I had been using the same home PC for over 4 years now, and, having cash in hand from my recent motorcycle sell, it was time for new hardware. Luckily, around this same time, one of my favorite .Net podcasters and bloggers Scott Hanselman, from the show Hanselminutes, published a show on building a new PC. He gave a detailed parts list, and was to have Jeff Atwood, another one of my favorite bloggers from CodingHorror.com, assemble the machine and give commentary. I was very fortunate to be able to follow along with Scott and Jeff, taking their advice and experience into consideration as I assembled my own machine. [more]
Not only did I want this new PC to be a powerful update from my old computer, but I also wanted it to be quiet. I was tired of the annoyingly loud fans of my current system and of being amazed at how much quieter the house became whenever the power went out.
Also, I took this as an opportunity to upgrade all 3 Windows machines I have currently (main PC, media center PC in the living room, and file/backup server). I'm currently working on the media center PC next (will have details on it when it's up and running), and I plan upgrade and my file server and test a beta copy of Windows Home Server on it when the media center PC is stable.
Here is a list of the parts I ended up buying:
- Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Kentsfield 2.4GHz 2 x 4MB L2 Cache LGA 775 Processor - Retail
- Scythe SCMN-1100 100mm Sleeve CPU Cooler - Retail
- EVGA 122-CK-NF68-A1 LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
- Antec P182 Gun Metal Black 0.8mm cold rolled steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail
- Antec True Power Trio TP3-550 ATX12V 550W Power Supply with Three 12V Rails 100 - 240 V UL, CUL, FCC, TÜV, CE, C-tick, CCC, CB - Retail
- 2 x Patriot eXtreme Performance 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory - Retail
Price: $140 (for 2)
- Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB 10,000 RPM 16MB Cache Serial ATA150 Hard Drive - OEM
- Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD7500AAKS 750GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM
- MSI NX8600GTS-T2D256E-OC GeForce 8600GTS 256MB 128-bit GDDR3 PCI Express x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card - Retail
- Microsoft Windows Vista 64-Bit Ultimate for System Builders Single Pack DVD - OEM
Price: $200 (Yes, I actually bought Windows ;)
- LITE-ON Black 20X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 8X DVD+R DL 20X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 24X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache E-IDE/ATAPI DVD Burner with LightScribe Technology - OEM
- Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound - OEM
Total price: $1,727 (includes shipping but also includes discounts for mail-in rebates)
I priced a similar system with Dell at $2,808 - a savings of over $1,000. Of course, this doesn't include the cost of my time to build the machine (which is not trivial), but as a hobbyist, it's fun to build my own PC and I like to know exactly what componenets are going into my system.
I decided to go with an Intel quad core processor clocked at 2.4 Ghz. Intel CPUs recently had a substantial price cut, and this processor was formerly around $550 whereas I was able to pick it up for $290. For around the same price, I could have picked up a dual core CPU clocked at 3.0 Ghz, but decided against it. The higher clocked CPU might be better for gaming, but I'm not a big gamer, and I think I'll appreciate the multitasking benefits of more cores and hopefully the future benefits more and more cores start appearing in systems and software is, hopefully, better designed to make use of them.
I also decided to go with 2 hard drives: a fast, smallish one for OS and program files, and a larger one for user data and media. I picked the fast Raptor as my system drive in part due to a good write up at Coding Horror, and I got the 750 GB Western Digital drive as per advice at Tom's Hardware. I thought about going for a full terabyte drive, but the cost seemed a little too prohibitive for the extra amount of storage over 750 GB.
As for my experiences building and using the system so far, they've been unexpectedly smooth. The Antec case was a joy to work around, and I didn't run into any problems getting the machine to boot after everything was assembled (which has never happened with the computers I've built in the past). The PC has been outrageously fast so far. The Vista Aero Glass UI runs very smoothly, and I'm even able to run a full screen hi-def video ala Vista Dreamscene (a video of a river running towards me, in my case) as my desktop background with no noticeable slow down. The components that I bought are well suited to overclocking, so I should be able get the processor up to 3.0 Ghz fairly easily, (as Scott Hanselman and Jeff Atwood did), but the box has been running so quickly and smoothly that I haven't felt the need to. Also, the system is substantially quieter than my old PC.
I was a little skeptical about switching to a 64 bit OS, but working with Vista 64 has been surprisingly smooth and I've had little compatibility problems so far. There is one glaring problem, however: my iPhone doesn't work with Vista 64. When I plug it in, iTunes prompts me to "Please plug the iPhone into a computer running Windows XP or Vista 32 bit edition". The iPhone does, though, show up as a drive in Vista and the import photos dialog automatically launches when I plug it in. So, until Apple fixes this problem, I've got the iPhone syncing with another PC running XP. A hassle, but not a deal breaker.
I've got a set of pictures of the build on Flickr, and I have more detailed descriptions of various components and build steps in the picture descriptions. You can find the set here.
Here are several resources I found helpful during the build: