I've been interested in computers and the computer industry for a long time now, but (as I'm sure you all know) building them is an unfortunately expensive hobby to maintain. I've survived this long by watching the industry, consuming massive amounts of information, and upgrading/tweaking the various laptops I've used over the years, but my first opportunity to get inside a desktop presented itself in the form of an eight- or nine-year-old prebuilt Dell Inspiron 531 owned by my parents. With neither Windows XP nor Google Chrome any longer receiving security patches, we decided that the time for an upgrade was overdue. Uses are emailing and web browsing, but in virtual constancy; longevity of the build is a priority second only to cost.
The monster that is being gutted and overhauled is, as mentioned, an old Dell Inspiron 531 desktop, outfitted with a blazing fast single-core AMD Sempron LE-1300 and Crysis-ready integrated Nvidia graphics, 2GB of DDR2 RAM clocked at 667MHz, a whopping 160GB of hard drive space, and everybody's favorite operating system, Windows XP SP3. In case anyone was wondering, I timed a hard boot at 1:19, plus another 50 seconds before the Start menu is usable, or another three minutes and fifteen seconds if you want Google loaded in Chrome. Security considerations are what drove the upgrade, though, so the goal is to upgrade it to 1) afford higher security at the 2) lowest possible cost that would still 3) last for a very long time. Technology in this household typically remains in use until the circuitry fries, the device outright explodes, or the operating system evolves to a higher level of consciousness and conspires to assassinate a family member, whichever comes first. So, I expect this to be working well and not in dire need of an upgrade in five years time. The computer is currently outfitted with USB 2.0 x4 and audio ports and a CD/DVD drive, which will likely be carried over, as well as some archaic sound card (Dynex, I think?).
Dell Inspiron 531
There is no need for a new case. It's not the prettiest thing, but it's fine for all intents and purposes.
MSI A78M-E35 V2
Between Intel and AMD, the choice was not difficult, as the latter is generally less expensive for this market segment in the cost of both CPUs and motherboards. I had reservations about building an FM2+ PC with Bristol Ridge right around the corner, but I'll be returning to college soon enough and time is a factor here. The extra cost of an A88X board was not justified, but I liked the extra SATA and USB 3.0 slots of the A78 chipset over A68H, so part selection was fairly easy. I settled on MSI's offering, which was purchased at OfficeDepot, price-matching Fry's remarkable deal of $19.90. The case fits ATX-sized boards, but there weren't any problems moving down to Micro-ATX.
A Pentium G4400 or G3258 would have been perfectly sufficient here, but considering the usage scenario, I couldn't justify the extra ~$10. There's no way I'd have found a compatible motherboard for under $20, anyway. AM1 was a consideration, but I'd have to opt for a low-power Sempron and a shady-looking Biostar motherboard just to save $10 over the deal I struck for the parts I ended up purchasing. I would have preferred the quad-core A8-7600, but didn't think it would be worth the extra $23. Besides, this can be overclocked. That was the other notable benefit of stepping up to A78 over the apparently far more popular A68H chipset. This was also purchased at OfficeDepot for $51.95, price-matching Amazon.
There is simply no need for one. This would be a different story altogether if it were my PC I was building.
Corsair ValueSelect 4GB DDR3 1600MHz
Nothing fancy was needed here. The motherboard supports up to 1866MHz memory at stock clocks, but I went with 1600MHz because it saved a few bucks. I had forgotten how bandwidth-hungry APUs are and would probably have gotten the 1866MHz sticks from HyperX if I had remembered. Although the capacity may need to be expanded at a later date, 4GB will be fine for starting out. I picked Corsair for consistency with other parts in the build (since the RAM manufacturer doesn't really make a difference in this day and age and the failure rate of RAM is so small) at OfficeDepot for Amazon's price of $16.97.
OCZ Trion 150 120GB SSD
I chose to include a solid state drive to satisfy the longevity requirement of the computer, to keep the computer perky and responsive years down the road. I added an M.2 boot drive to my ThinkPad a little while back and have been utterly ecstatic about it, so this was a no-brainer to me. A mere 60GB would have been more than sufficient, but there are no cost advantages to dropping the capacity when your selection is limited to reputable brands and products. Originally, this was going to be a SanDisk SSD Plus drive, but I swapped it for the OCZ, which I planned to use in a concurrent laptop upgrade project. The laptop (from circa 2009) is limited by SATA II speeds and would be better served by the slower SanDisk drive. The selection of SSDs I chose from was curated for reliability by aggregate user reviews on Newegg and Amazon, which seemed to lift the Kingston UV400 (least expensive, but out of stock at time of purchase), PNY CS1311, SanDisk SSD Plus, OCZ Trion 150, and AMD Radeon R3 SSD. I know Samsung, Crucial, and Intel are preferred, but their closest offerings were at least $15 out. This OCZ drive was snagged for $39.95 on Amazon.
Western Digital Blue 1TB HDD
For storing everything else, 500GB would have been sufficient, but, as with the SSDs, there would have been little cost advantage to lowering my sights on the capacity. I would have gone with WD Green if I could find one at a comparable price. Seagate was out of the question, as we have had poor experiences with their products in the past, which seem to be supported by reliability studies that have been conducted since. At time of purchase, this unit was unfortunately not on sale (I've seen it for $5 less since), but was picked up from OfficeDepot at MicroCenter's former price of $49.99.
Corsair CX430 PSU
I think we would have been okay not replacing the OEM-supplied PSU, as it has not produced any problems in all of the years that it's been running, but there comes a time when each electronic component will fail, and I figured we'd have a better chance of outliving the lives of the other components with a new PSU. The old one is rated at 300W, which is perfectly sufficient for the new components. For the new model, I boiled it down to three choices based primarily on reliability: the Corsair CX430, Antec Basiq BP350, and the Antec EarthWatts EA-380D. In retrospect, I probably should have chosen the EA-380D, despite its status as the priciest of the three. However, the CX430 covered the bases. It was snagged for Newegg's price of $39.99 at OfficeDepot. Now, if only I could negotiate that $20 rebate with Corsair....
Windows 10 64-bit - OEM
Three household computers are now running Windows 10, including my personal laptop, so this computer is ready to join the family. As a Windows Insider, I do recommend the OS to everyone already running Windows, but that's not to say I'm not extremely critical of some of the design choices. The UI has been a rocky road, to say the least, and for heaven's sakes, Microsoft, stop removing features and services that you aren't prepared to replace! Edge, for as much as I appreciate the leaps and bounds that is has grown by, should not have been released without features that Internet Explorer had, such as a competent download manager, usable favorites manager, and extension support; Groove should not have been released without the majority of Windows Media Player's feature set, including audio tagging, etc. Regardless, there really is no other reasonable choice for OS. Installed via USB flash drive and license key purchased on Amazon later for $89.00.
Peripherals and Other Components
Thrown into the mix are a pack of four SATA cables ($6.74, Amazon), a 2-port USB 3.0 internal 3.5" hub ($9.99, Amazon), and a 2.5"-to-3.5" drive converter tray. This build will have to do without an SD reader, unfortunately, as it's not worth the cost of buying a brand new 5.25" hub with an improper configuration of USB ports. The case fan stayed, the sound card stayed (for optical output), and I think the telecom card got tossed. We'll be all out of luck if ever we decide to revert to dial-up. A Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 1850 (Amazon, $9.99) and a fresh bag of zip ties ($800) round out the list.
Surprisingly, this case was not designed by Dell's brilliant engineers with customizability in mind. I had no intent to become a case modder my first time out, but luckily my dad had an oscillating multi tool on hand to cut out a rectangle where the IO shield is supposed to go. The spaces for the rear IO of the outgoing motherboard were cut right into the case, but we were able to concoct a usable (if awkward) solution by cutting them out entirely. The USB 2.0 headers are farther from the front of the case than on the old motherboard, so only two of the four front panel USB 2.0 ports will be operational until the recently ordered USB header extension arrives. The USB 3.0 hub was cheaply built, and needed a sheet metal screw and a hole through its side in order to sit solidly in the drive bay, but works well enough now. Cable management was a pain, and I found myself wishing for a semi-modular PSU. There were no other significant hiccups in the build progress, save for five minutes of panicking after it was fully assembled and before I realized that the monitor was not plugged in. The SSD had to be put in the bottom slot and upside down in order for the power SATA cable to reach it, but it works. Cable management is not glorious, but- meh, I've seen worse. Normal usage sees CPU temps of 46° C.
As for the uninspiring name, it is a continuation in the series of household desktop computers, starting with a Windows 98 Gateway (COMP1), a Windows 98SE eMachine (COMP2), the Windows XP SP3 Dell (MAINCOMP - clearly the first one that I named), and now COMP4. "COMP4" narrowly edged out "The Beast," in spite of the latter's originality.
While I decided not to overclock this right away, I may do so in the future. It would require a bit of extra cooling hardware, but this computer certainly has no need for the extra performance for the time being. It'd merely be for the benefit of acquiring experience. I'm not sure if/when my next project will be, but I hope it's not too long. Any/all comments are welcome, of course!
No CPU pins were harmed in the making of this build. Thank God.