uATX System Buildup: Choosing Components

by Gary Key on 5/27/2008 3:00 AM EST


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  • deruberhanyok - Thursday, May 29, 2008 - link

    Just wanted to say I've never really understood the collective first person pronouns ("we" etc) in the context of an article, even when I was doing it myself. It seems to be accepted in journalism, but if an article is written by one person I don't understand why it isn't written with the singular terms.

    Also, nice writeup!
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, May 29, 2008 - link

    Myspace requires users to be at least 14, don't they? Are you encouraging your daughter to lie about her age already? Reply
  • gochichi - Thursday, May 29, 2008 - link

    I wish I had found more value in this but I simply think these choices were pretty random. Whenever you include a sound card in a "budget system" you already lost me, particularly when the superior Q6600 is "out of budget" and you force the situation into an oddball 3-core processor... all of this for less than the price of the completely uneccessary/absurd sound card. My speakers were $150.00 a few months ago and there is simply no discernable difference between an Audigy and onboard sound, they both sound fantastic. (I made a mistake and purchased a sound card, I would never recommend it to anyone, certainly not anyone on any sort of budget... unless you were connecting it to $500+ of sound equipment).

    To me getting the best core components makes sense when "on a budget" rather than buying 8GB of RAM, buy 4GB and leave expanding to 8GB later. The oddball 3-core processor is pretty much non-upgradeable... it is replaceable, not upgradeable. I guess my main problem is with the Phenom choice... and to pretend that this is a budget driven decision is beyond me. But it feels more like a bribe induced decision (budget... you take the payout, it's good for your budget) than a logical decision, particularly for a system with 8GB of very fast RAM.

    Taking the rest of the selection into account, you have the fast RAM, the fancy-pants power supply... why not spend $50.00 on Q6600 and get your 3.0Ghz+ quad-core system?

    It's not the only random choice by any means, and calling this system a "budget system" is simply outdated, a budget computer system in 2008 means around $500.00 not around $1000.00. It is certainly a faux pas in this day and age to go above $500.00 and go AMD. I can't let that slide, and I'm not a fanboy either, I am just a reasonable guy that would buy a $75.00 AMD processor without flinching if it fit the need and the budget. AMD is a great choice for a one task system, particularly if that one task is playing bluray disks and media center because of the superior onboard graphics that are available. But for an 8GB of RAM workhorse?? Yikes!

    Basically for the reader of this website, the choices are simply too arbitrary to be useful. I concede that we were warned that this would be a blog and not an article, but still.

  • Comdrpopnfresh - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    I feel something should be made of the fact that all the builds were overbudget. Even more so, I feel that mail in rebates should be used to allow for a component in the system (processing, graphics, storage, etc.) to be expanded a bit further. I feel the mail in rebates for the builds were used to minimize the already rampant budgets. Considering the companies that release the rebates will look for every possible way to void them, it isn't smart to treat them in this way.

    I've had the same problem in making systems to fit a budget envelope. However, a good change I think that could have been made is no graphics. The words that really stuck out with me are that the sims three and spore are upcoming. If the integrated gfx meet the needs, and the taxing demands have not been released, why not wait (esp. in the case of a computer for your child) to either get the same gfx upgrade for less, or more for the same?

    I feel with current custom building, even with prices falling for components across the board, budgeting is the hardest part. I hope that this point is highlighted, because, even though this article shows the evils of this issue, it certainly brings it to the forefront nonetheless.
  • ishould - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    I would have liked to see a GPU with hybrid SLI technology chosen primarily because you said you don't use it for gaming much. Pairing the chipset with a 9600GT, while it may be a little more expensive, will likely make up the cost in power requirements multiple times over by not having to run 100W+ idle all the time. Just my 2 cents Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    It would seem to me that you would want a dual slot Video card, rather than a single slot, for an mATX system. That way you are blowing the video card heat out of the small case. Would a dual-slot card fit in the case? Reply
  • jmurbank - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    It seems you selected components that you desperately want to get for your next setup. To decrease the price of each setup, you will need to rate each component what you need to get by and what you dream to have. I think you can get by with out a dedicated graphics card by playing games at the lowest quality settings and still use the LCD native resolution. Next I suggest go back in your junk closet and try to find AV receivers that are capable of handling digital audio. If you have three, you decrease the price by about $300. IMHO, card readers are not required for a setup. I suggest buy one unit that will work in each computer. Of course everybody in the household will be fighting over the device, but set rules where it should be placed. I think your dream components can wait for the upgrade budget that comes into play later.

    My opinion about Pioneer optical drives is they are poorly manufactured. I suggest change it to an ASUS optical drive. My Pioneer drive gave me problems at the beginning. The drive took hours to write a single layer DVD disc, so I use a 3rd party firmware to fix that. Then a few years later, it does not handle playing back movies from start to finish. My ASUS optical drive is lasting me 7 years and counting.

    I doubt you need 600 GB of hard drive space. I think users will be waiting for programs to load up, I suggest downgrade the space and upgrade to low latency. I suggest a Western Digital 'Raptor' 150 GB or 75 GB. To store more data, setup a file server for everybody in the household to access files.

    If you are thinking of over clocking the Phenom processor in the future, I suggest select motherboards with an EPS power connector. This does not guarantee the motherboard can handle the over clock or higher TDP processors, but provides a possibility.

    I prefer Seasonic power supplies because they are high quality for their price. Also they are very energy efficient, regulate voltage well, filter the power well (low ripple voltage), universal voltage, puts less strain on your electrical system (circuit box and AC oultet) because of its active PFC feature. Power and Cooling power supplies are poor for the price. Be careful with Silverstone power supplies because they have a high minimum wattage rating.
  • psychobriggsy - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    If you read the article, you can see his logic for a lot of your points.

    I really really don't understand why a ten year old needs such a setup. I'm sure we all have stories about the 14" monitors we had when we were 10, and how the computer had a single 2" speaker built in, and the like. We coped and the systems were awesome.

    My computer build for a ten year old would be my old system, handed down.

    Does she have a 42" plasma TV and personal satellite TV in her room as well?
  • Kobaljov - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Interesting article, but sometimes I didn't find the connections between the intended usage and the selected hw components. Look like the most common error in the "new PC" projects: performance (cost, power consumption, etc.) overkill.

    A Phenom CPU, 8 GB RAM, 640 GB HDD and a 8800 GT videocard is really needed for IM, MySpace, Sims, WoW, etc. in the next 3 years ?? I don't think so (maybe if the Sims 3 will use the CryEngine 2.. ;-)

    "Just the normal daily life for a ten year old who apparently needs at least a 24" monitor just to keep track of the thirty or so open windows at any given time"

    This come from a local PC Shop's marketing materials ? (The next "must have" will be the Optimus Maximus keyboard for word processing or a new Hi-Speed 256 GB SSD for listening online music) :-)
  • larson0699 - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Utmost... Reply
  • jay401 - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Gary - where can I read more about this card being cancelled? I wasn't aware it was cancelled and didn't see any news to that effect anywhere but sure enough it's no longer listed on Auzentech's products page. Thanks. Reply
  • Badkarma - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Hi Gary,

    Have you heard anything from Nvidia as to why 5.1 LPCM via HDMI has been removed? Also, have you seen the posts on AVS stating that a Phenom is required to get BD playback? Do you know if Nvidia will be updating their drivers to allow X2 cpu's to playback properly?

  • royalcrown - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Nice build, but I think you should have shopped more carefully for your video cards...">

    I got this ECS 8800 gts for 159.00 ( I asked for $10 off because it went up by ten.)

    It would give you an average of 10 percent over the 8800gt for free and dump the heat outside the case, so maybe cooler even; most certainly it would kick the crap out of that radeon.

    Don't be in a hurry next time when you buy video cards ;)

    FYI- I am running mine on a 450 watt kingwin w no probs...
  • masouth - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Do people bother to actually READ these articles before posting?

    This looks like a great deal but it seems fairly clear to me that he wants a single slot cooler.

  • FITCamaro - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    I just bought two of those cards for my system. Terrific value at that price. I replaced the cooler though with a Accelero S1 Rev. 2 w/ the turbo fan. Extremely quiet. Haven't seen temps yet though cause I only just got Vista loaded late last night. I was going for a near silent gaming system. Went with those coolers, a Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme, and 4 16db 54cfm 120mm fans(3 case, 1 cpu cooler). With the case open I barely hear everything. Reply
  • autoboy - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    My favorite cheap cooler is the Arctic Cooling Alpine 7 (or 64 if you want a 3 pin fan). You can find it for around $10-$13, and it is much quieter than the stock fans you get with the processor. They are not the greatest coolers for high heat processors, but for anything less than 65W with some fan control they are inaudible even in completely silent computers. I use them in all my regular builds except for my gaming rigs that see overclocking. I cannot recommend them enough and everyone that uses them (in 65W and lower rigs) loves them. I put one on a 95W Athlon at one time, and while the fan had to ramp up to where you could hear it, it was still much quieter than stock coolers and cooled the processor enough to keep it under 60C which is my cutoff. Reply
  • bauser - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Interesting read, especially because I just built 3 mATX systems in a row. Total cost varied from $800 to $1000 CDN for each system. The tradeoff for the lower end system was the lack of a video card and sound card. Some savings were offset by the need for keyboard/mouse (at this price range 20 bucks makes a big difference).

    Your findings highlight that sacrifices must be made to save money. In this price range, every decision you make will have a cost/benefit consideration. Personally, I'd sacrifice the sound card and 5.1 speaker system and spend the extra dough on a better processor (E8400, Q6600) and motherboard. I'd also go for an 8800GT over the ATI. Good stuff, looking forward to part 2.
  • BPB - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    "I had bought new monitors for each of us last year so that major expense was out of the way. We both upgraded from first generation Acer 22" LCD panels (Ed: wonder what the parents will get for Christmas this year…) to the Gateway 24" FHD2400 we recently reviewed. I ended up purchasing a couple of under 30 day open box returns for $279 each, a major expense yes, but about $200 less than street price along with a new warranty."

    How the heck did you get two open box Gateways? I'd love to do the same.
  • poohbear - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    the AMD 4850E is relatively overclockable compared to a e7200? it wouldn't provide anywhere near the same overclock as an e7200. just fyi. Reply
  • Lightingguy - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    Good article! But as a builder of mid-range systems for friends and family, I've got to point out that your budgets/actual expenses don't include entries for the OS. While I'm sure that you can get a good deal given your connections, that is a major budget item for those of us out here who don't want to use a Linux release. Reply
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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">

    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.
  • 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.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    You might want to do a bit more">research. Just as all ATX boards aren't identical in size, there is some leeway in how big a micro-ATX board can be. Maximum size is 9.6" x 9.6", but they can be much smaller than that as well.

    While the correct abbreviation is µATX, mATX and uATX are synonyms that are equally valid in our modern PC vernacular. (Gasp! You mean Newegg is wrong!? Yup. It happens. Or you could consider it a mere difference of opinion, where Newegg is trying to redefine uATX to mean something other than mATX.)
  • DXRick - Thursday, May 29, 2008 - link

    Thanks. Sorry for being stupid.
  • FireTech - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - link

    A very interesting 'article' Gary, with insight into the world of a reviewer but nicely balanced with the requirements of the typical cash conscious geek/husband/parent!

    I'm certainly looking forward to part two.

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