Description

I started out trying to upgrade an aging Dell XPS 410 (2006), my processing needs grew, and though an SSD and a Core Extreme Quad QX-6800 amped into beast mode, after 12 years it was time for a major upgrade.

I use this new workstation for MIDI sequencing with a Korg Kronos, video editing, digital audio rendering, and some occasional light gaming. I chose an older Corsair Carbide Air 540 because I really liked all the extra space inside, I have a lot of room for a big ATX case, and I liked the Stormtrooper black & white look. The RGB inside was more coincidental, the motherboard offered Aura, so I went with a video card that also featured Aura. I chose an i7-8700K over an i7-9700K because because the hyperthreading seemed more important for the processing and rendering power, and also the 9th gens were just coming out when I made my purchase. They were more expensive, and on backorder. Though I could have been perfectly satisfied with a GTX 1060 6gb, I went with the RTX 2060 because it could be another 12 years before I am able to replace my PC again.

The Samsung 970 EVO was an incredible add. Windows 10 Pro installed in 5 minutes, and programs install in lightning speed. Video also renders much faster using this drive. I also added a 3TB Barracuda storage drive, which performs very well for a conventional hard drive. I also have an additional monitor, it's the original 20" widescreen that came with my 2006 PC. It still works beautifully, but when it goes, I'll try to replace it with another 27" screen.

In retrospect, I wish I had chosen something similar to Alesis M1Active nearfield monitors (discontinued), I had 2 before that lasted me 10 years and just went bad, but loved the sound. The Mackies are quite good, and give me very full and crystal clear sound when working with audio. I also use a UMC202HD Audio Interface in place of a conventional sound card. The Integrated Realtek Sound works fine, except when I have analog cables plugged into the speaker jacks, I get a strange crackling interference sound. I tried everything to fix this, followed every forum post down rabbit holes, and concluded I must have a faulty unit. UPDATE I finally solved this problem. It's not necessarily a problem with the motherboard, but a ground loop caused somewhere in the system. To fix this, I added a "Ground Loop Isolator" ($8 on Amazon) to the 1/8" stereo to R&L RCA wire that goes to the speakers. If the ASUS people ever read this, I wish they would just build these right into their motherboards. It's a common problem. The UMC202HD works BETTER than any sound card for media creation purposes, and suits gaming needs just fine. Most of the onboard features are just gimmick, anyway. The USB Interface has much lower latency, and offers XLR inputs and balanced outputs, so I have a totally noiseless studio.

The ASUS Prime Z390-A was a great motherboard choice for this build, with the exception of the above defect. It gives you up to 6 HD's, an ample array of PCIe I/O's, 2 NVMe slots (they take the place of 2 SATA ports), and a beautiful BIOS with all the control I need. One caveat of this was, the only advantage of using ASUS for both Motherboard and Display is that they can link AURA RGBs, but otherwise none. You can't tap into the RTX 2060's vBIOS through UEFI like you can with other ASUS boards. It just doesn't work. Not a big problem, just a small disappointment. I have a ton of USB 3.0 and 3.1 ports, HDMI, DisplayPort, all the I/O's you might want. I am loving this build thus far.

Part Reviews

CPU

Excellent processor, it blows just about any other out of the water for video rendering and any multimedia application using heavy processing. I usually don't overclock mine, the 3.7-4.7 GHz performs well enough for me, and I like having the confidence that I'm not putting my system at risk. Other than being the heartbeat of a great computer, it's not terribly exciting.

CPU Cooler

I previously used a Hyper 212X, which I really liked, but it wasn't getting it done to cool an overclocked i7-8700K consistently. The Scythe Ninja 5 was affordable, and boasted excellent reviews. With some Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut, It lowered my temps down at least 15 degrees C over the Hyper 212X, and I am getting a stable 5.0 gHz overclock. At this speed, I am getting a 35 degree idle, 60-65 degree under regular load, and around 80 under full load using Folding@home or Handbrake. It does come with 2 800RPM fans, but I opted to use the two louder 2000RPM fans that came with my Hyper 212X. As far as the size goes, I LOVE HUGE HEATSINKS! It's fills out my rather large case nicely, and I even had a little room to place one of the included fans on top of the heatsink for just a bit more airflow. It does block some of the RGB on my ASUS Prime Z390-A motherboard, but I don't really care for the RGB anyway. If you use RGB RAM it will cover that up too. Installation, despite its size, was a breeze compared to the Hyper 212X. The bracket literally just slips through the 4 holes in the back without having to fasten bolts (I broke one installing the Hyper 212). Then the heatsink attaches to the bracket with only two springloaded screws. An extra long screwdriver is included, which you will need to screw in the heatsink. The fans can be attached after installing the heatsink, which simplifies installation even more.

Finally, the black at the top of the heatsink was a nice touch, matches the black interior of my case quite nicely. I can't think of any reasons to not buy this cooler unless your case is too small.

Thermal Compound

This is the best thermal paste that you can get without using liquid metal. Definitely was more effective than Arctic Silver 5, and I noticed my heatsink giving off more heat. In the future, I would buy the larger syringe, as it has an applicator that is easier to use than the spatula. Also, you will use more of this than you would with Arctic Silver. The manufacturer recommends the spread method, and that you fully cover the CPU with it. I originally tried the pea-size blob, and my thermals were worse than before I applied it. When I applied twice that, I got much better thermals.

Motherboard

I like this motherboard, but it had some drawbacks.

Pros: plenty of I/O connectivity lots of USB ports, including 3.1 Very solid, I wasn't concerned about breaking anything while building Came with all the screws needed, including that m.2 screw that most motherboard manufacturers don't provide Aura RGB - I wasn't looking for this as an option, but it's nice! Excellent overclocking features for newbies like me. AI Suite 3 is handy for testing out beginner overclocking features, but really, you should avoid installing this and OC straight from the BIOS. For the best results you can load a 5Gz OC profile in the BIOS and you will get a far cooler overclock than using AI Optimized overclocking.

Cons: Integrated sound was defective, constant buzzing from interference picked up in analog speaker cable from video cables. Every time the screen did anything, you'd hear it. UPDATE It turns out this was caused by a ground loop, and so for $8 I bought a "ground line isolator" on Amazon and the of blem is mostly solved. The buzzing is about 90% gone, but on occasion I can still hear it. only 1 m.2 heat sink? really? even though you have 2 m.2 ports? m.2 ports use up SATA ports when in use.

As I said above, the only real con I had was the constant buzzing noise. I think this was a defect, I don't think this was something that shows up on every motherboard, but it's definitely something to watch out for. My speakers are connected do a USB Audio Interface, so it wasn't really an issue for me, but I was disappointed.

Memory

Fast reliable DDR4 RAM that runs at 2133 MHz by default, but you can load an XMP profile and run it at 3200 MHz.

Storage

Better installation directions would have saved me some time and I wouldn't have wasted hours of my life trying to watch install videos but only finding annoying and useless unboxing videos on YouTube. All in all I had a happy ending, but when I first installed if, I only had about half of the performance that others had. I spent hours and hours trying to figure out why. I will share what I learned:

  1. Unless your MB came with one, order an m.2 screw and standoff for securing the SSD. It is not included in the box.

  2. Don't bother with trying to clone your system. You will have the wrong SATA drivers installed and even if you uninstall the old ones and install the new, it won't work the same, and you will end up with a fraction of the performance you should. Just plan on a clean install if you are serious about this drive.

  3. If this is your only boot drive, set it for AHCI. The Samsung NVMe driver and Magician software WILL NOT recognize the 970 EVO if it is in RAID, and you will want to use it for some extra performance. If you are installing 2 of them, go RAID 0, and instead of the NVMe driver you will use Intel Rapid Storage Technology with Optane Memory, and that will take the place of the Samsung software. Samsung Magician is not really that helpful anyway, it will let you overprovision but doesn't do much more. Do not bother with any procedure that changes windows from AHCI to Raid without reinstalling, you are asking for trouble.

I seriously thought I had a dud until I reinstalled Windows. Now I am getting read speeds of 3500 MB per sec.

Good luck, you will love this drive.

Storage

I've used this drive for about 4 years for all of my documents not on my boot disk. It has been very reliable and uses very little power. Considering the amount of power it uses, the data transfer speeds are pretty good.

Storage

So far, I have had no problems with this drive. It's almost as fast as a SSD using SATA II in data transfer speeds, I was pretty impressed. I am currently using it for all of our movies, and streaming them through our house instead of using bandwidth. This drive is great!

Video Card

With 3 super quiet fans, this card stays very cool even when it's being pushed to its limits. It's a very heavy card, weighing a couple pounds, and taking up the same amount of room as a GTX 1080 Ti. RTX 2060 can take just about anything you throw at it at 60FPS in 1440p. I haven't had an opportunity to try it with raytracing yet, but it will earn you a 8000ish score in TimeSpy. This particular model is the most tricked out version of the RTX 2060 you can find. The backplate makes the card extremely durable. RGB, 3 fans, backplate, and the highest overclock you can get from a manufacturer, unless you go with a SUPER series card, you won't get better than this. It will require an 8 pin connector and a 6 pin connector to power the card. The cooler is one of the best you will ever find for any card. Besides having 3 dust-resistant fans, upon teardown, you will find several different methods of keeping the card cool, and I have yet to see this card go past 62 degrees while playing anything, even with DX12 settings turned on.

Gaming wise, not sure exactly how this compares to other types of cards, but supposedly it can be overclocked to nearly match the 2070. When NVIDIA's GeForce Experience recommends "OPTIMAL" settings, this card exceeds its expectations, and you can usually get a bit more out of the settings than it estimates you can because of it's higher overclock and superior cooling.

While the SUPER series just came out, this card is perfect for the enthusiast who doesn't game frequently, but wants a system that can handle anything he or she wants to play. Also, supposedly the encoder rivals quicksync, which makes it better for use with video.

Case

Huge case, very easy to build in. The included front fans are illuminated white with LEDs. This is a good case for anyone who has lots of space. I actually put my PC on the floor to keep it off my desk. One panel is transparent so you can see inside. it has a 2nd chambers to hide away all your cables, and also to store your SSDs and power supply. It is very well ventillated, with openings on top, front, and back. 2 slots for 3.5 drives (DVDs and such). lots of space for 2.5" SSDs, and 2 internal bays for 3.5" HDDs. If you're into the stormtrooper color scheme, this one's definitely for you!

Power Supply

Clean, compact modular design. Eco button keeps the farm turned off until the PSU really needs the cooling. I've had this unit a year, and went to clean the dust out of it, only to find that it didn't need cleaning bc the fan never needed to come on. Since I have the Corsair Carbide Air 540, the PSU is housed on the "cool" side of the case with the optical drives and cables, so the fan never came on all year. When the fan is on, it's super quiet. It's rated for 650W But my PC never goes above 350 and I haven't had a single power related problem.

Optical Drive

Great Blu-Ray player, not so great at reading DVDs.

It'll do just fine playing a DVD to watch video, but if you are trying to rip DVDs or data, it only reads at 12x speed - my 10 year old HP reads at 48x. I was pretty disappointed. Otherwise, this is a good drive for all other purposes.

Monitor

Lives up to the UltraSharp name! I upgraded to this 2 years after release, but considering I was upgrading from a 2007WFP (great monitor in 2006), it was a pretty big step up. From what I understand, the 2715H is basically the same as the 2717D, maybe some USB ports are located differently and the interface is different. My primary use is DAWs, and this monitor gives me the resolution and real estate needed to lay everything out in front of me beautifully. I am 100% happy with this purchase. When choosing a monitor, I'd suggest looking at the youtube reviews of this so you can really see what you're getting into. Honestly, you can't go wrong with a Dell UltraSharp! They have never disappointed, and my old 20" lasted me 11 years!

A few caveats: 1 - UNLESS YOUR DEVICE HAS A MINI-DP PORT ON IT, BUY A FULL-SIZE DP CABLE! This monitor does come with a DisplayPort-to-miniDisplayPort cable (not sure why that one is the standard monitor cable). My video card only has HDMI and full size Display Ports on it, so I plugged the full size DP plug into my video card, and mini-DP into the monitor. It at first wouldn't recognize the mini-DP cable. I pushed it in further and it finally worked, but then, the frequent blackouts noted in other reviews ensued. I ended up running out to pick up a full size DP cable.

2 - USB PORTS ARE ALL ON THE BACK! I didn't realize this until I ordered, but it didn't make a huge deal to me. My old ultrasharp had 2 USBs on the port console in the back, and then 2 on the side (very convenient). This has 3 USBs close together and a 4th spaced by itself on the display port console in the back, and then a 5th mounted on the back side of the monitor (has battery charging power for your phone, nifty!). I would have preferred them on the side, but it's cool. But earlier might have made me decide between this and another monitor.

3 - Predates HDR - this monitor will not use the HDR effect offered in Windows 10, or new VIDEO card options. It's still a beautiful display, I honestly don't know what I'm missing, but if you are looking for that option, it's not included in this display.

Monitor

I am very satisfied with this monitor considering the price paid. Viewsonic matched a top notch flatpanel IPS screen with low-quality construction and connectors to give you simply a no-frills but impressively performing 1440p monitor with phenomenal color, Freesync , and 144 Hz refresh rate with 3ms (1ms with the strobing mode) at an unbelievable price point ($299). I love that it has a professional look to it, it doesn't look like a tricked out RGB gamer monitor. Just buyer beware, Viewsonic has 3 different products with nearly identical model numbers that are totally diffferent, one of them is only 1080p, and one is a TN panel.

Pros:

  • the Innolux panel inside is the main attraction here. It's an awesome monitor with minimal and even IPS glow that you'd only notice when the screen goes to all-black.

  • Phenomenal accurate color

  • 144Hz refresh rate, includes FreeSync (G-Sync compatible), low response times. I'm gonna admit, i don't really understand the various response time settings, but my understanding is, you set it on the middle setting (advanced?) and your graphics look great and motion is very clean.

Cons:

  • Poor build quality: the LCD panels is excellent, but everything around it is CHEAP. The outer shell is a very thin plastic, the stand is solid, but it literally only holds the monitor up. you can't raise or lower it, you can only tilt the screen like 5 degrees forward or 15 degrees backwards. Just plan on getting an aftermarket stand of some sort. Thankfully, it is VESA-compatible. No USB connectivity, or mini-DP ports.

  • UI is an absolute FAIL. I saw this in reviews, i thought, how bad could it be? Here's why: There are 5 buttons on the rear of the panel that allow you to change settings. If you use this as your primary monitor, and you have a 2nd monitor to the right, it blocks the panel. You can't change monitor settings from your PC, you HAVE to use the controls. So you're working on your PC in standard mode, and you decide to play a game, so you switch to FPS mode...you have to move your other monitor out of the way, reach behind it, and change view modes. Then, put your monitors back together. Also, the buttons are just a pain to use. I really wish there was software-based control.

What I worry about (why i gave it 4 stars):

  • in 144 Hz mode, i often experience screen tearing/flickering when just viewing a still image. So far, this has been my Windows background photo. It's annoying, and makes me not have too much confidence in the quality of this monitor. If you lower the refresh rate just a tad, it does not do this, but you have to be in 144 Hz mode for g-sync to work. I did see one other review on Amazon describing this problem.

  • it had some issues connecting via dP cable - my cable tends to come loose and the screen goes off, and I had to play with it to get it going. This happened twice.

When you are buying this monitor, you're mostly paying for the screen. It's an extremely well-made screen housed in a kinda junky frame. Everything else has been economized to keep the price low. I don't mind this, and considering similar monitors resembling this price point, the Viewsonic had the most consistently good reviews. It's absolutely worth the price that it's sold for, if you can get past the other features that you will rarely notice. Just be prepared to get a dud and have to send it back in case of quality control issues, it's always a risk with budget-monitors. As budget monitors go, this one is a GEM.

Mouse

Feels very comfortable to use, I really like it! I'm taking away a star because my wife hates it though. It fills out my hand nicely and is so much nicer to use than my stock Dell LED mouse from 8 years ago! The "Page Back" button is right underneath the windows button, so it's just too far forward to be pressed easily - probably more of an issue that my thumb is too short! I also can't find much practical use for the Windows button, since I'm just used to using the one on my keyboard, or clicking on the icon. I keep forgetting it's there.

Speakers

I use my PC mostly for sequencing/arranging on keyboards, sometimes editing digital audio, sometimes I just want to listen to awesome music that I can just turn up and just about bathe in. I used 2 Alesis M1Active 520 Powered Monitors and absolutely LOVED THEM, until after 10 years of making incredible sound, I'd turn them on, and over the past year they would start making random white noise - it kinda sounded like thunder the way it would creep in. I needed something comparable, and Alesis has discontinued them since, and aren't selling anything similar in terms of size, output and price range.

I felt like I was taking a risk with these Mackie MR524's. There very few reviews on line (newly released product?), but the price was right ($119 ea at the time), and the specs seemed just a tad nicer than the Alesis units. I have to say I am a little more satisfied with these than the Alesis monitors. The frequency response is very even, there's no noticeable resonance, their volume is pretty strong, and they have some controls to adjust some of the tweeter/woofer gains. The LED isn't terribly flashy, which is a good thing. It's a single green light on the front (which maybe turns red when it clips? I haven't experieced that yet). They sound pretty great: The highs are crisp, the lows are full-sounding, but everything is very well balanced. If you are one who likes loud thumping bass in your music, look elsewhere, these are not designed for that, but as a reference monitor, they are top-notch. There is also no residual noise like the Alesis units had. That may be because those units were old, but it's almost weired, you can't even tell they are on.

My one complaint is, and you should take note of this if it's an issue for you, the power switch is located on the back in a non-intuitive location. Alesis put theirs conveniently on the top surface of the unit, but these have a switch in the back. It's not worth taking a star off for that, but I didn't realize this when I bought them, just a pain to reach behind them to power them on or off.

These Mackie MR524s are great, and I am very happy with this purchase.

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Comments

  • 4 months ago
  • 1 point

Hold up... the two reviews on the Mackie speakers have the same "I felt like I was taking a risk..." thing.

Are you people being paid to leave good reviews on the speakers?

  • 4 months ago
  • 1 point

Nope, the other guy copy and pasted my original review on Amazon into his build. I addressed it under your comment on his build. I don't blame him, it was a solid review. ;) But thanks for asking, scandals are fun when you can't sleep in the middle of the night.

  • 4 months ago
  • 2 points

Never seen a copy-paste review before. First for everything though. Makes sense.

Was considering getting those speakers... might grab one for a future studio build.

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