I don’t deny it, my old tower PC at home has seen better days. It’s a Core2Duo system from 2007 and has served its duties. Thus, I’m looking for a replacement for this system for at most 800€, which will be able to serve at least for the next five years.
This is supposed to be a trilogy of articles.
In this first one I’ll describe my current about-to-retire system, the requirements for the new
and reasons for choosing the specific new components I’m about to order.
The second part will cover the building of the new system while the third and last part will give a resume of the new system including a few benchmarks as far as I’ll be able to conduct them.
The Old System
To start off, these are the specs of my current system:
|CPU||Intel||Core 2 Duo E6600 @ 2.4GHz|
|Memory||Kingston||2x DDR2 1024MB PC2-6400
2x DDR2 512MB PC2-6400
|GPU||nVidia||GeForce 7600 GS (@400MHz, 512MB)|
Back in 2007, when I bought the system for way too much money, the system was rather silent and I
managed to sleep in the same room.
Today, even though I regularly clean the fans and radiators from all the dust, I’d rather put the
system in a cool basement I never have to enter.
The overall performance of the system isn’t the best - no doubt - though it’s sufficient for occasional surfing, home backing and recording TV shows.
Currently, it’s only running Windows 7.
Requirements for a New System
I love systems which you don’t hear when there are running, though I will not pay a fortune for another half a decibel.
Performant for several years
The usual tasks as for the old system remain, but two main points will be added: gaming and code development.
I will not be playing the most recent 3D high-resolution games, but those released two years ago should be running at highest resolution with decent FPS.
The other main task I’ll be using this system for is programming mostly Python and C++ codes. I might even be able to experiment with OpenCL, finally. Thus, compiling for example the Boost libraries should not take half an hour.
There is an upper bound of 800€ for the whole system - hopefully including shipping.
I really don’t see any point in wasting power, though here it’s the same as with the noise: I will not pay a fortune for another percent efficiency.
I’m planning on extending and upgrading the system over the years, thus there should be sufficient head room for all components.
It will be running both Linux and Windows and I want a SSD as the main system drive with an additional HDD for the gross of data.
From my point of view, this is an optimization problem in finding the best relation between the five points above with a little more weight on the performance part. However, I’m not going to derive a mathematical model for this, build a database of the various components 1 and compute the best combination.
Choosing the Components
At this point I have to mention, that I’m looking for general purpose components in a Midi-Tower.
Let’s go from the outer to the inner and start with the casing.
I don’t want to spend more than 100€ on the case, which should be a Midi-Tower (i.e, ATX) with installed noise-insulation offering at least two USB 3.0 on the front panel and space for at least four internal 3.25” drives. In additional at least 280mm space for long graphics cards in default configuration 2 is desirable. Cable management and black colour would be nice.
A search on Geizhals revealed 39 different cases from which two stood out after sorting according to user and magazine reviews: Fractal Design Define R4 Black Pearl and Cooltek Antiphone black (comparison).
The Cooltek Antiphone is way smaller and less heavy, uses 120mm fans and has a true aluminium front. 320mm for graphics cards is sufficient for my use cases and 160mm space for the CPU cooler as well.
However, my winner is the Fractal Design Define R4 despite its additional 4kg weight as it offers two additional front USB interfaces (although only 2.0) and uses 140mm fans (which usually are a little more quiet than 120mm).
Now, choosing the CPU will affect the selection of mainboards. Call me bigoted, but I’m not going to look at AMD CPUs as I really want power efficient performance.
The tradeoff between performance and power consumption is probably best in the Core i5 family. Thus, going for the 5th generation (i.e. socket 1150) Intel Core i5-4000 series seems a good choice. But what model?
I’m sure I want a true quad core CPU with at most 65W TDP and boxed, although I’m not going to use the stock cooler but the longer warranty is desirable. This leaves us with four models to choose: i5-4440S, i5-4570S, i5-4590S and i5-4690S.
At this point, it’s a close call between the newer i5-4590S and the older but minimal more performant although 25€ more expensive i5-4690S (comparison).
0.2 GHz for 25€? It’s a tough decision and both ways is fine. I’m going for the i5-4690S.
As mentioned, I’ll definitely not use the stock cooler from Intel. There are more efficient and - more important - a lot more quiet solutions out there.
However, 65W TDP are not much and Geizhals lists 9 matching CPU coolers_ with at most 16dB(A) noise. With some additional reading of reviews, the EKL Alpenföhn Silvretta seems a really low priced but nevertheless absolutely sufficient choice.
I’ve read a lot about thermal compounds and how to apply these to finally choose the Arctic MX-2 due to its easy of application at room temperatures and good heat conductivity.
As we know the socket type we need, we can look for a matching mainboard.
My budget limit here is 80€.
The ATX board should have USB 3.0 (otherwise the requirement for the case would be pointless) and PCIe 3.0 x16 for the graphics card as well as at least one additional PCIe slot for the TV card. Regarding memory, four slots for DDR3-1600 are the way to go as I’m not going to do any overclocking. Thus, an Intel H97 chipset is sufficient (the other choice would be Z97 allowing for overclocking).
Honestly, choosing the graphics card was the hardest part and took me the most time.
First, I thought I can set a budget limit of 150€, but after a day or two of searching and comparing I decreased the limit to 100€.
I’m not favouring any vendor, neither ATI nor nVidia.
The card should definitely be a PCIe 3.0 x16 card and capable of running games release about two
years ago with full details in HD with a decent FPS (i.e. at least 30 in average), thus I’m good
advised to require at least 128bit memory bandwidth and GDDR5 memory.
As I want full flexibility with regards to connecting monitors, at least one of each (HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort) should be offered.
With this selection, Geizhals leaves me with 12 cards. And what do my eyes see there? A passively cooled card? And with good reviews? Sapphire Radeon R7 250E Ultimate, you’re my boy! 55W TDP! As I’ve chosen a voluminous casing with good ventilation, cooling should not become a problem.
Memory has really become cheap. Little more than 6€ per GB for kits with at least 8GB. Wow.
The only requirements I have are defined by the other components I’ve already chosen. Thus, it should be DDR3-1600 DIMM modules in kits of two modules with at least 8GB in total. I’m going for 2-module kits to leave space for additional two modules in the future.
With this, Geizhals knows of 149 kits and sorting these by price lists a kit by Crucial with a CL of 9 about same as other modules with a CL of 11 from other vendors. In addition with numerous overrall positive reviews, I’m going for these: Crucial Ballistix Sports DIMM kit 8GB (2x 4GB).
As mentioned before, I’m going for a SSD system drive and an additional HDD as data drive.
The system drive will only contain the operating systems (Linux and Windows) and few to no additional software, thus 120GB should be sufficient. As it’s a system drive, reading is the main task and that should be fast. A lower limit of 500MB/s for the sequential read should do the job.
With the cheapest SSD found for 55€ and an upper bound of 70€ and additional constrains on the power consumption (<=0.5W idle and <=2.5W load), I can choose between 10 cards according to Geizhals.
The Samsung SSDC850 EVO 120GB is probably the best bet as well with regards to random read and write.
For the data drive 1TB should be sufficient for the time being. I have to admit, that I’m a little fan boy of Western Digital hard disc drives and never had any failures over the last ten years and a dozen different drives. Here, I’m looking for quiet and power efficiency drives with the usual desktop performance and thus going for the WD Green 1TB.
Power Supply Unit (PSU)
Up to now, the system has no power but a bunch of nice components. Adding up all the maximum power consumptions of the various components gives us a total of about 200W. To have a little head for additional drives or an active and more powerful graphics card, a PSU with 400W to 450W should be a good choice.
The casing can hold PSUs with up to 170mm depth at the dedicated bottom position. With the additional constrain on the efficiency to “80 PLUS Gold” and ATX at least 2.31, Geizhals leaves us with 9 PSUs.
I’m going for the be quiet! Straight Power 10 400W due to their well received support (5 years!) and reviews.
That was a short shot and I don’t know how good this will turn out. I basically looked for a card with good Linux driver support. Due to past experiences with the Haupauge card of the old system (with little to bad Linux support), I’m now going for the TeVii S472.
All in all, the components of this system currently sum up to about 750€ plus shipping. I’ve saved some money which I might spend on a entry-level steering wheel or game controller.
This would actually be a really interesting project. However, Geizhals lists over 1200 PCIe GPUs, over 400 socket 1150 motherboards, over 1700 DDR3 RAM modules, little less than 100 socket 1150 CPUs and over 1100 ATX PSUs. Already over 1013 combinations alone for Intel socket 1150. Well, forget about that idea … ↩
Some cases offer the possibility to remove a secondary HDD frame to allow for longer graphics cards. ↩