Grab a drink or something to eat because this is a bit of a read. Apologies for the poor quality photos, my phone is borderline ancient these days.
My old system recently turned 6 years old and boy was its lack of performance holding me back! In November I began researching new parts for a new system that I would build myself this time having never built one before. I spent MONTHS researching every aspect of the parts I wanted to buy and I sure did learn a lot! But in March I eventually settled on the parts listed below and bought them, around $2600 worth which is quite a bit of dough when you're an unemployed graduate...
Here are the parts of my build:
Case - First part I picked was the case as it had to be a certain maximum height to fit underneath my desk. The Mini R2 fit the bill perfectly and I love it! Much better than the alternative which was the Corsair 350D. It's got great radiator compatibility, a built-in fan controller, removable bays and it just looks fantastic. The only negative is that there isn't much room for cable management compared to larger cases, you'll have to excuse my attempt at clean cable management.
Motherboard - The case I chose meant that mATX was the largest form factor I could work with which was fine by me. I had to choose between Z97 and X99 platforms, I chose Z97 for a number of reasons but mainly because of the further cost of X99. With that decision made I bought the best Z97 mATX board on the market, I don't skimp on motherboards. The Gene7 has top quality components and has loads of features including a great in-depth bios for overclocking. A minor issue during installation was the IO shield. The padding on it was so thick that I really had to push the board hard with force and hold it there in order to get the screw holes in line with the standoffs on the case. I was worried the board would bend or torque but I got it installed eventually.
CPU - Hardest choice of the build. The i5 4690k did weigh on my mind for a long time. Do I really need hyper-threading for that much more money? In my opinion the i7 4790k is the pinnacle of 4-core processors in terms of max performance. Devils Canyon has better thermals (still shocking TIM spread though so I might have a go at delidding in the future) plus more consistent higher OC's than launch Haswell, Broadwell won't reach the max OC clocks of the 4790k from what I've read and Skylake is still a while away along with its rumoured new socket. Therefore I invested in the 4790k for the long haul and I think it's brilliant compared to the old core2dou e8500 I was using before. When overclocked, the 4790k should remain the best 4-core processor for a while yet.
Cooler - I knew from the beginning I wanted to do some serious overclocking and hence was always going to go with water cooling. Custom loop was overkill and over budget, so I looked for a reliable and popular 240mm radiator to fit in the top of my case. After triple-checking measurements and clearance I went with the H105 over the H100i for the extra cooling performance. Great cooling with a reasonably quiet pump, I highly recommend the H105.
Memory - I spent way too much time researching everything about memory; frequencies, timings, voltages, overclocking, undervolting, ranks, memory chips and dual-side vs. single-side DIMMs. As DDR3 evolution comes to an end, a lot of people still swear by budget kits of 2x4GB 1600mhz CAS 9 @ 1.5v as all you will ever need in terms of DDR3, but I wanted to get the best out of every part of this build within my budget. I love this kit from G.Skill, It offers great performance for a fantastic price. 16GB is plenty for my VMs and a RAMdisk, 2400mhz brings performance gains without hindering my everyday CPU OC, CAS 10 at 2400mhz are strong timings, 2 DIMMs instead of 4 which lightens the load on the IMC and motherboard, the DIMMs themselves are dual-ranked for better performance and lastly you don't need to fear running 1.65v memory on a Devils Canyon CPU. One last thing about the Tridents, the removable red heat sink helps a lot with radiator clearance if needed. Thumbs up to G.Skill for this great kit, it sure beats the hell out of the 4GB of 800mhz DDR2 I've been using all these years.
Storage - My old Seagate 160GB 7200rpm SATA2 HDD had served me well over the last 6 years but now I'm just so over hard drives. They are noisy, slow and prone to damage causing failure. For me M.2 is not yet worth the extra money over a regular SATA3 SSD. Samsung at the moment are doing great things in the area of consumer level solid state drives with their 3D VNAND technology. The reviews of their 850 Pro showed it was king of SATA3 SSDs but the 1TB model I was after was too expensive for my budget. Thankfully the 850 EVO was released while I was researching parts and was cheaper than the Pro plus it performed just as well in reviews. There are no worries at all with the longevity of the 3D TLC flash in the 850 EVO compared to the bulletproof 3D MLC flash of the 850 Pro, unlike the somewhat troublesome 2D TLC flash in the previous 840 EVO. Samsung have worked really hard to improve their TLC flash. I'm really pleased with how fast it is at booting into windows and loading programs. Once you go to a SSD you don't want to go back to a HDD!
Graphics - My display is a 22inch TV which doubles as my 1080p computer monitor and also has an old PS2 connected to it. I'm not a big gamer and I'm not doing any major content creation or work with CAD. All I needed was a reasonable budget card that could handle the odd old game here and there. My last two cards have been team red but this time around NVidia had the better card that suited my needs. I chose the MSI model of the 750ti because it forwent the external power connector (750ti doesn't need it), it had all the display outputs I needed and I had heard great things about their twin frozr cooler. It serves its purpose very well and as you will see it's got lots of room for overclocking. This card is great! It's compact, runs cool, it's inaudible even at max load and you can really get deep into overclocking it.
Optical Drive - I still use discs so I needed one. If you're building a desktop rig and you've got enough room in the case to fit one in, you probably should install one as they are still relevant. I spent $89 for an LG Blu-Ray Burner that matched the look of my case, you never know when it might come in handy.
OS - Easiest decision of the build. Wasn't comfortable with windows 8.1 so I'm going to ride out Windows 7 until I really need Windows 10... or if I need to build a new rig because this one dies :S
CPU Fans - I don't like noisy computers and this build needed to be as silent as possible. The stock Corsair fans from the H105 are too loud even after tuning fan curves. I did not even bother with them, went straight for the highly regarded NF-F12 from Noctua. I've got two of these running in a pull configuration (easier to clean) with the H105 and it keeps the CPU cool and quiet... really quiet!
Case Fans - Same deal here, the case fans also needed to be quiet. I installed all three as intake fans. Using the fan controller on the front panel of the case, these Aerocool Dead Silence fans are inaudible at 5v (~500rpm), noticeable at 7v (~800rpm) and loud at 12v (~1200rpm). I leave them on 5v most of the time and they are truly silent. I love the rubber construction, they've got a good weight and feel to them, don't have any vibration issues and have white LEDs for a bit of bling. Three of them at 5v also creates just enough airflow to have positive pressure in the case. Hurrah for clean interiors!
Power Supply - To power all of this I chose the Fractal Newton R3. 600W is overkill for what I need at the moment but that was the lowest watt version Fractal made. If you didn't already know, Fractal Design make really good stuff! Fractal have matched and possibly beaten Seasonic at their own game with this PSU, it takes the 80+ Platinum efficiency rating to the next level. Its silent fan and zero coil whine keeps overall noise levels down which is a thumbs up for me! But I did have two minor issues with this PSU. The unit I received came with a French power cord, they probably don't make Australian models. No need to worry though, I used a suitable existing power cord from another old computer in the house. The other issue was the silicone glue and heat shrink wrap on the end of the 8pin CPU power connector, I could not bend the cable enough to fit between the motherboard and the radiator at the top of the case. So I VERY carefully cut off the wrap so that I could gently bend the wires enough to fit it into the 8pin CPU power socket. Phew!
I think I'm slightly above average here in the silicon lottery. At one extreme I can get a stable 4.0GHz at 1 volt and the other extreme a screenshot-stable 5.0GHz (the magical 5GHz) at 1.424v. For an everyday 24/7/365 overclock I settled on 4.7GHz with (amazingly) stock adaptive voltage which means 0.720v at dead idle and 1.264v max load. To get 4.8GHz stable, even with the memory frequency lowered to 1600mhz, required a whopping 0.128v extra Vcore and I was certainly not going to run 1.392v max load as my everyday OC as temperatures were way too high. I'm very happy with 4.7GHz @ stock adaptive voltage and 2400MHz XMP memory. The H105 handles those 4.7GHz voltages with ease ensuring temps stayed in the 70's with the various high stress loads of Prime95(v26.6), Aida64, Povray, Cinebench or RealBench. Only unrealistically flogging the 4790k's FPU with AVX code (Aida64 FPU only/newer versions of Prime95) resulted in a maximum of 90c on just one of the four cores, nowhere near throttling. Again, really impressive cooling from the H105.
If you're prepared to get your hands dirty with Maxwell Bios Tweaker and NVFlash, you can really squeeze a lot more performance out of the 750ti than just with Afterburner or PrecisionX. At complete stock I was getting a max boost clock of 1201MHz with 1.137v on the GPU core and 1350MHz (5400MHz effective) stock memory speed. After weeks of research, fiddling and testing with the 750ti BIOS in MBT I found my maximum stable overclock. 1437MHz max boost clock, 1.200v GPU core and 1480(5920)MHz memory and it does all of this on only PCI-E slot power. To get this 20% increase in core clock I had to do the following in MBT: Raise TDP limit from 38W to PCI-E slot maximum of 65.5W, Raise core voltage from 1.137v to the hardwired maximum of 1.200v, raise a select few clock voltages to their maximum and offset the boost table by +104MHz in addition to the XBAR and L2C clocks. Final touch in MBT was to set the default memory speed to 1480MHz and then flash it to the card with the NVFlash v5.196 for Windows. No need to hex-edit anything or modify hardware (both are beyond my knowledge and nerves), BIOS hacking is enough for the 750ti. Unigine Valley verifies the increase in performance, stock was netting me an average rate of 42fps at 1080p Ultra 0xAA and now with the modified BIOS I'm getting a completely stable 50fps average with not a single artefact, TDR or crash. Best part is that it still lowers the core, memory and voltage to idle levels while I'm not gaming or stress testing. The highest temperature I've reached is 68c and the twin frozr fans remain silent all the time never spinning faster than 44% during all of my testing.
---Final Thoughts/Future Upgrades---
Really happy with how my first build turned out. Had a great time overclocking and I'm very happy with those results on the CPU and GPU. Possible upgrades down the line include Windows 10 installed on an M.2 drive and an upgrade of the graphics card depending on whether GTX980 prices are lowered and what AMD release this year to challenge the 980.
Congrats on making it through all that reading, I hope you like my build as much as I do and please give it a +1.
Amazingly, the 4790K still remains the pinnacle of Intel 4 core processors! Almost 2 years since I built my z97 rig and this little beauty is still going strong. About 2 months in I had to lower my everyday OC from 4.7 to 4.6GHz because of stability issues, but I'm still ecstatic with 4.6GHz running on stock adaptive voltage (1.264v max under load) as an everyday OC. I'm still able to ramp it up to the magical 5.0GHz for a bragging rights screenshot, but the voltage required and subsequent temperatures are now too great for my H105 to handle effectively. I love my little rocket ship of a CPU! Great investment and it's going to last me a long time and it certainly isn't slowing down :)