Hi. I'm looking to get a new computer to replace this rather dated P4 with 512MB RAM, and since I've never really gotten a new - as in brand-new - PC before, I'd like a bit of help to sort out the finer details. First up, I'm not a gamer, so if you think I just want overclock advice or want to know something about watercooling... my questions are slightly different than those :P
In terms of computing in general I'm pretty okay, but with the gigantic gold rush that is today's hardware market, diving in for the first time can be a little daunting, and no doubt, I'm a little taken aback. Thankfully, I can attribute my ability to catch onto new concepts to my youth, but without knowledge I could easily be cut a deal that leaves me stranded 6 months from now with faulty hardware that just got out of warranty.
So you know, the upper budget is about $5k, and while that might seem quite high, two things: firstly, I live in Australia, which loves to overprice things so we can consider $500 already gone just on inflation (or whatever it is that makes computer hardware so expensive here); and secondly, this is a "brand-new PC makeover" for someone who's been stuck in the dark ages with computing for the last 7 years (I got my first PC, likely an XT, an early AT or a 286, running DOS 3.3, back in '97-'98 - "what's Windows? O.o" - thankfully I know a lot more about computers now, got the 'Net in late '06 and am using Linux after a 2-5 month wait for enough $ to get a new HDD ), so I need to shell out a fair bit as I'll also be upgrading from CRT to LCD as well, upgrading hard disk space from just under 400GB total in this entire room to 1TB+, etc.
Now, I talk software much better than hardware at the moment, but have a shakey understanding of hardware (I've been doing an unofficial one-week-or-so cram course on hardware and have learned a lot more than I'd expect I could), so I'll itemize what sort of hardware I think I need, list what software I want to run on it, and let you tell me what I really need to run the software I want.
Therefore, without further ado, let me begin.
First... I need equal Linux and Windows support for everything here.
Hardware I think I need
A quad-core CPU, to drive all the stuff I want to be able to do.
I need a lot of display real estate so think two 22" wide LCDs and one 30" LCD is my best bet; as I'm a visual thinker, this is definately a would-like, since I'd be able to leave a ton of stuff open at once and being able to see it all at once... would just make me think faster and therefore be more productive.
I know that to drive a 30" display, dual-link DVI is required, so consider a 9800GX2 a smart move as it is two cards in one and saves me the hassle of having to buy/set up two individual cards. Plus, it's the top of the line card at the moment and the kind of animation work I'll be getting into in the future requires I have the most powerful graphics cards in existance.
I want to watch HD-DVD and BD-DVD on my shiny new PC, as well as tune into Australian digital and analogue TV signals, record TV, etc, and pause it too. Yes, I may need some help from some fellow Aussies on that :P
The 22" display on my right will mostly display static content such as reference material, email or IRC but #1, I want to be able to #1, toss any window on any screen onto another (so I assume I'll need one single copy of X), and #2, I'll be displaying realtime animation on all of the screens at different stages (as I plan to create an animation-rich alert system that will take advantage of all the screens in the house). Therefore, I probably need to get dual 9800GX2s so I can synchronize the single copy of X across both cards...?
Because Creative cards have bass boost support, I like Creative. After listening to my P4's onboard, bassboost-less audio for the first time in... uhh... months, I've discovered that the SB16 I've been using is really, uh, garbage quality, so want nice quality plus bass boost. So, I want a new Creative SoundBlaster sound card, and for no other reason (excluding the fact that it's an SB, which is a given) than the fact that the Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio has an audio breakout box that simply looks awesome, I have my eyes on this card. It has optical audio in/out and while I can't take advantage of that sort of thing right now, the presense of that on a sound card indicates quality. However... I've been told that its Linux support is terribly poor, and weak. What sort of issues would I face if I got this card? Is the breakout box/volume control really worth this card (out-of-computer-display volume is a big selling point for me, admittedly)?
Like the X-Fi, the Logitech Z-5500 has an awesome looking audio controller, a backlit LCD and everything, and is Yet Another Volume Control (With A Few Extra Features Built Into The Controller)(TM), so an instant Very Good Idea(TM)... but really, is this audio controller worth it? It doesn't even have a headphone jack that I can see, so I wouldn't even be able to apply the audio effects the controller can produce through headphones.
Different things I know I need
IDE support on the mobo, so I can run OSes that don't have SATA support.
FDD support. You never know...
An onboard buzzer or speaker!
SATA2 on the mobo; pretty standard.
A lot of space. I'd say "10TB" but that would probably set the price back $7k in itself so I can't go there. However, I want about 400GB for OS data (I'll have various different Linux distros, and two Windows installs - Vista and XP), and maybe 1 to 2TB for user data. 1TB drives are $200 nowadays so that shouldn't be an issue.
Stuff I'm not sure about
The CPU vendor/model. Should I go Intel or AMD? I was told by a computer store that AMD + Linux is worse than Intel + Linux. Is this true, or simply a ploy to make me buy the more expensive Intel processor? Regardless of vendor, I think I should go quad-core, so that said, what MHz should I try and reach for (remember, my bank is easily breakable =P)?
The graphics card vendor/model. Like the CPU, I don't know if I should go ATi. I've had a very, very bad experience with an ATi card recently; ultimately, I was left in textmode, albeit at my own error (I managed to get the idea that blacklisting intel_agp from the module list modprobed on boot would be a good idea - I mean, why not disable all unused modules? :P) but it was the fault of the ATi card. It really was (RV505 isn't supported; had to recompile X and everything; X didn't work properly due to ld.so preload issues; tried to overwrite X build with distro packages; thought I broke something; etc)! However, the point is that card or no card, I have a bad taste in my mouth associated with ATi, but am willing to give them a go provided I can be guaranteed a no-hassle setup/installation (within the as-is limitations that Linux constrains everything/everyone to, of course). I do know that ATi's RV770 chipset line look promising... very promising...
The mobo. This is the big blank. I just don't know what's good/optimal and what isn't. I know I need IDE support, but I only need a single channel as two IDE HDDs will be fine: one for OS data, and one for user data that will (probably) ultimately end up on my SATA user data drive. Or one with a few partitions on it for each (which will most likely be what happens, considering I have a 250GB IDE disk I can migrate to my 1TB disk when I get the latter). Once again considering the GPU, I think I should get a board with CrossFire support.
If I were to go nVIDIA, Would getting a 9800GX2 - which only has two video outputs - along with eg an 8600GT be a worse idea than getting, say, two 8800GT cards and SLIing those together to get 4 video outputs along with dual link for the 30" LCD?
Software - Linux
The GIMP, editing rather large images
Inkscape, editing rather large images
Firefox, with a prodigious (200+) amount of tabs open for an indefinite period of time; more likely than not multiple windows open as well
Compiz Fusion with basically everything enabled
Beagle and/or anything of its type, but better
A full GNOME or KDE desktop (taking into account that I'd be using Emerald, not KWin or Metacity)
Blender with very complex scenes such as true-to-live video (can you do that sort of thing? I'd assume you can)
The Banshee audio player (which requires Mono and stuff, to give you an idea of its dependancies)
Games - Linux
I've never really played 3D games before, since I only have 64MB of Intel video, which I was never able to "get going" under my distro, Arch Linux (glxinfo has always reported no direct rendering, and I've never really bothered to try to make it say yes), but I want to get into the latest 3D games and be able to play them without jittering.
Software - Windows (whichever of Vista or XP are required)
Maya with RenderMan
Games - Windows (ditto in the requirement department)
Refer to Linux section for info, except that the context is native Windows games.
This PC is the first leg of a life course that will take me through the graphics arena and into the realtime animation field, so I'm basically asking for integrity here - this is the computer I'll most likely see and use for most of the next 5 or so years - maybe more, considering upgrades and such - so I need a workhorse. When recommending things, please do recommend things that you know won't randomly die - especially in the graphics department - but not something that'll break the bank.