This was my first build. I use an iMac for daily work, entertainment, etc., but the GTX 680MX was starting to show its age, so I've been planning this for about a year.
This summer, I got selected to teach high school social studies (for which I have a Master's degree) at one of the best schools in the entire state. Very long story extremely short, they decided to go with an internal transfer instead and had no intention of telling me. I was very frustrated, but I decided to spend some of the money I'd been saving on this computer as a consolation prize (hence the name). Better luck next year.
I set a budget of $1,400, and I only went $180 over, so I think I did pretty well. I decided to go to a local computer parts store rather than buy online for a number of reasons: 1) I could get all my components on day one; if I missed anything, I could go back and get it right away; if I needed to return something, it would be quick and easy; and I could actually touch and manipulate cases to see what they're like. Instead of paying for shipping, I paid taxes, and I also got some good deals out of it. Minus the components I already had, I saved over $250, even accounting for taxes. I did have to buy a monitor, which cut into my budget substantially, because you can't use iMacs in Target Display Mode anymore (but a 27" 1440p IPS monitor would've been awesome).
THREE THINGS I LEARNED
Anything that can be zip-tied should be zip-tied. Not only is it great for keeping track of cables, but it makes a really satisfying noise when you do it. Get yourself a cheap pack of these so you can be really unreasonable with how much you zip-tie.
If you're like me and you sweat a lot, be very careful and have a cloth or something handy. Summers in St. Louis are hot and extremely humid. Building in the winter would be a bad idea, though, because it gets very, very dry.
To keep cats from getting all up in everything, toss them the empty boxes as you open stuff. Cats love boxes. Also bottlecaps: I kept a few at hand to distract the rambunctious one.
THREE PROBLEMS I HAD
The stock Intel cooler: getting all the pins through to the other side of the motherboard and making sure you have enough penetration to satisfy the manual is very difficult. I had to keep picking up the board and looking underneath to check, and I had to redo the pins many times.
It may just be on my case, but there's a little panel above the expansion slots that you have to take off first, and I hadn't seen that in any building videos. It runs along the top of all the slots, and you have to unscrew it before you can fit the video card in.
The instructions were not clear at all about which way 'round to put the front panel connectors (HDD LED, PWR LED, etc.). They had some pictures, but I mostly had to guess.
Even though it was kind of exhausting, nerve-wrackingly expensive, and time consuming, my first thought after I finished was, "I want to do that again!". I think I've found a hobby. And although this little machine can't make up for me not getting my dream job (and being treated with breathtaking disrespect), it sure is nice. That's why I've dubbed it The Consolation Prize.
Thanks for reading.
My only issue was with the stock cooler being difficult to install properly. It's tough to make sure you've got the correct amount of penetration below the board, and I had to reseat the pins many times.
This was my first motherboard, and it was easy to build on and felt like a quality product. The chassis fan connectors aren't in ideal locations, but it's not enough to knock off any points for. The bundled software is a bit of a hassle, but I was expecting much worse. The RGB LEDs are a little gimmicky, but I like how you can use them to visually monitor CPU temperature.
The pictures don't do this justice: the black part is a solid, thick metal, and the X logo is reflective and silver in a really pretty way. They're heavy, which always makes electronics seem more substantial.
Works great, speed is as-advertised. It's a bit boring for putting on display in your case, but at least it's not covered in some lame sticker.
At 1440p, I can turn up the graphics all the way on most anything and still get 40+ FPS. I can even turn up the draw distance in ArmA 3 to over 5km! This one is overclocked and has cool RGB LEDs what you can use to monitor GPU temperature. It also has two 4-pin fan connectors onboard so that you can hook up case fans to respond specifically to a hot graphics card.
I haven't had a problem with the matte finish scratching off. I treat my electronics with kid gloves because I want them to seem like-new forever (got a 4-year-old iMac what looked brand new to the guy at the Apple Store). It lost one star for two reasons: 1) no dust filter on the top fan; and 2) I would've liked an extra 2-5mm clearance for the back panel.
I got this refurbished. So far, so good. Full modularity is wonderful and I'm never going back. The included cables are a bit stiff and plasticky, and mine didn't come with SATA cables that weren't 90-degree, which made mounting my SSD flat against my case difficult. Don't know if that's because I got it refurbished, though.
Windows is a necessary evil for me. I'm not an Apple fanboy anymore, I'm just extremely comfortable with Mac OS. I find Windows clunky, obtuse, a bit boring, vulnerable to attacks, and over-communicative.
They are very quiet, but they move a good amount of air. The rings can get warped if you screw them in a bit too tightly, though, and the cables could be longer.
I took off one star for three reasons: 1) it's a bit too bright at night in a dark room, even with the brightness turned all the way down; 2) I had to do some calibration to get it looking right; and 3) the back panel is very staticky and attracts a lot of dust and cat hair.
Best mouse ever, only now they make an RGB one.