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Help build a Dream Machine

Hey all,
Okay....looks like I'm going to come into a bit of cash soon, and after 3 years, its time to retire my P4 3.06 system with full honours. I'll be salvaging much of the components out of it.
So here's the thing...I'm savvy enough to build a system from scratch, but I'd prefer to have the basics done by a store. (Someone to yell at if it goes wrong :) and I've been keeping up on the current new hardware. Ordinarily, the first obvious question would be: "What will it be used for?" For me, this is very tricky - I'm split right down the middle on that. I guess I could be considered a hardcore gamer (Halo, Doom 3, Quake 4, etc) and with games I want to see screaming FPS and incredible graphics. So, I could make a gaming rig. On the other hand, I also do web/graphic design, animations with 3D Max, and heavily into Photoshop (which is resource/RAM intensive), so I should build a graphics rig, right?
Well, I'm trying to find the balance between the two.
For example, should I be still looking at AMD's FX 60, Asus A8N SLI Deluxe mobo, nVidia 7800/7900 GTX side-by-side with a SLI setup and whack of RAM, etc? But will it have the application power?
Or, would I be better off making a quad core monster I can build on like a Tyan Thunder mobo with Dual Opterons? But will it have the gaming power? (imagine approx CPU of 11.8 Ghz!!)
Anyone have any suggestions?
Just have some points to throw around. Winning answer will be the one that clearly defines what/why in a system.
TIA,
Challin
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Challin
Asked:
Challin
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BillDLCommented:
I'd gladly donate my left leg (or other body part) for a Pentium 4 3.6 GHz machine :-)
Well, that's me subscribed now so I can gather some ideas from other experts for when I come into some extra money ;-)
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ChallinAuthor Commented:
LOL Bill.....that P4 3.06 has served me well over the last few years. I was really lucky, I treated it well, but now I'm looking for a serious monster!  ;)
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garycaseCommented:
For pure compute power you've got the right idea -- a pair of dual-core Opterons will give you a very nice quad core monster with amazing computational capabilities.   Not quite as nice as a Cray XT-3 supercomputer, which, in it's largest configuration uses 30,508 dual-core Opterons !!  (of course it's a bit out of the range of most of our budgets !!)   But you'll be using the same basic computational engines :-)

Of course the problem with most dual CPU motherboards is that they don't support SLI.  But here's one that does:  http://www.iwill.net/product_2.asp?p_id=96   ... so you can have your CPU cake and eat your gaming pies at the same time !! :-)      ... or you could just use a single 512mb 7900GTX in any of several other boards ==> which I somehow think is probably enough graphics horsepower for MOST gaming needs :-)

... but if your focus is more gaming than "working,"  a dual-core FX60 with a pair of 7900GTX's in an A8N32-Deluxe (NOT the A8N-Deluxe) will give you the best FPS, since it runs the SLI pair at a full 16x.  (most SLI boards run them at 8x)

Only you can choose which fits your needs best.   Personally, for a "screamer" system to last for the next few years I'd think the quad-core system would be preferable -- with the iwill motherboard and SLI if you don't think a  512m 7900GTX will be "enough" graphics horsepower :-)   :-)

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ChallinAuthor Commented:
ohhh...gary that is the sweetest looking mobo I've seen in awhile!! :)
I'll look into whether that's available around here. But let me ask you this: Supposing I could get one, and then I got two Opteron (say 2.6 GHz each), I noticed it has 2 sets of 4 banks for DIMMs....would I have to run 2 sets of dual channel RAM? And despite the obvious advantage of dual opteron running two 7800 gtx in SLI (say it with me: "sweeeeeet"), would a board like this one make it necessary for a water cooling system? I can imagine two CPU fans running like a freight train inside, and would make it somewhat loud -- not that I mind, ordinarily, but it is something to consider. If you concur with water cooling (I'm not really into overclocking, I want stable over out-of-control fast), then that would dictate which Tower to buy. I'm of the mindset that the larger the case; the more breathing room= the better the system will run. My current case is a 7 bay tower and I've added front and back venting fans to keep a cool breeze running thru at all times. I have three HDs inside (WD Raptor 74GB/Maxtor 160GB/Maxtor 120GB) which I would gladly swap for the WDK500 or something like that to keep power and heat down.
I like this board! I prefer to go high end while I'm still able and build on that rather than have an FX 60 for a short while, only to have AMD raise the bar again. Dual opterons are hard to beat with any single chip config.
Any thoughts?
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ChallinAuthor Commented:
Was just reading the DK8EW Manual. It does work better with dual channel RAM and by default it runs normal graphics mode like: x16 bandwidth in one slot, x1 in the second, or both (SLI Mode) at 8x.
Still an awesome board tho!  :)
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garycaseCommented:
Yes, it's a sweeet board (by the way, most SLI boards run at 8x).   I agree with the large case, good airflow concept.   I've found the single best "extra" on a case for keeping everything cool is a blowhole (top vent).   I don't know for sure -- but I'm fairly sure that with a good heatsink/fan you won't need liquid cooling, especially if you don't overclock (I don't either).   I'd be more concerned with the heat generated by a pair of 7800GTX's than with the Opterons :-)   But it would be an AWESOME system for sure !!
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ChallinAuthor Commented:
I agree the dual vid cards would generate excessive heat. Perhaps water cooled is a better (and possibly safer) way to go?
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garycaseCommented:
Liquid cooling would certainly provide a bit of extra margin -- and MAY be necessary for the video cards if you're going to run them at max capacity.   They ARE supposed to have adequate cooling with their built-in fans, but it depends on how well ventilated the case is.   Personally, I'd stay with air cooling, but would be sure my case had both a side vent and a top "blowhole."
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ChallinAuthor Commented:
I am running into nothing but problems trying to find a distributor for the Iwill DK8EW mobo for Canada. Seems its either Russia, Malaysia, or NewEgg.com in California.
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garycaseCommented:
It is a VERY new board -- I suspect it will be a few months before it's widely available.  

If you can live without two graphics card ==> perhaps a single 7900GTX :-) ==> the Asus K8N-DL is another nice dual-Opteron board, and is much more widely available.

... or just wait a few months and I'm sure you'll find a supplier for the iWill :-)

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ChallinAuthor Commented:
New update:
I contacted one of the writers at "Maximum PC" magazine, and asked him about the Iwill board. To my surprise, he rated it in the top three of server-end/workstation mobos, after Tyan and Micro. BUT....!!!!
His suggestion is to hold off for 6 months (ugh....I'll never last) for the public launch of Intel's new "Conroe" chip. Prelim benchmarks seem to indicate it is steadily outperforming the FX 60 in everything they throw at it, with less power consumption. Intel has been lagging behind AMD for a few years now, as everyone knows, but apparently they chucked all their drawing-board releases and concentrated on the Conroe.
read an article about it here: http://www.anandtech.com/tradeshows/showdoc.aspx?i=2713
The benchmarks seem to speak for themselves...

In any event, I won't hold this question open for 6 months (which is when Intel plans to launch their new chip) so I'll award points to gary.
Thanks again for the awesome info! I never would have found that Iwill board myself. I'll post any more info if it's pertinent. I may actually go with the water cooling system anyway, just for 1/ less power consumption, 2/ Near silent operation, and 3/ Lower temps for better stability. It just seems like a smart move on my part to get a water system in place before I throw all sorts of hot and fast hardware inside....kind of giving myself a crash course on it. I think more and more systems will become more widely available with water. Phase-change colling is still too far ahead of the game from what I can tell.
Thanks again gary!
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garycaseCommented:
You're most welcome -- and by the way, the better water cooling systems, with those "cool" radiator towers next to the PC, do look awesome.   Nice match for an awesome PC :-)
(I'm also tempted -- but I have visions of flooding inside the PC !!)
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ChallinAuthor Commented:
LOL I have those same visions, but the risk (I believe) is greater for a CPU fan getting all gunky or catching on a wire and frying a CPU right then and there. I read somewhere someone sealed a tower and put 11 gallons of cooking oil inside....go figure, a 2.2Ghz AMD ran stable!

Like I mentioned before, I'm going to hold off until there's more news from Intel re: the Conroe chip. Could be well worth the wait.
cheers!
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