I've built a few PCs over the last 20 odd years. Always a little cost constrained and trying to find the sweet spot within that budget. This was my first opportunity to stretch the budget out a little bit and have some fun :). I appreciate that this is not some kind of gaming monster with super eye candy and stunning mods, I really don't have the patience or skill that some of you out there do. None-the-less, I thought it worth cataloging my build and my impressions with the components that I chose and how they all fit together.
I took inspiration for this build from a number of different places. Key was probably the recent mATX build on LinusTechTips. My budget was nowhere near that though so I had to make some compromises. I did fancy doing a smaller quiet-ish build though so the case and fans were a starting point. Once I had that selected I reviewed the other Bitfenix Phenom M and Prodigy M builds on PC Partpicker to see what other people did with that size of case.
Case: As stated, I had decided I wanted a more compact system and I really liked the minimalist look of the Bitfenix Phenom M. I considered the Corsair 350D too but decided it was just too large and if I was going to that I might as well move up to the Fractal Define R4. Also, my wife approved of it :P
Processor: I probably could have gotten away with an i5 but I wanted this PC to last a fair while (my last one was reincarnated multiple times with upgrades and is now serving my daughter well). In addition, I will do some video editing and conversion which will probably benefit from the threads. I may also use the hyper threading in some of the code I develop. So, it seemed like a reasonable option to take. I went for the K as figured I would try a wee bit of overclocking at some point ... when I am feeling daring or courageous :)
Memory: DDR3 1866 seemed the right price/performance ratio for me and 8GB will be loads for now. If I feel like it is holding my system back I can add another 8GB down the road. I went for the low profile memory as I wasn't sure how much clearance I would have with the heatsink and whether I might want to try other coolers in the future.
Graphics: Much as I would have liked to throw a GTX780 Ti in there ... that was never going to happen :). The GTX 770 2GB is a huge step up from what I had and allows me to play all my Steam games on my 24" monitor with a satisfying amount of eye candy on display. I will quite happily live in ignorance of the difference that the 780Ti would make for me!
Motherboard: I was quite tempted by the Asus mATX boards but the Gigabyte snuck it with a rebate deal that was going on. I am sure either would have been fine and should last me a good long time.
Disks: I chose the Samsung EVO as the OS drive. Decent price for reasonable amount of storage and a big performance increase from a conventional HDD. The 2TB Seagate then provides my mass storage for videos, photos, games, code, music etc.
PSU: Just wanted a unit that would fit, be reasonably quiet and efficient. I have a Seasonic X850 in the wings if I ever need to tweak the setup. The CX750M seems like a fairly solid supply though.
OS: I may run VirtualBox for some other OS's but I have been running Windows 8.1 Pro on my old PC for a while and was fine with it. I was going to transfer the Pro license to my new PC and use the Home version on my old PC but that apparently required me to do a clean install on that machine. A right PITA. So, I have the full Home version (not OEM) installed on my new PC and if I ever find myself in need of a soporific task I may nuke the two machines and swap them over.
Fans: Quiet and green (to match the room coloring :) ). I am sure there are lots of options out there. These seemed worth a shot.
Cooler: While I was tempted by an H60i or some humongous Noctua Cooler I was struggling to justify the expense and perhaps risk (with the AIO). Maybe I will revisit this down the road but the Coolermaster Hyper 212 EVO seemed to fit the bill for now.
Existing Kit: Asus 248H Monitor on Ergotron mount, Corsair Vengeance K70 keyboard, Logitech G5 mouse, Plantronics GameCom 780 headset
Still with me? I'm impressed :)
I'll try not to haver on here too much as I am sure most of you reading this have a pretty good idea of what to do. I decided to do a test build out of the case to check I didn't have any defective components. I built this up on my nice wooden table while tethered with an ESD wrist band. As seen in the attached pictures, the first attempt was just the motherboard, CPU, cooler, memory and PSU. Powered up a treat first time. I noticed that the memory was clocking at 1333MHz. A quick Google suggested that I enable the XMP profile. Duly done I was now up to 1866MHz. All looking good. Now the fun began.
I stripped the Phenom case down. Removing the rear fan, 5.25 drive support, front panel, PSU mount and obviously side panels. I had decided to swap the side panels over to simplify routing so, as I didn't want to offend my CDO (OCD) I rotated the power and reset switches (3 screws to remove the PCB, 4 screws to remove the plastic cover holding the buttons - easy peasy). With a naked Phenom staring back at me I set about installing the new fans. As it is essentially a closed system I reckoned the air flow could be reasonably controlled with the top as an intake and rear and bottom as an exhaust. I know heat rises, but from my experience in the electronics industry I have found that the air flow is generally going to have far more of an impact. Feel free to prove me wrong :). I used the rubber fittings provided with the fans. Bit of a pain to install. Resorted to using some pliers after the first two. Basically, stick the long mount so the largest part is inside the case. Fit the rubber washer inside to insulate the fan from the case. Stick the fan on and pull the rubber through until it clicks into place. Took some wiggling and some mild mutterings but it did go eventually.
With the fans in place I started thinking about the cable routing. There aren't huge options here but it isn't all that bad. There is a wee hole to poke the CPU power through. I also used that to route one of the fan connectors. I then installed the 2TB HDD on the base of the case and tied down the power, sata and fan cables behind the HDD and fan, reasonably out of site. Fitting the cables to the HDD before installing it did make things easier I think.
Next I turned my attention to the assembled motherboard. I mounted the additional four standoffs required and fitted the IO faceplate. Then gently lowered the motherboard into place and screwed it down. Reasonably tight fit but still enough room to swing a small cat .. or hamster at least (Note: Do not attempt to swing small animals in PC cases. They may build up a static charge and damage your components ... amongst other reasons). With that installed I could drop in the PSU (having attached the mounting bracket). Hooked up the power cables and fans and tied them down into place out of sight-ish ... starting to take shape!
Now I just needed to route the front-panel connectors and SSD power/sata. This was certainly a bit more of a guddle. I pre-routed the power cable and sata cable to the side panel (through the top plastic cage to hold it in place. Unfortunately the front-panel cables were not long enough to have the side panel lying on the table while I hooked them up. I had to balance it, somewhat precariously on a handily empty coffee mug while I connected the cables up. The HD audio was the most fiddly as it was right near the back of the case. The switch and LED connections would have been far easier if the motherboard provided an adapter header (like my old Asus board did). After some deep breaths, long sighs and more than a few beads of sweat I was able to get it all hooked up. Closing up the side required some shoving and tucking in of cables but didn't take too long. Only had the video card left to go so decided to do another quick power test before I lobbed that in. Once again, everything was peachy ... and now green too :)
Powered down and installed the graphics card. Discovered a wee bit of an issue here. The CX750M is a semi modular PSU. With the graphics card in the PCIe x16 slot it blocked the bottom three modular power connections. I might be able to get a connector in there but I would imagine it would contact with the graphics card and displace it a little. Not a problem just now but if I ever wanted to use the side mount for more HDDs then I would have to give it a shot. Not sure if anyone else has encountered this problem?
Anyway, card installed, powered up again and all was looking good. I stuck in my trusty usb stick with Memtest on it and let that run a few passes. No issue. Disconnected the 2TB HDD and stuck in another usb stick to install Windows from (last time I installed Windows with more than one drive connected it didn't go well ... boot loader on the wrong drive!). Windows installed speedily and without issue. One wee problemette was the that Ethernet driver was not found. I had to download the drivers from the Gigabyte site onto a usb key from another PC and then install them. After that it was plain sailing. PC good to go! Time to breathe a long sigh of relief that no RMAs were required and kick off the transfer of all my old files.
I haven't run any benchmarks or Prime95 tests. I played through the Medal of Honor and Battlefield 3 campaigns and the temp maxed at 77'C. Company of Heroes 2 was able to play at fairly high graphics settings without lag. Nothing exactly scientific there but it all seems smooth and pretty :)
Ok, so clearly I needed to brain dump. Sorry! If you have followed all that diatribe, you deserve cookies ... they're in the jar. If you skipped to the end ... no cookies for you, go and stand in the corner and think about your actions.
This build was fun to do. It definitely required more planning than a standard ATX case. I'm not sure whether I've done things in the best way but it seems a fairly clean build without going to custom PSU sleeves etc. If anyone has suggestions about how I might improve it I would be happy to hear them. There is always room to learn more :). If you are considering a MATX build, the Phenom M case is lovely. It is not perfect, I wish the intake fans would fit just below grill instead of in the body of the case, maybe a wee bit more in terms of cable management options would be nice, longer front-panel cables would make it easier and the included fans are ok but a little on the loud side. The rest of the components are all living up to expectations. The idle and load temperatures seem alright if nothing special. All in all, very happy with the end result and it should last me a good long time. Thanks for reading ... get building!
P.S. Sorry some of the pictures are a bit on the grainy side, natural light was not cooperating :(