Building a New Desktop Computer

Desktop tower computers have gone the way of pickup trucks.  You can still see them chugging along in work environments, but you probably won’t find many in homes unless they are ancient and collecting dust.  Most consumers only need a machine capable of browsing the internet, playing videos, and sending emails and those types of machines can easily be crammed into a touchscreen tablet (a convertible) or a laptop (sedan) or even a smartphone (mini smart car).

The last computer that I built was put together in 2011.  I needed something cheap to do eight hours of work on a day.  I believe I spent $700 on parts back then and it had served me well enough as a stop gap.  Five years of constant use can be tough on a computer, just like it is on a truck.  Eventually the physical hardware was just falling apart.  I could have thrown parts at it, but computers age like large breed dogs.


I knew this day was coming over a year ago when my first DIY computer build was starting to give me signs of failure, so I had been setting aside money to fund a replacement.

This time around, I splurged, and spent about $1100 on parts.  So what does that get you in 2016?  (Yes, this should be a funny post to re-read in 5 years).

  • Intel Core I-7 6700 Quad Core processor @ 3.4 Ghz (4 real cores / 8 threads)
  • 2×500 GB SSD (solid state drives)
  • 32 GB of DDR4 RAM @ 2400 Mhz
  • BluRay optical drive
  • Motherboard
  • Case
  • 550W Modular Power Supply
  • 200 mm case fan
  • NH-D9L CPU heatsink
  • 22″ Monitor

I salvaged the following parts from my first computer

  • NVIDIA GTX 960 SSC Graphics Card
  • 2 Monitors
  • VESA 3-way Monitor Mount
  • 2.1 Speaker Setup
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • 1 250 GB SSD
  • 1 320 GB HD
  • 1 500 GB HD

I trashed the old case and sold the old motherboard, CPU, RAM, and heatsink on eBay for $80.


My goal for this build was to make a compact, powerful, and quiet running system.  I chose an itx motherboard and case.  ITX just describes the size of the case and motherboard.


I liked working with this particular case because it was very flexible.  For instance, both hard drive cages could be removed to make extra space.


The motherboard only has two RAM slots, so I won’t be able to add extra RAM later on.  I feel that 32 GB or RAM should be enough to get me through the next five years.


The CPU came with a heatsink and fan (below left), but I purchased an aftermarket unit (below right) that does a better job of cooling the hottest part of the computer.


Installing the CPU into the motherboard is a simple affair.  It only fits one way.


Then you lock it down with the little metal lever and spread some thermal compound on top of the CPU.  The thermal compound is a heat conductive material that helps transfer the heat from the CPU to the heatsink.


Then the heatsink gets installed on top of the CPU.


The two sticks of white RAM get installed onto the motherboard next.


With the CPU, heatsink, and ram installed, it is a good time to install the motherboard in the case.


Next I installed a couple of SSDs on the case side panel.  Storage options have really taken off over the past few years offering larger drives with faster speeds.  The particular motherboard that I selected even has a port on the backside for a super fast blade style M2 drive.


The power supply and case fans get installed next.


Then once you connect all of the cables, the user manuals make it clear as to what goes where, you can boot the computer up for the first time.

You’ll likely see the BIOS screen.


This is the little operating system that comes with the motherboard.  You can configure some of your hardware with these screens and the motherboard manual will have more information on all of the options.

Turning off the computer, I installed the 3 salvaged hard drives and the graphics card.



The BluRay drive also gets installed and then the whole thing gets closed up.



Hook up all the cables in the back and you are ready to install your favorite OS.


My new computer is about 5 times faster than the old one.  I did use all 32 GB of RAM when I was working on a promotional video for one of my Apps.  Adobe After Effects is a memory hog.

As a strange tangent, I did recently read about one crafty individuals experience creating a ‘new’ computer in the Cloud so he could play the latest and greatest video games without having to build a new physical computer.  You can read more about his 60¢/hour Cloud gaming rig here.  Forewarning, it is pretty technical jargon heavy!

An Interesting Observation from Survey Data

This blog is about being frugal, and one of the advantages of being frugal is that you might be able to retire earlier or retire on less than the ‘norm’.

One of the internet forums that I peruse on occasion is the community is full of individuals and couples that are looking to retire securely and possibly even decades earlier than the conventional 65-67.

This summer, there was an open survey on that forum, that asked participants a variety of questions concerning their personal finances.  Just recently, the results of that survey have been posted.  With over 1300 responses, there are some interesting conclusions that can be drawn, but I just want to focus on one.

Savings Rate vs Income

We all know what income is, for example if you earn $40k/yr and your spouse earns $20k/yr and you have no other sources of income then your gross income number would be 40k + 20k = $60k/yr.  Savings rate, is the percentage of that gross income that is left over after all of your yearly expenses, taxes, healthcare, etc are deducted from your gross income.  In the above example, if you have $10k left over at the end of the year then your savings rate would be 16.6%.  As a reference, Vanguard recommends that households put away 12-15% of their gross income away for retirement each year.

The forum members on financialindependence are not representative of the general population.  Most of them are SINKs or DINKs (Single Income No Kids or Double Income No Kids) living in HCOL (high cost of living) areas such as the East or West coast cities.  Usually, they have very high incomes that are multiples of the median US household income, $52k/yr.

With all of that said, you would think that the higher the income became, the higher the savings rate would be.  After all, if you made one million dollars a year, surely you could stash away 90% of that.  Couldn’t you?

It turns out, the data says something different.  While savings rate does trend upwards, it is a very, very weak pattern.


Households making $100k/yr, nearly double that of the median household income in the US, are stashing away about 50% of that (keep in mind these are for people pursuing early retirement).  Now look at the households making twice that, $200k/yr.  The savings rate is still around 55%, a mere 5% increase despite a 100% increase in income.

What Gives?

There could be any number of reasons.

  1. Higher income households may have more student loan debt (doctors, lawyers, etc)
  2. Higher income households have a higher tax burden (28%+)
  3. Higher income households could be located in higher cost of living areas (NYC, San Francisco, D.C.)
  4. There could be a psychological barrier (I earned it, I deserve something nice)

I am not sure what exactly is going on behind the numbers, but I find it fascinating regardless.

What About the 1 Percenters?

If you widen out the chart to include truly preposterous incomes you’ll see two things happen.

  1. There aren’t as many data points, so it becomes harder to identify trends
  2. The existing trend doesn’t change much


Why Should I Care?

That’s a good question, and it has a simple answer.  The time until you can retire doesn’t depend at all upon your income, it depends on your savings rate.  The greater percentage of your income that you can save for retirement each year, the earlier you can retire.  A popular early retirement blog explains the idea.  For example, saving Vanguard’s recommended 15% of income each year equates to 43 working years.  Saving 50% equates to 17 working years.

The question isn’t, “how can I earn more so I can retire faster” but instead, “how can I reduce my expenses and be more frugal so I can retire sooner?”

You can see some more of the survey results represented in purdy pictures here.

What’s My Cluster? A Look Into PersonicX

Have you ever wondered how advertisers such as Facebook can seemingly know so much about you?  The answer boils down to 7 simple questions that can place you into one of 70 Clusters and 21 Groups in the PersonicX model developed by Acxiom.  As a happy coincidence, Facebook employs this very same model.

What is PersonicX?

According to the Acxiom website, “Personicx segments U.S. households into one of 70 distinct clusters within 21 life stage groups.”  The goal of categorizing individuals into different clusters and groups is to make advertising more effective.  You can try out the demo on the Acxiom website (they say that the results won’t be used for anything besides the demo purposes).

Link to the Demo

I inputted our answers and got Cluster #21: Children First.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 8.09.42 PM

Generally, the lower the Cluster #, the more affluent the individual happens to be.  Cluster #70 “Resilient Renters” describes unemployed or temporarily employed renters living in mixed housing.  Cluster #1 “Summit Estates” describes the wealthiest group.

The methodology, and descriptions of all 70 Clusters is available here.  Scroll about half way down to see the Clusters.

What Cluster do you belong to?  Was it eerily accurate?