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Computer Upgrade 4

The purpose of this page is to keep track of information about my next computer, tentatively referred to as "Computer Upgrade 4" to succeed my current system, superslab. Superslab was purchased as part of Computer Upgrade 3 at the beginning of 2009.

My typical purchase cycle is that once every few years, I'll maximum overbuy a system, possibly one with a lot of upgrade and expansion headroom, and use that system for a long time. Between system buys, I'll often purchase small systems to use for experimental tasks or to see what's happening in the budget space.

Superslab is a Lenovo ThinkPad T400, and it is as of this writing, (2014-09) about to be six years old. I replaced it two years ago with a Microsoft Surface RT for on-the-go computing, and the Surface has handled this task perfectly, so aside from an emergency replacement of the RT or something else to use as a portable system, my next "main computer" should be a powerful stationary computer equipped with a very large display and a good keyboard, mouse, and speakers. The purpose for this is to create a system that does tasks I can not currently do on superslab, such as virtualization and playing certain types of games.

Use Cases

In addition to the office tasks, Internet and media (both consumption and photo management with Lightroom) usage I currently do on superslab, I'd like to do virtualization and gaming on the new computer.

Gaming, at the level I'd like to do it, will require a discrete GPU of some sort, although that can be added to the machine after the initial build, and is a piece that can very easily be replaced over the life of the machine.

Virtualization will require at least 16 gigabytes of memory. Ideally, 32 gigabytes will be a configuration option. Because some of the things I'd like to do are protoype entire networks, it's a question of how likely I am to need to do this before I migrate TECT over to Hyper-V, at which point it should have somewhere between 48 and 96 gigabytes of memory available, some of which can be used for testing purposes.


The most simple timeline for the project is "as soon as possible." However, A more realistic timeline is that I will have the budget set aside within the next year. (by September, 2015, say.)

I don't want to buy the components to the system in incremental steps over a long period of time. When I start to make a buy, I want to buy all of the parts needed to assemble a functional computer and install Windows on it in one go.


Unless I give up on both virtualization and gaming, I see no way I'm escaping this build for less than $1000. Given that I need to buy a new monitor as well, I'm probably looking at $2,500 in total, not counting anything extra I'd like to do such as SLI video cards (almost certainly not necessary) or really specific storage configurations, such as extremely large solid state drives, or 10/15,000 RPM disks.

Part of the issue this time around is that I don't have a bunch of money sitting around to be spent on the new system, so I need to decide (and this is an issue where my thoughts change almost daily) exactly how to fund the system. There are definitely different ways to be able to afford something.


Because I'm not necessarily buying an off-the-shelf or even custom configured OEM system, one of the first decisions is what platform I will choose. This influenced by what capabilities I want in the system. For example, Intel H97 can run dual GPUs and a fair number of storage devices and accomodate 32 gigabytes of memory, but does not have overclocking capabilities. If I want more than 32 gigabytes of memory, or more than four processor cores, Intel X99 or an AMD platform may be where I look, at the expense of single-threading performance.

The major advantage of X99 is that there's an appreciable processor upgrade available from the $380 six-core starter CPU to either Broadwell-E in a year or so or to the high end eight-core CPU.

On the other hand, X99 costs at least twice as much as H97/Z97 to get started. The motherboards are all over twice what a basic H97 board will cost, you need more memory just to get started and it costs more than DDR3, a discrete video card is mandatory, and the CPU costs over twice what an i5 for the desktop platform would cost.