Monthly Archives: January 2015

…pation

So I’m coming to the realization that my hope of having a large chuck of time to set aside to build things is probably in vain. And of course, all the other issues I talked about yesterday are still in play. So I’m going to try my hand at working on my new computer piecemeal, a few minutes here or there in the morning or evening as I get them. After all, I’ve read all the manuals I could (including the descriptions of BIOS features that I can’t use yet), so I’m pretty much stalling at this point.

Maybe this is for the best, though. I have an unfortunate tendency to involuntarily fixate on the “big picture” of a problem, and can have trouble breaking it down into manageable steps. My desire to do things all in one sitting could be a reflection of this. It could also be a result of my perfectionism.

So my waiting for the “perfect” time to build my computer is likely overly idealistic. Part of being an adult, after all, is making the best of less than ideal situations. I’m learning that one the hard way. So I’m going to try and do things as I can. And even better, rather than doing them so I can write about them, or look back later and say “yep, I experienced that thing,” I’m going to try and actually experience the… well, experience. Far too often I’ve found myself worried so much about remembering something or preserving an experience for posterity I forget to actually enjoy myself. It’s like people who take a trip halfway around the world and then view everything through the tiny viewfinder of their camera.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m telling perfection to bugger off, and to take not-being-present (or whatever you’d call it) with it. I’m gonna do what I can, when I can, and hopefully things will turn out alright and I’ll enjoy it along the way.

To that effect, I took my motherboard out of the box and antistatic bag this morning! And I mounted my power supply in the case the night before! Yaaay, this doesn’t sound lame at all!

 

Antici…

So what have I done with this enormous bounty of new computing hardware? Well, to tell the truth… a whole lot of nothing so far.

You see, I picked up all this stuff on Sunday. But there’s this little issue during the week of having to go to work. Plus having my evenings largely booked with various activities, like fighter practices and Marvel television shows. And this being my first build and all, I really want to take my time and make it special. Sure, I guess I could stay up until midnight or later and just crank the thing out, but I’ve got a busy week at work and kind of need all my available faculties. Plus, this being a delicate operation and all, I want to make sure I’ve done all the research I can, reading tutorials, watching how-to’s, and making sure everything is Just So™.

I guess, if I had to be honest, I might be just a little nervous. Sure, it’s true I’ve replaced the occasional hard drive or swapped out a stick or two of RAM over the years, but I’ve never done of this scale before. I’ve never had to apply thermal paste. I’ve never had to make sure I don’t bend CPU pins or fry extremely sensitive electronics with static electricity. I’ve never invested this much money in something that might go horribly wrong.

Well, aside from grad school, I guess.

I’m probably overthinking things again (big surprise, I know). I’m sure things will go fine; after all, I’m not a person who shies away from opening up electronics just to see what’s inside. But like I said, I want to make the “build moment” special, a momentous occasion as I take my rightful place amongst the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race. I want to be able to take my time, to not have to make progress in fits and spurts in the hour or so each night between finishing my activities and having to go to bed. And unfortunately, the closest chunk of time I can really see in my near future is this Saturday. But I don’t want to have to wait that long. But I don’t want to sacrifice any of my other activities, like seeing my friends or making it to the first fighter practice of the year…

You get the idea. “Wah wah wah, being a responsible adult sucks.” And it does. So for now my new hardware components sit on the table next to my desk, mocking me from their boxes. Their siren song promising both challenge and reward. Waiting.

I’ve at least unpacked my case, so that’s something.  And I’ve got a lot of manuals to read…

The Pilgrimage

It’s amazing how much clarity a few days can bring. Since I wrote the last few posts*, I finally got up the courage to go out to Micro Center and spend enormous gobs of money on fancy toys and hardware. More accurately, I went and bought stuff before I had a chance to psych myself out. Again.

So long story short, I finally got to make my long-anticipated pilgrimage to Micro Center to buy my parts to build my new computer. And it was awesome.

Sure, I’ve shopped at Micro Center before; it’s such an awesome store, how could you not? But I know better than to shop there too often, since it’s far too easy to buy much more than you intend to. And I had only been there in the past for little things, like a cheap keyboard or a housing for an old hard drive. I had never really invested into things. But doing so, being able to walk out the door with the myriad pieces required to build a completely new computing platform with my own bare hands.

I’m a little excited, can’t you tell?

How did I go about making my final decisions? Well, I basically thought and worried and went back and forth until I was annoyed enough with myself, then I went out and did something drastic before I could change my mind. My girlfriend was nice enough to humor me as I wandered the store; I really only got hung up on my choice of cases. They didn’t have the exact one I wanted (with a side window), so I made the mistake of looking at other options while in the store. I know, I know, I should really know better than that. But apparently I don’t, because I spent far too much time going back and forth about things before eventually settling on the non-windowed version of the case I had come in looking for.

What’s that, you say? You want to know what I ended up getting? Well, feast your eyes on the obligatory pre-assembly box photo!

The complete haul.

The complete haul.

As for specs, this is what I ended up going with:

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K

  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z97-SLI

  • RAM: 8 GB Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR3-1600

  • SSD: 128 GB Sandisk

  • Hard Drive: 2 TB Western Digital Black

  • Video Card: MSI Geforce GTX 970 OC

  • Case: Corsair Carbide 300R

  • Power Supply: EVGA 600B

  • DVD Drive: LG DVD Burner

  • WiFi: Tenda W332P PCI card

  • Fans: 2 included w/ case; Corsair SP120 Green (because my girlfriend loves me and I apparently amuse her)

I haven’t had a chance to start assembling things yet, but I did get all my available rebates off in the mail and am just waiting for a long enough stretch of time where I can start tinkering. I plan to write about the process, and may even go into why I chose the parts I did if I remember (TLDR: they were low price but good quality, and in stock).

Squee!

* It may seem fairly sudden, but the last two posts were written on Friday, and this one was written on Monday. Yay, New Year buffer!

Bells And Whistles

One decision I’m facing when it comes to my impending computer build (no really, it’s happening!) is balancing budget with upgradeablility. I tend to approach computer purchases as investments; I’m willing to spend a bit more money up front so that they’ll remain usable for longer. Case in point: my current laptop cost me $1500 when I bought it in 2008, but it’s been going strong for just under 6.5 years. My previous laptop cost me $3000 back in 2002 (my family sold the piano no one was using to help cover the costs), but I used that fairly regularly for nearly seven years; in fact, I wouldn’t have upgraded when I did if I hadn’t decided to go back to grad school.

And while there was a stopgap surplus desktop in between the two, both of my big personal computers have been laptops, which as a platform are not known for their expansion options. With desktops, you at least have the option of somewhat rolling updates: a graphics card here, more RAM there, maybe even a new processor down the line. So I really want to take advantage of that possibility.

I’ve also chosen to limit myself to around $1000 for this build. The problem I now find myself facing is that while I can definitely stay under that budget, if I want a better choice of expandability options that tends to push me over. And honestly, some of the features are ones I might not even use right away.

The two big ones I’ve come across are overclocking and SLI. Overclocking allows you to artificially speed up your computer’s processor beyond the manufacturer’s rated spec. It strikes me as not only a good way to add some longevity to a build, but also a fun way to tinker with the insides of my PC. Of course, “unlocked” Intel processors (those that allow easy overclocking) are more expensive. SLI involves connecting two (or more) graphics cards, allowing for better game performance, especially at ultra-high resolutions. This of course involves purchasing multiple graphics cards (they have to be identical), but also requires having a compatible motherboard, which of course adds to the cost.

So that’s kind of where I am: the enthusiast part of me wants cool and awesome features, while the frugal part of me wants to avoid spending money on features I’m not going to use. But by spending that money now, I might have more upgrade options down the line, saving me money in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to completely future-proof my build. That’s impossible; I could spend $4000 and still need to upgrade in three years. No, what I want is to have a build that is “future-ready,” one that doesn’t leave me wishing I had spent just a little more money at this point.

Overthinkers Anonymous

Well, I’ve reached a new milestone in my PC-building adventure: I am officially Thinking Too Much!

I tend to do this a lot, and have basically accepted it as a natural part of my decision-making process. Sure, it may not be the most efficient method, but I can’t seem to break the habit so I might as well just own it.

The way it tends to work is this: I’ll start my research, casting as wide a net as possible and basically poring over any source even remotely relevant to my subject. In regards to building a PC, this has involved sources such as Reddit, PCPartPicker, and professional review sites. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of information out there (a lot in the form of acronyms, but that’s beside the point). Almost too much.

Of course, the more research I do, the more I realize I don’t know, and the more variables I start to consider. Throw my ever-present frugality into the mix, and it gets really hard to make a decision. “Is this motherboard better? But this one’s on sale. And this other one looks perfect, but is currently out of stock…”

That’s the great thing about shopping and planning: anything is possible until you actually start spending money. And I’m at the point where I should probably start spending money, otherwise I’ll keep thinking myself in circles and it’ll be another year before I actually get around to building my new computer. And by that point, all my knowledge will be outdated and the whole cycle will start over.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m starting to realize there’s never going to be a “perfect” time time make a decision, or a “perfect” suite of hardware. I’m going to have to make compromises and pull things kicking and screaming out of the realm of theory and into messy reality.

When is that going to happen? I don’t know. But I think I’ll wait a couple days to see if Micro Center gets any motherboards back in stock before I pull the trigger.

Artemis Post-Mortem

So for New Year’s Eve this year, we decided to throw a party. This was odd enough in and of itself, since I’ve never really lived in an apartment that was big enough to “entertain” in, but my girlfriend was amenable to the idea so I figured we’d try it. Of course, when I say “party,” I don’t mean the “everyone get drunk and rock out to loud music” type. Or even the “sip wine while appreciating art and the finer things in life.” No, I mean more of a “LAN party with a bunch of nerds.”

That is to say, we had over 25 people over to our 1,200-square-foot apartment for a rousing game of Artemis. And it was awesome.

I honestly wasn’t sure if we could comfortably fit that many people in our place. But we did, and managed to set up three complete bridge crews. One of my friends even brought their 50” TV to use! We ended up having a team in the downstairs rec room, a team in the living room, and a team in my office (which was about half the size of the other rooms). My other worry was having enough computers to go around, but once again my friends came through: not only was there enough tech to go around, we had enough extra that we could continue to run multiple ships even after people began to head home for the night.

Of course, wrangling that many computers and new players was a mite stressful. I spent most of the first hour and a half running around like a madman, making sure people had space and the requisite connections. But eventually things reached enough critical mass that they started to basically run themselves. I even had a chance to sit down a play a few sessions myself!

The night wasn’t without its hiccups. We ended up having a choke point in the kitchen, where people somehow chose one of the smallest rooms in the place to hang out in (of course, the food being there may have had something to do with it). If I had to do it again (and I’d like to), I’d probably put a crew in the master bedroom rather than the living room, and keep the latter free for congregating, consuming, and chatting.

But overall, flying around virtual space, defeating enemies, and “accidentally” nuking allies was a great way to ring in the new year. Everyone seemed to have a good time (even the few non-gamers who showed up), and we successfully managed to not trip any electrical breakers (despite trying our best with multiple computers, crock pots, and nearly all the lights in the apartment). That all being said, it left me fairly drained; it took us the better part of a week to get ready, and it was pretty much go-go-go from 7pm until we kicked everyone out around 2am. And while I’d like to do it again, maybe not right away. But it was a great time, and I can only hope that everyone who participated had a good time as well.

Happy New Year!