An Advanced Course in PC Hardware: $1,000 Performance PC with Style- Part III

23 10 2012

So far I have given you a break down of what I need overall, and most of the system specifics. Today, I am going to run down the rest of the build.

Component #6: Power Supply

Part of planning for it is getting enough power.  New Egg has a calculator ( http://c1.neweggimages.com/BizIntell/tool/psucalc/index.html) to help you figure out your power supply needs. One thing to keep in mind is to look at both what you are building now, and what your optimal load out is.  I built MY machine knowing that I was going to overclock my PC and add a second graphics card, so I got a massive power supply.  This machine will not be overclocked, but might get a second card, so I will plan ahead for it.  I put the specs for the build in (I put a performance MB in to play it safe), and got a moderate 477 Watt rating.  This is fairly middle of the road, but already can give you a sense of one of the advantages to building your own system vs. buying a pre-built with plans to upgrade later.  Pre-built systems often have the smallest power supply possible, so if you want a new, or second graphics card, you are also buying a new power supply.  So for a baseline, right now, I need a 500 Watt power supply.  If I add that second graphics card, and go to 4 sticks of RAM? 674 Watts.

Now you know the size you need, but how do you pick one? Hell if I know.  This is where looking at customer ratings is key. New Egg is pretty good about it’s ratings, actually sending out emails asking for reviews of items you have bought from the site, and when looking at the text reviews you can choose to only see verified owners (the people who bought the component from New Egg).  Take the Corsair brand TX750. I picked a Corsair because they are a well known brand, and I bought one of their supplies for my own build.  This has enough plugs to run two graphics cards, and enough power to run them, plus a second optical drive if I go nuts. The second thing to do is look at the ratings. I always start by reading the low rated reviews first. This will give you an idea of if people had the power supply frying on them after some use, if people were getting units that were dead out of the box (therefore not hurting other components, and returnable), or if people were buying the wrong thing.  This has a rating of 4/5 with 300+ reviews, 47 of which are 1/5. About 1/2 of the bad reviews were for DOA units (which seems to be fairly average), and some more had issues running out of the box and then died.  I’m not to worried, so I would still go with it, but this is where you have to just do some homework, pull up some alternatives, and see how things compare to each other.

Component #7: Hard Drives

As I mentioned before, the trick with a hard drive is finding the balance of speed, power, and price.  What some people don’t think about is the fact that this isn’t necessarily an all or nothing game.  If you need a LOT of space, and have a moderate budget, it doesn’t mean you are doomed to slow speeds.  One of the more popular things now is to get two hard drives.  One, a very large, moderately fast, but affordable drive to keep all of your files on, and most of your programs on.  Second, you get a smaller, much faster Boot drive (What they Operating System boots off of).  Depending on the size, you may also be able to put a few of your more important programs on here.  The key here is to remember that programs, when it comes down to it, are massive libraries of files.  When you use something like Photoshop  every-time you decide you want to use a filter, it needs to run the program for that filter.  Unless the filter’s program is in the RAM because you are using it for a second/third time, the computer needs to run around, find that part of the program, and run it.  If you have the program on a slow drive, it will take a bit longer to find and retrieve. However, if you are running thousands of these subroutines a day(which if you use one program often, you probably do), this will add up.

So, my advice would be to get one large traditional Hard Drive, and one smaller Solid State Drive to boot off of.  For the large drive, I am picking a Terabyte- it’s what I got for my build, and 2 years of Photoshop and 3D models later I still haven’t had to run around clearing space. It’s a beautiful thing. For the main storage drive I am selecting the Western Digital 1TB Black SATA III.  Western Digital and Seagate are the longtime brands for Harddrives that I tend to lean towards, and with a 5 year limited warranty,  2000 reviews averaging 4 /5, and a forty dollar discount at the moment, that’s good enough for me.

The Solid State drive I would shoot between 50 and 100 Gb.  This will be enough to take your O/S and a few programs, but shouldn’t be getting into the insane price ranges.  For this build specifically I want SATA III for at least the SSD, as that will allow me to take advantage of the faster drive speed with faster data transfer speed (When in doubt, look for bottlenecks in speed.)  Right now on NewEgg I can get the OCZ 2.5″ SATA III 60Gb (AGT3 model).  It is a moderately priced 60 GB SSD drive from one of the most well known SSD makers around.  This drive has 4/5 on NewEgg with 546 reviews, and its on sale for $62.

Misc.

This stuff is based a bit more on sale prices and brand name/reviews for me, so it’s pretty flexible.  You need a Media drive, and a wireless card, plus a mouse, keyboard and monitor(or two) if you are building a rig from scratch.  You may decide that you want to go with a Blu Ray drive, and forgo the burner option, or you may want to pony up the big bucks so you can burn BluRays (burner’s are in the $70-$130 range), but I am going to stick to a simple DVD-RW.  Realistically, find a drive from a brand you know, with decent reviews, that is cheap.  You should be in the $15-$25 range with no problem.

When you get a wireless card, the main thing to keep in mind is what your signal needs are. WiFi is rated as A, B, G, or N. A and B are kind of hard to find, and slow.  Today, you will mostly see routers and cards that are G, or N.  One good thing is these are all backwards compatible to the less powerful ratings (A is lowest, N is highest).  So if you have an N router and a G card, or a G card and an N router, it will still work, it will just be throttled to that G rating.  For most everyday use, G is fine. However, N is roughly 10x as fast, and has 2-3 times the range. So if you are moving big files, especially within a local network, or if you have a tricky time getting a great WiFi signal, move up towards N for both your adapter and your router.  I have a G router, and this is a local work machine, so it won’t be downloading any movies either, so I am going to stick to a simple G card (PCI Express) for around $20.

Another thing to keep in mind: the number and configuration of the PCI slots on your motherboard. Because I went with the Micro-ATX, the board I picked only has 3 slots, which are arranged in a way that means if I do run two graphics cards, there will not be room for my WiFi card.  One solution is to get a USB adapter, another is to buy an ethernet cord and hard-line your connection.  Its not a huge issue, but it’s an issue that you need to think about before you start buying things.

Picks:

CPU: i5-3450                                                                                                  –  $195

Motherboard: GIGABYTE G1.Sniper M3                                            – $170

RAM: (DDR3 1066 240 Pin,) Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2x4Gb) – $52

Graphics: GIGABYTE GTX 560                                                               – $180

Case: Fractal Design Define Mini Black                                                – $100

Powersupply:   TX750                                                                                – $110

HDD:   1TB  SATA III  WD Black                                                               – $110

SSD: OCZ 60 Gb SATA III                                                                           – $62

Optical:    DVD  burner                                                                                – $20

Wireless:                                                                                                            – $20

Total:                                                                                                                   – $1020

With a DECENT mouse and Keyboard, and a couple of good ~20″ monitors, that should put you right in the $1,600 wheelhouse.  For a machine you should be set with for YEARS.

Next time: Putting it all together.





An Advanced Course in PC Hardware: $1,000 Performance PC with Style- Part II

16 10 2012

Last time I ran through the basics of what I need.  Now it’s time to really start picking components to build my system.

Component #1: Processor

I would start picking components with the processor.  This is one of the components that is tougher to upgrade once a machine is built, and you need to make sure you get what you want.  I am going to go with the i5-3450, which Toms Hardware ranked (in September 2012) as the best processor for the $150-$200 price range.  I went with this over a slightly cheaper or more expensive one for a few reasons.  In terms of more expensive options, the next-best choice up is not $40 better on the surface, but when you get into overclocking and things of that ilk.  I have no plans to go there with this rig, so that’s wasted cash basically.  Beyond that, you get to diminishing returns, and to get a modest increase in performance, you could either tune a $240 chip, or buy a $1000 chip. It seems the bottlenecks start to lie else where in the system at that point.  I also generally wouldn’t go to the next tier of processor down, since as I mentioned before, apart from overclocking your processor, you cannot easily upgrade your processor, so spend the cash for quality parts now.

Component #2: Motherboard

Next up is finding the motherboard you need.  It needs to fit the processor you have picked, have expansion room for the graphics/WiFi cards you want now, plus possible expansion, and be able to support the RAM load you will want.  It also needs to have the ports for things like USB’s and HardDrives that you want.  Make sure the connector types you want (USB 3.0, SATA III) are supported.  This is honestly the weakest part of my component understanding, and I tend to really scour NewEgg and Toms Hardware for recommendations, in general, and as a match for my specific processor.

Motherboards are also very important because the motherboard size will determine what case sizes you can use. I managed to find a few Micro ATX boards that should still give pretty great performance, while allowing me to look at a smaller form factor. I went with the GIGABYTE G1.Sniper M3 because it offers a few more connections I was looking for, for not much price increase.

Component #3: Case

This is a tricky pick for very different reasons then the rest of the components.  This is the part that you will be looking at day in, and day out, for the next several years.  Unless you choose a case with a window, you’ll never see the rest of the parts you pick apart from an occasional can-of-air clean out.  You also need it to handle the various parts you want.  Because of this, I went with Fractal Design’s Define Mini.  It has a clean black look, is designed to keep your system quite, but if heat becomes an issue it has openings you can open, allowing more noise out, but more air in, even adding additional fans as needed.

Component #4: RAM

Because the motherboard I selected runs the RAM in dual channel, you want 2 or 4 sticks of RAM in at a time to allow them to run at the fastest speeds possible. I have used Corsair memory a few times, with no complaints, and selected one of their 8Gb packages, the Corsair Vengeance.  It runs at the max speed my motherboard can handle (1600), and would allow me to buy another pair later to up to 16 Gb if I wanted, although that may well not happen unless this turns into more of a 3D graphics rig than it is currently intended to be.

Component #5: Graphics Card

For the graphics card, I am going with a mid-line choice, but that could be run in tandem with a second card to create a workhorse in the future.  One of the best choices according to TomsHardware is the GeForce 560 from NVidia, coming in at “just” $170.  Not only is it a great card on it’s own, but it also got an honorable mention as one of the best cards for ~$330 when run in tandem(called SLI for Nvidia  cards, and Crossfire for ATI cards. There are some differences in how they run, but unless you are going pretty high end, you likely won’t see a huge difference.).  I doubt that will be an option I will go with in the future, but it’s good to plan for it now.  The card is normally $179, but at the time that I’m writing this, there is a $20 mail in rebate. You have to remember to file it, but it’s things like these that REALLY help, as that basically bought you your DVD drive.

Next Time: Components II





An Advanced Course in PC Hardware: $1,000 Performance PC with Style- Part I

9 10 2012

A while back, I started a series on how to build your own PC based on my experience building my own rig.  I’m going to pick that up again, but as my build is a year and a half old at this point, I’ll look at what I would build today, and what I could get off the shelf for the same price.  As I already have my gaming/graphics rig, I’ll be looking at what I would build for my wife, who is also a Landscape Designer/Planner.

This means there are a few key differences in what I’ll be getting.  For my machine, I bought one of the largest towers I could find to get the best cooling, and expansion potential, possible.  Amy doesn’t want a box that is 22″x22″x9″ sitting on her desk, so I will be looking a bit more compact.  She also doesn’t do as much 3D work as I do, so I might go a little lighter on the graphics card than I might for mine.  The first step is to set a budget.  I’ll look at a budget a bit smaller than the $1,500 I used for my build: $1,000.

Protip: Wait for sales.  I saved around $300 on my build by putting trackers on items I was looking at on NewEgg.com.  I got a package with almost the exact RAM I was looking for for free with the exact motherboard I wanted, just by waiting a couple weeks.  Which brings me to my other tip: NewEgg.com is your friend.

Right off the bat, as a windows family, $140 is gone to pay for Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) from NewEgg (Windows 8 has not been released at the time of the writing of this).  Its important if you are building a new PC at this point to get a 64-bit OS.  Among other things, it allows you to use more than roughly 3.5 Gb or RAM, which is the most a 32-bit system can see.

Now, if you just dive into shopping and try to buy a bunch of things, you’re going to get scared, and hide; unless you are a total hardware guru, at which point I am flattered that you are reading this, but it probably won’t help you a ton.  Along with NewEgg, I am also a huge fan of TomsHardware.com  They do a series called “System Builder Marathon” where they do something similar to this, at three different price levels, roughly every 6 months. They also have very good, in-depth reviews of much of the best hardware around.  The trick is, they may have done their latest builds 4-5 months ago, with budgets that bracket what you have, and that are designed to do something else.  It can be tricky to navigate a $2,400 Gaming rig and a $1000 Media server if you have $1,500 for Photoshop and CAD.  They however, are great places to start, and to make sure you don’t forget some vital piece of hardware.

There are two places you can start looking at your build: guts, and Case.  If exterior style is the most important thing, and you don’t care if it has much power, start with the case (as would be the case if you were building a Home Theater PC that just serves to play music and movies).  You could find a tiny case, or one that is small and brushed steel if that’s your style, but it may not fit components you otherwise need. I need this machine to do some decent work however, so I’m looking first at things on the inside first.

What do I need on the inside of this?

  • Looking through reviews, I really am liking the sound of the Intel i5-34xx series (part of the new “Ivy Bridge” line), so that gives me a starting point for the CPU.
  • It will also start to point me towards and away from certain motherboards based on compatibility. Motherboard size is one thing which will determine what cases I can use.
  • I will need at least one graphics card, so I’ll need a case with a decent amount of space, and a Mother Board that has at least a few PCIe slots.
  • I have software on disk, so I need at least a DVD burner.
  • At least 1 Harddrive.  It would be nice to do two, one large traditional drive, where GB are cheap, and one smaller Sold State boot drive to speed up everything, where GB are expensive. (Would love one huge Solid state, but as even a 240 Gb drive would cost in the $200 range, I’m out of luck)
  • Oh, I need RAM and a Power Supply, but those have little effect on the case.

So I need at least 3 drive bays, and room for 2 PCIe slots for a large graphics card, plus it would be nice to have an extra PCI for a WiFi card.

Next time: Choosing Components I





An Advanced Course in PC Hardware: What goes into a Computer

3 01 2011

One of my first posts on this blog introduced the different computer components and what roles they play for a Landscape Architect/Designer in general.  Its time to re-hash the topic in a little more detail, and look at not just what components do what different software, but how you pick components, and how you can build your own system from scratch.

There are a few advantages to building your own machine.  For one thing, you know you get exactly what you want.  You can find the exact balance of power, size, and price that you want- you don’t have to work within the parameters of what Dell wants to offer you.  Also, you save a sizable amount of money.  I would say I paid roughly 60% market price for my PC, and I got higher end components then would have been in a pre-assembled system.

The downside is you have to do some leg work to ensure that your machine will work correctly, but if you take the time to do your research, you can get a great machine.  There are many resources around for building your own PC both in terms of research and purchasing.  I did most of my research at tomshardware.  They review individual components, and also have a series of PC builds they do each quarter that they write up that are a GREAT reference for finding the tech you want, for the price you want, in arrangements that will actually boot up.  In terms of purchasing my parts, I mostly relied on New Egg. They have some amazing deals on some great hardware, offer good support options, and ship fast and cheap for when your anxious to get your build going.  I also picked up a few items at Best Buy, as sometimes they will have sales or clearance items that will be tough for even New Egg to beat, and as I work there it was not exactly out of my way.

These are the basic pieces you need to make a fully functional PC:

1. Processor/Heat Sink

2. Graphics Card

3. RAM

4. Hard Drive

5. Motherboard

6. Optical Drive

7. Case

8. Misc. (Card Readers, Sound Cards, second Hard Drives)

9. Power Supply

Each of these items depends somewhat on each other for compatibility reasons, but what you want to do now, and in the future, productivity-wise is going to be the determining factor.  I ranked them in the general order of importance in terms of what you are trying to get out of your system.  For instance- the power supply doesn’t matter to you except that it is of good quality and gives enough power to your system for it to work without fail.  You can’t pick it until you pick everything else, but it doesn’t REALLY effect any of your other choices.

What I’m going to do is first describe what I wanted out of my system. I will then run through each of these components, describing what they do, what effect they have on the programs I wanted to run, and what exact product I ended up getting and why.

Once that is done, I’ll be writing another blog describing the step by step of how I took those components and made the system I am blogging on (while running a 3D model render in the background) right now.

For the time being, I’ll leave you with a photo of the international headquarters of Frank Varro Rendering.





Who I am: A re-introduction

20 09 2010

The following is a post I made on MyIGN, a site for gamers.  It also serves as a pretty good introduction to who I am in terms of Landscape Architecture, Design, and Technology, so here you go:

I suppose I owe this post to altoidyoda and justsomedude899, along with a martini and a few High Life’s.

I have been a semi-active member of the IGN community since around 2006, with a blog I started in 2007.  I never posted regularly, as I suppose I’m to self conscious about my own writing abilities when I don’t have a bit of a buzz going, but I followed many of the “big time” bloggers in the old system (Reillymonster, Fozzy, Altoidyoda, Justsomedude, nextgengamer, dillaweezer, teh_red_baron, etc), and commented enough that I like to think I had a familiar face at the least.  I was excited to see the new MyIGN as I thought it would become a new iteration of the original blog community, but it seems that at least so far it is something more.  I don’t know if I think it is something better at this point, as it feels somehow, diluted, but it is what it is.  Some of this may come from the fact that the old blogging tools were somewhat of a pain in the ass, and that meant that the only people blogging were people who really had something to say, and that made it a little more of a tight knit community.  Its the same thing that makes your best friends often come from the WORST jobs, you suffered through the BS together, and managed to make it enjoyable.  MyIGN is the easy job that was never hard, and paid decently.  You make friends, but, from my experience, the friendships and comradeship just aren’t as strong as they were back on the old blog system.

But, I think its time to try to make the move more official, so let me tell you about me.  I started blogging here at IGN because, at the time, I was questioning my choice of profession.  I, at that point, was all-but-thesis for my masters, and in a job with a small landscape architecture firm.  The commute was murder, and I just wanted to be doing something different.  I remember thinking about how AMAZING it would be to design games back in the 80′s when I was playing BattleToads and Galaxy5000 on my NES with my best friend Josh.  I moved away from that dream over time, first deciding engineering was the best outlet for my dual loves of creativity and science.

Then I took college physics and calculus.  I then was looking for a new direction.  Luckily, I found landscape architecture.  It is a little understood field that involves everything I love.  On every project you need creativity to create a design that will inspire, scientific knowledge to know what soils will work with what plants, engineering to know what to put under and behind walls to keep them retaining soil instead of collapsing.  And you are working not with “cold” materials like an architect does (No offense, believe me, I have often thought about going back for an M.Arch as well), but with the living earth and nature.  And you aren’t taming nature in some god-complex way, but working with nature.  Trying to find ways to create a design that will look amazing both the day you install it, 30 years down the road when the trees finally are reaching maturity, and 50 years in when things want to get overgrown.  Finding those balances, and designing so that nature will HELP the development of your design instead of hurting it is an amazing challenge.  I also brought my LOVE of all things technological to the field, including a love of 3D Studio Max rendering and photoshop.

Now I am in a VERY different place.  I am no longer in Chicago (Hello Queens, NY!), and, after getting laid-off in August of 2008, I have yet to find another position in the field.  This has been a very sharply double edged sword.  First, I realize that while, yes, I do LOVE videogames, I don’t really want to be a developer- I just want to be a landscape architect.  And yes, I had time (while working 30 hours a week at Best Buy) to create a new rendering style, combining the depth that photoshop gives with the life that hand line-work gets, and I am now learning Thea and Rhino.  But it is really all in the effort to try to get that extremely illusive job that fits me, a non-entry level, non-mid-level person with 9 months experience in a field that was definitely hit by the recession, or even a contract gig doing a few renderings for a firm that maybe would mean I can stop working retail.

For the time being, however, here I am.  I’m playing the few select games I have cash to spend for.  I’m playing some of them on a 360 that my AMAZING former Best Buy coworkers in Chicago bought for me, and others on a PS3 I got on Metal Gear 4′s midnight launch (which has since yellow lighted, and been replaced thanks to Best Buy’s Black Tie Protection, minus all my saves), and a few on the Wii I bought on launch day.  I listen to Beyond, Scoop, and Knockin’ boots every week (Knockin’ boots is the new Love-line), and Voice Chat on occasion (Matt and Bozon are still that podcast to me, and I can’t get around that, sorry Craig and koopa-lings).

In terms of my gaming background, my first gaming memory is playing “alpiner” on a TI-99 back in the Early 90′s on vacation in Duluth MN.  I then played “Sopwith” on my Dad’s PC in 1986ish (I’m 29), and soon graduated to an NES, complete with Power-Pad.  I was instantly hooked as a Nintendo Fanboy.  I stayed loyal all the way through the GameCube years (RE4, Metroid Prime, and Rouge Squadron were AMAZING), and it was only in 2005 when I finally got a non-nintendo system, the PS2.  I got it for DDR, and stayed for the GT4, Burnout, and Guitar Hero.  As I said, I now am lucky enough to have all three major systems, along with a DS and a PSP (2000).  Metal Gear, inFamous, Uncharted, LBP, Mass Effect, Red Dead, Zelda, Endless Ocean, and No More Heros are my favorite franchises from this generation.

In the morning I have to learn another 100 pages of Rhino, and tweak fonts on my resume (welcome to the life of a designer who is under-employed), and my martini buzz is wearing off, so I’ll leave this post at that. Hopefully you will see more of me, and with better news on the employment front soon.  Until then, take the time to sit and listen to some good music.  Seriously. Find some good headphones (throw the earbuds away, your Mom and Dad might have some decent stuff), put on a good CD (MP3′s sound flat and bassy), I recommend Feel Good Ghosts by Cloud Cult, or Eraser by Thom York,  and just LISTEN.  Sit in a comfortable chair, put your phone down, and enjoy the music for what it is.  An experience.







An Introduction…

8 06 2009

As a quick introduction, my name is Frank.  I’m all-but-thesis for my Masters of Landscape Architecture from UMass-Amherst (I defend September 14th).  Along with loving design, I am a huge techie.  This blog will have posts about everything from critiques of Landscape Architecture projects, to reviews of games, to my thoughts on the newest gadgets (I NEED the new Pre to come to Verizon NOW by the way.)

I will post many more things in the near future, and hope to hear from you soon!  I really do appreciate an open dialog, so If you disagree with an opinion I have, or have some criticism of a rendering technique I’m trying out, please, let me know.

Hand And Photoshop Plan