the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

New Box

Posted by Jeff Id on October 21, 2009

Computers are getting pretty powerful these days. I just ordered a video card with 192 separate processors on it. In my company we do a bunch of raytracing which is a form of calculation for optics design. We write our own software so it will allow us to cram huge numbers of rays through different designs. My work computer just completely died. It was 3 ish years old and it was a motherboard or CPU that went so it means new computer. Honestly, I hate spending the money and the time involved in building another but this is what we chose.

From NewEgg:

1 MEM 2Gx3|KST KHX2000C9D3T1K3/6GX R – Retail

2 HD 640G|WD WD6401AALS % – OEM

1 CASE CM|RC-690-KKN1-GP BK RT – Retail


1 CPU AMD|PH II X4 955 3.2G AM3 R – Retail

1 VGA GIGABYTE|GV-N26SO-896I GTX260 R – Retail

1 PSU CORSAIR|CMPSU-650HX 650W RT – Retail



In addition we bought a NEC 24″ monitor which will be nice for cad work. I’m most excited about working with massive parallel processing. We were forced to go with Vista. At least it comes with the Windows 7 um ….upgrade. I was still using 2000 professional and was probably one of the last 4 people on earth to switch from DOS but am now forced to change.

24 Responses to “New Box”

  1. rephelan said

    Bigger hard drives. I’m already doing several terrabytes and I’m not even a business.

  2. ThomasL said

    Windows 2000 was great, but XP, Vista, and now W7 are all better for SMP. I don’t mean massively (though W7/2K8R2 is now able to handle up to 256 per node), but even on the small x2-x4 scale like your new 955.

    XP introduced some important improvements related to spin locks, Vista to memory/heap management, and now W7 to the kernel dispatcher lock (not really noticeable on less than 64-way machines though).

    I was a long term 2000 hold out, and then an XP64 hold out. W7 really is nice, however. I’d upgrade when you can.

  3. Jeff Id said

    Thanks ThomasL I plan to. I bought a laptop for my sis with Vista and it was a good experience. I’ve never had a problem with the machine other than getting her to run her security software the way I want.

  4. hswiseman said

    Another vote for W7 64bit. Samsung F3 Spinpoint terrabyte drive (32mg buffer) is nice and under $100. The new champ in video processing is Radeon 5870. Its in the $500’s. One can crossfire 2×4870 (or SLIx2 of your 260’s for that matter) for about $300 and have a killer for video processing. I’m an intel man (E8400 running OC to 3870 MHz on air cooling, idle under 40C), but your AMD quad is a good chip and will overclock 15-20 percent easily on air cooling with the supplied gigabyte software. Lastly, (unless all your data is networked and backed up by the system) for under $100, get an external sata drive for backups of critical data. Catastrophic data loss is not a question of “if”, rather it is a question of “when”. You have no raid so a dead disk is a dead disk. This makes backup imperative.

  5. Jeff Id said

    #4 I thought I may learn a few things with this thread. Can you use the Radeon for math processing?

    The old box had 5 hard drives two sets of independent mirrored raids and another used for miscellaneous old stuff. This new one will have two main drives partitioned and mirrored with data backup on a second set of 160 Gb mirrored with a remote server for the most important.

    I heard this somewhere:
    Data you only have one copy of is data you don’t care about.

    IMO, throw nothing away.

  6. Jeff Id said

    You know I almost got the Samsung 1TB drive except that it was backordered at newegg. I went with Western Digital again because it was supposed to be the high end version. In the past I’ve built probably 10-15 systems and have had a bit of trouble with WD. The reviews changed my mind this time so I tried again.

  7. Jeff Id said

    Now that I think about it, including family it was probably around 30 systems. Damn I’m getting old.

  8. rephelan said

    I’ve always had good experience with Maxtor drives. WD are OK. I stay away from anything else. Your mother board makes a difference, too. Taiwan-made boards are good…

  9. rephelan said

    Jeff: I’ve built about as many systems since the early…. ahhh.. ferget that part… I started with Apple II clones… anyway… I’ve never, in 30 years, have completely lost data due to hard drive failure. Striped systems are not immune to catastrophic failure, and raid systems often reproduce corrupted data before catastrophic drive failure. If it’s important, back it uo and bulid in reduncay checks that can trigger rolloever to “clean” systems…

  10. BDAABAT said

    Jeff, would also suggest more disk space. Newegg has some WD 1.5 TB drives for $100: although the reviewers don’t recommend these for RAID’d environments.

    BTW: hard drive manufacturers seem to go through cycles… some do well at some times, others develop occasional QC problems. That coupled with the knowledge that all hard drives fail means that if you ask a bunch of people what drive manufacturers they prefer, you’ll get a lot of contradictory responses. Would suggest looking at the most recent reviews at places like Newegg to see what the current experience is. And, assume that no matter what you get will fail, and it will fail at the most inconvenient time. 🙂

    Good luck!


  11. BraudRP said

    Jeff Id #5

    “I heard this somewhere:
    Data you only have one copy of is data you don’t care about.”

    Sometimes two copies isn’t enough.

    The people my agency contracted with for to support our statewide Novell network only used one tape to back up the Schema. The Schema became corrupted, that data was backed up to tape, and a Novell wizard had to be called in to save us.

  12. Skip said

    If you’re looking to do math on the GPU, the stuff Intel’s working on with Larrabee is very interesting. Essentially what they’ve done is added some graphics-specific instructions to the x86 instruction set, and a Larrabee GPU will have 32 or more cores that are essentially pentiums of some flavor. They’re aiming at 2 single-precision teraflops on the GPU. Because it’s x86 it gets to leverage the decade plus of compiler proficiency everyone has, so stuff using it should appear pretty quickly after release.

    Of course, it’s not out yet, but should be early next year. So on your next box…

  13. j ferguson said

    Obvious, but few do it. Once in a while, look at your backups to see what’s there. I have what I think is a pretty good story about a major FDA regualted firm that didn’t if anyone is interested.


  14. Dan Hughes said

    GPU computing:

  15. ThomasL said


    I think only NVidia offers “general use” GPU programming. I understand it to have a fairly steep learning curve, however, so not likely something you’d dive into without a specific task in mind.

    To toss my own vote for HDDs into the list, I vote for Seagate. I have had good experiences with most the brands, but the last time I did some digging into the murky details, Seagate was the only manufacturer that had properly working NCQ support on SATA drives. Everyone advertised NCQ support, it just didn’t function and often degraded performance vs. disabling it. I’m generally a fan of Samsung products–I almost always choose their monitors and DVD drives–but their Spinpoint, while a quiet, speedy drive for single-user use, had singularly poor NCQ support. So poor that performance is significantly improved with NCQ disabled.

    The last time I checked into this was almost 12m ago, however. They may have corrected it since then.

  16. Retired Engineer said

    #15. Ditto on Seagate. Bunch of ’em, no problems. LG monitor. Have had problems with AMD in the past, no current experience. I run an external Raid drive set, 100 baseT. Not super fast, so not good for real time operation, just backups. With an 8mm tape to back that up. Plus a big USB flash backup of critical data. Always with a verify pass. Paranoid? Who, me?

    Full disclosure: I am a charter member of the Paranoid Computer User’s Group. We’ve never held a meeting, for obvious reasons.

    “There are those who make backups, and those who wish they had.”

  17. wattsupwiththat said

    Gee I wish you’d said something before you ordered. I can get all this stuff at distributor prices. Don’t know what you paid, but I can usually do better.


  18. wattsupwiththat said

    BTW if you can return Vista Business, do it. Windows 7 kicks butt. Been using it for several months and it is far more efficient and gets out of the way. Rendering pseeds suffer on Vista, as does your sanity. Vista is a POC.

  19. JLKrueger said

    I’ve recently started experimenting with SSD’s (solid state drives). At the moment a bit pricey per GB, but I suspect the prices will fall fast. I put a 128GB SSD in my laptop, replacing the existing 120GB SATA drive. Phenomenal performance gains. It’s a great way to “ruggedize” a laptop since there’s no platter to worry about. When I get home from Afghanistan I’ll try the same on my desktop system.

    I put the OS and programs on one drive and store data on separate drives. My data drives are mirrored. I create a “ghosted” OS drive monthly with all the updates/changes (more frequently if I’ve made major changes to other hardware or added software). Since the OS drive is the most likely to fail, that gives an instant failsafe to get back up and running quickly.

  20. Jeff Id said

    Solid state drives will be awesome. The speed increase and ruggedness are something I’m looking forward to.

  21. michel said

    The answer is Debian. Tell me again what the question was?

  22. ThomasL said


    HDD performance and reliability can be very dodgy under Linux. Don’t take me wrong, I use Linux basically all day every day (CentOS in my case), but you have to plan for it. WD drives have had notorious problems under Linux — through firmware/OS incompatibilities they don’t rest the heads properly and you’ll do 5y worth of wear and tear in 6-9mo. The 300G WD Raptors also have an evil firmware bug which can cause data corruption every ~60 days if you don’t fully power down the box and restart it (a counter roles over, and can corrupt any write going on at the time).

    Lots of other mfgs. have similar problems with Linux and their SATA drives. Seagate has had problems with power saving, where the drives go to sleep and don’t wake up, or don’t go to sleep at all.

    My personal theory is that the drive mfgs. only test their enterprise drives (SAS, SCSI) with Linux, not any of their mainstream ones, which is how this stuff gets through unnoticed.

  23. rob said


    I buy my computers on a six year cycle. When I buy, I reach out as far as I can, but never to the leading edge – too much turbulence there. My current computer is three years old and I had it custom built for about $3,000, dual AMD 2-core Processors. Bench marked it against the thousands of “Gamer” machines at some site used for that and I had the 15th fastest PC in the country. A month or so later I checked, the Intel Core-2’s had come out and my machine was ranked somewhere around the 25,000th. The computer will still be good for several more years.

  24. Not Sure said

    I bought one of those new-fangled Intel Core i7 4-way chips lately. It kicks butt. Intel mobo I got with it was not so nice, however. Has some PCIe issue with my nVidia card, so I had to plug my ATI into this box. I still need to file a bug on that PCIe thing.

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