Feren (feren) wrote,

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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: geek, toys

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