Building a kiloBuck PC

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Building a kiloBuck PC

Postby tmakogon » Fri Jun 25, 2004 2:31 pm

Part 1. Building a kiloBuck PC

The wheels started to fall off my PC. Literally. The CD wouldn't close and the whole thing is just old. I have -drumroll- a '96 Acer Aspire with AMD K6-200 and a whopping 80MB (upgraded over time from a 120 MHz Pentium and 8 MB) that runs Quake, DukeNukem3D and Myst with its on-board ATI Mach64, but nothing faster. It serves me well, and I intend to keep it running, but progress must happen. So I set out to build me a kiloBuck PC that would be at least 10 times faster. That should be easy, knowing what is in the old one. Also, it has to be overclockable, and nothing does that better than AMD64. Then, it has to run some decent games. Finally, it has to last me another ten years. :(

Over the past week or so I ordered components for the kiloBuck PC.
I give a huge praise to Their delivery is lightning-fast (1 day FedEx) and price is super-low. :D I will be browsing them again.

Here's what I am getting:

If the figures in the list below get censored or garbled, see a copy on my site

case______Antec Overture_______79.96____97.15_______
cpu_______Athlon 64 3000+______220_____ 220 ________
board_____Chaintech VNF3-250___69______ 82.48_______
HDD______Two 36G WD Raptors___218_____ 218________ ... ode=101221
RAM______two 512 DDR500 4ns___202_____ 202_________ ... 20-156-012
DVDR_____Emprex 8xDVD+-RW____70______75.78________fry's electronics
keyb______wireless_____________10______ 10.83________fry's electronics
mouse_____wireless_____________5_______ 5.41_________fry's electronics
floppy______1.44MB_____________8_______ 8.66_________fry's electronics
video_______ATI 9600 256MB_____69_______77.28________ ... G-ATI-0028

Computer subtotal____________950.96___997.59

UPS________350VA UPS__________25______27.06________fry's electronics
DVDRW_____25 DVD+RW disks____19.99____21.64________fry's electronics
Game_______FarCry_____________0_______ 0 ___________
OS_________Windows XP64_______0________7 ___________


I figure that the key to overclocking is fast memory. Once you push that limit, everything else stops. I chose Kingmax Hardcore PC4000, DDR500 modules with 4.1 nanosecond chips. Plus, with the two 512MB sticks I will have one socket left for the future gigabyte stick, when they become available in 4 ns.

Next is the motherboard. Chaintech VNF-3 got positive review from Anandtech and should support 1000 MHz Front-Side Bus. Will see how and if it does.

Then is the CPU. Here it’s a gamble. Technically it may be possible to push this AMD64-3000+ to 2.5 GHz, but I don’t have nor plan to buy a water cooler for that. I expect to squeeze at least 2.1 out of it. Anything more would be a boon.

Hard disks make or break a fast PC. There is a huge difference in SCSI-based unit I have at work and EIDE in my home machine. I hope to approach the SCSI speeds with the two SATA Raptors running in striped RAID. Just two days ago Chaintech posted instructions on how to install XP on the RAID, which should help me with Part 2 of this project.

A nice case with a good power supply can make life a lot easier. Antec Overture desktop/tower convertible with the 380W TruePower fits both the bill and the purpose. It is only 1/2-inch taller than my Aspire desktop, yet houses a full-size ATX mobo and has 7 drive bays. A winning combination in my view.

The rest, including DVDRW, FDD, mouse, keyboard, UPS and video card were of less importance to me. It shows in my choices. That’s where I compromised to stay within the budget. Still, I hope to get decent (over 30 fps) frame-rates in 1280x1024 out of this seventy-buck 9600 Radeon with its DirectX9 and OpenGL2 support. A Guru3D review suggests that I would. If not, I can always get fifty bucks back as trade-in credit from ATI. It would be interesting to see if I can run it any faster than the stock 400 MHz with 256MB of the 5 nanosecond video RAM with the older Catalyst 3.4 drivers rumored to allow that.

One place where any compromise is undesirable is the monitor. You get 99 percent of information from the PC through it, and besides your chair it is the only thing that can make a computer comfortable. I intend to keep using the 19-inch flat panel that I got from OfficeDepot for four hundred bucks on Thanksgiving. Since I have been using it with my old PC, I did not add it up.

Software came free. Microsoft gives away -GASP- :o XP64 Preview edition, and I plan to try it out. After my CDRW bugged out on me, I had to pay Bill $7 for postage to ship me a copy of the disk. FarCry came bundled with the AMD64 promo, and L64 can be had from RedHat.

All in all, the cost of hardware came to nine-ninety-seven after tax and shipping. Hence the $1024 kiloBuck goal was met. Throw in a few extras such as a UPS, and I am $1053 poorer.

Part 2. Assembling the thing
coming next week

Part 3. To the max (overclocking) under XP, XP64, 98SE, L64
see in a fortnight

P.S. I searched Google for the term "kilobuck PC" and found nothing. Hope you like it. :idea:
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Postby Sabrewings » Fri Jun 25, 2004 3:17 pm

So, you're just showing this to us and not asking anything? Okay, sounds cool.
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Part 2. Assembling a kiloBuck PC

Postby tmakogon » Fri Jul 09, 2004 2:50 pm

Part 2. Assembling a kiloBuck PC

Well, the kiloBuck PC is up and running. The last component, RAM came in few days ago, and by the weekend I got around to installing the OS.

Hardware assembly went well. Two hickups were casused by me not building a machine since '94: first, FDD light stayed on as I flipped the cable, and second, RAM chip mark confusion was caused by me thinking that the last digit still represents refresh rate in nanoseconds. Well, the FDD cable got flipped back, and a visit to revealed that their chips' speeds are marked with letters and/or numbers not related directly to nanoseconds. Mine were HynixD5, which I interpreted as 5-ns DDR400, but turned out to be the correct 4-ns DDR500.

A quick tune in BIOS from 2000 to 2500MHz revealed stability to 2530 with one DDR, and 2490 with both DDRs installed. Voltages left in Auto. Going to 2550 locked up the BIOS, and I had to reset the CMOS memory. I only went as high as 80 MHz in AGP, and didn't try to go any higher. With XP64 the system is stable. At 2GHz Sciencemark2 MD got done in 93.9 seconds, and Cipher in 14.3 sec.

1. I can't believe how quiet those 10,000 RPM Raptors are. My quiet desk fan is louder than these drives, and the CPU fan is louder than my desk fan. And that's with the case cover off. Probably, the sound-absorbing rubber mounts that came with the Antec Overture case do help.
2. Fast. Up to 23 times faster at 2GHz than my AMD-K6-233.
3. Can run even faster.
4. XP64 doesn't see the LPT port or the sound. We'll see if XP will.

And my trusty Acer Aspire is getting promoted to the living room. Aspire was the first designer PC case (before iMac) that didn't look boxy, and it still looks good. It just became a HDTV receiver with the addition of a Hauppauge card, and we can now watch TV in HD.

Part 3 with a review of real MD tests and regular 32-bit XP is coming soon.

Oh, yes, FarCry didn't run under XP64 either.
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Postby Ghen » Fri Jul 09, 2004 3:02 pm

Farcry came with? The full version? Thats not right..
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Postby whale » Sat Jul 10, 2004 12:23 am

which card did you use to set-up your living room system?
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Postby tmakogon » Wed Jul 21, 2004 7:31 pm

The card is Hauppauge WinTV-D.
It has on-board processing so the CPU isn't a bottleneck and the TV-out keeps on going even if windows hangs. It works stable after I loaded three updated drivers as instructed by their website. It has both composite and SVHS video output so it can be watched on a HD or a regular TV, although it looks best on a VGA flatscreen. Also has a Dolby 5-channel decoder with 5 individual RCA outputs, as well as a composite video +2-channel audio input for capturing external video sources. Has 2 tuner connectors so it can receive from cable and TV antenna or any other combination of 2 cable-like inputs. For $65 (on ebay) it's a good card.
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Building a kilobuck PC

Postby tmakogon » Wed Sep 15, 2004 8:35 am

Part 3. To the max

Well, the system is running stable and I'm happy with it.
It's been a while since my previous post as I got pulled into the FarCry and spent a month on it, but more on that later.

The 2500 MHz configuration is stable under all OS that I tried, including XP Pro, XP64, Linux Fedora Core 2-64. Haven't got to install W98SE on it, but sure it would run stable as well.

On startup screen the CPU speed shows as 2510 MHz, but that indicates a real speed of only 2500. The DRAM speed shows as 500 MHz.

To get all the OS to be stable I changed all settings in BIOS. Don't need to use ClockGen or other utilities to tweak it.

The BIOS settings are as follows:
CPU: 250MHz x10, AGP: 67MHz, RAM max clock: 200.
Voltages are: CPU: 1.7, AGP: 1.6, DIMM: 2.8, Chipset: 1.7
RAM settings were the key, and I will list all combinations I tried below. But first what works well:
CAS, tRCD, tRAS, tRP, timing are 3-4-8-4-2T

Benchmarks with other RAM settings (all with 2500 MHz CPU) from Sandra 2004.109.133 (September version) and Sciencemark 2.0 listed as Sandra's CPU in MIPS, FPU in MFLOPS, memory throughput in MB/s, and ScienceMark's CipherBench time in seconds

Ram Speed, CAS, tRCD, tRAS, tRP, timing - CPU, FPU, RAM, Cipher
in WinXP
500-3-5-10-5-2T - 11466/5111/3306/10.74
500-2.5-3-7-3-2T - crash
500-2.5-4-8-4-2T - 11466/5135/3322/10.80
500-2.5-4-10-4-2T - 11466/5136/3321/10.81
500-3-4-10-4-2T - 11466/5135/3320/10.71
500-2.5-3-8-3-2T - crash
500-3-4-10-4-1T - crash
500-3-4-10-4-2T+Hypertransport 5x instead of 4x - crash

in WinXP64
500-3-4-10-4-2T - 11557/5177/3321/11.65
500-3-4-8-4-2T - 11559/5180/3327/11.51

As you see, the XP64 runs 1% faster in Sandra, but 10% slower in Sciencemark. Sciencemark is more important to my purposes for this PC.
Any other RAM settings make a difference far less than 1%, so I recommend setting RAM to a high stable value of timing for crash-free operation.

FarCry performance was measured with HardwareOC FarCry 1.3 benchmarking tool in 1280x1024 max detail mode.
With ATI drivers ver.4.8 In Hardware PCTech sequence it measured 20.0 FPS, and in Training sequence it measured 19.0 FPS.
With newly released ATI drivers ver. 4.9 the graphics was extremely slow and the HardwareOC tool didn't run. I recommend not to install this new driver for this video card.
In real gameplay I used stable ATI driver ver. 4.6. FarCry was a trye eyecandy all the way, with no visible framerate slowdowns, so I estimate around 20-30 FPS. The game is very playable and graphics is outstanding.
The only framerate slowdowns were in binocular +infrared goggles on, down to about 15-20 FPS.
My settings were:
Resolution - 1280x1024x32
Even with all settings maxed out the Radeon9600 managed 5 FPS in real play, which is not really playable. However, the crispness of all images competely filtered and antialiased distracted from the game. Lighting in the maxed-out settings was less natural (didn't vary with distance) than in the high-mid settings play, which also distracted from the game.
So I recommend setting the texture and water quality to highest marks and relaxing the rest. Besides, who can tell 30FPS from 130FPS as the human eye can only recognize flicker in 25 FPS or less. Water looks very real in this game, and I appreciate what all the 256MB and 4 graphics pipelines are donig in this video card.

Now I am back to XPPro, running DRAM at 500-3-4-8-4-2T and CPU at 2500, air-cooled with stock AMD fan at 3500 RPM from 45°C. Oh, yes, I did remove the heatsinks from the DRAM modules when I installed them as they had air gap, barely touching the chips. The pair of Kingmax DDR500(PC4000) 512MB modules operate as promised, and they are the key to successfully running this system at 2.5 GHz.

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Postby whale » Wed Sep 15, 2004 3:18 pm

looks like you ended up with a very sweet system :mrgreen: :twisted: :wink: congratulations :D
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Postby spb251272 » Thu Sep 16, 2004 3:43 am

It's good to hear you getting such good results from this setup!

I have the same RAM as you, and am just about to go for an A64 3200+. This is looking very good for the a64's overclocking abilities!

It's also great how you've detailed the bios settings, as this can be a good starting point for other people (like myself :D )

Have you tried doom 3 yet?

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Postby tmakogon » Fri Sep 17, 2004 9:41 pm

Doom3 sure sounds attractive, but right now I am saturated from FarCry. I'll wait until someone comes up with a 3D surround gameplay. Wonder if there's a way to run FarCry with 3D glasses.
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