The dust has settled, the reviews are out, the BIOSes are patched (somewhat), and AMD’s new Ryzen CPU is a serious contender to be the heart of your next PC. To that end, I’ve put together some advice on how to build a PC with this new AMD architecture, which I hope can get you started.
I haven’t built a Ryzen PC yet, but it’s absolutely on my to-do list, and I’ve been doing some digging to figure out what’s the best blend of price and performance. I’m open to suggestions, so feel free to speak up in the comments!
My main uses for a PC are Overwatch, Factorio, and Path of Exile (which are basically trivial for any PC in the $1000+ range), and game development using Visual Studio and Unreal Engine (which are performance-thirsty animals that will use as many resources as you can throw at them).
Ryzen 7’s pitch is simple: get a chip that’s about as fast as an Intel Core i7 (for some applications, at least), but for a lot cheaper. Ryzen 5 is more complicated, because Intel’s prices are more reasonable in the Core i5 range. From what I can tell, it really comes down to whether you have an application that can benefit from a serious amount of cores. If you do any form of CPU-intensive content creation, or compiler-based programming, Ryzen 5 might be a good choice depending on your budget. And the gaming performance isn’t far off from Intel, either.
Right now I’m torn between the Ryzen 5 1600X, which has six cores and goes for about $250, or the Ryzen 7 1700, which has eight cores, uses less power, and sells for $320-ish.
AMD has produced a really excellent chart that breaks down the differences between motherboard types available for Ryzen.
The main choice for the performance-minded is between the X370 and the B350. While the X370 is capable of CrossFire or SLI, I’m not really interested in having dual graphics cards right now. Because I can’t really find any other compelling reason to pick the more expensive option, I’m probably going to go with the B350, although that will limit my upgrade potential in the future. I’ve found that I like to pretend I’ll upgrade something, but I usually don’t, and I’d rather save the money and the space (the B350 is available in a MicroATX form factor).
Some of the processors, like the Ryzen 7 1700, come with an AMD-branded CPU cooler in the box. The enthusiast-oriented “X” processors, such as the Ryzen 5 1600X, don’t come with a cooler, so you’ll have to provide your own. You can’t just grab any random cooler, however. Make sure the cooler you buy is AM4-compatible, or that there’s a mounting bracket available from the manufacturer — a bunch of cooler makers are offering AM4 mounting brackets for free for their customers.
This part is really confusing. Basically, not all Ryzen CPUs will necessarily work out of the box with really fast RAM, such as DDR4-3200, due to software problems. If you can get it to work, you’ll see a nice speed boost. Luckily, this is something AMD is working to improve with BIOS updates. It might be possible to use some fast RAM downclocked, and then go full throttle once the BIOS is updated. But if you want to play it extra safe, check to see what your motherboard manufacturer explicitly supports, or limit yourself to DDR4-2667 or lower.
Recently I’ve come to realize a lot of the work I do on my PC is more storage speed limited than anything. So an M.2 PCI-E SSD is basically my number one priority in a system, and the new Ryzen-compatible motherboards are supposed to have great support for at least one of these drives. Luckily, competition is hot in this space right now, so it’s possible to get 512GB of absurdly fast storage (about five times faster than a SATA3 SSD) for under $200 from a reputable brand.
One reason to hold off on a build right now is AMD is supposed to show up with new video cards soon, which could give you some hard choices in the mid-range. For higher-end systems, Nvidia will probably remain the easy pick. I’m personally a huge fan of the GTX 1070 for price / performance ratio, but there are ton of great options out there for any price point.
Get the one with the most LEDs!
But more seriously, you basically just want to make sure your case has a few fans built-in, is sized for your motherboard (ATX vs MicroATX), and that it doesn’t fill you with shame to look at. Everybody has an opinion on cases, so it’s easy to find helpful reviews about how easy a particular case is to work with.
If you’re attempting something insane with your machine, you already probably know more about PSUs than I do. If you aren’t attempting something insane, a 550 or 650 watt modular power supply should be perfect for a midrange build. More headroom never hurt anybody, but AMD is no longer a power hog, and for that we can be grateful.
If you haven’t built a PC in a while, or you’re scared you’ll buy the wrong parts, you can’t go wrong with just browsing PCPartPicker for completed builds in your price range. The /r/buildapc subreddit is also a nice resource.
Also, here’s some unsolicited, boring advice: if you don’t know if you need a new PC right now, you’ll always be better off waiting. Prices will come down, new parts will be available (like the upcoming Radeon RX 500 series, for instance), and you can perhaps spend more time with friends and family this Easter instead of endlessly optimizing your PCPartPicker list all weekend.