PC upgrade: The 2020 edition

Fractal Node 202 mini-ITX PC

I like building my own computers. Why do I do it?

I enjoy customizing my computer, setting the specs, and selecting the parts. More importantly, I like understanding what’s going on under the hood. If something goes wrong with the machine, there’s a better chance that I’ll be able to fix it.

I built my first PC in 2005. It worked well and lasted over 8 years. In fact, had it not been for Microsoft ending support for Windows XP, I probably would have kept the machine a few years longer. You can see the parts list for that first machine along with that of its replacement by clicking here.

I’ve built several computers since then, both for myself and family members. I doubt that I will ever go back to buying an off-the-shelf desktop PC again.

My latest build is a compact PC in a mini-ITX form factor, which is what I’ve used for my last few builds. Unlike in the past, you don’t have to compromise on performance when building a machine with a small footprint. To see just how far things have come, here’s a rundown of the new machine and a comparison to the one it replaced.

The new computer replaces the last ATX mid-Tower case I built back in 2013. Looking back at my previous PC builds (and purchases), between 7 and 8 years appears to be the time frame between PC upgrades for me.

For comparison purposes, here’s the parts list for the old PC.

PartDescriptionPrice
ProcessorIntel Core i5-3570$203
MotherboardASUS P8Z77-V$129
RAMCorsair Vengeance 8GB DDR3 SDRAM$59
Video CardEVGA GeForce GTX 660$203
SSDSamsung 840 Series 250GB$164
Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda 2TB$93
Optical DriveLG Blu-ray Disc combo$49
CaseNZXT Phantom 410$104
Power SupplyCorsair TX 750W$111
OSWindows 7 Professional$144
Total Cost$1,259

Here are the components and part list for the latest machine. It wasn’t much cheaper than what I built 7 years ago, but it’s a significant upgrade. The processor is a lot more powerful, there’s 4x the RAM, and the SSD size is 1TB. I also dumped a couple of unnecessary components such as the video card since I don’t game much and the optical drive since programs are available via download. I also didn’t buy a hard drive for the new machine. My previous hard drive was used mostly for data storage, so I bought an external enclosure and connected the drive to my new machine through a USB port. Eventually, I may transfer the data to a NAS device I own.

Parts used in mini-ITX PC build
PartDescriptionPrice
ProcessorIntel Core i5-10600K$302
MotherboardASUS ROG STRIX H470-I$174
RAMG.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 32GB DDR4 SDRAM$150
SSDIntel 665p Series M.2 2280 1TB$116
CaseFractal Design Node 202 with Integra 450W PSU$157
CPU CoolerSilverstone Tek Low-Profile Heatsink AR06$50
OSWindows 10 Pro$160
Total Cost$1,109

Here’s a side-by-side showing the difference in size between the two machines.

Comparison of mid-ATX tower vs mini-ITX OC form factors

It also takes up considerably less room in my desk.

mid-ATX tower in desk
mini-ITX in desk

I’ve only had the machine up and running for a few days. While I’m still in the process of finalizing the setup, I have no doubt that I’m going to like it. It’s more powerful, smaller, and noticeably quieter, which is an added bonus!

I’m sure that this machine will last me another 7 years. It will be interesting to see what the technology looks like then. For all I know, we might be wearing our computers by then!