My PC Building History
I have messed with upgrading a factory made Dell PC, bought in 2009, with the help of a friend (they did all the work while I drank and watched in amusement). That old PC's original specs were modest starting with a 300w PSU, Athlon II X2 250, iGPU and 4 GB Ram. We began upgrading in 2010 by replacing the PSU for a 500w Antec Earthwatts and adding a dedicated GPU, Sapphire HD 5750. After a couple years (2012) the MoBo melted, we replaced it with a cheap Biostar MoBo and put in a better case my buddy had lying around. My old ram was a no go so we got 8 GB of G. Skill 1033 MHz RAM. Not long after I decided to upgrade the CPU, moving up to an AMD x4 945. That is what I have stuck with until I started buying the pieces to this new rig. Here is the link to my best approximation of what is in my Old PC
Diving Into the Solo Project
With my friend's help I had developed some familiarity with opening up a PC and not being deathly afraid of playing with the pieces under the hood. I also gained some basic knowledge about the hardware/components that proved very useful in tackling this new project solo. I considered simply upgrading the GPU, but quickly realized a new GPU would be severely limited by the bottlenecks from the older hardware and so the journey began.
I love researching things, so I jumped head first down the rabbit hole that is PC tech. Since I was building a completely new computer from scratch I looked into what I wanted to get out of it now and potentially down the road. Additionally I wanted to keep my budget within reason to start, but allow myself the ability to upgrade when ready. I was hoping to keep the total cost below $1200, which I was not able to do, but I did not have a hard budget in place and was willing to spend a little more to get what I really wanted. These became the three major points I based my build around.
Goals of the Build
Awesome Aesthetics- I honestly thought just as much about how I wanted the case to look as I did about the quality of the graphics it would output. This made the case decision a big point and honestly difficult for me. I obviously wanted a windowed case to see the internal parts, clean lines, easy LED options, cable management and the ability to add a custom water cooling loop down the line. The case is additionally important because it is one component that can last through the years and across multiple upgrades/builds. Because of these factors I spent more than necessary, happily! I also added the aftermarket CPU cooler more for looks than performance because I am not even able to overclock my processor (non K model).
1080p at 60 FPS- I use a 32" 1080p 60hz Television as my monitor. And guess what? I love it. I prefer a bigger display even though I still play at a desk, albeit often while leaned back in my chair with my feet propped up. So the build I put together had to be able to run high/max settings at 1080p and still put out solid a FPS.
Easily Upgradable to Handle 1440 or 4k- Right now I am happy with 1080p, but in the next few years when higher resolution displays are less expensive and newer GPUs are able to handle 4k, I will look to upgrade. I wanted to give myself the option of SLI with the 970 if I go with a 1440 display or if I upgrade to a more powerful single GPU and go to 4k. So I made sure my MoBo supported SLI and I had a PSU (750w) that could handle two overclocked 970 or one monster new GPU.
Buying the Components
I was hoping to wait until my birthday in June (2015) to get the project rolling, but after starting my research in March I was only able to hold out until late April before purchasing the new GPU, MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G (They mean 3.5G, right ;) I threw it in my old build and the performance increase was huge. But I knew the CPU was bottlenecking the performance. I am sure the other components also impaired the 970. But after that I was able to remain patient until late June to finish ordering the rest of the parts for the new PC. I did get the case about a week before the rest of the pieces, so I put the everything from my old comp in that and eventually replaced it all with the new hardware. I read entirely too much info, reviews and benchmarks while trying to figure out what I wanted to put in my new PC. I learned a lot a honestly enjoyed the process, but learned just as much when getting hands on with the parts and seeing how everything came together. Below are my thoughts and rationale for each piece.
CPU- i7-4790- I was originally looking at the popular i5- 4690k, but a friend had the i7-4790 new in the box and was looking to get rid of it for $250. It is an awesome CPU and for the price roughly $20-40 more than the lowest current prices on the i5-4690k, I did not want to pass it up. I wish it was the unlocked k model, so I would be able to overclock, but this should run cool, stable and lead to no head aches. Additionally if I decide to do some video editing the this CPU will handle that a little bit better with the hyperthreading. Overall works as advertised, very well.
CPU Cooler- Phanteks White and Black Cooler- This was all about the looks, but I still read the reviews to make sure it also was a dependable cooler. So far I have not cracked 60 C while gaming or even running the Fire Strike benchmark, so it appears to be doing a great job. Before I had ordered this cooler I had hooked up the case and LED strip inside. I loved how the white case fans looked great with any color lighting. While I originally thought I wanted a black and red build with blue lighting, I loved being able to change the light color and the internal parts match up well. While the black and red look great with any of the other colors, the white fans really pop and adopt the LED coloring. This is why I choose the White and Black Cooler and I absolutely love it!!
MoBo- MSI Z97 Gaming 5- I caught this on sale and it had all of the features I was looking for, along with strong reviews. I loved my MSI GPU and the Afterburner software was so easy to use with a lot of useful features. Knowing that I figured MSI would have easy to use software packaged in, which it does, along with an easy to use bios. Overall this is a feature rich MoBo for an average gamer. I love the look and the biggest plus is the built in debug LED that reads the CPU temp after the OS launches. I turned on XMP to OC my RAM to 1866 (stock speed for RAM, MoBo was running it at 1333) and used Afterburner to slightly OC GPU with good results. Very happy with this board. Only in order to match my color scheme I may have elected to go with the MSI SLI Krait Edition. But overall you do not see much of the board with everything else in the case.
RAM- Corsair Vengeance 16 GB 1866 (2x8)- I grabbed this on sale and it has worked great. Had to turn on XMP to boost to 1866, simple fix. I opted for 16 GB because I am sure down the line it will be necessary, especially if I upgrade to a higher resolution. Overall standard fair here, the only thing I would change is getting something with a white accent. If I am able to sell these sticks to a friend I may change them out for white.
Storage- Samsung EVO 500 GB- A quality SSD really does change the user experience. Especially after first getting windows installed and loading new software, updating everything and needing to restart multiple times, it saves you a lot of time. I also like to shut my PC down or hibernate it to save power and with this, boot times are nothing. I originally was going to get a 250 GB SSD and 1 TB HDD, but when I saw this highly reviewed SSD on sale for $160 I snapped it up. While about the same cost as getting the other two drives and getting less than half the storage, I am loving it. My old PC only had a 320 GB HDD and I managed on that. I wish a could as easily manage with 500 GB on my xbox one :( I also can always throw in a larger HDD down the line if I need more space for videos etc.
Video Card- MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G- This was the first piece that I picked up more than a month before the rest. I found a discount and received the Witcher 3 with it as well. This card has worked wonderfully. It is easy to overclock with Afterburner and is very quiet. I was considering the 960 but decided on this because it can crush games at 1080p, where the 960 may struggle down the road. Everything I have thrown at it has run extremely smooth on ultra settings. Not knowing exactly the color scheme I wanted when getting the card, I am happy with how this looks. Because the fans on cards point down the only part you see is the side with the MSI white lighting which looks great and top half. If rebuilding I may have gone with a black and white card, but am loving the performance of this card.
Case- Phanteks Enthoo Luxe- I love this case. I want to address one negative I had read in many older reviews about shipping. There is a cardboard box packaged inside the case with user manual and tool box. Many people have complained that the box was loose and scratched the window during shipping, because there was no protective film on the interior. My case arrived well protected, with the box inside tied down and protective film on both the interior and exterior of the window. No scratches on any part of the case.
This thing is big and beautiful. I have never had a full size case and it is large! But this gives you a lot of room to work with and is needed with the size of today's GPUs, fans etc. The 970 barely fit in my old mid sized case, it was a pain to get in and out. The cable management, SSD brackets and drive bays etc are great. Additionally this case has brackets provided for water cooling and so many features. I also bought the Phanteks 2 meter LED strip made specifically for this case. It is the perfect size to run completely around the the interior of the case. The two sided tape on the LED is awful. But that is no big issue, just used some other tape. It is awesome to be able to cycle through LED colors, but wish there were more color options than the 11 preset colors. A hue changer would be amazing, but a small gripe. Lastly I wish the windows were tempered glass instead of plastic, Plexiglas or whatever it is, but I understand that would greatly increase the cost and weight of the case. Overall I would recommend to anyone without hesitation. I love this thing and it looks amazing. My soon to be wife actually purchased the case for me as a birthday gift and she even thinks it looks really cool (she is not so into tech and gaming so that says something).
PSU- EVGA NEX Supernova 750 G1- This is overkill for my current system, but I wanted something that would allow me to upgrade in the future and would be able to handle SLI, water cooling etc if I decided to put all that in. I got the supply on sale for 99.99 and there is a $20 rebate which I will deduct when I receive. I wanted a modular supply for cable management and what sold me on this supply, we're the fully sleeved, all black cables. They look great, though I may still add white sleeved extensions at some point in the future. Extremely satisfied with the PSU.
It took me about two hours to put the old components (MoBo, PSU, HDD etc) in the new case when I first got it. When I finally got the rest of the parts it took me about three hours to switch everything out. Several drinks were had during both battles. Doing this alone, I worked slow and methodically with a few interruptions. I believe I could cut my time in half now, with the experience. Below I will list a few specific things I had difficulties and issues with.
Unhooking the main 24 pin power supply was a pain. It took a lot more force than I felt comfortable using with what I feel like are delicate electronics. With some squirming, pushing and pulling I got it out. The same can be said with many of the connections, specifically getting the USB 3.0 on the MSI MoBo. I installed the GPU before hooking in the USB connection and it is blocked by the long GPU. After monkeying around I just took the GPU out and put it in with much less complication.
Seating the GPU and then removing the GPU was a pain for me. Seating it was just when I first put it in my old pc and actually fired it up and thought it was good to go until nothing came on screen. After taking a look I realized it was not fully clamped down. Likely me being too gentle with the pricey tech. However taking the thing out, which I had to do several different times, was a true pain. I do not know if there is a specific technique but the bracket clamp or whatever it is called gave me hell. I would release it and then try to remove the card and as I pulled it out the clamp would tighten again. Frustrating, but likely user error.
Installing the CPU Cooler was somewhat confusing. I believe I have it in there properly, but the instructions could be clearer on how to have the fans set up, when you put them back on after installation. My tip would be to make sure you look and take a pic of how they are mounted before removing them to install the heatsink to the MoBo.
When installing the MoBo into the case make sure you take the port covers off the I/O panel. I did not and could not figure out why it was not sliding in smoothly. User error again.
After finally getting everything installed and finally firing up the unit it would not go. The lights and fans would cut on for about 1 second and immediately cut back off. At this point it was late and I was frustrated, luckily I quickly found the issue. Of all the connections I completely forgot to plug in the CPU power cable. It got lost in the upper corner, but was a relief to find.