New Computer '05

I finally got my computer, and have the weekend to spend setting everything up.

Let’s talk geek.

Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 (Dual-Core) 4400+

Thumbnail: Large CPU heatsink

The sexiest stock heatsink I’ve ever seen. Notice the dense fins, and the symmetrical copper heat pipes. I didn’t dare take it off the cpu for a picture. One time, after I pulled the heatsink off a P4, I noticed that the processor was stuck to the bottom while the processor lock was still in place. The thermal paste had caked and turned to glue. The edges of the cpu were chipped and a few pins were bent, but I carefully put them back in place and it still worked.

This one is an AMD though. It’s clocked at 2.2 GHz, with two megs of level 2 cache (one per core). Even though it can almost be considered unreasonably expensive, I went with a dual-core processor because I wanted something that could handle both single-threaded and multi-threaded apps. All the reviews I read said that the Pentium Extreme Edition chips were slightly better for the latter but much worse for the former, so this marks my first foray into the use of an Advanced Micro Devices processor, at work or at home.

Motherboard: Asus A8N-E

After deciding on a 939 processor, I was limited to socket-939 motherboards. I’ve always liked ASUS boards: they’re rock solid, and have a host of useful features. This one in particular supports PCI-Express, onboard RAID with Serial-ATA, an automatic AI Non-delay Overclocking System, and 8-channel audio. I’m a little disappointed that there are no firewire ports, although my fourth generation iPod came with a USB cable, eliminating my last need for firewire. If I do happen to need an IEEE-1394 connection, I can daisy-chain my USB enclosure, which supports two six-pin firewire ports.

I wonder if the AMD boards are new enough to support the dual-core processors out of the box, or whether the builders still had to flash the bios.

Memory (RAM): 2048 MB Corsair TWINX Dual-Channel DDR

Thumbnail: RAM

I had originally decided on value RAM, but changed the order to some quality, low latency Corsair to take advantage of DDR400 un-buffered memory support on the motherboard. This way I’ll also have a decent overclocking option, if I ever choose to do so. Seeing heatsinks on my RAM gives me a warm feeling inside, although I didn’t go as far as getting the PRO or XPERT XMS versions, which have little blinking LEDs and LED displays respectively, used to monitor activity, frequency, voltage, or temperature. This is regular DDR memory too, because AMD has decided to skip DDR 2 support and jump to DDR 3.

I never thought I’d need anywhere close to two gigs of RAM, until I tried to do a photomerge panorama in Adobe Photoshop CS with no other applications running and ran out less than half-way through the filter. The extra memory will help when I’m working with large canvases or long movie clips in Premier 6.0. It’ll also take the edge off system weigh-down because always have at least four programs running: a messenger application, a browser with up to a dozen sites open when I’m following a train of thought, an explorer app, and a media player.

Memory (Storage): Western Digital Raptor 74GB 10,000 RPM, Western Digital Caviar 320GB 7,200 RPM

I love the fact that I have a 10,000 RPM drive. Serial-ATA, along with widespread RAID support, has created an affordable option compared to SCSI, the latter of which isn’t worth the price for home systems in my opinion. I’m using the fast drive to keep the OS and programs, while the larger drive is for page files, scratch disks, and documents, especially digital video files which can be up to 40 gigs each when I’m working with them in an unencoded state. The serial-ATA cables are also nice and thin, which are good for airflow.

This is probably the most noticable difference from my last computer, which was using a 60GB 4,200 RPM drive. The spin speed, a most noticeable bottleneck, was killing me.

Optical Drives: LG 16x DVD Burner, LG 52x CD-ROM

Nothing too special here, except the fact that I finally have a DVD burner. I bought the extra CD-ROM because of the convenience of having an extra drive. The DVD drive also supports DVD-RAM, so it can read the DVD-RAM discs that I record to on my Panasonic video camera, which is a lot more helpful than transferring through the camcorder itself.

Monitor: Dell Ultrasharp 2405FPW

Thumbnail: My workstation

A few months ago, in anticipation of a new system, I bought two 19″ flat screens. After realizing that I’d be hindered by a native resolution of 1280×1024, I sold both and bought a 24-inch flat panel widescreen LCD from Dell. I’ve always found it hard to tell exactly how big a monitor is from a picture, but I think this one stands out pretty well. There’s no ghosting through the DVI cable, and the screen is bright and crisp. It’s a full 22″ across, wider than my full-sized keyboard. It supports a res of 1920×1200, and can do picture-in-picture or side-by-side with three other inputs: S-video, composite, or component. Component input means that the monitor functions as a widescreen HD TV, so I can plug in my progressive scan DVD player or Gamecube. The really nice thing is that it also functions as a handy table-top usb hub with four ports, and a media card reader for my digital camera.

Eventually, I’ll buy two more 20.1 inch flat panels (with matching vertical resolutions) to put on both sides. One screen will run explorer, and the other will replace my table-top TV. The 24″ is big enough to be the main screen by containing all the workspace palettes without overlapping most documents. I’ll also have to buy a DVI-capable video card with a coax TV tuner to run a third monitor.

Video Card: ATI Radeon 850XT Platinum

Thumbnail: Video card

The top gaming card offered by ATI, boasting an extra four pixel pipelines over the X800 (and Platinum means an extra 20 MHz core frequency….OOOOOOOHH). Thing this is a monster, with the huge fan taking up an extra card slot. I decided not to go with an SLI configuration, because the extra price for having two identical cards wasn’t worth the performance increase. I was able to play Half-Life 2 at max resolution (a natively support 1920×1200) with 6x anti-aliasing at a very decent framerate.

Keyboard and Mouse: Logitech DiNovo Media Desktop 2.0

Thumbnail: LCD notification close-up

Thumbnail: Mediapad

Admittedly, this keyboard and mouse combination is more form than function. Everything is wireless, controlled by bluetooth. The keyboard is beautifully slim, with the transfer and feedback of a laptop keyboard, without the small keys. It has quick access buttons for application, volume, and media playback.

There’s also a media pad with a built-in LCD, which is a separate unit from the keyboard, and serves a variety of functions. It can be used as a standard keyboard number pad, a calculator (which automatically copies the result to the Windows clipboard), or a remote media control center with volume and playback controls. The media pad, when not displaying time and date synchronized with the operating system, disylays the currently playing title, or will beep and display a notification of new email messages or messenger prompts.

The mouse is a regular Logitech MX900, which I may decide to replace with another one. One advantage of having this setup is that the mouse charger functions as a bluetooth hub.

Sound Card: On-Board Realtek AC’97 Audio Card

Even though my sound is on-board, I felt that this deserved it’s own section. I had previously always used the SoundBlaster series for my sound cards, up to the first Audigy. That was the one that Creative boasted about as having 24-bit digital sound that I could never hear, because my speakers will only support digital output from an optical S/PDIF connection. This is one of the things I found out only after picking up the speakers as a replacement for another set under warranty. I’ve had these speakers for five years now, but could never take advantage of the official Dolby Digital ProLogic support, because of the optical, as opposed to coax, limitations of the outputs. As well, the speakers, which came as 5.1, could only be used as a four-point system. I had looked for optical capable sound cards, or even coax-to-optical cables (which I realize now doesn’t make any sense), with no luck.

When I found out that the on-board sound had an optical connection, I was ecstatic. It meant that I didn’t have to buy a separate sound card, and I had full digital support. I had even kept the three-foot optical cable that originally came with the speaker set, and put it aside, not packing it away just in case I would find that ever elusive optical connection.

Case: Antec Sonata II

I use two first-generation Sonatas at work, and aside from an easily scratchable surface I don’t have many complaints. The Sonata is solidly constructed, well designed, and whisper quiet. Everything, from the 5¼ inch bays to the hard drives, even the 3½-inch floppy drive, is on easy-access rails. The look remains very simple, and the two most notable improvements is a dedicated processor vent that sits on top of the CPU fan for a direct connection to the back of the case, and an extra hinge on the bay cover which allows it to fold all the way back instead of sticking out half-way as in the first generation.

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