Now With LED Pics!! (Albeit bad ones)
Currently incomplete build log, but it's very long as I wanted to detail loads for people interested in other builds, people interested in components I used and people interested in building their first PC alike. Apologies for poor image quality, more photos can and will be provided.
So I'm fed up of ~10 fps on games that were made years ago and any new game I dare try I have to run on super low settings on my shoddy laptop. Added to this I have to cool the CPU externally with a desk fan...bring on a new pc time.
At first I was going to have it built by someone else but from what I can see it costs upwards of £200 or more here in the UK on top of components - that's at least one better component's worth and it seems that if you're the 1 in 100 whose build has gone wrong you spend a ton of time trying to get things put right, usually with some extra expense too. For the cost and hassle I might as well do it myself. (Budget ~£1500, flexible if excuses can be made)
So having built my new PC I'm going to list part reasoning followed by a build log of sorts and comment on how I found the parts considering I have little to no PC building experience. (Note: I may not have had much experience but I did spend ~100 hours on research into everything computers.)
Part Choice Reasoning
Note: If I had a theme to go by it was the cliche black/red so if I had a colour choice that's what I favoured.
CPU / Motherboard: I knew I was looking for 4th gen Intel (for some reason I've never really been an AMD customer) since I've used Intel for years and had no problems. The 1150 socket / Z97 chipset combo seems to be the favourite in this area for quad core gaming setups and after searching through a lot of videos on youtube it appeared that higher cpu cores makes little to no perceivable difference on gameplay currently; whether this will change in the next few years is a bit of a mystery.
It's widely said that you don't need more than an i5-4690(k) to play games since games are not currently coded to use more than that but I felt that was kneecapping future playability a bit since by the time it comes to replacing an i7 it'll probably mean replacing the motherboard and thus socket too. While I hesitate to say "future-proofing" was the idea here, it's 'redundancy' and ability to overclock mean it should last me ages without me seeing any signs of functional decay. (However I know that some people will slate the I7-4790k use when the primary purpose is gaming without any real side uses which is fair enough).
So narrowing searches down on socket 1150 with a Z97 chipset (as well as ATX form factor, saw no need for smallness) lead me to a lot of motherboards on pcpartpicker. After reading a few forums I narrowed my search to ASUS / Gigabyte / MSI due to arguments based on build quality and renown. Ultimately I went ASUS because I liked their additional features such as 5-way optimisation (and JJ from ASUS sells his products really well) which could be really useful when I get around to overclocking. I knew I didn't need all the bells and whistles so I reduced down the board list until I could no longer take anything away without 'missing' it - the Pro Gamer it was.
Heatsink: I was set for using the coolermaster hyper 212 evo until the week I ordered everything and then I had a spontaneous moment and bought an NZXT X41 Kraken instead. Not entirely sure why it just kind of happened. But it is a pretty decent water cooler, I loved the thick 140mm radiator, CAM software and the CPU block looked bitchin' in all the pictures. If I have to make an argument against CM H212 it's that it's really big and kinda ugly by comparison. In retrospect I would have been less happy using it.
Memory: Knew I wanted 16Gb in a 2 x 8Gb format (DDR3 obviously). Corsair and kingston do some really nice memory kits but when I saw the G Skill stuff I just had to have it. As it turns out the price difference between 1600 vs 1866 is marginal so I went up because a few things I read said it helps with overclocking to have faster memory with it to accomodate. Even if there's no truth to that the few pounds extra for faster RAM doesn't hurt and it looks so good.
Storage: Storage is a little bit more subjective so I expect some disagreement here. SSD boot drive was a must. I went with samsung because of reputation and reliability; the product had great reviews and 250Gb was a goldilocks size considering you can't fill it up to the brim. I bought a second one because I wanted to see if it would actually make loading games faster. I've spent so long going to make tea while my laptop does anything that I wanted to splurge on fancy stuff for once. Extra HDD for stuff that really has no place on an SSD such as utility stuff, extra games that won't gain any benefit from SSD loading or that I don't play much and any data I procure through day to day use being a student. Western digital was cheap.... I mean really cheap. ~£30 for 1TB did not hurt the budget in the slightest.
GPU: I WANT POWERRRRRR!!! But seriously if the GPU doesn't have muscles what's the point. Primarily gaming at ~1080p but will be looking into new monitors when the budget comes back / I win the lottery; so upgrade-ability to other resolutions was needed if not immediate. I so wanted a 980ti and I think had I been looking into building a month or two from now I may have eaten less for a few weeks to afford an aftermarket version but in the end I reeled myself down to the 970 - which is still MORE than enough power I believe. (Again sorry AMD, but you're just not sexy like Nvidia). Gigabyte's cooler design got me immediately. A shame it's quite plain in colour. MSI / EVGA / ASUS all featured highly as choices but there was nothing between them really. Gigabyte's G1 Gaming was a highly recommended series and it comes overclocked which saves me some work and potential hassle because the G1 are cherry-picked GPU's which is nice.
PSU: A few brands come highly recommended such as Seasonic and Corsair. I could have easily used a 750W or less but I thought that a decent power supply with a little more wattage could probably last a lot longer than just this build and so extra headroom was optimal especially considering I wasn't a fan of the idea of running it anywhere near full load. Corsair's RM series has great efficiency and build quality, looks good (imo) and is fully modular which saves tons of hassle with cable management later on. It also has a quiet mode fan to keep noise pollution down to a minimum which was a nice addition. Platinum was just too much more for too little gain I found.
Optical Drive / Network Card: Grouped together because I knew I needed them but didn't need anything too high function. Both I found on other build guides with people being pleased with them, as well as being cheap, so I just added them to the list. (Dual band wifi was a feature I was looking for though; but I didn't need blu-ray r/w on the ODD).
OS: Free upgrade to windows 10 with 7 and 8(.1) so I thought I'd try 8.1 as it's less wasteful of PC resources in case W10 turns out to be awful and I have to live with the OS I bought. 64 bit is a must these days I think and windows 7 lower versions have more RAM limitations which hinder potential upgrades so 8.1 it was.
Speakers: I wanted a 3 unit setup that was cheap and reliable. I give you Logitech's Z323 set. Not going to lie, kinda just picked from a list at semi-random because any 3 unit setup beats my old laptop by miles.
Custom: Mouse and keyboard to match are the most extravagant and interesting keyboards I've found this side of £100 by far. Wanted LED's because 'reasons' (as if I need any!). NZXT's HUE was the best solution I had seen to case LED's without being limited by cable length, colour choice, mode options and wallet size. Given the cheapness of all 3 I was prepared to take hits with sending stuff back due to poor quality.
Case: Left 'til last because the case I have now was not what I originally ordered. To begin I bought a bitfenix colossus windowed - may I say the main positive of this case was it's ability to improve my knowledge of consumer rights law. I chose it because I wanted a full tower with a windowed side panel, multiple drive bays of all sizes, long GPU card compatibility, sturdy construction and plenty of case fans. The case came damaged and I'm not sure if they changed the spec but I held up the kraken's 140mm fan to every hole on the top and I'm lost have it's meant to fit there despite online specs saying there is a slot. Needless to say it went back with great curfuffle over refunds from the seller which is still ongoing (23/06/15). After feeling the bitter disappointment of a bad component I went back to my case shortlist and found the phanteks enthoo luxe. Why oh why oh why I didn't buy this first is a mystery right up there with how did the universe begin, how will it end, and how the hell is snooki famous. This case not only had everything I wanted but boasted ridiculous customisability and great in-built LED's.
22/06/15: -Beginning nervously, equipped with a variety of magnetic screwdrivers, an anti static wrist-strap and a lint cloth. I took the motherboard out the box/bag and laid it onto the box. CPU installation is nerve-racking because the arm really does require some force which easily leads one to believe you're pushing on something you're not supposedly to but it went in ok and looking at it from the outside it can't possibly move anywhere. It did make some worrying noises as I lowered the retention arm though but I think this should happen because it's a tight fit.
-RAM is easier although does require some force but ultimately goes in without much hassle.
-Put in I/O port having setup the case on it's side to receive the board. Board in is not hard at all but make sure it's actually in place by aligning all the screw holes and I/O stuff. I thought I had it nailed but it moved when installing a screw in the centre into a better position with a 'click' sound. No harm done but I almost had some pant recolouring issues.
-Prior to this I moved both pre-installed 140mm fans out for good clearance and space to work in for the cooler. Fitted the radiator first to solve the problem of too few hands. Very easily screwed in and even fits on the rear instead of the top which I thought was the best place for it all things considered. Mounting the backplate and CPU block with the NZXT online guide is a piece of cake though making sure it doesn't move whilst affixing it to the mount can be a challenge. Attach 140mm fan to radiator; I did plug in the cables but I ended up shifting them around a few times with respect to other stuff.
-Wanting to POST the setup so far I installed the power supply with the fan down to take advantage of the supplied dust filter. Again, so easy. Put it on the studs and insert screws. Would have helped a lot to have a better description of the screws though. Although phanteks has a legen-wait for it-dary screw box and a really decent manual with respect to component manuals in general. Personally I prefer the PSU bracket supplied with the case to not be there so I removed it prior to all this using the screws on the back of the motherboard tray - it pops right out as does everything in the case which makes it so easy to customise.
-Connected power leads without cable managing them at first (Note: 24 pin power in the PSU claims skin if you need to take it out) and I/O connections and pressed the power button. Didn't come on :O. Oh wait, forgot to press the PSU switch like a nob. She POSTs!! Such a relief when the UEFI came up registering all the components at the right temperatures. Had a nose around but didn't change anything and shut it down.
Time so far = 2 hours
-Ok fantastic news so far, now let's cable manage a bit before things get hectic. The case has a fair few cables of its own which I had to work out and plug in. Didn't use the fan controller in the end, the motherboard is fine as is. The case has the best cable management I've ever seen - having released this case I don't understand how anybody could go back to other cases with their poor cable routing power. Phanteks has loads of velcro straps (swanky) for the purpose and even provides an additional two which were really handy because cable ties aren't.
**Time so far = 3 hours (+1 for cable managing)
-Optical drive and HUE went in next in the top two slots and between them took maybe 5 minutes at most to get them into the slot with screws in them. Note: the screws are the same for the ODD as for the motherboard and SSD's... could have done with more because I like to fill every hole with a screw wink ... but seriously, more would have been nice but I'm not worried about how well held in all of the listed are.
-Storage drives were pretty simple. Screwing them into the fairly rigid trays is so easy (seeing a pattern with this case?) and inserted them in a 1-3-5 pattern to allow the SATA cable to reach each one nicely. Connecting all of them up is easy; connecting them all up with sleek cable management was a little trickier. After some cursing, lots of case rotation I'd given all the drives power and data transfer. I did not connect HUE to its LEDs at this point.
-Cable managing this lot was another challenge and to be honest is the main reason for time consumption. I'm particularly susceptible because I have a lot of thoughts like: "hmm... what happens if I put you over... no that doesn't work put it back.." which saps time away.
**Time so far = 5.5 hours (+2.5 just went so fast)
-GPU and NIC. Easiest components ever. Thumbscrew out the expansion covers, push component in. Remember to open clips if necessary but otherwise a doddle. Power to the GPU is a little tricky and it doesn't cable manage that well imo because of where the GPU power ports are. -Booted into the BIOS again with everything working although I tried one of the side panels and some SATA cables were stopping it from closing adequately. Took some more time to cable manage these away nicely.
Time so far = 6.5 hours
At this point I could have stopped and called it a day happily but I wanted to get it to boot so that my remaining tasks were mostly software problems.
-Installed the two fans back in - the wrong way - had to adjust them later. Bit more cable tidying.
-Installed windows to an SSD - little stumped over the motherboard not detecting more than the ODD and HDD but as it turns out you need to enter a setting called Hard Drive BBS Priorities and there it' ll find the other drives even though to me they're not Hard Drives. As it so happens when you install an OS to an SSD the motherboard automatically sees it as a priority to boot from and you just have to rearrange the order for efficiency. I also modified the RAM frequency to 1866 MHz from 1333.
-Moved case to its use site, closed the panels.
Time on Build = 9.0 hours State: boots into windows, LED strip missing. All hardware installed but missing any software. Thoughts: The case is damn heavy when filled. Don't play on moving this around much. It is really well made though and it's so well thought. Doors come off really easily instead of wrestling them. Top fan panel comes out with push-clips, very elegant. HDD cages are removable if you wish via thumbscrew. Overall the case is a dream. Boot is epically fast. Once the ASUS BIOS-entering screen goes off which is delayed anyway, it takes between 4 and 8 seconds to boot to a login screen. My laptop took 1-2 minutes. This doesn't seem to have changed as I've added stuff to the drives and startup program list either. Well chuffed with it. If I want to test something quickly I can without waiting ages for power on/off. HUE is very well thought out and easy to use. The kraken is awesome in looks, ease of use and performance although my comment on the last of those is only really valid after prime95 testing. Everything else so far is as I expected.
23/06/15: -Woke up early as hell raring to go on this beast. Downloaded drivers for GPU and other stuff as well as letting windows update roam free.
-Installed a ton of utility programs including stress testing software and benchmarking stuff. Also installed a load of user stuff from ninite -a very useful website; and a ton of games because I wanted to see how they filled up drive space. Haven't touched any yet.
-Attached LED strip. Really easy to use, not 100% sure it will stay stuck. That + NZXT cooler LED and case means I can get decent looking builds in colours of red, blue, green and purple (so far).
-Navigating around Win8.1 and changing loads of settings + personalisation.
-CPU stress test to be setup overnight and possibly all of tomorrow using prime95.
24/06/15: -Stopped Prime95 after 20 hours of running (4 cores, 8 threads, torture test) with no errors. Thermally, the CPU had a temperature range between 50 and 80 degrees celsius. However, I noted the main spikes in temperature occurred within the first hour. After a few hours the temperature stabilised a lot more to a range of 55-70 with a modal temperature of 60-62 degrees across all cores. Temperatures were recorded via CoreTemp and NZXT's CAM software - which as a sidenote is awesome; it reports the temperature of the CPU, GPU, motherboard and drives as well as fan speeds, loads and RAM usage. Very handy. CAM also reported the fan rpm on performance mode between about 1200 and 1500. I cannot say how loud this is because it was and still is quieter than the other case fans. Overall I am happy with this performance.
-For GPU testing I ran a short set of Furmark tests but the results left me wondering whether my monitor may be hindering the GPU here. The test will run in 1920 x 1080 on a 1600 x 1050 monitor (oops) and seems fine. Adding 2 x MSAA causes minor 'stuttering' - for lack of a better word - it didn't break the effect of the test but if we are going by delivering perfect results it did not. I will investigate this further. After I ran a series of 1600 x 1080 tests and so far it runs fine up to 4 x MSAA. I will revisit these though. Thermally it never exceeded 71 degrees celsius and the fans were not particularly noisy. All tests were about 10-15 minutes bar the preloaded 1080p.
-GPU tests using 3D mark's Firestrike (1080p) were run for 2 hours (because I fell asleep) but had no signs of any artifacting at all. Score given as 10572. This is apparently better than 91% of results but unable to find a similar system to compare with as of yet. Temperatures of around 65 degrees for this. Cannot noticeably hear the fans. Did hear a small squeaky noise now and then which I think may be some coil whine but it was hardly noticeable and haven't heard it since.
-Currently playing games. Should be memtesting it but I will leave that 'til I have other things to do for 24 hours.
-Really tried to photo the LED's but as of yet all my picture-taking hardware just can't deal with them and pictures all look shabby which is a shame because it looks so nice in multiple colours. I have uploaded what I can.