The stuff of dreams

Putting together Windows Middle East each month is interesting and challenging but the upcoming October edition (on sale throughout September) was the WinLabs team's Everest as far as technical challenges go. Why? Well for the first time ever, the team dared to build a hot and heavy ‘Dream PC' from scratch, which you can then win.

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  August 29, 2007

Putting together Windows Middle East each month is interesting and challenging but the upcoming October edition (on sale throughout September) was the WinLabs team's Everest as far as technical challenges go. Why? Well for the first time ever, the team dared to build a hot and heavy ‘Dream PC' from scratch, which you can then win.

For most people, the word ‘dream' is generally associated with something that's difficult, if not impossible, to attain. So, when we were putting together this machine, you can imagine we were a little anxious about building something being billed a ‘Dream PC'.

Thankfully, the hours and hours of planning and component compatibility testing eventually paid off and the team wound-up with something that could easily be the ultimate rig for power users and hardcore gamers.

Before we could get busy rounding up the components that make this PC tick, we brainstormed potential configurations and quickly got into serious debates about which components to choose. If you're thinking ‘why not just use the fastest, most expensive components available', unfortunately, in the world of PCs, rig building isn't black and white.

Just planning what core components (CPU, memory, motherboard and graphics card) we wanted took the longest time, as there were hundreds of ‘what if' scenarios. For instance, we debated whether to use a DDR2- or DDR3-based motherboard - and thus memory - and whether or not we should include a multi-GPU system. Unfortunately, even after deciding on a specification, we had to go back to the drawing board after building the machine and running numerous tests.

For instance, we originally built a DDR3 system because it is the power efficient successor to DDR2 and present DDR3 can run at a frequency of 1333MHz. This is exactly what a 1333MHz front side bus (FSB) based Core 2 processor (such as the chip we used in the machine) requires for top performance. Unfortunately, when we set-up the rig and grilled it using our benchmarking suite, the scores we recorded were slightly lower than those an earlier DDR2 test threw up (using the same CPU and graphics card). Some of the team expected this, as current DDR3 memory has high latency timings, which can bog down performance - depending on the software - despite the higher memory bus speed. So why did we even bother you ask? Because we were hoping the high clock speed would cover the latency performance hit.

Another brick wall, as far as DDR3 was concerned, was how much of it we could cram in. It was impossible to track down two 1333MHz, 1Gbyte modules and when we used a configuration of 4 sticks x 512Mbytes (2Gbytes), the motherboard only recognised 1.5Gbytes. Considering that 2Gbytes is currently the ideal amount of memory to have, we finally decided to build a DDR2-based system as 1Gbyte sticks are widely available and have low latencies.

Graphics-wise, the choice of which GPU to use was easy because nVidia's GeForce 8800 Ultra has proved itself. What the team did debate was whether or not to go the multi-GPU SLI (Scalable Link Interface) route or not. Our last SLI run in proved an eye opener in that while performance increased, the gains were far from impressive and we ran into a multitude of stability issues. As we were building the dream PC, we decided now was as good a time as any to revisit the technology. The end result? Slightly better than before but still not up to scratch, which ultimately meant we stuck to one card.

When the machine finally roared to life and made mincemeat of all our benchmarks (check out page 92 of the October issue), the team was thrilled. The only thing left now is for a lucky someone to win it. So, hit itp.net/competitions on September 1 or check out page 94 of our October issue.

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