2014: A PC Odyssey – Part 2
The Glorious PC Gaming Master Race isn't born... it's built.on February 27, 2014 at 8:00 am
The goal was to build a next-gen console replacement (no PS4 or Xbox One for us), with a small form-factor, under $1000. I have to say, it went pretty well. No major problems (defective parts, explosions, swearing) were had, and they run great.
For a more detailed run-down of the parts used in this build, check out part 1.
Editor’s Note: I dropped a flashlight inside mine and nearly spilled beer. The universe was kind to me that day. —Brian
There was that time we forgot to plug something in. Also a second time. Perhaps a third? We’ve all done it at some point in our technologically-enriched lives. That’s why the first thing tech support asks is if it’s plugged in.
The choice of case may have bumped the cost up a bit, but the form-factor was worth it. And it wasn’t too difficult to build in. Having access from both sides by taking either panel off was incredibly useful.
The ITX motherboard does start to get very crowded once all of the various cables are connected. Especially since this specific model has almost all of its ports to one side. Fortunately, this puts them as close as possible to the PSU cable cut-outs, for easier cable management.
The PSU has had no problems keeping up with everything at max load. It has almost the perfect amount of cables. My only complaint so far is that the cables are not very flexible. The space on either side of the PSU cage provides an adequate solution for storing any excess cable.
Cable management is not great, nor is it terrible. I’ve cleaned it up (organized it, rather) a little since the initial build. It doesn’t affect airflow, so I’m happy for now. I did have to get creative with the storage mounting to get the SATA power connector to work (notice that the SSD is mounted upside-down).
Much to my surprise, installing the I/O shield and subsequently lining up the motherboard’s ports was on of the more frustrating part of the build. I’ve heard that managing to not draw blood while dealing with the I/O shield is some sort of rite of passage for new builders. I wouldn’t take that too seriously (no cut fingers here!). Some of it was due to obvious oversights on our part, but it really shouldn’t take two people to accomplish.
There’s a reason that the HDD/SSD combo is a pretty common setup. Quick boot times, but still plenty of storage. Especially the boot times. We’re talking power button to start screen in 10 seconds max. I don’t think I can go back to using just a mechanical hard drive from this point on.
You can’t truly appreciate how huge modern graphics cards are until you’ve installed one inside an ITX case. The GTX 760 fit just fine (I did my research), but it really does dwarf the relatively small motherboard. Having the optical drive bay in made connecting the power cables a tight squeeze. Once it’s installed, it effectively blocks all access to the motherboard from that side.
The graphics card handles both “Tomb Raider” and “Assassin’s Creed IV” at 1080p max settings and still runs cool and quiet. While most hardcore PC gamers have already set their sights on 4K and the like, I think I’ll be content with the performance for quite some time. After all, I did just come from a console that can barely reach native 720p on a well-optimized game.
The optical drive works fine, but it’s insanely noisy… good thing it doesn’t get much use. To be honest, I could just as easily take it out at this point. It would really only be an improvement, in terms of reduced weight, better airflow, and fewer cables.
We were prepared to make a weekend of the whole process. The task of putting both of the PCs together took no more than 2-3 hours. Even installing Windows only took 20 minutes or so (thanks again, SSD). The tedious process of installing drivers and software took up far more time by comparison.
I dislike the notion put forth by some that PC building is “a bit like Legos” [sic]. Not that it is completely unlike clicking pieces of plastic together. Maybe if LEGO bricks cost as much as hundreds of dollars per part (to be fair, they are pretty expensive) and could be permanently damaged if you put them together wrong.
As great as it would be to make building your own PC inviting to newcomers, I think that it is unwise to trivialize the process. It has certainly gotten far more ‘consumer friendly’ since a few decades ago. However, that fact doesn’t negate the need for proper research, planning, and technique. I may have agonized over the planning, part selection, and other details far more than I intended, but I don’t regret it.
There’s a certain sense of pride and ownership that you get from building your own gaming machine that I’ve never had for a console. It gives me a little bit better understanding of why people insist on sharing pictures of their new baby.
I still don’t want to see them, though.