Project Fireball – RAM & Video Card

Posted by Eric | Posted in Project Fireball | Posted on 03-30-2011


Yesterday I discussed my choice of CPU and Motherboard, the heart of any computer build. In this post I’ll be going over the RAM and video card I selected for Project Fireball. Both are critical components of any build and what ultimately makes it into your system will be directly driven by how you plan to use your computer and what applications you’ll be running on it. A serious ‘gamer’ will want a high-end video card, while someone interested in running ‘virtual machines’ or video editing might want to get as much RAM as possible. An individual only interested in web surfing and reading emails would probably be able to get by with a couple of gigabytes of RAM and a budget video card. My intention from the very start of Project Fireball was to build a system that I could use for some serious gaming, but also a workstation that would enable me to efficiently do a lot of the web development work I do at night when the kids go to bed. I also wanted to make sure that Fireball would allow me to run multiple virtual machines simultaneously to facilitate some of the prototyping, security and development work I like to engage in.



G.SKILL 4GB Memory Sticks - 16GB Total


My intent from the start was that my new system would have 16GB of RAM, which might seem overly excessive to many readers, but actually isn’t far-fetched when you understand the many high-end tasks I’ll be accomplishing with it. Let’s face it, RAM isn’t as expensive as it was a few years ago; the four 4GB sticks (for a total of 16GB) only cost me $150 with free shipping because I was able to buy them on sale and using an online promo code. I always tell folks who ask me about things to keep in mind when buying a new computer and the first thing I always tell them is buy as much RAM as you can and don’t cut corners. The worst thing someone can do is cut into the RAM when trying to save some money. Get a smaller hard drive or get a cheaper video card, but please don’t skimp on the RAM!

When choosing RAM, I always check the motherboard manufacturer’s QVL (Qualified Vendor’s List) for RAM/Memory. It’s usually a list published by the motherboard vendor for a specific model motherboard which details the various RAM configurations/manufacturers that have been tested and approved. The list is usually quite specific with detailed part numbers, etc. In the early stages of Project Fireball, I was looking at memory from, a company specializing in memory components and the memory provider for my last few system builds. Unfortunately, the 4GB modules from Crucial were nowhere to be found on the QVL which on the surface wasn’t really a big deal since the specifications of those modules matched the motherboard requirements. Regardless, I still found it odd that the particular modules I was interested in didn’t appear on the list, and considering the large amount of RAM I was looking at, I kept having this lingering doubt about my choice. A few days later, while catching up on some emails and news feeds, I came across a sale at on a 16GB memory kit from G.Skill. I had heard of G.Skill before, but had never used any of their products. I began reading up on some reviews and feedback postings and realized that G.Skill provided quality memory products, had great support and was used by many ‘enthusiasts’ building systems of their own. What locked it in for me was that the exact part numbers for these sticks appeared in the QVL. I placed my order for two kits of G.Skill Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM 1600 (PC3 12800) kits and checked another component off my list.


Video Card

MSI N560GTX-ti Twin Frozr II


One of my early assumptions was that I would spend up to $250 on a video card, but not one penny more. I’m a ‘gamer’, but it doesn’t mean I have to spend $750-$900 on a high-end video card to make that ball of fire on my screen look like it was hand drawn, pixel by pixel, by 3 dozen digital artists from the best digital studios across the globe. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a $750 or a $250 video card when I’m running around a virtual map shooting aliens with a plasma gun.

The first choice I needed to make was to decide which of the two main manufacturer of video card GPU (Graphical Processing Unit), Nvidia or ATI, to go with. Each has its merits, advantages, disadvantages and ‘following’. I like Nvidia-based video cards; I’m familiar with them, the tools to support them, and the choice of cards available. I became ‘fixated’ early on with a particular card, the MSI N560GTX TI Twin Frozr II OC. This particular card, based on a 2 cooling fan design, caught my eye and kept me coming back when looking at other cards. A big advantage of MSI’s ‘Twin Frozr’ design is that it can cool the GPU more efficiently and more silently than a single fan design. When it comes to video cards, silence is golden. The first time you play a serious game that will push your video card hard, and the fans kick into high gear emanating what sounds like a jet engine inside your computer case, you’ll want to kick yourself for not doing your homework and getting a card that has a serious cooling design. THe slower those fans have to spin, the quieter the card will be, and that’s why I like the twin fans. The standard price for this card is about $249, but I would expect the price to go down a bit over the next few weeks as Nvidia aggressively competes with ATI for your money.

The chart on the left, courtesy of, gives you a pretty good idea about what this video card has to offer. It won’t outperform a top of the line $750 ATI 6990 card, but it will beat out an ATI 5870 card which will cost you $300. Let’s face it, that $250 you’ll spend on this card will get you somewhere in the middle of the pack of the very high-end of video cards on the market today. At this time, I think it hits the sweet spot in regards to cost versus performance, at least for me. And the money I saved by not going overboard with a video card allowed me to put a little into an SSD (Solid State Drive), an interesting and relatively new piece of hardware that I’ll be writing about in my next posting.

In my next post, we’ll go over what hard drives I’ve chosen, the SSD I’ll be using, as well as the DVD Reader/Writer that will make up the overall storage capabilities of Fireball.

Project Fireball – CPU & Motherboard

Posted by Eric | Posted in Project Fireball | Posted on 03-30-2011


In my previous post, I went through the reasons for building Project Fireball and went through some of the parts that I will be using to put the system together. In this and upcoming posts, I want to go into more details about the main components, some of the high-level specs of each, and why I chose them.


Intel Core i7-2600 - Top View

The CPU is the heart of any computer, and the CPU you choose will impact your choice of other components. These days there are essentially two sources for the CPU – Intel and AMD. Both have been battling it out for years for the coveted privilege of running your applications, games, OS, etc. My first few system builds made use of AMD CPUs; they were fast and cheap and provided much more “bang for the buck” than the Intel CPUs of those days. More recently, Intel has taken the lead back from AMD and became the CPU supplier for my last 3 system builds. For Fireball, my choice was easy: Intel Core i7-2600 running at 3.4Ghz. More informed readers will be quick to ask why I did not choose the 2600K version of the CPU. Since the main difference between the K and non-K versions are the overclocking capabilities of the K, and given that I never overclock my CPUs, I’ll skip the 10-15% price premium and stick with the non-K version.

The i7-2600 is a quad-core CPU, which means it has 4 CPUs (or what is actually called cores) on one chip. Another nice feature of this model is that it’s Hyperthreaded, so to the installed OS, it looks like there are actually 8 CPUs! Another feature of the new Core i7 is that it contains a graphics processor on the same die, which means you could build a system without a video card and just use the one built-in. Unfortunately, Intel’s first iteration of this graphics processor implementation doesn’t provide adequate performance to play games and run high-end graphics. Additionally, the current design scheme disables the built-in graphics processor if a video card is present.

Here’s quick overview of the features of the i7-2600:

  • 8-Way Multi-Task Processing: Runs 8 independent processing threads in one physical package.
  • Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0: Dynamically increases the processor frequency up to 3.80GHz when applications demand more performance.  Speed when you need it, energy efficiency when you don’t.
  • Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology: Allows each core of the processor to work on two tasks at the same time providing unprecedented processing capability for better multi-tasking, and for threaded applications.
  • Intel® Smart Cache: 8MB of shared cached allows faster access to your data by enabling dynamic and efficient allocation of the cache to match the needs of each core significantly reducing latency to frequently used data and improving performance.
  • AES-NI: Provides 6 processor instructions that help to improve performance for AES encryption and decryption algorithms.
  • Integrated Memory Controller: Supports 2 channels of DDR3-1333 memory with 2 DIMMs per channel. Support for memory based on the Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (Intel® XMP) specification2.


The Motherboard

P8P67 Pro Motherboard - Front

The choice of CPU directly drives what type of motherboard you’ll need to purchase. The 2nd Gen Intel Core i7-2600 uses an LGA-1155 package. In simplified terms, the package is the specification of the slot into which the CPU plugs into the motherboard. Several manufacturers offer motherboards using this specific package, but I’ve had great success in the past using motherboards manufactured by Asus. Their series of LGA-1155 motherboards, which Asus calls their P8P67 series got glowing reviews on many reputable technology review sites. Asus provides several different models under their P8P67 line, but I decided to go with their P8P67 PRO because of the ideal combination of features and price-point which met most of my requirements.

P8P67 Pro Motherboard - Back

The P8P67 PRO has some great specifications which met all my needs except one; a second network port. The second port is more of a ‘convenience’ for me and not something that I absolutely need, especially considering that to get a second port, I would need to buy the P8P67 DELUXE version of the motherboard, which also comes with a $40 price tag premium. One new feature that I haven’t seen on any recent motherboards is a built-in Bluetooth interface, enabling me to exchange data with my computer from my cellphone or other devices. Additionally, I can optionally remotely control certain aspects of the system, including rebooting or shutting down remotely through my cellphone or one of my Bluetooth enabled laptops, such as my MacBook Pro.

In my next post, I’ll run through the memory that I’ll be installing into Fireball, as well as the graphics card, SSD (Solid State Drive) and hard drives.

New System Build 2011 – Project Fireball

Posted by Eric | Posted in Project Fireball | Posted on 03-28-2011


As many of my friends and colleagues know all too well, every few years I decide that it’s time to take a serious look at my main computer at home and embark on what I would consider my ‘Geek Pilgrimage’; I build a new computer system from the ground up. I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought a computer to use as my main home workstation from a reseller, but I remember putting together a system for myself back in 1994 so it would have to be earlier than that. While I consider myself an Apple Mac guy when it comes to laptops, there’s just something that keeps me coming back to PC’s for my desktops. I’m sure that might change when I decide to upgrade to a Mac Pro desktop system, but until that time arrives (and the cash!), I’ll keep rolling with my PC builds.

I will be calling this new System Build for 2011 “Project Fireball“.

Up to this point, I’ve spent somewhere around $1,450 on all the new hardware, not including some cable management parts I’ll be picking up this week to better organize the cables in my case. I’ll be moving my Windows 7 Ultimate license from my current PC to this new one, so no need to purchase that. I’ll also be using the great monitors I have sitting on my desk, the external drives, keyboard, and mouse. I’ll be moving the memory card reader over to the new PC, as well as all 3 1TB harddrives. Since one of my primary assumptions when I build a new system is that it will have to last me between 3-4 years, many of my components will tend to be in the mid-upper range in regards to costs, speed, etc. There’s one place where I draw the line though and that’s on video cards – you’ll never see me plunk down $750 on a video card. You can usually find a really good card for about $250 by doing a bit of homework and research.

One important thing to note; when I decide to begin a Build such as this one, I do so with the knowledge that shopping for the components might take me two or even three months. For me, it’s one of my favorite parts of the process. Some might think that’s quite excessive, but it’s an important part of the process, and one that has saved me hundreds of dollars. Once I have chosen my components, I begin monitoring, and for sales and promotions. With time on my side, I can wait for a sale or even a promotion code that can save me money. Believe me, if you rush into a build, you’ll pay a premium. Give yourself at least a month to gather components and to give yourself time to pickup something at a competitive price.

Here are the specs for my build (with links to Amazon for more information):

The last major component, the SSD, arrived today, so I can begin planning out my build during the week and begin the actual work Friday evening. I’m looking at a few more odds and ends, such as an additional case fan and some cable extenders to facilitate cable management, but I expect to have those on hand by Friday which shouldn’t impact my build.

I’ll be documenting my build and progress here as I move forward into the project, including lots of pictures of the components and the system as I’m putting Project Fireball together and ‘refining’ it.

Interesting things I found on the web over the last few weeks

Posted by Eric | Posted in General, Interesting | Posted on 03-27-2011


These are some interesting links I found on the web over the last few weeks:

Interesting things I found on the web July 2nd through July 12th

Posted by Eric | Posted in General, Interesting | Posted on 07-12-2010


These are some interesting links I found on the web July 2nd through July 12th:

Interesting things I found on the web June 2nd through July 1st

Posted by Eric | Posted in General, Interesting | Posted on 07-01-2010


These are some interesting links I found on the web June 2nd through July 1st:

Interesting things I found on the web May 10th through May 14th

Posted by Eric | Posted in General, Interesting | Posted on 05-14-2010


These are some interesting links I found on the web May 10th through May 14th:

Interesting things I found on the web April 24th through April 28th

Posted by Eric | Posted in General, Interesting | Posted on 04-28-2010


These are some interesting links I found on the web April 24th through April 28th:

Interesting things I found on the web April 16th through April 24th

Posted by Eric | Posted in General, Interesting | Posted on 04-24-2010


These are some interesting links I found on the web April 16th through April 24th:

Interesting things I found on the web April 14th through April 16th

Posted by Eric | Posted in General, Interesting | Posted on 04-16-2010


These are some interesting links I found on the web April 14th through April 16th: