Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Building the box

I started out this journey needing to build a machine. Since the primary goal is as a system to run Second Life well, that shaped my choices. The only real requirements were:
  1. 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.
  2. As inexpensive as possible. As I mentioned in my opening post, I'm not made of money.
  3. At least 30 FPS speed on Second Life in a scene with reasonable complexity on High graphics.
I started out looking at conventional boxes: motherboard, PCI-E graphics (I'd settled on an Nvidia GTX 550 at minimum, since my roommate has a box with that that runs fast enough), the whole drill. I wanted as many cores as I could swing on the chance that I wanted to rebuild Firestorm, the Second Life viewer I use. I wound up at over a kilobuck. Blarg. That was more than I really wanted to spend.

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:
I like the Rosewill case. It's a basic box, but there are no sharp edges to cut yourself on, and everything you need is there. About the only thing I wish was different was that the power supply is in the top instead of the bottom. Everything went together easily over the weekend, and sat waiting till the processor and hard disk arrived yesterday.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty nice-sounding hardware setup, though I would have bought the RAM from Crucial. I discovered years ago that the $5-10 more I spend there is more than made up for by the bad RAM I seemed to get from everywhere else.

    Those without my particular experiences might not feel the need to do so though :)