The baddest monster PC money can buy!

On June 12th, I celebrated my birthday. It was a great opportunity to let the geek in me come out so I decided I would build myself a kickass PC. I didn't have any specific goal in mind other than the fact I was growing sick an tired of waiting for outlook to load up each time I wanted to check my email, or 5-6 seconds for some website pages to open. So here is an account of the project.

The 3 most important factors in getting performance out of your PC are memory, CPU and hard drive. Each one of them can hold back the other. So the first thing I focused my attention on was the hard drive.

I decided I was going to go with the fastest hard drive available: 10,000 RPM (revolutions per minute). The most recent PC World magazine featued Western Digital's VelociRaptor, a nicely packaged series of high performance drives (10,000 RPM) in a 2.5" format surrounded by a large heat sink, listed at $300. I opted for HP's WD Raptor, an 80GB 10K RPM SATA drive which I found at $253 from Tiger Direct.

Next on my list was the motherboard & processor combination. You need to know which CPU you will go with in order to match it up with a motherboard. After researching quite a bit and reading up user comments about different processors I leartned that there was a user community of gamers who exchange information about CPUs. The latest word in CPU technology are the quad-core Intel processing but they are highly priced. I decided to opt for Intel's E8400, a 3-GHz CPU which, as I learned, was based on a new chip fabrication technique called 45-nanometer process.

Next was the search for a compatible motherboard. Looking at the specs for the E8400 you will find it is a Socket 775 (that's the "way" the chip fits into the motherboard via a clip that holds it into place). So shopping around for a high end motherboard I came across Asus' Rampage Formula Motherboard which gets high reviews by gamers for the ability to overclock it (set the CPU speed to a higher rate than the one it was designed to work in). I found the Rampage for $350 though motherboards prices fluctuate greatly and it is highly probably you might find it for less by the time you read this article.

The other good news about this motherboard is that it accepts a less expensive type of memory, DDR2, which allowed me to stock up on 8Gb of Corsair Dual Channel XMS2 memory (2 sets of two boards of 2Gb each). My total investment in memory was $294

For a Graphics card I went with the latest and greatest - NVidia's 8800 GT XGPU (graphics processing unit) which PC World considers to be the top of the line in the market. My 8800 came with 768Mb memory on board and cost me $270 but you could opt for the less expensive NVidia ECS N8800GT which is a few notches lower for $50 less.

Since I was planning on overclocking this monster, I needed to upgrade the CPU cooling fan which comes with the processor. Sythe makes the Ninja Plus Rev B SCNJ-1100 P for $40 which uses six pipes to draw the processor heat up through its aluminum fins. I went a notch higher and got the Masscool 8WA741 copper core/Heatpipes cooling fan which I found for $30 (!)

I complemented my order with a large gwetto-esque blue-light tower (case) to put all this in. I was carefull to choose one that would allow me to fit the large cooling fan I chose. The $120 Apevia Black X-Plorer came with these blue-lit fans and blue lit front panel. I had to remove a plastic channel from the inside of the transparent door to let the CPU cooler fit but that was easy.

Here is what the motherboard with the fan and memory cards look like: Notice that the 4 memory cards come with their own fan that installs with a clip on top of them (The CPU is under that monster fan)

Fitting all the parts into the box proved a little more tricky. I pulled the power wires on the back side of the case, which is hidden from view (since the other side has a transparent cover). I had to avoid wiring the 1394 (firewire) plug from the case since the motherboard came with several back-connected firewire ports as well as lots of USB connections. The assembly took me about 5 hours but installing windows and all my software took me much longer than that... Here is the end result:

Summary cost breakdown

Hard Disk: HP WD Raptor/80 GB/10K/16MB/SATA 150

$ 253
Cooling: Masscool 8WA741 / Socket 775 / Copper Core/Heatpipes$ 30
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Processor BX80570E8400 3.0 GHz$ 190
Motherboard: Asus Rampage Socket 775 ATX$ 350
Memory: Corsair Dual Channel XMS 4096MB PC8500 (8Gb)$ 147
Case: Apevia Black X-Plorer ATX Mid-Tower clear side$ 120
Graphics: PNY 8800 GTX 768 Mb$ 270

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