There comes a time in every man, women and child’s life when their current computer just isn’t up to the daily tasks you throw at it. It’s time for an upgrade. Recently I did just that, and I want to take you on the journey into my new PC experience.
Let’s go back to where my current system started. Back in Late 2009 (September or October, I don’t recall) I walked into my local FutureShop store and started browsing, like I always did. I loved looking at electronics and I enjoyed ogling all the stuff I wish I had. I don’t recall what computer I had at that time, but I know it was some cobbled together mid spec’d system that did just enough to do what I needed it to do, which was gaming. In the FutureShop Computer section a shiny black and orange motif caught my eye. This was a Gateway FX 6802-07c, a FutureShop exclusive model that had a Core i7 920 CPU, 12GB of memory, and an Nvidia Geforce GTX 260 graphics card. This thing was light years beyond my current system, and the price was amazing. $1,500 +tax, including a 23” wide-screen LCD. I was sold. I wanted it. No – I NEEDED it. After a phone call to the (ex)wife to convince her that I needed this beast of a machine it was decided to go ahead. Lucky for us, the FutureShop employee discussed with me that if I got a FutureShop credit card, I could pay for this computer monthly with no interest. It was as if the stars and planets had aligned and I was destined to get this computer. The transaction processed flawlessly and it was mine. I was giddy as I walked out of the store with my 2 big boxes. I couldn’t drive fast enough to get home and tear into the packages and get this machine running.
Fast forward 7 years and 8 months later, this time it is June 2017. The FX6802-07c sits on my desk, seemingly happy to chug away at my games of World of Tanks or a moderately modded Skyrim. Our video editing from conventions, slow but still get done. This machine, which at the time I named back in 2009 as ‘IX’ (from Dune, the planet of new machines, as I am a huge Dune fan) had been slightly upgraded over the years. A new Asus GTX 560ti in 2014, a 120Gb Kingston SSD in 2014. Everything else was stock, aside from a new 32” LG LCD TV as bigger monitor. The 23” one still worked, and was my transportable screen when I went over to a friend’s house for our Lan parties.
I take good care of my computers, and my family’s computers. Every 6 months they get a decent dusting and maybe a system tune up. I always keep them running as smooth as possible when I can, and always fix any issues with them that arise. IX had been solid and never let me down, but I knew that his age was catching up with him. While windows always ran smooth and fine, and other than video editing and rendering taking a long time, which is normal, things were seeming fine. Skyrim ran decently fine, but did crash from time to time, and I attributed that to the mods, which probably was 99% accurate. I had switched cases from the stock Gateway case a month earlier, needing a visual refresh of the computer. This new case had a small window on the side panel so I could see in. I don’t know exactly how I discovered it, but I was looking in the window one morning while I was killing time before work, and it practically hit me in the face. A puffy capacitor.
Now for those of us not technically savvy like myself, the motherboard has lots and lots of capacitors, they are like little batteries that charge and discharge, and generally help stabilize voltage and signal levels in circuit paths. I won’t go into too much more detail, because it isn’t really that important. Generally, the capacitors (or caps) used in computers are of the electrolytic type. They have an electrode and a dielectric, which is generally a fluid. Over time the fluid dries out or expands, which causes the pressurized can of the cap to bulge or pop. You see this type of failure lots on older motherboards. When this happens, the machine will begin to fail and it’s time for a new computer. Here is a quick video from Linus Tech Tips which explains a little more detail.
Those of us who are capable in electronics have the ability, tools and knowledge to attempt a repair of this type of failure, but a repair shop might charge a lot of money for this repair because it is tricky and time consuming (well not really, it’s more of an annoyance). Since I am one of these people I decided to attempt the repair.
So, after dismantling all the components from the motherboard, and removing the motherboard from the case, I took it to work where my soldering station is located. I won’t go into too much detail of the repair, but I did end up removing and replacing the damaged cap, and when hooking everything back up it continued to work. IX was back to his old self and things were back to normal.
But this isn’t exactly true. You see I am a technophile, and I love tech, which is probably why I work in the R&D department of an Oilfield instrumentation company. I work with electronics every day, and I work on a computer at least 16 hours a day. I used to be a big follower of computer modding, and tried keeping up with the tech back before 2009, but without ever having a budget to spend on these new parts and gear, it was always just a pipe dream to build a monster system. When I purchased IX, which was my first boxed system, I kind of let all that slip away, because this was the monster system (at the time) and it ran every game and task I threw at it without blinking. Now in the months leading up to the cap issue with IX, I was determined to build a new gaming system again, as Skyrim wasn’t running as smoothly as I wanted, and with all the new PC titles out there I wasn’t able to fully enjoy them to their visual glory. I shopped online, looked over specs and prices, compared pre-built systems to base parts and I wasn’t set on any one thing, and I needed money. Due to the age of IX, this was going to be a full upgrade. As a starting point, I know I needed a new video card, but the limitations of my older CPU meant a bottleneck. The CPU, being a 1st generation i7. It would need to be upgraded, and because a new CPU was needed, so was a new motherboard and ram. So, I decided I needed a new CPU, motherboard, ram and video card. I could reuse the power supply and hard drives, since they were still good and I could save a little bit of money, possibly getting me a new system sooner (I hate waiting). I browsed some pre-built system sites, to give me an idea of what the cost would be for a pre-built system, then I went and priced out comparable parts on the main retailers I use (NCIX, Newegg Canada and Memory Express). In any case with just the base 4 components I mentioned above, I was looking at about $1,000CAN or more as a starting point. I would need time to save up and get a budget together to allow me to buy something. Often the pre-built systems seemed the most tempting, as they were complete and tested, and I could also remove parts most of the time like the hard drives to save a little on the price. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, I just needed time to get some funds together. Did I mention I hate waiting?
As luck would have it, time was on my side. Every year, Tali and I plan to go to Pax West in Seattle. We “try” to save up for it, but you know how that goes. Now before you get the idea that I spent our vacation money, no, that isn’t what I did, and we cancelled our trip to Seattle for different reasons. You see we bought a house, and we move in August. So, when we were discussing the option of buying a house, or going on a trip to Seattle to take part in the amazing Pax West convention for my 5th time. It was a tough choice, but ultimately, we decided buying a house was better for the long run. Don’t worry Game-Refraction is still going to Pax West, just Tali and I are not going. We will go next year. You see we have also been working diligently on our finances this year, and we’ve made amazing progress on our debt load. Anyway, it seems I went off topic a little. Where was I ……
Oh yes, we decided to buy a house, and to make that possible we cashed out a bit of both our RRSP’s to make the down payment. This is a standard practice with buying a house in Canada, so we decided that if I withdrew a little extra, say $1,000, I could potentially use that to build a new PC. Now as nice as I would love to build a monster system with an unlimited budget, I have always had some sort of financial end cap that would restrict the amount of hardware I would be allowed to purchase. While this makes me financially responsible, it can be restricting in a sense that I won’t be able to get the latest and greatest. I felt this was a challenge, I had a limit of $1,000, let’s see if I could get everything I needed and stay within the budget. Going over the budget meant that item would have to wait until I had saved up a little more funds. Challenge accepted.
I knew a pre-built system was totally out of the question unless I felt I would get lower end stuff, and I wanted to go a little higher end. Did I mention I hate waiting?
I spec’d out the 4 main components over the course of a few hours on a Saturday, tossed the list to a few tech savvy friends to make sure that I wasn’t a fool in my picking. They all said it looked decent. The parts I settled on were as follows:
- Motherboard – ASUS ROG STRIX B250H GAMING LGA1151 DDR4 HDMI DVI M.2 USB 3.1 B250 ATX Motherboard
- CPU – Intel BX80677I57400 7th Gen Core Desktop Processors
- CPU cooler – Corsair Hydro series H60 AiO
- Memory – Kingston HyperX FURY Black 16GB Kit (2x8GB) 2133MHz DDR4 Non-ECC CL14 DIMM Desktop Memory (HX421C14FBK2/16)
- GPU – ASUS Geforce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB ROG STRIX HDMI 2.0 DP 1.4 Gaming Graphics Card (STRIX-GTX1050TI-4G-GAMING) Graphic Cards
Now the cost on all the items above, including tax and shipping, came to $991.14CAN. Amazingly I stayed within my budget perfectly, with a little to spare. My original plan was to reuse the new-ish case IX was currently occupying. I decided to pick up the following
Now with the case I was over budget, but I had a little cash saved up and I could make it work (it was on sale for $79CAN). I wanted my new system to be as silent as possible, while still performing great, which is partly why I went with the AiO cooling system, plus I know liquid cooling performs so much better, and it was pretty much the same price as a decent high-end air cooler. So, Memory Express shipped my order on the following Monday, and it arrived on Tuesday (I hate waiting) and NCIX shipped the case also on Monday, and it arrived on Wednesday. It was like Christmas to me, and well my Wednesday evening was spent disassembling, and assembling this new system. I think the hardest part for me was the Corsair H60 AiO since I have never worked with one before, but in the end, it worked well and everything went together. The be Quiet base 600 case is a little taller than my old case, and the PSU coming from IX had a little bit of a short motherboard power lead, which I needed to creatively run behind the GTX1050 for it to reach the very top of the Asus motherboard, since they decided to put it at the very top of the board, when all new cases have the power supply at the bottom (not smart). When it came time to power on everything and see if it all worked, I was presently surprised that it fired up on the first try, and everything worked amazingly well. The best part, was I hear nothing. This setup is so quiet I had to check to see if all the fans were working because they are so quiet.
So now that I have new computer, I plan to be good for the next 7 years and 8 months before I begin looking again for upgrades. I am sure I will upgrade a part here and there (new modular power supply?), but in the end this computer will keep me going for the next while. Thank you for joining me on this journey