Description

[This build never got published for some reason.]

First new computer in 7 years, and first time building in about ~15 years.

The name continues a trend of naming my desktops after Australian marsupials, replacing my previous PC, "Wallaby."

Like its namesake, I designed Dropbear to be powerful, yet able to hide away in the shadows, eschewing LEDs, windows, and other silliness. I had a budget of approximately $1000 and tried to hit that price/performance sweet spot, for an all-round machine that could handle gaming, productivity apps, light image editing, and some programming.

CPU - I was initially considering getting a locked i5 to save a few bucks, since I've never overclocked and hadn't planned on starting, but then I found this CPU+mobo combo for $255 at my local Microcenter, so I snatched it up and then decided to get some aftermarket cooling and try my hand at overclocking. Update: I overclocked after having my computer for about 3 weeks. Doesn't look like a great chip. It wasn't stable at 44x with 1.25V; it didn't even give itself a chance to overheat. At 43x, it appears to be stable at 1.235V. I may try seeing what my voltage needs to get to to reach 44x or even 45x, but it'd really be for curiosity. At 43x this thing is still pretty darn fast.

Cooler - I got this as an impulse buy "upgrade" from the CM 212 EVO since it was a good price. It cools well enough, but there is a big drawback: there's no quiet mode. Two tiny 92mm fans with no PWM mean they are always spinning at 1800RPM. Not a big deal when gaming, but if I just want a quiet room to read in, it's really annoying and I often simply put my computer to sleep to turn the damn thing off. It adequately cools my overclock (which doesn't look like it's thermal limited, I just have a relatively lousy chip). Was a big pain to install, too -- have to be able to hold it to the front of the mobo while tightening nuts on the rear of the mobo, and it took me 3 tries to figure out a way to get it done. (The solution was to mount the mobo in the case and use the mobo panel's rear access cutaway while the case stuck out over the edge of my desk, weighted down with a copy of Arnold Schwarzenegger's The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.) Already thinking of upgrading.

Mobo - This thing was super dirt cheap after its package deal, and I was worried there would be some catch, but it really meets all my needs. (It doesn't support SLI, for example, big whoop.) Some of the connectors were a bit of a pain to get to during the build -- the front-panel audio is in the lower left corner, and the upper left corner 8-pin ATX cable was really hard to reach past my HSF, so I ended up having to manipulate it into place with some vise-grips. The front-panel audio is pretty lousy (quite a bit of static) and I was having some trouble with the voiceover channels getting strangely quiet when I played XCOM, but after updating the driver I haven't noticed problems. MSI's EUFI is solid. And my favorite thing is this ships with Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, which lets you overclock from your desktop and made overclocking even easier than usual.

Memory - Worked as advertised. Low-profile black heat spreaders turned out to look pretty cool. No complaints.

Storage - I made it a point to fit an SSD into my budget and I'm glad I did. This thing boots into Windows pretty much instantly, which came in handy while overclocking. The SSD has most of my everyday programs on it, and the HDD has my games and media. The HDD gets surprisingly little use -- sometimes when I boot up a game I will hear it spin up and realize that it's been sitting idle for hours as I used my computer.

Video Card - After hemming and hawing, I settled on a GTX 760, which was at the top end of what I was willing to pay. I don't play as many AAA games as I used to, so I'm ok if not everything on the planet runs in Ultra at 60fps. I considered getting a mid-range card, but the options available at the $150 price point are pretty shabby these days, and that sealed the deal. I paid a small premium for an overclocked EVGA card from Amazon Prime, which I would do again in a heartbeat. Amazon always gives me excellent customer service, free two-day shipping with Prime, and the factory overclock is a nice bonus.

Case - Overall, it was a joy to build with, and seems like one of the best things in its price range. Cable management was a cinch, but I could have used a couple more tie-downs behind the motherboard. On the downside, the side panels are a huge pain in the butt to get back on while the case is standing up and the finish picks up fingerprints very easily. I find myself wishing it had a removable HDD cage, too. But overall everything went it easy and it works. My last computer was an mATX case, so the 300R feels gargantuan by comparison. I can't find any advantages to ATX if you're not looking for a multi-video card build, so next time I think I will probably go back to mATX.

PSU - A solid deal. (The $20 CX430 deal you see so often wasn't available, otherwise I would have gone with that.) I was worried that I would regret not getting a modular PSU, but the molex was the only unused cable, and it tucked away very neatly without any problems.

Optical drive - I considered not getting one. I probably haven't put a single disc into my current PC in the past year, and I even installed windows from a USB drive. But might as well for $17. You may notice in the pictures that there's no SATA connector -- I only had the two that came with the motherboard. I'll get around to it eventually, maybe. If I picked a case with a front door or no external 5.25" bays I would have no problem dropping this from the build.

OS - I got a student rate for Windows 8.1 Pro (if you have access to a student email address, you can buy up to 5 per year at the discounted rate). I decided to boot from a thumb drive. The Windows 8.1 installer will actually format a thumb drive for you, which frankly I thought was super cool. As the Windows 8.1 upgrader uses the same architecture as the PC it's running on, and I only have Windows 7 32-bit on my old machine, I had to take a field trip to work to be able to make a 64-bit image on the thumb drive. So that was not very fun. Still getting used to Windows 8.1. I can echo others in saying that the new interface gets some getting used to, the apps environment is fairly stupid, but desktop stuff is pleasantly fast. 99% of the time I just stick to the desktop environment and everything is fine. Turns out I don't really miss Windows 7. I have run into some compatibility problems with older software (games) and my Logitech wireless mouse driver doesn't want to work, though.

Overall, I think I met my goals of a sweet-spot rig. The build was fun and problems were minimal. I can't believe how easy things have gotten in the past decade, from shopping, to configuring, to building, to BIOS. I'm now evangelizing even my non-technical friends who want new computers to build their own.

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