Last update :- February 19th, 2012

Quick index:

Click on any image below to see a larger version.

Core i5 - The Components

As stated in the previous section, I finally decided to get a new system in September 2011 to take advantage of the highly regarded 2nd generation Intel Core "Sandy Bridge" processors and the 64-bit version of Windows 7. Breaking with my "tradition" of building my own systems this time I decided upon a pre-built system from Computer Planet - but based upon a custom specification using their "Design Your Own PC" option. This gives you the option of specifying the components you want to use but have the supplier build it, optionally install the OS and all current drivers and test it. This obviously costs you a bit extra but you get a guarantee and I simply didn't have the time to buy all the components from multiple suppliers and build the system myself.

When buying a new system you have to decide upon exactly what you want to use it for and want to expect from it. This applies whether you're going to select a pre-built, pre-configured system (from brands like Dell or HP), a custom system or one you build yourself. The main considerations I had when choosing my system were as follows:

I was originally going to write this as a walkthrough of the Computer Planet "Design Your Own PC" process, including the other options available with their associated price differences - but since I bought the system a number of these are no longer available. I will, however, work through the same steps and suggest the alternative components I may now have chosen from those available at the time of writing - in case you want to use it as a guide for building your own system. Note that the prices quoted below are correct at the time of writing (February, 2012) and I don't have the original prices for each component.

Processor brand choice

The first choice you have to make is which processor brand and family to choose - either Intel (Prentium, Core i3/i5/i7) or AMD (Athlon II/Phenom II/FX/A Series). The clear choice for me when I bought the system was the 2nd generation Intel Core "Sandy Bridge" range - in particular the Core i5 mid-range processors. I'd read that the Core i5-2500K in particular was "unlocked" - giving the greatest flexibility when it came to overclocking. At the time the nearest AMD competitor available was the Phenom II and according to this review the Core i5 blew it away. AMD have since released the FX "Bulldozer" processor range as a direct competitor to Intel's "Sandy Bridge" as you can see by their comparison page - but according to this review the results are still not that favorable. At the time of writing you can buy the retail boxed versions of the Intel Core i5-2500K for around £180 inc.VAT and the AMD FX 8150 for around £200. If I were to start from scratch and make the choice I'd still opt for the Intel Core i5-2500K.

Once you've selected your processor brand and family you can then selected the individual components - with Step 1 of the Computer Planet process offering the choice of case, CPU, CPU cooling, memory, graphics card, motherboard, sound card, networking, TV card, PSU and expansion cards.

Case: Cooler Master Silencio 550

Image courtesy of Cooler Master:

Cooler Master Silecio 550

Cooler Master Silencio 550

As one of my main goals was for a silent running system (under normal circumstances) I opted for the excellent Cooler Master Silencio 550. It's promoted as:

"Near silent operation and prepared to take on powerful hardware, the Cooler Master Silencio is able to keep high-end setups running cool and quiet. Sound proofing on both side panels assist in vastly reducing noise levels. A sleek mirror finish front panel and clean lines present a minimalistic design aesthetic that speaks to its silent interior. The benefits of elegance and silence, combined with the functionality of built in Super Speed USB 3.0, a multifunction SD card reader, and 3.5" X-dock HDD hotswap all make the Silencio a giant among its kind."

In my opinion, the first part of that statement is contradictory as you can't expect to have a quiet system when running powerful hardware - a point Hexus agree with if you look at the conclusion of their review.

I do like this case and it's a far cry from the ones I've had in the past - with no side-window and a minimum number of fans. As supplied you get:

This is a £45 upgrade from the standard Computer Planet ATX case and well worth the money. The other silent options they had were the Cooler Master Sileo 500 (a £34 upgrade) or the Antec P193 (£103) and neither had the hot-swappable SATA 3.3" drive bay - which swung it for me.

Processor: Intel Core i5-2500K Unlocked (4 x 3.3GHz) 6MB OEM

Image and review courtesy of TechRadar:

Sandy Bridge CPU

Intel Core i5-2500K Processor (6M Cache, 3.30 GHz)

Following on from the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors, Intel introduced the original Core i3/i5/i7 "Nehalem" processors in early 2010 before releasing the 2nd generation "Sandy Bridge" versions in early 2011. As I've already stated earlier I opted for the mid-range i5 option rather than the entry-level i3 or high-end i7 - I didn't want to pay a premium for a high-end system. Intel don't make it easier for the customer once you've selected the version though as at the time of writing there are 25 variants of the i5 available - from mobile versions with 3MB cache and 2 cores nominally running at 1.4GHz to desktop versions with 6MB cache and 4 cores nominally running at 3.4GHz.

All models in the range can be overclocked by up to 400MHz but the i5-2500K and newer i5-2550K are unlocked so they are the obvious choice for people wanting to overclock their processor. In theory, with a suitable motherboard and cooling they could be clocked up to the maximum multiplier of 57x - in other words with a base clock (BCLK) of up to 105MHz (standard is 100MHz) and a 57x you could reach just shy of 6GHz. At the time of writing, to take advantage of this you need a motherboard which is based upon either the Intel P67 or Z68 chipsets.

The reason I say "nominally running at" when referring to the clock speed is because you'll rarely see it run at that speed - due to the Turbo Boost option which is normally enabled in the BIOS. For example, my i5-2500K has a default multiplier of 33x with a 100MHz BCLK for 3.3GHz - but it typically runs at 16x for 1.6GHz (idle) or 34x for 3.4GHz (load) and can run up to 37x for 3.7GHz.

CPU-Z 1.6GHz CPU-Z 3.4GHz
CPU-Z 1.6GHz (Idle) CPU-Z 3.4GHz (Load)

If you want to know more about the Core i5-2500K have a look at the TechRadar review. The i5-2500K is a £20 upgrade from the default Computer Planet option of an i5-2300 whereas the i5-2500 is £17. In comparison, the cheapest unlocked i7 you can get is the i7-2600K for a £108 upgrade with the i7-2700K at £123.

Cooling: Corsair Hydro Series H60 (Advanced Liquid Cooling) - Silent Edition

Image courtesy of Corsair:

Corsair Hydro Series H60

Corsair Hydro Series H60

When it came to the choice of a cooling solution for the processor it was one of two options - either a standard air cooler (based upon a fan and heatsink) or water cooling again. The stock, low-profile cooler that Intel ships with the Core i5-2500K (see here) is more than capable of keeping the processor cool and quiet, including mild overclocking. Research on the internet shows that if you want to try and achieve better than 4GHz you have to go with something else. Looking at those available from Computer Planet I had a choice of the Arctic Cooling Freezer 13 (£25 upgrade), ThermalTake Frio (£55) and Corsair Hydro Series H60 (£48).

One review that greatly helped me make my decision was found at TweekTown where they compared the Corsair Hydro Series H60 with, amongst others, the Arctic Freezer 13 (Pro version) and ThermalTake Frio. TweekTown use a common set-up for their processor heatsinks to allow for a level playing field and the results they got were:

Cooler Temperature Noise
Idle Load Idle Load
Corsair H60 50.8°C 54.3°C 47 dB 64 dB
ThermalTake Frio 50.8°C 55.7°C 49 dB 67 dB
Arctic Freezer 13 51.9°C 56.1°C 30 dB 46 dB

After seeing this I decided to go with the Corsair Hydro Series H60 option - but chose Computer Planet's "Silent Edition" option for a further £10 where they replaced the stock Corsair 1700 RPM, 30 dBA fan with a Sharkoon "Silent Eagle" 1000 RPM, 19dBA fan (note that the specification suggests it to be the 2000 RPM version but testing showed it to be the 1000 RPM version). After the pain of draining and re-filling my ThermalTake Kandalf LCS system I decided that if I chose a water cooling option again it would have to be a self-contained system that doesn't need filling or draining and this fit the bill perfectly.

Although the Arctic Cooling Freezer 13 appears to be a lot quieter you have to trade-off this against the space taken up in the case by both that and the ThermalTake Frio which are typical of large heatpipe based modern coolers. As the space in the Cooler Master Silencio 550 is limited compared to larger cases the lower profile pump/waterblock of the H60 means there's more room internally for airflow.

There's a good video review on YouTube comparing the H60 against the stock Intel cooler for the i5-2500K at 4GHz and there you'll see he got 47°C idle and 62°C load for the H60 against 56°C idle and 84°C load for the stock cooler.

Memory: Corsair 8GB XMS3 PC3-12800 1600MHz (2x4GB) - Lifetime Warranty (DDR3)

Image courtesy of Corsair:

Corsair XMS3

Corsair 8GB XMS3 PC3-12800 1600MHz (2x4GB)

Looking at the memory options on Computer Planet I wanted 8GB DDR3 - to take advantage of the fact that I was going to the using the 64-bit version of Windows 7 which can address more than the 32-bit 4GB limit. This would mean the possibility of Windows 7 slowing due to a lack of memory would be remote and I could even run one or more virtual machines at the same time. This left me with the following options in 2 x 4GB pairs:

Brand/Model Rating Speed Upgrade
Generic PC3-10666 1333 MHz £30
Corsair XMS3 PC3-10666 1333 MHz £37
GSKILL Gaming PC3-10666 1333 MHz £36
Corsair XMS3 PC3-12800 1600 MHz £39
Corsair Vengeance PC3-12800 1600 MHz £35
Corsair Vengeance Blue PC3-12800 1600 MHz £36

As I was planning to overclock I opted for the faster PC3-12800 1600MHz version and chose the Corsair 8GB XMS3 PC3-12800 1600MHz (2x4GB) - Lifetime Warranty (DDR3). The higher-profile of the Vengeance put me off and when you do a comparison on the Corsair website they've only been tested to 1600MHz - compared to the XMS3 at 2000MHz.

Graphics: 1GB Gigabyte GTX 550 Ti OC, 40nm, 4200MHz GDDR5, GPU 970MHz, Shader 1940MHz, 192 Cores, DVI/mHDMI

Image courtesy of Gigabyte:

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 550 Ti OC

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 550 Ti OC (GV-N550OC-1GI)

If you recall from the introduction, one of the key features I wanted for the new system was support for dual DVI monitors as I had with the Inno3D GeForce 8800GT in my Core 2 Duo system (or DVI + HDMI). I'm not a big gamer so I was looking for card supporting the latest version of DirectX and the from the latest generation from the manufacturer - preferably running quietly.

I didn't want to spend too much and knew that the Nvidia GTX 550 Ti was the entry-level GeForce 500 series gaming card but I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what the equivalent AMD Radeon HD version is - but it appears the be the HD 6790 as they're in the same price bracket. I've yet to see a definitive comparison of these on the internet and the closest I've seen is a YouTube video review - but then again you also seem to get a lot of sites comparing the GTX 550 Ti to the HD 6850. Unless you do a lot of research it's hard to really determine which is the best for you and in the end you'll probably opt to go with your own personal favourite manufacturer - in my case Nvidia.

Having chosen the Nvidia GTX 550 Ti and opting for a card with 1GB of memory I was left with these options at Computer Planet:

Brand/Model GPU Memory Shader I/O Price
EVGA SuperClocked 981 MHz 4514 MHz 1962 MHz 2 x DVI/mHDMI £93
Asus DirectCU TOP 975 MHz 4104 MHz 1950 MHz DVI / HDMI / VGA £105
Gigabyte OC 970 MHz 4200 MHz 1940 MHz 2 x DVI/mHDMI £95
MSI Cyclone II OC 950 MHz 4300 MHz 1900 MHz 2 x DVI/mHDMI £97
Gainward 900 MHz 4100 MHz 1800 MHz DVI / HDMI / VGA £96
KFA2 Blue 900 MHz 4100 MHz 1800 MHz DVI / HDMI / VGA £105
PNY 900 MHz 4100 MHz 1800 MHz 2 x DVI/mHDMI £107
PALIT 900 MHz 4100 MHz 1800 MHz DVI / HDMI / VGA £103
KFA2 White Edition LTD OC 900 MHz 4100 MHz 1800 MHz DVI / HDMI / DisplayPort £135

I chose the Gigabyte GTX 550 Ti OC because it was already pre-overclocked and uses a 10cm fan for silent running rather than a standard 8cm one. You can find a good video review on YouTube, a decent written review at eTeknix and a comparison with the EVGA and MSI cards at HardwareCanucks.

Motherboard: Asus P8P67 (Intel P67) - B3

Images and review courtesy of bit-tech:

ASUS P8P67 B3

ASUS P8P67 B3

The starting point for my choice of motherboard was MotherboardNews comparison of LGA1155 chipsets supporting the "Sandy Bridge" processors. As I was planning to overclock my Core i5-2500K the choice was limited to one based upon either the mainstream P67 or the enthusiast Z68. At the time I configured my system the Z68 based board availability was limited and more expensive but looking at current prices they've become cheaper than the P67 boards.

My choice at the time was the ASUS P8P67 B3 which is currently available for around £120 whereas you can now get the ASUS P8Z68-M Pro for the same price. The nearest equivalent to the ASUS P8P67 B3 available from Computer Planet (as they both have 4 x 6GB/s SATA ports) is the ASUS P8Z68-V PRO/GEN3 which is a £106 upgrade from their default Gigabyte GA-H61M-S2-B3 - but I would probably choose the ASUS P8Z68-M Pro (which has only 3 x 6GB/s SATA ports) at £73. The P8Z68-V PRO/GEN3 also supports dual Crossfire/SLI graphics cards (which I wouldn't want). There are a number of options available so it depends upon whether you want the basics or all the bells and whistles - I'd advise you run a comparison between the options on each manufacturer's website.

Back to the P8P67, if you check the bit-tech review you'll see they give it 9/10 and say:

"While the Asus P8P67 is a little slower than the MSI P67A-GD65 (review coming soon), its EFI system is better designed and it’s £20 cheaper. If you’re buying an LGA1155 processor, we can’t think of a better home for it."

The EFI (Extensible Software Interface) system they refer to is a new generation of BIOS that Intel proposed for their LGA1155 socket boards and ASUS have made full use of this - and it makes for a much friendlier system. They offer an "EZ Mode" which offers users an easy introduction or an "Advanced Mode" for user more familiar with BIOS settings:

P8P67 EZ Mode P8P67 Advanced Mode
EZ Mode Advanced Mode

A summary of the specifications for the P8P67:

Completing Step 1 of the Computer Planet "Design Your Own PC" process you can choose different sound card, networking, TV card, PSU and expansion card options. The only one that was applicable to me was the choice of PSU.

PSU: Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 600W, Modular, 80 PLUS Gold, EPS12V, 135mm Fan

Images courtesy of Cooler Master:

Silent Pro Gold - Inlet Silent Pro Gold - Modular
Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 600W

As with the Core 2 Duo build, I was looking for 3 things in particular when choosing a PSU for the system - at least 600W power, silent and not too expensive. After the failure of the Hiper 580W Type R that I bought last time for £66 I was looking for a better known model and was willing to pay a bit more. Again, I was looking for a modular design as I like to keep the system internals tidy and this gives you the option of only using the cables you need.

I had a look at a few reviews and after seeing the one at Performance Hardware I opted for the Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 600W model at £80. As the review states, to achieve the "80 Plus Gold" rating the PSU must reach 87%, 90%, 87% efficiency levels at 20%, 50%, and 100% loads respectively which is a sign of quality. If your looking for reliability an stability - especially in an overclocked system - you need steady and consistent power rails and this PSU provides that.

At the time of writing, Computer Planet no longer include this PSU in their range of options and if I was to place an order now I'd probably opt for either the Corsair 650W Professional (CMPSU-650HXUK) Modular (£82 upgrade from their standard 350W PSU) or 625W Enermax PRO 82 II, Modular, 80 PLUS Bronze (£93).

Once you've completed Step 1 of the Computer Planet "Design Your Own PC" process you can select the "Next Step" - at which point they will do a compatibility check and take you on to Step 2, where you can select storage devices such as hard disks, optical drives, floppy drives and card readers and then fan controllers and case lighting.

Hard Disks: 4 x 500GB Western Digital WD5000AAKX Caviar Blue SATA 6Gb/s 7200rpm 16MB Cache

Obviously, with 4 x SATA III 6Gb/s ports available on the Asus P8P67 I wanted to take advantage of these faster ports - compared the to SATA II 3Gb/s ports on the old system. One thing I definitely didn't want to use this time around was RAID - after a bad experience last time when my 680i motherboard failed. I decided to stick with Western Digital drives again and with them you have 3 options available - the Caviar Green (quiet, eco-friendly), Blue (performance, value, reliability) and Black (maximum performance).

One problem you have when selecting hard drives is that alongside memory it's probably the fastest moving market in terms of increasing capacity and reducing price. For example, when I bought my system I got these 4 500GB 6Gb/s drives for ~£90 each but now they're not available and the nearest equivalents from Computer Planet are 4 1TB 6Gb/s drives for £99 each! If I were to order the system again I'd probably opt for the 1TB WD10EARX Caviar Green models which are a £60 upgrade from the standard 80GB SATA II model they use - the additional drives would be £99 each. Going with 4 x 1TB drives would be overkill in terms of capacity but at least it would allow for the future size of games and downloads.

As I stated earlier, I only have two of my 500GB drives installed. This is because I prefer using Acronis True Image Home rather than relying upon System Restore for backup and recovery duties. With True Image I can power off, insert one of the spare drives in the Silencio SATA 3.5" bay and boot from Arconis on a USB flash drive or CD. I can then clone either of the internal drives and if one of those fails I can simply swap it out.

I use 2 drives because I prefer to have the OS, applications, installation files and disk images on one drive with the page file, games and virtual machine images on the other. The drives are formatted as follows and none of them have less than 40% free space available (which is why 2 x 1TB drives would be overkill):

Port Partition Type Size Use
SATA6G_1 N/A Primary 100 MB Windows 7 reserved
C: Primary 80 GB Windows 7, Applications
D: Primary 20 GB Spare(1)
E: Logical 100 GB Installs, Updates, Interim backups
F: Logical 40 GB MP3s
G: Logical 40 GB Emulators
H: Logical 185.66 GB CD/DVD images
SATA6G_2 T: Primary 10 GB Page file(1)
I: Primary 55 GB Virtual machines
J: Logical 150 GB Games
K: Logical 170 GB Backups
L: Logical 80.76 GB DVD MP4s

Notes:
(1) I included Windows 7 Professional 64-bit when configuring the system and asked Computer Planet to install it on the 80GB partition, leaving the remainder unpartitioned. I had planned to dual-boot with Windows XP Pro 32-bit for some older games but couldn't manage it. I've successfully created a dual-boot system in the past with Vista and XP but the problem this time was with the XP installation not recognizing the SATA 6Gb/s ports. I successfully merged the drivers with the XP installation CD but they weren't recognized despite repeated attempts. Further research suggested it would have been possible with the SATA 3GB/s ports - but I didn't want to use these slower ports for Windows 7.
(2) Originally this was 2 separate 5GB partitions - one each for Windows 7 and XP - but I merged them

Using Acronis, I test installed all of my older games that I thought may not run on Windows 7 64-bit and then restored it with no games. This meant there weren't any files or registry settings left behind - which would typically be the case otherwise.

DVD-RW: Sony (SH-S223L) 24x DVD Re-Writer/Reader +/- RW- Black - Lightscribe (SATA)

I had no intentions of playing or creating any Blu-Ray discs so this was adequate. The current alternative is a Samsung model with the same specs for £10.

Once you've completed Step 2 of the Computer Planet "Design Your Own PC" process you can select the "Next Step" - at which point they will do a compatibility check and take you on to Step 3, where you can select the OS and other software. In my case the only choice was Windows 7 Professional 64-bit @ £100. You then move onto Step 4, where you can select monitors, input devices, speakers and other accessories.

Monitor: 2 x 22" Viewsonic VX2239WM Black, Widescreen, 2 ms, 1920x1080, 100,000:1, 300 cd/m², Speakers, DVI/HDMI

Image courtesy of Amazon:

Viewsonic VX2239WM

Viewsonic VX2239WM

I opted for the 22" Viewsonic VX2239WM widescreen models primarily because they have a quick 2ms response time (for gaming); DVI, HDMI and VGA connections (the latter two of which I use with my laptops) and a thin "bezel" which allowed me sit two side-by-side on my desk with a narrow gap between screens. I used these at the default 1920x1080x32 resolution. It shows how much technolgy has moved on and prices have dopped because my older Samsung SyncMaster 940BF 19" 1280x1024 LCDs were £290 each whereas these were £100 each!

As I was keeping my existing keyboard, trackball, external drives and printer this finished my Computer Planet configuration. When I originally placed the order it came to a total of £1307 inc. VAT which was £200 less than my maxium. Since that time, some of the components are no longer available and the prices I've quoted here were correct at the time of writing (February, 2012) and having just gone through the same process it would now cost me £1604 inc. VAT. That's a £300 increase so obviously some things have gone up and I would have had to re-consider some of the components!

Overall I was impressed with the build quality of the system and am pleased with the performance. As standard they include all CDs/DVDs and manuals as they came with the various components. The only mistake they made was to connect the pump from the Hydro H60 cooler to the CPU fan header and the fan to one of the chassis fan headers - the pump connector should go to the PSU fan header (cannot be software controlled) and the fan should go to the CPU fan header.

Keyboard: Logitech UltraX

Logitech UltraX

Logitech UltraX

Although one or two of the keys on this are starting to fade I still have this and like it because it's low profile with quiet laptop style keys.

Mouse: Logitech Trackman Wheel

Logitech Trackman Wheel

Logitech Trackman Wheel

I've used trackballs for quite a while now as I prefer them and think it helps with RSI.

External Hard Disk: 1 each of Western Digital Passport 250 GB & 320 GB USB 2.0

Western Digital Passport

Western Digital Passport

These are the modern equivalent to the old IDE hard drive caddies I used to use and are so much more convenient. They came formatted as FAT32 by default with a single partition but I reformatted them as NTFS with multiple partitions to suit my internal drives.

Printer/AIO: HP PSC 2355 Series

HP PSC 2355 Series

HP PSC 2355 Series

If you want to advertise on this page please E-mail me at paul_at_paulslounge_dot_co_dot_uk

Copyright © Paul Collins, 2001 - 2012
Paul's Lounge
AAll rights reserved

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional

Privacy Site Map Home About Paul Blog News Links
Computers Emulators Software Games Tips & Tricks Fishing Golf