Monday, February 15, 2016

2016 New Primary Home PC Build!

With my family's primary home PC having been built in 2008 and showing its age, it was time earlier this month to build my first general-use home PC in 8 years!

Here's the parts list I put together and built, with a somewhat-flexible budget of around $1200:

Type Item Price
CPU Intel Core i7-4790K 4.0GHz Quad-Core Processor $339.99 @ Newegg
Motherboard MSI Z97-GAMING 5 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard $153.98 @ Newegg
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-2133 Memory $74.99 @ Newegg
Storage (OS) Samsung 850 EVO-Series 250GB 2.5" Solid State Drive $87.99 @ Newegg
Storage (Apps) Western Digital 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $59.99 @ Office Depot
Storage (Data) Western Digital Blue 4TB 3.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive $133.99 @ Newegg
Video Card EVGA GeForce GTX 970 4GB SSC ACX 2.0+ Video Card $333.98 @ Newegg
Power Supply EVGA 500W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply $29.99 @ Newegg
Optical Drive Asus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS DVD/CD Writer $15.99 @ Newegg
Operating System Microsoft Windows 10 Home OEM (64-bit) $102.98 @ Newegg
Total   $1333.87

I had a spare case and existing mouse / keyboard / monitor / speakers to use with this build, so I didn't need to factor those in.

The website (the target of all of the links in the parts list above) was a particularly helpful tool in keeping track of the parts for this build as I was researching and selecting them!  It was a nice upgrade over the text file and/or spreadsheet-based systems I’ve used for this in the past.


In chronological order of how I executed the build!

The goods, prior to the build.  (Note: The LEGO blocks pictured were not actually included in the build.)


The empty case – with its circa 2006 350W power supply with only IDE power cables, no SATA, removed – ready for components!


Motherboard in place and screwed down!


The Intel Core i7 CPU, still in packaging.  That’s a lot of power packed into a small package!


Close-up of CPU installed in motherboard.


CPU locked into place (via the lock included as part of the motherboard).


CPU with thermal paste applied and then fan installed on top.


New power supply installed in case and wired up to motherboard.  It isn’t very visible in this photo, but the CPU wires for the power switch, reset switch, and the front USB 2.0 ports are also wired to the motherboard in this photo, on the bottom edge.


The solid state drive (SSD) and traditional hard disk drive (HDD) drive side-by-side.  Even though this wasn’t my first SSD install, I was surprised anew just how small, thin and light that drive is compared to the traditional HDD.


Drives installed in case.  This older case didn’t have a spot designed to accommodate the SSD, but that drive was small and light enough that I was comfortable with just screwing one side of it into the 3.5” HDD bay (at an angle to get the screw holes to line up!).  The optical (CD/DVD) drive is also installed in the top 5.25” slot.


The G.Skill Ripjaws 2 x 8GB RAM installed (just to the right of the big CPU fan).  Not sure how much faster the fancy red trim makes it, but it does look cool!


The GeForce GTX 970 video card, just out of its packaging.  This thing is a beast, size-wise!  Clearly EVGA wants it to look nice out of the box, since it came with clear plastic wrap over the entire thing (a couple of pieces of which are still on and visible in this photo, such as the piece over the “GeForce GTX 970” logo on the bottom edge).


Video card installed.  It turned out to be juuust big enough in this case that I couldn’t quite install a full size hard drive directly across from it (even using a 90-degree SATA cable).


Finally, everything assembled, with the cover on over the rear-facing motherboard ports.  Both the motherboard and video card came with caps installed over their video ports (as shown here), which I appreciated.


Mishaps and Mistakes


So with everything assembled and monitor, keyboard, mouse, power, network, and speakers all plugged in, I hit the power button for the first time… and immediately noticed two obviously “unhappy” sounds:

  1. A buzzing-type sound coming from the bottom portion of the case;
  2. A repetitive squealing / grinding sound coming from the front of the case.

The first sound turned out to be easily solvable; one of the case wires at the bottom of the case was contacting the spinning fan on the underside of the video card.  Getting those wires out of the way solved that.

Unfortunately, the second noise turned out to be the sound of a dead hard drive.  The noise was coming from the 2TB HDD.  It wouldn’t stop making the noise, and the drive wasn’t recognized by the BIOS (whereas the SSD and the optical drive were recognized with no issues).

This was my first DOA (“dead on arrival”) part among the five PC builds I’ve done, so I suppose I was due. I got it returned and refunded with no issues… and ended up breaking my budget a bit by replacing it with both a fast 7200 RPM 1 TB drive for installing programs, and a 5600 RPM 4 TB drive for storing all the great photos my wife takes.

Forgotten Thermal Paste

Fortunately, I didn’t forget to apply thermal paste, which might have resulted in a cooked CPU.  Rather, I forgot to order thermal paste.  None came with the CPU I bought, and I only do PC builds infrequently (every few years) and so didn’t have any on hand.

Also fortunately, my town has a little PC repair shop, and so one quick car trip and $1 later I was good to go with a single-use tube of thermal paste.

Don’t Leave the Motherboard Backplate For Last

With this build, I made the embarrassing mistake of leaving the install of the motherboard backplate (which ends up situated over all of the ports on the back of the PC) for last, thinking for whatever reason that I could pop it into place from the rear.

However, I realized the hard way that the backplate does not install from the rear; rather, it needs to go on from the inside of the case, before the motherboard gets fastened into place.

So, to my chagrin, I ended up unscrewing the motherboard from the case (leaving everything else connected), shifting it slightly to allow the backplate to be installed, and then positioning it back into place and screwing it back in.  And so, oddly enough, this build came full circle, in that affixing the motherboard to the case was both the first and the last step!

So How’s it Working?

It’s working great!  I haven’t measured it yet, but Windows 10 boots incredibly fast. 

The app where I’ve seen the most difference relative to my old PC is the game Cities: Skylines (the latest and greatest take on the city-builder genre pioneered by SimCity).  On the old PC, saved games would take a very long time to load, and the game itself was quite playable but it would “chug” noticeably, particularly when trying to rapidly scroll around the map.  On the new PC, by contrast, it’s super fast and smooth as silk!

After doing “main home PC” replacements every 4 years (in 2000, 2004, and 2008), that 2008 model lasted for a solid 8 years.  (It’s actually still running, although there are signs it might be on its last legs, which helped prompt this upgrade).

I’m hoping this new PC has a nice long life as well!  I’d like it to still be running in 8 years… at which point my 10-year-old will be headed off to college.  Now there’s an interesting thought!