Dreami's Blog

Thoughts and notes of a geek

Build a Gamer PC – Building — May 6, 2016

Build a Gamer PC – Building

Now that we’ve chosen our components and gotten them from the vendor, let’s build this thing.

Goals

I wanted to have nice cable management, I like keeping things clean, neat and properly set up. This means routing the cables through proper cabling holes instead of setting them up directly, and using modular cables only when I need them.

Building

The building order may not be the best, the case, PSU and the HDDs were just what I had gotten first.

Case and PSU

The case was fairly easy to unbox and that’s what I did. I recommend you keep the case package as a container for all the other cardboard you’ll be throwing away. You can even make compartments for other plastic waste, using the protective foam.

The PSU was just screwed to the downside of the case. I used the fan-down mode, so air is sucked from the outside, cooling the PSU and then going out nicely on the backside. Some recommend letting it suck air from the inside although I don’t really see the point in that, maybe someone can point it out?

HDD and Optical Drive

I uninstalled the 5×3.5″ HDD cage since I don’t need that. I then mounted my 3 drives to the cage via a slot mechanism. I used the given rubber mounts to uncouple it from the case, meaning less vibration from the HDDs is transferred to sound coming from the case.

I then routed a 4 port SATA power connector from the PSU to the drives. Same with the SATA cables, 4 cables to that same spot. To get from the HDD compartment to the 5.25″ drive cage, I used a SATA Data + Power extension and routed that from the HDD compartment up to the 5.25″ drive cage

Motherboard and CPU

The next big thing is the motherboard, the CPU and its cooler. Note that I use a slightly different order than recommended, I installed the CPU fan inside the case. The reason for that is I like to have something I can press against when mounting the cooler, something I don’t wanna to without proper support.

I installed the CPU outside the case, using Asus’s CPU install tool. I don’t know how you could screw things up using this and by just following the instructions, everything went fine.

I then mounted the motherboard inside the case. The tools were quite nice. I installed the standoffs and then had a little tool to tighten down the standoffs. I then installed the IO shield and aligned the motherboard with the standoffs, with one pin protruding from the case’s backplate to help with that.

After tightening down the motherboard to the case (remember, it’s not an automobile, just tighten down until you feel reasonable resistance) I put the case back up again and installed the cooler. The instructions were very nice and I could install the backplate and the mounting brackets on the front with no problem. I then put on the thermal paste, after spending some of the last days figuring out what the best technique was. There is a nice video from LinusTechTips showing that everything but too much paste is probably fine.

Installing the cooler to the CPU was, again, straight-forward, Just put it center on the CPU and tighten down the screws. Best if you change a bit, so don’t put one screw completely tight but let it slide in place over time as you gradually tighten the screws.

Cabling-wise, the cables should be long enough to reach all the places but not too long so they’re lying around. Just install them nicely and let a surplus in cable length on the backside, you’ll clean that up later.

RAM

I then installed the RAM so I could finally get the board to a POST test (I got onboard video which is enough for this test). That was easy too since the CPU cooler was not blocking anything.

I then started the computer via the key on the motherboard (see why I like that?) and it posted! After a quick first setting in the BIOS though, standing still at POST 32 (memory initialization). I then pulled out each RAM stick and put it back in, showing that everything worked until I used all 4 slots. Knowing that it’s too late now to go to the shop and it’s probably just a BIOS problem, I went on with 3 slots, totaling at 24GB.

I later did a BIOS update and then tried again, everything worked.

SSD

Having never installed an M.2, I had a look at the manual and it’s quite easy. You just put it in the slot, see what holes are covered, install a standoff on the last one and screw it down. Done! Nice, and no cables lying around.

GPU

Now the behemoth and power house. I undid two of the PCI slot covers and installed the GPU in its slot. I then used two instead of one cables (with two 8 pin connectors) for increased stability, as the PSU manual recommended. Routing these to the back and using the middle slot I could actually make it RIGHT to the GPU. Not too hard, just right. I then tied the unneeded connectors to the cable to ensure it doesn’t get in the way of my CPU cooler fan.

Case Connectors

Being nearly done, the last thing were case connectors. You have fans which I recommend plugging into your motherboard to let them be regulated by your temperatures, instead of connecting them to the case where you just have a voltage control.

Then there are the front connectors. The USB ones are easy, you simply cannot put it in the wrong way. Then you’re left with those mini one-pin connectors which I hated for a long time because they were so fiddly to install. Asus gives you a little tool where you can install the pins to, probably on the outside where you have a bit of light and then install that tool to the motherboard pins. Problem solved!

Cable Management

So let’s take a look at the pictures above, but in a bit more detail

Front

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You can see that there are no cables blocking airflow. The GPU power cables are the only ones that are in the way but I see no other way of installing it nicely.

I tied all the case connectors together with Velcro to make sure they don’t lie around. I used Velcro instead of cable ties since I might have to modify something.

The case fan cables are made shorter and tied to the case with cable ties since I don’t have to modify them that often.

Back

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The back is where you could go with ugly cabling as it’s not the part that is often shown, but I recommend to keep it nice and clean as on the front.

You can see that I didn’t let cables float freely. Everything is supported and has its route. Also see that I made clear routes, in the middle to the top for almost anything, lower front corner for storage cables (also note the colored SATA extension cord) and the back for just the CPU power cable. I originally planned to route that cable with the others, but it would’ve gone across the CPU backplate which I didn’t like.

General tips

Get an ESD wrist band, seriously! Some say it’s not needed and they’ve done it several times without one, but there’s no doubt that it helps protect your components. Things may work properly for some time until something blows up and you have no idea what and why. You then think it’s a DOA even though you just killed it.

Don’t put cable ties on everything from the beginning. Use as much cable as you need inside the case and leave the rest to the back, take care of that when you’re done. Trust me, you’re gonna clip it again when you’re tightening it down too early.

Build a Gamer PC – Choosing components —

Build a Gamer PC – Choosing components

A year and a half ago, I got rid of my old gaming rig from 2010. I didn’t use it that much anymore and it had some stability issues. I played mostly on my PS4 but now I was thinking of getting back in the game.

Note that I know that several of these components are not the newest ones, the CPU and the GPU are now about a year old. I know there are new generations of both coming out in a short time, but I didn’t want to wait another half-year before they’re released and available. My view is that the CPU should be enough for the next time and I’ll wait for the later generations of Pascal on the GPU part.

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Goals

This PC should be able to play current-gen PC games on my 2560×1440 monitors. 4K is an option in the future and shouldn’t be a problem. The goal here is to have a playable 60 fps, but I’m not dying if I only get 59.

I also want the PC to be quite silent and even unhearable on idle, including normal web browsing. I’m a bit sensitive on noise and I can’t work properly with a loud fan.

Another goal is understatement. I don’t want an Acer Predator case that looks like it came right from a Transformer movie. I want something that doesn’t show what its capable of until you get to see the inner running. That’s why I don’t want a windowed PC and not too much LEDs everywhere. It’s in my sleeping room and I probably want it to run at night sometimes.

Choosing components

So I’ll go through all the components I used for this build and explain why I chose them.

Case

I always like to start with the outer shell and see what I can build on. It’s like the foundation of your house. So I settled for the Fractal Design Define R5. This is in tune with my goals and is a great starting point. It’s sound-isolated, has enough space to work in it (it’s full ATX) and does nice with cable management.

One thing I particularly liked is the flexibility on the HDD cages. There are 3 cages, 2×5.25″, a 3×3.5″ and a 5×3.5″. You can arrange the HDD cages whatever way you want or take them out (like I did with the 5×3.5″ one). And if you don’t use 5.25″ drives, you can take that part out too.

They feature enough space for every fan you might install and the dust filters are easily maintainable.

PSU

Another thing that sets the limit for your build, so decide on that early on. I went with the Seasonic Platinum 860W. It’s fully modular and features a Hybrid mode. This means that the PSU will turn off its fan when not under load, but you can turn that off if you don’t trust that feature.

Some people pointed out I should probably go with something more durable, like beQuiet. Jokes on you, Seasonic is the actual OEM of beQuiet šŸ™‚ Here’s a quick roundup of who’s who.

Motherboard

So now we’re getting onto something. The motherboard sets the limit for all the actual electronics, so another thing of basement building.

I went with the Asus Z170-Deluxe one. I like Asus, so that’s a given and the Z170 is Intel’s current chipset for enthusiasts. The Deluxe is the top of the line, excluding ROG products which I don’t need the features of, or the workstation series which I don’t need too.

It features an LGA1151 socket for current Intel CPUs, 4 DDR4 slots for up to 64GB of RAM, enough PCIe slots for your needs, an insane amount of SATA connectors and other nice stuff which I won’t go into too much detail here. One reviewer described as they fitted the features of an E-ATX board on a normal ATX one.

One thing I do like to point out is the buttons on the board which you’ll like when building it. There’s a POST code display (and the codes are printed in the manual), four diagnose LEDs and a Power On and Reset button. The POST code display shows you what POST phase your PC is which is a nice thing to know if it halts. The buttons are very handy because you don’t have to fiddle with those case connectors early on.

CPU

So now that we’ve chosen our foundation, let’s put stuff on it. The CPU is the next step because it determines your general performance. I went with the Intel i7-6700k. I thought of trying the non-K version, but the price difference was not that big and I thought, why the heck not leave the option for overclocking?

I also thought of getting the i5-6600k but again, price difference was not that much and it just doesn’t sound as cool, and the hyperthreading should come in handy. I can go with the top-of-the notch, so just do that.

Note that I didn’t try AMD simply because I have no experience with AMD and I want to use my knowledge already gathered.

CPU Cooler

So all this power should then be cooled down a bit. Being a fan (ha-ha) of tried-and-tested stuff, I chose the Noctua NH-U12s. Criteria were simple: backplate-mounted (I guess anything but box?), silent and not that big if possible. My height clearance is 18cm in that case, but I didn’t wanna have it hanging over my RAM in case anything goes bad.

The package has got everything you need in it, including thermal paste and mounting kits. Plus Noctua is known for their great customer service, so if anything is missing they’ll send it to you. They’re Austrian-based, so that shouldn’t be a problem for me. A very simple thing but I really liked that: the included thermal paste is not just “some crap we got lying around” but is actually something they sell separately. They even tell you the exact model so you can figure out beforehand if you need anything else.

RAM

This isn’t a problem anymore today with current RAM sizes so you’ll never run into any problems under normal operation. I first thought of going with 4x4GB, coming out at 16GB. A friend then pointed out that I was leaving no room for future upgrades without throwing away something. So I thought, what the heck, I’ll just go with 4x8GB. Did that, price difference was again not that much (just 40% as opposed to the logical 100%). I went with the HyperX Fury DDR4 2400MHz one. I didn’t wanna use the full 2400Mhz, but they were in stock as opposed to the normal 2133Mhz.

One thing I like about them building-wise is that they do feature a cooler on top of it, but it’s not ginormous and would still fit many CPU coolers.

GPU

This is the other performance part. I like Asus and Nvidia so I went with their current top-notch model, the GTX 980 Ti STRIX DC3OC. Note that this one is overclocked coming from the factory and is in itself faster than the normal 980, being the Ti model.

As with the CPU I can’t tell you much about its features because there ain’t anything you don’t already know.

One thing you should note here is that the GPU can give you clearance issues in your case. In my case, even with the HDD cages installed, the clearance is 31cm, the Asus GPU is 30.5cm long. So good with that!

SSD

I think that an SSD is pretty-much standard nowadays and I will fit any SSD before I’d even think about getting and HDD.

Just for the fun of it and because it’s much smaller, I went for an M.2. I didn’t make use of the PCIe speed ones, I just didn’t wanna clutter up my case with another cable going in a completely other direction than the other storage cables.

I chose the Samsung 850 Evo 250 Basic M.2. It’s got the same speed as the normal Evo Basic and was even a tad cheaper than that full-size SATA one. Other than that, make sure your M.2 does not block any ports software-wise, because some motherboards make you choose between an M.2 and other ports. I had to choose between using an M.2 or more than one SATA Express port. Make sure that is not an issue!

HDDs

This is the only internal thing that was taken over from the old build. Since I have my Synology NAS for long-term storage, I don’t need that much space but I got it lying around and it’s only meant for games anyway. It consists of my old setup of 1x1TB Samsung disk and 2x2TB WD REDs. I honestly have no idea why I went with the RED ones since I don’t intend to use it as a NAS, my only guess is that price difference was, again, not that much.

Optical

So yes, it’s 2016 and I’m still including an optical drive. This is meant for games that I buy on CDs or maybe a Blu-ray I wanna burn. It’s not that expensive and I know that I will need it at some place in time.

I chose the Asus BW-16D1HT, a Blu-Ray and DVD reader and burner. It’s kind of everything you can currently have at consumer-grade.

General tips

When you’re putting together your shopping list for your computer, go for the better, more expensive part when in doubt. Don’t downsize too early! Just try to fit all your stuff first, then check against your budget and downsize accordingly.

Check prices on other sites but don’t use a bazillion vendors. I used two vendors I usually buy stuff from. I took most things from the cheaper one and then got things from the other one when they didn’t sell that or its out of stock. I recommend keeping this down to two vendors since I wanted to get the components myself instead of having it sent by mail and it makes any RMA process much easier when step 1 isn’t “figure out where the hell I got that from”.