My first priority was the speed and scale of the machine. I knew that I wanted to build a machine that would be able to play games very well, and look nice, but since I didn't want to totally break the bank on doing it, I decided to go with some lower-cost components in part. So, without further ado:
- The Case: This was the easiest decision to make. Thinkgeek has by far the the cooler and easiest case around to get. I went with the precut window, and put in the window, as well as ordered the blue neon light to put inside of the machine. This case frickin' rocks. Thumbscrews for everything, the drive bays, motherboard array and everything else slides out intelligently - this is the first case I've ever had where I'm *happy* to be working on the internals of the machine. However, I did replace the fans.
- The Fans: Rather then use the stock fans, I ordered the Silencer Fan from PC Power and Cooling. Three of them to be exact -- and they are as quiet as the Stereophile comment implies. Very very quiet (20 Db), and does a great job of keeping the internals cool. The fans are the standard size for an ATX case, so swapping was a breeze.
- Power Supply: In keeping with the keep-it-quiet theme, I went with the Ultraquiet 400 ATX. It's got ample power, and is incredibly quiet. Very, very nicely done.
- The Processor: Being that I was trying to be at least somewhat budget conscious, I went with the AMD Athlon. I got the 1.2 Ghz variety, as the cost difference, at the time, between that and the 1.4 were considerable, for what I saw to be very little extra additional speed. It was also at this point that I made the choice to go with a single processor machine, rather then a dual. Since I was going to be a lot of gaming on here this machine, in addition to work, and the gaming would be in a Windows 98 environment (Diablo 2, Baldur's Gate II:Throne of Bhaal, The Sims) there was very little reason to go with a dual processor machine. So, with that in mind, I ordered my single Athlon 1.2 Ghz.
- Processor Heatsink/Fan: I replaced the stock processor heatsink, and went with the ultraquiet one from PC Power and Cooling -- replacing it was no problem, and while when the case is closed, the noise difference is inaudible; when the case is open, you can definitely hear the difference between the two fans. Plus, on average, the new fan keeps the processor an average of 4 degrees Celsius cooler - from 69 C to 65 C, when running full tilt - e.g. Baldur's Gate II:Throne of Bhaal, and my little contribution to Team Slashdot, that's the temp. Running with just the OS is about 58 C. I just used the heat-sink compound that came along with the new fan to wipe down the CPU.
- The Motherboard: Originally, I was planning on going with the MSI-6380 motherboard. Tom's Hardware recommend it -- but what I quickly found out was that there was a nationwide shortage on those boards -- or at least that's what multiple vendors told me. Luckily, the folks at Teacco, who I had ended up ordering through recommend the Asus A7A266. This uses the ALi Magik 1 chipset, versus the Via KT266 Pro chipset, which the MSI board used. My assumption is that the Via chipset was in short supply. I still think the MSI was a better board, but sometimes you have to deal with shortfalls - and frankly, the Asus supported the 266 FSB, and the RAM that I wanted to use. Availability won -- and I've veen happy with the A7A266.
- The DDR RAM: Obviously, if speed is the goal, you want to get good, and a goodly amount, of RAM. Having talked the various RAM manufacturers over with ChrisD, I finally settled on the Corsair Micro CM73SD256R-2100. It had a 266 Mhz bus, and Corsair makes a good RAM chip.
- Hard Drive: My last machine had two hard drives, one SCSI and one IDE. Since the motherboard I had purchased had two ATA-100 boards onboard, I decided that rather then go through and purchase a SCSI controller, and get a SCSI drive, I would just get a ATA-100 IDE hard drive. Also based on past experiences, and knowing other people who had the same problem, I decided to go with a 5400 RPM drive, rather then 7200. Most of the 7200 RPM drives I've had, or others have had, regardless of manufacturer, or type of drive, have died after nine month or so. I also wanted to get a drive that was quiet, and reliable -- and I had been very happy with my last IBM drive, so I got the Deskstar 40GV. Heh -- good thing I didn't get the 75 GXP. With ATA 100, I'm getting around the same practical throughput as SCSI, without having an additional controller. Also, with the Deskstar, I can use my SilentDrive sleeves. More on that in a moment. But, with 40 gigs, I was making a choice not to have this be a MP3 box or anything. That's alright, because the other machine has a crapload of space, and can handle that role, easily.
- The Silent Drive: In sticking with my goal of trying to be as fast and quiet as possible, I picked up some Silent Drives from New England Digital Computer. The SilentDrive is made by Molex; it's pretty cheap, and really cuts down on hard drive noise -- and since I've used them in my other machine, I don't have much concern about them cutting the drive's life. Besides, the aim of this machine is not to be a server, but more of a gamebox, so I'm willing to live with a slight risk anyhow.
- CD-RW: Obviously, a machine is going to need some sort of CD/DVD format input device. I had already decided to forgo a floppy drive, because the motherboard will support booting from CD-ROM, and I wanted to see if it can be done. Yes, it can be done, easily. Moving files around is much easier with scp than with floppies anyway. *grin* I debated between the DVD or CD-RW, but decided to go with the latter, because I'm going to hold out for a while, and then purchase a DVD-RW for the machine. No sense in getting a DVD Drive and decoder board now, when the DVD-RW is only a few months away. I also wanted to be able to burn and rip CDs fairly fast, so I went with the Yamaha CRW2100EZ. It's a very nice, very fast drive, but has a major problem for the quiet machine: it's loud. When it's got a drive it's working on, this thing makes a huge ton of noise. So, my solution is that I don't have disks in there, and when I'm doing something with it, I just put up with the noise. Nonetheless, in the long run, this will be replaced with the DVD-RW, and thus, I'm not too concerned about it.
- Cabling: With all of these parts coming in, I had to start wiring it all up, right? The rounded EIDE cables were great. I've got two, and am happy as a clam.
- Video Card: Since this rig was being designed for gaming, my choice was pretty simple on this one -- the The GeForce 3. For all the hype out there about this card, this thing is totally worth it. I got the AGP version, of course, but one nice thing about the change in motherboards was that the Asus can handle AGP Pro, so when a good AGP Pro videocard comes out, I'll switch over, and eBay my old video card.
- Sound card: As above, with gaming in mind, as well ultimately hoping to do some home movie editing for burning to the yet-unpurchased DVD-RW drive, I went with the consumer top of the line sound card, the Creative Labs Soundblaster Platinum. This thing was a SOB to get installed, because you have to not only insert the normal sound card into the PCI slot, but also fit into the 5 & .25" drive slot the external control slot. It's pretty cool, because it comes along with a remote so that you can use the computer as a movie watching system, if you want. The front slot is also where you can a lot more inputs and outputs, versus the normal 4 inputs on the soundcard. It even has an optical in and optical out, so that you can do some PS2 gaming on the computer if you want. Very very impressive -- but getting the cable running from the external control slot to the sound card wasn't very fine, because: 1. I had a hard time getting the cables fitting together and 2. The flat grey ribbon cable ruined my esthetic of the black EDIE rounded cable. I know, an artistic argument, but dammit, this is my mega system.
- The Network Card: Nothing really exciting here -- I reused a Intel EEpro 100. Good network card; I don't use any of the remote management stuff, but it sends and receives packets. That's enough for me.
- The Mouse: CowboyNeal had been singing the praises of the Logitech Mouseman Wireless. system for a while, and I decided to take the leap. It's a remote system, but probably the first remote system that I've used that truly works. The latency between mouse and display is remarkably low, and that latency has been my major complaint of other remote keyboards/mice. I'm not sure that the mouse is appropriate for a FPS or other instant-reaction game which might expose problems at the finest levels, but it does just fine for games like BG2/The Sims. Slightly sluggish for Diablo II, but not lethally so. I recommend it, with the above reservation about FPS/faster paced games.
- Keyboard: This was one of two instances that I simply reused components from before. The keyboard that I'm using is the Microsoft Internet Keyboard. Yeah, yeah -- it's a M$ product. Whatever. The reality is that the keyboard has a good tactile feedback, comes with two built-in USB ports on the keyboard itself, supports PS/2 and USB for output, and is a full keyboard. Oh, I got it free through some promotion at CDW.
- Monitor: This is the second instance of reusing old components. In this case, I had purchased the Sony Trinitron G400 about eighteen months ago, for use on my first gaming machine. It's a great monitor -- 19", so it fits into almost any desk space, has a flat screen, and great color depth. It's been a very dependable monitor, and while other monitors have come out, I saw no reason to spend the several hundred dollars on getting a new monitor. So, I've decided to just stick with this. Maybe if flat screens or something get really cheap over the next year, I'll upgrade, but for right now, I see no compelling reason to do so.
- UPS System: We wouldn't want to be crashing in the midst of our gaming or working, now would we? I actually set up two UPS systems -- the system is on a APC BackOffice UPS, and the monitor is on a USB. I've used the BackOffice UPS's output to plug into COM2 on the system. Powerchute is APC's software hook-in. I've got the Windows version that came along with the software, and am also playing with getting the Linux version working, although it seems to be compiled against RH -- at least the version I have is.
The machine came together fairly well -- by reusing a couple components, I was able to keep the price under $2000 -- and the same system should be even cheaper now, since RAM is so cheap that we should throw away hard drives and just have RAM *grin*. Of course, then you'd better hope your UPS system works.
The point of this machine was really to create a platform for gaming and it serves that "need" admirably -- it's been a pleasure to play games on. With the prices on CPUs continuing to drop, I'll probably upgrade this to a 1.4 Athlon in the next six months, and throw in another half gig of RAM, but for the time being, I've happily created a nice, fast -- and quiet machine. Really, this thing is incredibly quiet: I don't have my decibel measuring device anymore, but my old Vaio laptop's fan is louder then this machine. Louder, and with 1/4 the computing power, and 1/4 the RAM. I consider this an improvement.