The SSD drive technology, processors with 4 cores with hyperthreading (now becoming 6 core), DDR 3 memory sticks, powerful graphic cards. If you’ve been waiting to upgrade you PC for a few years, there’s now time like today to start thinking about it. For a developer, having powerful machine is essential for him to be more efficient, faster, more effective, less stressed…. and the list goes on. Take a simple example – when I opened a project in Visual Studio 2010 on my old PC, I could go get something to drink, and when I came back it still wouldn’t be loaded (ok maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it took some 15 to 30 seconds for a small project). With my new PC I will be describing later on, the same project takes about 5 seconds to load.
I was displeased with my old PC for a while, so I decided (with a little kick from this post from Scott Hanselman) to build a new one. I would like to walk you through what I bought and did to make the new PC happen, and how it turned out. First, let’s start with a summary of what I had:
I had a pretty good graphic card, that’s because the one I had burned out about a half a year ago so I had to buy a new one. I also had a decent power supply (guess what, it also burned out). But the rest of the system was no good. Although 3 years ago, when I bought it, I wasn’t bad – I always buy stuff that is just a bit under the high end, that was true then, and also when I bought my new graphic card. The processor scored lowest (who the hell uses only 2 core processors nowadays?), 4GB (actually my system used only 3 for some reason) DDR2 memory also no good, and a slow disk to top it off.
Before I started the search for parts, I established a few goals for what I want inside my new PC:
- 4 core processor (1366 socket, so I can change to 6 cores)
- 12 gigs of ram
- SSD HDD for system files, 3,5" HDD for data
With that in mind, using before mentioned post from Scott Hanselman as an inspiration, I begun my search.
By simply applying some facts about processors, I was able to easily narrow it down to a few models. I always liked Intel better, 4 cores, 1366 socket, find a price range that’s comfortable and I’m done. Applying this left me with two models: core i7-930 and an older 920 model that apparently isn’t manufactured anymore.
Price estimate: 6000 CZK (~$300)
Now that I had my processor picked out, I had to find a suitable motherboard that supports LGA 1366 socket, and also has USB 3 and other latest techs. I liked the one Scott suggested, either UD5 or UD7 models.
Price estimate: 5800 CZK (~$300) for UD5, 6700 CZK (~$350) for UD7
I really, really like the ones Scott got, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get these on a short notice. So instead I got some Kingston with the same parameters (3x4 GB, 1333 MHz, CL9).
Price estimate: 10000 CZK (~$525) – these are expensive as hell in our country :(
SSD is really the highlight of the whole upgrade. It runs fast, which is good for Visual Studio (I hear it spends most of it’s time on disk I/O operations) and it quiet. Like really quiet, it doesn’t make any noise at all. Well of course, it’s basically a big flash memory, but not hearing the constant rustling noise of standard hard drive is a bliss. I felt comfortable with the 160 GB one that Intel makes. For random data (like movies, TV shows, etc. I’ll keep my 300 GB standard SATA drive).
Price estimate: 9400 CZK (~$500)
My GTX 285 that I already have.
Price estimate: 0
So if I sum this up, I end up with about 32000 CZK (~$1700). That’s not counting the value added tax. I was able to buy this through my mothers company for 28000 CZK (~$1500), and using untaxed money to buy this, I got another 25% off, leaving the price at 21000 CZK (~$1100). I admit, I wouldn’t want to buy it in a standard store, because I would have to pay almost twice as much. I assume though that most of you (developers) have a similar way of buying hardware.
Since this was the first time I was building the PC myself, I carefully followed the motherboard manual to connect everything to the right places. Connecting front panel was a bit of a nightmare, and the power led didn’t work afterwards, but overall I successfully connected everything right. I started the PC, installed fresh copy of windows to my SSD drive, installed some basic programs using this cool site: http://ninite.com/, and setup my CPU meter widget. I noticed that there’s a new feature in that widget that displays CPU core temperatures. The moment I did that it stopped being fun. My CPU was running at almost 60 °C while idle. And when I tried to install Visual Studio, it reached over a hundred degrees. That’s not something I wanted to see, so I immediately canceled the installation, a turned off 2 cores in BIOS.
The temperature wasn’t as high as with 4 cores, but still quite high, and I really didn’t want to have a 4 core processor running only 2 cores. So the next day, I went to the nearest computer shop, and bought Cooler Master Hyper 212 plus and Artic Silver 5. I went trough all the fun of removing the motherboard and inserting it back again. Moreover I also had to clean the CPU (remove the old thermal paste), apply new one, mount the cooler (that is a lot more complicated then installing the stock one, it has a back piece – reason why I had to remove the motherboard).
The results were quite satisfying. CPU was now idling at about 40 °C, but it went to 50 after a while. Day after that I noticed the case was warming up on front side (i mean on the side but in front ;)). I tried to remove the side panel, and few moments later, CPU temperature was back at 40 °C when idle.
Of course I didn’t like the idea of having the case open all the time, so I started looking for a new case. I was considering Antec Nine Hundred, until I saw his big brother Antec Twelve Hundred. This beast weights 14 kilograms, but since I don’t move my PC very often, that doesn’t really matter to me, and I figured 6 fans will cool better than 4.
Naturally I had to remove all the hardware from my old case, and install it into the new one. Let me tell you that was some hard work. You can route cables behind the panel that holds motherboard in place – I took me a while to figure out how to do that right, and also to find out, the some cable just won’t fit there, or aren’t long enough. I managed to put it together after some 3 or 4 hours.
A few thing I like about this case that I discovered after it was delivered: cleanable air filters on intake fans, easily removable hard drive cages through front (though screwed in with 8 screws ;)). I was also surprised by the lighting, which I didn’t care about at all at the time I was ordering it, but it actually looks quite nice.
A final list of hardware I have now:
- Intel Core i7-930 Bloomfield 2.8GHz
- GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD5
- 3x Kingston 4GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM ECC Registered DDR3 1333
- Intel X25-M Mainstream SSDSA2MH160G2R5 2.5" 160GB
- Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3300820AS 300GB 7200 RPM – my old disk
- NVidia GeForce GTX 285
- Cooler Master Hyper 212 plus
- Antec Twelve Hundred
- Cooler Master Real Power M620
My WEI looks a lot better now, mission accomplished.
Next mission: pick up all the leftover hardware, and tune up my server.