From time to time, I've seen "what kind of PC should I get" threads on various message boards, so hopefully there's some interest in this. I'm currently in the middle of building a replacement for my old Core 2 Quad system -- pretty much from the ground up. Here's the shopping list, along with a couple notes about why I chose each component.
- Fractal Design Define R4 Case - Black. I considered holding onto my old Antec Sonata case, but the Fractal has room for a ton of drives, USB 3.0 ports right up top, and openings for a 240mm water cooling radiator. Like the Sonata, it's understated, windowless, and quiet.
- Seasonic SS-750AM Power Supply. Again, my old PC has a power supply that's probably just about good enough for a new build, except that I'd be unable to sell the old PC as working, and I also understand that the new Haswell CPUs have an ultra-low voltage "sleep" state that saves energy, but really confuses older power supplies. The Seasonic is powerful, 80% (Bronze) efficient, semi-modular, and certified to work with Haswell processors. I picked it up via one of Newegg's daily deals.
- Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD4H Motherboard. I've been really happy with the Gigabyte motherboard in my old desktop, so I elected to stick with them this time, too. The UD4H isn't available in too many places, but I'm lucky enough to work near a Microcenter, and they sell this board bundled with a Haswell processor for a really great price -- even compared to online retailers. The important features for me: lots of SATA and USB ports, and some "consumer grade" overclocking capabilities are nice, too.
- Intel Core i7-4770K Quad-Core Desktop Processor 3.5 GHZ. I thought about buying an Ivy Bridge processor and motherboard after Haswell came out, but the difference in price to get the newer processor was minimal. I don't build PC's too often, and I'll stick with this build for a long time, so opting for a good processor at this point makes sense. In addition to being fast out of the box, I like that this is the unlocked (K) version of the processor, which will let me overclock it later if I so choose. I'm planning on running some Virtual Machines (VM's) with this in addition to editing photos, so i chose the i7 over the i5. If I knew I wasn't going to do a lot of multitasking, the i5 would probably have been fine. Again, though, since I only build a new box every five years or so, the top-tier processor is fine.
- Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR3 1600 (PC3-12800) Memory. This isn't super-exotic overclocking RAM, but 16GB in two sticks leaves me two open slots to upgrade later. Plenty good enough for now. Microcenter gave me a bundle discount for buying with the CPU and MB.
- Samsung 840 Series Solid State Drive (SSD) 250 GB. This was another place where I might have been able to reuse the SSD in my old PC, but this one is SATA-3 (vs. SATA-2), and it's twice the size, and I was starting to experience a little cramping on my old drive. I'm going to recycle the old SSD into my laptop, though, so all's not lost. This drive will be something of an experiment, as it's the first consumer drive using this type of memory, but according to Samsung, the lifespan should be plenty for my needs.
You may have noticed a couple things missing from this list:
- No video card. I'll use integrated graphics for now, and add a card later if I feel I need more video speed. Intel's integrated graphics have been getting pretty good, so I'm going to give them a shot.
- No data drives. I'm going to try to migrate my old data drives to the new PC, mirror intact (hopefully). It's vital to mirror your data drives - I can't count the number of times this has saved me.
- No CPU cooler. I'm using the stock Intel heat sink and fan for now. I plan on adding a Swiftech H20-220 water cooler later - this should give me plenty of quiet cooling if I want to overclock a bit.
- No optical drive. Ok, I forgot about this, but I'm actually toying with loading Windows with a USB key and picking up a USB optical drive -- I'm going to need one of these for my laptop anyway, once I move its existing HDD into the multibay area. At some point, though, I'm sure I'll snap up a drive if someone's got a great deal on them.
That's it for the shopping list -- now it's just a matter of putting it all together and getting migrated. If you're in the market for a new PC, this is a super-solid starting point, circa mid-2013.
Since I wrote this original article, I wound up adding a Corsair H100i water cooler (vs. the Swiftech above). It turns out that Swiftech got themselves in a bit of a patent brew-ha-ha and had to withdraw their product from US markets, which is too bad, because it looked phenomenal. I don't think the H100i is in anywhere near the same league as the H220, but it seems to be doing ok. I also broke down and bought an optical drive because it turned out to be way more of a pain to live without it than the $20 it took to fix that problem.
In order to add a little more context around my part-buying decisions, I also wrote up an addendum to this post to walk through my thoughts on PC parts in general.
Finally, I'd like to shout out to a great site I found to help with the planning and shopping for PC builds like this -- here's this build on pcpartpicker.com.