Description

I started out trying to upgrade an aging Dell XPS 410 (2006), my processing needs grew, and though an SSD and a Core Extreme Quad QX-6800 amped into beast mode, after 12 years it was time for a major upgrade.

I use this new workstation for MIDI sequencing with a Korg Kronos, video editing, digital audio rendering, and some occasional light gaming. I chose an older Corsair Carbide Air 540 because I really liked all the extra space inside, I have a lot of room for a big ATX case, and I liked the Stormtrooper black & white look. The RGB inside was more coincidental, the motherboard offered Aura, so I went with a video card that also featured Aura. I chose an i7-8700K over an i7-9700K because because the hyperthreading seemed more important for the processing and rendering power, and also the 9th gens were just coming out when I made my purchase. They were more expensive, and on backorder. Though I could have been perfectly satisfied with a GTX 1060 6gb, I went with the RTX 2060 because it could be another 12 years before I am able to replace my PC again.

In retrospect, I wish I had chosen something similar to Alesis M1Active nearfield monitors (discontinued), I had 2 before that lasted me 10 years and just went bad, but loved the sound. The Mackies are quite good, and give me very full and crystal clear sound when working with audio. The Samsung 970 EVO was an incredible add. Windows 10 Pro installed in 5 minutes, and programs install in lightning speed. Video also renders much faster using this drive. I also added a 3TB Barracuda storage drive, which performs very well for a conventional hard drive. I also have an additional monitor, it's the original 20" widescreen that came with my 2006 PC. It still works beautifully, but when it goes, I'll try to replace it with another 27" screen.

In retrospect, I wish I had chosen something similar to Alesis M1Active nearfield monitors (discontinued), I had 2 before that lasted me 10 years and just went bad, but loved the sound. The Mackies are quite good, and give me very full and crystal clear sound when working with audio. I also use a UMC202HD Audio Interface in place of a conventional sound card. The Integrated Realtek Sound works fine, except when I have analog cables plugged into the speaker jacks, I get a strange crackling interference sound. I tried everything to fix this, followed every forum post down rabbit holes, and concluded I must have a faulty unit. The UMC202HD works BETTER than any sound card for media creation purposes, and suits gaming needs just fine. Most of the onboard features are just gimmick, anyway. The USB Interface has much lower latency, and offers XLR inputs and balanced outputs, so I have a totally noiseless studio.

The ASUS Prime Z390-A was a great motherboard choice for this build, with the exception of the above defect. It gives you up to 6 HD's, an ample array of PCIe I/O's, 2 NVMe slots (they take the place of 2 SATA ports), and a beautiful BIOS with all the control I need. One caveat of this was, the only advantage of using ASUS for both Motherboard and Display is that they can link AURA RGBs, but otherwise none. You can't tap into the RTX 2060's vBIOS through UEFI like you can with other ASUS boards. It just doesn't work. Not a big problem, just a small disappointment. I have a ton of USB 3.0 and 3.1 ports, HDMI, DisplayPort, all the I/O's you might want. I am loving this build thus far.

Part Reviews

CPU

Excellent processor, it blows just about any other out of the water for video rendering and any multimedia application using heavy processing. I usually don't overclock mine, the 3.7-4.7 GHz performs well enough for me, and I like having the confidence that I'm not putting my system at risk. Other than being the heartbeat of a great computer, it's not terribly exciting.

Thermal Compound

This is apparently the stuff to use, I haven't tried any other, but it always seems to get the job done, and seems to work better than the more solid stuff the PC manufacturers use. Well worth the $8.00 to properly cool your CPU.

Motherboard

I like this motherboard, but it had some drawbacks.

Pros: plenty of I/O connectivity lots of USB ports, including 3.1 Very solid, I wasn't concerned about breaking anything while building Came with all the screws needed, including that m.2 screw that most motherboard manufacturers don't provide Aura RGB - I wasn't looking for this as an option, but it's nice! Excellent overclocking features for newbies like me

Cons: Integrated sound was defective, constant buzzing from interference picked up in analog speaker cable from video cables. Every time the screen did anything, you'd hear it. only 1 m.2 heat sink? really? even though you have 2 m.2 ports? m.2 ports use up SATA ports when in use.

As I said above, the only real con I had was the constant buzzing noise. I think this was a defect, I don't think this was something that shows up on every motherboard, but it's definitely something to watch out for. My speakers are connected do a USB Audio Interface, so it wasn't really an issue for me, but I was disappointed.

Storage

Better installation directions would have saved me some time and I wouldn't have wasted hours of my life trying to watch install videos but only finding annoying and useless unboxing videos on YouTube. All in all I had a happy ending, but when I first installed if, I only had about half of the performance that others had. I spent hours and hours trying to figure out why. I will share what I learned:

  1. Unless your MB came with one, order an m.2 screw and standoff for securing the SSD. It is not included in the box.

  2. Don't bother with trying to clone your system. You will have the wrong SATA drivers installed and even if you uninstall the old ones and install the new, it won't work the same, and you will end up with a fraction of the performance you should. Just plan on a clean install if you are serious about this drive.

  3. If this is your only boot drive, set it for AHCI. The Samsung NVMe driver and Magician software WILL NOT recognize the 970 EVO if it is in RAID, and you will want to use it for some extra performance. If you are installing 2 of them, go RAID 0, and instead of the NVMe driver you will use Intel Rapid Storage Technology with Optane Memory, and that will take the place of the Samsung software. Samsung Magician is not really that helpful anyway, it will let you overprovision but doesn't do much more. Do not bother with any procedure that changes windows from AHCI to Raid without reinstalling, you are asking for trouble.

I seriously thought I had a dud until I reinstalled Windows. Now I am getting read speeds of 3500 MB per sec.

Good luck, you will love this drive.

Storage

I've used this drive for about 4 years for all of my documents not on my boot disk. It has been very reliable and uses very little power. Considering the amount of power it uses, the data transfer speeds are pretty good.

Storage

So far, I have had no problems with this drive. It's almost as fast as a SSD using SATA II in data transfer speeds, I was pretty impressed. I am currently using it for all of our movies, and streaming them through our house instead of using bandwidth. This drive is great!

Case

Huge case, very easy to build in. The included front fans are illuminated white with LEDs. This is a good case for anyone who has lots of space. I actually put my PC on the floor to keep it off my desk. One panel is transparent so you can see inside. it has a 2nd chambers to hide away all your cables, and also to store your SSDs and power supply. It is very well ventillated, with openings on top, front, and back. 2 slots for 3.5 drives (DVDs and such). lots of space for 2.5" SSDs, and 2 internal bays for 3.5" HDDs. If you're into the stormtrooper color scheme, this one's definitely for you!

Optical Drive

Great Blu-Ray player, not so great at reading DVDs.

It'll do just fine playing a DVD to watch video, but if you are trying to rip DVDs or data, it only reads at 12x speed - my 10 year old HP reads at 48x. I was pretty disappointed. Otherwise, this is a good drive for all other purposes.

Monitor

Lives up to the UltraSharp name! I upgraded to this 2 years after release, but considering I was upgrading from a 2007WFP (great monitor in 2006), it was a pretty big step up. From what I understand, the 2715H is basically the same as the 2717D, maybe some USB ports are located differently and the interface is different. My primary use is DAWs, and this monitor gives me the resolution and real estate needed to lay everything out in front of me beautifully. I am 100% happy with this purchase. When choosing a monitor, I'd suggest looking at the youtube reviews of this so you can really see what you're getting into. Honestly, you can't go wrong with a Dell UltraSharp! They have never disappointed, and my old 20" lasted me 11 years!

A few caveats: 1 - UNLESS YOUR DEVICE HAS A MINI-DP PORT ON IT, BUY A FULL-SIZE DP CABLE! This monitor does come with a DisplayPort-to-miniDisplayPort cable (not sure why that one is the standard monitor cable). My video card only has HDMI and full size Display Ports on it, so I plugged the full size DP plug into my video card, and mini-DP into the monitor. It at first wouldn't recognize the mini-DP cable. I pushed it in further and it finally worked, but then, the frequent blackouts noted in other reviews ensued. I ended up running out to pick up a full size DP cable.

2 - USB PORTS ARE ALL ON THE BACK! I didn't realize this until I ordered, but it didn't make a huge deal to me. My old ultrasharp had 2 USBs on the port console in the back, and then 2 on the side (very convenient). This has 3 USBs close together and a 4th spaced by itself on the display port console in the back, and then a 5th mounted on the back side of the monitor (has battery charging power for your phone, nifty!). I would have preferred them on the side, but it's cool. But earlier might have made me decide between this and another monitor.

3 - Predates HDR - this monitor will not use the HDR effect offered in Windows 10, or new VIDEO card options. It's still a beautiful display, I honestly don't know what I'm missing, but if you are looking for that option, it's not included in this display.

Mouse

Feels very comfortable to use, I really like it! I'm taking away a star because my wife hates it though. It fills out my hand nicely and is so much nicer to use than my stock Dell LED mouse from 8 years ago! The "Page Back" button is right underneath the windows button, so it's just too far forward to be pressed easily - probably more of an issue that my thumb is too short! I also can't find much practical use for the Windows button, since I'm just used to using the one on my keyboard, or clicking on the icon. I keep forgetting it's there.

Speakers

I use my PC mostly for sequencing/arranging on keyboards, sometimes editing digital audio, sometimes I just want to listen to awesome music that I can just turn up and just about bathe in. I used 2 Alesis M1Active 520 Powered Monitors and absolutely LOVED THEM, until after 10 years of making incredible sound, I'd turn them on, and over the past year they would start making random white noise - it kinda sounded like thunder the way it would creep in. I needed something comparable, and Alesis has discontinued them since, and aren't selling anything similar in terms of size, output and price range.

I felt like I was taking a risk with these Mackie MR524's. There very few reviews on line (newly released product?), but the price was right ($119 ea at the time), and the specs seemed just a tad nicer than the Alesis units. I have to say I am a little more satisfied with these than the Alesis monitors. The frequency response is very even, there's no noticeable resonance, their volume is pretty strong, and they have some controls to adjust some of the tweeter/woofer gains. The LED isn't terribly flashy, which is a good thing. It's a single green light on the front (which maybe turns red when it clips? I haven't experieced that yet). They sound pretty great: The highs are crisp, the lows are full-sounding, but everything is very well balanced. If you are one who likes loud thumping bass in your music, look elsewhere, these are not designed for that, but as a reference monitor, they are top-notch. There is also no residual noise like the Alesis units had. That may be because those units were old, but it's almost weired, you can't even tell they are on.

My one complaint is, and you should take note of this if it's an issue for you, the power switch is located on the back in a non-intuitive location. Alesis put theirs conveniently on the top surface of the unit, but these have a switch in the back. It's not worth taking a star off for that, but I didn't realize this when I bought them, just a pain to reach behind them to power them on or off.

These Mackie MR524s are great, and I am very happy with this purchase.

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