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Building The Perfect Beast

Although I wanted to sort out a few minor glitches in my current PC, the main reason for the new build was to make the move from Windows XP Pro to Windows XP Pro SP2 (Service Pack 2). I run Sophos anti virus and Zone Alarm Firewall so I don’t feel that SP2 has much to offer me, but I felt obliged to take this step as Microsoft has discontinued Windows Update support for the basic version of XP, as I mentioned here.

I know it sounds ridiculously over the top to build a new PC when I could have simply run the SP2 CD but I’ve heard from a number of people who have had problems which they directly attributed to SP2, so I decided to turn this inconvenience into an opportunity to make some serious improvements to my PC.

They say that preparation is the key to a successful job and for once in my life I wasn’t under any particular time pressure so I decided to make life as simple as possible for myself by setting up my new motherboard, processor, memory and hard drive array on the test bench. I would then install Windows, all of the Windows updates, Office and the applications that I use. Once I had everything working I would rip out the guts of my old PC and replace them with the new parts. That way I could put the old parts on the test bench and have them running as a PC, which means that I couldn’t possibly lose or corrupt any of my files, and my old PC would be available so I could check settings and usernames for the gazillion and one websites and pieces of software that I use.

You’ll have noted that I skipped over the spec of my new PC with a casual reference to a new motherboard and processor, but I spent a fair amount of time deciding which parts to use. My old PC had a Socket 754 Athlon 64 3400+ on a Gigabyte K8NS-Pro motherboard, which uses the nForce3 chipset, with an AGP GeForce 6800 graphics card. Although I have a pair of XFX GeForce 6800GT SLi PCI Express graphics cards, which made it conceivable that I could step up to an SLi PC, I wanted to leave those free for testing duties, and as I didn’t want to downgrade to a 6600GT it looked like I’d be sticking with AGP graphics for some time to come.

That left me with the choice of processor, chipset and motherboard and here I brought my ‘Use it or lose it’ philosophy in to play. I’ve got plenty of hardware that is perfectly decent but every few months it gets just a bit older and dustier and in time it becomes obsolete, which is a bit of a shame, and this led me to resurrect a Socket 940 Asus SK8V with VIA K8T800 chipset. I plugged in an Athlon 64 FX-51 which runs at 2.2GHz and has 1MB of L2 cache, which effectively makes it the equivalent of the Athlon 64 3700+ except that it is made with a fabrication process of 130nm rather than the new 90nm process.

The main feature of my new PC was to be RAID 5 which I also mentioned here, as I felt it was time that I got serious about data security.

As the SK8V supports 32-bit PCI, rather than 64-bit PCI or PCI Express I grabbed a Promise S150 SX4-M RAID card from the shelf. It has four SATA ports and uses a Promise PDC20621 controller to provide hardware RAID 5, so I connected up three WD740 Raptor drives in a 137GB RAID 5 array and installed Windows XP with SP2.

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