After graduating from university in 2013 I immediately went abroad with only my i5 ultrabook and onboard HD4000 graphics. Having lived and worked in China for three years I am now preparing to move back home.
First priority? Spec up and build a rig so I can catch up on three years of missed games, sharpen recently learned Photoshop and Illustrator skills, and edit and publish video I've got bored trying, stutteringly to arrange on my ultrabook.
What really flared my interest in getting straight back into building and using a PC was witnessing the steady drip of stunning VR experiences, reviews and playthrough videos that have been appearing in the first half this year. I'm totally convinced by the technology and it's potential. I think that these devices, and the kind of things they are going to lead to in the whole media ecosystem will be revolutionary.
I built my first PC in 2005, at the age of 14, and through incremental upgrades that system lasted me until I finished university and left the UK in summer 2013. I remember at that time my E8400 was starting to get seriously long in the tooth and bottlenecking whatever graphics card I put in. I sold it all off to a friend, knowing that if and when I did return I'd want to start again from a totally clean slate. The only parts I'm reusing are peripherals.
My priorities for this build are:
Small and light. I don't yet know where I'm going to be working or living, or how long I'll stay there, and I enjoy LAN parties. The PC must be portable.
Quiet. I hate loud fan noise. I hate coil whine. I hate hard drive clicking. I will accept fans spinning up when gaming, but I want silence when I'm performing everyday tasks.
VR ready. I'm yet to decide whether or not to invest in first generation VR hardware, and I've still got 3 years of 2D titles to catch up on, but I want the option, and in the meantime I want to enjoy the best visuals possible on my 1200p monitor.
Good value. I don't actually have a job at the moment, and I should be saving for practical things like the deposit on a home. Besides I'm a miser and enjoy the product comparison process. Every part needs to justify itself.
And there we have it.
I have arrived home and there's several boxes of components waiting for me. All carefully researched and bought. PCPartPircker makes this part of the process so straightforward. Building will commence tomorrow.
This Tt Suppressor F1 case was very easy to build in, and much to my surprise and relief the system powered on first time. I was confused when it booted straight into a Windows recovery screen, but soon clocked that the seller I'd bought the SSD from had done a very poor job wiping it (protect your data people!!)
I used the Windows installer to format the drive and install, which it turns out was a mistake which meant I had to reinstall Windows yesterday. I want to use the eDrive feature of the Samsung SSD, but that requires a secure erase using Samsung's own utility first. At least I now know that Windows 10 full drive image backup works!
There is absolutely no aesthetic theme to the internal components, simply best performance for the cost. Yes, the case has a window, but I don't want to stare at a massive heatsink fan atop a PCB fringed by wires. I have plans for that.
I was very concerned by the CPU temperatures I was seeing at first. It never went below 42C at idle, and was regularly spiking up to 55-65 if Windows decided this was a good time to chuck some updates my way. When I ran Prime 95 to stress test, two cores reached 96C in 10 minutes.
A Google search later and it seems Prime95 unduly stresses Haswell chips, but that delta T (temperature above ambient) ought only to be around 10C on a well cooled system. True enough, I'm building this on about the hottest day in 2016, but 42 is still about 20C above ambient. Something wasn't right.
I worried that I hadn't applied the thermal paste correctly on the CPU, but before I got to such drastic actions as redoing that, I tried taking panels off the case. Well, if I take the front panel off, CPU temp drops by around 10C, and removing the top panel can knock off another 5. In this configuration the CPU is around 29-31C at idle!
When I was choosing cases I fairly quickly settled on the Thermaltake Core V1. That case is identical to this Suppressor F1 except it lacks dust filters on the side vents, has a rounded, perforated front panel with Tt logo, and comes in white.
I was quite taken by the white model, but overall decided that buying that would really make me want to stick to an attractive colour screen across all the components and peripherals, and this would limit my buying options too much. I also think that this solid, clean black front panel looks much more professional than the mesh design on the Core V1.
I did worry about the panel blocking airflow to the massive 200mm front fan, and even emailed Thermaltake for their comparison of temperatures between the two cases (they never got back to me!) Although this front panel has vents either side, and one at the bottom, those on the side have grills and filters obscuring most of their surface area. More importantly, however, is that the fan is mounted on the outside of the case and sits inside the front panel, totally enveloped by it. As I've drawn in the crude diagram, air has to meander right around to eventually go through the fan. Although this keeps noise right down, it also slashes airflow.
My conclusion is that 40C at idle in the summer is totally acceptable, because the benefit is that the system is noiseless. If I'm encoding a video or playing a recent game, temps still stay well within the thermal limits of the components, and if I'm worried at all I can simply remove the front panel and chop 10C or more off.
With component longevity in mind, however, I have ordered 2 80mm fans and will be fitting them and testing the results. If the system stays silent and temps drop, fantastic. If they make any unpleasant noise, I'll take them out.
A TPM chip arrived in the post, but unfortunately it isn't compatible with this motherboard. I thought I was being clever buying a TPM 2.0 model for the same price, with improved encryption and versatility. It is pin-compatible (20-1), but ASUS support tell me that the motherboard can only handle the 1.2 version chip. Return in progress.
I took the system to an overnight LAN party at a friend's place. It's so easy to move around and didn't throw up any problems all night. The whole PC weighs in at just 9kg (20lbs). We played various nostalgic games (BF2, COH, MED2:TW) without hiccup, and I spent some time on Sleeping Dogs and Shadow of Mordor - looking awesome and playing smoothly.
Upon return, I took the opportunity of having it unplugged and not likely to be moved around again for a while to install my stained glass look sticker. I took a photo of a tiger and used Illustrator's tracing tool to create a simplified, strained glass-esq image. After some manual adjustment I sent it off, along with some other text-based designs to a local printer where I was living in China and he printed them onto transparent PVC sticker paper.
I think it's going to create a cool effect backlit, but the magnets of the LEDs I bought back from China are too weak. They won't stay anywhere. I have ordered magnetic strip and will try to install again when that arrives.
I came up with the name VR Box while I was messing around in Illustrator thinking about how to decorate the big flat, black areas of the sleek Suppressor F1 case. It encapsulates my idea behind building this computer. VR ready, inconspicuous and achievable on a modest budget - the complete console killer.
I helped a friend in China with some computer upgrades and he sold me this for a great price. It’s not Skylake, and it runs hot, but performs basically as well as a 6600, which is what I’d otherwise have bought, and much better in video encoding, which I do do a bit of.
As for not having the K version, I'm not particularly interested in overclocking, as I don't think the real world benefits are worth the price/heat/noise/longevity premium, at least for my usage.
It's summer 2016 and choosing to keep and use this processor, rather than sell it and buy Skylake, does unfortunately set me some tough limits on motherboard specifications, and just finding and buying a mini-ITX board! I can't use an NVMe M.2 SSD, but since it looks like they're going to cost a good 50-100% more than SATA models for at least the next 18 months, I'm not too worried. I don't get USB 3.1 or USB C, but since I'm yet even to hear of anything important using that interface, again I'm not concerned. When it came to buying a motherboard, it wasn't painless, but it was entirely possible and I ended up saving about £60 by getting a great deal on a used model.
I’ve never used water cooling before, and was considering it for this build, but there are always comments that it sounds like living next to an aquarium. I reckoned that a high quality air cooler could end up quieter just by cutting out that pump noise. I don't feel this definitively proves my point. It's silent at idle, but probably louder than a watercooling solution under load. It is, however, significantly cheaper.
The Frio 12 fits inside my Suppressor F1 case (140mm limit), is extremely quiet, and the CPU hasn't gone above 75C in real world tasks yet. It's not a cooling beast, but does manage an excellent compromise between keeping the CPU cool enough, and generating as little noise as possible. That's exactly what I was looking for and I got it.
It fits around my outrageously high profile ram without problem, but I have docked a star because despite accommodating a second fan, the box doesn't include the required metal clips for one. I'm going to have to buy two 80mm fans to fit in my case to aid cooling, when I'd much rather just add one 120mm one right onto the CPU cooler.
Can't buy this paste, which is generally considered to be one of the best, almost anywhere in the UK, but it's cheap as chips in China!
I bought this set because they were going for a good price on an ebay auction. £37 for 16GB, I'll take it. 8GB would be enough for most, but with Chrome seemingly taking another 250MB with every update, and the video and photo editing I enjoy doing, I feel that I will make use of the full 16GB. Yes the heatspreaders are a garish blue and unnecessarily large, but value is value, it's just RAM.
It won't give you 1866Mhz speed at 10CAS until you deliberately set the XMP profile in the BIOS, so be careful.
SSDs are awesome. Hard drive clicking (I mean normal-use seek clicking not dying clicking) is such an intrusive sound. I can still remember the feeling when I bought my ultrabook in 2012, preparing to leave the PC behind and go travelling. It had inside my first SSD, a 120GB Intel. They give that feeling of instant responsiveness that you used to get close to on a well specced system right after you’d freshly installed XP, but this feeling never degrades. 4 years since I bought that ultrabook, Windows 7 still boots before the blobs of colour touch.
Currently Samsung have the market completely sewn up. Monster performance, fantastic price. I seriously considered buying the 1TB and having done with it, but the fact that it still costs more than 2x 500GB put me off too much. This 500GB should do Windows + programs + music + enough games to have variety while I complete a couple of big titles a month. I can put everything else on the portable drive.
As a bonus it natively supports hardware eDrive encryption which I will be making use of when my TPM chip arrives.
Graphics card is always a tough decision, especially if, like me, you are watching the bang for buck and have no qualms with buying used.
I bought this model of GTX 970 because it fits inside my case (although most versions do), was £20-30 cheaper than most all of the ASUS or MSI models, is known to be quiet and is a good performer with a nice factory overclock. I have docked a star because unlike the ASUS and MSI versions the fans on this always run, and late at night when all is quiet it's the fan on this that I can just about make out, even just browsing the web, so that's a pity. I think that in hindsight I should have paid a little more for a model that has a totally silent profile below 60C. Other than that, it runs perfectly.
Why not a GTX 960? I want to play Doom, Witcher 3, and 2016 Christmas releases, and on that card at 1200p I'd have to turn down some settings. On a GTX 970, I won't. The GTX 960 can be had for around £120 though, and so should be seriously considered against your needs.
Why not an RX 480? It's £50 more in the UK for the 4GB AMD card with stock cooler. Benchmarks in older games clearly favour the 970, and I'm going to be mainly catching up on games for the first 6 months or so, and the fan on the stock card is just too loud. Yes, the RX 480 performs much better in DX12, and in most newer DX11 or Vulcan games, but I won't compromise on noise, and will be looking for a card upgrade in 9-12 months anyway. I don't need ironclad future-proofing.
Why not a GTX 1060? Very similar performance in older titles, costs more than £50 more than this card, has only just released and limited stock means who knows if I could snap one up or just be sat using Intel on-board graphics for a month?
Why not a GTX 1070? Tempting, and I will seriously consider it if/when I buy an HTC Vive. At the moment, the GTX 970 will play every game, maxed out, on my monitor. Why pay twice the price for nothing more?
I spent a long time looking at cases. I knew I wanted mini-ITX, because I wanted a portable machine with a small footprint.
- qutie a lot smaller than fractal design or corsair, and I'm not going to be water cooling.
- significantly lower weight than most others
- solid front vs core v1
- cheaper than white core v1
After graphics cards, my experience is that power supplies come in second under ‘most likely to cause ear-aching fan noise and coil whine’. The money-no-object solution to this is to just buy a super efficient 800W+ PSU so it runs at 2-300W under max load. The power supply never breaks a sweat and you never hear a fan. Or of course a passive model. These, however, cost £150+.
Many recommend the Corsair CX series – terrible coil whine. Else EVGA –all the models in this price range get really loud. Else Silverstone – I couldn’t see an obvious benefit to me for the extra expense.
I had been aiming to buy the Be Quiet Pure Power 9 600W for around £70, but when browsing eBay I saw this on auction. 3 years old but very lightly used, seller assured me the fan bearings were smooth and he didn't hear coil whine. Reviews at the time of release were very positive, so I went for it.
I'm very happy. In operation it's silent and my box stays a little more clutter free.
The Linux gaming computer is coming. Source has been there for a while now. Vulcan is here. I can feel it. But it isn’t with us yet. And so I extremely begrudgingly give Microsoft money for their privacy abusing operating system. I really like Windows 7, but performance across the board does seem improved on 10, and I hold out hope for the dream of a DX12 that actually delivers on its performance promises.
I chose the Pro version for the ability to use Bitlocker encryption, and access to gpedit.msc to turn off automatic updates and defender among other annoyances.
Love this monitor. 1200px high is so much nicer than 1080, colours are awesome, adjustable stand is awesome, 24" is big enough.
When I move somewhere with more desk space I'm planning to buy an old 19" 1280x1024 LCD off Gumtree to sit next to this. Having another display, even old and small, just makes it so comfortable to compare documents, view a webpage or video while in a fullscreen game, hold all the shortcuts and documents on your desktop etc etc etc...
Screw Logitech. This will be the last mouse of theirs I buy. I swear.
£70 and the horizontal scroll doesn't even work in half the programs it would be useful for. £70 and it still uses the terribly designed unifying receiver with a USB port just not quite big enough, so it will lose connection after about 12 months. £70 for Bluetooth that only works on Windows 8 and later. £70 and 1 year on, just out of warranty, and if I turn my mouse off I'll probably have to switch it on and off and bash it about and wait about 24 hours before it will decide to move the pointer in Windows again.
It feels comfortable and has quite a few buttons which I like. That's as good as I can say.