Not many people are buying desktop PCs any more And that’s a shame – a large, quality keyboard and screen, whilst sat at a desk are ideal for any kind of computer-based work, particularly photo or video work.
However, less common than that are those who build their own PC. And that’s even more of a shame as it has so many advantages – you get exactly the computer you want at less of the price. And it’s a great learning exercise too. My desktop PC – a Dell Zino HD – was designed as a media PC and, hence, is small but not particularly quick. That was a number of years ago – now it’s even slower. And, because of the form factor, difficult or impossible to upgrade.
So, it’s time, I think, for a new PC.
My basic requirements were something quiet but powerful – although not intended for gaming – and easily upgradable in the future.
After much thought I settled on the following parts…
- Case – Xigmatek Midgard II. It gets excellent reviews, is a high quality case with excellent cooling capabilities, expandability and, rather brilliantly, has all the buttons and connectors mounted on the top (pictured above). There isn’t a removable motherboard tray but there are lots of gaps for cabling tidying.
- Power Supply – Nexus Value-430. Exceptionally quiet and over 80% efficiency.
- Processor – Intel Core i5 3570K. The best price/performance level. And the 3570K can be overclocked too. I intend to push it from 3.4 GHz to 4.3 GHz, which is easily achieved without pushing it too much. This processor also comes with onboard HD 4000 graphics which are more than enough for my needs.
- Processor Cooler – no standard cooler for me. No-siree. I’ll be rocking an Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev2. It’s big but quiet and will support my overclocking.
- Motherboard – MSI Z77A-G45. On the PC Pro “A” List for the quality, speed and level of features for the price. SATA 3 and USB 3, as well as easy-to-use overclocking makes this ideal.
- Memory – Kingston 8GB DDR3 1600MHz HyperX (2 x 4GB). Performance memory at a good price.
- SSD – Kingston 120GB HyperX 3K SSD. I’ll be using this for Windows and program installations. SSD gives me a rather quick turn of speed – the Kingston is SATA 3 (so 6Gb/s) and has some rather tasty read and write speeds (often the latter speed is the let-down).
- HDD – I already have a 1TB hard drive but I’ll be teaming this up with another, a Hitachi Deskstar to be precise, in a RAID 1 array providing a backup of data in case a single drive fails.
I’ve also added a black Samsung optical drive (DVD writer – not bothered about having Blu-Ray) and ordered some SATA cables too. All of this will run Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. Yes, Windows 7 (I’m not yet convinced of Windows 8!).
One last thing – soundproofing! I’ve opted for the AcoustiPack ULTIMATE – 3 sheets of soundproofing material for adding to your case.
All of the above costs about £700, hundreds less than it would to specify something similar from a PC builder.
Back to the education question – I’ve done all this before so I’ll know what I’m doing. My teenager daugher hasn’t and doesn’t really have a clue how a computer works. Thankfully she is interested and my plan is to build the resulting PC with her. Most of the parts have now arrived (I purposefully left a final despatch to the last minute in case I’d forgotten anything) and, assuming they all do in time, my plan is to work on the build on Saturday with her. The only thing I’ll do myself beforehand is soundproofing the case – it’s just “cutting and sticking” and I’m sure she’s done plenty of that before 😉
I’ll update this blog with how it goes on.
Things I've learnt already
I’ve not yet started the build but there’s already some things I’ve learnt.
- SATA 3 is double the speed of SATA 2 but you won’t get any benefit from using it on a HDD. However, you will with SSD. For a HDD use SATA 2. For any optical drives you can stick with SATA 1.
- Look at your motherboard manual for details of memory installation – it it supports dual channel this means that if you’re using dual sticks of memory (as I am) then putting them in specific slots will boost speed.
- My motherboard comes with a useful connector for the case connectors. Simply plug the assorted cables from your case into these little block connectors and then plug them into a single slot on the motherboard. It makes it a lot simpler than fiddling around inside the case trying to plug tiny connectors directly into the board.
- The case I bought and the soundproofing material don’t really go hand-in-hand. Mainly because this is a gaming case there are a LOT of open areas for fans – you can either not soundproof these (my plan) or to cover them and watch the dust attract to the exposed sticky side. Never-the-less the soundproofing I will do will still be advantageous.
- I’m told (and I’ll confirm this) that to the best way to install Windows onto an SSD is not to connect up any HDDs at first – with only the one drive to choose from it should install without a problem. I’ll do this and report back!
All items now received – cue cutting and sticking tomorrow night and then the build on Saturday.
I realised last night the motherboard manual didn’t include anything about RAID set-ups – however my PDF copy does. Having had a look the paper manual seems to omit quite a bit – mark off MSI for that!
As I said I’d do in advance, I’ve added the soundproofing to the case. I’ve decided not to cover the fan vents – the sticky side of the material will just attract dust and it will generally look a bit ugly – but I have used it rather liberally everywhere else I could. I had some foam blocks from a past build – I’ll be using all 3 internal drive slots but only 1 of the 3 external, so used two of the large ones to fill those and the remaining small ones have gone in the top to fill in the fan vents there. Voila. Looks good when the case is closed up.
Saturday - the build
The build went remarkably swiftly – within an hour and a half it was built, booted first time and I was installing Windows. Two problems were later experienced though, which are worthy of explanation…
Or, more precisely, the Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev2. At first the fan didn’t spin – I thought this might be a feature (i.e it doesn’t come on until the processor gets hot enough) but after looking at some forums I found that many others had the same problem and it was often due to the fan blades not being full engaged with the actual motor. I took mine out and, sure enough, this was the case – simply push the fan blades down towards the motor and it clicks into place.
The biggest pain of all. The MSI instructions were rubbish and left an awful lot out. Here’s what I did…
- Installed Windows on the SSD, with the HDDs detached (as suggested in various forums to ensure that Windows installs on the correct drive).
- Attached the HDDs and rebooted. POST screen that the MSI instructions says should exist to configure them didn’t. In the end I found an option in the BIOS to switch the drives to RAID and then the screen appeared. Used this POST screen to set them up.
- Now the PC failed to boot – Windows would blue-screen. A repair wouldn’t work.
- Re-installed Windows. Now worked but RAID drives were not detected.
- RAID utility provided by MSI had an option to initialise the drives – this was needed. It’s a slow process but once complete… the drives still weren’t detected by Windows
- In Disk Management found I had to activate it from there (sorry, can’t remember the option name but it’s a right-click option on the recognised RAID drive). Also assigned a drive letter to it.
- Drive finally appeared! Updated the BIOS and then Windows wouldn’t boot again – as per earlier. However, found the BIOS updated had switched off RAID – switched it back on and Windows would now start again.
- Wanted to put all User folders on D: drive – not as easy as I thought and the best workaround is done during Windows installation. Didn’t want to go through that AGAIN so followed an alternative. This caused a massive number of errors during reboot and afterwards the READ utility wanted to verify and error check the drives again – this took a number of hours again.
But, after all the above, it’s working.