance. I'm currently using an eeePC netbook with Windows XP on a hard drive and it boots quickly enough. Do you think Windows 7 will take longer to boot from a hard drive on my system than XP boots on the eeePC?

I might add a Blu-Ray drive and/or burner next year, or I might go with a dedicated Blu-Ray player.


OS:

Already bought Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. I chose Pro because I wanted to be able to connect to the box via RDC, which Home Premium doesn't allow apparently. I'm also going to try out Haiku OS and probably Linux as well.

(Mac rant follows: I'm moving from using Macs for the past 7 years. Apple uses the same commodity hardware as everyone else and when your machine fails due to a hardware design error ( http://support.apple.com/kb/ts2377 ), you're screwed unless you have a backup Mac; Macs are expensive enough to not need a backup machine, and Apple doesn't provide loaner machines, like car dealerships provide loaner cars, so you're on your own for weeks. Plus, Apple can't properly repair your computer because their replacement boards use the same faulty motherboard design as the original motherboard; Apple's not going to spend R&D to fix an outdated design. http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=515067&pag... It doesn't make sense to use Mac OS X unless I can run it on my own hardware (which isn't legal), but even then I'm not interested in using it because I even had trouble finding basic, decent software such as e-mail software or web browsers that were suitable for regular use.)


Sound output:

I'll be connecting to an external DAC via USB or s/pdif. Most motherboards seem to have s/pdif.


RAM:

I'd like 4GB minimum with room to grow, but I have no idea on specs or speeds. G.Skill seems to have good support, but I'm open to others. I think I might actually benefit from more than 4GB of RAM because I usually have a lot of apps open at the same time and a lot of browser windows.


CPU and Motherboard:

This is what I need the most help with.

Anything is fine with me as long as it's super fast and not overkill. I'd rather overspend by $100 than wonder if my CPU is fast enough. I'd rather the CPU reach 50% under heavy loads than max out.

For future proofing, motherboards that support SATA 6GB/s would be nice, but let me know if you think it's not worth the cost for my use.
http://www.hardocp.com/article/2010/02/20/sata_6gbs_on_...

I'd like 2 (dual) Gigabit ethernet ports on the motherboard if the cost doesn't exceed $30 more.

I'm okay replacing the CPU and motherboard in 3-4 years if my needs change.

Looking at the Recommended Build by Usage page at http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/269162-31-recommended... , I'm fine spending as little as $200 total on a CPU and motherboard for the "HTPC" build if it will give me the speed I'm looking for, but I'm willing to spend more if it will give me better performance. I don't want this machine to be slow.

AMD Athlon II X3 425 Rana 2.7GHz
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
I'd prefer an ATX board, but I'm just including this as an example.

Will this give me the quick "snappy" performance I'm looking for for daily office work?

I'll get into Photoshop and Lightroom in the next 12-18 months, so I'll need speed there.

Will I be able to playback one movie and browse the web while recording two shows without lag?

Will I notice any improvement if I go with the low-end Gamer CPU and motherboard listed below for $350?

AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition Deneb 3.2GHz
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 Plus
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

The next step up is Intel i5 for $450 with motherboard and cooler, and I'm okay with that too if I will notice the performance increase.

If you think the Athlon II is fast enough, that's okay with me, and I can save my money for more RAM or an SSD.

The Guide to Building a HD HTPC at avsforums.com seems to skew to the high-end, compared with this guide on tomshardware.com. I don't know if their guide is reflecting required CPU performance or if they're just showing what can be built using the full spectrum of available processors up to the i7. I will verify with them, but I'd like your feedback first.


Graphics card: I need s-video output. DisplayPort would be nice because my monitor supports it, but it doesn't look like there's going to be a card with both s-video and DisplayPort. ;-) I don't know if any motherboards have DisplayPorts, but that's an option. In any case, DVI minimum. I'd like the ability to have dual monitors in the future. I might get an HDTV screen next year and I'll probably want to output to that from this machine.

I think my need for a quick "snappy" computer might be also related to the graphics card and how quickly it redraws windows. The slowest card or even on-board video might be fast enough for me, but I don't know for sure. Please let me know what you recommend.


I'll get a video capture card later this year and I can research that later. Hauppauge seems to be the most popular, but Avermedia seems to have better technical support.


Power supply: Please recommend.


I'd like a UPS that will keep this computer and the monitor running for 5-15 minutes after a power outage so I can shut down. I'm leaning towards APC because their customer reviews seem to be overly positive and their replacement batteries seem to be widely available. Based on my initial research, I think I can get one for <$100, but I'm not sure on the power I need.


Please let me know if you need any other information. Thank you very much for your help. I'm really looking forward to building this box.


-- Ed
July 24, 2010 2:44:30 AM

Hmm from what i read your needs:

Basically you just need an office + HTPC + minor photo editing rig which could possibly be game worthy with a dedicated GPU slotted in when/if u start gaming? Did i get this right? Well depending on how much vertical height clearance u have there under your desk @ $617AR:

"Nest" is definitely sturdy enuff to house a single gaming class GPU down the road ^^ Board has SPDIF/HDMI for A/V connectivity Lastly i suggest offloading those IDE drives in the used hardware market as current mobos (some) have started doing away with an IDE port all together and my experiences as a system builder/upgrader has definitely shown IDE devices reduce boot up times and with clumsy cables hinder air flow :p 
July 25, 2010 12:04:15 AM

batuchka said:
Basically you just need an office + HTPC + minor photo editing rig which could possibly be game worthy with a dedicated GPU slotted in when/if u start gaming? Did i get this right?


Perfect! Thank you for reading as much as you did. ;-)

I'll ditch the IDE drives.

The Athlon II X4 635 sounds good. Please verify these "benchmarks":
Will I be able to playback two movies, one on each monitor, and browse the web while recording two shows without lag?
Will my window redraws be snappy and quick?
If I get a faster CPU, will I notice the difference?
Although I want to spend as little money as possible of course, if you expect I'll see a performance increase at times, I'd rather overspend by an extra $100 or so than see a performance hit.
I think I'd prefer the CPU to reach 50% capacity under heavy loads than max out.
I prefer to overspend without overkill than to underspend for the CPU and motherboard.

I'm going to get this huge 4U ATX case. Please recommend an ATX motherboard with spdif and DVI or DisplayPort. Dual gigabit LAN ports would be nice if they don't add more than $30 to the price. HDMI is ideal but not necessary.

If I need a faster CPU in 2-4 years, will I be able to swap them or would it be better to replace the motherboard too? Not necessary, just wondering.

What's Nest? Graphics architecture on the motherboard?

With a large case, a modular power supply might not be necessary, right? If so, please let me know if you have other power supply suggestions.

I need s-video out. I'll look at newegg reviews for graphics cards unless you have suggestions.

Please confirm that I can use on-board video and a graphics card at the same time. I need DVI or Displayport, s-video, and I'd like a dual monitor option in the future.

Thanks much!

-- Ed
Related resources
July 25, 2010 3:01:50 AM

1. The suggested config is usually based off a single display for HD DVD/Blu Ray typically connected to a LCD TV. What i suggest is stick to IGP for your needs and if u feel performance is not up to par slot in a HD 5550?

2. For just movies/net no need splash so much on CPU

3. Yes desktop version of Bulldozer, i.e Zambezi is socket AM3

4. Nest = config w/o discrete

5. Still modular PSU makes cable management easier, promoting better airflow

6. IGP alone could use dual monitors via Analogue + Digital and yes you can use IGP + discrete for 4-6 displays via ATI Surroundview
July 27, 2010 10:33:25 PM

After I posted my previous message, and armed with your expert recommendation, I started doing my due diligence to verify that I shouldn't be buying a faster, more expensive processor, such as a Phenom II or i5. I looked at plenty of performance reviews to decide that yes, you are correct -- as you already know. ;-) The Athlon II X4 635 looks great!

Plenty of good jargon in your latest post. I had to read it a few times to translate. ;-)

I started a new thread for motherboard, ram, and psu here:

http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/291149-31-athlon-asus...


Thanks!

-- Ed
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