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Building a SandyBridge Workstation, advice?

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April 14, 2011 1:12:42 AM

Hey Guys,

First post here at Tom's Hardware. Love this site :) 

Im currently using a workstation PC I built in 2005 for college where I studied computer animation for the 3d Animation industry. I recently upgraded to Windows 7 64, and since then have been getting BSODs just about every day. I cant figure out what the problem is, I thought maybe it was the RAM so I ran a MemTest and nothing came back. Ive checked the dump files and it mostly comes from the ntoskrnl... I dont know what that means, but 9/10 times the error comes from that. Once or twice it pointed to the video card. I have updated all the drivers right after I installed windows 7 but I have been getting non stop BSODs whenever the system is running something that uses a lot of memory.... :pfff: 

Anyways, I have been planning my build for the last year or so and since sandy bridge came out I have decided to come up with a reasonable list of equipment. I will be using this PC for creating 3D artwork - so things like modeling, rendering, some video editing etc. I do play games from time to time - just Team Fortress 2. So The software im using looks like this: Maya, Renderman, Nuke, Shake, Photoshop, 3Ds Max, etc etc.

Here's my list:

Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Video Card: NVIDIA Quadro 4000*
Sound Card: Asus Xonar DX2
RAM: Corsair Vengeance 8GB
Hard drive: Western Digital BLACK 500GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series 750W GOLD
Case: Corsair 600T White edition

* = Seeing as this is a $780 card, im going to be utilizing my current Quadro FX1500 I purchased awhile back. Which at the time was 500 and is now practically worthless (so I cant just sell it) :??: 

Note:
Im going to say NO to SSDs because of the cost. I dont see a large enough benefit for price/speed.

Im also going to say NO to multiple video cards. Seeing as the price for workstation cards are so expensive, im not going to have multiple GPUs. If I was creating a render farm server, then perhaps.


I have a few questions:

1)I thought about doing something where on one hard drive I would just have the OS, and then on another, more larger hard drive, I would have all of my files. What are the benefits of this and how would you set something like this up?

2)Its hard to stay on the "bleeding edge" of technology these days (especially seeing the news of the new processors coming out from intel). I have been thinking about the benefit of having 2 processors like the Xeons, and also the new 6-core processors. Which would benefit me in my situation. But what it comes down to is price. Im not sure its worth it to go with dual processors. Someone familiar with Xeons - are they really that much better than regular main stream processors like the new SB i7-2600k? Are they more powerful? I dont plan on having my computer run like a server 24/7. I would go with a 6-core processor, but the lowest price is 600$ and will become obsolete within the end of the year seeing the road map intel released.

GAH! Decisions decisions.

Best solution

April 14, 2011 2:20:27 PM

First some changes to your idea:

HDD: Switch the HDD for a Samsung Spinoint F3 1 TB (it's $65 right now, but you an usually find one for $55-60. Check Amazon). If you're looking at the old Black model (the SATA II version), the F3 will be a lot faster because it uses larger platters. If you're looking at the new model (the SATA III), the F3 will be roughly the same speed, but a heck of a lot cheaper per GB. SATA III does absolutely nothing for a standard HDD, as the drive can't physically spin fast enough to matter. The only reason the WD Caviar Black might be a touch faster is that's it's newer and they had more time to tweak the large platter. There's also a 500 GB version for $15 less that will be just as fast as the 1 TB, but I don't think the small savings are worth the decreased size.

RAM: These G.Skill Ripjaws X 2x4 GB 1600 mhz CAS Latency 8 will be either faster or cheaper (or both) than the Corsair sticks you've picked out. I can't say for certain, since you didn't indicate the exact set you're looking at, but the 1600 mhz/CL 8/1.5v Vengence sticks are more expensive than these.

Mobo: There is no reason to pay $240 for a board. Check out either the ASRock P67 Extreme4 ($160) or Asus P8P67 Pro ($180). Of course, that's only if you want the ability to add a second GPU later. If you dont' need that, there are even better choices at lower prices.

Sound Card: Unless you're a huge audiophile or do a lot of audio work, you can leave out a discrete sound card. Onboard audio is excellent now days. A $100 sound card (which you'd need to improve the sound quality) just isn't worth it. If you don't believe that, leave out the sound card in the beginning and check out the onboard quality. You can add a card later if you're unsatisfied.

On to the questions:

1.) There isn't much of a benefit. When you get a smaller drive, the platter size is often a lot lower. That means the drive is a lot slower. You can get the same effect as using separate drives through efficient drive usage, such as never letting the drive get too full, keeping everything organized, and regularly reformatting and reinstalling from a backup.

The biggest way to get a performance boost from multiple drives is to set up two (or more) identical drives in a RAID. There are numerous choices here, but the main two are RAID 0 and RAID 1. RAID 0 combines the two drives into a single massive drive, producing nearly double the speed. However, if either drive has an error or breaks down, all data is lost and is unrecoverable. RAID 1 is a perfectly redundant system. You don't get any speed bonuses, but anything written to one drive is written on the second.

My personal favorite is RAID 10 (or 0+1). It requires at least three identical drives. Basically what happens is that two of the drives get set up in RAID 0, and the thrid as a partial backup. If one of the drives in the RAID fails, the machine can keep running, though at a lower performance level. You can then replace the broken drive and recover the RAID. You get improved performance (though not to the level of a true RAID 0) and some data redudancy. You also get nearly gauranteed 24/7 performance, and don't have to worry about keeping a spare HDD laying around in case of failure.

If you were serious about speed, you really need to consider getting a small SSD, something in the 64-80 GB range. Those will run around $150-$180. You'd only install the OS and main programs on the SSD and use a regular HDD for storage. A SSD is an order of magnitude faster than standard drives, even if the HDDs were in a RAID 0 setup.

2.) Definitely don't touch the consumer hex-core CPUs. Sandy Bridge is a lot faster than they are at a fraction of the cost. As for the Xeons, I'm not an expert on server hardware, but I'd imagine a dual CPU setup would be a lot more powerful, but it'd also use a lot more power and be a lot more expensive.
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April 21, 2011 12:59:45 AM

Thanks for the detailed reply!

Mobo: I think im going to stick with Asus on the board. I'm most comfortable with them, seeing as I have used them in all of my builds; and they offer a longer warranty then most brands.

Sound Card: I think you are right. Im going to step down and get a cheaper card. Specifically the HT Omega Striker 7.1 with is about $79.

RAM: Im actually in a dilemma... This was the set I am looking at: CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB, but now I am concerned because Ive heard that this ram wont fit with most cpu fan/heatsinks because the Ram's heatsink is too tall. I was looking to have an after market CPU cooler like Cooler Master's V6GT or COOLER MASTER Hyper N 520. Do you think the GSkill Ram that you specified will fit? Or is more reliable in terms of the product itself or the company? Ive stuck with Corsair with all my builds for RAM so anything other is foreign to me.
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April 21, 2011 2:18:03 AM

The G.Skill sticks should fit under the majority of heatsinks. G.Skill's Sniper series, which costs about the same as their Ripjaws series, will definitely fit under any heatsink.

I should also point out that those coolers you mentioned aren't the best. I'd recommend either the Coolermaster Hyper 212 Plus or Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B (SCMG-2100 on Newegg). If you can find the Hyper for around $30, that would be it's ideal price. The Scythe is a better cooler, but slightly more expensive at around $40. After those coolers, the next one I'd recommend is the Noctua NH-D14, which should be around $70-80, but is the best heatsink out there right now.
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April 21, 2011 6:03:03 PM

What say you about water cooling? Ive NEVER done it before and I always thought of it as risky in terms to leakage and reliability. I was looking at the Corsair H60. I know of the Noctua. That thing is a beast, and is a little expensive.
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April 21, 2011 6:48:06 PM

Liquid cooling is basically worthless, in my opinion. There are basically two ways you can do liquid cooling: cheap or right. Doing it cheap involves buying a self-contained system that will only cool the CPU, and won't do a great job of that. It will cost at least $70, possibly more, and won't cool any better than the $40 Scythe cooler. For that same $70ish, you could get the much better Notcua heatsink. You won't save much in the noise department, as you're leaving the GPU as air cooled, which is another major source of noise.

Doing it right means either buying a high quality kit or custom building the system. The system will cool at least the CPU and GPU, possibly the RAM and HDDs as well. While offering great acoustic benefits and minor temperature benefits, it will cost a lot to properly implement the system and is difficult to set up. Expect to drop a good $300-500 on cooling. The kits/parts themselves aren't very expensive, but getting a liquid cooled GPU (which is rare and typically only available for the largest GPUs out there) will add a good $100-200 to the cost. You could buy an air cooled GPU for less, but would need to replace the manufacturer's heatsink and fan with a liquid cooling block, adding to the complexity.

Add in the fact that liquid cooling system requires maintainence and has the possibilty of breaking down and essentially ruining the entire build, and liquid cooling just ins't worth it.
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April 25, 2011 8:06:00 PM

Gotcha. Well, I dont want to spend that kind of money doing it "right." So I think ill stick with air cooling. Im not doing any kind of crazy over clocking anyways which is where liquid cooling would come in handy over air.

This might be a stupid question...but - in my last build I had an Ethernet card. It was my understanding (at the time) that in order to plug an Ethernet cable into the computer to receive the internet, you needed an Ethernet card. Is that true? Or can I just plug it into the motherboard?

Tom's Hardware keeps telling me to select the "Best Answer," but I am afraid all of your responses are good. :) 
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May 5, 2011 12:19:04 AM

Best answer selected by thefiend1.
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