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Old 12-17-08, 02:55 PM   #1
Daox
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Default Building an efficient computer

It has come time for me to upgrade my existing computer. My current machine is maybe five years old now, and despite a few upgrades in those five years, it is starting to show its age. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to see what I could do about building a more efficient computer.

My requirements for the new system were:
  • low power consumption
  • dual core processor
  • relatively quiet
  • fairly fast video card for gaming and CAD
  • something that is going to last me at least a while
  • upgrade must cost under $500

To meet these requirements I was referred to Silent PC Review by PaleMelanesian. SPCR is a great site where their focus is silent computers. Silent computers are a lot easier to make when you have lower power requirements. Less power means less heat which need less cooling, fans, and noise. Therefore, it was a great place to start. They also have a lot of members who focus on efficiency too.

To start off, lets get an idea of what we are starting with. My current setup is:
  • Athlon XP 2500
  • 1 gig of ram
  • Radeon X800 GTO
  • 35 gig SCSI hard drive & 180 gig SATA hard drive
This setup is not a bad setup, but far from an efficient one. In the past few weeks I have been working on it to tweak and lower power consumption. I have managed to get it down to 141W at idle (it started at around 170). Thats like turning on ten light bulbs every time I turn on my computer. After reading some threads on SPRC, I knew I was able to build a much more efficient system.

The CPU
With the $500 cap on the upgrade, there wasn't a lot of room to go crazy with anything. This basically means going with an AMD processor versus an Intel processor. I have built many computers with AMD processors and have been more than happy with them. While browsing for a processor, I noticed that AMD has a series of 45W dual core processors. Their normal line is all 65W or more. This fit my bill exactly. I chose the fastest they offered as it was fairly inexpensive and was off to look at the next component.

The Motherboard
This is a component I try to get right with each build I do. For this build I selected a motherboard that utilized Nvidia's Hybrid SLI technology. What this allows you to do is basically power down your PCI-e video card when it is not needed which saves you a ton of power. A normal performance video card idles at around 40-50W doing almost nothing! With Hybrid SLI, the motherboard powers down the PCI-e video card and switches to the onboard graphics processor. These idle around 3W, but can't handle heavy 3d applications. When you need to run 3d applications, the motherboard powers the video card back up so you can use it. This allows you to have great 2d power consumption, but also great 3d performance.

The Video Card
This component caused me a lot of problems until I found out about Hybrid SLI. I originally had my system setup with a Radeon HD 4850. Its a nice middle of the road video card that would last me a while. Then I found out it idled at 30-40W and that kicked it off the list. So I went down a notch to the HD 4670. They are known to be incredibly power efficient (idle at or under 10W). However, they don't have a ton of gaming power and would unfortunately fall short of the requirement about lasting.

Once I found out about Hybrid SLI, I had to find a Hybrid SLI compatable video card. Keeping with the budget of the project, I went with the best compromise I could find which was a 9800 GTX+ with a hefty $40 mail in rebate. Reviews say its noisy which violates one of my requirements, but with a little work I think that can be fixed, and the price can't be beat.

The Power Supply
Not too long ago it was brought to my attention that some power supplies are horribly inefficient. So horrible in fact, that 50-60% efficiency was not uncommon! That means that if your computer requires 100W, it has to suck 200W of power from the outlet. That is simply incredible considering how many computers are out there. Newer power supplies have been getting much better and it looks like 90% efficient power supplies will be available in the not too distant future. However, until then, I have been using 80plus.org as my reference for efficient computer power supplies.

For my setup, I ended up choosing a bronze certified power supply off of 80plus.org. It should give me an average of 84% efficiency vs my current 70%. Quite a step up.

Miscellaneous
The rest of the build is fairly inconsequential from a efficiency stand point. I ordered a large heat pipe CPU heat sink instead of using the retail heat sink. This should help quiet the machine. The hard drives and dvd writers from my current machine will be reused since they are more than adequate. I did get a new case to go along with it, but it is nothing fancy by far. I do plan to do some work on the case to help keep things quiet though. There are some really interesting ideas on SPCR and I think I'll try a few of them out.

I just ordered my parts today. I'll post updates as I get it up together.

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Last edited by Daox; 12-17-08 at 03:53 PM..
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Old 12-18-08, 10:40 AM   #2
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Glad my post was of some help. Good luck with the build.
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Old 12-18-08, 12:24 PM   #3
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i am about 1 - 2 years from replacing my PC as sell - Looking forward to see how this goes.

I have aleays wanted to build a PC - but never really got the nerve to give it a shot...
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Old 12-18-08, 01:15 PM   #4
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Its REALLY not hard at all. Physically everything fits in its own place. After its all put together physically, you just pop in the windows CD and run the windows install. After that, you go get drivers for your motherboard, cards, etc and you are done.

The thing I love about custom building is you get exactly what you want. You aren't constrained with package deals, and getting extra stuff you'll never use, but you still have to pay for. Researching for a new build also makes you know what kind of system you are getting. If you don't know much about computers and walk into a computer store to buy a box, you have no idea if its a blazing fast machine or a slow piece of junk. You also have no idea if its anywhere near efficient. I completely expect this new machine to idle at around HALF the wattage as my current machine.
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Old 12-18-08, 01:16 PM   #5
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I should also mention I looked at solid state hard drives. They are also very efficient. Nice stuff but they still seem to have some deficiencies, and the price would have blown the budget.
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Old 12-19-08, 12:33 AM   #6
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Another good source for pc hardware info and reviews is Tom's Hardware: Hardware News, Tests and Reviews. They have been focusing on efficiency recently and have an extensive archive of reviews.

Re: Solid State hard drives - according to the most recent article on TomsHardware.com not all SSHD's are more efficient than a standard HD. It might be worth waiting for a generation or two of development to drive the prices down and the efficiency and storage space up.

FWIW,
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Old 12-30-08, 10:59 AM   #7
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Yeah the solid state drives still don't seem to be a main stream item yet unfortunately.

I finally got the machine up and running for the most part (typing on it now). Little did I know when I ordered my hardware that hybrid sli only works with windows vista, so I had to order and wait for that too. I also have to return the motherboard as it isn't working quite right, but I can definitly say I'm very happy with the setup. The system idles around 66W vs the 141W of the old system, and its quite fast. I still haven't done too much tweak yet either so I'm hoping to drop the wattage down just a bit more. But, that'll have to wait until I get the new motherboard.
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Old 01-01-09, 10:22 AM   #8
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Ok Mr. Daox. I broke down and bought the Intel parts I was talking to you about yesterday. The E8400 was on sale. The only part they didn't have was the vid card, so I have to wait on that. But once I get it I'll set it up and we can compare notes on efficiency. I'll post my parts once I receive them.
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Old 01-02-09, 01:28 PM   #9
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Haha, all the talk made you do it huh? Well I look forward to seeing what you end up with.
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Old 01-02-09, 10:03 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daox View Post
Haha, all the talk made you do it huh? Well I look forward to seeing what you end up with.
Yes...*cry*...I'm weak when it comes to computers.


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