Monday, July 18, 2011

A New (egg) PC - update!

This is a breakdown of my next PC, built entirely from components listed on The quick view: Shuttle XPC SH67H3 with Intel Core i5-2405S / 16GB DDR3-1333 / 128 GB SSD / 2000GB HDD / 3D-ready BDRE.

For the past three years, my mainstay desktop has been the Acer Aspire x1200 that I bought from Best Buy. I started with the pre-installed Microsoft Windows Vista, and went through several flavors of Linux, some months with Windows Server 2008 R2, and currently have it settled back into Vista. I had purchased an HP Mini 210 netbook back when netbooks were still under $300, and that currently lives with my mother. From a Craigslist find, I now operate a Toshiba Satellite E1405 that I absolutely love (backlit keys FTW). So I've got a three-year-old desktop, and a three-year-old laptop. I think that if I want to get serious about home-brew development or computing, I need to jump into the next generation of components, so I've put together a wishlist of sorts that I hope to fill out.

Case - Shuttle XPC SH67H3 delivered
I like the small-but-completeness of my Acer. I don't plan on gaming a lot, so don't need room and power for 500W of triple-card-SLI. This little case is larger than a mini PC or nettop, but seems to have a lot of the components for a couple years of future proofing. Off the bat, I should notice a difference with the leap from DD
R2-667 to DDR3-1333. I like the reviews that Shuttle's XPC line tends to get, and I am attracted to the fact that this is a custom motherboard, built for this case. That fact should take the guess work out of pairing motherboards to cases to power supplies. Oh, and USB3.0 and eSATA 6Gbps to boot.

Processor - Intel Core i5 2405SIntel Pentium G620T delivered
A true next-generation processor. It seems like the price has come down on the new Core line-up since their introduction in 2010, but I haven't really been paying attention. I'm looking forward to four cores. I considered the Core i7 2600 processor, but didn't think that the extra execution threads offered by Intel's Hyper-Threading would be worth the price premium - especially if the same differences are expected as the previous Core i models. Also, the 2405S model reduces the power consumption of my little rig.
Alas, I have to draw the line somewhere. Not putting all my eggs in one basket, I am going to exploit the LGA1155 socket and go with a bargain processor for the time being. Until I spring for the i5, I will run a modest dual core Intel Pentium G620T. Nothing to shake a stick at, either. This is not your grandma's Pentium; it's more like a Core 2 Duo+. Virtualization, check. SSE 4.1/4.2, check. Fancy new Quick Sync and other Visual Technology.. gotta wait for the Core i5.
Todo item #1: Upgrade the Pentium G620T to the Core i5-2405S

RAM - ADATA 8GB (2x4GB), 8GB delivered
The motherboard on the Shuttle XPC supports a maximum 16GB (4GBx4 slots). And, no, you cannot put 8GB DIMMs into each of the slots, here. A limitation, sure, but not one that I will lose sleep over. A quick check of the processor page for the 2405S reveals that ECC is not supported, so that makes that choice for me. Ideally, I want to amp it up to full power, with 16 gigs, but for now I will go halfway, and get the other two sticks later. I chose the ADATA because they are listed on the motherboard compatibility list. You may notice that the ADATA DDR3-1600 memory was also listed, so why did I not choose the faster memory? The strength of a chain.. the speed of a system..
Todo item #2: Upgrade the system RAM from 8GB to 16GB

Storage - Crucial M4 SSD 128GB, Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB
Another couple of todo items, I really want to get in the saddle of a good SSD, and the M4 has received high marks, already. The Shuttle is advertised as supporting two hard drives and an optical drive. I already do a lot of system disk separation on the Acer Aspire X1200, so I'd love to see how fast the OS and Program Files speed up with the supersonic combo of an SSD and SATA 6Gbps. For the spinning disk, I want fast, and large. I'm tired of succumbing to the bottleneck of 5400 RPM drives. And I haven't filled my existing 1TB drive, yet, so 2TB is new enough, and should last long enough for my tastes. And, if I don't like it, I can utilize eSATA and USB 3.0 for decent throughput of new external devices. For now, I will transplant my Seagate 1TB drive from the Acer into the Shuttle.
Todo item #3: Implant a Crucial M4 128GB SSD, and migrate the system or reinstall
Todo item #4: Use a 2TB Seagate Barracuda XT 7200RPM drive for storage

Optical - Lite-on Blu-ray burner with 3D Playback
Ok, I don't even have a single Blu-ray drive right now. Nor do I have a 3D display. Why the heck would I need this? Because it looks cool, and BDRE/display prices might come down in 3 years. But yeah, it's a bit much. I've got a decent SATA DVD burner that will do the trick for now.
Todo item #5: Blu-ray burner!!

Graphics - Intel HD Graphics 3000
I didn't even realize that the new 2405S included a better graphics die than its higher-watted counterpart when I chose the processor. Bonus. I will remain with the integrated graphics for now, but the Shuttle SH67H3 provides plenty of room (literally) to upgrade later should I decide to do so. If I remain with the Pentium for any length of time, I may consider a low-end graphics card such as the NVidia GT 430, if the on-die doesn't cut it. But, in doing so, I'll have to keep mind a few things: 1) Any discrete graphics card that isn't better than the HD Graphics 3000 plus Intel Visual Technology will effectively increase the cost of upgrading the processor, and 2) I'm working with a stock 300W power supply, and will have to take care not to overshoot my load draw too much current. The 35W TDP of the Pentium should help provide breathing room for any graphics options.

Other Considerations
Audio - We'll have to see how the onboard Realtek ALC888 performs. Particularly when using the optical connector. Expect updates/reviews.
Media Cards - There's no integrated media card reader - something I've come to enjoy about the Acer and the Toshiba. However, this could be a good thing, if I want to make sure I have SDXC support, and boot-from-SD (which the Toshiba does not have, sadly).
Noise - I'll have to report on the fan situation, but hopefully my lower-watt choices will keep the system overall cooler and quieter.

Thank you,!

Other Thoughts (NEW)
The Operating System - Ok, so I'm on my way to a shiny new computer, but what do I install? I have a copy of Windows XP 64-bit, that I'll probably install to a partition or VM, and I've got a noncommercial edition of Server 2008 R2 kicking around. And of course, dozens of nixes to sample. Anyone want to donate Microsoft Windows 7 Professional?

Maxwell Bloch is a technology enthusiast who lives in Washington, D.C., and currently works as a software developer in Baltimore, Maryland. Look out for his review of his new Shuttle XPC! Subscribe today!

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