Reflections on new computer build project
I am retiring my 2008 Dell 435MT (I7 920 with 6 gB RAM) and replacing with a new computer that I built last week. I have been researching what I wanted in this new box pretty extensively and thanks to living close to a MicroCenter and the wonders of Amazon Prime I was able to get everything ordered, purchased and picked up or delivered within 2 days of finally making up my mind.
I went with the following components:
processor: i7 6700K (which I will probably never overclock)
motherboard: ASUS z170AR - a decent reasonably inexpensive board without lots of bells and whistles
RAM: 32gB!! ( 2 x 16gB so still have 2 empty RAM slots) it is just so cheap these days
storage: 250 gB SSD for OS (the fast boot time is amazing), 500 gB SSD for samples, 500 gB SSD for audio - all Samsung EVO
GPU: nVidea GTX 970 (total overkill for my purposes, but allows for potential to do some video editing)
PS: Corsair 750 CX, 750 watts, bronze 80+, fully modular
CPU cooler: Corsair Hydro H60 (talked into this by the guy at MC, I was just going to get a simple air cooler)
Case: Corsair Carbide Special Alpha (this is a mid tower "gamer" case. I really just wanted a window case in case I wanted to look inside for trouble shooting without taking the box apart - but I have to admit this case in black and gray with subtle white interior LEDs is pretty cool looking without really screaming gamer.
Optical: my case has no front drive panel so external was the only choice but I think it makes more sense since my family all have MACS with no optical drives and the need for an external USB drive comes up occasionally. Can't remember the last time I actually used an internal drive anyway.
Wireless card: Intel 7260 - this is one of the few, maybe the only, that has Bluetooth which I use for my music page turner.
For work I am using pretty sophisticated imaging workstations all day everyday. I am an end user, not a tech person, so my knowledge of and interest in computers, while more than most is not nearly as deep as more technically oriented folks.
I could have bought a similar computer Power Spec (MicroCenter house brand) for around 1500 USD. This machine cost me about 1700 USD for parts. A similarly spec'd name brand like Dell or HP (if you could find one) would probably have been at around 2000 USD. The reason I include these numbers is to dispel the notion that you will save big money building your own computer. I knew from researching the parts that I wasn't going to save much, if any, money. I did this project out of interest in doing it, not to save money.
For those thinking of building their own I would say that, although it is not a difficult project, you had better know a fair amount about how computers work and what the individual components are. I have no regrets, but this project was not as simple as I thought it would be. The assembly took me about 6 or seven hours. Although the parts are all quite precisely engineered, they are not all necessarily designed to work with each other. The video card is pretty big and blocks the PCI slot I was going to use the for the wireless card. Not a big deal but that slot can never be used. The drive cage has handy tool free slots for (3) 3.5 drives and (2) 2.5 SSD. But I needed (3) SSD slots so had to order an adapter that came overnight from Amazon. Upon installing I discovered that the motherboard had a component that blocked access to one of the SSD so the drive cage had to be disassembled so that the SSD could be mounted. It turns out also that the screws used in computer assembly have an unbelievable propensity to strip and that water coolers radiator and fan assemblies seem to require 3 three hands. I was alone and only have two hands. A very good mag glass was an indespensible tool for me - some of the labels on the motherboard and other components are engraved in about a 2 font. And it turns out that even with a modular power supply getting everything plugged in while maintaining some sense of cable management is not easy. Finally,closing the case was a chore. The side panel covering the excess wire harnesses has very limited clearance and one of the thumbscrews on the back plate simply cannot be mounted because it is too short once the fan is in place.
Above rant aside, I am happy that I did it. For me, the technical challenges are just that, challenges, and I rather enjoy that sort of thing. Maybe that is true of most of us that work with DAWs. I only include the rant as fair warning to others who may enter such a project without awareness to the required dexterity and patience.
So my advice to a prospective PC builder is by all means do it if you enjoy the challenge and have the time (I am sure I could build another one tomorrow in half the time). Do not think you will save money. I could have ordered an off-the-shelf computer online for more or less similar money. Hiring a professional to do a custom build will get you exactly what you want, the way you want it, with a guarantee that it works and probably not really cost much more.