The huge box arrived last Monday.
Because I know how much work is involved in setting up a new computer, and I knew I didn’t want to be disturbed once I’d started, I actually let it sit undisturbed on the dining room table from Monday until Saturday.
How that box did taunt me, delightfully labeled with “contains computer equipment.” It took all of my self control, plus a healthy fear of missing deadlines at work, to make it through the week. On Saturday morning, like a 10 year old at Christmas, I tore into the box and pulled out the computer.
There’s just one word for it: gorgeous. It’s an iBuyPower custom built gaming desktop, and because I was already checking boxes to specify what I wanted, I checked the box to build it into a case where the front and one side were made from tempered glass. Furthermore, I confess that vanity compelled me to pay for color-coordinated memory chips and wiring. The effect is quite remarkable. But that’s how it looks. How does it run? Well, first let’s cover the specs.
It has an Intel i7-6700K processor clocked at 4 GHz on a main board with the Z170 chipset. The processor is water cooled, which contributes to your first impression of the computer–silence. I mean TOTAL silence. You don’t hear a thing. Because the processor isn’t heating up the case, the fans don’t have to blast air through it, and you just don’t hear it run even under load.
It has 32GB of DDR4-2800 memory. That’s a lot of memory and it’s quite fast memory at that. Not much more to say there, other than the bright red cooling fins on the tops of the chips match the fan LED color nicely.
Storage comes in the form of a Samsung 950 Pro m.2 SSD. That’s a type of solid state drive that bypasses the SATA interface and plugs directly into the main board, thus operating at bus speeds and not SATA speeds. The result is 5 times faster reading, and 3 times faster writing, than traditional SSDs, which are still much faster than hard drives. Data storage is provided by a pair of 1TB 7200 RPM SATA drives, which leads me to my first cautionary tale.
I thought it would be nice, since I didn’t require both drives for data storage, to put the two identical drives into a RAID configuration for better performance. When I switched the computer BIOS from AHCI to RAID, it could no longer see the SSD. When I switched it back to AHCI, the SSD reappeared but its master boot record was blown, and the computer no longer loaded Windows. Thankfully I have a laptop with Windows 10 on it and the ability to download Windows 10 ISOs (disk images) through volume licenses at work. I was able to make a Windows 10 installation thumb drive, but getting the SSD to boot again was another matter. To restore the master boot record, I had to engage in some high-level geekery at the command prompt. Problem solved, and we pressed on with the happy byproduct that I’m now running Windows 10 Professional instead of Windows 10 Home.
Finally there is the video card, an NVIDIA GTX 1070 with 8GB of memory. It isn’t the fastest single card you can buy, but it’s the fastest single card you can buy for under $400. It’s performance is just ridiculously good. Every game I have runs at 60 frames per second or higher even on their Ultra settings. I’m still running a 1080p monitor, though, while I wait for my 1440p IPS display with G-Sync to show up. I expect even better performance once my video card and monitor can talk to each other and do the update tango seamlessly.
So how does it run? It has exceeded my expectations. The iBuyPower build quality was impeccable, the wiring and other fiddly work inside the case were done perfectly. The components are well balanced, being high end but not the HIGHEST end, they all compliment each other. The result is a gorgeous, silent gaming computer that boots in seconds, loads apps and games in the blink of an eye, and feels worth every penny of the almost $2000 I spent on it.
You can build a value priced gaming computer for half that cost. A 6th generation i5 processor will do just fine for most people. If you have 1080p or 1440p monitors, a GTX 1060 or an AMD RX 480 is all you really need. You could cut the RAM down to 16GB and probably not notice it. And the SSD? Er, well, there’s no way around that. Bite the bullet and go for it, even if you have to get a SATA version and not the m.2 style of drive. It’s still worth it to have your operating system, apps, and games all running from an SSD, with data stored on a traditional hard drive.
At least once a week, someone asks me what kind of gaming computer they should buy. After my experience this weekend, I’ll just nod and point over at my desk while saying “That one.” And that’s Into Gaming, I’m Mark Lautenschlager.