Description

Replacing my Core Two Duo laptop, I wanted a system to play MMOs, stream videos, play around with overclocking and run some virtual machines. I also wanted something with an upgrade path, and I didn't want to spend more than $500.

I came close on that last one; I got the cooler, the case and the motherboard on sale. The Antec H20 650 would have been under $30 if I hadn't lost the rebate receipt like an idiot. I still would have come in under the mark because I had an old-but-never-used Enermax power supply but, unfortunately, I discovered it wasn't compatible with my motherboard so I shelled out $50 for a new one. Here's the breakdown:

CPU: I was originally going to get an AMD A10-7850k; the APU's on-board graphics are good enough for my gaming needs and the unlocked chip appealed to my overclocking urge. Howevah, the 7850K runs about $185, while my processor AND video card combined cost less than that. Besides, it's an unlocked, quad-core processor for less than $90. There is no better value on the market right now. I could have saved money by putting a 7850K in a MicroATX MB and case, but I wanted something large enough to have decent airflow and accommodate future upgrades.

CPU Cooler: It was on sale for $45 with a $20 mail-in-rebate. How could I resist? This was a screaming b!tch to install. If you have to do it yourself, I can only recommend that you grow a third hand before you start, because you will need it. I struggled so much to get it on that I ended up smearing the thermal paste around quite a bit, and was worried that it wouldn't cool properly. So far, that hasn't been a problem. The machine idles under 30° C in an air-conditioned office. On the floor of my bedroom, it idles around 32° and peaks around 52° at 4.1Ghz. Overclocked at 4.6 Ghz, running Prime95 under full load, I've gotten the temperature up to 65° I'm looking forward to further experiments with this.

MB: Asrock A88 Extreme6 FM2+: It was on sale, had more than all the features I wanted and has lots of room for upgrades. Flashed the BIOS without booting Windows and it is rock solid. Dual BIOS feature is nice too, when you ****-up the overclock settings. The A-Tuning software allows me to tweak the CPU clock multiplier (and lots of other overclocky things) without leaving the OS. And 8+2 power phases are nice too, I hear. I also have an upgrade path when Carrizo, Kaveri's successor for FM2+, comes out next year.

RAM: It was 2400MHz and not too expensive. I wanted fast memory just in case I switch to a Carizzo APU next year, and I definitely notice a difference in frame rates now, when the memory is set to its correct speed. CAS timings aren't great but I didn't want to spend more money. I probably won't notice those extra nanoseconds, anyway. I would have liked 16 gigs for future-proofing (and robust virtual environments) but I couldn't find a great price on any 2x8gig RAM kits.

Video Card: I could have spent more money here, but the R7 250 has DDR5 memory and will Crossfire with AMD's Kaveri and Carizzo APUs. It's made by Asus, so I figured it was a safe bet.

Case: I really wanted the Corsair Vengeance C70, but this Antec was on sale for about $40 less (at Fry's) and I have come to love it. Double USB 3.0 and 2.0 on the front panel, lots of cable management options, no sharp edges, tool-less (sort of +) HDD bays and foam padding on doors and side panels for noise reduction. Came with two 120mm fans, one of which only sort of half works. Otherwise, no complaints. It's a great case for the price (+ The drive bays go into the case without tools, but you will need to screw the HDD onto rubber vibration-dampers).

PSU: A no-frills Antec 450W power supply is more than I need at this point; PC builder estimates I'm running under 300 watts with this setup. So far, it's quiet, cool and stable.

HDD: I already had two Seagate 250g SATA 3 drives, so I used them. I plan to add an SSD for the OS and run the two HDDs in a RAID configuration. 1TB NAS drive takes care of backups and mass storage.

OS and everything else: Via an external HDD, I installed Win7 Ultimate 64 bit for the OS. I will eventually set it up to dual boot Linux (maybe Steam OS). I already had a Logitech cordless mouse and keyboard, speakers and a 27" Benq gaming monitor. I haven't gamed much yet but I'm getting an average of ~60 FPS in World of Warcraft with high settings in 1080p.

Conclusion: So far, this build has been rock solid with no crashes or instability (outside of my ignorant tinkering with overclock settings). Installing the cooler was, by far, the most difficult part of the build. It was the only thing that made me want to scream and beat it with a hammer so, win! The immediate future holds three more case fans, an SSD for the OS and more HDDs for expanded RAID storage options. Let me know what you think.

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