It’s that time again. The time to buy the bits, bite the bullet and build a new PC. I’ve been building my own PCs for the last 10 years or so, and wouldn’t buy one off the shelf (laptops excepted, obviously). I like to have control over the specifications of the machine, know exactly what’s going into the system, and know how to fix it myself. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
My aim was to build a PC that would be fast, stable and quiet; would let me do my usual productivity stuff quickly and also allow me to go loose on a bit of good gaming occasionally. Having done my research, I plumped for the following components:
- Intel i5 2500k – This runs at a stock 3.30GHz, but the “k” denotes that the multiplier is unlocked so it can be overclocked to 4.5GHz fairly easily even on an air-cooled system.
- ASRock Extreme3 Gen3 Motherboard – Choosing the motherboard was tricky. I just wanted a good solid performer that would overclock easily, but there appear to have been no duff boards in the running this time around. When I built my Barton-based system in 2003, there was a really stand-out board in the form of the ABit NF7-S. There were no such standouts this time around, so I picked this board more on a hunch, really.
- Antec Kúhler H2O 920 – My first experiment with watercooling. This replaces the fan on the processor with a radiator and pump system. It’s a bit like a fridge. I wanted a nice quiet system that would handle the overclock I might subject it to, but I didn’t want to have to worry about the intricate maintenance you have to schedule in with self-built watercooling. The unit is pre-filled, so there’s only a tiny likelihood there’ll be a leak.
- 16GB Corsair Vengeance DDR-1600 RAM – 16GB is perhaps excessive, but when it’s cheap, why not? I was planning to run Windows7 64-bit, so I knew it would be addressable by the Operating System.
- Corsair TX650M 850W Power Supply – Again, a little bit of overkill on the PSU. However, I wanted a lot of headroom for future expansion, as well as the safety margin of not stressing out the PSU. I’ve had power supplies blow before and it’s not a lot of fun at all.
- Crucial RealSSD M4 128GB SSD Drive – Solid State drives, although relatively new, have reached that point in the innovation lifecycle where they’re becoming ubiquitous in high-end systems. They’re well supported by Windows 7 and have a couple of big advantages over standard hard drives. Firstly, they are super-fast with high seek- and transfer times – they make a perfect disk for the operating system. Secondly, if they do fail, they can still be read, unlike standard hard drives. This means your data won’t be lost, you’ll just have to get a new drive. The downside is that they are expensive for their size (about 12 times the cost, per GB of storage) – for that reason it makes a lot of sense to buy a second, standard drive for data:
- Seagate Barracuda 1TB Hard Drive – This monster is there to hold almost everything apart from the OS and what’s on my desktop.
- MSI ATI Radeon HD 6950 Twin FrozR III Power Edition 2048MB – Like a lot of computer gear, it’ makes sense to aim for the non leading-edge stuff where possible. For perhaps double the price of this card, I could have bought a card that would have given me approximately 10% more power. That isn’t sensible, let alone economical.
- Anidees AI6 Case – A brand-new design on the market. Lovely styling and excellent functional design: good airflow, good cable management, and enough space for my fat fingers to work in.
So, that’s most of the components. On with the build!
Here’s a view of the CPU socket (Socket 1155), ready for the PU to be installed. Lining it up is a little fiddly and actually installing it is rather scary. You hear all these stories about static from your body blowing the chip or even some people forcing the processor into place and bending the pins. The trick is to get the balance of delicacy and force just right: some force is needed to get the locking plate in place.
Here’s the CPU locking plate in place. At this point I have no idea if the damn thing will work. Oh well! Note, for point of reference in later shots, the memory slots on the right hand side of the CPU socket.
The next stage was installing the CPU cooler. Having installed air coolers before, this was going to be the main divergent point in this build. The cooler in question is the Antec Kúhler H2O 920. It was easily th hardest part of the whole installation process and took well over 30 mins to do. The instructions were appallingly written and had very little poor visual clues as to how to install the thing. Thankfully, I had this great video on YouTube to learn from, by Kevin Cozma. In the video, he pretty much scratches his head at the same things I was wondering about and it gave me confidence that I was fitting everything correctly. This confidence was essential given that at some stage I would have to use adhesive and wouldn’t be able to easily undo any mistakes. In the photo below, you can see the pump assembly (mounted over the CPU) with rubber hoses leading to a radiator and fans on the left hand side. The unit runs very quietly and cools brilliantly.
Here’s the finished build side on. To the left of the photo is the back of the case, to the right is the front of the case. The MSI graphics card in the middle of the chassis is a beast as you can see, and this reflects the emphasis on graphics nowadays. To the right of the card are two hard drives and below them the SSD. Look at how huge the radiator is on the left hand side of the picture (mounted into the back of the case)!
A lot of the cabling is tucked behind motherboard to encourage good airflow and make things look neat in the main compartment. The main issue for me was what to do with the unused cables from the Corsair Power Supply. For now, I’ve just bundled them at the bottom of the case. It looks a little messy, but it works. You can also see on this side of the case they’ve thoughtfully cut out the back of the motherboard panel so that you can access the back of the CPU. This was very useful when mounting the cooler bracket.
Here are the initial results from the build. I’ll be looking into overclocking the processor at some point to get its full potential, but happy to use my time elsewhere for now. I’m very close to perfect scores (7.9 is perfect) across the board on this system. If I get the inclination and time later, I’ll pull together other performance stats like 3DMark. The PC runs like a beast: it takes 18 seconds to power on and be ready to use Windows, and everything runs very snappily.