Budget build. Is it possible? (long post)

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    Hi all!
    I have been captivated by this project ever since I saw the table at Echo a couple years ago. Now that my son is in 1st grade and showing a huge interest in science, I’m even more motivated to try and make one of these at home. I think I will have as much fun learning from it as he does and when we are ready, I will be lending it to his school so other kids can benefit from it. The main issue is that I’m funding this myself, so being somewhat frugal is a priority.

    Questions (that I have been unable to find answers to thus far) to do a budget build:

    1) It seems like CPU is less of a concern and GPU is more important? For example, I see complete AMD kits with 3.8GHZ quad core processors, 4GB Ram, 1TB HDD, etc. for $250.00. That seems like enough PC power, but what about graphics card? It seems like the recommendations I have seen are a couple years old, so what is minimum specs for decent performance?

    Is it possible there is minimum score on something like PassMark (http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/directCompute.html) that could guide me? It’s very interesting to see $200 cards that score better than $2000 cards.

    2) I have read the recommended projector which is 3000k lumen short throw. How critical is the “short throw” part? I see some projectors for a few hundred $ (refurb) that aren’t called short throw, but claim to go as small as 24″. Would that still work? Also is SVGA good enough resolution?

    3) Are most people just using regular white play sand? The table at Echo uses kinetic sand which holds it’s shape to allow more detailed landscapes. It seems like it would take a lot of it to fill the table and that stuff is not cheap. I’ve seen some DIY recipes that use dish soap and baking soda. Anyone happen to try that recipe?

    I’m sure I will have more questions once I get started. 🙂



    Just my input, have not done extentive testing, but have tried a few different things along the way.

    1. CPU. the PC you are describing is more powerful than the ones I have used successfully. The lowest powered pc I have used is a dual core 2.6 Ghz with 2 Gb ram. I would not recommend any smaller and if you have alot of water this PC will slow down. The quad core (don’t recall the ghz) pc with 4GB ram that I used did not seem to have any problems.
    2. Graphics card. I am using the 750 Ti. Works really good in the quad core PC, but in the dual core it slows down with lots of water (Kids love the water) may be a buss speed thing, not sure. I would not try to skimp on the graphics card.
    3. Projector – With all the messing around I have done, as long as the projector will fill your box and not need to be elevated alot higher than the sensor where the sensor would cause a shadow, then no reason it would not work. I have seen pictures of a projector that was not short throw and was mounted horizontally then bounced off a mirror. Fyi… the sensor is typically mounted at a height above the sand that is approximately the same as the long dimension of the sandbox.
    4. Resolution. I use 1024 x 768. no need for higher resolution, the kinect sensor is only 640 x 480 I believe.

    4. Sand. My portable box is 32 inches by 42 inches. it uses 1.5 Cu Ft of sand. have not tried kinetic sand, nor the homemade recipes for it yet, but plan on doing that in the near future.

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