Several months ago, I was talking with my son about gaming - console stuff, PC based stuff, and Minecraft server stuff. We came up with a few different solutions, but in the end it seemed like our best bet would be to offload the Minecraft to a VPS and update the main PC used for gaming. We also agreed that it would be a great project for us to work on and when his birthday rolled around we'd just ask for cash so that we could pick out the parts. He didn't want gifts just to get more stuff. My role then switched to lead researcher.
I'd kinda kept up with technology (I love it & I'm in the IT industry), but holy crap was I overwhelmed by the myriad options that I discovered. But little by little, I started narrowing down exactly what would or wouldn't work for our project. A couple weeks before his birthday, I had a pretty solid idea of our most viable options; we'd still have to see what he hauled in from gifts, but I had a pretty good idea what to expect for budget.
Then I came across one of the most amazing sites on the planet - PCPartPicker. Totally blown away. It didn't take long to decide I wanted to get some input from the awesome PCPP community. I posted my story with proposed build and got some awesome feedback. Many thanks to all who shared :)
After chewing on the new feedback and churning out several new hypothetical builds, we were ready to order the rest of our parts (I'd already ordered the video card on the 16th). And on May 25th that is exactly what we did.
I'm starting with the video card since that was the first thing we ordered. I got a lot of great suggestions in this area, and opted to go with the XFX 7870. At the time, there wasn't much difference in price between it and some of the 7850's. Plus, and this was actually a big factor, the card came with about $150 in games. Had they been games we weren't interested in, then it wouldn't have been as inticing. But all three of my boys were wanting all four of the games offered, so it was a great option for us. Basically, we had the chance to add a 7870 to the build for about $40. Sweet! :)
I probably went about a dozen different directions when evaluating cases. Part of me really wanted to go with a slim, unassuming build. But with the video card we ordered, that really wasn't going to work (possible future project? :D). I decided I wanted something roomy without being massive, and something still pretty unassuming. I wanted plenty of cooling options if we wanted to get fancy down the road. I wanted good airflow. I wanted quality. I wanted USB 3.0 on the front panel. And I wanted decent or better cable management. Oh, and I wanted inexpensive - it didn't have to be cheap (~$25) but definitely budget friendly (~$60). The Corsair Carbide 200R was our winner.
I wasn't opposed to Intel (I've actually been pretty faithful to Intel for most of my adult life), but was kinda set on AMD. I just really liked some of the stuff they had been putting out over the last few years and figured this would be as good a reason as any to go Red. I was sooooooo tempted to go with the 965 Black. Great option for a budget build like ours, MASSIVE bang for the buck, and would probably suit us just fine for a few years (okay, at least two :P). I also loved the idea of going with an APU like the 5800K. And who wouldn't want to pony up for the 8350, right? Well, I ended up going with the FX-6100. It was right around $100, gave us the option to OC, had pretty beefy specs, good rep, and had a little lower TDP than some of the other chips I was considering. Along with being very budget-friendly, it would likely meet all our needs - for gaming and regular use.
This was actually the most difficult decision. And not because I couldn't find what I was looking for or because there were too many good options. The problem I ran into was quality control. With all the other parts, there'd be an occasional post or review about something being DOA or dead after a couple weeks or months. With motherboards, it seemed like about 30% of recent reviews had issues with their MB's. This included Asus, Asrock, MSI, Gigabyte, Biostar, you name it. It was definitely the part I felt most like we'd be rolling the dice with. After much contemplation, I opted to go with the Asus M5A97. It had all the features we were looking for, fit our budget, and from all the stuff I've seen I really like the way Asus interacts with their customers & community.
I got some 1600 Ballistix RAM, a DVD writer, a Corsair CX500M PSU, and a Cooler Master 212+ CPU cooler. I already had a 60GB OCZ Vertex3 and a WD 1TB Green, so we were set for drives. I also have my OS and necessary peripherals.
I'm going to start with the thing that most stood out to me - I loooooooove the 200R case. Since it was a more budget-y case, I really wasn't sure what to expect from it. That thing is gorgeous inside and out. It was dreamy to work with. Fit everything we need to stuff it with and allowed us to make everything look nice and neat in the end. It even accommodated The Monster - the Hyper 212 Plus CPU cooler. The ONLY tiny gripe you'll hear from me (other than Corsair not giving them away free with the purchase of a PSU :D), is the lack of cable management grommets. That's it. Everything else - Bravissimo!
Without question, the most difficult part of the process was the 212. It's big and awkward to work with, plus the instructions seemed a bit funky to me. Not bad or lacking, just kinda meh. Still, given the overall smooth-sailing we experienced in the build, even dealing with the 212 wasn't too bad :)
The motherboard also had a moment or two of awkwardness, but that was my call. I could have waited to install the 212 after we had the motheboard in place, but it appeared to me that would have been a bigger headache than getting the 212 on there first. Again, very low on the frustration scale.
Everything else is pretty straightforward. Most of it is click-in-place or screw-in-place. Easy peasy.
POST and UEFI
It's aliiiiiiiive!! Not gonna lie, I was prepared to have to look up error codes. And before we even started building, I told my son, "Look, these are all electronic components designed and build by imperfect people, packaged by imperfect people, shipped by imperfect people, and now being assembled by imperfect people. There's a good chance one or more of these pieces simply won't work. Despite our research and best efforts, it is very possible this thing won't fire up when we flip the switch. I hope it does and we'll do what we can to get it to go, but I feel compelled to give you that heads up."
Plugged it in, gave power to the PSU, and poked the case in the eye. We have lift off .....
Now I'm going through the process of installing Win7, installing our base apps, updating drivers, blah blah blah. Good times! :)
Also, some of my prices are a bit funky because of promo codes, rebates, and so on, so for now the prices listed represent the MOST I may have paid for any item.
Can't wait for the next project. And my son asked to help in any future projects :D
2013-06-03 Update: FINALLY got Win7 all updated and happy. Also got most of the boys' Steam and Origin games downloaded & installed. And of course Minecraft is on there now :) I took Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon for a spin. Holy crap, that was fun! :D Funny too. Needless to say, Harrison easily handled the game. My son tried out Minecraft and Bioshock Infinite, both using (I think) high settings. Again, Harrison cruised through it all with style and panache. Looking forward to seeing Crysis 3 on it. Also, I added my follow up build, "Nadia", to my list of completed builds. Way different purpose and design.