I’m returning to blogging after a really long hiatus. As my readers, you deserve an apology from me, and I’ll do my best to make it up to you!
I generally keep my posts brief, but the nature of the subject requires sharing detailed insights, so this post is going to be longer (and a bit technical) than usual, yet very informative and organized. As the title suggests, the post is about computers. Why the name, “Lightning?” Here’s why. In the year 2000, I got my first computer ever: a Windows 98 desktop PC. Back then, it was the fastest machine out there, with a Pentium III 450 MHz CPU, 64MB RAM, 8.4GB of hard drive storage, etc. That machine still lives, but it, actually, had gone obsolete within 2-3 years of its purchase, primarily, because:
- I had hired an IT guy to configure and build it for me, based on my very “general” requirements.
- Being in high school, I was merely an overzealous newbie to computers than a hardcore techie.
Since 2005, I have been working off of laptops—some of which are 5-6 years old, but, luckily, in tip-top condition. It was high time that I got myself a mean machine to appropriately offload a lot of downloading and (video) encoding work from my laptops, so they don’t scream to death and are spared of what remains of their lives! Having had a penchant for cutting edge tech and worked at the IT department in graduate school, I thought I was old enough to build a fully-customized desktop PC, such that it is “scalable” and “future proof” for at least 5-7 years (albeit I am shooting for 10). Below is the configuration, with brief description on the thought process behind choosing each part that went into building this “Lightning PC:”
- CABINET — Cooler Master N400 ATX Mid-tower
My previous cabinet got obsoleted as it took only microATX motherboards. I chose the N400, because it supports microATX and full ATX motherboards. It’s powder coated black inside and out, to prevent corrosion. It also has a cooling system that supports up to eight 120mm cooling fans & 240mm liquid cooling radiators for CPU and graphics cards. As for peripherals and I/O, it has 5.25″ drive bays for 2 optical drives, 3.5″ drive bays for 8 hard disk drives (HDD), 2.5″ drive bays for 3 solid state drives (SSD), 2 Super Speed USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 microphone & 1 HD Audio. More importantly, it allows for high-end graphics cards up to 12.6″ long, including NVIDIA GTX 690 & AMD HD 7990.
- POWER SUPPLY UNIT — Corsair CX430 90-264 Volts 430 Watts SMPS
I wanted an universal power supply unit, so I could take this desktop virtually anywhere in the world. The SMPS pumps out 430 Watts, which is substantial for a system with an Intel Core i7 processor and a single high-end HD graphics card. It also has a generous amount of power cables, such as 4 for SATA devices, 3 for IDE peripherals, etc.
- MOTHERBOARD — Gigabyte B75MD3H Intel B75 Chipset
The motherboard, majorly, decides the scalability and upgradability of a system. This may not be the top-notch gaming board, but it’s got all the bells and whistles one would ever need. Following are the specifications:
- Supports up to one Intel Core i7 processor
- 4 DDR3 DIMM memory slots for system memory up to 32GB and an overclocked frequency of up to 2200 MHz.
- VIDEO ports — 1 D-Sub (max. resolution 2560×1600); 1 DVI-D & 1 HDMI (max. resolution 1920×1200)
- AUDIO ports — Intel HD Audio 7.1 channel Line Out/Line In/Microphone
- ETHERNET — 1Gbps LAN
- I/O PORTS — Four 5Gbps USB 3.0 Super Speed and Eight USB 2.0 High Speed
- 1 SATA 3.0 6Gbps and 5 SATA 2.0 3Gbps connector ports
- PCI-Express 3.0 x16 ports with up to 16GB/sec
- 2x 64Mbit UEFI Dual BIOS flash
- PROCESSOR — Intel Core i3 3220 3.3 GHz 64-bit
The 3220 is a 64-bit 3.3GHz 3rd generation Intel Core i3 series dual core processor with 3MB cache and on-board Intel HD 2500 video graphics with up to 1GB of video memory support. Manufactured with Intel’s latest 22nm semiconductor process, it supports up to 32GB system memory at 1333/1600 MHz. For high-speed networking, browsing, downloading, (video) encoding work, this is a great and a very economical choice. Intel Core i5 and i7 processors are at least 2-3x expensive than the Core i3.
- MEMORY — Corsair Vengeance 8GB (4GBx2) DDR3 1600MHz
Since, support for 64-bit OS has matured, it made sense to go beyond 4GB of system memory (limited by a 32-bit OS) to harness the potential of the 64-bit processor architecture and the 1600 MHz bus speed. Memory size and speed bring about a big improvement in performance, esp. during multitasking. The Vengeance series also has fancy heat spreaders to keep the RAM cool.
- STORAGE — Seagate 1TB SATA 3.0 6Gbps 7200 rpm HDD with 64MB cache
Gigabytes is not enough storage these days. 1 Terabyte (1024GB) is a minimum recommended disk size, esp. when you’re going to store HD videos, install HD video games, and create backups. SATA 3.0 6Gbps is essential when transferring large files like HD data that is in the GB range. If boot-up times make you impatient, you may add a 60-120GB SSD to run your OS off of, while you use the HDD for data storage.
- WIRELESS LAN — TP-Link WN851ND 300Mbps 802.11b/g/n WiFi
802.11g 54Mbps is slow and almost obsolete, while 802.11ac 1Gbps will take some time to settle in. Although, ISPs may not be peaking 300Mbps, the bandwidth of 802.11n can be very useful in a local LAN for HD quality streaming and gaming. This PCI adapter came with 2×2 2dBi MIMO antennae, which I upgraded to a 2×2 5dBi MIMO antennae for better reception.
- BLUETOOTH — ASUS BT211 v2.1 + EDR 3Mbps adapter
Bluetooth comes handy especially for file transfers with mobile devices and for connecting audio devices such as bluetooth headset and speakers. This adapter has a wide range of up to 100 metres.
- CARD READER — 68-in-1 USB 2.0 Memory Card reader
Most laptops have some type of card reader that supports at least an SD card. This 68-in-1 memory card reader sits inside the 3.5″ drive bay meant for floppy drives and connects to a USB 2.0 connector on the motherboard. It supports almost any memory card one would need: Compact Flash (CF), Secure Digital (SD), Memory Stick (MS), xD card, etc. with a spare USB 2.0 port.
- OPTICAL DRIVE — Samsung 24x Dual Layer DVD Writer
An optical drive today, in my view, is merely a boot survival kit in case of accidental damage/erasure of OS or for backup. In the era of flash and SSD storage, optical media is very slow. It also may not make sense to spend extra money on a Blu-ray drive/writer, when media is available and stored digitally.
- OPERATING SYSTEM — Dual Boot with Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit + Linux Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 64-bit
A lot has changed since the time of Windows 98. A relatively new development to keep in mind when setting up Operating System(s) and disk partitions is the evolution of BIOS to a new firmware interface called UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). I’m yet to research its major benefits, but among the most claimed and observable ones are bootability of disks larger than 2TB, flexibility in pre-OS environment, such as usability of the mouse. UEFI, also referred to as EFI, is supported from Windows 7 onwards and on more recent versions of Linux such as Ubuntu and Mint Linux. I kept my primary OS to Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit, while having Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 64-bit as the secondary one. Linux has come a long way from the days of Fedora. Surprisingly, Ubuntu seems more user-friendly than Windows. It comes preloaded with generic drivers for almost every device on your system and with applications like Libre Office and VLC-like media player. I hadn’t had to install a single software on the Linux partition.
I’m sure many of you’re wondering that this ain’t no “Lightning” PC. That there are high-end multi-core processors, low latency high frequency RAM memories, high-performance SSD storage, etc. that would rather qualify a system of the title. I like to think that just having the fastest tech right away (like I did when I bought my Pentium III PC) is not the key, but having the “scalability” to do so is. I believe that this PC can scale to as far as 10 years, provided desktops are still around! As for purchasing, I sourced the parts from separate retailers/distributors in such a way that it cost me about $100 less than what it would have had I bought them online in the US.
DISCLAIMER: This post does not endorse any of the mentioned products or brands. All views are personal.