Desktop Building Guide - Sept 2020 | PCSPECIALIST

Desktop Building Guide - Sept 2020


A "quick" reference guide to building the perfect system. This is the sort of logic I go through when suggesting systems, so thought I would jot it down on the page. Clearly this is an ever changing suite of options but I'll update periodically as my default go-to's change...

AMD or Intel:

Right now, everything favours AMD. The current options from Intel are at the end of their life. AMD has at least one more generation to go from the socket and they have even confirmed support on the B450 chipset boards. This means that, for the next couple of years, AMD are going to be top of the heap. I have an Intel system myself, and they do have their place still (extreme gaming that comes at a cost) but if I built a system right now... my choice would be AMD.

Which CPU:

This is completely unique to your situation. You need to look at your workloads.

3300X - Purely aimed at low budget gaming. Unfortunately it's rarely in stock, it's an excellent gaming CPU but you should look to increase the budget if you want to do anything outwith gaming, even streaming.

5600X- Gaming and light multi-tasking and general use. This is the go-to CPU of choice for just about any scenario you will have in general use and gaming. The new Photoshop king as well. Absolute best value for money going at the moment. £900-£1500

5800X - Gaming & Streaming with heavier multi-tasking requirements. If you want to stream, you're likely to use the extra cores and grunt from these chips. This chip is in a bit of a strange place. It doesn't really offer anything over the 5600X option as far as gaming goes, it's a nice middle ground between it and the 5900X though. Expected budget would be around £1200-£1800.

5900X - Heavy workloads such as video editing and rendering. These chips are absolute monsters with multi-core utilisation. This is my go to when looking at semi-professional applications. It makes a huge difference to productivity. Expected budget £1500+.

5950X - Extreme Heavy Workloads with ultimate gaming in mind. Exactly as above but where the absolute best of the bunch is required. This is just a step below the HEDT Threadripper variants. This is most definitely a have it all chip. It does everything, extremely well, but of course it comes at a cost. Expected budget £1800+

Which Motherboard:

The motherboard and the CPU completely go hand in hand. At this stage you are looking at chipset and features. The B450 chipset is the last generation of motherboard that can house the current generation of AMD chips (and the next generation but it's going to require a "no going back" approach). They are very good motherboards but it should be understood that the B550 are the new kid on the block and the X570 are the next level. From now on I'm going to be recommending the B550 as the starting point for systems so the B450 will no longer feature in the content.

B550 ASUS - At the time of writing this is the default option for lower budget gaming systems. It has just about every aspect covered, 3.2 Gen 2, 2 M2 slots, excellent connectivity and compatibility all round. Consider paired with 5600X/5800X depending on budget. Highly likely that this board will even cover the next generation again (After AMD 5000), but we will need to wait and see.

X570 ASUS Standard - This has just about every box you could want ticked. It has the VRMs in place to house the most powerful AMD chips with ease, has multiple M2 slots and has the all important PCIe4.0 in place. Depending on budget this can be paired with any CPU, there is no real limitation. When into the higher end, 5900X/5950X, you definitely want to consider at least the STRIX but it's not strictly necessary.

X570 STRIX model - Exactly as above but has some nice features such as better chipset cooling, 2 M2 slots and SLI (not that I would generally recommend SLI). It's just a more premium offering that you pay for. Depending on budget this can be paired with any CPU but it's definitely only recommended for the 5900X+ in my mind. The VRM will make a difference to high end boost clocks over long spells so it's definitely worth considering.

B550/X570 Gigabyte - I've always gone with Gigabyte, but with the AMD chips I've never seen any reason to go for them here. I'm not against them by any means but I think the Asus options are just more fitting for now. The Gigabyte offerings slot in exactly with the above advice so if you prefer the brand then just pair the model accordingly.

Which RAM:

This is very straight forward thankfully. Always go for the fastest RAM you can afford that fits your needs. Never overshoot the quantity you require as it doesn't help with anything and always try to configure it in the lowest pair number possible.

16GB, 2x8GB sticks - This is the go-to for almost every system I recommend. I often aim for 3600Mhz, but if you want the RGB loveliness then 3200Mhz is absolutely fine. This covers just about everything. It's what I currently run and I'm a huge enthusiast, I dabble with everything and I don't need more than 16GB. By the time it becomes necessary, we will likely have moved on in standards. Of course there are exceptions.

32GB, 2x16GB sticks - This is when you're getting into heavier application usage. High resolution photoshop will make good use of 32GB. You're past enthusiast level here though. Moderate to high video editing with, greater than, 1080P resolution footage and effects would make good use of 32GB. Another consideration would be VM for me here as you can divvy up 32GB quite nicely. FS2020 recommends 32GB for the game at ultra settings etc. As said, I'm still on 16GB and I've had no issues at all. However, if the budget is there and FS2020 is your thing then it's definitely worth considering.

64GB, 2x32GB sticks - Now we are into very heavy use. 4K video editing with masses of effects at very high levels of professional application use. As above, VM usage would be considered here as well but that would be a LOT of virtual machines for 64GB.

Which GPU:

I almost feel that this should be in bold so please take the time to consider this......
Most people always try to overshoot the GPU requirements thinking of longevity. Unfortunately this isn't a good idea as technology moves SOOO fast, that by the time your expense is being utilised, you could have used the money to purchase a far higher level GPU if you had pocketed the savings initially. I would recommend sticking quite rigidly to these sort of requirements. Put whatever you save towards the next generation of GPU in a year and your money will have gone far further than it would spending it now. Note that this is likely the component that will change the most frequently so I will try to keep on top of this. I always aim for Nvidia personally as they often play better with software and there have been less driver issues at the time of writing.

Nvidia 1650 Super/AMD 570 - Entry level 1080p gaming. Paired with a 1080p monitor and looking for around 60hz refresh. This gets you on the board.
Nvidia 1660 Super/AMD 5600XT - High level 1080p gaming. Paired with a 1080p monitor and looking for 100+hz refresh. This is more ideal. This would be the starting point for professional applications such as Photoshop, Premiere etc (for me at least)
Nvidia 3060(Ti) - With the introduction of the 3060 the AMD offering effectively becomes redundant. Patiently waiting on the next generation of AMD for an update. The 3060 will be the new 1440p king. It'll easily handle any 1440p gaming that you wish to throw at it. At the time of writing I don't have any figures but given the jump in power this will easily handle most VR application as well.
Nvidia 3070 - The new go-to purchase in the GPU market. Will easily handle high end 1440p gaming, 1440p Ultrawide and well into 4k gaming (60+fps). It's easily the best value gaming purchase. It'll handle any current VR game to a high level (Index).
Nvidia 3080 - The new king of the gaming hill. Consider this GPU when you're looking at Super Ultrawide, 4K gaming at 100+fps and the highest end VR gaming. Anything less than this and the card is wasted. The 3070 is going to be the best all rounder for most users.
Nvidia 3090 - The new Titan. This card is for high end rendering and heavy processing workloads. Nvidia have designed it with high clocks and gaming in mind also so it will knock gaming out the park also but it's a bit ott for any gaming. I genuinely wouldn't consider this as a gaming card but if you are a complete gaming snob, want to have the absolute best and have the budget to support it (cooling, case, high end components) then you won't see anything better for the money.

...... Continued on next post.
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Which Storage:

This is going to vary wildly depending on uses. I would suggest that at the very least you want an SSD in place nowadays. It's not great to have a powerful system with a very slow HDD making the entire system feel slow. There are relatively low budget options available now but the obvious go-to now is going to be M2. The minimum recommendation would be a 500GB system drive and, hopefully, a 1TB storage drive. Here are some considerations:

Conventional HDD - Slow but mass storage. By slow, we are talking 100MB/s, which is no slouch though. It just increases windows load and game load times. Games on this drive will perform no worse than on the fastest drive on the planet, it's purely load time. This storage is often recommended for mass documents/files/music/movies where speed doesn't really come into play. Reserved as a system drive for the lowest of budgets.
SATA SSD - Previously the go-to for fast load times. The Sata drives are often a little cheaper than the M2 equivalent so often considered for lower end budget system drives. Also considered for faster mass storage at times too. I tend to avoid these until I run out of M2 slots personally.
M2 SSD - Varying performance but even the lowest performing option makes everything else look silly. Fast windows load times (win 10 in 5 seconds), fast game load times and incredibly quick program load times (Premiere Pro is a great example).
Secondary Drives - I tend to have a reasonably sized system drive and a large, but still fast, secondary drive for my games. This allows me to reformat the system without having to reload my games. This is a luxury option.
Cache Drives - Similar to the above, this is a fast secondary drive used as a cache with more professional applications in mind. When RAM runs out, or is short, a drive can be used to cache the memory to in the mean time. If the drive is super quick, such as an M2 drive, it will give great performance and you would hopefully not notice any slow down at all (as if it was actually in the memory). Cache drives are important as they have their own lane of traffic effectively. This means the system is able to do 2 things at once. Luxury option again.

Which PSU:

PSUs aren't created equally. There are different levels of PSU for different tiers of usage as well as different power levels. Corsair are a really fantastic brand of PSU so rest assured, if you choose a Corsair PSU.... it's a great bit of kit. I would always try to fit a 550w PSU as a minimum to any desktop system. With the new GPUs in mind, along with their power requirements, I would recommend 750w now as a base with the future in mind, 850w if you want to ensure you are covered. There's not a lot of difference in price when bumping up the wattage, but there is when you bump up the model. Anything over a 3060 I would normally recommend a 750W RMx.

VS - These are entry level models. Reserved for lower budget systems. They are not modular and they come with the lowest warranty. They are good PSUs, just not at the enthusiast level.
TXm - These are mid-tier models. Mostly recommended with standard systems. They are semi-modular and come with a reasonable warranty. Excellent PSUs with a good level of component and a quiet fan system.
RM/RMx+ - Anything from the RMx and above is an enthusiast high end PSU. These are fully modular, have premium components, high level of warranty and they run silent most of the time (less than 33% load I believe doesn't switch the fan on). I personally wouldn't have anything but an RM or above in my own system. It's what powers all your expensive lovely components, it's worth spending a few quid extra.... .especially when the PSU can last 10+ years.

Which Cooler:

There are so many variations here it's very difficult to have a structure. At the moment, the stock coolers with the AMD chips are fantastic. Anything for generic use and gaming won't require an aftermarket cooler. This is often determined on a case by case basis. Once at the point of needing a cooler I always recommend a 240mm AIO cooler. My reasoning behind this is similar to the PSU..... if you need a cooler, spend a little extra and overshoot your requirement with your next CPU purchase in mind. My 2009 cooler is still running strong on my Fathers new(ish) system. It's worthwhile spending wisely here.

Stock Cooler - AMD 5600X. If there is no professional application requirement, such as rendering, then I don't see any real need to go for an aftermarket cooler. Heat soak is your only real concern as most gaming sessions wouldn't have the chip under enough stress for enough time to cause a problem. Rendering for hours at a time would see a productivity increase with a cooler though.

Coolermaster 240 Lite - AMD 5600X/5800X. The go-to budget cooler for me just now. It's just great value. It won't be as effective as the higher level of cooler, but its certainly good enough for this level. Will keep boost clocks running at optimum for the duration.

Corsair H100i/H115i RGB Platinum - Anything up to the 5900X (5950X wants the H115i Only). These are the go-to coolers for when you want the best cooling available. The only selection criteria is which fits your case (the H115i is bigger). They run near silent thanks to ML fans too. They are pretty, but don't think it's the RGB that makes them the choice, they are the best regardless. For the 5950X I wouldn't settle for any less than the H115i. Keeps my OCd 9900k running fine, which is no mean feat.

Which Wireless:

At the moment, if you need wireless, the simple option is the AX200. It's pretty much a no brainer. It has all the latest standards you could require, it's VERY fast and it's £18 total. The stock option isn't a great choice as it's limited to the 2.4Ghz band which is very congested. My advice is to always either drop the Wifi or go for the AX200.

Which Case:

I know this is the first option in the configurator and I have left it to last. This may seem quite strange but without the experience of knowing all of the above it's hard to make this choice first. The case is VERY important to your build, I cannot stress this enough. Think of it as a long term investment, keeping all your expensive components safe and cool while potentially being used for many systems going forward. This is not based solely on budget, when they look pretty it costs money, as even the cheaper cases can be absolutely fantastic. My recommendations and considerations are as follows:

Focus G, Corsair 275 Airflow edition (Budget),- The absolute best budget case there is bar none. You can choose any build you want, to any level, and this case will satisfy every necessity for keeping your build safe.

iCue 220T (Budget RGB) - The first starting point for RGB IMO. If you want an RGB case, this is the cheapest one I would recommend at the time of writing. Again, it'll house anything you wish. Every case I recommend will consider the current and potential future requirements. No real fan or aRGB control so this is where it falls down a little.

Coolermaster TD500 (Value) - Ridiculous value for money in this case. It ticks every box. There is a difference in build quality that you will see if you scrutenise the thing but otherwise it's a premium case for budget money. It has all the proper ARGB and fan control in place which is ridiculous for the budget.

Lian Li Lancool II and the Coolermaster Mastercase H500 (Mid) - Fantastic cases for cooling, I don't recommend them often as I'm not a fan of the aesthetics but there is absolutely no doubt these are amazing airflow cases for any build. If you like the look, go for it.

Corsair 465X (Mid) - Stunning case, mid-level. First class cooling potential, excellent reviews and it looks great.

Define 7 (Mid/High) - This is a QUIET case. This is the one you want if silence is your goal. Paired with the right cooling & power options you can hardly even tell when the system is switched on. This is definitely the go to for airflow AND silence at the same time.

After this point, everything is high level and will do a great job. There is no real point in going through the rest individually. My favourite cases, for varying reasons are... Focus G (Budget), iCue220T (Budget RGB), Define 7 (Quiet), Corsair 500D SE (high end stunning).

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Some example gaming builds:

Note that the 3300X is almost always sold out so these are really for reference only. Very popular chips thanks to their overclocking ability which is rare for AMD. With that in mind I've gone with the 3600 as my default which has added to the costs a bit. I've removed the B450 from recommendations save for the most budget 1080p system. This obviously all impacts the starting point. You should ALWAYS get advice on your specific build with your specific requirements. The below are just examples of what I would recommend with the budgets. Please keep this in mind.

Excellent Entry level 1080p £868* -!9GtsmWGT/
Excellent Mid-Level 1080p £997* -
Excellent High-level 1080p £1,210* -

Everything below this point should be taken with a pinch of salt until the new cards are available. Please ask for specific advise if looking to game at the below level as we are in the midst of a real change.

Excellent Entry level 1440p £1,101* -
Excellent Mid-Level 1440p £1,219* -
Excellent High-Level 1440p & VR £1,406* -

Excellent Entry Level 4k & VR £1,614* -
Excellent High-Level 4k & VR £2,059* -

Note, all of the above are based on the same case and other varying options. The choices are limitless, it's purely to give reference to the sort of budgets that buy GOOD systems at their varying degrees of use. Professional use has to change again due to the variations with RAM/Storage/CPU. They all include a fast primary drive, Windows license (£100 at the time of writing), they all have a good Wifi card (£18) and they all have a silver warranty.

*at the time of writing

Further Reading:

For pairing with a suitable monitor, the following thread is a great post covering just about everything you could ever wish.

AMD Vs Intel

GPU Power Consideration

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