- Not Intel graphics. Intel does many things right. 3D graphics is not any of them. Once upon a time, a 3D game developer wrote in a Slashdot comment I can't find any more that "we benchmarked Intel graphics, and it was faster to render in software". They've gotten better. They still suck.
- As inexpensive as possible. As I mentioned in my opening post, I'm not made of money.
- At least 30 FPS speed on Second Life in a scene with reasonable complexity on High graphics.
Then my roommate reminded me of his Toshiba laptop in the kitchen. It's based on the AMD A6-3420M processor with graphics built in, in that case AMD 6520. It performs surprisingly well for such a low-end machine. That got me thinking about AMD APUs. The top of the line at the time, the A8-3870K, has AMD 6550 graphics, and that seemed from the benchmarks I saw to perform pretty well...but not as well as the GTX 550. I was dithering back and forth about it for a week or so, not sure if I wanted to go ahead, and doubtful if it had the performance I wanted. I put together a wishlist at Newegg, just to keep track, and it came in at $467.
Then I saw reviews of the AMD Trinity APUs. The A10-5800K, in particular, has a significant jump in graphics performance with its AMD 7660 graphics engine, and the CPU power bump isn't bad either, since it's based on the Piledriver architecture. They looked nice, enough that I held off. Then last Tuesday, I saw that Newegg had the Trinity APUs, so I checked - and I could build a system based on the A10-5800K for $487. I pulled the trigger.
Newegg shipped me everything but the CPU and hard disk to arrive last Friday. The last two pieces came yesterday. Here's what's in the box:
- AMD A10-5800K APU (what AMD calls their CPU/graphics processor combination).
- ASRock FM2A75-Pro4M motherboard. It's an A75 (Hudson-D3)-based motherboard, instead of the A85 that AMD recommends for the A10, but I couldn't justify the extra $50 for an A85-based motherboard when all I could see it would get me was two more SATA channels.
- G.Skill Sniper Series DDR3-1866 RAM, 2x4GB. There's a bewildering array of RAM from this vendor; I lost count of how many different series there were. I finally wound up going "eenie, meenie, minie, mo".
- Hitachi GST Deskstar 7K1000.D 1 TB SATA 6 GB/s hard disk. I'm a little nervous about this one, considering the negative reviews, but in the end I decided to go with it anyway: the reviews are all for drives purchased a while ago, and nothing for newer ones.
- FSP Group FSP450-60GHS(85)-R 450W power supply. This seemed as good a choice as any, and you do usually get what you pay for in power supplies.
- Xigmatek Gaia SD1283 CPU cooler. My roommate has three of these, and loves them. It does a great job of keeping the CPU nice and cool, quietly. The gotcha is that it's big: you need at least a 7.5 inch case width to fit it.
- Rosewill R-101-P-BK Micro ATX mid-tower case. I'd originally wanted a mini-tower, but wound up going with this one because of the cooler I picked.
- ASUS DRW-24B1ST 24x SATA DVD burner. Needed a SATA optical drive, this one was there and cheap. I doubt I'll ever burn anything on this system.
The one exception to things going easily was the CPU cooler. The one downside to that otherwise fantastic $20 cooler is that the instructions are confusing and just plain wrong. They don't include the pieces they say that are needed for AMD processors. Fortunately, the pieces they do include will work, as I discovered once I got frustrated with looking and started piddling around.
The processor and hard disk arrived yesterday, and went in fairly easily as well. Once it was all in place, the system came right up. I didn't tweak much in the BIOS, but if I wanted to, the ASRock's UEFI BIOS seems like it'll make that job pretty simple.
Overall, I'm happy with the hardware. Lots of the usual petty annoyances that went with building up a system in days of yore are history. It's still not a job for the uninitiated without some good docs and probably some one-on-one handholding the first time around, but it's not bad.
Of course, it's not as simple as a Mac. Then again, I doubt a comparable system could be purchased already built for anything approaching that price, either. It also doesn't do as well as Apple in the industrial design department, but then, nothing out there does.
With the hardware built, it was time to shift focus to the software. That's the next post.