New Gaming PC 12/09

Introduction

December 20, 2009

For an engineer I have never been a big gadget guy. I didn't get a cell phone until 2005 and I wouldn't have a Blackberry if my company did not pay for it. However my one weakness in the gadget spectrum has been computers. Back in the post college/pre kid days I would usually buy a new gaming rig every other year, sometimes every year.

That all changed once the kids showed up. Over indulgences in new PC hardware were hard to fit in the budget and I really didn't have time for the marathon all niter gaming sessions anyway. I made due with my old Dell 9100 I bought back in 2004. It was decent enough to play Civ4 and Wow.

Fast-forward to December 2009. Some extra cash freed up in the budget and we had room for a new computer. My target budget was $1000. I basically needed to upgrade everything except the mouse and keyboard.

Historically I just bought a gaming system from Dell. Once I ordered from a smaller web company (ABS I think) and had good luck. This time around I thought I would try building my own system.

Research

My goal was to build a machine that could play Fallout 3 at max settings and that would also be serviceable for another 3 to 4 years. I thought I would go with an AMD processor and an ATI graphics card. The research I had done said that was the best bang for the buck as compared to an Intel/NVIDA. That and my current GeForce 6800 has always seemed to be a bit buggy.

If found that if you are going to build your own system the best site around is Tom's Hardware, for research and general how-to guides. Specifically the New System Build Forum is a great place to post what you are planning and get feedback. Another great site is the customer reviews at Newegg. People are pretty descriptive of their experiences with the parts, especially if they ran into issues.

To get started I basically spent about a week reading posts at Tom's Hardware and taking notes. Then I posted my plan to get some basic feedback.

CPU

For the CPU selection it looked like going much above $170 had diminishing performance returns for the money. I ordered the retail version of the processor because it came with the heat sink and pre applied thermal material.
  • $165 - Newegg - AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition Deneb 3.2GHz 4 x 512KB L2 Cache 6MB L3 Cache Socket AM3 125W Quad-Core Processor - Retail

I looked into ordering an aftermarket CPU Heatsink but unless you overclock the one included in the retail box is sufficient. Here were a few of the options I was looking at.
  • $40 - Newegg - Sunbeam CR-CCTF 120 mm Core-Contact Freezer CPU Cooler W/TX-2 - Retail $15 rebate
  • $28 - Newegg - COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 Plus Intel Core i5 & Intel Core i7 compatible RR-B10-212P-G1 120mm "heatpipe direct contact" Long life sleeve CPU Cooler - Retail

I ordered some thermal compound when I ordered the CPU. It turns out this was not really nescessary since the retail CPU package already had the thermal pad preapplied.
  • $6 - Newegg - Arctic Silver MTX-2.5G Matrix Thixotropic Premium Thermal Compound - Retail

MOBO

To research the motherboard I many just poured over the customer reviews at Newegg. The board seemed to get good reviews and had a reasonable prices so I ended up getting that.
  • $115 - Newegg - ASUS M4A79XTD EVO AM3 AMD 790X ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail- Purchased
  • $80 - Newegg - GIGABYTE GA-MA770T-UD3P AM3 AMD 770 ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
  • $190 - Newegg - ASUS M4A79T Deluxe AM3 DDR3 AMD 790FX ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
  • ECS A785GM-M3 AMD 785G+ Socket AM3 DDR3 Motherboard with ATi Radeon HD4200 Graphics, PCI-Ex16, Serial ATA-II & GbE LAN

MEM

For the memory lots of people said they were getting the G.Skill memory. Evidently its capable of overclocking which I was not planning on doing but thougth I might try out at sometime in the future.
  • $100 - Newegg - G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model F3-10666CL7D-4GBRH - Retail
  • $125 - Newegg - G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL7D-4GBRH - Retail - THIS IS FOR i5 and i7
  • $125 - Newegg - G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL7D-4GBRH - Retail
  • $98 - Newegg - G.SKILL ECO Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model F3-10666CL7D-4GBECO - Retail- Purchased


GPU

For the video card I looked at the HD 4000 series but there were a lot of recommendations to get a HD 5000 card for two reasons. First it would be Direct 11 compatible. Second it used less power.
  • $165 - Newegg - SAPPHIRE 100283-2L Radeon HD 5770 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card - Retail
  • $180 - Newegg -  SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5770 100283VXL Video Card - Retail
  • Sapphire Radeon HD 5770 1GB GDDR5 PCI-E w/ Dual DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort
  • $180 - Newegg - XFX HD-577X-ZNFC Radeon HD 5770 1GB 128-bit DDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card - Retail
  • $180 - Newegg - XFX HD-577A-ZNFC Radeon HD 5770 (Juniper XT) 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card - Retail
  • $163 - Newegg - HIS H577FM1GD Radeon HD 5770 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card - Retail - Purchased
There were two versions of the Sapphire card. The web research said both were basically the reference design but had different heatsinks. I went with the card that had the "egg shaped" cooler as people said that did a better job at keeping the card cool.

HDD

For the hard drive there were lots of positive recommendations for the Samsung Spinpoint F3. In fact I would say it was the most consitantly recommended component on the Tom's Hardware boards. The downside is since its so popular it is often sold out. The Segate drive was recommened as a good second choice.
  • $55 -SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
  • $85 -SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
  • $55 Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 ST3500418AS 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive - Purchased


Optical

For the optical drive I really didn't worry about what brand I was getting. I did a survey of optical drives that kept being recommended and picked one that was available.
  • $29 - LITE-ON Black 24X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 8X DVD+R DL 22X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW SATA CD/DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM
  • $30 - SAMSUNG Black 22X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA DVD Burner - OEM
  • Samsung SH-S222A 22x SpeedPlus™ DVD-Write, IDE, Black, OEM
  • $28 - LG Black 24X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD+R DL 24X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM SATA DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM- Purchased


PSU

One of the more important things I learned during this process of researching the components was that getting a quality power supply. Its annoying enough when a power supply fails but the cheaper ones can fail in a spectacular fashion taking some of your system components with them. Everything I read said spend $50 on a power supply minimum from a reputable manufacturer.

For the power supply sizing the video card suggested a minimum of 550W needed. Some web research on quality power supply makers turned up Antec, Cosair, and OCZ as good companies to start with.

I ended up getting the Antec supply. I found out after I ordered that the Earthwatts are really good units but that is not what I ordered. But I figured its from the same reputable manufacturer so it was probably fine.
  • $90 - Newegg - OCZ Fatal1ty OCZ700FTY 700W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply - Re
  • $120 - Newegg - CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply - Retail
  • $90 - Newegg - OCZ Fatal1ty OCZ700FTY 700W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply - Reta
  • $75 - Newegg - OCZ StealthXStream OCZ600SXS 600W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready Active PFC Power Supply - Retail $10 rebate
  • $75 - Newegg - Antec EarthWatts EA650 650W Continuous Power ATX12V Ver.2.2 / EPS12V version 2.91 SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC "compatible with Core i7/Core i5" Power Supply - Retail 
  • $110  - Newegg - CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply - Retail -$20 rebate
  • $80 - Newegg - Sunbeam PSU-ECO750-US-BL 750W ATX12V 2.3 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply - OEM
  • $130 - Newegg - SILVERSTONE ST75F-P 750W ATX 12V v2.3 & EPS 12V 80 PLUS SILVER Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply - Retail
  • $100 - Newegg - SeaSonic S12D 750 Silver 750W ATX12V V2.3/EPS 12V V2.91 80 PLUS SILVER Certified Active PFC Power Supply - Retail
  • Antec EarthWatts EA 750W Power Supply w/ Quad +12V
  • $80 - Newegg - COOLER MASTER eXtreme Power RS600-PCARE3-US 600W ATX12V V2.3 SLI Ready CrossFire Ready Power Supply - Retail
  • $85 Antec NEO ECO 620C 620W Continuous Power ATX12V v2.3 / EPS12V 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply - Retail - Purchased

Case

To me a case was a case was a case. I explored a few nicer ones but ended up getting the Antec 300.

  • $100 - newegg - COOLER MASTER HAF 922 RC-922M-KKN1-GP Black Steel + Plastic and Mesh Bezel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail 
  • $55 - Newegg - Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail - Purchased.
  • $55 - Newegg - Antec Three Hundred Illusion Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail  
  • Antec 900-2 case 
  • Antec Nine Hundred II Gamer Case 
  • ThermalTake Element T Case 
  • $90 - Newegg - Antec Nine Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail

Monitor

I had still had been using my old 19" CRT. I figured as long as I was getting a brand new system why not get an updated display. The video card would be able to drive both the new LCD and the old CRT at the same time.
  • Dell Ultrasharp u2410 24" IPS panel monitor
  • Samsung SyncMaster 2343BWX 23in Widescreen LCD w/ DVI, 16:9, 5ms, Black
  • $170 - Newegg - Hanns·G HH-231HPB Black 23" 5ms HDMI Widescreen Full HD LCD Monitor 300 cd/m2 DCR 15000:1 (1000:1) Built in Speakers - Retail - NOT WINDOWS 7 COMPATIBLE
  • $160 Acer H213H bmid Black 21.5" 5ms HDMI Full HD 1080P Widescreen 16:9 LCD Monitor - Retail - Puchased

OS

I really did not want Vista since I heard it was a bloated piece of garbage. Most of the new system builds on Tom's Hardware were using Windows 7 so I stayed with the flock.
  • $105 - Newegg - Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit 1-Pack for System Builders - OEM

Parts Buy

The monitor and case showed up Monday (12/21) and the rest of the stuff showed up Tuesday (12/22). I was a little worried all the parts might not show up before the trip to the in-laws for the holidays due to the holiday shipping rush but it got in on time.

All of this was ordered from Newegg.

 ComponentDescription
Cost
 CPU AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition Deneb 3.2GHz Socket AM3 125W Quad-Core Processor Model HDZ955FBGIBOX
 $165
 MOBO ASUS M4A79XTD EVO AM3 AMD 790X ATX AMD Motherboard
 $115
 MEM G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9D-4GBRL - Retail $94
 GPU SAPPHIRE 100283-2L Radeon HD 5770 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card
 $165
 HDD Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 ST3500418AS 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive $50
 Optical LG DVD Burner - Bulk Black SATA Model GH24NS50 - OEM $28
 PSU Antec NEO ECO 620C 620W Continuous Power ATX12V v2.3 / EPS12V 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply
 $85
 Case Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail $55
 Monitor Acer H213H bmid Black 21.5" 5ms HDMI Full HD 1080P Widescreen 16:9 LCD Monitor - Retail $160
 OS Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit 1-Pack for System Builders - OEM $105
   
  Total $990


On the monitor the Acer display buttons don't seem to work if you don't have any input connected. The monitor showed up a day early and I thought I would try out the menu system without a PC attached but non of the buttons worked. I thought "uh oh" they are broke but once I had it connected to a PC the buttons worked fine.

The Build

I cleared an evening of all responsibilities and gathered my parts. In genral it all seemed to go together well. Windows 7 home premium came up and ran with no issues.

Here are my random notes from the build
  • Make sure you install the power supply with the fan facing up not down, otherwise there is very little space for the air flow.
  • I wore a wrist strap for the whole process and had the case grounded to earth via a jumper. From everything I have read taking some basic ESD precautions is a good idea.
  • There is no PC speaker in the Antec case so if you want to hear the POST beep you will need to order one separately.
  • The stock AMD CPU comes with the thermal compound pre applied so don't order an extra tube like I did. Save the $5 and order a PC speaker instead. Or an extra case fan.
  • Installing the CPU takes zero force, it just falls into place then you crank down the lever. However it takes a bit of force to get the CPU heatsink to latch over the hooks. Then you need to crank that lever down. For the heatsink it took more force than I thought it would but I guess that is the whole point so there is a good thermal connection.
  • The case panel cables (power, reset, HD light, etc, are a little short given the position of the headers on the motherboard so the cable routing isn't ideal but it works.
  • Even though my Antec case fans seem to have a switch for three speeds the position of the switch didn't seem to change the fan speed at all. Maybe the difference is too small to notice - I don't know.
  • The CD that cam with the LG optical drive could not be read by Windows 7. I also could not find drivers on their website. But it looks like its working well enough as is so I guess its not a big deal. The graphics card and motherboard driver CDs were fine.
  • The only BIOS changes I made were the boot order (hit the optical drive first) and set the memory to 1600Mhz 1.5V 9-9-9-24. There are extra memory settings after the 24 setting but I just left those on auto.
  • During the windows install the hard drive came up as unallocated space (makes sense). There was an option to format and some other advanced options but I just hit next and windows installed ok. The install must format as needed.
  • You will need a keyboard and mouse connected during the windows install. If you forget them (like I did) you can plug them in (USB version at least) whenever you need to.


Epilogue

Hibernation Issue

So far so good. Its been 3 months and no major problems so far. The one minor problem is the system does not seem to always come out of hibernation properly. Sometimes it comes out fine but if I have it one for days with several hibernate/wake cycles the system will lock up.

TV Tuner

I also ordered a TV tuner card. After some research I ordered a Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1250 Hybrid TV Tuner /Video Recorder 1196 PCI-Express x1 Interface from Newegg.

When I cranked open the case to install the card I realized I had a problem. My monster of a video card was so large it extended over both the PCI-E x1 slots. I did a quick read of the ASUS manual and it didn't look like it would be a problem to move the card down to the second x16 slot. That uncovered the two x1 slots and I installed the tuner in the upper slot.

There was still a few inches between the PSU fan and the GPU and it looked roughly ok. I also installed a 120mm fan on the bottom front to blow air into that area.

I turned everything back on and the graphics had to be re-detected. After a quick reboot the screen looked the same as it did with the card in the upper slot. I didn't notice any performance hit but I really haven;t pushed the card yet. I should probably do some real testing and/or research to make sure having the card in the lower slot isn't slower.

UPDATE: I ended up moving the video card back to the original slot.




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