New computer

With the imminent release of Windows 8 it’s time to look at a new computer, and that will be just three years after putting together the last one. When I rebuilt this computer I expected it to be like its predecessor, perhaps good for five years. That expectation hasn’t been met, but I also want to have a second computer I can use as a low end server for work related stuff. So it isn’t all just about this computer being too slow or whatever. Although that is an important part of it. When I put this together I used an old tower chassis (Foxconn TS001) left over at work but that wasn’t an issue because I put a brand new ATX12V power supply into it. The main problem is that I used the cheapest board and CPU I could get, and that must have been relevant. Although the Intel CPU model was carefully selected to have hardware virtualisation, both it and the board are LGA775, from near the end of that era. LGA 1155 was only just coming out and a bit too dear. In retrospect it would have been better to have waited until LGA1155 was more dominant and had come down in price a bit. The board can only take 4 GB maximum of RAM. Actually that’s not quite accurate. The board has only 2 memory slots and the maximum RAM size for DDR2 is 2 GB per DIMM, unless you are prepared to spend an exorbitant amount of money for a rare and expensive 4 GB device.
The system’s performance is not quite what I had hoped for and it won’t be good enough for five years, but it could have been if it could have more memory put into it. To put things in perspective, its predecessor which ran an Intel D915GAG board, had 2 GB of RAM in its four slots. Another limit of this board (Intel DG41RQ) is the relatively small number of USB sockets. There are four on the back and pins for four more. I put a backplane adapter in to get two more on the back of the computer, and the card reader uses the other two, although it exposes one socket itself, but with all the devices and cables that is a severe limit. I am just about to put in a four port USB3 card. That’s another thing. All the sockets are USB2. Another limit is only four SATA ports. This sounds like it shouldn’t be an issue but with two DVD-RW drives and two internal hard drives that limit has been reached. I’m about to put in a 2 port RAID controller card with two Caviar Black 1 TB drives that will be in RAID-1 but this is not going to release ports for e-SATA because the onboard probably doesn’t support hotplug. I would hope that a new board would have an eSata port internally for a hotplug. I don’t really know what out there actually supports this but USB 3 has hotplug designed in from the start as well as supplying power, and some Intel boards in the past have had eSata ports onboard. The move towards a new computer has been gradual, starting from the memory limit, through the USB port limit, slot limit, lack of eSata and now running out of disk space. The more parts I buy, the more sense it makes to start putting a new computer together, from scratch so I can keep the old one and use it. This is probably what it will consist of:
  • Inwin C583 mid tower chassis – the same as some of the very newest Cyclone computers at one of the schools I work at. A well designed chassis with plenty of internal bays. Probably stick with the supplied PSU.
  • Board – not sure of yet but it could be a $150 Gigabyte. Must have 12 USB ports supported if at all possible and hopefully an eSata port.
  • CPU – not sure yet but at least $150
  • RAM – at least 8 GB, maybe 16. Hope the board can support 32.
  • Hard disks – that pair of 1 TBs with the RAID controller card. Also the DVD writers from the old computer.
  • Slots – at least one PCI and at least a couple of usable PCI-e, depending on number of lanes. Four memory slots.
  • Graphics – probably the onboard if it is good enough. I have had a card in the current PC but it was apparently too cheap to make much difference to performance. DVI port, even though my 22” monitor only has a VGA socket – just have to cater for the future – the current computer only has a VGA socket on board. Sound is not that important and onboard will probably do.
  • Windows 8 Pro – 64 bit.
It won’t be happening till next year when I get another project out of the way, so for now the current PC has to keep going, which it is going to be doing with those two 1 TB disks I just ordered, the RAID-1 controller card and the 4 port USB3 card I have on order. That means reorganising things inside. I can’t remember what slots there are but I know I do have in there the graphics card that is two slots wide, sitting in the  x16 PCI-e slot and blocking one of the other slots as well. The dialup modem is also sitting in a PCI slot. There are in fact internally only the one PCI-e slot and two PCI slots. They are all used because the graphics card overflows over one of the PCI slots. The card has to come out regardless to make way for the PCI-e USB 3 controller, but that is probably only a x1 card so it’s a waste to have it in a x16 slot, but that’s just the way things are, there are no other PCI-e slots on that board. Then the RAID controller will fit in the freed up PCI slot. Getting four more USB ports is a massive boost letting me have more USB devices connected like an external USB3 hard drive as well as leaving cables connected for the cameras and phone like I do now. I did look at just getting a USB hub but the card was more attractive because it is USB 3 and I already have a couple of disk enclosures that can go at that speed. In a few weeks I will be buying another backup hard drive, a 1 TB laptop drive, to go into a USB 3 and eSata enclosure I recently bought. At the moment I have a 500 GB disk which is almost full.
In saying I am planning to build a new desktop, I have for the present flagged the idea of buying a Windows 8 slate. This is still an attractive option both for work and home use. However it remains to be seen what will be available after 8 ships and at what price. It may be that I will still buy a slate in a year or two, but I may just as easily not do so, because I have a work laptop and that does everything I need for work purposes and gets used at home as well. In general I don’t really have a pressing need to carry a slate around everywhere and while I know they do some great things, I can get by with just a phone and separate camera the way I do now.
The old computer as I suggest will probably be reused as a small server. As its CPU has hardware virtualisation it will be able to run Server 2008 R2 in the virtualisation role and therefore be useful for building up or upgrading virtual servers at home. I don’t intend to actually have a server running anything at home at this stage, or having it able to be accessed remotely.