Christmas 2011 PC for Wife

Adcadet

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Hey Guys,
My wife finally started to complain about the speed of her 3.5 year old computer, a Core 2 Duo E7200 Wolfdale 2.53GHz with 2 GB of RAM. She is generally very patient with her computer, and most of what she does is web-based and Photoshop. I grimmace when I type this, but her method of editing pictures (sometimes >20 at at time) is to open ALL of them at once and then edit them one at a time. I suspect she'd do really well with a simple RAM upgrade, but she hates having her computer worked on so I'd prefer to just do a major rebuild rather than small incremental upgrades. I also think she doesn't know what she's missing with modern computer equipment (mostly an SSD). She was the same way with an iPhone (hated the idea of switching from her old dumb phone, didn't think she'd use any features, now she loves it). Thus, for Christmas I'd like to build her a new PC. This would likely run stock (no over clocking), and stability is a must.

I'd like to re-use some parts I have, including
- an Antec P180 case
- a FSP Group FSP400-60THN 400W power supply
- her mechanical hard drives (maybe 1.5 TB over 3 drives)

At this point I'm wondering about a few things:

- CPU. It looks like Llano is pretty far behind the Sandy Bridge chips, even the i3's (http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/foru...a8-3850-apu-review-llano-hits-desktop-15.html). Bulldozer seems rather slow in Photoshop (http://www.anandtech.com/show/4955/the-bulldozer-review-amd-fx8150-tested/7). Any reason to look at anything but the Sandy Bridge i3's?

- GPU. At this point she does no gaming, but I could see her eventually trying a simple game or two. The Windows Aero desktop likes a GPU from what I've heard. She's still using Photoshop CS2, and I can't find a definitive answer as to whether a dedicated GPU vs an Intel 2000 vs Intel 3000 vs something else would be utilized in Photoshop. She has an old Radeon 3450 and I have an old GeForce 7900 GS that I could put in the box if it would help.

- RAM - I'm thinking 8-16 GB given prices. 16 GB for $100 given how she uses Photoshop seems like a reasonable thing.

- SSD. I'd like to get her into an SSD, as I think she doesn't know what she's missing. For an OS she probably only needs 40-60 GB. I guess I could recycle my Intel X25-M-G2 and get a newer model for myself. Or just get her a budget SSD (Crucial M4? I'd prefer to avoid Sandfarce unless the BSOD issues really are cleared up). Does anybody have a current favorite budget SSD?

Any other thoughts?

Thanks!
Adcadet
 

ddrueding

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CS4/5 is required before any GPU acceleration would be used, but any of the new-ish cards can participate. That 7900GS would be fine. 16GB of RAM is a no-brainer, super simple choice.

She absolutely needs an SSD. If you don't want Sandforce take a look at the new Intel 3xx series. They are quite cheap and of a decent capacity. Just remember that the Windows folder alone is quite likely to grow to 80GB+ over time, so a 120GB drive would be a marginally safe choice.
 

CougTek

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Upgrading from a C2D 7200 to a dual-core i3 2100 (or i3 two thousand anything for that matter) isn't worth the investment of a new PC IMO. Go quad core or up. Lots of RAM too. That 16GB you mention? Good idea. Especially since RAM is so cheap right now. Opt for DDR3 1600MHz because the premium over DDR3 1333MHz is small.

Regarding that Windows folder, it won't go anywhere near 80GB or even half that if you just take the time to clean up your drive from time to time. My one-year-old Windows 7 installation, that was originally pre-SP1 and installed on another computer with a different chipset (was on X58, now on P67) is 15GB. My C: drive is 80GB and I still have 26GB free on it. I use it some 10 hours per day and I don't maintain it particularly well IMO. Unless your wife is very dirty (doesn't empty her trash bin, never performs a disk clean and/or is somehow too dumb to use Ccleaner - i.e. not possible otherwise you would not have married her), an 80GB boot drive should be ok. However, since you're a medecine man and therefore earn an indecent amount of money, I figure that you could stretch and fit a 120GB SSD in that box.
 

CougTek

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Or you could just build her a dual core i3 2100 and let her continue opening 20+ pictures at the time. When she'll complain about the speed, just tell her : "See darling, the problem wasn't the PC, it was you".

You haven't been married for that long and you''re not old enough to have a seriously big banking account so divorce won't be that costly.
 

Adcadet

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Hmmmm....
About me: 14.5 years of education post-high school, another 3-4 to go, and until then, I'm earning about what I could make at McDonalds per hour. And I like academic medicine, so I don't ever expect to be able to buy computers with abandon. Regardless, I am blessed.

About my wife: she's reasonably computer literate, and skilled at what she does, but her knowledge of OS issues is limited. On the other hand, I've been living within an X25-M G2 80 GB drive now for about a year, and I'm sure I can help her do the same. A 120 GB drive would be nice for both of us, though, and if it makes my wife's life easier then perhaps its worth it.
 

ddrueding

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I don't know about her, but I love having the space on my SSD to work on my pictures before filing them (makes Adobe Bridge or preview much faster).

Even if all you do is max the memory on the board and drop in a $200 SSD it will make a heck of a difference.
 

Mercutio

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Might as well buy a $200 SSD. The 3TB Hitachi drives I was getting for $110 are selling for $220 on Newegg right now.

I've been suggesting the Xeon E3 + Asus P8B combination for higher-end users. Yes, it's a more expensive than normal motherboard, but I think the argument for an 80W i7-class CPU is pretty damned compelling. I'd rather pay $225 for a workstation board than some blinged-out gamer monstrosity that probably costs the same amount.
 

jtr1962

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From my reading, one of the strengths of Llano is the integrated graphics are good enough to tolerably play many games, 2-3 times better than iCore, and better than just about all integrated motherboard graphics. Downsides are the regular computing performance and to some extent the price. Still, it's an intriguing solution, and maybe next iteration will be more compelling.

At current price points, 16GB of RAM is a no brainer.
 

Adcadet

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I've been using an Asus P8P67 and I don't consider it blinged out. Xeon E3's start at ~$200, that board is $190. My budget is more along the lines of an i3 ($130 perhaps) and an Asus P8H67 for about $105. Especially if I'll spring >$150 for an SSD. I suspect I'll stick with consumer stuff for this build.
 

Adcadet

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I suspect the Intel HD3000, or maybe even 2000, will be good enough for my wife. Not sure how the GeForce 7900GS compares - older tech, but a discrete card with it's own memory. If she did some gaming I'd more seriously look at Llano, but for the same price I can get 33% better Photoshop performance. FM1 motherboards look a little cheaper, though.
 

time

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Photoshop benchmark for 127 different CPUs

That's the maximum improvement you'll see by changing CPUs only. However, in normal use, other aspects of the system can make Photoshop seem slow.

You haven't spelled out which version of Windows you're running, i.e. XP, Vista or Windows 7, 32-bit or 64-bit. Given the age, I'll assume Vista 32-bit. IMO, this is your upgrade priority list:

1. Vista -> Windows 7. Vista, particularly with 2GB, is a complete dog.
2. 32-bit -> 64-bit. No point in going past 3GB RAM unless you do this step.
3. 2GB -> 8GB RAM. Even 4GB will make a big difference. Don't forget that superfluous RAM doesn't achieve anything except decorate your motherboard. Having said that, pricing makes it pointless to consider anything smaller than 2 x 4GB modules.
4. HDD -> SSD. Any SSD will be a huge improvement, but there's a significant step up from 3Gb/s to 6Gb/s SATA models, so I'd look for an M4. If there's a significant discount, the Intel 320 or the original Corsair Force (it's had the benefit of several firmware updates) would be worth considering. Gamers need 120GB, but everyone else can settle for 80GB, or even 60GB if the price is great - see CougTek's comments.
5. Core2 -> i3/i5. Most expensive part of the upgrade because you're also replacing the motherboard. Only consider this after you've budgeted for everything else. It's probably not worth paying the extra for HD3000 graphics - you can always use a separate card.

I would focus on the cheapest i3 (2100), the cheapest i5 (2300), or the best value i5 (2400). According to the Photoshop benchmark, the last option will buy you another 40% performance over the first for an extra $65. Four cores are a handy investment once you allow for background tasks like antivirus software.

If you do buy a motherboard, don't forget to make sure it includes USB 3.0.
 

Adcadet

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Time, thank yo for the wonderful comments. She's already using Windows 7 64 bit. I think the debate is do I do just a RAM and SSD upgrade or go for the full chip/motherboard/RAM + SSD route. I'm leaning towards the later.

And I definitely want USB3. I have two external USB3 drives that I really like, and it would be nice to use them on her PC.
 

Adcadet

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The other big question then is GPU. So what would give better performance in Windows 7 and Photoshop (CS2, unlikely to upgrade anytime soon), Intel's HD2000, Intels HD3000, or my old GeForce 7900GS (which I believe only does DX9)? I hate the idea of slapping a big, power hungry card into an otherwise small, quiet, efficient PC unless there will be a real benefit. Would $30-40 for a fanless 5450 be a reasonable thing?
 

Chewy509

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I don't have a definitive answer on the Intel gfx vs external gfx, however you must remember that any integrated gfx solution will be sharing memory bandwidth between itself and the CPU to main memory, as well as using your main memory as frame buffer and texture memory. (ie slow compared even to your current 7900GS).

Hence a discrete gfx card is always the better option... If you have the $40 to spare, then yes, the fanless 5450 is an option.
 

time

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I'm not aware of any limitations using HD2000 for Photoshop - AFAIK Photoshop didn't even use 3D acceleration until CS4. Keep your powder dry, you very probably don't need a separate video card.

In 3D acceleration terms, the 5450 is comparable to HD3000.

Chewy, I'm under the impression that the Sandy Bridge IGPs utilize the L3 cache for some of their memory needs - presumably that includes frame buffer at least.
 

Chewy509

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Chewy, I'm under the impression that the Sandy Bridge IGPs utilize the L3 cache for some of their memory needs - presumably that includes frame buffer at least.

Hi time,

Do you have a reference for that? (Sounds like an interesting concept). Certainly the cost of on memory performance with IGPs isn't as bad as previous generations (notably something like the i810 chipset was extremely bad), but it's a cost that is still there.

Anyway, some quick math shows:

Scree res = (as an axample) 1920 x 1080 = 2073600 pixels * 4 bytes = 8294400 bytes = 7.9MB for the raw frame buffer alone.

Since Win7 uses a compositing screen architecture, each window will have it's own framebuffer allocated, so possibly with 7 applications open, you could be using 64MB** of memory just for raw frame buffers (add more RAM if using double/triple buffering).

** 7 user apps + 1 background (for dwm) = 8 apps * 8MB = 64MB.
 

sechs

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AFAIK Photoshop didn't even use 3D acceleration until CS4. Keep your powder dry, you very probably don't need a separate video card.
Without acceleration, the only major concerns are IQ and price. The CPU is going to be doing most of the work.
 

time

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Chewy:

Second bullet point in this Wikipedia article says:
Shared L3 cache includes the processor graphics (LGA 1155)

Second last paragraph of first page of this Lost Circuits article says:
In the case of Sandy Bridge, this is the last level cache or LLC that takes over as local frame buffer.

FWIW, I think he's wrong and you're right regarding the frame buffer being too big for the L3 cache, but I know diddly squat about frame buffer implementations. However, you appear to be mistaken regarding the amount of video RAM required by Windows 7. From the second paragraph of the Redirection section in this Wikipedia article:
Without DWM, the rendering rasterizes the UI in a buffer in video memory, from where it is rendered to the screen. Under DWM, a buffer equal to the size of the window is allocated in system memory. (my emphasis)
 

Chewy509

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@time,

Thanks for the info on L3. I was interested how they got such a performance improvement over previous generations of IGPs. Also it would make since to use L3 especially for the video decoding acceleration as well...

Re: DWM. I was under the impression (and this was discussed at the Win 7 launch party at TechEd a few years ago), that when DWM renders your screen, for each application it creates the view you see as a texture in system RAM. (Like your article mentions). But then the texture is then sent to the gfx card, and using DirectX the texture is drawn to screen. (Think like any 3D accelerated architecture, the textures are stored in gfx DRAM, and the you just instruct the gfx card to render texture at x,y,z co-ords and your done).

Maybe the info discussed at TechEd was incorrect or presented poorly/incorrectly and I misunderstood?
 

time

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Based on the described usage patterns and the 2.5GB RAM limitation of CS2, Photoshop will spend too much time bogged down in swap to see much benefit from faster filter processing.

As Sechs says, you need to upgrade Photoshop (hence my link), making it 2.5 or 3.5 on the priority list - certainly higher than a CPU upgrade.

That's a pretty good present right there. ;)
 

Handruin

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You can also run the trial of CS5 to make sure it will be of benefit before giving Adobe any money.
 

Santilli

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I guess guys are wired differently then girls, or at least my girlfriend certainly is.

The difference in speed the Vertex Turbo boot drive made over the Raptor made her think I had built her a new computer. Using your X-25 M sounds like a great idea.

The second most important part was the 27" monitor. She LOVED the screen space.
That, a new mouse and keyboard would be my starting points.

I find that women focus more on the things they use daily for a general impression, and put more value on something visual then something inside a box they can't see.

Another possibility is she may not like an upgrade, be it to Photoshop, since she's used to the version she's using.
If those upgrades don't make her happy, and increase her productivity, along with upgrading Photoshop, then I'd start looking at changing the cpu, etc.

The beauty is if these don't do the trick, and delight her, you can carry them over to a new build, or return them.
 

Santilli

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The computer you are talking about upgrading is probably twice as fast as my Dual Xeon rig, at least according to passmark, and 4 times faster, or more, then my HTPC. Either is fine for the kind of stuff you are talking about in Photoshop, at least the old version I'm using.

I wonder if the version of Photoshop and her work habits would benefit from putting the scratch disk on it's own SSD? Or more RAM?
 

Adcadet

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Changing her work habits would be the obvious place to start (opening >20 pictures at a time?!), and yet, the worst place to start. Behavior is hard to change.

DDR2 RAM seem expensive compared to DDR3. I can get 16 GB of DDR3 1600 for <$100, yet DDR2 1066 runs $60 for 2x2 GB. Makes me cringe to put >$50 into memory a generation or two old.

I love the idea of upgrading my SSD (thinking Samsung 830 or Crucial M4) and giving her my Intel X25-M-G2. I'll likely do this at some point.

And of course, a new monitor would be great for her. She insists that she likes her old flat panel. But she insisted that she liked her old "dumb phone" prior to getting an iPhone.
 

Santilli

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I kind of though your board might take the old memory, and, you are going to go through the same thing trying to find ram I did. I'd pass on the ram upgrade, and only do that if
you upgrade the motherboard.

Why not buy, and setup a dual monitor setup, using a 23-27" LCD or LED monitor?
Buy something you'll like if she doesn't, like a 27";-)

I liked my old monitors as well. Only problem was I pretty much wrecked my desk due to the weight of the monitors.

A 27" gives you SO much more room then the old CRT's that you can't help but like it.

I am kind of wondering about the SSD's you mentioned. My experience, limited as it is, is a single SSD, pretty much any of them, are the way to go, and the X-25 M is pretty much THE SSD standard?

I'm not really sure there is an 'upgrade' from there?

I know that with my rig, I don't think I'd be able to tell the difference between the Raid 0 and a single drive. I'm seeing a LOT of small writes to my disk right now. Might want
to have a look at resource monitor and determine if Photoshop is hitting your hard drive and how often.
 

sechs

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And of course, a new monitor would be great for her. She insists that she likes her old flat panel. But she insisted that she liked her old "dumb phone" prior to getting an iPhone.
Well, if it has good color rendition, that would make a lot of sense. At least in the early days of LCDs, it was impossible to get a lot of creative professionals to switch, even for a secondary screen, as the colors did not display true enough.
 

Adcadet

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I am kind of wondering about the SSD's you mentioned. My experience, limited as it is, is a single SSD, pretty much any of them, are the way to go, and the X-25 M is pretty much THE SSD standard?

I'm not really sure there is an 'upgrade' from there?

I know that with my rig, I don't think I'd be able to tell the difference between the Raid 0 and a single drive. I'm seeing a LOT of small writes to my disk right now. Might want
to have a look at resource monitor and determine if Photoshop is hitting your hard drive and how often.

I believe drives like the Crucial M4 (especially with the newer firmwear) and Samsung 830 are significantly faster. Plus, I'd love to have even a little more space.
 

Santilli

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OK:

My experience. Athlon 3800+ dual. HUGE difference with a Vertex Turbo boot drive.

Dual Xeons big difference between SCSI raid and dual Vertex Turbo boot drive.

I'd try a single drive for a boot, SSD, and see how it affects her work.

Or, you could jump on one of those REVO drives.

I do notice that with my older hardware it limits a bunch of stuff: limits through put, limits download and upload speeds.

For example, ping on the beast is 5ms or less, all the time. My dual xeon is almost always a bunch more then that.

Internet speed on the beast will run 70-120 MB/sec.
Dual xeons are half that.

If I'm doing an upgrade, I'm doing a I'd be looking at an i7 2600k, period. 300 bucks, doubles the speed of my stuff in Passmark.
 

Santilli

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Kind of curious at what point she'll even be able to notice the difference in CPU's.

If that's the case, I'd work on things she can see, and appreciate everyday, like a big monitor, or SSD.

Looking at Passmark, your at about 1800 on their numbers, nearly twice my dual xeons.

The SSD's we put in the Xeon box made a huge difference, and, given your system is twice as fast as that box, it should show probably twice as much.

An SSD will double or quad the perception of speed, as well as the reality, compared to a normal boot drive.

The monitor will be looked at everyday, and loved.

The cpu, memory, etc. is all stuff that takes a much bigger increase to really notice
the difference, and, that's my point.

In otherwords, to want to upgrade my Dual Xeon rig, I would want something cpu wise, that gave me at least 2 times, really 4 or 5 times the processor power, otherwise, it's not really noticeable.

So, if you have a 1800 score on passmark, I'm looking in the 5000-6000 range, and, thats at least a i7 920, or better.

Otherwise, why bother? You can get your current computer, with a SSD, to increase speed wise into another time warp.
 
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