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~500-600$ Workstation Build

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October 24, 2012 5:23:57 AM

Hello everyone. I'm a bit new to the forums (COPPA just let me get an email address :/ ). Anyways, I was hoping you guys could help me pick out some parts for a workstation-style computer.

First of all, I don't really do gaming, however, I do develop games (I take some programming contracts and work with various game engines). My main area of expertise is C++ and high-performance applications/servers. I am currently developing on a mid-range laptop (no dedicated graphics or anything). The dual-core is okay I suppose, however it is a bit annoying when I try debugging multi-threaded servers (I have a reasonable server--a friends that runs in a small cluster, albeit I can't code on it very easily). So recently after getting paid a few hundred dollars for a license to one of my server applications, I've thought about building a new computer! :) 


Approximate Date: I cannot honestly say, but it will most likely be anywhere from now to a few months (might try to hold out for some better components).

Budget: I don't really have a job (obviously) so I'd really like to keep it under 500$ if possible. I might go higher, but only if it is really worth it.

Usage: Application/Algorithm development (C/C++ mainly). I also do some graphics programming and game engine work (OpenGL more than DirectX).

Country: US

Preferences: I'd really like to see good performance geared towards mild-gaming (mainly chess and some Minecraft) and Linux (my primary development environment). No real hatred towards any particular manufacturer, but I have friends who prefer Intel and Nvidia (Nvidia for CUDA).

Parts needed: I will need just about everything for the actual computer (RAM, motherboard, etc.) but I have plenty of peripherals and a nice 20" 720p monitor (VGA) that can be bumped up with HDMI :) . A specific list: PSU, CPU, GPU, RAM, Motherboard, HDD/SSD (if allowable by monetary constraints...), Disk drive and a case.

SLI/Crossfire: Not planned. I'd rather have all my CUDA cores on one card ;) . Also, not a big gamer and the games I do play probably don't support SLI and/or Crossfire.

Overclocking: I don't really know. This is my first build that will be my own PC. I am familiar with what it is, but it honestly depends if you guys find room for extra coolers, etc.

Websites/Stores: I'd probably want to order it online from a reputable place such as Newegg or Tigerdirect.

OS: Linux (I have RHEL, Arch, Fedora, Ubuntu--you name it). Windows 7/8 possibly (I could always upgrade this later).

Comments: All in all, I just want an affordable, reasonable computer that will not only run fast now, but be upgradeable in the future (GPU, CPU, RAM, etc.). I don't have an actual job, so my money usually comes in sporadic payments of several hundred dollars (most of it I save however). Also, I have considered DIY kits before this, however it's my first time and I'd really like to see what you guys can put together for me! :) 


Thanks guys. Any tips you can lend me will be very helpful. I haven't really built a computer in years (I think I was like 8) and OS development a few months ago (Assembly is grueling...) is really the only knowledge I have of hardware. Honestly, all I know about computers is how they work. How to find the right parts is a complete mystery (No joke, I seriously didn't know what Newegg or Tigerdirect were until a friend showed me a few weeks back). Feel free to have any questions, as I probably left out something crucial to you helping me... (first time--I hope to post here more often in the future).

More about : 500 600 workstation build

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October 24, 2012 10:45:12 AM

get a fx chip. best bang for the buck for budget rendering rigs. but fx stops being good from there

a overall better choice
http://pcpartpicker.com/p/lgUV

id also suggest you to get a good heatsink like the coolermaster tpc 812 to handle the heat output

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October 24, 2012 2:39:30 PM

TheBigTroll said:
get a fx chip. best bang for the buck for budget rendering rigs. but fx stops being good from there

a overall better choice
http://pcpartpicker.com/p/lgUV

id also suggest you to get a good heatsink like the coolermaster tpc 812 to handle the heat output


Sorry tiny voices, but I have to agree with TheBigTroll. 8 cores (no hyperthreading) is pretty sweet for what I'll be using it for. In question of the build you put together TheBigTroll, would that be upgradeable in the future (CPU/GPU)? I understand that the AM3+ socket will be supported for at least a little while, hopefully making the CPU upgradable down the road. Also, the GPU you guys both selected (I think) looked pretty good. No Nvidia, but is that still a reasonably good GPU?

Anyways, I like the looks of that build, however, I have seen 1TB HDDs go as cheap as that HDD you found. I must ask, is that HDD a very good one (i.e. fast, stable, etc.)? As a last question--going back to my upgradeable wishes--will that PSU support a good deal of hardware if I upgrade in the future?
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October 24, 2012 3:47:30 PM

The PSU will support plenty of HDDs and what not. You can probably go up to like a 7850 with that PSU. But if its a problem or you plan to crossfire or something you can always get a 600w. Stick to brands like Antec, Corsair, Seasonic, XFX.

As for the 7770, it will be better than any equivalent Nvidia GPU for the same or $20-$40 more dollars. 550 Ti can't touch it.
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October 24, 2012 3:50:34 PM

The HDD is a good one, yes.
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October 24, 2012 3:55:09 PM

The FX build is nice. Yeah the platform and the parts he picked are reasonably upgradable. The 7770 is a great card that kills its competition ATM.

It's a good HDD but if you want to shop for another HDD make sure it's 7200 RPM.
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October 24, 2012 4:00:48 PM

tiny voices said:
The PSU will support plenty of HDDs and what not. You can probably go up to like a 7850 with that PSU. But if its a problem or you plan to crossfire or something you can always get a 600w. Stick to brands like Antec, Corsair, Seasonic, XFX.

As for the 7770, it will be better than any equivalent Nvidia GPU for the same or $20-$40 more dollars. 550 Ti can't touch it.


Okay thanks. I will most likely add a mass storage (doesn't have to be 7200rpm) for simulation cache files and data storage down the road, so that's a relief. As for the GPU, do you think it would be worth it (in your opinion) to go a bit higher? I mean, is the cost difference of like 20-50 dollars worth it in this range of GPU's? About the CUDA, I will just look into OpenCL or something. :)  As long as it supports DirectX 11 for Windows Game engines and OpenGL 3+ I'm good really.

Would it be possible to upgrade the CPU/RAM in this machine? RAM is a big thing for me really, as is the CPU. I really have no need for Crossfire (as I believe I mentioned) so the motherboard is probably okay without it, as well as the PSU's capabilities. The 500GB HDD looks nice (I might go up to a 1TB though if I don't splurge else where). Another concern about all this--will this hardware require special cooling needs (I've never had a dedicated GPU or anything)? I don't really plan to overclock, as 3.5 Ghz with 8 cores seems fine for me (as of now... much better than my Pentium with 2 cores and 2 Ghz clock speeds... :/ ) but overclocking is always an option for me (I could always buy a cooler and overclock instead of upgrading this CPU later).
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October 24, 2012 4:06:07 PM

If you're planning a secondary storage drive definitely grab a SSD for the system!

You could easily add another 2x4 GB RAM on that system later.

I'm not sure whether AMD's next CPU will be on AM3+. If yes, it can be upgraded.
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October 24, 2012 4:07:38 PM

You will not need any aftermarket cooling as long as you don't plan to overclock. You can upgrade the CPU to a piledriver chip once they come out. You will be able to keep your motherboard. The 7770 will probably be fine for what you are doing but if you really wanted to you could bump up to a 7850 for like 60 more bucks.
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October 24, 2012 4:17:09 PM

tiny voices said:
You will not need any aftermarket cooling as long as you don't plan to overclock. You can upgrade the CPU to a piledriver chip once they come out. You will be able to keep your motherboard. The 7770 will probably be fine for what you are doing but if you really wanted to you could bump up to a 7850 for like 60 more bucks.


Yeah, you're probably right. Most of my gaming is limited to chess and Minecraft. The latter I get about 30 FPS with [the original] Intel HD Graphics... with everything set to low; the first one plays very smooth on the highest settings. I looked at some benchmarks and I think I will stick with the 7770. It has the right price and exceptional performance for it. I noticed the 7770 only has 1GB of GDDR5 RAM--will this hinder me in anyway? I'm pretty sure (if I remember right) that this memory is mainly for frame buffering, so will more of this produce higher frame-rates?
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October 24, 2012 4:18:31 PM

FinneousPJ said:
If you're planning a secondary storage drive definitely grab a SSD for the system!

You could easily add another 2x4 GB RAM on that system later.

I'm not sure whether AMD's next CPU will be on AM3+. If yes, it can be upgraded.


Hmm. I don't know about the SSD, because I would probably want the OS and all my programs on there instead of the HDD. Would it be easy to migrate everything to the SSD once I got it (if I chose to)? And the RAM is no problem! So cheap I'll probably have 32GB by the time I build a new computer. ;) 
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October 24, 2012 4:23:51 PM

tiny voices said:
You will not need any aftermarket cooling as long as you don't plan to overclock. You can upgrade the CPU to a piledriver chip once they come out. You will be able to keep your motherboard. The 7770 will probably be fine for what you are doing but if you really wanted to you could bump up to a 7850 for like 60 more bucks.

The CPU Troll picked is Piledriver.
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October 24, 2012 4:25:23 PM

QuantumCD said:
Hmm. I don't know about the SSD, because I would probably want the OS and all my programs on there instead of the HDD. Would it be easy to migrate everything to the SSD once I got it (if I chose to)? And the RAM is no problem! So cheap I'll probably have 32GB by the time I build a new computer. ;) 

You mean if you got a SSD later? I dunno, never done that. Why would you though, since you could just as well get a SSD now and a HDD later?
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October 24, 2012 4:38:30 PM

FinneousPJ said:
You mean if you got a SSD later? I dunno, never done that. Why would you though, since you could just as well get a SSD now and a HDD later?


Yes, but the HDD I was looking at was only 60 dollars. I don't know if I have the money up front to get an SSD first. Any recommendations as far as SSD's go? In all honesty, I have 6 Operating systems on this computer (4 Linux, BSD, and Windows 7) and a huge amount of files and it's all less than 100GB, as all my major files have been moved to a small cloud cluster I help administrate that has enough storage to hold everything that I don't need all the time (Renders, simulations, computations, etc.). An SSD would be great if I could work it in though! (I can only imagine Linux booting in a few seconds :) ).
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October 24, 2012 7:02:54 PM

FinneousPJ said:
If 100 GB is all you need then this one http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... is good value.


Wow! Thanks. I definitely will look into that. I have researched SSD's and the results are amazing! The motherboard Troll picked is compatible with SSD's, correct (RAID or however I would run multiple drives in parallel).
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October 24, 2012 7:04:16 PM

FinneousPJ said:
The CPU Troll picked is Piledriver.


Oh, very cool. Thanks for pointing that out (I thought I had seen cheaper FX processors!).
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October 24, 2012 7:30:49 PM

QuantumCD said:
Wow! Thanks. I definitely will look into that. I have researched SSD's and the results are amazing! The motherboard Troll picked is compatible with SSD's, correct (RAID or however I would run multiple drives in parallel).

Sure, it's compatible. You don't actually need any special compatibility for SSDs :p 

You don't want to RAID the SSD with a HDD, just run them normally. If that's what you meant.
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October 24, 2012 7:46:02 PM

FinneousPJ said:
Sure, it's compatible. You don't actually need any special compatibility for SSDs :p 

You don't want to RAID the SSD with a HDD, just run them normally. If that's what you meant.


Oh! I totally forgot. I help a friend run his cloud cluster and he has lots of HDD's running in parallel. :p  I think I will go for the SSD. From what I hear, they are totally worth it. I will just buy an HDD when I need to store a TB of raw data. ;)  Is there any special considerations I need to take into account when using SSD's? I've heard that they are unstable.

Also, I keep hearing about Turbo Core surrounding AMD processors. It seems to be AMD processors' equivalent to Turbo Boost, right? And will it work on Linux (is it software or does it run as firmware in BIOS?).
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October 24, 2012 8:29:39 PM

there is boost on AMD chips

and piledriver is not actually 8 cores. its 4 modules putting out 8 threads. similar to intel hyperthreading but slightly better
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October 24, 2012 8:34:22 PM

TheBigTroll said:
there is boost on AMD chips

and piledriver is not actually 8 cores. its 4 modules putting out 8 threads. similar to intel hyperthreading but slightly better


That's discerning... I suppose overclocking could be an option later if I were to add another cooler. At my price range/requirements would you still recommend a Piledriver or an Intel processor?
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October 24, 2012 8:35:46 PM

It's hardware.

You could check out the recommended SSDs list posted today on this site.
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October 24, 2012 8:37:23 PM

since this is a budget workstation, piledriver makes a bit more sense. otherwise i would have went intel since they draw much less power and perform better
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October 24, 2012 8:44:54 PM

TheBigTroll said:
since this is a budget workstation, piledriver makes a bit more sense. otherwise i would have went intel since they draw much less power and perform better


With the rig you set up, how much more do you think a decent Intel chip (equal or greater performance than Piledriver) would add to the overall cost? I might be able to go up like another 50-100$ if I wait a month or two for another payment. I say this now because I just learned that I might be getting a huge deal soon and I could definitely spare a 100 or so dollars if it pulls through. And honestly, I have had all Intel before this.
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October 24, 2012 8:49:19 PM

getting a i7 would mean 100 more dollars on the chip and about 20-40 dollars on the motherboard.

id just stick with amd.
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October 24, 2012 8:55:07 PM

I would stick with AMD FX if your primary use is productivity.
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October 24, 2012 8:58:27 PM

TheBigTroll said:
getting a i7 would mean 100 more dollars on the chip and about 20-40 dollars on the motherboard.

id just stick with amd.


Hmm... I suppose I will never know the difference, will I? :p  AMD doesn't look so bad anyways. Rendering will be so much more fun with 8 threads instead of 1 (if the GPU doesn't render faster)! Do you know if AMD is equal to Intel when it comes to things like compiling and computation? Those are the other 2 big areas I require performance in. I'm just skeptical because whenever I see some sort of optimization for GPU/CPU it's strictly Windows Vista/7. So the big question is: will all this hardware support Linux well? I will most likely be using Fedora and Ubuntu 64 bit on this build (perhaps Windows if a client wants something).
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October 24, 2012 9:16:08 PM

FinneousPJ said:
I would stick with AMD FX if your primary use is productivity.


Thanks for the opinion, but what do you mean by "productivity" exactly? I don't just use my computer for web browsing...
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October 24, 2012 9:25:57 PM

I mean computationally expensive stuff like rendering or Matlab computation or CAD/FEM. Not sure how compiling ranks.
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October 24, 2012 11:19:23 PM

FinneousPJ said:
I mean computationally expensive stuff like rendering or Matlab computation or CAD/FEM. Not sure how compiling ranks.


Hmm... well I do computation, etc. However, when I think about it, I don't know if it would be possible for a threaded compiler, just because of the way things work in compilation of code. After writing multi-threaded things myself, compiling in parallel seems like a dangerous idea. Those extra cores can go towards the final program (and running all those "mental breaks" :p ). Do you think overclocking is a wise move if I wanted to speed this up? A cooler, after maybe Windows 7 and/or an HDD, would be a pretty simple upgrade, and I have heard that overclocking AMD processors are fairly easy (even for noobs).
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October 24, 2012 11:56:11 PM

if you dont plan to game, fx is a great choice. thats about it
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October 25, 2012 12:02:10 AM

TheBigTroll said:
if you dont plan to game, fx is a great choice. thats about it


What do you mean game? As in, Battlefield 3? I play Minecraft occasionally (Yeah.. I don't have much time for games :p ) and lots of chess. Also, I thought the GPU was more important in games anyways?
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October 25, 2012 12:24:30 AM

GPU is generally more important but sometimes the CPU is pretty important too. example is skyrim. i can get 55 fps at 1080p, with high res texture pack, highest settings, 4xaa+ fxaa with a fx 8350 while i can get 71 fps on a i5 chip
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October 25, 2012 12:40:26 AM

TheBigTroll said:
GPU is generally more important but sometimes the CPU is pretty important too. example is skyrim. i can get 55 fps at 1080p, with high res texture pack, highest settings, 4xaa+ fxaa with a fx 8350 while i can get 71 fps on a i5 chip


I would guess because, from experience, game engines generally aren't made to work on 8 threads in mass-parallel. I have seen small, custom game engines that have done this (no major games) but it really, really backfires unless you have all 8 cores. So that leads me to believe it's more of a marketing thing to make games operate on fewer threads. And since the Intel has a better processing structure, that's going to give it more punch per thread.

Really, all I play is Minecraft and Chess Titans (on hard--probably not anything to a Pentium II though :p ). How do you think an FX 8350 and a Radeon 7770 with 8GB of RAM would fare for that? I can get 30 FPS on a Pentium and Intel HD graphics (the original...) with settings min-ed out (pun intended). I can only imagine, after reading various reviews of the 7770 and other comparable GPUs, that I'll probably start playing more games because Minecraft just doesn't stress that kind of hardware! If I can't play with Fancy graphics, yet I can play at 50 FPS or more on Battlefield 3 and Crysis 2 with everything maxed out (minus a few things in some cases)... Minecraft will be coming off my computer for good! :p  Of course, I don't expect many hardcore gamers/enthusiasts to be playing Minecraft to benchmark their hardware...
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October 25, 2012 12:54:45 AM

you can play minecraft easily with most hardware.

you will not hit 50fps in bf3 at ultra. more like around 35-45 in high with a couple of settings at ultra
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October 25, 2012 12:58:54 AM

TheBigTroll said:
you can play minecraft easily with most hardware.

you will not hit 50fps in bf3 at ultra. more like around 35-45 in high with a couple of settings at ultra


I believe I said "minus some settings"... anyways, will it outdo my friend and his 512x texture pack and shaders? :p  He gets like 200 FPS with that.... it's unbelievable. Then I look at his specs (i7 extreme overclocked, GTX 690, 32 GB of RAM, etc..) and it brought it down to Earth. If only...
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October 25, 2012 3:20:12 PM

Best answer selected by QuantumCD.
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October 26, 2012 4:16:05 PM

Hey guys. I think I have decided on a completely different approach--wait a bit and spend more on a good foundation. I think I'm going to go with:

Processor: Ivy Bridge i5 3570K (i7 is just a bit pricey for the build's price sadly. Maybe if I can make it work...)
GPU: I think I'm going to go with the GTX 660 and upgrade down the line
Motherboard: ASrock Z77 (for the Processor socket--will take suggestions for it)
RAM: 8 GB Crucial memory (more or less--depending on my budget)
Storage: 120 GB SSD / 500GB HDD 7200rpm (Will take suggestions on those--1TB is appreciated if I can keep it all under a thousand)
Optical: Just a cheap 22x or something--I hardly ever use optical
Cooler: Stock for now, but I'll probably upgrade in the future
OS: I have just about decided on Windows 7 x64 (64 bit)
Case: I have a nice case already. It's a bit old, but it will hold all I have hopefully. I might just go ahead and purchase a ~50 dollar case since I don't need any fancy paint jobs, etc. If you can recommend one in this price range that has good ventilation and all, I'd be grateful. :) 
PSU: A bit tougher as I haven't bought a power unit in forever! Recommendations welcome. I'll probably need/want > 600 watts.

If you have any disagreements/suggestions, I'd love to know! I haven't built a computer in so long, I don't know if all these parts will even work together...
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October 26, 2012 7:35:18 PM

a 7870 is a better idea

id get a vertex 4 128gb for 99 bucks

patriot has memory for 29.99 after MIR
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October 26, 2012 7:37:12 PM

TheBigTroll said:
a 7870 is a better idea

id get a vertex 4 128gb for 99 bucks

patriot has memory for 29.99 after MIR


I know, however, CUDA is better for rendering, and as I aforementioned, the only game I really play is Minecraft.. so.. :p  Are the two cards comparable?
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October 27, 2012 12:31:30 AM

well OpenGL is pretty advanced. unless the program is exclusively CUDA based, radeon cards are a better choice
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October 27, 2012 8:20:59 AM

CUDA is becoming obsolete. There is no inherent advantage to it either.
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October 27, 2012 2:24:31 PM

QuantumCD,

On your budget and with your requirements, I would recommend instead of building new, buying a used Dell Precision and uprgrading the video card and adding RAM. For the past two years, I've used a Precision T5400 similar to the one in the following Ebay listing using > AutoCad 2007, Inventor 2011, Revit 2011, Corel Technical Designer X-5, Sketchup 8, Adobe Master Suite CS3, WP X-4>

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Dell-Precision-T5400-Xeon-X5460...

> and for $367 or best offer> for a computer that cost about $8-9,000 new, I think the performance and features would be difficult to top on a narrow budget. The quad core Xeon 3.16GHz x5460 (almost $2,000 new) has 12MB cache, the MB, a close relative if not identical to the Poweredge 2950 server, is 1333FSB, supports two CPU's, 192GB of DDR2 RAM, RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, an ample 875W PS, and has been the most reliable computer I've ever owned (Win7 Ult 64-bit). I wouldn't hesitate buying used given the build quality of the T5400. These are beautifully built with an insulated, side cover- I never hear the RE4 HD which has a reputation for noise- that fully opens the entire side with one positive top latch. I could swap 2-HD's in their swing out caddies in 5 minutes. Internal cooling air flow is very good- the 190W! GTX 285 GPU never goes over 57C. The best feature is that everything is configured, compatible, and ready to go- you could get to work right away and upgrade over a few weeks step by step. Have look at the new build forum this site and at MB reviews on Newegg at the number of experienced people that have considerable problems with new builds. Some of the best-rated LGA115s and 2011 MB's have 20+% 0 eggs ratings!

I bought my T5400 for $450, increased RAM to 12GB, added a used GTX 285 - 1GB, 512 bandwidth, 240 CUDA cores, mistakenly thinking I could soft mod it into a Quadro 5800, and changed the HD to a WD RE4 500GB which has 64MB cache. Total cost was about $650. The result was a computer that scored 2230 on the Passmark Benchmark test, better than some multi-CPU, i7 machines. For comparison, my Dell Optiplex 640 -dual core Athlon X2 3.0GhZ, 6GB, Quadro FX580 Win 7 Ult 64 scored 1130. I often run AutoCad, Technical Designer, Sketchup files of 150MB+, WP, and Chrome simultaneously on the T5400 with no hesitation or lockups.

What I would suggest though in your case would be to consider finding a good used Quadro 600 (1GB, 96 CUDA cores) for $60-80, and then later add a second in SLI. Cards configured for gaming, as I've learned with the GTX 285, are frame -rate oriented and with large Sketchup files especially, I have to trick it by continuous orbits and zooms to prevent it sticking into rendering/ regen mode. With the application I use, I had results nearly as good trying a Quadro FX580 512MB GPU.

Also, there is a determined "more cores is better" crowd on this site, and you might look into your applications, as there are few that truly take advantage of multiple cores > Inventor, a $9,000 program that does thermal, mechanical animations, and stress simulations, is for example a single threaded application that on a 6-core CPU can only use a maximum of 15% of each core. Sketchup is really a single threaded application and I think can't use any more than 50% of two cores. More cores seems to do better on benchmark tests of CPU performance, but in the real world- for now- few applications seems to really benefit.

Also, I'm not fully convinced that for most uses, an SSD is worth replacing a good, mechanical HD if it has a good amount of cache and there is plenty of RAM. True, the computer will start and transfer data faster, but when working, the reading/write activity seems to remain in RAM. Of course, an SSD equipped computer would be faster, and I intend to make that change eventually, but initially, on a budget, I would rather say put that cost into a pair of Quadro 600's.

Hope this helps and good luck.


Cheers,

BambiBoom



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October 27, 2012 5:41:22 PM

the fx 8320 is about as good as a i7 3770 in terms of multi-threaded performance.

you are comparing a x5450 to a regular 1366 i7 which means they could just be the same chip
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October 27, 2012 7:14:26 PM

Afraid I'm going to have to wait to build a computer for a long time... It's sad, but I had to purchase some new software and it pretty much blew my budget up. Thanks for the help, but it will probably take me awhile to build the money back up. By the time I get the money, months will have passed and hardware will have most likely evolved beyond recognition.
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October 27, 2012 7:17:54 PM

1-3 months. no

6+ months. not really

1 year. definitly
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October 27, 2012 8:10:44 PM

TheBigTroll said:
1-3 months. no

6+ months. not really

1 year. definitly


Thanks for the time frame. Maybe next time around I will wait until my budget is a bit larger. However, price will "definitely" go down, right?
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October 27, 2012 9:44:40 PM

generally yes but not really
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October 27, 2012 9:54:54 PM

TheBigTroll said:
generally yes but not really


Yeah, but I have seen some dramatic price drops. Just a thought now, as a general rule of thumb, should I add a certain amount of money to my budget for the overall cost? As in, things like special hardware/tools I need to assemble a computer?
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