Inspired by Scott Hanselman's post on his new computer that he built via Jeff Atwood (I can't even tell you how many times I have clicked this link), I finally decided to build myself a nice computer. As it seems, I like to make all of my big purchases when my wife is out of town (firearm, foosball table, etc.). Wait. Before I get yelled at, I want to say that she very well knew of these plans, but the timing was the same. I have been saving up for a new computer and slowly buying pieces parts when they were on sale since I read Hanselman's post (I know, that was a LONG time ago). My wife went on a medical mission to Kenya for 3 weeks in December (she's a pediatrician), and I couldn't think of a better time for this project (laughs menacingly). Besides, what better day than Black Friday to place an order on NewEgg?
Prior to this I was on a Pentium III 550 MHz from my sophomore year in college with 386 MEGS of ram and a 40 GB hard drive. It drove me absolutely crazy that my wife had a better computer than me (I cooked her computer last year, smoke bellowing one day and had to get her an "emergency" Dell), let alone the fact that it took me 20 minutes to check my email. So, if I was going to do it, I was going to do it BIG.
I am really kicking myself for not documenting the entire process. Since this was the first computer I have ever built, I guess I was too excited to just get it together. The fact that I lost 20 pounds over the course of building this PC will tell you that I hardly ate or slept throughout (I haven't even eaten dinner tonight, and all I am doing it writing about it), so yeah, excited is an understatement. That should also give you an idea of how long it took me, more on that later....
I will start off with the parts:
COOLER MASTER COSMOS 1000 RC-1000-KSN1-GP Black/ Silver Steel ATX Full Tower Computer Case - Retail
I can't even begin to explain how big this thing is. It DWARFS my old POS Dell. Quite frankly though, it had to be for the stuff I was putting into it. I managed to get this over a year ago when Cooler Master was offering an unheard of 90 dollar mail in rebate. I tried to buy the things that I knew wouldn't go out of date in a week early, and when on sale.
Here is a picture of the front of the case. The door is reversible, but it was perfect for me the way it came. It has tool-less bays and six hard drive bays at the bottom.
This picture might give you some insight to the Cosmos' size. In the left hand side of the picture lies the stripped down "forgotten" computer.
MSI X58 Eclipse SLI LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
When I was first inspired to do this, I talked about this at-the-time imaginary computer so much, that my friends and colleagues started to get mad at me. My wish list went through so many revisions via research and the opinions of others (if there is one thing nerds have, its an opinion on hardware). When I had completed my final draft, and was about to click SUBMIT ORDER, I decided to put forth one last effort by twittering my specs and seeing if I am doing some catastrophically wrong. Within minutes of that post Charlie Sears wrote me to ask why I wasn't going with the new Core i7 chips that had just come out that day.
Back to the drawing board I went. At the time, there were only a few motherboards to choose from that supported the LGA 1366 chip, so I chose this one. I had equal opinions of "Don't buy MSI" to "Don't buy anything but MSI", the price was right and it had all of the features that I wanted (i.e. triple SLI, or rather, room for triple SLI).
This part of the build became somewhat of an engineering project for me. For whatever reason, when I seated the board onto the brass spacer screws, it wasn't flat, so the front of my PCI cards would stick in, and the backs would not. I ended up going to Home Depot, picking up some brass washers, and building a 3 tier system that angled the board uphill from left to right. Everything met the back of the computer flush that way, and my cards all went in properly.
2 x MSI N260GTX-T2D896 OC GeForce GTX 260 896MB 448-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card - Retail
Yeah, 2 of these bad boys. I have been addicted to 2 monitors since I figured out that you could do it. I have been known to scrounge together old CRT's and a crappy video card just have another workspace. Once again influenced by Jeff Atwood's post, before I built this computer, I was DEAD SET on getting three. The only way I could do that was to get 2 of these BRICKS. When I took them out of the box I almost passed out, they are huge, check that, ENORMOUS. I brought one to work with me one day and passed it around like I had earned a badge of honor. I'm not a computer builder, so I had never seen anything like it. My goal was to hook up 3 monitors, and then find some way to configure it to be able to run 2 in SLI at the flip of a switch. NVidia's beta driver's (they might be released now) did just that, although Mr. Atwood was right, I haven't once wanted to go into SLI and be relegated back to 2 monitors)
KWORLD PlusTV HD PCI 120 ATSC 120 PCI Interface - Retail
Eh, what can I say, I just wanted to be able to watch TV from my desk, nothing big here.
Antec TPQ-850 850W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply - Retail
This one was a real nail biter for me. With all of this stuff, how much power am I going to need? There are plenty of calculators out there, but I couldn't find one that really pin pointed everything that I was going to be buying. I ended up going with this one because I know Antec is a decent name, and it was on sale. The one thing that I do like about it is the modular cabling. I don't have another built computer to compare it to, but it was pretty nice to be able to just plug in where necessary. My case is already a MESS of wires, so I cant imagine what it would look like if I didn't have that.
So far, according to my power usage through Zalman fan controller, I'm not even coming close to touching the maximum power of this thing. I would say that gives me room to grow, but unfortunately, due mostly to the the 2 video cards needing 4 total power plugs, I have used up all the slots.
Intel Core i7 920 Nehalem 2.66GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Processor Model BX80601920 - Retail
Like I said earlier, I dropped the idea of going with the LGA 775 Q9550 at the last second and went with this comparably priced version of the i7. The little research I did told me that the LGA 1366 was going to replace the 775 socket, and this was the 45 NM technology as well. So far, I'm extraordinarily happy with it. Pushing the chip into the mobo however did make me cringe quite a bit.
Patriot Xporter XT 4GB Flash Drive (USB2.0 Portable) Model PEF4GUSB - Retail
This one is rated for Vista's ReadyBoost, and it can't hurt to have this kind of portable space for the price.
2 x G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model F3-10666CL7D-4GBPI - Retail
Picking a new motherboard to support the chip I had chosen allowed me to upgrade from the DDR2 800 that I had on my first draft. That being said, I also decided to go with 8 GB's of it and run it in 3 channel mode. Since I was going to run Vista 64 bit Ultimate, I could utilize it all. I also have room for 2 more sticks so I can continue to tinker in the future.
Western Digital VelociRaptor WD1500HLFS 150GB 10000 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive (bare drive) - OEM
I listened to Atwood again on this one. My only regret here is that I wish I had purchased the 300 GB version. My intention here was to keep operating system, visual studio, and all other applications on this drive, and keep any other data on the SpinPoint drives below. That is exactly what I did, and I have 52 GB free now.
3 x SAMSUNG SpinPoint F1 HD753LJ 750GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM
My idea was to have the Raptor boot drive with all of my applications, and have these in a RAID 5 to store everything else on, including data that the applications on the Raptor referenced, like my local emails and stuff. That way I would have 2 GB of space, and some form of backup with the parity drive. Unfortunately 1 of these 3 drives I was unable to format, and I didn't realize there was a problem until it kept blue screening every time I tried to set up the RAID array. I am currently in the RMA process with Samsung, and so far that is going way better than I was expecting.
When you read the reviews on NewEgg, you get the overwhelming feeling that buying parts individually and building your own computer is CRAZY. It seems like everyone has had a bad experience with every kind of computer peripheral. The way I see it, I bought a large number of individual parts and only had one that was bad, it wasn't a showstopper, and hopefully they are taking care of it.
3 x Acer H213H bmid Black 21.5" 5ms HDMI Widescreen 16:9 LCD Monitor - Retail
With the price of flat screens being so low, I just had to do it. Not only that, I went with the near 22" HD 1080p wide screen variety. I feel like I am in a cockpit every time I sit down at my desk. YES, I do use them ALL. Right now I am writing this post in the middle, email on the right, and web on the left. Is it overkill? probably. It it unbelievably awesome to be able to utilize all this space? absolutely.
Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of Ultramon, it is the best multi monitor program out there, and I couldn't live without it.
Scythe KAMA BAY SCKB-1000BK 120mm 120mm Fan for 5.25" System Cooling - Retail
One of the negative things I read about the Cosmos case was that it didn't have very good cooling of the hard drives. Yes, you can take one of the directional fans at the bottom of the case and turn it towards the hard drives, but I decided to solve this problem differently.
By putting this bay fan in the bottom bay and blowing the air down, and turning the bottom case fan away from the hard drives, I was able to create circular air flow that went straight out towards the Cosmos' 3 exhaust fans.
2 x Scythe DFS123812-3000 "ULTRA KAZE" 120 x 38 mm Case Fan - Retail
I got 2 of these mammoth fans just in case. I ended up replacing the bottom fan mentioned below and the rear exhaust fan with these puppies. They push SO much air that the dangling wires behind my box are constantly swaying in the wind. Due, to the size of the case and (I think) my fan layout, it's noticeably cooler inside my case when you put your hand in there.
2 x Samsung 20X DVD Burners with Lightscribe
Gotta have DVD burners these days. I am not one to watch too much media on my PC, but these monitors are nicer than any television in my house. So far, I haven't utilized Lightscribe yet, and they have been primarily used compiling my wife's Kenya pictures.
Hercules Deluxe Optical Glass USB WebCam - Retail
Part of the motivation for building this computer was that my buddy would buy me Warcraft and I can join his guild (not really, but that is what I tell him). When we play, we communicate with Skype, which is an awesome program, btw. We don't use the video feature, but what I liked about this was the built in microphone. Its an entry level webcam, so the picture is OK, but I primarily use it for the mic. It also allowed me to take a picture of myself.
ZALMAN MFC2 Multi Fan Controller - Retail
If I am going to have all of these fans, I am going to need something to control their speed, and therefore their CFM, etc. Eh, not really. This is one of my only regrets in this build. Aesthetically, this thing is awesome. 4 digital displays, RPM control of each one, and a power consumption module that plugs in between the wall and your power supply. Yes it's cool. No, I am not finding it that useful. If anything it is somewhat of a hindrance because since the motherboard isn't controlling the fan speeds, when I put it to sleep or hibernate, the fans still kick like I am using the CPU at 100%. This has led me to turn it off when I am not using it. It boots pretty fast, and it's better for the environment and my power bill.
Rosewill RCR-102 52-in-1 USB 2.0 Card Reader - Retail
When my wife and I were filling out our Flexible Benefits plan for this year, I finally heard the words, "Well, what if we try to have a baby in 2009?". So, since a digital camera also comes with that, this was an easy and cheap add on preparing for the future.
Thermaltake V1 Max-Performance CPU Cooler with Massive 110mm Blue LED Full-Range Variable Speed Fan CL-P0401 - Retail
I actually have the aluminum one, not the copper. Originally, I was dead set on this one, the first cooler in a long time to dethrone the V1 in stress tests, plus, it has that cool engine theme that appealed to me. When I went to buy it, I got some interesting points from the salesman. The cooler master one weighs 867 grams, and the aluminum V1 (only beaten by the Cooler Master by 1 degree) weighs half that. He was afraid that the heavy one might eventually warp my board, and quite frankly, I need this to last me a while. Whether he was right or wrong, the V1 was cheaper, and you don't have a salesperson working on commission try to talk you into the cheaper one all that often, so I went with it.
Triple Monitor Mounts
How many times can I manage to link to Atwood's computer building antics? One more.
I went from setting my computer up like this:
My father in law sells office furniture, and one day he came over to see my rig and said, "I have a surprise for you". These mounts not only raised my monitors up to a Swordfish level, but gave me a surprising amount of room and customization for my oversized mouse pad, speakers, Zune, GPS, cell phone, etc. You can see from my pictures there is a lot going on there.
This particular model has an extra set of extension arms that allowed the 3-22 inch monitors to be joined together.
I don't have many, but I can't say that everything is perfect.
- Loud. I mean CRAZY loud. Should I have been expecting this with 7 fans including the ones built into the video cards, 2 of which I replaced with 3000 RPM monsters? Yeah, I guess. It isn't so much when I am sitting at the computer, I kinda like the white noise. It is when I am away from the computer that it bothers me. When you walk into my basement you wonder if there is a helicopter down there that I didn't tell anyone about. But, I'm OK with it since it keeps so cool in there, and I know that has something to do with the longevity of the parts. Plus, like I said earlier, I turn it off when I am not using it now.
- Heavy. When I got this computer, I thought, "Hey, that case has 2 huge handles, I will be able to take it to a LAN party or something". Uh, no. Just for kicks before I wired it in I threw it on my scale and it tipped 75 pounds. This computer is going no where. Oh well, that is what a laptop is for anyway.
- HUGE. When I was in college at Miami my dad bought a bunk bed from the local university, took the bottom bunk out, built a desk, and left the bed on top. So, my bed served double duty as my place of sleep (when I wasn't on the couch) and my work place. It was a great idea because it saved so much space in my smallish fraternity house room. That being said, my workspace on my desk is larger than a single bed, and it had to be to fit this.
Not yet. But I really want to. I need to re-seat my cooler sometime. After running Prime95 for a few hours, my CPU temps plateau-ed in the high 70's. Since the 45 NM technology is supposed to be cooler, and I have one of the best CPU coolers on the market, I was expecting better. Since I had to take the mobo in and out of the case about 100 times (due to the leveling issue I had), I'm sure that my cooler isn't seated very well. If I ever get to it, there will be a follow up post on the results.
Like Hanselman says, I don't have to wait for things anymore. I want my computer to think faster than I can, that is the whole point of them anyway, right? Things open as soon as I click on them, and that is quite liberating coming from 5 minutes just to open Outlook. I can compile DasBlog's ALL solution in 9 seconds. I can compile DNN 4.9.1 in less than that!
So many people have asked me, "Are you a gamer?" and "Why do you need that much computer? are you trying to hack into the Pentagon?" My canned response has become "Dude, I lend the Pentagon my spare cycles..." But I kid. The truth is, I am a gamer on my Xbox. However, since I got this computer, I haven't turned on my Xbox (My gamertag is BIMMERPHILE, add me as a friend, I will be back eventually). Much to the chagrin of all my buddies I talked into getting Rock Band 2 for Xmas so we can play online, I got started playing Warcraft, but I don't want to talk about that ;)
This computer has allowed me to do some of the things I have always wanted to do. I can play around with the VM's of the newest stuff that Microsoft releases, I can install the copy of VS2008 I got at the launch rather than just look at it, I can have this blog to better reach out to the community and improve my career.
And besides, I have just ALWAYS wanted to build my own computer, and I remained patient and saved up for it. So far I have had the good fortune of this particular one being a fantastic experience. So, to all the computer building virgins, I encourage you to give it a try. Read the manuals, read the instructions, and make a project out of it. It took me about 2 weeks of coming home from work and putting it together, let alone the hours of research and decision making on the parts.
For me, it was all about the experience, and now I get to reap the benefits as well :)
P.S. Phew, if you read all of this, thanks!