PC Builder Masterclass
Alternatively, you could call this issue’s build “How to Make Threads and Alienate People”.
The latter half of this year has seen some seriously cool hardware launches. Whether or not the prices are right, or the technology warranted, it’s hard to deny that compared to the past few years, it’s definitely an interesting time to be a tech enthusiast. Whether we’re talking about AMD throwing out the rule book when it comes to mainstream core counts, Nvidia dicing with new forms of rendering, taking what are otherwise enterprise grade components and baking them into gaming hardware, or Intel adjusting its own core count and redeveloping its TIM to compensate, compare the last six months to the previous three years, and there’s no shortage of things to write home about.
So, what did we decide upon this time around? What’s the concept? A modern-day streaming rig, designed to futureproof you for the next couple of years or more. For us, that means two things: a big budget, and a hell of a lot of cores.
There’s no doubt that streaming has exploded over the last few years. Those once prestigious “let’s play” videos have turned into live streams with incredible audience interaction, and to simultaneously play games, compress and upload that all to Twitch, and run background applications in a timely manner requires a lot of raw processing prowess. It’s a money-maker, that’s for sure, at least if you’re committed, and have the time to do so.
“There’s no doubt that streaming has exploded over the last few years. Those once prestigious “let’s play” videos have turned into live streams with incredible audience interaction. ”
With all that in mind, our processor of choice for this was AMD’s Threadripper 2950X. Now pitched as the go-to gaming CPU for the high-end budgeteer, this beauty packs 16 cores, 32 threads, a supersized portion of PCIe lanes, and compared to the last-gen 1950X Threadripper, a lot of memory optimizations to make gaming even better in contrast to its Intel counterparts.
That aside, the main aim of our rig is to game at 4K, and as the resolution increases, CPU load decreases. For our GPU, we’ve gone with the latest Asus GeForce RTX 2080 ROG Strix Gaming OC – what a name, right? It’s not at the top of the RTX pile right now, but for $1,600 it certainly packs a punch, and with DLSS hopefully right around the corner, that investment into those tensor cores could make a huge difference when it comes to the graphics processing leveraged on the antialiasing. With 1080 Ti performance on top of that, it’s an ideal combo for any budding streamer, as long as you’ve got the cash to back it up, and don’t mind forking out extra for those shiny new features. If that’s not for you, you could just grab a GTX 1080 Ti while they’re still hot.
For memory and storage, we’ve gone for 64GB of G. Skill Trident Z @ 3,200, and a single 1TB Crucial P1 M.2 PCIe SSD. The latter is an incredibly affordable NVMe solution, and although it doesn’t have quite the same clout as a 970 Evo when it comes to sequential writes, the reads are very similar, and it’s difficult to argue with the price.
The other interesting choices we’ve gone for are the
1 THREADRIPPER INSTALLATION
It’s easy to forget the hoops you have to jump through to install these Threadripper processors. Take your Torx screwdriver and unlock the three screws located at points 1, 2, and 3 on the socket. Lift up the first bracket (it should pop up, actually), lift the second bracket up with the blue tabs, then slowly slide out the plastic cover. Take your Threadripper processor on its orange sled, and line up the golden corner with the notch on the corner of the socket bracket. Then slowly slide that processor sled down the blue bracket, making sure it locks into place on the latches. Finally, lower the blue bracket back down, followed by the main one, and secure the Torx screws back down in reverse order.
2 COOLER & PASTE
Be Quiet! advises you to install this cooler with the motherboard out of the case. We’re not sure that’s entirely necessary; it does make installing the fans a little easier, but aside from that, you’re solid. The Dark Rock Pro TR4 is incredibly simple to install, and comes with two fans. There are cutouts for memory DIMMs, but it does cover the topmost PCIe slot. That said, do install your memory first. As for thermal paste, we’ve gone for a light spreading technique. We figured that, given the size of the chip and the location of the four dies, for better consistency in performance, a spread method for Threadripper, as opposed to multiple dots, makes more sense, as it almost guarantees perfect coverage, and minimises mess. We used an old credit card to carefully spread a thin layer across the entirety of the chip.
3 MOTHERBOARD OVERSIGHT
By default, the X399 Zenith Extreme supports up to three M.2 SSDs directly on the mobo itself, one here (our 1TB Crucial P1), and another two on the M.2 DIMM slot adapter that Asus is implementing. Annoyingly, over the course of our various testing sessions during the second-gen Threadripper period, we’ve misplaced our adapter, so are limited to just one on this board (this actually scuppered our plans a bit, because we had wanted to use the P1 as additional storage, and a 512GB 970 Pro as our OS device). To install your M.2 here, you simply need to undo the three small screws on top of the chipset cover, and lift it up. Be careful you don’t scratch the reflective finish, though.
5 RTX MODE ENGAGED
And she’s in. Say hello to the Asus RTX 2080. Yes, that triple-slot-sized card sits there with its twin eight-pin PCIe power like the beast it is. It’s huge, as powerful as a GTX 1080 Ti, and packed with the latest hardware to take on the future of ray-traced games. Probably. As mentioned earlier, this is where we noticed we had to drop the card down a notch to one of the other PCIe slots. Don’t worry, though, because thanks to Threadripper’s monstrous 64 PCIe 3.0 lanes, each of the reinforced armor slots can run in x16 mode, no sweat. We are slightly concerned about GPU sag, though.
4 CHASSIS TIME
So, the motherboard’s mostly done, we’ve installed the SSD, the memory is in, and the cooler’s secured in place, with a nice spread of thermal paste. Now it’s time to sort out the chassis. The Silent Base 610 has two buttons on the back that you press to release each side panel, but apart from that, there’s little else to do. As standard, the chassis comes with two 140mm Silent Wings 2 fans - we’ve pulled the one attached to the rear as an exhaust, and are instead using it as an additional intake to promote a filtered positive pressure setup. With this out the way, it’s time to install the motherboard. Fortunately for us, the Zenith Extreme comes with a rear I/O shield already installed, so there’s no messing around and no risk of forgetting it.
6 CABLE SIMPLICITY
There’s something comfortably reassuring about the fact that all of the X399 platform’s cables run along the right-hand side of the board. It means we can bunch all the cables we need together, slap a Velcro strap on them, and they’re all tidy and out of the way in the back, with the rest of the chassis looking as clean as a whistle. Make sure the front I/O is plugged in, with the relevant pins, your USB header’s in place, then slap the side panels back on, and you’ve got a clean-looking, quiet streaming and workstation build. What’s not to love?