Building the Best Computer Ever

Alert readers will recall that I recently chatted up the idea of building your own computer. Unlike most of my words, these were not idle. I needed a new computer for work on book projects, and I was also intent on finding a solid-state home for all my Compact Discs. So, following my own advice, I built a PC.

First, although I would like to pound my fists on my chest, I must admit that building a desktop computer is pretty easy. I spent 90% of my time researching and 10% building. The former involved coming up to speed on current PC technology, understanding the steps required to build a PC, and selecting the components I wanted and making sure they were compatible. I covered a lot of this in an earlier blog. The building part was almost an afterthought and took only a few hours. But that was only because of the time I invested in the research. If I had scrimped on that, the building part could have been a nightmare. Do your homework and you'll be fine.

The objective was to build a PC that would mainly do lowly word-processing duties for book projects. But it also needed enough horsepower for gaming, and enough storage to hold my music collection. Let me briefly go through my essential component choices.

I wanted a small form factor, and today's motherboards are so comprehensive that I couldn't imagine adding a bunch of PCIe peripherals. So, I quickly settled on a Mini-ITX motherboard. Its 17-cm square footprint would give me a small form factor and its single PCIe expansion slot would hold a graphics card. I agonized greatly over AMD versus Intel. The decision was partly a question of timing. I wanted a newly-released CPU, a CPU socket that would be good for at least another generation, and if possible a CPU that had decent onboard graphics. The latter would suffice for now, allowing me to add a graphics card later, as needed.

I picked an Intel i7-10700 CPU and a MSI MEG Z490I Unify motherboard; this gave me the newer LGA1200 socket, onboard WiFi, 8-channel HD audio, Thunderbolt, USB Type C and other niceties. The motherboard comes with an external WiFi antenna, but to clean up the wiring a bit, I bought a pair RP-SMA stub antennas. The Intel CPU comes with a cooling fan, but I upgraded to a Noctua NH-L9i CPU fan for better cooling and a low profile. The latter was important because I wanted to squeeze everything into a small case. Also for profile reasons, for RAM I choose Kingston Hyper Fury RGB 3200 CL 16 (2x8 GB). There is an RGB LED strip across the top of each module. Why? Because I like pretty colors. Fight me.

As noted, the PC will be the solid-state home for my CDs. This was an easy requirement to meet. Moving data from CD to PC is really only a question of labor; CD/DVD drives are absurdly cheap. Once I moved the collection, I would not need a CD drive in the PC, so I picked an external Asus DVD-RW drive. Storage isn't a big deal either. If you ask the question, “How many terabytes do you want?” The answer is, “Yes.” Specifically I installed an Intel 1TB 665p series M.2 SSD on the motherboard, and connected two Samsung 1TB 860 Evo SSDs to the SATA bus. That's 3 TB right now, and can expand way beyond that as needed.

As noted, I wanted a small case. I looked at the NCASE M1 v.6.1 and NZXT H1. Both nice, but I went with a Sliger SM550 with USB 3.2 Type E harness; it is built like a tank and it is excellent. The Sliger comes with a PCIe expansion riser cable; that part of the case is empty; I have not selected a graphics card yet. The Corsair SF600 small form factor power supply fits nicely, as do two Cooler Master MasterFan SF120R ARGB 120mm case fans. The latter have RGB lights. I like pretty colors.

The keyboard and mouse are the two touch points with your PC and they have to feel right. I selected a Logitech G513 keyboard and G203 mouse. They have a great touch, and have pretty RGB colors. Keyboards all feel different; spend some time researching key types before you buy. To wrap things up, I placed the keyboard and mouse on an Airgoo AG-GMS-X5 mouse pad; it lights up with pretty colors. Did I mention the pretty colors?

Picking parts vendors boiled down to availability and price. I bought parts from Newegg, B&H Photo Video, Amazon, and Sliger. I could have consolidated that to fewer vendors. My monitor is a Lenovo ThinkVision P24h-10; it's fine but I should have gone one size bigger.

The final steps in the build, booting up in the BIOS, tweaking a little, and installing Windows 10, was easy; there are many YouTube videos that take you through these steps. It seems like it might be difficult, but it's not. Total tools required: a small Philips screwdriver. Fire extinguisher, optional.

Alert readers will recall that Superman (aka “Henry Cavill”) also built his own PC. I critiqued his work, and gave him a thumbs up. Good job! But obviously, Mr. Cavill, my PC is way better than yours. Fight me.

COMMENTS
alchav21's picture

Building your own PC is great, I have been doing it for Decades. My current one is going on 10 years, had Windows 7 upgraded to Windows 10. I have always used SuperMicro MB, also an NZXT Case, Intel Core i7, and C: is a Samsung 1T SSD. Good job on yours.

jeffhenning's picture

Hi, Ken.

Given that I was doing recording on a Mac Pro 20 years ago with some songs requiring more than 60 tracks in hi-res, I'm pretty sure that my current MacBook Pro is way more powerful and could do the same thing with ease. I'm looking to get a current Mac Pro sometime soon to do my own music again and have no hardware synths at all (had a rack of them at the time).

If you can put up with Windows that certainly is your weight to bear. I have it on a disc image with Parallels and use it primarily when I have to do QA for web apps and sites that I've coded. I feel like taking a shower after each use. As a colleague told me 20 years ago, "It's such a disgusting, dirty OS." But, hey, if you can put up with it, have fun.

I'm under the impression that it didn't break the bank so how much did the "Best Computer Ever" actually cost?

And, as I said in my post about Henry Cavill building his own computer (The Dummy of Steel), kids have been doing this since the 90's. I'm talking 12 to 14 year olds. Not to put you down since this certainly is the way to go for a Windows machine & get the most ROI, but how is this a thing that old guys are bragging about?

Trying to figure that out.

hk2000's picture

I'm forced to use an iPhone for work, and every time I have to do anything on it other than text or talk, I have a strong urge to grab a hammer and smash it into a million pieces!!

jeffhenning's picture

As both a CGI artist and, in the last 20 years, web designer and developer, Apple's products have allowed me to make a very good living while Microsoft's crap has been the bane of my existence. Thank god, they stopped making their own browser (Internet Explorer is now a MS-branded version of Chrome).

If you want to keep paying MS for buggy code, have at it. I'll enjoy getting free upgrades for all of the Apple stuff I use until they won't upgrade anymore and then give them to friends who can still get use out of old hardware.

If your work iPhone is too hard for you to use, I really don't know how to respond to that. Young kids and non-technical old-folks seem to have no difficulties with iOS. I'd hate to see what you'd think of an Android TV.

A few weeks ago, I read an article about Apple filing a patent to integrate all of their devices so that they can act in concert as a super computer. While this isn't important to more than about 5% or so of users, being able to use every Apple device (watch, phone, tablet, laptop and desktop) on your local network to render video & 3D, mix audio or do any intensive computing task with the unused CPU power of every Apple product in house is pretty fantastic.

I doubt that MS and Google will ever cooperate to do something so forward thinking.

So, please, do put me down for actually using my Macs to create things and make a living. If there was something better, I'd use it. There isn't.

hk2000's picture

First of all, The "Forward thinking" about which you seem to be excited has been around for many years in the form of DLNA. I still use the Windows phone- even though MS abandoned it, I still find it more versatile than the iPhone -or Android, for that matter- precisely because of that integration of which you speak. In fact, MS is going out of its way to provide support for integrating the iPhone and Android phones with Windows systems, something Apple would never do for fear of losing their monopoly on the tiny segment of the market consisting of people like you.

I'm a network Engineer, and I've been building computers for the past 15+ years, I currently have 4 PCs at home that I built myself, and my Windows phone integrates with everything just fine- including Android TV!!

jeffhenning's picture

I'm certainly no expert on DLNA, but the Digital Living Network Alliance is about interoperability of networked devices regardless of their platform (the trade group was founded by Sony in 2003 to define the interoperability guidelines for sharing content between devices). It has nothing to do with networked computing.

Being able to use every Apple device on your LAN to take advantage of unused CPU cycles to render 3D/video/audio faster has nothing to do with DLNA.

What they are looking at is something that would benefit, again, only creative and scientific types who are doing highly CPU intensive tasks that can take minutes to hours to days to complete.

Previously, you had to build a CPU farm and use special software. No one has ever, to my knowledge, ever offered network computing baked into their OS.

As to "MS is going out of its way to provide support for integrating the iPhone and Android phones with Windows systems, something Apple would never do for fear of losing their monopoly", you must be joking. Who do you think is helping MS integrate iPhones into Windows (if not doing all the work)? Apple. They've been doing that for all of the time that the iPhone has existed.

Apple sells orders of magnitude more iOS devices than they do computers. Chevy doesn't sell more Vettes than their other cars. It will, though, no longer have a soul without the Vette.

You really don't seem to have any of your facts straight. Enjoy that.

prerich45's picture

Yep!!! I'm a Windows and Android guy myself, I also like Ubuntu (Mint, Cinnamon, etc)

Bosshog7_2000's picture

As someone who uses PC's for work and a Mac for home I can say the so called benefits of Mac are mostly long gone. Although I've used Macs the last 15 years or so I'm not sure I will buy another.

jeffhenning's picture

Again, being both a designer and developer, I "kinda" despise Windows. I do have to use it regularly and I hate the visual design and user experience. While they have done a basic redesign of its look over the years, it's still a lousy UX design. Unintuitive to a fault and still trailing behind OS X.

For most people, putting up with Windows is an accepted torture. Things do not need to be that hard.

If you are looking at build quality, Mac's are as good or better than any PC. If your metric is pure CPU power, Mac's will lose, but the question then needs to be asked, "What are you doing?" Both of my old Mac laptops are more computer than 80-90% of users need.

On my last contract gig, they sent me a HP, plastic, P.O.S. Windows laptop. What a piece of trash! I did all of my work on my Mac & was so happy that I no longer had to use it to log on to do my time sheet. It was relegated to being used for a once-weekly Slack meeting.

Again, though, if you don't mind something that poorly built, have at it.

One thing no one ever considers, though, with PC's is OS upgrades and their cost. Even if you do get an aluminum-bodied PC with a great processor and it costs you a bit less than a Mac, you will have to pay for Windows upgrades for the life of that machine.

Apple stopped charging for OS upgrades on all of it's products over 6 years ago. MS makes it's money by selling upgrades. Over 6 years, that could be $600 or more. That is the hidden Windows tax you will have to pay.

So, to my original thought, for gamers, the greatest ROI will be a DIY computer. Again, though, how is this a thing that old guys are bragging about it when teenagers were doing this over 2 decades ago?

Hey, look at me! I'm old and I spent 3 hours putting a kit together! Aren't I great!

To everyone that thinks that is special, sorry, we have no participation trophies.

Brown Sound's picture

Despite the resident Apple snob in this thread, I'm glad you enjoyed this computer build. As a lowly IT and calibration tech, I have several purpose built or rebuilt computers, both desktops and laptops, but most are running versions of Linux. The DIY aspect of both the computer and hi-fi hobbies is part of why I got into them in the first place. Windows can be a serious PITA, so I use Linux for the most part and have a secondary boot drive with Win7 for MS only stuff (i.e. Access database management.) I've been thinking of building a DIY tube amplifier, which could be very rewarding, IMHO. Once again, glad you had fun and ignore the haters.

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