The New Computer

The XPS Box

The XPS Box

As you may or may not have heard, I finally got myself a new computer. I’ve been tweeting about it for the past few days, but if you don’t follow me on Twitter or you are not my friend on Facebook you have likely missed it. I figured that I might as well share the specs here for anyone that is interested. Especially since my next post is a long rant that describes how the setup of this baby went wrong in spectacular ways. Literally everything that could go wrong, went wrong. But more on that tomorrow. Today I just want to talk about the machine itself.

I think I previously mentioned that I was thinking about building a gaming rig from scratch. Ultimately I decided against that idea. I’m not a hardware guy, and trying to put together a machine in my tiny room didn’t seem like a good idea. If I had a big desk, or a work bench where I could spread the parts around and live them there overnight that would be a different story. I opted for paying a little bit more, and having a pre-assembled box shipped to me overnight.

Dell was having some discounts on Memorial Day, and so I bought a brand new XPS 630i machine with the following specs:

  1. Intel Core Duo E8500 3.16 GHz
  2. 8GB DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz (4 DIMM’s)
  3. Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 (1GB)
  4. 500GB NCQ SATA Hard Drive (7200 RPM)
  5. Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64 bit)
  6. Integrated audio (Realtek HD)

I like everything on that list, except the Vista bit. But I figured out that there is no point clutching onto XP for much longer. It will be end of lifed in a few years and I sort of wanted to make the jump to the 64 bit world sooner than later. Also, when Windows 7 comes along sometime next year, it will likely be easier to upgrade to it from Vista than it would be from XP.

I could have paid $100 to get XP on this machine but at the time it seemed a good idea to just go with the newer OS. After all, Vista has been on the market for a while now. Most of the major annoyances were probably fixed by now, or there are workarounds for them.

In addition I figured that more and more games will be using DirectX 10 so it is worth for me to jump on that bandwagon now. It could have been a bad decision – I don’t know.

Once I got it set up, and configured properly (see the post tomorrow) I really don’t have major gripes about Vista. My main problem is the fact that Microsoft didn’t see fit to include any of their XP Powertoys in this release. I especially liked the Powertoy Calculator and the Image Resizer. I did find alternatives though – Speedcrunch and Microsoft Office Picture Manager (which is not as handy and not free but will do for now).

All the other software I use frequently is supported – including Vim, which does have a 64 bit windows version these days. It doesn’t have a nice GUI installer but it does work fairly well.

The best thing about this new machine is that it is a beast. Vista is famous for it’s incredible slowness – especially when you use the Areo theme. On my computer it just files – I have yet to notice any slowdowns or wait for anything to load. Everything seems instantaneous. The rig even boots up in mere seconds – it is quite amazing.

One of the first games I installed on it was Fallout 3 (topic for a whole new post) and it flies as well. In fact, I know that the game has those nice loading screens that tell you some statistical information (number of people killed, quests completed) and gives you a quote of some sort to read. These things disappear so fast for me that I can’t even read them. Changing locations is more or less seamless. I’m loving it!

I haven’t had a chance to test it on too many different games yet but I’m assuming that I can expect this sort of performance from most of the titles I own. It is such a huge difference after using my old machine it makes me giggle every time something that previously took several seconds now takes virtually no time whatsoever.

Last time I felt this much computing power under my fingertips was when I was working on the brand new Sun workstation my thesis mentor got on a grant. I get the same “holly crap, this thing is fast” feeling.

I know this will pass. One day this rig will become so sluggish and so outdated I will no longer be able to work on it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that in a few months someone, somewhere will release a game that won’t even run on this thing. But until then I will enjoy having more power that I know what to do with.

Anyway, this is my new baby. Tomorrow I will tell you how it all went wrong. First thing I noticed was that it won’t fit under my desk – which has one of those “computer shelf” things. It is a fraction of an inch to small for this machine to fit. It looked big enough when I was eying it, but I was wrong. Things only got worse from that point on.

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19 Responses to The New Computer

  1. k00pa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Nice machine :) I would like to get new gaming computer… But I don’t have money…

    But is 64bit version of vim really better/faster than 32bit version :P

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  2. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I was thinking “should have built it” for the period of time between when I saw the picture of the XPS box, and when I read your explanation of why you chose not to try building it yourself.

    Your skill in anticipating me has increased by 1 point :P

    Sounds like a beast of a machine, have fun with it.

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  3. un4scene UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Yay! Congrats on the new family member! I’m still hanging onto my silly Dell XP but at least it does the basic things I need it to do.

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  4. How much did it cost you?

    Also, you’ll soon notice that almost no one compiles 64-bit binaries for Windows (Vim was a lucky exception) and you will be running mostly 32-bit software all the time anyway. And building stuff in Windows is such a pain that it’s not worth making a custom build. 32-bit is going to be around for a loooong time.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @k00pa: Now that I’m thinking about it, probably not. :P It does allow me to put in more RAM in the machine though. I have 8 in this rig. If I went with 32 bit Vista I could only put in 4. So it seemed like a good idea at the time.

    @un4scene: Yeah, there is probably no reason to upgrade to Vista for an average user (much less 64 Vista). My main reasoning was DirectX10 which only works under Vista. Only few games require it, but having access to this technology was worth while.

    I believe XP won’t be out-of-lifed for the next 4-5 years so you should be fine for a while. :)

    @Chris Wellons: It was around $1300. I probably could have gotten it cheaper if I bought it in pieces (or not from Dell) but it still seemed like a pretty decent deal at the time.

    And yeah, I’m starting to realize that. I’ll probably regret this choice in some near future. Oh well. Fuck it.

    Interestingly, Fallout 3 installed in the 64 bit folder so I’m assuming it is running naively. VLC on the other hand runs in 32 bit version only – but so far I haven’t had problems with it.

    I guess the biggest issue with running 32 bit apps on 64 bit OS is that their shell extensions won’t work. This means that if your 32 bit app puts additional choices in your context menus, they won’t show up in the 64 bit explorer.

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  6. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Nice – I’m almost jealous. I used to build myself a new gaming rig all the time. Then it just got too painful and expensive. So I live with my Thinkpad for work/general computing and I have my Xbox360 for gaming. I still miss PC gaming, but my Xbox is just less hassle. But I’m often tempted to just splash out on a rig like this :)

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  7. Mark Harding UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Matt, I got a certain vicarious satisfaction from reading this post: Partly it’s the fact you have neat gaming rig – I’m getting a new one just for games, too, when I getback from Japan because A-Train8 isn’t playing very smoothly on my old PC; partly I’m also pleased you have FO3. You know I’m still playing through with my first character (incidentally the first time I’ve tried a female character, too), I’m about 60 hours into the game and only level 13. The game just drips atmosphere. Even now I find I can’t just run around shooting at everything that moves without being seriously injured or killed – it’s just what I wanted.

    Looking forward to a few impressions from you in the future.

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  8. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    That’s one sweet gaming rig Luke! Nice. 8GB of ram is a little overboard though. Haha.

    Looking forward to more game criticisms from you then!

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  9. Rob UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Luke – 8 gigs of RAM and you didn’t get a Quad Core?? I just recently swapped out my Core 2 Due for a Quad and I love. I also upgraded from a 512 DDR2 vid card to a 1 gig DDR2 so that helps as well. Everything just flies now. So I guess I’m in the same awe stage you are. You should download the Windows 7 RC. Much faster than Vista in my opinion.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Mart: You would think that 8G is an overkill but I look at it this way: this machine will hardly ever go to swap – this is a good thing, especially when it comes to gaming.

    Also, at work I quite a few od WinXP machines. Most of them have 2.6GHz Dual core CPU’s and 4GB of RAM and are running nothing but Microsoft Office 2007 and an Anti-Virus of some sort. You open few windows of IE on them, Outlook, and 2-3 Excel documents and the damn things grind to a halt. You’d think that 4GB of ram was plenty but time and time again I see that it is not. Go figure.

    Also, the RAM upgrade to 8GB was surprisingly cheap. I probably wouldn’t get full 8 if it was expensive but it was not.

    @Rob: Yeah, I was considering a quad core but the options were limited. I could have paid $300 more and got 2.5 GHz Quad. I figured that higher clock speed + lower price might actually be a better idea. How many games fully leverage Quad core architecture anyway? As we add cores to our CPU’s we are getting into the area of diminishing returns. Having n cores does not mean your code runs n times faster – it means it runs m times faster, where m is a function of how well you can parallelize your code.

    And no, bumping the spec down to 4GB RAM would not make up the difference.

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  11. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Luke Maciak: Yeah, DDR2 ram is super-cheap these days, so why not 8GB. Hmm, I hope you won’t see that problem with Vista 64 + 8GB. I’m using Vista 64 at home with 4GB ram too, and I find running multiple apps is quite good. A friend of mine was surprised at the number of items on my systray (AV, Steam, Impulse, IMs, etc), yet the desktop still runs smoothly.

    Be sure to post a review of your PC soon yeah.

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  12. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    When I tried to look for more detailed specifications on the DELL site, I came up with $1399 for your setup, did you have a special discount or anything ? What about your screen, this computer is overkill in terms of (gaming) power for anything smaller than a 22″.

    The only component that I would stay away from is the Nvidia GTX285. It’s good, but much too expensive for its gaming performance when compared to ATI-AMD’s alternatives.

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  13. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I would be jealous if I hadn’t just done the same last week… ha ha. Nothing as über as your 8 GB of RAM (why in hell would anyone need 8Gb of DDR2 is beyond me…), but still a respectable machine.
    So I thought you might be interested in this:
    at least if you don’t know it already… :-D

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  15. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Zel: Yeah, that sounds about right. Then again I bought it on Memorial Day so I think they were applying some discounts that are probably no longer in effect. :)

    Also I know that the GTX285 has a reputation for being overpriced but in this setup it was actually the mid-range option. The ATI alternatives they offered were $200 more expensive and seemed to offer only slightly higher performance on the benchmarks I looked at.

    My screen is 17″ I think and it’s an older CRT. That’s the next component I’m replacing but I’ll wait a bit till I pay of this beast a bit. In the meantime I will enjoy my overkill. :)

    @Alphast: Sigh… Yes, 8GB is an overkill. Still, I’m pretty sure I can fill most of it just by leaving Firefox open over night. I love that browser bleeds memory like there is no tomorrow. :)

    Also, thanks for the Morrowind link. I have seen most of these tricks, but it is nice to have them all in one place like that.

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  16. DataCabbitKSW UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Fallout 3 does indeed have 64bit executables last I checked. Also there are 64bit variants of the Source engine also (HalfLife2, TF2, L4D, etc) if I am not mistaken. Mozilla put out a 64 bit developer release of FireFox called MineField and it is pretty snappy under Vista64 and the new Windows7 Release Candidate. If you want to try out the Win7 RC it is free to do so. Microsoft will give you the License Key and the downloadable bits to try out against your machine.
    You can do a dual boot install, so as not to wipe out your existing options. I have gotten Steam installed and FallOut3 and TF2 working under Win7 64 and I get better frame rates than on my Vista32 box.

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  17. I honestly think now-a-days its about the same price (cheaper?) to buy from companies like dell, instead of building the computer yourself + you get a warranty so if anything gets fucked… you are not out of luck.

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