|Components for the Perfect Computer
This blog post is part of a series on my experience building my perfect computer. As part of my job at Member.buzz, I needed a high-performance computer for programming, graphic design, and video rendering. I also wanted it to look the part; looking as beautiful on the outside as it is in the inside.
Comparing and choosing your components can be one of the most intimidating parts of creating your own computer. Many of the decisions you have to make early on will dictate what options you have for subsequent choices. This article dives into the components I chose to use in my build and how I arrived at a decision.
For information on the components that I created (or had created) custom for my computer, see my article on Modding.
Your computer case, also known as your chassis, will hold all of your computer components. There are a wide variety of available cases that come in all shapes and sizes, which are generally categorized into the following sizing group (based on how big of a motherboard they could be used with):
Cases are not the components that you should look to save money on. They are relatively inexpensive relative to other parts and will help shape all of your other decisions. If you plan on building a custom water-cooling loop, make sure that your case includes a built-in fill and drain port, as this will let you fill/drain the coolant from your computer without completely taking it apart.
After a lot of research, I decided to go with the Phanteks EvolvX, and I could not be happier.
Phanteks products are incredibly high quality and come packed with all of the features you could need. While they are notorious for having poor airflow, this has opened up a broad secondary modding market for people to create custom air flow designs (See my article on Modding to see everything that I did to change my case).
Choosing a Power Supply Unit (PSU) is relatively straight-forward. The wattage of your Power Supply dictates how many components it can power. Check out Newegg’s PSU Wattage calculator to estimate how much you will need. I would suggest getting one with 750 watts, which should be more than enough for most custom systems. If you plan on having multiple top-end graphics cards, you may need to increase this to 1,000 watts.
Make sure to get a modular power supply so that you can remove any cables that you don't need and so that you have the option to get custom PSU Cables.
I ended up getting Corsair's HX750i, and it works very nicely. Since I ended up using iCue, I wish I had gone with an iCue compatible Power Supply.
As your computer's brain, your Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the most critical part of your overall performance. Most processors are made by two companies: Intel and AMD. While Intel is the more established brand, AMD often aggressively prices their products to compete, and in some instances, a similar performing CPU from Intel can be 3x more expensive than AMD.
Each brand splits its products into two categories: Consumer and Workstation/Server. Performance-based Consumer CPUs (known as i9 for Intel and Ryzen9 for AMD) range in prices from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars and provide the broadest range of motherboard choices while still having some pretty extraordinary performance at the top-end.
Workstation/server processors (known as Xeon for Intel and Ryzen Threadripper for AMD) can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over ten thousand. With workstation/server processors, you also can have multiple processors in a single motherboard, allowing you to have an insane amount of performance for multi-threaded applications.
When comparing different processors, there are a few metrics to keep in mind:
Server/workstation processors can have a lot of additional features, but none worth mentioning.
I decided to go with the AMD Ryzen 9 3950x CPU, which I purchased the day that it was released. This processor is a beast, with lots of horsepower and features, all at a very reasonable price relative to its Intel counterparts. It is worth mentioning here that this is my first AMD Processo, all of my other computers and servers have Intel processors. The one thing that I would say about this processor is that it can run pretty hot. At the very minimum, you will need a top-of-the-line, all-in-one water-cooling system with a 360mm radiator. However, to get the most out of this CPU, you will need a custom loop.
Initially, I leaned towards getting an AMD RyzenThreadRipper (which, again, is the Workstation/Server equivalent). However, while ThreadRippers do have a higher range of specs, they are more expensive for what you get, and there are a lot fewer options for your other components (i.e., your motherboard).
Your choice in CPU will inform the available motherboards for you to choose from. Each CPU is associated with a socket and a chipset, collectively known as a platform. You can only get a motherboard that uses the same platform as your CPU. There can be a lot of nuance in choosing your motherboard; it can be tough to know what features you will need until you have already bought one and set it up.
My CPU uses the AM4 socket and the X570 chipset. I eventually settled on the MSI Ace X570 Motherboard. While I am happy with it overall, here are some things to keep in mind:
The speed of your hard drive is the cheapest, most effectivemethod of massively improving the performance of your computer. Getting at least an SSD for your computer(rather than a traditional hard drive) is an absolute must.
For my hard drives I chose CorsairForce MP600s. These are very fast,but they require a compatible motherboard to get their full performance. NVMe M.2 drives are about 10 times fasterthan most SSDs, which are already pretty fast.
They come with a heat sync attached. My motherboard comes with built-in heat syncsfor these drives, so I had to remove it before installing them. If you buy an NVMe M.2 Drive without a heat sync and yourmotherboard does not have one, then you need to buy a separate heat sync for it or it willquickly burn out.
When going through the process of deciding which hard driveto get, I went through several considerations:
One of the significant concerns about SSDs when they first came out was reliability. Over time, SSDs will invariably start to get "bad sectors," which will eventually lead to a failure. Knowing this, SSD manufacturers include a ton of extra hidden storage on each SSD. As a sector goes wrong, the information is automatically transferred to this extra space. Luckily, this degradation is measured by tools like Hard Disk Sentinel. Additionally, when you buy an SSD, the manufacturer will have the estimated Total Bytes Written (TBW) advertised, which approximates how many bytes you can write to the drive before it becomes unusable.
The fewer bytes that you write to your drive, the longer it will last, but I can tell you that I have a stack of consumer-grade Samsung 850 Evo SSDs in one of our servers continually reading and writing. After running for two years, Hard Disk Sentinel estimates that they still have three years left. A workstation's drives should last even longer.
On the other hand, traditional HDD doesn't necessarily degrade over time. However, due to their mechanical nature, they do fail at random intervals throughout their lifespan. It can also be more challenging to compare different drives' longevity since there is no quantifiable measure with SSDs.
A 1TB Samsung 860 Evo SSD is rated for 600 TBW, whereas my 1TB Corsair MP600 is rated for 1,800 TBW.
Before deciding on using Corsair iCue to manage all of my lightings, I got 64GB of G.Skill Trident Z, a popular choice for people with the Ryzen 9 and an MSI Motherboard (MSI's Mystic Light can control since the G.Skill RGB). However, once I decided on Corsair, I switched to Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB.
Make sure to check your motherboard's manufacturer to get the exact memory that they recommend with the CPU that you chose. I first bought memory from Corsair that said it was compatible with AMD Ryzen CPU, but I ran into some issues with it.
Generally, a Creator will use the same memory brands as Gamers. However, Creators will want to focus their budget on higher quantities of reliable memory (at least 32GB) rather than purely on speed. For even more reliability, you can look for Error-Correcting Memory (ECC).
This user category wants more threads on their CPU (at least 20) and a higher quality of memory (at least 32GB). They are also willing to sacrifice some cooling performance of exotic, more complicated cooling systems for the sake of reliability. GPUs are less important for most and will often be chosen based on the number of monitor outputs.
Creators can choose a gamer-focused GPU, which will give you a lot of performance for the money. Both AMD and Nvidia make workstation specific graphics cards that offer better multi-monitor support and can be linked together in series to yield substantial performance benefits. The two most popular lines are Nvidia Quadro and AMD Pro.
The price range of workstation graphics is much higher than gamer graphics cards, but they are designed to run more reliably at lower temperatures, meaning that most people do not need to water cool them. If you are using a program that can leverage GPUs (e.g., rendering video/graphics), you can even link multiple GPUs together to create one massive GPU (using SLI).
Known as your Graphics Card, your GPU is used to render what is seen on a monitor. In gaming, this can be quantified by Frames per Second (FPS). Since Graphics Cards have many more cores than any CPU, some programs can offload their processing to your GPU, making things like video processing much faster.
Creator style GPUs include the Quadro line from Nvidia and the Radeon Pro line from AMD. These cards prioritize reliability over raw performance and normally run much cooler and quieter than their Gamer equivalent. I choose Nvidia's Quadro p4000 for my build, which is powerful, can run four monitors, and fits into a single slot. This lets you plug in your monitors to your computer. Graphics cards are created by two companies: Nvidia and AMD.
Since a graphics card is effectively a mini-computer (with its own processor and memory), comparing them against each other can be tricky, especially with confusing marketing attached to new releases. Instead, sites like Versus and UserBenchmark provide real-world performance comparisons between cards, comparing things like Frames per Second (FPS) while playing a particular game and more.
Core Count (e.g., 3,584 CUDA Cores)
Memory Amount (e.g., 11 GB)
GPU Base Clock (e.g., 1,482 Mhz)
GPU Boost Clock (e.g., 1,582 Mhz)
Nvidia GeForce/Quadro, AMD Radeon/Radeon Pro
My workstation has four Dell UltraSharps U2719 (which are amazing, by the way), so I wanted a GPU that would be able to drive all of them at once reliably while still being able to play the occasional game. Most of the gaming GPUs just seemed like overkill. I couldn't find any that supported that many monitors out-of-the-box, so I decided to go with an nVidia Quadro P4000, a single-slot workstation GPU with four DisplayPorts that still kept pace with some of the high-end gaming GPUs. In my experience, since Quadros are built for workstations, they are incredibly dependable, whereas I have had random issues with gaming GPUs in the past.
Many of the decisions you will make on components can be boiled down to deciding on your persona.
Gamers will use their computer strictly for playing video games (or otherwise for personal use). Gamers opt for the design of their computer and raw performance measurements of their components rather than reliability.
Gamers prefer the consumer version of CPUs (Intel i9 / AMD Ryzen) and GPUs (Nvidia Geforce / AMD Redeon). These focus on raw computing power and higher single-core clock speeds since most video games are effectively single-threaded.
You will often see gamers overclock their components past recommended specifications to gain performance at the expense of long-term stability. This leads many gamers to employ complicated custom water-cooling, which can require regular maintenance or monitoring.
Creators use their computer mostly for work, whether for building code, rending video, etc. Creators place a higher value on reliability and performance quantity. Most components made specifically for creators can be substantially more expensive than the corresponding part made for a gamer because everything must be designed and produced to last.
The Creator will often opt for the workstation version of CPUs (Intel Xeon / AMD Ryzen Threadripper), and GPUs (Nvidia Quadro / AMD Radeon Pro) can sacrifice clock speed for more threads and increased reliability.
Creators will generally opt for cooling solutions that balance long-term reliability with performance. When water cooling is used, an All-in-One cooler is a great solution, but if a custom water-cooling loop must be used, creators should use non-exotic fluids that don't require constant maintenance and monitoring.
As you may have realized, this series of articles has very little to do with the products provided by Member.buzz. However, we thought some of the research we did while building this computer would be useful to others.