Components advice for $1400 mini gaming/DAW computer

I'm looking at getting a new SFF computer from AVADirect in the next few months, so I wanted to run the spec I'm looking at by some people wiser than I. I've never posted here before, but this seems like one of the better places to ask for this sort of advice.

Approximate Purchase Date:
Sometime in the next few months.

Budget Range: aiming for $1400 or under, but I'm flexible

System Usage from Most to Least Important: virtualization performance (see comments), audio synthesis (MaxMSP, etc.), gaming, audio production

Parts Not Required: mouse, keyboard, monitor, speakers (not that I don't need them, but I'll worry about them separately)

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: I'm planning to get the computer built by AVADirect, so through them.

Country of Origin: USA

Parts Preferences: Linux compatibility is important for me, so NVIDIA graphics card. It needs to be a SFF computer.

Overclocking: Planning to eventually, as well as unlocking the fourth core, but I want stock performance to be good, as I may not get around to it for a while.

SLI or Crossfire:

Monitor Resolution: I tend to scrounge old monitors, so I'm not sure at this point. I almost always use multiple monitors, and almost always at least 1280x1024.

Additional Comments: My main demanding use case is running music notation software under Windows virtualized in Linux. It's not strictly necessary that the virtualized performance be good enough for VST playback, but if it's good enough, so much the better. I also intend to use the machine for gaming in both Windows (native) and Linux, and to do audio production and synthesis work (native).

My upgrade cycle is about 4 years, so I'd like components with good longevity and/or an economical upgrade path.

Hardware is listed below with comments. Not linked per component, because the above link to AVADirect is to a configurator. Clicking on the pictures in the configurator takes you to component information.
COOLER MASTER, Elite 360 (RC-360-KKN1-GP) Black Mini-Tower Case, ATX, No PSU, Steel

THERMALTAKE, Toughpower™ Grand 650W Power Supply w/ Modular Cables, 80 PLUS® Gold, 24-pin ATX12V V2.3 EPS12V V2.92, 2x 6-pin + 2x 8-pin PCIe, SLI/CrossFireX Certified

ASUS M4A88T-M/USB3, AM3, AMD® 880G, DDR3-1866 (O.C.) 16GB /4, PCIe x16, SATA 3 Gb/s RAID 10 /6, VGA+DVI, HDMI, USB 3.0 /2, HDA, GbLAN, mATX, Retail

I opted for the USB 3.0 version of the board for longevity. It's been reported to support core unlocking. To be honest I don't know a whole lot about the motherboard selection, so I just went with something close to the default, that didn't have too many bells and whistles I won't use.

AMD, Phenom™ II X3 740 Triple-Core 3.0GHz, AM3, HT 4000MHz, 3x 512KB L2 + 6MB L3 cache, 95W, 45nm, Black Edition, OEM

COOLJAG Falcon 4 CPU Cooler, Socket 775/1366/754/939/940/AM2, Copper/Aluminum

Presumably it also fits AM3, or else they wouldn't advertise it with this build. Since I'm going the SFF route, I figure I need all the cooling I can get, and this got rave reviews.

Thermal grease:
ARCTIC SILVER, Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound, Polysynthetic Silver

KINGSTON, 8GB (2 x 4GB) ValueRAM PC3-8500 DDR3 1066MHz CL7 (7-7-7) 1.5V SDRAM DIMM, Non-ECC

I was originally going to go for 16GB of RAM, but most things I read seemed to suggest that nothing I am likely to be doing will take advantage of it, or at least that the performance boost wouldn't be worth the $200. Does that seem accurate? I went for 2x4GB so I'll have the upgrade path open. Since I only have two 2x4GB options from the RAM available in that AVADirect model, am I better off with 1066MHz CL7 or 1333MHz CL9?

ASUS ENGTS 450 DirectCU TOP/DI/1GD5, GeForce® GTS 450 925MHz, 1GB GDDR5 4000MHz, PCIe x16, VGA+DVI, HDMI, Retail

I was originally going to get an EVGA Superclocked card, but the ASUS one got better benchmarks in a review I read, so I switched it to that version. If I want to upgrade a bit (like if I don't get that sound card or something), I could move up to a GTX 460 overclocked model.

Data drive:
WESTERN DIGITAL, 640GB WD Caviar® Green™ (WD6400AARS), SATA 3 Gb/s, IntelliPower™, 64MB Cache

I know this isn't a performance drive, but do I realistically need a performance drive if I have the SSD? How much difference does the 64MB cache make?

Boot/system/swap drive:
OCZ, 40GB Vertex 2 SSD, MLC SandForce SF-1200, 280/270 MB/s, 2.5-Inch, SATA 3 Gb/s, Retail

I was originally going to go the extreme budget route with the SSD, but I upgraded it for the read/write speeds. Is that sensible?

Optical drive:
SONY, AD-7241S Black 24x DVD±R/RW Dual-Layer Burner w/ Lightscribe, SATA, OEM

Wireless NIC (peripheral):
ASUS, USB-N13 802.11n Network Adapter, 300Mbps, IEEE 802.11b/g/n, USB 2.0

Sound card:
M-AUDIO, Audiophile 2496 Sound Card, 24-bit 96KHz, PCI, Retail

Not sure how much this will actually help, but the MIDI in means one fewer box I have to carry, and I can probably use the DSP when I do synthesizer work.

This comes out to about $1300. What do you guys think? Is this a sensible build? Are there components that I should upgrade or downgrade? Would I be better off going with a radically different design?
3 answers Last reply
More about components advice 1400 mini gaming computer
  1. Having worked with the CM Elite 360 i have to say its not small at all and i would take an mATX cube/shoebox over it any day :P

    That said for $963AR
  2. batuchka wouldn't you be afraid of overheating with a 460 in a small cube case?
  3. Nah not if one does not clock heavily with below par cooling ^^
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