I build a new production system every couple of years. This time around, I thought I’d use AMD’s intriguing Ryzen 7 1800X. I haven’t used an AMD CPU for my main production system, well, ever, as far as I can recall.
Let’s define what I mean by production system. I work out of my house almost exclusively, so I spend anywhere from four to ten hours a day in front of the system. My main production PC gets used for writing, editing, digital photography, a bit of video, and PC gaming. Given my predilection for loading up dozens of Chrome tabs while running Outlook, Photoshop, and a number of other applications, having great thread handling has always been high on my list.
So AMD’s new Ryzen, with its mix of affordability plus the CPU’s massive number of cores, looked like a winner. Since I’d never used an AMD CPU as my main system, I thought it would be a useful experiment. It’s one thing to build a PC, then hand it off to someone else, or relegate it to some secondary task. It’s quite another to use a system day in and day out. Only then do you really understand the quirks, pluses, minuses, and overall usability of a PC.
Another reason I decided on the Ryzen was to move just a bit off my comfort zone. I’ve been building and using Intel-based PCs for two decades now. I can almost build an Intel system wearing a blindfold. So it was time to give this newfangled Zen architecture a whirl.
This post focuses on component choices. I’ll have a second article on building the system. Later, after using it for a bit, I’ll write up impressions. So onto the parts selection!
The Case: Corsair Crystal 570X
You might think it odd that I’d put the case first. I’ve never been a fan of transparent acrylic panels on PC cases. They tended to make the case noisier and scratched easily. So I stuck with basic black cases designed to run quietly. The new generation of tempered glass cases have wowed me, however. Coupled with some LED accent lighting, these new cases look almost like works of art. The Corsair 570X has tempered class side, front, and top panels, with just a little dark tint added.
Corsair Crystal 570X all lit up
These cases require standoff screws to attach the side panels, which assists airflow and keeps the internals cool. You’d think this would increase the noise level but this case runs even more quietly than the Obsidian 550D I’d been using. Those glass panels don’t resonate or vibrate. The case includes a lot of nice touches, including a detachable cover that mounts on the underside of the motherboard tray to help conceal cable runs and nicely done 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch storage trays that mount the devices flat against the underside of the board.
The one relatively serious complaint I have about this case is the lack of a reset button. I don’t need a reset button often, but the occasional hard lock can happen. Holding the power button for five seconds does shut the system down, so it’s not a huge issue.
CPU: Ryzen 7 1800X
The processor doesn’t hold the position of prestige it once did in the PC universe. It now shares the stage with the GPU, arguably a more critical choice for gaming. One reason I’d been reluctant to use AMD CPUs in the past revolve around too much power consumption and lack of premium-quality motherboards. Ryzen 7 fixes the power problem; the CPU’s 95W TDP is right there with Intel’s mainstream CPUs and lower than the Extreme Edition processors.
Ryzen 7 1800X
CPU Cooling: Corsair H100i V2 Sealed Liquid Cooler
I had to delay building the system because I needed to obtain a (free) socket AM4 bracket to support this Corsair cooler. This is the first dual-fan cooler I’ve installed in a system. The dual-fan radiator mounts nicely in the top of the case and is whisper quiet when the system idles (as when I’m typing). Note that a H110i, which uses dual 140mm fans, doesn’t fit with this particular case and motherboard combo. Sharp eyes may note that the bracket shown in the photo below fits socket AM3; when I shot the photo I had yet to receive the socket AM4 bracket.
Corsair H100i V2
Motherboard: Gigabyte Aorus AX370-Gaming 5
The dearth of high-end motherboards is now a thing of the past. Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and others now build high-end boards using AMD’s AX370 chipset. I’d been using the Gigabyte equivalents in my Intel rigs, so it seemed natural to go with that company’s latest.
Gigabyte Aorus AX-370-Gaming 5
The AX370 Gaming 5 includes a high-end codec chip enhanced by the addition of Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi driver software. It also implements a lot of on-board fan headers, a little LED accenting, and dual Ethernet ports, including a Killer NIC E2500 gigabit Ethernet chip. If I have a beef with this board, it’s the lack of a Thunderbolt port, though it does include USB 3.1. Overall, this board provides a nice match for the Ryzen 7 1800X CPU.
Back Panel Ports
Memory: Corsair Vengeance LED DDR4 32GB
These Corsair modules include LED accent lighting. You pick which color you want when you buy them; I went with PC4-24000 (3000MHz) 32GB kit (2x 16GB modules) with basic white LED accent. I have no real plans to push the memory or CPU, so these should work fine with the Ryzen 7 1800X.
Graphics Card: Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti
This particular GTX 1080 Ti comes from eVGA and is based on the Nvidia
reference founder’s edition design. This isn’t Nvidia’s highest-end card, but it’s also roughly half the cost of a Titan XP, which only offers marginal performance improvements. At $699, it’s about 30% faster than the $499 GTX 1080. The 1080 Ti should do a fine job of driving games on my 38-inch LG 38UC99 ultra-wide screen monitor.
GTX 1080 Ti
Storage: 2TB Samsung Evo 850 Plus 6TB WD Black
Storage proved to be a conundrum. Do I go for raw speed or relatively cost-effective capacity? In the end, I chose capacity. The 2TB EVO 850 cost about $650 when I originally bought it (prices have crept up since). A 2TB Evo 960 Pro nVME M.2 SSD would be faster but cost almost twice as much. I could have opted for a 1TB 960 Pro, but in the end, capacity won out. I know from experience that 2TB is enough for a lot of games, plus Adobe Photographer’s bundle, Microsoft Office, and all the other apps I run.
As an aside, I brought over the 6TB Western Digital Black, 7200RPM hard drive from my old rig. The drive houses all my digital photos, a two-plus terabyte collection stretching back a couple of decades. I also use the drive to store software and driver downloads I’ve acquired over the years.
Samsung 950 EVO 2TB
Sound Card: Creative Labs Sound Blaster ZX
What’s this? A sound card in today’s world of pretty decent integrated audio?
Yes. Creative’s done a pretty decent job with the drivers on the ZX line, including keeping them updated as new builds of Windows 10 arrive. What I really love about this sound card, though, is the volume control knob. The knob itself doesn’t do much unless you’re using a headset. However, the pod integrates a stereo array microphone with built-in noise cancelling. The Sound Blaster control panel lets you adjust the listen cone for the array. Set to a narrow 28 degrees, the pod sits adjacent a desktop speaker, picks up my voice perfectly for online chats, and never generates feedback from the speakers.
Sound Blaster Z Series control pod
A good system deserves a good PSU. I ended up with a Seasonic 850 Watt Prime 80 Plus Titanium. I’ve used a lot of Seasonic drives over the years, and the combination of very low noise and reliable current delivery keep me coming back.
Seasonic 850 PSU with all the goods
So there’s the parts list. Note that I had a number of the parts on-hand when I began this project. However, I’ve put together an overall cost table for your perusal. I’ve taken the liberty of adding the cost of Windows 10 Pro OEM into the table. These cost reflect current prices; the prices I paid may have been different for the components I already owned when I launched this build.
||Corsair Crystal 570X Mid-Tower Case
||AMD Ryzen 7 1800X
||Corsair H100i V2
||Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5
||Corsair Vengeance LED 32GB DDR4 3000
||eVGA GTX 1080 Ti Founder’s Edition
||Samsung 850 EVO 2TB SATA
||WD Black 6TB 7200RPM
||Creative Labs Sound Blaster ZX
||Seasonic Prime 850W
||Windows 10 Pro OEM
That qualifies as a high-end system by anyone’s book. Next time, I’ll talk about how the build process went. Stay tuned.
The Equipping Your Maker Space Podcast
It’s easier than ever to become a maker. In today’s commoditized world, building something unique just for yourself has become a way to express yourself. Whether it’s a unique clock, your own personal weather station, the right costume for the next convention season, making your own offers greater satisfaction than buying. But how do you get started? My regular co-hosts Eric Klein and David Bryant are veteran makers in their own right. Their advice and insight into getting started, finding the right gear, sources for learning, and tools should get you going.
Eric and David mention some sources for learning, so I’ve added some links:
Instructables — Tutorials from people who make stuff. Since the site is user-driven, the quality of the tutorials vary, but you can find some real gems.
Adafruit — Adafruit will happily sell you stuff to get you going, but they also offer a great set of tutorials.
Make Magazine, one of the oldest publications catering to the maker movement.
Sparkfun Starter Kit, which Dave mentions as a way to get started with Arduino.
Boldport Club: a subscription service for DIY electronics projects.
Really Useful Boxes, where Dave buys his storage boxes.
Tools & Fun
I went to see the Wonder Woman movie and it’s fabulous. I’m going to see it again in the theaters. You should, too. I loved the way the story handled her development arc.
My older daughter, Elizabeth, brought her Mavic Pro drone with her on a recent visit. We flew it quite a bit, and I was so impressed I ordered one. Here’s one video Elizabeth shot of birds nesting on a small island near Mountain View.
My Edifier powered bookshelf speakers arrived — and they do sound sweet. I’ve also discovered a new board game genre: the Escape Room tabletop game.
Eric also liked Wonder Woman, though not quite as much as I did. But we both encouraged David to go see it stat. Eric’s also digging Luke Cage but agrees the first half is better than the second half. He’s also been equipping his home (yes, his home) with industrial-strength shelving from companies like Uline and Global Industrial. And Eric’s been on an in-ear monitor (IEM) kick recently and talks about what he’s discovered.
David took a leftover subwoofer from a discarded home theater system, picked up an inexpensive 2.1 digital amplifier, and built himself a powered subwoofer for making the big booms in Ghost Recon Wildlands even bigger sounding. He’s still enjoying AMC’s Into the Badlands as well. He also talks about other maker stuff he’s discovered recently.
And finally, a little E3 news. XCOM2 gets an expansion, which looks pretty sweet, adding new factions and expanding the strategic layer. Bioware announced a new multiplayer co-operative shooter called Anthem in the same vein as The Division and Destiny. It looks very Mass Effect-like, but takes place in a different universe. And Microsoft announces the Xbox One X, a beefier Xbox the company claims will usher in 4K gaming for consoles.
We’ll close with a little gameplay trailer for Anthem.