We (or rather, I) recently decided that our home computer was well past its prime. It was at the point where it couldn’t really be upgraded any more, due to being stuck with obsolete technology such as IDE disks, AGP graphics, single core CPU and a hugely inefficient power supply. The search was therefore on for a worthy successor.
Despite the recent introduction of Intels Core i7 and Core i5 architecture, my research showed that, as usual, buying in to the absolute bleeding edge of the technology didn’t represent very good value for money. We don’t play any resource intensive games or have a need to edit HD video, so splurging a 4-figure sum on a computer seemed a little OTT.
The new system is based around a Gigabyte MA790GPT-UD3H motherboard. This is an AMD board with the slightly newer socket AM3 processor mount in a regular ATX form factor. It had the advantage for this build project of offering onboard graphics with a reasonable spec – the ATI HD3330. Whilst it will never run any modern games, it’s quick enough for most things and certainly outpaces the AGP FX5200 card in the old computer. Into this I’ve added a 3.4GHz quad core Phenom II processor, 4G of Kingston DDR3 memory, a Seagate 750G SATA2 hard drive, LG SATA2 optical drive with LightScribe capability and a built in memory card reader for getting pictures off our digital camera. The CPU is cooled by an Arctic Cooling freezer 7 pro heatsink/fan combo and power is supplied by an Antec TP650 modular power supply rated at 85% efficiency at full load. All this lot is housed in an extremely good looking X-Case Avenge Power medium tower case, naturally this is all black with cool looking blue LED illumination on all the fans!
A Digimate 22 inch widescreen TFT makes everything look good at 1680×1050 resolution and any hard copy which is required goes to an Epson DX4850 printer/scanner.
For the time being, but see upgrade plans below, I’ve stuck with the tried and tested 32-bit Windows XP Pro as the main OS.
Phase 2 Upgrade
The system as it stands is perfect for just about everything we need to do. But there is still more to be added. I have a hankering to get my flight simulator setup back in place (see picture) and, of course, the hardware is now much more capable than the previous incarnation.
Graphics performance will be addressed by adding a pair of ATI HD6870 PCI-e cards, driving a total of 3 monitors. These will be either 22 or 24 inch models with either 1680×1050 or 1920×1080 resolution, depending on what deals are around.
The choice of motherboard was dictated by the requirement for a 3-monitor dual card setup, since it offers 2 PCI-e graphics card slots. Most boards with this feature are only able to provide 4 PCI-e data lanes to each card, which completely negates any advantage of having 2 cards in the first place! The MA790GPT-UD3H is able to provide 8 lanes to each card when 2 cards are fitted and 16 lanes when only a single card is fitted. This ought to help make Flight Simulator really (if you pardon the pun!) fly! Just as icing on the cake, using even just a single ATI 6870 card will allow me to have a play with the Eye-Finity feature, whereby a single card can spread its output over 3 physical monitors. I suspect that that configuration would be quite slow compared to having 2 seperate cards, though.
As a final step, the RAM will be upgraded to 16G and to take advantage of this, the OS will get a refresh, being replaced with the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Professional booting from a 120GB solid state disk, with the original 750G drive used purely as storage for media and documents.