Description

I've been building computers for over two decades, but this was the first major overhaul of my personal rig in about 7 years. I'd been running a Core2 Quad (Q9550 @ 3.4GHz) previously, and while that system had served me well over a long upgrade path, it was finally time for a serious refresh.

I was excited by AMD's Ryzen release, and began sketching out the upgrade mid-summer 2017. As I have two young kids things like this progress on a rather slow schedule, only being able to put in bits of time here and there. Activity accelerated around November due to the various sales around black Friday when I finally ordered most of the parts over a period of a few weeks. Alas, I didn't have the budget for a video card upgrade at the time, so now I'm stuck waiting for prices to come back to earth before that component can be brought up to parity with the rest of the system. For now my circa 2012 Radeon HD 7870 2GB will have to do. -_-

UPDATE (7/2018): I found a used Sapphire RX Vega 56 reference card on eBay a couple months ago and managed to get it for $500. Prices are probably better now, but I was getting nervous at the time that good finds on reference cards that hadn't been severely abused for mining might become rare. Anyway, the system is now complete and in the final form that I envisioned!

This was the first time I've ever put so much effort into aesthetics for a computer build. In the past I'd do some cable management purely out of concern for airflow, but when the solid side panels went back on interior looks didn't matter. Over the past year or so I became more interested in the artistry put into enthusiast computer builds, inspired by the amazing work found on PC Part Picker and other places online. I started by modding my previous case with a plexi window and some lighting. Once I opened that door, my compulsion kicked in and I knew I'd want this new system to look its best. I wanted a monochrome theme for the hardware, with any color only added by lighting when the system was powered up. The blue PCB of the older video card is the only mismatch to that right now. The green lighting is a nod to the Enlightened faction in Ingress, another hobby of mine. Combined with AMD's new Zen architecture it also gives the build its name.

The upgrade was my first foray into water cooling of any kind. I was determined to find a way to fit the EK Fluid Gaming A240 open loop water cooling kit, despite the Corsair Crystal 460X being fairly compact. I spent hours experimenting with possible positions for the pump and radiator before settling on the final configuration. Happily, the aesthetics of the tubing runs actually worked out much better than I'd hoped, with some pleasing mirroring of angles and curves in several locations. Several more hours went into working and re-working cable management, spread over several evenings once the little ones were in bed. Wrestling the cables of the completely non-modular (but exceptional quality) PC Power & Cooling S75QB 750W power supply was a particular challenge. With a lot of experimentation and zip-ties it was managed, and enough space remained under the shroud for a single 3.5" HDD.

As there's only about 3/4" of clearance to the shelf above the system, I created a custom magnetic cover for the top of the case. This prevents any re-circulation of hot air exhausted by the top fan. I did the same for the venting above the expansion slots, though I may remove that one if there's sufficient positive pressure to prevent it being an issue there.

My ultimate plan is to upgrade to an RX Vega 56 video card. At that point I'll expand the cooling loop with EK's Fluid Gaming RX Vega water block and an additional 120mm radiator, which will be situated behind the rear exhaust fan. The loop will then run: pump -> 240mm rad -> RX Vega block -> 120mm rad -> CPU block -> pump.

UPDATE (7/2018): Hooray, this is now complete! The expanded loop worked out just how I'd hoped, and performs very well. I've flashed the Vega 56 with a Vega 64 BIOS, and done some preliminary tweaking to undervolt the card so it's not constantly running into its thermal and power limits, which keeps clocks consistently high in the 1,610-1,630MHz range. I also managed to overclock the HBM2 memory to 1,000MHz (up from the Vega 56 default of 800MHz, and even a bit above the Vega 64 default of 945MHz.) Aside from having quite prominent coil whine under heavy load (bad luck of the draw, there) overall I'm thrilled with how it turned out!

I've not done any overclocking of the CPU or memory yet, but I'm sure my enthusiast nature will nudge me into that at some point. Right now I'm still in the learning phase for this new platform, wanting to make sure I have a solid understanding of all the BIOS/UEFI settings and how they interact before I start pushing the hardware.

My hope is for this system to be as long-lived as my previous one, and with AMD's commitment to socket AM4 I think there's a good chance it will be. I expect an eventual upgrade to an NVMe SSD will be in there somewhere, along with at least one new CPU. Also, I think it's safe to say I'm a water cooling convert now. Though a lot of work, it has also been a lot of fun and extremely satisfying to see finally come together and perform so well.

UPDATE (11/2018): I took the NVMe plunge when the new WD Black 500GB went on sale during black Friday! Fairly painlessly migrated the Win10 install from the SanDisk 240GB using Partition Wizard 10 Free, and the speeds are just nuts. Then, casting about for how best to make use of the older SSD, I installed the trial version of PrimoCache and set the entire thing up as an L2 cache against my 4TB hard disk. I also set 8GB of system RAM as L1 cache for the same. I figure that'll help make the HDD a bit less annoying to use as a secondary Steam games library location once the cache gets trained up. I also threw a 2GB L1 RAM cache on the NVMe drive, as I might as well do something with some of that 32GB total memory in the system! If it works out well I may end up purchasing a full PrimoCache license. I looked into the discounted FuzeDrive Basic version offered for AMD's 300-series AM4 chipsets, and while it's only $20, I'm more interested in seeing how PrimoCache works first. I like that PrimoCache is more flexible, can use both RAM and SSDs for multi-level caching, and that it doesn't risk losing data should a cache drive fail.

UPDATE (3/2019): Upgraded the monitor from my trusty Dell U2410 to a new Nixeus EDG27! 144Hz refresh is great, and FreeSync works wonderfully with the Vega 56!

Components carried over from my previous build are listed with $0 prices, so the cost only reflects the new hardware purchased for the upgrade.

Thanks for reading, and take care!

Part Reviews

CPU

Was going to go for a 1700 originally, but with a black Friday sale putting the 1800X at essentially the price I'd planned, I thought why not? The higher base and boost clocks are nice, and I figure the higher binning may help ever so slightly with eventual overclocking. I still do a double-take when seeing 16 thread graphs listed in Task Manager. I'm thrilled AMD is back in the game and putting some very much needed competition in the market!

Motherboard

My previous motherboard was also from Gigabyte (GA-EP45-UD3R), and I bought this largely based on the trouble-free experience I had with that. I love having dual BIOS as a safety net, and the various ultra-durable manufacturing features fit well with my plan to squeeze many years out of this system. My one complaint would be that auto voltages can be slightly aggressive, and also vary a lot with BIOS version. Not too hard to pin those down manually, though.

Memory

I lucked out and was able to nab two of these kits when they dropped down from ~$240 each during a near black Friday sale. I was just going to get one set, and I don't really need 32GB right now... but let's be honest, I let my compulsion to have all 4 DIMM slots filled with RGB goodness get the better of me. It's Samsung B-die memory, and so plays wonderfully with Ryzen. Running the XMP profile 3200MHz at CAS 14 no problem, and with only 0.900V on the CPU SoC. There are some considerations with the lighting control software (G.Skill's cut down version of Asus Aura doesn't play well running simultaneously with any other lighting control apps), but for now I'm just using the real Asus Aura Sync software for the RAM and setting the motherboard LEDs via UEFI. Works fine for now. Four stars simply because it's so expensive.

Storage

I bought this several years ago as a first SSD for my personal system at the time. The previous motherboard topped out at SATA II, so now the drive can finally stretch its SATA III legs! It's plenty quick for now, and big enough for OS, main apps, a few games and some workspace. I do want to explore those crazy NVMe speeds in the future though.

Storage

Happened to luck out and get this drive for free, lightly used, at a tech meetup. It's much more space than I need for bulk storage, but I like that it's enterprise-grade and has a 5 year warranty. Again, it fits with my intention to keep this system around for a good while.

Case

Just what I wanted as far as size, lighting, and tempered glass. The 570X was too large, plus even with cable management I didn't want to be seeing the rear of the motherboard tray anyway. I did have to remove the case feet and add lower-profile rubber ones instead in order to reduce the height enough to fit it in the desk, but it all worked out. Do plan to invest some serious time in cable management if you get this case, but it is worth it when you do, IMHO.

Power Supply

I would rate this PSU 7 stars if I could. The thing is a tank, and has lasted through multiple builds. It only uses a single 80mm fan exhausting out the rear, but with the sizable heat sinks and crossflow ventilation design, that's all it needs, and it doesn't even get that loud! It's completely non-modular, so there are many cables to deal with, and unfortunately many of those are molex connectors which are rather superfluous now. Still, I was willing to do the cable management work to make it fit, as this thing is just that solid. Very sad it's no longer made!

Optical Drive

I actually have the iHAS524-B, but that wasn't to be found in the PC Part Picker database. It works well and does what it needs to. I may eventually upgrade to a BluRay capable drive at some point, but honestly by then I may use optical media so rarely it might not matter.

Case Fan

Expensive? Yes. Worth it to match with the 3 already included in the Crystal 460X RGB? Yes. :-)

Keyboard

Got this refurbished several years back. It uses laptop-style low-profile keys and so is extremely thin as well as easy to type on. Working great and I doubt I'll replace it unless/until it breaks somehow.

Comments

  • 22 months ago
  • 1 point

nice build, to bad you didn't buy a vega 56 card when you had the chance to but i think that in a couple of months the prices of gpu's will come down (at least i hope so cus gtx 1080 are being sold for over $1000 right now which is just crazy) also love your review of the corsiar rgb fan pack XD

  • 22 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks! Yeah, I'm kicking myself every day for not pushing to get the Vega 56 in November. I keep watching them on nowinstock.net (http://www.nowinstock.net/computers/videocards/amd/rxvega56/) and I have my fingers crossed that they'll start to normalize someday soon. Here's to hoping!

  • 22 months ago
  • 1 point

You'll have to buy a used reference card to use an EK full block. AMD quit shipping reference cards. Now only shipping gpu/memory packages to AIB partners. And EK usually doesn't make blocks for amd AIB boards.

  • 22 months ago
  • 1 point

Yup, I'm aware about the EK Vega blocks, but thanks for pointing it out as it's a good reminder. My hope is that I can either find a reference card used once the crypto bubble cools off, or that the blocks may end up being compatible with some AIB cards if they don't alter the PCB layout much. I'll definitely do my research in any case before pulling the trigger, though.

  • 22 months ago
  • 1 point

Great write up and lovely build!

It is great to see AMD back in the CPU game, although they still have a way to go on the GPU front. Not sure the Vega 56 is particularly great value when compared to similar MSRP price points from Nvidia, but hey if you're all about team red then why the hell not. Fingers crossed the prices drop for you soon :)

I'd be curious to see your new GPU temps under load once you do go for the upgrade - that case looks great but must be an absolute hot box!

  • 22 months ago
  • 1 point

Thank you!

I've gone back and forth between Intel and AMD based systems over the years (and even a Cyrix system way back when) as well as having mainly used nVidia GPUs in the past. I usually just follow bang-for-the-buck with an eye toward upgradability. My interest in Vega is primarily as I'd like to get a variable refresh rate monitor eventually, and I'd rather go the FreeSync route. Both because it's cheaper, and also as I'm partial to supporting open standards. But, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a touch of enthusiasm to support the underdog mixed in, as well as a desire to keep competition alive in the GPU market, such as it is.

Temperature-wise the case isn't actually that bad so far. The 55C load temp on the CPU is after running Prime95 small FFT for over half an hour to allow the fluid temp to stabilize. Similarly with the GPU, the 70C is after half an hour of FurMark. I'll probably continue to tweak fan curves in the UEFI as I see how things go, but I don't have any serious concerns at this point. I can't wait to water cool the GPU though. Now that the rest of the system is so quiet, the GPU fan noise really stands out when gaming.

  • 22 months ago
  • 1 point

Wish I could give more than one +1... I am a sucker for a Green themed build, and I still like the 78xx cards. They were such good bang for buck.

  • 22 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks!

I'm quite happy with how the lighting turned out, and with the monochrome hardware color I can always easily switch things up without causing anything to clash.

I had to do some careful electrical taping on the motherboard to cover the red POST code readout, orange main BIOS (vs backup) status LED, and red backlit onboard power button. But with that done all the lighting can be coordinated and consistent.

I agree about the 7800 series cards. It's been a great piece of hardware.

  • 18 months ago
  • 1 point

Were you able to buy two 16GB kits of F4-3200C14D-16GTZR and combine them for a total of 32GB and they ran at their rated speed without issues?

I was thinking about adding a second F4-3200C14D-16GTZR kit, but I heard some people saying it was a bad idea and that they might not run together even though they are supposedly the same Die and speed, etc.

  • 18 months ago
  • 1 point

Yes! I have two kits for 32GB total (4x 8GB) running fine using the XMP profile settings (14-14-14-34 @ 3200, 1T) All the modules show up as identical as far as the data I can see with Thaiphoon Burner. They're all Samsung B-die, and all the same configuration and timings.

I do have most settings for the board on auto, with the exception of vSOC. For some reason the board sets that far too high when enabling the XMP profile (up to around 1.25V), so I've manually pinned it to 0.925V. Otherwise I've left memory-related settings on auto. The RAM voltage ends up about 1.38V, so a bit higher than the XMP profile specifies, but still fine. The memory does run at 1T command rate, but with geardown mode enabled (again, the result of leaving it on auto in BIOS) which I understand is a bit less aggressive.

If you're using the GA-AX370-Gaming K7 motherboard and a 1st generation Ryzen CPU, I'd recommend sticking with the earlier BIOSes though. I'm running F7a, which used one of the last 1st-gen AGESA microcode versions (1.0.0.6b) before they switched to a new revision to support the Raven Ridge APUs. I tried BIOS F10, but didn't like how it was adding excessive voltage to my 1800X, so I went back to F7a. Later BIOSes seem to have caused many folks headaches (often not being able to hit overclocks or memory speeds they could with earlier revisions) so I've just stuck with what's working well for me.

  • 6 months ago
  • 1 point

What is your experience with the Nixeus monitor? How has it treated you? Would you recommend it?

  • 6 months ago
  • 2 points

I've been quite happy with it for the first three months so far! I'm going to quote two of my posts on the Drop.com discussion about it, as they sum up my impressions well, I think:

"Personally, I really dislike using TN panels. I do a good amount of gaming, but also a lot of other things on my computer. Having the color reproduction and viewing angles of IPS is worth a good amount to me, and I also really wanted higher refresh rates and the best possible Freesync range. So, with IPS and good calibration/adjustment controls, combined with the huge 30-144Hz freesync range, it [the Nixeus EDG27] was appealing to me at that price ($369). Based on AMDs list of Freesync monitors, it's one of the only non-TN units with that range (one other VA unit is another Nixeus model, and the Pixio PX277 is apparently IPS as well when I looked it up .)"

"I just received my unit yesterday (3/7/19), from the previous drop, and I'm quite happy with it. No backlight edge bleed I can detect, uniform illumination, and only a single flawed pixel I could find (with broken, as in always dark, green and blue subpixels) about an inch from the left side toward the middle. And I was only able to locate it after poring carefully over the whole display from about 5" away.

The 144Hz refresh is amazing. Coming from my old 24" 60Hz Dell U2410 it's much more noticeable in regular use than I'd anticipated. I'd expected to perceive it clearly in FPS gaming, but I hadn't considered how it would make normal desktop computing so much more fluid as well! Just moving the mouse cursor and dragging interface windows around is so much smoother and less visually fatiguing. Overall I'm quite pleased!

If I had any gripes, they'd only be that I'll miss the convenience of the integrated USB ports on my old monitor, and that the EDG-27 stand adjustments are a bit inconsistent. Landscape/portrait spin of the screen has very little resistance, while the twist on the base to rotate the facing direction and the hinge to tilt the screen forward and back are both quite stiff (to the point that I feel slightly concerned about the structural strain and so take more care than I'd normally expect should be needed when making those adjustments.) But both very minor issues, really, contrasted with all the improvements!"

  • 6 months ago
  • 1 point

Thank you for such an in depth answer! I'm going to take this into consideration as I continue to debate over what 1440p monitor to go with lol.

[comment deleted]