So you're a PC gamer; a venerated, rare breed of individual who boldly goes where no one else goes because it is often too expensive, time-consuming and infuriating, what with hobbled ports of console games, Jim's dreaded "goshdurn DRM" and privacy agreements, but all is not at a loss! PC gaming, if you can afford to spend a little coin on the effort, is an incredibly rewarding experience that in many ways pushes gaming to the true expectations of the fans. Before that sparks outcry, I am a fan of all gaming, but if you want exceedingly pretty graphics and a DIY vibe, you get what you pay for in spades.
For, what if, what if you could get that ultimate sweet rig of your dreams, one that would totally pwn your friend's comps and would give you the privilege, nay, the right to gloat about how you can run BF3 at 65 FPS in full 1920 X 1280 with EYEFINITY and rage mode (made that one up) turned on full blast that didn't have to cost you the price of a Macbook Air signed by Steve Job's penis (I'm assuming that would cost a lot...)?? What if you could build your own at a fraction of the cost of buying a pre-fabbed rig riddled with spamware, hidden fees and over-priced components? What if you could build your dream machine?
Well, then, dear comrade and computer geek in arms, this blog post is for you. Assembled herein this den of promiscuity and vice, what I like to call the "C-Blogs", is a blog post cataloging the steps to building my own "dream computer" for at least $500 less than what I would have paid had someone constructed it for me. Building a computer can be an incredibly rewarding, interesting and fun process and will give you a better idea of what people are actually talking about when they talk about tech specs for BF3 or Metro 2012, what all-illusive clock speeds and refresh rates mean, and, most importantly, what are actually the best parts to get for your money.
So, without further blathering, here is my build (with pictures, guess that's kind of obvious?), as well as tips and links that will help you research, buy the parts for and, eventually, build your own rig. If I've left anything out or if you've got suggestions, please let me know and, to be a bit sappy, it's because of you guys that I really enjoy putting this stuff up here, so rock on!
Parte Uno: Selecting the components
Before you can buy the components, you gotta' research them thoroughly beforehand to look for reviews of the hardware, problems with compatibility (are you building a 32-bit or 64-bit rig, is your HD e-sata II or e-sata III, how much wattage do you need to power the rig, is it a p-67 motherboard or z-68, AMD or Nvidia, AMD or Intel, PCI or PCIE, you get the idea), and just plain old prefrence all should play a part in the process of selecting the best components for your machine at the best possible price-performance ratio.
This was my first full PC build (I've switched out GPUs and the like in the past) and I really had no idea what I was doing before hand, so, along with trial and error, I HEAVILY utilized a number of resources to help me get the job the done right. [size=14Remember:[/size] Everything about your computer comes down to you; it's up to you to put in the hours to finding what parts are right for your computer and what parts are best fitted to your needs and desires (are you building a gaming rig, a graphic design powerhouse, a video-editing squidlaserbear beast-monster?). It should be obvious, but it's also important, unless money is no object to you, to find the best deals on what items you're looking for as well so you maximize the bang for your buck. Here's the list of resources I used when researching and selecting my components for the final build:
My favorite site because it has an incredibly active and knowledgable community, just go to the forums, read the “Read first” stickies to know how to best ask/answer questions, and post what you want in the appropriate section and you almost always will get a response right away
Some of the best tech reviews I’ve seen/read as well, easy to follow for any skill level builder and let’s you simply know with great graphs what’s the best purchase for your money (price performance ratio), best resale value, best overall value, etc.
Every month there are a “roundup” of reviews on GPUs, gaming CPUs, soundcards, new tech and other goodies so keep posted up on the site to stay up to date what’s going on in the computing world
Huge community resource on everything watercooling-related. If you are going to watercool your PC, this is a great place to start/stay with. A big plus of this site is the really active and enthusiastic community vibe I get when I visit. There are TONS of videos and photos of people’s rigs and tons of guides and really helpful and friendly people who will help you build your own.
One of the largest, if not largest, online community forums dedicated entirely to “performance computing”, incredible resource for finding everything related to PC “enthusiast” gaming/hardware intensive tasks
Super thorough, well thought-out guide to component picking from Tom’s Hardware forum member Proximon
A little outdated now, as the article originally was created in 2008, but the thread has stayed alive all of these years and Proximon occasionally updates old posts, look for his links to his other guides as well about video cards and other components
Same as above but with more editorials from the actual staff. I think it’s a great resource to go to for educating yourself about new and different technologies as well as companies, like the differences between AMD and Nvidia or Sli vs. Crossfire, for example
Parte dos: The Build So, with all the fanfare of the previous paragraphs touting how awesome my computer could be, let's see how I actually did performance and price-wise for what I bought, here is the list of components and prices (circa June 2011) and all from http://www.Newegg.com:
ASRock P67 EXTREME4 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel P67 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
COOLER MASTER HAF 912 RC-912-KKN1 Black SECC/ ABS Plastic ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
HANNspree By Hanns-G HF225DPB Black 21.5" Full HD WideScreen LCD Monitor w/Speakers
Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive
Rosewill RTK-002 Anti-Static Wrist Strap
ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS Black SATA 24X DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM
XFX P1-650X-CAH9 650W ATX12V v2.2 / ESP12V v2.91 SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Modular Active PFC Power ...
HIS IceQ X Turbo H687QNT1G2M Radeon HD 6870 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.1 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card ...
Crucial M4 CT064M4SSD2 2.5" 64GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model CMZ8GX3M2A1600C9B
XIGMATEK Gaia SD1283 120mm Long Life Bearing CPU Cooler bracket included I7 i5 775 1155 AMD and dual fan push pull compatible
Not bad, right? My comp crushes ALL! Just kidding, but, seriously, with this build I'm running every current gen out there on max settings, full 1920X1280 (where it's supported) at near max FPS (frames per second for you silly tech luddites out there! :P). There are reasons why I didn't "go for broke" or, rather "go broke" on spending extra for my RAM (there really is no current reason why anyone would get above 2X4GB...) or investing in a water cooling system (because I don't need one) or a hyper-fancy $500 graphics card (because I can't afford to do Eyefinity in full 3D across 3 screens), but to each his/her own and if you've got the dough and a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/set of parents who won't murder you for doing it, then, by all means, feel free to blow your proverbial wad on them tech goodies (the implications of this statement are disturbing...).
Parte Tres: The Assembly Now on to the good stuff; PICTURES, YAY! Here are my pics of the process, the components, the final build and some descriptions of each. It's smart to assemble your motherboard first before installing any other components into your rig so you have the most room to insert the most delicate and important part of your build, so I have listed that process first (after the case itself).
A shot of all of the pretty boxes and my messy room. Notice that you shouldn't have a messy room/work area like this when you're building, but whatever.
If you're as messy and unorganized as I am, having something at the ready that you can put all of the tiny, tiny bolts and screws and assorted ties and clips into, like an egg carton, then it's a really good way to avoid the extreme hassle that could ensue if you happen to drop of lose a screw (trust me, it sucks, but thankfully the parts manufacturers count on this happening so they usually give you extras in the packaging).
This is the HAF-912 Micro-ATX case that I have, it's great because it has room for 6 120mm fans (or two 200mm, 1 120mm and/or 1 140mm fan, though it says it can handle up to 12, why you would ever need that much is beyond me). I can't be happy enough about this case, there is a surprisingly large amount of space, interchangeable drive bay brackets and it is exceedingly easy to work in and install. Here's a link to a good Youtube review of the case http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv7mFfWhERY
The easy-to-use and simple locking mechanism that locks your drives in place and is guaranteed to be secure so no futzing around with bolting or screwing in your hard drives or optical drives (You still have to bolt in your SSDs and 3.5" drives if you have them)
Front of the sexy beast. Notice that there is room for a 3.5" drive bay in the middle of the case (my motherboard came with a USB 3.0 bay so that's what I have in mine)
My motherboard, an ASRock P67 EXTREME4 (B3) LGA 1155. For those of you who don't know, the last number, 1155, is the number of pins that the mobo (short for motherboard) has for the CPU and is an absolutely critical number to remember and work with when looking for component parts for your motherboard, as you will be building your entire computer around it and what it is compatible with and the number is as the number really serves to show whether it's an Intel or AMD mobo. For the price and if you want to go the affordable intel route, this is a pretty hard mobo to beat, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, it is my first build :)
Close-up of the CPU bracket housing. Notice that the bracket clamp that holds down the CPU is open and the CPU is inserted, only to leave the bracket left to be closed, thermal paste/cement to be applied and a cooling system to be place on top of the CPU. With this motherboard it actually takes a surprising amount of force to close down the bracket so don't get worried like I did if you think you're about to break your mobo, it's just an obstinate bracket clamp.
Shot of the back of the mobo. Try not to touch anything on the back of the board and to just hold it by the sides. Especially DO NOT TOUCH THE GOLD PINS of the CPU or you could seriously damage or ruin it with your natural static electricity from your body and your smudgey fingers. It should be noted at this point that static electricity can severely damage your electrical components in the computer, that is why everything you will be putting into the computer comes wrapped in anti-static cellophane (pictured above) and why buying an ESD (Electro-Static Dischare) bracelet is worth the investment of $5.
This is an important part, my XIGMATEK Gaia SD1283 120mm CPU Cooler. Your CPU will fry up almost instantly if you do not have some form of cooling being added directly to the CPU. At this stage is where you carefully apply thermal paste (I use Arctic Silver 5, never use the crappy cement paste the CPU provider gives you) to the back of the CPU and carefully and evenly place your cooling unit on top of the cpu. Be careful to wiggle the cooler around a bit to spread the the paste evenly across the CPU. Notice: You need thermal paste for this process because, by itself, air is a relatively terrible conductor of heat and electricity, the compound I use for my paste, Arctic Silver 5 is a 99.5% silver solution that is much more effective than air or the cement the CPU people give you at transferring heat onto the cooling plate. You have to be extremely careful here as, if you use a paste like Arctic Silver 5, it is slightly electrically conductive which means that if you put too much on, it could drip out the sides and short-circuit your entire board, voiding your warranty and leaving with you an expensive pile of silicon and hardware junk.
Near-final assembly of the motherboard with installed CPU, RAM, and cooler (missing the GPU)
My favorite part of the computer, the 3rd-party HIS ICE-Q Radeon 6870. This card is a total beast for being only $200 and is crossfire-ready and comes with it's own built-in heat exhaust pipes (meaning that you can string two of these bad boys together to more than double your graphics output, Nvidia = Sli , AMD = Crossfire). Pretty dope.
Installing the PSU (Power Supply Unit), the XFX SLI Ready and CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply Unit, the modular cables come in a slick bag of goodies so you're guaranteed to pretty much have every cable under the sun from SATA cables to GPU hook-ups to 4,6, 8 and 12-pin power cables to power your fans and drives. The 80-plus bronze certified means that it is an 80%+ efficient unit so you're only max losing 20% of your power in heat and wire friction loss (as opposed to around ~65% in many stock PSUs out there)
I've left out the installation of the individual wires and the optical drives and the SSD and HD (okay, so I may have left out a lot of stuff!), but here is at least a shot of the completed internal guts of the machine.
And the final product, with shiny red lights! ohhhh, ahhhhhhh. Can you guess the awesomely awesome anime on the monitor? :P