Operating System

Both systems will be moving from XP to Vista. Some might consider that a downgrade of epic proportions, but I have grown fond of Vista 64-bit and even more fond of 4GB of memory utilized properly by the operation system. Setting up Windows 2008 Server in a workstation configuration crossed my mind as a way to utilize my MSDN subscription extras, but I decided in the end to just pop the Vista 64 install DVD in and go for it. For those who prefer Linux, I am not quite ready to use it 24/7 but one of these old platforms is now a dedicated Linux machine for my continuing educational needs.


Memory

The first item I went shopping for was memory. After spending the past few weeks testing multitudes of 2GB DDR2 modules, I concluded that I wanted a 2x2GB DDR2-800 CAS4 kit based on the best blend of price to performance in that category. Sure, CAS5 would more than suffice for our needs and most of the CAS5 modules could be coaxed into CAS4 operation with a bump in voltage or relaxing a couple of timings. However, having the security of plug in and forget about it was worth the extra couple of dollars for CAS4.

The next decision was which supplier to utilize. The easy choice would have been the companies we typically choose for our test bed components or those that have received great reviews from us or other reputable websites. To be honest, this was a difficult purchasing decision, made especially difficult after the testing we just completed. The choices and results clouded an already muddied mind, as there was not a bad kit in the bunch - certainly not one I would ever hesitate to purchase.

I let my budget constraints sway my search process but still ended up with a top-flight choice in the Patriot PVS24G6400LLK DDR2-800 CAS4 4GB kit. When I purchased the memory it was $74.99 for a 4GB kit with rebate, but I had to pay shipping costs so the current $79.99 price with free shipping is actually a better deal at Newegg. Considering both machines will have multiple browser windows, IM programs, and general office applications open at once along with a heavy dose of Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Premiere Pro activities, I broke the bank and bought 8GB for each machine. Stretching the budget will become a common theme throughout my component selections. (It is also a reason why I will need to eBay my John Travolta signature 70's Disco clothing lineup now.)

I figure 8GB should be good for the next three years and solidifies my thought process that you can never have enough memory with a 64-bit operating system. Patriot recommends 2.2V for CAS4 operation at DDR2-800 with 4GB. I tested this memory on several boards and got away with 1.85V~1.90V with 4GB at 4-4-3-10 timings, well under the 4-4-4-12 2.2V recommendation. I had to increase VDimm to 2.0V and timings to 4-4-4-12 at DDR2-800 with an 8GB configuration on the boards I purchased. To say that I have been pleasantly surprised with this choice would be an understatement. As usual, your mileage will vary depending upon other components and usage patterns.

Power Supply

Next up is the power supply. This is a component that I look at as an investment since a quality power supply will last for several years and is extremely important in ensuring stable operation of your system. I take this purchasing decision seriously and balance system needs, acoustical considerations, and unit quality when determining what item to select. The power supplies I have in the current systems have served me well for the last five years, but they are no longer up to spec for the components going into the new systems.

That said, I do have a budget to adhere to so I was extremely surprised to see the PC Power & Cooling S610EPS Silencer marked down from $199 to $89.99 with rebate. The power requirements for our systems do not call for this type of wattage and a high quality 380W~430W unit would do just fine. However, for the extra few dollars (Ed: here we go again…) the lure of the S610 Silencer was just too much to resist, especially if a mid-life GPU upgrade requires additional power or these power supplies migrate to other systems. One caveat: this power supply is a little longer than normal and required a shoehorn to get it into our SG03 case.

Another power supply that deserves special mention and one I purchased this week for another article is the Silverstone ST50EF-SC 500W unit that Silverstone designed with this case and other SFF units in mind. The unit features shorter than normal cables so your SFF case is not as cluttered. The unit is very quiet, has an excellent efficiency rating, uses high quality components, and comes with dual six-pin PCI Express connectors for the same price as the S610EPS Silencer.

Index The CPU
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  • PCMerlin - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Lightning, looking through the article he mentions Vista drivers, media streaming and other features that one would assume is only available in Vista Ultimate Edition (64-bit, of course with 8GB of RAM). Being that it is not included in the budget, one must also assume that he is transferring the OS from the original PC's, which indicates that he is using the retail, and not the OEM version.
    Armed with that info, users who want to build a system just like this should add another $269 to the total, based on average retailer figures.

    Note: As the cost of the case is note mentioned as well, those trying to replicate the total cost of the system would need to compensate for that as well.
    Reply
  • darkmarc - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Good article, I also went down SFF SG03 route - with Nehalem just around the corner and my ageing amd X2 creeking away, I wanted a system that wouldn't suffer obsolescence to quickly. The SFF is a great intermediate solution, once Nehalem has matured I can then turn it into home server. I went for the Asus P5E-VM mobo with Q6600, 8gb ddr2, 8800GTS (as it runs cooler then the GT) a Creative X-Fi sound card that I canabalised from my old system and two Samsung 1tb hhd's. I kept the stock cooler, went for the 600w Silverstone psu and two Noctua fans keeping it cool at the front. The Asus board lets me run the Q6600 at 3ghz without a problem so with the 8gig of ram it's great for running VM's. I have the LG GGC-H20L drive for all my Blu-ray/HD-dvd needs, hooked up to a Hyundai 24" panel. It is very quiet and has all the power I need and I don't have to worry about upgrading it as it will fulfill a secondary role. Reply
  • Viditor - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    In most all of the build articles I've read, the one thing everyone forgets is to add the price of the OS in. Even though it's the same, many people forget that cost when they plan their next system (leads to disappointment from the unitiated). Reply
  • amphionuk - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    Why pay for your OS?

    If you don't want to play the latest games, you can install Ubuntu or one of the other Linux distros for free.

    Reply
  • drfelip - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Good article, I think SFF computers are a good option for most users, and I like the small cases a lot, but sometimes it's difficult to find reviews and comparisions of SFF cases micro-ATX boards and barebones. I think this is an area to expand! Reply
  • Visual - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    A very nice looking case recommendation for the next part of your guide: GMC AVC-S7
    http://www.driverheaven.net/reviews.php?reviewid=5...">http://www.driverheaven.net/reviews.php?reviewid=5...

    Not for everyone, obviously, with its single PCI card limit. But some people like smaller is better. If you go with integrated video and all you need is a tuner, this is as small as you can get. It's also possible, though more hassle, to get this with a pci-express riser instead of pci riser, so you can have a graphic card.
    Reply
  • DXRick - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    The Silverstone SG03 takes micro-ATX mobos. Why limit it to uATX? Reply
  • Visual - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    I'm confused... uATX is micro-ATX. So what are you asking, again? Reply
  • Flunk - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    The official short for for micro-ATX is mATX. Sometimes the greek ltter µ (Mu) is substituted for the word micro, particularly for scientific purposes. Sometimes people use u as a substitute for µ because it doesn't appear on the standard keyboard map. This is confusing (as evidenced above) and inaccurate. Reply
  • DXRick - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    I looked it up on Newegg before replying (try it sometime).

    Micro-ATX is 9.6 x 9.6.
    uATX is 9.6 x 8.4.
    Reply

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