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New Workstation Build 2012

So, after a few weeks of glitchy behavior from my old Windows 2003 server at the house (10+ years old), I figured I’d do a new build for my primary workstation and demote my hardware down the line from machine to machine. So, I spent about 5 hours during Saturday evening the weekend before last doing research on current components and what deals I could find. Overall, I’m quite happy with what I scrounged up. So, here’s a breakdown of the parts, and some notes about them.

  • Corsair Carbide 300R Case
    I am hugely brand-loyal to Corsair. When it comes to PC components, it is the brand I prefer for whatever components they make. I’m particularly loyal to their specialty, RAM. And like most of their stuff, I cannot say enough about this case. It is one of their cheaper ones, but the bang-for-the-buck is fantastic. Everything about it is beyond simple and slick. It may not be shaped like some Transformer face or other such gaming rig case, but I don’t care about that stuff (in fact, I prefer simplicity and functionality over bulky looks). This case is both light and strong. It weighs a lot less than the OLD Antec tower server case I had the previous workstation hardware in (that case was a dozen or more years old – an early ATX case, with no front ports of any kind, etc). If you are looking for a wonderfully designed and easy to work with case that is solidly built, look no further. Nothing but praise. I actually picked up 2 of these cases so that I could put the parts of my previous workstation into a new one (abandoning that very old Antec case I mentioned) to use as a media front-end machine.
  • AMD FX-8120 8-Core CPU
    One of the groovy new 8-core CPU’s. Out-of-the-box, it has 8 3.1 GHz cores. And hey, it comes in a nifty tin metal case, too. I got a nice deal (which ended the day after I got it) off the CPU and motherboard price via a combo deal at MicroCenter. Got $100+ off the motherboard via the combo and a bit more with a $10 rebate. I did some overclocking on it, but got the occasional BSOD (always when I was away from the machine for some reason – like while I was asleep or away from the house). So for the last week, I’ve had it back at stock speed and it has worked perfectly. Overall, this is a great CPU, plain and simple. I’m an AMD fan. I haven’t had an Intel CPU machine since the ’90s. I enjoy the better bang-for-the-buck AMD has, and I’ve never had even the slightest problem with one of their chips.
  • ASUS Sabertooth 990FX Motherboard
    For the $80 or so I got this board for, it was a steal of a deal. This is a fantastic board. The array of ports on it is dizzying. The neato new UEFI graphical UI BIOS system is something I hadn’t yet played with. Overall, a wonderful, solid ASUS board that really cranks combined with the 8-core CPU.
  • Corsair 16gb (4x4gb) XMS3 DDR3 1600 RAM
    This is one piece for which I cut a slight corner. I was gonna get the 16gb Corsair Vengeance set of RAM, but I could get the XMS3 for a bit more than $30 cheaper. Corsair’s XMS2 memory has served me perfectly in a couple machines (including the one this was replacing), and I have XMS3 in my unRAID server box. I think when I was originally overclocking that it might have been the RAM that was choking (not sure about that – may try overclocking again after a few weeks if the machine is proven to be stable at normal rates). As a rule, I always use Corsair for RAM.
  • Corsair Hydro H60 CPU Water Cooler
    This was the most unique and newest piece to this puzzle for me. I’ve never gone for a water cooling system before due to the cost, complexity and maintenance involved. I’m not really an overclocker or gamer, so I don’t push CPUs to the limit much. But Fry’s had a nice $50 sale (with NO REBATE, HUZZAH!) on this. The reviews were great and the install video (which is on the linked page) made it look crazy simple. And as a closed liquid system, there’s no maintenance. So, was it as easy as it looked? No. It was easier. Seriously, a water cooling system couldn’t possibly be any easier to install than this. It took a couple minutes to install. No worse than any air cooling fan/heatsink system. Highly recommended.
  • Corsair Force GT 120gb SSD
    My previous machine was using an 80gb Corsair Force 2 SSD drive. I have gotten quite used to having SSD system drives in my machines (my HP laptop has an identical 80gb Corsair Force 2 system drive – along with a secondary 500gb 5900 RPM drive). SSD’s may be pricey, but the performance jump is astounding. I highly recommend them to folks looking to speed up a machine. Of course, you usually just use them for a system drive and have one or more extra drives of non-SSD variety for actual data and what-not. I was initially going to get a 180gb Force 3 drive that Fry’s had on sale for $200, but I kinda wanted to get the fancier Force GT series drive for the synchronous memory and the speed improvement that gives. However, I could only find one deal on a Force GT drive at the time, and that was at CompUSA/TigerDirect. And it was only available at their Naperville warehouse, and was marked as limited availability. I had done online orders for in-store pickup with the stuff from MicroCenter and Fry’s, but annoyingly CompUSA/TigerDirect does not offer that ability. So, I had to set out on Sunday morning to get to CompUSA down in Naperville shortly after they opened at 10:00 am to make sure they didn’t run out. I did get one of them, thankfully. After rebate, it was $150. Not as big as the 180gb Force 3, but cheaper and still bigger than the 80gb Force 2 I was previously used to. Actually, it’s kinda cool that between CompUSA, Fry’s and MicroCenter, I can drive around to pickup all manner of computer components at good prices. Most folks don’t have that luxury and have to do mail order for all of it. Heck, I have a CompUSA/TigerDirect location within a couple minutes of my house (I don’t even have to go through a single traffic light to get to it). Fwiw, I got all the components at MicroCenter, except for the H60 water cooler at Fry’s and the Force GT SSD at CompUSA. As expected, this Corsair Force GT drive SCREEEEEEEEEEAMS in performance. Seriously, once you’ve gone SSD, you don’t go back. SSD drives are such a moving target, and can vary WILDLY in performance vs price. If you are ever wanting to get one, feel free to check with me about which to get. That market changes blindingly fast. What was true one month will likely not be true the next month.
  • Zotac GeForce GT 520 Video Card
    Since my previous machine components were going to be used as a multimedia box, I needed to get a new video card for this new build so that I could still utilize the previous GeForce GT 220 card in that box. I tend to stick with nVidia GPU’s, though I consider ATI a decent alternative. The one rule I do have, though, is NEVER to use an Intel video GPU. Their newest ones might actually be OK for all I know, but I have had nothing but horrible experiences with their video chipsets. All those years of making pure crap GPU’s have forever tainted them for me. As long as nVidia and ATI are out there as a choice, I will never choose an Intel GPU. At any rate, I chose the Zotac card since it was the best deal for the spec. I got the card for about $35 after rebate from MicroCenter. Actually, I got most of the components from MicroCenter due to them having the best deals at the time (heck, I had a half dozen rebates involved in stuff from MicroCenter – enough that I think the registered spit out a quarter of its paper role for all the rebate forms and receipt copies).
  • OCZ ModXStream Pro 600w Power Supply
    I normally use a Corsair power supply, but I couldn’t find a great price on one at the time. There was a good deal on this OCZ unit at the time via MicroCenter, so that’s what I went with. I’m a fan of modular power supplies (where you only have to hook up the cables that you need), so that’s a big plus on this unit. So far, it’s been great. OCZ is a good brand, so I had faith it would be a good PSU.
  • As far as the optical drives go, I’m keeping the 2 drives I already had in the previous main workstation in play in the new one. They are an LG Blu-Ray writer drive and a Samsung DVD-RW drive (which I got to primarily use for CD audio ripping – as the LG BD-Rom kinda sucks at it and the Samsungs are fantastic at it). Heck, I also have an XBox 360 HD-DVD drive that’s hooked up via USB as well (I don’t have a 360 – just have this drive for HD-DVD use on the PC, having got it for chump change when HD-DVD was dying). I also left the 2 Hitachi 7200 RPM 2tb hard drives in the machine. I’m only moving the 80gb Force 2 SSD with the rest of the parts for use in the media front end machine.
So then, it was a matter of moving all the previous parts from the case that housed my previous workstation into the second Corsair 300R case I got, and set it up for use as my media front-end machine. Previously, I was using a Zotac ID11 micro form factor machine along with XBMC’s Live build. It worked well, but the XMBC Live build had its quirks to deal with (not trying to complain, because it did work well and my main reason for doing all this stuff wasn’t because of it, just that this was a natural progression of machine changes to do). It took very little time to get things hooked up in the new case and get it setup. Since I left the optical drives in the new workstation, I just temporarily hooked up my USB Samsung DVD drive (which is normally hooked up to that Zotac box) to do the OS install on this newly tasked media front-end machine. I initially put the Windows 8 customer preview build on it (the latest available at the time of this writing), but had a few quirks for the first day of use. So before I got too much stuff tweaked on it, I re-nuked it with Windows 7. All-in-all, the components work very well for a media machine. XBMC flies on it (I didn’t realize just how much quicker it would be compared to the scaled down XBMC Live version on my Zotac ID11). The quad core AMD CPU moves it along nice and fast, and the 6gb of memory helps. But I’m sure the SSD, even being a year old Force 2 drive, makes the biggest difference. I’m now using the current XBMC “”Eden”” RC2 build for Windows on x64 Windows 7 (which connects to the many terabytes on my unRAID server). Works great. I also use this box to connect to and display live TV fed from my new HDHomeRun tuner box on the network (which awesomely manages to get the unencrypted QAM channels from my Comcast Business line, even though I don’t have any Comcast TV services on said line). I’ll probably utilize this machine for a few other multimedia kinda things.
Lastly, the above mentioned Zotac boxed became retasked as a Windows 2008 server. It’s not a powerful little machine (Intel Atom CPU, nVidia ION graphics and just 2gb of RAM), but it works for the limited few things I use it for. I’ve got things setup in their final form at this point, and am very happy with how it all turned out. I got a bunch of great deals on all the new components listed above (most with mail-in rebates, which I hate, but it’s something like $150 in rebates so they are worth it).
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