Intermittent Update: Computer Build Continued

Although I still haven’t had any MMO take my attention and imagination enough to write here regularly, I am still gaming. I’ve moved Guild Wars 2 into maintenance mode: occasionally I log in and run some sPvP matches, but I have not done much else. The upcoming changes with the expansion make many activities and efforts feel wasted.

I’ve been playing GTA V for PC. Matchmaking for jobs in GTA online is a bit annoying as it’s too transparent. It feels old school, with players able to quit for another job if it takes too long to find people to fill in . . . which leads, of course, to people quitting right before that 8th person joins, etc. But despite not really finding online interesting, I’m still enjoying story mode even after finishing the story: I’ve been having fun on occasion using the assassination missions to build money and buy properties while driving around and looking for stunt jumps.

I rebuilt my computer like I was discussing the last time I updated this blog. I picked out the Asus M5A97 R2.0 motherboard — it’s a value board for gamers, cutting maybe $40 off many gaming boards, going for around $80. Although it can handle Crossfire for multiple AMD graphics cards, it only has one PCI-E at full speed worth running a GPU on, so it might as well not handle Crossfire. And it can handle RAID, but I’m pretty sure it can only be a single set, with all SATA ports either all as RAID or not. I don’t plan to do either of those things soon, and by the time I change my mind, CPUs might change and I’ll be looking at motherboards again anyway.

For the processor, I went with the AMD FX-8320 for about $140 — I paid $136.50 on Amazon but I notice the same chip is now nearly $142. The next chip up, the FX-8350, didn’t have enough of a performance edge to justify the extra cost, and I was trying to cut as many costs as possible. The 8320 will easily overclock to a bit faster than the stock speed of the 8350. For the time being, I’m getting enough enjoyment from the noticeable performance boost of 8 cores at 3.5 GHz over my previous AMD processor that ran 3 cores at 2.8 GHz that I don’t plan to overclock until this fall.

After closing it up and powering on, I had a little bit of trouble with the system resetting seemingly at random, but I had tried to scrape by without replacing the power supply, and I’ve since learned they do not age well. I picked up a 750 watt PSU for $70.

I also, as I mentioned in the spring, replaced the intake fan. That led to noticing how quickly the case had accumulated dust since the last time I’d been inside. The only dust filters on the case had all been disposable junk — I’d had to throw them away a long time ago and have never replaced them.

My next plan had been to replace the budget video card I picked up to get my system working again when the original fried in the spring. But because of the dust, and because I already know what too much dust can do to the intake on a reference model card, I’ve decided I really need to replace the case first.  Cases with pre-built computers are all kind of crappy in my experience, it’s one of the ways they cut costs.

I did some research, looking for a bigger case, placing priorities on something that worked well with air cooling as well as looking for something “different” — different could have been anything from a handy drawer for flash drives to a fancy front panel or cool lights. I ended up picking out Silverstone Tek’s Raven 3 for around $150. The different in the Raven 3 is the 90 degree motherboard rotation that puts the I/O ports (where all the plugs go) at the top of the case instead of the back. As long as you’re using a reference design video card that intakes air and blows it out of the case (rather than the open cooled, after-market cards with multiple fans that push the heat into the case) the 90 degree turn gives a boost to GPU air cooling. Win-win.

Before I swap everything into a new case, I’m also planning to get a few more fans with purple LEDs (I like lights, but not too bright, so purple works well) and a fan controller to give me the option to shut down or slow down fans when I’m not gaming. I’m going to pick up a small solid state drive, and I’ll clone my current hard drive to that. I’ll probably end up throwing that hard drive out but getting one just like it with more space for media storage and extra space for games that do not fit on the SSD. HDD life expectancy isn’t much more than five years, and that drive is five years old — I’d have to replace it soon anyway. My DVD-RW drive has stopped reading or writing CDs, so I’ll replace that as well.

Approximate Costs for the Summer Rebuild:
Mobo: $80
CPU: $140
PSU: $70
8 gb RAM: $56
Fan: $12
Total: $358

Approximate Costs for the Fall Rebuild:
Case: $150 (totally could spend $50 less, but man that 90 deg turn is sexy)
8 gb RAM: $45 (same chip as before, for dual channel, but price has fallen)
Fans: $24
Fan Controller: $30
DVD-RW: $20
Samsung 250 GB SSD: $100 (come down to $90 recently, but not sure that is permanent)
WesternDigital 3 TB HDD: $95

Total: $444

In the spring, I’m going to put the cherry on top and get a video card that isn’t an emergency, value replacement. Probably Sapphire Technology’s reference model of the Radeon R9 290x, which is about $340 right now. That gives me a custom gaming rig for around $1142, which ain’t shabby.  I already owned Windows but that would have added about $100 to the cost. Looking it over, I could easily cut the cost of the case by $50, maybe even $100. And I could cut another $50 for the fans and the controller, $100 for the SSD.

I mention these cuts because in my research, I often noticed the $1000 price point tossed around as the line to stay under when suggesting parts for the ever elusive “Budget Build.” And these parts, assembled differently, can totally feed into a powerful budget build.  The case, the extra fans and their controller, and the SSD are all unnecessary. Budget builds are not going to run 4k gaming, but this build will probably run 1440p (ultra widescreen) on ultra settings and still be playable. Probably not 60 fps, but playable.

I’m having trouble finding a comparable pre-built machine with similar parts. Usually they have 2x 4GB RAM instead of 2x8GB RAM. Or they only have a 1 TB HDD and no SSD. I found one of those for about $1500. I found a used machine with the same amount of RAM and a 250gb SSD (but no other storage) for $1200.

Pretty pleased with the process. And building in stages and spreading out the costs has been rather convenient. Certainly more convenient than financing!

Another post, with pictures! in a few months for the next step.

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