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Hard Drives: Two Western Digital Caviar WD7500AAKS

System Builder Marathon: High-Cost System

We've been fond of Western Digital's 750 GB Caviar WD7500AAKS ever since it made its record-breaking-performance debut last year. But this is a high-end machine, so we took things up a notch by using two of these drives in a RAID 0 setup.

Arguments aside about whether or not the use of the term "RAID" is proper for non-redundant Level 0 mode, this pair of drives, so configured, promises the highest level of transfer performance and a total capacity of 1.5 terabytes.

Optical Drive: "Samsung" SH-203B

We picked the SH-203B last year for its incredible write performance and low cost, and Toshiba Samsung Storage Technologies (TSST) has since come out with an updated SH-203N that supports LightScribe technology.

The LightScribe-enhanced version costs $3 more, which we'd gladly pay if we had to replace our SH-203B. But since both drives are otherwise similar, we simply didn't have a good excuse to upgrade from the model we already had in the lab.

The SH-203 series is a great choice for daily use thanks to its low-noise operation, high actual burn speeds that set records across the Web, rated DVD write speeds of up to 20 X, and thin SATA data cable. Optical drive performance is not part of our benchmark set, but it's nice to know that the low-priced SH-203B could potentially win.

Floppy Drive: NEC 1.44 MB

We didn't actually install a floppy into today's system, but we kept one on hand just in case we decided to try Windows XP at a later date. XP users will find these to be a requirement for loading RAID drivers during setup.

Audio: Asus SupremeFX II Riser Card

The Asus Striker II Formula supports 3-Way SLI, a configuration we thought we might like to test later. Unfortunately, installing three 8800GTX graphics cards would prevent us from using additional cards except in the top PCI Express x1 slot, which is restricted to impossibly short cards by the position of the Northbridge sink. Not even the tiny Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio x1 fits, though Asus includes a riser card that does.

The SupremeFX II reduces noise typical of onboard audio by positioning its ADI 1988B 8-Channel HD codec away from the noisy circuits that crowd the motherboard itself. Asus further shields the card with an aluminum cover.

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