Description

I built/bought this desktop because I was sick of using a laptop as my pseudo-desktop. Also like most, I just enjoy the benefits (reliability, stability, expandability, performance, etc.) of a desktop. It's a general usage machine for web browsing, media consumption, and light gaming. I didn't build it from scratch because of my college student budget and because I managed to buy the base system new for $265 with tax from Staples ($600 minus $200 sale minus $150 coupon). Even so, this build has pretty much depleted my savings of the past several years.

For this "build", I just slapped a bunch of parts together in a pre-built Dell mini-tower and called it a day. Cable management is near non-existent as the case doesn't really allow for it aside from a few metal cable retainers (you can't open the right side panel) and because the PSU is non-modular. I just took all the unused power cables and shoved them up into the top of the case, in the hard drive cage, as there's no frontal air flow in the case anyways. This also worked nicely to hold the SSD in place.

The first upgrade was to add an OCZ Arc 100 240 gb SSD as I couldn't stand using the computer with a HDD as the OS drive, especially coming from a laptop with a SSD. I cloned the OS drive onto the OCZ and wiped the HDD to use as a backup/storage drive. Case doesn't have any 2.5" drive bays nor do I have any spacers so I simply connected the drive and placed it at the bottom of a 5.25" drive bay. The mass of power cables holds it in place pretty well. I chose the Arc 100 because it was only $70 after rebate and because the Samsung 850 EVO is $20 more than that, even when on sale. Plus, there were no sales for the Crucial MX100 at the time and there isn't much difference in normal usage.

After that, I purchased a GTX 960 due to space constraints and power efficiency/heat output concerns. Turned off Secure Boot/UEFI in BIOS and slapped the card in. In retrospect, I could have removed the hard drive cage (no plans to upgrade internal storage and I already have a 2 tb USB 3.0 portable HDD I was using prior to this), migrated the HDD to a 5.25" bay with spacers, and installed a larger card like an AMD R9 290. Unfortunately, I thought the drive cage was soldered rather than screwed on at the time of purchase. Anyways, although the card runs very quietly and efficiently though heat is still an issue; case airflow is terrible. Idle GPU temp is 39C, at max sustained load it is 80C. Luckily the GPU runs extremely cool so even with the poor airflow I have yet to even come close to thermal throttling. The i5 CPU runs at around mid-40s to about 60. Overall I'm pretty happy, especially coming from gaming on a AMD 6630M and Intel Iris 5100 for the last few years. The card runs great at 1080p, maxes out pretty much every game at 60 fps or more, but at my current 1440p resolution I have to lower the settings significantly as the 128-bit memory bus starts to struggle.

To power the GPU, I got rid of the stock Dell PSU (didn't have six-pin or even molex connectors) and replaced it with an old OCZ StealthXStream 500w PSU from an old build several years ago. The PSU has some fan noise issues (ironic considering its name...) but overall still works well, especially since I'm well under 300w at max load. I still have the case (a Coolermaster Centurion) from that old build as well, but it's missing one of the rubber feet at the bottom and since I use this computer at school, size is also an issue.

Finally a small upgrade barely worth noting is that I replaced the screws for the side panel with thumbscrews for easier future access.

In terms of peripherals, I purchased the Monoprice used without a power adapter from eBay for $182.50 with shipping. Found an 80w AC adapter in my basement which worked (monitor draws around 65w at max brightness). It's a beautiful monitor and considering the retail price is $450, it was a steal. Caveats are that It has one stuck pixel that lights up green when displaying dark images and the minimum brightness level is way too high, requiring me to use software to dim the display at night. Also has the typical IPS glow issues of IPS panels without A-TW polarizers, but all in all, a great monitor. It needs calibration but I don't have the equipment for that (it's on my to-do/to buy list). EDIT- Calibrated this monitor later on and mounted it on an aftermarket VESA mount. Also bought a 23 in LG IPS monitor that I mounted sideways on an aftermarket mount.

The mouse is a Logitech MX1100 from several years ago. Still works great, but I'm considering upgrading to a G502 Proteus Core if and when I have the cash. I use a Steelseries QcK Mini mousepad for it. Keyboard is a Logitech G710+ that I bought refurbished from meritline for $65, half of the retail price. It conveniently has a USB passthrough port that I use for the mouse's wireless adapter. EDIT- Bought the G502 and a new QcK mini mousepad because the old one wore out.

I replaced the soundcard with an S.M.S.L M2 because I finally got fed up with crappy onboard audio after using iMacs on a regular basis at my school. Works great, but probably should've spent 5 more dollars and gotten the Fiio E10k. I'm currently using it with a cheap set of Logitech speakers, Xiaomi Piston 2.1 IEMS (amazing bang for the buck, can't recommend them enough. Bought them from ibuygou which is an official Xiaomi retailer if you're worried about fakes), and on occasion, my workout/beater earbuds, a pair of Sennheiser CX 685s. EDIT- Bought more headphones and sold off the old ones and bought a Fiio E10K to replace the SMSL because of the EMI hissing.

SD Card reader and DVD drive were pre-installed and a nice bonus. SD card reader is next to two USB 2.0 ports and headphone/mic ports. Pretty convenient although I wish they were USB 3.0, something my system seriously lacks; it only has two USB 3.0 ports, one of which is already taken up by my external HDD. To that end, I added a powered USB 3.0 4-port hub I had laying around.

Possible future upgrades- upgrade ram to 12/16gb, wireless card to 802.11ac, and case to a quality mid/mini-tower. No expansion cards unfortunately; H81 mobo only supports one PCIe slot. And finally, purchase a better stand for the monitor, as well as a cheap entry-level calibrator like a ColorMunki. Most likely will just upgrade RAM (not having any real issues with 8 gb though), get the calibrator, and save up for a new desktop several years down the line and give this to the parents when I'm done with it. EDIT- Bought the stands, calibrator, ram, and replaced the built-in half-PCIe Dell WiFi chip with an Intel 7260AC (case comes with the antennas built-in as well). Much better speeds.

I'm going to upgrade it to Windows 10 ASAP seeing as that upgrade is free if you have Windows 7 or 8, but a motherboard upgrade will never be feasible as the Windows 8 license key is tied to the BIOS. EDIT- Upgraded to Windows 10, loving it. Had some issues at first but now working great.

FIRST UPDATE-

Finally, a couple months later, I purchased and added an 8 gb DIMM of Crucial Ballistix Tactical DDR3-1600 RAM. Worked without issue despite matching ram sticks from different OEMs with different sizes and timings. Both the OEM Samsung RAM and the Crucial Ram are PC3-12800 which probably helped. It's humming along and dual channel is enabled. Anyways, this brings my system RAM up to 12 gb, a welcome change from 8 gb. I also purchased a Spyder4Express and calibrated my screen, and replaced my Pistons with a Yamaha EPH-100. Will include more updates here as I upgrade.

SECOND UPDATE-

Sold the original Samsung and Crucial RAM to a friend and replaced them with 2x8 gb sticks of Crucial Ballistix Sport. Also bought a second monitor and mounted it sideways to use for chatting, school, etc. Got an aftermarket mount for that and the main monitor. Also bought more headphones and replaced the crappy stock Atheros wifi chip with an Intel 7260AC one. Upgraded the OS to Windows 10, sold the original two IEMs I owned and purchased four new ones over the spring and summer. Finally, replaced the old Logitech MX1100 mouse (the sensor was failing) and bought G502 to replace it. I've pretty much taken this build as far as it can go in its current case and don't currently feel any desire to upgrade the case and motherboard. Only upgrade left really is to buy Fidelio X2 headphones.

THIRD UPDATE-

Had this for two years now and well, I've basically gotten every upgrade I planned on getting and taken this farther than I really thought I would. Replaced the Monoprice with an LG 34" 1440p Ultrawide, got the Fidelio X2s, and replaced both the PSU and SSD due to failures. EVGA 450W replaced the old OCZ PSU and an OCZ Trion 150 was the warranty replacement provided in place of the old OCZ Arc 100. I also replaced the old Logitech speakers with a Klipsch Promedia 2.1 set, and finally, and most importantly, replaced the GTX 960 with a much more powerful GTX 1070 as the move to an Ultrawide monitor necessitated the change, as I was already pushing the limits of the GTX 960 at regular 16:9 1440p. Other than storage additions, I doubt this computer will be getting any future upgrades as I really have taken this as far as I want to and it'll begin showing its age by the time I feel a need for a major upgrade. Happy that it's worked out so well so far.

Part Reviews

CPU

Great bang for the buck. Nothing I do really taxes the processor and intel Quick Sync is great. I wish I'd had the money for an i7 or unlocked i5, but at $265 for the whole system, I'm not complaining.

Storage

Great inexpensive SSD. Samsung 850 EVO would've been my first choice and Crucial MX100 my second, but this was on sale for $70 and I couldn't resist.

Video Card

Great small form-factor GTX 960. Lots of room for overclocking and runs nice and cool, extremely quiet as well. However, would only recommend if space is an issue or if you're gaming at strictly 1080p. Card struggles at higher settings above 1080p. Also, at this point in time, it's the only future proof HTPC card; it's the only GPU on the market that supports full (non-hybrid) HEVC decode, and it has HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 2.0.

Bought this model because it was on sale, but if given the choice, would've liked a factory overclocked edition. If space is no constraint, get the larger profile version of this card for more overclocking headroom.

Keyboard

Awesome highly customizable mechanical keyboard. One of the quietest mechanical keyboards out there as it comes with o-ring dampeners already installed. I'm loving the programmable g-keys on the side; I use them for folder shortcuts and set one to lock my pc. Game mode is a nice touch as well, so are the media keys, volume wheel, and different profiles. I have no need for the volume wheel as I use an external USB DAC+Amp, and I haven't seen the need for extra profiles yet. Different backlight levels are cool, but I leave them on the lowest as they can get searingly bright, especially at night. USB 2.0 passthrough is a nice touch as I use it for my mouse's wireless receiver.

Only annoyance is the extremely cheap wrist pad. It's just a narrow sheet of plastic. It works, but it sucks. Better than no wrist pad though.

Speakers

For the price, these are great. Only annoyance is that there are no adjustments for it other than volume. Subwoofer is extremely powerful for the price but bass is unfortunately overblown. For the price though, I'm not complaining.

External Storage

It's a no frills portable HDD, no included software, just the cable and the drive. Plug it in and that's it. The speeds are pretty average for a portable USB 3.0 HDD and it's sturdy but very plasticky; you can hear it creaking if you put any pressure. The wire is also very short but that's easily remedied if you want to spend a few bucks on a micro-usb 3.0 cable. Biggest issue with the product is its size; it's huge and fat for a portable HDD. There are many much slimmer models on the market with more attractive casings as well. Still, 2 TB for $80 isn't bad at all and hopefully that added size translates to better durability.

Comments

  • 57 months ago
  • 11 points

So... I see the lotion and tissues on your desk. Otherwise nice upgrade! +1

  • 57 months ago
  • 3 points

LOL nice comment! (no sarcasm haha, it made me lol).

It's pretty cold up here in Northeast US, had to start moisturizing my face every day cause of the sub-zero temperatures and wind burn.

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  • 57 months ago
  • 1 point

Haha!

  • 57 months ago
  • 3 points

LMAO at all the hand lotion and tissues... i see u build a sweet *** **** rig!

  • 57 months ago
  • 2 points

Tabs open for days! But nice upgrades.

  • 57 months ago
  • 2 points

Haha I have problems with tab management :( haven't really found a solution for it...

  • 57 months ago
  • 2 points

Nice upgrade bro!

  • 57 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks! Same to you as well!

  • 57 months ago
  • 2 points

Thank you!

  • 50 months ago
  • 1 point

How many gb is usable of your arc 100? Would you recommend this ssd? (It's $65 for me.)

  • 50 months ago
  • 1 point

Just saw this. I have 211 gb available and would def recommend it; it's a good budget SSD and pretty much all SATA ssd's get about the same performance in real world usage.

  • 47 months ago
  • 1 point

What Hard Drive cloning Software did you use?

  • 41 months ago
  • 1 point

I have two questions. Is this good for gaming? I game a lot and I get low fps on King of the Kill on the lowest video settings. The second one is, can you make me the list of the parts i need to buy if i have this: http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/19/product-support/servicetag/JK97X12/configuration ( just go into current configuration,) I don't need any accessories unless a monitor with more than 60+hz is needed. Thank you.