Building My Computer
Project Background

Computers today are some of the most versatile tools available. My current desktop computer has most definitely been the most useful tool that I have ever owned, and my performance with it has rarely been bottlenecked by its computational limitations. I can do my best work when I am not hindered by the technology that I use. Ever since constructing it I have advocated greatly among friends and family for them to build custom computers for their own unique needs rather than purchasing sub-par pre-built computers or laptops, if they can sacrifice the portability.

It is very easy to get impressive performance and a long lifetime out of a budget PC. To date, I have built my own computer and assisted friends in both the component-selection and the actual construction of four other budget-constrained custom-designed computers, as well as planning and building one other computer by myself for my mom another for a friend while living in the university dorms. I thoroughly enjoy the process of selecting components that will best fit the purpose of a computer while also remaining within a set budget.

I have always liked working with my hands as well, and I never pass up an opportunity to help put together a computer. In 2019 alone, I have helped one engineering friend to select components for a PC, and just finished putting together one for a friend from college and assisting my brother in selecting components for his own computer. I try to stay up-to-date on the newest released components and their relative performance capabilities and specifications in case people need advice or I decide to upgrade my own setup, and so I can keep learning more skills in the area of computer design and construction.

Computers Over The Years

In Elementary School I wanted a laptop to work on image editing, learn more visual basic programming and play computer games. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to assemble some of the final components into a desktop computer for my computers belt-loop in Cub Scouts, probably around 2004. We were allowed to cheaply purchase the computers once we finished building them, so I took mine home and installed a few programs onto it. It was quite old and ran on Windows 98, which was released only 3 years after I was born.

My friend gave me a very old IBM ThinkPad in third grade because it couldn’t play games the way he wanted it to, but I was able to order an internal CD drive to replace the floppy drive and a “PC card” USB expansion for it, which I used to upload programs and files and work on them. My dad gave me a retired work computer made by Compaq which was a huge upgrade from the IBM once my uncle and I got windows XP running on it. I used that for years to program in visual basic and attempt to create the start and basic physics of what I hoped to be a multiplayer online video game very similar to RuneScape. Once my family owned a more powerful computer running windows vista, I moved most of my operations there because it performed everything more quickly than my laptop, and MS Paint was able to handle much larger file sizes, likely due to its whopping 3 gigabytes of available RAM, which at the time was average.

In middle school I was again entranced by the idea of owning my own powerful, modern, portable computer, still for the same purposes, with the additions of finally being capable of working online, watching movies, playing games, and audio editing. I ended up purchasing for myself a mid-level Dell Inspiron 15R running Windows 7, which I took good care of for the two and a half years that I owned it. The work that I did in my free time really began to take off, in addition to schoolwork, which was greatly simplified by the software available to me. I downloaded the student version of 3DS Max and was able to complete homework assignments and render images on my laptop faster than the school computers were capable of doing.

I was never a huge fan of 720p screens, and after making a fair amount of money mowing lawns and shoveling driveways, I replaced that laptop with a Dell XPS 15z which I still have today. I ended up passing the Inspiron 15R on to my brother who used it for gaming purposes for another 3 years, and it lasted another 3 years in my dad’s hands on its last legs. The XPS 15z served me well through High School, where I did essentially the same things, mostly programming, word and number processing, music, image and video editing, and entertainment.

I thought that it would be high-end enough to carry me through college, but a few of my new friends introduced me to an entirely new level of custom-designing personal computers. Three of my friends had custom-built computers and I was blown away by the level of processing power built into them and simply how modular they generally are. I got to work on building my own halfway through my freshman year, selecting components for and assembling the computer that I am using four years later to type this description.

Detailed Description

At the peak of its performance, after a few upgrades, my current machine is running Windows 10 64-bit from a 512-GB Samsung Evo 850 solid state hard drive. In addition to that storage I have an old 2.5-inch 320-GB Western Digital Blue drive and a 6-TB Western Digital Purple Surveillance drive, which do most of my bulk-storage for video and image editing and media. The motherboard that I selected was the only ASUS product that ended up in the system, but I like the layout of the bios and the features that it offers, as well as its reliability. The ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero motherboard has a z97 chipset and an LGA-1151 socket, which are limited to using DDR3 RAM only, the standard at the time that I built the computer. I originally installed two sticks adding to 16 GB of 2400 MHz Corsair Vengeance Pro RAM into the second and fourth slots on my motherboard, however I added another 16 GB of the same type a year later for a total of 32 GB.

I selected the i7 4790k as my processor because the computer store Micro Center had a huge sale for that popular processor at the time that I was building my computer. My friend in college mentioned this deal to me, and I was able to pick up mine and one for him at the store down the street from my house in Illinois, which happens to be the nearest Micro Center to the University of Iowa, where we were both living at the time. I didn’t know much about processors or computer components at that point, but purchasing the processor was the spark that finally got me moving towards building a functioning computer. The four-core, eight-thread Intel i7 4790k, which I now have overclocked to 4.7 GHz at 1.296 Volts from its base clock of 4.0 GHz, has proven itself to be an amazing processor well worth the money spent these past four years and rarely does it throttle my work when processing daily tasks.

At the time that I built the computer, the video card called the GTX 980 TI had not yet been released, but it was to be the top dog among gaming graphics processors. I settled for the much cheaper GTX 970 which has been said to be one of the best bang-for-your-buck video cards of its time. I upgraded two years later to a 980 TI because the card was hundreds of dollars cheaper than when it was released, which also has performed quite well for me. I don’t foresee needing to upgrade the video card in at least the next two years for any reason, but it may eventually have trouble with some virtual reality experiences.

In order to stably run all of the components in the computer I selected a 1000-watt Corsair RM1000 gold-rated power supply, which is fully modular and allows for only the necessary cables to be plugged in, while still offering many optional expansions for extra internal components. There are 5 case fans in my NZXT h440 case running at around a quiet 700-RPM idle speed. In addition, for cooling my processor, I have two Noctua NF-F12 fans running at 640 RPM, but Pulse-Width-Modulation-controlled on a custom fan curve to reach a maximum of 2820 RPM. Paired with those Noctuas I have two Cougar vortex fans, also PWM-controlled on the same fan speed vs temperature curve which can max out around 2000 RPM and idles around 600 RPM. These four fans are mounted to the radiator of my Corsair H100i water-cooling unit whose water block cools my processor.

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For aesthetics, I also installed two red cold cathodes glowing tubes to the bottom rails between the computer case’s feet to provide and under-glow effect in addition to the motherboard lighting and built-in case lighting. I use a 144-Hz Phillips gaming monitor and connect it via DVI cable, which can’t handle as much as DisplayPort but can run 1080p signals at 144+ Hz, while HDMI cannot.

Razer is one of my favorite brands for keyboards and mice mainly because of their hand-feel. I settled on the RGB Razer Black Widow Chroma keyboard which features Razer’s own clicky green mechanical switches, and I very much enjoy the tactile feel of each key’s actuation. The GUI used to customize color schemes and effects on the keyboard is a bit limited, however I have been able to use it to create the effects that I desired. The color gamut represented on the keyboard is very wide and the smoothness of transitions between colors sets the Black Widow apart from similar models like the RGB Corsair k70 and its choppy, flickery, PWM-controlled LEDs and the leaky background structure that causes colors to bleed out in an undesirable way.

Razer also produces the mouse that I selected, the Razer Mamba tournament edition, also an RGB model, which I obtained in used condition and took apart to clean thoroughly after years of gaming usage by the previous owner. I liked this mouse specifically because it has a simple, sleek look and appealing color control, a high range of near continuous DPI-settings, as well as its macro buttons, side-scrolling, a nice tactile mouse button actuation and good in-hand-feel. As an accentuation of the RGB mouse and keyboard, I bought an RGB Razer firefly mousepad from a friend, which makes the 3D modeling, video, audio and image editing that I do now much more fluid, as the desk surface that I was used to working on is inconsistent and often used to cause the mouse to stick.

For the audio aspect of my computer I generally use a pair of KRK Rokit-5 studio monitors that sit on my desk in a stereo configuration, but when I return home to Illinois, I usually plug my computer into my stereo receiver and use the pair of oak speakers that my uncle and I built. For recording purposes, I own a Blue Yeti with a black matte finish, and a shock-absorbing swivel-mount.

Over time I built up these peripherals and components which I combined with my computer to increase my productivity and comfort. The ability to add to and subtract from them with ease is one of my favorite aspects of custom-desktop-PCs and is one reason that I most definitely advocate for anyone considering buying a computer to build one instead, if they can sacrifice portability. It will last, it can be modified and upgraded, the selection choices are effectively infinite, and you truly get the most out of the money you spend.

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