The $1500 PC Thread

Even though the screw-onto-the-back-of-the-motherboard style is far, far more of a hassle to install (and sometimes fit) in a mid-tower case, especially if you've already got the motherboard installed and hooked up, I gotta say I prefer the solidity of the bolt-on installation to many flimsy "clip-on" mechanisms.

I'm just more comfortable with the HSF making solid contact, held in place by firmly tightened screws, and once it's done, it's done.

I'm planning out an upgrade for my machine. Any suggestions by the tech guru's would be greatly appreciated. The primary use of this system is gaming. I play WOW but I've already pre-ordered AOC and I'd like to build a machine that will handle that game well.

I'm considering a couple of options I haven't tried before:
2 video cards (or at least the option to upgrade to a second one at a later date).
A RAID configuration (I'm new to RAID configurations but I think RAID 0 is what I'm looking for).

Components I have that I'm thinking of reusing:
Windows XP Home Edition (It's the only OS I own and it's been stable for me for a long time).
Seagate FreeAgent Pro 320GB External HDD
Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 Conroe 2.66GHz
VisionTek 900182 Radeon HD 2600PRO 512MB
COOLER MASTER eXtreme RP-500-PCAR ATX 500W Power Supply

I used most of these components in a machine I built recently that bit the dust. I suspect either the old RAM or old HDD was the culprit. The old mobo had no room to upgrade.

I would like a motherboard that would allow me to overclock the processor a little bit. I've never tried overclocking at all. I wouldn't be doing anything extreme, just a small amount of OC that would be stable but still provide a relatively noticible degree of performance. I've had good luck with ASUS boards in the past but I'm not stuck on them. I'd also like a board that can run 2 video cards.

I was a little hasty when I purchased the Visiontek card awhile back. I should have done my research more and consulted these forums. This card says it is Crossfire capable. I was reading the high praise that the Nvidia cards were getting and I have to ask myself if this card is worth reusing. I have to admit I wasn't all that impressed with the improvements it gave me when I was running it in the machine that crapped out.

Given that I have the Seagate external HDD that I store my files on, I was considering setting up a RAID 0 configuration to allow my installed programs to load faster. It wouldn't have to be anything monstrously huge. I was thinking something along the lines of 2 x 200GB SATA HDD, possibly smaller depending what I can find for a reasonable price.

I don't see a whole lot of people running XP Home Edition. Are there solid reasons for me to drop the coin for XP Professional or even move up to Vista? I know that may be a loaded question but I'm comfortable using XP Home Edition. I'm just curious if an upgrade to the OS is going to be that beneficial for me.

I'll be picking up 4GB of quality RAM.

I'm also going to get one of the fans reccomended in this thread because I've had alot of trouble with the stock plastic tab fan that came with the processor.

To sum it up:

1) Can some reccomend a motherboard that is user friendly, capable of running 2 PCI-E video cards, and has the stability to allow a beginners attempt at overclocking?

2) Should I bother upgrading my OS (Windows XP Home Edition)?

3) Should I switch to Nvidia if I ultimately decide to try and run 2 cards, or should I stick with the Visiontek since I already have one?

4) If anyone has experience with a RAID 0 configuration, are you satisfied with it and would you reccomend it?

Any helpful input is greatly appreciated

First, I would stop worrying about running Crossfire. You will always be far better off buying one better video card instead of two lesser ones. Even when you already have a lesser one, you'll be better off replacing it rather than adding a second. The only people that should bother with multiple video cards are the guys at the high end, with their 30" super high resolution monitors and their boatloads of money...

If you bought another 2600PRO to pair with the one you have, you'd just be tossing money into the toilet. You'd be infinitely better off buying something like the 9600 GT. Going from one slower card to two of them never provides the kind of upgrade you think you should be getting.

As for overclocking, I definitely understand the temptation, but starting with a chip that's already running at 1333 FSB (as the E6750 is) probably isn't the best spot for a beginner. You're not going to get much of a noticeable performance improvement out of OCing that chip without knowing what you're doing.

Plus, for gaming performance, there's absolutely no point in you overclocking. You've got a fast CPU and a dirt slow video card. Even after you upgrade, you will still be GPU bound.

Legion covered the videocard thing pretty much completely.

Don't bother with the OS switch unless you have some specific and compelling reason to do so.

Don't bother with RAID. I ran RAID-0 on a pair of 36GB Raptors, and while it was a little faster than just one, the only time I really noticed it was when working with very large files, like extracting gigabyte RAR files, and even then it wasn't a dramatic difference. Seek time is usually more important than raw bandwidth. Just put a single fast drive in and you'll be happy. This is also safer... RAID-0 blows up if EITHER drive fails, so you have twice the chance of failure. (I had a daily backup to my server, so data loss didn't concern me.)

XP Pro has some nice features if you're running on a network, and it will support two processor dies instead of just one.... but if your machine is standalone... eh, you're fine with XP Home. I'd say Vista is a clear 'avoid' for gamers for now. Buy it if and when you need it, and not before.

Lots and lots of motherboard recommendations in the thread, just peruse it a bit.

As Legion says, don't bother with multiple video cards. Just get a single 8800GT and you're golden for damn near any game. You can keep your 2600 if it's enough speed for now, but that's not a very fast card. If an 8800GT is within budget, it has amazing performance for a fairly reasonable price. And it will match nicely with your 6750.

He's right about not OCing. Just not worth it. You've already got 90% of your max CPU performance. Why screw up your stability for a maybe 10% speed boost? OCing makes sense when you buy a cheap processor on a slow bus speed, and then overclock the bus, but your bus speed is already near max. So don't worry about it.

Yeah what those guys said. Not much to recommend when you already have the parts.

I'd look for a cheap mb though since you don't have to overclock. I'm talking $60ish. That's me though.

I would say with your vidcard there's no reason to go to Vista right now as far as gaming goes.

Awesome feedback everyone, I sincerely appreciate your help.

I'm going to forget about 2 video cards and RAID 0, I just don't need either one for what I do with my machine. I've pretty much settled on the following so far:

MSI NX8800GT 512M OC GeForce 8800GT 512MB
RAIDMAX Smilodon Extreme Black ATX-612WEB
Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS 320GB
CORSAIR XMS2 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800
Pioneer DVD Burner

I'm planning on reusing the E6750 CPU and OCZ RAM from this thread if I can test it and verify it's good. I'll be running the 386memtest on the OCZ RAM I have when the new case comes in. Is there a test I can perform that verifies everything is OK with the CPU? From what I understand it's unlikely a CPU will just go bad, especially considering it's only a few months old, but I just would like to be sure.

I can't recommend the MSI 8800gt enough. The Gigabyte P35 DS3L is a great mobo also.

I have a far inferior CPU (e2160) than yours. With the 8800gt, I can run Hellgate London @ 1280x1024 flawlessly with all the settings cranked and special features on. As I mentioned in another thread, my CPU/GPU combo nearly tripled my WoW framerate (27 fps -> 76 fps)

I haven't seen anything from AoC that gives me the impression that it is more graphically intensive than Hellgate London.

Rollercoaster tycoon runs flawlessly on high settings. There isnt much more Im playing at the moment, unfortunately. But I now have the confidence that I didn't have with my old rig.

For CPU testing, you can use the Burnin module in SiSoft Sandra. That will also test your RAM as well... use memtest86 first, but then use the Burnin module and leave it cranking overnight.

BTW, for cases, if you have a Fry's nearby -- go there. They have a huge selection, and you won't pay the insane shipping fees from Newegg. Cases are huge, and cost a mint to ship. Depending on prices, you might look into an Antec P180 or P182. They're $130 and $150 at Newegg, which is quite high, but if they're the same price at Fry's, with the savings on shipping, you might like the upgrade. They're great cases, particularly the P182. They're designed primarily to be very quiet, but can also be reconfigured to have tremendous airflow, if you'd rather have that instead.

The only caveat with the P18Xes is that the power supply is in the bottom, unusually far from the motherboard, so you'll want to grab motherboard power extension cables, a foot or two. Get both a 24-pin ATX and the little four-pin extender.

If you're not into quiet computing, it may not be worth the effort. Just get something you like at Fry's instead. (or Microcenter, if you have one of those.)

Malor wrote:

For CPU testing, you can use the Burnin module in SiSoft Sandra. That will also test your RAM as well... use memtest86 first, but then use the Burnin module and leave it cranking overnight.

We have a Fry's here locally that I'm going to pick the case up from to avoid shipping. I downloaded SiSoft Sandra (the shareware version). I'm not familiar with this software at all. Does the Burn-in module have an option that will create a bootable CD to run the tests or do I need to be running an OS from a HDD to perform them?

I'm going to build up the E6750 CPU and my old OCZ RAM with my old ECS mobo today. I'm planning on running the memtest86 to check if the 2GB of OCZ RAM I have is error free. I'd like to run this SiSoft Sandra test for the CPU as well if possible.

Once I can verify that the E6750 CPU is fine I'm going to pull the trigger on the other components.

Sandra runs from the OS -- so run MemTest86+ first. Once you're satisfied things look adequately solid, then install the OS, but don't activate it. Get all your drivers installed, and then install Sandra, and run its Burnin module overnight.

I don't know of any CPU tests that will run without installing an OS; maybe someone else can chime in if they know of any.

Chances are pretty low that the 6750 is busted, btw. As long as they're not installed into a system with bent pins, and haven't been toasted by an errant power supply, they're amazingly reliable.

It's on the way:

Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R Desktop Board

RAIDMAX Smilodon Extreme Black ATX-612WEB SECC STEEL ATX Mid Tower Computer Case

MSI NX8800GT 512M OC GeForce 8800GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express Video Card

CORSAIR XMS2 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS 320GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive

LITE-ON 20X DVD±R DVD Burner Black IDE Model DH-20A4P-04

ZALMAN 9500A 92mm 2 Ball CPU Cooler

I can't wait!

Figured I'd post my recent build here, as it's a budget system and seems to be in line with this thread. I've been out of the PC hardware scene for the past 6-7 years as well, so any comments regarding my choices would be appreciated. I spent the last few weeks trying to reeducate myself in the newfangled jargon (it was so much simpler when CPUs were just measured in MHz). Just keep in mind that my primary focus was budget balanced by performance, with a bit more emphasis on the budget than performance side. I was still very insistent on performance though, so I spent a few weeks lurking on deal site forums and snatching up whatever looked good. I have to muck around with rebates, but I've got the initial capital to spend so I'm willing to put up with that. Anyway, here goes (links to where I bought them, all newegg except vidcard which is amazon, prices include shipping):

Memory: 2gb Corsair DDR2 800 - $69 (-$40 rebate=$29)

It'll be pretty easy to upgrade to 4gb down the road, for the time being this seems the sweet spot.

Optical: 20x ASUS DVD with all the +'s and -'s you'd expect - $24

Cheap DVD. Would be even better had were it not DOA (that's what I get for buying "open box")

MB: ABIT IP35-E - $89 (-$30 rebate=$59)

This board represents my philosophy when building this system in a way. Doesn't have any fancy features I'm unlikely to use (eSATA, firewire, SLI, raid) but it held up to the other boards in some of the reviews and benchmarks I've found, has a fully featured BIOS, and was cheap.

Case: Raidmax Ninja 918 - $69 (-$40 rebate=$29)

Um, yeah. Looks like a molten vagina with LEDs. Somewhat flimsy. I don't recommend this case but it comes with two case fans and supposedly has good airflow so it fit with my budget/performance philosophy.

HD: Seagate Barracuda 7200/8mb/80gb - $43

Only 80gb. Until the inevitable upgrade I plan on using this for the OS and any locally installed programs. I recently put 370gb of HD space in my other PC and laptop so I'll be using those for any mass storage.

PSU: Cooler Master extreme power 460w - $40

I was a bit worried about this one, but it's a name brand and it seems to keep everything powered nicely under a variety of loads.

CPU: Intel C2D E6750: $190

I almost went with an E8400/Xeon 3110, but decided the $50 price premium I'd have to pay for one of those would be overkill in this system.

VC: PNY XLR8 8800GT 512MB - $200 (-$40 rebate=$160)

8800gt for $160? Sold. I was actually shooting for a 9600gt when this deal popped up.

Total: $724 - 150 rebates=$574

So how'd I do?

So how'd I do?

Very nice! Its amazing the kind of rig you can build for under $600. That bad boy should last you for a few years.

For a few dollars more, you could have gotten a significantly larger hard drive so your hard drive value per GB is a bit low but, hey, you said you don't need it so you don't need it.

For a few dollars less, you could probably have found a case/psu combo but thats only if your truly trying to minimize cost. I think you made the right choice going with a recognized PSU brand.

Nice rig except 80gb hd for $43. I woulda spent ~$25 more and got 3 or 4x the storage. That's where being cheap can get the best of ya.

In the spirit of this thread:

My $750 PC builds are here.

Though they're with monitor and case, and I don't count rebates. So the CPU and video card budget is a bit lower.

I like your build. The E6750 is right on the mark for price/performance.

My only question is, why drag it down with Vista?

*Legion* wrote:

My only question is, why drag it down with Vista? :D

This was something I wondered as well. You can still get xp64 Pro from Newegg for slightly more. Well worth it though, I think.

Im worried about the power supply. If you can scrape the cash together, I would get a 500+ PSU.

Its not that you don't have enough. I just don't think you are leaving yourself any breathing room.

Thanks for the feedback guys. I dunno, I guess I would like to give Vista a shot. I've heard positive things about SP1.

I've run the system through a power supply calculator and, unless I am missing something, it appears I do have plenty of breathing room (as long as I don't go SLI, which I won't). Given the amazing low cost and great reviews for this power supply, I would be spending $50 or more for a quality upgrade to a bulkier power supply. I guess I'll run it through again to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Unless there's something specific you need with Vista, Cope, I'd stay well away.

Well, If I skip out on Vista, do 4 MB of memory do me any good?

Copingsaw wrote:

Well, If I skip out on Vista, do 4 MB of memory do me any good?

Well, 3.25 GB or so will. And what's the point of running Vista just to run 4 GB of RAM if you're not going to get a performance benefit out of it, compared to "only" 3-3.5GB of RAM in XP?

Legion, I visited your blog. Very nice! I may switch over to the power supply you chose for your $750 build. A bit of extra power for about the same price.

Copingsaw wrote:

Well, If I skip out on Vista, do 4 MB of memory do me any good?

In order to take full advantage of that 4GB,you would need to have Vista 64 bit installed. The support and reliability, as well as performance is not high. Very few programs or games are coded to take advantage of any benefits in V64. With 32 Bit Vista, 2 Gb is the magic number, just like in XP.

And people also, if they are upgrading an existing system to Vista, be aware of how much total memory your Motherboard can support. That meant System AND Video RAM. A half Gig or a Gigabyte of VRAM applies to the total.

But, I must say, this is a great and magical time to build a new PC. With the ATI and NvIdia price wars, as well as AMD fighting Intel, a renewed Intel and AMD initiative for chipsets(the P35 and 690 G are big performers). It is not out of the question to build a PC, total package(mouse, monitor, OS, everything) for around 700 dollars.

My younger brother just tickled me pink when he mentioned he "needs" a new computer. I got all giddy and started pricing parts.

Okay, I built my new rig over the weekend. The only major change from the build specified about 10 posts above was swapping the Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 Conroe 2.66GHz ($184) for a newer Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 3.0GHz 45NM ($199). For $15 more, I seem to have gotten a faster CPU that runs suprisingly cold and has a lot of overclocking potential.

In any case, as a non-expert, I was very pleased with how well everything just worked. 2 hours build-time, about 4 hours to install the OS, play around with vista, load all my software and set up my network and I am good to go. I decide to stick with Vista and so far am very happy with it, although it seems to reserve about 40% of my RAM for its own nefarious needs. What a greedy bastard.

Thanks for all the advice!

ender wrote:

I guess the warning I have is when you are putting a PC together yourself, think of it as a Lego kit its really not that hard. However, with CPU's nowadays having massive amounts of cache you can't go by the old notion that if a CPU boots up that is must be OK... everyone suspects the RAM immediately but these CPU's can have corrupted RAM as well. Maybe it was a very rare thing, but if my experience can help anyone then... there you go.

I feel like this should be tattooed backwards onto my forehead so I never forget it... I've had a painful few weeks of (barely) educated guesswork as I try to determine what the problem is with my various rigs.

Copingsaw wrote:

Okay, I built my new rig over the weekend. The only major change from the build specified about 10 posts above was swapping the Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 Conroe 2.66GHz ($184) for a newer Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 3.0GHz 45NM ($199). For $15 more, I seem to have gotten a faster CPU that runs suprisingly cold and has a lot of overclocking potential.

Whats the benefits of the E8400 over the E6850? 45NM?

ranalin wrote:
Copingsaw wrote:

Okay, I built my new rig over the weekend. The only major change from the build specified about 10 posts above was swapping the Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 Conroe 2.66GHz ($184) for a newer Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 3.0GHz 45NM ($199). For $15 more, I seem to have gotten a faster CPU that runs suprisingly cold and has a lot of overclocking potential.

Whats the benefits of the E8400 over the E6850? 45NM?

If I recall correctly it has 6mb of shared memory instead of 4mb and it should operate at lower temperature because of the 45nm tech which in turn should make it better for overclocking.