After the death of the long-in-the-tooth desktop, I was looking forward to getting a shiny new one to replace it. I'd been intending to upgrade for a long time, but the total investment was proving to be a bit much for something that wasn't so necessary. Once it decided to kick the bucket, there was some real justification to rebuild. I give you: Behemoth.
Having been out of the game for so long, I had to do a bit of research to get up to speed and was confronted with the choice that every good geek finds: AMD or Intel? The choice wasn't as clear-cut as it would have been several years ago with both products at a near-parity, Intel in the lead. In the end, I decided to go with AMD, not out of a sense of loyalty, but because they I found a motherboard (MSI K9N2 SLI Platinum, if you were curious) that offered the most upgradability. I could start with a cheap dual-core processor now and move to a more potent quad-core down the road. It also offered a clear path to doing SLI in the future and the ability to handle up to 8GB (!) of RAM. With 6 SATA ports built right onto the board, I wasn't going to worry about adding more drives later, especially since RAID 1+0 is built right in.
The motherboard was definitely a splurge, but that's one of the few components you should never try to cut corners on. To keep costs down, I started out with an inexpensive 8500GT-based card paired with an Athlon 64 X2 4600+ and 2GB of DDR2-800. It was a huge leap from the old setup (5700FX Ultra, AthlonXP 2400+, 1GB DDR333) and would still provide good performance on newer games. I went with a Western Digital 500GB SATAII drive for storage and brough over my old WD 250GB SATA drive from the old system. This was also a good opportunity to finally go to a DVD burner and I got a 18x Plextor DVD+/-RW for a song.
With the guts so carefully picked, they now needed a home. Picking a case when you can't inspect them first-hand can be a real chore. You have no idea how it's really laid out, if things will fit awkwardly… it would be like buying a bed over the Internet. I finally settles on an Antec Sonata III case. It not only looks pretty and carries a quality power supply, but it also engineered to be whisper quiet. From personal experience, I can say that it most assuredly is the most silent PC I've ever built. Not only are the fans built that way, but the hard drives get mounted on trays with rubber washers to absorb more noise:
It also helps that the video card I selected is passively cooled. No fan means even less noise. The size of it, though, is simply monstrous.
With all of the new power under the hood, I've been able to play all of my old favorite games at maximum settings without a single hiccup. I even tried a few newer ones that worked great. Games, though, are but a small bit of what I had planned for this much power.
Remember how I bought all of those old PCs to do testing with? With a modern system and virtualization software, that's no longer necessary. I grabbed a copy of Sun's VirtualBox software and it has worked wonderfully for testing out new operating systems. In addition to trying out Ubuntu Linux and Windows Vista, I've also loaded up a few experimental OSes without fear that what I'm doing could get hoarked at any time. If it acts up, I simply kill the virtual machine and go back to whatever I was doing.
This isn't all a happy story, however. Hardly a week after putting this bad boy together, the old monitor has begun to act up. After 10 long years of service, My 19" Princeton AGX 900 has started flickering blue on the screen, a sign that the electron guns that power it are weary from their long tenure. Could it be repaired? Probably. But why fix up an energy-guzzling 70lb. beast when new, sleek LCD flat panels call out with their siren song? Curse you, technology, and your vicious upgrade cycle.