My Intel Core i5 Skylake Build

After four years on an Intel i5-2500, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Also because I want to pass down some components to the other people in the household. I bought my i5-2500 back in 2012 which is four years ago. While it still performs admirably, and the new CPU will not be significantly faster, it will sit in a motherboard with modern connectors (USB 3, 3.1, M.2. etc.), as well as bringing the memory up to DDR4. The i5-2500 wasn’t the latest processor when it was bought either. Ivy Bridge was out (the 3xxx series), but still a bit costly. This time, I plunked down for the latest generation, simply because it’s the second 14nm CPU-family from Intel the first being Broadwell; it represents the “tock” in the (now defunct?) Intel tick/tock development model. The tock stays on the same manufacturing process as the previous tick, but optimizes performance and reduces power consumption. The CPU I went with is similar to the one I have. I chose the Core i5-6600K. The main differences (other than four generations of Intel CPUs in between) is the K, signifying an unlocked CPU. While I don’t usually go for overclocking, I might want to squeeze some extra performance out of this one at some later date, seeing as my upgrades are few and far between.

As an interesting fact, this Intel Core i5-6600K cost 270€, while the i5-2500 cost a little under 200 back in 2012 (196€ I think). The next one up would have basically been a locked i7-6700, at 354€. The unlocked version of the CPU I got would have been 253€, so 17 euros less.

For the motherboard, I picked the Asus Z170 Pro Gaming. There are cheaper alternatives (B and H chipsets, starting at around 60€), but I figured, with a semi-expensive CPU, I’d better not cheap out on the motherboard. I actually bought a bundle, which contained the motherboard, and an Asus ROG Gladius mouse (which isn’t actually that bad; it costs around 60€ bought separately).

For the CPU cooler, I didn’t want to all out for a Nexus at 70-90 bucks. I instead opted for a fairly well priced Cooler Master 212 EVO. At 42€ it’s a mid range cooler, which has done fairly well in the reviews I read.

Rounding everything off, I got 16GB’s of Kingston’s HyperX Fury memory, operating at 2666 MHz. A kit of two 8 GB sticks, which set me back 83€. I could have opted for cheaper memory. Words like “Fury” or “Hyper” do not really factor into my daily usage profile. But it was a 16 GB kit which is certified compatible with the motherboard, as per Asus’ documentation. That is important to me. (The cheapest 16GB DDR4 kit/stick right now costs 64€)

Pile o' Parts
Pile o’ Parts

Preparations

Installation started with a backup of my system. I use Veeam Endpoint Backup Free (v. 1.5), backing up to a 3TB NAS. In case I need a bare metal recovery, there’s an ISO file that I can burn on a disk or throw on a USB stick. Probably not but.. you can never be too sure. What’s being removed is:

  • Asus P8Z68-V Gen. 3 Motherboard
  • Intel Core i5-2500
  • 16 GB of DDR3 memory (4x4GB sticks)
  • Nexus NH-U12P (dual fan)

So I’m not touching the case (Fractal Design Define R4 Pearl Black), storage (Samsung 840 Pro 256GB SSD, 1 x WD Red 2TB drive + Intel 910 SSD PCI-E card, 400GB), PSU (Corsair 650 TX), GPU (Nvidia GTX 960) and other assorted bits and bobs.

Oh, I am getting rid of my Razer Blackwidow keyboard and my Razer Deathadder Chroma, because Razer software is shit. It annoyed me to the point of throwing out 200 € worth of Razer stuff. The mouse is already replaced, the keyboard will wait for Assembly 2016, where I will buy a Ducky. Maybe this will be another blog post later on.

I am also taking the time to clean out the case of dust and so on. A good thing to remember during the hot summer. Dust makes for bad air flow, and bad air flow makes for hot computers. And I don’t mean the sexy kind!

Tear-down

The case was absolutely full of dust. Luckily there are at least *a* filter in the bottom of the case, but most fans were still in pretty bad shape. I started by separating all case-to-motherboard cables, as well as psu-to-motherboard cables. After that, I removed the motherboard/cpu/memory/cooler combo. I forgot how heavy the Nexus NH-U12P was!

A quick dust-off, and the case was ready to receive the new parts.

Build.. up?

Ah! Forgot about the I/O backplate. Remove that, and insert the new one that came with the Z170 motherboard.

Check that motherboard standoffs are all in shape and tighten them.

I opted to install the CPU and cooler prior to putting the MB in the case. Socket 1151 installation was very simple with the included cpu installation tool. Snap the cpu into the plastic install tool. Put the tool with the cpu inside into the socket. Close socket latch. I was surprised that you could actually leave the tool in place, but it fits, and the instructions tell you just that.

First, attach the plate that comes behind the motherboard for cooler mounting. This wasn’t too hard, but it was nice to have an extra pair of hands to help. You have to flip the board in order to attach bolts to the other side. A handy tool is included for tightening them.

Small dab of thermal paste in the middle of the CPU (I always do it this way), and attach the cooler to the previously attached backplate. Very easy, although you do have to apply a small amount of force to get the spring-attached screws to bite properly.

Smoke test

I like to run Memtest86 for a night after a new build is done. Also a few hours of furmark / prime95 just to see that things are stable. Some people advocate even longer tests, and there might be arguments for this, but I’m content. Temps for the new build are very good, even with the budget-priced Cooler Master. I can readily recommend this combination (i5 Skylake + CM 212 EVO) based on my experiences.

Idle temps are X degrees, and during testing (say 3DMark), CPU reaches around Y degrees C.

Conclusion and final words

Performance increase isn’t really noticeable. Not that I expected it. Here are some 3dMark results comparing the previous build with the i5-2500 with ddr3 memory, and the current build i5-6600 with dd4. Most other components are the same.

3DMark Firestrike: 6401 vs 6608 (where the biggest differentiator was the physics score, in which this Skylake build scored 1000 points more than the older i5)

3DMark Sky Diver: 17444 vs 18394 (again CPU bound tests made the difference)

3DMark Cloud Gate: 15435 vs 17454

And finally just as a joke, 3DMark 11: 9250 vs 9550 (CPU again differed by about 1000 points in favor of the Skylake)

After writing this article, I’ve upgraded the BIOS twice: Once to version 1901 and then 1904. Both have been stable, with no noticeable differences. I’ve used the EZ upgrade thing in the BIOS, and it’s worked fine. It can also connect to the internet, but that requires and extra reboot so I’ve just placed the file on a disk, and then browsed to that disk in the BIOS. We’ve come a long way from booting to FreeDOS or something through a floppy or usb, and then flashing! There’s also an option to do this from Windows, but I’ve usually opted to do it in the BIOS. Just feels more safe.

Messy build is done
Sure, it’s not cable managed and there’s no color coordination. Sorry!

Oh, and also, I ended up getting a Turtle Beach Impact 500 at Assembly Summer 2016. There were no Ducky keyboards for sale (typical, they’ve been there every year..). But on the other hand, this 69€ keyboard has performed lika god damn champ! Cherry MX Blue switches, tenkeyless, with uh.. 6 KRO? Enough for my needs. Very good feel, compact, solid build and detachable cable. Based on two months of usage, get this thing if you’re looking for a cheap minimalistic mechanical keyboard!

Turtle Beach Impact 500
Turtle Beach Impact 500

All of my Razer stuff is in the garbage now. Adios!