New PC, I think I’m in love

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been working with Gordon and Adam at PC World on a plan to build a new PC to serve as my daily driver. My old rig, which was a respectable i9-9900k w/ a 3080 Ti in it, was due for some upgrades, and they invited me to be part of one of their regular build streams, where they put together a machine for a specific purpose for someone. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.

My last machine started life somewhere in 2012 or 2013 and was Ship of Theseused until everything in there was replaced at least once, except for a couple of now-ancient 512GB SSDs. While I’ve built lots of PCs over the last 25 years, things change with time and I’m not as up-to-date as I once was. The opportunity to start with a clean slate, building a modern machine from scratch sounded great. But the chance to do that with a couple of legit experts there to answer questions and make sure I avoid making any tragic mistakes was too good to pass up.

After consulting with Gordon and Adam, we settled on a parts list, set the date, and finally got to build the PC in their San Francisco studio. The build was surprisingly straightforward, despite some minor problems with the cooler bracket and a game time decision to move the radiator from a top mount position to the front mount slot. Everything booted up on the first try and the machine was stable at the full RAM speed after a quick BIOS update and a few tweaked settings. It was a win all around.

The PC build video, recorded on November 30, 2022.

After we ran a slightly longer memtest and did a half-assed attempt at cable management, we declared success and packed everything up so I could bring my new PC home, where I needed to install Windows (and the rest of the stuff I use to work on the day-to-day). There was a bit of a hitch due to the new chipset—Windows 11 requires network access during the install process and the drivers for the Intel Wi-Fi chipset aren’t packaged with Windows. Luckily, they were on the thumbdrive that came with the PC, so I was able to get up and running after a short hiccup.

During the PC World stream, JJ from Asus told me that I’d need to update the BIOS for the Intel Management Engine to get the most performance from the new CPU. That was a simple enough process, although I did manage to try and fail a few times before I realized the updater needed to run as an admin.

After that, it was a simple process of getting the usual bazillion drivers installed, installing Firefox and my password manager and then tracking down the dozens of small tools and other implements I use on the day-to-day to keep everything running. I’m still working on my data structure for the new system.

Right now, I’m running the OS, apps, and main games (Fortnite, Grounded, The Anacrusis, and whatever else I’m playing regularly on c:), with my d: drive set up as a striped array (in Windows) with a well-defined structure that puts everything I don’t need to back up (game downloads, mostly) in one folder and everything I do need to back up (archival files, work in progress files, etc) in folders that are easily identified based on the type of project they are. I’m feeling pretty good about this setup, but we’re going to dig into it on the podcast this week, and I know Brad will have thoughts.

As for the PC itself, I’m in love. It’s been such a long time since I started from scratch, without bringing over an old drive or the last video card or a CPU cooler that I’d forgotten what it feels like to start cruft free.

The motherboard has one feature that sounded like a gimmick when it was described to me while building. There’s a PCI-Express power connector on the front edge of the motherboard. This is the same kind of connector that delivers power to the GPU, and it’s there explicitly to turn the USB-c port on the front of your case into a 60W USB-PD fast charger. I thought it was goofy right up until the moment I plugged in my iPad and then my Steam Deck to top them both off and they both charged at full speed. A+ feature there ASUS.

I made a few small hardware changes since the build. I replaced the NZXT fans on the top with a pair of 140mm Fractal fans that match the ones in the case. I wanted all the RGB control in a single app, and I like the way they look better. I’ll migrate the NZXT fans into my old case, where they’ll replace a pair of sadly unlit fans that are in the machine currently.

Image of the inside of a computer case, showing a pair of white fans that match, illuminated with tasteful RGB lights.

I also cleaned up some wiring and rewired the fan headers so I have independent control of the radiator fans up front, the rear exhaust fan, and the top intake fans. I’m setting them up with Fan Control (an amazing little utility that we’ll talk about on an upcoming episode of the podcast). The back side case door has some click on/click off brackets that prevent you from cheating and sealing in any unsightly wire bulges, which I’m not quite sure how I feel about.

I haven’t run a ton of formal benchmarks yet, and likely never will. I can say that Fortnite runs stupid fast, even with the new Unreal 5.1 update; Photoshop launches in just under 6 seconds; and the machine boots so fast that the only way I can get into the BIOS is to use the Windows advanced start options. It’s a screamer, in every way but noise production.

After a week, I’m pretty much back up to speed. I’ve got the new PC in its place, I’ve migrated my streaming software over to the old PC. I need to consolidate and back up the storage from the old PC on my NAS so I can open it up, remove the excess drives, and strip out the hardware that’s no longer necessary in that machine.

I’m usually a much more pragmatic builder, living firmly in the realm of mid-range CPUs and fast videocards, so it was really fun to stretch out of my comfort zone and build a beast like this. I would never have done it without my friends at PC World, so make sure you head over there, watch the video, and let them know what you think of the build and the video!

CPU: Intel i9 13900K
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 4090 RTX Founders Edition
Motherboard: ASUS ROG Maximum Z790
Memory:GSkill Z5 DDR5 7600
Cooler: NZXT Kraken Z53
SSD: Solidigm P44 Pro 2TB
SSD2: SK Hynix Platinum P41 2TB
PSU: Silverstone HELA 850R
Capture Card: Avermedia Live Gamer 4k
Case: Fractal Meshify Compact 2
Keyboard: Drop Ctrl
Mouse:Logitech G Pro Superlight
Gaming Monitor: ASUS ROG Swift 360Hz PG259QN
Secondary Monitor: Acer Predator XB271HK
Headphones: Steelseries Arctis Nova Pro
Microphone: Electro-Voice RE27

Audio Interface:
The full parts list: Some links are affiliate links and generate revenue for me if you use them. Thanks for using them!

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