System Build: Testbed PC

I needed a low cost rig that could be used for hardware testing. My immediate need was for hard disk testing. This is the hardware I bought for that purpose. Now that the immediate need passed I installed Windows 7 Premium so I could benchmark it and take it for a spin.

Picture of the Foxconn A74MX-K motherboardEven before I decided to build my Virtual Server testbed I put together some very low end hardware to have for other testing.  In this case the driving force was all the hard drive problems I was having with my Windows Home Server. I wanted to run all my hard drives through some extensive, time consuming testing. In order to do this I needed some hardware that could be dedicated to the task. I figured when it wasn’t being used to test hardware I’d want it to be able to run some flavor of Linux or a basic Windows installation. My primary requirement was low cost.

Since low cost was the primary guideline I’d be using a AMD Athlon 64 LE-1640 cpu that I had on the shelf. I had bought it on close-out sale long ago intending to use it as an upgrade to my HP Mediasmart Home Server but never did it. And the MediaSmart was replaced with a home build long ago.

I’d need a AMD compatible motherboard for the cpu and picked the low cost Foxconn A74MX micro-atx motherboard which was $40. The lowest cost DDR2 memory that I trusted was the Kingston HyperX 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) memory. I got two of these to max out the memory slots on the motherboard. The motherboard supports up to 4GB of RAM but I wanted to keep costs down and went with the 1GB sticks. Even 2GB is more memory than this box truly needs. I could have saved more by going with 512GB sticks but these days that little memory seems wrong and I couldn’t do it.

I didn’t go dirt cheap on the case. I figured this would be something I spend a lot of time inside re-arranging things. I picked the Antec Three Hundred Illusion black case. The case has the power supply on the bottom and places the motherboard high in the case. This moves the motherboard and related cables out of the way of the lower hard drive bays, making it easy for me to add and remove drives. It’s extremely easy to work inside this case. It’s also got plenty of fans, which turns into the one negative to me. Each of the fans has nice bright blue LED. Eventually I’ll get annoyed enough by the blue light to figure out how to disconnect or block the LEDs. The LED dislike is a personally preference and I knew about it when O bought the case, so I can’t really complain. Otherwise it’s a sturdy case with lots of expansion bays.

I went with my value power supply of choice, the Antec Basiq BP430 430W power supply. Antec has always been a reliable power supply for me so I stick with it.

As for disk drives I’ll go with whatever extra drives I have around. For starters it’s a HITACHI Deskstar 500GB drive.

For a couple of months I just hooked up the hardware so I could boot SpinRite and run diagnostics on the various hard drives. This week I finally got around to installing Windows 7 Premium so I could do some benchmarking and get a feel for the machine.

Summary

Passmark Software’s Performance tests rated it at 359.7 which is the slowest out of any of my machines (except the netbook). But that wasn’t unexpected as it has the slowest cpu and is not built for speed.

The Windows Experience Index rates it a 3.4 based on the following ratings:

  • Processor: 4.3
  • Memory: 5.5
  • Graphics: 3.6
  • Gaming Graphics: 3.4
  • Primary HDD: 5.9

I haven’t activated Windows yet and probably won’t. I’m still debating whether it’s worth saving the image or the hard drive itself so I could activate it in the future and not have to reinstall. I suppose there will be a time where I may want a Windows test machine and a virtual machine on my virtual testbed won’t suffice. So I’ll probably be putting in a second hard drive and installing some flavor of Linux.

The system works well as a platform to run hardware test, but I’m glad it’s not my primary PC. I may eventually look to add some sort of swappable drive bay in one or two of the 5.25″ bays to make it easier to swap drives without opening up the case. But I hold off on that expense until I really see a need.