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Some advice on specification for a new PC?

By LetterofMarque
Jan 1, 2010
  1. Hello,

    I hope I've posted this in the correct forum- if not, any mods can feel free to move it.

    I'm going to buy a new computer soon, and I thought it would be sensible to ask for advice from people who know more than I do. From my experience on guitar forums, prevention is better than cure, it's better to ask for help before you actually buy something.

    I won't be building this PC myself, I'm going to buy from Mesh, who'll build it for me, because I've used them before and they seem to be reasonably good value and will allow a reasonable amount of customisation. Of course, if you've got good reasons why I should avoid them, or have heard horror stories, please let me know!

    I've read the sticky about how to post a thread about building a PC (which is not exactly the same as what I'm doing, but close enough, I assume), so I'll guess I'll just copy and paste from there.

    * What are you going to use the PC for?

    Internet, games, maybe word processing and the like, too. I'm guessing games will be the major reason for needing a fairly high spec.

    * How much is your budget?

    Fairly flexible, but around £1000- I'll pay a bit more if something makes a noticeable improvement, but on the other hand if something costing less than that would have the same performance, I would obviously seriously consider that, too.

    * Where are you located? (a.k.a. fill out your profile)

    Northern Ireland, in the UK (should be in my profile)

    * Are you willing to buy online?

    Yeah, probably from Mesh, unless you have a good reason why I shouldn't buy from them

    * Are you going to re-use any parts from an earlier build?

    Maybe my old cheapo speakers, but other than that, no :D

    * Do you need other peripherals like a monitor, keyboard and mouse, among others?

    The system I'm buying already comes with them. If you're recommending that I go with someone other than Mesh, I'd need a monitor, keyboard and mouse, as my old ones feel a bit like they're on their last legs.

    * Have you already bought any parts?

    No

    * Do you have an Operating System (OS)?

    It comes with Windows 7 Home Premium Edition already installed. Again, if you recommend me not to go with Mesh, I'd need an OS, presumably WIndows 7 of some description.

    * Will you need any aftermarket cooling, such as a CPU\GPU cooler or a watercooling setup?

    I have no idea, but I assume sufficient cooling will be already built-in.

    I've checked through various websites for benchmark tests (including this one), but while I understand graphs, I don't really understand how these numbers translate to real world performance a lot of the time, which is why I'm asking for help here.

    Based on what I've found out thus far online, here is the spec of the computer I was thinking of buying (I can't post a link, unfortunately, because I don't have enough posts):

    Full Specification

    * Intel® Core™ i7 920 Quad Core Processor (2.66GHz,8MB Cache) - LGA1336
    * Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium Edition - 64bit English
    * New Stylish Midi-Tower ATX Chassis with 700W PSU - Piano Black
    * ASUS P6T SE Mainboard - Intel Core™ i7 & i7 Extreme Edition - ATX
    * 6GB 1333MHz Triple Channel DDR3 SDRAM - ( 3x2GB )
    * 2x 500GB Serial ATA Hard Drive with 16MB Buffer (1TB Total)
    * Raid 0 Configuration (Stripe)
    * 22x Dual Layer DVD Writer Super Format +R/-R/RW/RAM
    * 1GB ATI Radeon 5850 Graphics Accelerator GDDR5- ***DirectX 11***
    * 22" Iiyama (1920x1080) Full HD Monitor - ProLite E2208HDS-1
    * 7.1 High Definition onboard sound card - for 8 Channel Cinema sound
    * Logitech Cordless Keyboard & Cordless Optical Mouse
    * 1 Year Free Return to Base Hardware Warranty - inc 3 Months Free Collect & Return

    Is this a decently-specced machine (I think it is, but could be wrong)? I was also considering customising it to get a few upgrades, and hoped you could advise me on them too.

    I was thinking of upgrading the 6GB RAM to 8GB. It's £50, which in terms of money is not too much, but I was worried that since that would mean it has 4 x2GB, it would mean that I wouldn't be able to make use of the i7's triple channel memory function- would that make a major difference? Is 8GB in dual-channel format still going to be faster than 6GB in triple? There is also the option of upgrading to 12GB, which would retain the triple channel capability, but it's a lot more money (£150 versus £50), and I'd only do it if it made a big difference.

    I was going to upgrade the hard drive to 2x 1TB, as it's not too much extra (£60)- but is there any advantage in going with stripe versus mirror setup, or vice-versa?

    Is there any point in upgrading the processor? It's a fairly hefty upcharge (£240 or so) to the i7 950, so I'd only do it if it made a noticeable difference. They also have some other models with the 8xx processors, is there any advantage to them over the 9xx series, or are the 9xx series processors better?

    The graphics card seems fairly good as is (1GB ATI Radeon 5850), the only available upgrade is to get two of them in a crossfireX setup, which is pretty expensive (£265), am I right in assuming it's not really worth it?

    Is it worth going for the performance pack? (Performance Pack - Akasa Freedom Tower quiet Heat pipe quiet cooling, Performance updates, specialist cabling) A £49 upcharge, I really have no idea about this. On a similar note, is the stock power supply sufficient (700W)?

    I was also considering getting a second DVDRW drive (maybe blu-ray), the memory card reader, and possibly the monitor upgrade to 24", but I assume they won't really affect the performance of the machine (again, I could be wrong).

    Phew, that was really long, I apologise in advance for the length, and I appreciate any help anyone can give me with my questions. I suspect I know just enough about computers to get the wrong end of the stick, which normally ends up with my spending a lot of needless extra money.

    Thanks again,

    Dave.
     
  2. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,258

    This... http://www.meshcomputers.com/Default.aspx?PAGE=PRODUCTVIEWPAGE&USG=PRODUCT&ENT=PRODUCT&KEY=660388

    The build you have listed will be capable of virtually any task you set it. The build looks good.
    6Gb RAM is ample- Most non-commercial applications wouldn't require that much system memory, so day-to-day running is fine. If they were planning on upgrading you to 8Gb most likely they would be installing 2 x 4Gb kits intended for LGA1156- something you could add yourself should the (unlikely) need arise.
    Raid 0 offers faster seek times-but if one drive fails then you lose your data, Raid 1 gives you redundancy (a backup) but you're doubling the number of your writes. If you are interested in getting a RAID setup then RAID 5 with 3 x 500Gb drives might be a better option- redundancy + speed. If RAID isn't a big requirement then go with a cheaper option and look at an SSD for your system drive at a later date.
    CPU : the 920 (2.66GHz) is fine - it's being superceded by the 930 (2.8GHz) very soon. I run a 950 but wouldn't have brought it at it's retail cost over the 920- I just lucked into a great deal at the right time. The 920 is perfectly fine - make sure that get value for money by getting the D0 stepping version (sSpec - (cpu model code)- SLBEJ , and not the early first generation C0 stepping (sSpec SLBCH)- The D0 is significant better than the earlier C0
    Core i7 8xx cpu's are LGA1156 socket cpu's (Intel P55 chipset) which would require a corresponding motherboard- these a dual channel memory so 4Gb/8Gb RAM rather than 6Gb/12Gb.
    While the Core i7 920 and the 860 are similarly priced, the 860 can be paired with a board offering a much greater feature set than the P6T SE can offer at the same price point- unfortunately the Mesh builds have an Asus P7P55D LE- which is very budget.
    Real world differences between the X58 (LGA1366) and P55 (LGA1156) chipsets are marginal in most cases.
    Your video card should handle any game up to 1920 x 1080 screen resolution without issue and can be paired with any monitor up to, and including a 30" (2560 x 1600 ) screen or HDTV
    I have no first hand knowledge of Akasa products but 700watts is more than sufficient for a single graphics card with a branded power supply.
     
  3. LetterofMarque

    LetterofMarque TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Thanks very much for the detailed reply, dividebyzero, I appreciate it. I'll just go through your reply to make sure I've understood everything you're saying.

    That's the one, yeah, thanks for linking to it. I could have linked to it by putting in a couple of spaces in the address or something like that, but wasn't sure if that might be frowned upon. That's good to know, at least, that it should do what I want.


    I think it said on the Mesh site (when you click the "customise" button) that the 8GB was made up of 4x2GB kits. You're right that I could upgrade the RAM later... I'd thought of that, just knowing what I'm like, I'd never get round to it. :D That's why I generally get what I think I'd need from the get-go (and I realise I'm probably paying a bit more for the privilege).

    I don't think Mesh offers RAID 5, unfortunately. RAID's not a big requirement, no, just it comes already included in the price with the option of either RAID 0 or 1 as a no-cost option. To be honest, there's likely to be nothing on my computer which, if it were lost, it'd be the end of the world (and if there were, I'd just back it up on a CD-rom or DVDRW), so I'm guessing RAID 0 is the way to go for speed.

    Thanks very much, I didn't know that about either the new 930, or the newer version of the 920 (I'll email Mesh about which version they offer). Do you have any idea about when the 930 might be released?

    Thanks, that's what I thought. Does that mean that the 9xx series can take more RAM than the 8xx series?

    Interesting, I didn't realise this. Would that be a big enough problem for you to advise that I should go with the 8xx series? I remember the last time I ordered from Mesh, you had quite a wide choice of motherboards, but this time there doesn't seem to be any choice at all, and to get the higher-end motherboards, unless i've missed something, the price goes up quite a bit indeed :( (just taking a quick look at the Mesh site, to get one with the P6T board, the price is £2000, so basically you're talking about a doubling of the price)

    Thanks, that's what I'd have thought, but it's nice to get confirmation.

    Excellent, that's good to know.

    Thanks again for all your help, I appreciate that that was a very long post to read, and you gave an extremely detailed answer too. :)
     
  4. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,258

    No problem-glad to help. To tackle your questions:
    The i7 930 is a few months away yet- the good news is that it will be priced the same as the 920. The bad news is that system builders like Mesh are likely not to add the cpu to their options until they've exhausted their current stock of 920's. They may offer the 930 but will most likely charge a premium to encourage buyers towards the 920. Emailing them may clarify their stance and timeframe.
    There would be no advantage to getting 8Gb RAM. Running 6Gb allows the RAM to run in triple-channel mode as it was designed to- the extra 2Gb would be running in single-channel mode which probably wouldn't increase productivity to any extent. You could check out reviews of the Intel DX58SO board which comes with 4 DIMM slots to verify this.
    RAM capacity:
    P55 systems are generally specced at 16Gb maximum ( i.e. 4 x 4Gb), while X58's are specced at 24Gb (6 x 4Gb). As for "is-more-better" ? Articles such as this http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/memory-module-upgrade,2264.html might help you in your choice.
    P55 (LGA1156) v X58 (LGA1366):
    If the CPU's are of similar ability and price then the factors that would influence me would be the costs involved in purchasing the motherboard and RAM - all other components being common to both builds. RAM is marginally cheaper for P55 simply because you are dealing with 2 or 4 modules as opposed to 3 or 6- I'd call it a wash as the savings in buying fewer modules could be put towards getting RAM of higher speed and tighter timings (reduced latency). Which brings us to the motherboard....
    X58 motherboards are generally way too expensive unless you look at the budget offerings (Asus P6T SE, Gigabyte EX58-UD3R, ASRock X58 Extreme etc.), but being budget offer reduced functionality - most likely only one Gb LAN, possibly budget audio codec, reduced power phases (a debatable one), fewer onboard fan and SATA connectors, possibly no SLI license. For the average user probably no deal-breakers.
    For the same price as a budget X58 you can usually buy a mainstream-performance level P55 motherboard ( Asus P7P55D Evo/Pro/Deluxe, Gigabyte P55-UD5, MSI P55-GD65/-80, EVGA P-55 FTW etc.) which would offer better overclocking parameters, possibly better audio and connectivity and the possibility of opting for USB 3.0 / SATA 6Gb versions of the Asus and Gigabyte offerings.

    In terms of raw CPU power the LGA1366 is king of the hill- it also has the advantage of being relatively mature so most manufacturers now have stable BIOS's.
    LGA1156's appeal lies in it's supposed entry level price, which isn't overly apparent unless planning to pair a board with a i5 750 or one of the newer i3/i5 cpu's due out later in the year- and the wider parameters of it's on-die memory controller (X58 native supported memory speed is DDR3-1066, while the P55 supports DDR3-1333) which allows for better memory overclocking-this in turn makes LGA1156 cpu's themselves easier to overclock.

    Hope this helps you out Dave.
     
  5. LetterofMarque

    LetterofMarque TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Thanks very much again, that helped a lot, though I suspect I have more questions now than I did at the start :D

    Going through your points again:

    Thanks, I suspect you're right. I might as well e-mail them to see, but as you say, they're likely to price them out of competitiveness until they get rid of their old stock of the 920s, plus by the time they get them, it's likely to be too late, as I need a new computer fairly soon. Still, an email can't hurt.

    Thanks, that's exactly what I wanted to know (and what I suspected), while £50 isn't that much in terms of the whole PC, there's not much point in paying it for no good reason either, plus £50 here and there does tend to add up alarmingly quickly! I'll see if I can find some reviews, too, I know there were some on this site which I've checked out already, but I can't remember if I checked out that specific board's review (if this site has one).

    Thanks, that's what I wanted to know. I'll check that article too, thanks very much!

    Thanks. I've never really bothered with overclocking, is there much to it and are there any disadvantages? I don't want to derail the thread, so a sentence or two would suffice, don't really want to be missing out on something which is very easy to do...

    To be honest, the only thing I'd be doing which'd be considered intensive is games... from the sounds of it, the budget motherboard would probably be fine, am I right in this assessment?

    definitely, i already know about twice what I knew when I started this thread! :D Thanks again for all your help.
     
  6. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,258

    Even though this is a tech-heavy site I'll swim against the tide and say that for most gaming overclocking probably isn't required.
    You have a more than capable CPU and a good graphics card. Any overclocking is likely to yield a few more frames per second but in most instances you wouldn't be able to notice the increase. Video rendering can also benefit from overclocking but the result is the task takes less time. If time is not critical then nor is the overclocking.
    A mild overclock is viewed rightly as free performance- if it can be achieved adding little or no extra voltage to the CPU then the chip releases little extra heat which in turn allows for a more simple cooling solution.
    Bear in mind you can overclock from within windows using the Asus Turbo-V software if you find youself in need of some extra CPU cycles. It's apparently easy to use and effective.
    As for more involved (higher) overclocking, that's probably best left for another day. It usually requires changing values at a BIOS level manually for best results and a stock Intel heatsink-fan definitely wouldn't dissipate the heat generated. I would only investigate this avenue if it intrigues you as it can be time consuming (and sometimes frustrating) and best viewed as a hobby or maybe a sport.

    Also note that overclocking is not the only way to a better gaming experience- you can add a second graphics card to the mix at a later stage.
    Specs for the motherboard here http://www.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=t4yhK6y9W9o7iQ9E&templete=2
     
  7. LetterofMarque

    LetterofMarque TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Thanks very much, that's what I wanted to know. I'll email Mesh at some point with those couple of questions and post again if I have any more questions etc. Thanks for the link to the motherboard specs too, I'll take a look at them tomorrow (it's a bit late for looking at detailed specs :D).
     
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