Upgrading a 2010 PC
When I started University in 2010, I picked up a MacBook Pro as my primary laptop. I fell in love with the hardware, but I sorely missed being able to play my favourite games. Mid way through the semester, I decided to build a gaming PC. While building my own PC likely wasn’t cheaper, I enjoyed the flexibility they could offer. This post walks through how I upgraded the system over the years.
The 2010 build
My initial build was based on this 2010 build from Tom’s Hardware. The disc drive alone gives away the age of the hardware!
| Intel Core i7 930 | $280 | | Gigabyte X58A-UD3R | $235 | | OCZ DDR3-1600 3x4GB | $260 | | Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB | $95 | | Lite-On BD-ROM Drive | $66 | | XFX Radeon HD 5770 | $150 | | Corsair TX750W | $105 | | CoolerMaster Storm Scout ATX Tower | $90 | | Total | $1281 |
I wanted to splurge on core components such as the motherboard and CPU. These are a bit trickier to upgrade in isolation, and I wanted to get the best long term value out of them. However, I wish I'd skimped a bit on a couple of parts:
- The Power Supply: 750 W is overkill for this build. My initial plan was to overclock some parts and run two GPUs with CrossFire. I ended up doing neither, the max power draw for this system stays well under 300W.
- The RAM: 12GB may seem common place now, but it cost quite a premium in 2010, when 4-GB was sufficient even in high performance builds. Even today, I only use a single 8GB stick.
While the initial build is outdated, I’ve been able to keep the system relatively current with regular upgrades and able to play the latest games. This is where the flexibility of a custom built PC really shines. These are the parts I’ve upgraded, and why.
Corsair H60 CPU Cooler; $54.99; Aug 2011 I stuck with a stock cooler in my initial build to save money. However, the stock cooler loosened during my summer move and no amount of thermal compound seemed to fix unstable CPU temperatures. I decided to use this as an opportunity to upgrade to an aftermarket cooler. I’ve always had my eyes on a custom loop liquid cooling system, but the simplicity of an all in one cooler drew me in. For less than $60, the Corsair H60 provided great value - helping reduce the temperatures by 20°C under load.
ADATA SX900 128GB SSD; $89.99; Dec 2013 I had installed a SSD in my MacBook Pro a few months earlier, and was blown away by how fast my laptop felt after the upgrade. It felt like a no brainer to do the same for my desktop. SSD drives are significantly faster than traditional spinning disk hard drives, so any software installed on an SSD will typically launch much faster. SSD prices were still pretty high, so I opted for a lower capacity 128GB model as a boot drive, and relegated my older hard drive to function as a secondary drive for media. I was also paranoid about the drive giving away unexpectedly. SSDs are expected to have a shorter life span as you can only write data to it a finite number of times, so I made a bunch of software tweaks to minimize the write load on it and extend its life.
NZXT H440 ATX Mid Tower, $109.99; December 2014 Having previously built a PC in India, I wanted a case that would offer the best dust protection. Initially, the CoolerMaster Storm Scout seemed like a great choice - most of the air drawn in passes through filters that can be cleaned. But cleaning the filters was cumbersome and I rarely did it. One of the few times I did put in the effort, I ended up breaking the front panel. It also turns out that dust isn't as big a problem in Canada as it as in India. So this time around, I opted for a sleeker looking case instead. The blue NZXT H440 fit the requirements perfectly - sleek muted look with a high capacity. Although this was mostly aesthetic to avoid having to look at the broken front panel, it elevated the look of the PC and made it feel more premium.
Corsair Hydro Series H100i v2 CPU Cooler, $95.99; Dec 2017 I've had terrible luck with CPU coolers! The first upgrade I made to my computer finally gave away when some of the liquid leaked from the H60 cooler (possibly due to my seventh move in 7 years). This caused its cooling performance to deteriorate significantly - so much so that the computer wouldn't even boot. I was tempted by the NZXT Kraken-X62, but the H60 did last me for 6 years, so I decided to stick with Corsair. I picked the Corsair H100i v2 with its easy installation and solid performance. With an even bigger radiator than the H60, it allowed my CPU to run cooler than ever before.
Asus Phoenix PH-GTX1050Ti, $223.99; Jan 2018 The Radeon HD 5770 was the the biggest bottleneck in my 2010 build, but it was sufficient for my needs in 2010 as I mostly played games that were not GPU intensive (such as FIFA, Counter Strike and Starcraft). My original plan to pick up a second 5770 and run two GPUs in CrossFire. 7 years later, this GPU was beginning showing it's age (I could barely get 10 FPS for Hitman) and I knew I needed to upgrade. However, the mining craze made finding a second 5770 impossible. Rather than wait for prices to new supply, I jumped the gun and picked up a 1050Ti, which was still offered a reasonable performance boost over the 5770. I also wanted to try a Nvidia GPU, having exclusively used AMD ones all my life. I ended up returning the Gigabyte version I picked up the first time around due to instability, but have been quite happy with the Asus version. I flirted with the idea of going all out and picking up a 1080Ti, but ultimately decided against it. I don’t think I could have could picked up a much better GPU without hitting CPU and memory bottlenecks.
Corsair Vengeance Pro DDR3 1x8GB 2400Mhz, $99.99; Feb 2018 In January 2017, I noticed that the system was detecting just one stick of RAM, which left me with only 4GB of usable RAM. I purchased a new RAM kit to see if it was a problem with the RAM, so I think it’s likely a CPU or motherboard issue. Based on past usage, I knew 8 GB of RAM would be plenty for me, so I ended up buying a single 8GB stick to get the most use out of the DIMM slot that's still working. This is one part I didn’t do a ton of research one - my criteria was to find a kit of DDR3 RAM with the highest capacity possible on a single stick from a trusted manufacturer. The Vengeance Pro checked all those boxes.
Crucial MX500 500GB SSD, $99.99; Dec 2018 While the SX900 continues to perform admirably, its capacity has aged a lot. For comparison, FIFA 13 required 8GB, but FIFA 18 requires a whopping 45GB. This meant that I was quickly running out of space after just a couple of games. I would have loved to pick up an M.2 drive, but didn’t quite want to upgrade my motherboard just yet. The Crucial MX500 was a top Wirecutter pick, and I got lucky with my timing as it was just around Cyber Monday.
10 years in, this is still a remarkable system capable of running applications at high performance and playing most latest games at 60 frames per second on medium-high settings. This has outlasted all of my other computers by a mile. I picked up parts in the initial build from NCIX, and this even outlasted them!
However, I’ve been getting more and more into competitive games like Rocket League and Rainbow Six, and with 144Hz monitors becoming mainstream, I’ve been craving a system capable of pushing such a high FPS - over double what this system can do today. Small form factor builds have caught my eye as well - I’m curious to see how much power can be packed into these cases. This was also be a good opportunity to upgrade the motherboard and finally take advantages of the latest technologies such as the Z370 chipset, M.2 drives and DDR5 RAM. I've upgraded to this build, and hope to write about this in the future.