Shuttle SD37P2, NVidia GeForce 8800 and Vista Aero
I’m not a hard core gamer, or a hardware freak per se, but in my quest to build a small form factor (SFF) PC that will last a few years before having to upgrade I decided to push the envelope on SFF PCs. I have three boxes on the go at the moment including an older Shuttle SD31P. Space is an issue, and I’ve always liked the idea of being able to grab my main box – put it in a carry-on luggage bag and fly off knowing that my ‘office’ is in the bag (for longer journeys of course).
In December I purchased a Shuttle SD37P2 Barebones SFF (Intel 975X Express chipset). This is a very cool box. The real hard-core iron guys will complain that the audio card is slightly below spec (Realtek ALC882 high definition audio codec for eight channels of 24-bit/192 KHz), and network controller from Broadcom uses a little more CPU resource than it should at full Gigabit bandwidth. I can’t say that I notice. The auido is great, and this is a workstation class PC not a datacentre server with a NIC at full throttle 24/7 and so I’m happy on both counts.
I then thought for a while about what to do in the video card department – knowing that DirectX 10 cards are on the way. The choice was to buy an economy card now knowing I would replace it in a month or two – or go for the only DirectX 10 card on the market at the moment. I waited until January before buying the video card – having decided to ‘go for it’ and buy an NVidia GeForce 8800 series card. The longer and more powerful GTX version won’t fit in the SD37P2 and even if it did the power requirements exceed the PSU spec. So the GTS was the one. Cool Card – dual slot PCI-E card with good thermal control. I purchased the Asus version (comes with a few extra connectors and some sampler games – including Ghost Recon Advanced War Fighter).
Then came Memory – courtesy of Corsair two sets of twinned 2GB XMS2 modules for a total of 4GB.
And then the CPU. If I’d really wanted a ‘boastable’ box I would have bought the Core 2 Extreme X6800 CPU – but I just couldn’t justify the serious bucks required for this CPU. I’m not an over-clocker and for the 0.3 GHz trimmed off the clock speed – the Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 hit the sweet spot. Looking forward to trying out the Virtualization Technology and running my first VPC image soon.
There are 681 million transistors in this thing. Err.. that’s a lot. Incredible.
With all the bits coming together nicely the only thing missing was the OS. This was going to be a Vista box – but so close to retail launch, and with Vista RTM already in the hands of Microsoft’s corporate customers there seemed little point in installing the the RC1 image I’d previously tested. Somehow a Windows Vista Universal Key and DVD arrived as if by magic; with 26 days left to activate as I write, and yes – I’ll be buying my Windows Vista Ultimate license pronto… :-)
After a couple of test runs with Windows Vista Ultimate 64bit edition I decided that I just wasn’t going to be able to build a stable production machine on a 64bit OS. Not least of which Cisco show no sign of updating there VPN client for 64bit use and have only just released a 32bit beta version of the VPN Client for Vista.
A few hours on and I had a fully functional production box with all the usual tools and utils, VS 2005, SQL Server 2005 and everything else I need to work. The amazing thing is that it does exactly that – works! And does it ever – the machine is incredibly fast. Despite risking it with the VS 2005 SP1 Patch Beta for Vista, the SQL Server 2005 SP2 CTP patch for Vista, the Cisco Client Beta for Vista, Cute FTP Pro 8, FeeDemon, EditPad Pro etc. etc. etc.; it all works! Tortoise SVN misbehaved for the sum total of about 2 hours before the benevolent Stefan Küng posted a fix to the nightly build directory of Tortoise SVN (Stefan deserves a medal for his work on Tortoise SVN).
The number of major and minor improvements in Vista is incredible. Everything from a disk checking utility that actually works and provides a decent report, to the ‘not one’ but ‘three clocks’ and timezones that you can configure for the taskbar clock. The list is huge – and the best site for all the goodies in Vista that I’ve discovered so far is definitely Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows.
So with everything up and running – and real work being performed on my new machine – the only thing left were the video drivers from NVidia followed by activation to get Aero Glass. NVidia must have been scrambling to get the 8800 series Vista drivers out because they showed up on their site on exactly the same day of the official retail launch of Vista. I’d expected something there from the November RTM. And these are still listed as Beta drivers.
About an hour ago I installed the NVidia drivers and a funny thing happened – I got Aero Glass as a bonus. :-). I still have 26 days to activate Vista – and from everything I’ve read you don’t get Aero Glass goodies until you fork over the bucks. Thank you NVidia – two in one!
Aero Glass is just so cool (lurking Gnome, KDE or OSX users – pah – I scoff in your general direction). Aero Glass is the slickest OS UI that I’ve ever seen – and fun too! I’ve been flip 3Ding for an hour now – and I’m not bored yet (sad I know). I love the blurred transparent background effect on the window frames of apps that have the focus…
Here’s a shot of Windows Media Player 11 on top of BlogJet 2.0.
Here’s the effect…
And for the Windows Experience Index braggers out there – I’m a 5.4 all in.