Given the current events, most of us probably have some free time. This is the perfect opportunity to plan your next PC configuration 🙂
This article does not aim to be the cheapest or even the most powerful but rather to be the most balanced. The products listed here are the ones I would choose for my own configuration. Be careful, in case you already have more or less recent hardware, this article will not be of direct use to you because it assumes that you are setting up a new configuration.
On the basis of a new configuration, this one will take as hypotheses :
- You have a Phillips screwdriver, you don’t need much more;
- You feel comfortable assembling a tower from A to Z, courage, it has become very easy with standard connectors!
Central Unit Configuration
When building a new configuration, the first thing to do is to decide which kernel you want to use.
And as far as the criteria for the various internal components are concerned:
- Intel Processor: Not the cheapest but never had a problem in 30 years, AMD used to get hot, that’s not so much anymore. AMD are an excellent alternative for those who want to optimize the price/performance ratio;
- Asus motherboard: Just like Intel, a brand that has been a staple since… well, at least all of that;
- Nvidia graphics card: The old ones will remember the GeForce, 3DFX and other wars. For now, Nvidia is a must;
- Creative Labs audio card: Built-in cards are good, but not great, especially since I use an optical output for a 5.1 kit in addition to a headset.
Motherboard and processor
If there’s one part where we can be wrong, it’s this one. The trap lies in the type of processor support built into the motherboard.
The choice of the motherboard will depend directly on the make, model and socket of the processor. Below are the latest Intel and AMD sockets for comparison. They are clearly not compatible, beyond their physical shape, you also have to take into account the electronics around them. Generally the choice of processor, determining the socket, will force you to keep the same technological base for several (many) years. Because beyond the processor, it is also the type of memory that will be linked.
When we talk about Intel PC gamers, we’re talking about i7 or even i9 model processors. The last generation being the 9th, we will focus on this one.
I want the biggest
To play, one would think that a processor must be particularly powerful, have many cores or other hidden features. The truth is much simpler. It’s the video card that will do a huge part of the job.
But don’t bet on the cheapest processor possible. In order to have a balanced configuration, a mid-high end processor is preferable. This is all the more true when you’re also working on your bike. In my case, I tend to use Windows virtual machines inside my Windows, which requires a lot of power, so I prefer to have a processor with a rather high base frequency.
Ah yes, the frequency… It’s the pure speed at which the processor is clocked, then depending on the number of cores, the power will be multiplied tenfold, like rowers in a boat. One particularly powerful rower will allow you to go fast, so that the boat can be empty. For heavier loads, it is better to have several rowers, even if they are less powerful.
It’s the clever mix of processor frequency and number of cores. Be careful, the more cores you have, the more the frequency tends to decrease, this is mainly related to the power consumption and the heating that all this generates.
So what kind of processor do we use?
In the family of 9th generation Intel i7 and i9 processors, you will see names like “Intel i7-9700KF”. These last two letters are very important:
- K: The processor is unlocked for overclocking.
F: A dedicated graphics card is required
As you can see below, another criterion is the number of threads. This is the ability of the processor to take up even more clock cycles by doubling the capacity of each core. Only i9s allow this in this selection. They are to be preferred for very heavy tasks such as 3D modeling or creating animated films.
|Model||Frequency (base/turbo)||Cores / Threads||PassMark|
|i7 9700||3.0 / 4.7||8||14’449|
|i7 9700F||3.0 / 4.7||8||14’371|
|i7 9700K||3.6 / 4.9||8||14’880|
|i7 9700KF||3.6 / 4.9||8||15’302|
|i9 9900||3.1 / 5.0||8 / 16||17’040|
|i9 9900K||3.6 / 5.0||8 / 16||18’990|
|i9 9900KF||3.6 / 5.0||8 / 16||18’993|
My choice will be an i7 9700KF, formerly Coffee Lake, to take advantage of a higher base frequency, while allowing overclocking. This type of processor can easily accompany you for several years, my current configuration dating back to 2012 while easily running the brand new Doom Eternal in 4K!
Now it just needs to be cooled.
Historically the processors were almost all sold in a box with a heatsink (fan + radiator with thermal paste).
In today’s market, there are so many options that manufacturers tend to sell naked processors. It is your responsibility to choose wisely:
- Classic Ventirad: The most economical but not necessarily the quietest option;
- Giant” Ventirad: These are oversized ventirad to reduce the fan speed but be careful with the dissipation;
- Water cooling : Works like a car engine, a copper block and a radiator to exchange the water / air temperature, it is the quietest.
An extremely important criterion is the TDP: The dissipation capacity of the device, otherwise the processor will get too hot and will not be able to work properly. Our i7 9700KF has a TDP of 95W.
|Regular heatsink||Arctic Alpine 12||95W|
|Oversized heatsink||Cooler Master – MasterAir MA410M RGB||150W|
|Watercooling||Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240L RGB||210W|
In a “2020” setup, my choice is the Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240L RGB.
Attention 1: With its radiator equipped with 2 fans, this one is in the “240mm” format, it is important to think about it when choosing the tower.
Attention 2: Although a thermal paste (between processor and block) is delivered with it, I advise you to use the Arctic MX-4.
Okay, so we need a motherboard with an Intel LGA 1151 socket.
It’s finally getting simpler. Based on our assumptions and the processor, we need an Asus motherboard with socket 1151.
But here we are, beyond the socket, there are also the electronics around it that will condition the possibilities of your new best friend: the chipset.
Our beautiful processor needs a 300 series chipset, suitable for a processor from the Coffee Lake family. The choice of the chipset will condition in particular:
- The possibility of overclocking: Models Z370 and Z390;
- Number of RAM strips: 4 strips for all except the H310.
For a detailed comparison, here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page dedicated to socket 1151.
Keep in mind that a gamer will lean towards the Z370 and Z390 because they are the only ones that support overclocking. The Z390 chipset will also bring second generation USB 3.1 ports.
Finally choose your motherboard : Asus, socket 1151, chipset Z390
How do you choose your motherboard now? Even with these criteria, there are still a good fifteen to go.
The important criteria now will be :
- Maximum amount of RAM: Depends on the number of memory slots and the capacity for each;
- M2 slot: For ultra-fast internal storage, even faster than SSD on SATA;
- The physical size of the card: Micro ATX for a small case, ATX to have more internal cards (sound among others);
- The number of SATA connectors: For mass storage, especially hard drives.
With the emergence of NAS Synology, over the last few years, there are less and less “maxi towers”, hard drives are coming out of the towers to go into TV cabinets or small home automation servers.
Our choice will be the Asus PRIME Z390-P for its excellent quality/price ratio with all the required connections and up to 64 GB of RAM.
RAM : Memory
As for the RAM memory, it’s very simple. You want at least 32 GB on a recent configuration even if 16 GB is enough. I have always preferred a lot of RAM memory to avoid swapping and allow applications and Windows to keep a maximum of information for ultra fast access.
Our motherboard accepts DDR4 format RAM. With 4 slots, let’s try to use 2 of them only to allow an increase afterwards. Keep in mind that the price per slot will increase quickly with the size, especially the 32 GB.
Here are the usual configurations:
|Base configuration||Slots used||Hardware||Maximum|
|16 GB||2||2 modules of 8 GB||32 GB|
|32 GB||2||2 modules of 16 GB||64 GB|
|32 GB||4||4 modules of 8 GB||32 GB|
|64 GB||2||2 modules of 32 GB||128 GB|
|64 GB||4||4 modules of 16 GB||64 GB|
For a sturdy configuration while remaining affordable and expandable, I advise you to go to2 x Aegis 16GB modules from G.Skill.
On the internal storage side, hard drives have a hard life, our tower will be no exception. For storage, we start with SSD from Samsung. Some criteria:
Interface: M.2 PCIe NVMe, this format allows to put the SSD directly on the memory card and all with maximum speed;
Capacity: With the price drop, it will be no less than 1 TB of storage;
Model: Samsung declines its SSD 970 in EVO, EVO Plus and PRO range, the whole with increasing performances… but also the price.
For this easy choice, it will be Samsung SSD 970 EVO Plus M.2 PCIe NVMe 1 To.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the gaming world is dominated by Nvida GeForce cards.
This small and well-populated world is divided into 2 main families and 3 series :
- Historical GTX 10xx range: 1060, 1070 and 1080 series;
- GTX 16xx “refresh” range: 1650, 1660 series;
- RTX 20xx “raytracing” range: 2060, 2070 and 2080 series.
Each manufacturer derives its boards from basic models designed by Nvidia. It is thus extremely readable. What it is necessary to understand:
- The GTX families are the entry-level models, the RTX bring Raytracing. For a new configuration, it’s better to start on RTX even if it’s far from being fully exploited;
- The 2060, 2070 and 2080 series are performance driven, the 2060 being the entry level. For a balanced configuration, we will be in the 2070 series.
But here’s the thing, manufacturers offer variations: Super, Ti, OC and so on.
Keep in mind that you have Ti for the top of the range and other versions in the intermediate range. When buying, you should look at the price differences between the basic models and the “intermediate” ones, unless your budget allows you a Ti.
For my configuration, it will be a MSI GeForce RTX 2070 TRI FROZR Cartes Graphiques.
Warning: The graphics card market is very very crowded, if there is one component that is difficult to choose, it is this one. Compare prices, chips, amount of memory, etc.
This choice is debatable because it depends on your real needs. In the introduction I was talking about a 5.1 kit connected in optics. Often this kind of connection is not available on motherboards and our Asus PRIME Z390-Pis no exception.
Since almost always, almost 30 years now… My brand of choice has always been Creative Labs with its Sound Blaster.
A major difference is that over the years, the cards have now moved to the PCI Express standard. Beware of the old “just plain” PCI cards.
Our configuration will be accompanied by a Creative Sound Blaster Z.
I saved the case for the end, in fact, when you configure a new computer, you need almost all the components and eventually save room for subsequent updates.
This choice remains very personal, I prefer for example large towers because this one resides on the ground and I like to have USB ports easily accessible. Your choice may be more related to the design or the noise level.
A few points of attention though:
- If the tower is too small, chances are it will be too small to accommodate components such as 240mm watercooling, long graphic cards etc;
- Very often the power supply is not included, see next point;
- A big fan takes up a lot of space, sometimes the space above the processor is taken up by accessories;
- Beware of the presence (or not) of front, top or side ports;
- Many fans improve cooling but increase noise…
Here is a selection of some towers among the biggest manufacturers, in no order of preference: Lian Li, Corsair, Antec, Cooler Master, Thermaltake …
Power Supply Unit (PSU)
Finally, let’s feed this beast!
The PSU is the most important element of all, because it is the one that will provide the electricity if necessary to your new computer.
The criteria to choose your PSU are :
- Modular: Cables can be plugged in as needed, no need to hide unused cables;
- Passive: For complete silence;
- Power: We talk about watts, the more your configuration is muscular, the more it consumes and therefore the more watts you need;
- Energy efficiency: The variations of the 80 PLUS standard ensure optimal performance (Bronze, Gold, Platinum, Silver, Titanium).
This element seems quite expensive (and it’s true…) but it plays an essential role in guaranteeing the stability of the configuration, especially if you have several hard drives or graphics cards. We’ll start with a modular power supply of minimum 650W and from 80 PLUS Gold.
|Example of a modular PSU|
Our configuration will finally be completed by a modular power supply Corsair RM750.
For the purists: An optical reader
I was saving this item for last because it is less and less used, even to install the OS. You can indeed install Windows or Linux from a simple USB key with the help of software such as Rufus or balenaEtcher.
For an internal optical reading, the connection is made in SATA, you just have to choose between DVD or Blu-Ray reader/writer.
Caution: DVD units are almost always reader/writer whereas Blu-Ray units are sometimes BD reader/DVD writer.
Assembling a new PC can seem complicated. Defining the right criteria greatly simplifies our work.
Beyond what has been explained here, you obviously have to keep in mind your overall budget, as this type of configuration can easily reach 1500€ (and much more…). If you already have a PC, it is likely that you can reuse the tower, the graphics card or a hard disk. The most important thing is to choose new components that are “up to date” but support your existing hardware (case, power supply…).