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Advice - Multipurpose Desktop (sci research, office, light games)

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June 22, 2011 6:00:06 AM

It's been about six years since I've built a machine, so I could use some help. I'm building a primary machine for my home, and it will be multipurpose. Primarily, it will be used for when I do work at home, which consists of astrophysics research in the form of working with large data arrays (moderate CPU requirements). Secondary purposes will include office type work, watching HD video, and some (very) light gaming. I will be using two monitors of fairly high resolution. I also need data backups - I'm tentatively considering using two pairs of 1TB HDDs with each pair in RAID1 separately, if this is possible (please advise). An eye towards upgrades is highly desired - this machine needs to last a long time, so the ability to slightly beef up CPU, graphics, and RAM in the future is a big plus.

Approximate Purchase Date: in the next one-to-three weeks

Budget Range: ~$1000, but this is very flexible and can go up or down by as much as ~$500 as is optimal/necessary. Obviously, I want to minimize costs, though.

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Scientific calculations on arrays (IDL, etc), office, video/music/multimedia, light gaming

Parts Not Required: keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: newegg or amazon

Country of Origin: USA

Parts Preferences: Intel CPU

Overclocking: No

SLI or Crossfire: No

Monitor Resolution: 1680x1050 on one monitor; second monitor TBD but will be equal or higher resolution than current

Additional Comments: I don't care how the case looks or anything like that - function and cost over form.

Here is a **very** rough draft of parts. It is primarily taken directly from the guides on this site, and some component are just guesses. See specific questions at the end of this post.

CASE: Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
MOBO: ASRock P67 EXTREME4 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel P67 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
GPU: SAPPHIRE 100315L Radeon HD 6850 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.1 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card with Eyefinity
PSU: CORSAIR Enthusiast Series CMPSU-550VX 550W ATX12V V2.2 SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Compatible
HSF: Do I need one?
CPU: Intel Core i5-2500 Sandy Bridge 3.3GHz (3.7GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80623I52500
SYSTEM DISK: 2x SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive in RAID1
DATA DISK: 2x SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive in RAID1
OPTICAL: LG DVD±RW SuperMulti Drive Black SATA Model GH22NS50 Bulk - OEM
RAM: G.SKILL NS 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model F3-10666CL9D-4GBNS (to be at least doubled on a future pay check)
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit - OEM dual booted with a Linux distro
Subtotal: $1,106.84

Some specific questions:
  • Is there any real reason for me not to get OEM Windows? A mobo replacement on this machine during the life of Windows 7 seems unlikely....
  • What should I change to improve upgradability? Similarly, is this a cost effective machine at this point in time, or can the cost be reduced? I want to optimize these two competing variables.
  • Is the RAID1 disk configurations I described possible with this set up? If not, how do I make it so? Or would I be better with a RAID5 setup? Or something else entirely? I really need advice here.
  • My choices for MOBO, PSU, CPU, GPU, and HDDs are largely guesses - other suggestions, along for explanations of why I should change, are highly appreciated.
  • Would I be better off with one of the i7s?
  • Is the graphics card adequate for my purposes, including two large monitors? I just pulled this one off of one of the suggested builds - I have no idea how to pick one. I've always used nVidia in the past, but that was years ago...


    I know I've asked a lot of questions, but any help you can provide will be very much appreciated. The number of choices out there are daunting - I need the help.
    June 22, 2011 6:04:05 AM

    Gah, sorry for all the typos above. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to want to let me edit them out....

    EDIT: And now it lets me...
    June 23, 2011 2:32:22 AM

    I've changed some things - ditched SSDs, upgraded PSU - and edited the original post. Anyone wanna help me out?
    Related resources
    June 23, 2011 6:00:03 AM

    ^ Some suggestions - Here is a complete rebuild with good alternatives, cutting down where it is not required and getting more where it is required...

    1. CPU + RAM -
    i5 2500K + HD 6770
    - I choose the unlocked version because overclocking is the easiest way of getting more from the CPU without paying anything, as this is an unlocked version, overclocking in this is very easy anyways it cost only ~$10 more so its fine...
    - The 6770 would suffice if no extreme gaming - Is actually pretty powerful for casual gaming needs
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-graphics-card-...
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...

    RAM -
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
    A pretty good deal this one
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

    CASE + Mobo
    Rosxewill Challenger + Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD3-B3
    I dont see the need for the ASRock board,... this would be as good for your needs,...
    This case offers more value for money
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...

    SSD for boot -
    OCZ Agility 120GB IMO for boot the SSD is very good, though pretty costly, but offer performance which the HDDs cant replicate...
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

    DVD + HDD
    Lite-On + Samsung F4 2TB
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...

    HDD - Samsung F4 2TB
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
    With the above 2 F4s, go RAID1

    OS
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

    Total - ~$1109
    June 23, 2011 7:28:48 AM

    That mobo seems to have pretty awful reviews at newegg - lots of complaints about infinite reboot loops when using all memory slots, lots of failures, etc. Any particular reason you recommended it? It doesn't seem that appealing with all those complaints...

    Glad you pointed out some of those combos though - much better deals than what I was doing in some cases.
    June 24, 2011 3:53:04 AM

    I'm still leery of switching out the MOBO. The primary reason I picked the ASRock was the relatively small number of DOA complaints compared to, for instance, the ASUS. I really don't want to deal with DOA. It also seemed like it might offer a few more opportunities for future proofing the machine (overclocking, Crossfire, etc), but that was a minor point.

    I've heard bad things generally about Rosewill - do people have problems with their cases, or is that mostly just brand preference?

    I'm also unsure about the HDDs. What's the difference between those F4 EcoGreens and the Spinpoints I listed? Further, because reliability and data safety is a priority for me, I'm skeptical of the 2TB drives rather than 1TB. Most 2TB are two platters, rather than the one platter in the drives I mention. This affects reliability, but I'm not sure by how much.

    The SSD vs HDD debate seems to vary depending on who you talk to. How great is the performance increase? Is it worth the money for general purposes?

    Anyone else want to weigh in? I'd like to get a few different opinions before I go ahead and order the parts.
    !