Looking for help/info for my first self build: HTPC + gaming

hi all,

ok...this will be my first ground up home-build. I have swapped GFX cards and RAM sticks before, but that is it. I have a lot of questions, some i'm sure get asked a lot and some more specific. I'm not a hardware nut, but I am a professional programmer, so while I know much about computers and how they work, I'm sure some new tech has sneaked under my radar. Any help will be greatly appreciated. Lots of things are floating around in my head, so I know this is going to be a long post, here goes...

I have been strictly a laptop user for the last 7 years. My last desktop was an Alienware Area-51, the original...when Alienware was a small company in Florida back in 2000. It Is currently collecting dust in my closet just as it has for the last 7 years... I don't know how much mobos have changed since then, but I do know the cpu in the Area-51 paperweight I own is a ~3.2ghz P4 w/HT. The GFX card is an AGP card, no PCI or PCI-e slots on the mobo. I am not a fan of many current cases on the market except the new Dell/Alienware's(not an option, the config i want is over $6000 from them) and the Thermaltake Level-10(awesome, but expensive for just a case).
1. I'm thinking about gutting the A-51 and using the case, is that an option without modding it? I'm not sure if current mobos and PCI-e card sizes are compatible....anyone know?

I have a handle on most of the components I'm looking at, I'll list them at the end...However, in trying to research, I've found that the GFX market is more confusing than ever. nVidia and ATi(oops!...it's just AMD now, wtf?...screw that, i'm going to refer to them as ATi) have always used #s in their marketing/naming conventions, but now they just don't make sense...nVidia is releasing lower #ed cards that are faster then their higher #ed ones....ATi is pumping out cards that are just 2 of their older cards squeezed into one for more $ than the 2 individual cards separately, etc. I have tried to get a handle on it, but just when I think I have it, I learn something else....and then there's the age old fanboy commenters with their reality distortion fields confusing the facts on individual game developer's forums....I've given up. Here are my Qs for QFX....please try to turn off your fanboy bias when answering, I don't want to be responsible for a flame war thread...

2. The first game I want to play on my new machine is Fallout: New Vegas....I want to max it out, with ease, so I can also max out the many mods that I'm sure will be written for it...my only other requirement is that it has an HDMI out...What will it take GFX card wise to do this?

I'm a big physics dork...if I wasn't 3 years(read $75,000) into my CS degree when I realized it, I would have switched majors and be a physicist now...that being said...I remember reading about Physx cards a few years ago and seeing some pretty impressive Crysis sandbox demo's aided by dedicated Physx PCI cards. I researched it a little the other day and apparently the company has been engulfed by nVidia and only their hardware supports it(in hardware).

3. Does nVidia's Physx middleware make much of a difference in object movement?
If so,
a. Does it make more sense to buy a Physx card(if they still exist post nVidia take over) or a mid-level nVidia card and dedicate it to Physx in an SLi configuration with my main Fermi grade card?
b. Do many games in the future going to support it, or are they moving to something less proprietary so ATi users aren't alienated?

I know there is no such thing as "futureproof", but I would like a card that will be able to handle future tech(tessellation looks awesome)...I have heard/read conflicting things about this...but I have a feeling that while both nVidia Fermi based cards and the 5970 can handle the tech, but neither nothing currently on the market will be able to handle the games that eventually use the tech in the future. An answer of "Save your $ , settle for X card now, play your Fallout and when Y game comes out, upgrade" is what I expect...
4. Is there a card out now that is the clear winner in this category?

I am hooking this machine up to my HDTV in my living room. I am going to put a TV tuner in it and I'm ditching the Comcast DVR boxes they charge me $30 a month for...based on my previous questions, you probably think this machine is primarily for gaming, however, my main reason for building this is for the W7 Media center functionality. The answer to this next question will potentially drastically alter my planned build and break my heart...

5. Will gaming on the machine have a negative effect on TV recording? Likewise, will TV recording cause a performance hit during gaming?

Here is my draft build list:
Processor: Intel Core i7 950
Motherboard: not exactly sure yet, something with USB3 and RAID SATA3...suggestions plz!
RAM: 12mb DDR3-1600 - Corsair or Kingston (whichever i can find the best deal on at the time)
Graphics Card: no idea
OS HDD: 128 GB Kingston SSDNow V Series MLC SSD
DATA HDD(s): starting with a 2TB SATA3...eventually, the plan is to put 2 more 2TB drives in RAID 1 for my "keeper"
stuff and let the original handle the DVR/game installs...this will evolve with use/time I'm sure
Case: it's looking like the Thermaltake Level-10....it's just sooo badass, and the HDD bays will make the above
cakewalk in the future.
Power Supply: 1000 Watt - Corsair CMPSU-1000HX
DVD Burner: The one component I'm definitely keeping from my A-51...don't know what it is and don't really care...
TV-Tuner: Ceton InfiniTV4 Digital Cable Quad-Tuner Card

Well, that's all I can think of now...Sorry for the long winded post and thanks in advance for any answers to my Qs and/or comments on the build. I'm looking forward to getting feedback.


PS. I'm new to the forum, so if I put this thread in the wrong place, tell me and I'll ask the Mods to move it.
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  1. Steve,

    I'm looking to do pretty much the same exact thing. Any idea where to get one of the Ceton cards? I've just started looking and found some rumors on Facebook saying perhaps October...but who knows with those things.

    I'm going to wait on putting my draft out there until the Cetons are available. Would love if others could chime in or you could keep us updated on your status.


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