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 1280x1024, 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 1920x1200, 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 1920x1200) 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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