This build came about from a combination of three motivating factors:
1) My old completed build had been moved into my server’s chassis to give it more horsepower for VMs & multiple Plex streams.
2) When it was not powering a server, it became obvious that the embedded A68N-5600 Biostar board I was using was wholly inadequate as even a light browsing computer.
3) It was Boxing Day & I really, really, really wanted a new project to tinker with. Like a lot. Like I’m on my way to work now & I know there’s still some setup to do on this rig & I’m trying to figure a way to skip out early (but I won’t because that’s not how a manager at a bank in his thirties is supposed to act. Unfortunately.)
So I figured out what my use case was & kind of overbuilt for it: My goal was a great all-rounder that would handle any current game at 1080p competently enough for me to enjoy the experience. I don’t care about very high refresh rates or FPS, as long as the experience is smooth enough that I’m not taken completely out of the game. I also wanted something that I could keep upgrading if the need for tinkering continued or more horsepower was required. Finally I wanted to keep the whole thing priced at about CAD$800 or less.
So with those goals in mind, here are the rationales between the part choices:
CPU: on Boxing Day the three deals I looked at were a 2700 at $170.99, a 2700X at $200ish & a 3600 at just shy of $250. The best deal was the 2700 & the performance delta with the 3600 wasn’t enough to justify the extra nearly $80. A 2700X is just an OCed 2700, so I grabbed the 2700.
Motherboard: the B450M Pro4-F by Asrock isn’t the sort of overengineered monstrosity you’d use for XOC competitions or if you were at all serious about overclocking, but it’s got sufficient VRM to power a 2700 & keep it stable while allowing for light overclocks. I got the F variant because it’s newer and cheaper than the non-F variant, but not for a specific purpose beyond that.
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 2x8GB at 3000MHz was the sweet spot of price, reliable brand reputation & performance. I know Ryzen loves memory frequency & I could have squeezed more performance out of my system with a 3200 kit, but I had a budget constraint & this will be a-okay.
Storage: I knew I wanted an NVMe drive for no other reason than I wanted one. The Kingston 500GB A2000 was a good value given that objective. I also kept my old Silicon Power 240GB from the previous build, because the Biostar rig is decommissioned & barring a sudden flimsy rationalization for building a PFsense router, I can’t see how I’d need that box to have storage anymore.
Video Card: I knew I wanted an 8GB frame buffer because its 2020 & I'm not doing 4GB. I also wanted something that could handle modern games at 1080p. I initially was shooting for a 570, but I found an obnoxiously good deal on a 580 with MSI warranty on eBay & jumped on it. I was a bit surprised when it came without a box just wrapped in regular bubble wrap, but it booted fine, Windows & Adrenalin recognized it a-okay and it's already played a couple of games without any trouble.
Case: The Thermaltake Versa H17 was an easy pick for me - well reviewed, great feature set, looks fantastic, dirt cheap & no window. I don't care about seeing the inner workings of the computer, so this was an easy choice.
Power Supply: I've taken flak for buying the EVGA B3 550W before. I know it's got problems when it's stressed to the limit of its power delivery capability. This build is well within the PSU's power envelope & it's well priced, so sue me.
Fans: 3 Noctua PWM 140s are primarily to give me upgrade options down the road as better components may need more airflow & swapping them out/adding new fans & re-cable-managing the back is unappealing to me. I've adjusted the fan curve way down & they run nice & quiet. The Versa H17 also came with its own 120mm fan & there's a not insignificant chance that'll be swapped out for a Noctua down the road cuz it is a bit on the loud side. The brown on beige colour scheme also helps justify the no-window-on-the-case decision. ;)
OS: currently Windows 10 & Ubuntu, but more on the OS later.
The assembly process was a dream. Came together in 3 hours with very little by way of any kind of hiccups. Even sick with the flu I didn't have too much trouble. The only 2 problems during the build were getting all 4 mounting screws into the mounting posts on the CPU cooler without applying too much mounting pressure & one of the Noctua fans didn't quite clear the edge of the motherboard & needed a light sanding to get coaxed into place.
Cable management was alright, but the relatively cramped back compartment & relatively few mounting points for zipties in H17 did restrict what was possible. Nevertheless, the front of the build is super clean (I forgot to take a picture so you'll have to take my word on that) & the back is cleanish, so I'm calling it a win.
Problems: While this build has not been plagued with problems per se, some of my choices have caused more headaches for me than I'd have liked.
The storage configuration, for example, caused Windows to repeatedly, inexplicably insist on installing its bootloader on the Silicon Power SSD & the rest of the OS on the Kingston SSD. This would have been a non-issue except for two things: 1) the SP is 3 years old & therefore likely to fail before the Kingston, which would have crippled the OS installation & 2) I have other plans for the SP SSD (they involve figuring out how to triple boot with a fruit themed operating system - and that's all I'm going to say). This problem took 2 evenings, physically disconnecting the SP SSD and 6 installation attempts to resolve. I literally threw my hands in the air in triumph when it worked.
Another issue I had is the motherboard's tempermental A1 DIMM slot. At first it didn't detect the RAM module then, once reseated, it wouldn't stay stable at the 3000MHz XMP profile. When I switched the modules from A1/B1 to A2/B2 this resolved the issue, but this problem is likely the cause of 2 of the 5 bad windows installs.
I have one unresolved issue, which is that of my Windows 10 activation. In 2016 I bought a non-OEM copy of windows specifically for portability. My mistake was getting a digital license. So now the activation servers are not recognizing my new hardware and not letting me activate. This is despite the activation carrying over fine from the A88M-ITX/AC motherboard to the Biostar abomination back in november.
I contacted Microsoft & had the most infuriating 30 minute conversation of my life (I am an assistant manager in a customer service position at a bank. I once spent 4 hours speaking to a customer who was angry at me because of something a different, unrelated company had done - if I tell you a conversation is infuriating, you can take that to the... well, bank.) - at the end of the conversation, I insisted on speaking with a supervisor because despite having never installed windows on a prebuilt computer she insisted that I could not activate my copy of windows because my old computer was a prebuilt.
The supervisor understood & said that it was easy to resolve, I just needed to speak with some technicians. He transferred me to their queue, where I waited for 90 minutes before hanging up and going to bed. I'm taking another crack at it this weekend when I have the time & the alcohol to be able to handle the interaction.
So, now that all that is said, I've gotta say:
I love this build. It's got weird quirks - like when it boots the fans all max out for a second & it sounds like a swarm of angry bees & the magnetic filter on the exhaust fan seems to slide away with a mind of its own - but they're endearing and it is quite honestly the fastest computer I've ever used. I know that's saying more about my personal experience than it is the capabilities of this build, but I cannot complain. It's also gorgeous, which helps a lot.
Oh, and it's called the Thomas Prince because I'm a big The Expanse nerd. In Windows 10 the computer is called The Thomas Prince, in Ubuntu it's called the Donnager & in another operating system we won't mention, if I can ever get it running, it'll be called the Y Que (because that OS installation will likely be a doomed endeavour that's bootstrapped together).
Hope you guys like it! (note: I'll likely add more photos & benchmark results soon, I just wanted to get it posted with some basic ones first).