Ever since I got my DSLR and a couple of 4 gig CF cards a few months back, I’ve been shooting away to glory each weekend and contending with 100s of RAW images. My poor ‘kitchen laptop’ with a 40 gig hard drive and an outdated processor couldn’t take it anymore and was thinking of bailing on me when I decided that it’s about time to get a new PC.
A bit of history — I haven’t had a desktop at home since ’01 when I sold my aging P2-233 to an unsuspecting college junior. I got myself a ‘gaming’ laptop (an HP Pavilion ZT1260) the following year and it was a mixed experience. I loved the portability, but the video card on the laptop overheated after an hour or two of gaming and literally burned the motherboard in a year. It was still under warranty, so HP replaced it (sans all my data) for free, but the replacement lasted only another year or so before it suffered the same fate. So, I vowed never to get a gaming laptop ever again and got us a cheap Toshiba laptop that we used at home predominantly for browsing and email.
I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a media center/media server ever since I got my Tivo and Xbox, and figured I could use it for transcoding recorded tv shows to the iPod, streaming photo and music to the xbox and other misc uses.
Here’s the config I came up with:
CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 quad-core processor, 2.40GHz. I figured I needed a multi-core processor to handle all the photo editing and video transcoding I planned to do. So, well, might as well get as many cores as I can afford 🙂 I didn’t manage to get the lower-powered G0 stepping though, just the older B3.
Motherboard: This was the most confusing part of my search. Unlike other components, there are literally hundreds of unique motherboards and there’s no real quantitative measure that I can filter my searches by. So, I had to go solely by price, reviews on tech forums and a couple of features (like size and number of DIMM slots) that I knew were important to me.
I needed something that could keep up with the quad-core while staying stable and cool. I wasn’t too keen on RAID support though I wanted SATA to serve up all the media I’m planning to host :). I thought I could get a full sized ATX mobo w/ built in Video, but proved pretty difficult. So, finally, I got the ABIT IP35-E, which had good reviews on NewEgg and had the works as far as features were concerned. This mobo has the double boot problem described in some forums, but it’s not a real bug, just an annoyance.
RAM: I figured that since memory prices drop over time, I’ll get just enough for my needs now and expand later as required. So, I got 2 gigs of dual channel DDR2 800 Mhz memory from Corsair – the highly rater Corsair 2GB TWIN2X2048-6400C4. I have two slots left on the mobo which will help in future expansion.
Hard Drive: Again, I wanted to get the best bang for the buck here since hdd prices and capacities are always moving in opposite directions. The best deal I got was on the Western Digital 400GB SATA 150 drive which was on sale on NewEgg at the time. It’s only 7200 RPM and 150MB/s, but I’ll probably be buying a hard drive every year to keep up with growing storage needs 🙂
Video Card: I wasn’t planning to use this PC for major gaming, since I already have an Xbox 360. I initially planned to get a mobo with on board video but since those were hard to come by with the features I wanted, I decided to get the cheapest general purpose video card with DirectX 9 and Vista Aero support. That turned out to be the MSI ATI RADEON X1550 with 128MB on board video memory, HDMI out and TV out. Not a bad card, and totally worth the 30 bucks I paid for it.
Case and Power Supply: These were easy. I didn’t need a fancy case since I wasn’t going to keep this PC in the living room. I needed a fairly powerful power supply, though because of the quad core processor, SATA drive(s) and my long term plans of getting a better video card. So, I picked up a Rosewill case for cheap and a rather basic Coolmax 450W Power Supply from newegg and buy.com respectively. Both of them have built in fans, so that should help keep the system cool, if not quiet.
So, I ordered all the components over the period of a week and played the waiting game for FedEx, UPS and others to get them to me.
Once they were all here, I started putting them together. That story will be covered in a future post 🙂