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Monster quint-monitor holdover build until Xeon E5 SB release

Last response: in Systems
May 31, 2011 8:09:41 AM

Hey everyone, I've been researching a new machine for the last day, as my present core2 quad core 2.4 GHz with 2.5 GB RAM is barely usable. I've decided to go the high-performance workstation route, but would rather wait until Intel releases its Xeon E5 8-core later this year (or early next) before investing a considerable amount in processors, RAM, and a motherboard. At that time, I'll buy two of those + 24 GB ECC memory. Until then, I've decided to deal with a modest desktop i5 + mobo + 16GB DDR3 1600 MHz memory. Here are the current specs of the machine:

Additionally, I'll be purchasing the fifth monitor from Amazon, a Dell UltraSharp U2711.

Now for how I plan to use the machine:

--- General Usage Notes ---

I don't play games (other than StarCraft 2 occasionally), but I do watch movies/tv shows, which is why I'd like a decent IPS monitor. I do a lot of programming and solid modeling in SolidWorks 2011, which is why I'm considering the Quadro FX 3800. The Quadro NVS 420 has four DisplayPorts, to which I'd connect the four NEC monitors.

I generally tend to run more than 100 processes at a time; I'm a serial multi-tasker, and rarely close windows. I generally consider "closing a window" as a final step in something, and will only do so when I'm convinced I no longer need the application. That's why I tend to have >20 firefox processes with ~10 tabs each running at one time. It's just how my brain works.

Additionally, the type of programming that I do is research-oriented and involves a lot of machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms, which are notoriously require many FLOPS. At some point, I know the trade-off between a high-end workstation and renting space on an EC3 cluster weighs in favor of the latter, but for everyday data processing and code compilation, I need something that's relatively future-proof.

My biggest concern is maximizing the efficiency of this build; the i5/mobo/RAM combination is temporary, but I need to be able to justify the expense vis-à-vis the future expected expense of dual Xeon E5s. That's part of the reason I chose the 2500K in favor of the 2600K: I just don't want to shell out another $100 for a slight improvement. I had actually chosen the 2500K in favor of the 2400, which I would've preferred, but the -K + X68 mobo combination offered enough of an improvement from the 2400 + cheap ASUS to justify the added (albeit slight) expense. Moreover, I need to be able to salvage EVERYTHING from this build--graphics cards, the dual Samsung 470 SSDs, monitors, psu, case, etc. for the subsequent upgrade.

--- Machine Learning Usage Details ---

I do a lot of statistical analyses on text and sound, and right now I'm working with one text corpus that's about 28 TB in size. I will never need to store the actual data on my external hard drives--I'd probably only need to store a couple gigabytes in the end, but it's the processing of this data that matters.

Mostly, I use support vector machines for classification, k-means for clustering (along with a couple other methods, but k-means is the crudest and simplest for now) and then do a latent semantic analysis. A few of the algorithms take advantage of sparse matrices and involve eigendecomposition thereof. Running these in multiple threads concurrently evince the need for the processor upgrade, since hyperthreading is a waste. That's also where the increased memory requirements (eventually 24 GB ECC ddr3) are most apparent.

--- Solid Modeling Usage Details ---

In addition to the machine learning requirements, I do a lot of solid modeling and am presently working on an automated book scanner to help with data aggregation and input. That's more of a side project, but this device requires performing some complex simulations (animations) before I actually commit to manufacturing the device. I also do PSPICE simulations for electrical devices, and will need something that will remain useful when I move on to do my Ph.D. in electrical engineering next fall.

--- Audio Usage Details ---

I briefly mentioned audio processing in the above machine learning section, but one side hobby is music composition, and I'd love a system that's able to support Sonar and Gigastudio. I haven't begun searching for a GSIF2 sound card yet, but will eventually move into that arena once I have some more cash.

--- Virtualization Usage Details ---

Because I develop software professionally, I have 10 "clean" environments in which I test things out. These run Windows XP, Vista, and 7 with a variety of software configurations, and also run Ubuntu linux as well as another instance of Windows 7 for RealVNC remote collaboration with co-workers.

--- Final Notes ---

Any advice on ways to cut my current expenses would be appreciated. I did my best with the monitors, but they're still pretty expensive. Obviously I don't need more than one IPS monitor, but even that one is questionable. I figure that having one for color-correction stuff (when I do web design, GUI development, play the occasional game, and watch movies) is enough justification for the Dell U2711. The NECs are just a relatively cheap, decently-performing monitor for my text-based applications.

I'm also spending a little more than I'd like on the SSD drives. I'd intend to connect the Samsungs in a RAID0 array to improve the transfer rates (they're 250 MB/s read and 220 MB/s write presently, and in RAID0 that nearly doubles). However, because of my software consumption, visual studio usage, and virtualization setup, I could see myself using 512 GB pretty quickly.

Thanks for your time, everyone!
May 31, 2011 10:17:04 AM

Some suggestions -

Mobo - There are other cheaper Z68 boards with similar features for less,... if not overclocking very high, then even these are fine, also like you said if this a temp build till the E5s then even this board would suffice,...

RAM - Check this combo, saves some money with the CPU

Graphics card - The Quadro 4000 is newer with Fermi cores
If ATI cards are fine, then this would be a very good option too,...
ATI 100-505604 FirePro V7800 2GB
Or if you want a card that can handle 4 displays, then this would be very good,...

The above cards are also supported in Solidworks,...

PSU - I see that you have chosen a server PSU, but you should know that even regular PSUs are as good or even better,...
Check these

SSDs - There are newer and much faster SSDs(double actually), which utilize SATA III ports, so check those out,...

Monitors - Like you said, a single high quality IPS monitor with the rest being normal monitors would be a good option, but you do get good IPS monitors cheaper nowadays,...
May 31, 2011 10:45:12 AM

Thanks for your answer.

I spent a lot of time researching the monitors, but 5x the 23" LG would be a 20% decrease in screen real estate for a 50% reduction in cost. That's absolutely a fair trade off. However, the response time + dynamic contrast ration + brightness decrease doesn't make that 50% cost reduction worth it to me.

The hard drives are absolutely something that I'm willing to budge on, since I'd prefer to go a little cheaper. I evaluated my disk space need more closely, and I can get away with a single 256 drive; I'll check out the newest 128s and consider using them in a RAID0; if I can get ~1GB/s transfer rates, I'll gladly do that instead.

The Z68 motherboard you pointed out definitely seems more economical to the one I initially chose. Do you happen to know off-hand why the UD3P is $40 more expensive than the D3H?

I bought the RAM last night--it actually turned out to be $150, with a $40 instant rebate as part of a promotion, so that made it absolutely worthwhile for me to purchase. I don't think you can find a much better deal than 16 GB of DDR3 1600 MHz ram for $150.

I'll keep checking around for PSUs, since I was only browsing the server category on Newegg. From what I heard/read, a server PSU is more reliable, but I'm not too sure on that. I'm actually really liking that Corsair power supply, and will likely switch that out, as well.

Finally, the graphics cards are the most troubling part of this present build. I'd prefer to go with NVIDIA cards, and the Quadro 4000 is a much better choice than the FX 3800. Thanks for that suggestion.