To Build or Buy your next Computer

As my readers will know, a few months ago I experienced a total PC meltdown/failure of my  gaming PC.  I went through my normal process of designing, acquiring parts and building my new gaming rig.   I won’t deny that the timing of this build was not good, but it was necessary as I had no other PC capable of delivering the performance I need with the games I enjoy.

Question Time

I’ll share my thoughts, ideas, suggestions etc. on the very subject of this blog article shortly, but as with many of my writings, I like to get my reader thinking about a few things first.  So basically the main question you need to ask yourself is for what is the purpose of this new computer you are contemplating buying or building?  Now one might think the first and perhaps only question one might need to ask is whether you believe you have the ability to build your own PC.  While this is an important question to ponder, at least for now…this blog article IS NOT going to be about how to build your own PC, just whether or not you should (or at least consider the option).  So, for what purpose will you use this new PC?

Now one might think the only folks that may stumble onto my blog site or read my writings on other websites are gamers.  I’d wager to guess that gamers do make up 95% of my readership, but with the power of SEO….someone, anyone could perform a Google search and end up reading this article whose interest is not gaming.  Let me share a few thoughts about the non-gaming and non-performance driven user first.

Basic PC User

In the event you are a non-gamer, non-performance driven PC user and you’ve stumbled onto this writing…WELCOME!  Thank you for reading!  If you are merely in the market for a new PC simply for web use, word processing, accounting and stuff like that, then you may very well be a candidate for an “off the shelf” store purchased PC.  At the end of the day, you might actually save some money this way.  Brand named PC’s are available just about everywhere and often bundle deals can be found where you can walk out of the store with a new PC, monitor, printer and even bundled software options that when all considered together do make this the less expensive (and certainly less frustrating) option.

In the real world, I’m an IT Professional.  While most of the systems my group deploys are laptop computers, even the desktop PC’s we deploy are store bought models.  Yes, we get volume discounts….but the time saved in simply being able to open a box and deploy versus build just can’t be overlooked.  Do your homework, shop around and I’m sure you’ll find everything you need.

Another option for the basic PC user to consider is purchasing a laptop computer.  Many years ago, laptops were typically only for the wealthy business traveler.  But in today’s world, an excellent range of brands/specs can be found and if you would like the flexibility to user a computer just about anywhere, then a laptop PC might be the best choice for you.  However, I do invite you to continue reading.

Desktop versus Laptop for Gaming

Before I dive into the world of gaming PC’s and gaming PC components, let me just state the following.  While I just suggested a laptop PC might be an excellent choice for the non-gamer, non-performance driven individual, I simply can’t recommend any laptop for the serious gamer.  Even a “Gaming” branded laptop will have limitations in what can and can’t be done with that platform.  I’ve witnessed too many examples where an individual has shelled out thousands of dollars on a “Gaming Laptop” only to find out they can’t play their favorite games after all.  This is especially true if you are working on a tight budget and perhaps you can’t afford the top of the line machine.  Laptops offer very little upgrade opportunity and as a result, they don’t hold their resell value very well.

I fully understand budget constraints when planning a new computer purchase.  I also understand some folks just can’t afford to have two PC’s and often times a laptop purchase becomes a requirement (students etc.).  If this situation applies to you, then I suggest purchasing the very best gaming style laptop you can afford and just understand you’ll most likely have to compromise when it comes to graphic settings in order to get solid performance.  Remember, the bottom line between any gaming laptop and the equivalent desktop is portability over performance.

One final comment or perhaps a word of advice if you truly must go down the road of purchasing a gaming laptop.  Just because the word “lap” is used to describe this type of computer, don’t even think of trying to game with it in your lap.  You’ll need to place the laptop on a hard surface (table/desk) and I would also highly recommend purchasing a cooling pad.  Not only will this fairly inexpensive accessory help keep your laptop cool, it will also help to extend the life of the laptop.  Remember, heat kills.

Performance/Gamer User

The performance driven or gamer type user is a unique breed of user.  Computer based tasks such as video editing/video production, CAD Design and gaming have a very similar requirement.  Often the need for a lot more horsepower than what can be found in a brand name, store purchased PC.  Yes, there are some major brand computer manufactures designing, building and distributing “Gaming Machines”.  But in my opinion, these are much, much more expensive in the long run and often come bundled with a lot of extra software which really is never needed or even wanted.  This is why a custom built PC will almost always be the less expensive option.  In addition, a custom built PC might also allow the consumer to build something on a budget and down the road upgrade a few components.

A Real World Example

The new gaming PC which I recently built, is my dream build.  Perhaps for the first time, at least in a long time…the machine is exactly what I want it to be.  In other words, I’m not skimping on anything.  From a hardware perspective…this machine is state of the art with all the latest and greatest available hardware (at the time of build) and will serve me (as built) for hopefully 5 years.  Even my previous build I went with a lower end graphics card and upgraded to the 980Ti about a year later.  Not this time.

While I always planned to build this new machine myself, I’ve taken the time to do a little research just to see how much I’ve saved overall by building the machine myself.  I’m pleased to say (and my wife is pleased to hear) that I’ve saved over….(drum roll please) ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS.  Yes…over $1,000 I saved by doing the job myself.

But time is money right?   It sure is.  I’ve invested perhaps 4-5 hours of my time planning, tweaking, researching my build, more tweaking,  ordering parts and perhaps another 3-4 hours to assemble and complete the hardware build.  So let’s call this 10 hours.   But for a geek like me, it’s been 10 hours of reading reviews, watching some videos and basically feeling like a kid in a candy shop.  Bottom line, it’s been a fun process.  It’s something I enjoy doing and I consider it to be an extension of the gaming hobby.

But you’re an IT Guy, I’m not!

In today’s world, even a non-IT person can design and build their own gaming PC.  YouTube and Google are both excellent resources in helping the non-IT Professional in this area.  There are also websites such as PCPartPicker which can assist you in designing the build and can help ensure individual parts compatibility.  After all, not all PC parts are created equal.   Another alternative is to copy cat another build.  For example, you can view all the individual hardware components I used in my recent build here.  I ordered all my individual PC parts from Amazon, CDW and Newegg.

Intel versus AMD

The Intel versus AMD debate may be as confusing as Coke v. Pepsi, Ford v. Chevy or Prepar3d v. XPlane.  Folks have their preferences and for the record my choices are Intel, Coke, Ford and P3D…but I digress.  Most of my readers may know that I’m a long time flight simmer and really have only branched into other simulation based games in the past 3-4 years.  But I made a really costly mistake about 10 years ago when I made the disastrous switch from Intel to AMD CPU’s.  While I can’t specifically speak towards AMD performance with games such as Farming Simulator, Euro Truck Simulator 2/American Truck Simulator, I can say that just about every flavor of Flight Simulation software I’ve ever used performs far, far better on an Intel CPU than the AMD equivalent.  So I would highly suggest you research this topic carefully and when in doubt, make sure Intel is inside.  You’ll thank me later.  Especially if you’re a flight simmer.

SSD versus HDD

I suppose I could have listed this topic in the above section when talking about debates, but really there isn’t much of a debate regarding SSD versus HDD performance.  If your budget allows, you’ll appreciate the performance gain when choosing an SSD over an HDD.  If your budget permits, go with multiple SSD’s and perhaps one HDD.  Install Windows on its own SSD (recommended 250GB) and on a second SSD install your games and any other supporting applications.  If you record your gaming content on a frequent basis, consider installing a fast HDD for this purpose.

Air or Liquid Cooling

As CPU’s have increased in speed over the past several years, the need for liquid cooling has become more important.  When I built the beast version 4 about four years ago, I installed an inexpensive water cooled CPU cooler.  This cooler only lasted about 6 months and nearly caused my CPU to meltdown before I realized I had an issue.  I replaced it with a air cooled CPU cooler as that was what I was used to using.  However, as I began researching the new build and specifically how best to keep the Intel i7 8700K cooled, one CPU cooler kept coming up in all the reviews and that was the Corsair Hydro Series H100i v2.  I decided I would give a liquid CPU cooler another try and I’m really glad I did.  I still frequently monitor my CPU temps just to be on the safe side, but it really keeps my CPU temps nice and low and as I mentioned before….Heat Kills!

Overclock???

The subject of overclocking is a highly debated topic.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve overclocked my builds in the past and rarely see a performance difference.  Especially when I weigh what little performance gain I might experience versus the added stress caused by the OC’ed components.  Remember, Heat Kills!

Budget Build Today, Upgrade later

As I mentioned in the laptop versus PC section, a laptop (gaming or otherwise) offers very little in the area of down the road upgrades.   Also, gaming laptops just don’t retain their value.  Also as previously mentioned, I’ve built gaming PC’s on a budget and upgraded components at a later time.  The issue with my last PC was a motherboard failure, but all other components were just fine.  I managed to sell my 980Ti for just a few hundred dollars less than I paid for it.  So keep that into consideration and if you are building on a budget and plan to upgrade some parts down the road, make sure you keep the original box.  You’d be surprised at how much more you can make from selling used parts when you have the original box, user manual and any other accessories.

In Closing

I know this article doesn’t cover everything you need to consider with regards to building or buying your next computer.  But hopefully I’ve addressed some of the key areas to consider and really I truly believe that just about anyone can build their own PC these days.   Just do your research and read the instructions.  Seek out assistance via YouTube and Google, take your time….and enjoy the process.  When it’s all built and you power it up for the first time, you’ll experience a level of satisfaction that’s hard to beat and just think about all that money you’ve saved which can be used to buy more games.

Until next time….

Happy Building!

Jerry

GBS Beast v 5 is alive

WOW…what a whirlwind the past two weeks have been.  Just before 22 April, my gaming machine (Beast v4) had issues with installing Microsoft Windows 10 updates.  It finally reached a point where I had to reinstall Windows 10 (which I did).  But soon after I just wasn’t satisfied with the performance so I did a clean install of Windows 10 and was in the process of getting all my games installed and configured when the machine suffered a motherboard failure.  I was absolutely gutted.  It’s never a good time for a PC just to die like this and especially when I had hoped I could get another year of use from her.  But best laid plans and all that….

Need a Plan

I quickly put a plan together and began looking around my collection of antique radios and other gadgets I don’t use much.  I also went ahead and gutted much of the v4 PC and realized the market is quite good for used PC parts at the moment.  I managed to sell the 980Ti GPU, RAM and a few other components which I determined were fully functional.  With the available cash on hand, I began ordering all the pieces and parts needed to build v5.  They began arriving on Wednesday with the first batch of parts being the new case, motherboard, CPU, RAM and liquid CPU cooler.

v5 is honestly the most powerful gaming machine I’ve ever designed, built and owned.  While other builds (including v4) originally had a few less than optimal parts which down the road I upgraded, v5 will roll off the assembly line (my workbench) most likely the same way it’ll head into the sunset hopefully 5+ years from now.  Meaning….I’m cutting no corners in this build.  The pride and joy of this gaming machine is the Intel 8th Gen i7 8700K CPU and the 11GB GTX 1080Ti GPU.  It’s funny to believe that when I first built v4, I installed the GTX 780 TI (3GB) and about 18 months in upgraded to the GTX 980 Ti (6GB) GPU.  Now I’m jumping to a whopping 11GB of GPU goodness.

The Build

The build of v5 took place over two evenings.  I started assembling the parts which had arrived on Wednesday, 2 May and finalized the hardware build on the next evening (Thursday, 3 May).  I’ve updated the full breakdown of v5 which can be found here.  Thankfully, my build partners (Fedex, UPS and Amazon Prime) all managed to delivery everything on time and in the order I needed them.

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New ASUS ROG Maximus X Hero Motherboard installed inside the NZXT S340 Elite ATX Mid-Tower Case.

Keeping my Cool

When I initially built v4, I installed liquid cooling.  I admit I didn’t choose wisely on the brand and model I purchased.  Within about 6 months of use the water pump mechanism failed and thankfully I caught it in time and shut the machine off before I had a full meltdown.  I did my homework this time around and went with a more trusted/reliable brand of Corsair.  The install was super easy with the units radiator mounted at the front of the case.  The fans draw air through the radiator.  The other three case fans are configured to vent the warm air out of the case from the top, bottom and rear.

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With the CPU safely installed, it’s time to mount the Corsair Hydro Series H100i v2 CPU Cooler in the case.

An Open and Shut Case

I absolutely am in love with this new case.  If anyone is interested, its the NZXT S340 Elite ATX case.  It’s amazing and relatively easy to work with.  I love the cable management features and absolutely love the SSD drive mounting options.   The power supply mounts at the rear and under the red metal cover.  This really helps to keep all the cabling coming  from the PSU tidy or at least just out of sight.

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Cable management is made super easy with this case from NZXT.

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The SSD drives mount onto a metal tray which clips in and held in place with just one screw.

Speaking of Drives

At the heart of the v5 build is a superfast 1 TB Samsung 960 EVO PCIe NVMe M.2 Internal SSD drive.  I’ve never installed or used one of these in the past.  But OMG…this thing is fast.  Yes, fast…but also expensive.  For comparison, this NVMe M.2 SSD has a read speed of up to 3.2 GB/s and a write speed up to 1.9 GB/s.  Compared to a standard SSD drive (as pictured above) where read speed is around 550 MB/s and write speeds of 520 MB/s.  I thought Windows 10 booted fast on a standard SSD…but literally after POST, Windows 10 is ready to go in the blink of an eye.  I’m super impressed.

The moment of truth

With the final component installed and most cables tucked out of the way, it was time to test the build.  I grabbed an old monitor, keyboard and mouse and fired up v5.  She roared, actually whispered to life as she’s super quiet and a quick rap of the F2 button and I was in the BIOS.  I made a few tweaks mainly consisting of setting correct date/time and just verifying everything was set correctly.  I shut v5 down so I could properly secure all the visible cables and batten down the hatches on the case.  By the way, if you’re not aware….you never want to operate a desktop computer (especially a high performing one) with the case covers open.  The design of the cooling features in most modern cases depend on the case being closed down for proper air flow.

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Let’s get Windows installed

The fun can’t begin until Windows 10 has been installed and patched.  As this is not the first time I’ve installed Windows 10 in the past week, I’m old hat with all that needs to be done.  This also allows for a more peaceful break in period for all the components in the machine.   The first software application I installed was CAM by NZXT.  Yep, same folks that make the case.  CAM is a wonderful monitoring tool which I’ve used from time to time.   After installation, I launched CAM and moved the application over to one of my secondary monitors so I could keep an eye on v5 while she was taking updates and installing software.  Most likely I’ll rely on CAM and keep it open and active on my system for the first several weeks (at least) just to keep a watchful eye on my new baby.

A Lot of Work To Do

I still have lots and lots and lots of work still yet to do on v5.  Of course this is all software installs and configurations.  But to all my extremely loyal and wonderful Farming Friends, FS17 has been installed and tested.  I’ve verified everything is just as I left it (not by choice) with Green River and even ran a quick test for about 10 minutes where I drove around the map and had OBS recording.  The machine performed just as expected and GPU/CPU temps all stayed nice and cool.  I plan to record episode 10 of GreenRiver on Saturday, 5 May (Cinco de Mayo) which won’t actually be released on YouTube until the week of the 14th of May.

Something Old, Something New

Some of the funds that went into helping purchase the pieces and parts to build “the Beast v5” came from selling some old AM radios I purchased and refinished.  The illuminated USB thumb drive is made from an old analog tube.  I don’t know the exact age of the tube, but its most likely in the same age range as a few of the old radios I sold (circa 1940).  This is a 16GB USB thumb drive which I used to install Windows 10 into the new machine.  Sort of cool huh?

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The GBS Beast v5

As previously stated, I still have many hours of work installing and configuring software.  My flight sim setup is quite complex and takes many hours, actually a few days to completely get setup.   But in the mean time, please allow me to introduce you to the new Beast v5.  Yes, I’ll eventually peel that caution sticker off which is just a warning that the main case cover is real tempered glass.

 

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Thanks for reading and sharing in my excitement.  This build (like all the others before it) was a lot of fun both in the planning and building stages.  I’m confident this new machine will provide me many, many hours of enjoyment as I continue to play FS17, ATS, ETS2, Flight Sim and many other games.

Until next time…

Jerry

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