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Building a new computer can be quite complicated and time consuming. You should take just as much care in researching each component as you would installing them into your system. It is crucial that the component fit your purpose, provide stability, and work well with the other components you select. For my system, I have chosen components that have been thoroughly tested and approved by respected people in the technology field.
The centerpiece of this system is of course the motherboard. I wanted something that was cutting edge but also stable. Ease of use is important, as well as compatibility. I plan to do some over-clocking so this feature was also of great importance to me. After sifting through many reviews I rested on the ASUS P5AD2 Premium, because of its immense offerings and satisfactory reviews. This board supports all of the latest features including SATA, PCI-Express, DDR2, and it accepts the new socket 775 Pentium 4. These features will allow me to use the fastest hardware made for consumers today and hopefully allow this computer to play the latest games for years to come. The board also comes with an impressive list of onboard features. It incorporates 8 channel onboard sound which will suit my needs and save me the expense of buying a separate sound card. It also has two onboard gigabit Ethernet ports and, onboard wireless G with an external antenna which should more than handle anyone’s networking needs. This motherboard has the most advanced feature set I could find available. ASUS has also made great advancements in over clocking with this board. All you need is the most recent bios and you can now unlock the clock multiplier on the Prescott Pentium 4. Until now this was only achievable through the use of an AMD processor but now offers this option with the newest Pentium family. Because heat has been a problem with the Prescott processors ASUS has also introduced “Stack Cool” this is simply placing another PCB on the
underside of the board to dissipate heat. This helps improve stability and increase the life of components.
For the processor I have chosen the Intel LGA775 Pentium 4 550. This 3.4 GHz, 800MHz front side bus processor is a very good choice for over-clocking and even at stock speeds it screams. Although the Prescott processors don’t score much higher than the Northwood processors in benchmarking at stock speeds, the over-clocking factor really comes into play here.
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processor so this processor should carry me well into the future as far as gaming is
Memory was something that gave me a bit of trouble. The selection of DDR2 is somewhat thin and I needed something that would allow me some breathing room while over-clocking this system. Running stock speeds on my processor would require PC4200 but, I needed more. I ran across some PC5300 which would suit my needs perfectly. The Crucial Ballistics PC5300 was what I rested on. Based on the findings this ram appears to be stable and can run right up to the 333 FSB that it advertises. Admittedly information and reviews where scarce and thorough testing is hard to find for this ram but once again I am looking at something that is very new to the market and only produced by a handful of manufacturers. The Crucial name puts my mind at ease somewhat and, what little testing I did come across was positive. I really need the increased overhead for over-clocking and the speeds this ram produces are amazing.
Next on the plate is a video card. I have chosen the ATI Radeon X800 XT, PCI-Express version. This card has a core speed of 500 MHz and using GDDR3 has a
memory speed of 500 MHz (effective speed of 1000 MHz). The motherboard I choose does not have an AGP slot, so a PCI-express card was the only choice I had. Most reviews I found showed only a very marginal gain in gaming performance using PCI-express over AGP 8X. Be that as it may PCI-express still has twice the transfer rate of AGP so maybe with further driver support and development the difference may be more noticeable in the future. One thing I noted while sifting through many of the reviews, was the stability issue. Many testers noted that the PCI-express format seemed to be much more stable then the same card in an AGP format, with the demand put on a machine running today’s newest games stability is definitely not something that should be taken lightly.
The physical size of the card was also something I looked at closely. The X800 XT only takes up one expansion slot, whereas NVIDIA’s competing 6800 ULTRA requires two slots which could affect future upgrading of my system. The 6800 ULTRA also has more power requirements. It actually uses two Molex connectors and uses almost twice the power used by the X800. The main factor for a gaming machine is game play and this card provides plenty of that. The X800 XT can play any game on the market at full resolution without batting an eye.
Since many of the newer games require quite a bit of hard drive space I needed to take that into account when choosing a hard drive and access time was something else I needed to take into consideration. I opted for a Western Digital Raptor 74GB 10,000RPM SATA Hard Drive, Model WD740GD. With SATA I am looking at 150 Mb/s throughput, though the drive actually only has a throughput of around 58 Mb/s. If you look at it from an upgradeability standpoint there is still room to grow. Even with 58Mb/s of throughput this drive still achieves some of the highest transfer rates available today, only outdone by some high end 15,000 rpm SCSI drives. It has a seek time of only 4.5ms which is almost half of a standard 7200 rpm IDE drives seek time. This speed will greatly increase game loading times and provide seamless data transfer. With 74GB this drive will provide plenty of room for my OS and all the games I could possibly play. Using the P5AD2 board I still have five open SATA headers for future expansion as well. Looking at all the hard drives available today this is one of the fastest and quietest drives available and is perfectly suited for a gaming machine.
The NEC ND3500A seems like the perfect choice to fill my optical drive needs. It reads all cd and DVD media except dvd-ram which is not important for my use. When tested against three other drives in a review done on CD-Rinfo.com it was highly rated. It had the fastest CD read times and even scored high at reading scratched CD and DVD media. Its major fault was slow reading times on DVD media; it was still fast enough for my needs, though probably not a good choice for ripping movies. I really wanted an all in one drive and this fits the bill nicely. Since this drive can be used for all my optical needs, I won’t have to clutter up my case with bulky IDE cables which will allow for better cooling in my case. This may seem like a moot point but, it will help immensely since my system will generate alot of heat with an over-clocked Prescott processor.
Now I need something to power all of my new toys and something to house them in. I chose a power supply and case combo from Antec. This package fits my needs nicely with the power requirements I need and a simple but functional case. The Antec True Power 380 watt power supply is a solid power supply with very good reviews. It has dedicated power for each rail and does not use circuit sharing which allows you maximum power output. It has many added features such as a temperature controlled fan which increases rpm when the PSU comes under a heavy load and allows it to decrease speed for quieter operation during less strenuous use. It also features an external Molex connector which is something you rarely see in a power supply, although I am not sure how much use this will get it is a nice feature. The CPU I chose draws about 115 watts and even though I couldn’t find an exact number for the video card, ATI recommends 300 to 350 watt power supply. With these factored in and only one hard drive and one optical drive, this power supply should give plenty of juice for my system. Even with a few fans installed I should still have enough breathing room for some upgrades later if needed.
The case is a fairly simple but functional design. It offers three 5.25” bays and six 3.5” bays which allows plenty of room for upgrades. With the six 3.5” bays I will be able to fill all of my SATA headers that my board has, if the need arises in the future. A removable motherboard tray is another nice feature of this case, which many
manufacturers have gone away from. This was especially important to me since I am dealing with the new LGA socket on my board, which is somewhat delicate since the pins are on the board and not the processor now. Something else I like is the fact that this case has a drive door so all of the drives can be hidden behind the door for a nice clean look. Also with the SONATA there is one 120mm rear exhaust fan and an opening on the front for a 120mm intake fan. This was important again for the over-clocking I plan to do, since cooling is the key to stability.
Last but certainly not least is a monitor. I am keen on LCD monitors because of their low power consumption and small footprint. With the advancements in LCD technology there are now some very good gaming LCD’s on the market, so I am not stuck with a bulky CRT anymore. In the gaming community it’s all about response time, the lower the better. I chose the View Sonic VP912B 19" LCD Monitor for my display needs. This monitor boasts a 12 ms response time which eliminates the ghosting problem which has plagued LCD for sometime now. It also offers SXGA resolution of 1280X1024, which will provide me with plenty of detail that the newest games have to offer. It also has a DVI connector, which my video card supports, so I get clear crisp images with no need for signal conversion. It also has two VGA connectors which is a nice feature if you need to connect to an older card with no DVI, for troubleshooting or whatever the case may be. Gamepc.com reviewed this monitor and said “It was essentially the best 19” LCD monitor available today for gaming”.
I have tried to find the most cutting edge components available in today’s market to maximize this pc for a gaming environment. I wanted to be able to play the best games out today and be ready for games on the horizon. With this system you have the ability to play anything offered and room to grow in the future which is always important in the fast paced computer world. Balancing stability and cutting edge technology can sometimes be difficult but, through extensive research I have been able to do that with this system.