Wall of text alert: grab yourself a drink, or ignore altogether! :)
I wanted a desktop rig to replace both a very old (2008!) MacBook that I previously did all my work (mainly writing and audio editing) on, and a similarly ancient PS3 (heh) that I used for the occasional lengthy bout of AAA gaming, but mainly for Netflix and other streaming stuff.
I figured if I was really patient, added parts slowly over a period of months whenever I saw a deal, I might be able to do all of the above in one desktop while staying within a pretty restrictive budget of around £700/$1000.
Well, it took a while (still having flashbacks to hunting for a sensible GPU price), but after about 4-5 months of sniffing out bargains wherever I could, it's done. And honestly, I'm pretty pleased with the end result. It's a super-neat, exceptionally clean build - the bad photos don't really do it justice in that regard, sorry about those - thanks mainly to the modestly sized mATX-friendly components and the great layout of the Define Mini C case.
NB, I ended up going for mATX despite it proving slightly trickier to find deals and build neatly, because the PC would have to be placed in front of the window overlooking my desk and I really didn't want to block out all the light with a giant tower.
What did I learn from all this, my third ever build (and my first with any vague gaming potential)? Well, in no particular order:
i. Obviously this is a rotten time to be building a game-ready PC of any description, but it was primarily a work issue and a new rig couldn't really wait. I reckon I'd have been able to shave another £100-ish off the total cost had I build it at almost any other time than late 2017-early 2018. I still think I did pretty well for the cost (although see point v, below...)
ii. Patience is a virtue, and very hard to maintain when you're super keen to get going. It's also a bit of a mixed blessing, because there's new stuff coming out constantly. A good example here would be the SSD, which was a fantastic deal at the time...and then a month later Crucial launched the equally well-priced but slightly speedier MX500 range. Ah well, you could drive yourself crazy worrying about this stuff.
iii. ...the way I went about assembling parts for this rig so slowly, over such an extended period of time was, quite frankly, a bit of a risk. By the time I actually got to build this machine, I'd had some of the components sitting around for way longer than any 30-day free returns window - in particular the mobo, which it seems from many online reviews that there was at least one really bad batch of going around.
Fingers crossed, it appears I lucked out: a month in, so far everything is working fine, and accumulating the parts so slowly actually netted me a few very good prices along the way (especially on the GPU, certainly by current standards). But in future, I'd feel more comfortable saving up and getting everything all at once. I was really sweating it waiting for that first POST!
iv. I had to make some compromises, obviously - 8GB of RAM at 2666MHz was all I could afford at the time, and ditto the 240G SSD. The RAM will be upgraded to 16GB ASAP, and my storage capacity is going to need doubling pretty soon.
But in some regards, I'm really pleased that I stuck to my guns on a couple of issues there - namely that I definitely wanted 100% QVL-approved RAM, which this is (hence not going for a faster stick, which wasn't), and I decided early on that I wanted no mechanical hard drives at all (hence having to settle for much lower storage capacity for now). I'm glad I did both, despite having to make compromises to achieve it; it means I'm now pretty well set up for stability AND speed, and if nothing else it gives me a clear focus for upgrades in the short term.
v. I was fortunate enough to have been given some peripherals - a fancy RGB fan, fantastic budget mouse, impressive little super-budget mech keyboard, cheap but decent headphones, and a nice special edition XBox controller - as gifts. I had a birthday fall during the lengthy part-hunting process, which I guess is one advantage of going so slowly!
More importantly, I had a very lucky donation of a nearly-new (and really quite nice) IPS, bezel-free 60Hz monitor for literally the postage cost. I figured it was probably slightly less than my 1060 6GB could technically handle - but I felt it really wasn't worth dropping another sizeable wedge for an extra 20-30 viewable FPS.
The point, I suppose, is that these things combined helped cut the overall spend by at least £150, so it's just a 'full disclosure' thing re: budget.
vi. There are still issues with the whole b350 chipset/AMD processors/RAM compatibility stuff that I'm not sure will ever be ironed out fully now, especially since we're rapidly heading towards the next gen of Ryzen processors.
Despite being 100% QVL-approved, my RAM model won't run stable at the advertised 2666MHz on the AB350M Pro4. Even after multiple BIOS updates, I still have to leave it downclocked to 'Auto' (2400MHz), or the PC performs 4-5 on-off boots before it's able to get to the desktop. I've tweaked all sorts of things; it's just not having it for now.
Annoying, but since it's such a small speed loss overall, I'm ok with it. I'd be pretty mad if I had spent more money to get a really fast RAM kit, though.
vii. Nitpicking now, but I wish there was something else I could do with the cable coming off the stock Wraith Spire other than have it looped up into the roof of the case the way it is. It's just not long enough to wrap the other way around the cooler and still connect to the CPU_Fan header on my motherboard. I tried an extension, but it didn't really improve things much, just gave me more dangling wire to feel irked by.
It's not a big deal at all, but I'm highlighting it because it's one of those countless little irritations you just can't really plan for, as they're completely unique to your component list and they don't crop up until you're literally installing everything.
I guess what I'm saying is, you'll always encounter stuff like this: you just have to roll with it to some extent.
viii. Zip ties really are are your best friends.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to a few good years of service from this build before I have to think about upgrading anything other than RAM/storage. I may or may not be able to make use of AMD's commitment to support this type of socket/chipset until 'at least 2020' - or by then, it might be time to move to a full ATX form factor, or something entirely different may have come along.
Temperatures on all core components hover around mid-20s at idle, and highest I've seen are very low 60s under my typical 'full' load (say, running a 2017 game and YouTube at the same time). That being the case, it shouldn't be too hard to avoid running them into the ground, which I'm happy about as I need this to last a little while now it's a sunk cost!
Overall, this modest mid-range setup seems to work really well for all my 1080p needs at the moment, and I'm really glad I went this route.
No issues so far; running fine since day one, and have never seen it hit more than 50-60% load even when running new-ish games and browsing the web simultaneously. A doddle to install too, and the included cooler seems to be doing a fine job - never hit more than about 60 degrees as yet.
It's a budget option, but one of the better ones - as long as you get a good one, which fingers crossed I seem to have. The BIOS is a bit clunky but works, and I can't get my full RAM speeds to work smoothly with XMP profiles, which is annoying but not a dealbreaker for me as the drop-down isn't much. Oh, and personally I really like the way it looks - very neutral with no random LED messiness to muddy my colour scheme.
I initially had an issue where this SSD was hanging for a few seconds every 20min or so; apparently it's not so much a problem with the SSD as with some combination of the drive, my chipset drivers and Windows 10. What fixed it for me was switching to 'power' rather than the default 'eco' mode or whatever it's called in Windows - that seemed to solved the problem immediately. Other than that, no complaints. Boot time into desktop is around 10 seconds from cold start.
Not much experience in this department, but it was easy to install and has run consistently fine. Warmest I've seen it get during stress testing (Heaven benchmark) was aroun 69-70 degrees. Fans are pretty quiet for me.
Love it. Small without being akward; loads of drive space whether you want SSDs, HDDs or both. Airflow seems perfectly good even with no fans in the top; my components idle at around 25 degrees which is great, and nothing ever seems to get above low-60s in typical workflow. Tempered glass is much clearer than most of the 'smokier' versions out there, which I like.
Whisper quiet and never seems to struggle with anything in my modestly powered rig. I really like the 'eco' fanless setting for low power draw scenarios. If I had one tiny complaint it'd be the way the cables are sleeved - the braiding is really nice and very sturdy, but each cable ends at a rubber cuff that, especially on the 24-pin, squishes all the individual wires together into a fairly messy-looking bunch. I went for a custom extension on that cable in the end, as it was spoiling an otherwise very neat interior.
A bit garish and twinkly, but some of the effects are pretty impressive. Not super quiet at medium-high RPM, but certainly not loud enough to be an irritant in 95% of situations.
Absolutely love this mouse - buttery smooth, really sharp responses across all the various DPI settings, nice tactile clickiness on all buttons, lightweight without being flyaway. I don't think you can do better for the very low price.