My original idea for a PC was a Steam Machine. Ironically, the PC I went on to build and the PC I've upgraded it to (Which is what I've posted here) couldn't be further away from that original idea!
When my son upgraded his PC last year, there were a few spare parts lying around, so I thought I'd try to do something with them. This led to the thought of a small Steam Machine capable of playing indie games and older titles.
Not knowing much about small form factors at the time however, I quickly discovered that AM3+ (One of the spare parts was an FX6300) and Micro ITX are not natural bedfellows. I then also discovered that the Steam OS could only run certain titles so decided that wasn't an option either. At that point the whole steam machine idea went out of the window! I did look at a M-ATX build as a sort of half way option, but to be honest, most cases seemed to be only fractionally smaller than a small mid tower ATX. Looking back, I'm glad I wasn't able to go down the ITX route as it was my first build and I think I may have struggled a little.
Once I decided to go down the standard ATX route, things got a little easier in terms of picking components. I already had an FX6300 processor, 8gb RAM and a 450w Corsair PSU (I also had a 500gb HDD but it later turned out to be faulty after lying around for a while) so I picked the other parts to suit.
I bought an EVGA SSC GTX 960 (2gb) as it had just launched and seemed a good match for the FX6300 (It really was as well, and both had a nice amount of OC headroom). I probably spent too much of my budget on my case, but I always remember reading some seemingly good advice around spending a little more on your case and PSU (The logic being graphics cards, RAM, HDDs, etc. come and go, but a good case and PSU can last you years). The HDD, DVD drive and Wi-Fi card I opted for were nothing special, just reasonably priced, solid choices (That I'm still using).
I'd performed a few upgrades previously, but this was my first build from scratch. I have to say however, that it went really well. The Arc Midi R2 may not be much to look at, but it's a fantastic case to work in. In terms of performance, the PC was excellent and better than I'd hoped for. However, that was the problem........
I already had a PS4, and this PC formed from spares was intended to play less demanding games, or those not on console, whilst the PS4 remained my format of choice for AAA titles. This was fine until Witcher 3 launched and I bought it on PC as it was cheaper. I realised at that point that the PC was by far the more powerful system of the 2 and it had suddenly become my format of choice. However, up until now, I'd been able to crank everything up to ultra but with the Witcher I was suddenly having to drop some settings to medium. Maybe if I hadn't seen my son playing it with his GTX 970, maybe I would have been happy, maybe I'd still be using this set up now? Now I had though, I wanted more.....
And so began a nearly complete overhaul of my PC, less than 6 months after I'd built it. First in was the EVGA 650w GS PSU. I knew I'd need more juice for the forthcoming upgrades so took the opportunity to upgrade to a quality PSU. I was hoping to get the G2 model (Made by Super Flower) as it scored slightly higher in reviews. However, stock of that model was an issue so I went with the GS which is a superb unit in it's own right. It's a really weighty, solid piece of equipment, easy to work with and I've had no issues to date around performance.
Next in was the Asus Strix GTX 980. I had no intention of buying a 980 but it was listed on Scan for £349.99 so I snapped it up. It was only that price for an evening and I still haven't seen a 980 going that cheap since, especially not a decent brand (With backplate!!). I did consider a R9 390 or 390X but liked the driver experience with the 960. Besides the GTX 980 is clearly the better performer at 1080p.
Motherboard and processor were next up. I was hoping to have these in place before the GPU but, as mentioned above, I had to buy the GPU when the opportunity presented itself. The motherboard was just the cheapest Z97 available. I could have gone for H81 but I wanted the XMP option (Which I don't believe is available on the H81). The I5 4590 was the best processor I could afford at the time. It was only a fraction above the 4460 but much cheaper than the 4690 and 4690k. No complaints from me however, it runs really well.
On the subject of CPUs, I had to run the 980 with the FX6300 for a while (Only a few weeks thankfully). It choked the life out of it. The CPU stutter in more demanding games was horrific. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Next upgrade was the RAM (Nearly there now, keep reading!). The accepted wisdom is that RAM speed generally does nothing, but I've read a few pieces recently (Digital Foundry - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3G-7bfPG2dE) demonstrating that faster RAM helps alleviates CPU bottlenecks. I can verify that it really works. Switching from 1600mhz to 2400mhz has produced an fps increase of 9-10 fps where the CPU is being pushed. For example, when playing Witcher 3 (Sorry to keep mentioning it but it's a great game for assessing PC performance) my fps in the fields and forests doesn't change as it was already 60fps. However when I get into Novigrad, the game would drop into the mid to late 40s in busy areas. Since installing the RAM this has crept up into the mid to late 50s. My Unigine benchmark has also increased by just under 10fps.
Lastly, the icing on the cake was a 250gb SSD and a decent CPU cooler. The SSD was last thing to go in last weekend and I can finally say that I'm completely happy with my PC (Until I start eyeing up an I7.....).
(Apologies for awful picture quality and sub-standard cable management)