Building a new mid-level gaming PC

cgori

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So, my ~4 year old PC's power supply just died last night. (Well, it's at least that, maybe more, TBD - it's never good when you smell burning right?!?!). I'm going to try replacing the PSU as a hail mary but it's probably time for a new box, since I won't have a ton of confidence in it going forward.

The recently deceased was a Shuttle SFF w/ Z87 motherboard, 16GB, I7 4770K, EVGA GTX 960SC graphics. I'm hoping I can transplant the 2.5" 500GB SSD (~1.5yr old) and the 250GB M.2 SSD (~4yr old) into the new one, but I'm thinking about just getting a 1TB SSD instead. I have a 2TB HDD (or maybe 4TB, I forget) drive that I can probably retire at this point, it has very little on it except backups of the SSDs...

I usually go for good bang-for-the-buck video cards (not premium), pretty high-end CPU, and extra memory. I have 2 1920x1200 (note - weird aspect ratio!) monitors that I like a lot and will keep. I play relatively non-demanding games (EVE, WoW) but want it to look nice with settings on "Very High" - I haven't pushed "Ultra" in a low time. I also use this PC for consulting/productivity work, the games are just the most demanding thing it will have to do.

If I do a shuttle again, something like this (? - it's an H370 motherboard, not a Z370 though, which surprises me a bit). I think(?) I can finally stop having an optical drive - the last PC had one and I used it almost never, but they are cheap so if I can fit it, fine.

I'm thinking about maybe a micro ATX or similar for the first time in a while, I just want a small-ish enclosure that can handle a good video card cooling-wise, and 4 DIMM slots (maybe 16GBx2 is enough for me though, convince me that will be ok?). I really don't want any RGB / plexi panels, if I can avoid them.

So, questions I have:
1) Intel processors, looks like Coffee Lake is still the micro-arch for a desktop gaming machine? I see i5-9600/9600K, maybe i7-9700/9700k or i3-9350kf as options. I don't know a thing about AMD currently, as I have used Intel for a decade or longer now, what's a good comparable as a Ryzen? (7-2700X?)
2) Z390 vs Z370 for intel - any strong feelings here? 390 has integrated wifi (don't-care), and some usb 3.1 goodies (maybe this matters?) I have read that for an i5-9600 it will be supported on a z390 without any bios upgrades, which is a pretty big advantage. I need to go look into micro ATX Z390s unless someone knows a good one.
3) for a new video card, something like an RTX2060 vs GTX1660Ti? This ~$300 range is where I usually try to be for a video card. I am a little lost on the architectural differences though.
4) what's a non-blingy micro ATX case, with good airflow?

I started messing around with all of this on PC parts picker but nothing really has jumped out at me yet.
 

Soxy

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3) for a new video card, something like an RTX2060 vs GTX1660Ti? This ~$300 range is where I usually try to be for a video card. I am a little lost on the architectural differences though.
Ray tracing. That's the main difference. RTX cards have dedicated hardware for ray tracing. GTX cards had a driver update which technically allows ray tracing but they don't perform it as well as the RTX cards. I have a GTX 1080 and turning on ray tracing in any game at 1440p is basically a non-starter. I would have to dial waaaaaay down pretty much every other setting. Which I don't really want to do. But ray tracing looks pretty cool. It's basically real-time light and shadows in a better way than done before.
 

LogansDad

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I don't have a ton to add, but I just built a new rig a few months ago and I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Ryzen 2700X. I went with a GTX 1070, because I was trying to keep it under $1200 (successfully), and can upgrade the video card eventually.... I have no issues running anything so far. Probably the most demanding game I play is FFXIV, and I easily and silently (even with an aircooled system) play it on the highest settings. Highly, highly recommend the Ryzen.
 

Couperin47

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Issues to add:

Considering your monitors (and btw I run nothing but dual 16:10 24" monitors here too so it's not so unusual) the other big issue for gamers now is freesync which remains irrelevant to you unless you start replacing those monitors.

4 years ago means better than even chance your M.2 was a Sata not NVME let alone PCIe x4 which is the fastest current standard. The differences, aside from benchmarks, are not huge. In any case an M.2 more than twice the size of your current drive will cost much less than you paid for that 250 Gb model, so just match whatever your new mb requires (almost certainly PCIe x4).

On optical, virtually all SFF cases use the laptop standard for an optical drive which means you get a slow fragile stupid drive mounted vertically which will be even more encouragement to ignore it, meanwhile a mini or micro case that allows a standard size drive which costs all of $20, is much much faster and won't break...
 

Nick Kaufman

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This is the perfect time to build a new pc in quite some time as memory, ssd and video card prices have dropped from historical highs over the past couple of years.

I would say that besides ray tracing RTX 2060 and RTX 2070 are aimed more towards 1440p gaming whereas 1660 and 1660TI aim more for upscale 1080p gaming. Do keep in mind that Nvidia is on the verge of releasing updated versions of the RTX 2060 and RTX 2070 in the near future, so their prices will be falling.

AMD should get on your radar, as for the first time ever his month, they released cpus that can go head to head with Intel offerings on the high end, while offering more cores. In other words, their CPUs can deliver similar framerates on games while beating intel on multithreaded productivity applications.Moreover, microsoft just announced windows 10 optimizations which take advantage of AMD features effectively increasing the speed of the processors.

Start your search with the 3700x, but also look for the $500 3900x which directly competes with Intel's best consumer cpu the i9 9900k.

Memory is getting radically cheaper, so you could even go for 32GB for future proofing. Just remember that if you go with AMD especially, go for the faster memory you can afford. 3200mhz 14 cas seems the sweet spot right now.

As far as hard drives, I would keep the 256GB m.2 as a system drive, while using a larger sized SSD for my steam library and documents.

As far as cases are concerned, I like the NZXT lineup, the H400 is a micro atx case you look for, and the h500 can support ATX as well. Other than that, I like the Fractal Design cases like the Refine R6 and the Meshify C.

Good luck.
 

Red Sox Physicist

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This is the perfect time to build a new pc in quite some time as memory, ssd and video card prices have dropped from historical highs over the past couple of years.

AMD should get on your radar, as for the first time ever his month, they released cpus that can go head to head with Intel offerings on the high end, while offering more cores. In other words, their CPUs can deliver similar framerates on games while beating intel on multithreaded productivity applications.Moreover, microsoft just announced windows 10 optimizations which take advantage of AMD features effectively increasing the speed of the processors.

Start your search with the 3700x, but also look for the $500 3900x which directly competes with Intel's best consumer cpu the i9 9900k.
The flip side of that from an Intel CPU perspective is that Intel just announced their Ice Lake 10 nm CPUs. These will be a huge performance improvement. However, they won't be out until the end of the year.

Intel's 10 nm process is similar to AMD's 7 nm process in transistor density. The transistor sizes are just marketing terms now. Intel CPUs have only made marginal improvements over the last several years since it's taken them so long to bring their 10 nm process to market to the point where AMD caught up and passed them. Buying now, definitely look at AMD. If you're going for Intel and you can put it off, wait for Ice Lake.
 

cgori

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Thanks, all - some things in here I wouldn't have considered/known.

I'm still digesting / working through PC Parts Picker, might come back with a proposed build to critique. (But, waiting for Ice Lake would be ideal, if I can limp along with a new PSU in the old box I'd be happy for sure.)
 

cgori

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It turns out that the power supply is OK. The video card sparked to the CPU fan surround. Computer is alive and running off the built-in video. But EVGA is going to replace my video card under warranty (!?!) I think, which sorta blows my mind.

But I'm thinking about building a new PC using NCASE M1 when it comes around again and the new intel CPUs come out in the fall.
 

Red Sox Physicist

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To bump this: Intel still doesn't have a 10 nm desktop CPU, and it's not clear when they will. Ice Lake is mobile only for now. Tiger Lake, the successor to Ice Lake, also looks like it might be targeting mobile as well. AMD is crushing Intel on the desktop right now.
 

cgori

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To bump this: Intel still doesn't have a 10 nm desktop CPU, and it's not clear when they will. Ice Lake is mobile only for now. Tiger Lake, the successor to Ice Lake, also looks like it might be targeting mobile as well. AMD is crushing Intel on the desktop right now.
That's crazy. I stopped following the trend closely when my PC pulled a Lazarus (EVGA did replace the graphics card for free, god bless them). But I just talked to someone with an NCase M1 and I am insanely jealous. Guess I'll have to check the AMD roadmap...
 

TallerThanPedroia

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Well I think it's finally time to replace my desktop as I cannot get it to start right now and I can't really do work on my little tablet.

This current thing is from 2009. It's from iBuyPower and it was pretty good back in the day, but a few years ago when I tried to play the latest Doom, the program refused to even install on my computer, claiming that it would quickly melt it into slag. I've sort of wanted to upgrade since, but then again I don't really play a lot of games anymore and when I do I don't super care how great they look. I enjoyed Control just fine on my PS4 with its occasionally low framerate and lack of perfect reflections.

But still, I'd like something that can at least play the new games. My first concern is that the design of the cases has only gotten more garish. My current case looks a little beefy, and the window is exposed on my work desk, but it's just a cool blue light that isn't too annoying when it's on. But everything on iBuyPower looks like it belongs in a trashy nightclub. Someone upthread NZXT but they don't look much better. Does anyone have a more staid recommendation, or should just accept that I Am Old Now and just get the proverbial Dell?

Also, are we still AMD > Intel? I've always had Intel, it'll feel like cheating to finally go AMD, but that does seem to be the thing to do these days.

edit: I have a GTX 275, for context.
 
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Nick Kaufman

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Well I think it's finally time to replace my desktop as I cannot get it to start right now and I can't really do work on my little tablet.

This current thing is from 2009. It's from iBuyPower and it was pretty good back in the day, but a few years ago when I tried to play the latest Doom, the program refused to even install on my computer, claiming that it would quickly melt it into slag. I've sort of wanted to upgrade since, but then again I don't really play a lot of games anymore and when I do I don't super care how great they look. I enjoyed Control just fine on my PS4 with its occasionally low framerate and lack of perfect reflections.

But still, I'd like something that can at least play the new games. My first concern is that the design of the cases has only gotten more garish. My current case looks a little beefy, and the window is exposed on my work desk, but it's just a cool blue light that isn't too annoying when it's on. But everything on iBuyPower looks like it belongs in a trashy nightclub. Someone upthread NZXT but they don't look much better. Does anyone have a more staid recommendation, or should just accept that I Am Old Now and just get the proverbial Dell?

Also, are we still AMD > Intel? I've always had Intel, it'll feel like cheating to finally go AMD, but that does seem to be the thing to do these days.

edit: I have a GTX 275, for context.
If you don't like the NXZT H500 (now H510) which is as boxy as they come, then probably you have an issue with cases with windows. Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, there's been a trend towards adding windows in cases in order to showcase the hardware inside, oftentimes with tons of RGB lights on fans and such. When I realized that, I had the same reaction as you do, so I am happy to have had a Lian Li PC-60FN from 2013 which doesn't have a window and is made with aluminum which makes it lighter and feel better to the touch. Lian Li makes good cases, but unfortunately they have also succumbed to adding windows while abandoning aluminum because it's too expensive. Their current flagship is the 011 Dynamic which is full of windows. Having said that, take a look in their website and I am sure you will find something more conservative.

Beyond that, I would like into Fractal Design cases. They are swedish and they are well made. Their flagship model is Define 7 which is useful if you have a lot of drives - though for most people the trend has been towards less drives. If you are one of those people look into Define 7 compact which as the name implies is the same thing only smaller. Then there's the Meshify series of cases which might look garish but has an open front for better ventilation. Then their economy model is the Focus series of cases.

Based on what you have said, I would first look into the Define 7 Compact, then check to see if a Lian Li catches my fancy. Then I would look to Corsair; most of their cases have windows, but they are a big manufacturer and they should have something more conservative.
 

TallerThanPedroia

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I'm resigned to a window, but yeah I'd like at least a normal-ish looking case otherwise, and something without a ton of lights inside. I did see those Fractal ones which didn't look bad.

I think my current problem is just the drive that my OS is on (which is working fine if I boot using an old Windows 7 install I have on another hard drive, so this is extra annoying). It's an SSD so I was hoping it would last longer (it's been five years). I just ordered another one and I might just try to install Windows on that and keep kicking the can.

I could also try to use my current case and upgrade pretty much everything inside, but I don't know if it's worth all that fuss. I used to have a good handle on this stuff but I haven't shopped for a real computer in ten years and there's just so much stuff now.
 

Couperin47

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Bad time to try and build a desktop, especially since you want to game. Simply put, medium to high end video cards : if you can find them at all the prices are insane and atm low to medium range cards have almost doubled in their prices, but in most cases there are simply none to be found. Good example,: go to Newegg and scan their Daily Deals which are usually 90 pages of stuff on sale. You will find virtually NO video cards and most of those you will find are by Chinese companies that didn't exist 2 years ago: Maxsun, Yeston, Corn ??? Cards that are in stock from the reliable companies have all inflated their prices by $100 - $200 dollars. Some have resigned themselves and bought premade gamer desktops as one of the few options to actually acquire a 'real brand' video option. Good luck, evidence is the market won't return to anything sane til late summer...at the earliest.
 

TallerThanPedroia

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Well then, here's hoping something funny just happened with my SDD / Windows install, and it's nothing to do with my 11-year-old motherboard. We'll find out tomorrow.
 

tmracht

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Yeah I got my hands on 2 3060tis a few weeks ago and sold them to my BiL and then a friend, but I had offers of up to $900 for each if I didn't go MSRP ($499) to friends, video cards are insane right now. If you do want to try and snipe one, Zotac store has been about the only real chance especially if you follow the buildapcsales discord and set up a GPU bot alert.
 

Red Sox Physicist

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Cards that are in stock from the reliable companies have all inflated their prices by $100 - $200 dollars.
Also, a Chinese tariff exemption for GPUs and motherboards ended with the New Year, so prices are going up again for 2021.

Also, are we still AMD > Intel? I've always had Intel, it'll feel like cheating to finally go AMD, but that does seem to be the thing to do these days.
Yes. The new AMD Ryzen 5xxx CPUs have the crown now. However, similar to the GPU shortage, you'll be lucky to find one. They are out of stock everywhere.
 

TallerThanPedroia

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Well the new SSD came but Windows absolutely refuses to install on it. So I just gave up and ordered a $150 "mini" PC about the size of a Roku off Amazon.
 

Otto

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At the risk of asking some really stupid questions, here goes:

I'm not a gamer and never have been. Even with basic computing needs (i.e., for work), I don't really know what I'm talking about. I have a home office (that I use even more than usual during COVID) with what is probably a relatively low tech machine (Dell All in One - 700 Series Inspiron 27). It works fine for my basic needs. My problem is my son is BEGGING me to install Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 on it for him. I have tried comparing the specs of my Dell machine to the required specs and it looks like my deficiency is the video card (?). According to my research, my machine has a NVIDIA GeForce MX110 and it looks like I need NVIDIA GTX 700 or better. There may be other issues I haven't identified yet (e.g., what's VRAM and dedicated video RAM?).

So my questions are really stupid: (1) am I completely S.O.L. with my Dell for this purpose or is there something I can add to it; or (2) am I so far from being compatible that I need to look elsewhere (I am still inside my return period on my Dell, so if a return and slight upgrade is possible, I'd do that); or (3) is this game a serious lift for any machine and only high end, high dollar machines will accommodate it?

Apologize in advance for the dumb questions ... any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.
 

Otto

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@Otto, is your computer a laptop or a desktop? I'm not a techie, but my understanding is that video cards in laptops aren't generally upgradable, whereas video cards in desktops generally are.
As a fellow non-techie, I'd say its basically a hybrid of laptop and desktop - Dell calls it an all-in-one, because it sits on a desk but doesn't have a separate box on the floor. Which now that I type that, makes me think that upgrading is not going to be possible.
 

AlNipper49

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I'd be shocked if you could. Those Dell builds are pretty specific and proprietory. Yours may be different but for every dell all-in-one I've ever seen I'd be shocked if you could even physically fit one in there, much less have the right power, ports, etc for it.
 

TallerThanPedroia

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Well the new SSD came but Windows absolutely refuses to install on it. So I just gave up and ordered a $150 "mini" PC about the size of a Roku off Amazon.
So, my last ditch effort was to buy a Windows 10 installation DVD off eBay for $10, in case the USB I made just wasn't working. That showed up last night so I tried it out on the new SSD. It seemed to be going better, but once again I hit an error message. But at least it was a different error message!

After some Googling, I had to conclude that there was something wrong with my RAM. That had been a possibility for the prior error message, but was the most likely cause of the new error.

I have six 2-GB DDR3s. I pulled out all but two of them, and after some panic when my computer wouldn't boot at all, I managed to install Windows 10 on the new SSD! So I guess I got lucky, but now I'm not sure how to figure out which of the remaining four sticks are bad. It sounds like I have to test them one at a time, but I don't want my new installation to get damaged, as I assume my original installation was. Any advice? In the meantime, 4GB seems like plenty as long as I stick to just doing work stuff and web browsing.
 

Harry Hooper

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Harry Hooper

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So, my last ditch effort was to buy a Windows 10 installation DVD off eBay for $10, in case the USB I made just wasn't working. That showed up last night so I tried it out on the new SSD. It seemed to be going better, but once again I hit an error message. But at least it was a different error message!

After some Googling, I had to conclude that there was something wrong with my RAM. That had been a possibility for the prior error message, but was the most likely cause of the new error.

I have six 2-GB DDR3s. I pulled out all but two of them, and after some panic when my computer wouldn't boot at all, I managed to install Windows 10 on the new SSD! So I guess I got lucky, but now I'm not sure how to figure out which of the remaining four sticks are bad. It sounds like I have to test them one at a time, but I don't want my new installation to get damaged, as I assume my original installation was. Any advice? In the meantime, 4GB seems like plenty as long as I stick to just doing work stuff and web browsing.
You can create a bootable USB drive or CD/DVD disc to run memtest86. You would need to create the bootable drive or disc, install all the RAM (with machine turned off), boot into memtest86 and run the tests to figure out what's bad.
 

TallerThanPedroia

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You can create a bootable USB drive or CD/DVD disc to run memtest86. You would need to create the bootable drive or disc, install all the RAM (with machine turned off), boot into memtest86 and run the tests to figure out what's bad.
Thanks. I ran the Windows tool and it showed no errors, but some parts of the Internet suggest I have to test the boards one at a time. This sounds like it doesn't require that.
 

Couperin47

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If memory tests good your issue may have to do with the fact that virtually no modern motherboards have more than 4 memory sockets, timings become more difficult and after more than 4 slots are filled many boards become very finicky about timings and specs of the memory that will run properly with all 6 populated, also depending on the load and quality of your power supply those running near capacity may start suffering from voltage droop to the ram which will also affect stability.
 

tmracht

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Thanks to everyone who responded to my dumb questions. I really appreciate it!
Otto if you have any specific flight sim 2020 questions after today feel free to message me. I have basically a full setup I built mainly to play it. Including flight stick, throttle, rudder pedals I'm a little bit of an enthusiast.
 

Nick Kaufman

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Thanks to everyone who responded to my dumb questions. I really appreciate it!
Microsoft flight simulator came out only a few months ago and it's pretty demanding game. If you want to run it, you probably need to build a new pc.