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New PC build!

One of the advantages of working for yourself is that you get to choose your own PC. In fact, not just choose but build.

Another advantage is that this PC doesn't need to be a boring colour like black or white or beige - it can be ORANGE!

Here's the case. It's a BitFenix Prodigy mini-ITX case, and as you can see, it is indeed orange.

And here's the rest of the goodies that came in a big cardboard box from overclockers.co.uk (highly recommended retailer for all PC stuff, not just overclocking gear):

The first thing to do is to dismantle the case so that we can get at the insides. Despite being relatively small, the Prodigy is actually quite comfortable to work in.

One of the things I was most worried about with this case was the size of the power supply bay. It's short. Really very short. Short enough that having read quite a few reviews and forum posts, I limited myself to non-modular PSUs of less than 160mm when speccing the PC. In the end I went for this little 140mm 630w Thermaltake unit.

Does it fit?
Why, yes it does. Quite comfortably in fact.

Now this is a first for me. I've lost count of the number of PCs I've built, but they've all been air-cooled. This is my first ever water-cooled PC. This case works very well with water-cooling since it can easily fit a 240mm radiator in the roof. (Well I say easily - this is at the expense of being able to fit an optical drive, but who uses those nowadays?) The water cooler I opted for was this Cooler Master Seidon 240m:

Here it is out of the box. For those of you unfamiliar with modern closed-loop water coolers, I'll explain how this works. In a conventional, air-cooled PC, the processor has a heatsink clamped on top of it (usually a big mess of aluminium or copper fins) and one or two fans blow air over the fins. Old-fashioned water-cooling units did away with the big metal mess, and replaced it with a small 'waterblock' that clamped over the CPU and had an input pipe (bringing cool water from a reservoir), a pump and an output pipe taking the CPU-heated water away to be cooled by a radiator (another big lump of metal with one or two fans attached). The old water-coolers had to be assembled (so there was always scope for leaks) and had to be topped up now and again because of evaporation losses. At some point surprisingly recently, some bright spark thought "Why don't we completely seal the unit to avoid evaporation, and do away with the reservoir altogether?" And so modern closed-loop water-coolers like this one were born.
The round thing bottom-left is the waterblock and this screws into the motherboard, over the CPU. The larger object is the radiator with two 120mm fans.

Here's the radiator fitted to the roof of the case:

We'll deal with the waterblock end later. Next up, drives. No optical drive in this machine, but we will have two other drives - a Samsung 840 250gb SSD (solid state disk) and a good old-fashioned Samsung 500gb hard disk that I happened to have lying around (it was previously half of the mirrored RAID array we had in the NAS box that provides our in-house backups, but we outgrew 500gb). The SSD will be the C:\ drive with the hard disk used purely as a data drive. A really good feature of this case is that you can take out any drive mountings that you don't need. The case can actually hold an enormous number of 3.5" and 2.5" drives, but I will only use two. Here they are:

And here they are mounted. Note how the SSD actually gets screwed to the floor of the case itself.

Now it's time to get to the exciting stuff - the motherboard. It's an Asus Z87i-Pro mini-ITX motherboard. You tend to pay a little bit extra for Asus motherboards compared to some manufacturers, but whereas I have occasionally had issues with some manufacturers (ahem...XFX...ahem), Asus mobos have always been rock solid for me, so I'll happily pay a little bit extra. The Z87 chipset is an Intel chipset for the new Haswell processors.

Mini-ITX motherboards really are tiny. Here's another photo that shows just how tiny:
Not many compromises from that small size though - you can't fit two graphics cards, there are no other PCI slots, and you only have two slots for memory, but that's about it. Everything else you'd expect is there - decent onboard sound, plenty of SATA and USB ports. You even get onboard wifi (with a useful external antenna) and bluetooth.

The processor is one of the brand new Intel Haswell chips - a 4670K, to be precise. (The K suffix indicates that it's overclockable.) The packaging was somewhat underwhelming - an anonymous little white cardboard box:

Probably the most fiddly and annoying part of this build was getting the motherboard backplate (the bit where all the ports and sockets go, at the back of the computer) to click into place. For whatever reason, it was much harder than it usually is. Anyway, here it is:

Now it's time to put the CPU into the socket on the motherboard, like so:

RAM next. I don't normally bother with very high-end overclocking RAM because normally there are more effective ways to spend the extra money to make your PC go faster (for example, spending the extra £20 or £30 on a faster graphics card is usually more effective at increasing frames per second in games than spending that money on overclockers' RAM). However, on the day I ordered, Overclockers had a great offer on 8gb of TeamGroupXtreem 2400mhz DDR3 - so great that it cost pretty much the same as ordinarily timed DDR3. Here it is:

And here it is fitted in the motherboard:
You only get two DIMM slots in these little mini-ITX motherboards, so if I ever want to upgrade to 16gb, I'll have to buy two 8gb DIMMs.

Right, now to put the motherboard in the case:

Next, apply TIM (thermal interface material) to the top of the processor, and fit the cooler's waterblock. Compared to most air-cooled HSFs (heatsink / fan), this was a doddle. It would have been really difficult to fit a big air cooler to this case, not because it wouldn't fit, but because access above the motherboard is limited. In a normal (non-mini-ITX) case, the motherboard sits on one wall. Here it sits parallel to the ground. I did need to find a shorter screwdriver.

Time to plug the motherboard into the PSU and tidy the cables out of the way as much as possible.

Next, connect the little cables from the switches and ports on the case to the motherboard.See if you can spot the not-so-deliberate error here:

With that done, time for the graphics card. This is mostly a work PC, so I haven't put in a high-end gaming graphics card. (Also, it probably will never game on a big, high-resolution monitor.) However, I may well end up taking this machine in a suitcase on a fast passenger ferry to the Isle of Wight for occasional gaming, so a mid-range, previous generation graphics card wouldn't hurt. I was going to get the nVidia GeForce 660, but in the end went for an AMD Radeon 7850 from Overclockers. Why? Because of the bundle of games free with this £150 graphics card - Bioshock Infinite, the new Tomb Raider, Far Cry 3, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, Crysis 3, the new SimCity, Dirt Showdown and Sleeping Dogs. That's quite a bundle for a cheap(ish) card. They'll all be installed on my main gaming PC rather than this one. Anyway, here's the graphics card fitted:

Right, time to wire everything up...
...and press the power button!

And it powers on first time!
Those of you who don't own a recent PC might not realise that modern BIOS screens now look like this - all whizzy and high-tech. All the fans are working, temperatures are nice and low. Everything is as it should be. Oh, and despite having the case open, it's really quiet.

Of course that's not what I would call finished. That's just the interesting bit. After this, there was installing Windows 7, then hours and hours and hours of installing and configuring software (including deciding on a replacement for Opera - see my previous post - in the end I went for Firefox, but spent a while getting it to behave as much like old Opera as possible). This is what takes the time when you build a new PC, especially a work one and you want all your work software to work just as it did before. Talking of installing software, I had Windows, MS Office, PaintShop Pro and MYOB (accounting software) all on CD or DVD. So I needed an optical drive after all (I had planned this all along). I took a spare one out of my main gaming PC and just sat it on top of the case temporarily. You can see it in the previous photo.

Next problem concerned my old LG monitor. It's old enough that it only has a D-SUB connection, not DVI. I have several D-SUB to DVI adapters, but the problem is that this graphics card, instead of being sensible and having two DVI ports, has one DVI, one HDMI and two mini-display ports. I'd ordered a DVI to HDMI adapter, so I could plug the D-SUB into the DVI into the HDMI (not exactly ideal). Annoyingly though, the HDMI port on this graphics card is physically too close to the DVI port to have them both in use at the same time:

What I had to do was order another adapter - a D-SUB to mini-display port adapter. This works.

Finally, time to reassemble and close the case. This was when my not-so-deliberate error became apparent. I had the sides the wrong way round. I had to unplug the motheroboard to case connectors, and reconnect them on the other side of the case. D'oh...

Anyway, I have now put everything together (and I took the opportunity this weekend to give my study a good clean). Here is the new PC in place on my desk:

I've always named my PCs after Tolkien baddies and monsters. (I think this started with a bad-tempered, loud, fire-breathing Pentium II, which I christened Glaurung, after the first dragon.) Quite a few PCs later, I'm reduced to quite obscure baddies. My main gaming PC is now Khamul (after Khamul the Easterling, the only one of the Nazgul to be named). The PC which this replaced is Scatha (another dragon, mentioned in one of the appendices to The Lord of the Rings). Since this one is water-cooled, I thought that something with a water theme might be nice. I considered TheWatcherintheWater, but that's too long for Windows networking. So in the end, I've called this machine Fastitocalon, after a giant sea monster of Hobbit legend.

Look, there is Fastitocalon!
An island good to land upon,
Although 'tis rather bare.
Come, leave the sea! And let us run,
Or dance, or lie down in the sun!
See, gulls are sitting there!
Gulls do not sink.
There they may sit, or strut and prink:
Their part is to tip the wink,
If anyone should dare
Upon that isle to settle,
Or only for a while to get
Relief from sickness or the wet,
Or maybe boil a kettle.

(The poem is in 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil'. It is perhaps worth mentioning that Tolkien nicked the name and concept from an old English poem. I wonder if the original is just as bad...)

Finally, here's the view out of my window this morning:


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 29th, 2013 05:50 pm (UTC)
There's something rather reminiscent of Portal about it, with it being orange :-)
Jul. 29th, 2013 07:04 pm (UTC)
Jul. 30th, 2013 07:40 am (UTC)
Excellent! There could be no finer colour for such an item than orange. In fact, I'm now tempted to get one for that reason. I wouldn't put Windows on it, though.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )