Windows 8 - damn impressive on an AMD homebuilt PC

Posted by Rob Enderle

This past weekend I built myself a new Windows 8 desktop computer and loaded up Microsoft's Office 13 preview.

I actually used to build a new PC about once a quarter, but stopped a  few years ago, mostly due to the hassle of migrating from one machine to another. Then again, some things have clearly changed with Windows 8 and now that I’m on Office 365 most of my files and settings are hosted figured, so I figured I'd give it another try.  

And the build was actually a ton of fun. If I hadn’t run into one little problem, well, I likely could have gone from raw parts to running a fully configured machine in just about under two hours.  

Build Components and Costs

I started out with a Cooler Master Storm Enforcer case because I love the design and because Datamancer hasn’t started shipping their SteamPunk case yet (so I clearly have another build in my future). I chose an AMD Trinity A10 3.8 GHz APU because AMD sent me one and it provides the highest base level of graphics without adding a discrete card (I’ve done a lot of builds over the years and the best way to avoid problems is keep them very simple at first). This was matched with a Gigabyte GA-F2A85XM-D3H motherboard.   

In addition, this is a living room system and I don't want it to spin the power meter like my gaming systems do. AMD also sent 16GB of their 1600MHz DDR3 memory so that went into the system as well. I had a Lite-On Blue-ray drive which I added, topping the system off with an Intel 330 series 240 GB SATA drive (it is amazing how cheap these have become – under $180 on Amazon).  I also needed an APU cooler so picked the Corsair Hydro-Series H60 because I love these coolers and they are dead quiet. 

Cost should have been about (using Amazon pricing which was generally less that what I actually spent):

* Cooler Master Storm Enforcer $74.96
* Gigabyte GA-F2A85XM-D3H MB $91.90
* AMD A10 3.8 GHz $129.00
* AMD 1600 MHz DDR3 16 GB $85.99
* Corsair Cooling Hydro Series H60 $63.24
* Intel 330 240 GB drive $179
* Lite-On Blu-Ray SATA Internal Optical Drive $71.99
* Extra lighted Cooler Master MegaFlow 200mm Fan:  $12.98
* Raidmax 850W 80 Plus Gold Active PFC Power Supply $102.49

Total:  $811.58 for this water cooled high performance SSD system (two years ago the SSD drive alone would have cost more than this). Add to this Windows Pro pricing (not yet announced) and you’d have my system cost at retail. As a side note, I used the display and keyboard from Datamancer, both of which individually cost more than the system itself.

Problems and Amazing Build Time

I’d like to report the build was problem free but I’d started with a cheap Cooler Master semi-modular 650 watt power supply that cost under $50 and the mother board connecter wasn’t seating properly. Meaning, I had an intermittent power off problem which was really annoying to diagnose precisely because it was intermittent.   Good lesson here is: "don’t get a cheap ass power supply."  More expensive ones are actually more efficient and they don’t build their plugs out of deformed plastic.  

The only other problem I had was with the license key for Windows.  I’d mistakenly chosen the Enterprise Edition of the OS which wants to get the key from a central service and to apply it manually is a combination of finding a command line, executing an application which gets you the key menu and then putting in the key.  In any other version the key is far easier to put in. 

The last problem was from feedback, you start with a picture of a Window and no real idea if anything is going on. Then about 3 minutes later you get a progress circle and in about 10 to 15 minutes it is done installing. If this is your first Windows 8 system you may have to migrate your settings and you likely will have to move your files and install your apps. However this wasn’t my first so my settings, passwords, and most personalization migrated automatically.  

I think if I pushed it I could likely do the whole system build and software installation in under an hour with the only thing taking longer is any large file transfer I might have to do later. Honestly, this was the easiest and fastest system build I’ve ever done.  

Wrapping Up:  Other Stuff

Now for a true Windows 8 system you’d want to add either a touch screen or a good multi-touch touchpad. However, low-cost touch screen monitors haven’t really started hitting the market yet and I haven’t found a touch pad that works really well at the stores. The best that I've come across so far is the Logitech wireless touchpad - but it doesn’t do multi-touch. While the Apple touchpad is certainly better hardware, I haven’t located a Windows 8 driver for it yet so many of its features can’t be enabled. I expect both of these issues will be fixed at or before Windows 8 launch.

So if you are thinking of doing a system build with Windows 8 after the official OS launch. you should have a ball if you pick current generation hardware and don’t go cheap. I was particularly impressed with the AMD A10 processor which is a great little performer at a reasonable price.  

And on Windows 8, every time I’ve moved the central system to a new OS I get a lot of grief from my wife who really doesn’t like change very much. This time when I asked her about the new OS and version of Office, she said she loved it. Go figure?