I’ve now completed building out the new desktop PC and thought I’d detail the hardware component choices I made. As I said last post, one of the key advantages of building your own PC is that you can pick the exact components you want, so its worth going over the list of those components and why I picked each one. In a future post I’ll fill out details about the challenges I encountered putting this thing together.
Finished view of my new PC in a Mini-ITX case
Processor: Intel Core i7- 2700K (quad core, 3.5ghz, 3.9ghz turbo)
Motherboard: ASRock Z68M-ITX/HT (Intel Z68 chipset, Mini-ITX)
RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaw 8GB (2×4GB DDR3 1333)
Graphics: HIS IceQ X Turbo Radeon HD 6950 2GB
Boot Drive: OCZ Agility 3 240GB
Other Drives: 2x Raptor 150GB Drives (from my old machines), Blu-Ray/DVD/CD burner (from my old machine)
Case: Lian Li PC-Q08B (Black aluminum Mini-ITX Tower Case)
Power Supply: Antec NeoPower 550W Power Supply
USB3 Hub: Syba SD-HUB20058 USB 3.0 4-port hub (internal/external)
Before I dive into the details I’d like to reiterate my goals for the system. The idea is to build out as high end of a system as possible while staying within as small of a form factor as possible and not buying any of the extremely-expensive parts. This is my main workstation machine for my home office so I use it for coding, running VMs, browsing and playing games.
Processor- for a brief window of time the Core i7- 2700K was the top of the line processor available. For some time Intel has always had a “top of the line processor” that cost close to $1000. But this past year the best processors have been under $400 so its been a fairly easy choice to get the high end one. Intel just came out with the new Core i7- 3960X that costs $1049, but that takes a new chipset and socket type and there aren’t any mini-ITX motherboards that support it. So I get to stick with the 2700K which is just as good for most games, and even better for most encoding tasks (since it has the on-chip GPU that can be used for encoding).
Motherboard- There are really only two choices here. I wanted the Z68 chipset since it improved a bunch of things over the previous ones for a high-end system, and only Zotac and ASRock make motherboards in Mini-ITX form factors. The Zotac board I just couldn’t get to work. It fails pretty consistently on boot. I’ve tried it with multiple CPUs and RAM, so the problem is definitely the board. Also its impossible to upgrade the BIOS without booting to Windows (as far as I can tell) and since I can’t boot to Windows without crashing, that ends up being a pretty serious problem. The Zotac board has some nice video outputs, but they don’t matter for this system, and the ASRock adds an eSATA port which is really nice. The only problems I have with the ASRock board are that the eSATA port doesn’t support port-multipliers. I had been hoping to use it with an external Sans Digital 4-drive eSATA box, but it only shows one drive when I plug it in.
RAM and Power Supply- I got both of these on New Egg “Shell Shocker” specials. No special logic for these other than that I wanted brands that are generally well known, I wanted 8GB of RAM (tempted to get 16GB but the 8GB DIMMS are still way too expensive) , and I wanted a “modular” Power Supply that lets you just connect the specific connectors that you need to reduce cable clutter inside the box.
Graphics- I’ve generally liked the ATI/AMD boards lately and this one seemed to be this generations sweet spot of being able to drive 3+ monitors and give enough performance at 2560×1600 without being in the stratosphere of pricing and heat. This board seemed like it would be relatively quiet with decent cooling for the system which I was expecting to have a fairly crowded box.
Boot Drive- I’ve been using an Intel X25M 80gb and the boot drive was getting a bit cramped. NewEgg had a killer sale on this OCZ Agility 3 and 240GB gives me plenty of room for boot-drive stuff. One interesting note- because my old system was on my old drive as a VHD, I was able to copy the VHD file over to the new drive using a “VHD Resize” utility, reinstall boot-loader stuff, and it made it fairly easy to just switch all my existing OS over to the new machine.
Case- The Lian Li PC-Q08B case was one of the few choices in this range. I was looking for something that was as small as possible, but would still accommodate a full-sized video card. This case supports plenty of drives and overall ends up far smaller than what I had before. Overall the case was a pain to setup, but that usually goes with the territory when you are trying to build a smaller form-factor system (although plenty of big systems are a pain too). The way the USB3 ports on the front work are especially weird. They didn’t include a normal USB motherboard header (which the ASRock board wouldn’t have had anyway- the one advantage of the Zotac is it has extra USB3 ports). The front panel connectors just terminate in USB3 plugs that you have to work through the case and plug into the back. Instead I bought a small “internal” USB3 hub that can run off a standard floppy power connector and stuck it in my internal drive bay. Now, that thing is plugged into one of my back USB3 ports, but at least both of my front ports work and I still have one in back.
As I said, I’ll fill in more details about the various challenges putting this thing together shortly. The results appear great right now though- instead of taking up a huge amount of floor space, I have a small mini-tower in the corner of my desk. The CPU doesn’t exactly run cool (its ~40C at idle and maxes out at ~70C under high workloads), but its well within the expected limits. And best of all the overall result is acting very stable and is snappy fast.