Bushmaster – Gaming and Multimedia PC Part 2
Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate (depends on your comfort level)
Unfortunately, my camera died before the project was complete, so bro was kind enough to send me some pics from his phone. Pardon the difference in resolution/aspect ratio.
Last article discussed working with the case to get it prepped for components, and went through the first part of the build – unboxing and core component installation. In this installment, we’ll take a closer look at more parts and show some pics of the build in progress, adding peripheral components, initial startup, testing and operation.
One important step to take with this board is to install the Wifi-Go! module after trial-fit but before you fasten the board and start component installation. Although I wouldn’t call the piece flimsy, it’s inherently delicate, so much so that ASUS ships the module separately (in the box) to avoid damage in transit. The antenna connection is an area of concern. The net is rife with tales of the destruction of these pieces due to excessive (any) pressure on the antenna connector, so beware.
Once all the core components are placed and looking good, it was time to get going on installing all the other goodies.
Regardless of the specific iteration, Intel’s Core i7 chips fly. With four fast cores available and Intel’s Hyper Threading technology, the Core i7-3770 should be able to keep up with anything my brother throws at it today and tomorrow. The i7-3770 has a base clock speed of 3.4GHz, with a Turbo mode allowing operation up to 3.9GHz. The IPC on these CPUs is unreal. It takes nothing more than little coughs of CPU activity to install and run programs, and the processors are designed to conserve power whenever they can. Since the OS and important applications will be installed to SSD, the result will be lightning-fast boots and app launches and the raw power necessary for video decoding/encoding and anything else he may want to do.
ASUS is one of my favorite brands, even considering my recent sour experience with one of their GPUs. Overall they make a very solid line of products and the old Alienware had an ASUS board, so my brother was also comfortable and familiar with the brand These facts and a $25 rebate made choosing the ASUS P8Z77-V board a no-brainer. Although an H77 board would have served well, he liked the fact that the Z is a “real” gaming board, and the inclusion of a built-in 802.11 b/g/n wifi hotspot module sealed the deal and made adding the new system to the existing wireless network a breeze. In addition to the wireless connectivity, the board has four SATA 3 and four SATA 2 ports, support for integrated graphics for redundancy, dual-power regulation processors (one for performance, one for economy) with 8-phase digital power regulation, and ASUS’ Fan Xpert 2 software, which allows fine-tuning of the cooling system to adjust to low- and high-load situations. And, the blue motif fit perfectly with the case lighting and RAM. Finally, ASUS UEFI BIOS are among some of the most flexible, detailed and attractively designed in the industry. It’s a nice board. Buy ASUS products and you’ll rarely be disappointed.
Moving on to memory, I’ll stress again the need to verify RAM capability with any specific board before you buy. To do so, go to the board manufacturer’s website, find the model and check the QVL (Qualified Vendor List). In many cases, the specific RAM kit will not be listed so go by the main model number. For instance, the G.Skill kit we used is model F3-1600C8Q-16GAB. The model number breaks down as follows: F3-1600C8Q describes the DDR iteration (F3), speed (1600), CAS latency (C8)and RAM chipset series (Q). 16GAB is a description of the total kit Size (16GB), series (A for Ares) and the heat spreader color (B for Blue). As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I like G.Skill products and use the brand almost exclusively when the customer has no preference. The Ares series is reasonably priced and displays excellent compatibility with the newest AMD and Intel platforms. The system immediately recognized the RAM correctly, and the comprehensive BIOS includes Intel’s XMP RAM profiles, so you can overclock your RAM with one click if you desire. Plus, the DIMMS look cool, with functional rather than gaudy aluminum heat spreaders and a nice low profile, meaning they work well with stock or aftermarket CPU cooling solutions. This 1600MHz, low-latency kit kit will supply Bushmaster with all the system RAM it will ever need, even if Broseph goes entirely out of his mind and adds another powerful GPU.
Speaking of powerful GPUs, Nvidia’s GTX 760 is a pretty capable display adapter. Although it doesn’t sit at the top of the heap, it should satisfy gaming and other demands easily, even pushing HD to two monitors or if, in combination with the Blu-Ray drive it becomes desirable to push 4K to a large-screen display. We chose Nvidia partially based on my bro’s familiarity with the brand and the fact that NVidia cards are much easier to configure for multiple monitor setups. With 1152 CUDA cores and 2GB DDR5 flowing graphics data through a 256-bit memory bus, the GTX 760 will perform well. We picked the PNY VCGGTX7602XPB-OC version based on positive user reviews, the overclocking tweak PNY put on the card, an aesthetically pleasing design with a competent dual-fan cooling solution, and a $20 rebate. It features two DVI, one DisplayPort and one HDMI out and came with an SLI bridge and VGA to DVI adapter, plus drivers and utilities and a quick-start guide.
Because he wanted to be able to capture home video easily, and may want to use the system as a DVR in the future, we included the AVerMedia AverTV HD DVR C027 video capture card. It can encode video in a number of formats in full HD, and its DVR functionality will make it possible to add large amounts of storage to Bushmaster in the future to keep the family’s favorite entertainment on tap. It was easy to hook the family Sony video camera directly to the card and generate streaming HD video with sound just by clicking one button on the card’s software interface. The card is reasonably priced at under $100 and will meet the expectations of most who want to make their own YouTube stuff, capture memories or utilize the other features to turn their PC into a media center. Packaged with drivers and software, the card also included a 10-in-1 cable that will allow you to connect it to pretty much anything, past or present. The back of the card itself has HDMI and mini-HDMI inputs, plus the cable port.
For storage, Bushmaster will have just a SAMSUNG 840 EVO MZ-7TE120BW to start. After ten years of ownership, my brother had only used about half of the Alienware’s original 120GB of space. If video capture becomes a priority more storage will be needed, but for now this little drive will get him started. Samsung’s EVO drives feature fast read/write access times and is a good choice for all-around use. It will speed up all common tasks like multimedia, browsing and of course, gaming. As mentioned in Part 1, it installed easily in a special nich at the bottom of the Antec case and OS and application loading was smooth and fast.
Because the family enjoys watching movies and has the occasional need to store pictures and video on disc, we added an ASUS Black BC-12B1ST/BLK/B/AS multi-drive to the mix. This model promises the fastest Blu-Ray read speeds and will write to any DVD/CD format available. It was attractively priced and goes that one step further in making Bushmaster a truly capable multimedia system.
In order to transmit data to and from any other removable media, including a portable magnetic or solid state drive, we chose the Rosewill RDCR-11004. In addition to accepting a wide variety of storage cards, this model features two additional USB 3.0 ports and a four-port USB 2.0 hub. It also has an eSATA port. Routing the various leads from the USB and eSATA ports was relatively easy, and Windows had no trouble recognizing the reader or reading/writing data from cards.
None of the goodies inside matter much if you can’t deliver power to all the parts. The Corsair HX750 modular PSU will keep all the internal goodies happy and well-fed with clean, stable power to all the parts inside.. This unit features a fully modular design, 80-plus Gold certification for at least 87% efficiency at any load between 20-100%, and has active PFC for 99% Active Power Correction. It has more than enough outlets for this system. A 140mm silent fan keeps it running cool and quiet. It should last the lifetime of this system and provide near-silent, reliable performance. Update: When we wired everything up and fired up the system for the first time, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as the HX750 fan spun up for second and then stopped again. the system kept chugging along, and it turns out these PSUs generate so little heat the fan only spools up when it has to, eliminating PSU noise except when necessary. Even when the fan does run, it’s whisper-quiet. Nice power supply.
Because my brother wanted to make sure he would have adequate PC display space for “work”, we chose two Asus VH238H Black 23” HD monitors. These should keep the good times rolling with 50,000,000:1 contrast ratio, LED backlighting technology and built-in speakers, among other great features.
Lastly, a PC is only as good as the input. For this reason, and to replace the tired old keyboard and mouse he had, we tacked on a Cooler Master Storm Devastator gaming keyboard/mouse combo set. This product had good reviews despite its low cost, and includes a full-featured gaming mouse with multiple buttons, and a swanky blue-backlit keyboard for all that late-night “work.” This set is by no means top-of-the-line, but seems to offer decent ergonomics and the keyboard does look cool…
I don’t know, for a guy who “doesn’t play games any more,” I’m seeing a lot of gaming-oriented stuff in this build. Of course, I had to run extensive quality control testing on the system before I turned it over. Not really, we were more like two strangers exchanging a meaningful glance before a spouse interferes.
As expected, the system runs like a raped ape (scalded dog, frightened squirrel, whatever…). Full boot to desktop occurs in less than 20 seconds, and it launches apps in the blink of an eye. Taxing it with several near-simultaneous launches doesn’t slow it down a bit. And the graphics are tasty, my friends. The initial setup was not without its woes, though. The UEFI Bios on the ASUS board necessitated a break in Windows installation so I could load all the SATA control drivers, and the dual-display went irretrievably screwy when adjustments were made via the Windows, rather than NVidia control panel. Luckily, wiping and reinstalling Windows takes about five minutes when the files are read to the SSD, so it was no big deal and gave me something to do while everyone else was swimming.
As I mentioned near the beginning, my bro is a big fan of shooters. Like me, he tends to gravitate to a few favorite, core titles and then play the crap out of them. He terrorized Counterstrike opponents for years, and the beginning of the end for the Alienware tower occurred when it failed to run Counterstrike: Global Offensive. Well, now things are just a bit different in the household. If you’re ever online playing a shooter and find yourself “creeped and sleeped” by a crafty veteran going by Bushmaster556, you’ll know that player is sitting in front of a very nice system. Oh, and laughing about what he just did to you.
Doing this build for my brother and family was a great experience. Now he knows a thing or to about how a system goes together as well. I highly encourage anyone considering a DIY build to take the plunge. Do your research, assemble your parts, follow best practices and get it done. You’ll be glad you did.
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