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It's a whole new bag, baby (How to bring your PC close to "current" in $1,159 easy dollars) - Paint It Black
Living the American dream one heartbreaking piece at a time
It's a whole new bag, baby (How to bring your PC close to "current" in $1,159 easy dollars)
First off, it's important to understand I've been running a dual-head display system on my PC for the last sixteen months or so. With that knowledge, you'll better understand how this avalanche got started and lead to the final result.

On Thursday night I found that Dell was having another sale on their wonderful UltraSharp 2005 FPW monitor. I had picked up one of these a few weeks ago to replace the giant 21" Sun CRT that was sitting on my desk and I've loved every minute since. The panel is bright, it's widescreen, it's sharp as heck and I have space available on my desk again. I decided to buy this second one because my old Sony Trinitron Multiscan 200sx has been feeling its age lately. When I wake the monitors up from standby the LCD snaps to life (given its digital nature this is expected) and the Trinitron ... well, it doesn't. What it will do is take 30 seconds to warm up and, once glowing, spend a minute or two flickering, buzzing and rolling like an old TV before it stabilizes. I take that as a sign, so I ordered the second 2005FPW on Thursday night with the intent of using it to replace the Trinitron.

fiskblack re-introduced me to the word "waller," something that had fallen out of my vocabulary shortly after I left the farm. I like that word. It's a good word, rich in promise. After Thursday night's order, it is safe to say I wallered. I wallered in the opulance of having two 20" widescreen monitors for my displays. I wallered in it like a pig in stink. That was, I wallered until this morning when I started to think about how I was going to drive the second panel. My current video card has served me well, but it only has one DVI port and a Dsub-15 port. This works fine right now with one LCD and one CRT, but will be less than enjoyable when I drop the second LCD in place of the old CRT. Let's face it, DVI is the way to fly with these LCD monitors. So I started to think about getting a new video card, with dual DVI support. This sent me over to NewEgg. I poked around and found an AGP video card that would meet my needs... but then I realized that my current motherboard doesn't support AGP 8X. 8X would really be necessary to make both panels go and not be horrible to look at.

Okay, I've been wanting to buy a new motherboard and processor for quite some time. The AMD64 processors are sexy, sexy, sexy and I've been thinking about trading in my Athlon 1800 for a new architecture. This is the perfect excuse! I tell myself. Let's pick those up while I'm getting a new video card and call it a hat trick. So I started shopping for new processors and mainboards to slap them into. After a bit of poking around I settled on an AMD Athlon64 3200+ (Venice 939). NewEgg had a combination deal so I could get $20 off the cost of a gig of RAM for the box, so I picked that up while I was at it. This was not in the plan and I know it, but I'm able to find comfort by assuring myself that now I have the right kind of memory for the system and don't have to worry if I have any PC3200 sticks laying about. With unexpected RAM, processor and video card secured in my shopping cart I began hunting for a motherboard. There's not a lot of socket 939 boards out there from reputable names that carry AGP, but at last I found one that seemed relatively respected.

That's when I made a vital breakthrough: I absolutely loathe how loud my current PC is when it's powered on. I mean, when this thing turns on I feel like I'm back in my employer's data center, surrounded by over 200 machines. It makes listening to my MP3 collection a little difficult and is in general an annoyance -- I like my house to be quiet. When I walk past the door to the office where I've set up my computer gear I can hear the machine humming and that makes me positively crazy. So I started searching for reviews on quiet PC cases that were feature-rich and not horribly garish in appearance. Before too long I'd found myself directed to Lian Li cases. I was not surprised by this. About two years or so ago roho bought a Lian Li and I liked it quite a bit. What impressed me about the model I was looking at was it not only utilized 120mm fans (which are so much more quiet than 80mm box fans it's not even funny) but it also included ducting and sound-dampening materials to help ensure the case is as close to whisper-quiet as possible. Damned expensive though it may be, I convinced byself to buy it by telling myself I'll never have to buy another case ever, ever again.

Then things got bad. My thought process has bullet points that go something like this:
  • Huh. I probably need a new hard drive. Okay, let's toss an 80GB Hitachi SATA-2 drive in the mix to act as a boot disk. That should bootstrap XP good and fast.
  • Hmm, you know, I still don't have a DVD burner in my PC. They're a commodity these days. Oh hey, an NEC dual-layer burner for relatively cheap. Throw that in the cart.
  • Oooops, hey. I should make sure the CPU stays cool. Hey, that ThermalTake Blue Orb II looks crazy and gets great reviews. Add that in!
  • Oh man, I bet this thing has crazy power requirements and the Lian Li case has a billion fans... I need more power. A 680W power supply is... ouch! That's expensive! But it's better than putting undervoltage to this gear. Add to cart.

When all was said and done I had a whole new computer sitting in my shopping cart, built from the ground up. Just as I was ready to check out I was hit by a nagging suspicion that my video card choice was poor. You see, I've been playing a lot of Second Life lately and it's moderately taxing on video cards and processors and such. Two weeks ago, when I bought my Nintendo DS, I also bought copies of other gaming essentials: Doom3, Half/Life 2 and Black & White 2. Doom3 has some horrendously intense graphics on it. So as I stared at the checkout button I found myself wondering, Doom3 is a whore. If I want to play Doom3 in a decent resolution with good FPS on my LCD ... and still be able to drive the other panel to have IRC or Winamp running... is this video card really going to be ballsy enough? Isn't AGP sort of antiquated? So I did some digging. Turns out... yes, AGP is alive and kicking and the mid-range video cards are available for AGP... but PCI-Express is the way of the future, and all the top-end chips are going PCI-Express x16 since it basically doubles the bandwidth that AGP 8X has. I did some comparisons with the video card I had selected (which was based on the 6600 design) against its PCI-E 6800 brother. The 6600-based card didn't get totally creamed but it was obvious that the 6800 was turning in much nicer FPS in Doom3.

The voice at the back of my brain seized the opportunity. Do it, whispered the consumer whore in me. I'm ashamed of that consumer whore, but sometimes it does actually have a point. Upgrade to a 6800-based card, go PCI-E, get more life out of your games. You know you want to do it. I tried to argue based on the reasoning that I'd have to ditch the current cheap motherboard and get something moderately more expensive so as to support PCI-Express. So? PCI-E is going to replace PCI the same way PCI replaced ISA. Get on the train now, man!

I caved to that line of reasoning and removed the motherboard and video card. I found a moderately-priced PCI-E motherboard that had good reviews and met most of my feature requirements (gigabit ethernet onboard, decent number of USB ports, at least three PCI ports for my legacy devices, dual-core support, etc) and tossed it into the shopping card. Delta on price? $30 or so. Not bad! Then I went shopping for a video card. I found the card that was based on the 6800 and added it to the shopping card. At the last second I decided to read the reviews on it. While they were all very good, a few of them hinted that the delta in cost between the 6800 and the 7800-based cards was negligible for the performance increase. So I went and looked... and saw nothing but glowing reviews for the 7800 from this manufacturer. Out went the 6800 and in went the 7800. Might as well attempt to get up to current tech levels in video cards before they all go obsolete, right? Hey, with this configuration my machine will play the FUCK out of Doom3.

... or so I have to keep telling myself as I stare at the total.

So, for those playing the home game, that's three times I upgraded my video card, with two motherboard upgrades before I even got close to the checkout button.

The final configuration as it was submitted to NewEgg:

So there you have it, step by sickening step: that's how the purchase of a $410 monitor spurs me into building a whole new PC from the ground-up that's almost three times the cost of the instigating part.

Grab that cash

Tags: ,
Current Mood: cheerful cheerful
Current Music: Assemblage 23 - Pages

18 thoughts or Leave a thought
angelwind From: angelwind Date: November 26th, 2005 09:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gimme your paychecks. :P

You seriously do not have to worry about cooling a A64 unless you like smother it with a blanket or plan to overclock it. I put together a Athlon 64 X2 3800+ and the CPU was 38C idle, which is what my very old Athlon 64 3000+ does right now.
From: tetragon Date: November 27th, 2005 12:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Yup, this is true. SOI is nice.

BTW, investigate an Opteron 165 instead of the 3800. If you can find it within your price-range, its great value. Clocks up well and has the same cache as an FX.
feren From: feren Date: November 27th, 2005 02:12 am (UTC) (Link)

I've been out of PC-land for far too long...

... and it shows, because I have no idea what the hell you just said to Flee just now. I really need to see some sort of roadmap from AMD to know how all this crap fits in together these days.
feren From: feren Date: November 27th, 2005 02:16 am (UTC) (Link)
[Gimme your paychecks. :P]

The paychecks are also cursed.

[do not have to worry about cooling a A64 unless you like smother it with a blanket or plan to overclock it]

My computer room does tend to get warm in the summer because I'm a cheap bastard who only puts the air conditioning on in the very most dire of circumstances. I'd heard the A64s were cool-running, but I sort of discounted that as just an oversimplified "they run cooler than Intel," type of statement. Since I don't think I'm going to be overclocking the chip, I probably have gone overboard on cooling. But hey, better safe than sorry, especially because I don't want to have to assemble a new PC for myself for another 4 years or so.

How're you liking that dual-core?
angelwind From: angelwind Date: November 27th, 2005 02:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I wish it was my dual core. I put a SLI system together for a friend in exchange for taking his old system (2.8GHz P4) and the thing screams like a banshee, and doesn't even get hot. I wish I had some of his money too. :(
haikujaguar From: haikujaguar Date: November 26th, 2005 10:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I find it strange that we are listening to the same band. Right now.

And that we both have dual-LCD displays.

Verrrrry peculiar....
feren From: feren Date: November 27th, 2005 02:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I blame eisenkreis for my fondness of Assemblage 23. She's been the index case for a number of my ear-worms in the last year or so. The dual-head LCD thing, well, that's just an unfortunate series of events that my wallet wishes had never happened.

Or maybe it is a conspiracy...
haikujaguar From: haikujaguar Date: November 27th, 2005 02:11 am (UTC) (Link)
We seem to have convergent musical tastes. Next year -you- bring an MP3 collection so I can paw through it? :D

As for unfortunate events... um, I prefer the conspiracy theory. Have some pie!
feren From: feren Date: November 27th, 2005 02:35 am (UTC) (Link)
But I did have my MP3 collection there! All 2,369 tracks (across 326 artists) in 320kbps high-bit-rate glory, along with some non-HBR tracks I've collected from other folks like yotogi. The problem was they were stored on my external FireWire hard drive and said drive was doing an uncanny impression of a hi-hat. The situation was further complicated by the fact that my laptop was in the back for inventory and nobody else had FW capability on their gear. That drive sat alone and unloved through most of Saturday night.

haikujaguar From: haikujaguar Date: November 27th, 2005 03:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. Good thing I had the iPod along, then. Next year I want to hear this amazing collection. :D
From: tetragon Date: November 27th, 2005 12:19 am (UTC) (Link)
The 7800 is utter, utter overkill, Thermaltake is a total con, the PSU is way over-specced for what you needed but possibly wasnt all that expensive really, the rest is a decent upgrade. Im not a big fan of the Lian-Li cases anymore, there are better cheaper cases nowdays but it was an okay choice and you probably wouldnt have saved all that much on another equivalent quality case.

The 7800GT though, thats cracking the egg with a sledgehammer. :) No wonder the bill was as high as it was. You wont make more than about 33% use of it in SL I predict, a 6800GT would have still been enough.
feren From: feren Date: November 27th, 2005 02:04 am (UTC) (Link)
[You wont make more than about 33% use of it in SL I predict]

I imagine you're right as regards SecondLife, but guess you missed the part about wanting to play more than SL. Running Doom3 or Half/Life 2 at high-res and driving both screens while doing it could be done with the 6600GT I was looking at first but would be far from optimum in terms of FPS. The delta between the 6800GT and the 7800GT was small enough that I figured I'd future-proof a bit. Upcoming games undoubtedly will have steadily heavier requirements.

And it's not like I bought the GTX or decided to go SLI.

[Thermaltake is a total con]

Numerous user and tech reviews (1, 2, 3) of the Blue Orb II say otherwise.

[the PSU is way over-specced for what you needed]

Point conceeded. In my defense, if experience has taught me one thing it's that undervoltage is bad so might as well throw as much at it as you can.

[there are better cheaper cases nowdays]

Probably, but all the ones I scouted out that met my criteria of having three 120 MM fans all were ugly form-molded plastic things with strange shapes and goofy LED lights -- when did the 12 year old with a hard-on for blinking shit become the lowest common denominator? I also liked the sound-proofing material included with the PC-V1200.
hightensile From: hightensile Date: November 27th, 2005 04:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Noone seems to have the time to run tests on how much longer your processor/memory/hdd will last if it's cooled better and more consistently. So, they can tell you FPS, but they can't tell you how long your box will last if you overbuild it. If you're not on a budget, why not upgrade every four years instead of every year and half cuz your shit burned out?

So, no, nothing's on the bleeding edge of price curves, but nothing's wrong with the loadout either. It's good, it's solid, it'll do what he wants.
doomsey From: doomsey Date: November 27th, 2005 01:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

[the PSU is way over-specced for what you needed]

Point conceeded. In my defense, if experience has taught me one thing it's that undervoltage is bad so might as well throw as much at it as you can.

There's no such thing as an over-spec'd power supply; they just have more safety margin.

Having seen many power supplies blown up in spectacular ways - fire-and-brimstone spectacular - I'm fairly convinced that a factor of two or three is about the minimum required.
From: tetragon Date: November 28th, 2005 04:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Even serious Doom3 and Half Life 2 dont really need a top-o-th-line 7800 but whatever, as long as you keep your 7800 for a good 3-4 years then its okay to spend that much. I usually spend less, get something just off t-o-t-l, and upgrade say ever 2-3yrs. Certainly the money isnt wasted as long as you keep and use it for long enough, but you wont begin to stress it until you get into stuff like HL2:Aftermath, with the HDR goodness. With all the eyecandy turned on and in high resolution of course. :)

Thermaltake have an interesting business strategy: Only a portion of their line up is a complete money-wasting ripoff. I usually stay away from anything "orb" after they ripped the idea off Panasonic, and managed to make something actually worse than everything else. The original Orb for the P2 pulled in worse scores than the stock cooler the P2 shipped with. Considering you had to go out of your way to rip that original cooler off... well. Then there is crap like this which, you may think is cool, but in actual fact does absolutely nothing. (Scroll down to the bit about the chocolate. :)

And its very easy for unscrupulous manufacturers to shop around for 2-bit review sites desperate for the odd bit of free tinsel to give a good review to.
posicat From: posicat Date: November 27th, 2005 03:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Damn, that thin's going to have more balls than my computer (Purr).

Processor : Opteron 140 (1.4ghz frontsize, 2800ish speed)
Motherboard : MSI K8T Master-2 (Dual Opteron board, only using one socket right now)
Case : Inwin server-case
Ram : 1gb (2x512 PC3200 ECC Registered)
Video : GeForce 5700 128mb
PSU : Premiew 450W
DVD Burner : Emprex (Probably about the same as yours)
Drives : 160gb IDE (with sata adapter) Seagate, 60gb IDE (with sata adapter) Hitachi, 80GB Maxtor IDE (cobbled together from parts to make it work)
Cooling : The heatsinks that came with the motherboard that keep the Opteron 140 cool without the fan running.
yakko From: yakko Date: November 27th, 2005 05:46 am (UTC) (Link)
I can vouch for the night-and-day difference between SATA and parallel ATA. My so-called gaming box throws Windows around like it ain't shit, now, and the only thing that changed was the hard drive.
kinkyturtle From: kinkyturtle Date: November 27th, 2005 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I still think "Trinitron" sounds like the name of a robot designed to simulate Trini Lopez.
18 thoughts or Leave a thought