PC Building Guide

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One of the big reasons that some people have trouble building computers is that there is an absolute myriad of components out there that have certain compatibilities with other parts, which means that the combination has to be flawless for the system to work. Experienced builders can usually sort out different components according to their specs and price, but some who are new to building likely have no idea how to do this. That is where this guide comes in.

I started with a goal – the system cost should be under $1500 USD and include everything but a case, optical drives and an OS (the three things you are most likely to have already). The case and OS are things that really depend on who you are. The system should have ample horsepower to handle pretty much anything you throw at it: next gen games, HD video, possibly a little CAD, plus all the regular office tasks.

So I started shopping, using parts I had for review and a bit of my own money to put together the ultimate machine for gaming and every day tasks and so, on to the build!

CPU

I had originally though of going AMD on this build, but I had to think like a true system builder/enthusiast and remember Core2Duo! So it was socket 775 or bust and since I didn’t have the 200 smackers to drop on an E6300, I decided to go with a Pentium D. I was originally looking at the 805 but after my local computer store decided to stop restocking it, I decided to go with the 820. After checking online I found that it could do up to 5 GHz, and that was good enough for me! Now for a few pictures of this beast:

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Like most Intel products the Pentium D comes in a blue/white schemed box.

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Pentium D 820 +? The difference between a regular Pentium D and this one (from what I can ascertain) is that the + supports Intel VIIV.

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The rear of the box sports a window so we can check out the included cooling solution.

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The heatsink is quite large for a stock heatsink, but it has to be to cool down a CPU that puts out 130 watts of heat! (As much as one of those fancy new quad-cores)

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The heatsink has a copper base for better heat absorption and a square of pre-applied thermal compound.

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And a big heatsink for such a small CPU.

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And of course the important information on the CPU itself.

And a little info on the CPU (well the whole Pentium D series:)

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Pros

  • Dual-core
  • 1 MB of cache per processor
  • Supports 64-bit
  • Supports Execute disable bit
  • Is decently fast
  • Dirt cheap! (For a dual-core)
  • Very fast vs. single cores in multithreaded apps (like the Hammer editor!)
  • Is supposed to overclock like a beast (beating 4 GHZ per core)

Cons

    Based on the hot-running, power guzzling Prescott architecture

  • Is going to be forced out of the lower price bracket with the coming price cut
  • Puts out 130 watts of heat (!)
  • Is completely outclassed by Core2

Overall

I can’t recommend this processor with the huge price cut to the Core2 line rumored to be happening soon. Plus it is relatively slow compared to other processors from both Intel and AMD. So hold off buying a processor in the comings weeks, it looks like we are in for some dramatic price changes!
{mospagebreak}

Motherboard

For the motherboard, I decided upon an ASUS P5NSLI, mainly because it has support SLI and SATAII RAID. I chose ASUS because I have had no problems in any system I had one of their boards in (three so far).

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The board comes packaged well, as are all ASUS products. The box mentions that the board is Core2 capable and has SLI support. On the back there is also a labeled picture of the board, so you know exactly what you are getting before you open the box.

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The package includes the board, manual, SATA cables and power adapters, an SLI bridge, IDE and floppy cables, an I/O shield plate, a USB expansion slot, Q-Connectors, and the software CD.

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The board features the LGA 775 CPU socket, 4 slots for up to 16Gbs of DDR2, 2 PCI-E 16x slots and a number of other features I will cover later on.

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The board also has 2 IDE ports, a floppy port and 4 SATA II ports (notice the odd location of the floppy port).

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The four DDR2 slots are color coded for easy installation of dual-channel memory.

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Solid caps feed the CPU, and some of the voltage regulators are covered by a large passive heatsink.

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Fanless Design: Zero Noise, no moving parts, stating the obvious?

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The board has 2 PCI slots, 3 PCI-e 1x slots, and 2 PCI-e 16x slots that each operate at 8x in SLI mode (selected via the card you see).

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Why is the floppy connector here?

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On the rear I/O we have keyboard and mouse ports, a parallel port, serial port, S/PDIF out, 4 USB, gigabit Ethernet, and audio jacks.

And the board’s specs:

Specifications


CPU

LGA775 socket for Intel ® Core ™2 / Pentium ® D / Pentium ® 4 / Celeron ® D Processors
Compatible with Intel ® 05B/05A/06 processors
Intel ® EM64T / EIST* / Hyper-Threading Technology ready
* Refer to www.asus.com for Intel CPU support list

Chipset

NVIDIA ® nForce ™ 570 SLI ™ Intel ® Edition
 – NB: C19SLI
 – SB: MCP51

Front Side Bus

1066 / 800 / 533MHz

Memory

4 x DIMM, max. 16GB, DDR2 667 / 533, non-ECC, un-buffered memory
Dual channel memory architecture

Expansion Slots

2 x PCI-E x16
 – Single VGA mode: x16, x1 (Default)
 – SLI mode: x8, x8
3 x PCI-E x1
2 x PCI 2.2

SLI

Under Single VGA mode (Default):
 – 1 x PCI Express x16 graphics card on the first slot (blue)
 – 1 x PCI Express x1 card on second slot (black)
Under SLI ™ mode: support two identical SLI-ready graphics cards
ASUS EZ Selector
ASUS two-slot thermal design

Storage

2 x Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33
4 x Serial ATA 3 Gb/s
Support SATA RAID 0, 1, 0+1,  5 and JBOD

LAN

Marvell ® 88E8001 PCI Gb LAN controller
ASUS AI NET 2 network diagnosis before entering OS

Audio

ADI AD1986A SoundMAX 6-channel CODEC
Jack Sensing and Enumeration
S/PDIF out interface

ASUS AI Lifestyle Features

ASUS Q-Connector
ASUS O.C. Profile
ASUS CrashFree BIOS 2
ASUS EZ Flash 2

Other ASUS Special Features

ASUS Music Alarm
ASUS Q-Fan
ASUS Fanless Design
ASUS MyLogo2

Overclocking Features

Intelligent overclocking tools:
 – AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency tuner)
Precision Tweaker
 – vDIMM: 4-step DRAM voltage control
 – vCore: Adjustable CPU voltage at 0.0125V increment
SFS (Stepless Frequency Selection):
 – FSB tuning from 133MHz up to 400MHz at 1MHz increment
 – Memory tuning from 533MHz up to 1200MHz at 1MHz increment
 – PCI-E frequency tuning from 100MHz up to 150MHz at 1MHz increment
Overclocking Protection:
 – ASUS C.P.R. (CPU Parameter Recall)

Back Panel I/O Ports

1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x PS/2 Mouse
1 x Parallel
1 x Serial
1 x S/PDIF Out (Coaxial)
1 x RJ45
4 x USB 2.0/1.1
6-Channel Audio I/O

Internal I/O Connectors

2 x USB connectors support additional 4 USB ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1xCPU / 1xChassis / 1xPower Fan connectors
Azalia Analog front panel audio connector
System panel connector
1 x SLI selector card connector
S/PDIF out connector
Chassis Intrusion connector
CD / AUX audio in
24-pin ATX Power connector
4-pin ATX 12V Power connector

BIOS

4 Mb Flash ROM, Award BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ASUS EZ Flash 2,  ASUS CrashFree BIOS 2

Accessories

1 x SLI soft bridge
SATA signal and power cables for 2 devices
1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
1 x IDE cable
1 x FDD cable
1 x USB module
I/O Shield
2 in 1 Q-connector
User’s manual

Form Factor

ATX Form Factor, 12″x 9″ (30.5cm x 22.9cm)

Support CD

Drivers
ASUS PC Probe II
ASUS Update
ASUS Music Alarm
NVIDIA ® RIS (Remote Installation Service) application
Anti-virus software (OEM version)

USB

8 USB2.0 ports (4 ports at mid-board, 4 ports at back panel)

Pros

  • Supports SLI
  • Supports Core2Duo

Cons

  • The 570i is just a rebadged Nforce 4 with a new southbridge
  • The memory voltage only goes up to 2.1 volts (what’s the point of supporting 1200mhz memory if the voltage isn’t up to the task?)
  • Is very unstable until you play with voltages (which may be a barrier to new builders)
  • CPU voltage adjustment does nothing

Overall

Avoid this board like the plague! It is not worth the trouble. Do not associate the 570i with the 570 AMD chipset (like I did) – they are two different things. Despite what other reviews may say, if you take a peek around the Asus forum there is nothing but people complaining about this board. Do yourself a favor and get a good 650i board instead.
{mospagebreak}

Cooling

For cooling I have a CoolIt Eliminator TEC Liquid cooler – thanks to the guys at CoolIt for sending this my way. The Eliminator is not only fairly inexpensive for a liquid cooling system but it should be able to cool the Pentium D, although for cooling a CPU that puts out this much heat, CoolIt recommends their Freezone system.

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The Eliminator comes in a big white box, displaying the cooling unit. Notice the anti-kinking wire that has been wrapped around the tubes. The Eliminator is based on Coolit’s MTEC technology, which uses TECs to help cool the liquid then pumps it through a CPU waterblock to cool the CPU.

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Luckily while the Eliminator’s packaging doesn’t name its competitors it does tell us what type of heat load all the systems were put under to get these results. CoolIt used an FX55 or 100 watt simulated die heater. The Pentium D 820 puts out 130 watts of heat, so it should really put this system through its paces.

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The detailed specifications are indeed detailed, telling us about each component and it’s function, weight and dimensions. Lucky for all of us this system is designed for use with both AMD and Intel processors

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Breaking into the box, you find the users manual plus the cooling system and its components securely packaged in protective foam. The installation guide is comprehensive and printed in full color (yay!)

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Included with the main cooling unit are the various clips and screws used to mount it.

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And now to the cooling unit itself, you can see from this angle that it is quite long and has an awesome looking aluminum fairing on the side.

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Looking in from the top we can see two of the three TECs, the pump, heat exchanger, and circuit board with a Molex connection that powers the whole contraption.

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Looking in from the front end you can see the power control switch (I say power instead of fan because I think this switch also regulates the power of the TECs).

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From this angle we can see the aluminum mounting bracket and the 92mm x 38mm fan that cools the heat exchanger.

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Made in China? Ah well – so is everything else these days so I’m not complaining. Notice that it says CPU AND GPU Cooler, hmmm… sounds like a mod waiting to happen! Also notice that the pump is reflective (with the CoolIt logo on the top) – very cool.

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That is one thick fan!

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This is the first time I have ever seen an original fan badge on a cooling product (most are rebadged) – congrats to CoolIt for giving these guys some credit!

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The CPU block is made of nickel-plated copper and has a small plastic cap attached to the bottom

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Believe it or not, I am fairly sure this is good old AS5. It is NOT a thermal pad – do NOT touch it!

Install

This part was fairly easy, but I would recommend having an extra set of hands handy just in case. Press on to the build section for process and pictures

Performance

System on High

CPU Idle: 38ºC
CPU Load 47ºC

Noise:
At this setting the unit is very loud and is easily heard over the other fans in the case.

System on Medium

CPU Idle: 43ºC
CPU Load 53ºC

Noise:
At this setting the unit is much quieter and its sound is in tune with the other fans in the system.

System on Low

CPU Idle: 54ºC
CPU Load 67ºC

Noise:
At this setting the unit is completely silent and can barely be heard even with an ear right new to it.

Pros

  • Cools 130 watts of CPU down to under 50c (no small feat!)
  • Is incredibly quiet on low-power
  • Is very easy to install
  • No need to connect tubes, etc.
  • Good pre-applied TIM
  • Nickel plated copper block
  • 3-speed settings
  • Cool blue LEDs
  • Competitively priced with other high performance liquid cooling systems at $199.99 USD

Cons

  • Due to the system being based on TECs it cannot take over a certain heat load (over 100 watts is my guess) without drastically losing performance
  • Your case must have a 120mm rear fan mount (or space to drill holes) if you are going to install the unit

Overall

There is no doubt in my mind that CoolIt has a real winner here.

While the system could not really handle the 130 watts of heat the Pentium D was producing, I have no doubt that the system would perform exceedingly well with a CPU that produces 100 watts or less of heat, meaning that almost all CPUs on the market today will be able to be cooled down exceedingly well by this unit, the exception being Pentium Ds and the Core2Quad QX6700.

For systems with this much heat output, CoolIt recommends their Freezone system anyway, and if you have the money to drop on a quad-core you can probably afford the step up in price for the best cooling performance. The thing that really makes this system a winner is the price – $200 USD. This is what you can expect to pay for an entry-level kit from any high-quality liquid-cooling system manufacturer. That being said, I have no difficulty recommending this cooling system to both the newbie and the experienced system builder.
{mospagebreak}

PART II

Graphics

I was originally going to go with a 7950GT for this system, but while my local computer store was attempting to get one in the 320 MB version of the 8800GTS came out that was very competitively priced compared to the 7950GT, so I ordered eVGA’s Superclocked version.

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:Insert Godzilla noises: This is one of the most powerful GPUs on the planet right now and I have my hands on one! This sucker comes with HDCP, 320 MB of graphics memory, a lifetime warranty and EVGA’s 90-day Step-Up program. Oh – and did I mention that it is overclocked right out of the box?

The back of the box features a list of the 8800GTS’ features, a performance comparison between it and other graphics solutions and a window and code that allow you to make sure that your card is genuine.

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Did I mention that it includes a full version game? (a really good $60 retail one too).

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Evga includes a ton of ways to make sure that your card has not been tampered with, including these seals on the box.

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In the box you get the card, a manual, case stickers, a full version copy of Dark Messiah: Might and Magic, an S-Video card, an HDTV cable, and two DVI-VGA converters.

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The card itself has a protective film on it to prevent it from getting scratched during shipping.

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:drool:

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The cooling system on this card consists of (from what I can tell) an aluminum base, aluminum fins and embedded copper heatpipes, a few of which have been nickel-plated.

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The card is feed through a ton of all solid capacitors.

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On the back of the board there are a number of chips and traces, plus the screws that hold the cooling solution tight to the card.

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The card features a single SLI connector; I would love to see what a pair of these things could do in SLI!

Pros

  • Superclocked!
  • Supports DX10!
  • Wicked fast!
  • 90 Step-up program!
  • Lifetime warranty!
  • Only uses one PCI-E power connector
  • Priced the same or in some cases cheaper than other 8800 GTS 320mb cards
  • Includes a full version game (a good one nonetheless)
  • Is not as big as you think! (about the same size as a 6800)
  • Good cooler design that is quiet and exhausts hot air out of your case
  • Makes all your friends with 7900’s or 7950’s shake in their boots

Cons

  • I didn’t buy one sooner!

Overall

There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the best video cards out there right now. Coming with a decent overclock, a lifetime warranty, a full version game, and the 90 Step-up program at the same price of many stock clocked cards with 3 year warranties and no game, this card is, I have no doubt, the best video card for the price on the market today. My compliments to EVGA for making a hell of a video card and pricing it so I have no alternative but to buy it!
{mospagebreak}

PSU

A good steady power flow is very important in a system like this, so I used a 730 watt PSU from Hiper – thanks to the guys at Hiper for sending this my way.

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The Hiper 730watt non-modular PSU comes in a simple, but elegant cardboard box.

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It comes with a manual, mounting hardware, a power cable, expansion cables, and the PSU itself.

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Only a single 80mm fan cools the whole PSU.

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It features no less than four 12-volt rails putting out 672 watts and 64 amps across them.

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The huge number of leads on the PSU should be more than enough for any enthusiast

Pros

  • Quiet (Could not be heard over the Eliminator on low)
  • Very stable (I have had no power related stability issues)
  • 730 watts
  • High quality black cable sleeving
  • Classy flat black finish
  • Huge number of leads
  • Good price (about $140 USD)
  • Four 12 volt rails

Cons

  • None that I can think of

Overall

This PSU should be on your short list if you are building a new system or if you just need a new PSU. It isn’t modular, but it’s easy to hide the leads and they don’t look bad anyway. Its rock solid stable (I run this system at 100% CPU load all the time – rock on SETI!) and it’s nice and quiet. Its not flashy but it does what it’s supposed to do – perform well.

Memory

For memory, 2 gigs was a must, so in went a 2 Gig SuperTalent DDR2-1000 MHz memory kit – thanks to the guys at SuperTalent for sending this my way.

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These modules come dressed in these awesome blue heatspreaders with SUPER*TALENT written in silver letters down the side. They are packaged in clear plastic with a cardboard insert on the back.

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These modules are rated for 1000 MHz at 5-5-5-15 timings with 2.2 volts, if all goes well I will hopefully be able to test the modules at these speeds. Also notice that these modules are made in the good old U.S. of A

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This modules really look slick dressed in their blue heatspreaders, notice that there are bumps in the heatspreaders to increase surface area and thus cooling potential.

Pros

  • Really cool heatspreader design
  • Extreme performance
  • Works with an ASUS board (which is surprising considering ASUS’ narrow QVL list for ram)
  • Runs at high speeds and low latencies at less than rated voltage (3-3-3-7 at 667mhz with 2.1 volts)
  • Should be very fairly priced (judging from the rest of SuperTalent’s products)
  • According to my testing just going from 4-4-4-9 at 533mhz to 3-3-3-7 at 667mhz gives an up to 17% performance increase (in 3dmark03). I have no doubt that running these modules at 1000mhz could boost system performance by over 20%, which is incredible.

Cons

  • If you don’t like blue you are out of luck

Overall

Unfortunately the board was holding me up on frequency and I could not get the modules stable past 667mhz, but I was able to test the modules at tight timings of 3-3-3-7 and I did not have a single hiccup. This leads me to believe that I could easily hit 1000mhz at rated timings with a better board, and probably even higher with a little extra voltage. But even running at the lower speeds the performance jump from a cheap set of DDR2 would be huge. Judging from SuperTalent’s aggressive pricing on there other products I would guess that you could find this kit for a very fair price. Considering the quality, stability and speed offered by these modules I can do nothing but recommend them.
{mospagebreak}

Part III

Case Prep

Before I put the new system in my Thermaltake full tower I decided that it was necessary to cut some “speed holes” to route cables. Thanks to my friend Matt and a Dremel 400XPR for making this part of the project possible.

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Marking out the cuts.

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After cutting and dressing the holes with electrical tape.

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Not too shabby!

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The Build!

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This is the pile of parts we are starting out with. It includes all the above parts plus 3 Western Digital 160 GB SATAII NCQ HDs, one WD 160 GB IDE drive, an LG DVD burner, a floppy drive, my USR8054 Xtreme G 125 mbps wireless card, and my Creative Audigy 2 Value sound card.

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The first thing to go in is the PSU – no clearance issues here.

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Lockin er in!

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The PSU cables have all been routed behind the mobo tray and the ATX cable is coming out the proper hole.

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Not so tidy back here.

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In go the HDDs, the SATA cables go in between and the power cables go off the side

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Not too shabby!

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This is starting to get ugly!

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DVD, floppy and IDE hard drive in okay, all the cables are hooked up.

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Everything looks good up front (besides the gaping hole:)

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Ewwww…..

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This is starting to get a little ugly.
{mospagebreak}

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Its time to dress up the motherboard and get it installed!

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In went the CPU without a hiccup.

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The RAM from SuperTalent was installed next.

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And we are good to go!

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On go the standoffs for the Eliminator block; the standoffs are separated from the board with nylon washers, no chance of shorting anything out here!

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The board is in and the havoc back here has been reduced to acceptable levels, but what does the front look like?

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Looks good up hear too! Note that all 3 SATA, 2 IDE, 1 floppy, front panel connections and both of the board’s power connections are hooked up.

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On goes the block! Note that this is where the installation got a little tricky and I required another set of hands.

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I drilled holes to allow the 120 mm spaced holes to work with my case’s 92 mm rear fan. Unfortunately, only one lined up properly, but it has been through a month and 2 LAN parties hanging from 1 screw, so it should be okay. But note that because of the way my case is formed, the unit is being supported on 3 sides anyway.

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The Eliminator has been fully installed!

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Here you can see how the case is supporting the Eliminator.

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And in went the 8800! This thing is starting to look like a complete system!

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Now with the Audigy and Wifi it is a complete system!

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Looks pretty slick (notice the relatively few visible cables).

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We are done!
{mospagebreak}

Running Into Problems

It goes without saying that basically ever build has its problems; we can only hope that they are small and easily fixable. Well let’s just say that this build had some pretty big problems.

Number 1 was that is was impossible to set up a RAID 5 array using the 3 SATA HDDs. If you take a quick peek online, you will notice that there are multiple reports of people having problems setting up a RAID using WD drives on an Nvidia chipset board. I ran into this exact problem: While I got the utility loaded up okay and the array built, getting Windows installed on the array proved impossible. I tried multiple RAID floppies but to no avail – it looks like I’m running without the RAID for the time being.

Number 2 is that the board does not seem to accept any voltage adjustment. Now while it SHOULD go up to 1.6 volts, I have not been able to get past 1.28 volts. Let me tell you about what I did to investigate this:

I had the CPU voltage set to automatic and the voltage was moving between 1.26 and 1.34 volts. Now if you know about CPUs and the voltage that they use, a fluctuation that big is not good. So I upped the VTT voltage from 1.25 to 1.35. This stabilized the voltage at between 1.264 and 1.28 volts, so it was time to up the voltage and do some overclocking!

So I upped the Vcore from 1.3 volts to 1.4 volts (as I was constantly getting instability with overclocking attempts at lower voltages) and booted into Windows. I started up CPUZ and see to my dismay that the voltage was exactly where it was before, fluctuating between 1.264 and 1.28 volts. I though to myself that there was no way that was true and that CPUZ must be messed up.

So I started up Everest and guess what? 1.25 to 1.28 volts. Then I started thinking that maybe the software reading was screwed up, so I decided to try overclocking some more. Again I hit a brick wall. Just to see if this was a problem at 1.4 volts or if it was a linear decrease in voltage, I tested it at 1.45 volts. Again I got 1.264 and 1.28 volts.

It would seem that this board is broken! Or more likely, that ALL P5NSLI’s are broken. If you check out the ASUS forum on this board, it is nothing but complains and very poor overclocking results all around – I think I may have found the problem!

Benchmarks

Test

Stock – memory at 533 MHz, 3-4-4-9 timings

Memory at 667 MHz 3-3-3-7

Memory at 667 MHz 3-3-3-7, videocard 650 MHz core, 2000 MHz memory

Full OC

Memory at 667 MHz 3-3-3-7, videocard 650 MHz core, 2000 MHz memory, Chipset transfer at 5x

Aquamark

75790

80963

81781

82610

PCMark05

4575

4963

4987

5195

3DMark06

Overall: 5917
SM3.0: 3061
CPU: 1318

Overall: 6054
SM3.0: 3301
CPU: 1357

Overall: 6211
SM3.0: 3118
CPU: 1348

Overall: 6231
SM3.0: 3314
CPU: 1355

3DMark05

7998

7765

8317

8317

3DMark03

20083

23551

26159

26197

SuperPi 1M

48s

46s

46s

46s

Percentage Improvements

Benchmark

Stock

Memory OC

Memory, VGA OC

Full OC

Aquamark

0

7

8

9

PCMark05

0

8.5

9

13.5

3DMark06

Overall: 0
SM3.0: 0
CPU: 0

Overall: 2.3
SM3.0: 8
CPU: 3

Overall: 5
SM3.0: 2
CPU: 2.2

Overall: 5.3
SM3.0: 8.2
CPU: 2.8

3DMark05

0

-3

4

4

3DMark03

0

17

30

30.4

SuperPi 1M

0

4

4

4

Average Improvement

0

5.85

8.03

9.65

Comments

From these benchmarks you can really see what high speed, low-latency memory can do for your system performance. I saw an average improvement of 5.85% and a maximum improvement of 17% by running at higher speeds and lower latencies. This really shows that high performance memory should be a priority in your next build.
{mospagebreak}

Time Benchmarks
Function

Old Rig: Athlon XP at 2.2 Ghz and 1 Gb of DDR 350

New Rig

Boot Time

37.35 sec

32.73 sec

Firefox Load Time

Initially: 17.37 seconds
Average: 4.38 seconds

Initially: 3 seconds
Average: 1.5 seconds

BF2 Level load time

Initially: 1 min/ 44.7 sec
2nd run: 45.56 seconds
3rd run: 43.16 seconds
4th run: 43.36 seconds
5th run: 42.81 seconds

Initially: 1 min/ 12sec
2nd run: 24 seconds
3rd run: 22 seconds
4th run: 22 seconds
5th run: 23 seconds

Shutdown Time

16.32 seconds

38 seconds

Restart Time

1 minute 18.03 seconds

2 minutes

Comments

In the time benchmarks, the new system spanked the old one in a couple of areas. The biggest improvement is in the load times of Firefox right after getting into Windows. The times are much faster but I believe some of this has to do with the lack of anti-virus software on this machine at the moment. Once Norton has been installed, those times will likely slow down considerably.

On the other hand, the BF2 scores would likely not be affected by anti-virus software in the same way. The reason that it is so much faster is because all of the data is going to RAM instead of a page file, with the RAM being much faster. The boot time was a little faster, likely because I’m using a SATAII NCQ drive compared to an old-fashioned IDE drive.

The other times were much slower. Why? The shutdown was slower because programs are not shutting down when they stop responding and I am being prompted to close them. The old system was streamlined using a Windows XP tuning guide from www.pcstats.com and does not prompt to close these programs, it just closes them by itself. The restart time is so long for two reasons:

  1. The P5NSLI BIOS is EXTREMELY slow and it sits around detecting drives, etc. for about 30 seconds;
  2. I currently am dual-booting the system, because one of my HDDs died and the OS on it is still being detected (don’t ask me how).

Overall

I have had a couple of months to use this system everyday and after the instability problems were fixed, using the system is an incredibly enjoyable experience. The dual-core powers through map editing tasks in the Valve Hammer editor and video up conversion. The 8800 slices through games like a hot knife through butter. Here’s a list of the apps it has sliced to bits on max settings (note this is at 1280 x 1024 resolution and that I am running Windows XP):

  • BF2
  • BF2142
  • Empire Earth II
  • Supreme Commander
  • F.E.A.R.
  • Titan Quest
  • Need For Speed: Carbon
  • Any game from Valve (CS:S, Half-life 2, etc.)

The only game that I had so much as a hiccup on was Dark Messiah: Might and Magic. My guess is that it’s because the levels are very large with lots of enemies and it’s pushing the Source Engine to its absolute limit. It might also benefit from more RAM, considering that it happily gobbles up a full 2 gigs.

Speaking of RAM, the 2 gigs allows me to run system tasks, anti-virus software etc., while gaming without problem (as we speak, I have a system cache of 1.2 gigs with 800 megabytes used, but I am running SETI and iTunes). I notice that I can run a lot more programs without slowdowns then with 1 gig RAM.

Conclusion

All in all this is a great system for any purpose, and while I had quite a number of hiccups in the beginning, it has ended up being an excellent main system. If I could do anything differently I would have gone with a better board, either a 650i or 680i. Whatever board you choose, don’t just trust the reviews – check out the manufacturers forums or other forums to see what people who BOUGHT the board have to say.

Don’t worry about the validity of this guide, though – I bought the board! This is true for any computer product – make sure you read everything you can from everyone you can; this is how you form a good opinion of your future purchase. So in conclusion, I had a lot of fun putting this system together and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Side Notes:

I will be contacting ASUS in the coming days to see what’s up with this board and why so many people are having problems. If it comes down to it, I will use a bit of journalistic leverage to get the answers out of ASUS. Then I will update the article and if what ASUS says is groundbreaking, I’ll post it up on the ASUS forums. Hopefully they are more helpful than the horde of ASUS forum members say they are.

If anyone has any additional benchmarks they would like me to perform (as long as they are free and don’t involve moving the earth) or other games to test out (as long as I have it already or am willing to purchase it), please contact me by email and I will do my best to accommodate you. Also, if you have any questions about the benchmarks that were performed or if you think, “screenshot or it didn’t happen” you can email me.

Finally, if you have a RAID of Western Digital drives running on an Nvidia chipset with or without problems, PLEASE email me – I would really like to see if this is a genuine problem or if it is being blown out of proportion.

Pricing

For those of you who are looking for a system for gaming, work or other leisure activities, you will be happy to know that this system comes in at less than $1500 US (without a case or optical drives).

Pricing (From Newegg): CPU: $95
Cooling (price from FrozenCpu.com): $199.99
Motherboard: $98.99
PSU: $139.99
VGA: $304.99
Memory: ~$300 (estimation)
HDD’s: $62.99 each

Total (Without HDD’s): $1139
Total (With HDD’s): $1328


Acronyms

If you read through the guide and you are confused about some of the acronyms I used, I will clarify all of them here:

RAID: Stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks; for more information on how RAID works and its benefits check this out HERE.

SLI: Nvidia’s technology for using two video cards working together to improve graphics performance; for more info check this out HERE.

TEC: Thermal Electric Cooler; for more information check this out HERE.

Thank You

I would like to send out a big thank you to the guys at SuperTalent, CoolIt, and Hiper for being so patient in waiting for this article and for providing the awesome gear that made it possible – thank you!

Kyle Lunau

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