Close

An electrifying new companion

Building my new PC

Seemingly on my to-do list for the past 12 years, over the last few months I’ve finally got around to building my own PC.

My aging MacBook has been crying enough. To be fair though, I have tormented it over the last 6 years. Not long after unboxing, I dissected the CD drive with the intention of replacing it with a hard drive, and broke the Bluetooth, webcam, microphones in the process. One of the USB ports sends sparks if it’s having a bad day. The battery lasts 20 minutes. And for 5 years the keyboard backlight sits underneath a fine layer of coagulated milk which gives the keys a crunchy sound when pressed. If hell existed for computer hardware, my MacBook has been there and back.

Still though, it refuses to die. In fact, it runs relatively smoothly despite its grand old age. But, with the lure of PC gaming it was time I put together a powerful rig.

Preparing the build

What was I after? Well, here was my original spec:

  • Dedicated, high performance video card to enable gaming at high resolutions and frame rate suitable for future multi-monitor/VR headset gaming.
  • Overclocking capability for pushing the performance envelope further for demanding applications
  • Energy efficiency to reduce electricity costs (with the intention of using it as a server)
  • Expandability so additional components can be swapped in and out
  • Support to run a hackintosh (i.e Mac OS in virtual mode)
  • Diverse IO port selection for interoperability with external hardware, using latest technology standards

And after weeks of research, here was the contents of my shopping basket:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7 7700k (4.2 ghz) Kaby Lake
  • Motherboard: Asus ROG Maximus IX FormulaÂ
  • RAM: G.Skill TridentZ RGB 16GB
  • Case: Corsair 570X RGB
  • Storage: 512GB 960 EVO NME SSD drive
  • PSU: EGDA SuperNova G3 750 Watts
  • GPU: Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti [On order]
  • CPU Cooling: Corsair H100i GTX Hydro cooler
  • Misc. Cooling: 1X Corsair HD120 140mm, 3X Corsair SP120 140mm
  • Keyboard: Corsair Strafe RGB
  • Mouse: Logitech G900 Chaos Spectrum Wireless Gaming Mouse

The full cast

Construction

Building the machine wasn’t a completely new endeavour for me. I’ve tinkered with PCs in the past (see above) and generally had a good idea how everything plugs together.

Still though, I wasn’t taking any risks. Each evening after clearing my worktop I’d carefully attach a wrist-strap to avoid frying the components with my body’s static charge.

 

For the most part, the build was all quite straightforward apart from a few hurdles along the way.

To start with, screwing in the motherboard was the first step and required a serious amount of force to snap the IO plate into the chassis.

Screwing in the motherboard

With the processor being the most expensive component, it was also the most nerve-wracking to install. Thankfully it proved straightforward in the end, as I didn’t need to apply thermal paste manually (the cooling block had it pre-applied).

Being careful to handle the processor gently and place it in the socket

Next was the water cooling system which turned out to have an apparent design defect. The backplate which secures the water cooling block to the CPU was looser than I would have liked (apparently this is a well-known issue) which could have resulted in inefficient cooling performance. After a couple of trips to B&Q I managed to get hold of some small rubber washers which I slotted behind the backplate standoffs, creating a much more secure fit.

Installing the water cooling system

The biggest challenge was deciding the most appropriate route for the cables, which required precision routing and carefully considering the order of installation. I had to unscrew the CPU cooling fans at least 3 times to tuck the motherboard cables beneath.

With everything connected and plugged in, I crossed my fingers and hit the power button only to find an error code on the motherboard accompanied with the hum of the PSU. At least it wasn’t a complete write off, I thought.

I looked up the error code and it turned out the memory modules weren’t recognised. To be fair, I wasn’t all that confident when I originally plugged the modules in that they’d actually snapped into place. On second attempt took a frightening amount of force to secure the modules in – with plenty of motherboard flex for good measure.

A second try at forcing the memory modules in place

Another stab at the power button, and lo and behold, the PC sprung into life.

The first signs of life is…light!

Setup 

Funnily enough, the only other nightmares I had were actually on the software side of things. I installed Windows 10 Single Language edition only to find the product key I had for Windows 10 Professional wasn’t compatible (typical Microsoft) so ended up re-installing the whole operating system.

Oh, and after installation my user folder is now called ‘mail’ – Windows automatically pulls in the first few characters of a linked email address. And, surprise surprise: It can only be fixed by re-installing the entire operating system. It annoys the living daylight out of me.

Speaking of light, I admit falling for the fancy for RGB lighting phenomenon grappling PC builders worldwide. In particular I like the Asus Aura technology that syncs the lighting with the output music. Throw in an RGB keyboard too, and now I can enjoy an evening rave from the comfort of my own chair.

Unleashing the beast

I’m happy to report that my trusty Macbook Pro is now entering retirement. I still use it for Mac specific applications, as unfortunately my attempts at configuring a hackintosh on the PC didn’t work out due to usability issues with the virtualisation software. But a majority of my daily workflows have successfully migrated to using the PC.

Most importantly however, this machine is a monster in terms of performance. I can count the seconds from boot to desktop on one hand. The IO speed of the SSD drive is perhaps most noticeable; copying large files is a breeze. I’ll definitely write another post after a few gaming sessions, since I’ve not truly tested the PC to its limits other than running my own stress-tests.Â

Alas, I’ve quelled my greatest fear with this project. Nothing’s blown up yet. Plenty of lights, but no smoke, sparks or flames. Long may it stay that way.

-S

 

About the Author

Write Your Comment

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>