New Computer Time, Again

Once again, it’s time for me to upgrade my computer. Which, thanks to the (unfortunately unique) design of my computer (see my post on “CPU Upgrades – Not As Easy As They Used To Be”) basically means I have to go out and buy a whole new computer.

This is because I need a new motherboard in order to support a newer CPU (i.e., Core 2). But I can’t just upgrade the motherboard in my computer, because the the case is set up for the BTX form factor, and almost all new motherboards are ATX form factor.

So, in order to upgrade my CPU, I need to upgrade my motherboard. In order to upgrade my motherboard, I need a new case (and power supply).

Now, while that might not sound that bad, there’s a few other things to concern myself with. For example, a new motherboard and new CPU should probably be paired with new RAM that runs at the right speed, and a new hard drive would probably be a good idea, since they’re so cheap these days (and given that my old hard drives – as I’ve written about before – have a few glitches).

So, when you factor in a new CPU, motherboard, case, power supply, RAM, and hard drive, you’re basically looking at a whole new computer. But wait, there’s more!

You see, I’d also like to keep my old computer more-or-less intact, because I don’t want to end up with half a computer that I just have to throw away. I’d much rather have an intact old computer that can still do work – like maybe be handed down to someone who needs a new computer (i.e., family).

So a new computer seems to be the way to go. But, how to get that new computer? Buy a pre-built one, or build it myself?

Well, years ago I would have scoffed at anything but the “build it myself” option. But these days, I’m too much out of touch with the technology to trust myself to get it right – especially when I depend on my computer for so much.

Also, the pricing is an issue as well. Although I could build a decent computer (assuming I could figure out which CPU goes with which socket, and which motherboard has the best performance, the right expansion slots, supports the maximum amount of memory I’d like, etc.), when you factor in buying all the parts (and the shipping costs), it comes very, very, very close to the cost of a similarly-equipped pre-built computer.

So once again, I’m going to buy a pre-built computer. From Dell.

Since I work from home, and I’m a software developer, I have slightly different requirements for my computer than the “average” user might. Specifically, I need:

  • Multiple CPU cores (for multi-tasking, compiling, running virtual machines, etc.)
  • High speed components (high clock speed, large CPU cache, high front-side bus speed, fast memory, fast hard drive)
  • Absolutely MUST be 64-bit
  • As much memory as I can afford (6 GB +)
  • A decent sized hard drive (no less than 500 GB)
  • CPU extensions (whether they be Intel’s or AMD’s) for supporting virtualization (because I run virtual machines quite often for testing/development)

I wasn’t stuck specifically on Intel or AMD – in fact, AMD looked quite appealing due to lower thermal output and a competitive price – but in the end, I went with Intel and a Core 2 Quad CPU.

Here’s a handy comparison chart from my old computer to the new one:

Old Computer New Computer
CPU Name: Pentium 4 w/HT Core 2 Quad Q9400
CPU Architecture: “Prescott” “Yorkfield-6M”
CPU Cores: 1 (2 logical) 4
L2 Cache: 1 MB 2 x 6 MB
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz 2.66 GHz
Front-side bus: 800 MHz 1333 MHz
Thermal Draw: 82W 95W
RAM: 1 GB DDR2 PC4300 + 2 GB DDR2 PC5300 6 GB DDR2 PC6400
HDD: 160 GB + 500 GB 500 GB
Video: ATI Radeon X300 Radeon HD 4350
Video Memory: 32 MB 512 MB

As you can see, the new computer is far from “state of the art” (that would be, as of the time of this writing, a Core i7 based system) but it’s no slouch, either. It’s also the best I can do within the budget I’ve set for myself.

In all the ways that matter, the new computer is faster – faster bus speed, faster memory transfer, faster graphics – and it has more cores, so it can do more at once (which is becoming increasingly important to me as I do things like encoding videos or compling code while running a virtual machine).

Of course, it also goes without saying that the new computer will have Windows 7 – which I was looking forward to as well.

All in all I think I’ll be quite happy with the new computer – although perhaps I’ll change my tune once I’ve gone through the agonizing process of moving my digital life from one computer to another – that is, transferring hundreds of gigabytes of data & user settings, re-installing programs, etc. So, we’ll see how that goes once the computer actually gets here.

Once the computer is here and up & running, I’ll be sure to post again!

By Keith Survell

Geek, professional programmer, amateur photographer, crazy rabbit guy, only slightly obsessed with cute things.