My New Home Desktop Computer
Just built myself a new Windows 7 based Computer and I couldn’t be happier.
Up until now I have been maintaining an old Pentium 4 2.4Mhz machine I bought around 11 years ago (when the Pentium 4 was the latest and greatest). I have boasted for years to friends that my Pentium 4, with just 1 GB of DDR 400 RAM running Windows 7 32 bit could outperform most modern Dual Core/i3 machines simply by following a few simple rules. I only installed what I really needed and kept the machine and fans clean of dust and Windows clean of viruses and spyware.
OK, so I’ll admit that I have changed the hard disk three times, the motherboard once, the screen card twice and the power supply once but like the Ship of Theseus, it has remained in continuous service within the same metal box throughout its life.
However, two weeks ago the motherboard gave out causing a Blue Screen of Death from which even I could not recover from. The screen card was on its way out as well and this really gave me the ammunition I needed to convince my dear wife that the time had come to purchase a new machine. Apart from this, using the super powerful desktop workstation at work (the HP Z800) had made me spoilt and frustrated with the sluggishness from my PC at home.
I knew more or less what I wanted. First the case: I had been very impressed with the beautifully designed Antec Three Hundred Tower case which a friend had bought. Features include a bottom mounting power supply for cooler running, clever ventilation system, washable fan filters and really good looks. The USB and audio sockets were just where I wanted them as well so this was an obvious and easy choice to make.
Likewise the CPU was a no brainer. It had to be a second generation Intel i7 2600 3.4 GHz 8MB L3 1155 chip for the best permanence/price ratio. The rest of the setup would need a bit of thought.
The Motherboad and Memory
After a lot of Googling and review reading I decided upon the Gigabyte Z68X-UD4-B3 motherboard as it offered me the best features for my money and plenty of room for future upgrades. The board supports professional cooling copper pipes, DDR3 RAM up to 2,333 Mhz, two PC Express Screen card sockets, 4 USB 3.0 sockets, SATA 6 and intelligent BIOS configuration accessible from within Windows.
I decided not to splash out on expensive RAM so settled on 2 sticks of budget priced G.Skill 4 GB DDR3 1333Mhz running in dual channel giving me a total of 8 GB.
The Power Supply (PSU)
Next decision was the Power Supply. At least 500W (real) from a descent company was essential. Installing a generic Chinese made power supply only to have it burn out on you in a year or two and taking your expensive motherboard and screen card along with it is a false economy. Moreover, few people realize just how important a quality power supply is to overall machine speed. My short list was an Antec 520W or the Chieftec 550 W APS-550S 80+. I thought of the Antec because I surmised that designing such excellent cases, they also knew a thing or two about the right power supply that goes in them. It was also cheaper than the American Chieftec. However the shop salesman persuaded me that the Chieftec was the better choice for performance and quality.
The Hard disks
I was going to transfer my 2 TB WD hard disk which contains all my data into the new setup but the biggest question was where to install Windows 7? The cheapest option would have been to create a partition on my existing drive and use that. However for many reasons this would have been a silly decision.
The real choice was between a high speed SATA 6 traditional mechanical hard disk or a new technology SSD (solid state memory) drive. In for a penny, in for pound, if it was speed I was after then the choice has to be an SSD drive. The 80/120/160 GB SSD drives cost a fortune and frankly they are waste of money as only Windows and your main applications need to be installed on the System drive. All your actual data such as documents, databases, music, films, photos etc., go on your data disk. This means that a 60 GB SSD is more than sufficient for your needs as Windows 7 takes up no more than 15 GB leaving tons of room for all your applications. Hopefully, investing in an SSD drive would give me superfast Windows startup times and almost instance opening and closing of Windows. That was the theory anyway.
I decided after much Googling and comparing to go for the G.Skill Phonix Pro Series 60 GB SSD Sata II for best performance/price ratio.
The CPU Cooler
Before I went to the shop I really did not give the CPU cooler much thought. I would have been happy had they given me a standard Intel or even a good quality generic one. However they suggested a beefier cooler in order to allow the CPU to perform at its maximum. In particular they suggested the Scythe Mugen II Rev B cooler. Now, I’d admit that If I were installing the CPU cooler myself then I would not have chosen this particular model as it needs nerves of steel and a very steady hand to install. The cooler has to be mounted and screwed into place underneath the motherboard before the motherboard is mounted inside the case. Not for the faint hearted. I was glad that the shop offered to do it for me or else I would have chosen a cooler with a standard installation method. Having followed their advice and gone for this monster of a cooler, results are actually far superior to a regular Intel style cooler and I must admit that the cooler looks, well really cool!
The Screen Card
Lastly I had to decide on a PC Express Screen Card. I don’t play any heavy games but would like a screen card that can play HD quality films as well as cope with loads of windows on the screen. I also wanted the option to run two Monitors at once at some future point. This means a more or less budget, basic features video chip card with two DVI outputs and a lot of dedicated memory.
Another thing, I am fed up with having to clean the little Screen Card fans every few months. You have to remove the card, dismantle the fan mounts and give the fan a good dusting as well as applying some WD40 for smooth running. Failure to do this will result in the fan eventually getting clogged up with dust and stopping, causing the card to overheat and the computer to crash. Not a good idea. Being that I have decided on one of the coolest cases on the market, I opted for a fan-less “Silent” screen card model. As the name would suggest, these cards have no fan but usually massive heat sinks stuck on them which might be a problem if you choose a smallish case. There aren’t actually many of these types of models to choose from so I eventually, with the shop’s help, picked the Asus Silent nVidea GT520 with a massive 1 GB of DDR3 RAM.
I included Samsung OEM Sata x22 DVD writer whose black fascia nicely matched the Antec case and we were all done!
So the setup is as follows:
- Antec Three Hundred Tower Case.
- Chieftec 550W PSU 14cm fan 24 pin Active PFC APS-550S Power Supply
- Intel i7 2600 3.4Ghz 8MB L3 cache s155 CPU
- Scythe Mugen II Rev.b 5 CPU Cooler
- Gigabyte GA-Z86X-UD4-B3 motherboard
- G.Skill 4 GB FFR3 1333Mhz X 2 memory sticks
- G.Skill 60 GB Phoenix Pro Series SSD Sata II drive
- Asus GT520 1GB DDR3 DX11 DVI PCI-E video screen card.
- Samsung SH-S223B DVD writer
To this, I will add my 2 TB WD Green Sata II Hard Disk, my Microsoft 3000 wireless keyboard and mouse set and Chimei CMV 22 inch DVI monitor with Sonic Audio speakers.
Usually it takes around 3 to 6 hours to get a new computer up and running with Windows, Updates, drivers, Antivirus, Office and other bits and pieces. On this setup it took an amazing 20 minutes to install Windows 7 and all drivers. I had finished everything within an hour and a half and I wasn't particulay trying to rush. I was left scratcing my head asking myself "Is that it?" Without doubt the fasted installation I’ve ever done.
Boot up from cold to Desktop ready with all startup applications fully loaded takes around 22 seconds. Word 2010 and IE9 open instantly. I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
One scare so far. I had my Samsung Galaxy S phone charging off of the front USB when I did a restart to complete a Windows Update. Upon restarting I received to my horror, a Blue Screen of Death. Without panicking I sat and thought for a few seconds looking at the machine. I unplugged the phone from the USB and tried booting again. The Computer came up clean. The event log showed removable Disk storage device errors. Hmm…sounds like a driver issue to me.
The only upgrades I feel might be worthwhile is to buy another SSD when prices come down and run the two in Raid 0 mode for even faster access speeds. The other upgrade worth doing is to buy another identical WD 2 TB had disk and run the two in RAID 1 (mirroring) to make sure I never lose any data.
I won't mention the shop I bought the setup from as I'm not 100% happy with them. The shop is part of a large chain and is considered to have the cheapest prices around for good quality items. There are other cheaper places but they sell you substandard good.
On average it should take, if all components are in stock, around 3 days to complete an order like this. It took them almost two weeks! When I asked why they told me that August was very busy and one of their staff members was on Miluim.
The salesman was knowledgeable and helpful but the guy that actually dealt with processing the order was rude and obnoxious. He told me that he’d phone me when the order was ready. I gave him my phone number and asked him to read it back to check that he’d written it down correctly. He refused and walked away to deal with another customer. After a week I tried phoning the shop the whole day but no one answered. I went round there to check what was going on. They told me that it would be ready in another two days. I asked him again to check the phone number. He read it out and I told him that it was totally wrong. Not even close. I told him my number again and he appeared to write it down and then walked away without another word. Not having heard from them after 4 days I went round again. The guy told me that it had been ready since yesterday. He’d tried phoning four times but received no answer. I asked him which number he’d used and he read out another number which bore absolutely no relation to mine. It wasn’t even the same phone company! I started to complain and he cut me short and told me not to make a fuss. After all, I was here now and the computer was ready. What more do I want? Then, you guessed it, he simply walked away again.
One more point. I would have loved to have shown you a photo of the inside of my new computer but the shop placed stickers on the side panels and told me that if I broke the seals then I'd void my warrenty. This position seems totally unacceptable to me. In any case (excuse the pun) I've got to open it up in a few months anyway to clean the washable fan filters....