Over the course of 2 months, I have been working on a new PC build. While my 5 year old HP PC was working fine for SWTOR, it was starting to struggle with newer games such as Dragon Age Inquisition. I expected it would have trouble with Star Wars: Battlefront as well. Thus, I began my journey for my first custom built PC. I will split this journey by starting with the components.
I am a very frugal and deliberate person, so I was going to extensively research each new component before making my purchases. Researching began in July. The first decision to make was regarding the chipset and CPU. My old machine was running AMD, but I decided to go with Intel since its new Skylake chips were coming out very soon in August and were priced at roughly the same as the previous generation of chips. It didn’t make any sense to be running on an older generation CPU that cost the same as the next gen. However, the new unlocked (overclocking is permitted, denoted by the K) CPUs, i7 6700K and i5 6600K, were on a new chipset architecture that required new z170 motherboards and DDR4 RAM. Comparing to Intel’s Haswell i7 4790K / i5 4690K, they require z87/97 motherboards and DDR3 RAM, which are cheaper. The older motherboards would be running the older chipset, may have less features, and support the lower speed DDR3 RAM only. I decided to go with the new Skylake chips.
The next decision to make regarding the Skylake CPUs was i7 or i5. Core i7 6700K is a quad core processor with 4.0 GHz base frequency and 4.2 GHz turbo frequency (Turbo is like an easy OC speed to reach). Hyperthreading is enabled so the PC will see 8 cores instead of just 4. The i5 6600K is a quad core processor with 3.5 GHz base frequency and 3.9 GHz turbo frequency with no hyperthreading. Please refer to the Anandtech article for more extensive details of the differences. Pricing for i7 is approximately $360 while i5 is at $240. Both chips are analogous to the previous generation equivalents, so I researched which one would be good for gaming. Majority of the tech sites state that i5 is all you need for gaming. If you plan on doing any CPU intensive tasks such as video editing, streaming, or multi-tasking, the i7 will be better for you. I wanted a CPU that will allow me to do whatever I want easily, so I decided to go with the i7 6700K despite the price difference.
Buying the i7 6700K proved to be rather difficult. The i5 6600K was in stock at major retailers (Amazon, Newegg, Tigerdirect, etc.) at the beginning of August, but the i7 6700Ks could not be found in the US market, only overseas! I was not too worried since I was knocking out the rest of the components during August, but when I still had trouble finding the chips in September, I decided to start contacting retailers and Intel directly. Most retailers said they do get a few in-stock but they sell out quickly (always missed them while at work). Intel told me that the i7s will be easy to find at the end of September. I even asked Intel employees at PAX Prime about it, and they told me my best shot was to wait or try to win one (such a tease) at their booth (which didn’t happen of course). Both answers I didn’t like! Since I knew there were small quantities being sold, I placed an in-stock alert at NowInStock.com. On 9/8/2015, I was finally able to purchase the CPU from Newegg! Newegg only offered the purchase as a combo with a motherboard, so I grabbed two items with one order.
Since I made the big CPU decision already, only z170 motherboards would be compatible with my CPU. These motherboards have the latest chipset and DDR4 RAM capability as the big differences compared to older motherboards. The main motherboard manufacturers are MSI, Gigabyte, ASUS, and ASRock. I eliminated ASRock since I was not too familiar with their products or knew anyone that had used them.
With the motherboards, I found it much easier to prioritize features and make a listing on a spreadsheet so I can see in one spot all of the relevant information. Main features I was looking for were: 2-way SLI (need 2x PCI-E slots for video cards), USB 3.1 ports (Type A, conventional, and Type C, new connector type), USB 3.0 header for my case, USB 2.0 header for my cooler’s link software, at least 5 fan headers (3x chassis + 2x CPU), and at least 1 M2 (low profile SSD) slot. I managed to narrow down the options to 10 boards. From there, I started to look at both price and combos available at Newegg with the i7 6700K. I finally got down to 4 choices, ASUS Maximus VIII Ranger ($240), Gigabyte Gaming 7 ($220), MSI Gaming M5 ($180), and MSI Gaming M7 ($230). All met my needs, although I felt ASUS and Gigabyte were too expensive for software features that I would not used that much. The MSI M7 did not have much over the M5 besides a better I/O shield, software, and other cosmetic features. I talked to all of the manufacturers at PAX Prime and tried to win a free motherboard at MSI and Gigabyte booths, but no luck! When the i7 6700K was in stock, I jumped on the MSI z170 Gaming M5 motherboard + i7 6700K Newegg combo priced at $525 with shipping.
When the package arrived with the motherboard and CPU, the shipping box was badly damaged. I was a little worried about the state of the components. I tweeted to Newegg and they refunded me my $5 shipping cost. Also, there was an additional $20 off the motherboard at the time of the combo purchase. I wrote them to mention that the code was not applied at checkout. Instead of refunding me $20, Newegg gave me a $50 gift card! I put that card to use with my RAM purchase later! I saved an extra $55 thanks to Newegg customer service, so my effective cost was $470.
Going with Skylake also limited my memory options to DDR4. Corsair, GSKILL, Crucial, and Kingston are the main memory manufacturers out there. When choosing memory, you want to look at size and speed. Z170 motherboards only support dual channel memory, so buying a kit of 4 modules is not necessary. After watching various videos regarding PCs the past few weeks (Linus Tech Tips is amazing), you don’t really need more than 8 GB for gaming at this time. If you plan on multi-tasking, more is better, but going overboard just doesn’t make sense. In order to take advantage of dual channel and have some extra memory for other tasks, I decided that 16 GB in 2x 8 GB modules would be sufficient. If for some reason that isn’t enough, I can always upgrade later.
DDR4 memory is more expensive in general but the prices have been trending down with the introduction of Skylake making DDR4 more mainstream. As a side note, during my journey to build this PC, I utilized the Build a PC sales subreddit and PC Part Picker extensively. The subreddit is great for catching amazing deals. PC Part Picker is very useful in narrowing down component options and creating price alerts. Back to memory, PC Part Picker helped give me a listing of memory kits available. Next up was deciding on the speed. Legit Reviews had an interesting article on this exact topic. They tested various memory speed modules and compared the cost per performance using GSKILL modules. They found the sweet spot to be 2666 MHz. Now, I was looking for 2x module 16 GB kits at 2666 MHz or higher. In terms of cost, Kingston was eliminated, and I couldn’t find Crucial kits that met my requirements. I was down to Corsair and GSKILL. The Corsair 3000 MHz modules were discounted by 10% at Newegg while the GSKILL were not. The 2666 MHz and 2800 MHz modules were not discounted, which I thought odd. At the time, my last component to buy was the memory, and with my motherboard and CPU on the way, I didn’t want to wait for a better deal. I pulled the trigger on the Corsair memory despite the negative reviews. Turns out, the reviews may not be valid and were user error or motherboard issues. I was able to apply my $50 gift card to this purchase too. The memory cost me $135 before gift card. It looks great and matches well with my motherboard.
I am somewhat going out of order with how I purchased my items. My video card was purchased before the rest of the items here. It is not dependent on the chipset architecture, so I was able to purchase it when it came on sale for a good price. With any video card, you usually decide between AMD or NVIDIA first. I previously ran with an ATI (now AMD) Sapphire Radeon HD 5770. No real problems with the card, so I had nothing against AMD. I talked to a few people within my guild, who almost exclusively had NVIDIA. I also asked around on twitter (thanks to @2ndsith for answering my various questions / providing feedback!). I was not planning on buying a very expensive card, like a 980. Lot of my research brought me back to the 970, a solid card, not too expensive, but it had a VRAM issue. The VRAM issue was explained fairly well by JayzTwoCents and NCIX Tech Tips (Linus). Without going into details, instead of 4 GB, you will get 3.5 GB at normal speeds and 0.5 GB at lower speeds. Most games do not use more than 3.5 GB of VRAM, so it is not really a big issue. When the Build a PC sales subreddit notified me of the EVGA GTX 970 FTW+ (their top end card according to this chart) was at $320 on Newegg, I jumped on it. A $20 mail-in-rebate was included with that price, so there was a little hassle doing that, but overall, I thought the price was great. I verified that this price was a new low for it too! I looked at other video card manufactuers (ASUS and MSI), but I decided to go ahead with EVGA. Good customer service and high quality products.
With the card, I also got Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain game code for free. I am not really into Metal Gear and thought I could flip the code for some money. I went to the Game Sale subreddit and was able to sell the code for $35 using Paypal. I was a little apprehensive about it, but the buyer immediately sent the money over after I showed proof of the purchase. Then, I emailed the code to him directly, and he had no issues redeeming.
I am tentatively planning on getting another GTX 970 for SLI in the future. There’s really no rush since this card will knock out SWTOR, Dragon Age Inquisition, or anything else I throw at it for the time being.
Going back in time again, before grabbing my video card, I purchased my power supply. The only real requirements for my power supply were modular (cables are separately attached, much cleaner and easier to work with), at least 750W for future SLI, and decent warranty. My guildmate Boernich helped guide me when it came to what I needed for SLI as well. I used JonnyGURU.com for really solid power supply reviews. They know what types of electrical components are good quality, do a wide range of tests on PSUs, and give a nice concise summary. Also, Tom’s Hardware forums have an amazing PSU Tier List that gives you a general sense of which brands are reliable. EVGA and Corsair were some of the best brands out there. When Newegg had an EVGA PSU sale, I decided I would buy one of them. Corsair’s tended to be priced higher, although, now their prices are much more competitive. In order to have a little more headroom in terms of future overclocking, I decided to go with an 850W PSU. EVGA has multiple power supply brand series and at different 80+ ratings / efficiency. My goal was an 850W PSU with Gold or Platinum ratings. I went with the EVGA SuperNOVA P2 850W PSU from Newegg. It has an amazing 10 year warranty too!
Pricing was a little strange, had to jump through a lot of hoops on this one. Base price at purchase was $180. With promo code and shipping, it would cost me $150 before the $20 mail-in-rebate. The item’s base price dropped $20 a few days after I purchased it. Newegg refunded me the difference. I also told them that the rebate increased to $30 from $20. They issued a $10 gift card for that difference. In the end, including refund, gift card, and rebate, the PSU cost me $100!
A few other notes regarding this PSU. JonnyGuru now has the review up for it! 9.7 out of 10, with marks off for value (for me, doesn’t apply!). This PSU came with a 24 pin tester, so I was able to test the PSU immediately. This was a nice touch, especially since the PSU arrived mid August, and I wasn’t even close to gathering up the remaining components. It has no monitoring software like Corsair’s HX 850i but not a deal breaker for me. The EVGA PSU has an ECO mode which reduces fan use when under low load.
Roughly around the same time I grabbed my PSU, I ordered my case off Amazon. When looking for a case, I wanted a black mid tower (more room for components and wiring), side window (looks cool), lots of cooling options (fan + radiator mounts), USB 3.0 in the front, and finally a case that is easy for building. There are so many options out there for cases, but I stuck with researching the more popular ones: Corsair, NZXT, and Cooler Master. I had price alerts set for several cases from all of these brands. Eventually, one popped up on Build a PC sales subreddit that was at an astounding price, the Corsair C70 Vengeance case. The base price for Amazon was usually hovering around $140. The discounted price was $90! That was the lowest price for that case according to PC Parts Picker. It has amazing reviews, meets all of my requirements, really cool carrying handles, all metal front side, side panel clasps (no need for screws), dust filters on front and bottom, and easy cable management brackets on the back for routing. On top of that, I had Amazon gift cards that I needed to burn, so this case was basically free in the end, but $90 for that case is a steal in my opinion. The down sides cosmetically were the fan mounts on the side panel window.
The CPU cooler came later in my purchase order. With the CPU cooler, I had to choose between a standard fan + heatsink or all-in-one liquid cooler. My case supports a radiator mount at the top so I had no limitations from the case. I have not touched liquid cooling before, so my curiosity along with the proven performance of liquid coolers made me go with a liquid CPU cooler. There are certain fan + heatsink coolers out there that can keep up with liquid coolers (and are much cheaper) but you would normally need to replace the stock fans and look sort of ugly. Corsair is the most popular brand for all-in-on coolers, and I decided to stick with them again. I wanted to buy a 240mm cooler for the proven performance over the single 120mm coolers. The older H100i or the newer H100i GTX were my two options. The performance was roughly the same, so I went ahead with the older and cheaper model. I grabbed the Corsair H100i for $90 off Amazon. Not heavily discounted but it is about $15 to $20 lower than standard pricing. I was able to use my Amazon gift card balance for this item too. These models are harder to find, and I believe the discounts I noted at the time were meant to sell off the remaining stock and focus on the new model. The cooler comes with 2x SP120 mm fans. No need to replace them. Through a USB 2.0 header, you can get real-time data from the cooler and control it via the Corsair Link software (and change the LED lighting!).
For the chassis fans, I wanted to add a little flavor to this build and get LED fans. The 3x stock case fans are fairly normal, and I was willing to replace them. The Corsair LED fans were a little expensive at 2x fans for $20, but they were reliable according to reviews and had a great lighting pattern so I went ahead with them. I wasn’t really sure on what colors to go with. My motherboard was already purchased, which has a red and black theme to it. I decided to put up a poll on my twitter account! Red was the winner, so I bought two twin packs of Corsair AF120 (AF = good for areas without obstructions) and SP120 (good for areas with obstructions) from Newegg. Bought both for $21, but AF120 had a price drop on Amazon of $3 and with Newegg’s Iron Egg Guarantee (Price guarantee), I got a gift card for the difference. Minor price change, but I noticed it so I went ahead and got the price difference back, although it is in gift card form.
Since I was planning on having a total of 5 chassis fans (the above mentioned plus one of the stock ones for the back), I had to buy splitters because my motherboard only has 3x chassis fan connections. Turns out I didn’t need one of them due to an unexpected complication that I will talk about in the next post in this series. Either way, I bought Silverstone 4 pin fan splitters for $4 each. My chassis fans were only 3 pins, so I could have gone with a cheaper option, but the rest were ugly (no black sleeves)! 3 pin fans are controlled using voltage while 4 pin fans (PWM fans) are controlled using power modulation (using signal bursts to control speed). PWM fans are in general more expensive and most motherboards can easily “tune” 3 pin fans and generate a curve for RPM vs temperature.
For optical drive, I went with the highly reviewed ASUS 24X DVD Burner 24B1ST from Newegg for $15. These are so cheap, and can be rather useful if you need to burn a disc or to load software / drivers.
For my SSD and hard drive, I decided to reuse my old computer’s drives, a Samsung 850 EVO, 256 GB SDD, and a Seagate 750 GB hard drive (came with HP computer). I bought my SSD a few months ago for $100 off Amazon. SSD prices have started to drop a lot this year, and now you can get this SSD for $80 if you grab a good deal. I am hoping to buy a 500 GB Samung 850 EVO SSD for $150 or below eventually, but for now, no immediate need. Another good reason for reusing my old drives is no need to reinstall Windows and all other programs. Turns out this drive swap idea wasn’t as smooth as I envisioned, but I will go into detail in my next blog post.
For my peripherals, I did not buy any new ones for this build. I am using a Logitech G600 MMO gaming mouse (only 2 months old, but works well, grabbed it for $35). The keyboard is a standard HP one that came with my old computer. I am thinking of grabbing a Corsair Vengeance K70 keyboard. My headset is rather new as well, Sentey Symph, and cost $30 on Amazon.
For my monitor, I will need to upgrade it, but I am willing to wait for a good deal. My monitor is a standard 20″ HP 2010i, with max resolution of 1600×900 at 60 Hz, that came with my old computer. I am thinking of grabbing a 2560 x 1440 (2K) monitor, perhaps with G-SYNC capability. G-SYNC monitors are so expensive still. I am rather receptive to monitor suggestions!
Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of what I bought for the new computer, when I bought it, and how much it cost (including rebates, refunds, etc.). I will include the Amazon purchases, although, I was able to use gift cards to get those for “free”.
New PC Build:
- CPU & Motherboard Combo: Intel Core i7 6700K + MSI z170 Gaming M5 Motherboard
- Purchased: 9/8/2015
- Cost: $470 (includes refund and gift card)
- Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16 GB 3000 MHz
- Purchased: 9/12/2015
- Cost: $135
- Video Card: EVGA GTX 970 FTW+
- Purchased: 8/18/2015
- Cost: $285 (with rebate and game code sale)
- Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA P2 850W
- Purchased: 8/12/2015
- Cost: $100 (with rebate and price refunds)
- Case: Corsair C70 Vengeance
- Purchased: 8/13/2015
- Cost: $90 (used Amazon gift card)
- CPU Cooler: Corsair H100i
- Purchased: 9/5/2015
- Cost: $90 (used Amazon gift card)
- Fans: 2x Corsair AF120 Red LED + 2x Corsair SP120 Red LED fans
- Purchased: 9/12/2015
- Cost: $39 (with price match refund)
- Fan Splitters: 2x Silverstone 4 pin fan splitters
- Purchased: 9/12/2015
- Cost: $8
- Optical Drive: ASUS 24X DVD burner
- Purchased: 9/8/2015
- Cost: $15
This first build article turned out to be quite long! I was thinking my build story would all fit into one post, but dividing it up seems to make the most sense. Next up will be the build itself and the minor troubles I ran into along the way.