(March 26, 2014)
Hi! This is my first build, so let me know what you think!
I have been using my Dell XPS 15 L502x laptop for a few years now, and it was running fine until my winter break gaming marathon took it through numerous freezes and crashes. My laptop was set up in a docking station, with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, so I decided to reuse the peripherals and build a new computer. After researching for a couple of months, and referencing other PCPartPicker builds and the Tom's Hardware forums, this is the result.
My build is geared towards schoolwork, light CAD, and gaming with a goal of an $800 budget. I was thinking of getting the Corsair 350D windowed micro ATX case because of how nice it looks, but I made the last minute decision to downsize after taking out a measuring tape and seeing how big 537mm x 272mm x 502mm actually was. Since I don't plan on running dual graphics cards or overclocking, I figured I wanted to make a computer that would sit on top of the pseudo-bookshelf under my table.
Building this computer was a lot of fun, and the first boot was successful! I set it up and installed the OS, then cable tied everything as well as I could. After using it for a while, I found out the front audio jack only outputs mono sound, which might be a problem with the drivers or case, because the back audio jack on the motherboard works properly. I only need one of them to work, so I'm not going to take everything apart and figure it out.
I bought everything online off of Amazon and NewEgg, with trials for both Prime and Shop Runner for free 2 day shipping. The build was $807 USD, but I live in California and have to pay sales tax so it ended up being just under the $875 line.
|CPU||My laptop was running Sandy Bridge i7 but I never really made use of all the processing power, so I narrowed it down to a Haswell i5 processor or AMD 8320/8350. I ended up with the i5 4670 because I didn't want to overclock, and it was only $5 more than the 4570 at the time. There's a YouTube video that showed real world performance tests between the 8350 and i5 4670k at stock clocks instead of benchmark data, so I went with Intel.|
|Motherboard||Initially, I was going to go with an ASRock B85 or H87 motherboard because their prices were much lower than the other big brands, but seeing the reviews for Gigabyte's H87N-WIFI (rev 1.0) led me to get the newer rev 2.0 model. There is only one case fan header, so I had to either leave out a fan or attach it to the PSU. I'm using an Ethernet connection right now, but the motherboard comes with two Ethernet ports and WiFi (I figured I'd use WiFi sometime if this computer is going to last me for a long time).|
|Memory||My RAM is actually called Team Zeus, but it's not on the part list (apparently the naming scheme is supposed to compete with the G.SKILL Ares). This was the cheapest dual channel, 8GB, DDR3-1600, CAS 9, 1.5V RAM at the time. It works, and the low profile red heat spreaders actually look pretty cool.|
|SSD||It's fast, but not as fast as some of the more expensive SSDs. I'm coming from a laptop mechanical hard drive, so it's an upgrade either way. I figured I don't need to run everything off of the SSD, so I chose the 120GB model over the 240GB. I chose Crucial over the Samsung 840 EVO series because of the better reliability tools or something that the M500 offers.|
|HDD||Storage for all of my files. I was going to go with the Seagate 1TB hard drive, but I hear both are reliable (unless you're unlucky) so I went with the cheaper one.|
|Video Card||I primarily play League of Legends, which doesn't really need a video card, but I do play some FPS games once in a while and I wanted to be able to play those smoothly at 1080p (not on ultra settings). I was looking at the Radeon 7870/ 270 and Nvidia 660 / 760 cards, and ended up going with the cheapest blower style one. Apparently, blower style cards work better in cases with low airflow but are louder. I'm a mechanical engineering student and I was slightly worried about SolidWorks not working well on a gaming graphics card, but since I'm not a professional yet I'll worry about that later.|
|Case||I wanted to stick the computer in a space with 10" of clearance, so I did research and found the Cooler Master Elite 130. I actually bought the PSU first, and it was too big for the Fractal Design Node 304 (which admittedly looks really cool), but the 130 was cheaper and has a 5.25" drive bay that I could use in the future. Some things to note about this case... The fans included are 3 pin with a Molex adapter, so the speeds cant be controlled, making the case audible at all times right now (a lot of people didn't use the side case fan in their builds, but I kept mine in because it looks like it's actually supporting the PSU. Also, I don't want my computer to start a fire). It's not louder than the ambient noises in my house, and I can't hear it when I have headphones on. Another thing other people who used this case mentioned was that the feet don't grip surfaces very well, and they're right. I got 1/2" vinyl bumpers from my local hardware store and they fit perfectly, as shown in one of the pictures. I thought cable management would be easier than everyone says, but it was pretty hard with the PSU cables, so I ended up using the 5.25" bay space, to keep the center of the case clear.|
|PSU||I did a lot of research for finding a high quality PSU. The Antec HCG series is tier 2 according to the EggXpert PSU tier list, and it's also Haswell compatible for the new low current draw states. $60 for a highly rated semi-modular PSU sounds good to me. It comes with the CPU and motherboard cables already attached, and I had to attach one for the graphics card, another for the SSD and HDD, and a third for the side case fan. These 5 cables are pretty thick and hard to manage, so I'm glad I didn't have to deal with cable management for the unused ones.|
|OS||I'm coming from Windows 7 but I wanted 8.1 because it's the latest, and apparently better at dealing with SSDs. It's fast and looks nice, but even after changing some of the settings I can't get it to act exactly as Windows 7. I set it so it boots to the desktop instead of the app screen, but the start button and windows key both take me to the app screen anyway. It'll take me some time to get used to it, but once I do I can't complain because it is a pretty nice OS for people who don't mind change. DreamSpark by MicroSoft offers free software to students of participating universities and departments, so I got mine for free. (Thanks Albert!)|