the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Tag Archives: microcenter

byopc 2016, windows edition

I have an upcoming project, formatting the next edition of my progressive rock guide, that requires the use of InDesign. My old Dell PC died earlier this year, and as a stop gap I took the guts of this computer and put it in a new box. I got a copy of Windows 10 Education from the day job, and while it was perfectly fine for doing what I normally do on Windows (finances, work email) at home, it was – no surprise – very sluggish with the Adobe Creative Cloud products. And since this job is a big deal, I didn’t want to be frustrated while working on it.

I looked into buying a Windows computer. The local Microcenter had a few decent Intel Core i5 models for under $500, but to be honest they all were cheap builds and according to reviews loaded with crapware. So I decided to look at parts to byopc. Starting with a 6th generation Skylake Intel Core i5 processor for $180, I started to work backward because although the book job will pay off, I’m cheap! The i3-6100 was less expensive at $109. The major difference between the i5 and the i3 is that the latter only has two actual cores; but for my needs, that’s acceptable, especially considering the savings. I picked up a Gigabyte GA-H110M-S2H motherboard for $29.99, which includes a $30 discount for the processor combo, and 8GB of DDR4 memory to match the board. I also decided to get a SSD drive, the Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 Series for $40, figuring that that SSD would more than make up in performance for the step down in processor.

The total cost for the parts was under $250, and it took about two hours to put the computer together, install Windows and download my applications again. I needed to update the Intel 530 display driver right away because the computer had some trouble coming out of sleep mode. But otherwise the computer is fast, has a fresh install of Windows 10 (Anniversary Edition is now updating), and the old hard drive is still there with all my old files. If I haven’t said this before, Windows 10 is one of Microsoft’s best versions yet. I thoroughly enjoy using it, especially on a quick, modern machine.

Now to get working on that book!

high definition tv

After spending the last decade on a standard tube and then a projector, I’ve finally made the move to high-definition television with the purchase of the LG 55B7200 LED TV. I didn’t put a whole lot of research into what brand or model to get, just took a drive down to the local Microcenter and looked around. It ends up that the store has a partnership with LG, which explains why they only carry that brand (with the exception of some cheapies like Westinghouse), and why it saved me about $200 off the lowest price I could find online. With 3 year basic warranty, the TV ran me $998 plus tax. Anyway, don’t you think that most of these boxes come out of all the same factories? Even I like the illusion of an easy decision sometimes!

The TV is 55″, 1080p, 3D, LED, etc. and has 3 HDMI inputs. The “magic remote” is quite nice, and claims to also pair as a universal remote with my other gear. It’s also a “Smart TV”, that uses WebOS, something that has its roots in the Palm devices of yesteryear (via HP). That’s all fine, but I wish it would support Adobe Flash. Went to watch a back episode of The Blacklist through the integrated web browser and couldn’t. At any rate, the apps are for the most part limiting when compared to the web versions, so I’ll be looking at Google’s Chromecast in the next few days. It was very light, maybe 40 lbs, connected to my wifi right away, and I strung a HDMI line to my Marantz home theatre receiver and coax cable from my antennae in the attic. I will want to send audio from the TV to the receiver, but need a cable!

Bottom line is the picture looks great, I didn’t break the bank to get it, and it’s very easy to use. What more to ask for?

I’ll tell you. On a recent trip to Microcenter, I saw that the price of the TV dropped $100 (to $799). I went to the service desk and lo and behold, their 30 day price guarantee put a refund back on my credit card, right then and there. Thank you Microcenter!

byopc 2014

Hard to believe, but it’s been about 5 years since I rebuilt my linux box. With the arrival of 14.04 LTS, I decided it was time. My computer was getting older, but really I had the itch to switch to 64 bit OS, which required a clean install, which made the decision to start anew quite easy…

Here’s my budget box, all purchased at my local Microcenter: Intel Pentium G3240, a low-watt, 2014Q1 processor at $55; Gigabyte B85M-D3H motherboard with Intel Haswell chipset at $80, one (1) Crucial Sport DDR3 8GB at $55, a SanDisk 128GB SSD at $70, and a new 1TB Western Digital Red drive for my media, at $70. Total $330. Rest of the parts were reused, everything installed like a charm, and I got a one-beep post on first boot. The computer is fast, silent, and running a 64 bit OS. Now I’m faced with the daunting task of reinstalling everything from scratch. How liberating!?


Notes: I purchased a bracket for mounting the 2.5″ SSD into a 3.5″ bay, and will be off to get a new case fan because the new mobo needs one with four-pins, the old one has three… weird. Also, I’ll have to come up with a solution for optical spidf, because my old bracket has a three pin connector, while the mobo has a two pin header (the third is +5V to power the light). Of course, I could just get a 75K Coaxial Audio cable, but where’s the fun in that?

UPDATE: Found a pulse width modulation (PWM) case fan at Microcenter, $15. Had to modify my SPIDF optical backet by slicing the red power wire and connecting it to +5v pole on a molex adapter from the power supply. Then I had to install Gnome ALSA mixer in order to get simultaneous output from both my digital and analog outputs (doesn’t survive on reboot however).


FINAL WORD: It’s a great machine, well worth the $350 or so I invested into it. Fast, modern, and sporting a clean install from disk, performance is fantastic. Possible tweaks? 1) Bumping it up to 16GB RAM, and 2) adding a second WD Red disk to RAID1 my media drive.


Built a computer for work this morning: Intel Core i5 650 processor, Gigabyte GA-H55M-S2V motherboard, 4GB OCZ Gold D3-1333 RAM kit, WD 500GB "Black" hard drive and LG 22x DVD burner, all in a plain TX-388 case (shown on right), with an Antec 380W Earthwatts power supply. Win7 installed quickly, will dual boot with Ubuntu (or maybe Red Hat).

Hardware cost: $450.93 (excluding sales tax)

A word about the cost. I purchased everything at my local Microcenter, but first went to NewEgg to check prices. I saved about $50 by doing that. Kudos however to Microcenter for the low price on the i5 650 – $40 less than NewEgg. A license for Windows 7 will run me about $100, so be sure to factor that cost in when deciding to make or buy, as well as a few hours of your time to assemble the parts and install the operating system. Also, I did spend time deciding exactly which parts to buy, insuring they were compatible with each other, price checking for the best deal and finally, going to the store to buy everything.

That said, a similarly equipped machine from Dell or Lenovo would run $800 or $900. Sure, you get a warranty, but, as I told the associate at Microcenter, that's my job!

PS. Why doesn't someone sell an internal 2.25-Inch 8-Ohm 0.25W Speaker?

iogear 2-port usb kvm switch

*Although I didn't buy a video card for the new box, I did spring for a new KVM switch, the IOGear 2-Port USB GCS42UW6, for $19.95 (again Microcenter price-matched NewEgg). What an excellent upgrade. The display from the Ubuntu box looks markedly improved over the old Trendnet TK-207 KVM. No flicker or noise, and no more continual need to auto adjust on my analog monitor. (Yeah, those DVI KVMs are quite pricey). And incidentally, I also noticed that the IOGear installed itself as a USB hub on the Vista machine, something the old one never did.

I'm so happy with this I'm going to give it it's own post. Hey, it's the little things in life…