Motherboard: Abit BF6, Bios Revision PO
ATA-66 Controller: Promise Ultra66, Bios Revision 1.13, Native Win 2k Driver
After heavily weighing our options, we came to the conclusion that neither the Intel i820 chipset nor the handful of PC133 chipsets offered by competing vendors would be representative of our readership base. Thus, we've decided to stick with the good old BX chipset. We've heard rumors of a slight performance hit when using the BF6's QJ bios (the latest at the time of this writing) and have thus decided to stick with revision PO. Approaching its own 2nd birthday, however, the BX chipset tops out at ATA-33 support. Thus, we've turned to the ATA-66 controller that we've already been using for nearly a year to augment our system with ATA-66 capabilities, the Promise Ultra66. Despite the problems we've been hearing about here and there with Promise's products, our experiences with the FasTrak33, the FastTrak66, and the Ultra66 have been trouble free. We've updated the Ultra66's bios to the latest available version, v1.13. We're using the Ultra66's drivers intrinsic to Win 2k.
Processor: Intel Pentium III 700 MHz
Everyone's heard about Intel's shortage problems when it comes to their highest-speed processors. Though we'd have loved to use the 800 MHz part, we couldn't find it for sale anywhere. The best we could find was 700 MHz, with only one vendor guaranteeing that they had it in stock. And it's no wonder, as they wanted $700+ for it, a hefty price even before recent price cuts. We forked up the dough and took it. Now Intel is theoretically up to 1 GHz, though some reports speculate that it'll be six months before such speeds are seen in volume. Thus, we hope a 700 MHz CPU will remain representative for some time.
RAM: 128MB PC100 SRAM DIMM
Our decision to implement application-level benchmarks drove us to briefly flirt with 256 megs of RAM for the testbed. We faced a tough decision. On the one hand, we want the testbed to be fully representative of a typical reader's system over the next two years. On the other, with today's high-level benchmarks, 256 megs of RAM would drown out a significant amount of the hard disk's contribution towards performance, perhaps excessively so. We eventually decided on just 128 megs.
Display Adapter: 3dfx Voodoo3 2000 AGP, Win 2k Driver Revision v1.00.00
The video card that we go with is of secondary importance in the grand scheme of things, considering what type of tests we run. Thus, we didn't feel pressed to go out and buy a latest-and-greatest unit. The Voodoo3 was the best card that we had lying around unused.
SCSI Host Adapter: Adaptec ASC 29160, Bios Revision v2.55, Native Win 2k Driver
Though we really wanted to standardize on the dual-channel 39160, doing so required Adaptec to get us the card in a timely manner. Unfortunately, this didn't happen. The advantage of doing so would have been isolation of the testbed's CD-ROM from the SCSI drive being tested. Though providing theoretical piece of mind, the practical advantage would have been nonexistent: the CD-ROM is never used during disk tests. In fact, after initial OS installation, the CD-ROM really hasn't been used at all. SCSI drives being tested are placed on the LVD segment while the CD-ROM remains on the SE segment. We purchased our host adapter from HyperMicro, the best SCSI dealer around (mention StorageReview.com to them when ordering and receive free shipping!).
Boot Drive: Quantum Fireball lct10
One of the quietest drives we've tested, the Fireball lct10 will be used as our boot disk for both our ATA and SCSI test setups. Our previous practice of having separate ATA and SCSI boot drives was an unnecessary extravagance that only added complexity and time to our testing cycle. The lct10's 30 gigs of space easily holds our Windows 2000 Professional installation in addition to any other operating systems that we may implement.
CD-ROM: Plextor UltraPlex Wide, Firmware Revision 1.04
Though we were initially going to go with the UltraPlex Caddy that occupied "Hoss", our standardization on the Adaptec 29160 adapter as opposed to the 39160 made us rethink this strategy. To minimize the parts that would constitute our SCSI chain (the older UltraPlex would have required an interntal 50-68 pin converter), we decided to go with the UltraPlex Wide. As its name suggests, the unit sports a wide interface straight out of the box.
Floppy Drive: Sony FDD 1.44
A no frills floppy drive for the transfer of small files. After the initial software installation, we've been using it primarily to transfer WinBench 99 Transfer Rate GIFs and IOMeter test results to another system for processing.
Keyboard: Microsoft Internet Keyboard
Though it doesn't match the clicky-feel of the NMB Keyboard used on our old test system, Microsoft's el cheapo keyboard had the best feel of the ones I could choose from at my local Best Buy.
Mouse: Microsoft IntelliMouse w/IntelliEye
We simply love the new ball-less mice from Redmond. Since we're not going to be using the testbed to surf around, though, we've settled on the less expensive IntelliMouse/IntelliEye rather than the Explorer.
Power Supply: PC Power & Cooling Silencer 235 ATX
Despite its claim, the Silencer isn't the quietest power supply around, and far from the cheapest. Still, we've had good luck with PCP&C's power supplies and the Silencer should be quiet enough keep annoying drive noises discernable.
Case: PC Power & Cooling Personal Mid-Tower
Instead of going with a hulking, expensive case as we've done before, we decided to go with a smaller mid-tower design. For simplicity's sake, we ordered a case from the same place we ordered our power supply. Davin currently uses one. It offers a fair amount of flexibility. Unlike Davin's model, however, the case's side panels lock into place quite firmly, requiring a bit of force to enter the case. The boot drive, a cool-running 5400rpm ATA unit, will be placed in the lowermost 3.5" drive bay. The CD-ROM will run in the top-most 5.25" bay, leaving an empty bay between it and the drive cooler holding our test drive in the lower-most bay.
Drive Cooler: PC Power & Cooling BayCool
We're glad to report that these days, even in the face of ever-higher migration to 7200rpm and 10000rpm drives, necessary drive cooling is an exception rather than the rule. A quiet and quite effective unit as we found in our Drive Cooler Roundup the BayCool will primarily serve as a 3.5" to 5.25" drive rail, cooling the unit when needed. A similar model can be found from California PC Products.
Sound Card: Creative Sound Blaster PCI 512, Native Win 2k Driver
Though "Hoss" didn't feature a sound card, we've decided to go with an inexpensive yet current unit to round out the system for any high-level tests that may be performed.
Network Interface Card: 3Com 3C905B-TX, Native Win 2k Driver
We've incorporated a NIC in conjunction with cable service to permit easy downloading of necessary patches and other software. Aside from some updates performed before testing, however, our software, like our hardware, will remain constant. We originally went with 3Com's HomeConnect only to find that it's a card unsupported in NT environments. Thus, we had to turn to a 3C905B-TX.
Assembly of the system was relatively painless excepting trials created by what turned out to be a defective SCSI Host Adapter. A replacement part received the next day meant that "Millennium" was finally up and running. Hardware is only half the battle, however. In the next article, we'll take a look at the software: How we installed Windows 2000 Professional, what settings were modified, and what benchmarks we chose.