When my home-built desktop unexpectedly dropped dead of what the coroner will record as a motherboard aneurism, I did what any geek would do. I freaked out for 5 minutes or so, and then I started thinking about my next build.

With my key criteria of speed, quietness, and affordability firmly in mind, I pointed my browser toward my favorite online parts stores, whipped out a credit card, and set to work. What follows is the first half of the component list that ultimately became the fantastic new desktop I'm writing this column about. The prices listed below were accurate at press time.

Processor: My last two PCs used AMD CPUs; but for this build, going with Intel was a no-brainer, as its chips tend to be much better performers at most price levels. Though a quad-core Intel processor sounded appealing, a well-optimized dual-core made more sense, I decided (few apps today use all four cores well, anyway). I went with the E8400, a 3-GHz CPU based on Intel's new 45-nanometer fabrication process. The chip is fast, runs relatively cool, and is so popular with enthusiasts (and consequently so hard to find) that I spent $260 for it, despite Intel's list price of $179.

CPU cooling: Standard CPU heat sinks are for suckers (or people undisturbed by turboprop engines), so I opted instead for Sythe's Ninja Plus Rev B SCNJ-1100P, which uses six pipes to draw processor heat up through its aluminum fins. A 120mm fan attached to the side of the sink then blows the heat away. At $39 (before a $10 rebate), it isn't cheap, and it wasn't particularly easy to install (you must attach it before installing the motherboard in the chassis). But the hassle was worthwhile: My CPU has yet to exceed the 32 C mark under load; and even with the case open, the fan is nearly noiseless.

Motherboard: In choosing Gigabyte's GA-P35-DS3L, I was influenced by the product's Ultra Durable 2 moniker. (My last two PC builds succumbed to motherboard-related issues.) Also, it's 100 percent passively cooled, supports my new CPU, and costs just $88. Based on Intel's P35 chip set, the motherboard owes its durability to its Conductive Polymer Aluminum Solid capacitors. Gigabyte says that the technology leads to better voltage regulation, increased stability, and a longer PC life span. I can't verify any of that yet, but my new system has been rock-solid so far.

Graphics card: Though I don't spend much time gaming at my PC, I demand a top-notch graphics card. For this build I wanted something featuring NVidia's 8800 GT GPU, which is a few notches (in quality and price) below its top-of-the-line GTX. I was quite pleased to find ECS's N8800GT 512MB board with an included passive cooler for silent heat dissipation. The $245 card (before a $50 rebate) includes Arctic Cooling's fantastic Accelero S1 cooling system, which uses a series of copper heat pipes connected to 32 fins that stretch the length of the card. You need a big chassis to accommodate this long card. I left off the optional fans since I don't plan to overclock, and the card runs fast and silent.

The tally so far (before $60 in rebates): $632. Next month I'll introduce my choices for RAM, hard drive, optical drive, chassis, sound card, speakers, and operating system.

Checklist
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 $260
CPU cooling: Sythe Ninja Plus Rev B SCNJ-1100P $39
Motherboard: Gigabyte's GA-P35-DS3L $88
Graphics: ECS N8800GT $245
TOTAL $632