The PC

Nick's Feedback:

This was the first computer I've ever built, and I found TBG to be a great resource. I used the $500 Build, and upgraded in all the places recommended. I also found the building guide very helpful, and with its help building my rig was a snap. I built it because my wife was going to start working from home some, and we only had an older MacBook that she didn't want to use. I added all the extra parts because I wanted to play some games! I ran into one configuration issue, and posted to the TBG User Forum. Within minutes, Ari responded and then spent the next three days helping me solve the issue. He certainly went above and beyond, and I'm certainly fortunate to have stumbled upon TBG!

Built: March 2015

Nick checked in to share his experience building his first PC, along with some snapshots of the finished product. He based his system off of our $500 Home Office PC Builder's Guide as published in February 2015, and then went ahead and upgraded it with all of the optional components we listed in that guide, turning it into a stealth gaming PC. Its everyday use, as Nick mentioned above, is actually as his wife's work PC, but hey, there's nothing wrong with building a PC to do double-duty, and in fact that's the beauty of building your own system!

Component List:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i3-4160 3.6Ghz Dual-Core Processor
  2. Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H97M-HD3 Micro ATX LGA1150 Motherboard
  3. Memory: Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory
  4. SSD: Crucial MX100 128GB 2.5" Solid State Drive
  5. Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive
  6. Video Card: PowerColor Radeon R9 270 2GB TurboDuo Video Card
  7. Case: Silverstone PS08B (Black) MicroATX Mid Tower Case
  8. Power Supply: Corsair CX 430W 80+ Bronze Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply
  9. Optical Drive: Samsung SH-224DB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer
  10. Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 (OEM) (64-bit)

Nick built this system primarily as a design PC for his wife to use while working from home. For that reason, he upgraded our recommended home office build from 4GB to 8GB of RAM, and also included both an SSD and a hard drive - the SSD is great for loading Adobe Creative Suite applications from, while the hard drive is critical for storing high-resolution files.

He made a couple tweaks to make the system easier to build and more fun to use. He went with Crucial's modular CX430M power supply (seen right up top in the photo below), which makes cable management a breeze, and added a PowerColor Radeon R9 270 video card for a little gaming action on the side. Of course, the Radeon can also accelerate certain Photoshop routines, but its primary purpose here is decidedly on the non-work side of things! The PowerColor Radeon R9 270 happens to be an ideal pick for this build, both because it's quite compact (allowing it to slot neatly into the small PS08B mATX case), and because it requires just one PCIe power cable, which is exactly what the CX430M power supply has to offer. On a related note, it's very efficient, which means it won't exhaust a lot of heat into the case, a critical piece of the puzzle when you're only running the stock 120mm intake fan that this case is equipped with.

Inside View

Now, as Nick hinted at in his comments, there was a bit of a hiccup along the way to getting this system up and running. It turns out that everything was fine until he dropped the video card into the system. From then on, it took seemingly forever to boot (Nick timed it at over 3 minutes!), and was very sluggish in Windows. This is not what you expect of a modern system using an SSD as a boot drive. After quite a bit of trouble-shooting, we figured out that somehow the Gigabyte H97 motherboard's PCIe slot wasn't playing nice with the Radeon at the board's default PCIe Gen.3 setting. Knocking it down to Gen.2 compatibility got everything running right. The system booted in under 30 seconds, and the video card performed perfectly in games. Now, keep in mind that the R9 270 is actually a PCIe 3.0-compatible card, so this issue was certainly not one that could have been predicted.

Surprised by the problem, we actually went ahead and contacted Gigabyte Tech Support about this, and they took the problem pretty seriously, going as far as pulling out this exact model of motherboard and testing it with one of their in-house Gigabyte R9 270 models. Alas, they weren't able to replicate the issue, so perhaps it came down to a very slight difference in the way PowerColor designed the circuit board of its R9 270 model. The moral of the story here is even when things aren't perfect, where there's a will, there's a way!