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Personal Desktop Build: The Shadow

While I attempt to leverage on school work and video editing to justify this personal project whenever possible, the truth was that I couldn't resist the temptation to peek into the world of computer hardware, perhaps just a little bit, and get my hands dirty on something most would purchase wholesale from tech stores.

The excuse I oftentimes give isn't that unreasonable. This was during a period of time when every single high school project—and I do mean literally every one of them—for some reason or another leaned toward video creation. And I had just discovered Cinema4D, a CGI software package. And, of course, I couldn't possibly keep my hands off Grand Theft Auto.

My goals were simple. I wanted my computer to be fast—sufficiently so, that my impatience would not be triggered on a daily basis—and I wanted it to be silent. And of course I wanted it to be stable and aesthetically pleasing and generally more awesome than the stuff displayed in stores, but those are baseline expectations.


Processor: Intel Core i7 4770K, Quad-Core, 3.5Ghz

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z87-UD3H

Graphics Card: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760

RAM: Corsair Vengeance 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3, 1600Mhz

SSD: Samsung 840 Series 120GB

HDD: Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB

CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro Series Liquid Cooler H100i

PSU: Seasonic G Series 550W, Gold Certified, Modular

Computer Case: Fractal Design Define R4, Black Pearl, Windowed Edition

Monitor: ASUS VS-239H 23 Inch, Full HD LED IPS

Keyboard: Rosewill RK-9000 Mechanical Keyboard, Cherry MX Blue Switches

Mouse: Armageddon Alien II G7

Speakers: SonicEar Morro I, Black

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional


This build costs an estimated $2500 and would foreseeably be good for at least the next six years, till my graduation from high school and my entry into national service—a pretty reasonable deal. Comparing it to the $1600 stuff offered in stores, which typically lasts three or fours years before they slow down, kneel over, and give up, it's about the same cost per annum. And obviously this build offers greater performance, so there's really no reason to be unhappy with it from a financial standpoint. I might not ever purchase another pre-built computer if building my own works out well.

Unto a brief justification of the parts I chose.

The power supply is cheap—which is, frankly, the primary deciding factor here. It offers around 150 watts of headroom to spare, which would come in very useful, should I overclock my CPU in the future.

I am not a gaming enthusiast, but I do plan to do some CUDA programming, and therefore I went with an entry-level GTX 760. I would discover later that even this low-end option is competent enough to run games on high settings, and so there really was no reason to spend more on a higher-end card. My priority was the CPU, for that was critical for video editing, CAD, programming, and in general everything else I would do on my computer—and therefore I went with the 4770K, one of the highest-end options available at that time. A liquid cooler accompanies the chip, to keep it cool and comfortable.

I was fairly impressed when I came across the Fractal Design R4, for it was one of the first, or perhaps the first, to offer built-in noise insulating foam in a minimalist package. As for the monitor, it sports an in-plane switching (IPS) display, which offers wider viewing angles and more accurate colour representation than typical twisted nematic (TN) ones.


There was another reason for choosing this particular combination of parts—they can all be purchased at the PC Themes computer enthusiast store at Sim Lim Square.

First, the computer case.

And next, the motherboard. And the CPU and RAM. I should probably mention that there's a specific reason for choosing a wooden table for this build—it is non-conductive. An added layer of safety in case the motherboard comes into contact with the table surface.

Further, once the anti-static bag is removed, the motherboard becomes vulnerable to damage from static discharges. A way to prevent static discharges is to wear an anti-static wristband; but the poor man's solution is simply to touch the computer case, or in general any large metallic object, frequently throughout the building process.

The CPU goes into its socket, and the RAM sticks goes into theirs. The land grid array design of modern chips makes chip mounting easy; in the past one had to be careful not to bend the pins on the chip when inserting it.

With the motherboard almost complete, it was time to mount the motherboard into the case. A little bit of foresight here helps—it is often easier to mount the the CPU cooler backplate onto the motherboard when it is out of the case, rather than when it's already mounted. For some computer cases it is outright impossible to install the backplate after mounting.

More foresight—upon installation of the radiator, some of the wire sockets near the top of the motherboard becomes hard to reach, so it helps to plug in those wires first. Further, the screw holes at the top of the R4 case are meant for 280 mm radiators, so for this 240 mm H100i, the only option is to place the screws on some of the ventilation holes. And yes, it is officially suggested that 240 mm radiators be mounted at the front of the case, but placing it at the top instead means that the graphics card can receive cool intake air for cooling.

We're left with the graphics card, the PSU, the optical drive, and the solid-state drive and hard-disk.

The PSU was positioned such that its exhaust fan points downwards, so that the warm air it ejects would not hinder the cooling of the CPU and GPU. It is worth noting that the R4 case comes with a dust filter installed along the bottom; in this case it doesn't really do much.

Because there is now three exhaust fans—two on the radiator and one on the PSU—but only two intake fans, I'll have to set my fan speed profiles such that the exhaust fans spin slower than the intake ones at all times, in order to maintain positive pressure in the case. I'd also removed the top HDD cage, to aid air flow.

Now all that is left is to connect the monitor, and attempt a boot-up.

The first boot-up is always the most thrilling. With everything working as intended, I could shift the computer into my room and continue with OS installation and software set-up.

Here's a final picture to end this story off.

And of course there's benchmarking and overclocking to do, but that's for another day.

Till next time, goodbye!

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