I got a really nice Christmas present in the form of permission to build my new PC. I’ve been needing one for a while. My old Athlon 2.41Ghz with 2gigs RAM, just wasn’t doing well at all. There were some major issues with overheating, dust, system performance, etc.
Let me add that the OS/software was not the problem with the system performance. My OS install was less than 4 months old (after a HDD failure). Let’s just say that I was quite happy to have backups.
On to the build.I knew I wanted a top-of-the-line CPU and an SSD, but those aren’t the parts I spent the most time agonizing over. Nope, that was the case. I knew that I needed lots of cooling and not liquid cooled. I also knew that I needed air intake filters. So after some searching, I found the Corsair Carbide 500R… in white.
You can see part of my old case for comparison. It’s larger, but much sleeker. Case technology has improved dramatically in the 12 years since I bought the case you see in the background. The 500R comes with 3 120mm fans and a monster 200mm fan on the side. Plus you get the cool panel features (USB 3.0, firewire, audio, fan controls, LED controls, etc). Right under the system panel are 4 bays for optical drives, and right below that are two of the fans… with white LEDs. Very cool.
A really nice feature and not mentioned that much is that all of the components (except for the mb) are installed on rubber grommets. This includes the system fans. It is QUIET!
The rest of the parts arrive.
Here are the rest of the parts:
- Gigabyte Nvidia GeForce GT440 – I don’t game on the PC, so I didn’t need much.
- Crucial 64G SSD – I ran some calcs and this was plenty for a system and software drive.
- TP-Link wireless N USB adapter – my old internal adapter was giving me fits.
- i7 quad core 2600k 3.4 – I splurged. It’s easy to upgrade drives and memory and video… CPUs, not quite as easy.
- Arctic CPU cooler – in case I want to overclock a bit.
- G. Skill 8 gig DDR3 Ram
- Corsair 650W PSU – A surprisingly poor choice, but not why you might think.
- Gigabyte Z68-based mainboard
- Samsung Lightscribe DVD burner
I spent about an hour reviewing the manuals, install guides, and making my plans. I had been reading up on SSDs and decided that it was best to install everything, get Win7 going and then add the terabyte data drive. That way, I avoid any potential conflicts since the TB had a Win7 installation on it already.
I went with a modular PSU, just for neatness… even though it didn’t really matter. Now, I figured that there would be any trouble getting the PSU into the case. There wasn’t, as long as the fan was pulling from the internal case air. This has two issues for me. The first is that the internal case air is already warm and I would have preferred the PSU be separate from the case. The second is that the intake below the PSU (the screen at the bottom left of the case) has a filter on it.
Unfortunately, while the Corsair PSU in the Corsair case fit perfectly upside-down, it would not fit right-side up. So I installed it differently than I would have preferred. Ah well.
Installing the CPU on the mainboard was simplicity itself. Lift the lever, remove the cover, drop the chip in, move the level down and lock. The new chips don’t even have pins you have to get into all the holes. The i7 quad is a smaller chip than the Athlon in my old machine.
The cooler however, was a different story. First, the thermal paste come preinstalled. Nice because it’s even. Not nice because it is no way protected and will stick to fingers very easily. I made sure the CPU fan was pointed towards the vents at the top. I love DDR memory for its ease of installation. I remember installing 64k chips… not nearly as pleasant. The G. Skills are touch, that red bit is a solid aluminum housing around the memory board.
Add the copper mainboard spacers to the case and we’re ready to put it in.
Pretty nice huh? In this picture, the DVD burner is already installed. Pop the front cover off (which has foam for insulation and filtering), slide the drive in until it clicks and done. I put in one screw because I’m just like that.
All the cables run through those rubber-covered holes and into the back of the case. The hard drives slide in left to right, with all the connections in the cable space as well. Even the hard drives are held in place with rubber grommets instead of screws. Did I mention how quite it is?
The cable management isn’t as pretty as I would like. The 4-pin power connector wasn’t long enough to reach from the power supply to the upper left corner through the cable run in the back, so it has to loop around the memory modules. The other cables aren’t pretty, but it’s a lot nicer than early PC builds.
You can see the white fans in the front of the case (right on the picture). These draw outside air through a filter into the case. The air splits with some heading past the CPU heatsink and going up (passively) or out the back (system fan). The rest hits the heatsink on the video card and is pushed down into the power supply. There is also the side mounted 200mm fan that acts as exhaust as well.
When it was all assembled, there’s that terrifying moment just before you hit the power button that first time. This is almost a thousand dollars worth of parts and about 3 hours spent in assembly. But it booted perfectly straight away.
Windows install went very well. It boots from off to the windows desktop in less than 45 seconds and that includes a password.
After win7 was installed. I shutdown, installed the TB drive, and formatted it. Then I moved everything to the new data drive… well… all the user folders. That wasn’t too difficult a process. I also shutdown the hibernation system and restricted the page file to about 1 gig.
I pulled my backups from the external drive and spent the rest of the day cleaning house and reinstalling software. In less than 5 hours of actual work time, I had totally converted to the new machine. It really helps to save all the downloaded software you use (like firefox, adobe installers, silverlight, etc.) and forgo the redownload time.
Let’s talk about the performance of the new system. My WEI went from 4.8 to 6.8. The graphics card killed me because the CPU is 7.6 (out of 7.9 total), RAM is 7.8 and the primary drive is 7.9.
The mainboard has a windows utility that allows for one click overclocking. I may try it someday, but hyperthreading and Intel boosting to 3.8 is fine for now.
I use Boinc and I just used their CPU benchmarks (since it fully supports multi-core and hyper-threading).
Old system: 1 CPU at 2.41 Ghz. 2360 Floating MIPS; 4258 Integer MIPS
New System: 4 cores each at 3.4 (with hyperthreading, Boinc reports 8 CPUs). Each CPU is 3332 Floating MIPS and 9444 Integer MIPS.
That’s roughly a 12 times increase in floating point ops and a 16 times increase in integer ops. One of the processes I run is climateprediction.net. A simulation run on the old machine was taking 128 hours. On the new machine… on a single CPU (of the 8 listed), a simulation takes 56 hours. I can, of course, run up to 8 simulations at a time.
I keep the CPU load down from 100% to 75%. Just because.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading about this build. It was fun, if a little intense (only because I was also cleaning for a New Year’s Eve party at the same time.
Happy New Year.