AMD $800 PC build

Alan Dex­ter re­veals how Ryzen APUs are bring­ing buck­et­loads of bounty to the bud­get builder’s back pocket.

APC Australia - - Contents -

THE CON­CEPT

The idea be­hind our bud­get builds is sim­ple enough — con­struct the most af­ford­able ma­chine pos­si­ble for the small­est pile of cash. We’re not ut­ter masochists, though, so while it is pos­si­ble to build a ma­chine even cheaper than we have here, there are some qual­ity-of-life choices that we see as a bare min­i­mum. We won’t, for in­stance, touch non-brand hard­ware, be­cause we’ve been down that road be­fore, and in our ex­pe­ri­ence, such cor­ner-cut­ting never ends well, es­pe­cially when it comes to cases and power sup­plies. But it does mean that even be­fore we start, there are po­ten­tially fur­ther sav­ings to be made. But we’re get­ting ahead of our­selves here; let’s get back to the con­cept.

What makes this bud­get build pos­si­ble is AMD’s new Raven Ridge APUs, specif­i­cally the Ryzen 3 2200G. Here is an APU that packs a semide­cent graph­ics pro­cess­ing unit along­side a quad-core chip for just $139. That it also hap­pens to net you a de­cent lit­tle air cooler as well is more rea­son to be im­pressed by the value for money. It doesn’t take much more hard­ware to turn that most bud­get of AMD chips into a use­ful sys­tem.

So, what can you do with a modern AMD APU? Pretty much any­thing you want, bar high-end gam­ing. It’ll han­dle older games with only the sub­tlest of tweak­ing, and even give newer games a good try. Those four cores mean it can han­dle pro­ces­sor-in­ten­sive tasks well enough, but if you’re look­ing for work­sta­tion lev­els of per­for­mance from a bud­get chip, we’ve got some bad news: you still get what you pay for, and for se­ri­ous power, you’re go­ing to have to eye up the higher ech­e­lons of the Ryzen stack (and cough up for a graph­ics card).

“The main com­po­nent to fo­cus on here is the RAM, be­cause Ryzen APUs love a high-speed mem­ory bus.”

BUILD­ING TO A TIGHT BUD­GET

With the pro­ces­sor se­lected, the rest of the com­po­nent se­lec­tion is sim­ply a case of as­sem­bling bud­get-con­scious hard­ware to make our chip of choice truly shine. The main com­po­nent to fo­cus on here is the RAM, be­cause Ryzen APUs love a high-speed mem­ory bus. Not only does the CPU get more band­width to play with, but the graph­ics side of things can strut its stuff so much faster be­cause of it. This is why we grabbed the 8GB kit of Cor­sair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000 mem­ory, which just so hap­pens to be the most ex­pen­sive com­po­nent in this whole build. Yup, more ex­pen­sive than the pro­ces­sor it­self.

You ob­vi­ously also need a de­cent moth­er­board to make the most of these two, and here we reached for MSI’s value-tas­tic MSI B350 PC Mate. For a bud­get board, it man­ages to pack in a lot of great fea­tures, in­clud­ing iso­lated au­dio cir­cuitry, with sep­a­rate lay­ers for left and right chan­nels, USB 3.1 Type-C, and sup­port for M.2 drives at up to 32GB/s. Not that our bud­get ex­tends to an M.2 drive, but the op­tion is there. Which brings us nicely to the stor­age side of things: we’ve elected to use the same stor­age for the In­tel and AMD builds, which is made up of a 120GB Kingston SSDNow UV400 and a 1TB Western Dig­i­tal Caviar Blue drive, giv­ing plenty of stor­age for ap­pli­ca­tions and data, as well as speedy stor­age for the op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

That leaves the last two com­po­nents of our build: the chas­sis and the power sup­ply. Zak was suit­ably im­pressed with the bud­get-con­scious MasterBox Lite 5 from Cooler Mas­ter (see the full re­view on page 28), and while it’s not the cheap­est box you can throw your ma­chine in, it has plenty of great fea­tures that make build­ing in it a good ex­pe­ri­ence. The Cor­sair power sup­ply, mean­while, of­fers great value for money, at just $69 for this 450W model.

1 TEST­ING TIMES

Dif­fer­ent builders go about mak­ing sure their hard­ware works in dif­fer­ent ways, but we’re fans of en­sur­ing the core com­po­nents work fine out­side of the case. We do this by plug­ging the RAM, CPU, and cooler in place be­fore at­tach­ing the power sup­ply and short­ing the power pins to make sure it boots up. At­tach a mon­i­tor to the video out, and you should find your­self look­ing at the BIOS screen. You’ll need to at­tach your key­board and mouse if you want to make any changes, and now is also a good chance to up­date the BIOS — which we did here by down­load­ing the up­date on an­other ma­chine, be­fore trans­fer­ring it on to a USB stick, and up­dat­ing from there.

2 MUL­TI­PLE STAND-OFFS

The Cooler Mas­ter MasterBox Lite 5 RGB sup­ports both ATX and ITX builds, and as such only has two moth­er­board stand-offs in­stalled by de­fault. Our MSI moth­er­board is a full ATX de­sign, which means you’ll need to screw the other seven stand-offs into place if you want your moth­er­board to be se­cure and fit for mov­ing around. Cooler Mas­ter in­cludes a small adapter in the box to make screw­ing these stand-offs into place easy us­ing a stan­dard Philips screw­driver. The po­si­tion­ing of these is clearly marked on the moth­er­board tray, although it’s worth check­ing that your moth­er­board lines up prop­erly with them if you’ve se­lected a dif­fer­ent moth­er­board.

3 DROP­PING IN

Dis­con­nect the power sup­ply from the out-of-box-test­ing setup from step one, then ease the moth­er­board into place so that it sits on top of the stand-offs you’ve just at­tached. Don’t for­get to pop in the rear I/O plate be­fore­hand, though — it clicks neatly into place when it’s prop­erly in­serted. You need to an­gle the moth­er­board so that it con­nects with this. Once done, it’s sim­ply a case of screw­ing the moth­er­board into place us­ing the supplied screws. It’s worth mak­ing sure that the case’s front panel con­nec­tor ca­bles don’t get trapped un­der the moth­er­board as you’re do­ing this.

4 POW­ER­ING UP

De­spite be­ing a bud­get case, the Cooler Mas­ter chas­sis has some neat touches, in­clud­ing a mount­ing bracket for the power sup­ply, which makes in­stalling your PSU that much eas­ier. Es­sen­tially, you re­lease the bracket from the back of the case us­ing the pair of thumb­screws, screw this plate on to the back of your power sup­ply (mak­ing sure to get the ori­en­ta­tion right, so that the PSU fan is point­ing down­ward), and then slide it into place. Be­cause this is a non-mod­u­lar sup­ply, you’ll want to bun­dle up the ca­bles, thread them into the ma­chine, and make sure they aren’t catch­ing on any­thing first. Fin­ish by se­cur­ing the PSU us­ing the thumb­screws on the plate.

5 DRIVE TIME

Be­fore we start con­nect­ing those power sup­ply ca­bles, now is a good time to work out where your drives are go­ing to go. The MasterBox Lite 5 has room for a pair of 3.5-inch hard drives at the back of the ma­chine, and the brack­ets for hous­ing these are easy to use. When it comes to the SSD boot drive, there are plenty of mount­ing op­tions. You start by se­cur­ing the drive to the mount­ing bracket, then clip­ping it in place wher­ever you deem is best. Here we’ve de­cided to place it above the power sup­ply, where it’ll be on show through the case’s win­dow. Se­cure it with the thumb­screw, and you’re good to go.

6 CA­BLE GUY

All the com­po­nents are now in place, so it’s time to start con­nect­ing ev­ery­thing up. There’s plenty of room in this case to route your ca­bles, and even at­tach­ing the of­ten-tricky eight-pin CPU ca­ble isn’t too dif­fi­cult. Sim­ply thread it out of the back of the ma­chine, and route it up be­hind the moth­er­board tray, be­fore thread­ing it back through the top cor­ner. You can then clip the ca­ble in place be­fore tak­ing up the slack and se­cur­ing it in the PSU bay. The other ca­bles are straight­for­ward to con­nect, and don’t for­get the front panel con­nec­tors, or the case’s four fans. You can hold ca­bles in place us­ing the wealth of ca­ble ties that come with the case as well.

As far as builds go, this was re­as­sur­ingly smooth. There were no hor­ri­ble sur­prises and, aside from one small mishap with the in­ter­nal USB 3.1 ca­ble (we’ll come to this shortly), it prob­a­bly goes down as one of the eas­i­est builds we’ve ever un­der­taken. Check­ing that all the com­po­nents were work­ing out­side of the case be­fore we started the main build meant that we had the peace of mind of know­ing that we didn’t have to strip it all back again in case some­thing went wrong.

One thing to watch out for when you’re build­ing a Ryzen 3 2200G or Ryzen 5 2400G ma­chine is that you need to use a moth­er­board that has an up-to-date BIOS, so the graph­ics out­put will work straight from the box. If you are us­ing an older moth­er­board, you need to flash the BIOS first us­ing an­other chip. We had a Ryzen 7 1800X and a GeForce 1080 Ti on hand just in case, but in the end, didn’t need them. We did need to flash the BIOS to get the most from the RAM, though, be­cause prior to up­dat­ing it we couldn’t get it to boot with ei­ther XMP pro­file.

We have to ap­plaud Cooler Mas­ter for the case — it boasts a num­ber of fea­tures that made this build smoother than it oth­er­wise would have been. The sep­a­rate sec­tion for the power sup­ply, the hard drive cad­dies and SSD mount­ing plate, and great open-plan de­sign meant that we weren’t try­ing to work in tiny, cramped sec­tions, as we some­times do. One thing of note is that we couldn’t get the fans to light up with this moth­er­board, de­spite the fact that it had an LED header. They do their main job fine, just with­out a light show.

As for the USB 3.1 ca­ble prob­lem, this was ac­tu­ally down to how we pho­to­graph the ma­chine and write these ar­ti­cles. Ba­si­cally, it means that the ma­chine is built and stripped down sev­eral times in the process. And in one strip-down, we were a bit too giddy with the in­ter­nal USB ca­ble, and man­aged to break the house of the socket as we un­plugged it. A touch of glue fixed this quickly enough, but it’s still worth be­ing care­ful around those right-an­gle mounted brack­ets.

In per­for­mance terms, there’s a lot of bang for your buck with AMD’s new chips, and while the frame rates are low in our games, it’s worth not­ing that these tests are car­ried out at the high­est ‘ Ul­tra’ set­tings, and playable frame rates are pos­si­ble at lower set­tings. Over­all, we’ve been im­pressed by how easy it is to put this sys­tem to­gether and how well it per­forms. De­spite ev­ery­thing, it’s still a great time to put a bud­get AMD rig to­gether.

The Wraith Stealth Cooler that comes with the chip does a great job of cooling the Ryzen 3 2200G while keep­ing the noise lev­els down. Mount­ing it is easy enough, too. 1 The Cor­sair Vengeance DDR4 RAM may be rated at 3,000MT/s, but the fastest XMP...

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