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Time for a new PC...

My main gaming PC ('Khamul') died this week. It was pretty old for a gaming PC - I'd been starting to think about upgrading when I was made redundant in 2013. In fact, it dates back to 2011 - five years old is pretty geriatric for a gaming PC, but it was a high end gaming PC when I built it and that accounts for its longevity.

When I opened it up, a chief suspect in its demise was immediately apparent:

(I bet you're wondering what those are, aren't you?)

They're rubber connectors that attach the 120mm fan to the CPU heatsink. They'd actually perished through a combination of age and heat. This allowed the CPU to heat up (especially combined with dust clogging up the heatsink fins) and eventually expire. (Or at least, I figured that was the most likely explanation for my PC's death. However, keep reading...)

That fan is supposed to be attached to that 'be quiet!' heat sink in order to keep the CPU cool.

So Friday night I took everything apart and cleaned stuff. I wanted to keep the case - a Cooler Master Cosmos S. This is an old design (I found a Windows Vista licence sticker when I opened it up, which shows when I first built a PC inside this case), but it's a quality case, and it's nice and big. Big cases are easier to work in. Building a PC in a high quality case is likely to involve less cursing at scraped knuckles and require less manual dexterity.

There was quite a bit of cleaning required. This case was filthy with dust. The case has plenty of dust filters, and they were all clogged up. Not good. Various case fans were also full of dust.

Things look much better after a good scrub and rinse:

(I left the washed dust filters to dry overnight.)

Here's the removed motherboard with the heatsink still attached and the old CPU (an Intel Core i7-2700K), which was one of Intel's top end CPUs four generations ago..

...and here's a photo of the almost empty case with the pile of replacement gear in front of it. The two suppliers for this build were Overclockers and Scan.

So what components are going into the new PC...?

CPU: Intel 'Skylake' Core i7-6700K. That chip occupies the same position in the Intel hierarchy that the old one did - high end, but not the stupidly expensive ultra-high end. It's a quad core chip with hyperthreading and a fast clock speed. The 'K' denotes more overclocking options.

Motherboard: Asus Z170 Pro Gaming. The previous motherboard was also an Asus, albeit a somewhat higher-end board than this one, with a few more bells and whistles. I've never had any problems with Asus motherboards. I'm not quite a fanboy, but it would take a lot of convincing for me to pick a different motherboard manufacturer.

RAM: 16gb DDR4-3000. Superfast 'enthusiast' RAM isn't always worth paying extra for (I reckon you'd usually be better off spending more on your graphics card.) However, Overclockers had a great deal on this stuff, and Team has a very good reputation. It's important to have either two modules or four with this motherboard chipset.

Graphics card: Nvidia Geforce GTX 1070. A high end (but not super-expensive) graphics card. My previous card was a GTX 580, which was five generations old and old enough that I have put off buying a couple of graphically intensive games. Arguably I could have gone for the cheaper (and slower 1060) since I don't game at very high resolutions (only 1920x1200), but this card will be good enough to avoid having to upgrade for a few years. Unlike motherboards, I've rarely seen much difference between manufacturers (they all use the same nVidia chipset - only the coolers change, and some overclock them slightly), and the KFA2 model was noticeably cheaper than any other.

PSU: Corsair RM650x (650 watt). A 'modular' power supply (i.e. none of the cables are permanently wired to the PSU) with 80Plus Gold certification. 80Plus Gold PSUs are more expensive to buy, but more efficient, so in the longer term, probably worth paying extra for in terms of lower electricity bills.

CPU cooler: I'm not going to air-cool this CPU. Instead, I'm going to use a closed-loop all-in-one water cooler. I used one of these for my work PC, and was impressed with how much easier it was to fit than most air coolers. It's also a lot less massive and doesn't depend on rubber to keep it all together. The particular model I chose was a Cooler Master Seidon 120V. There are grander coolers available with radiators twice the size, but these new Skylake chips are supposed to run very cool, and I won't be going in for aggressive overclocking, so this single 120mm radiator will be more than adequate.

Right. Now to put everything together...

Step 1. Put CPU into motherboard. This isn't difficult, but modern Intel CPUs are very fragile, so this motherboard comes with a handy tool that makes it even easier.


Step 2: Insert RAM. It's important to check which of the four slots on the motherboard the two RAM modules should go into, so at this point, check the motherboard manual:

In this case, it's the two pale grey slots.

Step 3: Fit motherboard I/O plate to case. This is the blanking plate that fits over the external sockets on the motherboard. Here you can see the new (clean) one next to the old (grubby) one.

These things can sometimes be a git to clip into place. (I've had to use an actual hammer in the past.) This one was fine.

Step 4: Make room for radiator. In the old system, the massive CPU cooler sat on top of the CPU. With this water-cooled system, a small waterblock and pump will sit on the CPU, connected to a radiator and fan. This case has a number of places suitable for mounting that radiator, but I chose to use the space in the top of the case. Time to remove this top-of-the-case fan to make room:

And here's the radiator and fan in position:

Step 5: Check case standoffs against motherboard holes. The motherboard attaches to the case with little screw-in standoffs. It's important to make sure that these exactly match the holes on the motherboard because while all ATX cases will have holes for standoffs in the same places, different motherboards use different sets of standoffs. In this case, the old motherboard had used eight standoffs, while the new one used nine, so I had to root around in my little box of screws and things to find another one.

Step 6: Attach cooler backplate to back of motherboard. This is a double-x shaped piece of metal that attaches to the back of the motherboard and allows you to attach four pillars that the cooler waterblock and pump assembly will fit to. Attaching it is easy, except that this particular cooler works for a wide variety of different motherboards and because of that, the instructions saying which holes to use were a little difficult to follow.

Step 7: Apply TIM (thermal interface material) to CPU heatspreader. TIM is a weird goop that conducts heat remarkably efficiently and avoids small pockets of (insulating) air forming between the CPU's heatspreader and the CPU cooler. The best practice way to apply it seems to change every couple of years, but now it seems that the way to apply it seems to be to simply apply it in a diagonal cross, knowing that the pressure from the cooler will spread it across the CPU's heatspreader.

Step 8: Attach the motherboard to the case by screwing it into the standoffs.

Step 9: Attach the waterblock/pump to the four pillars that you attached to the backplate in step 6.

Step 10: Connect fan cables on case fans and CPU cooler to the motherboard.

Step 11: Fit drives into drive cage. A nice feature of this case is that it has a removable drive cage that you can stick your SSDs and hard disks in. The old system had a 250gb SSD (solid state drive) and a 1tb hard disk, and was running a little bit low on space. I actually found that I had a spare 2tb hard disk and another spare 500gb hard disk. I honestly don't remember why. Since I have room for them in the cage and in terms of SATA ports on the motherboard, I figured I'd include them in this new build. (I also have a couple of optical drives in this case, which are going to stay in because there's no real reason to remove them, even if they don't see that much use any more.)

Step 12: Fit drive cage into case.

Step 13: Screw PSU into case.

Step 14: Connect PSU to motherboard power sockets and power sockets on all drives.

Step 15: Connect all drives to motherboard with SATA cables. The motherboard has six SATA sockets (and I have six drives) but only came with four cables, so I had to recycle. I'm not sure that the bright pink SATA cable matches the rest of the colour scheme...

Stp 16: Plug in front panel connectors (power switch,front USB ports, hard disk LED etc) to motherboard.

Step 17: Fit graphics card into PCI 16x slot and connect it to PSU.

Step 18: Tidy cables. I used the space at the top of the case behind my Cylon light. (Didn't I mention my Cylon light? It's a series of red LEDs that light up in sequence giving an effect rather like the red eyes of an original series Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. Or KITT from Knight Rider.)

Step 18a: Connect Cylon light to PSU. (It is powered via an old-fashioned molex connector.)

Step 19: Connect monitors, speakers, mouse, keyboard etc.

Step 20: Turn on the PC.

Step 21: When nothing happens, lose a small amount of your soul. Then realise that since the old system also failed to turn on, that the common factor might be the case's on/off switch.

Step 22: Bypass the cases on/off switch by using a screwdriver to short out the two power switch pins of the motherboard header. That works - the PC turns on!

Step 23: Ponder how much you've spent when the fault was in a part that could be replaced for less than a tenner. Reassure yourself that the PC was old and needed replacing anyway. Honest.

Step 24: Stare in wonder as the PC boots into Windows almost as if nothing had changed. (I really thought that I'd have to reinstall Windows - in fact, all I had to do was enter the new licence code that I'd bought.)

Step 25: Realise you have no internet access until you install the appropriate motherboard drivers. These come on a CD-ROM and this is one reason why it can still be useful to have an optical drive in your PC. Install all motherboard drivers.

Step 26: Download updated graphics card drivers.

Step 27: Use Windows 10's Disk Management utility to create and format partitions on the two new drives.

Step 28: Test that you wired up the USB slots on the case correctly by plugging in the fibre-optic Christmas tree that Overclockers inexplicably included as a free gift.

Step 29: Set up dual monitor arrangement.

Step 30: The final (and most important test). Does Football Manager work?


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 21st, 2016 05:39 pm (UTC)
Nice system - you don't mess around!

When I built my current system (about three years ago) I went with an i5-3570K because I didn't want to spend an extra couple hundred bucks for the i7 hyperthreading. I have no complaints.

ASUS MBs: agreed

I installed a liquid CPU cooler a while ago and I found the bracket install to be unexpectedly, inordinately, insanely difficult.
Aug. 21st, 2016 06:15 pm (UTC)
I did think about going the i5 route because arguably no software I run will make use of the hyperthreading much if at all.

What was the liquid CPU cooler? (So that I know to avoid it!)
Aug. 21st, 2016 06:17 pm (UTC)
Corsair something-or-other. The cooler itself works great, it's just I found the bracket very difficult. It didn't help that the instructions don't fully describe what you have to do.
Aug. 22nd, 2016 07:38 pm (UTC)
The new on-off-button-on-a-wire-with-two-USB-ports arrived this morning. (Given that I only ordered it late on Saturday afternoon, that's remarkable - well done Amazon!)

And I fitted it this evening. Yay!
Sep. 4th, 2016 08:41 pm (UTC)
Oh good - having, I think, more or less followed the write-up above, the one question I was going to ask was how were you planning to turn it off and on. (After all, as I understand it, this ability is essential to the basic computer-maintenance method of "have you tried turning it off and on again?") So good to hear that that is sorted out :-)
Sep. 4th, 2016 10:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, "turning it on and off again" is rather more of a pain if you have to open up the case and identify the two small pins to short out the power switch every time!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )