I’ve been wanting to build a new PC for a while now. My old desktop machine, while still powerful, has become woefully obsolete. The motherboard only supports PCI Rev 2, a maximum of 8GB DDR2 memory, and is a strange (BTX) form factor to boot (pun intended).
After researching the topic for a number of months, I decided I was finally ready to take the plunge.
I do a lot of video work, so I wanted to build a PC that would really shine when it came time to render files in Adobe Premiere and in Adobe After Effects. A machine like that specs out quite similar to a gaming PC. These machines are at the high end of the spectrum, which is actually where you can save a lot of money by building yourself. A system equivalent to mine costs about $1,000 more at Dell than what I was able to build it for.
Building a PC seems a little intimidating, but really there’s not much more to it than attaching a few screws and plugging in a number of connections. All you need, really, is a Phillips-head screwdriver and a lot of patience. My son commented, standing behind me and watching me about halfway through, “So, this is your latest Lego, huh?”
Everything starts with the case. I knew I wanted a larger one, both to hold multiple components (especially graphics cards) and to provide working space to make assembly a little easier. My existing case was quite large, so there wasn’t any danger of getting something too big to fit into the space I have for it. I decided on this Corsair Graphite full tower case, which easily fits a e-ATX motherboard. I liked the look and the color.
When ordering components, I decided to stay with one brand as much as I could, to better ensure that all the parts would fit together. I did a lot of web research to make sure, and I’m glad to say the work paid off; everything fit great. If we’d had a Fry’s handy, I’d’ve gone down and bought from them. As it was, I ordered everything from Newegg. Shipping was really cheap ($7 for everything) and they had everything to me in 3 days. I spent that time carefully studying download versions of all the component manuals, the motherboard especially, so I’d be ready to build that coming weekend.
After the case, it really all comes down to the motherboard. Your choice of mobo will determine what processors you can use, how much memory you can install, how many graphics cards you can have, how many hard drives your system will support, and much more. Knowing that I wanted to work with one of Intel’s Haswell-Extreme processors, I went with Asus’s Rampage V Extreme board. It’s pricey, but had all the features I wanted.
I chose Corsair’s HX1050 power supply, rated at 1050 watts with 91% efficiency. It also has modular power connectors, meaning you only have to plug in what you’re going to use. This keeps the cable monster somewhat at bay.
The HX1050 should have plenty of power for additional high-end graphics cards. The power supply fits in a bay at the back bottom of the case, held in by four screws. Do you love the black velvet bag it came in?
Installing the processor (CPU) onto the motherboard is the most intimidating part of the whole build–at least it was for me–but it’s also just about the easiest, as long as you keep yourself grounded. I chose the mid-range Intel Haswell-Extreme 5930K. This processor has an unlocked clock multiplier so it can be overclocked. Stock speed is 3.5GHz, 3.9GHz in Turbo. It has six hyperthreaded cores, for a total of 12 threads. It also features 40 PCIe lanes, enough to support up to 4 graphics cards in SLI. The lower end processor in this series is just as fast, but only has 28 lanes. The higher end processor is faster, having two more cores, but costs almost twice as much at $1050. The middle choice seemed like the best value. Plus, it leaves room to upgrade if necessary.
My processor and motherboard use DDR4 memory; they’re among the first to support this just-released standard. I wanted to go with DDR4 because it’s faster. It also seemed wise to get in at the beginning of a memory standard. DDR3 lasted for about six years. Unfortunately, with my previous machine I got in at the end of DDR2 and suffered for it. I decided not to make that mistake again; another reason why now was a good time for me to build.
This memory, 16GB G.Skill at 2,666MHz, is more than three times as fast as my old memory. My wife thought it was dead sexy. She loved the red aluminum heat fins especially. My motherboard supports up to 64GB, so there’s lots of room for upgrade here.
OK, can you guess what this is? It’s no bigger than a stick of gum. I’ll give a you a second… Here’s a hint: M.2.
Give up? It’s a Samsung M.2 form factor PCIe, 512GB solid state drive. It fits right onto the motherboard in a connection that supports up to 10x the data transfer speed of SATA, which is the standard connection for hard drives. This drive will push 1,600MB of data per second. I chose it as my boot drive, although many people had written about issues in getting Windows to install to it. I decided to take a chance, since this system is all about speed at value.
The next step is to install the backplate, which comes with the motherboard and is specific to it. You can see that this motherboard supports lots of USB 2 and 3 connections. It also has built-in Wi-Fi; note the antenna connectors in the third-to-last row. This turned out to be a little tricky to fit, but with enough gentle persuasion it snapped right in.
Processors get hot. After all, you’re crowding in excess of 135 watts of power into an area of about a square inch. That heat has to be carried away, or the processor will malfunction or even fail altogether. I wanted to be able to overclock, which means even greater power and thus heat, so Intel’s stock CPU cooler fan was not going to be enough. I chose Corsair’s H110 liquid cooler. It had about the largest radiator I could find at 280x140mm.
There was plenty of room to install the radiator at the top of the case, but only at the top of the case, contrary to what Corsair claimed. (I had wanted to install at the front, and use intake air for cooling, but that would have required me to remove the drive cage. Nope. Gonna need that for data drives. Lots of data drives.)
The fans mount just below it and push air up through it. I have two large intake fans at the front of the case to pull fresh air into it.
At this point the motherboard, with the CPU, memory, and SSD installed, can be fitted into its spot in the case. It’s held down by a number of small screws. This case had a nice feature: a central pin instead of a stand-off at the center of the motherboard. This greatly helped in getting the mobo lined up. I just had to slip the right screw hole over the pin. Screws are tightened, but not too tight.
Next came the trickiest part of the whole build: installing the CPU cooler heat block and pump over the CPU. You need thermal paste for this step. Thermal paste is a gray, metallic gunk that ensures good heat transfer between adjacent surfaces; in this case, between the CPU and the CPU cooler. Fortunately, this CPU cooler came with the thermal paste pre-applied, protected by a plastic shield which you remove before installing. To ensure good contact, you have to press it down and leave it in place. It was rather difficult to get the cooler into its retaining ring, and then to screw the ring down onto the motherboard. It took a lot of force to get the screws to engage. After some cussing and discussing, I finally succeeded.
All that remained at this point was to plug in all the connectors. This includes the power supply to the motherboard, the power, reset, and hard disk indicator connections, the CPU- and case-fan power connections, the USB headers for the front-panel USB connections, and the graphics card connections.
I initially tried to use an older graphics card for testing, so I wouldn’t have to pull out the old machine from its niche (a real pain) and rip off one of my new cards from it. I should have known better. When I first turned the machine on, I heard an unholy whine and saw nothing on the attached monitor. Naturally I was sure I’d ruined something. I quickly determined that the graphics card was the culprit–I had forgotten to connect the additional power supply. Doing so stopped the whine, but it still didn’t work. So I pulled the card and took one out of my old computer.
Success! This is the new-look UEFI BIOS that these modern computers have. To date I haven’t gotten around to playing with all the settings that are available. I particularly like all the control you have over fan speeds. This system knows where all the fans are, and under what conditions to run them at various speeds.
I also had to install an optical drive. Actually, I didn’t have to, but I wanted to. Call me old-school, but all this digital downloading makes me nervous. I also installed ASUS’s overclocking panel into the top drive bay; this shows me the CPU speed and temperature at a glance, and just looks cool. I pulled the second graphics card from the old PC and put it into the new one, attaching the SLI bridge cable between the two. Right now I’ve running twin PNY NVidia GTX660 XLR8or cards with 4GB total graphics memory. Plenty of scope for upgrade here; right now graphics are actually my weakest link, giving me only 4-star performance when everything else is 5-star +.
Other folks may have had trouble installing an OS with this drive and motherboard, but for me it went off without a hitch. And the full installation only took 10 minutes. I chose to install Windows 8.1. Most people think it sucks, but I’ve worked with it for about a year and have gotten used to it, even on a non-touch system. With that said, I’ll likely upgrade to Windows 10 as soon as it comes out.
After that, all I had to do was install all my software, which didn’t take very long at all, the system is so fast. I pulled all my drives out of the old computer and installed them in the new one. The new computer is now working in the place of the old one, and so far it’s been awesome. It boots and wakes up from sleep in seconds, and video rendering is about ten times as fast as my old system. Right now I have it overclocked to 4.2GHz, and it barely gets warm even under load. And it’s whisper quiet.
For my next trick… Well, I’ve got my eye on this stand that will let me add a third monitor. After that…
Musty, mysterious, damp, dark, earthy, eerie, funky, and fearsome: That’s what Granny’s cellar at Brushy was like on Tuesday morning in summer, and it was like that because of the way it was at other times, say on a late afternoon or evening any time of the year when it had ‘come up a cloud,’ as Granny said when referring to a severe thunderstorm, and you were huddled down there wondering if you were going to come out and find a house there or not.
I was only in the cellar under such circumstances a couple of times when I was very young and it made an impression. I don’t recall many details, except that the grownups were just as unhappy about it as I was but for different reasons that I didn’t understand then but understand all too well now. The weather, for someone who makes their living off the land in what has been called Tornado Alley, is a fearsome thing.
I was reminded of that just as I was thinking of what to write about Tuesday on a Tuesday when my sister got in touch with me to let me know that a thunderstorm had dropped two-inch hail out at Brushy the night before and had completely ruined the garden she was growing there, some of the seed for which I had secured for her. Because that’s what Granny was afraid of every time she saw a cloud. There never was a funnel cloud that I ever heard of out that way, although nearby Wichita Falls has been devastated twice in my lifetime, but there has been hail and wind and torrential wind time and time again, and for those who cultivate plants and rely upon such cultivation for sustenance, a really bad cloud is just about has bad as any tornado.
The cellar was like a concrete bunker, dug seven or so feet into the ground, with eight or ten concrete steps revealed when you lifted a heavy iron door that had a counterbalance of wires and weights otherwise you’d have never lifted it at all. The roof was a steel-reinforced concrete slab that you could play tops, marbles, or hopscotch upon–the closest thing to a sidewalk we had out there, except for the little ones leading from the front or side doors to the gates. A couple of thick metal pipes with weather caps stuck up a couple of out of the cellar roof, occasionally inconvenient for some games, but providing air for anyone sheltering beneath.
The cellar steps were very steep, so that’s why Granny sent somebody else down there when she could, because her hip made the trip down and up both difficult and painful. She grimaced something fierce coming up out of the cellar under any kind of load. And she might have to go down there, because there was a set of shelves built into the end the other side of the door, and that’s where she kept all her canned goods. They replicated those shelves on a larger scale when they built the house in town, and Granny dutifully filled them up, so that my wife and I when first married used to joke (Reagan was in office then) that if the Bomb dropped we were headed to my granny’s house ’cause she had enough food put up to feed ten people for three years.
Such a supply would ease the pain of losing the garden, and maybe that’s why she put up so much produce whenever there was any. There might be a time, and I suppose in her life there were many times, when there might not be anything to put up.
There’s a way in which the bad weather was why Granny lived there. The property had belonged to her own father, who had farmed it until after the War, when he bought a bunch of land on the plains near Farwell that was irrigated land with a gentler climate, so he wasn’t as subject to Mother Nature’s temperamental whims. There he and his sons grew corn and beans and I don’t know what all, while my grandparents took over the dryland farm at Brushy and did the best they could, which after all was not bad.
Dryland farming was always a bit of a gamble, and my grandfather was not a gambler by nature, though he liked to play dominoes for small stakes, or else he might have died a rich man. Or a poor one. One or the other. In the 50s he had the chance to buy the place across the highway from Brushy and double his holdings only he was afraid that he’d lose everything if he got a run of bad luck and bad weather. As it turns out, the next four years had mild conditions and bumper crops that would have let him pay off the loan early. So faint heart very much led to not winning fair damsel, I guess you’d say. He never increased his stake beyond what he had left him by his daddy and his father in law. I seem to recall some scripture that implies such behavior is looked down upon.
So I guess you might say that other than holding on to what he had and attempting to cobble together silk purses out of the sow’s ears he had laying around, my grandpa was not a talented man. My Granny, however, could make anything out of nothing, which was a handy skill to have living out in the middle of nowhere as she did, looking nervously out the window at every gray cloud on the horizon or at the complete lack of clouds, which was an even more common experience. I remember one year there was a drought, and the contrivances that both my grandparents had to come up with to keep fed and washed were enough to make anyone appreciate their local water company. The well had just about run dry and could only be relied upon to supply cooking and drinking water—water that I swear was so brackish that you’d find salt crystals on top of the ice cubes. Grandpa for years had relied on water from his stock pond—again, in North Texas that’s called a ‘tank’—to irrigate his garden. That was the summer I mentioned yesterday when he extended the line to the house and switched over the bathroom plumbing so that whether you wanted to shit, shower, or shave, you were going to do it with tank water. Water that the cows not only drank but did their other business in as well. Taking a bath in that old tub with that tank water, even with all the Mr Bubble you could get in it, was, as I said, something like sitting under an old cow’s rump while she hiked her tail and let loose, but it was also about like trying to bathe in a piss-scented mud puddle. It’s a wonder none of us got dysentery.
But we didn’t, and life went on just as it always did. Which meant that you never knew, even in the midst of drought, when you were going to get jolted out of bed by a clap of thunder straight over the house at 2 in the morning, like we did the next year when we had to get up and rescue the kittens that the dumb old momma cat—one we’d tamed a couple of years before when she was a kitty—had nested up in a cozy spot just underneath one of the gutter downspouts by the front door, as the very welcome rain absolutely poured down in what my other grandpa up in town, Gramps, would have called a turd-floater. We also had to take the alligator clip for the television aerial loose from the TV, and that night wasn’t the only time I saw it arc.
If you didn’t know when a cloud might come up, you did know it was going to be hot in the summer, just as sure as eggs is eggs (and I do seem to recall my Gramps asking one time, in the middle of a bad heat wave, if my granny’s hens were laying hard-boiled ones.) The heat would rise at about ten in the morning, and build and build throughout the day until it reached a peak between four and five, generally topping out at 103 or some such nonsense, unless it was a really bad year and it got to 111. And I don’t care how dry of a heat it might be, 111 is hot.
The worst part was that it hardly got cool at night, and grandpa was such an old tightwad that he wouldn’t run the coolers at night, so you just had to swelter. Like I said on Monday, after I started sleeping in the north bedroom, I took to running the fan all night, and that helped a little, cost what it may. Some nights I hardly got to sleep before the birds went to twittering at around 5am, and the fact that I never made it to breakfast had something to do with that. Well, with that and being a teenager.
Heat in the day wasn’t so bad, at least if you weren’t out working in it all day, and I just bet you it cost more than a quarter a week to fix up all the ice—salt crystals and all—that grandpa put in his Coleman water cooler morning and noon so he’d have ice water to drink out in the field. And Lord, why not? These days I always say a person may as well be comfortable, though I generally say it when I’m getting up the gumption to ask the person next to me to get up so I can visit the restroom on an airplane. However much it cost to keep his water cool, grandpa at least understood that heat stroke ain’t so cheap as that comes to.
Being a kid staying around the house, the heat was almost a sport, and sometimes I’d go out and just stand in the yard to feel how hot it was. That was when you had ice-water ready to hand in the refrigerator when you wanted it, and sodas come three o-clock. Granny had that ferocious sweet tooth, and kept flats of just about every soda they made out in the closet on the back porch. Mother, on health and sanity grounds, negotiated a treaty where we were allowed to have one soda per day and the time was 3 o’clock. So that 3pm soda became quite an institution, you see. Being kids we weren’t all that partial to Coke (Dad loved it with salted peanuts in it), but there was Nesbitt’s and Frosty rootbeer and Orange Crush and 7-Up and it was always a chore in the morning to figure out which one you were going to want and then put it away in the refrigerator laying on its side at the top so it would be cold in the afternoon when it would be so blame hot outside. Granny had bunches of these funny little plastic caps with loops that you could snap onto a 10-oz soda bottle to keep it from going flat, and to make the soda last we’d taken these and punched a hole in them with a church key and then we put them on and sucked the soda out slowly through the little hole.
If there was water and grandpa was watering the lawn, Granny would suggest that we run in the sprinkler to cool off and to our initial objection that we hadn’t brought our swim suits she’d say ‘just go in your underwear’ and to our further objection that appearing outside in one’s underwear wasn’t something that was done Granny would reply ‘Lord, who’s going to see you, and who would care if they did?” So we took her up on it and enjoyed ourselves immensely, though when a car came by we ran around the back of the house and hid, which we had to do twice in an hour, I think. In future years I saw to it that we brought our suits.
I have wrote like we was only there in the summer, with dry and heat and storms of rain, but we were also there in winter, and in winter it was cold. I think winters were colder then, and that’s as much proof as I need of global warming. There was that bad winter of 70-71, when so many records were set that still haven’t been broken, and that was the year I believe that they had a bad ice storm that knocked out power to the farm for a week. Granny and Grandpad—and my Uncle Don Joe, who was home from college—spent the whole time in the front room with the door shut, keeping the kitchen in particular cold so the food in the freeze wouldn’t ruin (it was so cold out it didn’t). They sat by the light of a kerosene lamp (the only time I remember seeing it out of the cellar; it’s still there I believe) with Granny quilting and Uncle Don building a model tank. We stayed up at town and watched TV.
Tuesday was not a notable television night in those days, so we’ll leave the discussion of our viewing habits to other days, particularly Thursday and Saturday. If Tuesday were a bit dry even on autumn nights in the 70s—except for Happy Days which everybody watched—Tuesdays in summer were a positive desert, with the only good shows in re-runs or on hiatus and the rest of the time occupied by insipid and uninteresting filler. I don’t think Granny cared, because no matter what was on she was going to sit there piecing a quilt and enjoying potted meat and crackers for supper. They ate both light and late on the summer evenings out at Brushy, and you were welcome to piece together whatever meal you could out of the leavings from the day’s noon dinner and what you could find in the cupboards. We ate a lot of tuna.
They stayed up to watch the late local news at 10pm, usually tuned to NBC even though my Uncle Don, freshly graduated, worked in advertising at the CBS affiliate in Wichita (Falls, but nobody added that part in conversation) and was married to the lead sportscaster’s daughter who kept an old horse named “Sugar” out at Brushy who was constitutionally opposed to being ridden by anyone but her old mistress. Sometimes Grandpa changed the channel after the NBC weather to catch Jack’s sportscast, them being kin and all. Then it was off to bed.
After reading in bed for a bit (Granny shared some interesting reading material with me one summer, which you’ll find out about when I write about tomorrow) I’d turned out the light and lay there listening to the night noises through the open window, glad for the screen that kept the skeeters out, wondering if a car would come by, wishing they had a window AC unit in there like my other grandmother up in town, and dreading just a little bit, being Baptist, the events of Wednesday evening. Laying in the bed thinking about all this just before I sat down to write about this last bit, I thought that it really isn’t true that everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Leastways, it wasn’t true when my Granny lived out at Brushy. Sure, they talked about the weather—“Is it hot enough for you?”—but they also lived through it, heat, hail, sleet, sun and all, and they rolled with it.
We’re in production on a new version of the show, one about which we’re very excited. I’ve been working on some promotional material, more of which I expect to be able to share very soon.
Here’s our latest promo:
Re-creating my web site!