Is a new PC worth building in 2021? I would say YES this year if you mean a desktop. I would say no if you mean a server.
2020 brought us some great things, new CPU’s, new motherboards, new graphics cards and so on. To start off with, reason it is not worth it for a server, is because PCIE 5.0 is around corner and servers would benefit from faster cores, memory and faster drive speeds than a desktop would. Also most of world will feel more comfortable running a drive at PCIE 5.0 speeds instead of PCIE 4.0 speeds because of large amount of data in databases and numerous blockchains they will need to run in future that is really drive intensive. Three words: “PCIE 5.0 Drive”. Wait for it, EPYC chips and IPMI will be your friends.
So the MAIN reason 2021 is worth building a new desktop PC is simple. The Samsung 980 Pro Drive with 7000 read and write speeds, DROOL! It is the only reason, even a graphics card in 2021 cannot even saturate a PCIE 3.0 x 16 lane, never mind PCIE 4.0. What do faster drive speeds do for your PC experience? Absolutely everything, faster loading times, faster game play, faster browsing on internet, and for programmers faster compile times! Absolutely everything is supercharged, everyone can thank Samsung and AMD for this. So to build a new PC assuming you already have a PC and can re-use your case and power supply, lets focus on main parts we need: CPU, motherboard, graphics card, memory and drive. So let’s look at these 5 parts to help you make an informed buying decision for upgrading.
What then would be the best and most cost effective build for your home desktop computer? Firstly in order to support PCIE 4.0 this is where it starts, the cheapest zen3 CPU with 6 cores and 12 threads is all you need for desktop so essentially the 5600X CPU would be enough. We don’t need more than 6-8 cores for a desktop, we care more about clock speed with latest zen3 series. But what about older zen2 and zen1? Not worth it, zen1 and zen2 will make us run our DDR4 memory at lower speeds, lowest cost zen3 CPU is my recommendation:
For motherboard this is where is gets tricky and you could literally spend days. In order to support zen3 CPU we have two options as CPU is an AM4 socket, the X570 boards, or the budget B boards. What’s the difference between X570 and the budget boards? You get way less from budget boards than a real X570 board. This is where you should be spending a good amount of money, if a motherboard was a human, the motherboard would be your body. You need a good body for everything else to run right. A CPU would be like your brain, but CPU can only function good if you take good care of your body right?
So when considering a motherboard there are many things we have to look at, especially when buying new. First and foremost the USB spec is currently USB 3.2 GEN 2. So if we skimp out on motherboard cost we are stabbing ourselves in the foot not getting enough of the USB ports. The budget boards for instance use older USB 3.2 GEN1, not worth it especially with thunderbolt USB 4 on PCIE 5.0 right around the corner, so the less USB 3.2 GEN1 ports and the more USB 3.2 GEN ports the better. Your mouse, your keyboard, your phone, your webcam, your USB sticks, your printer…..the list goes on. You plug everything into these, make sure they are USB 3.2 GEN 2 as many ports as you can get! If you are an app developer you’ll want to take advantage of 1 USB-C 3.2 GEN 2 port for your phone for 20 Gbps. A normal USB 3.2 GEN 2 port will give you a max of 10 Gbps, but with same spec in a USB-C port that is 20 Gbps. Same as charging cables, USB slow , USB-C fast.
The next thing we have to look at is how many PCIE 4.0 lanes can we get without spending a grand on a board. Around $399USD range or $500 CDN, we will try to get a motherboard with all the features of a 1 thousand dollar board at this price with as many PCIE 4.0 lanes as we can get. Your going to need 1×16 lane for your graphics card, 1 or 2 NVME slots for your drive, as well as a future PCIE 4.0 slot for upgrading. I would say what would work out the best is let’s have 1×4 extra slot in there for future 10 gigabit network card, and 1 extra x16 lane for either an extra graphics card or another upgrade of your choice. It would also be nice to have 1 extra NVME slot for another fast drive if needed.
After a lot of searching here is your best choice right now, many USB latest GEN2 ports, even has WIFI AX and 2.5Gbps LAN port. We have 2 NVME slots, ability to do 2 graphics cards or 1 plus something down road, also a x4 slot for a 10 gigabit network card if we ever dish out for an expensive 10 gigabit switch. There is a newer version of this 2019 board for an extra 30 bucks it seems, but as of March 2021 it is out of stock everywhere so my pick is as follows for do it right now:
Graphics cards as of March 2021 are sold out everywhere because of the rise of Bitcoin to 50-60k USD. Everyone wants them for mining, so short of ordering a pre-built system with one in it, there is no chance of getting one currently. So what did I get? After careful consideration of what is available, what makes the most sense until these are available is a card with multiple monitor support that can support 4k resolution. So my decision was what stock traders use, a 6 port mini DP port graphics card, that can support 4k for a couple hundred dollars would be perfect. If it was not for the shortage of graphics cards currently, my pick would be an AMD 6000 series graphics card to fit your budget, 6700, 6800 or 6900 series currently from least expensive to most expensive. Also since we are doing an AMD build, AMD graphics cards do get a speedup using AMD chips, so its a no brainer. Without further ado, here is a decent graphics card you can use with 4k and 6 monitors till you can get your hands on those other ones:
As another bonus I looked around for a 4k monitor that would support max resolution of one of these ports 4k@60hz and found a nice one with a great stand and very affordable without spending close to a grand for one. Since I run normally 3 27 inch monitors, I definitely don’t want to spend more than 500 ever for one so here is a good one at those specs:
The whole reason we doing this upgrade right here folks! The Samsung 980 Pro 1 Terabyte Drive! The specs on this drive are out of this world, remember it was not long ago people were on PCIE 3.0 systems, and getting max 500MBps reads. Then this drive comes out at 7000MBps! It is blazing fast. Not many drives even compete with this drive for PCIE 4.0 drives. And we have a trusted name like Samsung for our data which is important. DO NOT go less than a 1 terabyte drive, I have used 250 GB and 500GB drives and always run out of space, even if you don’t think you are going to now, wait a few years and you will wish you listened to me. Without further ado, here is the drive! :
There is a reason I left this one till last, it is really difficult to pick memory with so many choices out there. You also have to understand concepts like XMP 2.0, overclocking memory, CAS latency on memory, as well as how fast of memory you can get, B die, single rank vs dual rank and the list goes on, it gets very complicated very fast. So let me break it down for you.
PCIE 4.0 on Zen3 performs best around 3600mhz mark with 32GB of memory and lowest CAS timings you can get. Now we have to factor in price, price is based on CAS latency, right now 14 being really good and expensive, and CAS 18 is highest I would go. As years go on CAS will get better, and memory cheaper, so do we really want to spend like 500+ dollars just to get a CAS timing of 14 or better on 3600mhz 32gig memory sticks? Hell no, lets pick a middle mark of CAS 16 and down road you can upgrade them if it gets cheaper. We already spent a lot on all the other parts so a good option for us will be as follows, 32GB for 200 bucks CDN:
RECAP WHY I CHOSE THESE PARTS
Before this upgrade I was running an old PCIE 2.0 system, 10 years and all I get is 1ghz faster clock speed, disappointing really, but where this shines is the drive speeds and support for newer graphics cards. For my own purposes I use ssh, play with app development, flutter, android studio, run a million tabs in chrome etc. One screen usually for ssh or emulators, one screen for coding, one screen for YouTube or going through a millon chrome tabs. I have background WSL2 sessions running, and I’m using up almost all my 12 gigs of memory in it, even causing my PC to swap and freeze if I overdo it. Flutter compile times are longer than I would like, it was just time, I couldn’t wait anymore. And world has moved to 4k, so let’s leave the 1080p world behind and move to 4k as well, as it won’t be long before 8k arrives.
Personally I rarely game on my PC, I have a Playstation for that, but if I was to be gaming, I would modify build as follows: when I could get my hands on a newer graphics card I would toss it in, then I would look for a monitor that runs 4k@240hz, then I would switch my other 2 monitors off and game on that one 🙂
Then there are going to be some of you that say, why not wait for PCIE 5.0 and USB 4.0 etc. Because you are going to be waiting a long time! Years before they come down in price enough you would consider buying them when they get released. Now remember we picked that extra x16 PCIE 4.0 lane on our motherboard? You could use it as an expansion port for USB4.0 down the road, like I said, future proof 🙂 Other than fact Samsung will probably release a PCIE 5.0 drive, you want to wait that long, or are these drive speeds great right now! I thought so.
I hope this helps you with your new build, total cost 2k CDN, very good price for a completely new future proof build to last you a long time.