Recently I put the finishing touches on my nerddom by building my first homebuilt PC system. Somewhat to my surprise, the physical building of the thing from a hardware standpoint was really easy. It is easy, even logical, to feel nervous dealing with wires, screws, and hundreds of dollarsworth bits of circuitry, but I didn’t run into a single hiccup in that process (though my cable management might not be the most ideal). That may have been a big wonderful fluke, but also could have had something to do with the real hard part: choosing what goes in the box, and the box.
There are a lot of angles to consider and thousands of options for each part. I spent a great deal of time pouring over benchmarking websites, product reviews, knowledgeable friends, and the extremely helpful tomshardware forums. I actually started working up a build back in March when my previous PC developed another new set of defects, but decided to hold off since I still have a high functioning mac laptop. This month a new batch of defects convinced me it was finally time to get this done with.
My primary concern was cost efficiency, quiet, and beefy performance. I do a lot of graphic work and am interested in doing a bit more film work so I felt justified shelling out for a higher end machine. I finally came to a build I liked at a price that didn’t seem too intimidating, and I will detail it part-by-part below:
(product links are from newegg, simply because they have the most detailed product information and many useful product reviews…I’d recommend looking up any part there even if you have reason to purchase it somewhere else)
CPU: AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8GHz Six-Core Processor ($201.99)
The most important part in a computer, it provides all the processing power and also determines what kind of motherboard you will need. For a long time I was leaning toward the Intel core i7 chips, as they are top end performers especially for intensive multimedia work. They do come with a hefty price tag, though, and require a more expensive motherboard to go along with it. When I started reading about the AMD X6 hexacore processors, I thought that might be a good route, and in the end it saved me about $150 dollars over going with Intel. It isn’t going to give me the same oomph as the intel chips, but saving money is always a pretty legitimate excuse for me and who knows if I’d even notice the difference. And having a six core processor makes me feel nerdily cool. Most applications don’t use six cores to full advantage, but multithreaded apps are the way of the future. So I’m looking forward!
Motherboard: MSI 870A-G54 ($104.99)
I found the cheapest Socket AM3 motherboard that was made by a respectable manufacturer and had USB 3.0 support and SATA 6 GB/s. The latter may not come into play for some time, but USB 3.0 devices are hitting the market and for heavy copying (like to external hard drives) it’ll make a big difference. I plan on going another 4 or 5 years before I need to upgrade again, so I wanted to “future proof” as much as possible. AMD also uses and changes socket types far less than Intel likes to, so it’s possible I could get another upgrade out of this motherboard.
Case: Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower ($53.99)
It has got pretty great all around reviews and was also described as being fairly quiet. I can’t really compare it to other higher end cases because I’m used to dealing with budget ones. I love how easy everything comes off and opens up. I appreciate that the hard-drives (I have 5 out of a possible 6 in the case installed) have a lot of space between them for heat dissipation. The power supply is at the bottom of the case, which is unusual, but kind of makes sense. It has a number of big fans that run pretty quiet, and possibilities for extras. Judging by the temperatures I’m running at and that I don’t intend to overclock, I don’t think that’ll be necessary, though.
Power Supply: COOLER MASTER Silent Pro 700W ($79.99 w/rebate)
Many of the folks over at tomshardware preach the value of investing in a really good PSU. It will lead to more efficient power consumption and allow you to power more external devices (USB, internal PCI etc) without concern. Burnt out cheap power supplies are also one of the most common causes of a nonfunctional PC. This one was also a fabulous deal (regular price $139.99) and very highly rated. It doesn’t lend any flashiness to the proceedings, but It’ll keep me running smoothly in the longterm. It’s got more than enough wattage that I shouldn’t ever need to upgrade it either. I do wonder if getting everything hooked up inside the case might have been smoother with a case and PSU by the same company. I have no external experience with that, though. The wiring did get a bit dense and I did not see much way around that.
RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1600 SDRAM ($114.49)
RAM is RAM. This was the cheapest, highest rated DDR3 set. Timings and frequency can come into play, but only some people believe that it’ll lead to any noticeable difference. I went with just the 4 GB for now, but will definitely upgrade to 8GB at some point. It will disperse the cost a bit and give my performance a pick me up down the line, hopefully when prices have come down a bit (this particular set is already $4 cheaper now than when I got it 3 weeks ago).
Graphics Card: XFX Radeon HD 5770 1GB ($166.49)
Word on the street was that ATI cards are the best bang for the buck. I could have gotten away with the 5750 but people kept recommending I shell out the $30 to get the performance boost of the 5770. This is of course the hardest part of the rig to justify from a professional perspective, but I’ve never had a top end gaming PC in my life. I decided it was time. Hilariously, the included CD’s setup.exe experienced an error and had to close before doing anything, but it was easy enough downloading the drivers from the ATI website.
Keyboard: Logitech Wave Wired USB Keyboard ($19.99)
Added this after the fact thanks to a pretty nice sale. I’m just getting used to it, but I like the shape for the most part. It’s very easy to customize the extra buttons and the enter key is the normal size the way I like it. It’s comfy, but the backspace key is a little far away until I get used to it. Since it’s USB and my old one is PS/2, I can keep both plugged in and use my feet with one of them for maximum efficiency!
And that’s my new computer. Plus an optical drive I don’t feel like finding the specs for and a bunch of hard drives I already had. I am also keeping an eye out for a good deal on a high-ish end mouse. I purchased everything through NCIX which worked out awesome because they’re in BC so up until the end of June there’s no PST (that saved me probably about $60). They’ll also price-match any online store, and had a $5.99 shipping deal on and I didn’t mind waiting about a week for it to arrive.
I put it together using this guide, which I found quite helpful. Except that saying to use “proper cable management” at every step with no guidelines or even an indication of how to do that well (or poorly) is more annoying than useful.
It runs very well so far. It’s quite a thrill playing Mass Effect 2 at 2048×1152 on maximum graphics settings (except for anisotropic filtering which doesn’t make a difference I can notice anyway) and not having any slowdowns at all. Very pretty. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and haven’t had any major problems except for learning the ropes of Windows 7 and finding it necessary to completely disable the UAC since it would nag me every time certain programs run. That’s software, though. The hardware has been flawless so far. It runs quite quietly (except when the video card gets busy) so I don’t have to pump up the volume of my music to drown out the whining of the fan like on my old PC. I think the loudest part right now when not gaming tends to be the stock CPU fan, so it might need to get replaced at some fairly distant future time.Tags: pc, system