YAAHQ (Yet Another Annoying Hardware Query)

Ok yet another annoying hardware question. I’m considering (have not actually decided to to it, as there are many factors to consider beyond the technical) machine replacements.

  1. For a new PC, I’m considering either the Antec Sonata II, with its built-in 450w PSU, for around $104 at Newegg, or something like a Lian-Li PC 6077B ($121.50), PC-7B Plus (($99), or Antec P180 ($125), paired with an Antec TruePower II 550w PSU ($110).

Now, the Sonata saves me over $120. I’m not going to run SLI (though I might have an SLI motherboard) and I’m not going to indulge in overclocking extravaganzas. I plan to have one DVD reader, a DVD/CD burner, a floppy, and one or two SATA HDs (one to start with). One PCI-e video card. Am I giving up anything crucial going with the less expensive Sonata II? Looks are not that important–the Sonata II is boring but ok, the Lian Li’s are neat, the P180 is nice. Airflow for cooling is important, and ease of access/setup is somewhat important as well.

  1. Video cards. I was leaning towards the 6800GT, but that’s north of $340 everywhere, especially for a name brand. Instead I am considering a Sapphire X800XL at $289, or the Pro at $265 (not sure how much the extra four pipelines matter). Any other suggestions in that range? The 6600GT doesn’t move me–I have a 128MB 98900 Pro now (AGP) and I figure a 256MB card would be the way to go for the future, and the 6600GT is only 128MB, and doesn’t seem that much faster than my 9800 Pro.

  2. Motherboards. I’m leaning towards the ASUS A8N-SLI Premium at $165 (normally $175) largely because of the nForce 4 chipset, the Realtek ALC850 on-board audio, and the fact it has on-board FireWire. I’ve heard the Northbridge cooling on the Premium is better than that on the Deluxe, is that true? And, as I have no intention of ever using SLI, really, is there a similar quality motherboard that has SATA II, FireWire, and good on-board audio without SLI?

  3. CPU. I’m leaning towards the 3700+ San Diego; my next choice would be the 3500+ Venice. The price difference is about $50. I don’t want to go below the 3500+ necessarily, though I do figure I’ll up grade the CPU sometime next year, as prices drop.

Essentially, what I’m looking at building would be:

Lian Li PC-7B Plus OR Antec Sonata II
TruePower II PSU 550w OR built in PSU
ASUS A8N-SLI Premium OR ?
3700+ San Diego OR 3500+ Venice
2x mushkin SP3200 1GB 184-Pin DDR SDRAM (2GB total)
SAMSUNG SpinPoint P Series SP2004C 200GB SATA II
LITE-ON Black IDE DVD-ROM
LITE-ON Black IDE DVD Burner Model SOHW-1693S Black
SONY Black 1.44MB 3.5" Internal Floppy
SAPPHIRE 100105-BL Radeon X800XL
Windows XP Home

The kicker is I gotta buy two of everything because I have to build two machines for domestic equality reasons. I need to save money where I can, but I am having trouble figuring out just where.

You can probably skip having a DVD-Rom for each PC. DVD-RWs are cheap enough now to do everything. Save you about $100. If you’re really brave, don’t get floppies.

I was thinking that was one area of savings, yeah; I guess the burners are ok for general installation of software on a day to day basis, too? I rarely burn anything.

Don’t want to skip the floppy though. It’s like 10 bucks and could come in handy.

Definately drop the extra dvdrom. Just get a burner for each machine. Unless you’re doing a bunch of disc to disc direct copying you really don’t need two optical drives. A decent lliteon, NEC, or major brand drive is $50 tops and not likely to die on you just because you use it to install software and burning.

You can find floppy drives for 8 bucks even at newegg so thats not much of a savings (and you still need a floppy for bios updates usually). If you’re certain you’ll upgrade in a year, get the cheaper processor I say. The 3500 and 3700 aren’t that different in speed to warrant the cost if you’re going to upgrade in less than two years IMHO. I’m pricing out a new machine and I’m debating between a 3700 SD, a 3000 Venice (then going dual core later) or just going dual core now. Right now the 2nd option is winning. For case, I’d go with a lian li myself and a decent powersupply (that 550w seems overkill to me…)

I can’t help on the video card or mobo. I’m in the same spot. I want pcie video but not really ready to spend $320 or more on the 6800GT (and there is no way I’m getting a card with less than 256mb ram). I’m not fond of ATI though. I’ve not found a nf4 board that seems the best to me, though you might take a look at gigabyte’s offerings or MSI or Abits “l33t” fata1ity mobo.

  1. The Sonata is good, especially if you want a fair number of hard drives (it has a nice drive cage). Getting a 550 watt PSU is kind of a waste, unless you’re planning SLI with 2 78000GTX cards, overclocking, have 12 hard drives, and/or you want to warm your house. People go nuts with PSUs. I ran a stock 380 watt Antec power supply in an original Sonata with an Athlon 4000+, four hard drives, and a 6800GT without any problems.

The P180 is an interesting case. It’s… upside down (power supply on the bottom). It’s something of a bitch to work on once you get everything installed, but it has crazy good airflow.

If aesthetics aren’t important, just go with the inexpensive Sonata II and save the $100.

  1. … and put that $100 saved from the case into a 6800GT. The X800XL is a pretty great card, faster than a 6800 at most things but slower than a 6800GT.

  2. Ugh, motherboards are hell. I like ASUS boards, so I’d probably get the A8N regardless. I’ve had some problems with system reboots using on-board nForce sound on two separate systems. Both were solved by using Sound Blaster cards. Something to think about…

  3. You probably won’t notice a difference between any CPU over a 3200+ or so, so again consider the money saved there and apply it to your videocard.

Remember, videocards are the big limits nowadays, not CPUs. I suspect this will be true until dual cores take off, at which point the emphasis will switch back to the CPU (i.e. you’ll really want one to take advantage of multi-threaded games, at which point it’ll fall back to video being most critical).

And yeah, don’t both with two DVDs. Years ago, it used to be true that burners were slow. Now, it’s all about the combo drives. And I haven’t installed a floppy drive in a machine in years. I do all BIOS updates in Windows. If you’re really paranoid, buy a USB device; you can boot to those.

Wow, thanks for the input!

  1. The Sonata is good, especially if you want a fair number of hard drives (it has a nice drive cage). Getting a 550 watt PSU is kind of a waste, unless you’re planning SLI with 2 78000GTX cards, overclocking, have 12 hard drives, and/or you want to warm your house. People go nuts with PSUs. I ran a stock 380 watt Antec power supply in an original Sonata with an Athlon 4000+, four hard drives, and a 6800GT without any problems.

That’s good to hear–I can never figure out just how much power is enough. My current machine has a 330w psu and it’s been fine.

  1. … and put that $100 saved from the case into a 6800GT. The X800XL is a pretty great card, faster than a 6800 at most things but slower than a 6800GT.

So the consensus is a 6800GT is overall worth the added 80 bucks or whatnot over a X800XL? I love ATI cards but I do want something to give me a substantial boost over my current setup.

  1. Ugh, motherboards are hell. I like ASUS boards, so I’d probably get the A8N regardless. I’ve had some problems with system reboots using on-board nForce sound on two separate systems. Both were solved by using Sound Blaster cards. Something to think about…

My original build had a SB Audigy ZS but that adds like $90 (x2 for two machines) generally. What’s the cheapest Audigy that would give good 5.1 sound and EAX support?

  1. You probably won’t notice a difference between any CPU over a 3200+ or so, so again consider the money saved there and apply it to your videocard.

So, the 3200+ Venice at $30 bucks each less than the 3500+ doesn’t lose much? Seems that $60 total for the 3500+ doesn’t seem like much, but if there really isn’t much difference, that could help shave costs…

One thing to keep in mind is that wattage is a very misleading figure. What is far more important is how stable the voltage is on the rails under load – you can find a 300W power supply that can handle real system loads a lot better than some generic “550W” PSU. Thankfully Antec is one of the companies known for making very stable PSUs.

I would much rather have an Antec TruPower 330W than, say, a CompUSA house brand 550W.

I would much rather have an Antec TruPower 330W than, say, a CompUSA house brand 550W.

Yeah, this is something that’s been drilled in to me by many. I think the psu I have in my current machine is an Austin, but it’s been pretty rock solid.

I’d stick with the 3500. Also, note that the price difference between the 6800GT and X800XL is more like $20-30 in some places.

As others said, it’s all about the quality of the power supply, not absolute wattage. Antec’s are good, and the stock ones in their cases should be fine.

So the consensus is a 6800GT is overall worth the added 80 bucks or whatnot over a X800XL? I love ATI cards but I do want something to give me a substantial boost over my current setup.

I think so, but if you like ATI, I’d consider sticking with the X800XL. It’s possible some game you play a lot won’t work the same way with an NVIDIA card, though I’ve always preferred the nForce/NVIDIA combo (you’d think NVIDIA would make sure their cards work fine with their own chipsets).

And I think if you shop around, you’ll find the 6800GT is creeping closer to the X800XL in price, though that may be AGP and not PCI-e models. Newegg.com has one PCI-e 6800GT at $320.

\My original build had a SB Audigy ZS but that adds like $90 (x2 for two machines) generally. What’s the cheapest Audigy that would give good 5.1 sound and EAX support?

The cheapest Audigy is… the cheapest Audigy. Seriously, there’s no difference between the cards (as in Audigy Gamer, Audigy Platinum, etc.). There is some difference between an Audigy 2 and 4, but it’s miniscule. I suspect all models support 5.1.

Newegg has an Audigy 2 Value OEM for $50. If you’re having someone build your system, you could have them do on-board audio, then consider adding in the sound card later if you have any problems. (You may have none.)

\So, the 3200+ Venice at $30 bucks each less than the 3500+ doesn’t lose much? Seems that $60 total for the 3500+ doesn’t seem like much, but if there really isn’t much difference, that could help shave costs…

I didn’t know the prices were that close. I’d probably pay the $30 to get the 3500+, even if buying two. $100? Probably not.

I was thinking about one alternative motherboard: The MSI Neo 4. It’s still an nForce 4 board, and there’s a non-SLI version at newegg for like $80.

Agree with most of the previous suggestions. As Steve mentioned, you may want to look at the MSI K8N Neo4 nforce 4 board:

It has an onboard Soundblaster Live card, it’s about $40 bucks cheaper than the Asus, and its received great reviews from a number of hardware review sites. The $80 version MSI K8N is an Nforce4 chipset, not the Nforce4 Ultra. Not too much of a difference, but it doesn’t have the SB Live, nor onboard hardware firewall.

Can’t say enough good things about Antec PSU’s, and that Sonata II is designed for quiet operation.

I’d be wary of OEM Audigy 2 cards, unless you can verify that they are NOT Gateway gray market cards. Audigy 2 cards from Gateway do NOT work with the retail drivers, nor do they work with drivers downloaded from the Creative web site. You’d be stuck with older drivers, since Gateway hasn’t updated those since late 2003.

But you can find Audigy 2’s for around $70-75 with a little searching. The only difference between the Audigy 2 and 2ZS is that the 2 is “limited” to 6.1 channel speaker support, while the 2ZS can do 7.1. Not a big deal for most of us.

Note the Value edition has the older EMU10K1 chip, which means higher CPU utilization in games.

Oh ho ho! Sound Bluster indeed.

I’m looking at this Dell refurb:

Dimension 8400
Pentium 4 540 w/ HT Technology at 3.2GHz w/ 800MHz fsb
PC-Express16 256MB GDDR3 Nvidia GeForce 6800 GTO Video Card
1GB (1024MB) DDR2 Memory at 533MHz
160GB Serial ATA Hard Drive w/NCQ
16X DVD-ROM Drive
16x DVD +/- RW Drive w/dbl layer write capability
XP Home (with discs)
1-year on-site service

950 bucks shipped, taxed, and out the door. Seem like a decent deal?

And does this setup seem like it’d see me through a couple of years?