In­tel $800 PC build

Zak Storey’s

APC Australia - - Contents -

THE CON­CEPT

These builds have been an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise in bud­get­ing, that’s for sure. We of­ten work at the crazy end of the sys­tem-build­ing spec­trum here in the labs, and as we’ve men­tioned in the past, it’s far eas­ier to get ex­pen­sive com­po­nents in than more af­ford­able gear. Which, although truly hys­te­ri­ain­duc­ing at times, makes work­ing on a project like this far more sat­is­fy­ing.

That said, this isn’t the first time we’ve looked at such af­ford­able rigs. Back at the start of 2017, you could just about build an In­tel rig on a $600 bud­get with 8GB of DDR3 and a 256GB SSD... and a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble pro­ces­sor. No, se­ri­ously, just how far things have come in pro­cess­ing per­for­mance in the last year is stag­ger­ing. But more on that later.

So, what was the idea be­hind these two projects? In short, to keep things sim­ple. Build two sys­tems with a suit­able up­grade path, and plenty of grunt to drive some modern 1080p ti­tles, at medium set­tings or so. And to do it with­out break­ing the bank. As mem­ory and GPU prices have sky­rock­eted over the last two years, the game has changed sig­nif­i­cantly when it comes to pricing up rigs like this, and that $600 bud­get that you could have strived for 18 months ago is — to­day at least — a com­plete non-starter.

Ad­mit­tedly, we haven’t in­cluded the price of the OS with these ma­chines, be­cause we’re fo­cus­ing more on the hard­ware, but you can pick up Linux for free, and an OEM copy of Win­dows 10 is pretty cheap nowa­days. Any­way, now the waf­fle is out of the way, let’s break down just what went into this very spe­cial In­tel build.

THE BUD­GET BUSTER

Let’s be frank, there’s not a huge amount of dif­fer­ence be­tween our two builds. Spec for spec, they’re both fit­ted out with a sim­i­larly priced pro­ces­sor, sim­i­lar mem­ory, and like-for-like stor­age. Yet it’s the small de­tails, the less-per­for­mance-af­fect­ing choices we’ve made, that re­ally sep­a­rate the two sys­tems.

The most ob­vi­ous be­ing the two cases. Go­ing up against the AMD build’s Cooler Mas­ter MasterBox Lite was al­ways go­ing to be a chal­lenge. With its ab­so­lutely ab­surd arse­nal of mod­ern­day fea­tures, in­clud­ing three RGB front fans, coloured ac­cents, tem­pered glass and stel­lar in­ter­nal lay­out, we needed some­thing that could give it a fair run for its money. The BitFenix Nova TG brings that fight down hard. Com­ing in at a street price of $74, it’s 20 bucks cheaper than its com­peti­tor. Fea­tur­ing an old-school in­ter­nal lay­out, tons of room for stor­age, and a se­ri­ously slick tem­pered glass panel, BitFenix hasn’t held back when it comes to kick­ing. Air­flow could be bet­ter up front, but given how lit­tle heat we ex­pect this ma­chine to pro­duce, there’s an ar­gu­ment to be had for not need­ing it that much any­way, at least un­til you de­cide to up­grade at a later date.

Apart from the case, we also opted for a slightly pricier PSU, cour­tesy of EVGA, and some lower spec DDR4 to save a few bucks, purely be­cause higher fre­quen­cies wouldn’t par­tic­u­larly ben­e­fit this In­tel rig in any mean­ing­ful way. Although it’s not in­cluded in the pricing, us­ing the re­main­ing bud­get we snuck in a nice mag­netic white 12-inch LED strip run­ning along the top of the case as well, just to make it pop a lit­tle more. It’s a small lux­ury, us­ing a lit­tle ex­tra cash, and com­pletely su­per­flu­ous, but we may as well take ad­van­tage of that tem­pered glass side panel while we have it.

3 RETRO TIME

Our ed­i­tor said we weren’t get­ting hands-on enough in the pho­tog­ra­phy for this story, so we de­cided to take it up a notch, and point at this speaker. As we’ve gone for such a cheap Z370 board, hav­ing ac­cess to this lit­tle beauty helps us di­ag­nose any er­rors on the board. Beep. One good thing about Gigabyte’s motherboards is the in­cluded front I/O header mount­ing bracket: sim­ply thread your front panel con­nec­tors into the des­ig­nated holes on the bracket, let them click into place, then care­fully push the bracket on to the front I/O pins on the board. Our test­ing found that this re­duced un­nec­es­sary cussing by a stag­ger­ing 268% through­out the du­ra­tion of a build­ing ses­sion.

5 LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE

The one thing that isn’t bud­geted for in our rig is the LED strip run­ning along the roof, which we’ve dis­creetly hid­den. If we’re hon­est, it was a last-minute de­ci­sion to throw this in, just to show off the in­ter­nal com­po­nents, and how clean we man­aged to make the build, even on a bud­get. You can pick one of these up for around $30, and it even comes with an ad­he­sive back, in case your chas­sis isn’t mag­netic.

4 NOT QUITE ATX?

Un­for­tu­nately, there’s still some vari­ance with ATX motherboards, es­pe­cially at the bud­get end of the spec­trum, with most ATX motherboards ac­tu­ally be­ing about half an inch shorter than the full ATX stan­dard. This means you’ll of­ten find your moth­er­board can’t be se­cured across all of the ATX stand-offs in a chas­sis. This can make it par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult when in­stalling mem­ory and the 24-pin ATX power on the moth­er­board, be­cause you risk warp­ing the PCB. We can only sug­gest you do as much as you can out­side of the case first, even in­stall the 24-pin with the moth­er­board on a box first, be­fore you in­stall it into the chas­sis.

6 CA­BLE FRIPPERY

We’ve got a pretty hefty CPU power ca­ble on our 450W EVGA PSU, which means it’s a real strug­gle to fit it through the top passthrough in the case, and se­cure the moth­er­board down. To get around this, we’ve care­fully po­si­tioned it be­low the moth­er­board, ahead of time, be­fore se­cur­ing it into place, keep­ing it tidy and out of the way. On top of that, we’ve kept our ca­bles neat by ty­ing sev­eral of them to­gether. You’ll no­tice our ATX power and front panel head­ers are bound to­gether, along with the bun­dled front fan and SATA power, and the GPU and ad­di­tional Molex power that we didn’t need are bound at the bot­tom, then hid­den in the hard drive cage. This keeps the ca­bles taut, tidy and out of the way with­out nec­es­sar­ily ty­ing them to the chas­sis it­self.

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