Computer Upgrades 2015

Way back at the beginning of last year, I talked about building my own computer for the first time. After that was done, I said to myself that I’d make at least one upgrade a year to help keep it fairly current. Well, I didn’t quite make it a year. And it’s been more like a series of upgrades over the last 6 months but I swear, I have an explanation for them all!

A second monitor

Acer K242HLAt least I made it to October before buying my first upgrade. Or maybe it’s better to refer to it as an addition. I was quite happy (and still am) with my first monitor, a 23-inch LG that I’ve had since I got my previous computer back in 2010 or whenever it was. No dead pixels or any other problems since I’ve owned it. But when I was given a second monitor at the office, I quickly fell in love with the dual monitor set up. At work, I used it to have code in one window and reference material in the other, but I spent a lot of time imagining how nice it would be to have a game in one window and a guide or wiki in the other (extremely useful for Wurm Online for example).

So last October when I was perusing the Best Buy website, I saw a 24-inch Acer monitor on sale for $150 and snapped it up. I also bought an HDMI cable to hook it up to my graphics card, alongside the DVI cable going to the LG monitor. I haven’t regretted the purchase in the least because not only can I have wikis open on the second screen but when I’m playing with Lord Crumb, I can have the game in one screen and our Skype video call in the other.

Dual monitors

The only issue I’ve had is that some games are finicky with a dual monitor set up (I’m looking at you, Fallout 3). Most of these problems have been solved with Windows Borderless Gaming and in the rare cases where that doesn’t work, mods will do the trick. But that’s not the monitor’s fault. I really think that windowed fullscreen should be an option on all games though.

I’ve also discovered that it’s great for working from home, which I do twice a week. I have a VGA cable connected to the LG, which I can attach my work laptop to and change between my personal computer and work laptop as needed.

A new graphics card

Gigabyte GTX970 G1My previous video card, a Radeon HD 7850, was inherited from my previous computer and was bought back in 2012. With the way games keep pushing graphics further and further every month it seems, this card was beginning to show its age. In particular, Lord Crumb and I were about to start playing Dying Light which is a beast when it comes to graphics. When he mentioned that he was looking at get a new graphics card…well, I was a little jealous and decided to look for one myself. So we ended up doing research together.

This time around I could afford a better card so I was looking for something in the $300-400 CAD range, maybe more if it was worth it. From most of the sources we found, the best cards for Dying Light (and gaming in general) that weren’t a ridiculous price were Nvidia GTX 970 and the AMD Radeon R9 290X, which scored similarly in tests. I’ve only had AMD/ATI cards before but I’ve never been particularly attached to the brand so it came down to price. No matter where I looked, they both seemed to be selling for about $420, give or take $20. The GTX 970 also has a special G1 edition made by Gigabyte that was selling for $450. I don’t quite understand why it’s so good but everyone seemed to rave about it. I wasn’t considering buying it as I didn’t think it was worth the extra $30, but when I took a peek at it on NCIX, there was a small box on the page that said they were selling two opened boxes they had in stock. For $360. So a purportedly better card for less than the regular one. I don’t think I’ve ever bought something so fast before. On the other side of the pond, Lord Crumb found the R9 290X cheaper in the UK so that’s what he ended up getting.

The GTX 970 is huge compared to my old HD 7850. Like almost twice the length huge. The three fans versus one likely contributes to that. I had brief worries that it wasn’t going to fit into my case but it had just enough room, even without having to remove one of the hard drive cages.

GPU length comparison

Dying Light runs beautifully on it with only a few slowdowns here and there, likely caused by my CPU rather than the card. I’ve also been able to crank up the graphics on a couple other games which is nice. To give myself some hard numbers rather than “things look better”, I ran the free version of 3DMark on Steam for both my old and new cards, and the results showed a considerable increase.

I think I’m becoming more of a fan of Nvidia simply for the fact that updating the video drivers has never been easier. I don’t know if it’s my set up or what but I have never been able to smoothly update AMD video drivers. With AMD, I absolutely had to uninstall the previous driver, restart, and then install the new one or I would never be able to access the control panel. With Nvidia, I didn’t have to uninstall anything, it updated without a glitch.

A new power supply

EVGA 750There really is nothing wrong with my old 650W Thermaltake. It’s worked reliably ever since I got it and I haven’t needed any more power. The reason I began looking at PSUs stems from the fact that Lord Crumb is going to be visiting at the end of June. I thought that after months of playing together with an ocean between us, it would be nice to be able to sit side by side to game. Between my old computer and other parts lying around, I had enough to build a second computer. The only thing it was missing was a power supply which is, you know, kind of important.

At first I was looking at cheaper PSUs, something that was just good enough to power the other computer. But then I realized that I might as well buy a better power supply for my computer and move the Thermaltake into the other one. Which is how I ended up with a 750W EVGA.

The extra 100W is nice for any future needs and I was sure to look for modular cables after how much I liked that in the Thermaltake. The EVGA is 80 Plus Gold, which means it’s more power efficient than the 80 Plus Bronze Thermaltake. The feature that really impressed me though was the 10 year warranty which is pretty much unheard of when it comes to computer parts. If I get 10 years out of this power supply, it will be well worth the money.

As a side note, I had installed the Thermaltake with the fan pointing up previously. But when I was reading the EVGA manual, they suggested pointing the fan down if you have vents in the bottom of your case, which I do. So I installed it fan down and hopefully now it will get more cooler air being pulled into it.

A solid state drive

evo850I was going to say that the reason I picked up an SSD was because the second computer also needed a hard drive. But the truth is, I already had two mechanical drives in my computer and I wasn’t really using one so it wouldn’t have been a problem to just use those and not buy anything. However, I’ve been thinking about getting an SSD for a long while for the speed of launching programs as well as reducing loading screens. So when I was buying the power supply, I did some research into SSDs as well. The best bang for my buck seemed to be the Samsung EVO 850 and I decided on the 250GB version because it had a fair amount of room (if I installed most of my games on the hard drive) for a reasonable price of $125. actually ran out of stock before I could complete my order so I ended up buying it separately from for the same price and free shipping.

I had no idea that an SSD would be so small and light! It was barely larger than a credit card and it felt so fragile next to the heavy, metal plated mechanical drive. But I guess that makes sense since it’s more like a stick of RAM than anything. Luckily, I didn’t need to buy an adapter bracket to install it in my computer since my drive bays are already set up for SSDs.

It was a bit of a juggling act to backup and organize my files once I had everything ready. It involved installing my OS and most of my programs into the SSDs, wiping my 1TB drive and copying files I wanted to keep from the 2TB, wiping the 2TB and then copying files back to it, and then wiping the 1TB drive again and installing it in the second computer. Convoluted I know, but I wanted to make sure I had a clean slate on the 2TB so that it would be easier to organize my files. For anyone who’s interested in doing something similar, AOMEI Partition Assistant worked fantastically for me. The Disk Management program that comes with Windows does not allow you to remove system reserved partitions and AOMEI makes it easy to wipe entire drives. Also, it’s completely free. You definitely should know what you’re doing though because otherwise you run the risk of really messing up your files.

For games, I installed Dying Light and The Sims 3 on the SSD and I did notice that the loading screens were shorter than before. Not a huge amount but anyone who plays The Sims 3 know that any way to shorten its loading screens is fantastic. What most impressed me was how quickly my computer boots after a restart now. I’m one of those people who has a lot of programs running at startup *cough* and previously, it would take over a minute to load all of the programs. Now it takes more like 10 seconds which is a HUGE difference and makes restarts so much less of a hassle. That alone makes the SSD worth the cost.

New case fans

Cougar Vortex HDBThis was the one upgrade that I had no plans on doing. I did browse through case fans recently because my brother’s computer definitely needed a replacement. It sounded like a jet engine starting up in his room. I ended up buying him a cheap Fractal Designs fan but the difference it made was amazing. Now when the computer is idling, you have to have your ear next to the case to even know the computer is on.

Shortly after I fixed his problem, one of my own cropped up. I’m someone who can disregard white noise without any issues but anything more than that drives me crazy. So when one of my fans started making a rattling noise, my slow descent into madness began. I think it came from the fan on my CPU but I couldn’t really tell since the outtake fan at the back is right next to it. I tried cleaning them out with canned air and sometimes it would help for a while but soon the rattling would return. Nudging the case would temporarily make it stop but I knew I couldn’t just keep doing that every 10 minutes for the rest of my life.

It wasn’t very long before I decided to just replace all of the fans in my computer just to make sure there would be absolutely no more rattling. Based on the NewEgg reviews, I picked up 4 Cougar Vortex HDB fans, two sized at 140mm and two at 120mm. They were more expensive than others ($19 each and $17 each respectively) but they’re suppose to be quieter, have more efficient airflow, and last longer. I can’t attest for how long they’ll last considering I’ve only had mine for a few days, but I’ve certainly noticed that they’re quieter and more efficient. Like others had said, they aren’t that quiet at full speed but they blow more air than regular fans, so I have mine at half speed and they’re much quieter than what I had before. I did a stress test on the CPU to ensure that it wouldn’t get too hot and the highest it reached was 64 Celsius.

Installing them took longer than I expected because it took me a while to understand which way the fans blew (thankfully there’s arrows on the sides) and I was using rubber screws for the first time since they’re suppose to increase the silence factor. I found out that needle nose pliers are your friend here and that the screws are pretty damn tough. I was certain I was going to snap them what with the way I was stretching them but none of them were damaged.

So what’s next?

Since I’ve upgraded pretty much everything else this year, next year will likely involve getting a new CPU and motherboard. Lord Crumb mentioned to me that Intel is suppose to be launching their Skylake CPUs this August and they’re suppose to be quite good. Time will tell if they actually are or not, but if they are, I’ve hoping that by the time 2016 rolls around, they’ll have dropped a little in price and I can get a fairly good one. If not, well then I’ll just have to get whatever is best (and still affordable) at the time.

Whatever happens, I’ll always be excited to get to tinker around with my computer some more!

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