Tag Archives: Cooler Master

The Other New Rig in the House

After a practice run by building up my daughter’s new computer it was time to work on my own.

I wish I could say that I spent a lot of time digging into the details of things, but I sort of did that with the first computer, so the second one was a bit more arbitrary.  I went and browsed configs in PC Partpicker to see what looked good then threw everything together and ordered it.

I ended up with this:

Putting it all together went about as expected.  The cats needed to be involved again, and aside from when Rigby decided he needed to stand on the motherboard, they mostly contented themselves by stealing zip ties and other little items from the table.  The worst moment was when I put the video card on top of the new case, then forgot it was there and knocked it off by accident.  It fell all the way to the floor and bounced a few times, which is exactly the sort of thing you want to happen with expensive new electronics.  Fortunately my bare foot broke the initial impact, though I did have to stop to bandage up the bleeding gouge it left.

I went for the “a few dollars more” approach that often grips me when I am purchasing the CPU.  That is the core bit of the build, the part I am never going to change, so I tend to buy beyond my needs.  Six cores, twelve threads, maybe somebody will make a game that will use all of that some day.  Right now it barely wakes up to get WoW or EVE Online moving.

I do want to give a shout out to Cooler Master for their CPU cooler kits.  I’ve built up four machines this decade, two with their kits and two without, and I have to say they are good.  The i7 doesn’t come with a stock cooler, and after fumbling with the Zalman I bought but ended up not using for my daughter’s rig, I was feeling tentative on the whole subject.  But I remembered that Cooler Master install from 2010 and decided to go with them again.

And I am glad I did.  Their install kit isn’t revolutionary or anything, but it has an extra step in it that makes all the difference.  I’m always a bit nervous when working on the CPU and the cooler and the motherboard at the start, getting that back plate mounting lined up and set.  But the Cooler Master kit makes it easy.

Then there is the motherboard.  For no good reason I went with the MSI full ATX model.  Having WiFi and Bluetooth on board seemed like a good idea.  It actually let me stand up the computer out in the family room where I was doing the build before moving it back in my office for the direct hookup to the router.  Did I really need the LED lighting on the motherboard though?

Mystic Light!

Well, you know I have it on and running.  There is even an app that comes with it to control it… which is hardly a surprise because MSI included at least a dozen different applications to control various aspects of the motherboard, all of which use the Windows 10 alert system to tell me when there are updates.  Anyway, I had the app.

Mystic Light Control

Apparently if I had multiple MSI devices that supported the Mystic Light option, I could get them all to pulse various colors like the floor in Saturday Night Fever.  All I would need is a strobe and a fog machine, and we’ll get to the former.

Having gone with a full ATX, I needed a bigger case than the tight little model I bought my daughter.  While I like the Cooler Master cases, I was attracted to some of the Fractal Design models as well, and ended up going with the model linked above.

On the bright side, it looks good, had a spot for my optical drive, space for the new hard drive and a couple of old ones, and good ventilation features, with two very quiet 120mm fans included with the case.

On the downside, the space under the motherboard is tighter than I would have liked.  My daughter’s case was a dream in that regard, while this one was a much tougher fit.  The two fans have white LED lighting that has an unfortunate resemblance to a swastika.

Not exact, but you can see it

And then there is the HDD read/write light on the top of the front panel which is so bright it ought to come with a seizure warning.  Seriously, this thing was in the same league as those survival beacons a friend’s dad, who was a Navy flier, used to have around.  I put a piece of masking tape over it and my office still probably looked like a gun battle was going on from outside.  So I put a piece of duct tape over the masking tape and I can STILL see the light.

It shines through this no problem

But at least I don’t feel like I am in a disco anymore when in my office with the lights out.

I did, however, cop out when it came to the video card.  CPUs are forever, video cards I’ll replace every year or two.  And, while video card prices are coming down, I couldn’t get on board spending $450 or more to get a serious boost over my old card.  So the GeForce 1060 was a compromise.  It is a bit better than my old one, draws less power, and produces less heat, but it isn’t a dramatic change at all.  The dropping value of crypto currency means I might be good to upgrade in a year or so. (The story behind that.)

And then there was the move from Windows 7 to Windows 10.

At this point most of the issues have been worked out of Windows 10.  And while I could have gone with Windows 7 again, it is falling out of support in 2020, which I am reliably informed arrives in less than two years.  Given how long I stayed with Win7, it was probably time to move on.

Still, there was some things to get used to.  While it wasn’t the Window-menu free abomination that was Win8, I do miss the compact, list everything as one-line aspect of Win7.  And the update notifications are a little more in my face than I would like.  Also, why the hell did they take the mixer out of the sound option on the task bar.  I used that ALL THE TIME.  Now it is hidden in the control panel somewhere, so I have to go find it to make Minecraft quieter so I can hear my audio book.

I did also opt to go with Zinstall’s transfer utility to move things to the new machine.  It didn’t matter with my daughter’s machine.  Going from MacOS to Windows meant full reinstalls anyway.  But for all the crap I have, I decided to go for it.  I used it for my wife’s last computer upgrade and that went well.  It isn’t cheap, and it isn’t perfect, but I don’t think there is a better option for getting everything over and in a running and configured state.  I had to go find the product key for my copy of Office 2013, but when I opened up Notepad++ all my documents opened up just like they had before.

Anyway, I am setup and running and on the new machine in under a week, which frankly beyond expectations.  I have a couple more fans on order for the case, just to complete the cooling vision.  I miss the big 210mm case door fan on my old Cooler Master HAF case, but I’ll make do.

The New Rig in the House

We’ve been running on the same hardware around our house for quite a while now. We are working our way towards museum status on the console front, what with a Wii and a PlayStation 3 still hooked up to the TV and multiple samples of the soon-to-be-abandoned Nintendo DS/3DS line scattered about the landscape.

On the PC front my wife has the most recent machines in the house, both a desktop in her office and a laptop which she uses for work being of recent vintage. My daughter and I were both sitting on some aging processing iron for our gaming needs. But the dam broke on that when my daughter headed back into World of Warcraft. The coming of Battle for Azeroth and the finishing of Legion got her invested again. This will be the last expansion before she heads off to college, so we’ve both been talking it up, making plans, and getting ready.

However, WoW was crashing for her pretty regularly on her old machine, a 2012 vintage iMac. At the time I bought it, the unit was a magnificent piece of hardware, a 27″ model with an i7 Intel processor. But time makes a mockery of hardware that stands still. The burden of regular upgrades to MacOS have slowed the machine down. I cannot say for sure that Apple deliberately hamstrings older models, but they got caught doing that on the iPhone.

My own machine is actually older than hers. I initially put it together back in 2010, which I am shocked to learn was eight years ago now. How does this happen? But I had to refresh it in 2013 when a power supply blew and zapped the motherboard. So I at least have a generation 4 Intel i5 in it, along with an updated video card.

But with an iMac there are no upgrades. That beautiful industrial design, that slim package built around a magnificent screen, that all stays frozen in time. It will always be running a 3rd generation i7 and an nVidia mobile chip set from the time. Even some every day tasks, like web rendering, was feeling a bit on the slow side, and WoW would crash regularly and could barely keep up with the current version of Dalaran. So it was about time for a refresh.

This time around my daughter wanted a Windows machine. The iMac, and the one mentioned here is the third one that has been out in the family room for her to use, was chosen by me due to its ease of administration. Like every corporate IT group, if I have to keep things running then I get to pick the configuration. Also, parental controls were available and easy to configure and maintain relative to the Windows alternatives.

But now she is old enough to drive a car, has a job, and is giving serious thought to exactly which university she wants to attend. Also, she is tired of being limited to the MacOS options when it comes to software, so I did not fight the Window option. If anything, I was in favor of it because it would be cheaper.

I set out to build her a modest but capable Windows desktop. I wanted it to be cheap-ish because she also wants a laptop for school at some point, we still have the whole “pay for college” thing looming in the distance, and I also want to refresh my own desktop at some point.

My new favorite tool for configuring and pricing setups is PC Parts Picker. I spent some time there tinkering with configurations. One of my problems is that it is easy for me to fall prey to the “for just a few dollars more…” aspect of pricing. Why get processor X when processor Y is just $80 more… and you know what, processor Z is just another $120 more than that… and soon I have a configuration priced well beyond what I really want to spend. This time I planned to hold the line.

Fortunately there was some inspiration on PC Part Picker. One of their sample builds was based around the Gen 8 Intel i3 processor. I might have eschewed the low end of the line in the past, but at this point the i3 is a pretty hardy specimen. It now comes with four cores and the clock rate is good, while the heat and power draw are modest.

But what really sold me on the sample config was the case, a small Cooler Master model that, frankly, looked nifty. I don’t know why, I just wanted to build up a PC in that case, and since I was keeping the budget small I thought I might as well keep the form factor small as well. So I ended up with the following parts list:

I was still hemming and hawing about it when Prime Day came along at Amazon and the SSD I wanted was actually one of the sale items. So I ordered that, then just went all-in and ordered everything else.

Everything had arrived by Friday last week so I set about putting everything together on Saturday morning.

Getting the case together and the hardware set did not take too long. I was surprised at how small the Mini ITX motherboard was. It is basically a bit wider than the RAM slots, with just enough room hanging on over the end for a PCIe slot.

Motherboard, CPU in place

I ended up not using the Zalman CPU cooler, opting for the stock one simply because the Zalman was too big for me to attach and work around easily. The stock cooler is probably good enough. We don’t plan on tinkering with clocking or anything.

The video card was missing from the initial build. The one on the list is the one that is in my current machine. I plan to move it over to her system once I get around building out my own new setup. There was also 8GB of RAM to install as well.

Then it came time to install the OS. I went to the Microsoft Store down at the mall to pick up a copy of Windows 10 Home. I’d never actually been inside, so just wanted a reason to go in. The place is pretty empty most times I walk by it, at least compared to the mob that is always in the Apple Store right across the way, so I never go in lest I be pounced upon by the staff. This time I wanted something though, so the pounce, which came right away, was appreciated. Good luck getting helped that fast at the Apple Store.

Of course, installing Windows took longer than actually assembling the hardware.

And not just because the cats stepped in to help…

The Windows installer recognized the SSD just fine, but did not like the way it was formatted, or so I gathered once I deciphered the error. MBR and GPT were new acronyms for me, but it has been a while since I installed a fresh OS. Unfortunately, Googling the error sent me off to the BIOS for some settings that had zero impact on the error. I finally realized I just needed to delete the curren partition on the SSD and let the Windows 10 installer format it however it felt it needed to and everything went fine from there.

Then came the really long task… installing World of Warcraft. That was the first thing my daughter wanted on the machine. But installing WoW, which weighs in at 58GB these days, over WiFi was taking a long time. Eventually I turned everything off and dragged the new box to my office where I could hook it up directly to the router. That sped things up. Then I brought it back out to the family room, got it set up with my old monitor and a scrounged keyboard and mouse, and set her off to try it out.

She was impressed with the load time. WoW practically leaps off of the SSD into memory. She was a little less impressed with the way things looked. However, that was more a matter of going from the really nice screen built-in to the iMac to the hand-me-down 20″ monitor she was using, a unit that dates back to about 2003.

New Rig in Operation

The built-in video support was up to the effort and she was able to move up the grapic settings for WoW to 7 on their basic 1 to 10 scale. When the video card is in place at some point in the future she’ll be able to run at max settings.

As it turns out, you can use the iMac as a monitor, and we even have the cable for it. We will experiment with that this week. But for now she is all set up on a handy little system. I am not as happy with the case as I thought I would be… the moveable front panel aspect of it is kind of flimsy… but the airflow through it is really good. The 140mm fan it comes with barely has to turn to keep the whole thing cool. We shall see how the magnetic dust filters on the top and front work out.

Now I need to use this warm up to help me spec out my own new system.  I will probably go with an Intel i5 for my own use.  I am tempted to go with the Mini ITX motherboard and a small, well ventilated case though.  I don’t need a super-deluxe ATX motherboard with SLI support and all that.  I always overbuild on that front.  This time I will try to keep things slimmed down.

The Proposed System Configuration

Like most of the voters in my poll, I am leaning towards going the self-built route for the next computer.

After a week of digging around, this is what I think I am going to go with:

  • Windows 7 PRO 64 Bit System Builder 1pk – $140

The OEM, single machine kit.  It may, or may not, be okay for me to use this.  But I am going to.

I went looking for cheaper alternatives, but if you want an X58 chipset motherboard, you’re going to be spending $200 and you’re going to get SLI support whether you want it or not.

Still on the fence.  I might spend $15 more to get the 950 that clocks at 3.06GHz.

I weighed all the $100+ units, but reviewers seemed to like this unit unless you plan to push the envelope of overclocking, and it is about $30.

1 TB, SATA 3, and 6GB/second throughput for under $100.  Met my goals there.

  • Corsair TR3X6G1600C8D Dominator 6 GB 3 x 2 GB PC3-12800 1600MHz 240-Pin DDR3 Core i7 Memory Kit – $190

Not married to this particular kit, but it works as a placeholder.

The bigger, more expensive HAF cases are… well… bigger and more expensive.  I still might go with the HAF 922.  I went by Fry’s to look at it.  The drive bay architecture is very nice on the 922, I just have to decide if it is worth an additional $35.

  • Ultra X4 – 600 Watt, ATX Modular Power Supply U12-40505 power supply – $95

Recommended by a friend and in as a placeholder.  It is rated beyond 80% efficiency, but since I’m going with a Cooler Master case, I might just opt for one of their power supplies.

All of which prices out to about $1,100 at Amazon.com.  My personal goal was to keep the whole thing around $1,200, so I am in the ballpark.

I was mildly surprised to find that Amazon.com ended up having the best prices relative to ZipZoomFly, TigerDirect, and NewEgg.  Plus there is no Sales Tax with Amazon.com, unlike those three, which in my part of California adds 10% to the price of goods.  And if I am feeling really frugal, almost all of the items on the list qualify for free shipping.

I will likely buy the case, and probably the power supply, at Fry’s though.  I have to support a store that has all of the stuff I’ve list here on the shelf somehow.

The only item not on the list is the video card.  My current GTS 250 is still a decent card, runs cool and all that, plus I still have an ATi 4850 card sitting around.  So I may just use one of those.  Both support DX10 and I can wait a while before I need a card with DX11 support built-in.  We’ll see.