Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gaming Build: The Obsidian Oblong

A collegue of mine was in the market for a new gaming machine; having moved to the UK, he had left his heavier belongings back at home. We discussed several options, before deciding that he would order all the parts and have them delivered to our office, where I could assemble them.

His budget was around the GBP 1000.00 mark, however we had to factor in a display and periperals into the equation, as he was literally starting from scratch. I originally picked out a 27" display (an Iiyama ProLite E2773HDS), which would have eaten into around GBP 240.00 of the budget, but he ended up buying a second hand display off another colleague for around GBP 130.00. The rest of the components were decided by a small commitee consisting of myself, my colleague and one of his friends from home. First, I produced a Google Spreadsheet with the components I would choose given the budget, before sharing the document with my colleage and his friend so they could make any suggestions or replacements to the build. The final build consisted of the following hardware:

Motherboard - Asus P8Z68-V LX

The only feature this Z68 board seemed to be lacking was SLI support. However, given the graphics card we eventually settled on, it was decided that a new card would be purchased instead of implementing SLI when the time came to upgrade.

CPU - Intel Core i5 2500K 3.30GHz

While not a flagship Intel product, this processor offers amazing value for money, especially as we opted for the OEM part. Going for model with the "K" designation meant that it would be possible to unlock a little more performance by over-clocking the CPU should the need arise.

RAM - Crucial Ballistix Elite 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 PC3-14900C9 1866MHz Dual Channel Kit

A pair of 4GB high performance DIMMs, which were installed onto the board in a dual-channel configuration.

Graphics Card - Asus GeForce GTX 570 DirectCU II 1280MB GDDR5 PCI-E

Originally, we had decided on an Asus GeForce GTX 560Ti card, which was bundled with copies of Battlefield 3 and Batman: Arkham City. Instead, we ended up going with the 570 because by the time the parts were actually offered the 560Ti only shipped with Battlefield 3, while the 570 was actually on offer. I almost came to regret this decision as the graphics card was so large, I only just managed to fit it into the case!

CPU Cooler - Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev 2 CPU Cooler

As an OEM CPU was purchased, it didn't ship with a stock cooler, so we needed to buy one separately. Besides, if we did decide to go ahead and over-clock the CPU, we'd need something that would cope with the increased CPU temperatures.

PSU - Corsair Builder Series CX 600W V2 '80 Plus' Power Supply

Because we weren't building a dual (or even tri, or quad) GPU system, there wasn't any need to go with a high-output PSU, hence the choice to go with a 600W model.

Hard Drive - Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB SATA 6Gb/s 32MB Cache WD10EALX

Choosing a storage device was one of the biggest shocks: I had intended to recommend a fast 2TB model, however, because of the recent floods in Thailand (where most of the HDD manufacturing facilities are), hard drive prices have doubled! This prompted me to stick with a 1TB model, which still cost over GBP 100.00! The original drive I susggested was a Seagate 1TB model, but personal preference resulted in the Western Digital device being selected instead; each to his own!

Optical Drive - Samsung SH-S222AB/BEBE 22x DVD±RW SATA ReWriter

Using the optical drive on my machines has become such a rarity, that I completely forgot to add one to the original spec! Fortunately, I picked this up before I had to start the build, so we added this model to the order.

Case - Antec 300 Three Hundred Ultimate Gaming Case

Considering how cheap this case was (GBP 49.99), I was surprised at how easy it was to fit in all the system's components. On top of that, it was supplied with a bag of thumb-screws for tool-less installation of hardware, and a couple of cable-ties to help keep the finished system that little bit tidier.

Keyboard - Razer Arctosa Keyboard

It's not often I have to include a keyboard into a build; most people just recycle their old peripherals, but we were starting from scratch so I opted for this Razer keyboard. In my opinion, the design of the keyboard strikes a good balance between flash and functional.

Mouse - Razer DeathAdder Respawn 3500 DPI Xtreme Precision

An ideal companion for a Razer keyboard; the DeathAdder mouse. I have one of these myself and I am very happy!

The Build

First, I installed the CPU onto the board and then the cooler. I had already installed a Freezer 7 Pro in my own system and was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to install. It turns out that the cooler is actually even easier to install in an Intel-based system. I've scanned the instructions and uploaded them here, but the basic steps were:
  1. Placed the cooler mount over the socket, lining up the four corners with the mounting holes in the board.
  2. Pushed the four mounting pins through the holes in each corner until they "clicked" into place.

  3. Removed the fan from the heat sink.
  4. Positioned the cooler over the CPU, lining up the two holes on the mounting bracket with the corresponding holes in the mount itself.
  5. Screwed both sides in securely.
  6. Re-attached the fan to the heat sink.
The only potential problem I found with this cooler and motherboard combination is that the heat-sink actually prevents the installation of RAM into the slot closest to the CPU block. This will make upgrading the memory in the system slightly more difficult and expensive, as the optimal upgrade path is to replace the two existing DIMMS with higher capacity modules, instead of installing additional modules in the free slots.
Once I had the CPU, memory and cooler installed, placing the assembly into the case was simple. Connecting the front-panel I/O, case switches and LEDs wasn't too troublesome either, which is the part I usually find most frustrating when building a new system.

After that, I fitted the PSU and powered the system on; the system was built around a Sandy Bridge CPU, which meant I was able to check I'd correctly seated the processor and memory before I continued installing the rest of the components.

The final steps I took were to connect the hard drive, optical drive and then the GPU. Because of it's length, I ended up having to move the HDD lower in the case so I could squeeze in the GPU.

Overall, the entire build only took me around 2 hours to complete, which was far less time that I had originally expected! After another hour, the OS was installed and patched and the machine was ready... And I had one happy customer!