PCs I Have Known

I have assembled several PCs for myself over the years.  You can get a sense for how things have evolved by looking at the components, capabilities, and prices of each one.

I've included some simple memory throughput benchmarks from "memtest", and some simple disk speed benchmarks from "hdparm -t" under Linux.  These aren't meant to provide hard numbers for expected performance, but rather to give you a sense for how performance has evolved over the years.

Power consumption was measured with a "Watts Up?" electricity meter.  The "idle" load is sitting in Windows doing nothing, the "active peak" load is the peak observed as Windows is coming up.  For reference, my CRT monitors both drew slightly under 100W, and my Dell 20" LCD from 2001 drew 43W.

Generally speaking, the memory and hard drive capacity of machine N is greater than that of all the earlier machines put together.

My tale of woe regarding a VIA-based motherboard and 1394 cards can be found below.


PC #1: June 1995

$65 Case: generic AT with 250W power supply
$379 CPU: 90MHz Pentium
$12 Heat sink/cooling fan
$349 Motherboard: Tyan PCI-ISA S1466-PCB-02 (Intel chipset, 33MHz FSB??, 256K sync cache)
$998 RAM: 32MB (two each 16MB 4x32 72-pin FPM SIMMs 60ns)
$370 Video card: Diamond Stealth 64 Video VRAM 2MB
$269 SCSI adapter: Adaptec 2940W
$289 Sound Card: Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE32
$1074 Hard drive: 2GB SCSI Seagate Barracuda ST32550W (7200rpm)
$500 CD-ROM drive: SCSI NEC 6Xi CDR-502
$99 Floppy drive: Teac dual (both 3.5" and 5.25")
$60 Keyboard: MicroSpeed KB101T
$45 Mouse: Logitech 3-button MouseMan
$29 Serial/parallel I/O card: Tyan Super I/O
$240 Speakers: Yamaha YST-M10H plus YST-MSW10 sub-woofer
$1049 Monitor: Nokia 447X-058 (17" CRT)
$5827 TOTAL

Later on I added a second hard drive (2GB SCSI Quantum Grand Prix XP32150) for $795, a //FAST AV Master video capture board for $1000, a Yamaha CDR-102 CD recorder for $1242, a 3Com Fast EtherLink XL 10/100 card for $169, and replaced the lousy NEC CD-ROM drive with a Plextor 8plex for $430.  I also upgraded the CPU from 90MHz to 133MHz for $379.  That's another $4015, for a total of $9842 on one lousy PC.

Was it worth it?  Perhaps.  It ran the games of the day (e.g. Doom) rather well, and worked great with Slackware Linux distributions that you downloaded onto floppies.

What says the most about this PC is that it became my home web server, and was running 24x7 from late in the year 2000 until I finally replaced it in April 2003.  The Seagate Barracuda eventually died and was replaced with a 4GB SCSI Quantum Atlas II XP34550W, and the AV Master and AWE32 cards were moved into the second PC, but other than that it still ran with original parts.  The keyboard, mouse, and speakers were still in use 10 years later on various machines.

(The PC was finally discarded in July 2006.)

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (8KB) 129MB/sec
L2 cache (none found) --
Memory (32MB FPM) 103MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Quantum XP32150 5.99MB/sec (27.59MB/sec from cache)
Quantum XP34550W 8.71MB/sec (27.95MB/sec from cache)
Power consumption: 97W idle (Linux; measured through a UPS)

Decent stats for a machine of the day.  Interesting that the tiny CPU cache is only marginally faster than memory in this test.


PC #2: June 1997

$230 Case: Extra Series model 7890A (ATX full tower) w/300W power supply
$865 CPU: 266MHz Pentium-II w/512K cache (heat sink + fan included)
$300 Motherboard: Asus KN97-X/WA (Intel 440FX chipset, 66MHz FSB)
$116 RAM: 32MB (two each 16MB 72-pin EDO SIMMs 60ns)
$228 Video card: Hercules Stingray 128/3D
$269 SCSI adapter: Adaptec AHA-2940UW
$695 Hard drive: 4.55GB SCSI Quantum Viking 4.5WSE (7200rpm)
$230 CD-ROM drive: SCSI Plextor 12/20
$36 Floppy drive: Teac 3.5"
$90 Ethernet card: 3Com Fast EtherLink XL 10/100
$3059 TOTAL

I also bought a Belkin OmniView KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) 4-way switch so I could use the same keyboard, mouse, and monitor with the two machines ($249).  Adding the second machine meant I now needed an Ethernet hub, so I bought an HP 8-port 10base-T hub for $144.  I added a second hard drive, a 4.55GB SCSI Seagate Cheetah ST34501W, for $780.  Somewhere in here, due to the variety of devices I had (external tape drive, internal non-wide CD-ROM drive, internal wide hard drive, CD recorders, etc) I swapped the Adaptec SCSI card out and replaced it with a Diamond Fireport 40 Dual for $190.  That's another $1363.  I also upgraded the memory to 64MB, but I don't have the price recorded.

The //FAST AV/Master card and the SB AWE32 moved into this machine, and remain there to this day.  This machine is currently idle for the most part.

Note how the price of RAM crashed.  32MB went from nearly $1000 down to barely over $100.  Everything went down except the CPU, but declining by nearly 10x is phenomenal.  The above excludes stuff I already had, such as the monitor, keyboard, and speakers, which cuts the cost by a fair amount.

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (32KB) 2610MB/sec
L2 cache (512KB) 382MB/sec
Memory (64MB EDO) 105MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Quantum Viking 4.5 WSE 10.26MB/sec (50.39MB/sec from cache)
Seagate ST34501W 13.85MB/sec (46.72MB/sec from cache)
Power consumption: 123W idle (Win98), 135W active peak

No real improvement in the memory access speed going from FPM to EDO, but the cache shows tremendous improvement.  The disk performance is also picking up rapidly.

(I kept this around for a very long time, for testing old peripherals. I finally recycled it in April 2022. It got mentioned in an answer to a question about old hardware.)


PC #3: July 1999

$312 Case: Antec KS011BX+PP303X ATX w/300W power supply
$465 CPU: 500MHz Pentium-III w/512K cache (heat sink + fan included)
$300 Motherboard: Aopen AX6BC ATX (Intel 440BX chipset, 100MHz FSB)
$138 RAM: 128MB (128MB PC-100 SDRAM 168pin DIMM)
$208 Video card: Diamond Viper V770 Ultra 32MB AGP
$320 SCSI adapter: Adaptec AHA-2940U2W
$170 Sound card: Creative Labs SB Live!
$625 Hard drive: 18GB SCSI Quantum Atlas IV 18 WLS (7200rpm Ultra2-LVD)
$120 CD-ROM drive: SCSI Plextor Ultraplex 17/40
$20 Floppy drive: Mitsumi 3.5"
$24 Ethernet card: LinkSys Etherfast 10/100
$925 Monitor: Sony Multiscan GDM-F400 (19" CRT)
$3605 TOTAL

The monitor I bought with the new system hooked into the KVM switch, and the old Nokia monitor was set aside.  The new monitor was larger, and was in use until it failed five years later.  About this time I bought an HP 2000CN printer (with Ethernet network adapter) for $915, and upgraded the Ethernet hub to a Netgear FS308 10/100 autosensing switch for $340.  The video card was replaced with an Elsa Gladiac 2gts (Nvidia GeForce2) 32MB AGP card for $300 toward the end of 2000.  I replaced the Belkin KVM switch with a LinkSys Proconnect 4-port PS/2 for $160, because the video quality was much better.  In 2002 I added a $50 Western Digital 1394 adapter.

Prices on things hadn't really changed much, but speed and capacity is improving.

I eventually added another 256MB of memory ($204 for another 128MB, then an earlier one went bad, so I spent $225 for the next one, and $40 for the last one in July 2001 -- RAM prices fluctuated quite a bit over that period).  In September 2000 I tried replacing the motherboard with an Abit KT-7 and the CPU with an AMD 900MHz Athlon Thunderbird, but that experiment ended in failure when games would lock up after about 10 minutes.

After I bought machine #4, this machine was combined with the Nokia monitor, the Logitech 3-button mouse, and a new keyboard to form an entirely separate machine for my girlfriend to use.  It was used for another 3.5" years in this configuration, with the addition of a Sony CRX320A CD recorder in late 2004 ($90).  The machine was finally discarded in July 2006; I moved the SCSI card to PC #5.

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (32KB) 4912MB/sec
L2 cache (512KB) 644MB/sec
Memory (384MB PC-100 SDRAM) 199MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Quantum Atlas IV 18 WLS 20.78MB/sec (117.43MB/sec from cache)
Power consumption: 74W idle (Win2K), 105W active peak

The throughput from main memory doubled, and the stats on cache transfers are improving steadily.  Bulk reads from the hard drive are now twice as fast, on a disk that is larger, quieter, and runs cooler than its predecessors.  Curiously, this machine has the lowest power consumption of any PC I've built, except for the deliberately low-power web server (PC #13).


PC #4: January 2002

$365 Case: Lian Li PC60-USB, plus a PC Power & Cooling Silencer 400W ATX power supply
$236 CPU: 1.6GHz AMD Athlon XP 1900+ (w/fan)
$159 Motherboard: Soyo SY-K7V Dragon+ (VIA chipset, 133MHz DDR FSB)
$200 RAM: 512MB (two each 256MB PC-2100 266MHz SDRAM 32x64 184-pin DIMM)
$369 Video card: PNY Verto GeForce3 Ti500 64MB AGP
$50 1394 adapter: Western Digital 1394 (NEC chipset)
$242 Hard drive: 120GB (2x 60GB IDE IBM 60GXP ATA-100 7200rpm)
$50 CD-ROM drive: IDE Creative 5233E-N 52x
$500 CD recorder: HP DVD-100i (CD-R, CD-RW, DVD+RW)
$23 Floppy drive: Teac 3.5"
$45 Mouse: Logitech Mouseman Dual Optical
$2239 TOTAL

This is a significant departure from previous PCs, as it contains nothing from Intel and there are no SCSI devices.  I'm also using the "sound card" and Ethernet NIC built into the motherboard, and I've switched to a new mouse for the first time in nearly seven years.  As with the previous machines, this hooks into the KVM switch.

The 1394 (Firewire) adapter never worked right.  See the detailed explanation farther on.

Getting this thing to work was a nightmare.  The first time I put it together - with a different motherboard - it flat out didn't work.  Didn't make a sound.  I replaced the motherboard with the Soyo Dragon+, and got beeps that told me my RAM was bad.  I bought more RAM, which also turned out to be bad, but it worked well enough to get a memory tester running and to tell me that I wasn't going insane.  At one point I had in my possession two motherboards, two CPUs, two power supplies, and four pieces of RAM.  Two pieces of RAM were in various states of "bad", and the first motherboard provided no diagnostics when it didn't like the RAM (it might even have fried the first piece of RAM).  This took *hours* to sort out.

After things were more or less coming together, the SB Audigy Gamer I installed started causing the same sorts of problems I'd experienced on the failed attempt to upgrade machine #3 with the Abit KT-7 (lockups about ten minutes into playing a game), so I stuck with the built-in audio, which usually works well.  Of course, since Creative likes to install control panels and other garbage that cannot be un-installed, I got to re-install Windows.  Lesson learned: use Norton Ghost to back up the system before adding anything from Creative Labs.

After about six months, the IBM 60GXP drives started acting up.  One appears to be leaking oil, though IBM says there's no oil in the drive.  (Which makes sense, but where the hell did the oil come from, and why was it smeared along the seams of the drive?  Someone suggested that the rubber seals broke down, the loss of which sped the drive failure.)  I replaced the drives with Western Digital WD600A 60GB 7200RPM drives.  [Followup: about a year and a half later I tried to use the drives for scratch space.  The one that seemed to be leaking was dead.  I discarded them both.]

(Replaced by PC #7 in January 2004.)

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (128KB) 9813MB/sec
L2 cache (256KB) 3257MB/sec
Memory (512MB PC-2100 SDRAM) 512MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
IBM 60GXP 39.02MB/sec (272.34MB/sec from cache)
Western Digital WD600A 46.38MB/sec (209.84MB/sec from cache)
Power consumption: 172W idle (Win2K), 204W active peak

The memory and disk throughput has improved dramatically.  In some part the RAM figures are due to switching from Intel to AMD.  The figures for the ATA-100 hard drive suggest that, for a simple desktop PC with one or two hard drives, SCSI is no longer necessary for solid performance.  The power consumption is frightening, but I wonder how much of that is the video card.


PC #5 (QA box): January 2003

$248 Case: Lian Li PC60-USB, plus an Antec TruePower 330W power supply
$125 CPU: 1.7GHz Intel Pentium 4 (400MHz FSB), w/fan
$108 Motherboard: Intel D845GBVL 533FSB Socket 478 DDR
$78 RAM: 256MB (one 256MB PC-2100 266MHz SDRAM 32x64 184-pin DIMM)
$100 Hard drive: 80GB (80GB IDE Maxtor ATA-100)
$25 CD-ROM drive: ASUS 52X S-520
$7 Floppy drive: Mitsumi 3.5"
$0 1394 adapter: Western Digital 1394 (NEC chipset) -- pulled from #4
$0 Video card, sound card, Ethernet: on motherboard
$691 TOTAL

After the nightmarish experience with VIA chipsets, I'm back to Intel (even going so far as to buy an Intel motherboard).  This machine was built as a QA box, able to run Win98, Win2K, and WinXP.  With Red Hat 8.0, it's a quadruple-boot system.  It's intended to be stable rather than speedy, so the emphasis was on reliable and inexpensive components.

The 80GB hard drive was originally bought for some TiVo hacking.  I wanted to use it as Ghost image storage, writing to it through Firewire, but that fell apart when machine #4 choked.  It was certainly large enough to hold the various OSs, so I stuffed it into this machine.

Besides 1394, it also does USB2.0.  Unlike the previous motherboard, the USB connector on the front of the case actually works with it.

Linux seems to work, though the I845G video stuff was giving me trouble until I found a BIOS setting that increased the amount of memory dedicated to video from 1MB to 8MB.  I couldn't figure out why Windows worked fine, but Linux was limited to 640x480x16 (and flaking out in a big way).  Windows worked fine, though I do recall some minor flakiness -- some pixels getting stomped in the general vicinity of the mouse -- that I haven't seen since I upped the memory reservation.

The memory I initially bought for it ("Major Brand" SDRAM) came up as 128MB.  The DIMM was only populated on one side, which made me suspect that I'd been sold the wrong thing.  However, when I swapped RAM between this machine and #4, they both saw 256MB.  Looks like this motherboard has a slight incompatibility with the RAM.

(I kept this one for a while, using it to host "guest" hard drives from projects in a few occasions. Finally recycled in January 2022.)

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (8KB) 11885MB/sec
L2 cache (256KB) 10427MB/sec
Memory (256MB PC-2100 SDRAM) 819MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Maxtor 80GB 4K080H4 32.22MB/sec (326.07MB/sec from cache)
Power consumption: 63W idle (WinXP), 116W active peak

RAM speeds are up again, owing in part to the 400MHz FSB (which makes the 266MHz DDR SDRAM the bottleneck).


PC #6 (web/mail/NFS/Samba server): April 2003

$198 Case: Iwill XP4, comes with mini-itx motherboard and 150W power supply
$0 Motherboard: Iwill mini-itx
$121 CPU: 1.7GHz Intel Pentium 4 (Socket 478 Willamette 400MHz FSB), w/fan
$80 RAM: 512MB (one 512MB PC-2100 266MHz SDRAM 64x64 184-pin DIMM)
$84 Hard drive: 80GB (80GB IDE Maxtor ATA-100)
$83 CD-ROM drive: Plextor 48x24x48 CD-RW
$0 Video card, sound card, Ethernet: on motherboard
$566 TOTAL

This was purchased as a web server replacement for PC #1.  The power supply fan started acting up, and it was time to get a machine with a decent amount of storage space and enough CPU and memory to let me run a modern web browser.

I wanted one of the "mini-itx" boxes because they're small, generally quiet, fairly inexpensive, and don't use much power.  So far the Iwill XP4 has lived up to all of my expectations.  The case is even a "tool-free" design, with thumb screws for the case.

The box fits a CD-ROM drive, a hard drive, and a PCI card, and that's about it.  The Intel 845GV chipset isn't much compared to modern graphics cards, but for a dedicated web server it's more than enough (1280x1024x24 works fine).

The only weirdness was the front headphone jack, which has left/right channels reversed.  The rear headphone jack is fine.  Looks like pulling the wires out of a block and reversing them would fix the problem, but so far I haven't been motivated to do so.

I decided to swap the Plextor drive with the Asus drive in PC #5.  Since this is a dedicated web/NFS/Samba server it doesn't really need a CD recorder.  If I decide to make it an MP3 server, the Asus drive is more than capable of ripping audio tracks.

(Replaced by machine #9 in September 2005.)

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (8KB) 13910MB/sec
L2 cache (256KB) 11868MB/sec
Memory (512MB PC-2100 SDRAM) 808MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Maxtor 80GB 4K080H4 32.0MB/sec (128MB/sec from cache)
Power consumption: 50W idle (Linux), 100W active peak

The memory numbers are from memtest x86+ v1.60, booted from a CD-ROM drive because the system has no floppy drive.

In July 2005 I upgraded the drive to a 160GB Maxtor.  When I first set up the system I partitioned the drive badly, and we started running out of space because I'm also using the box as networked MP3 storage.  I also took the opportunity to switch from RedHat 9 to Fedora Core 4.  It was easier and safer to install on a new drive and copy the data over than try to upgrade it in place.  The newer drive gets 50MB/sec on throughput, with 515MB/sec from cache.  The latter number suggests that the OS upgrade may have enabled a better DMA mode.


PC #7: January 2004

$127 Motherboard: Asus P4P800 Deluxe (865PE w/LAN, 1394, SATA, RAID)
$274 CPU: 3.0GHz Intel Pentium 4 (Socket 478, w/fan)
$76 RAM: 512MB (one 512MB PC-3200 400MHz SDRAM DIMM)
$80 Speakers: Logitech Z-640 5.1 surround
$557 TOTAL

My main development PC (#4, built January 2002) was getting a little erratic.  It usually wouldn't boot up right on the first try in the morning, and I'd seen some flaky behavior.  I never did get 1394 to work with it.  So, I finally decided to upgrade the motherboard and CPU.  After my VIA nightmare I went back to Intel.

The change from the old motherboard and CPU to the new required a reinstall of Win98 and Win2K, so I'm looking at this as a new machine rather than an upgrade to the old.  Besides, the only bits that aren't new are the hard drives and video card.

All the benchmarks show that it's a faster box, but so far I haven't really seen an obvious speed improvement in my daily life.  Going from a 266MHz Pentium II to a 500MHz Pentium III was quite dramatic, but in this case it doesn't seem that two years has changed much.  I suspect that upgrading the video card would boost things nicely, but I decided not to do that right off, since the GeForce3 is still doing okay.

(Replaced by PC #10 in December 2006.)

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (8KB) 24579MB/sec
L2 cache (256KB) 20969MB/sec
Memory (512MB PC-3200 SDRAM) 1583MB/sec  [see below for notes on upgrade]
Disk throughput:  
Western Digital WD600A 46.38MB/sec (640MB/sec from cache)
Power consumption: 157W idle (Win2K), 124W idle (WinXP), 196W active peak (with X800 Pro)

Impressive memory performance.  It might be faster if I used a pair of DIMMs instead of just one -- that would activate the "dual channel" stuff -- but I don't think memory access is a bottleneck for me, so there's no point in upgrading at this time.  (This tested at 21024MB/sec for both L1 and L2 cache, with 1587MB/sec for memory, with memtest x86 v2.8.  The newer numbers above are from memtest x86+ v1.60.)

In June 2004 my Sony GDM-F400 19" monitor, which had been flickering occasionally, flickered one last time.  I replaced it with a Dell 2001-FP 20" LCD monitor.  Great monitor for work, and pretty good for gaming.  I've noticed one stuck pixel after 9 months, but I only really see that when I'm booting the machine (it glows a faint blue when the screen is black; at 1600x1200 native resolution it's hard to spot).

In July 2004 I switched to an ATI Radeon X800 Pro video card (AGP, 256MB) for $433.  Very nice.  The lack of drivers for Win98 is annoying, but with "DOSBox" for old games I rarely have a need to boot Win98 anymore.  Besides, anything that old will work fine at the generic 640x480x8bpp.

In July 2005 one of the WD600A hard drives crashed.  One day it was fine, the next it was very flaky, the next it was dead.  I managed to get most of the data off, but it was my boot drive so I needed a replacement.  The motherboard accepts Serial ATA, so I bought a Seagate ST3300831AS (300GB, 7200rpm, 8MB cache).  The hdparm tests don't work with SATA, because they can't reset the cache, but the throughput appears to be in the neighborhood of 55MB/sec.  Since I lost the boot drive, I upgraded the OS from Win2K to WinXP as part of my reconstruction (and also switched from Linux RH9 to FC4).  Addendum: a month later, the other drive (same model, bought at the same time) started to go; fortunately I had already copied everything off.

In December 2005, after sitting through one too many game demos that stuttered badly, I upgraded the RAM from 512MB to 2GB for about $200.  The benchmarks from MemTest showed 1583MB/sec before the test with 3-3-3-8 timings.  I removed the 512MB DIMM and added one 1GB DIMM and it tested at 1561MB/sec, same timings.  Adding the second DIMM enabled dual-channel mode, and the benchmark reported 2441MB/sec.  Switching the timings shown on the newegg site (2-3-3-6) increased that to 2492MB/sec.  At one point I mistakenly entered 2-3-2-5 timings which seemed to be stable at 2602MB/sec, but I don't like overclocking my hardware (I'm fond of stability).  The bottom line is that the benchmark showed significant improvement for switching to a dual-channel configuration, and fiddling with DRAM timings in the BIOS didn't boost things much.

In Feb 2006 I added a Plextor PX-740A DVD recorder.


PC #8: June 2005

$106 Case: Lian Li PC61-USB (aluminum, 4 fans, black)
$59 Power supply: 420W Thermaltake W0008R (Active PFC)
$225 Motherboard: Asus P5WD2 Premium (ATX, Intel 955X, onboard sound, 1394, SATA, RAID, etc).
$293 CPU: 3.4GHZ Intel Pentium-D 550J (1MB L2 cache, LGA775, w/heat sink and fan)
$228 RAM: 1GB DDR2-800 (2x Corsair 512MB PC-6400 800MHz DIMMs)
$638 Monitor: Samsung 213T 21" LCD (25ms)
$83 Video card: Gigabyte GV-RX30S128D (ATI Radeon X300SE, 128MB)
$114 Hard drive: 200GB Seagate Barracuda ST3200826AS (7200rpm, 8MB cache, SATA)
$10 Floppy drive: Sony 3.5", black
$1756 TOTAL

My wife had been using machine #3 (500MHz Pentium-III) for a few years, and had managed to fill the 18GB hard drive with digital photos and Photoshop projects.  I decided to construct a new machine as a surprise.  The only thing I kept from the original was the Sony CRX320A CD recorder, which was less than a year old.

I had some trouble with the Intel-provided heat sink.  Getting the pegs to fully compress doesn't seem possible with the Asus motherboard.  I don't know if the motherboard is too thick or what, but I have to say the LGA775 heat sink attachment system doesn't impress me much.  I used a *lot* of force, and it appears to be resting snugly, but it worries me a little.

Update: after the Jul 4 2008 meltdown of machine #10, I realized that the hard drive in this system had been active for about 3 years, and decided to replace it before it failed.  The system now has a 500GB Seagate ST3500320AS.  After the replacement I noticed some strange behavior: when told to go into "suspend" mode, it would often reboot.  A few weeks later it failed to boot into Windows, though it would boot into "safe mode".  I tracked this down to a faulty power supply, and replaced the Thermaltake with a 450W Corsair CMPSU-450VX.  The CPU temperature also seemed a little high, so I replaced the dodgy stock heat sink with one of the fancy ones I purchased when trying to get machine #10 to work.

(This machine was replaced with an iMac in 2011.)

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (8KB) 23861MB/sec
L2 cache (1024KB) 20933MB/sec
Memory (2x 512MB DDR2-800 SDRAM) 2899MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Seagate Barracuda ST3200826AS ? (linux not installed)
Power consumption: 105W idle (WinXP), 198W active peak

I updated to memtest86+ v1.60, because the old version wouldn't run at all on the new system.  The L1/L2 cache numbers haven't changed any, but the memory throughput is a lot better than the 3GHz P4.  Not sure what's because of the DDR2 or because of the dual-channel memory config.  I bought DDR2-800 (PC-6400), but when booting the system BIOS shows "PC2-5300", and memtest says "333MHz (DDR666).  The FSB is set to 200MHz/800MHz.

The power consumption indicates close to a 100W difference between peak and idle.  I've noticed that WinXP and Linux run a lot cooler when idling than Win2K and Win98.


PC #9 (web/mail/NFS/Samba server): September 2005

$145 Case: MSI Hetis 865GV-E Lite, comes with mini-itx motherboard and 250W power supply
$0 Motherboard: MSI mini-itx (RealTek gigabit Ethernet, Intel 16MB graphics)
$186 CPU: 3.0GHz Intel Pentium 4 (Socket 478, Prescott, 800MHz FSB, 1MB L2 cache)
$200 RAM: 1GB (two 512MB PC-3200 400MHz SDRAM 184-pin DIMM)
$0 Hard drive: 160GB (160GB IDE Maxtor from machine #6)
$0 CD-ROM drive: ASUS 52X S-520 (from machine #6)
$0 Video card, sound card, Ethernet: on motherboard
$531 TOTAL

As seems to be typical with computers that are always on, the power supply fan on machine #6 started to fail after a few years.  I first noticed this because the amount of noise coming out of the box increased substantially.  The CPU fan was noisily working harder to try to take up the slack.

My original plan was to re-use all the components from machine #6, but the CPU (Willamette 1.7GHz Pentium-4) didn't work in the MSI box.  Rather than hunt around for a box that did work, I decided to upgrade the CPU instead.  I figured my odds of finding a machine that supported the older chip were low, and got worse if I wanted gigabit Ethernet.  I regularly use this machine for browsing the Internet and compiling bits of software I'm working on, so upgrading the CPU and memory wasn't a tough call.

The box fits a CD-ROM drive, a hard drive, and has a riser with slots for two PCI cards.  The Intel graphics work better under Linux than the previous box, especially when moving windows around with "show contents while moving windows" enabled.  Whether that's because of upgraded technology or 16MB vs. 8MB isn't clear to me.

I liked the Iwill XP-4 much better than this MSI box.  The MSI case has some advantages, e.g. it's made out of heavy steel, has lots of fans, and supports two PCI cards instead of one.  However, it's difficult to install drives if both devices are IDE due to the cabling and the way the drive bays are laid out.  It's a little easier with a SATA hard drive.

(This machine was replaced by #11 in July 2007 when the hard drive fried.)

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (16KB) 21074MB/sec
L2 cache (1024KB) 18488MB/sec
Memory (1GB PC-3200 SDRAM) 2872MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Maxtor 160GB 6Y160P0 51.0MB/sec (1850MB/sec from cache)
Power consumption: 95W idle (Linux), 155W active peak (measured through UPS)

The UPS adds about 15W.  This is still drawing a lot more power than the Iwill box, which is too bad, both from a heat perspective during summer and an electric-bill perspective all year 'round.

The L1/L2 cache numbers aren't as good as my older 3GHz P4 (#7), but the memory numbers are better.

I did an FTP transfer from another machine to test the gigabit Ethernet.  Sending data to this machine went from 10655KB/sec to 48680KB/sec.  The upper limit was about half of what I was hoping to get, but after a moment I realized that I was being limited by the maximum write speed of the hard drive.


PC #10: December 2006

$120 Case: Lian Li PC-65USB (but see below)
$210 Power supply: PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750
$250 Motherboard: Asus P5W DH Deluxe (Gigabit Ethernet, 3Gbps SATA, 7.1 sound)
$1100 CPU: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 2.66GHz (LGA775, quad-core, Conroe, 1066MHz FSB, 8MB L2 cache)
$35 CPU Fan: Cooler Master Hyper L3 (but see below)
$300 RAM: 2GB (two Corsair 1GB PC-6400 800MHz SDRAM)
$490 Video card: EVGA GeForce 8800 GTS (640MB GDDR3, PCI-E x16)
$0 Hard drive: 300GB (Seagate ST3300831AS from machine #7)
$20 DVD-ROM drive: ASUS DVD-E616A2 (silver bezel)
$0 DVD-R/+R drive: Plextor PX-740A (from machine #7)
$2525 TOTAL

My development-slash-gaming machine, PC #7, wasn't handling some of the newer games well.  My plan was to upgrade the motherboard and CPU.  I ended up boosting the RAM and video card as well, the former for performance reasons and the latter because there was no AGP slot in the new motherboard.  The case upgrade was mostly to get the top-mounted case fan for better heat dissipation.

I haven't spent that much money on a CPU, ever, though the 266MHz Pentium-II was up there.  However, I haven't seen such a dramatic improvement in a while.  The change to games running in "DOS Box", which are essentially unaffected by the video card upgrade, was astounding.

The system came together fairly easily, though there was a mandatory BIOS upgrade for CPU compatibility.  I tried to move the hard drive directly from one machine to another, but both WinXP and FC4 Linux gagged almost immediately.  (The trick for WinXP is to boot the install CD, say "install", point it at your existing installation, and then say "repair".  It takes about as long as a regular install, but it doesn't wipe out your installed apps.)

Even with all of the fans (4 in the case, big fat one on the CPU, big one on the video card) the machine is very quiet.

Update: about 5 weeks after I first put it together, it started having trouble powering on.  The computer would power on, and I could hear the hard drive spin up and see the DVD drives do their self-tests, but after a couple of seconds it would freeze up.  It didn't beep at me; my only hint was that I could hear a fan spin up.  If I hit "reset" a few times it would eventually work.  After trying a few simple things (removing the video card and other peripherals) to no effect, I started to focus in on the CPU heat sink + fan.

A motherboard temperature test showed that the CPU was reaching 70C while idling and 90C while gaming.  It looks like the maximum safe temperature for the CPU is around 65-70C, so I was waaay over.  I figured that the heat sink wasn't set properly, and as a result it was heating up too much on startup and shutting down immediately.  After heating up a little the thermal pad melted a bit and became more conductive, and the computer would start.  I replaced the heat sink, using some thermal grease, and the situation improved to 57C/80C.  It would occasionally fail to start though.

I bought a Zalman CNPS7700-Cu heat sink (big lump of copper) and Arctic Silver 5 grease, and tried again.  No problems starting up, but after an extended Battlefield 2142 session I noticed that the CPU was still hitting 80C.  I also noticed that the air coming out the case felt like a hair dryer.  I ran some tests, and found that the CPU temperature under load dropped by 10C with the side panel of the case removed.  (It's 50C idle / 65C gaming with the case open and all fans at maximum.)  This strongly suggested that my Lian Li case -- with four 80mm fans, including one on top -- was not up to the challenge of a "Kentsfield" QX6700.

So I needed a new case.  I could just leave the side panel off, but that's bad for dust and noise, and it's sub-optimal for cooling because you don't get directed airflow across the components.  I ended up with an Antec Nine Hundred, which has three 120mm fans and one 200mm fan on top.  This improved things significantly.  I can achieve the 50C/65C temperatures with the fans at a reasonable noise level.

However, I didn't stop there.  The 7700 wasn't warm to the touch when the system was running, suggesting that most of the surface area of the fins wasn't doing much.  I was concerned that having barely-adequate cooling during winter with one CPU under load would give me problems in summer with games that used two or more cores.  After reading about heat pipes I decided to get yet another heat sink, this time the Zalman CPNS9700 LED.  This gave me the same 50C/65C results, but with the fans lower.  I also noticed that the four CPU cores were at significantly different temperatures.  With the 7700 I got results like 66/65/63/60, with the 9700 I get 67/61/54/51.  This suggests that the new heat sink is doing a better job of pulling heat away.

Normally the 9700 is supposed to be pointed so that it blows air out the back of the case.  I rotated it so it blows air out the top of the case, where the 200mm fan is.  Seems to work pretty well.

Update: July 4 2008, a day that will live in infamy.  Total failure of the hard drive in the span of a couple of hours.  The contents of the drive were not recoverable, not even by drivesavers.com; they reported that the head assembly worked its way loose and physically damaged the platters as it flailed around.  I replaced it with a 500GB Seagate ST3500320AS, and managed to restore a fair bit of stuff from backups.

(Replaced by machine #12.)

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (64KB) 43792MB/sec
L2 cache (8MB) 18680MB/sec
Memory (2GB 800MHz PC-6400 SDRAM) 3368MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Seagate 300GB ST3300831AS ?
Power consumption: 191W idle (WinXP), 240W active peak, 308W max

It's quite the power-hog, even when idle.  The "max" value was the highest I saw playing Battlefield 2142 in single-player with three copies of "DOS Box" running M.A.X. in the background (the task manager shows each DOS Box maxes out one CPU, though it may not be exercising all parts of the core).  It ran about 287W with just BF2142.  The 750W power supply was probably overkill, but I don't think I'd go sub-600.

Memtest 86+ v1.65 couldn't find the L2 cache.  v1.70 found it, but only 4MB.

Update: in September 2007 it started acting up again, refusing to boot.  This one turned out to be a failing piece of RAM.  As part of figuring out what was wrong I ended up swapping out the CPU, replacing it with an E6850 (Core 2 Duo 3.0GHz, 1333MHz FSB, 4MB cache).  Using the same case and CPU cooler, I have yet to see it go north of 32 degrees C.  (Actually, it usually sits around 16, which is below ambient, so I strongly suspect the thermometer is off.  The box certainly *feels* cooler though.)  Memory figures were slightly better (49200/20987/3449), and the chip is clocked faster, but only has two cores instead of four.  Since I wasn't really using more than two, and the extreme power consumption was causing issues, I left the new CPU in place.

Updated power figures: 159W idle (WinXP), 191W peak while booting, 238W peak in BF2142.

At some point I added a Creative X-Fi XtremeGamer PCI sound card and an LG GGW-H20L Blu-Ray reader/writer ($240).


PC #11: July 2007

$130 Case: Thermaltake VF1000BWS (Mini ATX)
$100 Power supply: Antec NeoHE 500 ATX12V 500W (modular)
$115 Motherboard: Asus P5B-VM DO (LGA 775, Intel GMA 3000, Gb LAN, 3Gbps SATA, 7.1 sound)
$69 CPU: Intel Celeron D 360 (Cedar Mill 3.46GHz, LGA 775, 533MHz FSB)
$0 CPU Fan: Cooler Master Hyper L3 (left over from #10)
$135 RAM: 2GB (two Crucial 1GB PC-6400 800MHz SDRAM)
$110 Hard drive: 320GB (Maxtor STM3320620AS, 7200rpm, 3Gb SATA)
$0 CD-ROM drive: ASUS 52X S-520 (from machine #9)
$659 TOTAL

Damn it.

I was never thrilled with the layout of the MSI Hetis case (PC #9).  It turns out the generally poor ventilation and confined space for hard drive and CD-ROM drive were too much for my poor little Seagate.  On July 4th it started throwing block errors.  I shifted it to a different PC (the #5 "QA box", which has proven to be incredibly useful as a temporary home for things), and managed to rsync the entire drive over to my Infrant ReadyNAS NV.  This took a little effort, as the Red Hat Linux boot process freaks out if you have multiple drives with the same drive labels, but fortunately rsync comes loaded on the rescue CD.

I got the data onto a new drive, with a new version of Linux (Ubuntu Fiesty this time), and made some modifications to the case: removed the CD-ROM drive, and installed a small fan to blow air directly across the drive.  The drive still felt too warm to me, so I decided to scrap the case and start again.  I figured I'd move up a size from mini-ITX and try micro-ATX.  The cases are larger, but people expect to put serious LAN-gaming hardware in these things, so the ventilation tends to be much better, and most of them take standard ATX power supplies (which is what usually fails first on a machine that's powered up 24/7).

My first thought was to keep as many old parts as possible.  It turns out that, if you want to run a Prescott Pentium, you can get some pretty cheap motherboards.  Unfortunately they all seemed to be based around VIA chipsets, and as I learned with machine #4, life is too short to use VIA.  So I started looking at newer stuff.  Because heat is the enemy, and keeping overall power consumption low is important, and CPU performance just doesn't matter a whole lot for a home web/mail server, I went with a Celeron D.

The case is pretty interesting.  It came with a big handle that I decided to remove so I could stack other stuff on top.  It's the first case I've owned where the motherboard is horizontal.  Not sure how I feel about that dust-wise, but I guess that's what compressed air is for.  At any rate, it has plenty of room and good ventilation.

The motherboard is a little newer than my Ubuntu installation likes, though it managed to handle it.  I had to stick with the generic VESA drivers, which are fast enough for a web browser / server machine.  I noticed that the machine would freeze up for half a second or so every few seconds, noticeable mostly when moving the mouse around, but disabling and re-enabling the network after boot seems to clear that up.  Probably needs a newer network driver for the onboard LAN.  (Update: the 7.10 Ubuntu release fixed that.)

This is the first time I've used a modular power supply.  I really like them.

(Replaced by machine #13.)

Memory throughput:  
L1 cache (16KB) 13000MB/sec
L2 cache (512KB) 9397MB/sec
Memory (2GB 800MHz PC-6400 SDRAM) 2215MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Maxtor 320GB STM3320620AS ?
Power consumption: 93W idle (Linux), 125W active peak

The power consumption is usually in the 93-100W range.  I can get it higher than that by moving quickly between virtual screens, suggesting that the onboard GPU is drawing significant power.  I was hoping the idle figure would be lower, but with modern motherboards that may not be realistic.

On-chip memory performance is not very impressive.  The RAM access is dual-channel, but limited by the Celeron's 533MHz FSB.

Update: in August 2010, as part of my "replace every three years" policy, I replaced the hard drive with a 500GB Seagate ST3500418AS.  About this time I also dropped in a Radeon X300, not because I needed better graphics performance, but because my new KVM switch required DVI-D and the motherboard only supported VGA (which gives you DVI-A with an adapter). With the card, and a few major updates to Linux (to Ubuntu 11.04), the power draw was 82W when idle.


PC #12: August 2010

$100 Case: Lian Li Lancool PC-K62
$150 Power supply: Corsair CMPSU-750HX 750W (modular)
$240 Motherboard: Asus P6X58D-E (LGA 1366, 6Gbps SATA, USB3.0)
$550 CPU: Intel Core i7-960 (Bloomfield 3.2GHz, quad core, 8MB L3 cache)
$50 CPU Fan: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
$200 Video card: Diamond Radeon HD 5770 (1GB, PCI-E x16)
$140 RAM: Crucial Ballistix 6GB (DDR3-1333 2GB x 3)
$95 Hard drive: 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black (1TB, 6Gbps SATA, 64MB cache)
$0 Optical drive: LG GGW-H20L (r/w CD, DVD, Blu-Ray) (from machine #10)
$1525 TOTAL

This was an update to my gaming / development machine (PC #10).  I initially bought an Asus ROG Matrix Radeon HD 5870 2GB video card.  The first card I got was borderline DOA -- loud clacking from the fan, and the built-in thermometer showed it overheating while I was sitting on the PC BIOS screen during initial set up.  It started to "go funny", so I pulled it and bought the 5770 from a local store.  Unfortunately the NewEgg policy on the card was "return for replacement only", so I RMAed it and waited.  A week later I got the new one and installed that, and within a few days it started flaking out as well.  That one went back, and the replacement is going to sit on a shelf.

While swapping the cards back and forth I noticed that the display of text in Windows 7 wasn't quite as sharp on the 5870.  I think it's because I use a VGA KVM switch, and the DVI-A output from the fancier card just isn't as crisp.  It's noticeable enough that I would not want to install the 5870 without upgrading the KVM first.  The 5770 is also smaller, quieter, and generates less heat; too bad it's got half the performance.

I tried to move the Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer from PC #10, which this system is replacing, but had some weird "can't boot to the BIOS" sorts of issues after installing it.  No matter, the onboard sound seems pretty good in this.

This is my first system running Windows 7.  So far so good.  I'm liking the built-in backup solution.

...except maybe for installing Office 2007, which blue-screened partway through, leaving a ton of junk behind that the uninstaller couldn't cope with.  I had to use a bit of freeware called RipOutOffice2007 to get most of the files uninstalled, and then hand-edit a bunch of registry entries before I could try again.  The second attempt, started immediately after rebooting with everything I could find (e.g. Steam and the ATI Catalyst UI) shut down, was successful.  The cause of my difficulty turned out to be a single weak bit in the DRAM -- I had to leave memtest running overnight to find it.

Memory throughput (memtest86+ v4.10):  
L1 cache (32KB) 62889MB/sec
L2 cache (256KB) 34862MB/sec
L3 cache (8192KB) 24863MB/sec
Memory (6GB DDR3-1333, triple-channel) 9808MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Western Digital 1TB WD1002FAEX (64MB cache) -
Power consumption: 170W idle (Win7), 315W active peak (Metro: Last Light)

Update: at some point I changed the video card to a GeForce GTX 560.  I also upgraded the monitor to a Dell U2412M, which I absolutely love.  The old Dell 2001FP became a secondary monitor.

(Replaced by machine #14.)


PC #13: June 2014

$114 Case: Thermaltake SD101 Mini-ITX
$0 Power supply: 180W (included w/case)
$118 Motherboard: Asus H97I-Plus (LGA1150, mini-ITX, SATA 6Gb/s, USB3, HDMI, Realtek ALC887)
$160 CPU: Intel Core i3-4360 (Haswell 3.7GHz, dual core, HD Graphics 4600, 4MB L3 cache, TDP 54W)
$39 CPU Fan: Noctua NH-L9I (low profile)
$83 RAM: Corsair Vengeance Blue LP 8GB (2x4GB, DDR3-1600, (PC3-12800))
$58 Hard drive: 1TB Western Digital Green (SATA III, 64MB cache)
$572 TOTAL

My web server (PC #11) hadn't been updated in seven years (other than a hard-drive refresh and a cheap video card to get DVI output).  It was time to update it.

I went back to the mini-ITX form factor, building a low-power system around a Haswell i3.  The onboard video seems to work well.

The onboard audio is struggling with Linux (Ubuntu 14.04).  With the default setup I get a lot of clicks and sputtering.  With a minor tweak (tsched=0 in the pulseaudio configuration) it plays well in Chrome but poorly in everything else.  In short, it is living up to my expectations of Linux audio.  (On the other hand, setting up my networked Canon printer was trivial.)

I bought DDR3-1600 SDRAM but the motherboard seems to want to treat it as DDR3-1333.  Searching on the web didn't say definitively whether or not that was "normal", but I decided to leave all of the performance settings on "auto".  A quick experiment with memtest86+ suggested that I could get a 10% speedup on the RAM performance by "overclocking".

The system is cool and quiet. For example, the room temperature is currently 25C, the motherboard temp is 28C, and the CPU temp is 33C. This is during idle of course -- during the initial memtest the CPU temp was reported closer to 50C.

Update: The Linux audio issues apparently got fixed by an update a few months later. I can now play MP3s glitch-free.

Update: In January 2019, I replaced the hard drive with a Crucial MX500 1TB SSD. I keep the partitions slightly undersized so that I can use an identical-sized replacement drive and not get the dreaded "cannot copy to smaller partition" if some bit of software decides to round things down. The system, which had previously been running Ubuntu 16.04, was updated to 18.04.1 and then 20.04.2. This went smoothly except that gnome-terminal stopped working and none of the online suggestions fix it.

Memory throughput (memtest86+ v5.01):  
L1 cache (32KB) 246101MB/sec
L2 cache (256KB) 60516MB/sec
L3 cache (4096KB) 45574MB/sec
Memory (8GB DDR3-1333, dual-channel) 18095MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Western Digital 1TB WD1002FAEX (64MB cache) 149MB/sec (10527MB/sec from cache)
Power consumption: 25W idle (Linux desktop), 50W active (memtest86+)


PC #14: June 2014

$80 Case: Corsair Carbide 300R Windowed
$105 Power supply: Corsair RM650 (ATX, 80Plus Gold, 650W)
$145 Motherboard: Asus Z97-A (ATX, LGA1150, SATA 6Gbps, USB3, Realtek ALC892)
$370 CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K (Devil's Canyon 4GHz, quad core, 8MB L3 cache, HD Graphics 4600, TDP 88W)
$31 CPU Fan: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo
$242 Video card: EVGA GeForce GTX760 SuperClocked (2GB GDDR5, ACX cooler, 02G-P4-2765-KR)
$90 RAM: Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2x4GB DDR3-1600 (PC3-12800))
$145 Hard drive: 2TB Western Digital Black (2TB, SATA III, 7200rpm, 64MB cache)
$70 Optical drive: Asus BW-12B1ST (12x blu-ray, various recording; black)
$1278 TOTAL

After four years, I finally got around to building a new gaming / development PC (replaces PC #12).

This used the 4GHz i7-4790K CPU, which was just being released when I was buying parts. I actually had to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive. The rest is pretty standard high-end PC parts.

I was originally looking at a GTX770 video card, but decided based primarily on power consumption (which means more heat / noise) that I'd go with the 760 instead. It's a big step down in power draw without being significantly slower.

I'd been using a Dell U2412M monitor (24", 1920x1200) as primary, with an older Dell 2001FP (20", 1600x1200) as a second monitor. I continued using that arrangement until Jan 2015 when I picked up a Dell U2715H (27", 2560x1440). Up until then I'd been using an IOGEAR OCS1784 KVM switch for the primary display, but the new monitor presented a problem: it lacked a DVI-D connector. Starting in 2014 or so, most monitors were dropping DVI-D in favor of HDMI and DisplayPort.

I looked around but couldn't find a good DisplayPort KVM, so I decided to drop it. The web server and PC #12 (which has been relegated to running WinXP for compatibility testing) use the Dell 2001FP through the KVM switch. The new machine is connected to the 27" monitor through a 15-foot DisplayPort cable, and then a 3-foot DisplayPort cable daisy-chains the 24" monitor. My desk isn't enormous, so the 24" monitor is rotated to portrait.

It seems to work quite well, and being able to daisy-chain the monitors cuts down on the cabling. Sometimes Win7 starts up with transparency disabled, but turning the 27" monitor off and back on with the front panel button seems to clear it up. In January 2016 I updated to Windows 10, and most of the flakiness has disappeared.

I'm not as impressed with the Dell U2715H as I was with the U2412M. The 24" monitor has no stuck pixels, but the 27" developed several. It didn't exceed the number required for a warranty replacement, but it's disappointing.

Memory throughput (memtest86+ v5.01):  
L1 cache (32KB) 266671 MB/sec
L2 cache (256KB) 65575 MB/sec
L3 cache (8192KB) 49383 MB/sec
Memory (8GB DDR3-1600, dual-channel) 20618 MB/sec
Disk throughput:  
Western Digital 2TB WD2003FZEX (64MB cache) tbd
Power consumption: 65W idle (Win7 desktop), 270W active peak (Metro: Last Light)

Update: In October 2017, I replaced the video card with an MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X 8GB. Big jump in performance, with a slight reduction in power draw.

Update: In November 2017, I replaced the 2TB hard drive with a pair of Crucial MX300 2.5" SSDs. The process is detailed below.

Update: In April 2019 I replaced the power supply with a Corsair TX650M after seeing a couple of weird self-shutdowns shortly after the system had booted up in the morning. Five years is warranty-expiration time, and power supplies tend to go first.

Update: In Sep 2021 the computer started to stall shortly after the BIOS "hello" screen when booting. Hitting the reset button allowed it to continue. I tried disabling "fast boot" in the BIOS as a workaround, but it didn't help. After building PC #15, I moved this one to a KVM switch, and it resumed booting on the first try. I think it developed an aversion to something that was plugged into it.

Update: As of Jan 2022 I'm using a SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL keyboard, and a Razer DeathAddr v2 mouse. I really like both.

(Replaced by machine #15.)


PC #15: January 2022

$125 Case: Fractal Design Meshify 2 Compact Black (w/lightly tinted side panel)
$100 Power supply: Corsair TX650M (ATX, 80+ Gold, 650W, semi-modular)
$470 Motherboard: ASUS ROG Strix Z690-E Gaming WiFi (ATX, LGA1700, PCIe 5.0, DDR5)
$395 CPU: Intel Core i7-12700KF (Alder Lake 12-core (8P+4E), 3.6GHz / 5GHz, TDP 125W)
$70 CPU Fan: Noctua NH-U9S black (92mm single-tower)
$911 Video card: EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 Ti (8GB GDDR6, iCX3 cooling, 08G-P5-3667-KL)
$310 RAM: Corsair Vengeance 32GB (2x16GB DDR5-4800 (PC5-38400), Intel XMP 3.0)
$170 SSD (boot): 1TB WD_BLACK SN850 (NVMe gen4 PCIe, M.2 2280, WDS100T1X0E)
$271 SSD (stuff): 2TB WD_BLACK SN850 (NVMe gen4 PCIe, M.2 2280, WDS200T1X0E)
$2822 TOTAL

After nearly seven years with the same development / gaming PC, I decided it was time to upgrade (this replaces PC #14). Given the steadily increasing time between builds I figured it made sense to get the latest and greatest technology, which meant Intel 12th-gen CPUs and Nvidia RTX. This drove the price up a wee bit. Between the pandemic and crypo-mining, high-end Nvidia GPUs are selling for insane prices.

This is the first PC case I've owned that had zero exposed drive bays. We've apparently reached a point where internal optical drives are no longer used. I ended up installing Win10 a few times while trying to get the system working, and I have to say that a USB stick is a whole lot nicer than a DVD. (I literally spent more time working through the installation process Q&A than I did waiting for the data transfer.)

The video card was on a slow truck, so I did the build with the EVGA GTX760 that I used for the original PC #14 build. Things being what they are in Jan 2022, I'm glad I didn't have to look for a temporary one. I found the 7-year-old card for sale from an Amazon vendor for $10 more than I paid for it in 2014.

The build threw a couple of curveballs at me. The first was caused by my use of a KVM switch and some bad cable routing (described here), the second was due to some motherboard quirks that required certain things to be installed in certain ways (described here).

For the first time since installing Win7 on PC #12 (Aug 2010), I'm doing a completely clean install of the system, instead of cloning the old drive into the new machine. I'm still doing a two-drive system so I can do image backups of the boot drive and file backups of some parts of the "bulk data" drive, which will hold game binaries, virtual machine images, temporary video files, etc.

One year later: the only issue I've had with this machine is that the onboard audio occasionally stops working. The optical audio out goes completely silent, and the analog outputs have weird distortion that gradually worsens. I've found some other reports of this happening on an ASUS Z690 board, but nothing that suggests a cause or cure. When the problem happens, putting the machine to sleep and waking it back up restores audio.

Memory throughput (PassMark MemTest86 V9.2 Free):  
L1 cache (80KB) 541.0 GB/sec
L2 cache (1280KB) 117.1 GB/sec
L3 cache (25600KB) 40.7 GB/sec
Memory (32GB DDR5 @4806MHz, 40-40-40-77) 21.9 GB/sec
Power consumption: 70W idle (Windows desktop), 360W active peak (Cyberpunk 2077)

The CPU caches got much larger and much faster, but RAM performance has barely changed at all (for this benchmark). I'm using two identical DIMMs to get dual-channel mode; CPU-Z shows it as "quad", apparently because DDR-5 behaves as two logical channels.


Upgrading from Spinning Disk to SSD (Nov 2017)

PC #14, my workstation / game platform, had a traditional 2GB 7200rpm drive in it. It's running Windows 10, which means the system is unusable for 10-15 minutes after it's powered on because Windows wants to go nuts on the disk for a while. (Windows Defender, Windows Telemetry, whatever. I've looked at it a few times and found no evidence of malware.) After a somewhat painful Destiny 2 upgrade through Blizzard -- the update took about 30 seconds to download and about 30 minutes to install -- I decided it was time to switch to SSD.

I've kept games and "bulk" files (e.g. large video files digitized from VHS tapes) on a separate partition for many years to make system backups simpler, and streamline the process of expanding the non-system storage area. On PC #14, I used a single physical disk with two 800GB partitions. (There was also a chunk of unused space; I under-sized the partitions slightly to make a transition to 1TB disks easier.) The bulk partition is always mapped as G: rather than D: to prevent it from being shoved around if I install another disk temporarily.

I was using about 300GB on each partition. I decided to move to a pair of SSDs, 525GB for system and 1050GB for the "bulk" area. The trick with this is that it meant copying the existing system partition onto a smaller partition, which tools have trouble with -- you can copy to a larger partition, or shrink a partition in place, but you can't copy and downsize in one action. The advantage of using drives with two sizes is that it provides a bit of cost savings, and makes it easy to determine which drive is which when looking at the disks in a hardware listing (like the BIOS boot menu).

The procedure I followed was:

All of the partition copying and resizing was done with GParted, which I had burned onto a CD-R. GParted is an open-source utility widely used in the Linux world. (The web site has some dodgy "start download" ads at the moment, which is a little disturbing, and the eventual download happened through sourceforge.net, which has a checkered past. So I don't want to link to it.) I tried the Acronis utility that you get for free with the Crucial storage, and another one called EaseUS DiskCopy, but neither did what I needed.

There was a fair bit of cable rearranging and rebooting going on through all of this, but that's in the details. At the end, I had my complete system moved over to SSD, and everything is great. The Destiny 2 v1.0.6.1 update took less than 30 seconds to install.

There was an intermediate stage in the proceedings.

I didn't have a Windows 10 installation DVD, because the system was built with Windows 7 and updated. So I initially tried to do the above by installing Windows 7 onto the 525GB drive and slapping the Windows 10 system partition onto it. This failed in all sorts of unpleasant ways. It turns out Win7 and Win10 don't get along all that well.

One thing I learned about was the Win10 "fast startup" feature. This puts the system into a hibernation state when you use "shutdown", so that the next boot is faster. The trick is that it leaves the filesystem in a state that Win7 really doesn't like, so if you boot Win7 with a Win10 filesystem attached it goes into an excruciatingly painful chkdisk session, "deleting extended attribute set due to the presence of reparse point" blah blah. This was (apparently) harmless, but took a while. I also discovered that GParted wouldn't let me change the partition label on the system partition if it was shut down with "fast startup" enabled. It's generally wise to just disable this feature before manipulating partitions... and once you're on SSD, there's no real reason to re-enable it.

The other thing I learned is that the Win7 boot partition won't start Win10. The best I got was a weird black screen where the mouse cursor would appear and fade out. In retrospect this shouldn't have surprised me -- Windows is generally good about OS interactions but you need to install the oldest thing first. Installing Win7 and simply dropping Win10 in its place was bound to be a problem.

Microsoft lets you download Win10 for DVD or USB. I didn't have an 8GB USB stick handy, but the image fit on a 4GB DVD-R, so I was able to get that and make progress. I actually installed Win10 on both drives just to get the boot partition in place, in case I wanted to change stuff up in the future, and just disabled the partitions (add "hidden" flag, remove "boot" flag") on the 1050GB drive.

I ended up spending most of a day fighting with this. The slowest part of the proceedings was copying the data off the old drive, which took 40-45 minutes per partition (about 130MB/sec, pretty good transfer rate off the spinning disk since it's one long sequential read).

The Great 1394 Nightmare of 2002

The fourth machine had its share of difficulties.  Besides its troubled birth, the Great Firewire Debacle is an unpleasant reminder of just how annoying computers can be to upgrade.

I had a spare 80GB Maxtor hard drive left over from some TiVo experiments, so I figured I'd stuff it into a 1394 enclosure and use it to hold drive image backups (courtesy Symantec Ghost 2002).  I also wanted to be able to put some large TiVo video streams on there.

Everything seemed to be okay, at first.  But when I tried to read a lot of data, or write relatively little, the system would either lock up or reboot.  Sometimes it fails instantly, sometimes it takes 10 or 15 seconds.  I tried putting the HP DVD100i into a 1394 enclosure, and it worked great for playing DVD movies, but the device went out to lunch about halfway through recording a CD.  The system was fine, but I had to reset the drive.

My conclusion is that my Soyo SY-K7V Dragon+ motherboard is not compatible with 1394.  It may be that I have a marginal or defective motherboard, perhaps also explaining why the Creative Audigy Gamer board also had problems.

Did I leap abruptly to this conclusion?  Well, I tried the following in various combinations:

I have the latest BIOS for the motherboard, the latest VIA 4-in-1 drivers for Windows, and everything Windows Update has to offer.  memtest v2.8, which is pretty thorough, found no problems with RAM.

The Maxtor drive in ADS case works just fine with the second Western Digital 1394 card installed in machine #3 (the Pentium-III box).  After putting machine #5 together with the Maxtor drive as the primary disk, I put one of the IBM GXP-60 drives in the ADS case, moved the card from #4 to #5, and discovered that 1394 in #5 works just fine (and with WinXP SP1 as well).  I did extensive testing copying files to and from the drive.  I do not believe there is a problem with the drive, drive kit, or cable, and I see no reason to believe there is a compatibility between the Orange Micro 1394 card and the ADS drive kit.

Windows did not recover when the drive was unplugged.  I do not believe this is an IRQ or resource issue, since I have tried multiple combinations of allocations.

The symptoms exhibited by this motherboard when combined with a Creative SB Audigy Gamer match closely those exhibited by an Abit KT-7 motherboard combined with a Creative SB AWE32 board.  The Abit KT-7 is based on the VIA KT-133A chipset.  My opinion of VIA chipsets is falling rapidly.  It is unlikely I will buy another VIA-based system, even if it costs significantly more to purchase Intel hardware.  They're cheap, they're fast, but you spend half your time chasing after ghosts and downloading 4-in-1 drivers.

Western Digital tech support responded quickly, but couldn't figure out what the problem was.  ADS responded eventually, and apparently didn't bother to read the message before responding.  Soyo never replied.

I've heard from one other person with a similar configuration and similar problems, so at least I'm not alone.