New Desktop Time!

After 7 years of hard work, abuse, and travel, my current desktop is really starting to show its age. I’ve been meaning to replace it for about a year now, but haven’t been able to make time (other priorities, like getting married, tend to get in the way). Anyway, the performance at this point is simply no longer workable, so I’m going to put the current desktop into semi-retirement as a file server (though it will get a couple of much-needed upgrades).

My first decision was regarding form factor. I actually made the call on this several months ago, and bought a case from a friend of mine. Since my wife and I are in a 1-bedroom apartment, and space is at a premium, I decided to try building a system using a Micro ATX case, which brings a couple of challenges:

  • Limited space to install hardware
  • Cooling design is essential
  • When choosing a motherboard, I figured that on-board hardware would be a plus wherever possible, and that hardware should be reasonably up-to-date. I also wanted to get something that would support a wide variety of CPUs, and that would let me add a good pile of RAM. After doing some research, I settled on the Gigabyte GA-MA69GM-S2H – it supports all sorts of AMD CPUs, including AM2 and AM2+, has onboard gigabit ethernet, and can take up to 16 GB of memory.

    Since cooling is a consideration, I opted to pay a little extra to get the AMD Athalon X2 BE-2400. Its 65w equivalent, the X2 4400+, was about $30 cheaper, but my goal here was to try and keep heat to a minimum wherever possible.

    The memory choice for me was based on the following requirements:

  • A matched set of RAM
  • 2GB sticks
  • Maximum speed supported by the board
  • Reasonably good quality (i.e. won’t be needing replacement in 6 months)
  • I’ve had an OCZ paired set running in my current desktop for almost 2 years, and I’ve been very pleased with their performance – not the most awesome I could get, but stable and reasonably fast. With that in mind, I decided to try the OCZ DDR2 800 MHz “Vista Upgrade Edition” 4 GB kit. It’s got a matched set of 2 GB sticks, runs as fast as the board will handle, and my experience thus far leads me to believe the quality is there.

    I hadn’t looked at the prices of DVD burners in about a year, so I was a little shocked to discover just how cheap they’ve become. In fact, they’re so cheap, I bought a second one to put in my semi-retired desktop to replace the ancient and failing DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives (which also frees up another IDE channel in the old box, so if I can scavenge a decent-sized IDE hard drive…). I went with the LG SATA DVD-Writer. I didn’t do a ton of research this time, in part because my previous research had indicated that LG was generally a good manufacturer for DVD drives, and I was mainly focused on getting something that runs off SATA (there’s only one IDE channel on the new motherboard, and I’d prefer not to get into using older technology on this box).

    Since most of the file storage won’t be happening on the desktop itself (that’s what the old desktop will be doing), I figured it would be better to splurge on a Western Digital Raptor SATA 150 GB drive. I could certainly get a slower drive with a LOT more space, but I want performance here, and if necessary, I can always add another slower drive for storage later.

    Finally, I decided to pack in an extra component – a card reader. The floppy bay was going to sit empty anyway, so I picked up a 42-in-1 card reader with a USB port as well. This brings me to 4 on the back, and 3 on the front, and the board supports one more header. My main concern was being able to read from flash media, since I like to be able to pull from all different kinds of cards.

    With all the components gathered together, it was time to put them all into place.

    Assembly was pretty straight forward, though the front of the case was a bit more challenging than expected to remove. Also, the insides of the case felt a bit flimsy, but then the case was pretty cheap, so my expectations weren’t high anyway. Amazingly, everything went pretty smoothly – even those damn individual wire connections for the USB front panel, which usually involved a lot of fumbling and cursing. I guess I lucked out with the layout of the case and the board.

    Haven’t installed an O/S yet, but I will be doing it soon. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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