The New Computer: Vroom


I spend a lot of time in front of the computer screen, much of it doing photography work and building websites. As my tasks have grown more complex my computer’s speed has become a concern. The decision was made before we left Connecticut, build a new computer in California.

That took place this weekend.

With months to ponder, I’d come up with a rough outline of what I wanted in-the-box. Over the last week the list was refined to specifics.

Everything was set to go at MicroCenter… until they refused to match one price on their website in the store. It wasn’t a lot, just 2% of my final bill, but it was upsetting and arrogant and I walked.

I headed to Fry’s where it all came together. Some items had to change because Fry’s didn’t carry the original, but I don’t think I compromised. In a few cases, I traded up.

My goal was to build a machine capable of video and photography (two of the most taxing chores a computer can accomplish) with two HD (1920×1080) monitors.

Why two monitors? It’s a question of real estate. More can be open and visible at the same time. It speeds the workflow. Once you’ve used two you never want to go back.

Here’s the rundown:

  • Intel Core i7 CPU–For most applications the Core i5 is perfect. The i7 adds capabilities my video and photo editing programs take advantage of. This CPU is “unlocked,” meaning I can overclock it, making it run faster than the factory settings. Scary territory. I probably won’t… but maybe.
  • MSI Z87-G45 Gaming motherboard–Z87 refers to the Intel chipset used on the board. It’s their latest iteration. This motherboard has loads of USB ports and is optimized for gaming. Once the chipset is chosen, I’m not sure how much difference the individual board makes. This wasn’t my first choice, but most reviews are very good.
  • EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 video card with 2gb RAM–It used to be video cards were dedicated to putting images on the screen. No more. Because video cards have special processors optimized to do math on video, some software developers have written their programs to use them. This should make video transcoding and editing and photo manipulation much faster.
  • 16gb RAM–The goal is to keep the computer from ever using a hard drive while calculating. More RAM eases that pain. I’ve never had more than 3gb before.
  • Windows 8.1–This was a tough choice. Microsoft made all sorts of user interface changes with Windows 8, which is built for both touchscreen and keyboard/mouse use. It is different and doesn’t do much that Windows 7 didn’t do. The jury is out, but I’ll get used to it over time.
  • Samsung 840 EVO SSD–My main disk drive is an SSD. No moving parts! It’s lightning fast. It’s also more expensive than a traditional hard drive and offers less space. On the other hand, my computer now boots in under 20 seconds. Programs load instantly. Glad I got it.
  • Western Digital Performance 2TB SATA hard drive–This is for data storage. The files I produce are immense.
  • Corsair H55 CPU cooler–In order to keep my CPU from frying and to keep noise down, I’m using a water cooler. So far, so good. The chip runs exceptionally cool (around 40&#176C) and it is quiet.
  • Corsair RM650 power supply–Designed to be quiet and energy efficient.
  • Thermaltake Soprano case–Insulate and vented to be quiet. It’s a little larger than I’d like, but it sits under my desk where it isn’t seen. There are four USB ports on the front panel, plus headphone and mic jacks.
  • LG Blue-Ray drive–Originally this was spec’ed as a DVD-RW. My friend Peter pointed out a BD-R holds 25gb on a disk, making it really useful for backups. At this point why be penny wise?
  • 2-AOC 2367 23″ IPS monitors–I got these at Best Buy for a great price. There are probably better monitors around, but for me these are perfect.

I found an online 3D video benchmark and ran it. The report said my machine maxed out the test!

There are true gaming hotshots who have machines faster, but the new computer’s pretty potent for my purposes. I’m happy.

It’s Time For Me To Build A New PC

I spent part of yesterday afternoon in at MicroCenter Tustin. I’m getting ready to assemble a new computer, my third build.

Building your own PC is a lot easier than it sounds. There are a limited number of components necessary. You just buy the pieces, plug and play.

OK, there’s also the anguish part where you pray it will fire up when plugged in. I’ve been mainly lucky in that regard.

PC sales are down. For most folks the box they bought a few years ago is still plenty fast to get the job done. Computer makers are victims of their own success!

My problem is different. I need a machine that can easily handle the immense files used for photography and video. And, since I’m doing more web development&#185, two wide screen monitors would be nice.

My specs are fluid, but here’s what I’m looking at:

  • Intel I7-4770K CPU– This is the brain. It’s a quad core chip that runs fast and can be overclocked to run faster.
  • ASRock Z87 Extreme4 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard — All the components plug into the motherboard. This one has sufficient USB and other ports. I’m not totally sure how different different motherboards really are, but there’s a lot of buzz about ASRock.
  • Samsung 840 EVO 250GB 2.5″ Solid State Disk — There will be two drives. This first one is for booting the machine and loading programs. A solid state drive is VERY fast, especially compared to a conventional hard drive. They’re also more expensive with less capacity.
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive — This hard drive will be used for storage. Video files are immense! 2TB means 2,199,023,255,552 bytes. When was the last time you had two trillion of anything?
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 660 2GB Video Card — Most motherboards have video already built-in. The programs I want to use take advantage of the GTX 660’s “cuda cores,” which handle much of the math involved in manipulating stills and video. That means editing, rendering and transcoding will speed along.
  • Windows 7 64bit — There’s a lot of controversy between Windows 7 and 8. Some folks feel Windows 8’s touch/tablet oriented design makes it less able in a keyboard/mouse environment. I’m very unsure. This could easily change.

Beyond this there’s 16 gb of RAM, case, power supply, CPU cooler, DVDRW and a few other assorted parts.

I posted to the “buildapc” section on Reddit, but was disappointed with the level of advice I got. Feel free to throw your two cents in. As it is, I’ll be forced to make some choices without as much knowledge as I’d like.

Helaine asked how long this will take to build? After I get the parts, it should go together in a few hours on the kitchen table. Not much more than a screwdriver is needed. Maybe this weekend?

&#185 – I’m in the middle of redesigning the site for Connecticut Hospice. Their old site has served them well, but it needs to be updated for style and made easier to wrangle.