“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the PC he builds?” Albert Camus
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own PC. If a man can build a PC he can find the way to Enlightenment and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” Buddha
So what is happiness?
“Well, Arne it’s all relative…” yadda yadda yadda… Yes, I know.
I’ll tell you the kind of happiness we are aiming for here. For this guide we are going to concentrate on three states of happiness. Two are, of course, the binary states: Happiness and unhappiness. The latter is what we absolutely want to avoid. But there are other guides about, that can do this well enough. They may be horribly written and punctuated like commas cost money; or they may be so dry a read, you’ll need a tall glass of lemonade to get through them but they will do the job.
What we really need to do though, is differentiate between those relative levels of happiness you were jabbering on about before. We need to differentiate between the “guide” and the Guide.
We need to recognise (and we can all see it) that happiness can be: “My PC is amazing. I’m really happy with it! Of course I could have….and occasionally it….and maybe if I’d...but no, it’s great!”
Or it can be: “My PC is good man!”
It’s this lasting kind of happiness that this guide is aimed at.
What this guide is not: This guide is not a guide to building your mother’s PC. Unless your mother is tearing up FPS gaming and breaking records at HWBot. If you want a PC for spreadsheets and web browsing go away. If you want a reliable workstation with huge quantities of ECC ram…go someplace else. This guide is aimed at a PC for Gaming and Overclocking. ROG type stuff.
BEFORE THE BUILD
Read. Read a lot. Read this Guide.
Read other “guides”. Watch reviews! TTL (Tiny Tom Logan) is still a favourite of mine. Good, in depth, no horse puckey. Look him up. Then come back to this guide.
Remember when doing your research, not all opinions are exactly as genuine as they sound. Remember there are a whole lot of bought and paid for opinions out there. Sponsored opinions. I may mention brands I have personal good experience with. None of them have ever given me a thing.
Look out for affiliate links below videos and featured brands. Think, if they are there, is the person recommending them because they are the best or because they yield percentages. Caveat emptor!
Your budget is your budget…but whatever your budget…save some more! You still get what you pay for, in many ways and that top tier happiness often comes from top tier gear.
PSU (POWER SUPPLY UNIT)
Much like our fundamental states of happiness, this whole project is really binary; Zeroes and ones, high voltage, low voltage. Fundamentally, what you have in a PC, is a whole lot of components signalling each other. 1,0,1,0,0,1… They accomplish this by sending electrons in waves at each other. Peaks and troughs and V1s and V2s. So how do we guarantee that V1 is V1 and V2 is V2 and that they stay that way and that V1 doesn’t creep up to look like V2? How do we make sure that the signal gets through in a nice clean manner? How do we make sure we can do this, not only at stock but at the crazy frequencies we want to attain overclocking? We need power. We need lots of power and we need it as stable and efficient as we can get it.
Efficiency means what you put into a PSU is what you get out. A cheapo PSU with no rating might be taking in 500W AC from the wall and giving you a little over 250W DC for your hard earned components. This is not efficiency it is deficiency!
The ratings start at 80+. This means you might be putting in 500W AC and getting 400W DC to use. A good start but really we can do better. What this figure doesn't tell you, is if the PSU can do this at all levels of power demanded by your PC. Nor does it tell you if it does this cleanly i.e. is the power surging or falling around the mean value...ripple etc. It doesn't tell you if it manages to do this at idle, surfing ROG forum, as well as it does when overclocking your water-cooled CPU to the dizzy heights of league table fame.
80+ Gold and Platinum PSUs, from top makers, will even save you money on your electricity bill; 10 or 20 beer tokens over a year in some cases and that's against 80+...against that no rating PSU you'll be quids in...over the life of the PSU that might be a fair few nights down the Dog and Duck and we're talking salt and vinegar crisps thrown in! And these top of the line PSUs keep this efficiency (90%+) and stability at all loads, from doing nothing to bleeding edge Time Spy runs. They are worth every penny.
Seasonic has been my go to for all my builds and I have yet to be let down. X range and Platinum range have been stellar performers; Prime Ultra have a 12 year warranty! Corsair AX range have a good rep and friends swear by them. There are others…Superflower Leadex, Enermax Platimax...
I can't say it enough...get a good PSU! So often I see lists of great components and the Power supply might as well be a hamster in a wheel! Don't let this be your PC... It is the very beating heart of your system! Just imagine you are powering your grandmother’s pacemaker. Don’t start thinking…”well if I go for that second tier PSU for my Grandmother's pacemaker, I can afford a better GPU!"
PSUs age! And it’s even higher than dog years. You’ve heard of over-provisioning on your SSD? Well, it applies double to your PSU. You want more than the PSU calculator gave you, if you want it to last for a while and do duty to your OCing throughout its life. After five or six years my PSUs get put out to grass in my parents’ PC.
750W On a 750W PSU I’d be happy to stick any CPU and a mid or high range GPU. You could even push the clocks on both the CPU and GPU a bit.
850W On an 850W PSU I’d be happy to stick any CPU, even the multicore beasts, and a High-end GPU. I’d even push the clocks but not to HWBot record breaking clocks. I’d also stick on any CPU and even a couple of GPUs and still be able to OC some. However with a multicore beast and two GPUs I wouldn’t be pushing it.
1000W On a 1000W PSU I’d put any CPU and a couple of GPUs and be able to push pretty hard. Any CPU and a single GPU and you could break records.
1200W This is a good PSU for multiple GPUs and any CPU and pushing the clocks up to record breaking heights.
1500W This is for pushing through the limits of silicon as we know them on rarefied coolants and in rarefied company.
“But Arne! You haven’t even considered PSUs smaller than 750W” I hear you say...
MB (MOTHERBOARD) ASUS. Full Stop. And you know why? “The build quality” you say...Nope... “The cool features like the sound and wifi and flashy lights? ooo the flashy lights!"...Nope... “Well what then?!” The BIOS! Yup, the BIOS makes all the difference and from what I have seen and used, they are simply the best…and by quite a margin. Bells and whistles there are aplenty, of course, but other boards have those too. The business of getting in and out and around in BIOS and the BIOS support are key. The memory profiles, the BIOS guides! ASUS! And you know what we were saying earlier about saving more money…this is kind of why. The top range motherboards get the best BIOS support first. They are also made to tighter tolerances, so all those V1/V2 signals are propagating along the finest copper traces known to man and are less likely to wobble even when you are pushing them to the limits. Honestly, I’d rather put an 8 core CPU in a top end board than an 18 core CPU in a low end one. ROG boards…nuff said.
Obviously get one made for your motherboard…a quick check of socket type and you’re done more or less. Just need to decide how many cores you absolutely positively must have.
RAM (RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY) This is arguably the place that most mistakes are made and to be honest, for good reason. Companies are pretty hell bent on shouting about the frequencies their gear can reach without really mentioning that you ‘aint going to be able to do the same unless you are this guy… The basic thing is to look at the motherboard you are considering and look at the specs. You’ll see something like this:
And rush to the shop for 128GB (cos that’s the max) and 3333Mhz (cos that’s the max).
There lies the road to unhappiness.
See all those (O.C.)s in that list. That means OverClock.
“Yeah OverClock! Right on! Let’s do this!” I hear you say.
Well, what does OC really mean. It means running above the specification for the platform really and here is where the XMP profiles or DOCP profiles come in (DOCP just being an outdated ASUS run-around for using XMP profile on AMD boards).
If you look closely at the weasel words, the small print, you’ll find processors are guaranteed to run a certain frequency of memory. You have to dig even deeper to find this is for a certain quantity of memory. Your CPU will run say, 2133MHz for 32GB of memory. Or 2666Mhz for 32GB. This means that if you ran out to buy 128GB of memory it might have problems running even at the default speed and you are in for a world of pain if you try to set XMP and run it at max frequency supported by the motherboard.
So what do you do? Have a look at that list of (O.C.)s and discount the top two frequencies at least. Discount more of the top frequencies the more GB you want to run. Some liquid-nitrogen-for-breakfast type achieved those after a five hour tweaking session, at some voltage that would power a small third world country. Don’t go there. Read around…see what frequencies are doing fine and at what frequencies all the forum threads are starting at 😉
How much RAM do you need? Do you need to fill all the slots? What timings? Not so long ago 8GB was great for gaming and 16GB future proof. Well it’s now the future. I’d say 16GB is a minimum now and better 32GB. With that you can do anything within the bounds of reason. You can game and encode video and retouch photos in Photoshop with that, all at the same time. If you need more, you know you need more because you have a specific use case. If you “need” more…’cos MOAR! Then you don’t need more at all. If you want more that is fine but you have to realise that more might, well, mean less!
“Explain yourself Arne!”
Your CPU has a piece of it that is called the memory controller. You can see it here magnified on a Haswell E silicon chip. Now, I’m sure you have heard of the silicon lottery. Some silicon is forged in the fires of Mount Doom and other silicon is forged in the fires of your local Burger King.
If we magnify that memory controller further we may see this: Which would take all comers and run whatever frequency you care to throw at it.
Or this: Which might be challenged in its ability to respond to anything higher than stock.
So really it’s your CPU that will decide what memory you can run…not really the motherboard (although of course the MB is important...trace quality,layout etc).
What you will find, is that the top frequencies supported by your board will not be supported by all CPUs and that even if your CPU can support those frequencies, it might not do it for the maximum amount of memory supported by the board.
Basically, this means that the higher the amount of memory you want to run, the lower should be your frequency expectations. For example that Haswell E CPU... Top end 3333 or 3300 MHZ…forget it. Fugheddaboudit! So go for 3200 if you want a 16 or 32GB kit. Or 2666 or 2400 if you want a 128GB kit.
OK, so you are going for quad channel, 32GB at 3200MHz…good choice. You get to the shop and there is a quad channel kit for 450 beer tokens…OMG! Next to it are two dual channel kits for 150 beer tokens each…same specs…job done right? You know a bargain when you see one!
Well, no! Mixing and matching kits to make up total memory amounts is Unhappiness-Ville again. One kit of RAM has been tested by the manufacturer to run as just that…one kit…one unit…one team. It is made up of individual chips that all have the same main timings as well as sub-timings and secret sauce that doesn’t even appear in the BIOS. If you take another kit and add it, even though it apparently shares the same timings, it probably doesn’t and setting something like XMP on mixed kits will lead to tears.
Yes, there is always someone who's cousin got away with it...but you wont.
On QUAD channel platforms get one single quad channel kit of the size you want. If you want more RAM later you will have to buy another kit and sell the old one.
On Dual channel boards get a single dual channel kit or a single quad channel kit. Since quad can be split into two dual channel kits…since they all work together fine.
Timings…this is pretty simple really. They will be in the format A-A-A-Z. For the same frequency the lower those numbers, the faster the kit.
Choosing a frequency is sometimes complicated a bit by the timings of the RAM. There is a formula that can help you in deciding if one kit is faster than the other when the timings are taken into account.
(CAS/frequency) x 2000 gives you a number in nanoseconds for comparing speeds.
Say you see a 3200 kit at 14-14-14-34 and a 3600 kit at 19-19-19-39 which is faster?
Well, 14/3200 x 2000 = 8.75 ns; 19/3600 x 2000 = 10.55ns so the 3200 kit actually looks quicker.
If these numbers are close or the same choose the higher frequency it will be more efficient.
G.Skill RAM is the best in the business as far as I can tell. Corsair makes some good stuff. Be careful though. All these companies make some rubbish too and often, the more superfluous marketing pizzazz that goes with a kit, the worse it will be. Refined understated excellence Horsepowoar nonsense
Similarly, the Motherboard support page will have a "QVL" (Qualified Vendors List) of RAM that ASUS has tested on the board.
GPU (GRAPHICS PROCESSING UNIT) I don’t have a whole lot to say here. I have never had trouble with a GPU of any brand as long as you have the power to run them. People run off and buy OCd cards with fancy coolers and that’s all well and good. But honestly, overclocking is easy enough so maybe save some money and buy the basic no frills model and do the OC yourself. Dual fan GPU coolers dump a lot of heat into a case for example, whereas a cheaper blower cooled card might vent more heat out the back of the case and will probably OC to within a few MHz
By the way, there are rumours that Intel make GPUs too...it's not true...whatever that is on those chips it's not a GPU.
The following is a detailed guide to GPU overclocking:
STORAGE Whatever…NVMe SSD for boot/OS drive, some decent HDD for storage. Samsung SSDs are pretty hard to beat. I use WD Red for storage/backup etc.
WATERCOOLING Don’t do it. Save yourself some cash. Live in ignorance and some form of bliss.
If you do do it, you’ll realise it’s absolutely the only way to cool a PC and then you will start on a long journey towards bankruptcy and divorce. But it will be a happy, silent, fulfilled bankruptcy and divorce with an infinite satisfaction.
Don’t do AIO cooling. Seriously.
It will just give you a taste without really satisfying the hunger. Save a bit more and get yourself a kit from EK or make up your own basic Kit for about the same price. Plan to add in from the beginning. You might just start with CPU cooling but you WILL move on to cooling the GPU, maybe VRMs, maybe RAM... and possibly the household cat....
THE BUILD DAY
And I do mean day...do this well lit and with time to spare. If you start in the evening you'll end up rushing and something will go wrong and there'll be tears before bed.
I genuinely dress in organic cotton and work on a hardwood floor...OK not really but maybe you get the point. Static is a killer. get a wrist strap, or if you are cheap like me, touch the kitchen sink tap every 5 minutes. Stay off carpets!
Do you know the feeling of running your hands over the solder on the back of the motherboard as you unpack a new board?
WELL, YOU SHOULDN'T...I don't...touch the bare minimum and at points like the screw holes, the very edges etc. Don't touch contacts on CPU or RAM or GPU.
Don't force anything, don't over-tighten anything. If it needs it, you're probably getting it wrong, or something is out of alignment.
Try brand new stuff on the top of the motherboard box first, before sticking it in the case. Make sure it posts and maybe install OS like this. Then carefully dismantle and get it into the case...paying particular care to standoff placements etc.
When you are fitting the cooler to the CPU, make sure you do not over-tighten anything and that you tighten all four anchor points evenly all the way down, so as not to displace the CPU in the socket.
If you are water-cooling the CPU, make sure you get some targeted cooling on the VRM. Often air cooling in close proximity to VRM moves enough air about to keep it cool. Water-cooling can mean you can use higher volts but leaves the VRM with little or no airflow sometimes, in some cases. A dedicated fan pointed at this area can pay dividends.
If you bend a capacitor a bit don't re-bend it...leave it alone it'll be fine. bending it back can risk work hardening the pins and they can break.
Don't blow on anything...you are likely to spit at the same time! Get a blower like photographers use for removing dust and debris. Sometimes when you tighten screws onto the board, the solder bumps around the holes get shredded off...it's good to blow these off and away from the board.
Up and running, check temps and voltages with updated software like Aida64 Extreme...HWiNFO....CPUz, GPUz