Building a semi-powerhouse gaming PC station

Ok so its been well over 2 months since I’ve built my semi-powerhouse gaming station. Why would I do that some will ask, why not get a Mac? Good question.

The main PC of the house was having some issues: hard drive was grinding (always fun to hear), the system would sometimes boot up, sometimes not. In the end, the only way to start it was to reset the pins on the motherboard and I wasnt letting my kids and my wife try that! Lets also add that this system was 5 years old, an eternity in PC speak. Before moving to a new system I wanted to be sure the system was really failing. I proceeded to test the mobo and it failed some simple power tests. I tested the power supply as well and it failed miserably. So instead of simply giving this system an overhaul, I deemed it was time to get something new, something that would permit us to work (play) better.

The conundrum was in how to sell this idea to the better half. After many minutes of thoughts, I had it, I would pitch the replacement with the following arguments:

  1. The PC was simply not working and when it was working is was slow as molasses;
  2. It was time to increase the capability of the system in terms of memory, storage space, video display and overall performance. Overhauling the system to meet these would be just as costly if not more than buying a new system because finding parts that would fit the current case would have been difficult;
  3. My son had a game that he received last Xmas that he couldnt play in on the existing system because the video card just wasnt powerful enough;
  4. If the couch needs to be replaced, the PC needs to be replaced;
  5. I need a better performing system if I want to run dungeons and raids in World of Warcraft and not have any lag.

Armed with these four arguments (okay the last one I never pitched because I knew that this would have killed the deal) I presented my case. Since I am the tech expert in the house, the decision was to rely on the experts recommendations. Excellent, I had the approval to shop!

I had also done my homework. I debated getting a new Mac over getting a PC. Ultimately, when it was all said and done, I had to chose PC for three reasons:

  1. My household was not inclined in getting a Mac;
  2. All the kids games are for PC, not Mac, I would need to buy them again;
  3. The price difference was so high that I couldnt ignore it.

My plan was to order the parts I wanted for my system and build it myself. An unexpected but welcome trip to Toronto permitted me to discuss my selections with a colleague and it helped me save some money in shipping charges as I picked up all the parts at the Tigerdirect store in Markham. In the end, I ended up choosing parts that were not at the pinnacle of their categories but that was definitely in the top 5. Here is a quick rundown of the selected items (which cost me $1,600 taxes in):

  • Cooler Master HAF 912 Mid-tower Computer Case
  • Corsair Professional Series HX850Watt Power Supply
  • ASUS P8P67 Pro Rev 3 Intel P6 LGA1155 Motherboard
  • Intel Core i5-25ooK 3.3GHz unlocked LGA1155 CPU
  • 2 Corsair Vengeance 4GB PC12800 DDR3 1600MHz RAM
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1024MB GDDR5 PCB PCIe
  • OCZ Vertex 3, 120GB Sata 3 SSD
  • Secondary drive is 500GB Sata 2 HDD (already had this drive)
  • LG 24x DRDRW Sata
  • MS Windows 7 Pro 64 bit

 So, after one busy day at work, I was off to the TigerDirect store. I was like my kids at Toys R Us, giddy with excitement! I must say, the staff there is very friendly, useful and helped me insure I was getting the best bang for my bucks (they recommended getting the 120GB SSD instead of the 80GB SSD and with reason, the item was on sale and cost me only $20 more).

One item that was on my initial list and didnt get selected was a Blu Ray/DVD combo drive. I thought it might be a good idea but in the end, I just couldnt see myselft watching HD movies on a 21″ monitor. To me the HD experience is best viewed for monitors/screens/TV’s 36″ and up.

Upon my return home, I was thrilled to unpack the van and start building my system. I started unpacking and taking pictures of every item. I will spare you the build pictoral and just give you an overview of the build.

I first took out the case and removed the side covers. I must inform you that this is definitely a great case. It has lots of room, it comes with 2 nice quiet fans, its has phenomenal airflow, comes with its own mouting brackets for easier drive mounting and it also has the holes for a water cooling solution if I user wanted to install one.

I proceeded with putting in the power supply into the case. For those interested, this power supply is also very good, very easy to install and best of all, it is modular, which means you can select and connect only the power connections that you need. It also comes with a handy case for the excess cables that you might have.

Althought the documentation said to mount the CPU into the motherboard while it rested in the case, I put my CPU on the motherboard out of the system and then proceed to mount the fan and the whole mob unit into the case. The main benefits of the motherboards I selected are as follows: USB3, onboard Bluetooth, and Sata 3 connectivity.

Once this was placed in the unit, I moved on to mouting the SSD. This was surprisingly easy because the case had its own easy fit mounting brackets and storage location for 3.5 drives. I also installed the secondary drive and the DVD drive with the easy mount brackets.

The video card was next. Fits it easy and without issues. The dual fans on this baby keep it cool and quiet.

Time to connect it all together. case comes with all the required cables, I didnt have to get extras. This is an important factor in the case selection. I hate buying parts only to find out that i dont have this or that cable to connect it to (TV makers that dont ship HDMI cables take note).

When the physical portion of the build was done, it was time to put on the OS. Installing the OS on an SSD is faster than on legacy drives but because the media is loaded from DVD, it still takes time. Thankfully all the drivers installed without issue. I was ready to use the system 2 hours after the start of the build. This was exciting. As you may have guessed, the next application to be installed was an antivirus software followed closely by World of Warcraft.

I can tell you that the game, run on the same system from the hard drive, loads slower that on the SSD. How much slower? Check this out:

 Load time on 500 GB hard drive, 7200rpm: 52 seconds

Load time on 120 GB SSD: 14 seconds

The same ratio is true even when switching from zone to zone or for going into dungeons and raids. This was a major score for me. I quickly tweaked that information and I was able to sell the WIndows load up time to my wife. Simply amazing!

So, do I have any lessons learned from this experience? Absolutely! Buying a pre-made system does have some advantages in terms of driver and hardware compatibility testing. Thankfully, I had no issues with driver or hardware conflicts. It also insures that the CPU is well seated on the motherboard and with enough heat dissaption paste. Again, this was not an issue for me but it was for a friend of mine that purchased an almost identical system. Thankfully this is easily fixed but it can scare the newbies from even trying it.

The main benefit is that I can overclock the system if I so chose and dont have to worry about the system warranty as a whole, I can work with the warranty of the indivual parts. I also have way more room than in any case I have seen from the big vendors. The flexibility of the cables and racking make this so much better for expansion. None of the big buids give me extra cables in case I want to add hard drives and if I were to buy the drive from them, the cables still wouldnt be included.

On the flip side of the coin, I would advise potential builders of the issues with installing an SSD. Yes they are fast but users should not, ever, store commonly accessed/changed files on this drive as this technology still has a program (limitation) with erase cycle (you can’t reuse the space over and over and over, it can only be written/erased so many times before the assigned block becomes unusable, which is now upwards of 100,000 for most units but still). This means that the OS is fine there but any virtual memory, temporary internet caches, hibernation or other like temporary files should really be setup on another ‘old style’ spinning drive. You need to log on to every user and configure this for them in all the browsers you may have installed. I also had issues with the BIOS not always recognizing the SSD as the primary drive, it would sometimes look for the HDD as the primary.  The solution for this was to set the SSD as the primary and to not set any secondary of tertiary drives.

 

All in all, the process and the system have been a joy for my family and I… ok, mostly for me. I can tell you that the performance is much better for all the applications installed. I am also running World of Warcraft in full Ultra mode and have not seen any delay or frame rates below 60 fps. To me its the ultimate station and I am looking forward to running Diablo 3 (that I got for free) on  it soon.

As a note, I could still run Mac on it if I wanted to and bought the OS for it. Maybe I will…

Please share your experience or thought on building your own PC.

7 comments

  1. I think reason 5) should be re-written:

    5. I need a better performing system if I want to run dungeons and raids in World of Warcraft and not have any cylon’ing during DadCasts.

  2. The drawing are more pronounced that that for the female players in Wow… However thanks, I will submit it to Blizzard to see if they will approve it 😉

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