Building My Next Workstation–Part 4

Reading about the motherboard choices took a while. Because I had already decided on a CPU, the Intel I7 I at least had an initial filter. If you’re shopping for one today you want a board that has the Z77 chipset with an LGA 1155 socket – easy to spot on the box when you’re shopping. You also need to know the form factor that your case will hold, for me it was ATX.

Those boards will support an Intel I3, I5, or I7 processor, costing basically $100, $200, or $300 respectively. I’d consider the I3 for a minor browsing/consuming type machine and some games, I5 will do most of what you will want, I7 has it all. The nice part is you can always replace the CPU later if you need to save cash now, maybe even to a bigger and better CPU than is currently available. The LGA 1155 socket has been around for a while so that could happen.

Prices on these range from $90 to about $300. Most support four sticks of RAM with a max capacity of 32G. I wanted one that had some USB 3 ports and 6G SATA, after that it was hard to tell. Did I want Thunderbolt? Onboard wifi? Some support overclocking,or support it better than others. Some have better support for gaming graphics cards. In the end I decided to buy on the low end and see,worst case I’d re-sell it or repurpose it. The reviews of the Asus P8Z77 series were good, but they have 10 variations. I bought the P8Z77-V LX at TigerDirect for $119. No Thunderbolt, wifi, or bluetooth.

I also bought the I7 while I was in the store. It comes in a couple minor variations, the one I wanted was the “k” model, the one that can be overclocked. No immediate plans to do so, but it’s an area I’ve never explored and by getting the right chip I can do it if/when I want to. I bought it locally at TigerDirect for $319, naturally the following week it was $299.

Installing the motherboard was straight forward, screws came with the case – download the manual to avoid the 5 minutes I spent figuring out which screws were which, good diagram in the manual. What turned out to be harder was getting the cheap metal flashing in place around the ports on the back of the machine. It just presses into place, except not quite in my case. I had to squeeze one end a bit with pliers to get it to fit. That has to go in before you fasten the motherboard and was really the only aggravating part.

Once fastened I connected the big motherboard power cable and the one for CPU power, no problem, easy to figure out from clearly marked cables and clear diagram in the manual. Then a connector for the fan. The case has more cables that then get connected to the board; on/off switch, USB and audio ports. Those went quickly too. The case I bought (Antec P280) has space behind the board to route cables and I did some of that, but I didn’t fasten anything down, thinking to wait until I’m done and sure I have everything where I want it.

Last thing for this session was the CPU. It comes in what seems like a big box, about 3” square, but the CPU is tiny, half dollar sized and the rest is a big fan and heat sink. Putting the CPU in is easy, it’s notched so you can’t get it wrong, and the pins are in the board rather than the CPU. Once in there is a lever that you have to push down on pretty hard to lock it in place. The heat sink then connects into four holes around it, snapped right in. Connected power to that fan as well.

Plugged the power in and turned it on, seemed to work fine the first time, though couldn’t do much without memory and storage. The interesting part was that with the case closed, I could not hear it running. Dead silent. I liked that more than I thought I would, and by comparison my old machine sounded like a chain saw – a very noticeable difference.