A few weeks ago I wrote the article “Should I Buy or Build a Computer”. In that article, I discussed the financial rewards and satisfaction that can be gained from doing things for yourself. Today, I will run through my latest setup and highlight some of the key points of my DIY PC Build.
What to Keep and What to Replace a DIY PC Upgrade
My previous DIY PC was built about 3 1/2 years ago. It still ran well, as I had carefully selected the components for a combination of performance and budget. I had invested heavily in the CPU (i7 6700), while other parts like the GTX 1060 were budget-conscious choices.
While the GTX 1060 had performed as well as I had hoped, there comes a time in every dad’s life when you need… more power!
My RAM had also been a budget buy. 16 GB of basic DDR4 memory had most definitely done its job to this point, but some tasks such as photo and video editing left me craving the maximum memory that my Mini-ITX motherboard could handle. Also, an interesting recent article about the increasing importance of RAM in gaming made me think that a RAM upgrade now will leave me satisfied well into the future.
An addition (as opposed to an upgrade) was a SATA SSD. It didn’t replace my spinning disk HDD, but it did fill a void. More on that later.
Another budget-saving measure in the original build was the 400W power supply. Upon reflection, I should have purchased something with a bit more oomph from the beginning, as future upgrades to the GPU were always on the cards. Easy to say in hindsight.
Finally, a grown up GPU requires a grown up case. Time to say goodbye to my Silverstone Sugo SG 13 and say hello to something with a little more room…
Essentially, all that was retained in this major overhaul was the motherboard, CPU, m.2 SSD and 3TB HDD.
In With The New
My replacement components have been carefully selected to give my updated PC some much-appreciated grunt. The idea is to create a machine that masters the three domains of work, rest and play. As anyone who has ever built or upgraded a PC knows, you can throw thousands upon thousands of dollars at a build and still not have the “absolute best” components. So when I designed this upgrade to “master” these domains, I didn’t just seek out the most expensive parts possible. I considered what I really need to achieve awesome performance, but still within a realistic budget.
Let’s get the least exciting but most necessary one out of the way first. Unlike a console, most home PCs double as work horses. That is especially true in this age of lockdown-forced working from home. My work tasks mostly revolve around the Microsoft office 365 suite, with Teams and OneNote a significant part. Many, many open tabs across several browsers and two monitors is a standard feature of my working day and any pausing or unnecessary waiting tends to wind me up more than it should. Of lesser frequency, but much more demanding on my system, is photo and video editing capability.
With all this in mind, RAM is the key to a smooth experience no matter how many tabs and programs are open, while a large SSD will also speed things up and provide ample space for reliable storage. The GPU doesn’t make much difference in my day-to-day working experience, but it sure comes in handy when video editing is required.
Rest time for me includes unwinding with a bunch of my favourite sites open in various tabs, listening to music on Spotify, watching something on iView, SBS On Demand or Amazon Prime, or streaming content from my Synology DS420+. None of these leisure activities place extraordinary demands on my PC, although RAM and SSD do make the experience smooth and fast.
Now we get to the good stuff! Let’s face it, the work is important but the post is what we are here for! RAM plays is part here, but a large SSD and a quality (but good value) GPU are the most important aspects of this upgrade from a gaming perspective.
The New Components
RAM is relatively cheap these days and it is only becoming more important. I decided to max out the capacity of my mini ITX motherboard with two 16GB DDR4 modules of PNY XLR8 DDR4 gaming RAM.
This has enabled 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!
While most games don’t demand vast quantities of RAM (yet), system memory 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.
My new SSD card – the PNY XLR8 CS2311 SSD – is primarily reserved for games. The current M.2 drive 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 will be 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). With prices of SSDs continuing to drop and capacities continuing to rise, I may look to install a 2nd, larger capacity SATA SSD drive when this one is full of must-keep games.
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 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 Destiny 2, setting everything to ultra and basking is the pure visual 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 (fresh from the midnight launch, of course!). Unfortunately, while I basked in my amazing graphics, my teammates were less than impressed by my inability to kill… anything. I have work to do to return to my former gaming glory.
The less glamorous (but still important) bits
All that glorious computing ability requires a robust source of power and a suitable home.
My first choice of power supply was hard to come by (the be quiet! Straight Power 11 65W), So I settled for the still good Silverstone Strider Gold S 650W. It meets the 650w requirement of the RTX 2070 Super and is rated 80+ Gold. This means it is efficient and, being Silverstone, should be reliable. The fully modular nature of the cables should make for a neater build too. Never cheap out on your power supply.
All of this goodness needs an appropriate house in which to live. I wanted something that looks good, enables me to see my components and keeps things quiet, even under a heavy load.
Originally this was going to be the new be quiet! Pure Base 500DX, but the small matter of them being completely out of stock due to high demand meant turning to plan B. These may well be back in stock by now, so if you do manage to get your hands on one, enjoy! The 500DX is a brilliant case with just enough subtle RGB bling to really show off your new build.
be quiet! were able to send over the Silent Base 801 (Window Black), which is a large, premium case designed for ease of build and silent running. It is an absolutely stunning case packed with clever features, as well as three massive fans to keep everything running cool, as well as quiet. To say I was excited to build in the be quiet! Silent Base 801 is an understatement!
Dust it off, pull it out and start all over again
Depending on your original case and fan setup, you may be surprised by the amount of dust that can collect inside of a computer over time. My PC had gone 3 1/2 years without an internal clean and the Silverstone case had done a reasonable job of keeping dust out, but there was still a noticeable build-up on the motherboard and around the CPU heatsink and fan. Dust build-up can mess with thermal performance, so it is always a good idea to grab a can of compressed air and blow it out whenever you tinker inside your build.
As I am pulling everything out of the Silverstone case and relocating to the be quiet! Silent Base 801, I gave everything a thorough blow. You don’t take the dust with you when you move house!
Dust should be even less of an issue in the be quiet! case. Removable filters will capture most particles before they enter the case. These filters are then easily removed and cleaned. It is a clever design that is indicative of the thought that has gone into creating the best user experience possible with this case.
The DIY PC Build
While aspects of building or significantly altering a PC can be tedious, it is actually something I thoroughly enjoy. It is like LEGO for adults, with the added bonus of an amazing working computer to enjoy at the end of the build. Like changing the oil in your own car, there is something extremely satisfying about using a computer that runs because of the effort you put in. There is also a significant cost benefit too. Who doesn’t love saving some $$$?
Whenever you work on your computer, always take basic safety precautions and follow user manuals. Be aware of the dangers of static electricity and use sensible measures to mitigate the risk. Take your time, do it right and enjoy the rewards!
Order of Build
There is no single order in which PC components must be added to your case. There are certain, logical things that just make sense, but otherwise you could spend all day arguing on the internet about the “correct” way to do it (no really, some people do…). This order works for me, but individual components and preferences may change the way in which you order your build.
Attach CPU, M.2 SSD, RAM and CPU Cooler to Motherboard
I find it easier to attach these components first, before installing the motherboard in the case. This way it is easier to access slots and make sure everything is in place properly, without reaching in to difficult-to-work-in corners. That said, in the be quiet! Silent Base 801 there aren’t too many “difficult-to-work-in” corners!
My current motherboard has the M.2 SSD slot on the rear side of the board, which was a trap I fell for the first time I built it. In my case, it is the first thing to install.
THE CPU and CPU cooling come next. This is fine for me because I am currently using the stock cooler, but if you add a larger unit you may wish to install the RAM first. Large coolers can make accessing RAM slots very difficult. For me this is always the most nerve-wracking part of the build. This is because you are dealing with some of the most delicate (and expensive) parts of your build.
As I stated above, this process will be slightly different depending on your components. No matter which motherboard and processor you use, if you take your time and check carefully to make sure that everything aligns properly, you shouldn’t have any problems. As with most aspects of building a computer, there is one (reasonably obvious) way that the components fit together. Read your manual for the specific instructions.
Finally, clip the RAM in place. This part is fairly easy – just press firmly (never force or wriggle) until the clips click into place. Check that it is seated properly.
Attach Motherboard to Case
For me, Installing the motherboard simply meant removing the four screws to take the motherboard out of the old case, then seating the motherboard over the preinstalled standoffs in the be quiet! Silent Base 801 and screwing it in. Some cases may require you to install the standoffs in the correct location before installing the board. Don’t forget the I/O shield that sits between the motherboard and the case. I almost always forget it.
Sometimes it is the little things that impress the most, but the alignment of the standoffs on the Silent Base 801 was spot on. The screws went in without any fight at all, which was a pleasant experience after having fought a couple into place in a budget case just weeks earlier.
Some people do this first because access can be a problem, but in the gloriously spacious be quiet! Silent Base 801 case that just isn’t a problem. The Silverstone PSU has its own dedicated compartment at the bottom of the case and installation is massively simplified by using a removable bracket. There is plenty of space provided for the PSU and cables.
Install HDD and SATA SSD.
With the motherboard and PSU in place, you can begin installing the other important components. The be quiet! Silent Base 801 can accommodate an impressive number of HDDs and/or SSDs, so finding room for my single 3.5″ HDD and single SATA SSD was not a problem. Both installed out of sight in the rear section of the case. The HDD sits in the front of the PSU compartment and the SSD behind and just below the motherboard.
Both drives require a power cable connection from the PSU and a SATA cable connection from the motherboard. The drives are screwed securely into dedicated cages that hold them firmly in place.
I feel like I should have had a marching band playing to celebrate the installation of the mighty PNY GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER 8GB XLR8 Gaming Overclocked Edition GPU, so momentous was the occasion! It is a spectacular piece of hardware that looks fantastic inside the Silent Base 801 case.
The PNY GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER 8GB XLR8 Gaming Overclocked Edition is a dual slot graphics card, which means it will use two of the expansion slots on your case. You will have to remove two covers from the rear of your case. My PNY GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER 8GB XLR8 Gaming Overclocked Edition installed easily. Naturally, it slotted perfectly into the PCI-e slot.
Route All the Cables and Plug In
This part of the build will test your ability to value patience over eagerness to use your shiny new build! I recommend you take the time to do cable management right. The giant glass panel on the side of be quiet! Silent Base 801 demands that care is taken in the part of the build, as any sloppiness will be on show for all to see.
Fortunately the Silent Base 801 is designed for good cable management. With most of the messy parts hidden away at the rear of the case, you can easily route your cables in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The modular nature of the Silverstone power supply also helps here, but even a non-modular system should be made to look good given the large amount of space for hiding extra cables in the 801.
Refer to your motherboard manual for detailed instructions when connecting cables. You will need to connect such things as fans, power and reset buttons, front USB connections and lights. You will also need to ensure that the appropriate power cables are running to the connections on you motherboard and GPU.
Take you time, make it look pretty. You will appreciate your own efforts every time you peer inside your case for years to come!
Plug it in and enjoy!
Now is the moment you have been waiting for. Check that everything is in place as it should be. Install the side panels and plug in monitors, peripherals and power. Fire it up and away you go!
…or not… If something has gone wrong. I know this feeling – it has happened to me several times. It can be a little heartbreaking after a long and careful build when things don’t go your way. IF this is the case – don’t panic. The key is to systematically check the components to find the issue. More often than not, it is simply the case that something isn’t quite seated correctly. In my case, it is usually the RAM. It does often require a firm push to fully seat it. One time I forgot to provide power to the GPU.
Your computer may beep. That is actually telling you something. It will help you troubleshoot the issue by consulting your motherboard manual.
Finally, there is the small chance that a component is dead on arrival. Contact your parts supplier and arrange for a replacement if this happens.
If all is working well, you will need to install an Operating System such as Windows 10. This is a straightforward process that I have covered in this article. If your upgrade is similar to mine and you are keeping the same motherboard and system SSD, there should be no need to reinstall Windows.
My major overhaul went extremely well! It was completed in under two hours. Thankfully, I had that most glorious experience of turning the new PC on for the first time and watching everything fire up, exactly as it should! The only slightly disconcerting thing was the lack of noise from the machine. It goes without saying that the be quiet! Silent Base 801 case is designed to run silently, but it still felt strange to not experience the reassuring “whirring” of startup. I’m sure the combination of the extremely user-friendly case and quality components contributed a huge amount to the success of this upgrade.
The DIY PC can be a little intimidating for first-time builders, but the rewards and satisfaction to be gained are huge. If you do your research and take your time with the build, then the risks are pretty small too. A DIY PC can be tailored to exactly meet your specific needs, from the size of the case to each and every individual component that sits within. It can be built to a budget, with room for expansion and upgrades as funds become available down the track, and it can be kept fresh and fast for a long time by upgrading key components as times change.
I thoroughly enjoy the DIY approach to PC building. If you are at all curious, I suggest you get your hands on some components and give it a go!
MY DIY PC PART LIST (with links to reputable online stores)
CPU – Intel i7 6700 (discontinued). Consider AMD Ryzen 5 3600Xt in new build (PC Case Gear)
Motherboard – GIGABYTE H170N-WIFI (discontinued). Consider GIGABYTE X570 Elite WiFi in new build (PC Case Gear)
RAM – 2 x PNY XLR8 DDR4 3200MHz Desktop Memory 16GB (Mwave)
M.2 SSD – PNY XLR8 CS3030 500GB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD M280CS3030-500-RB (Mwave)
SATA SSD – PNY XLR8 CS2311 500GB 2.5″ SATA III 6Gb/s (Mwave)
Case – be quiet! Silent Base 801 (PC Case Gear)
PSU – Silverstone Strider Gold S 650W (Scorptec)