The Octavius Maximus Build!

When the new Ryzen’s Zen+ Ryzen CPU was officially launched last week, I pulled the trigger to get their latest 2700x, 8C/16T CPU with an accompanying motherboard. I couldn’t wait for the ITX motherboards to be released, so it was my first time getting a full ATX motherboard. Previously I mentioned that I never liked having huge gaps underneath the graphics card with all the spare and unsed PCI-E slots below it. It’s just an unnecessary waste of space. But after building the new rig, I am slowly getting used to the idea of having large empty spaces below the GPU.

With the ATX motherboard, I had to get a new case too, as the NZXT Manta wouldn’t be able to fit an ATX motherboard inside. So I got the Fractal Design Meshify C Dark Tinted Tempered Glass edition PC case. The tinted tempered glass, is surprisingly helpful in masking out the empty space below the graphics card because it darkens the entire area out, making it look like there’s no dead space in between. So you only see the GPU RGB LED and anything above it. This darkens out any hideous cabling found at the bottom of the motherboard but the downside is that the LED RGB luminence is somewhat diminished due to the nature of the tinted tempered glass. Everything inside looks darker now. But still, it give a surprisingly cleaner look that I initially expected when I built this rig.

The CPU and motherboard combo came at around S$800. I got the Asus ROG Strix X470-F motherboard, which was supposedly the second best motherboard after the Crosshair VII. It is significantly cheaper too due to less extreme overclocking tools and features usually reserved for the Crosshair series. I did encounter a problem with the motherboard when I first bought it. It simply refused to POST to BIOS. My motherboard was essentially dead on arrival. That set me back a couple of days after building the rig and finding out that the motherboard was defective. I had to wait till the coming weekday to have it exchanged for a new one. Luckily, exchanging it was one-to-one and it was quick and painless.

With that out of the way, I spent time doing some cable management before installing the newly exchanged motherboard. My weakest part of building a PC is the cable management. I find it extremely tough and annoying just to spent considering amount of time ensuring that the cables at the  back of the PC is neat and tidy. At the end of the day, it was still pretty messy, I gave up. At the bare minimum, so long as I could close the back of the PC with the steel case, without any impediments, I am happy with the results.

I resued most of the components like the RAM, storage, PSU, GPU and case fans from the previous build for this new one. The only new components were the CPU, motherboard, a couple of LED RGB case fans, and the case.

I named this build, the Octavius Maximus build. Octavius, similar to the number 8, which represents the 8 core, 16 thread CPU and the Maximus, which represent the flagship and most powerful consumer based GPU currently out there on the market, the GTX 1080ti.

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So here is my new PC specs:

Octavius Maximus PC Specifications

AMD Ryzen 2700x 8C/16T CPU 3.7GHz base clock, 4.30GHz boost clock

Asus ROG Strix X470-F ATX motherboard

G.Skill Trident Z RGB 3000MHz 32GB ram (3200MHz overclocked)

Sandisk Ultra II 480Gb SSD x2

WD 2TB HDD

AMD Prism Wraith stock cooler

EVGA GeForce GTX 1080ti 11Gb FTW3

Corsair RM650x PSU

Fractal Design Meshify C tempered glass edition.

Thermaltake Riing Floe 120mm RGB case fans x3

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Dark Rage v.2 is complete

My PC upgarde is complete. Featuring an all new LED RGB RAM sticks and an EVGA 1080ti. This is Dark Rage v.2. My previous graphics card, the EVGA 1070 will be sold to a friend of mine, who is building his own gaming pc this weekend. I have offered to assist in building his rig after we get the parts at Sim Lim.

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Isn’t she a beauty?

I have decided not to do further upgrades, like the CPU and motherboard. Despite the recent official announcements by Intel on their upcoming launch of Coffeelake CPUs, I feel that the upgrade (at this moment in time) of motherboard and CPU would be a waste of money. This is because I predict that the performance increase in real world usage (primarily in gaming) would be so minimal, that it would not justify getting a brand new processor, AND a whole new motherboard. It is quite unfortunate that despite the fact that Intel is launching Coffeelake using the same LGA socket, prevous z170 and z270 motherboards are not supported. Thus, I would need to buy a whole new motherboard just to use these CPU. If it was possible, I might have considered just upgrading my CPU, while using my current motherboard.

I guess I just have to wait what AMD has to offer down the line, now that Intel has shown its hand.

Some clarity to my PC upgrade path

For some weeks now I have come with multiple iterations on my new gaming PC rig. Each iteration is an idea as to how my upgrade path will follow. Some of which became more expensive, some of which became cheaper. Each iteration follows a different idea of what it means for me to upgrade. What do I want to get out of it following an upgrade after having my gaming PC for a year now?

Every time a new iteration was created, I gain a little more clarity as to the sole purpose of the upgrade. In the end, I decided upon an upgrade path that salvages most of the PC parts, mainly the storage (SSD and HDD), PSU, and my beloved NZXT Manta case. It dawns upon me several factors that made me decide to choose such an upgrade path.

  1. A total overhaul is just too expensive.

I have calculated the cost it would take me to do a complete overhaul in addition to a substantial graphics card upgrade from 1070 to a 1080ti. It is very expensive. An endeavour that I would like to embark, but just goes beyond what I am able to spend on. Rationally, my current rig works perfectly. It has just passed its one year mark of usage. It is still in pristine condition and all of the parts are still working fine. Having to sell the entire rig and then build a new one from scratch is expensive, even after factoring what I can potentially earn from selling my previous rig.

2. I still find the NZXT Manta a hugely unique case in terms of design.

The NZXT Manta was space age when it was first released. And I still find it so, despite the fact that it still sports an acrylic window. Now, every case maker has gone the tempered glass route. While it is highly tempting to own a sleek, tempered glass build, the overall looks and design of the Manta, still holds dear in my heart. I simply cannot part from an ITX build, especially when using the NZXT Manta case. It is simply unlike any other.

3. Upgrade to mATX or ATX motherboard in the hopes of upgrading to an SLI build is just wishful thinking.

It is tempting to dream of a time of building an SLI build in the future. I have factored that idea in several iterations of my PC upgrade path process and still, it is deemed an extremely expensive investment. Costs aside, I have come to a conclusion and is backed by official sources from GPU makers themselves that SLI support is in decline. Several gaming enthusiasts have also highlighted the fact that owning and using an SLI build may be more trouble than it’s worth. When games no longer support SLI, your return on investments are severely curtailed. At the end of the day, spending potentially 1000 bucks or more just to have another graphics card installed for aesthetics purposes is meaningless. Therefore, I still feel that an ITX set up is perfect for my use case scenario.There is simply no need to spend unnecessarily on a second graphics card.

I have gained a little more clarity in my upgrade path now. Even the cost of it has gone down significantly. For example, I have calculated that a complete overhaul of the system (getting a brand new gaming PC) would cost me $2571, excluding graphics card (the reason why I exclude graphics card is that the GTX 1070 is still hugely relevant in gaming and there is technically no need to upgrade). However, If I were to simply upgrade my current gaming PC, the Dark Rage build to a Dark Rage ver.2.0, it would cost me $1242. I would be saving around $1300 just from upgrade Dark Rage alone. The only thing that I would need to upgrade is a new CPU, (I am going for AMD Ryzen 7 1700, more on that in another post in the future) motherboard, AIO cooler RGB RAM, and a couple of RGB fans. That’s it. With the new upgrade, especially the AIO and RGB fans and RGB, my upgrade rig will look even better. Dark Rage ver.2.0 would closely resemble the ideal build I have always dreamed off for my Manta. That way, I can enjoy my Manta case for a couple more years until something better than a Manta comes along the way. Who knows, maybe NZXT may release Manta 2.0 with a curved tempered glass build. That would be wicked! So why AMD? Well, for a couple of reason, but I will explain them in another post someday.

 

My first impressions of Dell U2717D monitor.

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I purchase a new Dell monitor, a 27 inch U2717D as part of my room revamp. I previously had a full HD TV that I used to connect with my PC and for my usual gaming needs. Now that I have transformed part of my room to a desktop set up, I had to get myself a brand new computer monitor.

I have always been fans of Dell monitors. They are well built, uses high-quality panels and their patented tilt, swivel and height adjustment stand makes it one of the most flexible monitors on the market. Their design is a no-nonsense, simplistic design and doesn’t really distract you from the main feature; the screen. Unlike other monitors, especially the gaming monitors with its aggressive colour and design, Dell monitors design ethos are more subdued, suitable for any type of use, from professional office use to gaming.

I got myself the U2717D which is the recent 2017 model. At QHD resolution, that is, 2560 x 1440p resolution, this is a step up from the usual 1080p models. It’s screen real estate is 27inch, which, personally is the perfect size of 1440p resolution. The texts that I see on the screen is significantly sharper than a similarly sized 1080p monitor. Overall, reading text on the screen on the new Dell monitor is easy on the eyes.

As for colour reproduction, Dell Ultrasharp monitors are known for its colour accuracy, suitable for semi-professional users. I have no complaints when it comes to colour and contrast, after all, it is an IPS panel. IPS ‘glow’ is there, although not as obvious, and my monitor has minimal backlight bleed or backlight inconsistency on the panel, which is a good thing.

One thing that I am most impressed about is the ultra thin bezels around the edge, even at the bottom where typically the Dell logo would be located. In the U2717D monitor, even the Dell logo is shrunken so that the width of the bezels are consistent on all four sides. And it is super thin, one of the thinnest I have ever owned.

My rig is primarily used for gaming. Although I might have gotten a monitor with GSync or FreeSync, high refresh rate monitor for my gaming needs, I realized that I don’t actually need them. First of all, I am not playing competitive e-sports, and that includes first paced shooters or other twitchy games. So the need to get a high refresh rate monitor is personally a waste of money. Having a decent monitor with the 60hz refresh rate that primarily focuses on colour accuracy is my main priority when it comes to deciding the ideal monitor for my set up and usage.

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This monitor is beautiful. Having a monitor with an ultra thin bezel makes the monitor the central piece in any desktop set up. The screen just draws you in and before you know it, you become completely immerse in it.

Adieu Macbook Pro.

For years I have always wanted a Macbook Pro. What started out as an experiment, plungin myself into the whole Mac OS ecosystem many years ago starting with the Mac Mini, slowly evolved into something more powerful, more mobile to the Macbook Air. As my needs changes over the years, so does the products that are required to meet my needs.

The Mac Mini and Macbook Air are both excellent computing devices. It was the first time I felt that art and technology can coexist peacefully. Something so beautiful can be at the same time be so practical. And the design philosophy behind those two products have no equals. And for many years I believed that.

The new Macbook Pro that was recently released violently shifted my paradigm. No doubt, Apple continues to release excellently designed products. Sleek, and minimalistic with a keen eye in the tiniest detail. But sadly, the new Macbook Pros were unable to meet my needs, much less my budget. There are criticisms to the new models, and they are all valid in my opinions. Things like the lack of ports, the absurd use of mutiple dongles, the questionable usefulness of a TouchBar, and the overall price increase of those new models were all aspects that were very much criticised.

And it was from then on that it made me realise that it is time for me to depart from the MacOS ecosystem and embrace Microsoft Windows once again.

It took me a while to come to grasp, especially in finding a worthy replacement to my aging MacBook Air. Actually, I would have been fine without a laptop. I am having loads of fun with my DIY gaming rig. But because I am going back to school, I forsee that I would need a portable laptop for school assignments and also work from time to time. But buying a whopping S$3000 on a MacBook Pro, just for my part-time studies is just too much for me. It was hard initially to change my perception on the overall quality of Windows laptop. For a long while, I have held to the belief that Windows laptop are far inferior than what Mac as to offer. This actually remains true. When it comes to design, nothing beats the MacBook Pro. Design wise, it is still widely lauded and a benchmark for all other laptop to aspire to. Thinner, longer battery life, powerful. And it is only recently that certain models from certain laptop companies are slowly hitting that benchmarks. They are not exact copies of the MacBook Pro or Air counterparts, but they are close in achieving the feel and look of Mac laptops that many people just love.

So I had to spend time to have a close look at what the market was offering. It was tedious to go through so many different Windows laptop. A majority of them were still very inferior. But a handful of them was quite well design.

But the tricky part was to find a good balance between finding a Windows ultrabook that is relatively thin, light, with long battery life and packing a fairly powerful CPU without bursting my budget.

It is only then I came across the Lenovo Thinkpad 13. Out in the wild, during my search, came up Lenovo. Lenovo, best known for business laptops. Chunky by design on most models, nothing worth lauding about. Its just a business laptop. Black, plastic, nothing to wow at. But I had to be realistic here. I had to find the perfect balance between price, weight and performance. Thinkpad 13 was the best I could find. And a good find it was. At just S$930, this laptop actually pack quite a punch. Intel Core i5 Skylake, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM, 13inch IPS display, all day battery life. A middling spec of a computer but at a terrific price. The best aspect about the Thinkpad13 (and for most of Lenovo’s laptops) is the keyboard. Its an absolute joy to type on. Great travel distance and just the right size and distance between keys, typing on the keyboard is both accurate and fast. I dont think I have used a more comfortable keyboard on a laptop before.

So there you have it. It looks like a laptop from the 90s, but at least it’s cheap, reliable, sturdy enough to bring around in your bag, respectable battery life and just works.

I think Lenovo has opened my eyes to the possibilities that other laptop makers can be just as good when it comes to designing terrific laptops. I also came to realise that there are laptops out there that ticked all the right boxes for your needs, and it need not have to be expensive at all.

 

Lenovo Thinkpad 13 + Aer Fit Pack = Perfect

The Aer Fit Pack and the Thinkpad 13 is a perfect combination. The laptop is relatively light, coming at 13 inches and fits snugly into the laptop compartment of my Aer Fit Pack. I brought my laptop to work to see how the bag would feel on my back when I carry my laptop with me, and with the added weight, it still feels comfortable using the bag. I have yet to fully load up the bag with my running shoes and running clothes, towels, water bottle and shower foam. I would be a little bulky in the end, but I doubt all those extras would significant add to the overall weight that I would be carrying to school. Afterall, my new New Balance shoes are pretty light, and all I would be bringing next is a pair of running shorts, and dri-fit t-shirt for running with a small tower and a small bottle of shower foam to shower after a run.

All in all, I am almost ready to start school in January.

Lenovo Thinkpad 13

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As with any other big purchases I have made, I make sure that I do my research thoroughly. The research phase is especially important when it comes to buying electronics and gadgets like computers, laptops and mobile devices. There is a huge range o choices to make and one can easily get paralysed in simply deciding the best for one’s needs.

So it comes as no surprise that finding the ideal laptop for school (which I am starting my Master’s Degree in January) requires a lot of research. So many factors to choose from, so my conflicting priorities, so many laptops out there. Do I want to choose a thin and light laptop at a cost of battery life? Or do I want a powerful laptop with all the bells and whistles that costs a ton and compromise on weight? Am I willing to spend that much just so that I could get a nice looking laptop, or do I simply need a cheap and simple one that would just get me by during lectures and writing assignments?

It’s easy to just go with the best reviewed ones and pay the premium. After all, the most sought after laptops are the one that ticked all the right boxes when it comes to battery life, performances, weight, durability and design. But if you carefully analyse your needs, you soon realise that there are other laptops out there that may perform just as good, if not better at a fraction of the price and still meet all your needs.

Take my purchase decision in getting a Lenovo Thinkpad 13 for example. Initially, I would never have imagined that I would get a Lenovo laptop. I never liked the design. It’s too traditional, plasticky, and very business-like in design. I set my mind on a Dell XPS 13 which has been touted time and time again as the laptop to get under the Windows platform. Dell really set the bar high. But there was something about the laptop that was gnawing at the back of my head: Price.

Yes it’s true, that if you want the best, expect to pay a premium. While the Dell XPS 13 suited my needs perfectly – its portable, light, comes with a great screen and awesome battery life – I sought to challenge myself, if I could find one that closely resembles what I was looking for, at a fraction of the price.

So off I went, scouring through various websites, looking at catalog after catalog of various laptops, reading reviews, analysing the pros and cons, readjusting my priorities and needs.

Price was a huge factor this time round. The last laptop I owned was a MacBook Air. It was quite expensive, but not exorbitantly so. My priority at the time was longevity and durability. I needed to use that laptop for 4 years during my undergrad studies and it paid off. It was a wise decision to get that laptop. For a premium, you get a device that lasts really long and performed really well. And the MacBook Air is still running strong. Now my dad uses it and loves it.

For my grad studies, I needed something simpler. It’s just a two-year Master’s course. I just needed a laptop that could do simple productivity work using Word, Powerpoint or Excel. I needed battery life to be decent. I don’t need a super high resolution screen, or a super accurate, high contrast monitor. What I do need is a comfortable keyboard, easy to type on and a fairly accurate trackpad. I need a laptop that performs well enough, boots up fast enough, at least an SSD installed. And all these features I need, must not cost more that the cost of the Dell XPS 13. And none of my needs mentioned above placed design and aesthetics high on the list. Upon reflection, I came to realise that I don’t really need a laptop that turns peoples head and grab their attention. That is where I found my ideal laptop.

The Thinkpad 13 is perfect. 13 inch screen at Full HD resolution. Perfect. Screen brightness is average but meet my needs perfectly. Battery life is long enough for the whole day, provided I just use simple applications and light web surfing, which is what I intend to do on this laptop, not to play games or run complex tasks and programs on it. Keyboard is astounding. I have heard numerous times that Lenovo keyboards are some of the best and it rings true. I have felt or typed on a more comfortable keyboard in my entire life (at least on a laptop) As I am writing this, I am typing on my Lenovo Thinkpad 13 and it is just splendid. Fingerprint scanner for logging into Windows is a bonus and the trackpad is fine enough that didn’t leave me terribly annoyed by its inaccuracies or unresponsiveness. I would prefer the keyboard to be backlit, but its a minor inconvenience, one that I can live without. It’s running on a Core i5 Skylake processor, not some underpowered coreM, has a DDR4 RAM (that’s right DDR4), 8GB of it, which is more than enough for my needs and it comes with a 256GB SSD. For me, it doesn’t matter what kind of SSD its inside, so long as its an SSD. I don’t need the superfast kind, just fast enough to boot windows without the time it takes to make coffee. I/O wise, it has 3 USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, USB-C, which is a amazing and HDMI out. It’s ports galore! Oh, did I mention that the Thinkpad 13 is MilSpec certified, meaning it pass military specifications when it comes to surviving rugged and rough treatments, like shock, and dust exposure? Thinkpad 13 is rugged. Rugged enough to be handled, transferred and used outdoors in rugged conditions.

All these specs came at just S$930. Yes its under S$1000. Originally, it costs around S$1300. But because I am going back school, I took advantage of Lenovo’s student pricing and got it down S$1030. Timing was perfect. SITEX was just around the corner in Singapore and they announced further discounts on select laptop models. On the Thinkpad 13, it went down to $930. I immediately ordered online the moment the price went down further. That was how I got the Thinkpad 13 at just S$930. It’s a steal.

So far as of this writing, I have used the Thinkpad 13 for a couple of hours and I am loving it. Typing is absolute bliss, which would definitely help in my future writing assignments during school. It’s light enough that I can tolerate bringing it around in my backpack, and overall looks really minimalistic on the outside. Barring any technical issues that might arise as the result of using it (touch wood), I think I made the right personal choice in getting the laptop at a great price that would perfectly meet my needs. One think that I truly appreciate right now is that I have cultivated a habit of thoroughly doing my research before buying something, rather than going with my emotions and getting something expensive that I might regret further down the road. One aspect of research that is important, which I only realise is that you have to be brutally honest with yourself, when it comes to choosing one expensive item over another. You really need to think logically when it comes to making such decisions, list down your needs and separate your wants, and then make the decision. In the end, you will soon realise that you can save a lot of money getting the thing you need rather than paying extra on things that you don’t.