Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gaming computer build

Before throwing ourselves into part two of the build, a quick overview of the monster itself;
  • COOLER MASTER Cosmos Case
  • Intel Core i7-960 3.2GHz
  • ASUS P6T Deluxe V2
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB 7200 RPM SATA
  • SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5870 x 2

For different reasons, the components came over several deliveries so I had the opportunity to check them out in detail days before the actual build. Whether it was because this computer is the sixth or seventh build or patience has simply come with old age, but this fairly detailed review of the components seemed to help the build go much smoother on the day.
In some ways its just as well. Regardless of the quality of the different pieces and as impressive as the components may have been, the instructions seem to fall to the low standard of disappointing.
From small scraps of paper to the manual being stored on a disc that came with the component, it seems manufacturers assume a builder will have access to not only a computer but also the internet for some much needed research. Only the Asus motherboard had a manual with any detail, but even then certain items were only made clear after some further online research.
The case
In every build before this the case was chosen with the least thought, strictly based on the best price and style over-powering functionality. But as everyone knows, a major killer of performance is heat and with modern computer components running hotter than ever,  not only is ventilation but also room for the air to flow over the different volcanic peripherals an important part of planning out this latest build. This was first and foremost in my mind.
After reading some opinions that not only the processor but also the graphics card were known to kick out some serious heat, cooling was a major concern and more time than usual was given to finding the right case. Oddly enough, it wasn't down to lights, perspex sides or even the look, more to a case that could fit eveything, help with cable management and of course keep its cool. I am not one for fan controls or monitoring case temperatures so I wanted a build and forget about kind of case.
Now it shouldn't be lost on PC Gamer readers that my gaming pc is a practical copy of their latest 'Dream Machine' outlined for most of the issues on the newstands throughout 2010. This came about from PC Gamer picking some phonemenal components as well as the sheer luck of already owning some items on the list.
The girlfriend's cat loved the unpacking of the case itself and as mentioned in the prior post, it came with everything and more. While I've never needed a manual for a case in the past, the Coolmaster came with so many options, filters and quite frankly, fiddly bits some instructions could be considered the most important accessory. A few filters had fallen out of place, but after thirty minutes of becoming familiar with the case, they eventually found their home.

The Motherboard
I had read a lot of good stuff about Asus and everything appeared to be spot on with the different accessories and of course a complete and detailed manual. Visually, the board looks good but with a full enclosed case it didn't matter.

This would ring true throughout the build, although the stuff looked good it didn't matter as much as knowing they would perform up to the high standard promised in the different reviews and recommendations.

Some nice touches; an adapter which helped plug the front panel wires into the motherboard. This saved using adult sized male fingers trying to push the connecters into an insanely small area which is always harded with these older eyes that always seem to have a depth perception problem with pins.

The motherboard was designed with the foresight and understanding it would have to house video cards of the modern, mammoth proportions. Such design considerations included moving the slot for the soundcard well away from the PCI slots allocated for video cards, lifting the worry or concern any slots would be covered or blocked.

The build itself
Like some maestro facing his orchestra of talent I monopolized the kitchen with the old gaming computer open and to my left, a clean work space on the breakfast bar and the case of the to be built gaming machine on a nearby counter to the right. It was as if one gladiator was passing the mantle, the responsibility of leading the battle to the other. With essential pieces coming from one to the other the analogies have never been more appropriate.
It should be noted that the kitchen itself was only renovated about six months prior to this build. Many men in relationships will ask how I managed to convince my better half to allow all the computers, boxes and chaos on the new, pristine counters.
The answer is simple; she wasn't in town.
Her job can pull her away from home a week at a time, giving me the perfect window to complete a build and season the gaming computer with enough games to appreciate just what it can do. Plenty of time for the all-nighters of loading up operating systems, drivers and of course games.
As for the particulars of the build, for various reasons, I screwed in the brass posts first. First, its a nice slow way to start the build, practically impossible to mess up and gives the mind freedom to run through a mental checklist over upcoming tasks and what has to be done.

Where as other cheaper cases have the post guide stamped on the inside of the case, the Coolmaster case came with a paper template taped inside the case with an easy to understand guide indicating which holes needed the posts for the appropriate board.

Speaking of boards, I used the non-conductive bag and padding that protected the motherboard during shipping to rest the Asus on while I built up the beasts engine that would bring so many hours of gaming pleasure. The computer was being bulit in the kitchen/dining room with the tall and clear countertop a perfect hieght with the rooms bright lights offering a well lit working area.

Some buyers of this particular board complained in reviews on Newegg they recieved warped boards. While not being a master computer builder, my board didn't seem anything but perfectly built even after a close inspection. After a good look at the board and a clockwise tour of what the different components on the board, what went where and anything I needed to know about the Asus, it was time to start plugging in the different peripherals.

The placing of the processor was reviewed, rehearsed and the victim of so much attention if it were a women it would have surely blushed. This was the first processor in many years that didn't have a golden triangle on the corner, instead using two symetrical indentations to act as the placement guide.

A large cooling fan for the processor was already 'pasted' so didn't have to worry about the messy job of applying silicon, but the snaps that hold everything in place just didn't feel like they were catching. After several attempts to securing the two corners which didn't seem to want to snap into place and coming close to pushing through the motherboard itself, a quick look under the board showed that they had in fact caught.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Building my way to a new gaming experience

It has been too long since my last post. Real life, a few business interests taking up more time than it should and of course the daily grind have all kept me not only away from this blog, but also gaming in general.

Aside from being robbed of the chance to lose myself in the latest electronic adventure, all those games I complained about just sitting on the hard drive, neglected like an ugly child at an orphanage are still sitting there, unexplored.

Commander Sheppard has been drydocked, my battle record for Bad Company 2 furloughed. I could go on. But there is light at the end of the cyber-tunnel.

Fate has put me in a place to finally upgrade my gaming computer. She has been one heck of a mistress, treating me so well with the very rare and only occassional hiccup. Built in December 2006, it boasted the following;
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 Conroe 2.4GHz
  • 775 NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI ATX Intel Motherboard
  • GeForce 8800 GTX
  • 2 GB Memory
I would later add a surround sound speaker system I had long coveted along powered by a X-Fi Titanium  sound card.
Now the reason for buying the 8800 GTX was to take advantage of DX 10 and all the candy microsoft promises game developers would come out with using the latest graphical tools. But that never really happened and for the most part my gaming computer has handled everything thrown at her if not with the newer games dialed down a tad.
But now we are in the age of DX11, and developers are not only taking advantage of it but the games are looking like more horsepower is needed under the hood to get any decent framerates. So the decision was made to take the plunge and prepare myself for a summer of souped up gaming.
What did I go for?
I decided to take the extra step, fork out for that dream system that I read about in the back of gaming magazines. Looking back, it was plain to see if I could get another three years out of this new gaming system, the extra money for the top of the line components would make sense.
This logic translated to the following;
  • Intel Core i7-960 Bloomfield 3.2GHz
  • ASUS P6T Deluxe V2 LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Intel Motherboard
  • Two SAPPHIRE 100281-3SR Radeon HD 5870
  • CORSAIR CMPSU-850TX 850W ATX12V 2.2
  • Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM
All encased in a COOLER MASTER Cosmos Pure Black Aluminum / SGCC ATX Full Tower Computer Case.
I know there are many reviewers and gamers who post in the forums that feel the two 5870's are overkill, but have you tried to buy a 5970? I was on auto-notify and within three hours of getting an email to say Newegg had them in stock, they didn't anymore!
Besides, the dream list from PC Gamer has the two cards listed, so who am I to doubt.
One package at a time, the components arrived. What caught my eye initially was the size of the coolmaster case. The thing is huge.
But it has to be, the video cards are reportedly long and big. The rods that outline the top and bottom of the case not only gives it some science fiction look, but makes the large case easier to handle.
There is nothing space age about the thick cloth cover that comes with the case though. I'm guessing this is for moving the thing down the road. Nice touch.
I had never spent as much on a case as I did with the coolmaster, but as it was unpacked the quality and care that went into it was obvious, making me feel better about the extra dollars. Everything was painted, inside and out. Padding was inside to help with soundproofing. Four massive fans come with the case, all strategically placed around the inside to create an airflow over the various components. From the unique rack system for the hard drives to fans located on the bottom and top, the cooling jetstream can be imagined peering into the expansive case.
And the vents on the top of the case look so sharp.
The case is also designed to tuck away the different cables, a panel of inputs are located on the top and towards the front. Among the inputs is an ESata. hmmmm. Never had one of those before.
The power supply isn't only located on the bottom of the case, but the fans points downwards to a duct, obviously venting the hot air out of the case instead across the components trying to be kept cool. The case comes with a small plastic accessories case which includes screwdrivers, etc. I couldn't quite work out what the little case was for or even how to open it. Its design would have fit comfortably in a science fiction movie. Although the screwdrivers are nice, they're not to the quality I use, so they stayed in the case. What was very clever where the custom screws for the HD bays and motherbaord giving the finsihed computer a polished look.

The front door can be changed so it swings either way and the drives slide and snap into place in the different drive bays.
More on this build as the different components are unpacked and assembled.