Wireless Network Adapter
To begin, this is not only meant to be an overview of the build, but also offer brief product reviews for each of the components I used. TLDR; it works/looks exactly how I wanted it to.
A few disclaimers before I get started. A lot of the prices listed were bought on sale (motherboard, CPU, HDD) and the power supply and 840 EVO were bought from friends dirt cheap so expect to pay more for this build (around $3371 USD). I also have a second monitor (1080p instead of another 1440p) but I didn't list it on here because it was a cheap 27” Vizio TV and I only use it for browsing internet and file management when editing photos/videos. Also, the case is OD green, not black... but PCPartPicker didn't have the OD green color listed at the time of this build log. Troubleshooting and compatibility issues will be covered at the bottom
This was a military style build with a lot of care put into the aesthetic. Some of the parts (like the motherboard and fan controller) were chosen to fit the aesthetic, not their comparative performance to other options on the market (and before anyone points out the Sabertooth series from ASUS, I looked at it and decided the simplistic design of the SLI Plus worked better). The color scheme is a bit messy but I really feel it fits well overall. OD green for primary, custom painted accents of construction yellow on the fans and optical drive with orange LEDs throughout (except for the RAM which did not have an orange option). The fan controller had an off-putting yellow tint to the “orange” so I went for the green instead which threw me back to my days using SINCGAR radios in the Marines, so it still worked.
Performance-wise this is the best gaming PC I've ever played on. Everything runs flawlessly even when recording gameplay footage at 1080p/60fps. As a workstation for photo and video editing I don't have much to compare it to but it has never felt slow or clunky for any of the work I throw at it. I once processed 2365 RAW to JPEG photos in 18 minutes, so I hope that's good. I haven't run any benchmarks on it yet but I hope to do so at a later date. All the games I've played thus far have been running at well above 60fps on ultra settings with some games (like Farcry 4 and Overwatch) poking around 200 fps with vsync turned off.
Did I mention this is my first PC build?
Below is a basic rundown of the parts I chose and my experiences with them thus far:
CPU: I chose the i7-6700k over an enthusiast grade CPU for its price and single-core performance. I talked with a few of my more technically inclined friends and they all recommended this CPU over an enthusiast grade CPU for gaming and light photo/video editing. The entirety of the internet seemed to agree. I haven't had any issues with it so far, believing wholeheartedly that this was the best choice for my build. I would recommend this CPU to anyone who is in the market for a great gaming CPU with decent photo/video capabilities as well. 5/5
CPU Cooler: The install had a hiccup (see below) but it was very specific to the motherboard and case and otherwise was simple enough to install. Keeps my CPU nice and cool and despite what I've seen others complain about online, I cannot hear it when it's running. It's very quiet. I thought I would be able to change the color of the LED on the pump but further research after the fact has me doubting that. Corsair Link software didn't detect my cooler in the LED tab, so I gave up. Not a big deal though, the white looks fine. Tubes might be a bit stiff and lengthy so make sure you have room in your case for this cooler. Also, I have since uninstalled Corsair Link 4 and am now using NZXT's CAM software to monitor temps, usage, adjust LEDs and CPU/GPU fan curves. 4.5/5
Motherboard: MSI Z170a SLI Plus has a nice matte black finish that gives it a very direct and simple look. All the reviews for this model boasted the value for its many features. It doesn't have a lot of fan or USB headers but splitters and USB expansion accessories are pretty inexpensive for those that need more. The steel reinforced PCI slots offer greater structural confidence when holding up beefy graphics cards like mine. Isolated audio on the PCB was a great plus as well. The I/O has great forward and backward compatibility offering everything from a USB type C to old PS2 mouse and keyboard ports. The board even has a spot for an M.2 drive, although this turned into a bit of a headache when it came to booting up (see below). 3.5/5
RAM: 2 packs of twin red LED 8GB DDR4 RAM sticks clocked at 3000 MHz. Works as expected, no complaints. LEDs look rich and brightness fading is smooth. Only 2 light settings that I could find in the Corsair Link software (static and random breathing) but the random breathing setting is fun to watch. 5/5
Boot Drive: This M.2 V-NAND SSD is fast. Computer fully boots in about 2-3 seconds after POST. Due to the price I opted for the smallest storage capacity available at the time but this has not been an issue since I have 2 other storage devices installed. 5/5
Photo/Video Storage: A friend of mine needed to get rid of his 1TB Samsung 840 EVO so I got it for almost half the price of some retailers. It's wonderful for recording gameplay and pulling photos from file quickly. This was mostly an impulse buy due to its price but well worth it for those that wish to have a dedicated storage device to avoid using the same drive to play and record games. 5/5
Mass Storage: I've never had a reason to use 6TB of data, but knowing I have the space for anything and everything is a plus. 7200RPM spindle speeds make it one of the faster HDD's for all in one storage. Many sources sited that Seagate has a lower failure rate than other companies like Western Digital, but I took out 3 years of data recovery insurance just to be safe (without the insurance I could pay thousands out of pocket to fully recover the drive). So far it has out performed my expectations. Before I got my 840 EVO I was still able to play and record off it at the same time without issue. 5/5
GPU: At the time of writing this, MSI's "Gaming Z" version of their 1080 series was one of the fastest out-of-box cards on the market clocked at 1771MHz. It has devoured everything I have thrown at it without breaking a sweat (literally, temps hover around 50 degrees Celsius even running everything at max settings). Zero complaints for performance. The MSI Gaming App used to change the LED colors and settings was the only downside. Firstly, I had to dig through several MSI forums just to download the software, all of the links on MSI's website were broken. The software is also scaled exclusively in 1080p resolution so if you do not have a 1080p monitor, don't bother because it is impossible to customize the colors without one. Other than that, it's a beastly card that has not yet let me down. 4.5/5
Case: This was the first choice I made in this build. 3 of my friends own a Corsair Vengeance C70 case, one gunmetal black, one white, and one OD green, all of them love it. An OD green case was not listed as an option on PCPartPicker so it's listed as black, but I did indeed go with the OD green to fit the military style. The case has a solid steel construction with only the front facade being plastic. The matte color is not obnoxious and the military aesthetic leads with a more subtle tone rather than feeling overdone like other "military themed" cases I came across (looking at you Thermaltake). It has a very open feel with an extra wide backplate opening for the motherboard, 2 removable 3-tray drive bays, and room for 240mm radiators on the top and bottom (although a bottom mounted radiator may restrict the size of your PSU to fit properly). Highlights are definitely the front I/O with its riveted and stylized power button, the cute spring-flap protected reset button, ammo-can style side panel latches, and riveted carrying handles for easy transport. The only part of the case that seems to catch flak is the side-panel window which has space for up to 2 140mm case fans with holes for airflow. This can be visually upsetting as this space does a great job of blocking the view of all your internal hardware. It is also hard to find a dust filter that will work/blend in. I have 2 fans mounted there anyway so I guess I'm indifferent but I completely understand the frustration of having this feature placed there. I am admittedly biased in favor of this case however and am completely satisfied. 5/5
PSU: I picked up this 850w power supply from a friend who had an extra. Fully modular and 80+ platinum efficiency made it a steal for $100. It comes with a 10 year warranty, but with the quality that comes from Corsair power supplies I doubt I'll need to use it. Cables are a bit stiff but the fact that they are all black is a nice touch. I plan on replacing the cables in the future with yellow CableMod sleeved cables but for now, the black will do. 5/5
Optical Drive: It plays Blu-ray, that's really all I got this for. Custom painted yellow stripes on it to add more military flare to the front and it looks awesome. Had to take a razor blade to get it to open the first time, but that's entirely my fault. 5/5
OS: It's Windows 10. Say what you will, it works well for me. 5/5
Wifi Adapter: No on-board wifi meant I had to buy an adapter. Decided on a PCI-express port adapter for better connection speeds and this puppy gets me 144Mb/s consistently with the 2 small antennae it came with. For $35 it does its job well. 5/5
Case Fans: I bought these fans primarily for the colored rings they came with. I had plans to spray paint them yellow and the fact they were removable made that process easy. So far they have performed as expected and are fairly quiet if you can control the RPM. When I had to use the motherboard to power 4 of them while waiting for a replacement fan controller I did notice they were a bit noisy, but when dialed in at around 1200RPM they are a tolerable volume. 4.5/5
Monitor: Towards the end of the build I was running out of budget room. I was determined to upgrade to 1440p for this build and was able to pick up this 25" monitor on sale. The image quality is amazing and it came with no dead pixels or noticeable backlight bleed. The monitor is advertised to have 100% sRGB coverage, but independent color calibration tests showed it closer to 98% but that's only important for the true image snobs out there. 5ms of input lag makes it a bad candidate for twitch-speed FPS games but I have found it to be totally adequate for gaming. The presets in the Splendid Menu offer a variety of different color and brightness configurations and they all work wonderfully. I primarily use the sRGB mode for photo/video editing and gaming mode for everything else. 5/5
Keyboard: As I noticed a lot of Corsair products going into my build I decided to continue the fanboyish trend with the Strafe RGB. MX-SILENT Cherry mechanical keys are noticeably quiet but still have a satisfying click when pressed. There are also curved/textured key replacements for WASD and MMO-MOBA setups. The full RGB configurations you can create using Corsair’s CUE2 software are absolutely stunning, making this arguably one of the most visually stunning additions to this build. 5/5
Mice: Yes, mice. I have a mouse for my MMO/MOBA games and one for FPS games. The Scimitar is a decent mouse with 12 side panel buttons on an adjustable sliding float. The RGB color zones are all independently customizable and give the mouse an aggressive look. Painted yellow accents match my custom fans to a tee. It's a very comfortable mouse to use and I would recommend this for anyone looking to boost their button range in games like WoW. The second mouse is a Vengeance M65 in OD green. This model comes with exclusively orange LEDs which fit my overall color scheme perfectly. The “Sniper Button” can drop your DPI to 800 with the push of a button which is nice when you need precision on the fly. Overall, both these mice complete my gaming build and bring extra depth to my color scheme. 5/5 for both.
NZXT HUE+ and CAM Software: For added flare to my build I opted for this all-in-one LED and system monitoring package. The HUE+ controller box fits right into the SSD tray within my drive bays and has capacity for 2 channels to run your LEDs. The CAM software quickly replaced Corsair Link 4 for system monitoring and I could not be happier. It has weird scaling on 1080p monitors but still functions with a very intuitive and accurate interface. It has overclocking capabilities but I have yet to dive into that just yet. The lighting control within the software adds a myriad of options for the 4 included light strips. I went with the same orange as the other LEDs in my build using a marquee style that flows up the front facade flanking my front case fans. The satisfaction of seeing the orange lights drive up the inside and bleed out the dust filter is one that I won't soon overtake. 5/5
Fan Controller: So far everything has been pretty smooth sailing. Sad to say this part, while offering a very compelling aesthetic for my specific build, became the first part to require an RMA due to a malfunction with the temperature sensors (see below). For the $50 I payed for this device I expected better quality. The frame is plastic and the overall feel is cheap and flimsy with loose knobs for adjusting settings and fan speeds. Changing the color of the LCD panel was a bit confusing and of all the 16 colors available, the orange just looked gross. The green looks vibrant enough and still played into my color scheme nicely, but I was still disappointed I couldn't have it fully match. Once up and running the alarm clock style LCD screen does give a nice industrial appearance to my front panel and while the RPM, temperature, and voltage meters do jump around due to their sensitivity it does make it look like my fan controller is actively computing something. I could find no help in the manual, online guides, or other attempts of obscure internet research to figure out how to properly install the temperature probes properly so they sit idle and spaghettified in the empty space of my 5.25” drive bay. As mentioned before they were also a thorn in my side when the original I had ordered began audibly alarming after detecting unsafe temperatures within my case. The replacement has done no such thing but only time will tell. If you can afford it, go with a Lamptron 832-115-01 for a very similar look with a more solid construction. 2/5
Troubleshoots: For people considering using the H100i v2 with the MSI Z170a SLI Plus inside a C70 case, please note that the motherboard heatsinks will obstruct your ability to screw in one of the corner screws attaching the fan to the radiator/case. We had to remove the motherboard to finish the radiator installation but not knowing that was a bit of a surprise. (Resolved)
The fan controller I went with had to have an RMA issued after only 5 days of use due to the temperature alarms going off even after I removed the probes from the unit itself (temps were reading 95 Celsius within my case which was obviously not true). The replacement is working fine for now but the build quality from Thermaltake was, like I said, not what I expected. (Resolved)
Lastly, the Z170a SLI Plus motherboard advertises M.2 compatibility, however my experience during Windows installation would suggest otherwise. My UEFI to this day still does not recognize that I have an M.2 drive installed. I am currently running Windows off the M.2 somehow though, as the Windows installer wizard did see the drive and offered to throw Windows onto it. No amount of changing settings, clearing CMOS, updating the UEFI drivers, or rebooting with all other drives unplugged could get the UEFI to see the damn thing. I haven't run into any issues after Windows was installed, but I strongly feel it was a fluke that it worked at all. There isn't much online to help with this issue either, as MSI advertises full compatibility with M.2 and this model. If you plan on using an M.2 as a boot drive, I suggest you unplug all other storage devices and just run the windows installer in hopes that it sees the M.2 anyway. Good luck. (Ongoing)
Thank you for reading this near essay of a build log and please feel free to comment. Hope you all found this helpful and informative.