Note: Sorry for the horrible picture. If I ever find the time to disconnect the system, or indeed can be arsed, I’ll get some better pictures.
Motherboard: Asus M5A97 R2.0 LE
CPU: AMD FX-8350
GPU: AMD XFX R9 290
Ram: 8GB Corsair Vengeance
Power Supply: 620w SeaSonic
I’ve been steadily upgrading my rig, and after getting a whole new case and graphics card not too long ago I realised I hadn’t been bothering to update this page with all the new specs so you guys can understand what hardware I’m using to test PC titles. So without further ado, here we go. Going through this article you’ll note that my PC has a lot of budget parts, and that’s because money is always very tight round here.
We start with the NZXT H440 in white, a case that I’ve been very impressed with so far. The build quality and aesthetic are absolutely top-notch, and the interior is just lovely. There’s plenty of room to get in their and install parts, and I love the separator which hides the most visually boring piece of the computer, the power supply. The separator also provides a chunk of space to bundle up cables, which when combined with the slightly small amount of space behind the motherboard makes hiding wires pretty easy. I love the inclusion of SSD mounts on top of the separator, plus the inclusion of sound dampening foam to keep the entire machine running a little quieter.
It’s not perfect, mind you; the SSD mounts are handy but I had problems with the PSU cables as there wasn’t enough room between the SSD connection and the panel to properly fit a cable, so it took some fiddling around to fit. At the moment my SSD is actually upside down in order for the connector to fit. There could also do with being a bit more space behind the motherboard tray as the foam takes up a lot of space. I’d have also liked for the front panel to be a proper hinged door to better access the front three fans for cleaning and such. But overall it’s a damn good case.
At the top of the case I added two Spectre Pro White LED fans to ensure the entire system runs relatively cool, and it serves to give the case a gentle illumination. I may yet switch to red fans, though, as I’m finding the white light too cold.
The motherboard indicates the machine’s budget origins. The Asus M5A97 R2.0 LE has been with me since March 2013 when I built an extremely cheap machine running a Phenom 965 processor, HD 7750 GPU and 4GB of Ram, and costs a mere £40-50. I had considered switching to an Intel processor, but that would have meant spending more cash on a new motherboard two, and the funds just weren’t available for that. Since I don’t do much overclocking except for light increases the M5A97 is a cracking board for the cash. It does lack any visual flair, though, which is a bit of shame given the case’s lovely huge viewing window. There’s no USB 3.0 header, either, so the two USB 3.0 ports on the front of the case are useless.
The processor is an AMD FX-8350. Again, you’ll note the theme of tight funds here.It’s completely true that Intel do make the better, more powerful processors, however AMD have them beaten when it comes to a pure money to performance ratio. In short, if money is no obstacle go Intel, but if you have to work to a tight budget AMD are the better choice. The FX-8350 does struggle a tad in some processor heavy games, but in general it performs very well and is more than enough to run modern games well. Another reason for choosing the FX-8350 was a simple case of easy upgrading: the M5A97 supported the FX line, while switching to Intel would mean picking up a new board, too. I don’t rule out a switch to Intel in the future, but for now I’m very happy with the FX-8350.
Strapped to the processor is another budget part: a Coolermaster TX-3 cooler. This little cooler costs a mere £15 and is one step below the often talked about Cooler Master Evo 212. For the money the performance is absolutely brilliant. But why am I using it? Well, I bought the TX-3 back when I was using a terrible, cheap case which didn’t have any access to the rear of the motherboard, which ruled out many coolers, including the Evo which needed a backplate. The TX-3 doesn’t have such problems. There was also the issue of pure laziness: because I didn’t switch cooler all I needed to do was lift out the entire motherboard, processor, cooler and ram and transplant them into the NZXT H440 case. Despite it’s cheap nature the TX-3 actually handles the FX-8350 very well, keeping it relatively cool, even with some light overclocking. Having said that I still wouldn’t recommend it for heavy overclocking work. Attached to the cooler I have two Noctua BF-9 92mm fans running in a push/pull configuration.
Sitting next to the processor and cooler is a straightforward 8GB of Corsair Vengeance Ram, a common name among builders. One stick of 4GB has been with me since March 2013, and the other I got during the end of 2014 as more and more games were really demanding that I upgrade. I admit to being tempted by the beautiful new Klevv ram, though, because their Genuine line with the red LEDs would give the whole machine a lovely bit of flair.
Below the Ram and processor we find my pride and joy, an XFX Double-D R9 290 graphics card with 4GB of VRAM. It’s overkill for the 1080p monitor I use, but the reasoning is simple: more games are starting to make use of 4GB VRAM even at this resolution, and so as we move forward over the next year or two the R9 290 should hopefully continue to perform very, very well. As for right now it’s absolutely love, and delivers brilliant visuals. After years of having to carefully tweak settings it’s nice to be able to turn almost everything up to max and just play. Sure, there are lots of journalists and Youtubers with multiple cards, but I’m not rich, dammit.
Below that is a Creative Soundblaster Z. I had toyed with the idea of getting a sound card for a while, debating how much of a difference it would really make. During the process of picking out parts for my most recent upgrade I decided to take the plunge and haven’t regretted it. The leap in quality isn’t life changing or staggering, but the card does provide a better level of clarity, bringing out details in music, films and games that otherwise went unnoticed. Unless you’re using a good set of headphones or speakers, though, a sound card isn’t worth the effort.
In terms of storage there’s a Western Digital 500GB, the exactly model of which I can’t remember, which has stuff like my library of screenshots and other assets stored on it. Then there’s a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black for all my games. The Black Edition doesn’t actually offer that much extra speed over something like the Blue and thus I wouldn’t recommend getting it in most circumstances, but in my case I managed to get it for the same price. That little bit of extra speed plus the lengthy warranty for the same price as a Blue could not be passed up. As for my Windows it runs on a 120GB Samsung Evo 840 SSD. Seriously, the SSD is one of the best things I’ve ever done, speeding up performance by a large amount.
Powering the whole shebang is a 620w Seasonic power supply.
So, what happened to my old power supply and R9 270 graphics card? Simples: they are now sitting in my dad’s computer, letting him play the likes of Far Cry 4 and the latest Call of Duty titles happily. As long as it’s a first-person shooter he’s chuffed, and his computer was struggling to handle the CoD games and such.
Moving on to the peripherals we have an LG 24M45 LED monitor, a catchy name if ever there was one. It’s a simple beast coming in at around £150 with a 1080p display. One of the bigger reasons I bought it was the anti-flicker tech because I have a lot of problems with headaches, and thus far it seems to work. I notice far less problems when using the screen for long periods of time, plus it looks pretty bloody good. It’s not going to beat some of the expensive models out there, but for my needs it’s fine.
Hooked up to the Soundblaster Z is a set of Corsair SP2500 speakers which I gave a seriously glowing review to. They aren’t the prettiest things around and they have a hefty price-tag attached to them, although I managed to score with a second-hand set off of Ebay for about half the price, but they sound phenomenal, delivering audio quality that sets my spine a tingling. Also hooked up to the Soundblaster is a set of Steelseries H Wireless headphones which I use in standard stereo mode for PC gaming. They get taken over to the TV as well where the wireless module is hooked up to both my Blu-ray player and Xbox One console. The Wireless H doesn’t quite boast the best sound I’ve ever heard from a pair of headphones, but they still deliver exceptional sound quality and are incredibly flexible in their use, effectively being compatible with just about everything.
Control is handled via a Logitech Orion keyboard which replaced my beloved MadCatz S.T.R.I.K.E.5. The Orion’s switches feel nice for typing and gaming, plus the lighting effects are kind of neat. It’s a great keyboard all around, and is joined by another Logitech product in the form of the Proteus Core mouse which fits nicely into the hand and performs brilliantly. Underneath both of them is a newly purchased Razer Goliathus Extended mouse mat which is long enough to comfortably fit both the keyboard and mouse. So far I’m very pleased with it as the surface allows the mouse to glide nicely, and the material seems tough. I have a glass desk so the padding also quietens the thud of the keyboard, and the edges of the mat provide a nice cushion for my wrists.
Over to the right of my computer lies my other place of entertainment. Here we find a 40″ ALBA TV which was pretty cheap, hardly surprising given the name plastered on it. Despite its very budget nature, though, it actually looks quite good. I did have a bit of scare last year, though, as the TV was refusing to turn on. As it transpires there seems to be a problem with the switch on the side, and as long as I leave it in standby rather than turning it off completely using said switch everything seems to be okay. The middle shelf holds a few things, starting with a Samsung Blu-ray player. I’m a bit of a film lover, so sitting right next to my PC desk is a collection of hundreds of movies. Sitting atop the Blu-ray player is the wireless unit for the Steelseries headset, and just over from both of them is my Xbox One console. By swapping optical cables I can connect my Wireless H to either the Blu-ray player or the Xbox One. The bottom shelf houses my beloved pensioner the Xbox 360. Sadly no Wii U or PS4 here, guys. I’d love to get both. The final piece is a set of Creative Gigawords T80 speakers connected directly to the TV. There’s not really any room for either a 5.1 setup or even a subwoofer in the room, so the T80’s are a nice compromise.
So there we have it, my little setup. It’s not spectacular, but I’ve scrimped and saved to get it all, and love every piece.