FWIW: My experience building a gaming PC

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by craigdawg, Feb 26, 2011.

  1. craigdawg macrumors 6502

    Mar 8, 2004
    Now in the history of my life I've owned a few Macs (five) and a few PCs (three). I've never had the desire to build a PC but in the interest of science and to play the upcoming Shogun 2: Total War, I recently built a 2nd generation Core i5 (aka Sandy Bridge) machine. Considering the game is PC-only I had no choice. I also have the need to remote-in to my work PC from home which requires that I have Windows machine. I intended to keep the total build costs under $1100 but failed. I realize that is a fair amount of money for what is essentially a single-purpose machine but this is the first and last PC I plan on building. All of the components were purchased at Amazon (unless otherwise noted).

    $225 Intel Core i5-2500K CPU
    $185 ASUS P8P67Pro mobo (Newegg)
    $225 ASUS Radeon HD6870 video card
    $ 70 1TB WD Caviar Blue primary HDD
    $ 40 500GB WD Caviar Blue backup HDD
    $ 50 4 GB DDR3 Corsair XMS3 RAM
    $145 750W Corsair modular PSU
    $ 45 Corsair A70 CPU cooler
    $ 60 Antec Three Hundred case
    $ 8 additional case fan
    $ 18 ASUS 24x DVD-24 (Newegg)
    $260* Windows 7 Pro 64-bit
    Grand total = $1313

    My first mistake was buying the Pro version of Windows, an impulse buy the same day I received my state tax refund. I could have lived with Home Premium, which is only $170. *My opinion regarding Windows, its various iterations and cost model: total bull$@%#. You will notice that Windows was the single highest cost component (20%, if you're scoring at home). You will recall when Snow Leopard came out it was $29. (I want to say Tiger was $79). You will not have any regrets over which version you buy as there will be only one flavor of Lion. You will expect to be able to purchase Lion for $29 when it's released.

    My second mistake was being a Sandy Bridge early adopter. The game's recommended system requirements drove the choice of platform. But as you may know, Intel discovered a flaw in the Cougar Point chipset affecting the SATA II ports. The good news is the motherboard is usable until the replacement is delivered. (In fact I'm writing this post from the PC and I haven't noticed any problems nor do I expect to). The bad news is I have to take the entire damn thing apart to replace the mobo.

    Assembly was fairly straightforward. If you've spent any time under the hood upgrading or replacing PC bits and pieces the entire process can be completed in an hour or two. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to boot from the Windows 7 DVD without having to get into the BIOS. Installing Windows took way less time than I expected--about 30 minutes. (I recall XP taking 1 1/2 hours to install on a BootCamp partition). This video is a good primer on things to consider when assembling a PC.


    The first glitch I encountered was with the network interface: Windows 7 did not recognize the mobo's gigabit Ethernet port requiring me to download the driver from my Mac and transfer to the PC via a USB drive. After I was able to connect the PC to my router another hour was spent downloading and installing the various drivers because the auto driver update "feature" failed to update any of the devices.

    Other annoyances included:

    • The Windows firewall decided the display driver executable was malware and prevented it from launching.
    • The backup HDD was recognized by Windows but neither mounted nor prompted me to format it. I had to go hunting for the disk management utility (right-click on Computer and select Manage) which prompted me to format the HDD in the form of a warning message as in, "you can't use this drive until you format it". Thanks.
    • I'm bothered by the overall intrusiveness of Windows. To wit, even when launching a signed application it asks you, "Do you want to allow this program to make changes to your computer". There does not seem to be a way to suppress this behavior. At the very least I would expect a checkbox to allow Windows to remember that I previously granted permission to the application.
    • It is quite loud.
    In the big picture, these are all fairly minor issues but they made me appreciate OS X that much more.


    Intel uses "K" suffix to indicate this CPU is fully unlocked for overclocking. Overclocking was always a bit of a mystery to me, something akin to electronic alchemy. (Quick trip down Memory Lane: I recall "overclocking" my PowerMac 6100/66 back in the day by clipping a faster clock chip onto the clock chip in the mobo.) In fact, overclocking is rather straightforward in the Sandy Bridge world. ASUS includes "Auto Tune" software that will fiddle with the various settings (primarily the Turbo multiplier), reboot, and run a stability test to ensure novices like me don't brick their own system. It will repeat this process to achieve a progressively higher overclock, though I stopped after one cycle. Most importantly, the software is not supposed to overclock beyond the system's capacity to cool itself. Air cooling with the gigantic Corsair A70 netted 42x multiplier (under load), which equates to an approximately 1.03GHz overclock. Load temps for a four cores all in the mid 60-degree Celsius range, which is well below the maximum Intel spec for the CPU (according to a piece of software that measures core temperatures, not surprisingly known as CoreTemp).

    If you desire to mess around with the settings manually, ASUS employs a rather slick GUI BIOS. This video gives an overview of ASUS' UEFI BIOS and the overclocking capabilities of ASUS mobos.

    Final thoughts

    Building the PC was an interesting exercise and thus far I've been pleased with the results gaming-wise. As I expected, there is an obvious, massive improvement over my Early 2008 MBP in the games that I can play on both systems: StarCraft 2, Minecraft, and Portal. I realize that it's an apples-to-oranges (hah) comparison, e.g., the MPB doesn't even meet the minimum system requirements of SC2. Generally speaking the PC gets about 150 fps on SC2 (1920x1080, Ultra) and 50 fps on the Shogun 2: Total War demo (1920x1080, Very High). And despite the chipset flaw I've not experienced any glitches or system crashes.

    Alright I'm done. Peace out.
  2. ravenvii macrumors 604


    Mar 17, 2004
    Melenkurion Skyweir
    Yeah, I've built a few PC's back in the 2000's. Definitely was a great learning experience, forces you to understand a lot more about the innards of a PC and how they work together.
  3. Rodimus Prime macrumors G4

    Rodimus Prime

    Oct 9, 2006
    I would like to point out that you can not compare the cost of Windows retail/OEM which you got to an upgrade cost for OSX.

    Remember you bought your Apple computers from Apple which means you paid the OEM/Retail cost of it then. Apple ONLY sells upgrade licenses on its OSX. It does not sell retail/OEM versions since Apple is the only OEM. Remember OSX can only be legally installed on an APPLE labeled computer which means it came with an Apple OS at some point.

    As for the rest sounds like a normal build that when pretty well minus a few minor problems which are to be expected when you are an OEM. I built my first computer back in 2004 and then build some others for friends. I plan to at some point to build a new desktop. Something is just fun about putting it together.

    As for replacing your mother boarded that will be 30 min to 1 hour job depending on your case. I had to do that on the computer I build as the MOBO was bad and I had to RMA it. I moved everything over to a new case while I was at it and this case had a removable MOBO tray. I think the complete move was 30 mins for me and then it booted right up.

    Since then I have taken it complete apart more than once in testing parts for a friend. It gets easier and easier.

    I will say it is a good learning experience and really removes a lot of fear of messing around inside a computer and with computer hardware.
  4. yg17 macrumors G5


    Aug 1, 2004
    St. Louis, MO
    1. Leopard and past OSX releases were $129. Snow Leopard was $29 because it was not much of an upgrade from Leopard, it was mainly tweaks, fixes and improvements. It didn't offer anything in the way of new features. It was a little bit more than a service pack, not much else. Charging $129 for it would've been highway robbery. I fully expect Lion to cost $129.
    2. You could've gone with an OEM edition of Windows 7 Pro 64 bit for $140. The OEM versions are 100% legit, 100% legal, and 100% identical to the retail versions except you don't get the fancy, useless packaging.

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