Getting a new computer and could use some input

My old computer is starting to get a little rough around the edges and I’m looking at buying a new computer. What little knowledge I had of hardware back in the days is long gone though, and so I asked a friend what he would recommend. I’m indecisive as hell though, and would like a little bit more input on the setup before I go ahead and order it. I’m looking for a computer that will mostly be used for gaming, and that will hopefully last awhile before I have to upgrade/get a new one. These are the parts my friend recommended:

Cabinet: Antec Three Hundred 140mm Fan (Without PSU)
PSU: Chieftec Super Series PSU 650W
Motherboard: Asus P5Q3, P45, Socket-775, ATX, DDR3
CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83GHz
RAM: Corsair TWIN3X 1600MHz DDR3, 4GB, DHX, Kit w/two 2GB
GFX: Asus Radeon HD 4870x2 2GB GDDR5
HDD 1: Samsung SpinPoint F1 1TB SATA2 32MB 7200RPM
HDD 2: Western Digital VelociRaptor 150GB, 10000RPM, SATA, 3Gb/s, 16mb
DVD: Samsung DVD+RW burner

There’s a couple of points in particular I’m somewhat unsure of. First of all I’ve never had a Radeon card before and I’ve heard some bad things about their drivers. Is that a thing of the past, or is it still something I’d have to deal with?
On the same topic I’ve also heard the graphics card, while technically the best there is to get out there, isn’t really worth the price compared to the rather minimal increase in performance it has over other cards. Is this still the case, and if so is there some other card that I might be better off getting?

Finally I’ve been told the second HDD (the VelociRaptor) is going to be necesarry to take full advantage of this computer. Knowing next nothing about HDD’s I have no idea if this is actually the case, and seeing as how the HDD is rather expensive I’d like for someone to verify that before I potentially buy it.

There’s probably something I’m forgetting to add here, but I can’t think of what that would be right now. Anyway, any advice or recommendations would be appreciated.

Well, I can’t give conclusive evidence one way or the other about the 10K drive. I used to have them for a gaming rig (but they were the original SATA) and in my experience they provided some faster load times compared to friends with 7200RPM drives, but it wasn’t something I really noticed most of the time. So when I built a new gaming rig, I went with just a regular SATA 3.0 7200RPM drive and it’s been fine so far. Not sure if I would ever get a 10k drive again given the price premium because I realized that most of the time I didn’t care about that slightly faster load time in a game. Others may have more drastic experiences.

In my new rig, I also switched to a Radeon 4850 after owning geforces for a while. I’m running 64bit Vista and so far the card has performed admirably. I mostly play Lord of the Rings Online, Armed Assault, some X3, and some NWN2 and I’ve had no problems whatsoever.

The main thing I loaded up on with this system is RAM. With a few deals and rebates, I was able to get 8gig for around 50$. RAM, more than anything, has improved my general use so I would load up on that.

A Raptor is not necessary but it would be nice to have. It helps with large file transfers such as loading a level. I use my 300GB version for Vista and for hardware intensive games.

I disagree on the architecture you’re going with. The Q9550 is one of the best chips in Intel’s previous generation, but you’d be better off getting the low end Intel i7 CPU, the 920. It will mostly outperform the Q9550, and you’ll be facing forwards, not backwards, towards the next couple years of Intel processors. You even save a few bucks on the i7 CPU, although the compatible motherboard will probably cost a bit more.

The Radeon is a fine card, but if you use dual displays, I’d go with a single GPU solution, like the vanilla Radeon 4870, or the Nvidia GTX 280.

The Raptor is a great boot drive, and a place to put apps that you’d like to have a bit more zip when launching. Meanwhile, the Samsung 1TB will hold an awful lot of data. I use a similar setup and am quite happy with it.

Could you expand on the point about the graphics card? I use a dual monitor set up but I have no idea why a single gpu would be better for that, nor exactly what a dual gpu graphics card is.

Also, upon your advice I took a look at the cpu you mentioned and apparently it will be damaged over the longterm by RAM that exceeds 1.7V which most DDR3 RAM do (the ones i have on this list use 1.9V). That seems like somewhat of a big flaw. It also costs more, so I don’t gain anything in that regards. I assume the benefit of it would mostly be in that I wouldn’t have to get an entirely new motherboard if I should want to upgrade the cpu any time in the future?

My experience matches yours. I have one now, but it really doesn’t make a big enough difference to notice.

What about outside of games? Booting up, Photoshopping, that sort of thing? Because the benchmark numbers are awfully impressive.

The 4870X2 has two GPU cores on board. Which means it’s a Crossfire (ATI’s name for what nVidia calls SLI) solution: each of the 2 GPU’s renders either half the screen, or alternating frames.

This sounds like trickery, and it is. Crossfire support must be added for individual games, because some benefit more from alternate rendering, others benefit more from rendering half screens, and others don’t benefit at all.

In general, ATI drivers haven’t been bad since 2002. It’s remarkable how long the bad association sticks. But for careless Crossfire support, the drivers still have a way to go. Using dual monitors with a Crossfire setup is a hassle, if it’s at all possible; and some games just see no improvement from the 2nd GPU. NVidia’s SLI drivers are better, although not perfect either.

Other than that, the value you’ll get out of that card (instead of a regular 4870) will depend on your screen resolution. If it’s 1680x1050 or lower, it’s overkill; a single 4870 will be plenty fast. If it’s 1920x1200, you’ll see advantages in the most graphically taxing games. If it’s 2560x1600, you’ll enjoy your purchase. (For that resolution, having 1GB of memory for each GPU is important; in that department, the card you listed is OK.)

As posted elsewhere in this forum, if you’re going to insist on the 4870x2, then you’d better go with an aftermarket cooling solution specifically for that card. If you place it under a heavy load (and face it, you get a card like that specifically to place it under load) it will run too hot and shut itself down with just the stock fans it ships with. Either go with two 4870’s in Xfire mode, or switch it out with the 280gtx.

The “bad thing” about the ATI drivers as far as the 4870x2 goes is that you’ll have to go in and manually tweak them so the cooling fans run faster. For some reason the default setting on them is 40%, but you’ll need them running at 80-100% (“leaf blower mode”, and yes, it’s LOUD) to have a chance at keeping them from shutting your entire system down when you play a graphically intense game. A lot of users have justified the 4870x2 by manually setting driver profiles for every game they own so that the fan cranks up or cranks down as needed. Again, it’s rather a pain in the butt and I couldn’t justify it my own self. The 280 benchmarks almost as well performance-wise, and runs much, much cooler.

My thoughts:

  • First off, if you’re willing to splurge on DDR3 RAM, you might as well bite the bullet and step up to Core i7 (aka Nehalem). For $300, you can get the Core i7 920 which outperforms the Q9550, especially in anything which benefits for multiple cores. [Most games are GPU- rather than CPU-limited, however, especially once you crank up the resolution & detail settings.]

  • If you choose to stick with Core 2, I would get a DDR2 MB instead: the MBs are a little cheaper and DDR2 RAM is hella cheap these days while the performance benefit of DDR3 is negligible. Furthermore, if this is primarily a game machine, I would consider a cheaper Core 2 Duo which runs at a higher clock speed than the Q9550, since most games don’t benefit from multiple cores: e.g., E8400 (3GHz) for $165. You could save quite a bit of money while still getting a good game machine.

  • The 4870 X2 is hella fast, but as others said, it is a Crossfire-based card - i.e., two 4870 GPUs on one card - which means it’s inherited all the shortcomings of Crossfire. Crossfire is great when it works, but not every game benefits from it or even works with it. If you want the fastest single-GPU option, I would go with either the 1GB 4870 or GTX 280.

  • The Antec Three Hundred is a small-ish case - too small for a jumbo-sized video card like the 4870 X2, IMHO. I’d go with either a bigger case or a smaller video card. It’s also a no-frills case, so you might want to shop around a bit for something nicer. I currently have a NZXT Tempest which I like: it’s a bit roomier, has 8 HDD bays, came with six(!) fans, and costs ~$100.

  • I don’t know who Chieftec is; I prefer to stick with the big-name PSU makers, like Antec, PC Power & Cooling, etc. Also, if you want to put in TWO HD 4870 X2s someday, you’d need a beefier PSU than 650W.

  • When it comes to HDDs, some people favor putting their OS & apps on a super-fast HDD like the Raptors and their data on a larger, slower HDD; the idea being to put the extra speed where it’s needed most. Personally, I don’t think the performance boost from the Raptors (or SSDs) is worth the expense; I would just go with the fastest 7200rpm HDD I could find and add more HDDs when I needed the space. But if you do go for it, you might as well go for the 300GB Raptor, which is currently ~$200 and the fastest of the Raptors.

I don’t use photoshop; don’t really notice it booting up, either. Then again, how often do I boot up? Not real often.

I don’t think the benchmarks lie, I just doubt the speed improvement will matter to most of us. Better to spend the money on more memory or a better video card.

I have several other Windows systems and a Linux box. I think you’d have to be somewhat obsessive to really notice.

Edit: Then again, you can’t really use more memory unless you use 64-bit.

Wrong. Don’t do that. Buy a cheap computer and upgrade it in a year or two.

Get a cheap dell for $600 or so (check for deals here daily for a week or two) and pop in the cheapest 4870 listed on newegg. Not the x2, just a 4870. Or a GTX260-216 if you prefer green, they’re about the same now. You’ll save a ton of money and games will run smooth as butter. Hell you could even go with a 4850, it’s plenty fast unless you have a >24" monitor or want to play crysis.

Then when the new and shiny comes out in 18 months upgrade to a whole new computer and give the old one to your aunt, put it in the family room, or donate it to bald cancer kids for a tax rebate.

Only build your own if you enjoy it or really want to overclock. Everybody else should buy a dell.