Sunday, March 3, 2013

In which I build a new PC...

A history of PC gaming and PC building...

Anyone who's known me for any amount of time knows that one of my main happy-makers in my non-work, non-child raising, non-husbanding time is gaming. I've been a PC gamer for a number of years, ever since I got my first PC back in 1995.
I've done 3 builds in my lifetime that I can think of, and a number of upgrades to those builds. Unfortunately, my strategy for part picking for the past few years has amounted to:
  1. What my friends have cast off that I can use
  2. What I can afford and get WOC (Wife Oversight Committee™) approval for that is better than what I have.
As a gamer, this generally left me disappointed with something that circled the low-spec realm of system requirements; and generally had me running eye-candy games at lowest settings.
This comic from XKCD sums it up my usual gaming experience:
Click this image to view the comic on xkcd.com. If you like it, consider letting the artist know or buy something from his store.

The Goal: A new gaming rig

This year, there was a bit more than expected in the tax return, so the wife gave me the go ahead to pick out and purchase a new computer. Of course, I got this notification a few weeks before the funds would be available, so I had time to plan. I sat down and talked with the wife about what the goals of a new build would be, and I came up with the following:
  1. It should play the games I am playing down at max detail level at a good frame rate.
  2. It should last at least 3-5 years before needing to be replace or expensive upgrades to be made.
  3. It should preferably not go over budget.
From there, I set out doing my research. If you're thinking of building a new machine, I highly recommend doing the same, common-sense steps:
  1. Start looking at online communities such as Reddit's Build a PC, Tom's Hardware, Maximum PC, and the like. Check out the builds people are doing and posting to see what's working and what's in vogue.
  2. Take a look at retailer's websites, such as Newegg, Best Buy, MicroCenter, and such, to see what's on special and what's reviewing well there.
  3. Seek out your friends that are system builders (everyone knows at least one I think), and ask them about their experience.
  4. Check out PCPartPicker and setup your build there. The site's pretty good about telling you what will and won't work.
It took 3 weeks of reading, seeking, talking, and debating to come up with the configuration I chose. I started with the CPU and video card... the computational heart and soul of the machine. Friends recommend going with an unlocked CPU; even though I don't plan on doing any overclocking right now, its nice to have the option available for the future. I chose the Core i5 3570k for its balance between performance and cost. As for the graphics card, I did some research on card benchmarks against the main game I play right now, Guild Wars 2. From those benchmarks, I chose the GTX 660 or the Radeon HD 7850 as my best case options.
For motherboard, I wanted something that would be expansible, and support the latest technologies. I talked to friends about their motherboard experiences, and based on their feedback, chose one of ASRock's z77-based boards. Talk is that they are the best cost to performance out there. I wanted 8gb of RAM, but when I went to buy, I figured out that the price jump to double it wasn't huge, and decided to cross that bridge now. Storage was a similar situation... a Solid State Drive would greatly improve performance and increase machine longevity, so it seemed like a good idea.
Rounding out the build was the choice of a power supply and case. I wanted a case with much better air flow than my previous one, but let's be honest, you don't have to go nuts on a case. I chose the Thermaltake V3 for the combination of price and air flow. Since I had all of this hardware, and a CrossFire capable board, I decided to go over on the Power Supply, and went with a 700W Thermaltake supply.
With all that chosen, and the funds available Monday, I ordered my parts for in-store pickup at MicroCenter, and set off on the build.

Parts List

PCPartPicker part list: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/HhKt
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor
  • Motherboard: ASRock Z77 Pro4 ATX LGA1155 Motherboard
  • Memory: Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory
  • Storage: Sandisk Extreme 120GB 2.5" Solid State Disk
  • Video Card: Gigabyte Radeon HD 7850 2GB Video Card
  • Case: Thermaltake VL80001W2Z ATX Mid Tower Case
  • Power Supply: Thermaltake TR2 700W ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply
  • Optical Drive: Lite-On iHAS124-04 DVD/CD Writer
Next time, I'll talk about what I've learned and re-learned about system building.