If you’re following my PC build saga, you’ll know that I was torn between trying to exploit old hardware for cheaper or splurge on new components. I think I’ve decided the latter route and focused on what my major uses are going to be: scientific computing (so, need lots of ram), and WoW Cataclysm (so, need decent graphics performance but not top of line). However, beyond those broad outlines, the specifics of what CPU, graphics card and motherboard to choose were pretty daunting. Luckily, I found the perfect guide to help me make some decisions: an article in Tom’s Hardware about performance in Cata.
Reading this superb and in-depth article, I am concluding:
– AMD chips seems to be bottlenecked in Cataclysm, whereas Intel chips hit their stride. Intel chips need only 2 cores to really shine whereas the AMD chips don’t utilize fewer cores efficiently. So, Intel is the way to go, and given my need for scientific computing I’ll go middle of the road with Core i5 rather than entry-level i3 or maxed-out i7.
– Hyperthreading doesn’t help performance, and chip frequency isn’t as important as cores and cache. So, I’m leaning towards an i5-655k dual/HT or an i5-750 quad. Both are the same price ($200) – but will probably the latter, since more cores will also help my scientific work. The Core i5-750 gets a lot of love from Anandtech.
– It looks like Nvidia’s series 4xx is the way to go for video card, as they support DX11. Of course ATI is always an option but the GeForce GT 460 seems to be a great value card with no equivalent value on the Radeon side. There are lots of manufacturers making these, I’m leaning towards Asus’s version even though it’s $20 more expensive than MSI’s.
– I am an Asus partisan when it comes to motherboards, though that’s really just a pragmatic choice to narrow down the choice. The real issue seems to be, do I need to run a dual-GPU setup (SLI, in this case, given that I’m leaning towards the nvidia rather than ATI video cards) ? According to Anandtech, If I were leaning towards SLI then an X58 board like the Rampage or Sabretooth would be better – most likely the Sabretooth since it’s got less gamer/lanparty bling I don’t need. However, multi-GPU doesn’t seem to be important in cata, according to the Tom’s article, and I’m not sure why I’d need multi-GPU in my scientific computing either. So I think I’m going to go with a P55-based board, which are designed to be compatible with Lynnfield chips like the i5-750 quad I mentioned above. I’m leaning towards the ASUS P7P55D-E, which comes in an LX and a Pro version. The Pro is about $50 USD more expensive but permits SLI also, but I’d rather save the money since otherwise the boards look pretty much identical.
Though I haven’t picked out memory yet, I know I want 8GB for about $100. Should be easy enough to find, but need to figure out what speed (this looks helpful…). The result looks a lot like the Editor’s Choice system at Tech Report. The key is balance – not to get any one component out of whack with the others. A fantastic video card but low end processor will handicap the GPU (and vice versa). The Core i5 coupled with the GT 460 seems like a good pairing here (though I request more saavy readers to critique me on this).
Amusingly, Tom’s sneers at the “Low” quality setting, saying it’s ugly but acknowledging that’s what you are stuck with if you’re playing on a netbook. But frankly I am really impressed that WoW is playable on a netbook at all. Regular commentor Anachronda has told me he played WoW on a Asus EEE 701; right now my only WoW-capable machine is a Dell Mini 10. You know, it may be ugly, but if you need an Azeroth fix, it suffices. That said, the rig above will be about $600 ($200 each for CP and video, $129 for mobo, and $100 for 8GB ram) and I’ll be playing at Ultra in addition to actually getting work done.
So, it’s in my cart at Newegg. I’ll look it all over again and choose some memory to go along with it. Also, I need to verify that my existing power supply will handle this stuff (not too worried about this). I think this is the way to go…