New Core i7 PC: Selecting the Components

[tweetmeme source="KeithBluestone"]This article is part of a series in 2010 on custom-building a high-performance computer with the latest Intel Core i7 processors:

  1. Build or buy a new Core i7 supercomputer?
  2. Choosing a New CPU: Intel Core i7-920/930 vs. i7-860/870
  3. New Core i7 PC: Selecting the Components
  4. New Core i7 PC: The Build

Summary

After deciding to build my new computer instead of buy it (see “Build or buy a new Core i7 supercomputer?”), the next task was to figure out which components to buy.  Armed with a thorough review of the choices and some spare PC parts, I ordered a balanced mix of new components that, for only $600, should make me the owner of one of the faster PCs on the planet.

Before you race off to build your custom PC, peek into the future to see some of the lessons I learned on my build; hopefully it will save you some time.

The Winners

I already had a spare tower case, a lightly used and excellently rated Antec 430W True Power supply, and some enterprise-class SATA hard drives.   That left me in need of a motherboard, a processor, some memory, and a graphics card.

Here were the components I picked (and bought) as a fantastic performer that should last for at least five years (prices include tax and shipping):

  Component Cost
image Core i7-860 Processor
Powerful quad-core CPU
$250
image ASUS P7P55D-E ATX Motherboard
Solid performer future-proofed with USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps
$140
image G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB DDR3 1600 RAM
Fast, reliable memory
$115
image XFX Radeon HD 4650 Video Card
Enough to get the job done well for me
$60
image LITE-ON Black 24X DVD RW Player
With the old one a little finicky – why not?
$30
  Total: $595

Backstory

I’ll admit it: I spent a whole lot more time researching the system components than I ever thought I would.  I read hundreds of peoples’ comments on NewEgg and Amazon;  browsed a score of product reviews;  and sifted through countless conversations on top tech forums.

I included rating, cost, power, noise, reliability, efficiency, and good ol’ ease of use when looking at components.

=> It’s definitely a whole lot easier to go buy a Dell – particularly a top desktop like the XPS, and especially their PowerEdge servers.   You’ll pay for the convenience, naturally; but you’ll get a high-performance system instantly.  For me, taking the time to learn about the latest in computer technologies and hand-select a top-performing system was a lot of fun.

=> As a software architect by profession, it’s important to understand the details of computer architecture: how the components operate, communicate, and coordinate their jobs within the computer.   As a tech guy, I’m frequently asked for advice by friends and family on what systems or components to buy, so it’s nice to be informed and able to share well-reasoned advice.

Needs

If you’re trying to make sense out of this post (and a million other out there), it will surely help you to understand what I am looking for in this system.

  • I don’t need an “extreme” gaming-style rig, which would spike the price, suck more power, and almost certainly make more noise.   No super-overclocking motherboards, gotta-be-faster-than-you RAM, or frag-you-more dual Crossfire video card configurations.
  • I wanted a quiet, powerful, flexible system, just short of extreme: it would do everything well and last for about five years at least.

I wanted to be mindful of a computer’s primary performance bottlenecks, attacking them in a balanced fashion.  I would no more want to pair a world-class processor with slow memory than I would want a fancy graphics card when I really need a faster hard drive.

Without further ado, the components and their runners-up…

imageThe processor: Intel Core i7-860

The Core i7-860 is an all-around top performer that bests its close competitor the i7-920 in most benchmarks and uses less energy.  For a summary of the differences and why I chose the i7-860, read this article.

    Pros Cons
This is the one I chose Core i7-860, $250 Well-loved everywhere, bests i7-920 in most benchmarks, uses less energy Costs a little more initially than i7-920
  Core i7-920, $220
Core i7-930, $250
Excellent processor, almost statistically identical to the i7-860 Uses more energy, fewer & more expensive motherboards, requires RAM in banks of three
  Core i5-750, $180 Very close to i7-920 and i7-860, while less expensive. A great option if you’re cutting costs. No hyperthreading, so appears to OS as four cores instead of eight

image The motherboard: ASUS P7P55D-E

The ASUS P7P55D-E motherboard is a midrange, classic choice from a top manufacturer.  While the “midrange” designation stung for a while – who wants to be midrange? — it’s midrange only in that it lacks extra bells and whistles (dual Crossfire/SLI, dual network cards, 10-channel sound) that most of us don’t need; and it doesn’t cost as much.

This “E” series motherboard from ASUS has everything I need, plus adding a bit of future-proofing by supporting the next round of USB and SATA standards: USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0.

=> I didn’t have any problem paying for features I needed;  but I’d rather buy features that would really contribute to the overall performance of the computer.  Think fast GPU or solid-state drive (SSD).

Selecting the motherboard was the most difficult task after selecting the processor itself.  There are a myriad of options to sort through, including support for RAM, number and type of PCI card slots, max number of hard drives supported, and various permutations of audio, network, and USB/FireWire support.

My primary sources were the reviews on NewEgg.com, supplemented by expert reviews on top technical sites like AnandTech.com , TomsHardware.com , and a few others.   I looked through the NewEgg reviews and discounted boards that had too many DOA comments (board died), compatibility issues, or just too many negative ratings.

=> When it comes to user product reviews, there’s always a sprinkling of haters who are apparently never satisfied with anything.   I keep this in mind when reading product reviews.   Some people are determined not to be happy…

In the LGA 1156 arena (the socket type mandated by my choice of the Core i7-860 processor), there are a lot of choices.   Reviewing the many options, I decided that what I didn’t want was:

  • I won’t need dual GPU’s (graphics cards) running at full speed.  A major feature divide in the motherboard set is whether it supports dual Crossfire or SLI, meaning you can have two GPUs installed and running at full tilt.   Most GPUs today support dual monitors, which is fine for me.
  • I won’t need maximum overclockability.  I do definitely want to be able to play around with overclocking.  It seems like it would be fun to tweak system settings.   Some motherboards (ASUS Maximus III) have featuresets created with the extreme overclocker in mind.  Not me.
  • I won’t need anything too fancy.  Dual network interface cards (NICs), huge number of PCI Express x16 slots (the best & fastest), flashy LED lights on the motherboard, 10-channel sound – all cool, but not required.

What I did want out of the board:

  • I did want to future-proof it with USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gb/sec interfaces.  USB 3.0 has a massive bandwidth and power increase over USB 2.0.  In three to five years, USB 3.0 devices will be cheap and plentiful.  The same can be said for SATA 6 Gb/sec interfaces.  I could always buy a USB 3.0 card later for probably $30, but why not get it integrated now?
  • I did want RAID support.  RAID makes it easy to defend against a single hard drive failure (RAID-1, “mirroring”) , as well as increase performance (RAID-0, “striping”).  I plan to have four 500 GB drives striped and mirrored in a RAID-10 array, giving me the best of both worlds.  (Note: if you just want basic RAID variants, Windows 7 and WS 2008 have support for RAID-0, 1, 5, etc.  More advanced RAID style  like RAID+10 – mirroring and striping – require motherboard support or 3rd-party RAID adapters.)
  • I did want support for fast memory.  Today’s major computing bottleneck is not in the processor, it’s in the communication between the CPU and the memory.  While giant strides have been made in processor architectures, memory latency has seen far less improvement.  I wanted fast memory and the ability to use it;  this translated to selecting boards that supported at least DDR3 1600.  Most of the boards do support this, btw.

Here are the finalists in the motherboard category, narrowed down from many more.  They’re all top-rated boards:

    Pros Cons
This is the one I chose ASUS P7P55D-E, $140. Highly rated version of the P7P55D standard, but adds support for USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0. None for me!
  Asus P7P55 SuperComputer, $240. Excellently rated;  offers huge extensibility through its five PCIe x16 slots.  Reviewers raving about the excellent build quality. Relatively expensive and generally overkill. I just don’t need that much extensibility.
  Asus Maximus III, $250. Well liked, with tons of overclocking options Aimed at the enthusiast overclocker;  overkill for me.
  GIGABYTE GA-P55A-UD4P, $195. Excellently rated board with USB 3.0, SATA 6 Gb/sec, and supporting high-speed dual GPUs. None;  this was a runner-up, and in the end, I wanted to buy an Asus board because of their reputation.

I also considered other ASUS motherboards in the P7P55-E family. These included the “Pro” and “Premium” designations.   In general, they all were excellently reviewed, but simply had more features than I needed: most of the options were fast dual GPU support (e.g. dual x8 Crossfire: two PCIe x16 slots that degrade gracefully to x8 in dual GPU config); enhanced audio; more PCIe slots (and typically fewer legacy PCI slots).  In my case, I felt the extra money could better be put to use for extra RAM, another hard drive (or a faster one), or a better graphics card.

  • ASUS P7P55D-E Premium, $290.  Dual GPU-capable @ x8, USB 3.0 + SATA 6 Gbps, 4 x PCIe, 2 x PCI, 10-channel audio, dual NICs.
  • ASUS P7P55D-E Pro, $200.  Dual GPU-capable @ x8, USB 3.0 + SATA 6 Gbps,  5 x PCIe, 2 x PCI, 8-channel audio, single NIC.
  • ASUS P7P55D-E, $140.  Dual GPU-capable @ x4, USB 3.0 + SATA 6 Gbps,  5 x PCIe, 2 x PCI, 8-channel audio, single NIC.  (This was the board I chose.)

Lastly, I ruled out all the non-“E” ASUS motherboards (e.g. P7P55D/Pro/Premium) because they did not have USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps.

image Memory (RAM): G.SKILL RipJaws

With the motherboard selection out of the way, the RAM was pretty easy.   With memory, I was looking for:

  • Compatibility.  I wanted to throw the memory in my new motherboard and have no issues or hassles.
  • Speed.  I wanted the fastest possible RAM without being “extreme” and hockey-sticking the price.  DDR3 1600 seemed to be the standard here.
  • Robustness.  While overclocking was not my prime objective, I did want the flexibility to play with it.  So I wanted RAM that would tolerate OC’ing well.

There are a ton of RAM choices out there, so feel free to browse away.  I spent the least amount of time looking at RAM options, since I just wanted it to best fast and stable.  My selection and the runners-up:

    Pros Cons
This is the one I chose G.SKILL RipJaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB), $115. Excellently reviewed, fast RAM with heat management. Plus, they look cool. None for me!
  G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB), $105. Excellently reviewed, fast RAM. None
  Corsair Dominator 4GB (2 x 2GB), $150. Excellently reviewed, high-end RAM with great heat management for OC’ing. A little expensive

XFX Radeon HD 4650 Graphics card (GPU): XFX RADEON 4650

My goal for the graphics card was to be capable and well matched to the rest of the system.  Since I’m not a gamer or a professional videographer, I wouldn’t need a top-of-the-food-chain GPU.   But with the rise of video and the convergence of TV and the internet, I wanted to be able to at least play full-screen HD content flawlessly.  On my old PC, a Dell PowerEdge 400SC server with an aged ATI Radeon 9600 card, I couldn’t play HD content on YouTube without an occasional stutter.

Desktop GPUs have become big business:  modern GPUs are basically little computers-on-a-card.  They have dedicated processors on them, up to 1 GB RAM, dedicated cooling systems, and in some cases, even require dedicated connections from the power supply.

In fact, there are a ton of cards out there which are power hogs and can significantly increase the energy consumption of the entire PC.  The high-end graphics market seems to be dominated by gamers (more power to you), who are typically playing mano-a-mano first-person combat games with each other over the internet.  They need high frame rates and blazing graphics speed.   But some of these top-end graphics cards explicitly require 500-watt or 600-watt power supplies.

What I personally wanted of out a graphics card:

  • Dual monitor outputs. If you haven’t experienced the joy of a dual-monitor setup, you don’t know what you’re missing.  The good news is that most cards out there today support dual outputs.
  • DVI interface. There are two basic types of connections from a PC’s graphics card: VGA (older; analog) and DVI (newer; digital).  Moving forward, I won’t be needing the older analog VGA connections.  If you have digital displays, e.g. an LCD or other non-tube display, there’s little sense in sending anything but a digital signal to it.  With a VGA signal, the GPU card has to first convert the digital info (from the computer) to an analog signal (the VGA output), then the monitor has to take the analog VGA signal and convert it back into digital form again.
  • Ability to play full-screen HD content. There’s a tsunami of HD content on the way, but even watching YouTube videos at HD is fun now.
  • Reasonable power consumption. No power hogs.
  • Quiet. I didn’t want a GPU with a noisy fan.  Silence is golden.

There are a ton of highly rated choices out there between $100 and $200.  The NewEgg crowd seemed to especially like cards by XFX and EVO.   I chose the XFX because it seemed to have everything I wanted.  At the very worst, I could buy a more capable card if needed, and I’d have a spare graphics card.

My choice, with the runners-up:

    Pros Cons
This is the one I chose XFX Radeon HD 4650, $55. Very capable, very quiet, and very affordable. Reviewers seemed to love it; they confirmed that  it could run full 1080P HD content (1920 x 1280), and many mentioned it did fine with gaming. This is a budget card as GPUs go
  XFX Radeon HD 4850, $140. Highly rated, a ton of memory (1 GB), quiet, reasonably priced, and moderate energy requirements (450W power supply).  Looks beastly cool. More expensive
  EVGA GeForce 9800 GTX, $135. Similar to the XFX HD 4850 (above). Fast and powerful.  NewEggers bought this in droves, judging by the number of reviews (900+). More expensive; half the memory (512 MB) of the XFX HD 4850; more noisy than the XFX card?

Power supply

I had a relatively new Antec True Power 430W lying around; after doing a little research on the web, it turns out the Antec 430W supply is an excellent, high-quality, low noise power supply (if you’re interested, you can see AnandTech’s review from 2003).   It seemed like a waste to just leave it sitting around, so I decided to try it.  If the Antec reviews had been anything but stellar, I would have invested in a new supply.

Getting a good power supply is important for the life of a computer: it has to provide clean, stable power to the sensitive system components.  If you want your home-built system to last, don’t scrimp on the power supply.  Apparently most RAM failures are due to electrical overvoltage issues.  It has a reasonably tough task to do: converting the oscillating 120V signal (in the US) from the wall into varying DC voltages of 3.3V, 5V, and 12V.

=> It’s highly recommended you use some form of UPS, battery backup or power conditioning to protect your system.  For my critical servers, I have an APC Smart-UPS, which provides backup battery and power conditioning;  but at minimum, use something like a APC Back-UPS, which provides outage, surge and spike protection.

A power supply should be rated to support the maximum demands of your system at full load.  If the power supply cannot keep up, it will just shut down the system.  The main power-hungry components by far are the CPU and the graphics card.  Reasonable guidelines today would seem to be 450W (minimum), 500W to 650W (mid-range), and 700W to 1000W for the high end.

=> When in doubt, buy more power supply than less.  A high-rated power supply does not use more energy than a lower-rated supply for the same load, in general.  E.g. a 650W supply doesn’t use more electricity than a 450W supply.

Besides providing adequate power to run the computer, here are some desirable features in power supplies today:

  • Active PFC. I don’t understand all the details of active PFC, but it seems to enable more efficient power supplies. Widely available today.
  • Quiet operation. Achieved mainly through the use of fans designed for silent operation.
  • Modular cables. Prevents case clutter:  unneeded modular cables can be detached and stored, whereas non-modular cables must be tied and otherwise managed within the case.
  • Under/overvoltage protection.  Protects the system against sudden spikes or drops in AC voltage.  Like when you turn the vacuum cleaner on.
  • Energy efficiency. A power supply is converting from AC voltage to DC voltage, and the conversion is not perfect. The higher the efficiency, the less power wasted (and heat generated).  Greener power supplies will have a Bronze, Silver, or Gold energy certification, but will cost more than non-certified PS’s.
  • Connectors.  How many SATA hard drive power plugs are there, or fan plugs, etc. coming off the PS?  Not really a big issue, since the real issue is power, and cheap adapters can easily easily be bought to provide more plugs of any type.  Be aware that some of the mid- to high-end graphics cards require a direct four- or six-pin connection from the power supply.

Antec BP550 is a great value There are a lot of choices out there.  A basic i7-860 system (or other Core i3/i5/i7 system, such as a i7-920 or i5-750) without an over-torqued graphics card will probably never use more than about 200-250W;  but to be safe and to enable extensibility, it seems prudent to pair it with a 450W or so power supply, minimum.

So I began my search for power supplies with active PFC and 500-600 watts of power.  Some of the favorites the NewEggers love include Corsairs (voted “Best Power Supply Manufacturer in 2009” by PC Magazine) and Antecs (“Most Reliable Power Supply Brand,” PC World France), Zalman, and Rosewill, among others.

In the mid-range arena, these were the most highly rated, reliable, and quiet power supplies that I found.

    Pros Cons
  Antec BP550 Plus 550W, $70. Highly rated, modular cables.  Not advertised as having a quiet fan, but reviewers’ consensus was “very quiet.”   (I bought this one for my next build) Not energy certified – but seems close enough.
  Antec earthwatts EA500 500W, $70. Highly rated, 80 PLUS-certified energy efficiency, low noise cooling fan. Non-modular cables.
  Corsair CMPSU-650TX 650W, $100. Very highly rated, thermally controlled fan, 80 PLUS-certified, lots of cables. Slightly more expensive; non-modular cables.

Conclusions

I sifted through hundreds of user feedback comments, scores of products, and a lot of detailed product reviews on the web to build a stable, powerful, quiet, affordable supercomputer based around an Intel Core i7-860 processor.

There are a ton of computer components out there with every conceivable option you could want.   When I chose this system, I wanted to make sure I had the dollars invested in all the right places to end up with a balanced set of matched components without any major bottlenecks.  Since I had some spare parts available, I was able to put together for around only $600.

Hopefully this article will help you save some time!

=> In the next article:  I’ll provide an update on the actual build experience.

image


References

Power Supplies

Graphics Cards (GPUs)

Additional Notes

In browsing and selecting from the many components available, I made heavy use of NewEgg’s wish lists.  I created a wishlist for each of the system component types: motherboard, RAM, GPU, and power supplies.  As I searched through products and read reviews, I would add leading contenders to the wish list for later consideration. This way, I could efficiently narrow down my search.

What NewEgg could really use is a product feature comparator to compare similar products side-by-side.  For example, Intel’s CPU comparison wizard is great.  Are you listening, NewEgg?

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25 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rudolf on March 26, 2010 at 5:12 am

    Why are you choosing DDR3-1600 ?
    In the specification http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=41316 intel states :
    memory types DDR3 1066/1333.
    So will the 1600 not just being used as 1333 ?

    Reply

  2. Hi Rudolf: well, it’s a good question, and to be honest, I had to do some digging to find the answer. The first part of the answer is many motherboards support overclocking the memory controller to take advantage of faster memory.

    The second part of the answer is that, unfortunately, it doesn’t really seem to make a difference in performance. Tom’s Hardware wrote a great article on the best memory for the Core i7 (see below), and their conclusion when comparing DDR3-800 with DDR3-1600 is that the most difference it will ever make is a few percentage points, but that most apps will see no improvement.

    Personally, I bought the DDR3-1600 G.SKILL memory because it was within $10 or so of the cheapest 2 x 2GB purchases AND it had great NewEgg community ratings. But thanks for the question, I learned something tonight. — Keith

    Core i7 Memory Scaling: From DDR3-800 to DDR3-1600:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/memory-scaling-i7,2325.html

    Reply

  3. Thank you a million times for carefully writing about the i7 860! Your pages are much better than any notes I could take, and since I’ve already made expensive drive/PSU/graphics/Windows 7 updates to my old Dell XPS410, I can’t stand the thought of spendinf $1,000 on a cheapy HP or Dell to get a 2nd PC that doesn’t fit the bill.

    Because of you, I’m going to stick it out, save up for the parts and make (or get help from the local PC shop) my own custom PC for my video editing.

    Again, your time spent on this saved me a lot of headache, money, and definitely an impulse buy!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Harilal K on July 11, 2010 at 5:41 am

    Thanks for the article on i7 860. But I have a question. If i7 8xx series is better than i7 9xx series, then why the price difference. What does the 8xx series stand for and what does the 9xx series stand for. Which is more future proof.

    Where do you rate the i7 880 when you compare it with i7 860. What does i7 875K stand for. Is it better than i7 870 or i7 880. What are the equivalent processors in the 9xx series which is as good as the i7 860, i7 870 and the i7 880 in total overall performance.

    Finally…. Which is better i7 8xx or i7 9xx. [ Total overall performance and Future proof ]

    Reply

    • I assume you’ve read the i7-860/870 vs. i7-920/930 post at http://j.mp/9weyOT? The general conclusion is that only those with specific very-high-performance needs are going to care about the difference between the two. The i7-860 is slightly faster in most benchmarks, and requires less power; the i7-920 has slightly higher memory bandwidth and is generally considered easier to overclock (advanced users only will care about this).

      The i7-880, and other “extreme” variants run at slightly higher clock speeds but are very much more costly. ($500+ for the i7-880 currently.) Why pay when you can overclock fairly easily? The ASUS P7P55D-E motherboard I bought comes with easy to use, idiot-safe overclocking software. My i7-860 is running comfortably at 3.6 GHz and believe me, it’s plenty fast. (Buy an aftermarket CPU cooler.)

      All of these processors and options are “future proof” — in the sense that they should be performant for roughly 4-5 years. Neither socket choice alone will “future proof” you — e.g. LGA 1156 or LGA 1366. For one, I’ll eat my hat if Intel doesn’t have a new LGA package in four years, if not three; and secondly, how many people do you know that are going to rip out a perfectly good i7-860 or i7-930 in two or so years and replace it with the latest hex-core CPU? Save your money for a fast SSD or a RAID-10 array.

      Good luck & let me know how it turns out, Keith

      Reply

  5. Posted by Bdubs on August 6, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Keith in the X58 / Core I7 9–s you wrote “requires RAM in banks of three” this is not correct. You can run them in dual channel (2 sticks). This is not a con. It can be run either way. In the whole of things there was GREAT HYPE over tripple channel and faster DDR3 speeds but real world there is little difference (sorry over spenders) tightly timed DDR3800 or 1066 for less $$ is the winner.
    ===========
    you wrote: “Core i5-750, $180 Very close to i7-920 and i7-860, while less expensive. A great option if you’re cutting costs. No hyperthreading, so appears to OS as four cores instead of eight ” – I commented on the previous pages it appears as 8 cores with your I7’s but “effectively you might be getting the performance increase of 1/2 a core. Not nothing but HT is a lot of hype like triple channel memory (at this point).

    ==========
    “I won’t need dual GPU’s (graphics cards) running at full speed. A major feature divide in the motherboard set is whether it supports dual Crossfire or SLI, meaning you can have two GPUs installed and running at full tilt. Most GPUs today support dual monitors, which is fine for me. ”
    P55 (core i7 860 & I5) motherboards do support those, just at lower bandwidth. say 8x 8x in the best case (some are 16x & 4x so read the manual before buying). BUT 8x & 8x crossfired for example is ONLY 5% performance loss compared to 16x & 16x capapble X58 motherboard.
    So that’s not too bad at all!!
    ===========
    But some of these top-end graphics cards explicitly require 500-watt or 600-watt power supplies.
    Well my 5 year old ATI All in wonders had 400 Watt “requirements” when the power draw was actually under 100W max load. Too many people out in the real world bought crappy power supplies that aren’t providing clean stable power at the levels needed. Graphics card manufacturers have been over rating the necessary “requirements” for more than a decade as a result. It’s true that the truly HIGH END cards have become real power hoggs and they really do need beefy (quality) power supplies to handle there demands. But your hd 4650 is not anything like that coupled with your whole system your 430 Earthwatts is MORE than enough. If you have doubts take a Kill A Watt or other power meter and plug it into the wall, then subtract ~20% for loss of power ineffciency that the EA 430 is rated at ( 80% effecient) and you have your systems true power draw. Now fire up a bench mark program or two, or a high entense game and you get a good idea of your true power needs.

    Keep in mind the difference between what is drawn from the outlet and the amount of power that the components of your system are actually using. For example if you system is drawing ~275 Watts of power, it’s going to read ~330 Watts on the Kill A Watt or similar meter. Because of the extra power that is drawn but lost due to ineffeciencies of the Power supply…

    Reply

  6. Posted by Bdubs on August 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    – Also note that when using USB 3.0 on many of these boards ( it is tied to the PCI-E bandwidth, so using a single Graphics card 16X with USB2.0 becomes, 8x with USB3.0 and if you are using multiple cards the penalty is far worse. Similar things happen with some X58 motherboards. HOWEVER, if you shop around there are some boards. I found one from ASUS – AsRock x58 mobo that does not have that penalty). So shop carefully, USB 3.0 roll out was not a clean event on all boards.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Stephen Harris on September 18, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    My research led to the ATC8-840 power supply, which was the closest I found to the Mac Pro,
    which is held in high esteem. It uses a different air flow design and I think might work better for someone who places a bit more emphasis on video editing. I liked your website because I’m looking around to build a system. Your comments about the Dell systems were more favorable than most I’ve seen recently.

    Reply

  8. Hi! I’m just a 12 years old. I’m planning on making a computer and these are the parts:
    Core i7 860 = CPU
    Asus P755D-E ATX or Asus Rampage III = Mobo
    ATI HD 4770 or ATI HD 4770 or XFX HD 4850 = Graphic Card
    Coolermaster Silent Pro M600 (RS-600-AMBA-D3) or Antec Earthwatts EA 500 500W = Power Sup.
    Kingston HyperX blu = Ram
    Raidmax Aura Case – Black = Case

    Am I missing any parts essential for a computer?
    If you have any suggestions, I am willing to consider it.

    Do you have any suggestion of a 18-22 ” monitor supporting HDMI and HD?
    Thank you very much Keith for your post , it helps me ALOT!
    Please reply, I’m building it on Friday 29th October 2010
    Thanks,
    Best

    Reply

    • You don’t mention budget or purpose, which makes it a little difficult to advise you. The basic system looks good. But a few comments: I would get a Core i7-870 (http://amzn.to/aQzlXX) these days instead of an i7-860, just because they’re at the same price point.

      Since you’re reading my blog, I assume you’ve seen my SSD post (http://computingkeith.com/2010/08/03/ssd-are-you-experienced/) — this is one of the best upgrades you can make to a computer. You can get a good 80-128GB SSD for ~$200 US for your boot drive, then use cheaper spinning hard drives for additional storage.

      In general, monitors are pretty inexpensive these days… the ViewSonic VX2250WM is highly rated on Amazon at around ~$200: http://amzn.to/cAd7mT. Good luck & let me know what you pick! Keith

      P.S. It’s October now and my i7-860 has been running wonderfully fast without any issues at all for quite a while now (after I replaced that RAID-10 array with an SSD).

      Reply

      • Keith,
        Maybe I won’t get a 870, I’d probably get a i7 950. Do you have any suggestions on middle range graphic cards? Not too pricey, I’m looking at the HD 4870 or the GTS 250. Also, do you have any suggestions for the mobo? My purpose is some gaming (Special Force or Soldier Front) and maybe some Starcraft II. I’ll also be using Sony vegas pro, fraps, and all the other vids for video shooting and editing. I have my eye on the Dell SX Series SX2210 for the monitor.
        Thanks a lot,
        Best

        I’m from Thailand though.

  9. Posted by Prodip Ch Roy on October 30, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Please tell me frankly how your gfx card HD 4650 is functioning. I’m not a gamer; I do only photoshop and occasional home video editing. Do you think HD 5570 would be slightly better for my job? My budget for the card is below $100.

    Reply

  10. Posted by glenn on December 5, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Hi keith,

    This is a great article! Just like you, I had already built an i7 860 back in March 2010 at the same time that you wrote this article. I have a 500 Watt power supply and I usually have 10 websites opened and at the same time playing Windows Media and YouTube videos in Windows 7. My system shut downs without warning. I did some research and read your article and realized that I need a 650W or 750W power supply in order to keep the system running without shutting down again.

    Thanks for shareing your experience!

    Glenn

    Reply

  11. Posted by Louis E. on January 9, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Of course the prices in March are not the prices today…following your links,the difference between the motherboard you picked and the “SuperComputer” version has shrunk from $100 to $40,for example…would you still make the same decisions now?…or once the Sandy Bridge launch has knocked down the i7-9xx prices?

    Reply

    • Hi Louis,

      Thanks for pointing that out… the ASUS P7P55 SuperComputer mobo has dropped from $240 to $190. The short answer is that it certainly makes it more worthy of consideration. A couple things to consider: do you actually need all those five PCIe x16 slots? If you do, then you’re in luck with the $50 price drop. (I’m perfectly happy with the P7P55D-E mobo, never had any issues, still have several spare slots, including a PCIe x16.)

      The other thing I’m fond of advocating in a balanced system, as readers of this blog surely know, is that you should be looking at including for an SSD in your build. I would never recommend spending extra bucks on flashy mobo features if you haven’t budgeted for an SSD. The overall system feel is dramatically more responsive than with a legacy, spinning HD.

      Lastly, on the Sandy Bridge issue: it all depends on where you are in the buying cycle. If you can hold off, then you naturally might see a price drop in Lynnfield and Bloomfield chipsets and mobos. But the reality is that these CPUs are already so inexpensive that even a 20% drop (~$50) over 6 months is only pocket change per month. Almost a year later, my i7-860 with SSD is still BY FAR the fastest machine I have worked on, period, even through two or three enterprise consulting gigs, and still loads most apps off the SSD drive in around one second.

      So it all depends on your situation ;-). Best of luck, let us know what you decide! Keith

      Reply

      • Posted by Louis E. on February 2, 2011 at 6:44 pm

        And now I note that the motherboard you chose is routinely out of stock (they keep postponing availability)…but memory prices are significantly lower.

      • Posted by Louis E. on April 21, 2011 at 2:28 am

        Updating further…all the graphics card links come back “Out of Stock-Deactivated”,as do all the motherboards except for the P7P55DE-Pro (now $180).Pretty soon your machine will be all old tech!

  12. Posted by Louis E. on January 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Timing is still up in the air,but I’m looking at a replacement for my mother’s 9-year-old 2.4GHz Pentium 4 (which has “integrated graphics”,but not in the Sandy Bridge way).On the one hand anything Intel still sells will be a major improvement but on the other hand I want to future-proof enough based on her likely holding onto a new computer for a similar period.(I’m the same way with my BSD servers).Its gagging on Youtube videos may be more a function of the 512MB RAM than anything else (HP offers RAM upgrades at $30/GB,I remember when 16K RAM cost $529 on an S-100 card and of course that was for a 2MHz 8-bit processor!).

    I note that the Sandy Bridge chips and the I7-8xx chips both use less power than the i7-9xx chips.HP just rejiggered their product line today but still offers power supplies smaller than the graphics cards they offer recommend,and I’m hoping a build vs buy could beat their prices.Of course new stuff keeps coming out all the time.Not sure what will be the final push over the edge,but I’d want the new one to handle similar longevity.

    Reply

    • Funny, when I started this quest I was replacing a 2.4 GHz Intel P4 system, too. If all your Mom needs to do is surf the web, read e-mail, and watch YouTube videos, then an i7-860/870 will easily last five to the fabled eight years; trust me.

      Here’s what I would do in your situation to future-proof and get the max life out of the computer: make sure you get a motherboard that supports USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0 Gbps — both these technologies are coming into desktop production about now. To keep costs down, you can optionally build/buy the system with a spinning hard drive (7200 RPM, never lower!). In four or five years, the hard drive and lack of RAM will be the major bottlenecks; replace the legacy HD with a 2015-era SATA 6.0 SSD, which will cost a pittance of what it would cost today — and will be much larger — and double the RAM from 4 GB to 8 GB for probably around $30 to $50. Then this rejuvenated system will probably easily make it for another three years.

      But if cash isn’t an issue, and your Mom likes speed — you can always get the SSD now. Otherwise she’ll never miss it — until 2015, that is.

      Keith

      Reply

      • Posted by Louis E. on September 16, 2011 at 4:06 pm

        Just checking,when you say “2015-era SATA 6.0 SSD” do you mean a 6Gb/s SATA Revision 3.0 drive or a future version 6 of SATA (which is unlikely to happen by 2015)?…I know there’s supposed to be a 12 Gb/s version of SAS by then,but am thinking the state of the art upgrade (probably in 2016-7 since I’m figuring the newbuild would be in 2012) would be a PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD-card.

        Checking other things,ALL your motherboard options now come back discontinued (as does your first link to the CPU).Newegg’s Radeon XFX 1GB graphics card prices now include a 4670 and a 6450 that rach rebate from $50 to $30,the latter with newer memory and PCIe specs,the former with free shipping,and a 6670 that rebates from $84 to $64 (the GDDR5 version however rebates from $100 to $80).

      • Posted by Louis E. on January 7, 2012 at 12:35 am

        So much has changed since this dialogue began…many of your components have reached “end of life”,and sadly,last month my mother reached the end of hers after a brief but brutal battle with pneumonia and heart failure.

        I still want to make a newbuild this year but I’ll never be able to show her the advances in the state of the art.

  13. Posted by Louis E. on January 10, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Meanwhile,the graphics card alternatives have changed…your first choice is still at that price,but the two you didn’t pick are discontinued.There’s a different XFX Radeon 1GB 4850 for $115 but you can get a 1GB 5670 for $100 (or $80 for 512MB,but your chosen 4650 is a 1GB card).

    Reply

    • Posted by Louis E. on May 19, 2011 at 10:19 pm

      The graphics card options are really tumbling.Sticking with 1GB Radeon-based cards from XFX at Newegg,you can now get a 6670 for $84,or a 5670 that rebates from $73 to $58,or a 6450 for $57,or a 4670 that rebates from $50 to $35(and is on the older PCIe 2.0 standard rather than 2.1).

      Reply

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