I’ve recently reached my target sum for my big upgrade. After 8 years with the same PC, It was high time to get with the times and push my little piece of tech to the next level.
It required replacing (almost) everything inside the PC casing.. since my hardware included a LGA775 socket based motherboard, a old Intel Q6700 Quad Core CPU, and 8 Gigs of DDR2 RAM on top of an aging Radeon HD 5850 video card. My hardware could not take any more upgrades in a way that would improve its performance.
So, I went to see what the PC world had to offer, and it is plentiful!
I wanted something that would keep me busy for another 8 years, could take intense gaming, multi tasking, Photoshop and other computing and graphic intensive jobs without breaking a sweat.
After looking at several configurations, and deciding on my financial limitations (because if there were none, the sky is the limit, you know), I came up with the following set up:
The main board is the skeleton of any modern PC. In the past, when PCs first came to be, it also had all the other main parts such as working RAM and CPU soldered to it, with no modularity or possibility of upgrading. These days, the story is completely different, with PCs coming in many shapes and sizes and the hobbyist with technical tendencies can take his or her PC and build it up or down to their heart’s content. So, My choice for this very important part was between two formidable contenders: MSI X99A GAMING PRO CARBON and Asus ROG Strix X99 Gaming. Both are Intel x99 based motherboards, which means support for the latest and greatest LGA2011-v3 CPUs on offer. That means the CPUs with the highest number of cores, and the greatest performance. It also include server level Xeon CPUs. Both motherboards also are designated as “gaming” motherboards – targeted at gamers and includes features such as better quality LAN chips, LED lighting on-board and WiFi/Bluetooth functionality (on a desktop..) among others. What did I decide? after reading many reviews about both options, I decided to take the Asus ROG Strix X99 Gaming. Why? Because Asus boards are a bit more forgiving regarding which RAM you use. The performance level of both motherboards is high, and I would have been happy with either, but the RAM pickiness as well as a higher price tag of the MSI X99A GAMING PRO CARBON made my decision easier.
The Asus board fills all my check-boxes: USB 3.1 A/C ports, M2 /SATAExpress support, Up-to 128 GB RAM support, new Broadwell-E processor support, and more. It is a “refresh” motherboard, meaning it came out with the introduction of the new Broadwell-E processors. The x99 motherboards have been around for a few years already, and the manufacturers felt the need to get with times and so they came out with new (and sometimes improved) lines of boards to match the new CPU selection from Intel. My main concern was the support of the new processors, as I was already timing my purchase with the availability of these new monsters. I had to cap my selection as the higher the number of cores, the steeper the jump in price.
If the motherboard is the skeleton of a PC, the CPU must be considered as the heart. Actually, it is more of the brain of the operation. Or maybe both. It’s what dictates the speed, and gives computing ability to the PC. Without it, it’s just a bunch of components strung together with no use. The CPU is the one that translates the instructions of a programmer to machine code and operations. And I knew I have to choose well if I want it to last me for years to come. CPUs these days don’t come out as often as before (Moore’s Law does not hold as much power as it used to, due to physical limitations), but they still come out every few years. I wanted a CPU that will still hold its own in 5 years down the road. So I picked a brand new Intel Core i7-6850K 6-core monster. It may be just 2 more cores than my previous Rig’s CPU, but it is so much more powerful. The Lithography (how small the transistors are) is extremely smaller at 14 NM over the 65 NM of the old Q6700, and that means (about) 3.2 Billion transistors versus the 582 Million transistors of my old Q6700 CPU.. that’s about 6 times. The new i7-6850K CPU came out just 3 months ago, in May. So I had to wait and had plenty of time to build up my set up. The only advantage that the my old CPU has over the new one, is power consumption. Even with higher efficiency, powering 3.2 Billion transistors takes around 140 Watts of power, over the mere 95 Watts taken by the old Q6700.
This CPU should keep my PC ahead as much as the motherboard I chose. It’s not cheap, but it’s still not in the “over-1000-dollars” category and still offers full 40 PCI lanes support, which will allow me to upgrade to SLI/Crossfire set up if I choose to do so, with maximum possible performance. … sadly, I’ve read this CPU review just now, and it seems that I may have overspent a bit. Thing is, I’m not sure how much better it would have been to divert the difference to other parts of my system. And one should be happy with what he/she got in the end.
This is a less looked at part of PC building – at least for amateurs. But it is one of the most important parts there are. Cooling is a vital part of any PC Build, as without proper cooling, your system’s stability will be shot and you’ll be left with an expensive piece of hardware with little use. This time, I decided to make the switch from Air based cooling to water cooling. However.. Water cooling is not a cheap affair, starting from around 500$ and climbing up, I looked for a solution that won’t be so heavy on my wallet, but still provide me with similar advantages. So I chose a Hybrid cooler. What it means is: the water cooling is running in a closed circuit – from the CPU to a big fan cooled radiator, and back again and so on. As a closed circuit system, there is no issue with leaks, and no extra parts to worry about. My choice was ID-Cooling’s Frostflow 240L. It’s a massive unit with two 120 mm fans attached to its radiators and offers a very effective cooling solution for my needs. It’s also reasonably priced and shown good results in reviews I read. Setting it up was quite easy, and the only thing I did not account for – was the space needed in my case. But I still made it work.
My CPU is running at a chilly 42-43 degrees Celsius without load. That’s a great number, by the way.
RAM, or random access memory, is the part of the “brain” of the PC which keeps all the.. memory. Without it, no calculations can be made, and the CPU will be rendered useless. For the platform I selected, I could only use the latest (so far) DDR4 RAM. My choice was based on price and performance. I took two (2) sets of Crucial Ballistix Sport LT Red 16GB Kit which came at a very reasonable (total) price of 110$. Coming to a total of 32 GB of RAM. Why do I need so much RAM? I don’t. But the price of RAM is quite low, and this choice allows me to run some powerful virtual machines which may prove useful.
Also, taking 4 modules of RAM is the best way to utilize the Quad RAM configuration recommended on such motherboards – as in, get the highest data transfer rate available from these modules. The red heat spreaders are an added bonus, though they don’t make installation any easier.
These days, PC storage means many things. It used to be floppy diskettes in different sizes, before mechanical hard drives became cheap enough to manufacture and sell at a reasonable price. Back then, we ran DOS operating system from noisy floppy disk drives, and only switched to the “newly” minted Windows 3.1 when “big” (in Megabytes) hard drives became more of the norm. Now we count in Terabytes for mechanical Hard drives, although more expensive Solid state drives (SSD) are still measured in Gigabytes. For this build, I’ve purchased two additional drives to my (not so old) 2TB Black WD mechanical hard drive. The first one added is my system drive: Samsung EVO 850 500 GB SSD. With read/write speeds of around 500 MB/s, it’s a great choice of price and capacity for the Operating system drive. It means that boot times and system operations in general are very snappy, and will stay that way for a long time. The second drive I added was an affordable high capacity storage solution: Toshiba 5TB Hard Drive. So, it’s 500 GB SSD drive for the Operating System (Windows 10 64 Bit), 2 TB for Installing games, and another 5 TB for storage. Not a bad sum.
I seem to have enough storage for my needs.. but I found that storage is never really enough, and also that storage requires planning in terms of power consumption, heat issues and other unforeseen possible issues.
As the name implies, it’s the part responsible for the display of anything and everything that comes out of a PC. Without it and a monitor, you’re just staring at your new expensive box. It’s also responsible for 3d video performance, and for gaming, a good and fast video card is essential. So, I initially bought a Nvidia Geforce GTX 970 based video card, which turned out as a mistake as a few months later, the new Nvidia series 10 showed up, making my new purchase practically obsolete. So, I started shopping around for a GTX 1070 card, while trying to sell off my GTX 970 card.. the prices are still a bit high, but I was still within my budget.. so eventually, I ended up with the top dog of Nvidia desktop graphics these days – the GTX 1080!
This is (aside for the new super monster – Titan X) the heaviest hitter Nvidia got at the moment. With 8 GB of DDR5 RAM, and clock speeds exceeding 1700 MHz (for the GPU, the RAM goes up to 5000 MHz), it can take on basically anything and everything. I even tested it with a 8k video sample, and it chewed through it. It is meant for 4k gaming, and I don’t even own a 4k monitor (as yet..).
An often neglected part of the PC build. It is actually a very important piece of the puzzle, as lack of sufficient power can get a PC to its knees, especially with today’s demanding hardware (e.g. GTX 1080 GPU). So, at first I made do with my old and (so I thought) trusted 610 Watts PSU. But.. I’ve had it for 8 years or so, and found that my new motherboard was not really happy with it (Asus Anti Surge warnings). So.. at the advice of Asus support, I’ve gone and bought a new 750 Watts PSU. At first I was annoyed to find that my PC would not post with my new modular, smart PSU.. but it turned out that the 8 pin CPU power connector was not plugged in properly.
However, I found out that the most important power hungry part of my PC build – the monster GPU – was not monitored by this high-tech-ish power supply. To my query, Thermaltake support replied: “The data is actually provided by the VGA, if your VGA doesn’t have the function, it won’t show, we have the disclaimer on our website about this, you can find it in the FAQ” – “VGA” meaning my graphics card. Meaning the “smart” functions of this Power supply are pretty much crippled to begin with.. oh well.
PC rig build conclusion
So this is my PC Build. I hope it will serve me and keep running snappily for many years to come (or until I feel the need and have the cash to upgrade again).
Let me know what you think!