AMD $800 PC build
Alan Dexter reveals how Ryzen APUs are bringing bucketloads of bounty to the budget builder’s back pocket.
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...