Goodbye Nibbler, Hello Voyager

I built my first PC from scratch in 2003 in order to play Doom 3.  Before that I had a Micron PC, and I had done a few upgrades to it.  I had already researched everything I’d need to know to build a PC, but as it was my first build it was plenty nerve-wracking, especially installing the CPU heatsink.  It went well and I had been using that PC since then, using Windows XP and various Linux distros.  Its name is nibbler.

It was a great system, but after so many years it was starting to get a little slow.  I was also not thrilled that with only three RAM slots, I had already maxed out the amount of RAM that motherboard could handle.  It also had an AGP slot, which meant any graphics card upgrade would have been a waste of money.  I also was using an add-in SATA card, which was a pain to get set-up in Widows XP.  I started putting together parts on Newegg to get an idea of how much it’d cost.  I knew I was going to keep my hard drive and DVD burner.  I was on the fence on keeping my current case, but eventually decided I wanted a new case that used 120mm fans instead of 80mm.  My case was quite loud, and I knew the main reason for that was the 3 (formerly 4) smaller fans spinning at near-max speed.

I finally decided on the parts from Newegg and ordered them.  I also found a nice Antec case at Best Buy that had 2 120mm fans as well as the power supply bay located at the bottom.  The first thing I did was take everything from nibbler and installed it into the new case to make sure the fans were working correctly.  I knew I was going to have a great system soon because when I did get that build up and running, the lower amount of noise was unbelievable.  I could barely hear the computer from more than a few feet away.  I could have even kept that system running, but I knew I wouldn’t be completely happy if I didn’t build a whole new system.

The parts arrived at work.  I was shocked by how small the box was.  I was expecting a pretty big box, and at first I was worried that it was only one of so many boxes.  But after checking everything in my office, I was relieved and amazed to find everything packed into it.  I did a quick check to make sure nothing looked bad and such.  I also had to take the graphics card out to admire its design.  The Asus GTS450 is a great-looking card.  It took me a long time to decide to stick with an Nvidia card, as there are some great AMD cards, but that was before Nvidia finally rebounded from their slump and began releasing more designs based on their Fermi architecture.  I knew the GTS450 was perfect for me, as it offered plenty of power for a few games, but wouldn’t kill my budget for what I intended to be a primarily work computer.

After getting the parts home, I began the process of building the new system.  I put all the old parts of nibbler back in the original case, leaving the hard drive and DVD burner to go into the new system.  I laid out some fabric on the coffee table and put down the motherboard.  Just like the graphics card, I decided to go with Asus.  I had read alot of reviews for both Asus and Gigabyte boards, but finally decided just to use Asus.

I grabbed the CPU with its cooler and installed it.  For the CPU I picked an Athlon II dual-core.  While the quad-core Athlon II’s and the dual-core Phenoms weren’t too much more, I knew for that I needed that the dual-core Athlon II would be fine.  Compared to the amount of work and energy I had to put into installing the CPU cooler on nibbler, on this new system it didn’t even take me a minute.  I decided to go ahead and just use the paste that was on the cooler, though I had purchased some Arctic Silver.  I may eventually use that when I upgrade to a quad-core CPU, but in the meantime I knew the stock parts would be fine.

Once the CPU and its cooler was secured to the motherboard, I installed it into the case and installed the RAM.  While the motherboard has 4 slots, for now I’m just using two 2GB sticks.  Eventually I’ll add another 4GB, but for now it’s more than enough for me.  Next the power supply went in.  I went with a Seasonic PSU as I had read very few bad reviews for their stuff.  Unlike my older PSU this one was alot more efficient, and like the new case it also uses a 120MM fan.

After all the core items were in, I installed the GTS450.  Power cables from the PSU went to all items, and then SATA cables for the hard drive and DVD-RW.  I knew that the WD Green drive was going to be a little on the slow side, but until SSD drives come down further in price I’ll stick with it.  I’ve used a WD Raptor drive in the past, but the amount of noise was more than I wanted, and while the performance was pretty nice it just wasn’t required for my work.

With everything installed, it was time to power on the system to see if it even worked before I took the time to clean up the cabling.  Just like when I tested the case with the parts from nibbler, when I powered on the computer again I could barely hear it.  For a brief moment I was convinced it wasn’t working.  But I saw that all the fans (case, CPU, PSU and grahics) were spinning away.  I looked on the screen and the ASUS logo came up.  I went into settings and checked.  The CPU was correct, as well as the amount of RAM.  After a few tweaks, it was time to reboot and begin a fresh Ubuntu 10.10 install.  Finally I could put a 64-bit OS to true use, having 4Gb RAM along with 1GB for the video card.  I even had the name ready for this new system: voyager.

Overall I am very happy with my new build.  Salvaging just a few parts from nibbler (hard drive, DVD-RW and wireless), I was able to build what for me is a very powerful system for not too much money.  I know I’ll double the RAM soon.  If SSDs come down in price then it will become the main drive and the WD Green will be the /home partition.  Will I upgrade to a quad-core AthlonII or PhenomII?  I don’t really foresee that.  The dual-core AthlonII is pretty fast enough for me, and it uses very little power.  What I’m most interested in is seeing if voyager will meet my needs for the same amount of time nibbler did (7 years!).