2021 Custom PC Build

7 minute read

Published:

Intro

During the pandemic, I finally decided to upgrade my workstation. After gaining renewed interest in computers, I decided it would be a fun project to build my own. I needed a device that would both support my computational modeling and simulation efforts required for my graduate studies and double as a gaming/cryptocurrency mining rig. I’ve always loved console gaming (My console gaming lineage: Nintendo Gamecube –> Nintendo Wii –> Playstation 3 –> Xbox 360 –> Xbox One –> Xbox Series X).

I figured it was about time I tried out playing on PC.

I knew I didn’t have much space on my desk, so it became clear that I needed as small of a build as possible without sacrificing cooling/ventilation performance. I eventually chose the ThermalTake Tower 100 Mini-ITX case. Its 18.2” x 10.5” x 10.5” dimensions fit my space nicely, and its verticality and half-glass paneling was just the right amount of flashiness for my taste. It’s a great centerpiece for my custom built maple ambrosia wood desk.

Contents

Parts List

PartName
TowerThermalTake Tower 100
CPUAMD Ryzen 5 3600X
CPU CoolingNoctua NH-U12A
MotherboardMSI B550I GAMING EDGE WIFI Mini ITX AMD*
GPUNVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Ti
StorageWD Blue SN550 NVMe SSD 1TB
RAM8GB Corsair Pro Vengeance DDR4 RAM
PSU650W Seagate Gold

Note: Photos of an Asrock B550 Motherboard are pictured in this post, but it was later swapped in favor of the MSI B550I due to BIOS issues.

Walkthrough

Since this was my first PC build, I went into the process rather blind. I did a lot of online research to help put together a parts list that fit my budget. I would later come to find out that the choice to go with a Mini-ITX case made the build challenging, with lots of tight squeezes and angled cable connections to be made.


Dismantling the Tower

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Preparing the Motherboard

After I had the tower dismantled, I spent some time prepping the motherboard. 34EC809D-7F1A-42D6-9D14-2CE4241BE744_1_105_c

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Mounting the CPU Cooler Brackets

First, I followed instructions provided with my Noctua CPU cooler to install the brackets that my CPU cooler would sit upon. For this part, I learned its important to use the right screws in order to not fry your motherboard (though it most cases, the PC probably just wouldn’t turn on. You also want to be careful not to over-tighten the screws, as MOBOs are fragile. Snug, but not too tight, is ideal.

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Installing M.2 SSD Storage

Most motherboards have M.2 storage, a small slot where you can place a type of SSD storage. I liked this option because it was simple and sleek, and didn’t require running cable connections. It was very easy to set up, I simply had to unscrew the cover, carefully place the SSD, and then screw the cover back on!

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Finally, replace and rescrew the cover. 5119CE10-5B78-4D0E-A542-F6D54746FA23_1_105_c

Installing RAM

Installing the RAM looks pretty straghtforward, and you might think you did it right. After hours of troubleshooting my PC not turning on, I discovered that I hadn’t gotten the satisfying ‘click’ sound that means the RAM is in all the way. I was really suprised at the amount of force required to get the click feedback, and was worried I would break something.

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Lesson Learned: When installing RAM, be sure to use your thumbs and push down to engage the latch so its ready to receive the RAM, then use both thumbs to push downward evenly until you hear a loud click and the latches snap into place.

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Installing CPU and Cooler

Make sure your motherboard is compatible with your CPU - I used an AMD Ryzen 5 3600X CPU, and made sure my Motherboard was compatible with AMD processors before trying to install.

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Now, we can start preparing the CPU cooler. I opted to take both fans off of the radiator so it was easier to maneuver and install. 9B6E98A8-72DF-4AE1-917B-C4C4EC43C8EB_1_105_c 3E9C796A-83F4-4388-8B35-CD825DEC14C4_1_105_c

Afterwards, You’ll need to put thermal paste on the CPU before installing the cooler. FA40A5F6-7787-415C-8C5D-3EF1CBDC87AF_1_105_c

Now, we can place the radiator over the CPU and screw it in to the mounting brackets we installed earlier, following instructions provided by Noctua. 44788CAF-A2D9-4AE4-B6D6-F4D6058FFB02_1_105_c 94A91A73-7B27-4F3C-BF94-3B3366CFD5B7_1_105_c

I then put the fans back on the radiator; except my case was unique because of my Mini-ITX build. Despite being listed as compatible online, the motherboard actually couldn’t fit the full CPU cooler, and the bottom fan was blocked by the RAM. I also learned that the Noctua cooling unit I chose was benchmarked to function the same (or better, in some cases) if you removed one of the fans from the radiator. This was ideal for me. I turned the bottom fan into a case fan, and have had no CPU cooling issues at all.

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Placing Motherboard in Tower

For this step, I found it easiest to place my tower on its back. The unusual shape and vertical graphics card configuration of this tower made the install a little different than most, I’ve gathered (but this was my first build, after all). Once again, the screws used for this part of the install are important, and your PC may not start if you use the incorrect ones.

Installing PSU

I, to this day, don’t understand why Power Supply Units are installed with the text upside down. I was scratching my head on this one for a while, and watched multiple build videos on YouTube to make sure I wasn’t doing it wrong.

Nonetheless, I eventually figured it out, and this part was easy enough. 565B2D9D-E965-4BD9-B735-F1666442F126_1_105_c

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Installing Graphics Card

One thing that wasn’t particularly apparent from online tutorials is that graphics cards also need quite a bit of force to get a resounding ‘click’ feedback in tandem with the latch working.

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Boot Check/Troubleshooting

At this point, I checked to see if my PC would boot! And suprise, it wouldn’t. I troubleshooted for hours

Cable Management

I got some black zip-ties and black piping wrap (the kind meant to protect cords from cats eating them) and got to work. I liked this part of it, even though it was kind of annoying. I was very satisfied with my end product of my cable management and PC in general.

Noctua Fans Custom Paint Job

Beige and Brown is not for me. I was really impressed upon reading about the performance of Noctua’s fans, and decided it would be great to incorporate them in my build. Since my tower has a glass viewing pane, I became curious about custom options to change the appearance of the fans, and found a thread where someone painted theirs black at a minimal loss of performance. After seeing this, the decision was easy.

I custom painted my Noctua A12x25 fans that came included with the NH-U12A cooler.

End Product

I was very satisfied with the build, and have been thrilled with the power packed by my new system. Having a powerful graphics card makes for a great experience running simulations in Gazebo and in gaming, and I’ve greatly appreciated being able to play a wider variety of video games through PC game marketplaces like Steam.