Friday, April 01, 2005

A More Detailed Rundown

Last Friday night, I stayed up until 3:30AM at, picking out the individual parts for my computer. I finally went to bed, but when I got up in the morning--and got dressed, and ate, etc., so by then it was afternoon seeing as I had slept in--I finished my selection and submitted the order. All week I've been waiting for the pieces to arrive. Most of it got here Wednesday, and hopefully it'll all be here by Friday. What follows is an account of what I ordered and why.

The first piece I selected was the microporcessor. I chose the AMD Athlon 64 3200 Socket 939 ($), for reasons discussed in the last post, that I don't want to repeat myslef too much. I wanted a system that would be sleek and powerful. Gentoo has an AMD64 version of its distro, and with Gentoo, everything is compiled on my machine, specifically for my processor, configured exactly how I want it to take full advantage of my system's hardware and software configuration. Or at least, so I've heard. So far, all I've done is read the online documentation, but believe me, it sounds awesome. I also wanted to challenge myself to get to know my way around a Linux system better.

Second, I chose a motherboard. I picked the DFI LANPARTY UT nF4 Ultra-D. I had to decide at this point whether or not I wanted to get something with SLI capability for my graphics card(s); I decided against it, because I really don't think I'm going to need that kind og graphics power, and I don't intend on using this with more than two displays simultaniously. I'm not much of a gamer, at least not on computers (that's what consoles are for), and I don't plan on ever booting Windows on this box (I hear you can get PC games to run under Linux, but I don't plan on trying). Besides, I plan on buying a decent enough video card that if I did want to game, I could, it just wouldn't be the best system on the planet. That's OK. I'm not optimizing this system for gaming. This motherboard has the nice benefit of being built for power-users, with excellent sound, USB, Firewire and Ethernet ports, and some nifty features like wake-on-LAN/mouse click/key press. It also has plenty of tools to make overclocking safe and easy. It has 5 configurable BIOS profiles that can be set at boot-time by pressing whichever key you chose to represent that profile. So I can overclock one day, and use Cool 'N Quiet the next. Nifty.

The next logical choice (because the decision is coupled to the motherboard, and so therefore I was shopping for both simultaniously) is the video card. I picked the MSI nVidia 6200TC-TD64E. This card has 64 MB of on-board video memory, but it can expand that using system RAM on demand up to 256MB. In addition, it has a VGA and a DVI (allowing for 2 monitors) plus an S-Video interface for HDTV out. This card does not support SLI, but then neither does my motherboard, so really I don't care, except that it makes it cheaper.

Okay I lied. The first thing I chose was actually the keyboard. I knew I would be ordering a computer, and I knew I wanted to use it with my digital projector, so the logical thing to do would be to sit on the couch with the keyboard in your lap. An ex-roommate of mine, Matt, had a little IR keyboard with a joystick in one corner and two mouse buttons in the other. It was the perfect size to fit in your lap to type or hold in your hands like a giant PSP to browse around. It didn't take long on google to find the Lite-on SK-7551 Wireless Infared Keyboard, which was absolutely perfect. Combined with the wake-on-key press/mouse click, this can be used to turn on and operate the computer from across the room, which is just what I need for MythTV, which I plan on setting up once I get my system going (and an HDTV tuner).

For system memory, I got the Corsair Value Select (Dual Pack) 184 Pin 512MBx2 DDR PC-3200 (for a total of 1024MB). Corsair is nice, because I've heard good things about their RAM and they come with a lifetime warranty, so if they turn out to be crap and fry, at least I can get more crappy RAM. I was tempted to get 2 1-Gig sticks, but they're a bit expensive, and I don't really think I'll need it that much. I could get more 512MB sticks (a total of 4), but then I couldn't run it dual channel.

I was going to pick up a DVD burner ar Fry's, but then I did a search for DVD+-RW +Dual-Layer burners, and they were cheaper at Newegg, plus no tax in Washington, so I went with the Lite-On 16X DVD Dual Drive. I already have a DL burner, but that one's for my laptop, and it would get jealous if I took its toys away to give to the new computer. I still love my laptop just the same as before, It's not a matter of loving one child computer more than the other; I love them each in a unique way for who they are.

I plan on using this system as a media server, and even to record HDTV shows, so I needed to get a big hard drive. In the past, all my hard drives have been IDE, but as I was looking at drives, I kept seeing this thing called Serial ATA or SATA. When I asked RFH (who knows a bit more about compouter hardware than I do (or maybe than I did at the outset of this adventure), he winced and said in his perpetual matter-of-fact announcer voice that I should probably stick with IDE, because I wouldn't be able to boot from SATA. Long story short, in RFH vs. several Google searches on the subject, Google wins. Not once did I find someone on a forum complaining that they'd gotten a SATA drive and couldn't boot from it. There were on the contrary several statements to the effect that "E-IDE vs. SATA" is a total toss-up, but SATA wins over becasue IDE has bulky cables that block airflow inside your box. SATA is a newer technology, and it's smaller and sleeker; both bus technologies can accommodate fast data rates. SATA has some nifty features such as RAID, which offers data redundancy, but that's mostly for servers. So anyway, I stepped out on the limb and got the Seagate 7200.8 250GB 7200RPM SATA NCQ Hard Drive. I bought Seagate because I already have a (160GB) Seagate drive and so far it's working out great. 250GB should be enough for the time being, I can always get another one if I need more space. In the very unlikely event that RFH was right and my system won't boot, I'll just stick the boot partition on my other aforementioned Seagate drive (which is IDE, and sitting in an external case hooked up to my laptop) and put all the OS-related partitions on that drive, while reserving the 250GB for user data. I might even end up buying another drive for that purpose anyway.

Now that I have all these parts picked out, I need a place to put them all. Picking a case was difficult, becasue I wanted it to look cool, but not flashy. I wanted it to be powerful and featureful, but not too expensive. In the end, I chose the JustPC Silver/DarkGray ATX Mid Tower Case With 450W PSU. I decided against having a transparent window on the side where you could see the innards (even though with a DFI motherboard if I dropped a black light in there everything would glow!) because This system will be used in the dark in conjunction with a projector, and any extra light might get annoying, no matter how cool it looked (although if it's black light and reflections, it won't be nearly as much of a problem as the blue LED on the actual projector that I had to all-but obscure with electrical tape). The case I bought has a temperature indicator, a side fan and air duct for the CPU fan to draw straight from the outside air. It has front microphone & headphone jacks, fron USB ports, nifty little covers for the drive bays that work like upside-down garage doors.

So there you have it. That's what I bought. The whole thing cost $838.96 (including shipping--there was no tax as the orders were all out of state). Newegg even threw in a free bright orange T-shirt so that I can use my body as a medium for thier advertisements. That's okay; I've turned into a total fanboy already. Look at this post. Half the links are to their site.

That's all for now, folks.

Next up: pictures of the assembly process!

1 comment:

  1. Yep! Just as I suspected - absolutely Geek Greek! Comprehensible only by fellow computer-minded folks, such as Beck's Dad. ~ Beck's Mom ~