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Need sacrificial computer that can suffer abuse.

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a b B Homebuilt system
October 29, 2012 6:30:12 AM

Yeah, the title kinda says it all.

My best friend is less computer savvy than my grandmother - his computer has so much malware and abuse that's accumulated over the years that I want to put the poor thing out of its misery. So I'm going to be building him a new computer at some point. (I unfortunately don't know what budget I get to play with yet.)

Here's the thing. I need a computer that's built like a tank. I'm planning on going micro-ATX form factor (unless it won't fit a GTX670), and making it as indestructible little box as I can - it'll be traveling a lot. I'm also planning on building a custom case. (Well... a reinforced cardboard box with padding inside. :p  )

As far as the OS is concerned, it's going to have Malware Bytes and Windows Security Essentials, and will be scheduled to back up to an external drive every so often.

My question is what sort of hardware I should be looking for. I recently learned that my friend hadn't turned his computer off for over two months. (And he was surprised when it played games better after a reboot!) So... we can safely presume that the computer is going to be always-on.

What components are going to wear out from this? Are there any particular brands I should avoid / go with? I was planning on an 80+ Gold PSU, if just to save his parents some money and help the computer last longer.

I'm going to try to educate him on computer maintenance (such as turning the computer off at night), but I'll doubt we'll stick. This is the boy who, when installing a wireless dongle, threw out the driver CD because he thought it was just advertisements. He's smart normally, but extremely stupid when it comes to computers.

So what do I do to idiot-proof a rig?
a b B Homebuilt system
October 29, 2012 7:00:50 AM

Ehh, I wouldn't do cardboard with padding. No airflow for that. 80 Plus bronze would be a good option as well.
October 29, 2012 7:02:56 AM

A titanium bullet proof box. :) 
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a b B Homebuilt system
October 29, 2012 7:23:48 AM

Deemo13 said:
Ehh, I wouldn't do cardboard with padding. No airflow for that. 80 Plus bronze would be a good option as well.



... a computer needs airflow during transport? :p 
I was going with the In-Win Dragon Slayer for a case.
October 29, 2012 7:25:52 AM

How about the CM Storm Scout 2?

Or ITX, with the Bitfenix Prodigy....
a b B Homebuilt system
October 29, 2012 7:29:41 AM

I would prefer to avoid ITX, it's just too small, considering the power and longevity he wants out of it. Would the Cooler Master fit a GTX 670?

Also, the biggest part of my question was which internal parts would take least harm from being at idle almost constantly?
a c 105 B Homebuilt system
October 29, 2012 7:41:02 AM

Any decent non HTPC case will support a card like the 670.
The Bitfenix Prodigy is actually a good idea. Its an ITX case but will fit full size components like the PSU and graphics card.

I think the components most affected by constant usage would be the PSU and HDD. So something like a Seasonic that will stand up to constant use. For the HDD there isnt much you can do admittedly unless you go full SSD (which would also guard against it physically breaking, no moving parts).
You could RAID1 two drives, though that wont protect against him screwing it up software wise.
a b B Homebuilt system
October 29, 2012 7:48:46 AM

Hmm, I was going to go with a Corsair, so I'm covered there...

And I was debating whether it would be worth it to grab a 256 GB SSD.

As far as I know he doesn't require much storage, so it would likely be the best option, especially if they can't take damage or wear from anything but read/write cycles.
October 29, 2012 8:17:17 AM

Silverstone PS07.
October 29, 2012 8:21:03 AM

An enterprise server grade components might be an option. Or a high-level gaming rigs, built for overclocking but just do not overclock them at all.

Be warned that the cost to buy such components are double the cost than the cost of consumer grade components...

I just go with enthusiasts gaming rigs because I have no idea how to build an enterprise server. I'm not that lucky to be able build a company with servers in it :p 

Also I need to say that there is no "idiot-proof"... All things broke even in the hands of professionals. So what I'm aiming here is a build that generate less heat, to lengthen the life of the components.

- Processor:
Intel Ivy Bridge chips, for budget an i3, but I'll go with i5. Got four cores which is more than enough for just everything. Intel chips also consume less power and thus produce less heat.

- Mobo:
The most important thing for a mobo in this case is the phase voltage regulators, both in terms of number , quality and cooling. This is because the phase regulators is the component which supply power to the processor and the hottest things on load. Heatsink on the chipset may also be important.

You can go crazy and get a mobo like Asus Sabertooth series, which currently is equipped with thermal armor. But I feel something like Asus P8H77-V is enough, it has 8 phase regulators (the black cubes surrounding the processor socket, and the blue heat spreader behind it). Usually I'll just buy something with 4-6 phase regulators (I don't overclock) but in your case you may need more regulators and heat spreaders.

- RAM:
I guess anything is okay, just try a low profile DDR3-1600 or DDR3-1886 (low profile means the heatspreader is not tall). Tall heatspreader usually indicates the RAM is overclocked and generate more heat.

- Harddisk:
For OS, I guess an SSD which consume less power and generate less heat. For huge data storage something like Western Digital Red series which is intended for small servers. But in my experience a WD Green is already cool enough. Of course you can go for an enterprise grade HDD that has 3D accelerometers to detect vibration in all direction...

SSD has a tricky parts though, many believes that SSD cell life cycle is shorter than HDD (although companies said now SSD cells has similar life cycles to HDD, correct me if I'm wrong, I got no SSD to play with). So we need to try to reduce the number of writes to the SSD. For Windows, disable the backup, system restore, virtual paging (using disk drive as supplement for RAM), and DON'T defrag. SSD can read data in random position so you do not need to align the data to increase performance.

I use Linux though, so I never defrag... :D 

- VGA
I don't know what kind of games are you playing. If you are playing casual games or playing in HD but with some details lowered, a Radeon 7750 or 7770 series might just be enough. If you want to play games in full HD with all graphics option turned on then a 7850 or 7870. Remember more performance = more power = more heat. To date, I'll go with Radeon because it uses less power to achive similar performance compared to Nvidia. For brands, OEM coolers is ok for most of the part. I have some experience with Asus Direct CU coolers, MSI TwinFrozr coolers, HIS IceQ, Sapphire VaporX; all are good, don't know which to choose. Do some research to get the numbers, but I bet the difference isn't much in terms of performance vs heat.

- Power
I myself prefer anything gold or platinum certified PSU. The build above may be using 270-300 watts of electricity so a 400 to 500 watt PSU will be enough. My favorites are Kingwin/Super Flower or Seasonic series.

- Cooling & Casing
I can't separate these two guys. Cooling has a great deal with casing airflow, so both must be considered together. There are two general rules for a good casing airflow: Lots of holes and separation of components airflow.

For holes, I guess I don't need to explain, more holes + more fans = more air.

Separation of components airflow is also important. That is each and every components should have a fan blowing the cool air from outside to them for themselves. That is why, look for casing that has independent intakes for PSU. Then a huge side holes for GPU and CPU (very important, these two are the hottest component in your rig), or a separate bottom and top holes. Then front holes to cool your HDD. And a back hole to dispose everything.

Make sure that there is more holes sucking air in rather than blowing them out and every intake has dust filter. This is to create "positive airflow", air will fill the case and most importantly suck dust only to the filter and blow the dust away from small gaps around the casing.

So for casing, I really like the Corsair Carbide series, but as long as the case meet the criteria, its OK. It's also though. Oh yeah, look for casings with steel chassis if you expect your friends to throw them. Aluminium or plastics covers are OK just the chassis must be very very though. I don't know is there any carbon-fibre casing, though.

For cooling systems you can go air or water cooling, but I recommend air cooling. Air cooling is easier to maintain and some has a very, very good performance, but has the problem that it may "pollutes" surrounding air with heat and may influence other components. That's why you must plan the casing and cooling carefully, so that the heatspreader has a direct intake and exhaust to reduce heat pollution. Second, the dimension is usually big, so it may not fit in the casing or obstructs other components (especially RAM and VGA). My favorite brand is Thermalright, their True Spirit or Macho series are good.

Water cooling is far more powerful, it can cool multiple components, and you can put the radiator away from other components so that it does not cause much heat pollution to other components. The problem is installing and maintaining such system is hard, and of course cracks and leaks will kill the system. As I'm considering your friend, I don't recommend this.

Phew that's all. Remember to clean the dust sometimes.

You are actually lucky that many of the components nowaday actually has an automatic turn off features (or deep sleep, whatever). See your smart phone for example, although you think they're on, the components actually uses less power when you put them in pockets than when you are using it. They literally consume almost zero power, the difference is that the system still response to user input, and does not need to reboot.

Lucky you, because actually there are a lot of people who do not turn their computer off, and component designers and engineers catch a glimpse of that. I just feel sorry for the mother nature.
a b B Homebuilt system
October 30, 2012 8:50:34 PM

I think you missed both that this is for a friend, and that I've been building computers for my entire life - I know how to select good parts, I just don't know which ones will be able to survive abuse. That being said, I'll reply to what I didn't know.

catchCache said:
An enterprise server grade components might be an option. Or a high-level gaming rigs, built for overclocking but just do not overclock them at all. Be warned that the cost to buy such components are double the cost than the cost of consumer grade components...
said:
Going with server components might very well be an option, I'll keep that in mind. Also, if I were building him a high level gaming rig, I'd probably be overclocking it for him, so he wouldn't have to worry about that.

catchCache said:
Mobo:
The most important thing for a mobo in this case is the phase voltage regulators, both in terms of number , quality and cooling. This is because the phase regulators is the component which supply power to the processor and the hottest things on load. Heatsink on the chipset may also be important.
Here's something I know nothing about. Everything you said makes sense - I just don't know how to tell how many phase regulators a mobo has, or how well designed its cooling is. I would prefer to avoid the Sabertooth though - I've heard a lot of things about it, not all of it good.

catchCache said:
- Harddisk:
For OS, I guess an SSD which consume less power and generate less heat. For huge data storage something like Western Digital Red series which is intended for small servers. But in my experience a WD Green is already cool enough. Of course you can go for an enterprise grade HDD that has 3D accelerometers to detect vibration in all direction...
SSD has a tricky parts though, many believes that SSD cell life cycle is shorter than HDD (although companies said now SSD cells has similar life cycles to HDD, correct me if I'm wrong, I got no SSD to play with). So we need to try to reduce the number of writes to the SSD. For Windows, disable the backup, system restore, virtual paging (using disk drive as supplement for RAM), and DON'T defrag. SSD can read data in random position so you do not need to align the data to increase performance.
Considering I own an enthusiast rig with a couple SSDs, I'm fairly set here. (Though I do need to know if he NEEDS more than 256GB of storage, I doubt it.)


catchCache said:
You are actually lucky that many of the components nowaday actually has an automatic turn off features (or deep sleep, whatever). See your smart phone for example, although you think they're on, the components actually uses less power when you put them in pockets than when you are using it. They literally consume almost zero power, the difference is that the system still response to user input, and does not need to reboot.
Hmm, I hadn't thought about that. I could also probably configure windows to turn the computer off at night too, couldn't I?

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a b B Homebuilt system
October 30, 2012 9:01:10 PM
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Don't worry about longevity as long as there is adequate cooling components will last beyond their useful age (5+ years). Don't go for server components or super expensive gaming/overclocking mobos either.
a b B Homebuilt system
October 30, 2012 9:04:03 PM

^So you're saying basically any modern component will last past its obsolescence, even if it's running almost constantly?
a b B Homebuilt system
October 30, 2012 9:06:15 PM

Pretty much.
a b B Homebuilt system
October 30, 2012 9:29:50 PM

Okay, good to know. Thanks!
a b B Homebuilt system
October 31, 2012 7:23:18 AM

Yeah.
a b B Homebuilt system
November 6, 2012 11:03:04 PM

Best answer selected by DarkSable.
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