New Year, New Toys

02 Jan 2011

While it’s likely that in 2012 I’ll be voting “four more years”, I’ll be voting for “four more cores” in 2011. The major plumbing of my current desktop is aging (oh noes, it’s 2 years old!) but those are stuffed into the shell of an older system, dating back 5-6 years. To be quick about the specs:

  • GigaByte GA-EP45T-DS3R LGA 775
  • Intel E8400 Wolfdale @ 3.16ghz
  • 2×1GB 1600mhz DDR3 Crucial Ballistix SDRAM
  • 550W Corsair PSU

It runs 4 drives, ranging in size from 80gb to 1TB, totalling 1.8TB of storage. These are all of varying ages, and some are showing their age better than others. The sound card, dvd-drive, floppy (!!), and lian-li case are also of varying ages with the sound card (a snazzy emu10k1 chip with hardware mixing) dating back to 2002.

So, my major goals for the new build are:

  • Replace everything — my current desktop will only be pillaged for its 1TB drive
  • Create a system that’s as future-proof as one could possibly make it
  • Make it pretty. Spend a little extra time/money on cable management.

With that in mind, here’s what I’ve pieced together from the ground up:

  • Case: Lian-Li PC-A05NB : You can’t beat Lian-Li for build quality, features, or looks. This case is mini-ATX sized but fits a full size ATX motherboard. It has a front, low mounting PSU, and case flow is inverted (intake is in the back). It’s also a little wider than their usual offerings, which makes putting in “sufficient” cooling a lot more feasible.
  • Power Supply: SilverStone Strider 80 Plus Gold 750W : This a single rail unit that offers higher than 80% efficiency at idle, peaking at 90%. Efficiency is important. I don’t buy the garbage about dual rail units being better, particularly in a non-SLI setup. High quality components will provide the amperage for components when they request it, without needing to worry about balancing output with a second rail. A single rail also lends to higher efficiency due to less chance for leakage. SilverStone offers a short cable kit with this PSU which I snatched up.
  • Motherboard: Asus P6X58D-E LGA : This was a tough call. My last builds have used Gigabyte boards and for a while I was considering the X58A-UD3R, but consumer reviews seem to imply that GigaByte’s QA has been slipping somewhat. Asus was my initial supplier for my early builds dating back to high school and their quality apparently hasn’t slipped. The board itself is somewhat less featureful than other socket 1366 boards, but it provides what I need and nothing else. I don’t need eSATA, I don’t need 2 onboard NICs, and I certainly don’t need 4 PCI-E slots. What I do want is: reliability, SATA3 and USB3. Asus, you’ve won me back.
  • Memory: G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 12GB : G.SKILL is entirely new to me, but they’ve been in the business for a while and have grown popular in the performance segment. My previous builds used either Crucial Ballistix or Corsair XMS, but I can’t say I’m married to either. These chips are spec’d at 1600mhz, and should provide for a nice (sane) OC on the Asus board.
  • CPU: Intel Core i7 980x EE : If you’re going to claim your build is something resembling “future-proof”, you can’t skimp here. Hail to the king, baby. Gulftown is going to be a better buy (performance wise) than any of the upcoming Sandy Bridge based offerings clear through Q1 and Q2 of this year. And, it remains to be seen if the Q3 chips will be competitive with the 980×. None of the mainstream Sandy Bridge chips will be hexa-core, nor will they see the same oversized L3 caches as Gulftown. Also, Intel won’t be moving to their 22nm manufacturing process until 2012 at the earliest. Despite the price, I couldn’t say no to this one.
  • Heatsink/Fan: Noctua NH-D14 : I enjoy the outrageousness of the air cooling segment. This is an enormous 6 heat-pipe copper/aluminum design sandwiched together with an equally large dual fan setup — 140mm and 120mm. Noctua did a great job packing this much heat dissipation into a small enough package, and the fans are quiet — no more than 20dBa.
  • SSD: Corsair Force F90 : There really only seems to be 2 choices for reasonably priced (I’m looking at you, Z-Disk) reliable SSDs right now: buy Sandforce, or ante up and buy an SLC disk like the intel X-25. Sandforce it is. SATA2 SSDs are nearing the peak of what the interface itself can handle, and SATA3 drives are still too much in their infancy to trust (nor is Sandforce offering antyhing in a SATA3 flavor). I expect that I’ll replace this a year from now with a SATA3 unit.
  • HDD: WD Caviar Black SATA2 2TB : Not much to say here. 64mb cache, SATA2 performance (as if that matters on a rotational disk), and plenty of space. I’m a little weary of putting all my eggs in one basket compared to my current multi-disk setup, but that’ll be solved a few months down the road when I build a proper RAID-based NAS.
  • Sound Card: M-AUDIO Audiophile 2496 : I’ve got one of these cards in the HTPC I build for my parents and it’s a phenomenal sounding card. The RCA outputs are an aural joy, despite being analog. Feeding crap from onboard sound through a high-quality optical line doesn’t make it sounds high-quality. It just sound less bad than if you were to shove it through a 1/8" mini jack. I started hoarding FLAC over mp3 some time ago, so I’d like to hear the difference.
  • Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTS 450 : This should have been a BFG Tech card, but sadly BFG decided to go out of business. Those bastards. It also would have been nice to have grabbed a single slot card, but so be it. Dual DVI is a must, HDMI is meh, and the price point is just right for my needs.

And then we throw in some case fans: a Noctua NF-P12 for the exhaust and a SilverStone AP121 for the intake.

And now as Tom Petty might say — the waiting is the hardest part. Expect a build log with pretty pictures by the end of the month.

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