Building a tower PC – 2016Posted: September 24, 2016
Well, since I’m no longer interested in building the ultimate streaming PC, I’ve turned my attention to building a more traditional tower PC. What? Those are so 1980! It’s like this. What I’m really after is using the now not so new Vulkan API for graphics programming. My current challenge is, my nice tighty Shuttle PC doesn’t have the ability to run a substantial enough graphics card to try the thing out! I do in fact have a tower PC downstairs, but it’s circa 2009 or something like that, and I find this a rather convenient excuse to ‘upgrade’.
I used to build a new PC every two years, back in the day, but tech has moved along so fast, that it hardly makes sense to build so often, you’d be building every couple of months to keep pace. The machines you build today will last longer than an old hardware hacker cares to admit, but sometimes you’ve just go to bite the bullet.
Trying to figure out what components to use in a current build can be quite a challenge. It used to be that I’d just go to AnandTech and look at this years different builds, pick a mid-range system, and build something like that. Well, AnandTech is no longer what it used to be, and TomsHardware seems to be the better place for the occasional consumer such as myself.
The first thing to figure out is the excuse for building the machine, then the budget, then the aesthetics.
Excuse: I want to play with the Vulkan graphics API
Budget: Less than $2,000n (to start ;-))
Aesthetics: I want it to be interesting to look at, probably wall or furniture mounted.
Since the excuse is being able to run the Vulkan API, I started contemplating the build based on the graphics card. I’m not the type of person to go out and buy any of the most current, most expensive graphics cards, because they come out so fast that if you simply wait 9 months, that $600 card will be $300. The top choice in this category would be a NVidia GTX 1080. Although a veritable beast of a consumer graphics card, at $650+, that’s quite a budget buster. Since I’m not a big gamer, I don’t need super duper frame rates, but I do want the latest features, like support of Direct X12, Vulkan, OpenGL 4.5, etc.
A nice AMD alternative is the AMD Radeon Rx 480. That seems to be the cat’s meow at the more reasonable $250 price range. This will do the trick as far as being able to run Vulkan, but since it’s AMD and not NVidia, I would not be able to run Cuda. Why limit myself, since NVidia will also run OpenCL. So, I’ve opted for an NVidia based MSI GeForce GTX 1060.
The specialness of this particular card is the 6GB of GDDR5 RAM that comes on it. From my past history with OpenGL, I learned that the more RAM on the board the better. I also chose this particular one because it has some red plastic on it, which will be relevant when I get to the aesthetics. Comparisons of graphics cards abound. You can get stuck in a morass trying to find that “perfect” board. This board is good enough for my excuse, and at a price that won’t break the build.
Next most important after the graphics card is the motherboard you’re going to stick it in. The motherboard is important because it’s the skeleton upon which future additions will be placed, so a fairly decent board that will support your intended expansions for the next 5 years or so would be good.
I settled on the GIGABYTE G1 Gaming GA-Z170X-Gaming GT (rev. 1.0) board.
It’s relatively expensive at $199, but it’s not outrageous like the $500+ boards. This board supports up to three graphics cards of the variety I’m looking at, which gives me expansion on that front if I every choose to use it. Other than that, at least 64GB of DDR4 RAM. It has a ton of peripherals, including USB 3.1 with a type-c connector. That’s good since it’s emerging. Other than all that, it has good aesthetics with white molding and red highlights (sensing a theme).
To round out the essentials, you need a power supply. For this, I want ‘enough’, not overkill, and relatively silent.
The Seasonic Snow Silent 750 is my choice. Besides getting relatively good reviews, it’s all white on the outside, which just makes it look more interesting.
And last, but not least, the CPU to match. Since the GPU is what I’m actually interested in, the CPU doesn’t matter as much. But, since I’m not likely to build another one of these for a few years, I might as well get something reasonable.
I chose the intel i7-6700K for the CPU.
At $339, it’s not cheap, but again, it’s not $600. I chose the ‘K’ version, to support overclocking. I’ll probably never actually do that, but it’s a useful option nonetheless. I could have gone with a less expensive i5 solution, but I think you lose out on hyper-threading or something, so might as well spend a $100 more and be slightly future proof.
Now, to hold all these guts together, you need a nice case. I already have a very nice case housing the circa 2009 machine. I can’t bring myself to take it apart, and besides, I tell myself, it doesn’t have the io access on the front panels required of a modern machine. Since part of my aesthetic is to be able to show the guts of the machine (nicely themed colors), I went with something a bit more open.
The Thermaltake core P5 ATX Open Frame case is what I have chosen.
Now, I’m more of a throw it together and start using it kind of builder, but putting a little bit of flash into the build could make it a tad more interesting. Less heat dissipation problems, and if I ever do that cool liquid cooling piping stuff, I’ll be able to show it off. This case also has options to mount it against the wall/furniture, and I’ll probably take advantage of that. I can imagine having a home office desk with a couple of these mounted on the front just for kicks. Thrown in a few monitors for surround, and… Oh, but I’m not a gamer.
The rest of the kit involves various memory, storage, etc. The motherboard has M.2 as well as mSata. So, I’ll probably put an SSD on one of those interfaces as the primary OS drive. Throw in a few terabytes of spinning rust, and 64GB of RAM, and it’s all set.
The other nice thing about the motherboard is dual NICs. One is for gaming, the other (intel) is for more pedestrian networking. This can be nothing but goodness, and I’m sure I can do some nice experimenting with that.
Well, that’s what I’m after. I added it all up on newegg.com, and it came out to about $1,500, which is nicely under budget, and will give me a machine I can be happy with for a few years to come.