When I returned to the US, I started a programming contract at a company where I needed to bring my own PC. My Asus Republic of Gamers laptop was working, but not as well as I wanted. After a few years of steady use, it was time to upgrade from my 2.3 GHz machine, with 8 GB of RAM.
So, I decided it was time to build a new PC for Windows programming with Visual Studio and SQL Server. Fortunately, I was able to build a fast programming machine for US$ 1100. UPDATE 06 Dec 2015: The case is currently unavailable, but this whole system will cost about $950 – assuming you spend around $50 for a different case.
Here’s what is in it, in case you want to build your own. (By the way, two guys at work just ordered the same parts today, to build their own computers).
My development PC specifications
CPU: Intel i7-4790K processor (click to see on Amazon)
This seemed like the best choice for the price/performance ratio. It’s easily overclockable to 4.4 GHz, if you want. The motherboard I used has a simple performance setting (low-energy, normal, performance), and I just used the performance setting. If you want, you can get more specific in the settings. But I want something simple and reliable.
CPU cooler: Silverstone Tek Super Slim Pro CPU Cooler (click to see on Amazon)
The 4790K CPU comes with a CPU cooler and thermal compound, so this is optional. I went with it because I wanted a lower profile cooler. It’s probably not going to be much different from the one that comes with the CPU, but I wanted to try something new.
Motherboard: Asus ATX DDR3 Z97-E/USB 3.1 Motherboard (click to see on Amazon)
This motherboard ROCKS! I’d say it’s the heart of the system – as much as the CPU.
For the development I’m doing for this client, I didn’t need (or want) super-powerful graphics, sound, etc. This motherboard comes with everything I need on-board: support for 32 GB or RAM, RJ45 Ethernet connection, 6GB SATA connections, decent video, more USB ports than I can find a use for, etc. I didn’t need to buy a single card. All the slots are still empty.
Get the full specs for the Z97-E/USB 3.1 motherboard from the Asus website: https://www.asus.com/us/Motherboards/Z97AUSB_31/specifications/
RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 32GB DDR3-1600 (click to see on Amazon)
Besides running multiple instances of Visual Studio (which uses a ton of memory) and SQL Server Manager, I also need to run about 20 different queue services for the apps I’m working on. I probably could have gotten by with 16 GB of RAM, but decided to load it up with all 32 GB. If you’re looking to save some money when building your computer, you will probably do well with 16 GB for most development work.
SSD: Crucial MX200 250GB SATA 2.5 Inch Internal SSD (click to see on Amazon)
I’ve had really good experiences with Crucial SSD drives. This is the newer version of what I put into my laptop, and is a bit faster than my old one.
One of the guys at work who ordered from my parts list decided to get two of these and set up RAID mirroring – which is supported by the Asus motherboard.
Power supply: Sentey Power Supply 750w 80 Plus Bronze Modular (click to see on Amazon)
I originally ordered a “Gold” power supply, from a different manufacturer, but they were out of stock and wouldn’t have been able to deliver if for several months. So I substituted with this one. So far, it looks like it’s working well.
Case: Rosewill Gaming ATX Mid Tower Computer Case CHALLENGER-U3 (click to see on Amazon)
For cases, I don’t need anything fancy, shiny, or with 1000 LEDs.
This case had solid reviews, comes with 3 fans, and has a good price, so I chose it. When I was installing the motherboard, one of the mounting screws was a little close to the top fan, and a little difficult to get at (with my old fingers). But that barely slowed me down.
Wireless keyboard and mouse: Logitech MK710 Wireless Desktop Mouse and Keyboard Combo (click to see on Amazon)
I like using wireless peripherals when I can. Every cord I have seems to be magically attracted to the arms of my chair, and constantly gets tangled up. The mouse on this was nice – with a button press you can switch between smooth-scrolling and click-scrolling (which I prefer).
Assembly of my development PC
I didn’t take any pictures, or videos, of the assembly, but it was very straightforward.
To copy from my VM, to the new drive, I used Paragon Drive Copy 15 Professional. It worked smoothly. I started up my VM, installed Paragon Drive Copy in it, put the new SSD in a USB enclosure, plugged in the USB drive, and then ran Paragon. There is an option to migrate your current drive to a bootable SSD.
When the copy was completed, I unplugged the SSD from my laptop, mounted it in the desktop, and booted up the desktop. It took a minute for Windows to recognize its new surroundings, and I had to manually update the Ethernet driver that I downloaded from the ASUS support website and copied to a thumb drive.
I have seen a few problems that seem to be related to my user account on the new computer. I don’t think Windows is 100% sure it’s in a new computer. They aren’t big problems, but if you’re worried, you might want to install a new copy of Windows on your desktop, then manually reinstall your apps and data. For me, reinstalling my apps, data, and strange development configurations would take two or three days. So, I’m living with the occasional quirk.
Planned changes for my personal (gaming) PC
For home, I’m going to do more gaming and less programming. So, I’ll make these changes when I build my desktop for home:
Big video card
The motherboard has good built-in graphics, if you’re not doing anything too intense (like gaming). For my home machine, I’ll add in a powerful video card. Probably a GeForce GTX 970 (the 980 is more than I want to spend).
Larger power supply
With a big video card, I’ll want a little more power. I’ll probably go with the 1000-watt version of the power supply that’s in my development computer. By the way, the ASUS motherboard supports SLI, in case you’re serious about gaming and install dual video cards.
Bigger hard drive
I was working in a 120 GB VM, so a 250 GB SSD was more than enough room for my work. However, nowadays games seem to take up 20 GB of disk space. So I’ll get the 500 GB version of the Crucial MX200 drive.
2015 Gaming PC build
I’ve got several things going on over the next few weeks, so I won’t start building my home PC for a while. When I do, I may take a video, or photos, so you can see the build process.