PC Upgrade: Part 1

The PC I am writing this on is 3 years old. I built it to medium specs and it has held up remarkably well. I did have to RMA the processor and replace the motherboard, but that incident aside, it’s a nice solid machine.

Here are the original specifications:

  • Intel Core i5 2500 (4 core, 3.3GHz)
  • 8GB  Dual-Channel DDR3
  • Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard (replaced Sept 2013 with Asus P8Z68-V Pro Gen 3 )
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti (1GB)
  • WD Caviar Black 1TB
  • Corsair TX-650 PSU
  • Antec 300 case

While these are perfectly reasonable specs, even three years down the line, for nerds like me there’s nothing like that feel you get from performing an upgrade and tweaking everything into perfection.

I love my Dell Ultrasharp IPS monitor, but it only runs at 1680×1050 resolution. This means I don’t need an especially powerful graphics card to run most games at a decent pace, so I can continue to live with my GeForce 560 Ti and still crank most games up decently high. Instead of splashing out on a new monitor and graphics card, I decided to look elsewhere.

The Antec 300 case is reasonable for an entry-level case, but frankly, it’s too loud. It’s not as loud as the airplane-taking-off sound of old PCs, but there is continuous quit whirr of the fans, plus my hard drive thrashing and chirping away like a maniac.

My trusty old 300.
My noisy old 300.

I work with audio a lot, and due to limited space I often have to record in the same room as the PC. I figured it was time to do something about these case issues.

In addition, the Antec 300 has next to no cable routing options, and since I have a non-modular power supply, this is a problem. I’ve spent the past few years tweaking the airflow options and although I’ve come to a reasonable solution, it’s still not great, and even running the least number of fans, it’s still too loud. I decided it was time to replace the case with something designed from the ground up to be quiet, something a bit more enclosed and dense.

Enter the Fractal Design Define R4.

Mmmm, looks like a monolith.
Mmmm, looks like the monolith from 2001.

This case is a little bit larger and quite a bit heavier than the Antec 300, but that’s because it’s full of sound dampening material and cable routing space. Airflow-wise, the Define R4 comes with two quiet 140mm fans as standard, one filtered intake at the front, and one exhaust at the back. There is space for another five 140mm fans if you so wish. I opted to add one extra front intake to create a positive pressure airflow environment inside the case. This should prevent excess dust from entering the case by filtering at the intake, and pushing any excess air out through the natural gaps in the case. All of the unused fan mounting points are filled with the same dense sound-proofing materials as the rest of the case.

Having ordered the new case, I figured it was time to think about the internal components, see if there were any cost-effective upgrades I could do. I considered adding another hard drive, but ultimately, I don’t need the space. I did see a 2TB Caviar Black I could get cheap with my Maplin staff discount, but on conducting research I discovered it’s a 2010 model, as opposed to the better performing 2013 models. I decided against it.

I have thought about getting an SSD for a while, but the price/value wasn’t right until recently. I did my research and I decided to take advantage of an offer on the highly rated Samsung 840 Evo 250GB SSD for just over £100.

Certainly looks cooler than an 2.5inch HDD.
Certainly looks cooler than an 2.5inch HDD.

I did some calculations, and discovered that I can easily fit a Windows 7 install along with all of my main programs on the SSD with room for expansion,  and then reformat the 1TB WD Caviar Black as a pure storage drive with 64kb allocation unit size for faster indexing. This also would give me the opportunity/excuse to reorganise my files into order – which I have long been meaning to do – and then start fresh with a new Windows 7 install.

I also found an old 320GB laptop hard drive and figured I would throw that in there too, as a kind of auxiliary drive. I may end up creating a recovery partition on there, but we’ll see.

Join me for Part 2 later this week, in which I will perform the transplant process.

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