Saturday, July 13, 2013

New Computer

As you all may have guessed from the title, that glorious day in the life of a nerd has finally come and I find myself writing this on a brand new computer! This fact is made that much more satisfying because I didn’t order this computer from some manufacturer as a stock model, nor did I even customize an available computer, but rather I bought the parts and put this one together myself.

It’s been a dream of mine since my last year of high school (and I’ll not tell you how long ago that was, but suffice to say it’s been plenty long enough) to build my own custom computer and thanks to a rather large tax return and some left over money from cashing in my vacation at work I was finally able to achieve that dream. Now I’ll give you a tour of the new rig and what exactly I have in store for its future upgrades.

The Case
Apparently you can teach an old case new tricks
The most obvious feature is the case and unfortunately this is where I had to cheap out a bit. Thankfully I already had an excellent case that I had purchased for a previous computer that was large enough to accommodate the new system components for the time being. Naturally I intend to upgrade this later, but for now it will do nicely. The case sports front mounted USB 2.0 ports and front mounted audio inputs. It has two rear mounted fans as well as a side mounted fan (all 80 mm) on the window and has enough space behind the motherboard securing plate to tuck away cables to keep airflow patterns unobstructed. Naturally the case is made of aluminum to help dissipate ambient heat and it has space for 4 80mm fans for a front intake system, though given that I’m keeping the whole thing sealed save for the output fans and the front vents the negative pressure created makes these somewhat unnecessary.

The Motherboard
Knowing as I do that the motherboard is the backbone of a computer system I dropped the, at the time $300+ to get what I considered to be the best board offered with the greatest potential for forwards compatibility allowing me to upgrade, rather than replace the system to keep it competitive for several years at least. I went with the Asus ROG (Republic of Gamers) Crosshair V Formula board offering AMD chipsets, 3 PCI-E slots (for graphics cards), USB 3.0, Giga-bit Ethernet connection speeds, and most importantly an on board hardware raid controller. This board is not only incredibly fast and well built, but offers great options for expansion, upgrade, and of course overclocking that will more than pay for themselves over the lifetime of the rig.

The Processor
Knowing that when it comes to the processor there’s no real upgrade option, just overclocking or replacing I opted for something that was reasonably powerful, but not so expensive that it would prevent me from finishing the computer right away (other things did that, but we’ll look at that later). As such I went with the AMD FX 4170 which actually comes ready to be overclocked so the need to upgrade would be well in the future. You may have noticed that I have chosen AMD for this system instead of the more popular Intel solutions. That’s because AMD is better. Essentially the two companies accomplish the same thing using different processes with the main difference being that AMD’s method produces less heat than does Intel’s. Less heat means faster processing and thus I have been a fan of AMD since the K7 and I’ve never looked back. While it may not be the very best processor out of the box, 4.2 GHz is nothing to scoff at and the room for overclocking is there (not that it really needs it so far).

The Graphics Card(s)
Now we get to the best part. Keep in mind that I started building this computer about a year ago and at the time, one of the best graphics chipsets you could get was the AMD HD 7850 which I decided to get on an Asus board to maximize compatibility in my system, the theory being the fewer companies involved the less likely I was to encounter compatibility and driver issues that so often plague custom builds. So far that strategy has paid off quite nicely. The issue came with the first graphics card not working right out of the box. The screen displayed only intermittently and would otherwise just scroll up over and over, too fast and too blurry to accomplish anything with it. Unfortunately I couldn’t confirm that the issue was the graphics card until I could get another one to test the theory. One year and $200 later I finally managed it and low and behold it was in fact the graphics card, so now I have a working one and the old one will get sent back to Asus (as it’s under warranty) and I’ll get a second one to add to the system giving me for the first time in my life a dual graphics card computer and unparalleled performance. Initial tests are promising as Starmade now runs at close to 600 fps (where on the old laptop it was around 60) and I can run The Old Republic on highest settings without more than a minor hiccup in the graphics whereas the laptop needed to be heavily overclocked to barely run the game on lowest settings. The best part is that’s just one card.

The Memory
Wanting the best I went with Corsair as my memory company and currently have 16 GB installed. Later, when I have money to buy the second set of sticks for it I’ll upgrade this from the vengeance model to the high performance Dominator series for superior performance and overclocking potential.

Future Upgrades

Naturally I’d like to eventually add a third graphics card to the system, though I’ll likely hold off on that until the two I have start having trouble. As I mentioned already a memory upgrade is already planned as is a case upgrade. The current power supply is more than sufficient for all my power needs so It will remain for the time being, though given what I’m planning the new case will likely need room for two power supplies, just in case. Eventually the processor will need an upgrade, though better heat-sink solutions will come first allowing me to overclock the processor further. First up though is the solid state raid array using Corsair’s solid state hard drives and the on board raid controller to really truly maximize read/write performance all of which will be mirrored to a large external drive using more conventional recording technologies. Given some time and a good deal more money, you can expect to see some awesome upgrades to the new system in my N3rd C0rn3r.