What started out in my mind as a project to build a budget PC turned into building a powerhouse PC. I thought I'd build a low-cost box as a way to go along with my minimalist software mindset but it didn't take long for me to scrap that idea and go all out. I still have the minimalist software ethos thing going, but in traditional fashion for myself, when it comes to hardware, I spare little expense. I'll get to the parts list and prices at the end of the article, but I can tell you up front that even though I spent a lot of money on this build, it was still less money than the 2018 MacBook Air I bought last Fall.
There are photos of the build in the pdf linked at the end of the article
At first I decided on a low-cost, older design AMD Ryzen 3 2200G CPU and a stick of CORSAIR Vengeance LPX 8GB RAM. Truly, for all of my computing needs these days this should have been plenty enough for me to get by on. However, I saw that AMD just released the new AMD Ryzen 7 3800X 8-Core, 16-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor CPU's a couple of weeks earlier. I saw a couple of videos about how powerful they are and I couldn't resist; I ordered the Ryzen 7 a few days after I ordered all the parts for the budget PC.
I started thinking that maybe I'd build two PC's. I'd make a budget one like I planned and then build the powerhouse PC, but not necessarily in that order. The powerhouse had to come first, of course!
The problems began right away however. When the motherboard and Ryzen 3 arrived, along with all of the other parts, I couldn't get it to POST (Power On Self Test). I got no display at all and I tried two graphics cards too. The new one I ordered for the build, an MSI Arsenal Gaming B450 Tomahawk board and an NVIDIA board I borrowed from my self-built FreeNAS server (I should do a post about that server). But still nothing, no display at all. The only thing I got was an LED indicator light on the motherboard that meant either “no CPU detected or faulty CPU” or something like that.
I then took the Ryzen 5 CPU out of the FreeNAS server to try that out since I knew that was a known good CPU. (That poor FreeNAS server will end up getting robbed over and over again in this project!) But still, no dice with the Ryzen 5. I was getting frustrated to be sure and started swapping out everything I could as a process of elimination, looking for something that was either bad or incompatible. I also took the RAM out of the FreeNAS server and eventually the power supply unit too. But no matter what I did I couldn't get this MSI motherboard to POST.
I then decided to order a new motherboard and send the MSI back for a refund. My intention was to flash the BIOS on the MSI board and get it capable of supporting the gen 3 Ryzen 7, but since it couldn't POST with the out-of-the-box support for the two gen 2 CPU's that was a hopeless idea. I ended up ordering a X470 AORUS Ultra Gaming motherboard that should support a gen 3 Ryzen 7 CPU with a BIOS update. When that board came several days later, I had forgotten that it needed a BIOS flash to support the Ryzen 7 and I put that Ryzen 7 in and tried to boot it up. I got the same problem as before, no POST and no display.
In my eagerness to get this thing built, I totally forgot about the motherboard not being gen 3 ready. So I thought I had another bad board for about 10 minutes and turned about to my other PC to look at a different board yet again. I figured I'd just order a gen 3 board to go with the gen 3 CPU. I didn't do that when I ordered the X470 because the brand new X570's are rather expensive and I was already dumping more money into this build than I initially wanted to spend. Plus, I didn't think I really needed the new PCIe 4.0 support so it wasn't a big deal to go with an X470.
So I end up ordering an ASUS AM4 TUF GAMING X570-Plus board when the X470 wouldn't POST with the Ryzen 7. After I placed the order I got to looking at the box again and the box for the CPU and then it dawned on me that I had to flash the BIOS to get it working with the Ryzen 7. Again, I rob the FreeNAS server of it's gen 2 Ryzen 5 and put that in the X470. Wouldn't you know it? It actually worked and POSTed. Then I flashed the BIOS one version at a time until I got to the latest version that was released.
Now that the BIOS was up-to-date I took the Ryzen 5 out and popped in the Ryzen 7 and tried again. This time it POSTed! I check out the BIOS readouts for temperature, frequency of the CPU and RAM and all checks out okay. I decide to keep the X470 and go to cancel the X570 order I placed about 30 minutes prior. Log on to newegg.com and find that the order was already processed and not eligible for return for refund. I can only return it for a replacement. Dang. So now I have a new gen 3 X570 board on the way too. What I am going to do with that board now?
It's a few days out in shipping and delivery time so I keep thinking about what to do. Do I leave it in the box and maybe use it on something else someday? Do I try to sell it online and recoup some of my money? Or do I rip the guts out of my new build yet again and put a third board inside? I end up deciding on the latter option and when the board came in I ripped out the new and working X470 and put in the X570.
I had to open the PC up again anyhow because I nearly ran out of thermal paste with all the CPU and motherboard swapping that I'd been doing. When I got the X570 and went to put the Ryzen 7 CPU in for the final time, I had half as much paste left in the tube than what I was comfortable with. Bummer. I put what I had left on it and then mounted the giant Noctua NH-U14S - Premium CPU Cooler with NF-A15 140mm Fan to it. I decide to power it up and as I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, it POSTed. The temperature was only a couple of degrees higher than what I was seeing with the X470 board so I wasn't worried about it. But I wasn't going to leave it that way permanently and I ordered more Noctua NT-H2 3.5g, Pro-Grade Thermal Compound Paste.
After I got it going and ordered the paste I started looking up what all the PCIe 4.0 bus standard was all about. I found that it supports an amazing jump in performance for SSD speeds over the previous generation of PCIe. A typical SSD sequential read/write (R/W) speed is around 500 MB/s give or take depending on the SSD. The new PCIe 4.0 supports a whopping 5000 MB/s sequential R/W speeds.
So here I go again thinking. Since I put that X570 motherboard in and have a Ryzen 7 3800X CPU to match, both supporting PCIe 4.0, it'd be a shame to run a crappy, slow 500 MB/s SSD that I have in it now. For comparison, a standard hard disk drive (HDD) has a sequential R/W speed of about 40 to 50 MB/s. A typical SSD blows that out of the water to be sure. But wow, this new PCIe 4.0 bus at 5000 MB/s is insane. Again, I couldn't help myself and I ordered a Corsair Force Series MP600 1TB Gen4 PCIe X4 NVMe M.2 SSD which supports that high transfer speeds.
Both the thermal paste and the new ultra fast SSD arrived last Saturday. I applied the paste and installed the new SSD while removing one of the two other 1 TB SSD's. Then I put it back together and power it on and check the CPU temperatures. It lowered a degree or two from before and I'm happy. Now I can load an operating system. I actually loaded the OS several days earlier on the slower SSD but now I need to load it again on the new SSD. That's no problem since I wrote my own how-to on installing Arch Linux and that is what I followed to re-install it.
Some of the other goals I had for this project were to make a box that was quiet and not a visual distraction to me while I was working while also having good Linux compatibility for this build.
As I mentioned earlier I used a Noctua CPU cooler and fan for this build. The Cooler Master MasterCase H500 ATX Mid-Tower case I bought came with a couple of 200 mm RGB fans up front. I wasn't going to replace them outright until I had a chance to hear them in action. If they were quiet enough I was going to leave them in the case and just not connect the RGB lights. However, the first time I powered the machine up, when it wouldn't POST with the first mother board, one of the fans was unbalanced and once it came up to speed it made an awful racket. The other fan was perfectly quiet though. I like Cooler Master as a brand but they really cheaped out on these fans. They were just not a good quality and just looking at them you could tell. So I then ordered 2 Noctua NF-A20 FLX, Premium Quiet Fans to replace the Cooler Master cheap fans. There is a 120 mm rear case fan also and that was acceptably quiet as is, but since I was replacing the the other two fans, why not complete the set? I ordered the Noctua NF-S12A ULN, 3-Pin Premium Cooling Fan as well.
The PC is indeed very quiet. The Noctua fans are excellent all around. They're quality built, efficient and quiet. Literally, all I can hear from this thing is actual air flow if I put my head near the front of the case. I don't hear the fans themselves, just the airflow. That makes me very happy. I built a PC almost 20 years ago and it was so loud I nicknamed it The Tornado. I didn't like all that fan noise, but at the time that's all I had access to.
For Linux compatibility, I chose to go with AMD for the chipset, CPU and graphics card. Traditionally, the drivers for the AMD line are more compatible and less proprietary than their Intel and NVIDIA counterparts. Linux will usually run fine on Intel and NVIDIA, but AMD is more of a sure thing and you don't really need to worry about it.
This thing is amazing. It's too bad I suppose that I'm not a gamer anymore like I used to be. This would be a pretty good gaming box as well as a very good photo/video editing workstation. But I don't really do any of that stuff anymore either.
I just don't like to wait for programs or web pages to load. Or if I do happen to want to game or do any photo/video editing, I know I have the power to handle the tasks.
But I will say, despite having a really good internal network with a Pi-hole running to block junk coming in, I can say that I see a noticeable difference in web pages loading compared to my 5 or 6 year old i7 Alienware PC I was using before this new machine.
I'm not a benchmark guy. I don't chase after numbers like some people do, nor do I even run those programs to see what my machine can do. I'm well-pleased with it when it performs up to and exceeds my daily expectations.
It's also really quick to load the OS as well. That is helped along with the fact that I use Arch Linux which is very lightweight and fast.
I said that I wasn't going to hook up the RGB color lights on the original Cooler Master fans and that was because I generally find all those lights distracting while I'm working at the computer. This is especially true for me because the computer is up on the table right next to the monitor. The X470 and the X570 also have RGB built into the board to shine through and add more color to the RGB effect if you have a see-through case, which mine is. Thankfully, there are settings in the BIOS to disable those lights and I did just that.
Actually, computers with RGB done well look pretty cool and I like to see them displayed for some nice eye-candy. I just find it distracting for my needs. Check out r/battlestations on Reddit to see some sweet setups.
Overall this was a fun project to do despite some of the problems I ran into. But those were problems I didn't mind dealing with because I enjoyed figuring them out and I learned along the way, too.
If you want to build a new powerhouse PC for gaming, or photo/video editing, or just because, the parts I listed below all work together out-of-box since they're all generation 3 parts. If you get these things, you shouldn't have the problems I ran into along the way to the final build.
Because I ordered so much stuff, I have almost enough parts leftover to build another box - and I am! I'm going to build a new server with them and make it a home lab box. All I need are a case and graphics card which are now on order. Look for a post about this the future as I already know in my mind what I'm going to do with it first.
Here is the final build parts list. I sourced my purchases from eBay, Newegg and Amazon. But here in this article all parts are affiliate linked to Amazon.
Download the pdf version with pictures (12 MB) here.