Al­ter­na­tively, you could call this is­sue’s build “How to Make Threads and Alien­ate Peo­ple”


A guide to build­ing a fu­ture-proofed ray-trac­ing Threadripper rig.


THE LAT­TER HALF of this year has seen some se­ri­ously cool hard­ware launches. Whether or not the prices are right, or the tech­nol­ogy war­rantied, 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.


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 $900 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 Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro TR4 Edi­tion cooler, a su­per-bud­get 250W TDP dis­plac­ing air tower, de­signed specif­i­cally for the big T, and the Silent Base 610 non-win­dowed, noise-damp­ened chas­sis, which comes in at a mod­est $130.


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.


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 min­i­mizes mess. We used an old credit card to care­fully spread a thin layer across the en­tirety of the chip.


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.


AND SHE’S IN. Say hello to the Asus RTX 2080. Yep, 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.


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.


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?


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