The computer carpenter strikes again

I last put together a new workstation several years ago, and although I have steadily upgraded it (CPU, sound, video, drive capacity) its technology has fallen too far behind my needs.

Besides, my wife just started musing about a new sewing machine and that was my cue.

My current beast is a Silverstone Temjin TJ06 case housing an ASUS K8N-DL dual 2.6 Ghz AMD Opteron motherboard, an ATI HD 2600 video card and an Audiotrak Prodigy 7.1 HiFi soundcard.  I’ll be keeping the beautiful monster case (it’s just flat awesome) and the soundcard, but everything else will be relegated to a media server I’ll be building alongside my next workstation (again using a Silverstone case, this time a Lascala LC17).  I’ve got an old Soundblaster X-Fi XtremeGamer audio card I was about to auction but I’ll probably keep it for the media server.

So far I’m looking at AMD Phenom II X4 processors, probably the 620 (3.2 Ghz).  For the motherboard I’m leaning toward the ASUS M4A78-E.  Ram will be at least 3 GB and likely gaming-grade from Kingston or Corsair.  My next video card will undoubtedly be the ATI 5870— if I can afford it!  Fortunately the ASUS motherboard comes with a decent onboard GPU (ATI 3300).

Lacking any sort of credit card, I usually research for the best components, scrounge around for the best deals on them, and start buying a piece at a time.  It makes sense then to acquire the LC17 case first and move my existing setup into it, then buy the new motherboard and take it from there.

Odds are I will be building a Windows 7 machine since my development needs still dwell largely in that world– but I plan to also make room for Ubuntu and begin learning more about Linux.  Thankfully there are so many easy ways to achieve multi-OS environments now, I could even go with any of a number of lightweight operating systems run from thumb drives if I wish.

Along with the core PC stuff I really need to upgrade my entire computing ecosystem.  My old Sony CRT failed so it’s definitely new monitor time (I’m currently using a 19 inch backup CRT) and I’m looking at Samsung 24 inchers, especially any with a TV tuner.  My beloved Logitech G15 keyboard has some sticky keys but maybe a good cleaning will restore it to decent use.  On the other hand, my Logitech MX518 mouse has developed attitude so I may teach it a lesson by moving to one of its newer descendents.

Bottom line I need to maintain the ability to perform 3d solid modeling work as well as support my musical ventures.  The current dual Opteron setup isn’t cutting it; certain audio mixing operations peg the CPUs and overload the software.  Hopefully a quad CPU system will suffice.

I’m like a kid in a candy store when I build a new machine so please bear with me as each piece arrives.  I’m going to be going nuts until I first power it up.  I’ll journal the process here.

Part suggestions welcome!  Just note I’m fairly committed to AMD… 😉


  1. Posted 24 October 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’m where you are myself — time to upgrade. I also buy a piece at a time to get the most value. I’m a long time Ubuntu user and haven’t run Windows in years. I develop web site so my platform isn’t critical. I’m also committed to AMD but also to Nvidia because of the superior driver support in Linux. Historically ATI hasn’t been well supported in Linux but since AMD bought them I hear that’s getting better. I like the mobo you’re considering but am hesitant because of the on board ATI GPU. Good luck with your project — DIY is the best way to get a higher performing system at the best price.

    • Posted 24 October 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for the comments George.

      I have mixed feelings about Windows 7. I’m running RC1 on an alternate drive and where it shines, it’s stellar and where it stinks, I’m gagging. My XP 64 install can barely work with music projects but at least I can muddle through– Win7 64 bit experiences easily twice the latency issues with the same hardware and software! Thus the drive to a quad CPU. Sigh. They have us by the gonads, don’t they!

  2. allnameswereout
    Posted 30 October 2009 at 4:27 am | Permalink | Reply

    Where are your interests? Only price?

    Silence? Heat? Power?

    AMD/ATI is now good on Linux. Frankly, it was OK for me before. I played for a long time ET on Linux with AMD CPU and ATI GPU. Worked great. On outdated hardware because I had no money (did not even have a case…). Anyway, right now, AMD(/ATI) are competitive especially if you keep not the super-high-end into account (there, Intel and Nvidia beat AMD/ATI on CPU and GPU power respectively, but with a price).

    For gaming I wouldn’t opt for anything after XP because the later DirectX implementations suck. Which is why I tend to keep a separate machine for gaming, with one of those W sucking graphics cards.

    Minus audio development (Mac Pro + dedicated hardware for this although it is possible to get low latency on Linux too) everything else I run in WINE and hardware accelerated VM on Linux/x86-64. This means if an application does not work in WINE I can run it in VM without significant performance loss. It can be accessed remotely (over SSH) supporting session management (e.g. detaching, resuming). Because this machine is in my living room I had to keep in mind silence, and because it also runs hardware RAID I had to keep heat in mind as well. Which made the project more expensive, and while one would think the power would be awful on this machine nothing is further from the truth. The HDDs are the main culprit.

    I realize your situation is different because you have different Windows-related needs, but you could easily run Linux/x86(-32/-64) in a hardware accelerated VM, in an image on HDD. No need for (slow) thumb stick and it cannot hurt your host OS. There are even free solutions for this available such as VMware player and VirtualBox, and with Ubuntu 9.10 just released, it’ll be another step easier to be used.

    My point? Multi-functional rig + VMs or seperate, dedicated computers. Don’t sit in too much inbetween, and keep this in mind when making choices. I’d opt for 4 GB RAM because it just is so cheap and easily useful, but maybe you buy DDR3, and may be more expensive, don’t know. I have a Samsung 24″, and am happy with it, but its for gaming. However I have KVM for to use the Linux rig. Hmm, what left to say, I really recommend Maemo users to try out Linux desktop. It is very educating, helps to put into perspective, and also some rather nice things work well together with Maemo. I’m really looking forward playing with PulseAudio for example. I have on my Linux rig audio playing which uses my laptop sound server. If I reboot my laptop it gets same IPv4 from WLAN AP. And the audio restarts. I imagine coming home with my N900, putting it in the kitchen, and voila audio starts automagically while I am making coffee 😀 maybe if it transcodes a bit it may be even useful over GPRS!! Although UPnP-AV also works for this…

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