Mark’s PC Project

So, I’ve been an avid computer user (mostly PCs) since the mid-80s. It’s hard to count how many computers I’ve owned since then. Do I count upgrades or just the chassis? Or perhaps it would be best to just count the number of CPUs I’ve gone through. Lessee… XT, AT, 486DX33, P120, K6 233, K6-2 350, Duron 800, Athlon 1800+. Doesn’t seem like much now that I think about it… 🙂

Each time I’ve upgraded CPUs, regardless of whether I got a new motherboard, case, and whatnot, my computers have gotten louder and louder. Or maybe it’s that I’m becoming more sensitive to noise in my old age. Or maybe since computers get faster and faster, fast enough to finally satisfy my needs (for the time being–say 6 months or so…:)), I look to other things I could try to aspire for.

Today I aspire for a small PC which is fast enough for my gaming needs and is quiet enough for my music and movie playing needs. I know I could get a completely quiet system by going with say an Eden chip which doesn’t require much in terms of heat dissipation, but that would only satisfy two of the three criteria (small and quiet). What I really needed was something that could run today’s performance processors AND today’s performance video cards AND be small and quiet. Enter Shuttle’s XPC.

Shuttle’s mini-PC (pictured here is the SN41G2)

I’d first heard about Shuttle in December 2001 on Anandtech, but the verdict was that it wasn’t fast enough for gaming… no AGP slot. In July, Shuttle came out with a P4 with AGP slot version of the Small Form Factor PC. Still, by the late 90s I had already been converted to an AMD supporter, mostly because I believe competition breeds better products. Rumors about an AMD version of Shuttle’s SFF PC (dubbed XPC by Shuttle) surfaced around the same time the P4 version came out and I patiently waited, thinking hmmm when that comes out might be about the same time I should upgrade. Well, now there is a Socket A with AGP version of Shuttle’s XPC; wait no… there are two! Thus begins this article.

I have two computers right now:

Computer 1: Mark’s

  • motherboard: Asus A7V133
  • CPU: AMD Athlon 1800+ (1.43gHz)
  • memory: 512 PC133 (two 256 DIMMs)
  • video: GeForce4 Ti 4200 with both analog out and DVI out AND weird not quite S-video in/out
  • sound: SBLive Value (it kinda sucks actually in terms of compatability issues)
  • others: WD 80gig HD, CDRW, floppy, keyboard, mouse, etc.
  • sound issues: 3 (though quiet) case fans, PSU fan, Thermaltake Volcano 7+ CPU HS and fan–this computer isn’t loud, it’s just not quiet

Computer 2: Robin’s

Basically this is an older K6-2 350 on a Super Socket 7 motherboard. The only item of significance (and this is a stretch) is the video card, a GeForce2 MX.

Mark’s PC–note the TV as second monitor!

Robin’s PC

So, why upgrade? Three main reasons:

  1. Robin and I are trying to minimize the space all our stuff takes up as we prepare to move in August (we’ll be selling our CDs and books and other stuff soon)
  2. I want to get Robin a faster computer so that we can do some LAN gaming together and for when I have friends over (not sure how legit a reason this is but I believe she will enjoy Dungeon Siege a great deal!)
  3. a small (very small) computer without compromising speed nor an AGP slot for good video would be great to take to LAN parties.

Mark’s new computer

  • case and motherboard: Shuttle SN41G2 barebones mini-case with mini version of nForce2 motherboard
  • CPU: AMD Athlon 1800+ from other computer
  • memory: 512 PC2700 Corsair XMS (two 256 sticks to take advantage of dual memory channels on the nForce2)
  • video: GeForce4 Ti 4200 with both analog out and DVI out AND weird not quite S-video in/out from other computer
  • sound: built-in audio
  • others: Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 60gig, Creative DVD drive (got it lying on my bookshelf doing nothing), keyboard (possibly a flexible keyboard from Empire Hero or the Virtually Indestructible Keyboard–LAN parties again–the deciding factor is whether I’ll have to get a USB keyboard), mouse, etc.
  • sound issues: heat-pipe, low power PSU, hard drive featuring some new fangled sound reducing technology (fluid encased ball bearings or something like that)

I love the idea of this Shuttle system. They came up with a heat-pipe HS for the CPU which minimizes the noise coming out (check out the Anandtech article for more info). The PSU is only rated at 200W which makes me wonder if it can handle an Athlon chip, but reviews seem to indicate that it should be fine. If this is true then the 200W is great since it lowers energy requirements making it cost less to run both in terms of economics and in terms of the environment. Eventually, when prices are low enough, the perfect companion would be an LCD monitor or two to further make it an ideal LAN computer and to further reduce energy requirements.

Computer 1a: Robin’s planned trickle down computer

  • motherboard: Asus A7V133
  • *CPU: AMD Duron 1.3 bought new
  • memory: 512 PC133 (two 256 DIMMs)
  • *video: GeForce2 MX from her old computer
  • sound: SBLive Value (it kinda sucks actually in terms of compatability issues)
  • others: WD 80gig HD, CDRW, floppy, keyboard, mouse, etc.
  • *sound issues: same PSU fan, 1 case fans (used to be 3), and new Zalman 3100-Plus fan-shaped heatsink (this comes with a big 92mm fan–most HS fans are about 60-70mm–and hopefully this will reduce the noise quite a bit)

Items marked with * are the items that are being swapped in. The idea here is that if I get a Duron which puts out less heat then I can use the very quiet (from what I hear) Zalman CPU HS and fan. Also with less heat, perhaps I can get rid of some of the other case fans and further reduce noise.

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