Today I replaced my desktop personal computer. What would you choose for your desktop computer, a general purpose computer for Web development, experiments and emergency use?
This article is updated from an earlier page speculating on what i would buy.
Most sales people start by selling you a processor because that is the most profitable part. Current processors are faster than any other component. Spend less on the processor and use the saved money to make everything else faster.
Quiet is my first priority followed by some flexibility for future expansion. I have an Antec Sonata case that is quiet, not too big, and has more expansion space than I have ever used for a desktop workstartion or test server. The Antec Sonata Proto is the closest current case. The Antec Solo II is a more modern design with one more disk slot than I need. The Proto is no longer available.
The Solo II has space for both front and back fans and I will fit three 120mm super quiet fans running from the motherboard for automatic fan control.
I need space for two hard disks and an SSD. Both cases have a spot for an SSD. The Solo II can fit three hard disks, one more than I need, and the Sonata can fit four disks, an amount you might use if you use RAID.
The lowest local online price for the Solo II is AU$134 but then there is the $22 delivery charge. $140 will get me the case if I lug it home on the train, something I am unlikely to do with such a big item. When I am at the local shops in my car, I can get the case for $149 which is $3 cheaper than the cheapest delivered cost.
After building a computer in the Antec Solo II case, I am satisfied with all the design features and will another Solo II for my next computer.
I will use an existing Seasonic M12 II 520 watt power supply. The minimum power I need, based on the most accurate calculation, is 320 watts. The potential requirement for expansion is 450 watts and by the time I add the other devices, their power requirement will be reduced. The 520 watt Seasonic is more than I need and that model Seasonic is rated as quiet.
The Seasonic is available online for prices varying from $128, including delivery cost, up to $209 before delivery charges. It is not available in the city shops. My local shop does not stock it.
I purchased a Seasonic X series 560 watt power supply because it has all the features I want, is rated as very power efficient, and very quiet. The older M12 went into a different computer.
The Intel Core i5-2500K gives you the fastest clock speed out of the box and is limited only by memory access. If you process terabytes of data every day or play data intensive games, look at the LGA2011 i7 processors.
A single 2.2 GHz processor can process data faster than most disks can deliver faster. The 2500K gives you four cores running at 3.3 GHz for a total of 13.2 GHz or about six times too fast for magnetic disks. Modern SSDs are three times faster than magnetic disks which means the 2500K is still twice the speed of an SSD. That extra margin of processing speed will cover inefficient applications wasting processing cycles.
If you want to render movie length full HD animated graphics, look at LGA2011 i7 processors and very fast graphics cards because most of the work will be performed in the graphics card.
I have a Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO spare and will reuse that because it was the best choice a few months ago and there is little difference now. The cooler is $47 locally and varies from $39 up to $50 online before delivery charges of about $20.
The fan supplied with the 2500K is very quiet at low power loads. Both Intel and AMD worked hard to reduce noise from their new fans. Some of the alternatives, with their big slow fans, are far less annoying.
The Asrock Z68M/USB3 offers almost everything I want, including SATA 3, USB3, VGA, DVI, and HDMI for only $102 dollars in a local easy to access shop. The only things missing are the connectors for multiple fans.
The ASUS P8Z68-V GEN3, $225, adds a few extra features I might use plus more fan connections than I will ever use. The cheapest delivered cost us $228. I can pick up in the city for $223.
The ASUS P8Z68-V Pro GEN3, $250, adds four SATA 3 connectors and would be the right choice if you had four modern SSDs.
The ASUS P8Z68-V GEN3 is the cheapest motherboard with everything I need and might use in the near future. I purchased the P8Z68-V GEN3 and am happy with the result. I have used Asrock and Asus before. My one previous Asrock worked but had a limitation that made me replace the motherboard a few months later. The Asus motherboard looks like it will do and be compatible with everything I install for the next few years. I figure $225 for two years is a better investment than $102 followed by a quick replacement.
The memory is DDR3 with DDR3-2133 the fastest legal speed. Motherboards offer faster speeds in special circumstances depending on the processor and a few other considerations.
Based on measuring much processing in many computers using many operating systems, if you are not running a server, you rarely need more than 1.5 gigabyte. You could use four memory sticks of 1 GB each for a total of 4 GB. Four sticks of 2 GB give you 8 GB or many times more than you need. 4 GB sticks are so cheap that it is silly to use less than four sticks of 4 GB, a total of 16 GB, to save you time on the odd occasions when you use more memory.
I can get two sticks of 4 GB DDR3-1600 for $57 or a total of $114 for the four sticks. A quick shop online shows prices from $96, before delivery charges, up to $150 before delivery charges. Everything faster is so expensive.
Then I found two sticks of 4 GB DDR3-2133 in a reliable brand for $100 or a total of $200 for the four sticks. The DDR3-2133 memory has to save me only a couple of hours over the next few years to repay the extra cost. Read about the memory in G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-2133 4GB x 2 memory.
I will reuse an SSD for the operating system. The closest current module is the 60 GB SATA 3 Corsair CSSD-F60GB3A at $120. The online prices vary from $120 to $130 plus delivery charges from $15 up to $20.
You only need about 30 GB for an operating system installation. Adding lots of extra applications with all their junk advertising will use another 5 ~ 10 GB. 60 GB is plenty if you occasionally clean out the dead applications and duplicates. The very lazy and the games collectors might choose the 120 GB version for $190 to save cleaning up afterward.
Current generation fast SSDs can only reach maximum speed with SATA 3 and the speed is really only of benefit in your main disk. Your bulk storage disks can run on big slow magnetic disks. If you do need lots of fast storage, consider multiple 240 Gb SSDs. You will need the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro GEN3 to get four SATA 3 connections.
I am looking at an upgrade to a faster SSD and prices are dropping every day. I will wait a few weeks until I finish a bunch of other changes then copy my system disk over to an OCZ vertex 3 or equivalent.
Bulk storage disks
I will reuse some existing magnetic disks of 1 TB, 1.5 TB, or 2 TB each. I will use two in RAID 1 under Linux. For Windows I use one for work space and the other for backup. You can get a fast 2 TB disk for only $140. Two of them is not expensive.
If you use more than two, then you need a bigger case. If you use more than four, you will have to add a SATA card to your motherboard. Buying a bigger case, bigger power supply, and an additional SATA card can start to build up the cost. Magnetic disks are hot and you may need an extra fan. I find I can do everything with two disks in the computer then use external USB disks for archiving projects. my new case has USB3 ports front and back. USB3 is almost as fast as SATA3 and makes external disks as useful as internal disks.
At the extreme end of the range you start using RAID to make storage easier then find rebuilding a RAID array is more painful than a tooth extraction without anaesthetic. If you have a many little existing disks, merge them together on a smaller number of new disks to remove the need for RAID or any other complications.
I minimise the storage by occasionally archiving old projects to USB disks. USB 3 makes USB disks almost as fast as SATA disks. If you have a project chewing up a terabyte and will not work on it for a few weeks, or months, move it to a USB disk. Make a couple of copies for backup. Slower 2 TB disks for backups are only $80 each.
My new computer has two USB3 ports at the back.One will be for a permanent continuous backup.
Linux is free and Windows XP still works on most computers. Some new hardware chips are not backwards compatible to XP. Windows 7 64 bit costs only $95 when purchased with a system. If you are replacing an old XP system and transferring the system disk across, you can check the chips used in the new motherboard then replace the motherboard. If there is a chip that does not have XP support, upgrade to Linux or Windows 7 before the motherboard replacement.
The one big sticking point with Windows is the choice of XP or 7. If you choose before the upgrade, you can use the $95 OEM version. After the upgrade, you can no longer buy the OEM version and have to waste several hundred dollars on the retail version. That lack of choice makes me choose Linux instead of Windows for most computers. If Windows offered a real advantage over Linux, the retail cost would be trivial. Windows has some minor advantages and the OEM cost of $95 makes Windows cheap enough to have one copy on the shelf just in case I need it.
Windows has many disadvantages. The disadvantages cost many times more than the license price. The cost of all the problems created by Microsoft add up to $5000 lost time during a good year and up to $20000 during some years. That cost is one of the reasons I switched most of my computers over to Linux. Lost time due to Linux adds up to about $2000 per year for all my Linux computers. Just the license management cost for Microsoft software used to cost me more than $2000 per year. Despite the advantages of Linux, there are some applications that do not run on Linux and I have to keep at least one Windows machine active.
I did not buy an OEM Windows 7 with my new system. I will not dual boot. I now have a fast Windows notebook available to run the few applications I need on Windows.
|Component||Delivered||City pickup||Local shop|
Delivery charges make the online shops slightly more expensive. If you are lucky enough to find everything at one shop and have to pay only one delivery charge, you might save some money. One site quoted $30 for almost everything, although they did not have everything I want. Another site quited $15 for delivery then said an order may be split into multiple deliveries and you have no control. You have to wait around for delivery or have the boxes shipped to your work then carry them home. Carrying the hardwarehome on Sydney's crowded train is not convenient for the larger items. See my other pages covering the tricks for making online shops deliver what you ordered within a reasonable time frame.
If I purchased all the items from the cheapest suppliers, the delivery charges would add up to $150, I would have to wait around every day for up to a week, and the whole project would be delayed until the last product arrives.
A local shop is only cheaper if it is a shop you drive past during your normal travel and they have the product in stock when you arrive. I pass several computer shops on a typical weekend and can buy the best deals at each without driving extra distance. Between the local shops, I can get what I want for less than the delivered cost from online shops. There are also several computer shops within walking distance of where I currently work.
A system like this remains current for a few years then you dump it for a new backup. The upgrade decision is driven purely by compatibility. We are at the start of SATA 3, USB 3, and modern SSDs. You should get a long run from the computer before it becomes obsolete.
The finished system
The finished system is similar to what I planned. Frustration with Windows licensing restrictions made me use Linux instead of Windows. The system is so fast that I simply transferred the system SSD from my Linux workstation and will use the new machine for my desktop machine. The old Linux box is now the spare machine.
When you choose the best value parts to work together, you get the maximum overall speed for the lowest cost. The cost is lower than what you would spend on your primary computer and works out at about $3 per day for backup. The computer can sit there as a very effective backup plus you can use it for experiments at no extra cost. The extra speed of that new hardware will save you time during the experiments. If your current machine is a few years old, the new economy machine will probably be faster.