Building new FAH/main PC

Fushigi

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#1
So my PC's getting pretty dated. It is an Athlon XP1700 OCed to 2700 with 1GB RAM running W2KPro. ATI AIW 9600, 4x DVD, etc. Generally it's fine for what I do but could always be faster. I had CPU overheating issues awhile back because the thermal gunk had dried out. After fixing that the box has been far more stable but still spontaneously reboots on occasion.

I also run the FAH console client @ about 80% CPU. Overall I don't think my instability issues are related to CPU usage. I think there's something else going on as even if I run FAH @ 100% it's still stable. Problems seem to occur more with task switching/running several apps concurrently. I'm not interested in reinstalling.

Anyway, I'm tired of the system and I have money to spend. I'd like recommendations on a workstation to replace it. Everything from the ground up. The only components I plan on keeping are the KVM (Logitech/Logitech MX1000/Samsung 204B).

Planned usage of the system:
- FAH 24x7, multiple instances
- Internet, Office
- Photo editing, maybe video in the future

Thoughts:
- FAH performance is my priority. That's why I'm posting this to the FAH sub-forum.
- Definitely dual core. Quad if reasonably priced.
- Intel v. AMD .. whichever performs better @ FAH. I've been non-Intel since the early 90s but can't say I'm loyal to AMD.
- Low wattage CPU preferred but performance gets priority over power.
- No real brand pref for the mobo, although it sounds like Gigabyte is the way to go. I'd prefer to not give any $ to Asus based on past issues.
- 2GB RAM. 4 if Vista. 2 sticks either way.
- OS to be XP, Vista, or possibly Linux. More than likely XP/Vista as I'm not quite ready to take the Linux plunge. I may rebuild the old PC to be a Linux system.
- FAH-capable video card; again I want a kick-butt FAH system that happend to be my daily PC.
- I'd like a relatively quiet system but some noise is OK.
- Dunno how beefy a PSU to get but will definitely err on the side of overcapacity; I hate PSU issues. The system will be on an existing UPS.
- Don't care too much about the case aesthetics; it's to the side of my desk out of plain sight. Case size doesn't matter.
- 16+x DVD
- A single HD or perhaps a hardware mirror is sufficient; I have a psuedo-server so I don't need a ton of local storage.
- Multiple video cards are fine (for raising FAH performance) but I don't currently have the desktop real estate for multiple monitors.
- In general I would like the latest and greatest as this machine probably won't be upgraded for 3 years.
- I'd like it to come in under $1500 w/o OS but there's room to play. I upgraded my wife's wedding ring in January (for a lot more than $1500) so she can't complain. :)
 

CougTek

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#4
AFAIK, you cannot run the SMP client at the same time as the GPU client, so it's an either/or situation. SMP currently pays more than the GPU client. Based on this, my recommendation would be the following :

  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (4x 2.4GHz) LGA775
    Thermalright Ultra 120 eXtreme heatsink
    Scythe S-FLEX SSF21E (mod to 7V) or similar
    Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 (solid capacitors, lacks Firewire, if it's important to you)
    2GB DDR2 667MHZ, or 1066MHz if you plan to overclock. 667MHz is almost half the price.
    Sapphire Radeon X1950 Pro 512MB PCI-E (X1950XT doesn't increase FAH production, I know : I own both)
    500GB hard drive, because it's cheap. 250GB if you want to cut corners.
    Pioneer SATA 18X DVD burner
    Arctic Cooling Silentium T2 Pro or Antec NSK6500 for the enclosure.
The above fits within 1500U$, but barely (with 1066MHz DDR2 RAM and 500GB hard drive). It should be very quiet, with the graphic card and hard drive making the most noise. I don't think you'll be able to find the Arctic Cooling enclosure though, but the NSK6500 isn't bad and it isn't overpriced. An Antec SLK3000B with a separated Seasonic S12-550 Energy Plus power supply is another option, although it will add some 50U$ to the final receipt.

Nvidia's 8800GTS graphic cards are even more quiet, but they are more expensive and there's currently no FAH client for them.

4GB DDR2 667MHz memory kit will cost you something like three times and a half the price of a 2GB 667MHz kit.

If you don't plan to overclock, then a simple Gigabyte GA-945GME-DS2 would do the job for 40U$ less than the 965P-DS3. You would be limited to 667MHz DDR2 though. It has solid capacitors too.
 

Mercutio

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#5
For a computer that's supposed to last three years and to run Windows, I really would look at 4GB RAM.

The NSK6500 is a nice case. I have lots of them because they hold lots of drives. I'm REALLY fond of the NSK4400 and NSK3300, though. The 4400, in particular, is just about the easiest build in the world.

The DS3 is completely worth the money.
The "bigger", expensiver boards don't add a whole lot unless you really want the upgraded sound and/or heat pipe cooling on the northbridge, and it's hard to see paying $100 extra for that. The less expensive S-series boards do work as well, but I notice a difference in terms of system temps. I guess their northbridges do get warmer.

The E6600 is tough to swallow, pricewise. The 6320 is such an easy overclock, particularly to 2.8GHz or so. Should be very doable.
I just got 12 of them today. I plan to test how overclockable they are in the next day or two.

I will say that I favor heat sinks that have the fan on top of the CPU, rather than perpendicular to the motherboard.
 
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#6
I really can't find a lot of fault in Coug's recomendations. Definately quad-core if folding is your highest priority: The extra cores matter. If you are on a budget, then Merc's 6320/6420 are excellent alternatives: You definately want the 4M cache. MB excellent; Cooling excellent; case excellent; video card good. For folding it's all really top notch.

There's nothing currently wrong with going 2GB rather than 4GB. In the long run, of course 4GB is perferable, but there's always the possibility of upgrading the RAM, at some future date, if needed. Unfortuantely 2GB sticks cost an awefull lot more than 1GB sticks, so your limitation to only use two RAM slots may be excessive if you want 4GB (3.5GB). The only application, you listed, that, potentially needs lots of RAM is photo editing. F@H is typically not RAM limited but the speed of the RAM does affect performance somewhat.
 

timwhit

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#7
You have to be editing really large photos (or tons at the same time) to need 4GB of RAM. Spending hundreds of dollars so you can edit dem photos once in a while is not a good use of resources. If you are a graphic designer that lives in Photoshop that is another story.
 

Handruin

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#8
I might be considering a quad core in the next 6-8 months and mainly for photos. I'm finding that even my dual core (though still seemingly fast) could be stepped up to quad in order to aid in the RAW processing of images. This past weekend for example I had over 600 images to process and it takes a while. It seems the Canon DPP software makes use of both cores, so I'm guessing a quad would benefit me.
 

Fushigi

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#9
WRT photo editing, that would be touch up of pictures taken with my SD800IS (See the Digi Cam P&S thread). I can't imagine doing batch conversions or other things that would consume hideous amounts of RAM. The 2GB v. 4 is mostly an XP/Linux v. Vista thing since Vista seems to be a total RAM pig*. I have not yet decided which way to go.

I've played with Vista in stores but haven't put it through it's paces in any serious fashion. I have fairly strong objections to the DRM and other intrusive things but honestly they won't really apply to this workstation.

Merc, I was also taken back by the E6600's price, but while I've never paid more than around $300 for a CPU before I'm trying to take a holistic view this time and look at the price of the overall system v. any individual component. And I'm trying to be realistic; I likely won't be upgrading the PC during a normal life cycle. I just don't move my hardware around like most of you guys do. So the box I build will have to still seem decent 2+ years from now.

*But nothing beats WebSphere Application Server when it comes to RAM usage. We have a job on our iSeries that peaks at almost 21GB of physical RAM. Luckily the system has 32GB (8 x 4GB) installed.
 

LiamC

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#10
If I may weigh in.

I have three computers running. I've just replaced two. They were:

2 x X2 3600+ 2.0GHz/256KB L2/core
One is default, the other is running 2.5GHz, both with 1GB DDR2-667 at relaxed timings (5-5-5-15)

The other is an E6600 running on a 1.33GHz FSB => 3.0GHz, a la X6800 with 2GB DDR2 667

The E6600 runs Windows SMP, the Athlons run Kubuntu x64.

On 2609, I got the following PPD (Athlons)
600, 723

2608
500, 655, 1357 (E6600)

2605
823, 956 (Athlons)

I just replaced the Athlons with E4300's running @1.33GHz FSB. As they have the same multiplier as the E6600, they are runnning at the same speed.

The differences:
E4300 have only 2MB cache (4MB for E6600)
E4300 are running on Gigabyte 965P-S3 ver 3.3. E6600 is running on a v 1.0. All are running the F8 BIOS.
E6600 has 2 gig, 1gig for the E4300's. One E4300 is running Windows, one is on Kubuntu.

Some scores
2609
1020ppd (E4300) 600, 723 (Athlons)

2610
948 (E4300) 1697 (E6600)

The E4300 overclock at stock voltage. Simply amazing. The E6600 (B2 stepping) requires a bump from 1.325V to 1.385V to achieve the same clock. The 4MB cache looks like it really makes huge difference, though it could be I need more RAM. I am going to do some benchmarks on these to see what difference the cache turns up.
 

Pradeep

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#12
*But nothing beats WebSphere Application Server when it comes to RAM usage. We have a job on our iSeries that peaks at almost 21GB of physical RAM. Luckily the system has 32GB (8 x 4GB) installed.
I was looking at our performance metrics today, our PeopleSoft development "box" on a Sun 15K uses 12 processors and 80 GB of RAM, average mem util is 76GB. Not a single application tho.
 
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#13
In order to use 4GB in Windows, don't you need a 64-bit version?
No, not really. Under the 32 bit Windows, it will still use as much RAM as you can put into the box. The limitation is that you can only use 2GB for a single application (which can be expanded to 3GB with a simple boot switch). Multiple applications produce multiple usage of 2/3GB's each and then there is the OS that uses RAM independantly.

So adding 4GB will give you a usabable 3.5GB. Then adding a boot-switch will allow a single application to use 3GB of that. The OS will then use the spare 512MB.

What the 64 bit version does is eliminate the 512MB overhead and also eliminate the 2/3GB application limit. 64 bit Windows has much better RAM usage, but that does not mean that 32 bit windows can't use 4GB.
 

timwhit

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#15
I thought that Win2k3 Server 32-bit can utilize more than 4GB of memory?

Am I correct in thinking that in Windows XP, the most memory I can utilize is 4GB, including the pagefile? My work machine has 3GB of physical memory, so if I set the pagefile to use a maximum of 4GB of memory this would be the most effective configuration.
 

Mercutio

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#16
XP can use multiple 4GB pagefiles. I'm not sure if it DOES, but it'll let you set them up.
There's an absolute 4GB limit on RAM in XP, though.

Server 2003 Enterprise Edition can support 32GB RAM on its 32bit version, but obviously not on hardware that a normal person is going to have sitting around.
 

timwhit

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#17
Can anyone verify whether XP will use more than 4GB of any kind of RAM whether it be physical or virtual?

A couple days ago I had the 3GB of physical memory and 3GB of virtual memory setup and applications would just fail to start. It would look like the application was about to start, but then nothing would happen. Sometimes I would get a system beep, but that's about it. This would only happen when I had several applications running already, including several very memory hungry apps, such as Weblogic Workshop and Weblogic Portal Server, each of which uses over a gig of memory. Plus, the normal Outlook, Firefox, and a few windows explorer windows.

I consider the 4GB memory barrier a serious bug in Windows XP, which should have been corrected long ago. Microsoft really dropped the ball on this one.
 
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#18
I had 4GB RAM and a 4GB page file in XP 32-bit for a long time without issue. I'm certain that some swapping did happen, but I'm not sure if the total used (used RAM + used Page) ever exceeded 4GB. No crashes were detected.
 

Fushigi

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#22
The motherboard & graphics card have both 32 & 64 bit Vista drivers. So do my mouse (Logitech MX1000) and printer (HP all-in-one). What else am I likely to need considering my planned hardware seems to be covered?

I'm not trying to argue 64 over 32; just trying to figure out why. Based on the planned hardware it doesn't look like there'd be any issues from a driver standpoint. 64 bit may limit future device purchases, but I would hope that the vendors will eventually catch on and release V64 drivers for new products. If not, well, they can go *cough* themselves while I buy from someone else.

BTW as I want drive encryption Ultimate will be the version of choice. Funny how Vista Business doesn't offer drive encryption. I will buy the upgrade version and use the trick from Windows Secrets to install it over itself w/o pre-installing another OS.

Software-wise I need Office 2003, Firefox, AVG, and a few other things. I'll work up a more complete list when I get home.
 
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#23
My experience with 64-bit wasn't a colossal PITA, it was just not important at all. Once you have the device drivers for everything, the only difference is that there are two "program files" folders. Sometimes 32-bit apps with extract themselves into the 64-bit "program files" folder instead of the legacy "program files (32-bit)" folder.

Other than that, it wasn't a big deal.
 

timwhit

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#24
I had 4GB RAM and a 4GB page file in XP 32-bit for a long time without issue. I'm certain that some swapping did happen, but I'm not sure if the total used (used RAM + used Page) ever exceeded 4GB. No crashes were detected.
Using my assumption from above, if the absolute most memory that XP can use is 4GB including a pagefile, then wouldn't it make sense to limit the pagefile size to 4GB minus physical RAM. Considering physical RAM is many times faster than a hdd, this should provide the best performance.

My whole idea falls apart if XP can indeed utilize more than 4GB of memory when the pagefile is in use. But, I have been unable to find anything here or elsewhere that has confirmed this.
 

Bozo

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#25
It is my understanding the 32Bit XP cannot handle more than 4GB of RAM is because it is 32Bit.
The motherboard plays an important part of how much memory the sytem can handle too. Even with Server 2003 64Bit, I had a motherboard that didn't report all of the RAM correctly, so I was stuck at 3.6GB.
In XP, I have never been able to get the Page File over 4GB no matter how much RAM was installed.

Bozo :joker:
 

CougTek

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#30
I'm about to build a new box too. It's main purpose won't be FAH, but I'm puting Folding performance in the balance too. Basicly, I have the choice between those two :

  • Athlon 64 X2 5600+ and Asus M2A-VM (AMD 690G chipset)
    Core 2 Duo E6320 and MSI 945GM4-F
Why those two? Because they are cheap. The E6320 has the potential to wipe clean any Athlon 64 X2, but the 945G-based MSI board doesn't have much overclocking features and I doubt I'll be able to push that platform very far. I'll also be using cheap DDR2 667MHz RAM with little tolerance for overclocking. And I also have an Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro heatsink accumulating dust somewhere. Reviews about the M2A-VM are scarse, but one I read suggested that a vanilla, unoverclocked E6300 on a 965G-based motherboard made a X2 5200+ look bad more often than not. The 5600+ is only clocked 200MHz higher than the 5200+, so it would probably lose too.

The results posted above by LiamC suggest that any Core 2 Duo with 4MB of L2 cache should beat any Athlon 64 X2. That's sad for AMD. so I guess I already have my answer, but if one of you guys would like to add something, feel free to do so.
 

LiamC

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#33
I've been able to check some more folding units and the C2D 2MB units get only about 2/3rds the ppd of a 4MB unit. :( They overclock like nothing else, but that doesn't seem to matter.

Memory timings. I was running one on default 5-5-5-15 timings (DDR2-667) and the other 4-4-4-12. The tighter timings gave me a 80—100 ppd boost on the same work unit. This fits with the speed up from larger cache and suggests that the C2D is starved for data. This translates as higher FSB/faster memory/tighter timings are a good thing. You can always drop the memory multiplier to get a higher FSB and still run your memory within spec. If your not running integrated graphics, there's no point in running your memory much faster than the FSB. Dual channel 667 = 1333MHz FSB.
 

LiamC

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#36
Awfully expensive? DDR2-667 5-5-5-15 (PC5300) is only a dollar or two more expensive than DDR2-533 per 512MB stick. I am talking about Corsair ValueSelect or Geil Value RAM. Both are rated at 5-5-5-15 timings @667MHz, and mine both run 4-4-4-12 at the same 667.

Perhaps you are thinking I was recommending single channel DDR2-1333?
2 x 667 = 1 x 1333

I have had both running ~740MHz without issue @ default timings, and some reviews I've read lead me to believe that I could hit 800MHz with only a 0.1 or 0.2V increase.
 

Fushigi

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#37
Is the thermal gunk that comes with the Thermalright heat sink sufficient or should I use something else?

I'm going to order everything now despite the pending C2Q price drop. Fry's has the C2Q + an ECS mobo for cheaper than the CPU alone from Newegg. Yeah, I know it's an ECS. I'll still buy & use the Gigabyte mobo but may buy a second C2Q in July after the price drop and upgrade a different PC with that + the ECS mobo.
 
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#39
Any reasonable thermal goo product should be enough: The practical differences between brands are not typically signifigent (1-2 degrees). Application technique is far more important.
 

LiamC

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#40
Ditto. Dans data had a very comprehensive cooler roundup at one stage and he investigated a number of goops—even used toothpaste and vegemite (marmite, promite)—none of them made a measurable difference. The thickness of application mattered more. Less is best.
 
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