I’ve reached a very nice resting point in the ongoing effort to develop a very useful, powerful, stable, and cool computer setup.
This started a while back when I built a computer. In particular, this computer. There are several advantages to building a computer. You can save money or get more bang for your buck even if you don’t pay less. On the saving money side, maybe you have components on hand that you don’t have to buy. I did, mainly mass storage. The case I had, thinking I’d save money there, ended up not working out. You get more bang for the buck because the parts you buy will be better than the ones in the equivilant off the line but cheaper computer, and you’ll have more control over what happens in future upgrades. Continue reading A really good computer setup→
Almost every resource on the Internet on building your own computer is oriented towards building a gaming computer. The second most common discussion is how to build a “budget PC.”
When I sought out the latest information on building a computer a few weeks ago, I did not like either of these two options.
A “gaming computer” is oriented towards two features: a) overclocking your processor and b) having one or two mondo power-hungry and gigunda graphics cards. A “budget PC” is an under powered machine that replicates what I could have purchased in many forms for less than the cost of a build.
My intention was to build a computer that would be able to crunch large amounts of data quickly, allow a large number of normal applications to be open at once, to be able to handle multiple very large text files, and to do mid level audio and maybe video editing (even if that required shutting down other software). Also, I wanted the computer to be 200% to 300% faster than my currently fastest computer, which is an Intel I7 holding laptop that is several years old.
I had on hand a small pile of “hard drives,” including one 2.5 terabyte hard drive, and one 125 gigabyte solid state drive (not called a “hard drive” by many, but it is essentially the hard drive.) I also had a case, and a keyboard, and a collection of monitors. I also had a case. The fact that I already had a case turns out to have been a big problem, and I’ll discuss that below.
I decided to go for an Intel I5 but a higher end one, which would give me that 300% performance increase required to make me feel like I had something new and cool, but to put in in a motherboard that would likely handle a later upgrade to a faster I7, if I made that upgrade within a year or two. Also, the mother board had to be able to handle 64 gigabytes of RAM because the best way to meet the requirements listed above is not with multiple processors or multi threading etc., but with a whopping amount of memory.
Here is a list of the parts that I bought to assemble:
This motherboard costs about 100 bucks. It handles sixth and seventh generation Intel Core processors, and Dual Channel DDRF4 memory, and has graphics support on board. It does not have a lot of other bells and whistles. It is supposedly sturdy and has high ratings everywhere I’ve looked.
The documentation on the motherboard is very well done. I’ve referred to it many times while messing around with this build, so I should know.
As noted, I chose the I5 for just under 200 bucks instead of an I7 for more. The old I7 in my Dell Laptop, which is a reasonable computer, has a passmark rating of somewhere beteen 2000 and 3000. This process is just over 8000. I don’t know much about passmark ratings, but I know more is better and most normal fast processors produced today that you would actually buy are in the 8000 to 9000 range, so this is good.
The key number here is 7500, which makes this a seventh generation processor. Here is a key point: This mother board and this processor are claimed to work together, and I can tell you that they do. A lot of other motherboards require bios upgrades or other fiddling to make them work with the most current processor.
Anticipating something I’ll be discussing below, yes, this motherboard and processor combination work fine with Linux. It never occurred to me to worry about that, because Linux works with everything, but in case you were wondering, it does. I do not know if this configuration can be a Hackintosh or not.
I used the cooling fan that came with the processor and it works fine. I’ve checked the temperature readings and the processor does not get hot. However, I think the fan that came with the processor is a bit noisy. I intend to install a different cooling fan to see if it is quieter, and the one I got to do this is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO RR-212E-20PK-R2 CPU Cooler with 120mm PWM Fan, which happens to be on sale right now for 30 bucks. I’ve not installed it, installation looks to be a bit complicated and I don’t know how I’ll like it, but that’s what I have sitting here on my workbench.
This motherboard does not have a wireless card. It does have an ethernet jack. You probably don’t even want wireless if you have a LAN nearby. In my case, temporarily (until I drill some holes in the house) my nearest LAN device is not in my office. I wanted the computer’s LAN to be hooked to the network, so when I do get around to bringing a router or switch into the office, I’ll just change what it is plugged into. So, I got the IOGEAR Universal Ethernet to Wi-Fi N Adapter.
This cute little device is basically a wireless router that hooks into your wireless LAN, and pretends to be an ethernet jack. It can get its power from a powered USB port or it can use a USB charger brick, which is supplied. Works great.
As noted, I have a pile of displays laying around but they all suck. I bought a Dell SE2416H 24″ Screen LED-Lit Monitor. I had purchsed one of these from Best Buy for about 135 for a different computer. I got this one for about the same price from Amazon. The price of this monitor ranges from 120 to 190. There is also a version that is higher grade, as in, more finely tuned up but with the same specs, for a bit more. Right now, I’m using this and second, older, display, and things are working fine, but eventually I intend to get a second Dell 24 inch. This is obviously a very personal choice and people will have strong preferences. I may get the upgraded version of this monitor when it comes time to getting the second one, see below. (Reminder: This is not a gaming computer.)
The motherboard and memory uses a dual channel technology, which allows for effectively faster RAM. But with only one chip installed, I don’t get the dual channel effect. So, when I buy the second chip, I’ll be both increasing RAM to 32 gigabytes, and unlocking the dual channel technology, so that may be a noticeable upgrade in my future.
Here is a list of parts that are rough equivalents to the parts I had on hand. This list together with the list above will produce a full working computer:
I had an old case that had never been used and that is supposed to be quite. It isn’t especially quiet, and the front connectors don’t include some of the modern things computers have (it is about 12 years old) and does include some things that are fairly arcane. I regret not just getting a new case. But then, when I look at cases, I realize that I want a really good case. But, like computer build documentation, cases are either crap-budget or gamer cases, and I want neither of those. I list a case below that might be a good one to get, and if I do get that case, it will be the most expensive single element in the whole build. But it might be worth it.
There are advantages to having a wired mouse, and if you use a laser mouse, there are advantages to having an appropriate mouse pad. Or you can just get some wireless mouse of your choice. Currently am using these:
Then put the hard drives where they are supposed to go, screw in the power supply, anything else that is not hooked up, and hook up all the wires.
Then attach a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and turn the thing on. It will work fine.
Hint: A motherboard does not “turn on” until if has power from the power supply (and the power supply is plugged in and turned on) AND the motherboard gets a signal from the case’s off/on switch.
Installing the Operating System
Set up a USB stick to be bootable, insert it into the appropriate slot, turn on the computer and select the function key that switches the boot process to a boot menu. Pick the likely choice for the USB stick, and run through the install procedure (just follow the instructions and mostly pick defaults).
Since I have a second drive for data, I created a new partition using the whole drive (ext4) and added the UUID code to the fstab file, mounting it as “/hdd” and put my Dropbox folder there. Dropbox complained, I ignored the complaints, and so far so good.
You can use a service like PC Parts Picker to work out compatibility.
For me, this was worth it. I could not get a computer this powerful and with this configuration for this price (I did explore that option). Also, I’m getting some parts later to increase the overall quality of the build, such as RAM and a monitor and probably some other things, so even if the total cost is the same or slightly more than an out of the box computer, I’ve got added flexibility that I like. Plus it is fun.
Building a computer is fairly easy, and nothing can really go wrong. If it does, I don’t know you, OK?