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Building a Technical Computer

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Last response: in Systems
December 11, 2012 8:17:39 AM

Hi Community!

I want to build my own desktop system, but don’t have a good appreciation of hardware subtleties. If anyone has the time to address my specific questions or comment on my overall strategy, I’d appreciate it. Sorry if my question statement is a little longwinded or betrays my lack of hardware knowledge.

Budget: ~$1000 maybe $1200 or stretching to 13 (I have monitors and peripherals already)
Timeline: I need a new box soon, but could wait as long as April (What does intel have coming around the corner?)


Unlike many in the high performance personal computing community the most graphically intensive game I play is chess. However, as a student of experimental physics I do a fair amount of data analysis that I need to run as fast as possible, and I need to be multitasking while my code runs. If I’m running the latest version of Deep Shredder (multi-core) for chess analysis, I’d like this to be done efficiently in parallel with my data analysis, while simultaneously surfing the web. I also get pretty irritated by even minor lag, so I’m willing to spend a little more for higher performance computing.

Not being a true hardware guy, I have no intention of overclocking and am shooting for optimum performance out of the box.

Envisioned Setup:

Processor - Quad Core Intel I7 (maybe i7-3820, what’s the best without going to i7-extreme? <$350 - $400)
Hard drive - 256 Gb SSD (Samsung 830?) Definitely SSD.
>= 16 GB Ram
Probably operating Ubuntu
Mother Board ?
Case ?
Graphics card - probably not, or only basic.
Video card - need dual monitor output.
What am I forgetting?

Outstanding questions:

-How much difference does my choice in motherboard make? Any suggestions?
-Case and powersupply? Any suggestions?
-How much difference do the different categories of RAM make?
-Processor Choice? Obviously, higher clock is better and likewise more cache. But how to decide between say 3.4GHz clock with 8 mb cache and 3.6 GHz with only 6 mb cache, etc?
-In addition to the SSD, should I be getting a higher capacity drive for less commonly accessed files that I just need to keep around. And only use the SSD for my OS and Applications? If I did this and set up a raid 0 to mirror but didn't care about the rate at which my SSD was backed up is there a way to let the cpu know not to bottle neck at writing to the slow hard drive and just do this later at its convenience? If you know what I mean.
-How much faster is a wired connection, will I need a wireless card? (Could run a long cable but might trip in the hallway. Is it worth it?)
-Am I going to need a graphics card, and how basic can I go to get the job done. I’d like to do a little bit of basic photo editing, but don’t have time to get deep into this with my current lifestyle.
-What’s the best intel i7 right now for desktop, is there a much better next generation coming in the next couple months?
-Does Ivy Bridge vs Sandy Bridge make any difference to the user, or is it transistor density that mostly benefits intel?
-How would you allocate your $1000 - $1200 for such a project?
-Of course, other insight is appreciated, since I'm sure I haven't though of everything.

If you’ve made it to the end of this, many thanks! I really appreciate your help.

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December 11, 2012 12:24:57 PM

You are not going to need an i7 unless the programs you intend to run have really high hardware requirements. Could you check the hardware requirements of the softwares you are going to use for data analysis?
December 11, 2012 12:52:46 PM

The components you've picked so far look great, IMHO. I would get am I/B instead of S/B CPU just because it's newer and not much more money. Look at ASUS MBs with Z77 chip sets. Your choice of SSD is good and a large storage drive is a good companion. Look at the 1050W Seasonic PSU. I know it's bigger than necessary but I'm a firm believer in large PSUs. Think of it as an insurance policy. As has already been suggested, I would check with the software companies you intend to use and get their requirements for a GPU. You seem to think you don't need horsepower here so I suggest trying the "on board" graphics first and adding a GPU later if necessary.
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December 11, 2012 12:54:29 PM

if you are going to use multiple monitor's, I would suggest you get at least a low end discrete graphics card(aka video card) with at least 2 Dvi/Hdmi ports
Shouldn't be a problem with your budget...

Best solution

December 11, 2012 1:38:04 PM

Ivybridge is about 10% faster than Sandy, give or take a bit. I don't think Haswell is supposed to arrive for quite a while yet, but I don't follow it much.

You're going to want to go for a z77 chipset board. Within those, there won't be much difference. A cheaper mobo won't have alot of overclocking features, and will be less capable for overclocking, but as far as features go they only have minor differences. If you don't plan to overclock at all, an H77 chipset would be fine as well, but your clockspeed will be locked.

Wired vs Wireless all depends on your environment, normally I don't think it would matter for you. A wireless card won't add much cost to your build, and an addin card is much better than the USB plugins, so I'd suggest grabbing one. If it lags, you can try wired to see if it's better.

You can't do the raid thing you suggested. Since you are using linux, it shouldn't be all that difficult to setup storage folders on a standard HDD if you need to.

Only you know your storage needs, if you need more space than your SSD provides, get a 1TB storage drive. It's always a good idea to periodically backup your important documents, at least to a secondary drive.

For cases, I've been looking at the Fractal Design Define R4 (I've seen it recommended, looks nice) for a fairly low key (not lit up like a christmas tree), full featured case. I've never used it personally, but I'm planning to get one soon :) 

You'll need a power supply. I would suggest a Seasonic (best), XFX, PC Power & Cooling, or Corsair PSU, a 500w supply will be plenty (400w is probably fine, but it's usually hard to get that low and still have quality, and save more than 5$). This is a helpful list for PSU shopping:

For a graphics card, I suspect you will be fine with Intel graphics. Be sure to get a mobo that has connectors for your monitors. There is a possibility that some monitor ports are 'shared' at the GPU level, and you'd need to get a real GPU to get the second monitor working, in which case, any budget GPU is fine. I would try the 'free' solution, and spend the extra 80$ if it doesn't support your second monitor, go for an HD66xx or GT640 or so, it won't matter much what you choose since you aren't gaming. (I'm not sure which brand has better driver support under linux, but that's probably your biggest consideration).

December 14, 2012 10:28:36 AM

Thanks for the advice everyone.
December 14, 2012 10:29:06 AM

Best answer selected by canaryyellow.