LGR – Building My Dream $3,588 Windows XP PC
[Sounds of keyboard clicking, accompanied by smooth jazz] Clint: Greetings, and welcome to an LGR thing, and this is gonna be a Windows XP thing. Today we’re gonna be building my “ultimate” Windows XP gaming PC from circa 2007-2008. Back then I built an XP gaming PC as well, but not only does it no longer exist, but that machine was never particularly great. I mean, I had a budget of like $900 back then, I just couldn’t afford the best hardware. But I still wanted to play the newest PC games: stuff like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and of course, games like Crysis. As far as I’m concerned, Crysis signaled a turning point in PC gaming when it hit in late 2007, acting as a swan song for Windows XP and DirectX 9. And that’s why I’ve chosen that time period, late ’07-early ’08, as a basis for all the parts for today’s build. Not that it’ll play Crysis maxed out or anything, but I want to see would it be like if money was no object for me building a PC back then. ‘Cuz yeah, while the parts I’ve picked are cheap nowadays, when they were still new they would have totaled over $3,500 as you’ll soon see. And admittedly there are plenty of other ways to play mid-2000s PC games. Retrofitting a Pentium 4 or Athlon-based PC often works great, or you could even just take a modern PC, fiddle with some settings, and that’ll run Need for Speed: Underground 2 or Crysis better than a PC from 2007. But sometimes it just makes more sense, or it’s more oddly enjoyable, to play it on specific hardware and not deal with virtual machines or patches and updates to get them working on modern computers. I don’t know. It’s just something that I felt like doing. Let’s get to it! So the first PC part from the pile of PC parts is the motherboard, and I’m going with an EVGA 122-CK-NF68-B1. One of the 2007 revisions from EVGA’s series of NF68 boards, built around the Nvidia nForce 680i SLI chipset. I remember reading about these 680i boards and being enamored, not only with that beefy cooling setup piping between the north and south bridges, but the capabilities and benchmarks of the 680i chipset itself. In terms of features, it has all the important stuff I’m looking for: SLI graphics card support, a couple extra PCI and PCI Express slots for expansion, and plenty of integrated components, including six USB 2.0 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, and even a classy FireWire controller. And of course, being that this is an LGA 775 compatible mainboard, we’ll need a CPU to match. And for that, I’ve chosen the venerable Intel Core 2 *Extreme* QX6850 running at 3GHz. When this thing hit the market in summer of 2007, I was *floored!* Not only was it a quad-core CPU with higher clock and frontside bus speeds than its predecessor, the QX6800, but it was a little less costly as well, not that it was cheap, though. The 6850 was still a $1,000 processor on launch, more than my entire budget for a PC in 2007. And to cool off this beast, I’m going with one of the most absurd looking coolers I remember seeing around that time, which is the Thermaltake Black Widow SpinQ. Just monstrous in overall size, really quiet with its custom 80mm fan running at around 1,000rpm, and I think it looks fantastic as well, or at the very least eyecatching. To me, the SpinQ looks more like a turbocharger than a low noise heatsink-and-fan combo. Next up is the memory situation, and I’ve chosen a pair of Corsair 1GB XMS2-6400 RAM sticks, a higher-end version of the DDR-800 RAM that I had on my actual Windows XP machine in 2008. So yeah, not the most RAM in the world back then, but 2GB certainly gets the job done for what I’m looking to accomplish. And that brings us to the graphics card — or graphics cards, rather— a pair of 320MB GeForce 8800GTS Fatal1ty Edition cards from XFX. While I do have a 768MB 8800 Ultra I thought about using, which is a more powerful single card solution, I’ve just always wanted to see what could be done with two 320MB GTS cards running in SLI. Next is a sound card classic, the Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum. Even though the motherboard has integrated audio, I really wanted dedicated sound hardware with EAX for this build. And while I’d prefer an Audigy 2ZS or an X-Fi card, I didn’t have one on hand. And yes, this also comes with an awesome 5.25in front audio panel, but I won’t be using it right now due to the color scheme. If it was black instead of beige, I’d be all over it. Next is the optical media drive, and for that I’m just going with this cheap LG DVD burner I found at Goodwill. Back in 2008 I actually had a Samsung LightScribe Drive, but until I get another one of those, this will do just fine. And it uses a SATA interface, which is good because I’m avoiding all ribbon cables, including on this 160GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive. Actually I have two of them, because RAID, and because the idea of having dual 10,000rpm hard drives seemed so wild to me back then that the dream’s stuck with me ever since. And of course we’ll need the operating system to stick on these, which will be Windows XP Professional Version 2002. Naturally though, I’m gonna be patching and updating it with everything I can, including Service Pack 3 here. Did anyone else ever order service packs on disk from Microsoft back then? I sure did, mostly because my internet sucked. To power all this up, we’ll need a pretty substantial power supply, and for that I’m going with this 1,000W semi-modular Rosewill power supply, the only component I bought brand-new specifically for this build. Turns out finding new-old-stock 1,000W PSUs isn’t easy, and yeah, I’d just feel more comfortable with something new anyway. I’ve never used a Rosewill PSU before, but I really wanted a 1,000W unit and this one had decent reviews and wasn’t super costly, so I’m gonna give it a shot. And finally there’s the case, which is another Rosewill, coincidentally enough. The Stryker M case was actually intended for another project that a friend and I were working on a couple years ago. That never came together, and since it was lying around in storage I figured, why not put it to good use? Even though it was manufactured in 2016, it still has a look to it that really feels like 2008 to me, and it’s big enough inside to fit all the components we have while still hopefully having enough airflow. And let’s be real, you can’t do a late-2000s gaming PC without a clear side window and LED lighting. That is just a given. Out of curiosity, I decided to add up all the suggested retail prices for these components when they were new, and heheh… Wow! Yeah, there is no way I’d have been able to afford this stuff new. Heck, it’d be a shocking sticker price even now. That’s like $4,200 with inflation. So I’m pretty stoked to have gotten all this for roughly $200 over the past couple years. Alright, it’s time to get this build going, starting with the processor. Simple enough stuff here: just unlatching the metal plating and dropping the QX6850 into the proper position. Gonna use a little Arctic MX-4 thermal paste to get it ready for that massive CPU cooler. And while the cooler comes with a bunch of adaptors for various setups, with an LGA 775 board it’s pretty darn straightforward: screw in these two sets of clamps, then drop it into place over the CPU and click each of the four clamps into place: (COOLER CLAMPS CLICKING) and that’s it. We’ll get the fan plugged into the motherboard, and then RAM installed in their appropriate slots for dual channel support, and aw yeah, looking good! No, seriously, it’s looking good. Just check out that profile. I dunno, maybe you think it looks excessive or I should have used water cooling or whatever, but to me there’s something about vast rows of shiny metal fins and piping that never ceases to amuse. Next up is the case, which needs a little bit of preparation first. Got a little bag of goodies taped to the bottom here, and oh hey, it comes with a PC speaker. The motherboard has one already, but these are always quite handy, so I’ll be holding onto that. Otherwise, yeah, just gotta screw in the appropriate offsets so we have somewhere to mount the motherboard, and we’ll get the I/O panel plate clicked into place while we’re at it. Alright, time to get this thing screwed in, and so far I’m quite happy with the layout of this case. Plenty of room for activities, making it no problem at all to get the case fans plugged into the appropriate headers. Gonna go ahead and install one of the GPUs too, but only one of them, since I’ll leave the SLI setup for later. Right now I just want to get the basic stuff installed so we can make sure it boots properly, with the final thing being the power supply down here. Got the main line going to the motherboard, another going to the graphics card. And then we’ve got this that powers the CPU, and uhhhhh… Well, crap. I did not even think to look where this goes. Turns out it connects right beside the CPU, underneath that massive cooling assembly. This was not fun. I had to either remove the SpinQ entirely or take off the top of the case, so I decided on the latter. Thankfully I was able to get the top lifted off enough to get the power cable installed without taking apart the whole case, but even then it was a tight fit due to that friggin’ heatsink! Oh well, nice opportunity to see the other side of the case, which we’ll definitely be utilizing for some cable management. I like that little 2.5in tray tucked away in there too, maybe I’ll add an SSD sometime. Alrighty, let’s get this thing powered on, and fingers crossed everything’s working so far and we can continue the build! I’m gonna be using a 16:9 monitor throughout the rest of this video, by the way, though I was using a 16:10 panel back in 2008, so that’d probably be more appropriate. Anyway, let’s power it on for the first time and… (CONTINUOUS BEEP) Welp. That’s not good. Thankfully it has this little green LCD panel on the motherboard, which stops on C1. That’s a memory detection issue according to [the] EVGA website, so let’s start removing RAM sticks and see what happens. And luckily, it seems that fixed it. (SHORT BEEP) The first gigabyte of RAM was fine but the second wouldn’t POST at all, so yeah, I guess we’ll just move forward with half the RAM till I can get a replacement. Next up, let’s get those 10,000rpm hard disks installed, and here’s another reason I wanted to use this case I had — tool-less drive mounting. Just remove this tray, clip the hard drive into place, and slide it back in there. I don’t know how quiet this will be, it kind of seems like it may rattle around a little bit being that these are such high speed spinning platters, but we’ll see. For now, I’m just gonna start winding power and data cables throughout the case, starting with this 4-pin molex connector that goes into the motherboard for powering the SLI setup. And we’ll go ahead and plop the second GPU in here, along with its own PCI Express power cable. Then the sound card which, due to space, is going to go right between the two graphics cards. Thankfully it’s short enough that it’s not blocking the fans. And finally the SLI bridge connector goes right here, finalizing our dual-GPU configuration. Now to get the DVD-RW going, and to do that we actually have to remove the entire front of the case. It just kinda rips off of there with a bit of force, which felt chaotic to me, but that’s what the manual said to do. Anyway, this is a screw-less design as well, so it just clips in there snugly ready for some cable-age. And yeah, there’s a whole mess of stuff around the side now, heh. Even being a semi-modular PSU, each of the modules are ridiculously long and packed with more connections than I actually need, so we’re just gonna pack it all in there and hide it behind this panel. So let’s get the other panel in place and remove that plastic. (PLASTIC UNPEELING) Heh, whoops, it had some on the other side too. There we go. Ah, now that is looking sleek. Onto the software side of things now, starting with the RAID configuration. For what I want to do, I’m looking at two main options: striped, known as RAID 0; and mirrored, known as RAID 1. And while RAID 1 is safer, being that it mirrors the disks, I’m gonna roll the dice and go with striped RAID 0. Since I’m not gonna put any important data on these drives, I’m fine with the risk. Plus I get the full 300GB of storage, and hopefully a bit more speed this way. Finally, it’s time to get Windows XP installed on our new healthy RAID array, which went absolutely swimmingly… …until it didn’t! Heh. Yeah, blue screen of death during Windows setup is never fun. Now I figured I just needed to install the Nvidia RAID drivers, but in order to do that they needed to be on a floppy disk. But I don’t have a floppy drive installed here, and I really don’t want to bother with one. So I just went with a tried-and-true method: nLite. I used to use this all the time to make custom Windows configurations. Basically, this just takes the XP setup files and customizes them with whatever you need, so I added the RAID drivers through this, made myself a custom ISO, burned it onto a disc, and presto, no more BSOD. Only smooth sailing from here on out. Ooh look, “an exciting new look”, how exciting! Ah, I love the Windows XP setup for some reason. With its cheerful bright blue interface and chillaxed soundtrack… (CHILLAXED SOUNDTRACK PLAYS WHILE HE TYPES ON THE KEYBOARD) At this point it’s just a bunch of driver installation, so I’m not going to show that whole routine being that it’s, uh, routine. Suffice to say that it went well though, no problems encountered. Mmm, detected both cards straight away, eventually providing this pop-up letting me know an SLI setup was detected. The Nvidia Control Panel lets you enable that with a simple software switch, and bam! Dual GPUs at the ready. So let’s get to some gaming, dang it. Starting with a mid-2000s classic, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion theme plays) (In-game sounds start to play) Ah man, this is some gratifying stuff. (Splash) Back when I first got Oblivion, my PC was hot garbage. I had a hand-me-down HP Pavillion from 2003 with, like, a roll of toilet paper for a video card. It didn’t run Oblivion hardly at all, but I played the crap out of it anyway. And now, seeing what it would have been like running on a monster machine from around that time period… Yeah, look at me now, past me! I’ve got two video cards and a stupidly fast CPU and dual Western Digital Raptors! Suck it. Needless to say, Oblivion runs pretty great. At the moment I’m running it on the High preset with no anti-aliasing or V-sync, and a resolution of 1280×720. So that’s a resolution that was pretty typical for the time period, and even though there’s screen tearing, having V-sync turned off lets us see how high we can go in terms of unlocked framerate. I’ll be using these same settings, or as close as I can get to them, for the rest of the games I’ll be testing too. And I’m using the program FRAPS to show the FPS in the top left corner there. So yeah, Oblivion drops below 60fps when a lot of crap is going on in the open world, but there are plenty of areas where it runs well above that. And loading is an absolute breeze with this — and everything else I tested, for that matter — with much of that thanks to those speedy Raptor hard drives. Just awesome! Next up, we’ve gotta test the big one: Crysis, which can bring a far more capable system to its knees with no problem, so I’m quite curious. And well, running the GPU benchmark gives you an idea of how it runs, which for the most part falls between 30fps and 50fps. This is on Medium 720p settings across the board, by the way. but even on High it achieved similar results. But, even on High, it achieved similar results. Although there’s some major slowdown on loading new areas and effects, which is disappointing, but maybe that’s because I’m only running 1 gig of RAM. Though from what I’ve read, it doesn’t seem SLI really helps Crysis out too much. And in fact, it seems to cause some weird issues. Check out the foliage, for instance. It’s all flickery and glitched out. This is running the latest patch though, and it seemed I got better results after downgrading the Nvidia drivers and running an older version of the game, which is what you’re seeing here running on the high graphics setting. But yeah, no matter what, it still had issues rendering stuff. Everything from foliage to character models, to vehicle tires that would appear and disappear seemingly at random. I’m betting that 8800 Ultra card I’ve got would be a better choice here. Oh well, moving on to something I know will work just fine, and that is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Wasn’t able to get this working in proper widescreen; kept crashing the game, so it’s playing here at 1280×960. And yeah, it runs stupidly well with the frame limiter turned off, only dipping below 200fps here and there. No surprise though, this is a game from 2002 and doesn’t demand much at all from PC hardware of the mid-2000s. But it’s an absolute must-have for a Windows XP PC, so I couldn’t resist. Alright, let’s give a simulation game a shot with SimCity 4 Deluxe from 2003. Although it kind of looks like it’s using isometric 2D imagery, it’s actually using a 3D game engine from a fixed perspective, with a lot of complex systems underneath that, and playing larger cities can be quite taxing on a CPU. As a result it runs about as well as one can hope, with wildly varying frame rates depending on what’s being loaded at the time, maxing out at 60 due to the game’s settings. Still this runs a thousand times better than my PC of the time did, even in 2008. So yeah, good stuff. Alright, next up we’ve got Monolith’s F.E.A.R. from 2005, a game that not only impressed in terms of gameplay, but was next level with its shading and physics. Running the graphical benchmark, you can see why with its crazy particle effects and lighting. I think this still looks pretty awesome even today. It dipped down to 39fps at one point, but for the most part it’s in the mid-50fps range, or higher, at maximum settings. And wow, I forgot how much I enjoy playing this. It’s been ages since I last dipped my toes into this one. Definitely gotta review this at some point. I loved this game, and now I just want to play all afternoon. But alas, must move on to another great game, Need for Speed: Underground 2. While it wasn’t my favorite at the time, I’ve gotta say this racer from 2004 has grown on me quite a lot over the years. It was the first NFS game to provide an open world, and was by far the most graphically impressive to date, with an unprecedented amount of car customization for the series on top of that. And yeah, it runs pretty fantastically on Max settings, hanging around the 70fps mark for the most part and occasionally dropping to the 40s when it hits a tricky track section. Still though, super playable, and far beyond anything I experienced when I was playing on my PC back then. What an awesome game. Speaking of awesome, let’s get into some Unreal Tournament! UT2004, to be exact, with its legendary Unreal Engine 2.5. Heheh. And I always loved maxing out the graphics, because whenever you do… Echoing in-game voice: “HOLY SHIT!” Clint: And no big shock whatsoever, the game runs flawlessly. This was quite well optimized to begin with, but on a PC like this there’s nothing stopping it from running at well over 100fps at all times. Once again, I forgot how much I enjoyed this game. It’s been far too long since I’ve played it, but it all came back to me in an instant. That’s really why I wanted to make this machine, to revisit games I hadn’t in years. Either because they’re tricky to run on modern hardware, or because it just doesn’t quite feel the same playing on a modern PC. Compatibility modes and patches are nice and all, but there’s something genuinely special about playing games on hardware closer to when they launched. I dunno. It’s an arbitrary thing, but to me there’s a notable difference in how it feels to play. Even 3D Pinball Space Cadet feels more appropriate on an actual Windows XP machine. If anything, it’s consistently amusing to play such a simple little game on a build that would have cost like $4,000 when it was new. Its relatively high specifications also mean that this makes for a pretty good emulation rig too, with things like DOSBox being no problem at all, and even with more advanced DOS games like Duke Nukem 3D. Sure, you can do this just as easily on a modern PC, but it’s actually kinda nice to have such great emulation options on a slightly older computer, if you ask me. And that is it for my dream Windows XP PC from circa 2007-2008! Man, I don’t know about you, but I am pleased as balls over this thing. It looks great, it plays great, and it has a nice set of upgrade options if I choose to do so in the future. And I absolutely do, let me tell you. This is not the last time you’ll be seeing this thing on LGR. In fact, I’ve already made a few changes since I originally filmed this. For one thing, I added two of these 120mm Corsair cooling fans to the top of the case, as well as one more along the bottom because this thing runs hot! It’s like a space heater inside, so the increased airflow helped a lot. I also grabbed another 2GB RAM kit, same one I had before, except this time all the sticks work. So now I have 3GB of RAM installed which, on this 32-bit version of Windows, leaves me with 2.5GB. A welcome and notable improvement. And then there’s the front panel USB ports, which I didn’t even think about while building it, but they’re USB 3.0 and the motherboard only had a header for 2.0. So I dropped in a cheap USB 3 controller card inside, and now I have working USB ports on the front of the case that are faster than what’s on the motherboard itself. About the only other thing I want to do is upgrade the sound card, because the Audigy that’s in here doesn’t have an HD Audio header, and really I just want something newer anyway. But yeah, that’ll be for another time. As for today, I hope you enjoyed seeing this come together even half as much as I enjoyed building it. This was more fun than I even thought it’d be. If you’d like to see other build videos, definitely check these out, or stick around. I make new videos and all sorts of retro tech and games every week here on LGR. And as always, thank you very much for watching!