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.
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 Crucial.com, 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 Newegg.com 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.
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 HardwareSecrets.com, 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.