Last year one evening the Mrs turned to me and asked, don't I need a new computer? God I love that woman <g> Daddy's computer is usually a desktop, and usually made from parts:

  • I need a box to surf, run Office, do a little development, and game. And usually not (or not primarily) bleeding edge FPS, so the liquid nitogen cooled 8cpu quad-SLI rig's not necessary (and way overpriced)
  • I have an iPad (and my wife and kids even let me near it on occasion)
  • I've got a work laptop, and if I'm mobile, I want remote work access anyway (esp VPN). And a 2nd laptop just isn't that important
  • "Daddy's machine" has been a desktop for, oh, ever. I can get better parts cheaper for my needs, and as I don't need mobility, so good enough

It's been a while. My old PC was getting a bit long in the tooth - Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, 32bit XP (yes, the irony...). Had a sweet GeForce 9800 GTS video card, but the box was about 5 years old now. Still handles the load well, so I had no pressing need to change.

And I hate reinstalling all my software and Win7's only an upgrade from Vista, so I was in no rush to rebuild my machine.

If you haven't noticed, I tend to play the long game. The 'old' PC was 5 years old. Its predecessor was 7 (and even that died ahead of schedule, due to a fried motherboard/cpu). Now granted, the case is 5 years old, but I've replaced a few parts - memory upped to 4GB, added an SSD, on my 3rd video card for the machine, and went on a mouse binge fest last year when my old MX Revolution died after many years in the line of service. So not exactly all original parts. But the core was original - same old cpu, no USB 3.0, etc. Last year I said Win8 will be out next year, and it'll be time for a new PC.

It's time.

I expected to buy the 'box' at Fry's, throw them a few bucks to assemble it, buy the other half of parts from Newegg and finish it myself. Turned out Fry's had (almost - see below) everything I wanted (and at equal or better price), so I splurged the sales tax instead of waiting:

Case CoolerMaster HAF-XM 129.99
Power Corsair AX 750W 169.99
Motherboard ASUS P8Z77-V Pro 209.99
CPU Intel i7 3770K 339.99
RAM Corsair DDR 8GB 1600MHz Dual Vengeance 44.99
Video EVGA GeForce 660 Ti 2GB Superclocked 309.99
SSD Samsung 830 256GB 249.99
HD WD Caviar Black 2TB 199.99
UPS Cyberpower 1500AVRT 159.99
Assembly Fry's assemble, no software 49.99

All told it was ~$1,800 plus assembly and sales tax. I originally expected to blow 1500, but the power supply, motherboard and cpu were tad more than I expected to spend, and I didn't account for the UPS at all in my original plans. My bad.

I did a lot of research the past few weeks, and learned a few things, as well as a few pleasant surprises at Fry's:

  • Fry's will assemble a PC w/o software for $50 (typical machine, 1 HD, no SLI, ...). Add an OS and that's $100. Gee, $50 for someone competent and I don't have to fiddle with the hassle of the case, motherboard and cpu? Sweet.
  • i7 3770K is nice
    • K = can be overclocked. I'm not today (plenty fast and prefer to avoid added heat and reduced life), but maybe oneday
    • i7 supports hyperthreading, so Windows gets 8 cpus to work with instead of an i5's 4. Not entirely separate CPUs, but helpful for async or parallel work
    • If you don't care about hyperthreading, go i5-3570K
    • If you don't care about hyperthreading or overclocking, go i5-3550 and save ($100+)
  • Power supplies are often 80 PLUS certified, with different ratings (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) depending on their efficiency. Higher the rated, the more efficient the power supply. That translates into less power draw from the wall and less heat produced.
    • Good luck finding a Platinum rated power supply in a size less than 1200W. I went with the Corsair as the only other Gold certified power supply they had on hand was a less established brand (and the 1200W was overkill - I didn't need a fusion reactor)
  • The ASUS P8Z77-V TB model is the same as the Pro but Thunderbolt support, 2 less USB 3.0 ports, 1 less PCI3 slot and +$50. Just not worth it to me today; the USB ports are likely more useful, and I'm sure I can add a Thunderbolt PCI card in a couple of years if I need
  • The 660 Ti's are killer GPUs. Almost the same perf as a 670 but $100 cheaper.
    • 192bit instead of 256bit data access seems to be the limiting factor. A couple of (extreme) benchmarks showed a difference, but I can always replace the card in a couple of years
    • They come in 2GB and 3GB but it appears the latter is pointless; if you can use the added GB memory, you'll be capped by the card's limit to handle the processing anyway.
  • The Samsung 830 SSD has strikingly better specs than most competitors (check out the 4K read/write speeds) and much longer MTBF (+50%)
    • P.S. That model number's MZ-7PC256D/AM - the 256 is size, and the 'D' is desktop; there's an 'N'(notebook) and 'B'(are) form. D comes with rails if you need, if not just get the B
  • CoolerMaster HAF-XM looks much nicer than the pictures convey. Great reviews too. Not small, but not a full tower either, and the flat top (and 'divot') are quite handy. Only one 120mm fan near the back (and nothing on top right now), so maybe less 'shelf' space if I add another fan on top some day, but given the lack of heat and noise today that's doubtful :-)
  • Alvin is Da'Man! I spent a few hours reviewing parts, pawing through the merchandise and comparing with Newegg via iPad (and general web searches), but I got some very helpful and friendly advice from Alvin, the sales guy at Fry's. No pressure, verry knowledgeable and quite helpful. I can honestly say it was the most pleasant electronics shopping experience I've had in years. Thank you Alvin!

The only disappointment was the drive. I wanted to get a Seagate, but apparently Fry's is having some marital spat with their buyer so they're not stocking any Seagate drives right now. I wanted a 1TB+ internal with a 5-year warranty, and the pickings were slim. The alternatives were a WD Caviar Green (cheaper, even the 3TB, but less perf, and only 2-year warranty!) or some (to me) less desirable drives. The Blacks have a pretty good rep and I've used them before. Just need to work out a backup strategy that doesn't suck, for peace of mind if nothing else. Paranoia's not always a bad thing :-) I figured I'd get the box sans HD and pick up a Seagate at Office Depot (where I got my last one when my drive died last year), but turns out OD doesn't really carry internals anymore - one 1TB desktop, one 500GB notebook, and all the rest SSD or externals. So I crossed my fingers and got the WD.

Took me almost 2 days to install Win 7 (x64!), shift over the drives (why reinstall when I can copy <g>), let Steam download overnight to its heart content and otherwise fiddle with the box. I did learn I have 100GB of music, and transferring 100GB from a SATA2 drive to a SATA3 drive connected to the same motherboard takes ~37 minutes :P

My only mistake was installing Win 7. I didn't realize Win 8 was already available to MSDN Subscribers (as of Aug'15!) else I'd have just gone Win8 Pro from the start. But it's a quick and reliable upgrade, so I'll fire that off shortly.

But not just yet. I'm enjoying The Secret World and a few other games right now on uber ultra max'd out settings :-)