I confess the title of this article isn’t completely accurate because I don’t talk about a single Ryzen 5 gaming PC, but several different possible options. However, I only build one of these options. Each option differs in cost and configuration somewhat; one even dips below $1,000 while still offering the same graphics hardware. Before I discuss the system I actually built, let’s take a look at the three configurations. I’ll begin first with the list of common component between all three, plus cost.
|Case||Corsair Carbide 100R||$60|
|Power Supply||EVGA 600 B1 PSU||$50|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 1060 Armor OC||$229|
|DDR4 Memory||16GB Corsair Vengeance LP (2 x 8GB)||$120|
|OS||Windows 10 Home OEM||$99|
I expect some people might raise their eyebrows a big at the GPU choice, not to mention the price. I’ll get to that shortly.
While I build a single PC, I’m suggesting three possible options, based primarily on differences in CPU, motherboard, cooling, and storage. Let’s see all of them, side by side.
|Component||My Build||Cost-Reduced||Under $1,000|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte GA-AB350 Gaming 3
|Gigabyte GA-AB350 Gaming 3
|Storage||Crucial 1TB MX300
|Crucial 512GB MX300
|Crucial 512GB MX300
|CPU Cooling||Corsair H60
|AMD Wraith Spire
Rationalizing Ryzen 5 Gaming PC Choices
Two of the potential builds seem quite similar; the key difference lies in storage quantity. I happened to already have a 1TB Crucial MX300, so went with that when I actually built the system. Using the 1TB variant of the MX300 pushes the cost above $1,200, though, pushing the cost below $1,200 means using the 512GB version.
The CPU cooler might generate a little controversy since the H60 costs roughly twice as much as a reasonably good air cooler. In my opinion, these sealed liquid coolers tend to be quieter and offer better airflow than lower cost coolers. You can find quiet and powerful air coolers but they tend to be much larger and more costly.
The CPU differences are pretty obvious. The Ryzen 5 1600X includes six cores, 12 threads, and clocks at 3.7GHz (boosted to 4.0GHz) while the Ryzen 5 1500X offers just four cores, eight threads, with the base frequency of 3.5GHz and 3.7GHz turbo. The Ryzen 5 1600 seems like an odd duck, offering six cores with a base clock at just 3.4GHz. At only $30 less, you might as well go with a 1600X. The 1500X drops the cost another $30, allowing me to hit that magic sub-$1,000.
About that Graphics Card Choice
Perhaps the most fuel for discussion would be the GPU. I wanted a system capable of running games at 2560 x 1440 with reasonable graphic fidelity and decent frame rates. When I built the system, the Radeon RX 500 series hadn’t yet been released, but having read several reviews, I’m not entirely convinced I’d change my choice. First, some charts of my own. Some will note that these benchmarks may seem completely unfair, since they pit a factory overclocked GTX 1060 to an RX480 at stock clock frequencies. It’s been my experience, however, that overclocking the GPU tends to offer only marginal increases in performance. First up are DirectX 11 game performance tests.
Of course, DirectX 12 is the hot new kid on the block, so let’s take a look at how these cards fare in the same games as we used with DirectX 11.
Note that I had to leave out Ghost Recon Wildlands since Ubisoft hasn’t issued a DirectX 12 update. Therein lies an important point: many current games and any older games only use DirectX 11. Nvidia GPUs tend to have an edge in DirectX 11 gaming. Even when DirectX 12 support gets added, performance tends to become more even, rather than a strong win for one or the other (except Civilization 6, which loves AMD GPUs in DX12 mode).
The second issue is power and noise. The MSI graphics card I use here is astonishingly quiet even under load while the PowerColor Radeon RX 480 was quite the opposite, sounding like a small jet engine under load. It’s likely that MSI’s version of the RX580 would be quieter, but I’d worry about how much.
Finally, one more feature built into current generation Nvidia GPUs is something known as adaptive V-Sync. You need to swap to this setting in the Nvidia control panel, but it’s a great way to smooth out frame rates on normal displays which don’t explicitly support Nvidia’s proprietary G-Sync. Here’s Nvidia’s description of adaptive v-sync:
“NVIDIA’s Adaptive VSync fixes both problems by unlocking the frame rate when below the VSync cap, which reduces stuttering, and by locking the frame rate when performance improves once more, thereby minimizing tearing. Adaptive VSync dynamically turns VSync on and off to maintain a more stable framerate.
GeForce GTX video card users can enable Adaptive VSync globally or on a per game basis through the NVIDIA Control Panel when using the latest GeForce drivers. Simply navigate to the section of the Control Panel shown below, and enable the Adaptive VSync option.”
I’ve been using adaptive v-sync on my primary system and it seems to work pretty well.
I also obtained the MSI card at an impressive price, finding it on sale at Amazon for $229. That price doesn’t include a $15 rebate since I don’t really consider post-sale rebates as a true cost reduction. However, it’s likely differences in performance between the RX580 and GTX 1060 remain relatively small. So I suggest you pick which one you want assuming you can find it at the price that fits your needs.
Final Build Notes
I’ve discovered you should update your system BIOS whenever you build a Ryzen-based PC. At this early stage, the BIOSes of most motherboards still seem a bit immature. For example, when I first fired up this PC, the BIOS screen showed the Ryzen 5 1600X idling at 60 degrees C — pretty excessive by any measure. Updating the BIOS reduced idle temps substantially. I’d say 28 degrees C at a fan speed of 1,041RPM looks much better.
The other thing I did was update the balanced power profile. You can find more details on AMD’s blog. The new balanced profile avoids unnecessary parking of the CPU into a deep sleep state at the expense of a small increase in power consumption. You get nearly the performance of running in performance mode while consuming much less power than that mode.
I’ve been playing several other games on this system, including Dishonored 2, XCOM2, and Mass Effect Andromeda, generally at the high detail level or equivalent. Performance has never been less than solid running on a 1440p monitor. I’d expect the sub-$1,000 system listed above would also run pretty well. So go forth and build one of your own!
Mass Effect Andromeda is Mass Effect Redux
I’ve been playing through the Mass Effect Andromeda single player campaign, though my initial excitement has been tempered a bit. For awhile, I thought of the game as the Inquisitioning of Mass Effect. In other words, Bioware built an open world with a lot of pointless resource gathering in the pursuit of making their game bigger and longer. Certainly many of the quests under the quest tab “Tasks” turn out to be pointless.
As I’ve played more — I’m probably 3/4 of the way through now — I’m getting strong deja vu vibes of the original Mass Effect,. The game looks clearly to be a setup for further games in the series. My daughter Emily is a big fan of the original trilogy, and feels the same way, though not always positively. To quote Emily:
“I can see how the story in Andromeda is on par with the original Mass Effect. Maybe it has to be a little simple to set the stage. But the story seems awfully familiar — evil aliens / evil technology turning good aliens (and maybe you next) into them and brainwashing them. Also, I think some of the side characters are less interesting in some cases — Joker versus the new (Salarian) pilot, etc.)
Maybe ME2 and ME3 spoiled me and some of the official reviewers. As I said, maybe it has to be simple to set the stage. But after 2 and 3… the sequels have a lot to live up to.”
I generally agreed with Emily’s assessment. Andromeda thematically resembles the first Mass Effect, even if plot elements differ, but much of it seems to be setup for a longer story arc. And like Emily, I’m a little disappointed that the story beats echo the elements in the original game. Sure, it’s great to build up the Nexus from its damaged shell to something better, but did we really need a near-duplicate of the Citadel, right down to a bar with bad music? And what’s with the inventory system, which seems like it took the worst of Mass Effect and mashed it up with Inquisitions inventory system.
Andromeda’s Departure Point from Mass Effect
I think Andromeda departs from the original story in throwing a bunch of (mostly young) inexperienced characters into the fray, dealing with events beyond the scope of their expectations and training. They have to make it up as they go along, lacking the resources and support that the Citadel Council could offer in the first game. The conflict between the Salarian pilot, Kallo, and the human engineer, Gil, illustrate the tension between the old and new, between sticking with the familiar versus adapting on the fly to the new place.
These are the elements I think Andromeda gets right. Ryder makes mistakes along the way, acknowledging that she’s learning as she goes. Peebee, young Asari who makes Liara T’Soni look like the soul of maturity by comparison, whoops with glee when she encounters the new and the strange. Liam is young, brash, foolish, and impulsive. Vetra operates in the shadows, like the dark version of Garrus, while the Krogan Drack knows he’s reaching the end of his days, but has little aspiration to being more than an old NCO. Jaal, the new alien… well, I’m not sure quite what to make of Jaal, who’s assigned to the crew by his Angaran superiors as much to keep an eye on these new aliens as to help them.
As I’m nearing the end of the story, these characters still don’t seem fully fleshed out, in the same way the characters in the original Mass Effect seemed shallow. Garrus, in particular, seemed like a really shallow character, an echo of a Dirty Harry wannabe. When he became Archangel in Mass Effect 2, he seemed much more interesting. The other characters carried through the trilogy also grew with the story. Liara, Tali, Wrex, all developed deep back stories and all became memorable characters in the longer run.
Can Mass Effect Andromeda strike the same spark? I’m not so sure. For one thing, Mass Effect’s story was tighter and more focused and personal, while Andromeda’s story is big, sprawling, and tries to do too much. Bioware would do well to make the story in any sequel a little smaller and more personal. Andromeda may have tried to hard to be Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3 all in one game. Scaling back the ambition in the future might make for a much better game.
Even with all my complaints, I’m having a blast playing the single-player campaign and the multiplayer sticks with the ME3 formula, which is a good thing. But I can’t help wondering if this good game could have been a great game if a few ideas had been left on the cutting room floor.