Buying a new computer in 2010

I bought four Core 2 systems back in 2008 (see here and here), They're all running fine - the e7200 is my wife's office machine, the e7300 is the kitchen computer, the e7400 is my Windows test machine, and the q9300 is my Linux test machine which runs valgrind on the wine test suite every morning. But now that I'm working at home more, I really need a separate development workstation. This machine needs to do entry level gaming, too, so I'll use an nvidia GeForce GT 220 and a motherboard without onboard graphics.

Here's the non-cpu-specifc part of the system:

Now on to the cpu-specific part.

i7 920

According to phoronix-test-suite's build-linux-kernel benchmark, my q9300 takes 690 seconds to compile the kernel, but the i7 920 takes only 340 seconds.

Here's a possible configuration:

Grand total: $1106 plus $106 tax and $24 3-day shipping = $1236

AMD Phenom II x4 955

AMD is worth a look, too. The AMD Phenom II x4 955, $160 at newegg, takes 450 seconds (384 seconds overclocked) on the same benchmark, and might be a good choice if you're short on cash.

Here's a possible configuration:

So, is the extra $250 worth the extra 30% performance? Shmaybe... especially since buying a new computer less than twice as fast as the old one just seems wrong.

I decided on the i7, and am waiting for it to arrive. I'll update this page once I have benchmarks.

Problem #1: Socket mismatch

Whoops. The i7-920 has 1366 pins, but the BOXDP55WB doesn't. Had to upgrade to a more expensive motherboard, chose the ASRock x58 Extreme ($160 at newegg). If I could do it all over again, I'd probably have chosen the i7-860 instead, which is the same price and just as fast, if not faster, on many benchmarks... and can use the cheaper motherboards.

Problem #2: won't boot with more than one stick of RAM in, LEDs stuck at 38

After initial system assmebly, the system would boot, but only if exactly one stick of ram is in. Doesn't matter which stick, doesn't matter which of the (white) slots; more than one stick, and the Dr. Debug LED says "38" and hangs. I contacted ASRock, got an RMA, and exchanged the board for a new one. Problem solved.

Problem #3: Won't boot, LEDs stuck at 75

After six months of reliable use, the system started refusing to boot again. Even with just one stick of RAM, the LEDs are stuck at 75. I can't even adjust the DRAM voltage because the board doesn't stay up long enough to let me do that; it hangs after Entering SETUP and before Setup starts. It usually still responds to control-alt-delete, though.

I contacted ASRock, got an RMA, and exchanged the board for a new one again (good thing it was still within the 1 year warranty period). Problem solved.

Problem #4: kernel panic when reading DVD info

The tiny test program low.c causes a kernel panic, reported as ASRock couldn't care less, since they don't support Linux. Possible workaround: buy a plug-in SATA controller with a different chip, and plug the DVD into that.

Problem #5: won't boot, LEDs stuck on 75

After two years of reliable operation, the computer suddenly started not booting. The Dr. Debug LED says "75". This is very early, about when the IDE drives are being detected, and you can't get into the BIOS prompt. Resetting the CMOS by moving the little jumper for a second didn't seem to help, but the next morning, after complaining about bad CMOS checksum, the computer started booting properly again. It's been OK for two weeks since, so I guess that really did fix it.

ASRock's technical support people have responded promptly via email every time I've asked them anything. They won't support Linux, though, so if you have a problem after OS boot, you'd better have Windows running.

Related pages

I saw these after I did my research, haven't checked my list against them yet:
Originally written March 2010; updated July 2012
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Dan Kegel