System guts updated

September 17, 2006 - Reading time: 6 minutes

The motherboard on my main machine (P4 2.66, Intel 865PE) started going south a week ago. I experienced a few hard locks and infamous blue screens (the stop errors of which are impossible to decipher). The biggest problem was that after a reboot, the mother board would start its POST procedure, count the RAM, and freeze. After a few minutes, it would reboot on its own and repeat the procedure. When the planets aligned correctly, it would boot perfectly and run for several hours before crashing again.

I need to use this machine every day for graduate work in music composition, so this kind of behavior is unacceptable. So, I decided to upgrade a few key parts. My first option was to purchase another socket 478 motherboard, but along with dwindling availablility, it did not seem to make sense to invest in such “old” tech. Also, I’d been out of the hardware loop for a while, so I had some research to do.

The first thing I noticed was that Intel Core 2 Duo seemed to be king. While that seemed great, I dismissed it based on two things: 1) price 2) I don’t want to splurge on DDR2 yet. I just bought 2 gigs of DDR 400 this past spring, and I want to recycle it. This also ruled out the AM2 platform.

Due to the attraction of the prices, I set my sights on socket 939. Call me old, but it seems to me that socket 939 is still “quite new.” I remember clearly when it was introduced, and I also remember the high costs of the “top of the line” processors back then, such as the 3000+. I was quite pleased to see that as of this writing, the AMD64 3000+ is only a measly $64 on Newegg (how appropriate!). Call me miserly (as well as old), but I don’t like to spend more than $100 on a CPU, since hardly anything depreciates faster than CPU speed. With that in mind, I selected the AMD64 3700+ with 1 MB of L2 cache. Dual-core would have been nice, but I can always upgrade to a dual-core socket 939 CPU in a couple years when the prices are much lower.

Choosing a motherboard was much more difficult. The most popular chipset series for socket 939, Nvidia’s Nforce4, was ruled out. There have been documented problems in the past with Nforce4 and audio production, and while these problems have probably been minimized now, they have left scars that are slow to heal in the audio world. I’m not just popping in a generic Soundblaster card, I need to make sure this board works with my MOTU 828 without the slightest glitches, pops, or distortions. The ridiculous gimmick (in my opinion) known as “SLI” is ruled out for the same reason.

Nforce3, on the other hand, is practically legendary in the audio world for its compatibility and reliability. Unfortunately, trying to find a good Nforce3 board is practically hopeless, as supplies have almost completely dried up. Rather than scour the Web looking for an Nforce3 board that I liked, I decided it was finally time to make the move from AGP to PCI-express anyway, so that ruled out Nforce3.

This pretty much leaves VIA. While they’re perhaps not the most reputable of chipset makers, I have not had a bad experience with them yet. Their chipsets had a horrible reputation for audio work in the sub – 1 GHz days, but I’ve heard few complaints since then. Plus, I’ve had a VIA KT400-based motherboard for an Athlon XP that’s been running fine for 4 years now, so I decided to give them another shot.

The VIA K8T800Pro chipset was another practically-legendary chipset for audio (AGP-based). Its PCI-express-based successor is the K8T890. I found a version that I liked in the ASUS A8V-E SE. No, it’s probably not the fastest board on the block, nor does it sport the most complete feature set, but it’s a good, basic board, and I bet it will perform swimmingly for my needs. As a bonus, it does not come with one of those annoying, whiny north bridge fans, which tend to fail after a few months.

Speaking of fans, the last piece needed was a new video card. I already possess what consider a very good video card (Nvidia 6800GS), but since I’m finally moving to PCI-express, that one had to go. It will soon be relegated to my wife’s Athlon XP machine, and I’m sure she’ll be happy with the upgrade. Since I was going to be spending money on a new card, I did not want to take a lateral step. I wanted a card that would actually be considered an upgrade, without breaking the bank. With that in mind, I had one other requirement: NO FAN! Most stock GPU fans are far too loud, in my opinion. Like all moving parts, they can also fail.

I thought it would be very difficult to find a fanless upgrade from a 6800GS. Lo and behold, I found this: a Gigabyte 7600GT without a fan. Yes, it’s a few dollars more than the fan-equipped 7600GTs, but complete silence is golden in my mind.

That completes the new system guts.
Intel P4 2.66 —> AMD Athlon64 3700+
MSI 865PE —> ASUS K8T890
Nvidia 6800GS —> Nvidia 7600GT

I’ll re-use my Antec Sonata case and PSU, RAM, drives, and other accessories. No, it’s not the fastest machine around, and it still has one core, but I’ll be happy with it as long as everything assembles without a hitch. I need a quiet, stable, reliable machine for my work (plus occasional diversions into Guild Wars and Oblivion), and I’m sure this will keep me happy and productive for years to come.


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