The STEMpunk Project: Designing a Computer System

(Note: my knowledge of computers and computer construction is increasing rapidly. The following shouldn’t be taken as anything other than provisional.)

As part of the Computing section of The STEMpunk Project I wanted to design and build my next PC. Unfortunately, because I did fairly well this past year my annual and completely voluntary donation to Uncle Sam is going to be a bit larger than I expected, so I’m going to defer the actual building part until later in the year when I can afford to buy the components.

I’m still going to design the system though, as I believe this to be a useful exercise for the aspiring techie.

To get a feel for how this process works I did two things: first, I read a couple of books on DIY PC building, making note of the components the authors chose for various “budget”, “mainstream”, and “extreme” systems, and then I tried to analyze the makeup of a few systems with which I am familiar.

The results are summarized in this chart, which adumbrates two systems from Robert and Barbara Thompson’s excellent book “Building the Perfect PC”, the Macbook Pro upon which I’m writing this post, and “The Great Beast”, a system built for Eric Raymond by the good folks at TekSyndicate:

PDF of chart (which I’ll embed directly as soon as I figure out how to do that).

So then, how will I build my own system?


There are a billion different options for PC cases, with all sorts of stylistic variations. You have your steampunk cases, which range from fairly minimalist to exuberantly Baroque:







There are gorgeous cases made out of wood:

wood_159442-438x wood_Mission woodil_fullxfull.690714334_9z0i






Cases with insane paint jobs:







And all manner of custom-built oddities in the shape of musical instruments, anime characters, spacecraft, and so on.

I have this vision of a pure glass case custom built in the shape of a pyramid, etched with runes or other cool, arcane-looking symbols. Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford it, but for now I’ll probably just use an NZXT H630 , the same model that cages The Great Beast (though Raymond’s was black and I prefer the glossy white version):61VvqlEAQwL._SL1500_





I’d like to go ahead and build an “extreme” system based one the $1500 gaming build described in this blog post. The way I see it, my needs are reasonably similar to the ones that motivated the author’s choice in components, and while I plan on using my system more for design, editing, and visualization than gaming, I’d like to leave the option open.

The motherboard he chose is an ASUS Z170A, upon which is mounted a formidable Intel Core i5-6600K CPU and a CM Hyper 212 EVO cooler. The whole apparatus is powered by an EVGA SuperNOVA G2 750 Watt power supply.

“Kingston” was a name in RAM manufacturing that repeatedly came up, and this system will utilize their HyperX Fury 16 GB offering. I don’t plan on using a RAID configuration for storage, and I like feeling like I have plenty of room to expand into, so I’ll probably install a few terabytes worth of Seagate Barracuda XT2 hard drive.

In the graphics card department the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti should be able to handle anything I’m likely to throw at it, and the Crystal Sound 3 integrated audio card is more than enough for my purposes. I will probably spring for some decent 2.1 speakers from Logitech, like their Z623 model.

Using brandname mice, keyboards, and displays doesn’t matter all that much to me. The ergonomic USB keyboard that I’ve been using for a year should suffice, but I have been thinking about giving optical trackballs a try as they reduce wrist strain and extraneous motion. I don’t know the first thing about trackballs, but because I have seen Logitech products endorsed all over the place I might as well try out their Trackman Marble Trackball mouse.

And while one monitor is much the same as another, I hate toggling between windows on a crowded screen, so I am willing to buy some extra screen real estate. This means that whatever n00b pwnage or data visualizations I might happen to be involved in will reach my eyeballs via two (or possibly three) 20 inch monitors.

There you have it, an outline of what will hopefully be the machine powering my future endeavors.



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