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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 2:38 pm 
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Hi folks,

I'm currently planning a new machine for later in the year to replace my ageing dual Opteron workstation. I thought I'd share a few thoughts and then look forward to seeing what improvements are suggested...

The aim is to have a machine that I won't feel guilty leaving switched on during the day, which is barely audible for regular 2D work, eats Photoshop for breakfast, enjoys a spot of H.264 video editing for lunch and for dinner can wolf down the likes of Oblivion or Flight Simulator X at 1920x1200 and still beg for more. 8)

The budget will be generous but not unlimited. Here are my tentative specs:
  • Motherboard: Asus P6T Deluxe
      Like most of the current x58 motherboards this one ain't cheap but it's well reviewed and is eminently overclockable
  • CPU: Intel Core i7 920
      The slowest of the i7 family but also the most overclockable.
  • CPU Cooling: Noctua NH-C12P plus mounting kit
      Well reviewed at SPCR as a heatsink and it has the advantage of directing air straight down to the chipset heatsink surrounding the CPU but I wasn't too happy about the lack of PWM fan speed control so I'm opting for the following..
  • CPU Heatsink Fan: Arctic Cooling AF 12025 PWM
      Great warranty and at it's slowest speeds whisper quiet.
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 285
      New kid on the block but it's more power efficient than the older 280 series. While both the 280 and 285 draw just 25W when idle the full load 183W TDP of the 285 compares very well with the 236W of the 280 (sources: 280 and 285). I'm leaning towards Asus again but the priority will be quietness when idle so I need to do more research and probably wait for later models fitted with custom cooling.
  • Memory: 6GB Corsair Dominator TR3X6G1600C8D
      Certainly not the cheapest memory on the planet but it's low latency and 6GB should give Photoshop plenty of headroom
  • Boot Disk: Intel® X25-E SSD
      OK, I'm in fantasy land here and I might have to scale back my ambitions. :roll:
  • Storage: 2 x Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB drives as RAID 0
      RAID 0 for speed but, of course, that means even stricter attention to a decent backup strategy. If the price of those nice Intel SSDs doesn't come down then this array would also become the boot disk. :(
  • PSU: Enermax ERV850EWT
      At 850W this is actually more power supply than I need but the key here is that at my likely peak power requirement of 450W or so the Enermax unit is running at over 90% efficiency and the fan speed is still so low that the PSU is almost silent. As always there's a drawback and that's the price but, as they say, silence is golden. ;)
  • OS: Vista Ultimate x64
      Yep, I'm one of those odd characters who actually like Vista. :)
OK, lots of other components to specify but these are the performance related ones and I hope to save money by recycling the old case, optical drives etcetera. The graphics card consumes about 25W at idle, the Samsung drives add another 15W so I wonder whether the total power consumption can get down to about 100W at idle? Still more than I'd like but it's hard to see where power savings can come from and still have a quiet machine that's 80% of the way towards the bleeding edge when prodded. Any ideas?

Bob.

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Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


Last edited by Bob Andersson on Fri May 22, 2009 7:47 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:07 pm 
That's a nice setup Bob.

If you cannot find components with the low power demands that you are looking for as standard, you can always create your own hardware profiles within the supplied drivers to down-clock your hardware when you don't need the performance. Since you've mentioned overclocking as one of the advantages of the P6, I'll assume you are comfortable with this.

The only problem is that you'll have to manually switch between profiles depending on your usage.

I hear that the power saving features on the Gigabyte motherboards are more effective than what Asus is doing although I tend to go with Asus also.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:33 pm 
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Hi Graham,

Good points but, like you, I'm not sure about the Gigabyte board. Asus does have a utility which can automatically "underclock" its boards when idle but apparently, according to the review, it doesn't coexist very well with their OS based overclocking software. Having two sets of such utilities seems a bit daft to me. I'm not sure whether the same issues occur if the Asus board is overclocked directly from the BIOS.

I suppose the 940 CPU is a possibility as I could maybe forget about overclocking it and then just let the Asus power saving software do its thing, but the 940 is a lot more expensive. The 965 would be wonderful but at current prices I'd have to forget about buying hard disks and RAM which rather defeats the object. :lol: :lol: :lol:

Bob.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:09 pm 
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A thing you probably already considered (but that im gonna mention anyway) is noise. When i bought my old computer, all i had eye for was speed/stability vs. price. I ended up with something that sounded like a small airport :S
Get passive cooling where it's possible, and low noise fans for the rest. Otherwise you're gonna end up hating your computer no matter how fast it is.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:25 pm 
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Hi Noceo,

I couldn't agree more. That's one reason I've used Noctua fans where possible over the last few years. The techy in me would love to build a watercooled rig using some nice Koolance gear but it's overcomplicated for my needs and you only really see a noise benefit if the radiator fans are significantly quieter than the case fans. But even with water it's still necessary to have airflow in the case, as a friend of mine found out when his machine started crashing because his RAM was cooking. :roll:

Bob.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:32 pm 
Bob Andersson wrote:
The 965 would be wonderful but at current prices I'd have to forget about buying hard disks and RAM which rather defeats the object. :lol: :lol: :lol:


Well that would be a shame, especially since it's that Intel SSD at stake. 8)


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:04 pm 
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I think unless you are into the more extreme end, watercooling is more trouble than it's worth.

As the current lineup goes, I'd suggest getting another pair of HDs and running the 4 in raid 1+0. Alternatively 3 in raid 5 might also be an option but I'm not up to speed on the real world performance impact. Neither of these eliminate the need for backups, but will help keep the box running should one throw a wobbly and give you time to sort it out with minimal downtime.

If you need to scale back the pennies anywhere, lower grade ram would be an option. The difference between mainstream and top end ram isn't really going to be noticeable outside of a benchmark.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:11 pm 
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Not so sure about the i7. All you really need is a fast dual core (E8500) or a fast quad core. I have the E8400 and my pc will do all of those things you need. Also, ddr3 ram is way over priced. And I'd recommend that you stay away from SSD because they are actually slower in most cases compared to normal drives. SSD drives have a shorter lifespan than good hard drives like Western Digital.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:18 pm 
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popo wrote:
...As the current lineup goes, I'd suggest getting another pair of HDs and running the 4 in raid 1+0. Alternatively 3 in raid 5 might also be an option...

Thanks, popo. I hadn't considered RAID 10 so I'll have to read up on that one. My current setup is RAID 5 but that suffers from poor write performance. :(

Bob.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:24 pm 
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Raid5 on something less than a dedicated controller card was a performance concern for me. But raid 1+0 is simple enough. You get the performance of raid 0 at the cost of raid 1.

@Shagrath, while most of the more affordable SSDs have more questionable performance, the Intel ones are what I'd consider the first serious attempt both in performance and working lifespan. This article at Ananadtech goes into detail over the considerations and assumptions Intel used, so you can work out for yourself if they are now good enough. They are for me, apart from the price/capacity...

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Lenses: EF 35/2, 50/1.8, 85/1.8, 135/2+SF, 28-80 V, 70-300L, 100-400L, TS-E 24/3.5L, MP-E 65, EF-S 15-85 IS
3rd party: Zeiss 2/50 makro, Samyang 8mm fisheye, Sigma 150 macro, 120-300 f/2.8 OS, Celestron 1325/13
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 7:57 pm 
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popo wrote:
...while most of the more affordable SSDs have more questionable performance, the Intel ones are what I'd consider the first serious attempt both in performance and working lifespan...

I agree. A few months ago I had an OCZ SSD which I put in a media PC. After it corrupted the Vista OS for the third time I sent it back for a full refund. :!:

Even though that unit proved to be a crock the quickness with which Vista loaded was very addictive. 8)

Bob.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 9:14 pm 
That looks like it'll be a really awesome rig.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 9:17 pm 
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popo wrote:
Raid5 on something less than a dedicated controller card was a performance concern for me. But raid 1+0 is simple enough. You get the performance of raid 0 at the cost of raid 1.

@Shagrath, while most of the more affordable SSDs have more questionable performance, the Intel ones are what I'd consider the first serious attempt both in performance and working lifespan. This article at Ananadtech goes into detail over the considerations and assumptions Intel used, so you can work out for yourself if they are now good enough. They are for me, apart from the price/capacity...

I agree with you there. It's a good attempt but I'd still choose traditional hard drives because you can get much more space per $. The price still needs to come down a bit and the quality needs to be better before I consider using them for a main hard drive. I still think it's kind of early to use SSD, I'd rather spend my money on a better graphics card or larger monitor.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 9:44 pm 
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I do agree the price of SSD is high, but so is the performance. I can't justify the value to myself just yet, but it's getting ever closer and is likely to make my next box in a year or so. You only need one for speed like OS and applications. Use a conventional drive for bulk storage.

On the quality, I do think the Intel ones are there, in the sense you don't have to worry about normal lifetime unless you have unusually high writes.

If a SSD is too extreme, then you can scale back to the 10k rpm Raptors. Faster than your common 7200 rpm drive, but the cost per capacity goes up significantly too, but nowhere near as bad as a SSD.

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Canon DSLRs: 7D, 5D2, 1D, 600D, 450D full spectrum, 300D IR mod
Lenses: EF 35/2, 50/1.8, 85/1.8, 135/2+SF, 28-80 V, 70-300L, 100-400L, TS-E 24/3.5L, MP-E 65, EF-S 15-85 IS
3rd party: Zeiss 2/50 makro, Samyang 8mm fisheye, Sigma 150 macro, 120-300 f/2.8 OS, Celestron 1325/13
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 11:45 pm 
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popo wrote:
I do agree the price of SSD is high, but so is the performance. I can't justify the value to myself just yet, but it's getting ever closer and is likely to make my next box in a year or so. You only need one for speed like OS and applications. Use a conventional drive for bulk storage.

On the quality, I do think the Intel ones are there, in the sense you don't have to worry about normal lifetime unless you have unusually high writes.

If a SSD is too extreme, then you can scale back to the 10k rpm Raptors. Faster than your common 7200 rpm drive, but the cost per capacity goes up significantly too, but nowhere near as bad as a SSD.


I'm not sure you'll even notice much of a difference unless of course you're transferring large files or booting up. Other than that mostly every other action is dependent on cpu or gpu. That's what makes it hard to justify for really. Especially since Windows 7 is going to boot faster than windows XP did.

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