System Builder’s Blog for June 24, 2008

From time to time, I want to share experiences building Vista systems with our readers. In the last month, I’ve built (and rebuilt) at least three Vista systems, one an upgrade on my Dell Latitude D620 notebook from Windows XP SP3 to Vista Business SP1, another a brand-new build on a QX9650 quad-core system in a very nice Antec 900 case (they call it a gaming case, but I still like it anyway), and another in imaging (then re-imaging) an HP tx2000z tablet PC.

The XP notebook upgrade will also be documented at some time soon, in the form of a voiceover video that I scripted and my colleague and frequent collaborator created about the upgrade process, and also served as the basis for another recent Viz Vista blog here. I’ve said plenty about this already, and just want to observe that you shouldn’t tackle a Vista upgrade unless you can devote a long day to the project (It took me about 11 or 12 hours, all told) nor should you do this unless you’re willing to back up before you start, and then again (1) after you get the system installed, (2) after you apply all necessary Windows Updates, and (3) after you apply Vista Service Pack 1. That’s a lot of backups!

The XP tx2000z tablet PC makes up a review that should shortly appear on, and applauds this notebook for good tablet features and reasonable price/performance. There were only things I didn’t like about it. First, it suffers from miserable battery life: the 4-cell battery that HP included by default with my review unit lasted less than an hour under most circumstances. HP now includes a 6-cell battery by default, probably because early buyers no doubt complained that the 4-cell model was nearly useless. Shoot, even the 8-cell battery you can buy for $50 extra when you purchase the machine won’t give you much more than a little over two hours when watching a movie; slightly less doing productivity apps (at least, as MobileMark07 measures such things), and just over three hours when doing light reading and surfing maneuvers. Second, the screen on the tx2000z is a little grainy and lacks detail, probably because it’s a 12.1″ diagonal display, and because the touchscreen requires a coating that imparts some blur to its output. I still found myself lusting after one, though, because the tx2000z works so nicely as a tablet PC, with nice ergonomics, good finger or stylus response, and is reasonably light and portable, even with the 8-cell battery installed.

The quad-core system also includes an 8800GT graphics card with HDCP, along with an Asus Blu-ray player, and some other interesting odds and ends. I’ll be using this machine to dig into the high-definition audio capabilities of the soon-to-be-available Asus Xonar HDAV sound card, which explains why I also just sprung $800 for a Dell UltraSharp © 2707WFP (Widescreen Flat Panel monitor). Inside the Antec 900 case, my favorite among those odds’n’ends is a Gigabyte ODIN 800W power supply with USB monitoring output: it’s whacky but effective: they designed it to plug into a standard Type A USB port, or the 4-pin half of a 9-pin block on a USB motherboard header. This unit provides all kinds of interesting output that programs like HWMonitor will happily pick up and display, as shown in the following screen shot (click on the thumbnail to view the full size image).

HWMonitor on Dell Latitude D620 notebook upgrade

HWMonitor on Dell Latitude D620 notebook upgrade

I really, really like the Antec case, except for one thing. They equipped all three 120mm fans and the humongous 200mm fan only with 4-pin molex connectors. You have to plug them straight into the power supply, and can’t plug them into fan headers on the motherboard, or into a fan controller to read and manage fan speed dynamically. They do, however, provide 3-way (low, medium, high) switches for each fan, so you can turn them down to limit noise output. A quick Web search shows me that one can purchase 3- or 4-pin to Molex adapter cables for $5 a whack, so I may end up doing just that, and installing a fan controller as well. Right now, those fans make a little more noise than I’d like. I’ve got a much quieter build for my current production desktop, and it’s got a hotter-running QX6800 65nm CPU inside.

Please let me know if you’d like to see some photos of any of these builds, and I’ll be happy to throw some up in a future blog.



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