System building used to be easy. A little over a decade ago, building your own system meant buying an ASUS, Abit, or Shuttle motherboard with FSB overclocking abilities, a 3dfx Voodoo Graphics (if you cared about gaming), and a Sound Blaster AWE64 (if you cared about sound). Things have gotten way more complicated now. Nowadays, system building enthusiasts have to think about memory latency, thermal and acoustic management, power supplies, and most recently, HDCP support on the video card.
A little over a year ago, we built the "Ultimate Workstation" with a pair of AMD Opteron 252 CPUs, 4GB of RAM, and a beefy 650W power supply. In January, we did a brief refresh article focusing on a "$400/component" system, highlighting Silverstone's flagship TJ-07 and the aluminum monobody construction. We thought these articles would stick around at least until 2007. Sure faster GPUs and CPUs would come out, but the principles behind component selection surely wouldn't change…
Oh, how wrong we were. The state of PC technology has changed so much in the last six months that it's time to write a new system building guide. Forget everything you've learned about system building – it's time to start with a fresh slate, and today we're going to take a look at just how far technology has improved in the last year.
As always, our philosophy behind these "system building" articles has always been to provide a framework and approach to component selection. Don't think of these as a recipe for a system. Instead, focus on our approach to component selection.