Sunday, November 11, 2007

Annual Computer Upgrade

Well it’s time for my annual computer upgrade. After reading Scott Hanselmans post on the ultimate developer rig, Scott Guthries post on Drive Speed and their impact on compiling and the much anticipated release of VS.NET 2008, I decided it’s time for a new computer. After looking at all the high end machines out there, they seemed to be focused mainly on gaming so I decided to roll my own. The guy I talked to said I could over clock the CPU to around 3.2GHz so picked up a huge CPU cooling fan. I stopped off at CompUSA this afternoon and went on a shopping spree and picked up the following components:

  1. Quad Core 2.4 CPU

  2. 2 x 2GB Ram

  3. Cooler Master CM Cosmos ATX Full Tower Case

  4. 2 x Raptor 10K Hard Drives

  5. Cooler Master 750Watt ATX Power Supply

  6. Zalman USA CNPS Processor Cooler

  7. 2 x 8600GT 256MB Dual DVI Video Cards

  8. NForce 680I Motherboard

  9. I also purchased a two year walk-in warranty on the processor and mother board since it's my intention to overclock these.

All in all it set me back about $2000. It’s 4:15PM on Saturday and I’m going to start assembling, as I go I’ll be putting some of my findings and as well as how much work and time is involved with assembling this type of machine:

<note> I’ll be doing a little write-up as I go</note>
<note> I think the last machine I built from scratch as an 80286, does anyone remember that processor? </note>
<note> Since this was on a Saturday and after listening to Cigar Dave, this was after a couple beers and a cigar</note>

Your mileage will probably vary ...

Here goes!

Step 1 – 4:20 -- Mount the Power Supply and Motherboard to the Chassis
Step 0.5 4:35 Ok, I’ve never been too good about reading the manuals…after all it’s only hardware right? Need to install the processor on the board BEFORE installing the Motherboard on the chassis. This is necessary because there is a brace for the cooling fan on the back side of the motherboard.

The brace is installed on the back and the fan on the front, when installing the fan the “S” clip doesn’t look like it will bend into place but if you put one side in then carefully hold the other end down you can tighten it up. I probably should have gotten some lock-tight to hold these screws in place, but it should be alright

Mounting Bracket on back of mother board

Mounting Bracket on front of mother board

Quad Core Processor

Processor Installed with cooling fan

Step 2.0 5:00 Install Ram, this was fairly straight forward, I purchased 2 2GB sticks so I can later put in an extra 4GB. The person that helped me pick out the parts also suggested a RAM cooler, for $15 I thought it probably wasn’t a bad idea. Besides it has a cool blue LED that J

Step 3.0 5:10 Install Mother Board – OK let’s try this again, fairly straight forward, was a little tighter trying to get some of the screw in place but not bad.

Step 4.0 5:15 Connect the power, this one could be interesting…connecting the power wasn’t too bad, only three connectors there are two eight pin blocks, and of course I tried the wrong one first for the auxiliary power, but as I remembered from the last time I built a system, for the most part, you can’t put the wrong connector in place.

Step 5.0 5:25 Install the hard drives, this case has an awesome drive bay, I probably won’t ever fill it up but it’s a nice way to organize the hardware. To start with I’m going to go with two Raptor 10K 150GB hard drives. To start with I’m not going to use RAID, but have the programs on one and my source code on another as per Scott G.'s post. I’m pretty good about committing my changes throughout the day so I’m not too worried about losing any data. Also with this machine, I’m going to try to be very good about only installing the bare minimum on the actual host machine, then use either VM Ware or a different computer for installing all the other “crap”. I just need this machine to fly and if I need to repave it at some point this type of configuration (only a few core apps and snapshots of my VMs) should make it relatively painless.

This was incredibly simple, access to the back with the removable back panel made this even simpler than I had hoped.

Step 6.0 5:45 Connect Power Switch, Power LED, Reset Switch and HDD LED. This was fairly straight forward since, however since the LED’s have a +/- polarity, I needed to get this right. I couldn’t find anything in the documentation on this however I saw a little “G” by one of the pins, I’m going to assume that this is ground or “-“, this was also on the white wire. I have a 50/50 shot and I think I increased my odds a bit with the “G”. I should know soon enough wrong assumption…exactly opposite is the case the white wire is the “+”.

Step 7.0 5:50 Install the rest of the front panel connectors. External SATA (wow this could be really interesting) a few USB 2.0 connectors as well as some audio and an IE1394…I expect this to go smoothly…yup no problems. The only gotcha here is that on the audio connector there is one for HD audio and one for AC97. The mother board said HD so we’ll go with that one.

Step 8.0 6:00 Install the fan connectors…again I hope this to be straight forward…yup, no problem. The only little gotcha here was the inside the coil on the cooler for the CPU the fan cable was sort of bunched up. So I had to fish this out…not really a problem. Four external fans on this thing…it better run cool!!! I just hope it doesn’t sound like a jet engine when I fire it up.

Step 8.5 6:05 The better half said the chili was ready, so since she let me get the new machine, I guess I better eat with her J. I think after dinner I just need to install a graphics card and DVD drive and I should be ready to try a POST.

Step 9.0 6:45 After a quick dinner, I’m back at it now just install a VGA card and the DVD drive and I’ll be ready to test. No problem. I’m going to order a couple Dual DVI NVidia Cards, but for now I stuffed an older ATI PCI Express card to get ‘er fired up.

Step 10.0 6:50 Hook up keyboard, mouse, monitor and power cables

Step 11.0 6:55 Power up???????? go L The diagnostics LEDs say Code 7F, check the POST error, but the monitor isn’t coming on. I’m using an ATI PCIx card in an NVidia Mother board, I think I’ll try an old NVidia PCI card. Yup, that was it…video card wasn’t pumping out anything. Alright from unpacking to a successful POST, was a little under 3 hours with about a 45 minute dinner break. In summary I really love the case, it was worth the extra $75. Now for the fun!

Step 12.0 7:10 Install Windows Vista Business 64 bit edition

Complete 7:45 – probably took about ½ hour to do the complete Vista install.

Step 13.0 8:00 Overclocking - I found this thread on this was a pretty good overview of everything I needed to know and was especially good since I've never done this before. After playing with it a bit, it looks like my processor isn’t very happy at around 3.0 GHz, so I throttled it back to around 2.81Ghz and I’m running Prime 95 on it overnight to do a little stress testing. If that looks good, I’ll probably settle in on that. I a little worried in that a few times when I booted it didn’t find the main hard drive, but this was when I had it set to 3.0 GHz so we’ll have to keep an eye on that.

Step 14.0 9:40 Finish for today…let Prime 95 run overnight and see if I have a stable machine.

Done – 6:30 AM Prime 95 ran all night without any problems. The CPU’s actually remained fairly cool. I may try to bump up the clock speed, but let’s see how a quad core 2.8GHz machine does on some basic bench marks


These are from my 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo box running Windows Ultimate with approximately 3.8 GB of useable RAM. It should be noted that this machine is about 1 year since the last fresh OS install and is in desperate need of repaving.

1) Power on until login screen is ready 1 minute 27 seconds

2) Login until all the “junk” is loaded 1 minute 40 seconds

3) Load my main VS.NET project 37 sub projects and probably about 200K LOC 22 seconds

4) Full rebuild of my main project 56 seconds

Once I get VS 2008 RTM, I'll post my bench marks of the new machine


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