The move to quad-core

I received this comment recently: “I am searching for configuration for a desktop with quad core processors. Plz Guide me. also tell me should i go for 45nm process or 65 nm will do.”

I’m writing this with gaming in mind, because that’s what many techies think of when they consider the move to quad.  If you’re in the market for a heavy processing number-cruncher but not a gaming rig, much of this still applies.  Just not the part about video cards and water cooling.

I’ll admit it – I rock the C2Q.  But first I want to say that you may not want it in the end.  Without getting too into the technical side, some gamers go with a dual core processor with very high per-core speed rather than a quad with lower core speeds.  I will also say that my entry-level C2Q is plenty fast at 2.4 GHz per core. 

Processor Selection 

At any rate, while I do game quite a bit (and use my PC as a home recording studio), I am mostly interested in the reliability/speed/price relationship.  And at risk of starting a flame war, I really only deal with Intel processors.  I won’t discuss the reasons because I’m trying to avoid arguments. =)  And I won’t change my mind.  So here’s some of my recommendations as far as Intel goes:

Intel C2Q Q6600 – relatively inexpensive (less than 200 USD for the retail edition), incredibly stable.  2.4 GHz per core.  Although I don’t do it regularly and I don’t officially recommend it, I have overclocked this processor a few times and it ran very reliably. 

My main issue with this processor is that it runs a 1066 MHz front side bus.  This is where your bottleneck will probably occur (if you are using 4 GB RAM).  The bus is like the highway the data travels on.  The higher the MHz level, the wider the freeway is.  Kind of.  At any rate, if you have the extra cash, you may want to go with something at 1333 MHz.  Like…. the

Intel C2Q Q9300 – 260 USD, 2.5 GHz.  It doesn’t sound much faster than 2.4, but with the faster FSB this one does have quite a bit of bang for the buck.  This uses the 45nm process, whereas the 6600 uses a 65nm process.  Since you had asked about them, the process essentially has to do with the size of the miniature “transistors” etched in the silicon chip.  Smaller process makes for faster, cooler processors.  If I were building another QC system I would seriously consider this one.  I don’t consider the decrease in nm to be a buying incentive (to answer your question).  The clock speed and the FSB are the determining factors, as I have seen supported by stats on the Interweeb.  And we all know that two things NEVER lie: statistics and the Internet.

There are several dual-core processors that run high speeds with 1333MHz FSB and the 45nm process.  If you want I can post some links to those, but I want to stick with QC for now.  I do need to mention one more:

Intel C2Q Q9550 – this is a beast and still manages to be on the low end of the middle of the quad core price range.  At 320 USD it’s a significant investment, but it runs at 2.83 GHz, uses the 45nm process, and runs on a 1333 MHz FSB.

If you seriously want to spend more, then go with a Core 2 Extreme.  I have never heard anything bad about them (except that you have to commit some kind of crime in order to pay for one).  Take your pick – they will all blow you away.

Cooling

It’s really important that you pair your CPU with the proper cooling technology.  I am a fan of anything Zalman makes that is in the 30-60 USD price range.  I use Arctic Silver thermal paste (make sure to clean all the stock thermal grease off of the heatsink before applying the Arctic Silver).  Make sure you get the one for the LGA 775 socket if you are using the C2Q or C2E.  If you’re an AMD fanboy, you need the one for the corresponding AMD socket.  But I think anyone really into AMD has already quit reading this.

If you’re overclocking significantly, the stock cooler will not be sufficient.  After that, the next step is an aftermarket cooler like this one.  If that is not enough (or if you are REALLY OCing and want the most cooling you can get within reasonable prices) try water cooling, but be careful.  If you needwater cooling, you are OCing to a point where you threaten to damage the processor permanently.

Other components

Motherboard

With this kind of investment in a processor, you want a good motherboard to support it.  The best way to find a good one is 1) decide what you want, and 2) decide what you can afford, then 3) read the reviews on Newegg or another comparable site with text reviews.  If it gets a lot of DOAs, then don’t buy it.  I bought the ASUS P5E and like it a lot, though I wish I would have bought the one with integrated wifi.  It’s a bit pricey, but I would resist the urge to skimp on a mobo.  If you need to skimp, do it on the case or the DVD drive.  I would probably say that if it’s less than 100 USD, it’s probably not a great choice to support your investment.  If I did it again, I would definitely go with ASUS.  BTW, the reason the P5E is expensive is that it runs the X38 chipset.  If you get one that runs a Q35 chipset it will be much cheaper.

Bottom line is, with mobos (and most other components that have been on the market for more than a few months), you usually get what you pay for.

Power Supply

This one is subjective depending on your system.  If you are not running a high-end video card and you aren’t OCing the processor, you can get by with 300-400 watts.  Most corporate desktop models (such as Dell) typically have 250-350 watts.  If you OC, bump it up 50 watts.  If you run a high-end video card, maybe bump it up another 100 watts.  If you run SLI or CrossFire, bump it up another 100 watts (and get one that’s SLI certified).

RAM

Get as much as is reasonable.  If you’re running a 32-bit OS, get 4 GB.  If you’re running 64-bit, I would still probably only recommend 4, but you may want to try 8, especially if you are running Vista.  I recommend Kingston, Corsair, or Mushkin.  Kingston is probably my highest recommend.  They have DDR2-800 for very reasonable prices.

Make sure you get a speed of RAM that your motherboard supports.  This is critical, and if you don’t know, please ask and I would love to check on it for you.

Video Card

If you’re a gamer, you probably already know what you want here.  If not, keep in mind you get what you pay for.  As an owner of an ATI card, I would recommend an NVidia card.  Not because anything is wrong with mine (actually, it kicks butt).  Mainly because the support for the GeForce cards and drivers is nearly universal, and they generally rock people’s socks off.  I would say if you are a moderate gamer then plan to spend 125 -175 bucks.  If you have the cash then plunk it down for the $479 card, but don’t complain in three months when the price is half what it was. =)

Hard Drive

I wasn’t going to mention hard drives, but I think there are a few things that would be good to say.  I like Western Digital and Seagate.  I would not buy a Maxtor. 

You can set up RAID in several ways.  Do not allow Windows to control your RAID setup.  You will most definitely want your HARDWARE (i.e. the motherboard’s built-in hard disk controller) to control your RAID.  Then, in RAID 0, Windows will see it as one drive.  I like RAID 0 and I recommend it for non-critical use.  If you run a Web server or have financial data on the PC, either back it up very frequently (you should be doing this any time you have irreplaceable information) or use RAID 5.  You will need the motherboard book and a little time to set up RAID via the hardware.  It’s not that hard, you just need the instructions.  Do this before installing Windows.

Or you can just buy a 15K RPM SCSI drive and you don’t need the speed bonus from RAID.  But if you have that kind of money, send me some of it. =)

Other Thoughts

The other components (such as DVD drive, card reader, etc) are not really very interesting.  Just make sure you get the ones that work best with your system (i.e. I wouldn’t buy an IDE drive if my system supports SATA).

I like Antec’s cases.  Very much.  I have the 900 and I kind of wish I had gotten the P182 or something similar due to the noise (I record music on this thing and the 900 lets a lot of video card and power supply fan noise out of the case).

I wish I could provide information on AMD CPUs, but I really don’t run into them much in the world of corporate tech support.  Our office (all 105 users) use Intel.  I think our servers all run Intel, but I’m not sure.

One more thing.  Dell’s deals are getting so cheap that it’s hard to beat them, even building it yourself.  Part of that is because they get products in bulk.  I wonder, though (as a tech who works almost exclusively on Dell machines), if part of the reason is that the parts they use (RAM, HDD, DVD, mobo, etc) are less than the highest quality.  I have had to replace quite a few motherboards and power supplies on Dell machines.  And a lot of CD players.  Bottom line – I have bought Dell and like them.  But make sure you can afford the 3-year warranty unless you plan to sell it quickly or repair it yourself.  I don’t trust their parts.  But man, they have SMOKIN’ deals on quad-core systems (in the small business department).  But you can buy from the SB dept even without a business. 

At any rate, check them out.  http://www.dell.com/business.  Sign up for the email deals if you want the best deals.  I think they send them out every Monday.  You will get a very good deal on the system, and typically a very good deal on an LCD monitor as well.  Dell SB computers use stock fans, so make sure you get an aftermarket cooler if you overclock one (not that I recommend that, and not that it’s really needed with C2Q).  They don’t usually come with a nice video card (if they do, you will pay too much for it) and the power supply may not be bulky enough to handle an add-on card, so I would be careful with that. 

Well, hope I didn’t bore your socks off!  Enjoy, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.  I’d be glad to answer, or do my homework and find you an answer.

One more comment.  Building a system is very personal.  Your tastes and needs come first.  There are a multitude of good sources out there, and many knowledgeable folks disagree on what works best.  You just have to 1) make sure your system will work well with itself and you set it up well (i.e. don’t use an AMD processor with an Intel motherboard, make sure you get a SATA-friendly power supply if you want to use SATA, etc), and 2) make sure it’s what you want and what you can afford.  There aren’t really any other rules.  And have fun.  Building my first system was an amazing experience and I haven’t been able to sell it, despite the fact that it’s more power than I need.  And I should have gotten XP. lol

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2 Comments on “The move to quad-core”

  1. bfpower Says:

    “Also, it should be noted that this is the cheapest QC utilizing the 45nm process. ”

    My bad, this distinction belongs to the Q8200 at 200 bucks.

  2. bfpower Says:

    OK, fixed it.


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