I have a tradition of giving my desktop machines diminutive names, the idea being that, though it may be powerful at the time it was built, it will soon be eclipsed by new things to the point that you'll wonder how you ever got anything done on it at all. My first PC was named
dinky; it's successor was named
trivium, based on the mistaken notion it was the singular form of the word 'trivia'.
And now has been built:
exiguous. (Look it up.)
I started serious planning on this build back in November 2014, about ten days before Thanksgiving. Pro Tip: Never do this. All the prices are on a downward trend during the run-up to Black Friday, after which they all start creeping back up. So unless you have the cash on hand to actually buy during Black Friday weekend, you will get a completely skewed notion of what the final cost will be.
The principal selection criteria were:
- Lots of cores to crunch through video.
- Powerful graphics for games.
- System longevity, implying: -- Quality components. -- Component standards with a long future.
That last criterion pretty much pushed me toward DDR4. Despite it's higher (current) cost, it's clearly where the industry is heading, and DDR3 will eventually become scarce. Once you've selected DDR4, picking the rest of the parts becomes easy, because it's very new tech, and there's fewer to pick from.
The CPU was easy-ish: Hex-core with Thread-Hype, which meant an Intel i7. (No disrespect to the AMD crowd. Indeed,
trivium was built around an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+, and served me very well for eight years.) I briefly considered a Xeon for the larger caches and greater number of PCIe lanes, but couldn't reconcile the ultimately higher price against the lower clock rates.
The GPU was also easy-ish: As much NVIDIA as about $300 would buy. (Again, no disrespect to the AMD crowd, but I've been an NVIDIA follower since the RIVA TNT.) The GTX-970 was a bit more than that, but I'm not prepared to complain about it.
For the motherboard, I almost selected a Gigabyte GA-X99-UD4, but reviews suggested they were having trouble getting the BIOS right, so I switched to the Asus, which was more consistently rated well.
Weirdly, selecting the case turned out to be fraught with drama, as it seemed every case I decided I liked shot up in price and/or disappeared entirely. I ended up buying the Corsair 730T because it was basically half-off at NewEgg.
This is the first time I've used a case with "cable management" features, and any ugliness you perceive is due to my lack of experience there. However, the build was almost entirely uneventful; everything went together exactly the way it was supposed to, and I was not lacking for space.
And yes, I used an anti-static wrist strap.
I had an authentic Windows 7 CD from a old machine laying around, and that installed like WIndows always installs -- i.e. took for fscking ever as it downloaded about 200 updates. Having Win7 around allowed me to side-step the scourge of Windows 8, as well as giving Microsoft any more money. Alas, despite the advances Linux has made in the area, PC gaming still requires this monstrosity...
Getting Debian Linux installed was a rather more troublesome. This build also marks my first major exposure to UEFI, and someone needs to be killed for inflicting this on the world. It took me two days -- two days -- to finally convince the BIOS to boot Debian 'testing' (Jessie) without an argument.
Ah, but that wasn't the end of it. Normally, I enable the non-free section of the Debian repositories and install the package "nvidia-driver", which is ordinarily totally seamless and integrates very well into the Debian package framework. Except that the latest version of "nvidia-driver" in Jessie is 340.65... Which doesn't support the GTX-970. That support was added in version 343.22. So, off to the Debian "experimental" repository where version 343.36 is lurking, and try to download all the dependent components. After several hours of cleaning up botched package installs, I finally got it working.
I may experiment with SteamOS at some point, but apparently it likes to have the machine all to itself, and setting it up to multi-boot takes a bit more effort than I'm willing to expend at the moment.
Compared to my previous system, this thing is dead-quiet, which is kind of a new experience for me.
It's also damned fast. The Google tool
stressapptest benchmarked the memory in my previous machine at just shy of 3 GiB/sec.
Exiguous is clocking in at 40 GiB/sec. I can't wait to see how it tears up video encoding. I won't know how well it does at gaming until I start installing them and copying over old game data (you didn't think I was just going to toss all those save files, did you?)
This motherboard allegedly overclocks very well, and (allegedly) makes it dead simple to do, so I might explore that at some point.
This is the least expensive hex-core Intel i7 available in a 2011-3 socket. The next step up is only 0.2 GHz faster, for which you will pay an extra $200. This was good enough.
To paraphrase the B. Kliban rule: Never install a heatsink bigger than your head. This heatsink very nearly violates that rule.
To be honest, I picked this out rather dumbly. I did a search for best-rated coolers with a very quiet fan (that weren't water-based), and this kept turning up, so I grabbed it. I didn't really understand how zarking massive it was until it arrived. With the fans attached, it has a mass of over one kilo.
They tried to be nice and included a long-shaft screwdriver for attaching the towers to the mounting bracket. However, in practice, it's only slightly better than the hex drivers included with Ikea furniture -- it's very tricky overcoming the spring compression and getting the screws to finally grab on to the posts.
The cables from the fans are a bit on the short side, with one of them just barely making it to the second CPU fan header. I tried rotating how the fan was mounted, but you can't remove the brackets from the fans without possibly breaking something.
I will need more experience with this motherboard before I can award it the final star. The BIOS seems rather overwrought, but maybe that's just the way of things in this UEFI era.
One star off for the UEFI nonsense that kept Linux from booting, and which took me nearly two days to overcome.
In all other respects, it's acquitted itself well. It has tons of options, and the connectors are easy to get at.
I've had excellent experience with Crucial for over 15 years, so they were my go-to vendor for this build as well. I was going to get the 2133MHz flavor, but a sale popped up putting the 2400MHz flavor below where the 2133s had been pricing, so I grabbed them. I chose a 4x4 config so that I could take full advantage of the quad-channel memory controller.
Installation was totally uneventful.
I originally considered going with a Samsung 850 EVO (we have them in our machines at work), but ended up getting this.
This is my first ever use of an SSD in a desktop; wish me luck.
Hitachi drives are very well rated, and their Ultrastar line has a better uncorrectable read error rate than their Deskstar line. I found a 2TB drive for under $100. For that price, I feared it might be an OEM pull with thousands of hours on it, but SMART showed it was brand new.
Points off for:
- The loops for attaching cable management ties are rather small, making it difficult to substitute velcro straps, which I much prefer for something like this.
- Removing the hard drive cages so you can change their configuration is more difficult than first appears, since the primary screws for doing this are blocked by the frame.
- The allegedly tool-free optical drive bays required the use of tools to secure the BD/DVD ROM drive. And the flash card reader.
- It's kinda boring-looking.
However, all these complaints do not rise to the level of a single star, as the case has otherwise been surprisingly pleasant to work with. I like the hinged panels, meaning I can get inside without having to hunt for a screwdriver (and yes, you can lift the panels off and put them back without undue difficulty). Fit and finish are excellent, everything fit inside without problems, and I was never lacking for space. And the whole thing somehow weighs less than its predecessor, despite being the same overall volume (and including that monster heatsink).
Overall, it has slowly but inexorably revealed itself to be a very pleasant surprise.