I wanted to build a system around the version of Windows I’m most comfortable with, and as this is my first build, I’ve erred on the side of caution deciding to stick with the 6th Generation of Intel products. While it’s possible to get Windows 7 to work with newer CPUs, at the time of building, I had no idea if any problems would arise throughout the process and if I had to troubleshoot I preferred not to risk an additional issue to worry about. When choosing my parts, I also factored in the ability to purchase (and return, if necessary) them from my local retailers. The consequence for this peace of mind and convenience comes in the form of extra cost.
CPU: i5-6600K. I wanted to try out overclocking, and I chose this over the high-end i7-6700K to give myself a little more leniency in regards to thermals. If I had a time machine, and the knowledge I now have, I’d put in an i5-7600K and save $46.
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 3 – ATX. At the moment, my needs would be served with a Micro ATX, but by going with an ATX, I leave myself with the option of expanding with PCI Express slots down the line. For the time being, I can use the wired Ethernet port or some old USB dongles for Wi-Fi connections (e.g. for printer) as the bottleneck is the router. Eventually, I may insert a Wireless Network adapter if my Internet gets upgraded, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
No problems with installation or any major complaints, but I’m wary about unplugging the cable to my case’s front ports from the USB 3.0 header as it wants to come loose from the board. The voltage regulators get hot, but I’m okay with pre-emptively turning the case fans to maximum level.
The board comes with two M.2 slots, A and D. Slot A has fewer clashes with the SATA ports, but it sits under the graphics card, so I prefer to use slot D for my SSD, which is in the open.
I chose this motherboard as it was easily available at my local store, but with the benefit of hindsight, I could have got it $26 cheaper online, or alternatively used one with the Z270 Chipset, which would have been compatible with both the processor I chose, or the i5-7600K.
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4; PSU: Corsair RM550x. I originally intended to have the Ripjaws V and the Antec Edge but they went out of stock and I was getting impatient. 550W was the smallest possible PSU I was able to get, but I reckon it’s overkill, as I’ve never observed its fan spin up, which is supposed to occur with a load of 50% or greater.
Storage: Samsung EVO and Western Digital Blue.
Coming from a laptop with a 5400 RPM drive, even a SATA SSD is good enough for me.
I created a UEFI bootable Windows 7 installation USB using the command line and used the Gigabyte Windows USB Installation Tool. I installed Windows 7 with only the SSD connected initially before connecting the HDD. The first time I set up the installation, I tried using the Registry to put user folders on to the HDD. I found out that with this method, if the HDD failed, I wouldn’t be able to log into my user account, so I ended up just reinstalling and using Windows Explorer > Your user folder > Right click > Properties > Location. It was a little bit more effort, but it should spare me trouble in the future if my mechanical hard drive fails.
I also turned off Hybrid Sleep, indexing, System Restore, Prefetch and Superfetch for the SSD’s sake.
Case: Corsair Carbide Series 200R – non-windowed panel. My requirements for accommodation of disc drives (5.25” bays) and double front USB 3.0 ports eliminated me down to a few cases, one of which was the Corsair 300R. Then I realised it wouldn’t fit in my computer desk, so I downgraded to the 200R. In the end it was pointless though, because I wasn’t comfortable with heat getting trapped underneath my table (I had built the table several years back with the intention to fit a computer but didn’t take ventilation into consideration), so now it sits on my tabletop.
It might be because I take care not to tangle cables during building, but with the exception of the CPU power cable I had no complications with cable management – there is plenty of space behind the motherboard and rear panel. Initially I thought the plastic plug was too big to fit through the hole, but on a second evaluation of cable management, I figured the obvious out – that metal is flexible. I didn’t have to resort to any major force, just a bit of thumb pressure and now I managed to push the plug through the hole.
As this case has holes for fans in the side panel, it does let in extra dust and for this reason I probably should have gone with the windowed version of the 200R.
Cooling: CM Hyper 212X. When I made my order, I picked up the parts at separate times and the RAM was one of the last. As such, it caused me great anxiety to discover whether it would interfere with the Hyper 212X. Fortunately, both are compatible, and it is possible to fill up all 4 RAM slots with about 1 mm between the fan and the closest memory module.
This heatsink and fan is sufficient for my needs and I have no problems with overheating – I used Carey Holzman’s tape on finger method to smear the compound onto the CPU.
On a 22°C day, I reached 64°C on the CPU with a 4.4 GHz/1.230 V overclock and the cooler fan on full. But as the Aussie summer is coming up, I’m going to be leaving it at 4.0 GHz/1.100 V or stock. While the computer might be able to handle pumping out 100W of heat, being in a room without air-con, this human being can’t.
So far, this build has worked brilliantly, and I have not had to troubleshoot any problems yet. When I get the chance I will probably install an extra non-LED fan in front of the hard drive bay to get extra air into the case. While it would have been better value to have shopped around, this was my first build and I have no regrets in picking 6th generation over the 7th generation Intel parts. As long as my motherboard and CPU go the distance, this should be the last Windows 7 computer I buy.
With the Australian summer, my room is at 28°C while the CPU is hovering at 32°C. With my 6600K @ 1.092 V, Prime 95 creates a maximum of 30°C temmperature increase. Very efficient.
Installation and setup was straightforward. For an entry-level overclocking motherboard, it has plenty of features. In particular, I like the armoured PCI-E connectors and the dual M.2 slots.
My motherboard was a revision 1.1, coming with the F7 BIOS out of the box. For the most part, this version of firmware was without fault. The biggest problem I had was retaining setting upon power being disconnected at the wall - the F7 BIOS threw up inconsistent results, sometimes prompting me to load the 'optimised defaults'. The other problem was getting Dynamic VCore to work properly.
Despite reports of other people having trouble with the F22d BIOS, upgrading to this version on my motherboard with the Skylake Core i5-6600K resolved these two issues. In addition to being able to use Dynamic VCore for overclocking, the F22d BIOS overhauled interface with adjustable fan curves is definitely an improvement over the F7 BIOS. Had my two issues above not have been solved, this would likely have been a four-star motherboard. In addition, the updated BIOS should allow me to upgrade to a 7th generation processor if I want to.
The one other issue occurs inside Gigabyte's System Information Viewer on Windows, which is able to identify CPU temperature but not system temperatures - while the CPU fan will scale with usage, the system fans will not. Consequently, I have set my system fans to a fixed 100% to ensure sufficient airflow.
This no-nosense case offers fantastic practicality with its tool-less drive bays, thumbscrews and dual USB 3.0 front ports. Didn't have any cable management problems using the Corsair RM550x and its supplied cables. Build quality seems mostly fine and appears solid enough to last. There is a little flex in the metal side panels and minimal in the plastic front panel, but as long you're not trying punch or kick it, it'll be fine. It'd been nice to have more filters than just the PSU filter for all the holes where fans can be placed, but that'd likely have increased the cost or resulted in a compromise of all the excellent features. If one really wanted to stop the dust, they could tape over the holes because it is unlikely someone choosing this case cares significantly about aesthetics. I went looking for sharp metal edges but didn't find any but the plastic on the 2.5" drive bays might be sharp. My biggest concerns are with the plastic power/reset button embedded onto the front panel, the 2.5" drive bays/5.25" drive popout panels. If a part is going to fail first, the power button is most likely. The plastic tabs on the 5.25" popout panels or would hold 2.5" drives, while they are going to be disturbed less often, it can take a bit of force to bend them slightly to remove the panels or facilitate drive installation. All in all, this is my nitpicking and if one takes care during building, these problems can be averted. For its price this case has plenty of feature and I would use it again in a heartbeat.
It's as good as any other mechanical keyboard out there - my keyboard came equipped with Cherry MX Red switches. It doesn't have extra macro keys, but it does have separate multimedia function keys.
My biggest problem is with the free-spinning scroll wheel. It can be a little difficult to tilt the wheel to the right because of the metal material's lack of grip. In addition, while it can be toggled and locked into the standard notched scrolling pattern, I prefer use it in the free-spinning mode, and when I pick up the mouse, it can sometimes spin due to inertia.
Otherwise, the ergonomics and the customisability (RGB lighting and 3.6 g weights) of this mouse are great. I especially like the DPI shift (snipe) button for the thumb and the accessible location of the DPI adjust buttons (buttons 7 & 8) next to the left mouse button (as opposed to having them between the two primary buttons).