Well after a couple of weeks choosing and ordering the parts for my new computer have all turned up and the build starts tomorrow. In the end I settled upon an ASUS P8Z77V LZ motherboard. It has the features I want without too many of the features I don’t. It has Windows 8 assured compatibility, which means I shouldn’t have too many problems messing about with drivers. It supports the i5-3570K Core i5 processor from Intel and has two Sata 3.0 ports and 4 USB 3.0 ports as well as four Sata 2.0 ports and 10 USB 2.0 ports. I can’t see myself needing all the USB 2.0 ports though.
It will also support up to 32Gb or RAM, but I was thinking of either 8Gb or 16Gb – it is currently around £50/8Gb). Having chosen the Motherboard I ordered the processor at the same time – i5-3570K, which has 4 cores and is a 64-bit processor and can be over-clocked – made to run faster than the specification, provided the chip is kept cool (also allowed by the Mobo). The RAM was a little harder to choose – I went for 16Gb as I tend to run quite a few apps in parallel and more RAM is good. My current computer has 4Gb and often gets up around 95% utilisation, at which point it runs like a drain (very, very slowly).
I went for the cheapest memory in its class at the time, I could either have gone for 2 x 8Gb or 4 x 4Gb. The trouble is there are loads or specs along with variants. ASUS publish a list of compatible memories, I wanted to be on the performance end though, which meant using DDR3 and 1600Mhz. At the time I was checking pricing I am sure that it was cheaper to buy 4 x 4Gb than 2 x 8Gb - but checking on the pricing at the moment I am not so sure. The result I got Corsair Vengeance Memory x 2 (resulting in 4 x 4Gb cards) which was slightly cheaper than this 16Gb pack of the same style (resulting in 2 x 8Gb cards). The thing that swung it for me was the uncertainty of the latter not coming direct from Amazon.
So having chosen the processor, Motherboard and RAM I turned to the case. For me this was a more random choice, I didn’t want to get a high-end case with liquid cooling – too much faffing about. I wanted something with room, both for expansion and to make the build easier and that seemed to have reasonable cooling. I ended up with the Zalman Z11 Plus Midi Tower Case. It can support a bunch of fans (7) but comes with 5 and by all accounts getting everything wasn’t going to be too much of a squeeze.
At the same time I bought a couple of cables recommended by commenter/reviewers in the Amazon product listings (quite a useful place for gotchas of some products). One was a 24 Pin ATX Power extension cable as a reviewer reckoned it could be a stretch in the Z11 case. The other was a USB 3.0 splitter.
My Mobo had some single USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 sockets and some double, so needed a splitter to get them connections to the outside world. One of the oddities when building computers, I discovered, is that the motherboard generally has some USB sockets that stick out of the back and some that need either additional USB sockets either on the front of back of the case. My case came with two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 sockets on the front of the case.
As mentioned I had decided to use an SSD along with a normal HDD to speed up things on my computer. In the end I decided not to use the SSD as a speed-up cache, but to build a system with OS and programs on the flash drive and my large amounts of data on a separate HDD. In my first no cost effective decision I went for a large SSD – Samsung 840 series Pro 512Gb and a moderate size HDD – WD Caviar Black 64Mb cache 2Tb. Both are SATA 3.0, so capable of 6GB/s. The Samsung Pro series are slightly faster than the non-pro versions. The WD HDDs come in various Colours, Red, Green, Black and Blue. They have different costs, I went Black because it is offered with a 5-year warranty and had a larger cache. There are a multiplicity of WD drives. I could have gone for a 3Tb disk, but there are issues with formatting disks above 2.2Tb that I hadn’t got my head around. I did later and could have chosen a larger drive. But the way I am planning to partition my data means I shouldn’t have too many issues for a while.
In terms stuff the last purchase of the batch was a power supply. Again my goals were reliability and efficiency – with enough power to spare. I probably went more over the top than I needed to. However the Zalman Z11 plus case will take quite a few drives and I had yet to choose a Graphics card.
The one that swung it for me was a Corsair AX760 PSU (Platinum), it is efficient, even at low loads and modular which means you get a bunch of separate cables and only plug the ones you need into the Power supply. Whereas some power supplies come with quite a few of the cables connected. One other factor is that the hold-up time is good – 19.8ms. This means that when I get a mains glitch the power supply will keep going long enough for the UPS to kick in.
The final (almost) decision was what to do about graphics, I am not interested in playing high-performance games on my computer and don’t need a monster of a graphics card, however I did want the option of higher screen resolution than my current 1920 x 1200), something like 2560 x 1440, 60% more dots. Some photo processing programs will also use the computing power in the graphics card to assist. I don’t have the full Photoshop though, just the Elements version, which doesn’t tap right in. A reasonable compromise seemed to be this one - ASUS GeForce GTX 650 with 2Gb of graphics ram. Some graphics cards use so much power they need an additional connection from the Power supply this one didn’t.
At this stage I wasn’t sure whether to build the machine without the graphics card first and then add it later – or do it all in one go. I had not had much to do with ASUS before this buying spree – however checking out various optical drives their name cropped up. Reading some of the reviews on Amazon of other Optical Drives was a bit off-putting. I am not planning on using the Optical Drive for storage. Although I will burn some “Rescue Disks” which have been invaluable when sorting out this (the old) computer. I generally use external USB disks for large amounts of storage.
One issue that had me stalled was what version of Windows 8 to buy. I obviously wanted the 64-bit version with 16Gb or RAM (the 32-bit version can only make use of 3 and a bit Gb – nearly 4Gb). The thing that I stalled on was that a lot of the promo material seemed aimed at users wanting to upgrade. Fine except this was a new build. I decided to buy Windows 8 versus Windows 8 Pro – but the Amazon website shows the OEM version as being only for OEMs, which I am not. Fortunately my Haynes Manual came to the rescue, I am an OEM in their terms. Problem sorted.
The last bit of the build that I ordered and that then ended up in the critical path was a present from my brother-in-law. Although I specified it, he got me a more powerful cooler for the CPU. I figured I would then be able to a bit more over-clocking. I chose the Arctic Freezer 13, which is billed as quiet and compatible with the 1155 socket and capable of cooling an i7 from 65oC with the cooler (fan) that comes with the processor by almost another 20oC.
I must admit I was a little surprised how big it was when it turned up. I had checked as best I could, but hum.
For info the main websites I used were Amazon, Dabs and Overclockers (along with PC World and Maplins). I didn’t follow anyone else’s build, but was pleased when several of my chosen components appeared together. Once I had chosen the various components I also downloaded the various manuals that came with them to read before my build started. Other sites such as Tom’s Hardware, Hard Forum and Hardware Secrets.
The bottom line is there were a bunch of things I was unclear about at this stage.
A friend also gave me a copy of Computer Shopper which I would have bought before starting this project if I had realised. I was secretly very pleased to see many of my choices of componentry appear in the magazine as recommendations though.
Here is the collection of boxes all ready to be opened – I did it this way to make it easy to keep a Build Diary. You can see that there are some things I didn’t talk about, I have also bought a new USB 3.0 Multi card reader and USB 3.0 hub. I want to isolate the computer from constant plugging and removal of cables.
My New Computer – in pieces and Boxed
Here is the same picture, but annotated. The SSD was (is) tiny. Conversely the Artic Freezer was larger than I had expected. I also had a slight panic as the blurb on the side where is describes what “Sockets” it was compatible with did not include the 1155 Socket! After a bit of reading it turned out that although the 1156 Socket, the Freezer is compatible with is not the same electrically as the 1155 Socket mechanically they are similar. Phew.
My New Computer – in pieces and Boxed
Well I am looking forward to tomorrow – but also with a little trepidation. I am not phased by a bit of construction, which most of it will be. No what worries me is all the stuff I have bought compatible! I am also wondering whether I have gotten all the cables I will need. My plan is to do a last-minute bit of reading tonight and then unbox everything and check it against the parts lists.