Crash and Burn

Nat RussoComputers, Tech Leave a Comment

You win some, you lose some, as the saying goes. Just as I was ramping back up on work on Necromancer Ascending, my ancient MSI laptop finally gave up the ghost. I’m talking brick territory.

It had been giving me problems, on and off, for the last year or so. A few months ago, I disassembled it and gave it a thorough cleaning (I’ve worked on and maintained PCs for more than 30 years, so this wasn’t a risky activity for me). Then, over the 4th of July weekend, it went into a continuous reboot cycle and finally died. It doesn’t even POST. The slight burning smell isn’t a great sign either…

So, what am I doing about it? Here’s a hint:

Custom Build Time

For most of my life, I’ve been a dedicated desktop PC user. Because, also for most of my life, I’ve been a relatively hardcore gamer. I’ll settle the age-old religious war right now: if you want the most gaming power you can squeeze into a group of physical objects, you need a PC for that. That’s just physics and how tech works. Sorry, console folks (, he says, owning several consoles himself.)

But I digress…

In all the time I owned my MSI laptop (which, back in 2012 when I bought it, was a high-end gaming laptop) it left the house a whopping one time. And, I always hated how “black box” it was to me. Meaning, there was little-to-nothing I, as a hobbyist, could do to expand and maintain it. I used to love stretching out the lifespan of a desktop PC by 10 years or more by doing targeted upgrades of individual components. But, when I immersed myself in writing, I no longer had time to keep up with all of the advances in hardware.

Well, times have changed. I decided to build my own custom PC. I was going to do this anyway next year, but I had to accelerate my plans. Now, my go-to brick-and-mortar for buying PC components is the enormous Fry’s Electronics store about 3 miles away. So, I grab my mask and drag my ass out of my house for the 2nd time since the apocalypse started, and I take a drive over to Fry’s to (hopefully) gather the components of my dream system. 

The Economy…It Hurts

I should have known something was wrong when I only saw 6 cars in the parking lot (it’s usually difficult to find a parking spot at Fry’s). When I actually went inside and walked over to the components section this is what I saw:

Not only were the shelves bare, but it was as if they’d turned half the lights in the building off as well. [See Bitwit’s video embedded below. Had I known about Bitwit a few months ago, I could have avoided this trip. If you’re into custom PCs and components and such, check out this channel. It’s fantastic!]

I was at a total loss. The last time I was a gear head, Newegg was a fledgling service and I was dubious about online transactions (it wasn’t long after the birth of the WWW, after all, and e-commerce was the wild wild west). Moreover, I needed something now. That MSI laptop wasn’t coming back. I’m not that kind of Necromancer ;).

As far as I could tell, I had very few choices. I also started thinking about how much hardware had changed since I last held screwdriver to case. Erring on the side of caution, I decided to research custom build services online. I figured, “let’s have a pro do it the first time. I’ll open the case when it gets here and have a look at what they’ve done. Then, I’ll do it next time.”

The Solution

After a few days of research, I finally settled on They came highly recommended by the tech sources I trust. I spent time comparing their component prices to other vendors (such as Newegg), and I was pleasantly surprised. Moreover, they assemble/integrate the parts and ship a complete system to your door. Their website is extremely intuitive to use, and the tool they give you to spec out your new system is pretty fun to use. Also, by selecting every single component that goes into your case, you’re avoiding the common issues with buying so-called “pre-built” systems. This is literally a custom build, just with someone else doing the labor.

Here’s the component list I ended up with:

  • Case: Thermaltake Core V21 Gaming Case
  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i9-9900K Processor (8x 3.60GHz/16MB L3 Cache)
  • Thermal Paste: Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut Thermal Grease Paste
  • Motherboard: ASUS TUF B365M-Plus Gaming with WiFi — RGB, 4x USB 3.1 Gen 1, 2x USB 2.0, 2x M.2 [Intel Optane Ready]
  • Memory: 32 GB [16 GB x2] DDR4-2666 Memory Module – Corsair Vengeance LPX
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti – 11GB GDDR6 – EVGA BLACK (VR-Ready)
  • Power Supply: 750 Watt – Thermaltake Toughpower Grand RGB – 80 PLUS Gold, Full Modular
  • Processor Cooling: CORSAIR Hydro Series H115i RGB PLATINUM 280mm Liquid CPU Cooling System
  • Case Fans: 3x [RGB] Thermaltake Riing Plus 12 Premium Edition 120mm Fan
  • Primary Hard Drive: 1TB SEAGATE FIRECUDA 520 M.2 PCI-E 4.0 NVME Gen 4 SSD – Gen4 Read: 5000 MB/s, Write: 4400 MB/s, Gen3 Read: 3450 MB/S, Write: 2500MB/s
  • Secondary Hard Drive: 2 TB Seagate Barracuda Hard Drive — 256MB Cache, 7200RPM, 6.0Gb/s – Single Drive
  • Keyboard: Razer Huntsman Elite Opto-Mechanical Gaming Keyboard [Optical Light Sensor Switches] – Razer Opto-Mechanical™ Switches; customizable Chroma backlight keys
  • Internal Expansion: [5-Port] NZXT Internal USB Expansion Hub- 3 Internal connectors, 2 external connectors + ASUS Bluetooth 4.0 USB Adapter
  • Case Fans: 3x [RGB] Thermaltake Riing Plus 12 Premium Edition 120mm Fan
  • Misc: RGB Cable Combs + [Black] Sleeved Extension Cables (Include Professional Wiring)

It’s a micro-ATX configuration, but the airflow on that Thermaltake case is ridiculous! It’s filtered mesh on 5 of 6 sides!

The liquid cooler has a spacious 280mm radiator with two 140mm fans. The case itself comes with a 200mm intake fan, and I’m adding an additional 3 Thermaltake Riing Plus 12 120mm fans (each of which I happen to know push/pull 46 cubic feet of air per minute!) So, I don’t think I’ll be having any issues with airflow any time soon.

You may have noticed the memory speed is on the slow side for DDR-4. However, memory speed isn’t an issue until you become processor-bound. And, Intel processors are far more forgiving of low-speed memory than AMD processors are. The latest-gen Ryzen is better, but 1st gen absolutely needed a minimum of 3200Mhz. [Also, that’s the upper limit on that particular motherboard, which was a limiting factor on the iBuyPower site.]

As far as monitors are concerned, there’s no sense in spending cash on a high-end GPU if you’re going to cheap out on the monitor. I ended up buying an Alienware 34″ curved (1900R) ultra-wide (3440 x 1440p) IPS panel with built in G-Sync. It’s a 120hz monitor, but when you’ve been gaming at 60hz all your life, you’re not going to notice the difference between 120 and 160. It has 2ms gray-to-gray response, which is pretty awesome compared to the shitshow I was gaming on. Oh, and the backlight bleed is virtually non-existent. With free shipping through Amazon Prime, it didn’t hurt as badly as it otherwise could have, but this monitor isn’t for the faint of wallet.

If you’re into custom PC builds, drop me a line in the comments below with your rig’s specs! I don’t know what I’m going to call this PC yet. If you have any good ideas, drop them off in the comments section.

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    About Nat Russo

    Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

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