I got excited when I found out we were designing machines with approximately a $4,000 price point. I have always wanted to see just how powerful a machine I could build with a reasonably large budget, but have never got around to putting a “shopping list” together.
I decided I would break it up into a smaller sub-budgets, to ensure that the machine is both powerful and balanced. I decided it should be something like this:
- $1,000 – Storage Drives
- $600 – Processor and Motherboard
- $1000 – Case, Cooling, Power Supply
- $1,400 – GPU and RAM Drives
One thing I enjoy doing every so often is sitting down to design a computer that I would build if money were no object. I call this my “Dream Machine”, and it’s more than recklessly throwing together the most expensive components I can find.
When I say that I approach the build as if money were no object, I am stretching the truth a bit. My overall rule for the build is that, provided my wife would ever agree to this, I am spending the equivalent of a healthy holiday bonus on a new computer. This would never happen, of course, but it does create a nice ceiling for how much money I can spend in creating my dream computing system.
With that in mind, I put my hypothetical $4,000 towards building the perfect computer for me. I stress “for me”, because everyone is different. Some people eschew storage space for raw processing power, and would be willing to sacrifice $1,000 for a processor alone. Others are focused solely on gaming, and want to have three of the best cutting-edge graphics cards in three-way SLI, so that they can finally play Crysis at full resolution. I have a bit of a different take on the dream machine. It might be a bit pedestrian, perhaps even somewhat boring…but hey, it’s my dream!
A few of us have recently been playing around with thin client motherboards that Jim graciously donated. While I already have a project in mind for mine, I can’t get the thought of building a car computer out of my head, since these boards would be well-suited to the task. Once I pay off my car, I may make my carputer a reality – until then, I figure why not dream on paper? Perhaps readers will get the same urge that I have, so here is a place for everyone to start. Keep in mind that this system is not meant for performance, but to have just enough power to serve as your new front end.
ZOTAC NF610I-K-E LGA 775 NVIDIA GeForce 7050 NVIDIA nForce 610i Mini ITX Intel Motherboard
[$44.99 - Newegg]
When considering a motherboard for this build, less is more. There really is not a need to have a massive amount of components built in. My mantra is, “The less we have, the less power the board takes”. Reviews of the board on Newegg are decent, but varied. Many people report problems trying to power this board, though those users might be mistaken. In fact, one reviewer confirmed that the board only used 48w at idle and 62w under load.
Intel Celeron 430 Conroe-L 1.8GHz 512KB L2 Cache LGA 775 35W Single-Core Processor BX80557430
[$40.99 - Newegg]
I felt that finding a CPU with low power consumption would be the best choice for the power supply I selected. Plus, to exceed stated power loads that the board supports, one would have to use a 35w Celeron 420, but the 430 isn’t much different in that area. You can laugh, but this time the Celeron takes the cake.
Asus Triton 75 CPU Fan For Intel LGA 775 & AMD Socket 754/939/940/AM2
[$49.99 - PC Planet]
Since this is going to be a full dash install, I figured there wouldn’t be the need for a heat sink with a fan. I felt that a fan might cause excess noise that would not be too pleasant when positioned just inches away from you.
G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 533 (PC2 4200) System Memory Model F2-4200PHU2-2GBLA
[$49.99 - Newegg]
I honestly didn’t pick this RAM for any reason other than it having the heatsinks attached. It was pretty much the first thing that I saw with 2x 1GB modules for a decent price. Remember, this system is not geared towards performance, but 2GB should be enough to keep Windows moving along nicely. (If you decide to go that route.)
Kingston SSDNow V+ Series SNVP325-S2B/64GB 2.5″ 64GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
[$189 - Newegg]
I picked this SSD for a few reasons. No moving parts means higher shock resistance, a must have in a car. However, I am still surprised by how little force the SSDs can take when operating. This one has a higher non-operational max vibration resistance and also has low power consumption. (Though it really is about the same as any other SSD). Again, low power is pretty key in this system. You might want to still add in some sort of vibration resistant mounting just to be on the safe side.
[$49.50 - Mini-Box]
So when it comes down to running a tiny board and trying to fit it in a tiny space, you really need a tiny power supply. No, make that a PICO power supply. If you read the reviews on Newegg for the motherboard, you will have seen that at least 1 person had success with a PICO 200w. Though I think this 160w should suffice it also provides 200w at it’s max. This also does DC-DC conversion which, if you know anything about your car, is mandatory.
LITE-ON Slot Load CD/DVD Burner Black Slim SATA Model DL-8ATS
[$49.99 - Newegg]
I am unsure about using an optical drive in a moving system. You should consider using some type of spring and rubber mounting system to ensure that you can avoid skipping and grinding on the disc. I also consider this optional because many carputer builders skip it. After all, won’t all your music be on a hard drive? Of course, having a way to update items from disc might be nice as well.
Sharp 7″ Touchscreen TFT-LCD Panel
[$106.91 - GoodDeals]
This is the key component of any good car computer. It provides the ability to see and interact with whatever software you have installed. Take note of the web site’s instructions on how to wire this up in a car. You will need to attach the cable labeled “light switch” to your positive battery lead in order for this to operate when the car is turned to ACC mode.
Now I know this probably leaves you with burning questions on how to piece it all together or what to install on it, but there are plenty of websites dedicated to carputers. This is simply a list of a few suggestions on how you might piece one together. In total, all of the parts listed clock in at just under $600 before shipping, and I feel it would be a great way to get somebody started on a build. A few extra items that might be needed, depending on what you want it to do, would be a GPS unit and perhaps some hardware to use all six channels of sound coming out of the motherboard.
Here is last week’s “Weekly Build” – sorry for the delay!
Recently, the enthusiast oriented builds we have put together have been relatively expensive, usually around the $1,000 mark. After seeing my article on the $500 PC for grandma, Jared became curious as to how cheaply you could build a machine but still be able to use it for gaming. I set out to see what kind of gaming performance you could squeeze out of $600. As it turns out, quite a bit.
For this week’s build, I am going to piece together what I would likely buy if I were constructing a home media server. As a forewarning, I have been known to over-spec a machine from time to time, and this will likely be no exception. I like to ensure that my builds are future-resistant, as there is no such thing as future-proof, so you may feel that this machine has more power than you would want in your home media server. That’s totally fair – feel free to use my recommendations as a base on which to build, toning down my hardware choices to fit your needs.
For me, a home media server needs to fulfill several requirements. It must:
- Provide ample storage with room for expansion
- Provide ample power with room for upgrades
- Be robust enough to last at least 5-7 years
- Be reasonably quiet
- Be somewhat attractive – I’m not looking for a Lian Li case here, but the computer should look fine sitting under my desk, or in a closet, should I so desire.
- Finally, it should be relatively affordable
With these rules in mind, here is what I came up with, all for less than $1,200…
Ahh, Grandma’s computer. You know the one I am talking about.
It’s the computer you loathe to work on. Adorned with CompuServe stickers and coffee stains, it is a relic that has far outlived its usefulness. The Celeron processor strains and groans as it tries to load Windows 98 into its single 64 MB memory SIMM. You know that if she asks you to look at her computer, you are guaranteed to spend a good 3 hours idling the time away in front of the 15″ monitor.
So, why not help Grandma out and upgrade her system instead of spending another afternoon toiling away in computer hell?
This week’s build consists of not one, but two budget-friendly computer options that will do everything Grandma needs and more, all while not breaking the bank.
Acer Aspire Revo with Intel Atom 330(1.60GHz) – 2GB DDR2 – 250 GB HDD – NVIDIA ION graphics – Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (AR3610-U20020)
[$329.99 - Newegg]
This all-in-one system is only 7″ tall, but boasts a 1.6 GHz Dual-Core Atom processor, 2 GB of memory, a 250 GB hard drive and Windows 7 preloaded. It’s not the fastest machine in the world, but it can handle most anything Grandma can throw at it. The wireless keyboard and mouse make it easy for ergonomic positioning, and it even has Vesa mounts, so you can hide it behind a monitor for even less clutter.
This week I decided to follow in Jared’s footsteps, so I set off to configure a computer with a $1,000 price cap to see if I could build a powerful PC on a reasonable budget. The system I had in mind however, is specifically designed for video and photo editing.
Most photo and video editing software packages now take advantage of multiple CPU cores and the unbeatable floating-point crunching abilities of the latest GPUs on the market. With that in mind, this is what I put together, all for less than $1,000:
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T Thuban 2.8GHz Socket AM3 125W Six-Core Desktop Processor HDT55TFBGRBOX
[$199.99 plus a $10 Instant Rebate - Newegg]
AMD packed six cores into their latest Phenom II chip, which should give you plenty of CPU power to play with. I could have gone with a slightly faster model that boasts a 3.2Ghz clock speed, but this processor could easily be overclocked to match. There is no reason to pay more money for something that you can easily get for free.
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Welcome to a new weekly segment we are calling “Weekly Build”. Each week, one of our writers will piece together a computer based on current online specials that meets one of several criteria.
These criteria may vary from week to week, but typically the machines will be either restricted to a certain price point, or a specific purpose. This week’s system is limited by both: a $1,000 price cap, and that it be a purpose-built gaming PC.
Geek-Republic’s newest member Jared takes us through this week’s build.
There aren’t too many great sales this week, but I think I was able to put a good machine for a decent price.
Before deciding on a budget I looked through this week’s sales. While there was nothing unprecedented, there were some good deals on some of the higher end components. I decided on a $1,000 budget, and I would say this build falls somewhere between a gaming rig and a performance machine.
Note: all prices include shipping.
$119.99 - OCZ Vertex Series OCZSSD2-1VTX60G 2.5″ 60GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) [Newegg]
While 60gb is probably not enough space to store all of your data, it should easily be enough for an OS/application drive. I chose this particular drive because it is on sale at the moment, but alternatively 2 smaller drives could be used in a RAID 0 configuration for an equivalent capacity and increased speed.