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March 31, 2007

New System Build

I usually build a new PC every three years. My previous system, which was built in 2005, is still chugging along quite well. However, I decided to move in my system refresh by a year. This was precipitated by several factors. First, Intel's new Core 2 Duo processors completely blow away AMD's offerings. Second, games based on DirectX 10 are going to be available later this year (starting with the anticipated title Crysis). Third, Windows Vista is now available. I normally don't care about OS releases, but I've been running Vista on my notebook and have been quite pleased with it. Although it certainly has a few shortcomings, I really like the new UI, and especially the Aero Glass theme.

My goal with building this case was twofold: silence and performance. The latter was easy to do, as I picked components with very high performance. The former was a bit more challenging. Since the PC chassis sets in a small enclosure in my armoire, I had to make sure to keep vibration and fan noise to a minimum. The enclosure can act as an echo chamber for noise, and the wood in the armoire tends to resonate any vibrations. After careful thought and study, I decided on the Antec P180B. The P180B is designed for silence, with reinforced side panels, rubber hard drive gaskets and quiet fans. The case is also very good for airflow; the PSU sets at the bottom of the case in its own chamber, allowing for a separate cooling pathway. The upper chamber has one intake and two exhaust fans, allowing for excellent heat dissipation. I found that the included Antec Tri-Cool fans were not quite silent enough for me (they produced a low hum that was amplified by the armoire), so I replaced them with Papst silent 12cm fans. All of the fans were then undervolted via the system BIOS to rotate at ~900RPM. I also use a quite CPU cooler (Zalman CNPS9500AT), which does an excellent job of keeping the CPU cool without producing a lot of noise. The resulting configuration is not noiseless, but is very quiet. From where I sit (about 1m away), there is a slight "white noise" sound coming from the PC. As one steps away, the PC become inaudible.

Below is the full list of components used in this build. As usual, I used an Asus motherboard, as I've always been happy with the performance and feature set. I also used a Seasonic PSU, as they provide rock-solid, efficient and quiet power supplies. I chose the X-Fi sound card because it has an internal header to connect to the front-panel audio ports; most sound cards do not have this option.

Motherboard: Asus P5N32-E SLI Plus
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6700
Memory: 2GB (1GBx2) Crucial Ballistix PC2 6400 DDR2 SDRAM
Hard Disk 1: Western Digital 74GB Raptor (10K RPM)
Hard Disk 2: Western Digital 500GB Caviar (7.2K RPM)
Video Card: EVGA GeForce 8800GTX 768MB
Sound Card: Creative X-Fi XtremeGamer
Power Supply: Seasonic M12-700 Modular 700W
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate

Installation and setup was a breeze. It took more time to build the system due to the unique design of the case. Because the PSU was located at the bottom of the case, I had to route all the cables behind the motherboard tray. Patience paid off, however, as I was able to conceal nearly all of the cables (except for the 12V ATX power cable). Setting up Vista was somewhat uneventful, although there's something glitchy about it. I believe either the chipset or the video drivers are not quite up to snuff. I'm getting weird lockups every now and then, and installing new programs cause the system to pause for up to a minute before the program actually installs. I'm going to have to do more troubleshooting to see if I can figure out what is going on. Hopefully new drivers will fix the problem.

All in all, I'm happy with the build. Once I can get the stability problem nailed down, I'll be set. I've posted pics of the new build here.

Update 9-April: I've given up on Windows Vista for now. I can't seem to get rid of the random lockups and system hangs. Over the weekend, I reinstalled Windows XP Professional. I'll revisit Vista later in the year, when the drivers have matured more. Right now, there aren't any DX10 games out, so I'm not missing out on anything.