The MicroCenter Experience
I haven’t built a PC in about 8 years. I walked into Microcenter, took 15 minutes to get the lay of the land. Picked a $40 CoolerMaster mini-ITX case. Then I opened pcpartpicker.com on my iPhone. Goal, a system that costs less than the unlocked retail price of the phone I was holding. I wanted fast single-core performance on the CPU. Many applications we use are still not multi-threaded and not optimized for multiple CPU cores. The Core i7-4790k (4GHz) should do nicely. Grabbed that.
My new friend Fang, Commissioned Microcenter Sales Agent, who wore a creamsicle orange button-up shirt, knew a ton about system building. I wasn’t up on the tech (CPU socket types, RAM specs, bus nomenclature) when I walked in, but about 20 well-phrased questions later, I had assimilated the parts of his knowledge necessary to build an optimized system. The CAS 11 1333MHz 2x8GB sticks I was holding wouldn’t do, he said. For $30 less, I got CAS 9 1600MHz, from a package hiding on the bottom of a rack on the other side of the room, obscured by a pile of video card boxes. It’s from Crucial, my long-time supplier for avoiding the Apple tax on RAM upgrades. Good enough.
I’d heard good things about the Samsung SSDs. And a few years ago, I made a pact with myself that when they hit about $0.50 per GB, I’d never again buy platter-based storage for my system partition. So I got a 250GB for $130. It’s the EVO, not the Pro. I’m not fancy.
Now you might think me crazy, but I picked the motherboard last. Before I go there, though, you might ask why I’m not waiting for Broadwell. It’s just around the corner (“late-2014”), it’s a tick release (die shrink) rather than the Haswell’s tock (new microarchitecture), etc. Well, lots of reasons. New Broadwell chips and motherboards will cost more when they’re first released, and I don’t feel like waiting for Christmas. The i7-4790k I picked is already pretty power efficient, even at 22nm, with a TDP of only 88W. The 11-year-old standing nearby complimented my on my choice of CPU, and marveled at my system-building aplomb. I lied that he reminded me of my younger self, told him about the wonders of Fry’s Electronics, and wished him well. On to the motherboard.
H97 vs. Z97. So I guess the Z97 is for 1337 #4><0|25. You can overclock it, with or without Scotch tape. It also cost several Alex Hamiltons more. Z97 could do SLI graphics cards, too, but in the mini-ITX form factor that’s not really possible anyway. So I picked the Asus H97I-Plus. Like $70 after their CPU/mobo combo discount.
I brought this baby back to the crib, assembled it on the carpeted floor without ESD protection, and was up and running fully-patched Windows 7 (starting with an RTM Ultimate SKU disc from like 2009) in 20 minutes. Total cost, with tax: $689. By the way, Microcenter “Did The Right Thing” as far as default pricing goes; it’s all competitive or better than online retailers. No price matching required.
The UEFI GUI on this Asus mobo rocks. It even has little animated spinny icons for the CPU and system fan RPM info. Windows Experience Index gave my setup mad props. 7.8 for processor and RAM. 7.9 for disk. 6.7 for graphics, but the HD 4600 integrated plays DotA 2 at max settings with no issues. I might get a dedicated graphics card later.
The Samsung SSD “Magician” utility is really well-built too. You can reserve a percentage of the capacity for load leveling overprovisioning. This is space that the driver will not let you consume, so that it’s available for the SSD controller to swap in and out of the free pool, as it attempts to keep the individual MLCs from burning up. MLC drives are a lot more prone to wearing out because the signal-to-noise ratios are lower. Default allocation option was 10%. I did 8%. It’s not mandatory or default. By default the overprovisioning is off. As long as you don’t plan on filling the drive up to near capacity and leaving it there as you use it every day, you don’t need this setting.
In the words of Bush II, “Mission Accomplished.”