Happy new year! The festivities are over, the summer is… wet… and public indoor spaces aren’t exactly enticing. There is only one thing to do – get cracking on a summer 2021 PC build with a gaming and work focus! What better way to set yourself up for an enjoyable year?
Disclosure: This article contains products provided to Blog of Dad free of charge. Any thoughts expressed about the products in this article are based on my own experiences. For more information, read the Disclosure Statement.
Choosing the right parts – 2021 PC Build
If you are new to the world of PC building, everything might seem a little overwhelming right now. There is no shortage of options (although there may well be a shortage of some of the exact parts you need right now). Thankfully, there are some great resources to help. My go-to website for compatibility checks is PC Part Picker and I highly recommend running your component choices through their system before pulling the trigger.
The following is my latest upgrade, which follows on from my 2020 DIY PC. This may not be the definitive build of 2021, but the end result is most definitely awesome! It more than suits my current needs as a 1080p (144Hz) gamer and leaves quite a bit of room for future upgrades, when the time is right. It also easily handles the resource-intensive work tasks that I throw at it – from huge amounts of open tabs across multiple browsers on the dual monitors to the occasional video processing and everything in between. As it is 2021, this PC build is Teams/Zoom ready. Bring on the virtual meetings!
As this build is technically an upgrade, I have reused several components from last year’s build. These are still outstanding components (I have little reason to upgrade from a 2070 Super GPU, for example). Some of these parts may not be available new. They may represent a bargain buy 2nd hand if you are willing to do a little digging, but I will also provide some alternative options for those of you looking to build an all new rig in 2021.
Finally, this build focusses on a bang-for-buck performance model. It is tempting to select the best high-performance components, stick them in an article and call it a day, but the result is a build that is well beyond the means of most DIY builders. My build attempts to realise excellent performance at a reasonable price. As always with PC building, there is plenty of scope to scale up or down, depending on your specific needs.
I haven’t included prices below because (as you have probably noticed) PC component prices are in the worst state of flux that I have ever seen. Hopefully things calm down a little as the year progresses, but keep in mind that you many need to do a bit of looking to find the best deals.
For my money and my needs, this is the best value CPU on the market right now. I know I’m not the only person that thinks so, getting your hands on one right now is a little… tricky. Stock is, however, beginning to dribble back in and it is surely only a matter of time before they are easily purchased from major vendors.
What you get with the Ryzen 5 5600X is a six-core, 12-thread processor with a base clock of 3.7GHz and a max boost up to 4.6GHz. The 5600X is the only one of the 5000 series Ryzen processors to come with a thermal solution. Although the Wraith Stealth is capable for a stock cooler, I’m discarding that in favour of the mighty be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4. Overkill? Perhaps, but I have my reasons. More on that in a bit.
The Ryzen 5 5600X might technically be “mid-range”, but it has consistently received rave reviews since launch. With 1080p gaming my biggest reason for building this computer, the 5600X is well up to the task.
Alternatives: Those with tighter budgets and less intensive needs can still find good value in the Ryzen 5 3600 CPUs. They still have support for PCI-e 4.0 and work with the excellent MSI B550 TOMAHAWK motherboard (below). For those looking for a little more power and with a bit more to spend, the king of the current generation of Ryzen CPUs is the 16 core beast known as the Ryzen 9 5950X. It is amazing… but it will cost you. If I needed the extra power I would probably aim for the still-impressive (but significantly cheaper) 12 core 5900X.
Once you have chosen the processor, the motherboard is the most important thing to get right. It is the most critical component and a motherboard failure means disassembling the entire machine to replace it. You do not want that kind of frustration.
There is a seemingly endless selection of motherboards to choose from and this can be daunting. For this kind of build, where value and performance are equally balanced, the B550 boards are the place to look. They offer the key features that best take advantage of the technology on offer in the Ryzen 5000-series CPUs, but without the extremes (that you and I probably won’t take advantage of) of the X570 boards.
I have just finished looking over the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK in detail and it is a cracker of a motherboard! MSI have worked hard to pack it with value, using high-quality components where necessary and discarding the nice to have components that bulk out some competitors. As a result, you get a motherboard that is high performance in all the right ways, at an excellent price.
PCI-e 4.0 support is the headline act of the B550 motherboards, especially in the NVMe M.2 storage department. The MSI B550 TOMAHAWK includes a single PCI-e 4.0 M.2 slot with the patented frozr shield for the important task of dissipating heat from the blazing-fast storage drive. With this kind of setup, speed is king!
Other features that make the MSI B500 TOMAHAWK motherboard my pick for this build include one of the best VRM designs in the B550 market, the extensive use of quality materials and heatsinks, AMD Turbo USB 3.2 Gen 2 (for blazing-fast 10Gbps connections) and an excellent 2.5 Gigabit LAN connection.
As I mentioned earlier, MSI have cut back on features that are not necessarily required in this kind of board. The biggest of these is integrated WI-Fi/Bluetooth. For the majority of serious gamers this is no big deal – the 2.5 Gigabit LAN connection is way more attractive for securing excellent performance. For some, however, they may be better off looking at the MSI B55I GAMING EDGE WIFI, or alternatively using a 3rd party adapter like the D-Link AX3000 Wi-Fi 6 PCIe Adapter (see below).
Alternatives: With the amount of importance that I place on the motherboard, I wouldn’t be looking for anything less than the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK. It’s value to performance proposition is just far too good. That being said, it is an ATX-sized motherboard. If you are looking to build something a little more compact, the Micro ATX B550M MORTAR or BAZOOKA motherboards offer many of the same features at good value. If you are looking to take advantage of all the PCIe 4.0 goodness on offer in the X570 series of motherboards, the MSI MAG X570 TOMAHAWK WiFi is an attractive option. It doubles the number of PCI-e 4.0 x16 slots and the M.2 PCIe 4.0 slots. And it comes with WiFi.
RAM is relatively cheap these days and it is only becoming more important. For this build I am using two 16GB DDR4 modules of PNY XLR8 DDR4 3200MHz gaming RAM, for a total of 32GB. This units have been kept from my previous build as they still offer excellent performance.
32GB of RAM enables me to have all the tabs open when working, as well as several different programs and apps, with no noticeable impact on my computing experience. It is a dream to never hit that frustrating virtual brick wall of depleted memory during my working day!
Most games don’t demand vast quantities of RAM (yet), but it definitely has an impact on gaming performance and the demands on RAM in gaming will only grow in coming years. 32GB of fast, gamer oriented PNY XLR8 DDR 4 RAM should leave me in a happy place for years to come.
Alternatives: You may decide that 32GB of RAM is overkill for your budget, in which case PNY offer very affordable 16GB kits in 2666MHz, 3200MHz and 3600MHz form. They also have RGB variants, for those who like a little bling in their rig!
Blazing fast is a theme of this build and things don’t get much faster than the Samsung 980 PRO PCI-e 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD. These aren’t the cheapest NVMe M.2 drives available, but their value in this build lies firmly in their performance. Samsung PRO drives have legendary status amongst system builders and for good reason – they are extremely fast and very reliable. This latest, PCI-e 4.0 generation offers sequential read speeds of up to an incredible 7000 MB/s and write speeds of up to 5000 MB/s on the 1TB version of the drive!
Samsung sent be the 250GB version for review, which is a great size for a dedicated system drive. While dedicated system drives are less important than they once were (in the good old spinning disk days), I think it is still worthwhile. It is a cleaner setup and leaves less possibility for accidentally deleting important files during disk formats and reinstalls.
Alternatives: There are plenty of decent PCI-e 3.0 NVMe M.2 drives if you aren’t so interested in speed. Samsung, PNY, WD, Crucial and Seagate all have reasonable offerings that come in a range of speeds and sizes. Samsung were clear leaders in the PCI-e 4.0 space, but expect contenders to dribble in as the new spec becomes more mainstream.
My SATA SSD – the PNY XLR8 CS2311 SSD – is primarily reserved for games. The Samsung 980 PRO M.2 drive (above) handles system functions and key programs, while my old (slow) 3TB HDD stores photos, videos and other files. The only exception to the gaming exclusivity of this drive is when I need to work on editing video files, because life is too short to deal with HDDs when video editing.
500GB is a nice sweet spot for a SATA SSD drive from a value perspective. It should provide room for quite a few games (although Microsoft Flight Simulator has staked a 120GB piece of real estate on the drive).
Alternatives: I found the Samsung 870 QVO to be an impressive value option. It is a QLC format, but Samsung’s implementation of the Intelligent TurboWrite SLC caching mechanism means that in many day-to-day tasks it hits the maximum speeds of a SATA connection. It is clever stuff and a great way to squeeze extra value out of a SATA SSD. My 870 QVO currently runs as a media disk in my Synology DS420+ NAS, but it’s 1TB capacity is looking increasingly necessary in my new machine. Thanks Xbox Game Pass…
Never in my life have I owned a piece of computing equipment as glorious as the PNY GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER 8GB XLR8 Gaming Overclocked Edition. Just holding it in my hands for the first time was an experience of pure nirvana – the anticipation of the gaming glory that was about to be mine was quite something!
Of course, that was nothing compared to actually loading up a game like Forza Horizon 4, setting everything to ultra and basking is the pure delight of amazing graphics at fast refresh rates. The experience brought back the same kinds of feelings I had as a boy, when Sonic the Hedgehog loaded on my new MegaDrive for the first time, or the first time I turned on an Xbox and loaded Halo (gotta love a midnight launch!). The PNY GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER 8GB XLR8 Gaming Overclocked Edition was the star of last year’s build and it is still a marvellous GPU. If you can find one of these second hand for a reasonable price, it is a bargain worth considering.
Alternatives: The 20-series Nvidia GPUs were replaced by the 30-series from September 2020. The 30-series offers an impressive jump in capability, although actually getting hands on one has been… challenging. For this kind of build, the MSI GeForce RTX 3060 Ti VENTUS 2X OC 8GB would be an extremely tempting option. With similar performance to a RTX 2080 crammed into the latest “midrange” package, anything up to 1440p gaming, with ray tracing, should be great on this GPU.
If ray tracing doesn’t matter to you, a decent AMD-based GPU like the MSI Radeon RX 5700 XT MECH OC 8GB represents good performance at great value. If you want to go all out (and money isn’t an issue…), the MSI Radeon RX 6800XT Gaming X TRIO 16GB is my Team Red hero, while Nvidia-based GeForce RTX 3090 cards such as the MSI VENTUS 3X OC 24GB or PNY’s XLR8 Gaming REVEL EPIC-X RGB 24GB will do the job nicely!
There are a lot of factors that go into finding the right case. It is the component that you see the most and it can either hide your rushed cabling job nicely or put everything on show for the world (or at least your mates) to see. The size has to be right for your space, the colour right for your scheme and RBG (or lack thereof) right for your level of showiness. Oh, and it has to function well, especially if you are cramming it full of mid-to-high-end components.
I fell in love with the be quiet! Silent Base 801 the moment I laid eyes on it. It is a glorious house for my PC components! The be quiet! Silent Base 801 doesn’t demand attention through flashy RGB or outrageous looks, it commands respect through its high-quality, impressive tempered glass side and impressive size. It is a case you can confidently build in, without ever asking the dreaded question – “will it fit?”
Out of the box airflow is good, thanks to the three included be quiet! Fans. Cooling can be impressively tailored to suit just about every need, with an abundance of options for installing large fans and radiators. And as for the noise? Well, the company is called “be quiet!” for a very good reason. My computer runs impressively quietly, even under heavy gaming loads.
Alternatives: There are literally thousands of them. But because I’m so impressed with the Silent Base 801, I’d definitely recommend having a look at the Pure Base 500DX if you are after something a little smaller, with higher airflow, or with a little more RBG bling. It is a stunning case!
The power supply is an extremely important component. It is also the component that builders often make some compromises on and that is not necessarily a great idea. When buying a new PSU I look for something that will meet the requirements of my system, and comes with a minimum 80 Plus Gold rating. Modular is a happy bonus, but not necessarily a deal breaker for me.
When I purchased my PSU there was a bit of a shortage (something about a global pandemic…). After a lot of searching I was able to secure the Silverstone Strider Gold S 650W, which is a reasonable unit. I have used several Silverstone products in the past and always had good experiences.
Alternatives: The MSI MPG A750GF Gold Power supply is an excellent-looking unit that is built to support all the latest Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-Series and AMD GPUs. It is 80+ Gold certified, fully modular and comes with a 10-year limited warranty for excellent peace of mind. The be quiet! Pure Power 11 700W CM 80+ Gold is a great-value option. It is semi-modular, but that really doesn’t make much of a difference in a case like the Silent Base 801. be quiet! Also offer some extremely high-end options, if you have gone for some of the more premium options in your build.
I mentioned this earlier and did note that it may well be an overkill option for a build centred around a Ryzen 5 5600X. After all, the be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 is capable of cooling up to 250W TDP, which is way more than the 5600X can produce. However, it is well documented that if you want to squeeze the best clock speed possible out of your new CPU, you have to keep it cool. There are few air cooling solutions as capable as the be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4.
Another consideration that I made when choosing the be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 for this build was future upgrades. The Ryzen 5 5600x is the budget-friendly CPU of choice currently for this build, but in a few years’ time when I am trying to squeeze a little more life from the awesome MSI B550 TOMAHAWK, a CPU upgrade is a sure bet. When the rest of the world is moving on to 6000- or 7000-series Ryzen, I’ll be taking advantage of a cheaper Ryzen 9 5900X (or possibly even 5950X) and loving every moment of it! In that case, a top-shelf cooling solution is an absolute must. When buying components with great longevity, I’d always rather pay that little bit extra the first time and get something awesome, rather than have to buy twice.
Oh… and the be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 looks good. Really, really good. When peering through that massive tempered glass panel on the Silent Base 801, the Dark Rock Pro 4 looks right at home sitting over the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK and above the glorious PNY GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER. The overall aesthetic is dark and powerful, and I love it!
Alternatives: be quiet! Have a range of air coolers that are extremely capable. If you are building with the Ryzen 5 5600X and future upgrades are not a consideration then the Pure Rock 2 is an excellent option. The Pure Rock 2 Black looks great as well… Just not as brilliant as the Dark Rock Pro 4…
While making the most of the 2.5 Gigabit LAN connection on the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK is ideal, not everyone has that option. For some, Wi-Fi is a necessity. If you do need Wi-Fi or Bluetooth® in your system, it makes sense to go with an ultra-fast adaptor that supports the latest standards in wireless connectivity.
The D-Link DWA-X3000 offers Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth® 5.1 connections through a very versatile PCI-e adaptor. It is capable of producing blazing-fast speeds up to 2402Mbs (5GHz) plus 600Mbps (2.4GHz). Crucially, it is backwards compatible with other networking technology, meaning it will connect to your existing router. When you do upgrade your networking equipment, the D-Link DWA-X3000 will be ready to take full advantage of the incredible performance on offer.
The other purpose of the D-Link DWA-X3000 is to connect Bluetooth® devices to your machine. This includes things like headphones and wireless controllers. The 5.1 connection offers stronger, more reliable connections with greater range and lower power consumption.
For many of us, working from home isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Even after the vaccines roll out and the pandemic is conquered, employers and employees have come to realise the benefits of at least partially working from home. Of course, the anything goes attitudes are tightening as employers seek to re-establish and maintain professional standards in this brave new world.
That’s where the Logitech C922 PRO HD Stream Webcam comes in. It is an excellent way to enhance the professional look and feel of your presence in the virtual office of 2021. Full 1080p video at 30fps is a sure-fire way to show you mean business, and the built-in microphone comes through loud and clear in meetings. The handy included tripod makes positioning the Logitech C922 PRO HD Stream Webcam a breeze and it helps to avoid the up the nose or looking down from above camera angles that are so common (and so off-putting) in the online world. Pants are still optional… just remember to not stand up…
The onboard sound on the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK is acceptable and quite good for day-to-day use. However, those who appreciate excellent sound quality and the advantages it brings to gaming, media, communications and general enjoyment when using an amazing new build know the benefits of an external soundcard. The EPOS GSX 300 External Soundcard is a simple and very affordable little package that packs a huge punch when it comes to delivering great sound! Really, the impact has to be heard to be appreciated, but… Wow! Not only does the GSX 300 deliver outstanding sound quality, it also provides virtual 7.1 surround sound, which definitely adds a new dimension to the gaming experience.
It helps that I have paired the EPOS GSX 300 with the already outstanding EPOS SENNHEISER GSP 601 Gaming Series headset – a combination that has helped me to realise audio nirvana. I have reviewed some seriously good audio equipment over the past few years from behemoths like JBL and SONOS, but nothing fills my ears with happiness more than this EPOS SENNHEISER combination. Seriously, if you are spending your hard-earned money on a build this good, DO NOT FORGET ABOUT SOUND.
Alternatives: The EPOS GSP 300-series offer EPOS SENNHEISER quality at a more budget-friendly starting point, although I’d still be looking to add the EPOS GSX 300, no matter what headset I chose. At the top end, the EPOS SENNHEISER GSX 1200 PRO adds some serious awesomeness as an external amplifier, while the GSP 670 is the wireless gaming headset with all the bells and whistles!
You have made a budget, done your research and spent your hard-earned money on an absolutely brilliant 2021 PC build. Congratulations! Did you leave anything left over for games…?
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot these days in order to have access to a vast catalogue of incredible games. Microsoft have you covered with the incredible Xbox Game Pass for PC. I have been using it for about four months and I am still blown away by the value on offer!
For $10.95 a month you get access to over 100 high-quality PC games. Xbox Game Studios title become available when they premiere (bring on Halo Infinite!). That is impressive value. I have already played a whole range of games that I never would have considered buying, but that I thoroughly enjoyed. Talk about expanding horizons! Xbox Game Pass for PC is absolutely brilliant!