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P-166: New Computer Build: December 2015: Part 2: Graphics Card, Hard Drive/s, Power Supply, Case

by on Dec.02, 2015, under Inventions, Tutorials

This is a continuation of my previous post regarding a new PC build, designed for gaming and game development. The previous post discusses the CPU, the RAM, and the Motherboard.

Graphics Card

The graphics card is the single most important component for gaming. I have left it until the end because it is independent of all other components, all modern graphics cards are compatible with and kind of CPU, RAM, and motherboard.
There is a difficult decision to make here, too. Due to the importance of the graphics card, I really should be spending as much money here as I can afford (which is why buying a lower-spec CPU or a cheaper motherboard might be a good idea). When I first started building my own machines, the choice was much easier, you would go for the most powerful Nvida or ATI(as it was then, they have now been bought by AMD) card that you could afford, so you really only had to compare the current best card from each company. What complicates this decision now is that both AMD and Nvidia make a number of excellent quality graphics cards, and third-party vendors sell these cards at quite variable prices, sometimes with aftermarket cooling solutions, factory overclocks, and modified specs. It can be very difficult to choose a card from this myriad of options, especially when all of them advertise themselves as being the best!

The single most powerful graphics card on the planet is, hands down, the Nvidia Geforce GTX Titan Z. This is a beast of a card, but it costs over €2000 just for the card! I don’t think there are too many enthusiasts who would be prepared to spend that much, even given the sheer power that you get for that money.

Assuming a more reasonable budget, the cards that I would be looking at would the the Nvidia Geforce GTX 980 and GTX 980 Ti, and the AMD Radeon R9 Fury and R9 Fury X. All of these cards are powerful, and should provide more than enough punch for a number of years at least. I do not intend to purchase an SLI/Crossfire solution, even though all of these cards support it, because it is just not cost efficient. You are buying two graphics cards, but the second card is usually only producing a moderate performance boost at best, because the vast majority of games are just not optimised for multiple cards, in the same way that they aren’t optimised for multiple cores.

I can afford to go with a higher end card, such as the GTX 980 Ti or R9 Fury X, so I can narrow my choices down to these two cards. Having read some benchmarks and reviews, it seems that the GTX 980 Ti is more powerful than the Fury X, and yet it doesn’t cost all that much more. In addition, the GTX 980 Ti doesn’t have that odd two-piece water cooling solution that the Fury X has, which is an advantage.

Hard Drive

Hard drives and storage solutions are vital for any machine, but are particularly important for a machine which will be used for important development work in addition to gaming. A reliable hard drive is most important, with speed coming second.
I used to use Western Digital Raptor disks, which are 10,000 RPM high-speed drives. It is also possible to get 15,000 RPM drives. However, the higher rotation speed causes additional stress to the components, and therefore must decrease reliability. A standard 7,200 RPM disk is most reliable, and my personal (current) favourite is the excellent Western Digital Caviar line of desktop drives. I use both the High-Performance “Black” Edition and the Economical “Green” edition. I will likely aim for a 1TB drive. I don’t want to go any higher, since I don’t want to store all of my data in one place, I would rather keep my main disk relatively small, and use external drives and storage media for archiving. Of course, I will also be doing regular backups to an eSata or USB 3.0 external disk. I may also choose to use RAID 1 on my main disk or backup disks or both to provide additional protection.

Notice that I have not yet mentioned SSD’s yet. There is a very important reason for this. Even though SSD’s are faster than HDD’s, particularly with random reads, and this would make a big difference in gaming, their reliability is just not up to HDD standards yet, and it may never be. SSD manufacturers have only recently begun offering 5 year warranties on SSD’s, and many companies still only offer a 3 year warranty. HDD’s have at least 5 years warranties.

The other frightening thing I learned about SSD drives is how quickly and seriously the data decays if the drive is left unpowered. THIS article states that leaving an SSD unpowered for just a week in a warm room can completely erase the disk!! Now, normally I would not leave a drive completely without power for a week, but it could conceivably happen (a power cut, power supply failure, etc). It also means that the drive can’t be used as standalone (outside of PC) storage. Combined with the shorter lifetime of SSD’s (due to the way the flash memory on board has a limited number of reads/writes), and far greater sensitivity to temperature, a HDD is the way to go.

I have decided on just one moderate-capacity HDD, instead of the common strategy of using two drives, one for the OS and software, and one for data storage. This is because a split setup require twice as many virus scans to be conducted at once, twice as many defragmentation tools, disk scanning tools, backup programs etc etc, so it is more of a drain on resources. In addition, it is possible that splitting the OS and software and the Data may cause issues for some programs, the program may expect the data to be on the same disk as the program. This is unlikely in the modern world, where programs can be expected to work with Network and Cloud storage, but it is possible.

The idea behind using two drives is quite simple. If a virus or operating system glitch or error causes the boot drive to become corrupt, you can easily wipe it and reinstall it without worrying about losing data. Howver, I believe that splitting the OS and Data does not really provide an advantage. If either drive ever fails, it will be much simpler and faster to restore a recent backup that it will be to reinstall the OS and the Software programs. Having two drives just means you need to store and restore two backups, while providing no real benefit. It may be faster, if you were to use an SSD for the OS disk, and install Games on that disk, while keeping data on a more reliable HDD, however using a good quality HDD for both OS, Games, and Programs is the best solution, I feel.

Power Supply

There is not a whole lot to be said about power supplies, really. As long as there is enough power (for a single GPU high end system, with few peripheral devices, 750 Watts should be enough. 1000 W plus systems are really only needed for SLI/Crossfire Configurations) and the power supply is reliable, there shouldn’t be an problems. My current Antec TruePower 750W power supply has served me well, but I think for reliability purposes it really should be replaced. I will probably get another 750W power supply, possibly a Corsair model.
Case
This is quite important. My current case is a completely transparent ATX case. It works very well, and I really love to be able to see my components at work, however, there are some issues. The main issue is that my current case mounts a fan on the side panel, directly over the power input to my graphics card. This means that I have to bend the cables of the graphics card’s power supply more than I would like to get them to fit. I have had some issues already with the cables moving and rattling against the fan. Obviously, I want to avoid this in the future.

Additionally, my case is quite noisy, with 4 80mm fans at work (in addition to the graphics card, power supply, and CPU fans). I would like to switch to 120mm fans, or even bigger, since these are just as effective as smaller fans at cooling, but rotate slower, so they produce less noise.

I had considered upgrading to an Extended ATX case (EATX) or BTX, but I no longer thing this is necessary. I have found a number of inexpensive cases that offer both unobstructed side panels (front, rear, and top mounted fans only) and 120mm or bigger fans. The one I am leaning towards at the moment is the Kolink Aviator, in white. It’s a stylish case with a futuristic look and good specs, as well as support for up to 5 120mm fans.

I have now completed the vast majority of my research, and I just need to prepare a parts list and full price list before I start ordering components.

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