2012 Computer Update

on 05 May 2012.

I've recently finished buidling a new computer with two goals in mind: (1) video and motion graphics muscle and (2) value, or Bang for the Buck. I'm mostly thinking about Adobe After Effects performance (since I spend a lot of time in that app and it's also very resource intensive), I also edit in Sony Vegas (primarily for ease-of-use and audio) and do occassional 3D work, which really grinds a machine down. It's also important to point out that I don't build computers for a living, but can be classified as an interested amateur who builds a new box every 3-4 years. 

Since this will eventually devolve into a Mac vs. PC debate, let's just get this out of the way: I love Macs. More specifically, I adore OS X. I'm on a Mac at least 50 hours a week. But like the Maker kids down the street building a robot or my neighbor restoring the '69 Mustang in his garage, I really enjoy building computers. And I think I get better Bang for the Buck from my machines than an apple.com purchase. And my Windows 7 machines (and Vista before it) are rock-solid stable, at least as reliable as my three year old Mac Pro at the office, which is slow as molases and has all sorts of quirks, like not recognizing all the RAM and choking on certain fonts. Grrrr. Don't get me started. But I'm not some jerk who's going to complain about his old, wornout Mac, then switch to a brand-spanking new Win7 machine and declare "Wow! Windows is sooooo much better! I'm never switching back to Mac!" That wouldn't be fair, would it? 

But... my new $1,690 Intel core i7 3930k 3.8GHz processor with 6 cores (12 threads) and 32GB of RAM is nearly 5x faster than the old Mac for After Effects. This is a surprisingly dramatic result, but the old 2-processor, 8 core, 2.8GHz Mac is definitely crippled by having only 4GB of RAM. That's painful. I'll toss some charts up looking not only at speed and specs, but also cost in a bit, but first, here's my build:

Component Price
Intel i7 3930k 3.5-3.8GHz processor, 6 cores (12 threads) $600
32GB of DDR3 (1600) RAM $200
ASROCK X79 Extreme4 motherboard $235
Nvidia 560Ti video card (384 CUDA cores) $230
120GB SSD (primary "hard disk") $130
CPU Cooler $35
Case $50
Power Supply (750w) $70
 Windows 7 64-bit Professional $140
TOTAL COST:  $1,690

There are some extravagances here that probably won't affect performance all that much, like the video card (AECS6 might/might not use the CUDA cores in everyday use), the 750w power supply (to accomodate the video card and maybe another one some day?), there are cheaper motherboards and the SSD, so I can see building this rig for $250 less, very realistically. And the cost to me was the full $1,690 anyhow, since the video card was canibalized from my last system and I transfered my Windows license to the new machine, which peripherally raises a very important point here: A lot of research and reading went into getting all this stuff. If you aren't interested in all this, then by all means, get out your credit card and head over to apple.com. Or hp.com. Then again, if you aren't interested in all this, you stopped reading long ago, so let's press on...

The build was fairly uneventful. Some aspects were surprisingly easy (PSU, RAM and CPU) and some tasks were bloody-knuckle frustrating (the damn CPU cooler and connecting a gajillion tiny wires to the motherboard). Took two hours start to finish, including Win7 installation. Mistakes? I made a few, but nothing got fried and I wasn't especially careful (as in attempt to install first, read the manual only if it doesn't work). Keep in mind, I've built every machine of mine since about 1995, so I have a little experience and definitely some interest in the process. If you don't, well, you know what to do: this will be an intensely not-fun process if your idea of a new computer involves unboxing it and plugging it in.

<NEXT TIME... performance charts!>


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