Bistromath Part 1

Building a new gaming PC.

It’s been more than 5 years since I finished my first gaming PC build. That PC has served me well, though through the years it’s been mostly dedicated to playing the various F1 games. At heart, I’m still a console gamer (with a particular love for handhelds).

But it’s been 5 years and with each passing year my PC struggles with each new F1 game. I’ve gotten a couple of upgrades, sure, but nothing substantial. The biggest hardware improvements were an NVMe SSD, a racing wheel, and a 144p/144Hz monitor.

That last one is where I began to really notice the PC’s age. 144Hz looks amazing when clicking around Windows, but in F1 2021 I can barely manage 80 FPS at the visual settings I like. I want better!

Enter the Bistromath

Keeping my naming convention of using names of fictional spaceships, the natural successor to the Heart of Gold is, of course, the Bistromath. I’m not sure what I’d move on to after that but that’s a problem for another day. But what would go into this new PC?

My requirements were pretty simple:

  • Smaller and still quiet. The dual 140mm fans really kept things quiet and I wanted a similar setup in a smaller case.
  • RTX 3070 or similar GPU. I want something that can handle F1 2021 (and F1 22 when it inevitably goes on sale) at high settings at 144 FPS. More headroom here is better.

The second requirement is simple. 3070’s seem to be readily available and can even be had for MSRP. But $500 for a GPU is still a lot of money and new GPUs are on the horizon (maybe) so it might be better to start with the first requirement.

My plan is to piece-meal build this PC. Start with only the bare minimum new parts and use what I can from the existing PC. When I replace a part, put the old one back in the old PC. At the end, I’ll essentially have two fully functional computers, one of which I keep and the other I either give to some niece/nephew (or sell on Craigslist).

So first up is the case. I wanted smaller and I could have just gotten a more compact ATX case, but I knew that the CPU and motherboard were going to be replaced eventually so I decided to completely change form factor and go for Mini-ITX. I chose the Fractal Design Torrent Nano (in white). The big 180mm fan and open front are prefect for what want. It should be super quiet and is considerably smaller than my old NZXT S340.

Then came the CPU and motherboard. I ended up getting an Intel Core i5-12400 (non-F) because MicroCenter had it for a good price. It has an integrated GPU which I won’t use, but it was just as cheap as getting a 12400F from Newegg and didn’t require more than a drive across town to get. The motherboard was more annoying. I had planned on getting one from MicroCenter when buying the CPU and taking advantage of a bundle discount, but they didn’t have any Intel Mini-ITX DDR4 boards available at the time so I ordered one from Newegg. It doesn’t appear to be anything special but has all the ports and connections that I would want.

Building It!

Building in a Mini-ITX case is definitely a challenge. Thankfully this case is very friendly.

  • There are pre-installed (velcro) cable ties all over the case which make cable management a breeze. There’s still not lots of room to make it perfect, but the side panel conceals a lot.
  • Front-panel I/O cables are a pain. USB 3 connectors in particular are terrible. Annoyingly the cable is very thick and hard to bend out of the grommet and into the motherboard. It ends up sticking out more than the 24-pin motherboard power connector. 😠
  • The motherboard I chose puts the CPU and case fan headers up in the corner where the CPU power connector is. This is nice for keeping those cables out of the airflow, but they have to be connected before the motherboard is fully installed in the case.
  • The case has an RGB strip in the “attic” that conceals the power supply. It’s nice to have some lighting in there, but the software to control it sucks so much. The ASRock utility is garbage, and OpenRGB is very user un-friendly. I would love to have the strip change colors with CPU or GPU load, but I can’t seem to make the hardware sync plugin do anything but make the strip flicker a little.

What Next?

Now I get to choose what’s next to upgrade:

  • New CPU cooler. I’ve got the stock Intel cooler that came with the CPU and it does just fine to keep temps under control. That’s not exactly a tough job since this is a non-K CPU but I want a quieter cooler. The stock cooler isn’t even that loud, but I find the noise very annoying. Looking at a DeepCool AK400 as a cheap replacement, maybe a Noctua NH-U12S if I want lots of overhead (and some brown).
  • New SSD. I can now get a PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD. Looking at this one from MicroCenter but I’m not 100% sold on it yet.
  • New RAM. My current RAM is 16GB of DDR4-2400. I could go for faster memory speed or more capacity. Neither will make a large difference in games, but I will get something since RAM isn’t that expensive and I want to replace all of the old components.
  • New power supply. The 3070 will require more than my 550 watt unit can supply.
  • New GPU! This is the only part that requires another new part first (the power supply) but I’m going to try to wait this out as long as I can. I’ve budgeted about $500 for this and I want the best I can get. The 3070 is almost 2 years old and the RTX 40 series seems like it’s around the corner. If I can wait, I can either snag a new card in that price range or find some deal on a better 30 series (or equivalent AMD) card. Time will tell.

I’m not in any particular rush to get any of these things. I’ll probably try to spread the costs out as much as possible, especially to make that GPU cost not seem so bad.