Building a PC: And then there were three

Article By : Brian Dipert

A looming birthday, coupled with pessimism that component prices would drop to reasonable levels any time soon, leads to the planning for yet another PC build.

In a previous write-up (see “Building a PC: CPU selection”), in which I discussed the CPUs I’d picked (along with my reasons for selecting them) for the two PCs that I’m building for my wife and I to use on a daily basis going forward, I explained why I chose an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X CPU—which is based on the third-generation Zen 2 spin of the Zen microarchitecture—instead of a CPU based on the latest fourth-generation Zen 3.

As I alluded to in the article, my preference would have been to have gone with a Zen 3 architecture-based AMD CPU, had I been able to obtain one at a reasonable approximation of the MSRP (and putting aside the additional lingering gotcha that 65W Zen 3 CPUs continue to be OEM-only offerings in AMD’s product stable, not available for sale at all at retail). Unfortunately, as I discussed in my more recent PC graphics piece (see “Seeking PC graphics: Silicon shortages deepen, and old chips reawaken”), the semiconductor industry’s supply constraints endure unabated roughly six months since I wrote those earlier CPU words, with meaningful relief of the chip shortage not forecasted on the horizon any time soon.

Keep in mind that if I went with a less space-constrained PC form factor than the enclosure-defined paths I was already heading down with the first two systems to be built, I’d of course have more room for heat-removing fans, liquid coolers and such, thereby allowing for a more power-hungry CPU. And while I was at it, I could also bump up the physical core count beyond the eight in the Ryzen 7 3700X to say, I dunno, sixteen? The final piece of the puzzle was that my birthday was coming up, and my dearly beloved wife was searching for a momentous present to gift me for it. Voila—the Ryzen 9 5950X was acquired on eBay, the processing nexus of planned PC #3 (and no, I’m not going to tell you how much she paid for it).

In recent months, I’ve detailed much of the componentry that I’ve accumulated for the first two systems. Not only the CPUs themselves, but also the following:

  • Motherboards and core logic chipsets on them
  • Enclosures
  • Memory
  • Mass storage
  • Graphics

In this particular post, I’m going to press “pause” on the cadence, holding off on coverage of the remaining hardware and software and instead focus on “catching up” with system #3 details, so that I can wrap up with remaining subsystem discussions comprehending all three planned PCs.

The CPU for system #3 you already know about: the 16-core/32-thread AMD Ryzen 9 5950X. Ironically, just as with the other AMD system, I let the motherboard selection “lead,” selecting it first and therefore de facto accepting the core logic chipset on it, versus the other way around. The motherboard I chose is ASUS’ ProArt B550-CREATOR, the first (and as I write this, still the only, as far as I know) AMD-based board to support the Thunderbolt 4 interface:

Regular readers may be feeling a bit of déjà vu at this moment; wasn’t Thunderbolt-on-AMD support also the fundamental motivation for selecting  ASRock’s Phantom Gaming ITX TB3 motherboard for my earlier system (see “Building a PC: Choose your chipset and motherboard”)? Your recollection is spot on, although I’ll more generally note that the ProArt B550-CREATOR is (like the Phantom Gaming ITX TB3) a strongly-reviewed overall offering. The earlier motherboard is based on the X570 core logic chipset, however, whereas this one uses AMD’s more mainstream B550 chipset. The differences between the core logic alternatives are modest at best, especially for non-gaming systems. And although the ProArt B550-CREATOR is, at $299.99 from Newegg (where I bought mine) notably pricier than other B550-based offerings, it’s also tailored for the professional content creation market. The only (minor) downside of note? No integrated support for either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

As you may have already noticed, the ProArt B550-CREATOR is a full-size ATX motherboard requiring an equivalent-sized case to contain it. (Then again, as I already mentioned, I didn’t want a diminutive mini-ITX enclosure anyway, for thermal management reasons.) Here, I’ve gone with Thermaltake’s Core G21, which cost me only $33.99 (after $30 rebate) at the time I purchased it. Specifically, this is the “Tempered Glass Edition,” referencing the see-through panels on both sides, which truth be told I could do without. That said, it’s an otherwise beefy and well-reviewed PC case from a brand name, and the price was also quite nice.

For memory, I’ve again gone with DDR4-3600 (PC4-28800) SDRAM, and again with Corsair-branded DIMMs. Since this time we’re dealing with a full-size ATX motherboard, there are four module slots available to potentially be filled, so I went ahead and did so, with each being 16 GBytes in capacity for 64 GBytes of total system memory. The particular DIMMs I picked were Vengeance LPX: low-profile, as with the ones in the other AMD system, although the compact dimensions likely aren’t critical in this particular case. And they’re, well, red, which I settled on in spite of the fact that they were…red…because they were also pretty inexpensive at the time: $70 each when bought in a group of four. I guess they’ll be noticeable through that tempered glass!

The ProArt B550-CREATOR includes two m.2 SSD connectors, but is somewhat unique (I’m guessing for reasons that originate with its B500 chipset foundation) in that only one of them is PCIe Gen 4-compliant; the other runs “only” at PCIe Gen 3 speeds. I’m populating the former with another Sabrent 2 TByte Rocket 4 Plus SSD mated to a Sabrent heatsink:

And the PCIe Gen 3 slot will be occupied by another Western Digital WD Blue SN550 1 TByte SSD:

Finally, what about graphics? As previously mentioned, supplies remain constrained and prices remain high, although a whiff of relief may be detectable by the olfactory-gifted (then again, however, it may just be a false scent). And speaking of gifted, I’m actually doubly so. I mentioned in my previous coverage that I happened to have an AMD Radeon RX 570-based graphics board lying around that I’d purchased in the pre-constraint era. Actually, I have two; the other one was intended to (someday, maybe) shoehorn into the largest convertible minitower form factor “Hackintosh” system of the suite I’d acquired (see “Hackintosh: PC insights”), if I also ever get around to also replacing its nonstandard power supply with something more extensible. This one’s from XFX; it’s the RX-570P8DBDR AMD Radeon RX 570 RS 8GB Black Edition, which I’d bought brand new on eBay in June 2019 for $135.37:

That exactly same card is currently selling on eBay in open-box form (no new units are listed for purchase) for $550 as I type these words. Crazy.

So there you go; we’re all caught up on all three systems. Upcoming posts will fill in the remaining parts of the picture:

  • Fans and liquid cooling systems
  • Power supplies
  • Operating systems and application software
  • Etc.

And hey, one of these days I’ll actually get around to doing the builds! Until next time, I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

This article was originally published on EDN.

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.


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