2012 Computer Review
Dave's newly built computer at the test station.
Close-up view of Dave's 2012 computer.
The top bay is empty, the middle is the external SATA bay and below the DVD burner.
Disclaimer: This review is my own personal opinion. It is my best effort to tell others how a particular product met my expectations. Comments and rebuttal are welcomed, but you will have to get your own web site to have them published. These comments are made without malice. I purchased this product at retail, just as most would do. No communication regarding this product has been made to the seller.
Another Windows operating system coming along? That means a new computer for me! The last computer I built was in 2009, just before Windows 7 was released. I skipped the new computer for Vista as that Windows version did not interest me at all. My main influence in that decision was Leo Laporte. I've depended on his advice for years and he has never given me the bum steer.
Myself and others have observed that Microsoft would issue one good Windows and then a stinker. I am thinking of Windows ME® & Windows Vista®. Since Windows 7 was so good, I kept my ears open for news on Windows 8 and I'm hearing good things. Therefore, the decision was made to go ahead with a new computer. I'm very happy with my 2009 machine, but I like new toys as much as the next boy.
What I wanted.
My needs and wants are the same as my last computer. I'm still happy with my present computer, but I've noticed that the video appeared to be slightly dragging. Software has become more demanding on the hardware, so it makes sense that this is happening. A lot of under the hood improvements have happened in the new Windows software and new computer hardware.
One of my main interests is the conservation of power. I was early in the use of CFL for lighting and at the end of 2011, bought my first LED bulb. Everyone is surprised about how little electricity I use. I try to save on everything. Last month a representative of the local water board visited me to inspect my pipes. They thought I was stealing water! But that's a whole other story. You see where I'm coming from.
My Perfect 2012 Computing Machine.
I'm not a gamer, so no big power sucking video cards are needed. My last processor was rated at 45 watts maximum heat dissipation. It looks like 65 watt maximum is the minimum now. But the heat depends on the activity, so I wasn't concerned about higher power consumption rating with this processor.
Since ram memory prices are about half of what they were three years ago, I decided that I would double the amount of ram in my new machine. I am not really much of a multitasking fool, but this could change. Might as well be ready and it only will cost 20 bucks or so more. At 8gb of memory, this means using a 64 bit version of Windows 8. I felt the time was right for this move.
Our electricity is still expensive and highly taxed. In my situation about 40% of my electric bill is in the fixed costs and their taxes. The rest is the energy cost itself, purchased from another source along with those separate taxes. My added on cost is ten cents per KWH. With other cost cutting measures taken over the years, my monthly usage is now around 180KWH. This is about a third less usage than I had at the beginning of 2009, before I built my last computer, bought a new fridge and tv.
I still have two monitors running at once. I've gradually upgraded to 23 inch screens with a pixel resolution of 1920x1080. I've also broken the 30 watt barrier on each monitor! I can remember being happy when I could buy a monitor that used less than 100 watts! I did spot a nice 27 inch monitor that claimed 22 watts power usage. I would think that sometime in the future, I could plug in a monitor and the power company would pay me!
Speaking about power, I used my little Kill-A-Watt meter (this often goes on sale at around $17) to measure the power drawn and it was at idle, a surprising 40 watts! With the extra ram and computer power, I had expected an increase from my 52 watt draw of my 2009 computer. This is wonderful.
Other features about this computer are the lack of a floppy drive and card readers. I didn't miss them in my last computer. My old Aldi computer (Medion brand) is still here in case I want to read a floppy. A single DVD burner is part of my new computer.
A new feature is a solid state drive as the C:\ drive. I added one in April 2012 to my 2009 computer and it really perked it up. This is a 128gb model, and Windows 7 and programs take up about 50gb. I would be happy with a 90gb drive as being enough.
This is what went inside my box.
Case: Rosewill FUTURE Gaming ATX Mid Tower $55
I went with a Rosewill box again. I liked my last one and since I found out that NewEgg is using that name as a private brand. I think this is a positive. I was very pleased with my selection. I went with a bigger case, as I wasn't sure if I was going with an ATX or a micro ATX motherboard.
Some of the features I wanted was a front mounted USB3.0 jack, and some USB2.0 connections too. This box has two USB3.0 and one USB2.0. They could have added another USB2.0, but they didn't. The jacks, as well as the microphone and speaker jacks are at the top of the box.
The power and reset buttons are hidden on the Rosewill case. I thought this was going to be a problem every time I wanted to turn on my computer, but I quickly learned where I should press.
I like the three 5¼ bays at the top of this case. One can be used as a 3½ if desired. My DVD burner is in one and the other houses an external hot swappable 3½ drive bay.
I knew I was going to have three internal drives. One ssd for the operating system, a data drive and an internal backup drive. I saw that some internal drive bays were at a 90 degree angle from my past cases. This looked great to me and this became a purchasing choice. The drives slide in after attaching some special screws in the sides of the drives. Once the drive is pushed all the way in, there is a click sound indicating the drive is secure. Very nice. The wires are connected in the back. This requires the removal of the right side panel to access these connections. The panels remove very easy too!
There is a fan in the top, one at the back and two in the front! I left the front ones unplugged to save power and lower the noise. The back and top ones are running as well as the one on the APU and the one in the power supply. That is enough.
The power supply mounts at the bottom of the case, instead of the usual top position. I really wanted this, but was somewhat disappointed in the outcome. There are advantages of a bottom mounted power supply such as a lower center of gravity and a lower point of connection frf the AC power. But the wires coming out of the supply are not the right length to reach the drives. The wires have to start at the top of the drive bays and work their way down. But the connectors end up being opposite from what they should be. In other words, the power supply didn't match the case. If this bothers me greatly, I would reluctantly buy a new case. But it's not the end of the world, just a little sloppy. I am very happy with this case except for the cabling. Everything works ok and fits. Once the box is closed, the sloppy wiring only shows in my mind.
Power Supply: COOLER MASTER GX 450W RS450-ACAAD3-US 450W ATX12V v2.31 80 PLUS BRONZE PFC $40
Again, I went with a power efficient design power supply. This is one of the strategies of building a power sipping computing machine.
This power supply has the necessary motherboard power connectors, that is the 24 pin one and two 4 pin 12 volt connections for the CPU power.
There is a 6 pin PCI-E connector which is for one of those fancy video cards. I tucked that away as I won't be using that.
There are 5 SATA connectors, and I'm am using all of them. I wish there were more, but that isn't a problem as I have some Molex to SATA power converters. The 5 SATA connections are on two cables. One cable gets routed to the 3 hard drives and the other to the DVD and external bay.
The Molex cable has 3 connectors plus one smaller floppy drive connector. This cable is also tucked away. I expect that in the future, this cable will be eliminated as obsolete.
This supply was a good purchase. I don't expect any trouble with it, but I have an unused spare power supply that I bought 3 years ago for my 2009 computer. I checked and that will work fine if needed.
Motherboard: ASUS F1A75-M PRO FM1 AMD A75 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Micro ATX AMD, UEFI BIOS $94
This is the last thing I bought (along with the APU and memory) in this computer build. The other stuff I bought would work with any size motherboard. This took me a while to decide. I started with the CPU manufacturer decision. The last time I went with AMD. I saw no reason to change and it appeared that they had just what I wanted. I'll write more about this in the next section. While I looked over the vast mobo selection available, I was biased towards Asus. I've used Asus motherboards in all my builds for the last dozen years.
I had several things on my wish list. First was an on board, built-in USB3.0 support. The last time around I had added a USB3.0 card with a driver to work with Windows 7. Windows 8 promised native support for USB3.0. I already had a USB3.0 external drive dock.
Dual monitor support is essential. Also connections for VGA, DVI and HDMI were required. This mobo had them all. The larger full ATX version of this also had the Display Port connection. I had to Google that one as it was new to me. The Wiki gave me the answers. I decided that at this point it was not a must-have.
Besides the USB3.0 support (2 on the front and 4 back panel), I wanted a lot of USB2.0 connections. This board has 2 built on the back panel and 4 dual board connectors inside. One of these is for the front of the box connection, and I used two more connectors for 4 more USB2.0 connections on a USB bracket mounted on the case rear. I still have a dual connector left for two more USB2.0 connections, but I'm set for now. The score is a total of six USB3.0 and seven USB2.0 connections available. Sweet!
There are 4 memory slots. I'm using two with 8gb total. The total support is for 64gb of memory! That is plenty of headroom, but I don't expect to add more memory.
The bios is interesting. When you press the DEL key when turning on, you are greeted with a GUI, rather than the old text display! There is a lot of adjusting that can be done, but I left most everything at the default settings. I'm not overclocking or anything like that. I'm just a plain old guy that doesn't do exciting stuff with his computer.
I did find that upgrading the bios helped the graphical operation. The upgrade is easy and safe. It is done from within Windows and if there is a problem, you can recover or so they say. My upgrade went perfect.
CPU: AMD A6-3500 Llano 2.1GHz Socket FM1 65W Triple-Core Desktop APU (CPU + GPU) $80
In looking for the right CPU, I came across this AMD APU. The APU is a combination of a CPU and a GPU or Graphics Processing Unit. This takes the video processing load off the CPU. My overall Windows 8 performance came in at a 5.9, quite a bit higher than my 2009 machine. But I don't care about that a lot.
I am now comfy with straying from Intel and using AMD. I did consider Intel, but for me, this AMD was the best selection. Some reviewers complained that this APU did not have the gaming horsepower. Again, this is not a gaming machine. Those people just under spent. For me, this was right spending.
This processor has a lot of pins, but it fit perfectly and the fan went on ok. I bought the retail version as it comes with the fan. Some say it is too small and the APU runs hotter, but I don't expect to heat this one up a lot with my browsing and e-mail.
This is a triple core device. Not sure if I needed that either. The clock speed is less than my last processor. Lower clock speeds to me means less power devoured.
Memory: G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 Model F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL $47
I found this memory by looking at the Asus docs. This was recommended, and it really looks cool too. 8gb seemed right for me, or even perhaps more than needed. My last system had 4gb memory but only a little over 3gb was used by my 32 bit system. This time I'm going with 64 bit. I should have last time, but decided not to.
SSD: Mushkin Enhanced Chronos MKNSSDCR120GB 2.5" 120GB SATA III MLC Solid State Drive$85
This ssd is fast and sweet. My main purchasing decision was the low price. I bought this from NCIX rather than my favorite NewEgg. It was that special price. The reviews were good on it and the speed was reasonably good. After upgrading my last computer with an ssd, I decided that all my computers would henceforth include one of these.
From my experience with the 2009 computer upgrade, I found that with all my programs loaded, about 50gb was used. This meant I would buy a minimum of a 90gb drive. 64gb would probably have been safe as I was still a ways from reaching that number, but 90 would be safer. In my case, I did buy a 120gb as the price was really good for the spring of 2012.
My data is kept on a spinning traditional hard drive. I feel that they are a better way to go when getting my data back is more important than speed. I purchased Spinrite a number of years ago and I feel that this is my best chance for data recovery in case of failure.
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda ST31000524AS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s Hard Drive$85
My present data and operating system takes up about 400gb or so. My other drives were an unformatted 640gb, so I felt an upgrade of space was warranted because of the new build. I looked at 1TB and higher drives. A 2TB would have made sense, but that is way above what I might use.
Also, since the operating system was offloaded to a ssd drive, this gave me some extra room for this data drive.
I would have been happy with a slower spindle speed, but the price is what grabbed me on this. I shopped the specials and came up with this Seagate. The brand didn't matter to me.
I did want the 6Gbp/s interface as that was what my motherboard had and the little extra speed might be useful. Actually, I probably wouldn't have noticed the difference, but as long as 6Gbp/s was state of the art, I added that to my selection process.
The prices have come down since they were jacked up due to the flooding of most of the hard drive plants in the summer of 2011. I decided to wait until October if necessary for the hard drives to reach my price point. I had paid around $70 for a 500gb drive a few years ago, and I had recalled that 1TB drives were in the $50 neighborhood in early 2011. But I wasn't unhappy with the $85 I paid.
I partitioned this drive into a 120gb drive (E:) and the rest for my data drive (D:). My plan is to copy an image to the E: as an entire operating system backup that could be used as an emergency drive.
USB: No Name 4 port USB2.0 bracket $9
I bought this from an eBay seller. The $9 was for two of these brackets. I bought the "Gigabyte" style, not realizing that this might not work on my Asus board. Indeed I thought I had bought the wrong item as the connector didn't fit. But upon closer inspection, it looked right, unless the pinout was different. I got out my sandpaper and rubbed it on the connector edges. The fit was then tight but ok. After the computer was running I tested each port with my USB thumb drive and all is fine.
DVD: ASUS DVD Burner 24X Black SATA Model DRW-24B3ST/BLK/G/AS $24
This was an early purchase in my computer build as these are very generic. I wanted a Plextor as I really liked those over the years, but the premium price didn't seem to be worth it. But I wanted one with software included. I really don't like the Nero software that much. Seems to be clunky and bloated to me. I may not use it, but instead use a freeware program. I just want to burn data dvd's and CD's now and again and once in a while an iso image.
What is nice is these drives are shorter than they were in the past, making the fit very nice. The drive works well.
HD: Backup Storage: SAMSUNG HD502HI 500GB 5400 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5 inch $0
This is a pull out from my 2009 computer as this is just for an internal back up drive. If the prices keep tumbling, I'll get a 2TB drive for inside. Since the 2009 computer will be a spare (or sold off), there is no need for a second drive in that box.
Hot Swap: EZ-Rack for 3.5" Internal SATA Drive, TRAY LESS Designk, Model TOP-MRA200B $14
Since I had such a big computer case with extra 5¼ inch bays, I was looking for an accessory to add to fill the spaces. I didn't want a floppy drive or card readers. I had enough USB connections on the front too.
One computer case that was under consideration was another Rosewill box that had a SATA drive dock on the top. I could have placed an external drive in that spot for very fast external drive data transfers. But the box was too big and out of my price range!
While I was scanning my e-mails I found this item on sale by Meritline for $14, shipping included. This turns a drive bay into a hot swappable external bay for a SATA hard drive. I knew this was for me and it was on sale too.
The mechanics are really cool! There is an electrical switch key lock on the front too. I couldn't figure out how to use this. But I had no need for a lock with a generic key.
The only problem with hot swap drive bays is if you plug in a drive after Windows is running, that drive is not recognized. You have to right click in the lower left side of the main screen and look for the Storage Management section and do a drive rescan. Once you do that, you are good to go.
OS: Windows 8-PR (Later Windows 8) Est. $100
As this is being written in June 2012, Windows 8 has not been released but there is a Release Preview out there. I am testing the hardware with the 64 bit version of this new OS. So far I like it. There are some wrinkles and niggles in this as it is not yet a finalized product.
That's about it for the hardware part of this computer project. Excluding the monitor, keyboard and mouse and estimating the price of Windows 8, this machine will come in at around $620, about $100 more than my other computer. The differences are more money spent on the case, APU, mobo and the ssd. The memory was about the same but at twice the memory. The hard drive was more but there is more bytes storage. Not counted was a new backup hard drive. So that might drive the price to $700. My original budget was $700 but all in all, I just buy what I want anyway.