WARNING: Massive wall of text ahead; feel free to skip ahead if you don't want to spend all day reading. I also did not have a good camera to take pictures, so I had to use my cellphone. I'm going to see if I can get a real camera to take some new pictures.
I wanted a sub $2,000 (went a bit over budget) gaming PC that was quiet but one that I could also overclock and get some solid performance from. I'm also a big music listener/audiophile with a growing collection of headphones/amps, so I needed a setup that could output 24/192 digital audio. (Not really a problem as I found that pretty much any decent motherboard these days has a TOSLINK port). Most of my headphone listening is done at a quiet level, plus most of my headphones are open, so a silent setup was essential.
So far I'm very satisfied with the build aside from a few minor issues. This was my first PC build; prior to this I had basically no knowledge of how to build a computer. It was an awesome experience and I will definitely do it again. I was really surprised how simple it was; why didn't I do this years ago? The build itself went pretty smoothly, and I was able to successfully power up the computer first try without any errors or warnings. The only problem I had was one random bluescreen the first time I opened up Chrome. It was really bizarre, as I still have no idea what caused it and have not seen another bluescreen since.
There are also a few PCPartPicker users I would like to thank for their advice: RyneSmith, precrime3, Kerlysis, and zac16.
Physical build time was about five hours, with another three hours for OS and driver installs. Spent a good two months researching things, and I'm glad I took my time. Probably the most annoying part of the build was my cat. Apparently cats love computers. Had to shut her in my bedroom so she wouldn't get hair on everything. Put a couple pictures of her (Emmy) at the end of the gallery. I also included a bunch of pictures, they are mostly in chronological order. I originally built the PC without the Noctua fans and made a few noob mistakes like routing the watercooler cables incorrectly, putting the radiator in with the hoses right by the case exhaust fan, and mounting the radiator off center in the top of the case. The later pictures show some of the stuff I cleaned up.
Looking at what my first list of components was (I had a forum post about a month ago looking for advice), I feel like I got a much better bang for my buck. I've listed all the components below with my thoughts on each one, as well as what my future plans are.
CPU: 5/5. (Outlet PC, $232.48) Currently overclocked to 4.2GHz at 1.2V. No stability issues so far, although I have been noticing a significant temperature difference between some of the cores. I ran Prime95 for about 75 minutes, and Core 3 only hit 64C, while Core 1 hit 74C. Core 0 and 2 were between those. Not sure if this is an issue, or just a result of me incorrectly aligning the waterblock while installing the cooler. I had the waterblock rotated about 10 degrees off center at first and may have smeared some of the thermal compound around. I realized that the mounting ring had rotated while I was putting it into place, so I had to move it around before I bolted the waterblock down. I'm considering re-installing the waterblock with fresh paste at some point.
CPU Cooler: 3/5. (Newegg, $69.99) Decent watercooler; picked it up for fairly cheap. If you don't like noisy fans, stay away; the stock Thermaltake fans are pretty awful. Had I known how loud this setup was (I can still sometimes hear the pump when I'm just browsing or listening to music) I honestly wouldn't have went with a watercooler. I probably would have just gotten a Noctua heatpipe cooler. I did end up getting two Noctua NF-F12 fans to replace the stock fans and I am very pleased with those.
Motherboard: 5/5. (NCIX, $189.99) The Maximum VI Hero is an awesome motherboard. This being my first computer, I had no idea where to start with BIOS or even overclocking. The UEFI BIOS is extremely easy to use, and the AI Suite 3 software that ASUS includes works quite well. The only issue I have so far is that I can't control the Noctua fans I have on the radiator because the Thermaltake cooler runs over USB and only has a three pin fan header to the motherboard. I could probably put the Noctuas directly on the motherboard CPU fan header, but I can use the Thermaltake software to control the radiator fans, so it works fine at the moment.
RAM: 5/5. (NCIX, $139.08) The only issue I had with the ram was that it was recognized by the motherboard as 1333MHz, but it was a piece of cake to manually adjust up to 1866MHz. Just an FYI, the Sniper series ram is actually stock 1333MHz, but apparently it is factory overclocked to 1866MHz. Take it for what it's worth. Not a single problem with the manual overclock so far. Bumping up the frequency actually upped my Windows Experience score from 7.7 to the maximum 7.9 for RAM operations. To be honest, I could have easily gotten away with 8GB, but I do some occasional photo editing and I would like to try out the RAMDisk utility that came with the motherboard.
Storage: 5/5. (SSD: SuperBiiz, $103.99, HDD: NCIX, $59.99) I paid a bit more for the 840 EVO SSD than I wanted to, but the 840 that I orignally ordered was out of stock at Outlet PC, so I quickly ordered the EVO from SuperBiiz (they have a distribution center a few hours away from my house, so I knew it would arrive fast). I really should have went with a 240GB drive; I've already almost filled up the 120GB. No issues with the Seagate HDD. It's a 1TB hard drive. Currently using it to store my music collection and pictures. At first the drive wouldn't show up in My Computer, but I quickly realized that it needed to be formatted. Yeah, I'm pretty new to this, haha.
Video Card: 4/5. (SuperBiiz, $638.99) Excellent video card, but I bought it about a week before the price drops, plus I missed out on the three free game bundle too. Oh well, I really should have paid attention when I knew that the 780ti was due to launch soon. I didn't give the card a 5/5 because I've been noticing some coil while lately, but only when I've run the Windows Experience Index and when I've run the 3D Mark demo. Nothing so far with Skyrim or New Vegas, but then again I have both of those capped at 60 fps, so the card really isn't even under load when I'm gaming. We'll see what happens when I pick up a more taxing game.
Case: 5/5. (NCIX, $99.99) This case is huge. Having only seen mid and mini cases over the last 5 years or so, I forgot how massive a full tower is. Not really a huge deal, but the case with everything in it is probably around 55 lbs. It's a excellent looking case and is pretty quiet. Great airflow with the extra HDD bay removed. My only complaint is that the power LED is insanely bright. I can pretty much use it as a night light in my room. In a lit room it isn't a problem, but I would have to put something over the LED if I was gaming with all the lights turned off. Also, the case fans work fine, but do a get a bit noisy at 12V (though nowhere near as bad as the Thermaltake radiator fans). For normal situations and even when I'm gaming actually keep them at the minimum 5V setting, and they are completely silent and still move sufficient air.
Noctua Case Fans: 5/5. (Amazon, $59.93) Just got all three Noctuas in the mail yesterday. Yes, they were expensive, but they are definitely high quality. Comparing the 120mm fans to the stock Thermaltake fans, the difference is massive. The Noctuas have a heavier frame, vibration isolating pads, the fan itself is sturdier, and the cabling is better. There are also no injection molding flash/defects on the Noctuas. Most cheap fans will have minor flashing or surface defects from the molding process. I actually really like their color scheme, although it definitely doesn't match the rest of my components. The 120mm fans are also at least 10dB quieter than the stock Thermaltake fans that came with the watercooler. The 140mm fan is also very quiet as well. I'm using the 140mm fan in the bottom front of the case to cool the HDD cage. I went with the NF-A14 since the HDD cage is fairly restricted. The only caveat is that the Noctuas do not have high airflow. Considering how quiet they are, they do have good static pressure and airflow, but if you are doing serious overclocking or need massive airflow, look elsewhere. For a moderate cooling situation that requires minimum noise, they are an excellent investment.
Power Supply: 5/5. (Newegg. $84.99) Pretty solid deal and I like the features on the HX750. Semi modular, 80 Plus Gold, and it automatically shuts the fan off at low loads (<20%) so it's very quiet when I'm listening to music.
OS: 5/5. (Outlet PC, $92.98) It's Windows 7 64 bit. No complaints here, I was running 32 bit 7 on my old laptop, so I was already very familiar with the OS.
Keyboard: 5/5. (Amazon, $136.98) I really love the Das Keyboard so far. It's my first mechanical keyboard, and honestly the first good keyboard I've ever used. I hate to admit it, but the last keyboard I had was a $12 Logitech I bought about four years ago. It's the "Silent Key" version, but it's still quite loud when I'm typing or playing COD. When I'm playing Skyrim or New Vegas I'm much lighter on the keys, so I can actually play totally silently since you don't have to push the key all the way down to actuate it. The switches are Cherry Reds which have a good linear feel to them with a lower acutation force than the Cherry Blacks. I can still rest my fingers on they keys without actuating them, so it's a good balance. The keyboard is also very well made and weighs about 3.5 lbs. It really looks and feels like a high quality product. The enclosure/bezel has a glossy finish, so be prepared to wipe it off frequently if smudges bother you. They keys are a matte finish with laser-etched lettering. Overall, definitely recommended.
Mouse: 5/5. (Amazon, $79.43) Another confession: This is the first mouse I've actually ever purchased. Every other mouse I've had was a free cheapo mouse that are included when you buy a new computer. I honestly could not go back to a compact mouse after this and I am seriously considering buying a second one to use at work. I love being able to rest my whole hand on the mouse and I never get hand cramps any more. As much as a don't like flashy LED's, I actually have been using the built in LED's, usually set to green with no pulsing/breathing. There are a pretty wide range of color selections and different lighting modes. You can also set up to four colors at the same time. The software included with the Kone is easy to use and has a wide range of settings. I haven't used the macro functionality yet, so I can't comment on that. I really only use the extra mouse buttons for standard commands when I'm gaming. The only annoyance with the mouse is the braided cable. It would snag on the back edge of the keyboard tray on my desk, but a strip of duct tape on the back of the tray fixed that issue.
Optical Drive: 4/5. (Best Buy, $42.03) I picked this up the same day I did the build because the drive I originally ordered from Amazon got damaged in shipment and I never received it. Minus one star for the cost, but I didn't want to wait another week to build (had everything else ready on a Friday with no plans for the weekend.)
Basically what happened was the shipment of the keyboard, mouse, optical drive, an anti-static mat and wristband from Amazon got damaged in transit and UPS sent the package back to Amazon before it ever got to me. Three calls to Amazon Customer Service and I finally got the keyboard and mouse reshipped, and the other items canceled/refunded.
Word of advice, if you ever have to call Amazon Customer Service, make sure that you get a confirmation from them while you are still on the line with them. They should be able to set up any replacement shipment or refund immediately, so make sure they do that and send you a confirmation e-mail before you hang up. It'll save you the headache of having to explain your situation with a new service representative each time. Every person I talked to was very willing to help; just make sure to have them follow through with an e-mail confirmation.
Speaking of customer service, I also had some issues when I ordered the GTX780 from SuperBiiz. SuperBiiz verifies all shipping addresses when you place an order, so make sure that the address you're shipping to is listed on your credit card if you order from them. I had to call my bank multiple times to get them to add my work address to my credit card. While it was a pain and completely my fault for not reading the disclaimer at the purchase confirmation screen, the customer service team at SuperBiiz was extremely helpful in getting things straightened out.
CPU: I'd like to get a bit more familiar with overclocking and see how far I can push it. I have the Noctuas on the radiator running around 50% speed during full load, so I have a bit of headroom from a cooling standpoint. Going to spend some time adjusting fan profiles a bit more to see if I can bring down that 74C maximum temperature.
RAM: Would like to try out the RAMDisk utility included with the ASUS software. It seems like a pretty useful tool since my RAM usage rarely goes over 4GB.
Storage: As I mentioned above, probably going to look at another 120GB or maybe a 240GB SSD. Games and mods take up a lot of space...
GPU: I'd like to get a permanent solution to the PCB sag. Currently looking at backplates, might be worth the $20 or so from EVGA. I also want to figure out what is causing the coil whine...
Monitor: Definitely want to upgrade, but at this point I'm not sure which route I want to take. I'm looking at either a Lightboost monitor or a 1440p monitor. For now, my old Acer 1080p does just fine.
TL;DR: Overall, a great first build experience with only minor issues and I'm quite happy with the results.
The name was thought of at the last second; I wanted to build a PC that I didn't know was sitting two feet away from me. I didn't want something flashy with a bunch of windows and LED's and most importantly I wanted it to be silent.
Also, the order of the pictures got messed up during the upload:
4 is the final case picture.
5 is the original case build.
6 is the first cable management attempt.
7 is the final cable management setup.
11/25 Edit: It appears some of the pictures got deleted as I updated things, so I re-uploaded them.