Before any big upgrade in the Bowen household, there is a lot of research to be done. Here is my upgrade story for the new desktop, LCD, Soundbar and Standing Desk.
It has been a few months now in lockdown and working from home has become the new normal. Jo and I have spent an average of 9 to 10 hours a day sitting at the desks I built back in January. Fortunately they are super spacious. 🙂 If you are wondering how I built the desks, check out the post I did in April titled Desk custom built by Bowen for £150 pounds using some doors.
Two monitors are better than one
Working from home has thrown up some challenges. Both of us are used to working on two monitors at work, so having one can be a pain, even if your current screen is 27 inches large. After some thorough research, I rectified that problem by buying another 27″ LCD panel, the iiyama PROLITE XUB2792Q-SU-B1. This is the perfect screen upgrade in my opinion.
A laptop upgrade versus a desktop upgrade
For the past five years I have worked on a Microsoft Surface Pro laptop. They are great laptops. Super thin, powerful and extremely portable. At home I would dock my laptop and then run a screen, keyboard and peripherals off the docking station. It was super convenient until late last year when I noticed my screen had ripped from the frame unexpectedly.
It turned out the battery had expanded (luckily it hadn’t exploded) and popped the screen up to expose a whole bunch of motherboard and wiring. The performance took a nosedive. I discovered on various forums it was a known problem with my model.
No more laptops
I reckoned the perfect upgrade to my laptop would be a desktop, so I started researching desktop builds. It turned out there was a LOT to learn, because PC hardware had changed considerably from when I had a desktop back in the year dot. Back then I use to upgrade all the time.
I watched dozens of YouTube upgrade videos and found most of my inspiration on a website called PC Part Picker.
PC Part Picker
This website was massively useful with loads of filters to pick the PC parts (as the website name suggests). The website is also one gigantic PC upgrade / build / photograph sharing forum, as well as a PC price comparison and review upgrade website.
The website goes even further and allows you to create, edit and save PC Parts Lists, so you can refer back to them or share them with others so they don’t waste time creating them. One can also pick a public saved parts list and modify it as your own. During my research stage I created at least 5 part lists and then I would research them.
There are also full and partial build specifications and write-ups from various users who have built their own PCs. It was really easy to virtually build the computer I wanted and to price it up.
It could be quite a daunting task to pick the right parts or manufacturer, but each of the pages showed so much useful information, ratings, price etc, that it became a doddle. The website also had a compatibility chart and would let you know if a part (e.g. RAM or GPU) was not compatible with the motherboard. A game changer in my opinion. Here is my full build list.
Global shortage of Power Supplies and Graphic cards
There was a big problem during April, May and June. A global shortage of key parts due to the various countries in lockdown. There was a massive shortage of Power Supplies and Graphic cards.
Fortunately I was in no hurry and because I was home it was easy to shop around and purchase the parts when the prices were right. There are quite a few shops offering better prices than Amazon (CCL Computers and Box.co.uk in the UK are two of them).
Mike’s Final Desktop Upgrade Build
- CPU – AMD Ryzen 5 3600 GHz 6-Core Processor
- Motherboard – MSI MEG X570 UNIFY ATX AM4
- RAM – Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4-3200 CL16 Memory
- Storage – Sabrent 1TB Rocket Nvme PCIe 4.0 M.2 2280 Internal Maximum Performance Solid State Drive
- GPU – PowerColor Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB Red Devil Graphics Card
- Case – Corsair 275R Airflow ATX Mid Tower Case
- PSU – Corsair RM (2019) 750W 80+ Gold Certified Fully Modular ATX Power Supply
Notice how the number 5, 7 and 0 and the letter R are common denominators in the names. Freaky hey! 😀
Probably the most searched item for my desktop upgrade was done on the motherboard as there are so many boards available. Fortunately YouTube is a fantastic website for such research and there are some real gem reviewers who go into all sorts of detail. The man that convinced me to buy the MSI X570 MEG UNIFY was Laurent of Laurent’s Choice. You must watch this video. The guy is so passionate and had a lot of kudos for the motherboard.
Some of the features that I liked:
- Best cooling solution, this board does not get hot!
- 6 layers, which means more isolation, less interference
- Superfast when coupled with Gen 4 M.2 SSD & PCI 4.0 GPU
- 3x Latest Lightning Gen 4 M.2 slots onboard
- No RGB visible, although it does support RGB
- 2.5GB LAN Port / Wifi 6 Network solution / Bluetooth 5.2 and plenty of 3.1 and 3/2 USB ports
- Audio Boost HD
- Upgrade proof or future proofing
- Overclocking is encouraged via the BIOS
- Clear CMOS, Flash BIOS button
- LED and Postcode indicators for BIOS troubleshoot
Installed the CPU
First I installed the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU. I found the tiny arrow on one of the corners of the chip and matched it with the arrow on the motherboard. If in doubt always refer to the manual. or watch a YouTube how-to video.
Installed the CPU Fan
I opted to stick with the stock CPU Fan that came with the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU. It is large and in all the reviews I read, it was the best option. Other people do opt for bigger and better fans that run virtually silent or are water cooled, but I figured for the tasks I was going to be doing, the CPU shouldn’t need anything else. It was a simple installation, 4 screws down onto the motherboard and one power clip onto the side of the board.
Installed the RAM
Installing the RAM modules onto the motherboard was dead easy. I pushed them down into the available slot and when you hear the click, you know they are in (or you have broken the slot 😉 ). It is important to fit the RAM modules into the right slots. The motherboard manual provided the answer.
Installed the M.2 2280 NVME SSD
This insanely small card / stick from Sabrent is a 1 TeraByte Nvme PCIe 4.0 M.2 2280 solid state disk. Gone are the days of a big bulky hard drive that spins and read/writes at snail pace speeds of 180MB/s. These SSD chips are capable of read/write speeds up to 4500-5000MB/s provided they are plugged into an equally capable fast PCI slot on the motherboard, which my MSI MEG UNIFY has. For this motherboard the first M2 slot closest to the CPU is the fastest.
Installed the gigantic GPU
My memory of a PCI graphics card was a miniature version of a motherboard with a small fan over the heatsink. Unboxing this graphics card changed that memory forever!
The PowerColor Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB Red Devil Graphics Card is the biggest graphics card I have ever seen in my life and I am not exaggerating. This GPU has three large fans on it and it is four times thicker than my laptop.
Installed the Motherboard with everything attached into the case
This was not an easy task for some reason. (Maybe because I had installed the large GPU and it was in the way). I couldn’t see how the board was meant to sit in the case and it took a number of attempts to get it in, with each attempt making me think I had scratched or broken something on the bottom of the motherboard.
Installed the Power Supply and Cabling
One of the most important parts of the PC puzzle is the case. Get this wrong and nothing fits. Get it right and you have plenty of space for the motherboard, graphics card, power supply and cabling. I spent a lot of time researching cases and wanted to keep the power supply separate from the motherboard and also have a lot of cable management options.
ATX Mid Tower Case
The Corsair 275R Airflow Tempered Glass Mid-Tower ATX Gaming Case has everything one needs in a case. There is a large bottom storage for the Power Supply and any other peripherals and four rubber coated areas for easy cable management.
It came with three large 120mm fans (2 intake fans on the front side and 1 outflow fan at the back).
There are easy to clean filters on the front covering the intake fans and on the bottom covering the power supply. There is also a very handy magnetic filter on the top, which covers the grill.
The back side cover can easily slide off allowing easy access into the bottom and the front side cover is made of tempered glass, so it is easy to see inside with covered. The case also has support for two front USB ports, a microphone and headset, a power and reset button.
750W Fully Modular Power Supply
The power supply was from Corsair. I wanted a 650W but it was not in stock and for some odd reason the Corsair RM750, RM Series, 80 Plus Gold Certified, 750W power supply was cheaper and available. So I got that one. It is fully modular meaning instead of a bunch of cables coming out of the PSU that are inevitably messy, I can plug in the cables I need (two for the motherboard and one for the graphics card) and that is it.
It came with loads of cable options in the box. I only ended up using 4 of them. It is a very neat set up.
The moment of truth
After pressing the power button there was a sense of great relief when I saw the computer turn on and enter the BIOS. As there is no CDROM onboard for installing Windows (because they died out about 15 years ago), one has to have Windows 10 installation files on a USB key. Before installing the operating system you have to go into the BIOS and set up a few things such as the 1st boot drive. The MSI MEG UNIFY had a graphical user interface, which is very easy to use.
One of the reasons I purchased this motherboard was because it had various troubleshooting LEDs and a Postcode indicator that can show off error codes. Very useful in a pickle. Note: The Postcode indicator can be turned off completely in the BIOS, which you can see in the photo below. It works on boot up, which is great.
The LED lights can also double as a temperature gauge, showing the motherboard or CPU temperature.
On the motherboard is a reset and power button and on the back plate is a CMOS clear and Flash BIOS button. Again very useful if in a “WTF moment”. Not that I got to use any of them because the computer fired up first time and Windows 10 installed perfectly.
How quickly can I fill up 1 TeraByte of Solid State Disk?
So far all I have installed is Windows 10 Pro, Office 365, Techsmith Snagit 2020, Filmora Video Editing software, Visual Watermark, WinSCP and Chrome.
The first game I installed was Project Cars 2, which was roughly 58GB. It is in fact an upgrade to the Project Cars I have installed on my PS4.
I was keen to run it on the highest settings possible to push the graphics card. The game did not disappoint and actually the GPU was hardly noticeable in sound or heat. (The main reason I purchased the PowerColor RX 5700 XT was because it hardly gets hot and has very little noise despite three massive fans spinning).
Do you really get a Soundbar for a PC?
Oh yes you do!
This soundbar or Under Monitor Audio System is called the Creative Sound BlasterX Katana. It was the perfect sound upgrade. Previously I had some very old Logitech speakers, which had served me well.
This soundbar is very impressive. Here is some technical jargon for our audiophile readers.
It has a tri-amplified system with five drivers, which include two upfiring mid-bass drivers and two high-excursion tweeters as well as as subwoofer. Bottom line is it sounds awesome!
Here are some of the features that I particularly liked:
- Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless devices
- USB Type-A for flash drives and sticks
- Virtual 7.1 channel audio playback
- S/PDIF for optical devices (back of the MSI MEG UNIFY is a similar connection)
- 3.5mm AUX-IN
- Headphones jack
- 49 programmable LEDs from one edge to the other
- Supports 16.8 million colours
- Remote control
Brushed Steel and LED Lighting
The Soundbar is made of brushed steel and looks fantastic. The Katana has such a small footprint it is hard to fathom that such a beautiful sound can be emitted from that a small device.
There are 5 buttons on the top namely; power, volume up and down, a source button to switch between Computer, Optical, USB, AUX and Bluetooth and one last button to change the LED lights to different sound settings (Cinema, Night, Neutral, Gaming, Concert). The power button also doubles as the Bluetooth pairing button.
There is also an app called Sound Blaster Connect, where one can set up different games, sound and lighting scenarios. There is a lot to experiment with if one so desires.
The Katana was not cheap, but then again this computer build was never going to be the cheapest build. I wanted it to last at least five years so if one factors in future proofing then actually it is very reasonable.
To sit or to stand is the answer
Sitting all day is not great on the back, neck or legs, which is why the world has created standing desks. 🙂 I found a company called Flexispot who offered a model called FlexiSpot E5B adjustable electric three-stage heavy duty steel (frame-only solution), so I purchased one that would hold my desk, two screens and desktop case.
The box contained two very heavy duty steel legs with motors and a frame that could expand to a length of 180cm. The manual says the frame can support up to 125KG, which is impressive.
The installation was simple enough and requires at least two people do to the installation.
Standing Desk Controller Features
The desk can be height adjusted from 62cm to 125cm. I am 187cm (6 foot 2 inches) tall and I find having the desk at 117cm high, the perfect standing position for my arms to rest on the desk and for my hands to reach the keyboard comfortably. For the seated position I have the height set at 77.7cm which again is a comfortable position (arms and legs parallel to the ground).
The controls are very cool. There are three memory settings. I have set #1 at 77.7cm as my seated position, #2 at 117cm as my standing position and #3 is free for now.
There is also an alarm feature, which can be set to 30 / 45 minutes. It then alerts you to move or change position. There are also two manual up and down buttons and finally there is an indicator screen to show the actual height in centimeters.
Cable Management Nightmare
In the past it was a real mess under my desk with cables, extension leads and power blocks everywhere.
I bought a simple 40cm cable management tray for some of the power blocks that tend to hang or sit on the floor. It came in a pack of two metal trays with screws and it was very simple to install under the desk.
The rest of the cables I have wrapped in adjustable self-adhesive nylon cable screw cord clamps out of sight under the desk. They work really well.
I installed the vertical Safemore tower extension lead (14 socket and 4 USB ports) plug power strip to the underside of my desk so that is moves with the desk. This solved a lot of the cabling problems.
I also got a simple stackable sliding basket that is primarily used for an under sink kitchen or bathroom cupboard, but it works really well for the space under my desk. The basket holds my controller, battery charger, batteries and drone. On the top shelf I have the Katana subwoofer and my NAS server, thus leaving the floor space clear of any obstacles.
Lastly (for now) I added some useful headset monitor hangers, which are small plastic stick-on hooks. They fit perfectly on the top edge of a monitor and I’ve found them to be equally useful underneath the desk.
No respectable desk can say no to a mouse mat. 🙂 I can tell you mine wanted the VicTsing RGB gaming mouse mat with its 12 lighting modes. The mat is big enough to accommodate my keyboard and mouse with plenty of space either side. The mat is 800mm x 400mm x 4mm. It is water resistant and non-slip. It is powered off a 1m long USB cable. At night the RGB lighting is just amazing.
The Grand Finale
Finally a short video of everything in action.