Description

I am a graduate student in engineering. This machine was built to bring some thesis work home, specifically built for highly threaded research computing at a reasonable cost. I'll talk about the build first, then if you're tired you don't have to read about why I selected the parts. I do think there's some interesting rationale for parts selection on a machine intended for light-duty science (medium duty involves high-end graphics cards, and heavy duty is dedicated supercomputers), rather than gaming or rendering, which are common on this site. To reiterate, nothing in this build is fit for intense gaming, but it will also be the family Blu-Ray player when desired. For $800, I think this machine came out to be a tremendous value.


The Build


I pieced together a working computer a little over decade ago using spare parts from my dad's basement (he built computers as a side business). I wouldn't call that my first build though, since the motherboard and Pentium III processor were already installed when I got to it, and I basically slapped a hard drive and floppy drive in and installed Windows 98. But that never left me.

I'm a poor, but largely debt-free college student, and I wanted to get caught up to the industry after years off, but without a plan to build. I found this site, which a great springboard into learning about the various parts, and did my general catching up. After awhile, I planned a few hypothetical builds, but as it became more obvious that there was a need for me to have a computer after a year without one, I researched and planned a real one, and got about half of the parts for Christmas. I watched for deals all season to be helpful.

Part of my work has me assembling sensitive electronics (rocket payloads), so I borrowed an anti-static mat and wrist strap from work to build with. My experience says discharge damage isn't likely, but the peace of mind is priceless. I POSTed out of the case, then screwed things in without much trouble. The case/cooler/screwdriver didn't want me to put in the top-middle ATX screw, but I finally saw a space and torqued it in.

I mounted the SSD behind the motherboard for the experience, although it did require an extra cable, since the one SATA chain was a couple centimeters too short to reach the DVD drive with the SSD there. The other rational was to allow for expansion to up to 5 drives without reinstalling the upper drive cage. With the upper cage removed, I swapped the front case fan to the top-front position for more straight flow through the heat sink.

The case also has a fan controller, which I thought was neat, so I did use a Molex chain to power it as well, which left a big bundle behind the port-side panel. Initially, the cable bunch actually bulged the side panel out a bit, which I fixed later. It doesn't look a lot different from the picture shown, but the panel doesn't bulge much anymore. That was the only real trouble with cable management, and I'm really happy with the looks and airflow situation.

The cooler was really quite simple to install, but since it was my first, I wasn't sure how I did on the thermal compound (pea method at first). I pulled it off to check, and it was fine, but I was excited and didn't think about the air bubbles that would obviously show up by putting it right back on. After I saw the initial load temperatures, I redid it with an x. The first time using an x I put on too little, so cleaned it off and went again, with enough stuff for one more full go, and I'm very happy with the result. The last picture is of the final pasting.

Overclocking is really easy to try with the motherboard, but I've had a really hard time getting a stable overclock. I didn't push the voltage as hard as I could have, since I'm new to the scene, and still poor, so didn't want to risk a chip/board before I graduate. I settled at 4.0 GHz and turned down the fan speed for quieter operation, though I think eventually I'll be able to push up to 4.4-4.5 or so.


The Parts


CPU: The FX-series processors have some of the best value/dollar on the market if you utilize the threads. If you tend to run single-threaded applications and don't multitask heavily, there's not doubt that Intel will handily outdo the AMD lineup. I plan to use all 8 threads wherever possible, to the extent that this CPU is not only the best value, but also a heavy contender in the mix with the i7 line for highly-threaded applications (up to about the 4790K; above that the i7 and Xeon processors are undoubtedly the preferred choice if you've got the cash - ask me for details and I'll explain my logic). I chose the 8320, since it is actually the same chip as the 8350 and 8370, and the whole 9xxx series. I figure I saved 30 bucks by overclocking. I've had a hard time getting it stable at higher overclocks, though (I need it rock-stable with Prime95, since it's math I need it for), so I'll knock a star off for that. Otherwise, a great buy.

CPU Cooler: My first thought was a Noctua cooler, either the NH-D14 -D15. As I looked at the competition, I saw just as much value in the Phanteks cooler. You've also got the Dark Rock Pro 3 and a few other dual-tower heatsink designs, but the Phanteks had a good deal through Newegg and a MIR. I tried to avoid those in general, but budgets do happen. The dual-tower designs actually perform on par with many liquid coolers (LinusTechTips has a video pitting the NH-D15 against the H100i and H110), and for a much lower dollar cost, without the disadvantages of water cooling, it was a no-brainer decision. It's cool and quiet, and I'm happy.

Motherboard: I did actually try to coordinate colors without increasing costs, but this board was the best choice for me. Besides good overclocking reviews, there are several features that won me over, including Purity Sound, the Fatal1ty mouse port (I'm not a gamer, but you know those times when you're trying to move the mouse just a pixel and you keep overshooting?), and most of all the Gen 2 M.2 port. I didn't have the funds to populate the M.2 slot right away, but maybe next Christmas or so, I'll pop one in. Overall, there are lots of expansion options, and just enough SATA III ports for a 4-drive RAID 0 or RAID 10 + single HDD backup. I do have to knock a star off because some of the overclocking features don't work - the CPU p-states still throttle under load, even when all the controls are turned off. I have to use a post-boot tweaker to change them. Other than that, I wish it had no red to match the rest of the parts, but hey.

Memory: I learned a lot about how memory works while researching this part. It turns out that increasing speed at the cost of latency does actually have some benefit if you recognize that the latency is noted in clock cycles, and each cycle is shorter at the higher frequency, for an overall advantage. With timings of 11-12-12-29, it's one of the top performers in its class and overall at a much better value against the likes of Corsair. The 2x8 kit takes advantage of the dual-channel controller and gives me enough headroom for virtual machines when the come around. With AMP and XMP, and a low-profile heat spreader, I can easily make good use of this kit in any future DDR3 build, provided I build again before DDR3 is obsolete. With the many quick and often sequential memory calls in the scientific computing that I do, this will be an excellent kit to have. * Note - the CPU's IMC is rated up to 2133, but this runs just fine at 2400.

Storage: I work with large amounts of data and large numbers of files, but not a lot of media. I do intend to have a 1-2 TB secondary/backup drive/array, but the 128GB drive probably won't be a severe limitation for most of the life of this PC. Not all SSDs are made equal. Most have very good read rates, but only a few have good write rates. The Samsung 840-850 line are the top dogs for SATA III storage, but the Crucial only lags a little in the write rates, so when it went on sale, I couldn't pass it up. Eventually, I'll have an XP941 in the M.2 for primary storage, unless something just as good comes along cheaper. My dream would be to have the XP941 as primary, 4 of the Crucial drives would be in RAID 10, and a final backup TB HDD.

Video Card: I know it's a little overkill for my usage and monitor, but eventually there will be a 1080p screen attached, and I'll most likely pick up a surplus 15" 4:3 second monitor before then. This refurbished card was the best deal I saw on any video card near its class. I wanted to just outdo the integrated graphics options, since I chose not to go with one, and this was the ticket. A bonus was that the refurbished card I ordered was a 1GB model, but the one I received was the 2GB model in the parts list. I could use it for an extra processing boost if I need.

Case: A solid 4-star case. The door is on the wrong side, and I think there are a few other minor tweaks that would make it better (and, coincidentally, turn it into an R5), but the cable management options are excellent and the ease of installation was really pretty good. I should say that I chose it for its minimalistic design, USB 3.0, door, and window, plus some sound damping materials. There are a lot of attractive cases, but I also confess that I hate bold branding, which turns me off to a lot of NZXT and BitFenix cases, despite their minimalism, so this was the one that fit the bill.

PSU: This was the other MIR I conceded to. It made the deal too good to miss, especially for this particular model. Gold certified and built by Super Flower. At full power (which I will be at quite often - I plan to do protein folding in my off-hours), It'll run around the 50% mark, which should give me peak efficiency. This power supply will last for years, probably through this build and the next without even trying. As I mentioned in the build, it would be nice if the included SATA chain was just a bit longer between the first and last connectors, but that's my build decision to put the SSD where it is, not theirs.

Optical: We don't have a TV. Netflix on the laptop has been our only viewing option until now, and we do actually have Blu-Ray discs (got them for Christmas with the drive). Redbox is also a thing that is nice, occasionally. I know, I don't even have a decent screen yet, but as I said I'm poor, but planning for the future. I actually wasn't expecting this one for Christmas.

Monitor: The university surplus helped keep the whole setup cost under $800, including peripherals. For $20, it's not like I can complain. It's the same resolution and aspect ratio as my laptop that died last January, with a bonus of two more inches. Speaking of, anyone interested in a used laptop screen?

Keyboard: It has volume control buttons, but the real highlight is the calculator hotkey in the corner. Surplus!

Mouse: Recycled Microsoft model from who-knows-how-long-ago.

Cable: I threw this on there because it added to the total startup cost of the system, not that it matters otherwise. It's a quality cable.


Conclusion


I hope you've enjoyed reading this, let me know what you think. If you have questions, I'll be happy to share what I know. I worked especially hard to justify my CPU/memory choices using math and benchmarks, if anyone is interested.

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Comments

  • 64 months ago
  • 12 points

I find it ironic that your ram is r9 series, yet the video card is only an r7.

  • 64 months ago
  • 6 points

Ha, yeah, I suppose it is!

  • 64 months ago
  • 4 points

I think you put a little too much thermal paste on there but good job on the build +1

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

It does look like a lot, but his reported temps are great.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks! The first retry, I used way too little paste, so for my last try I had to get it right because I was running out. I'm happy with the temps, and couldn't find any oozing out, but next time I'll try and optimize a bit more.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

yeah, that was the exact same thought I had too. Usually you're not supposed to put more on than about a single grain of rice worth.

  • 64 months ago
  • 4 points

Ah the "X" thermal paste method! I've never seen anyone actually doing it!

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

yes sir!! I have done the grain of rice many times and it will cover everything, too much is also bad...

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

I wanted to make sure I got to the corners. I think it worked really well!

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

You get a HUGE +1 from me; this is an awesome build and I love your detailed description. I think a lot more people in the scientific community would use FX series processors if they knew what they were about and on a budget, but all they know is Xeons, Xeons, Xeons...

I digress. The point is is your build ROCKS. For more overclocking, you might try dialing your RAM down to something like 1600 and then increasing the FSB clock, just to see if that method is more stable for you (you dial down the RAM because adjusting the FSB clock also speeds the RAM up; the goal is to end up with the same RAM frequency you started with).

The mouse in your setup is a truly excellent Microsoft Intellimouse 3.0. I would know, since it's my gaming mouse of choice!

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Thank you, and thanks for reading the write-up! I didn't try underclocking the RAM, but that makes sense... I'll make sure to do that next time I am tuning.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

ONLY underclock the RAM if you are OCing by adjusting the FSB setting. Since you have an unlocked processor, you're also able to simply increase the CPU multiplier directly, which doesn't affect RAM speeds at all, and was probably the first thing you saw when you looked to OC.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

I did start with multipliers, then tried some FSB tweaking, but in the end, I needed to start using it for work so I went with the simple, stable multiplier OC. Thanks again for the advice.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

ah, ok. np

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

very nice. I appreciated the write up and always enjoy seeing use cases other than HD gaming.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks for reading!

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

I tip my hat to you, sir. You have made an excellent build for the price and use. +1

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Thank you very much!

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

Good build, cable management is great, though back could be possibly cleaned up a little. +1 I have the same mouse.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks. Yeah, the back was tough because I opted to use the fan controller and mount the SSD behind the motherboard tray, which took 2 extra cables. I did clean it up a bit after I took the photo though.

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

holy description reads it all

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks! That's what it's there for!

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

+1 for the ti-83 graphing calculator

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

That's right, dedicated electronics!

  • 61 months ago
  • 2 points

+1 because I have the same pencil sharpener and calculator :). Nice Build m8!!

  • 54 months ago
  • 2 points

+1 for the Up Goer Five poster in the background! Good to see another xkcd fan!

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

+1 for not using Intel and saving the money on a budget build, but whats with that monitor? Did you get it for free? to you plan or buying something better?

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

I bought it surplus. I had been saving for the tower, and couldn't afford a 1080p monitor right away. It's just to get up and running, eventually I'll do better, but this is good enough for me to work on.

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

ah, ok! hope you can afford a good monitor even with school and all! If your not in a rush, wait for a good deal. i found my benQ half off from 400$

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Yeah I'll definitely watch for deals when the time comes. For now, this is a working resolution I'm pretty used to. More real estate is nice though.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

very clean build!

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks!

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Way to much thermal compound!

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

I tried a few times... The time before I used way too little, and not enough left to try again, so I just had to go for it. I'll do better next time, but I'm happy with the temperature.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

How is the cpu cooler in terms of noise, I looking to replace my Antec Kuhler H2O 650 since it's a little loud when it ramps up and those phanteks coolers look pretty nice.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

It's hard to compare, since it's my first non-stock cooler. It's quiter than all of those at full speed, and really quiet at low speed, so I'm happy with it, but it definitely isn't silent. It's just the sound of rushing air, though, the bearings are noiseless. I would recommend it, but I can't actually say whether it would be quieter.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Let me try to phrase it better, when the fans are running at higher rpms is the noise created loud enough that it could be disturbing or a nuisance to other people that are in the same room? I also noticed that it comes with an rpm reducer, so just wondering if you are using this?

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

It's not bothersome, not, but if I'm listening to something I do have to turn the volume up a bit. I don't use included hardware for speed control, I just use the motherboard PWM. Does that help?

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Ya thanks, hopefully I'm not being an inconvenience, but one last question, about how much room is there between the top of the cooler and the panel, our cases are about the same width but the motherboard tray in mine is extruded about an inch from the side so I'm worried there might not be enough room.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

I'll have to look more closely at home, but I think it's just a few millimeters. Does PCPP Show an incompatibility with your case? If that or another big cooler like Noctua NH-D15 or be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3 flags it, then it's a no go, but otherwise you're probably good, since that's in the compatibility filter with mainstream cases and coolers.

Is the extrusion you're talking about the space for cables behind the motherboard? Mine has that too. What case is it?

  • 64 months ago
  • 0 points

One issue I think will affect this build is that, why not stock cooling and a lower grade cpu? You could have gone lower without much performance lost.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

The next step lower for CPU would have been to decrease the number of cores. When I load up with parallelized scripts, those extra cores come in handy, which is what I was going for. I get the stock cooling opinion though, I could have saved, but wanted the option to overclock safely.

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

You made a good decision with that cooler for overclocking, I've tried a few water coolers but 2 out of 8 leaked, forcing me to follow up with many replacement plans.

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks! That's exactly why I went with air - just the extra peace of mind. I really believe that most AIOs are well-built and safe, but the fact is that an air cooler just can't dump water on your electronics! With the dual-tower design, this should probably still be a decent cooler even if the fans were to give out.

  • 64 months ago
  • 2 points

oh, thought you weren't overclocking. :P Though the Intel cores are usually faster than the amd cores due to some studies but a lot of cores does make a difference. Cheers! Magnum

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

No doubt any i7 would beat this with a single thread, but with 8 cores it can match quite a number of them. Thanks!

  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

Anytime!

[comment deleted by staff]
  • 64 months ago
  • 1 point

In the non-windowed version, it wouldn't matter. Since I have the tower to my right so I can look in, I should be able to swing the door away and see in from where I sit. It's the same hindrance you describe. It's not a big deal, especially considering that I only open it to put in a disc or change the fan speed, neither of which is common. They fixed it in the R5 update.