If you read Part 2 of my Linux series, you saw that my PC system dates to 2001. That's very atypical for Tanker Bob. He usually runs a tech refresh about every 2 years, but this system has worked great for 6 years. Even so, the time has come...
First, I decided on an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 2.4GHz CPU for pure performance reasons. Sporting two 64-bit hyperthreading processors in one chip, this baby will make short work of heavy multitasking. Plus, the price is slowly creeping down out of the stratosphere. I haven't had an Intel CPU in a PC since my first 8088, and it gave way to a NEC V20 within a few months. Intel hasn't led the CPU performance competition in a long time, but the Core 2 Duo series now consistently tops its competitors. After several decades of NEC, Cyrix, and AMD cores, each a performance leader in its day, time to go with the current performance leader.
My initial instincts reached for the latest cutting-edge motherboard and chipset to milk the most from the E6600 CPU. That led to considering the ASUS P5B and P5W Deluxe boards with the smokin' Intel 975 chipset. It didn't take long to discover problems with this plan. The 975 chipset was designed for SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) and doesn't support PATA (Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment, runs IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics)/ATA (AT Attachment) peripherals), so requires an auxiliary chip to provide that coverage. ASUS chose a Jmicron chip to cover PATA/IDE, but that has posed significant compatibility issues, especially with IDE DVD RW drives. The Jmicron will only support two IDE devices on one cable, which limits your ability to use your existing hardware. What was Intel thinking? The ASUS boards also have significant memory compatibility issues, sometimes making it difficult to recognize over 2GB of RAM. There was a day when this would be grist for the Tanker Bob problem-solving mill, but now life is too busy and this setup is too bleeding edge. I want speed, but I want it to work.
So, I backed off one notch. Plus, I swapped over to an NVidia chipset designed to maximize the possibilities for overclockers. That led me, after some further research, to the MSI P6N SLI Platinum board with the NVidia nForce 650i chipset. It supports four IDE devices plus SATA, PCI Express x16 video, and 8GB of RAM. A number of MSI P6N customer reviews featured folks who went to the MSI after the ASUS P5B didn't work properly for them. That's one of the keys to painless success--learn from others' experiences.
The OCZ Platinum DDR2 (dual-channel, Double Data Rate) SDRAM has a good reputation for compatibility, for overclocking, and value, so 2GB of that works for starters. As far as video, I'm looking at reaching out there as well--perhaps an GE Force 8800-based card. The top line sells for about $800 at the moment, but the lower end cards with 320MB of GDDR3 RAM and PCI Express x16 interface sit around a more reasonable $300 online.
I looked at 3.0 Gb/sec SATA drives, but Tom's Hardware tests show no significant difference in practical performance (i.e., Windows XP boot time and Workstation Benchmark) between my current 320GB Western Digital ATA100 drive and an almost identical SATA drive. So, I'm going to stay with my ATA100 drives for now. I'm also keeping my LG DVD RW drive, 250MB Zip drive, USB and WiFi cards. The MSI P6N motherboard allows me to bring much of my existing hardware to the new system without sacrificing performance.
I'm still looking for a good mid-tower case, preferably in black. I'd like to have 4 USB2 slots on the front, but I can't find one with more than 2 so far. I also need great airflow distribution for cooling. I'll take any/all suggestions!
64-bit Ubuntu Linux will work perfectly with this combination, another reason for the individual parts. Linux had no special burden here, as I found plenty of examples that Windows Vista lacked drivers for new hardware. While this hardware setup will run Vista with no problem, Linux will perform far better with equivalent functionality.
I'll be putting all this together in about a month. I'd be interested in any thoughts that you, our gentle readers, may have on this hardware combination--especially mid-tower case suggestions.
For a powerful and heat-crazy PC I built a few years ago, I went with Antec's Super LANBoy case. Lots of fan mount points (I did upgrade some of the case fans that it came with) including front, back and side. It has a nice clear door and a heat-disapating aluminum chassis. Price wasn't too bad and the looks are decent. And it's got slide-in drive mounts and most everything inside is easy to get to (no bloody hands and grunts every time you crack open the case to upgrade a component). It has front-facing USB ports as well as audio.
-------------------- Lisa Gade Editor in Chief, MobileTechReview