Building a Windows 8 PC From Scratch

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I’ve been an Apple user for a few years now, and recently switched from iPhone to the Samsung S4 (First impressions here).  I’ve been running solely with a Macbook Pro as my primary computer, but I’ve been wondering what Windows 8 is really like.  That, combined with wanting to catch back up on PC hardware, resulted in my building a new PC from scratch, and I put a focus on value components to see what you could get for under 1k, here in Canada.

Building a Custom PC vs Buying a Finished PC

Building a computer from scratch is the best value overall – it will be the best performance for the best price, particularly in the under $1,000 market.  In the past, a complete system was often cheaper than the separate parts.  It isn’t true anymore, particularly if you consider performance. What I noticed was that complete systems often had last generation technology – an older Intel Core i3 for example.  Further, they cut corners on the power supply and motherboard.

Selecting the Parts

So I started searching for parts that I felt were the right balance of price and performance.  I found that for most parts – particularly processor and graphics card – significant performance could be achieved by only a modest increase on cost.  Then, there would be a point where the cost would jump significantly for only a modest increase in performance.

This is a list of the parts that I ultimately chose, based on a lot of research and advice.  Toms Hardware is the best source for expert, clear advice.  I had used them many years ago when I last built a computer (~2005), and was glad to see that they are still considered one of the best.

Part Selected Notes
Processor Intel Core i5-4670 I went with Intel over AMD purely based on price/performance – the best deal happened to be on the i5, where the 8250/8350 was more expensive.
Motherboard Gigabyte Z87 LGA 1150 A well reviewed motherboard based on the work done by Toms Hardware.
GPU GeForce GTX 760 SC Again based on a fantastic price.  The 7950 from ATI comparable.
Hard Drive Kingston HyperX 3k SSD 120GbSeagate 1TB 7200 drive It’s highly recommended to have a SSD for at least the operating system and a few core apps.  If you climb past 128Gb or so, the price rapidly increases.The Seagate drive is a nice 1TB drive with good performance for the rest of data and other apps.
RAM 16 Gb Viper (@1600) The speed is fine, and it’s a huge amount of RAM.  Honestly, most people are fine with 8Gb, and for this computer, this is likely overkill.  But again, an inviting price ($80) is why it went in.
Other 650 Power Supply Mid Tower CaseBasic DVD playerUSB Wifi adapter It’s only worth noting that picking a good quality power supply is important – I was advised that “12V rail” is required if you have a good graphics card).I went with a dirt cheap DVD player because, frankly, I have little use for it.The USB wifi adapter is because I want to save the motherboard slot.

Putting it Together

I am a reformed total geek, and it’s been about 7 years or so since I’ve dabbled in hardware.  I remembered just enough to get me through assembling the parts from scratch.  The primary challenge was the difficulty in matching up the case instructions and cables with the motherboard.  The instructions for the motherboard are reasonably straightforward, but the instructions for the case were virtually non-existent.  I managed to get the required cables hooked up, but I still don’t yet have the front panel USB and audio cables hooked up.  Good thing I really don’t need those ports.

In terms of physically installing everything, the PSU (Power Supply) was the most frustrating as once again the case proved difficult.  I fudged it in, and it’s held strong enough.

One final note – I installed the video card and second hard drive only after I installed Windows.  This was to confirm that everything was working properly – and to minimize any potential issues.

I’m really happy with the overall selection of parts.  The only mistake I feel I made was not going for a bigger Power Supply, and potentially not going for the Intel processor with overclock support.

Windows 7 First, then Windows 8!

To make a long story short, I had a full Windows 7 license with a Windows 8 upgrade license available.  As this was all happening on a Friday night around 9pm (who needs nightlife?), I wouldn’t be able to get out and buy a Windows 8 full license.  Instead, I went through the process of installing Windows 7 first, which was fast and straightforward.  It’s actually significantly faster because of the solid state drive – the multiple re-boots are much shorter.

Next I installed the Graphics Card.  No problems – I downloaded the lastest drivers and everything was fine.  So, Windows 8 upgrade time!

Blue Screen of Death half way through the upgrade.  And it wouldn’t stay up long enough to take down the error message.  I was stuck – the Windows 8 upgrade wouldn’t complete, and I couldn’t get back to Windows 7.  Facing having to start over, a thought came in.  Let’s make sure the hardware is seated correctly?  It turns out that the Graphics Card wasn’t locked in tight enough!

Phew.  From then on out it was smooth sailing and Windows 8 was booting up in no time.

One final tip – after upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8, be sure to dump the old backup directly, particularly if you have a solid state drive where space is tight.

Performance

In one word:  Beast.  This computer is fast.  It boots up in seconds (thanks Windows 8 + SSD!), and everything runs insanely fast.  I haven’t loaded it up yet with advanced apps, but so far the performance is instant.  But I’m not sure about Windows 8….

Coming Next:  First Impressions of Windows 8, and why I hate the new Skype.

 

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