I built a computer, it looks cool, and I learned a lot!

By | October 1, 2021

I was bored and had just received my tax-return, so I decided to sink copious amounts of resources into a project… I decided to build a computer. Given that I knew virtually nothing about computer hardware, I thought this would also be an excellent learning opportunity.

Build objectives:

  1. Run AAA games at 1440p with 70+ fps;  
  2. Highly productive for work with minimal loading times; and
  3. An upgrade path that would allow it to survive on the bleeding edge of technology… for a few years.

Build Outcome:

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU): Ryzen 5 5600x
  • Graphics Processing Unit (GPU): Zotac dual fan 3060ti
  • Motherboard: MSI Mag b550 Tomahawk am4 ATX
  • Random Access Memory (RAM): Corsair 16GB Kit RGB PRO 3600Mhz C18
  • Memory: Samsung 970 EVO Plus 500GB M.2 NVMe SSD + Seagate BarraCuda 2TB 7200RPM HDD
  • Cooling: Noctua NH-U12S Chromax Black
  • Power Supply: Corsair RM750xV2
  • Monitor: Asus VG271A

Thought process:

Computer building is about managing trade-offs and bottlenecks to produce a system/component mix that is on some kind of ‘efficient frontier’. For example, there is no point having a state-of-the-art monitor that can flash 200 fps at 4k if your computer doesn’t pack the power to produce those pixels. Similarly, there is no point having an all-powerful computer and monitor if your cooling or energy supply starves it of achieving its best results. This means parts need to be selected with respect to not only your goal, but also all other parts. Now, I’m sure there is a highly mathematical way to break each part into an equation of inputs and outputs then optimise for a perfect mix… but quite frankly I lack the motivation and mathematical ability to do this. Instead, I used various benchmarking websites and guides to conduct the build. See below.

Selecting Core Components:

Given this ‘visual’ constraint of my first objective, I thought a useful place to start would be with a monitor. I quickly did a little research on the basics of monitor characteristics and specifications, then made a first principles decision of what my ‘optimal’ monitor would look like, as well as what my ‘budget’ or ‘overkill’ compromises would look like.

Optimal Monitor Selection24″27″32″ResCurvedHzRt Price
Budget 24 inchYes  1080pNo1401 200
Optimal 27 inch Yes 1440pNo1401 500
Overkill 32 inch  Yes1440pYes1401 500

With these characteristics in mind, I collected data on what the market was offering, then compared the options to my ‘optimal’, ‘budget’ and ‘overkill’ preferences. The result was the ASUSVG27AQ . It was more expensive then I wanted, but I guess I like it.

Actual Moniter Selection24″27″32″ResCurvedHzRt Price
Asus VG27AQ (JB) Yes 1440pno1651 499
Asus VG27AQ (PLE) Yes 1440pno1701 569
Gigabyte M27Q Yes 1440pno1701 349
LG 27GL850-B Yes 1440pno1441 679
Dell S2721DGF Yes 1440pno1651 479
Dell S272HGF Yes 1080yes1441 279
Dell AW2720HF Yes 1440pno2401 539
Asus VG32VQ  Yes1440pYes1441 718
Asus XG248QYes  1080pno2401 559
Asus VG259QM 24.5Yes  1080pno2801 439
Alienware AW2521HFYes  1080pno2401 454
Asus VP249QGRYes  1080pno1441 262
GigabyteG24FYes  1080pno1651 229
Dell S2421HGFYes  1080pno1441 239

Now that I had the high pixel and frame rate monitor, I had to select the components that would adequately supply it with those pixels and frames… the CPU and GPU. I started with the CPU because this build occurred during the great GPU shortage of 2021 (thanks crypto miners). I chose Ryzen over Intel because of upgradability; different generation Ryzen processors are able to insert into the same motherboard socket, whereas different generation Intel processors require different sockets, hence upgrading Intel processors also requires buying a new motherboard.

I basically gathered performance specifications for the 4 most popular Ryzen CPU’s from CPU benchmarks and made some performance multiples. The Ryzen 5 3600 was clearly the best value for money… but I decided to go with the Ryzen 5 5600x because its performance capacity was better suited to my monitor (i.e. I overspent on the monitor so I had to overspend on the CPU to prevent wasting spare capacity… bottlenecks).

CPUGhzCoresThreadsAvg bench %FPS$/benchmark$/FPS Price
Ryzen 5 2600X3.461279.41052.8841309822.180952 229
Ryzen 5 36003.661283.51263.5808383232.373016 299
Ryzen 7 3700X3.681686.11315.6329849013.70229 485
Ryzen 5 5600X3.761296.41664.8236514522.801205 465

I didn’t have the luxury of choice when it came to GPU’s. This was broadly because (a) COVID-19 and record crypto prices meant GPU demand for crypto mining skyrocketed, and (b) the global chip shortage meant supply was limited.

I basically ended up with a 3060ti which has been broadly reviewed as the best value for money of Nvidia’s new 30 series GPU’s… so its by no means bad, in fact I quite like it, however as with all economic decisions, I would have preferred more choice. Further, I suspect that the 3060ti is a bottleneck for the current system, although I think overinvesting in the CPU and underinvesting in the GPU is much better than the reverse.

I did the same brief analysis for the GPU that I did with the CPU, but I haven’t posted it.

I also found this tool incredibly useful in comparing GPU’s.

Selecting Supporting Infrastructure

Once the core components were selected, the rest of the build was focused on ensuring the supporting infrastructure could (a) adequately connect and power the core components, (b) support an upgrade of the core components, and (c) be compatible with all the core components. I found this tool incredibly useful in assessing objectives (a) and (c).

  • Power Supply: To safely and reliably run computer PC Part Picker suggested I needed about 400W. Efficiency and safety were important so I also wanted at least a Gold rating with good protective features. After shopping around I ended up with the Corsair RM750x – its Gold rated, 750W, has excellent protective features and most importantly… was on sale! Yes, its a much larger power supply than I need, but it offers something like 92% peak efficiency at 50% load which tapers to 86% efficiency at 10% load. Meaning for my relatively lower wattage build, its incredibly efficient! For example, while gaming I use circa 365W or 49% load (GPU uses c. 200W, CPU c. 65, and say c. 100W for remaining components) and while working I use c. 110W or 15% load (GPU uses c. 15W, CPU c. 25, and say c. 70W for remaining components). The extra capacity also means that I am easily able to accommodate upgrades in the future.
  • Everything else: I should dedicate more time here… but am bored and want to do something else. Basically there are lots of components that meet objectives (1), (a), (b) and (c), so I picked whatever was cheapest and most aesthetically pleasing.

Benchmarks

Excellent overall performance and no indicators that I have incorrectly installed anything yet… The benchmark tests indicate that the systems current bottleneck is the GPU. I am okay with this and might use it as an excuse to venture into the perilous world of overclocking.

  • Cinebench R23: Multicore score of 10686, CPU temp 60 degrees, clock rate 4.3Ghz at 100% utilisation, stock settings.
  • UserBenchmark: Gaming 135%, Desktop 107%, Workstation 128%, PC Status 77%.
  • CSGO: 300 FPS, High settings, 1440p, GPU temp 65 degrees, CPU temp 55 degrees.
  • RDR2 Official Test: 82 FPS, High Settings, 1440p, GPU temp 71 degrees, CPU temp 56 degrees.

Reflections

Reflection 1: 600,000x The Power of Apollo 11

Relative to the computer that took humans to the moon, I have circa 4 million times more RAM, c. 34 million times the fixed memory, and c. 0.6 million times the processing speed (6 cores @ 4.5GHz)! Imagine if they could see how far technology has come and what we choose to use it for!

Apollo 11 Computer My Computer Me/Apollo 11
RAM (GB)0.000004116 3,902,439x 
Fixed Memory (GB)0.000073732,500 33,907,500x 
Processor (GHz)0.00004327 627,906x 
  • The whole process was fun! I haven’t been so engrossed in a project for years and routinely pulled all-nighters while researching the various components.

Reflection 2: Political Animals

When I first outlined my objectives for the build, aesthetics was not one of them. However, as the project developed, aesthetics became something that I considered more heavily and ended up paying a premium for. Was it worth it? Yes. Although I recognize that I ultimately sacrificed marginally better performance for aesthetic value, I think it was worth it. Perhaps Aristotle was right, “Man is by nature a political animal”, so I enjoy the personal and social benefits that come from having a cool looking computer!

Reflection 3: Risk and Reward

Building a computer is risky. The parts are expensive, delicate, and complex. Without adequate knowledge, it can be a daunting prospect and experience. But… where there is risk there can also be reward! And I found the entire experience incredibly rewarding and fun. In fact, I haven’t been so engrossed in a project for years and routinely pulled all-nighters while learning about the various concepts and components.