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Questions about custom system
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Indi Offline
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Post: #1
Question Questions about custom system
I am about to replace a 10 year-old computer. The old beast has served me well, up until it recently started restarting every few minutes. Even then I attempted to fix it, but I found out that pretty much every component and port on the damn thing is obsolete. Also, the last time I took it in for service the technicians laughed at it - literally, that actually happened. So, it's pretty much time to get a new system.

I'm a programmer, but I'm not really a hardware person, so I was hoping I could get the build I'm considering vetted before I go ahead with it. All the parts are (according to the website) in stock, so my plan is that once I get approval on this build, I'll walk in to the Hamilton location within the next week, and place an order.

My needs are not great, but they are a little idiosyncratic, so none of the ready-made builds worked for me. Here's a rough idea of my needs:
  • I use Linux exclusively, so I don't really need a lot of baseline horsepower. (I was using a 10 year-old system without complaints until just a week or two ago.)
  • However, I do a lot of heavy data processing that would benefit from more power. It would be so sweet if calculations I previously had to leave running over the weekend could now be done overnight, or even quicker. (And, if I can leverage the GPU, it's not unrealistic to think that could be reduced to an hour or two, or even less.)
  • I don't play games, but I do a lot of programming, and a lot of scientific/statistical data analysis - often on huge data sets. That means RAM... lots and lots of RAM. The build I'm looking at starts with 16 GiB (which would be a step up from the 4 GiB I'm used to), but can go up to 64 GiB. And of course, the faster the RAM, the better.
  • I'd also like CUDA cores (as found in Nvidia GPUs) for GPGPU programming. Specifically CUDA, because the software libraries I'd like to use only support CUDA. The GTX 960 series come with 1024 CUDA 5.2 cores, which is plenty. (I don't actually need a GPU for graphics because I'm not a gamer - the on-board GPUs on most mobos would be fine - but I really want those CUDA cores.)
  • The computer will be always-on, and function as a (Apache HTTP and samba file) server for my home intranet, serving my laptop and other devices.
  • I'd like to keep it under $1500 (not counting the monitor).
  • And of course, I'd like the system to last me another decade (modulo reasonable maintenance expectations, like replacing fans or maybe a drive).

Here's the build I cobbled together on my own: http://ca.pcpartpicker.com/list/cXKGf8

Notes:
  • Core i7 (Skylake) quad core - should be fairly future proof.
  • 16+ GiB DDR4 RAM - for my heavy (from a Linux perspective) RAM needs, expandable to 64 GiB. I probably don't need more than 2133 MT/s, but it was so cheap (and in some steps, free) to go a little faster, I figured why the hell not. In the end I went up to 3000 MT/s and still got CL15, for like $20-$25 more than the baseline.
  • I don't really need huge amounts of storage - 20 GiB would be more than I'll ever need for the OS and all applications, so a 120 GiB SSD gives me plenty of room for that, plus a generous home partition. The HDD isn't even necessary, but it might come in handy (and I might put a swap partition on it).
  • I'm not keen on the idea of liquid cooling - it will sit under a desk in a relatively cool room out of sunlight.
  • My main concern with the case was to have USB connectors on the front - it's going under a desk.
  • The DVD-ROM and monitor are only necessary because my existing DVD-ROM and monitor use obsolete connectors (IDE and VGA respectively). (At least my 2.1 speakers are still usable, though the monitor I've chosen has built-in speakers.) I just picked the monitor based on what would fit on my desk, and it has a good response time for watching movies.

In addition to any advice or suggestions you can offer me about the build, I have some questions:
  • The motherboard is the component I'm the least certain about, and I've probably gone overboard on it. I chose this one because it supports 64 GiB of fast (>2133 MT/s) DDR4 RAM. But honestly, I can't figure out how to read the transfer rate specs. What does "3200+(OC) ~ 2133" mean? That it is 2133 MT/s by default but it can go up to 3200 MT/s when overclocked, or that it supports 2133 MT/s - 3200 MT/s normally but can go higher than 3200 MT/s if overclocked?
    With this CPU+mobo+RAM combination, will I actually get RAM transfer rates of 3000 MT/s? (I'd like to avoid overclocking anything in any case.)
  • I suspect this mobo is overblown for my needs. Would this be a reasonable choice? (Given that I'll never use SLI.)
  • The mobo includes a PS/2 connection for keyboards. I presume because it's a gaming mobo, and gamers like PS/2 keyboards. But if I use a USB keyboard, will I still be able to access the BIOS?
  • Can I boot from USB or only the optical drive? Could I install Linux from USB onto this system?
  • Do I have adequate cooling for an under-the-desk system? (I very rarely heard the fan spin up on my old system - that usually only happened when Firefox went sideways.)
  • Is the 500W PSU be sufficient?

And lastly and most importantly, if I order this list of components, would CC build the system? Obviously since I'm not buying an OS, I'd only expect them to get it to the point that it successfully POSTs and it would be up to me to provide a bootable USB drive. If they do offer this service, how much do they charge?
06-29-2016 09:38 AM
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Post: #2
RE: Questions about custom system
1) Motherboard is overkill for your purpose, you can drop down to something with a B150 chipset like this.

2) Ram is cheap, use the motherboard savings to get a 32GB (2x16GB) kit now, then pick up another later, don't waste money on 8GB dimms if you plan to go to 64GB with 4 ram slots. Enable XMP/XMP 2 in the BIOS to take advantage of RAM speeds above 2133mhz, its not on by default.

3) USB keyboard will work fine in the BIOS, PS2 port is there for people who want minimum latency between key press and input.

4) USB boot shouldn't be a problem, basically every board supports it now.
06-29-2016 10:15 AM
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Post: #3
RE: Questions about custom system
(06-29-2016 10:15 AM)Defiant Wrote:  1) Motherboard is overkill for your purpose, you can drop down to something with a B150 chipset like this.

You know, I didn't know that m-ATX was compatible with ATX. Well, that opens up my options considerably!

But I notice that in the manual for that MSI board it says the B150 version only supports 2133 MT/s - for anything more you need the Z170 version.

Given that this board is on sale for cheaper (assuming I buy it tomorrow) and has fairly identical specs*, should I go with that one? In particular, I know MSI but have never heard of ASRock... is the MSI board a better choice quality-wise?

* (Except the ASRock board allows overclocking the RAM to get >2133 MHz (which I'm not 100% sure I'll do), and it offers 6xUSB 3.0 rather than 4x3.0+2x2.0 (which, because one port will have a mouse, really boils down to having a single port being either 3.0 or 2.0), and some more expansion slots (which admittedly I'll never use) - and the only downside is that it doesn't come with 7.1 sound built-in (I'd need to buy an extra module for that, but I won't be using surround sound anyway).)

(06-29-2016 10:15 AM)Defiant Wrote:  2) Ram is cheap, use the motherboard savings to get a 32GB (2x16GB) kit now, then pick up another later, don't waste money on 8GB dimms if you plan to go to 64GB with 4 ram slots. Enable XMP/XMP 2 in the BIOS to take advantage of RAM speeds above 2133mhz, its not on by default.

Yeah, you know, I actually considered getting 1x16 rather than 2x8 (so I could add 1 then 2 more 16 GiB sticks later), but the only 16 GiB sticks CC sells are 2133 MT/s. I even considered going the other way, and getting 4x4 GiB, because the 4 GiB sticks are fast - I figured if I ever upgrade, I'd just sell the 4 GiB sticks on eBay or whatever in 2 sets of 2, and by then presumably there'd be faster 16 GiB DDR4 RAM.

But I really don't want to worry about overheating or instability, so maybe I'll just settle with 2133 MT/s and get a pair of 16 GiB sticks like you suggest. Realistically speaking, with CPU caching the transfer rate and latency probably won't make any noticeable difference except in rare cases. In that case it makes no real difference which mobo of the two options above (the ASRock or the MSI) I choose.

(06-29-2016 10:15 AM)Defiant Wrote:  3) USB keyboard will work fine in the BIOS, PS2 port is there for people who want minimum latency between key press and input.

4) USB boot shouldn't be a problem, basically every board supports it now.

Excellent news on both counts. Thanks for settling my concerns!
06-29-2016 08:36 PM
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Post: #4
RE: Questions about custom system
That Z170 board would be better for your purpose then, ASrock is basically just Asus.

Normally I wouldn't push going with the faster RAM, but it sounds like you are doing things which would actually benefit from it. If CC doesn't have the proper ram kits for your build then you can order them elsewhere. RAM won't overheat unless are you sticking it in some low profile case with zero cooling beside a furnace. Remember to turn on XMP in the BIOS to take advantage of the faster speed.
06-30-2016 09:08 AM
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Indi Offline
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Post: #5
RE: Questions about custom system
Ah, Asus is a name I know.

So I went in and bought it today - the store had every part I needed except the graphics card, and I just substituted one that's more or less equivalent (all I was really after were the CUDA cores, so clock speeds and such made no difference to me). I also had to change the monitor.

I went with your advice and got 2x32 GiB RAM. Turns out CC does carry fast 16 GiB sticks - I just got confused browsing their site. Also I got the ASRock mobo.

It came to a lot more than I'd hoped to spend, but meh - I probably won't replace it for another decade, so it's worth it. I left it with them to build, so I hope I'll get it early next week.

Thanks for all your help!
07-01-2016 12:45 AM
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