Building a new desktop

Like many enthusiasts, I tend to build my own PCs rather than purchase them from OEMs. A few times in the past I’ve gone the other way and bought a DELL, HP, or other brand-name PC, but in the end I always regretted it. Invariably I would crack open the case right away anyway to change something…the video card, a hard disk or two, whatever. Then I’d want to upgrade the CPU or memory only to find that the OEM did something proprietary.

So now I’m a committed build my own machine guy.

My main desktop at home is long overdue to be upgraded and I figured I’d share the formula I’m using for my new machine and blogging about how it all goes. Maybe some of you readers less experienced than I will find this useful.

My current machine happens to be one of those boxes I bought from an OEM. An HP something or other. You wouldn’t know that by looking at it because it no longer has the original case (the HP case’s power supply was insufficient and was of a proprietary size!). Sure, when it boots you see the HP BIOS screen, but beyond the mobo and memory there’s nothing left in it original. It’s a Pentium 4 2.2 GHz box (upgraded from something slower long ago), with a Radeon 9800 GPU, 1GB RAM, a Gigabit Ethernet adapter, and a single 60GB 7200 IDE HD. It has a DVD drive and a CD-R recorder in it as well. Nice machine, but dated for a cutting edge guy like myself.

In addition it is experiencing bit rot (also known as bit decay): the OS and applications are acting funny enough, and the start menu fills 5 columns with junk I don’t even remember installing. Sometimes IE instances refuse to close. Visual Studio takes 2 minutes to start. You all know that the only way to fix this sort of chaos is to format the HD and re-install from scratch. It’s been 2 years since I’ve done this on this machine, and while Windows and other software have gotten much better in this regard, that’s a long time for a serious user like me to go without wiping clean. (Seriously, I remember when a wipe-and-clean was required every 4-6 months).

Lastly, my kids need their own PC now. Julie is tired of them sharing hers in the kitchen; they actually use the PC for real work now. So after I build my new machine, they will get this one (wiped-and-cleaned of course).

I *was* going to wait a bit longer to do this. There are a bunch of new hardware innovations occurring right now that will significantly change what you put in a PC. Some are real now, but still very expensive. Others are due out in 3-4 months, and others are maybe 6-8 months off. For example:

  • AMD Althlon 64 processors in the 939 package. The 939 pin package is the future of AMD processors. These are out now, but are significantly more expensive than the 754 package that is predominant now (with little perf gain). 3-4 months from now these guys will be mainstream and priced respectively.
  • PCI Express. PCI Express is better than AGP for video. You can buy PCI Express mobos today, but what I really want is one with multiple PCI Express slots and those are not really due in quantity until later this year.
  • BTX form-factor. Most mobos and cases today adhere to the ATX or mini-ATX form factor. A new layout is coming called BTX that promises better heat and space management. But there’s really nothing good out there yet.

However, I just happen to be given a brand new Epox 8KDA3+ motherboard and Athlon 64 3400+ processor. A side-effect of my job, if you will. The Epox motherboard is currently a top-ranked, highly respected nVIDIA nForce3 mobo for the socket 754 Athlon 64 processor. 2-3 months ago it would have been just about the best you could get. Never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth I decided to bite the bullet (I love mixing metaphors) and build my new desktop about 6 months ahead of schedule based around this motherboard and CPU.

I have the mobo and the processor and I’ve ordered everything else I need. Here’s a component list with my justification for each.

  • Epox 8KDA3+ mobo. It was free. I love the fact that it is based on the nVIDIA nForce3 250Gb chipset; I’m a big fan of what nVIDIA is doing with their PC chipsets. Great integration of SATA RAID, Gigabit Ethernet, HyperTransport, and the SoundStorm audio processor.
  • Athlon 64 3400 754 pin CPU. It was free. However, I’d go with an Athlon 64 anyway; IMHO AMD offers the best price/performance CPUs and Intel’s x64 CPUs are just showing up and are an unproven quantity. I have 3 other machines (at work) with these CPUs in them and they scream. Plus they can run the 64 bit versions of Windows XP and Server 2003 (beta).
  • 2 74GB Western Digital WD740 10,000rpm Raptor hard drives. $178 (minus $20 rebate) each from I will set these up in RAID 1 configuration for reliability. For my desktop I prefer performance over capacity and all of my important stuff is stored on my home server (which has several TBs of storage space); 74GB is more than sufficient for my desktop.
  • Liteon SHOW-832S DVD+/-RW dual layer optical drive. $82 from Dual layer enables 8.5GB per DVD and this drive is as fast as they get. Liteon has a reputation for quality, quiet optical drives. I can’t believe it only cost $82.
  • EVGA GeForce 6800 256MB AGP video card. $589 (ouch!) from Frankly, this was the only GeForce 6800 Ultra I could find in-stock at any of the online stores I use. I am not a fan of ATI’s drivers, and while the ATI X800 is generally cheaper and only takes up one slot I prefer nVIDIA products. I also play FarCry which is better on the 6800.
  • 1.5GB Corsair DDR400 memory (3 DIMMs @ 512MB each). $82 each at Good price/performance.
  • Antec P160 aluminium case. $120.99 from Found this by accident, and then read up on it. I recently bought another Antec case and was very impressed, plus all the reviews were very positive. It has the right balance of features for my use.
  • Ultra X-Connect 500W power supply. $129 from This power supply has *bitchen* cable setup. Read this review at and you’ll know why I wanted this PSU.
  • Mitsumi USB 2.0 digital card reader w/ floppy drive. $28 from Combines USB 2.0 card reader with a floppy drive. Seems like a good idea. We’ll see.

When the components arrive in the next few days I’ll put the machine together and let you know how it goes.


  1. http:// says:

    i just bought one of those mitsumi combo drives a couple weeks ago at computerstop and it’s a champ. SD, CF and MS parts float around from various devices in our house all the time and usb2 is as speedy as we’re going to get right now anyway.

  2. http:// says:

    The Ultra-X doesn’t have SATA power connectors? That’s a pretty big negative, otherwise it looks real nice. I would like to see more mobos with at least 4 sata ports and still have two pata ports for optical drives.

  3. http:// says:

    *edit above post*

    Sorry, I see they are available now, and that if you have purchased an Ultra-X p.s., they will send you a free sata cable. Very nice.

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