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 Post subject: My Tri-Monitor Rackmount Computer Build!
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 9:41 am 
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Joined: Mon Apr 09, 2007 11:08 am
Posts: 31
Location: Cambridge, UK
Now updated, May 2011 - My Quad-Monitor Rackmount PC and HTPC!

I recently had a massive ebay sale of all my old computer and hi-fi junk and decided to build my ultimate PC from scratch. It's taken a slow, but rewarding, 3 months to buy all the bits required and complete it all.

My requirements were:

- as much screen real-estate as possible
- as silent as I could possibly make it
- all my music/videos accessible from my laptop and HTPC even when the main PC is off
- fast enough to play occasional games
- no messy cables

Here's the end result:

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I found the cheapest way to get lots of screen space was with the fantastic Dell 2007fp. Three of these gives me a desktop resolution of 4800x1200, which is plenty to avoid my windows overlapping too much.


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To drive the three DVI monitors from one PC, I needed two video cards. It made sense to buy two identical ones so I could go SLI if required. I bought two 256MB XFX 7600GT 'Fatal1ty' PCI-E(x16) SLI Passive cards. These have heatpipes and large heatsinks instead of fans. They get surprisingly hot to the touch.


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Motherboard duties are served by an Asus P5N-E SLI NF650i. My last few boards have been Asus and worked fine, so I stuck with the same make. Importantly, this board has no onboard chipset fan. For the CPU, I chose an Intel Core 2 Duo E4300. Dirt cheap, plenty fast enough and massively overclockable if required. RAM is 2x1Gb Corsair Value Select, DDR2 PC5300. There's little point going for a higher spec on the RAM unless on the limit for overclocking.

The Core 2 Duo retail heatsink makes noise - which just won't do! This got replaced with a Scythe Infinity heatsink. This monster is 160mm high - a fact that eluded me until I tried to put the lid back on the computer case. Oops. I found a slightly less ridiculous heatsink, the Noctua NH-U9F, which fitted nicely in the case but was missing the vital springs in the packaging to attach it to the CPU. After a trip to the local hardware shop, I added some washers and guessed the right pressure to apply to the CPU. The CPU temperature is now usually below the motherboard temperature!

2x80mm Nexus fans, 1x120mm Nexus fan. These are all under PWM control using "SpeedFan" in Windows. They spend most of their time running at nearly their slowest speed.


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Hard disc is a 250Gb SATA Samsung SP2504C. This is pretty quiet, and seek noise is hardly noticeable. To help dampen it down further, I fitted it in a Scythe Quiet Drive enclosure, and then suspended the whole thing with bungee cord in the case.

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Power supply is a Xilence Office Edition 460W Semi Fanless. The fan only spins when the PSU reaches a very high temperature - which it never does. Finding a fanless PSU rated to drive an SLI system is actually quite hard!


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My computers are normally a big cable-ridden mess on the floor. I was determined not to let this one go the same way. Now, 19" cabinets, as found in server rooms, always look very neat. You can fit in lots of computers and get around the back of them easily. Everyone told me it would be nuts to have one at home, but I ignored them all ;)

I bought a Compucase 19" rackmountable case with sliding rails. There was now no going back! The case is expensive for what it is, and inside is not even that good quality. It's built to last though - the whole computer weighs about 17kg.

That covers my main Windows PC. Now time for another PC build! I needed a place to keep my music and videos - also to be accessible from my laptop and HTPC when the main PC is off.


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Network Attached Storage (NAS) is usually the way to go, but to get decent transfer rates you need Gigabit ethernet. Gigabit NAS's are normally pretty expensive. I found a more flexible (and probably cheaper) approach was to build another computer, this time a low-power VIA EPIA based machine. Again, it had to be as quiet as possible, especially since this PC would remain on 24/7. The whole setup is in my spare room, so it's no good to have hard discs spinning during the night if guests are staying.

I decided to run this PC from a Compact Flash card. There always seem lots of questions about this on various forums, but few people actually go through with it. CF cards only have a limited number of writes per sector before the sector dies. It's typically 10,000 or 100,000 write cycles which is actually not much if you let Windows put its swap file on the card.

In fact, running Windows from CF is tricky anyway, as Windows writes to disc a lot. I believe some people have been successful using Windows XP Embedded, but I went for an easy life and ran Linux instead :) I didn't have to do much other than not create a swap partition, and changed some of the file locations to point to RAM disc (mainly things in /var). I've been running the PC on an 8Gb CF card for a month and it hasn't died yet. Hopefully, I'll get a year or two's use from the card.

The motherboard is a VIA EPIA EN12000E. This comes with a 1.2Ghz VIA CPU, and is fanless. It is one of the few mini ITX form-factor boards that has built-in gigabit ethernet. I have a small 60W PSU board in the case which is enough to power the motherboard and a 3.5" HD.

The hard disc is 500Gb and, again, suspended with bungee cord in the 1u case. The PC is 100% totally silent when the hard disc is spun down.


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To join it all together, I bought a Dell Powerconnect 2716 16-port Gigabit managed switch. I have an rj45 cat5e patch panel where all my devices are terminated.


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Via the XBox, I can watch live TV and recorded TV wirelessly from my HTPC downstairs. The xbox runs Microsoft XBox Extender software, the HTPC runs Windows MCE 2005.

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I thought the 12u 19" cabinet was a horrible mistake when it first arrived. It looked roughly washing machine sized, and totally out of place at home. Once I fitted everything and pushed it into the corner of the room, it looked much better. It uses up no more floorspace than my old computers did piled up on the floor. The 4u main PC and 1u EPIA are both mounted on sliding rails, and can slide fully out of the cabinet.

There's loads more stuff, but don't want to go on any longer! Hope you all like it :)

James.


Last edited by jamesg on Sun May 15, 2011 8:29 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 9:51 am 
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I am in awe... That is quite possibly the nicest setup I have ever seen.
Good job man! :D


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 10:16 am 
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Posts: 76
Very nice job. And nice to see I am not the only nut who wants three monitors :)

How is that Asus board working out for you? I still haven't decided what to use for my new build. One voice tells me to go for an SLI capable mainboard, while the other voice tells me to stay clear of Nvidia mainboard chipsets since there seem to be so many problems surrounding them.

Once more, great build, my compliments.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 10:30 am 
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Joined: Mon Apr 09, 2007 11:08 am
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Location: Cambridge, UK
zistu wrote:
Very nice job. And nice to see I am not the only nut who wants three monitors :)

How is that Asus board working out for you? I still haven't decided what to use for my new build. One voice tells me to go for an SLI capable mainboard, while the other voice tells me to stay clear of Nvidia mainboard chipsets since there seem to be so many problems surrounding them.

Once more, great build, my compliments.


Thanks very much zitsu :)

The Asus board is good. Haven't had any major problems. In retrospect, I might not have bothered with SLI as you can't use it at the same time as multi-monitor support. A decent Geforce and an el-cheapo Geforce might be a better combination for games.

Also, I couldn't get S3 standby to work, although it's fine on other Asus boards I've had in the past. That might not be the fault of the motherboard though.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 10:31 am 
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:) Nieeece!
What was your initial reason for wanting so much screen space? Not saying it's a bad thing, just curious ;)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 10:39 am 
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Location: Cambridge, UK
ayjay wrote:
:) Nieeece!
What was your initial reason for wanting so much screen space? Not saying it's a bad thing, just curious ;)


I find it makes me more productive. I can have reference material on one screen, a browser on another, be writing stuff or editing code on the centre screen. It beats having to Alt-Tab all the time, especially as you end up with your commonly used programs living in a certain place on the screen so you know where to look.

Where I work, everyone has two screens now. I'm sure the trend will continue as monitors get cheaper.

(notice I resisted the temptation to say "three hi-def porn vids all at once" :lol:)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 10:47 am 
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Cool. I see your reasoning. Been working somewhere recently that codes sites. Everyone had two screens bar me! (I'm a 3d animator, though, not a coder). I toyed with 2 screens for a while at home but found it irritated me past a point. I prefer one big screen, but I have to admit when you have references open or web tutorials, it's nice to just throw all that stuff on another monitor, or in your case, monitors!
Next step is 4 naturally ;) You tempted?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 11:39 am 
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Very nice built.
I absolutely liked the innovating mind about this built.
Congrats jamesg!

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 11:39 am 
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That looks awesome! And I love your computer looks need and tidy from inside. Those three monitors, man they look good.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 11:54 am 
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:shock: damn that is beyond neat. and i thought i was an OCD neat freak [not saying you have OCD, but thats beyond neat].

i may be getting a 4U case with a dual socket 370 in it, and let me tell you, you're job has inspired me to do something similar because it would look better in this room [mainly cubes, with lots of audio equipment].

wowza. thats all i can say. some people can say that it is not entirely necessary, but just look at that...its much neater than anything i've ever seen...the cables are as long as they need to be to take tension, the monitors also look amazing, can't tell where their cables go from the pictures, its more of a work of art than a desk.

hold on, is that a mighty mouse there?

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 11:58 am 
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Very nice setup!
You should give lessons in cable management

I know 2 monitors are great.. now you got me wondering what 3 would be like.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 12:30 pm 
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Oh. My. Giddyod.

You just cost me thousands of dollars. Or possible jail time for robbery (where do you live?). I need help carrying the rack.

Welcome to the future. Now THAT'S a computer! Or a computing experience, rather. Infreakingcredible. Love the (server) rack.

Wow.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 12:49 pm 
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Thanks all for the kind comments. I posted here when I started this project a few months ago and got some very helpful advice, so I thought the least I could do is post up the finished result.

I did wonder whether I was going over the top when i was drilling a hole in the centre of my desk to hide the keyboard cable ;)

You'd probably have trouble stealing it...fortunately the floorboards are holding up under the strain!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 12:56 pm 
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Is that a GOLIAT desk? I'm already 0.7% of the way there to having a setup like that!

If drilling it is required in the name of practical sophistication, so be it!


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 2:01 pm 
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It could be. I bought it from Ikea years ago. I'd quite like a desk with a glass top next. Mind you, drilling a hole in it would probably be out.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 2:17 pm 
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Sweet setup! Can you take some pictures of the back of the monitors? I have no idea how you managed to get the cables so hidden!

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 2:36 pm 
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zoob wrote:
Sweet setup! Can you take some pictures of the back of the monitors? I have no idea how you managed to get the cables so hidden!


Sure. You might notice a couple of speakers behind there as well :)

Image


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 5:06 pm 
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wow good cable routing, simple lines, awesome setup, and a backlit desk to boot!

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 6:10 pm 
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:shock: :shock:


*opens mouth and stares*

.... ....

*wipes drool*


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 7:02 pm 
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:shock:

very cool.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 7:02 pm 
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$70 mouse?

what are the raw specs of the computer?

it looks gorgeous.

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 Post subject: What do you use your setup for?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 7:41 pm 
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Video editing? Graphic Design?


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 2:16 am 
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bonestonne wrote:
$70 mouse?

what are the raw specs of the computer?

it looks gorgeous.


Yeah, it's a mighty mouse. Not that good for gaming, but it's nice to use. I've got other mice but always come back to the mighty mouse!

In summary, specs are Core 2 Duo E4300 1.86Ghz, 2Gb RAM, 2xGeforce 7600GT, 250Gb HD, Windows XP. And VIA EPIA EN12000E 1.2Ghz, 1Gb RAM, 8Gb CF, 500Gb HD, Debian Linux.

fri2219 wrote:
Video editing? Graphic Design?


A bit of everything really. Writing code, web browsing. I found Unreal Tournament 2004 works across all three monitors so that is pretty cool.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 7:41 am 
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What's the make/model of that cabinet, please?


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 8:14 am 
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BIONIC_EARS wrote:
What's the make/model of that cabinet, please?


Orion FS1 Free Standing Cabinet
http://www.orionuk.biz/asp/product.asp?productId=3

It's the 12u one, 600mm depth.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 9:20 am 
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i'll pay you one million dollars to sleep with your computer.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 10:43 am 
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Damn, jaldridge6, you're a trisexual? (3 monitors) :lol:

2 million dollars!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 10:54 am 
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I gotta make the cables around my desk look better.

I was looking at this

http://www.frozencpu.com/products/4044/ ... html#blank

and also this

http://www.cable-safe.com/index.htm



:lol:


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 1:39 pm 
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Don't. Ever. EVER. Post. More. Pix. Like. That.

You have no freakin' idea how much it pisses off people who have just recently finished completing their setups and think how nice and tidy and neat and wholesome their rigs are and who now have to go to sleep after seeing all these goodies and have to cope with feeling so lame, troglodytic and pathetic and still want to show off their beauties although they know they won't be impressed even themselves and will afterwards feel even dumber... pants


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 3:37 pm 
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^loser.

i use a mighty mouse at school, they're pretty nice, but i wouldn't buy one.

if that cabinet was mine, you'd see two EQ's in there along with a single 1400W QSC Amp.

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FartingBob wrote:
A 9500GT with 1GB of RAM is the most pointless thing since NASCAR.


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