I love working fast and I love getting things done quickly! I need fast computers to get things done quickly so I just built a new, fast and pretty cheap workstation. I'll use it for the next two years, then move it as a server, and get a faster workstation again. My budget for this build was $2,000 (± $250) but I managed to get a great build for less than $1,500.

Kitties helping to unbox the new computer parts.

Here's the build that I got:

I created an Amazon list containing all these computer parts if you want to quickly buy them. I also created a PC Part Picker list.

I spent a lot of time choosing the components. I was optimizing for performance per dollar and electronic component quality. I run my computers 24/7/365 and do very important things on them, so I was ready to invest in high quality electronic components that won't fail on me.

At first I was thinking of going with the latest Intel's X99 chipset and the latest 22 nanometer Haswell-E architecture 5960X processor (8 cores) but after some research I decided to go with the Z97 chipset and 22nm Haswell 4790k processor (4 cores).

The new X99 chipset only supports DDR4 memory. DDR4 is just still too new and expensive, and it doesn't run much faster than DDR3 in real world applications. The 5960X has a base clock speed of 3Ghz but the 4790K runs at 4Ghz. 4790K outperforms 5960X by a huge margin in single threaded applications because of this extra gigahertz. It's actually the top #1 CPU in single threaded benchmarks, beating all Xeons, and other CPUs. And it overclocks like a beast to 4.7Ghz and more with no problems.

Intel i7 4790K processor in its original plastic package.

I chose the ASRock z97 Extreme6 motherboard. According to Tom's Hardware this motherboard leads the performance per dollar chart. Unlike other motherboards in the $150 range, this motherboard has the high quality 12K capacitors and a 12-phase electric power circuit for the CPU. It was a no brainer to go with this board at this price.

Unboxing ASRock z97 Exteme6 motherboard.

My build has no graphics card because I don't play games and the 4790K has an integrated graphics processor (Intel HD Graphics 4600). Intel 4600 supports up to 3 screens and ASRock's Exteme6 motherboard has exactly 3 video outputs HDMI, DVI and Display Port.

Choosing the memory was very simple - the cheapest 16GB 1866Mhz DDR3 memory with 9ns CAS latency, which at the purchase day happened to be Crucial Ballistix Tactical BLT2KIT8G3D1869DT1TX0. There is no point in going with more expensive DDR3 memory (such as 2133Mhz memory or faster) because the benchmarks show that as the frequency goes up (to 2133Mhz or faster), the latency goes down (to 11ns or slower) and you don't get much benefits in real world applications. The synthetic benchmarks (raw write/read) show an increase, but the real world applications don't work that way and you get no benefits. 1866Mhz CL9 is the speed you want to go with with DDR3.

Installing two 8GB Crucial Ballistix 1866Mhz memory sticks.

For cooling I went with the top ranking air-cooling beast Phanteks PH-TC14PE. A cooler processor computes faster and has a longer life span. Unfortunately my Phanteks cooler arrived scratched, dirty and with someone else's fingerprints. The package had thermal paste smeared on it as well. It looks like Amazon messed up and put a returned cooler on sale. That was really upsetting because this cooler was priced at $80 so I was expecting a brand new product.

The Phanteks PH-TC14PE cooler arrived scratched and dirty. So upsetting.

Mounting it on the motherboard wasn't easy. The spring screws simply wouldn't align properly and it took me more than 5 attempts to get it secured to the board. Perhaps that's why it was so scratched when I got it. The previous owner couldn't attach it to the board as well. Also the instructions were very confusing and I mounted the fans the wrong direction.

Phanteks PH-TC14PE with fans mounted the wrong direction.

For my next build I'm going with the Noctua NH-D15 cooler. The benchmarks show Phanteks and Noctua perform pretty equally. I tried Phanteks, was disappointed and now you, Noctua, have my attention.

I'd never go with water/liquid cooling though (such as Corsair H100i) because liquid systems need too much maintenance and they can leak if installed improperly. Even if installed properly, a liquid cooler can start leaking or it can have micro-leaks that will slowly cause problems down the road. I don't want to deal with these sorts of problems and I don't want to do any maintenance once my computer is under the desk. Once the computer is under the desk, it's under the desk.

As for the PSU, I went with Corsair AX760. It has brilliant engineering and is considered to be one of the best PSUs. It's also very expensive, currently priced at $180. Corsair AX760 is a 760 Watt 80+ Platinum Certified PSU. When you're building a professional workstation, the PSU is the one thing you don't save money on and go all in.

Corsair AX760 is the PSU you want to go with when building a PC. It's modular, silent and super efficient.

Corsair AX760 runs at 90% efficiency at moderate loads.

Corsair AX760 runs at 90% efficiency at moderate loads.

I know 760 Watts is an overkill for a workstation that consumes 250 Watts at most but there aren't lower power Corsair AX-series PSUs. I'd have gone with 400W or 500W if there was one from Corsair. Corsair has a good reputation for the AX-series PSUs and I didn't want to try something new or less tested.

AX760 is also designed to be quiet. It doesn't use the fan if the load is less than 70% (530W).

Corsair AX760 has zero RPM fan mode if the load is less than 70% (530W).

I can't recommend Corsair AX760 highly enough. Corsair AX760 produces extremely low current ripple and current noise levels. Your motherboard, cpu and drives will love it. This is the PSU you're going with if you're building a similar PC.

Now talking about the hard drives, I messed up. I intended to go with Samsung 840 PRO 250GB drives, but I accidentally got Samsung EVO 840 250GB drives. Notice difference? PRO vs EVO.

I chose the drives based on The SSD Endurance Expriment. It shows that you just can't wear a Samsung 840 PRO. It's still kicking after 2PB of writes, while other drives in the experiment died at 800TB. I went on Amazon to get Samsung 840 PRO drive but didn't know there was EVO too, so I probably typed Samsung 840 in Amazon and ordered the first drives I saw. I just discovered this as I was writing this blog post. I thought I had the PROs until this moment.

I chose two identical drives for the system. I always go with multiple drives to prevent data loss in case of a failure. For this workstation I configured the drives in RAID1 (mirror). If one of the drives fails, I'm safe.

Two Samsung 840 EVO SSDs.

I've moved away from regular spinning HDDs for workstations. They're just too slow. My system boots in less than 10 seconds with the SSDs. The latest Intel Rapid Storage Technology's RAID drivers can read data from both drives in RAID1 mode, effectively doubling the read speed. I get 1GB/s read speed on my simple Samsung 840 EVO RAID array.

1000MB/s (1GB/s) read speed on Samsung 840 EVOs running in RAID1.

I still use HDDs for my Linux file server. They run in RAID6. I store terabytes of data for projects, random data (stuff) and data for workstation. The data is shared as network drives on Windows via Samba. But that's another story.

Network mounted drives for projects, stuff and workstation data.

Choosing the PC case was the hardest part. The PC case makers have all gone insane designing crazy cases with windows, buttons on top panel, weird shapes, etc. I just don't get it. A PC case should be a closed rectangular box with a power and reset button in the front. It took me forever to find a case that I liked. After reading many reviews I decided to go with the quiet Corsair Obsidian 550D case.

Corsair Obsidian 550d Computer Case. Just unpacked.

Installing Corsair AX760 PSU.

Installing ASRock Z97 Extreme6 motherboard with the Phanteks cooler.

It's working! (Phanteks fans mounted in the wrong direction.)

I don't recommend this PC case. At $150 the quality just isn't there. I've seen better quality $50 cases. I've no idea why it's ranked so highly by others. It's a trap.

Here are examples of the poor quality. Uneven front-panel USB ports with very sharp edges. So sharp you can cut fingers on the edges! Lowest quality USB ports I've ever seen on any front panel.

Corsair Obsidian 550D's quality sucks. Misaligned front USB-3 ports. Sharp too. You can cut your fingers.

Rushed cut and gluing of sound isolating material everywhere:

Obsidian's sound isolating material goes inch to the right on the inside of the front panel.

Uneven cuts in the side panel's isolating material.

Corsair has lost my respect as a PC case manufacturer and I won't buy a case from them again. Lame and unacceptable quality for a $150 case.

Finally the extra bottom intake fan. Noctua NF-A14 140mm PWM Premium Fan. Impressive fan quality for an impressive price of $25. I'd pretty much buy everything from Noctua if they manufactured all the computer parts.

Noctua NF-A14 140mm PWM Premium Fan's box.

Noctua NF-A14's box opens like a book.

Noctua NF-A14 fan unpacked. With a thank you note from the CEO.

The computer started working right away after I powered it up.

Booting into ASRock z97 UEFI BIOS for the first time. It's working!

Here are some additional pro-tips if you're building your own PC. The very first thing what you always want to do is to enable XMP and load the fastest memory profile.

Selecting 1866Mhz 9-9-9-27 XMP profile for the Crucial Ballistix Tactical memory.

The memory chips come with factory pre-configured XMP profiles so why stick with the default values when you can get extra performance for free.

After you've setup your computer and installed the software, the next thing you probably want to do is overclock the CPU. I overclocked this PC to 4.7Ghz at 1.32V. If you're not overclocking, you're losing out on free computing power. I just got a free 17.5% performance increase over the base speed of 4.0Ghz. Modern motherboards let you do so with a single click.

ASRock Z97 Extreme6 lets you overclock Intel's 4790k to 4.7Ghz with a single click from BIOS.

I overclocked my Intel i7 4790K to 4.7Ghz at 1.32 Volts.

As a bonus I got a new Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard. Because you just can't code without it. If you're programming without this keyboard, then you're doing it wrong. Just kidding. :)

Brand new Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard. I love this keyboard.

My next upgrade is going to be in about two years and I'll probably go with Intel's new Skylake platform. It's going to be very exciting. 14nm lithography!


Simon Permalink
March 02, 2015, 10:56

I did my own upgrades in January, with some quite similar parts to you. The power supply was a Corsair RM550, which I'm finding quite satisfactory - very quiet, since the fan shuts down when load is low.

But like yourself, I had case issues - in my case, with a Cooler Master Silencio 352. Not quite the same quality problems you've got, but it proved much more cramped to work in than expected. Not as quiet, either... for all the noise-deadening foam around it, the (stock) CPU fan is still quite audible. I guess it's really hard to pick a good case... especially if you want something a bit more tasteful than some of the over-styled designs out there.

March 02, 2015, 11:57

Nice post! I'm due for an upgrade pretty soon and this post is helpful. Given your disappointment with the case, is there another one you would try if you could do it over again?

March 02, 2015, 12:07

Thanks! Yes, I'd go with Antec P280 now, if I'd do it over again. It's also a silent case. I couldn't decide which one to go with. Antec P280 or Corsair Obsidian 550D. The reviews were better for 550D so I went with it.

Also note that Antec P380 just got released. But it has a window. The P380 windowless version will be released later as far as I know. P380 could be sweeter than P280. It costs even more than Obsidian 550D though.

March 02, 2015, 13:58

Ya, me too, I'll also go with Antec P280 now!!

Vince Mulhollon Permalink
March 02, 2015, 13:46

Why buy a case, power supply, and keyboard? Spend the saved dough on more storage / memory / cat toys

March 02, 2015, 14:00

Soon, I'll let you know all about my experience with Antec P280.

warfares Permalink
March 02, 2015, 14:53

I think you should try a mechanical keyboard... :-) nice desktop.

March 03, 2015, 07:33

Any recommendations?

Adam Permalink
March 13, 2015, 04:30

You must love ergonomic keyboard, so I'll recommend Kinesis Advantage Keyboard (Brown Switch) or Truly-Ergonomic Keyboard or if you like any standard flat keyboard you can look at Cooler Master Storm QuickFire (option for TKL also available), Das Keyboard also nice.

If you care about backlit, just don't buy any Ducky Shine keyboard, I've got 2 of it (blue LED) the LED died so easily

March 02, 2015, 17:13

Which OS do you end up going with?

March 03, 2015, 07:34

Windows 7. Then when I move as a server, it's going to be Slackware.

Adam Permalink
March 13, 2015, 04:53

Still don't want migrate to Linux for your desktop? because, I still waiting you to write Total Commander clone :P

Bill Ruppert Permalink
March 02, 2015, 17:22

Nice build. Our philosophies are identical! I too have a hugely oversized Corsair PSU, SDD, big air cooler, no graphics card as well. But I love my Fractal Design R4 case. Just love it.

March 03, 2015, 07:35

Thanks! I just checked out Fractal Design R4. I wish it had buttons on the front rather than top.

March 03, 2015, 03:35


I strongly suggest replacing the 840 EVOs with a PRO version.

The 840 EVO has the problem of read back of old data getting slower and slower as time goes by - and Samsung doesn't have a solution in sight [ http://anandtech.com/show/8997/samsung-releases-statement-on-840-evo-performance-another-fix-is-in-the-works ].

I personally have a 840 EVO mSATA 1 TB in a build, and one of the tasks I do periodically after every boot-up is to copy over some data from the SSD on to a RAM drive. I have seen that the copy-over has become slower and slower over the past few months. (It was around 400 MBps with a fresh build, now it copies over at around 150 MBps, with drop down to even 30 MBps occassionally)

March 03, 2015, 07:38


Thanks for this information. I didn't know that as I did research on PROs. I just ordered 2x Samsung 840 PROs and I'm returning the EVOs right now.

lovecats Permalink
March 03, 2015, 19:46

What monitors do you use?

March 08, 2015, 17:41

I use HP 1730 and 1740 LCDs.

March 07, 2015, 12:39

Why did you decide to go with the 840 SSDs instead of the newer and less expensive (and what appear to be better performing) 850s?

March 08, 2015, 17:40

Dave, because of the Endurance experiment that I mentioned in the blog post. The endurance experiment tested exactly 840 PROs, but not the 850s. 850s could have a different technology that doesn't perform as well (or maybe it performs even better - I don't know). So I just wanted to stick with the drive that won the endurance experiment.

March 08, 2015, 17:40

For convencience: Link to SSD Endurance Experiment.

March 18, 2015, 12:53

Love these furry babes. Mine help me with everything also-especially when it involved cardboard boxes:)

Ivo Permalink
March 18, 2015, 16:15

Have you considered a Shuttle barebone for case + PSU + motherboard + cooler? If so, why did you decide against that?

Joe Permalink
March 21, 2015, 04:21

catonbox and catonfloor

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