Friday, February 5, 2010

Gearing Up.

When I originally left WoW, I had a pretty good little desktop. Self-built, I had chosen components carefully to allow for upgrades, like SLI and extra memory. But WoW was the main resource hog that I had been playing, and I now had a fairly powerful box for games like Evil Genius and Fallout 2. When my now-husband moved in as a roommate, two PCs and desks and chairs just took up too much space. His place of work provided him with a laptop so I inherited his, which was perfect for what I was doing at the time, and shipped my desktop to the other side of the country for my little brother to use for his own WoW obsession.

On my initial return to WoW, I was still using this laptop. Even at minimum settings, I was running a lovely 18 FPS in deserted areas. Halls of Reflection waves caused my FPS to drop to about 2 unless I stuck myself close to a corner and kept my camera pointed there, which I could do as a healer.

Even before returning to WoW, I'd begun getting into games that the laptop just couldn't handle. I wanted a copy of Fallout 3 for the PC so I could have access to mods. Borderlands was making me drool, and while I could play Oblivion on my laptop at minimum settings, it looked like garbage and was extremely choppy. With the windfall of some cash that I'd lent being paid back (thanks Mom!), I had a reasonable starting point for a new desktop. With the good graces of the husband and the promise that he could upgrade his desktop next year, I got to work on piecing out a new machine.

Below are my specs, why I chose what I did, and some information about where I aim to upgrade in the future. Maybe some folks will find this information useful for their own building purposes in the near future. Keep in mind that I had not built a computer in over three years and had to relearn a lot of new technology in order to put this baby together.

My budget was $1500 and I certainly went over, but not by much. I am not an overclocker by default, but my purchases were made with the intention of doing some small overclocks within my comfort range of not exploding my PC.

CPU: Intel i7 860
I was more than happy to go with an i5 750 but my husband, being the Intel fanboy he is, suggested I look at an i7. The default to look at, of course, were the new 1366 form-factor chips, but many reviews were not impressed with the difference between triple-channel and dual-channel memory. The i7 870, while being an 1136 form-factor, received extremely strong marks, had the hyper-threading that the husband insisted I get, and had some amazing overclocking capabilities once Turbo mode was turned off. The price was a little much for my budget, but it's little brother the i7 860, certainly fit my range and the only real difference was a slightly lower clock speed. Word is that this baby can overclock to 4.0 GHz with air-cooling alone.

CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
I've never had any faith in stock heatsink/fan combos. My last desktop had one of the huge copper Zalman coolers which worked quite well but I'm a bit of a snoot in saying that I like my case colors to meld and copper wasn't doing it for me. The price tag also tended to make me cringe a bit. The Hyper 212 received some rave reviews and was silver/black, a good neutral color combo. A word to the wise: This thing has a massive amount of height! Be sure you have a case with enough depth that you'll be able to put the side cover on it. Sitting here typing up this blog, the CPU is only hitting 15C! I haven't checked it during/after a huge WoW marathon, but so far I'm very impressed.

Motherboard: ASUS P7P55D-E Pro
I knew I needed an 1136 form-factor motherboard, and two kept coming up time after time: The Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD4P and the ASUS P7P55D-E Pro. The main differences between the two boards is how they handle SATA3 and USB 3.0. The Gigabyte utilizes one of the PCIe 16x paths in order to power the controller, while ASUS created their own extra controller that allowed these two technologies to not have to steal from the rest of the board. When two PCIe 8x graphics cards are used in SLI/Crossfire on the Gigabyte board, SATA3 and USB 3.0 devices get rate-limited back to their version 2 counterparts because that extra path is no longer available. The ASUS does not have this problem. Now, I wasn't sure if I was going to run a single graphics card for now or if I'd go on and splurge for Crossfire, but in the future Crossfire was certainly the plan. Losing the new technologies for the sake of Crossfire was not high on my list so, even though the Gigabyte board is slightly cheaper, the ASUS won in the end.

Memory: G.Skill ECO Series 2x2GB DDR3 1600
The i7 860 can only really handle up to DDR3 1333 out of the box. However, with my hope to play with overclocking, DDR3 1600 open up the possibility for some better speeds. G.Skill's ECO line seems to be the latest craze in memory, and it's no surprise: rather than the industry standard of 1.65v, the ECO series boasts 1.35v with some fairly tight timings. My biggest concern was whether or not the ASUS motherboard could manage to lower its voltages that low, and reviews stated it could. Even better is that there is an XMP profile built onto this memory so loading the timings and voltage in my BIOS couldn't have been easier. My hope now is that two years down the road when I can upgrade a sister pair will be available so I can utilize all four channels on my motherboard.

Graphics: HIS ATI Radeon HD 5850 1GB
I spent hours trying to decide on a graphics card. I read multiple reviews, checked many comparisons on well-known sites, and still the debate continued. I finally decided to get the best single card I could for my budget with the plan to upgrade in two years by obtaining a second one and setting up Crossfire. At ~$290, the above was what I finally settled on. Another contender was the 4750, but with the smaller voltage drain and DX11 compatibility out-of-the-box, the 5850 won in the end.

Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar 500GB 7200RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s
This one really didn't have much contest. I've always been a fan of Western Digital's Caviar line of drives. They've served me well for years and I am most certainly a happy repeat customer. 500GB should last me for a good long while and while 7200RPM is nothing spectacular, it works for what I need. In the future I might grab one of those new SATA3 6.0Gb/s drives with 10TB of data or whatever, but the cost of either of those is more than I'm willing to shell out at this time.

Optical Drive: Sony Optiarc DVD/CD Rewritable
I paid an extra dollar for the Sony brand and 2x more read speeds on CDs and DVDs. I rarely burn media, so I'm not really picky as far as my optical drive so long as it doesn't grind or click. This one runs quite nicely.

I'll be back later with the rest of my components.