New Workstation Parts Ordered

My general philosophy on the workstations I build is to try to find the best current bang for the buck. So in upgrading my recently-deceased workstation, I turned to the assistance of my friends online to help make it possible (thanks again), and then to Newegg.com to actually put the order together.

On Newegg, they provide a pretty good search facility that allows you to specify desired properties of what you are buying. Keying off a CNet review of dual-core processors, I decided that my upgrade to my old Athlon should be an Athlon X2. That in turn meant that I would be looking at AMD motherboards sporting the AM2 socket. Given that I’ve learned that Avida is not a disk-intensive program, and I’d like to run Avida on my home workstation, I decided to go with a motherboard capable of handing DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) memory. So pretty much what this was shaping up as was to identify a motherboard and then proceed to sort through the options for CPU, memory, video, and hard disk.

My first thought was perhaps to go with the ASUS M2V-MX Socket AM2 VIA K8M890 Micro ATX AMD Motherboard, bargain-priced at $56.99. It’s a Micro-ATX format board, does well on the user reviews, and has two PCI slots for expansion. The reviews make it clear, though, that this board is essentially an entry-level board.

But then I thought that if I’ll be perhaps sitting down to work at this workstation for several years, as I did my last one, that maybe I should keep on with the search. So I came across the ASUS M2N-SLI Deluxe Socket AM2 NVIDIA nForce 570 SLI MCP ATX AMD Motherboard, a motherboard with over 600 user reviews and 63% of those giving it 5 stars. It is an ATX format board, has 3 PCI slots, 2 PCI Express x1 slots, and 2 PCI Express x2 slots. There’s 4 USB ports, 2 Ethernet ports, and even a Firewire port built-in. It’s a chunk more expensive at $139.99. This is the one I’ve ordered.

Newegg often offers “combo” deals, where if you buy a second product you get a pretty good discount. Checking the “combo” deals for my selected motherboard showed that I could get the 2.4 GHz Athlon X2 CPU with it for a combined price of $228. OK, that’s not bad.

Off to look at memory. Some of the user reviews had noted good things about the G.Skill memory. So I found it as G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory, two 1GB sticks, for $89.99. Not bad. I remember paying about $100 each for 1MB SIMMs for a computer back in the 1980s. But, wait, there are combo deals here, too. And mostly they combine memory and CPU purchases. So the combination of the 2.4 GHz Athlon X2 and this memory comes to $168. Hmmm. I can save ten bucks by buying the motherboard on its own and going for the combo package of memory and CPU, so I do.

Since the motherboard doesn’t have on-board graphics, I need a video card. Apparently, the new hotness is found in the PCI Express x16-based cards. I don’t have any of those hanging around, so I need one. In going through the Newegg listings, I’m looking for PCI Express x16 interface, high user review score, high numbers of reviews, and low price. Hey, I’m not into video games. I shudder to think of getting hooked on video games now. I have enough stuff on my plate as it is. So I found the FREETECH PX6200TD-128M GeForce 6200 128MB DDR PCI Express x16 Video Card at $39.99. There’s lots of good user reviews and notes about how this is an excellent deal for the money. Seems good to me.

That leaves the issue of a boot disk. I have loads of IDE drives hanging around, but not many that are of reasonable capacity and that I know are clear of useful data. Plus, the motherboard only supports one IDE interface with two devices, and one of those is going to be an optical drive of some sort. Plus, it seems a shame to get an SATA capable board and not put that to use. So I’m going for the Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000AAKS 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive at $109.99, or slightly under $0.22/GB of space. I’m thinking that I can set that up in a three-way boot configuration, just as I had briefly working on my old workstation, with a Windows , FreeBSD, and a Xubuntu install. The GRUB boot loader installed by Xubuntu can be set to provide a menu to select the other systems. I’m thinking 60 to 80GB each for the bootable partitions, then set up the remainder as shared working space. There are some issues with using FAT32 as a filesystem, but cross-operating system operability is not one of them. The limiting factor, as usual, seems to be Windows.

So, the great workstation update is underway, and comes in a bit under $500. I should have the parts from Newegg next week.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.