Daddy’s got a brand new ride

Man, I cannot wait to get started on my next build. Nearly all the necessary components are already laid out on my workbench. Some were pulled from the parts bin, cast-offs from previous rigs. Others are brand new, still mint in box, awaiting their maiden voyage. Once the last few stragglers arrive, I’ll be able to get my hands dirty and put the whole thing together.

As an enthusiast, I’ve selected all the components carefully, after much research and deliberation. Substitutes won’t do, which is why I sit in a frustrating holding pattern waiting for the last crucial pieces. But the wait will be worth it in the end, because the final product will be uniquely my own.

Since you’ve gotta be curious, my new ride is based on Surly’s Disc Trucker frame (which is what’s holding up the show, by the way). The wheels are custom-built for heavy touring, with Velocity Dyad rims laced to Shimano XT hubs. For the drivetrain, I’ve pulled a triple-crank Ultegra gruppo out of my parts bin. The bars, stem, and seatpost are being recycled, as well, but the Crank Bros pedals and Avid disc brakes are new. So is the WTB seat, which was chosen because it perfectly matches the one I love so much on my road bike.

Oh, you thought I was talking about building a computer. I do that, too, and often several times a day when in crunch mode. Those are all test systems, though. Rarely do I take the time to build a new system for myself.

There are a couple of reasons my infrequent PC upgrades. My desktop PC is my primary work system, for example. I can’t afford downtime, so once I get a stable config, I’m loathe to mess with it. Then there’s the sheer amount of time I spend slapping together parts for the Benchmarking Sweatshop.  When I have a free moment, I want to be doing anything but—like wrenching a new touring bike.

Sticking with the same desktop is surprisingly easy when it’s primarily a work machine. The writing, Excel data analysis, photo editing, web surfing, and email that make up the majority of my desktop tasks hardly require potent hardware. Games are more demanding, but I have a dedicated box hooked up to the big screen in the living room and a fleet of test systems that’s constantly being refreshed with the latest goodies.

A little while ago, I finally gave in and decided to freshen up my desktop. My old Core 2-based rig was still running strong, but I had just finished a particularly brutal string of reviews, and this was a reward of sorts. Also, Battlefield 3 multiplayer beckoned; it’s a lousy experience from across the room on the couch, and playing on my revolving collection of test rigs was becoming more trouble than it’s worth.

I had already upgraded various other elements of my workstation, first moving to a mechanical keyboard and then replacing my aging LCDs with a monitor array fit for the Batcave. Now, it was time to tackle the tower lurking under my desk. Off to the parts bin I went.

When you review PC hardware for a living, you end up with one heck of a parts bin. However, when you do as much comparative testing as we do, you also have to leave a lot of cutting-edge hardware on the shelf, lest it be needed down the line. That last thing I want to do is pull apart my work machine to benchmark one of its components. Rebooting is tolerated only for the most critical of Windows updates.

The fastest unneeded CPU on my shelf was a Core i7-870 from the Lynnfield generation. It fit nicely into a Gigabyte P55A-UD6 motherboard, which was chosen primarily for its USB 3.0 ports and the fact that its fan speed control, while extremely limited, works with the three-pin spinners on the Noctua NH-U12P heatsink I’d set aside for the system.

The Noctua cooler was chosen for its low noise levels, as was the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 470 graphics card, which has a quiet three-fan cooler and enough horsepower to maintain smooth frame rates with the detail cranked in Battlefield 3. In keeping with the low-noise theme, I pulled a Seasonic X Series 750W power supply from the pile. I’m not sure I can go back to non-modular PSUs.

8GB of unassuming DDR3 memory came next, followed by a pair of 2TB WD RE4 hard drives. The drives were configured in a mirrored RAID 1 array and paired with an Intel 510 Series 250GB SSD, the newest component in the entire system. That SSD is one of a pair, so I still have a backup ready should the 510 Series be needed again for testing. There’s a DVD burner, too, but it was more of an afterthought. Blu-ray is reserved for my home-theater PC, which has a much bigger screen across from a very comfortable couch.

On the audio front, I settled on a Xonar Xense because, well, it’s the best sound card I have in-house. The Xense appears to be discontinued, so it has less value as a comparative reference for future reviews, or so I tell myself.

Everything is squeezed into a Corsair Obsidian 650D enclosure, which I’ve been eying ever since Cyril reviewed it last year. The 650D’s smart design made building the new system a painless process. Even tidying the wiring was a breeze. Modern cable management features make it ridiculously easy to assemble a clean-looking system—just don’t open the right side panel.

The finished tower was put through a grueling gauntlet of CPU, graphics, and disk stress tests until it proved stable. No overclocking for this machine, though. I’ve experienced data corruption when turning up clocks in the past, and it’s just not worth the risk on my work machine.

Naturally, the new system feels quite a bit faster than the old one. Most of that’s down to the solid-state drive, I think, because the difference is most noticeable when loading multiple applications and data at the same time. Window Backup is configured to image the SSD on a nightly basis, lest any flakiness compromises my OS, applications, and critical data.

There’s also the graphics card upgrade (from a GeForce 8600 GT), which has allowed me to enjoy a number of quick gaming sessions in the evenings without having to mess with my test rack. Getting to play more often is even better than not having to turn down the graphics detail.

Despite the horsepower upgrade, the new box is delightfully silent, producing little more than a low hum. Having in-line resistors on the CPU and system fans definitely helps. There’s audible chatter when the hard drives are seeking, but they’re secondary storage and rarely accessed.

The external storage interfaces are surprisingly high on my list of high-impact upgrades. I can’t decide which I like more, the front USB 3.0 ports or the top-mounted docking station. I shudder to think of living without either. If only my DSLR had a SuperSpeed USB hookup.

In a lot of ways, my new desktop is exactly like my touring bike. The parts for both were picked to suit my needs—and what I had available already. My hands built the PC, and the same ones will assemble the bike, making both machines uniquely my own.

Sadly, those elements are missing from the portable devices that make up and increasingly prominent part of the computing landscape. Laptops are cutting options as they pursue thinner profiles, it seems, and tablets and smartphones offer little more than custom ROMs to tailor the experience. These new devices are becoming pervasive in our lives, yet they’re distinctly less personal than the PCs we piece together ourselves. No wonder I’ve become so attached to the new tower sitting discreetly under my desk.

Comments closed
    • emroz_2272
    • 7 years ago

    a very nice article! thumbs-up!

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 7 years ago

    I’m curious, how do you do your research? Via TR? 😉

    Congrats! I feels great to get/build/run a new system. Enjoy.

    • SnowboardingTobi
    • 7 years ago

    Since you talked about bike components….

    I’m looking into taking the plunge into clipless pedals. What are your thoughts on the pros/cons of Crank Brother Candy pedals or Shimano SPD pedals? These are to go on a mountain bike that I’m using for street use for use in a triathlon. I know… i’m better off using a road bike but I’m not prepared to drop a chunk of money on a road bike for one event.

    But if you’ve got a road bike you’d like to donate for the cause, I’m all for that. =D

      • Chrispy_
      • 7 years ago

      Get the SPD’s.

      I could explain why in depth, but if you’ve never used clipless before, it’s the best place to start, and I went back to SPD’s for racing after trying eggbeaters for a few months.

        • SnowboardingTobi
        • 7 years ago

        Thanks for the input! I’d love to hear the in depth explanation when you’ve got the time. The reason why I considered the Crank Brothers were for the amount of float available in them. Granted, I’ve never tried clipless so it’s difficult for me to make a judgement call on how important that is for me.

          • Chrispy_
          • 7 years ago

          You’ll probably get the best advice hitting up a proper biking forum, but in my experience, the multi-release SPD’s are the most versatile system. There are so many compatible shoes and pedals that you notice the increased cost and loss of choice when switching to a non-SPD system.

          Crank Brothers or Time pedals have their advantages in certain situations, but without knowing a lot more about your riding style it’s hard to give any meaningful advice. To start with, I’d suggest SPD for a few general reasons: [list<][*<]largest choice of available pedals[/*<][*<]feeling secure is good for beginners (lots of float really only advantageous for people with iffy knees, IMO)[/*<][*<]SPD cleats seem to last longer and put less strain on the shoe[/*<][*<][i<]in general[/i<] you can get away with a more comfortable, less-stiff shoe when using SPD's[/*<][/list<] Realistically though, unless you get a bad combination of shoe and pedal, any of the three main systems will be fine. SPD just gives you the best choice. If you want my recommendation for a good beginner's pedal, try these: [url<]http://www.shimano.com/publish/content/global_cycle/en/us/index/products/pedals/mountain/product.-code-PD-M424.-type-pd_mountain.html[/url<] They're a little on the heavy side, but they're fairly cheap and well made, they can be comfortably used if you're just popping down the road without switching to your biking shoes, and the plastic cage makes it harder for your foot to slip off the pedal if you miss when trying to clip in. Edit: Oh, avoid Shimano's budget shoes - they're lousy quality. For good entry level stuff, Specialized are hard to beat.

            • SnowboardingTobi
            • 7 years ago

            Awesome stuff. Thanks for that. It’s been really helpful in guiding me. Cheers!

    • tcunning1
    • 7 years ago

    There are many more similarities between building a bike and building a computer than most would think, including the pleasure of using something you made with your own hands. Proprietary parts are what drive me crazy in both worlds, but the great thing is that most things are modular, essentially an adult version of Legos. I think 1993 was coincidentally the last time I bought a complete computer and a complete bicycle from a factory. There are still some parts of the bike living on in my other builds now, but not the computer…

    • dpaus
    • 7 years ago

    Great, now I have to trick out my new system with studded black leather motorcycle accessories just to keep up with the Joneses.

    • Flandry
    • 7 years ago

    Alright, another tourer!

    Mine’s a Specialized Tricross Singlecross, a rugged but extremely lightweight cyclocross frame. I got the nice forest green model year (great for stealth camping) lightly used for $600. The trick is that the Singlecross tier is the single speed, which isn’t really great for touring, so i built a new 36h rear wheel with black swiss DT spokes, Velocity Dyad rim and a black Alfine 8 hub. The spacing of the (aluminum) track fork is 120mm, which posed a problem for the 135ish alfine, so i swapped the locknuts of the alfine for thinner versions (fortunately at the time i had access to a machine shop because i had to make and tap one of them, and it’s a weird thread). Front lowrider rack and rear touring rack along with some nice planet bike freddy fenders and it’s a monster tourer that will take a wide range of tires and is very stable. Roll out the door with a full self-sufficient touring loadout and you feel like you’re driving a tank. The IGH makes it very low maintenance.

    Anyway… yeah. Touring bikes. 🙂

    Back to the topic at hand, i really need a computer as one was left in a move and the laptop is gasping its last breath. I’m trying to decide whether to wait for Trinity or go with an A8-3820. I’d like a little more gfx grunt than the A8 series can muster, but really want to go with mini-itx and integrated graphics. I know i *could* make do with A8 but i’m interested in any thoughts of trinity in terms of improved performance, likely pricing and likely date of availability. Also, anyone know what happened to the A8-3820? I can’t find a single one available online today, although tigerdirect had them a couple weeks ago.

    • credible
    • 7 years ago

    I guess I’m coming at your post from a whole different perspective then most here, just the joy of doing a new setup, thats what I get from what your posting.

    I’m not delving any deeper, I wish I could upgrade every few months,lol, the joy of putting new goodies together and getting the most out of those goodies is very gratifying to me.

    Enjoy my friend, while I want more, I have a 2500k and a good motherboard and graphics card, so I’m happy, enjoy:)

    • Meadows
    • 7 years ago

    After having seen bullet cartridges and all sorts of crap stuck to motherboards as “ornamentation”, I actually wondered in earnest whether the opening picture is serious, before choosing to read your blog.

    • axeman
    • 7 years ago

    /has a Core i7-870 in the “parts bin”

    tough gig, man 😉

    • frumper15
    • 7 years ago

    Glad to see someone else views the Lynnfield as a decent enough processor to still earn a spot in a daily use machine — especially someone that has access to just about any hardware he would like. I still remember how excited I was to built my machine (i7-860) – that generation of processor was just such a leap over what I was using at the time (Athlon X2 @ 2GHz) it was almost ridiculous. I realize Sandy and now Ivy are pretty decent jumps above what I’ve got currently, but strangley I don’t feel the pull like I did then. That being said, if the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn’t turn it down, even if only for faster SATA and USB connections and the potential to mess around with Quicksync encoding

    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    I’m still using a Intel i7 860… but curiously, why does your motherboard have six dimm slots? The 800 series is based off of the 1156 socket, which only has four dimms, for two memory channels. Only the 1366 came with six dimms for that generation. Looking at the Intel ark for the 870, it’s also from the 1156…

    I sense a discrepancy.

    Otherwise, I’ve also been looking at the 650D for awhile. That and the Lian-Li B-10 and Antec P280/183. Antec cases would normally win, but they’re always huge, heavy, and obtrusive.

      • DancinJack
      • 7 years ago

      [url<]http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=3234#ov[/url<]

        • Bensam123
        • 7 years ago

        Hmm… I guess this adds validity to my statement awhile back that you can have more then two dimm slots per memory channel without it being registered. There were quite a few people that argued to the contrary.

        Which leads me to ask again why more motherboard manufacturers don’t attach 8 dimm slots to a duel channel memory configuration. With EFI bioses supporting 64-128GB of memory instead of the hard limit coded into Intel and AMD chips.

          • UberGerbil
          • 7 years ago

          Look at their memory compatibility list. You can only load all six slots if you use single-sided DIMMs, so you’re got getting to crazy capacities no matter what. I’m not sure what the point is unless the market for people who had lots of old DIMMs lying around is bigger than I thought.

            • axeman
            • 7 years ago

            Not really a correction, since I just learned this the other day – it looks the proper term these days is “rank”. I’m still fuzzy on the details as applied to registered vs. unbuffered DIMMS, but I like this term as not all physically doublesided modules are seen as such, or vice versa.

            [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memory_rank[/url<] [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIMM#Ranking[/url<]

    • Chrispy_
    • 7 years ago

    Surly stuff is great but it costs a bomb over here in the UK. I’m just re-gearing and re-wheeling my singlespeed with some Mavic OpenPro’s on Goldtech track hubs and I’ve gone for a White Industries ENO freewheel; Unusually, the Shimano ones are junk.

    I am pleased to see that another enthusiast also runs at stock speeds, with unassuming RAM devoid of fancy, faster-than-JDEC-spec timings. As an IT professional, the last thing I want to do at home is tinker with another computer.

    • dashbarron
    • 7 years ago

    Congrats, what a good feeling!

    But you have some serious airflow issues it looks like.

      • Airmantharp
      • 7 years ago

      I don’t see any real airflow issues- the three-fan GPU cooler has five slots worth of space to breathe, and that’d be the hottest and loudest component. The Noctua cooler is in-line with a rear exhausting fan.

      I could see him running into trouble with a second GPU; but from Geoff’s usage and upgrade patterns, that seems highly unlikely.

        • dashbarron
        • 7 years ago

        No, the first picture shows some serious impediment to airflow.

          • Chrispy_
          • 7 years ago

          WTB saddle is for ducting cool air to the VRM’s, any n00b knows this.

          ventilated disc brake is sciencetastically provent to give MORE “ventilation”.

          MORE.

    • Hallucin8
    • 7 years ago

    Does the parts bin ever get emptied out other then your own system builds? Other sites sell off the surplus and donate money to charities etc. The stuff that isn’t required to go back to the manufacturer at least. What happens @ TR? I’m curious.

      • Airmantharp
      • 7 years ago

      I say they bundle them up and host giveaways :).

        • derFunkenstein
        • 7 years ago

        That’ll get the Euros up in arms..lol

          • Welch
          • 7 years ago

          WWIII level even!

    • Duck
    • 7 years ago

    Mahoosive…

    Some one should invent a small minibar or drinks chiller that can be installed in those 5.25″ drive bays 🙂

      • yogibbear
      • 7 years ago

      Would make sense as then you could have a circulating refrigeration system to keep those clocks high and those beers chilled.

        • Duck
        • 7 years ago

        And some sort of griddle or hot plate on top for cooking bacon… yummmmmmmmmm 🙂

          • vargis14
          • 7 years ago

          Want a hotplate? they come on the max overclocked ivy bridge builds.You lay the tower on the side and order the Intel betty crocker 10 inch high 6 heatpipes in a electric stovetop swirl design burner, then add a non stick mini frypan HS adapter for eggs and bacon or the pot with a handle HS adapter for soup or boiling water.Hard boiled eggs etc.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 7 years ago

      There’s already a drink holder, what more could you ask for?

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