The initial plan for this machine was to replace an aging home server (from the AMD stars cores era) that was showing signs of failure. But it quickly became apparent that rotating my current workstation into the server role, and then building a new PC would be
way more fun ahem, more efficient. So a new plan was hatched to build a fairly standard workhorse PC, designed to survive 8-hour workdays... but with a nice graphics board to satisfy my gaming sweet tooth.
The build itself took about 2 hours, and would have been a record pace if not for the near-complete lack of a motherboard manual in the MSI Z390-A PRO's box (see below). The case was a joy to build in, and the only snag was a set of modular power supply cables that only just barely reached the awkwardly placed PCIe power connector. The mounting rails for the 120/140mm front fans were very thin and care had to be taken not to bend the metal by over-tightening the screws. Up and running, this thing handles the intended workload like a champ (and is no slouch in games).
I had thrown a cheap graphics board (RX 560) into my last workstation so I could play a game or two. But with the budget this time around to "do it right" I opted for AMD's first Navi offering. It doesn't disappoint... most reviews show it trading blows with the RTX 2070, though I can only compare it to the RX 560. In terms of performance, it's a TKO.
The original shopping list called for four 8GB RAM sticks, but the Microcenter employee that dug up this Crucial kit saved me $25 and left me open slots on my motherboard. Win-win. As for the memory itself, it performs at the rated speed and the heat spreaders aren't gaudy -- I have no complaints.
There was no planned style for this machine, but about halfway through shopping I noticed that most of the parts were either solid black or white. So, a couple of white LED fans complete the look without breaking the bank. There is a solid black version of the Hyper 212 cooler that would have looked pretty sharp in the middle of it all, but I liked the look of the bare copper heat pipes. Sadly they can't really be seen from outside the case.
I was tempted to save $50 by going with the i7-8700K, but 8 full cores just made more sense to me than the 6/12 hyperthreaded cores in the older part. This is a very fast chip, and while I'm no overclocker, I may appreciate the capability a few years down the road.
My retiring home server has been running a 212-series cooler for nearly 10 years (and is still sporting its original fans). Some entry level closed-loop liquid coolers got a passing glance, but the value proposition here was too good to pass up. An overclocker might opt instead for a larger piece of metal from Noctua or Be Quiet! but the 212X (with its second fan) makes for a cool and quiet build at stock.
This motherboard ticks all the boxes you'd expect from an entry-level Z390 board. MSI's GUI settings setup is usable (if not pretty) and most of the board is well laid out. The PCIe power connector is in a bit of an awkward spot, where a larger air cooler may have caused an issue but the 212X fit just fine. There are five system fan headers, two on the bottom, two along the right side, and one (mercifully) just near the exhaust fan in the upper left. One star subtracted for not including a decent paper manual in the box -- the multilingual "quick start guide" was awkward to read and didn't include much useful info. The online manual is complete, but not user friendly when viewed on a phone screen.
It performs at the rated speed and the heat spreaders aren't gaudy -- I have no complaints.
Inland is Microcenter's house brand. I wasn't expecting much, but this little guy turned in sequential writes of over 2000 MB/s in CrystalMark.
Performance-wise, this thing trades blows with the RTX 2070. The card is heavy, but feels solid and holds up well when pitted against gravity in a standard tower case (likely due to the thick backplate). The blower cooler is the only fan in the build that becomes noticable under load, but it's quiet enough to be completely masked by my (open back) headphones. I appreciate that it's dumping heat outside the case. Plenty of connections on the back, but only one HDMI means I had to dig up an adapter to connect a third screen.
A very good-looking case (in both black and white, though I opted for white). The tempered glass panel runs the entire side of the case, which is a much cleaner look than the cases that reveal just the motherboard area. Plenty of options for mounting fans, though the metal rails for the front fans are a bit on the thin side and might bend slightly under an overtightened screw.
There are less expensive 80+ gold power supplies in this range. But my inner (and outer) electrical engineer can't find fault with the power it puts out. Solidly built, and impressively quiet under load -- silent, in fact, at low output if the fan is configured to shut off entirely.