I've bought a new primary computer to replace the current one - a late 2013 27" iMac. The iMac has been a great computer and for the most part not being able to use it to run Windows apps has been offset by being able to run MacOS apps. Plus it gave me the opportunity to develop an iOS app. And it has a really nice 27" 2560x1440 screen.
The problem is games. I've been playing CS:GO's Danger Zone mode and putting up videos on YouTube for over a year and have been getting comments on my low frame rate for just as long. The obvious solution is to buy a new computer. The problem with the solution is justifying paying C$2K just so I can play a game at a higher frame rate.
But now that my son is home from college, I can validly say that he can use it to continue his game art endeavours. My objective was to assemble a computer which could run Danger Zone at [email protected] (equivalent to [email protected]). Unfortunately specific performance numbers are hard to come by, so I'm not sure whether it will achieve that objective. In addition, I'm thrifty - so I was reluctant to just throw money at the problem and tried to weigh incremental price vs incremental performance. (Costs given in Canadian dollars and include shipping and taxes.)
C$303.97 AMD Ryzen 5 3600
I really started dreaming about a new PC with the Zen 2 processor benchmarks - a high performance CPU at budget prices. This was a processor I could build a decent system around. It benchmarks at over 2.6 times the speed of the Intel 4771 in the iMac (18% faster in single thread), which I am hoping is enough for CS:GO that tends to be CPU bound and only really uses 4 cores. And while I originally dreamed of the Ryzn 7 3700x, that's $200 more for 1/3 more cores but only 28% higher performance (and only 5% more in single thread). I'm going to stick with the stock cooler unless it's too noisy.
C$258.77 GeForce 1650 Super
I went with the GeForce 1650 Super because it supports NVENC v6 - for making YouTube videos. It benchmarks at 2.5x the GeForce 780M in the iMac. However, I probably should have gotten the GeForce 1660 Super for 28% higher performance for only $100 more.
C$134.18 MSI B450M Gaming Plus Motherboard
I went with the B450 over the X570 because I didn't see the point of paying substantially more for PCIe 4.0. I went with MSI because, if necessary, I could flash the BIOS to support Zen-2 without a CPU. The Gaming Plus motherboard had all of the features I needed without a lot of features I wouldn't be using. (In addition, I noticed a lot of motherboards which had more slots etc also had cross restrictions on which could be used.) However, this particular motherboard was difficult to find and I had to drive 150 miles round trip to pick it up. I probably should have reviewed what was available the current market rather than sticking with the decision I made 6 months ago. (Note: I learned the B450 won't be supporting the Zen-3 after I bought the motherboard, although I'm not certain it would have changed my decision as I am not likely to upgrade my CPU that soon.) Note: I've also learned there are multiple "Gaming Plus" motherboard models from MSI. I lucked out and got the one I assumed I was getting.
C$205.50 32GB DDR4 3200
I bought the cheapest RAM available from newegg.ca when I ordered, although I did spend $10 extra to get the 3200 speed instead of the standard speed.
C$214.68 Intel 660p 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD
It's strange to think how much storage this is; and it's both smaller and faster than a normal SATA SSD. I paid a little extra for Intel because they have historically made very good controllers.
C$100 Thermaltake Core V21 case
I went with this case first because I'm a traditionalist - I like my motherboard horizontal so the graphics card & CPU cooler aren't putting strain on the motherboard. I also find the cube look to be attractive. It also has a massive 200mm intake fan behind the vented front panel, so I shouldn't need any other cooling. I decided to put the windowed panel on the top and the vented panels on the side because, although having a vented panel on the top would probably better for cooling, it would be worse if one of the cats decided to sit or sleep on it. It's also kinda cool to look down into the case. As this is an older case I was able to buy it second hand, although it meant a 80 mile round trip drive to pick it up.
C$67.79 Enermax 500W Gold Revolution Duo
This was the cheapest 500W gold rated power supply from a brand I recognized. (500W is certainly overkill, but I didn't see the logic to try to get "just enough" and risking "not enough".) For some reason it was in a velveteen bag in the box. The cables are nicely sleeved, although not detachable, and it includes a couple velcro straps.
C$101.69 TP-Link TX3000E
I new I wanted a PCIe WiFi adapter with external antennas and this one was competitively priced. While I don't have an AX3000 router, I figured having the adapter support the latest and greatest WiFi standards should mean it will get the best results from my last-gen router.
C$564.99 ASUS VQ27BQ
As I've said, one of the best features of the iMac is the monitor and there wasn't any way I was going to downgrade for the new computer. In addition to being 27", 2560x1440 and capable of 144Hz (or better) it had to support G-Sync (so if the computer wasn't capable of hitting [email protected] I'd at least get the same framerate as fps). Fortunately, Nvidia has enhanced their drivers to be compatible with many Freesync monitors - which are significantly cheaper than G-Sync monitors as they don't have the proprietary chips required for G-Sync. I was going to get the Acer XG270HU as it is slightly cheaper, but it was in short supply and I was able to pick up the ASUS (which has better specs) open box for the same price.
One challenge is I purchased some of these components online so I needed to wait for them to be delivered, which was even more frustrating due to the 15 day return policy on the components I picked up.
C$213.57 Microsoft Windows 10 Home
When first I looked at the Microsoft website I thought "USB" meant you'd download the installer to a USB (and receive the activation code electronically), so I didn't bother buying it until all of the components arrived. Imagine my surprise when I learned it meant Microsoft was shipping me a USB via FedEx! (There might be a download version, I didn't check since I'd already paid.) But then I realized I could download SteamOS and use it while I waited for the delivery.
Once I got the components, assembly went fairly smoothly - although not without a few frustrating moments.
- Why does the AMD stock cooler not use the (presumably) standard motherboard mounts?
- The case includes a bracket for the power supply but it's difficult to install so I left it off.
- Getting the motherboard and I/O shield mounted was annoying. I ended up putting the I/O plate on the motherboard and then putting the two into position in the case as the grounding tabs on the I/O shield made it impossible to do it otherwise. Then I had to push the motherboard into position to get the mounting holes to line up and hold it there while I screwed it in.
- A dual slot graphics card (which is the norm these days) covers the slot to the right (looking from the rear) of the PCIe x16 slot. Fortunately my motherboard has two PCIe x1 slots (both to the right of the PCIe x16 slot) so I had an open slot for the WiFi card. (I'd assumed the graphics card would extend to the left, over the M.2 card.)
Of course when I first powered on the PC all I got from the monitor was "no signal". Immediately I started to wonder if I'd bent some pins on the CPU because I'd dropped it onto the socket (forgetting to open the retention clip first to boot). But before taking things apart I decided to see what I could troubleshoot first. So I connected a laptop to the monitor via the HDMI cable - that worked. So I swapped the Display Port cable I had used (required for G-Sync) with the HDMI connection and was greeted with the BIOS menu. Hooray!
However, the SteamOS install wasn't successful
- When the install first started it presented a warning message about UEFI vs BIOS which had me spending a bunch of time trying to get GPartEd to run (eventually just dropped to command line and used parted) to try and see if there was anything pre-installed on the SSD which I might want to keep. (Nope)
- After going through the primary install it very unhelpfully popped up a window saying it can't connect to the network (no duh) and I needed to configure my WiFi (double no duh), but just dumping me into the GNOME desktop with no hints about what needed to be done. After many, many frustrating attempt to try to configure the network (during which it keeps popping up the "no network" message), I found a how-to online which showed I needed to click on the WiFi adapter in the Network Device Manager (or some such). Except I didn't have a WiFi adapter listed in the Network Device Manager. I guess SteamOS doesn't include the Linux device driver for my next-gen adapter.
- In the morning (while everyone else was sleeping in) I dragged the computer over to the living room and plugged it directly into the router (and the TV instead of the monitor) and let it finish the install. Or tried to. At some point it got caught in an infinite loop of "encountered a fatal problem attempting to correct... <reboot>:
- Figuring something had gone wrong, I tried to reinstall, then had to use parted to clear the partitions, then go through the reinstall process to... same problem.
After a shower I realized I was wasting my time on something which was going to be temporary anyway. I would have liked to have seen how CS:GO under SteamOS performed, but it wasn't worth the time, effort and frustration.