My new PC, part III

Since at least a couple people reading this have expressed interest in building a similar machine, I'm going to continue explaining why I chose the parts I ddi for my new machine: Intel i5-2500K CPU

I typically prefer to use AMD processors whenever possible in both my home machines and in the servers I buy at work, but with the dominance that Intel is currently displaying on the desktop, choosing anything other than a "Sandy Bridge" chip didn't seem to make a lot of sense. I've always thought that AMD chips represented a very good value, and I think that continues to be true, but I was looking to get as much performance as I could reasonably afford, and had the budget for Intel. Intel has broken their mainstream chips into the i3, i5, and i7 families. The i3 chips are aimed at budget and entry-level machines, the i5 at mainstream machines, and the i7 at performance & enthusiast computers. Intel has also made a few parts, such as the i5-2500K and the i7-2600K that are purely aimed at enthusiasts building their own machines. The K designator in the model number indicates chips with an unlocked clock multiplier, chips that are practically guaranteed to overclock, as that's the only reason to care about an unlocked multiplier… I've had a few people ask me why I didn't go with the i7-2600 instead of my i5-2500K. My reasoning was simple, the only real difference between the two is hyperthreading support on the i7. Since I don't have a lot of apps (especially games) that can use more than 4 CPU cores, I didn't really feel it was worth the price premium. Sure, the i7 is 100mhz faster than the i5, but, using the stock cooler that came with my CPU, I easily overclocked my chip to 4.3Ghz just by using the auto-overclocking feature of my motherboard.

Antec Three Hundred Case

I chose the Antec case because it had pretty good reviews from real users, was from a quality manufacturer, and had a mounting space for a 2.5" hard drive. I like that all the edges inside are rounded, so you don't slice your hand up while working in it, and I also like that there's a handy chamber for stashing any extra power supply cables you're stuck with, if you're using a non-modular power supply like I am. The two included case fans are very quiet when run at their low setting, but they don't interface with the motherboard to let it throttle them, you have to open the case and flip their switches to the speed you desire. All-in-all, it's a solid choice, and my Radeon 6870 card easily fit between the case and the 3.5" hard drive spaces, and there are room for many drives. There is not an external 3.5" slot, however, so if you're dead-set on having a floppy drive in your case, you'll want to either get an adapter or look elsewhere. Same for a card reader.

ASUS LGA 1155 Intel Z68 Chipset Motherboard P8Z68-V PRO

I really waffled on what motherboard to purchase. I had a few requirements in mind. I really wanted 4 DIMM slots so I could expand beyond the initial 8GB of memory I purchased if I ever saw a smoking deal and wanted to go to 16GB. I also wanted the full ATX formfactor, and not one of the smaller variants, because my case had room for it. Sandy Bridge has three different chipsets, and the Z68 chipset is the top-of-the-line one, that incorporates the best parts of each of the two lesser chipsets. I initially had picked out this Gigabyte board, but it went out of stock as I was going to order it, so I stepped up to the more expensive Asus motherboard, and I can't say I'm disappointed. I was able to use the one-click overclock button in the Asus software to overclock my CPU to 4.3Ghz, and installing the drivers off the included DVD was pretty painless, with a nice little menu app that let you know what you were installing. The onboard audio works well, and this motherboard, combined with the i5-2500K, actually provides pretty decent integrated video as well. If you don't really plan on playing any modern 3D games on the system, you could easily get by with the HD3000 graphics chip integrated into the CPU until you find a good deal on a graphics card you want later. The motherboard manual actually was pretty helpful too, and everything is clearly labeled and explained, unlike the cheaper boards I've used in the past, where you get a poorly Xeroxed folded page of paper or two..

Tomorrow, I'll wrap this up talking about storage, and what the total cost of building this system was.

My new PC, part II

As I wrote yesterday, I’ve built a new gaming PC for home, and I promised to write some more today about why I chose certain components.  I’ll write about two of them today, and talk a little bit about power consumption.

Antec 620W Neo Eco Power Supply

The first component I bought was the power supply.  Power supplies aren’t very exciting components, and the main reason I picked this one is that I saw it on a special on Slickdeals.  I knew that I wanted a power supply with enough power that I could eventually run two video cards in my computer (ATI/AMD calls this Crossfire) and this power supply can do that.  Also, I wanted something relatively energy efficient, and since this one has the 80 Plus certification, I won’t be wasting a lot of power by using it.  Antec is generally a quality brand, and this is a quality (and heavy)  power supply, but it isn’t a “modular” power supply, where you only attach the cables to power the specific components needed in your build.  As a result, I have a couple extra cables in my case, and it makes for a bit of a mess when you’re wiring it all up.  If I was doing this over again, I’d wait a bit longer for a deal to pop up on a modular supply, as it would make the finished product look much tidier.

HIS Radeon 6870 Video Card (H687F1G2M)

I spent a lot of time agonizing over which video card to purchase.  There are a LOT of options for video cards, at many different price points, and typically the way I choose one is by finding the fastest card at the price point I’m willing to spend.  I read numerous benchmarks, and fortunately, AnandTech is currently using Civilization 5 as one of their benchmarking games.  I’ve been playing this game quite a bit lately, so it’s a very useful benchmark, and it was pretty clear that in the $150-ish price range, the NVidia GeForce 460 cards offered the most bang for the buck in Civ 5.  However, I’ve also been mining some Bitcoins lately with my hardware, and for Bitcoin mining, the Radeon cards are the only way to go.  They’re also sort of confusing to buy, as the performance doesn’t scale cleanly with price, due to the way that the mining software uses the processing power of the card.  After pouring over a lot of breakdowns of cost, mining performance, and energy consumption, I decided on a Radeon 6870 card as being something that would perform well in Bitcoin mining, in games, and still come in at a price I could live with.  It’s actually faster than the GeForce 460 I mentioned above in most games, except for Civilization 5, but honestly, if you’re not interested in Bitcoin mining, go for the 460, you can often find good deals on them listed on Slickdeals, and you can save at least $25 over the cost of the Radeon 6870, which ran me $165 after rebate.  If you want to stick with the Radeon family, the slightly-slower Radeon 6850 is also a good choice, it’s just not nearly as good at Bitcoin mining as its bigger brother.


Power Consumption

So, how much power does this new rig of mine use?  Can I actually turn a profit on my Bitcoin mining?  I plugged in my trusty Kill-A-Watt tonight to find out, and here are the results, not counting the monitor:


State Power consumption (watts)
Off 0
Booting 100-130
Idle/Login Screen 70
Mining Bitcoins 182
Civilization V 196
Sleep 1

So, I’m clearly not stressing my 620W power supply yet, but these numbers let us easily calculate what it’s costing me to mine Bitcoins.  Our power costs us about 7.8 cents per kw-hr, so when mining Bitcoins, I’m using about 34 cents worth of power per day versus leaving my computer turned off.  At my current rate, I can earn a Bitcoin about every 4 days, and they’re currently trading at over $15 each, so I could make $13 every four days in profit.  (Obviously, that heat goes somewhere, so my air conditioning will have to work slightly harder to dissipate that heat in the summer, but I'll save natural gas in the winter, so we’ll call it a wash).


Clearly, putting the computer to sleep is a good way to cut down on your power bill, but even leaving it idle isn’t going to break the bank, at a cost of only 13 cents per day.

My new PC

As the refurbished Dell PC I bought about four years ago was getting to be a bit slow, I decided that I wanted to build myself a new PC this summer. I don't game as much on my PC as I used to, but with my current favorite, Sid Meier's Civilization V, being dog slow on my Inspiron 531, and Diablo III being just around the corner, now seemed like a good time for an update. My last three PCs were built by companies, Dell, iBuyPower, and Dell again. My Dell boxes were rock solid, my iBuyPower box had some issues pop up after a couple years, but on the whole, they worked. I'd gotten out of the habit of building my own PCs, because I'd gotten fed up with compatibility problems, flaky parts, and unstable and loud machines. Fortunately, the parts available to the PC enthusiast market have come a long ways in the last decade, and building my new PC wasn't hard at all. In fact, it passed the POST on the first try, and everything has worked well, other than the optical drive I forgot to connect to the motherboard at first. Oops.

So, here's what's inside my new PC:

  • Intel Core i5-2500K Processor 3.3GHz 6 MB Cache Socket LGA1155
  • Antec Three Hundred Gaming Case
  • ASUS LGA 1155 Intel Z68 Chipset Motherboard P8Z68-V PRO
  • HIS Radeon 6870 Video Card (H687F1G2M)
  • Seagate Momentus XT 500 GB Solid State Hybrid Drive ST95005620AS
  • PNY Optima 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) PC3-10666 1333MHz DDR3 RAM
  • Lite-On iHAP422 22x DVD±RW Drive with LightScribe
  • Antec 620W Neo Eco Power Supply
  • So that's the parts list. I'll write more tomorrow about why I chose some of those components, how it turned out, and what I'd do differently, as well as break down the cost of building a gaming rig like this.


    I spent much of the weekend playing through the new game Bioshock on my Xbox 360.  Wow, what a game, and a work of art.  It took me around 20 hours to play through, but I want to go back and do it again, as the choices you make in the game influence how the story progresses.  I'd like to make a few different choices, and see what happens.  What makes this game so special?  Outstanding story telling (which is pretty rare in a video game), excellent art design, and game mechanics that let you play in radically different ways.  Most first-person shooters are just that, you run around shooting things.  In this game, if you want, you barely even have to use a gun.

    The game is set in an art deco underwater city that was founded in 1946 by Andrew Ryan (Andy Ryan = Ayn Rand) in an attempt to create a utopia where science and art would be unconstrained by morality, government, and religion.  Of course, things sort of went wrong...

    I'd write more, but I don't want to give away any of the story, and it's very engrossing.  Here's a blurb from IGN's review that sums up how I feel too:

    But to call this game simply a first-person shooter, a game that successfully fuses gameplay and narrative, is really doing it a disservice. This game is a beacon. It's one of those monumental experiences you'll never forget, and the benchmark against which games for years to come will, and indeed must, be measured. This isn't merely an evolution of System Shock 2, but a wake-up call to the industry at large. Play this, and you'll see why you should demand something more from publishers and developers, more than all those derivative sequels forced down our throats year after year with only minor tweaks in their formulas. It's a shining example of how it's possible to bring together all elements of game design and succeed to the wildest degree.

    Super Deluxe Monkey Balls

    I can't wait for Super Monkey Ball Deluxe to come out for the Xbox. It's still three months away, but I want it now. In case you've never played it on either of the GameCube variations, here are some screenshots and an explanation of what makes it so much fun. The party games in it are great fun, and it supported 16:9 widescreens on the GameCube, so I'm guessing Sega will do the same on Xbox.