November 23, 2012
Sal Cangeloso

This is my rig: ExtremeTech’s Sal Cangeloso

Having built my previous desktop in October 2008, I’ve been long overdue for a new system. I had delayed the build a number of times, usually waiting for the next cool thing in the pipeline — an occupational hazard when you look at technology news all day long — but with the release of Intel’s Ivy Bridge and Microsoft’s Windows 8, it was clearly time to put together my next PC.

This article will walk through the parts I bought and include some explanation of why I chose each of them. It’s not a buying guide or set of recommendations; it’s just a list of the components that made sense for me.

When choosing components my main considerations were stability, quietness, performance, and cost, in that order. The build wasn’t particularly price sensitive. My goal was to keep the investment at a reasonable level, while bearing in mind that my previous rig lasted four years so any expenses should amortize over time and seem relatively minor.

Intel Core i7-3770S

CPU: Intel Core i7-3770S

When I decided to put together a new machine, it was pretty obvious to me that I was going to go with the latest (but not quite the greatest) from Intel. I considered the Core i7-3770K, which has been the most popular choice for enthusiasts as it’s unlocked and top-shelf, and the $200 Core i5-3570K which offers a lot of bang-for-the-buck. Ultimately I went with the 3770S, the 65W TDP version of the quad-core 3770 chip. It runs at lower base frequency (3.1GHz) than the K but has the same Turbo frequency (3.9GHz). I don’t suspect that the power consumption or heat production differences will be significant but I won’t ever be overclocking the system so I saved some money (OK, just $15, but still) and kept heat and power usage to a minimum.

I’ve been using stock CPU coolers for some time, based on the assumption that the amount of engineering Intel can put into them is much more than what a smaller firm could afford. Even so, after getting numerous recommendations about it, I went with the Noctua NH-D14. This gargantuan set of fins and heatpipes has 120mm and 140mm fans but remains near-silent. While it’s certainly impressive, the cooler’s huge size means working inside the case can be a pain once it’s in place, so make sure your memory and any hard-to-reach connectors are installed before the D14 (unless you have exceedingly tiny hands). I doubt I’ll go with something this large again, but I couldn’t resist the lure of customizable quiet cooling.

INTEL DZ77BH-55K motherboard

Motherboard: Intel DZ77BH-55K

Today, many aspects of PC building are easier than ever. Unfortunately this doesn’t hold true for picking a motherboard. Every manufacturer releases a number of models running a given chipset, and the differences between them are nearly impossible to discern. This is especially true when the model names are nonsensical jumbles like “AGA-Z77X-UD3H.” (End of rant.)

With maximum stability in mind I went with an Intel motherboard, as I usually do. The DZ77BH-55K offers up the features I wanted and, at $170, the price isn’t that bad either. Intel’s Z77 motherboards range from $120 to $270, so this one seemed like a great choice (though the top model does have Intel’s trademark skull logo on it).

EVGA GT 660 2GB

Graphics: EVGA GeForce GTX 660

While I was tempted to invest heavily in graphics, I realized that for some time now I’ve been getting by on an ATI Radeon 4670, so ultimately I didn’t feel compelled to overspend. I wanted to go with Nvidia, despite generally being an ATI/AMD guy, and the GTX 660 has gotten high marks across the board. The GTX 660 fit my price range and came with a sweet $20 mail-in-rebate. I had been recommended against getting anything that used the stock Nvidia cooler, so the EVGA fit the bill.

Storage: Intel 335 SSD 240GB

I’ve been using Intel SSDs for a couple of years now and I’ve had good results. With the 20nm 335 just released, this seemed like a perfect option — the performance difference between this and the next model up (the 500 series) seems negligible for my needs and a price of $199 for a 240GB SSD put it well under the $1/GB mark. For a moment I was skeptical about the drive due to a possible longevity issue identified by Anandtech, but it seemed unlikely that it identified a systemic problem so I bought it anyway. A recent post confirmed that this was a non-issue (at least for me).

For mass storage I took the 2TB Western Digital drive that I was running in an external eSATA enclosure and put it in the case. It’s nothing special, but I need something large for my photos and video. I also dropped an old Kingston 60GB SSDNow in the case, which I’ll use for extra storage and doing thankless tasks like housing virtual machines and acting as a scratch disk.

Next page: Power supply, case, RAM, and wrapping up

Memory: Kingston 16GB

Because I don’t plan to overclock the computer, and because both stability and ease-of-installation matter greatly to me, I went with some Plain Jane Kingston RAM. 16GB for under $80 seemed like a solid deal and because it was a 2x8GB kit I can easily upgrade to 32GB if I ever feel the need.

As I hoped, the memory was compatible with the motherboard and it booted up perfectly the first time.

Seasonic 660W Platinum

Power supply: Seasonic SS-660XP 660W

One area where I splurged on the new machine was my PSU. For some time now I’ve stuck with PSUs from either PC Power and Cooling or Seasonic, and this time was no different. I went with Seasonic’s 660W, fully modular, 80 Plus Platinum model. I paid a hefty premium for the Platinum certification, but I wanted to give it a shot as 80 Plus certification is something we’ve been discussing around ExtremeTech lately (expect an article soon).

Fractal Design CORE 3000 case

Case: Fractal Design Core 3000

I pretty much always use Lian Li cases when building my PCs, but given how lately I put the tower under my desk and try to forget that it’s there, I wanted to try something a little cheaper. I quickly got tired of researching and went with the Fractal Design Core 3000, which is packed with features and sells for just $70. It’s a reasonable size, has a removable hard drive caddy so it can accommodate huge video cards, has room for up to seven fans, and it doesn’t look too bad either. The build quality is not at the level of Lian Li, and getting the motherboard standoffs in place was a pain, but it got the job done.

Wrapping up

I was in need of a powerful desktop that could play games, rip through my Photoshop/Lightroom work, run virtual machines, and hopefully last a few years, and I think I got it. I was happy to be able to stick to my budget (under $1500 with the operating system) and still get some components I could be proud of, like that fancy PSU and Intel’s latest SSD. After all, using gear like this is one of the major reasons to build a PC rather than going with something off the shelf.

Right now the system is about 90% configured — I still have some software to install and some settings to customize. The rig has been great so far, though I still need to work out some minor kinks, which is the case with almost any custom PC build. I’ve been surprised by how quiet it is, though only using two of the case’s seven possible fans helped with that.

All in all, it’s looking like a successful build. The box likely has more power than I need, especially considering that I was using a Core 2 Quad system before this, and I’ve not yet worked out all the issues with the Intel motherboard, but I’m still glad I went with build-your-own route. That’s an increasingly rare thing these days.