AMD’s aging FX chips have long been a go-to for PC gamers on a budget, but Intel was the only real option for enthusiasts craving no-compromises performance. That changes today. The hotly anticipated Ryzen processors have finally arrived, and for the first time in a long time, you’re able to build a compelling high-end gaming PC using AMD hardware for both the CPU and the GPU.
So let’s have some fun and do just that.
You’ll want to check out PCWorld’s comprehensive Ryzen review for the full picture on this chip’s capabilities and caveats. This article’s much more straightforward: We’re building a rig with a Ryzen 7 1800X and Radeon Fury X to see how the liquid-cooled, fire-breathing pinnacle of AMD’s PC performance hangs in games. Buckle up.
This Ryzen 7 1800X build is a bit of a weird one. I didn’t realize a kit from AMD was headed my way, so when it appeared on my doorstep mere days before the annual Game Developers Conference kicked off this week, I was forced to scrounge for parts from the PCs I had around my office. The only case I could lay hands on with such short notice was a fairly pint-sized mid-tower, and given the massive closed-loop liquid-cooler AMD sent me, the build design and cable management got… interesting.
But I’m getting ahead of myself! First, here’s a look at what’s beating inside this beastly rig’s heart, starting with the star of the show.
Processor: The Ryzen 7 1800X ($500 on Amazon) is AMD’s new flagship processor—an 8-core, 16-thread beast with a mere 95W TDP and a sticker price that’s less than half—half—that of a comparable Intel processor, the $1,050 Core i7-6900K. Hot damn.
The Ryzen 7 1800X rocks stock clock speeds of 3.6GHz, ramping up to 4GHz when more oomph is required.
CPU cooler: Did I say the CPU boosts to 4GHz? While that’s technically true on the spec sheet, there’s more to the story—at least if you’re using certain hardware and software configurations. Ryzen chips with the “X” designation at the end of their name tap into AMD’s “eXtended Frequency Range” technology, which allows the processor to intelligently ramp up clocks even higher when you’re using liquid-cooling—or liquid nitrogen. The results are modest, however, with XFR enabling 4.1GHz speeds on the Ryzen 7 1800X.
AMD sent me the EKWB XLC Predator 240, a ferocious closed-loop water cooler designed by one of the biggest names in hardline water-cooling hardware. The Predator 240 can’t be purchased anymore, but this particular model features a bracket compatible with AM4 motherboards, a colorful Ryzen logo on the side of the radiator, and the Ryzen name etched into the waterblock itself. It’s seriously sexy—and big. Fingers crossed we might be able to buy it again some day.
Graphics card: AMD’s liquid-cooled flagship CPU begs to be paired with the most powerful AMD graphics card around, so using the Radeon Fury X ($700 on Amazon) was a no-brainer—especially since it features an integrated closed-loop cooler of its own.
The Fury X is teetering on edge-of-life status itself, with the little stock that’s available at online retailers typically selling for far more than what the graphics card’s worth these days. The shelves are starting to clear for Radeon Vega’s arrival next quarter. But while the Fury X has since been surpassed in performance by Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080, AMD’s aging flagship still offers plenty of firepower for kick-ass 1440p and entry-level 4K gaming experiences, as you’ll see later. You’ll sometimes find the card online for between $300 and $350, which is a much more palatable price for this particular graphics card.
Motherboard: AMD sent along one of its top-end X370 motherboards in my Ryzen kit, Gigabyte’s Aorus AX370-Gaming 5, which is theoretically $195 on Amazon and Newegg but out of stock in both stores as I write this. (Demand for Ryzen preorders is high.)
This board’s loaded with most every feature you could want: USB and SATA ports galore, integrated “RGB Fusion” lighting, high-end audio chops with dual chips, Smart Fan 5 technology with nine temperature sensors, dual LAN ports powered by Killer ethernet E2500 technology, M.2 and U.2 SSD support—you name it, and the Aorus AX370-Gaming 5’s got it. As an AM4 motherboard based around the X370 chipset, it also offers support for multi-GPU SLI/CrossFire setups and CPU overclocking. (Learn more about the crucial differences in every AM4 chipset.)
Memory: AMD’s Ryzen platform uses DDR4 memory rather than DDR3, so unless you’re coming from an Intel Skylake, Kaby Lake, or Haswell-E build, you won’t be able to reuse your RAM. Ryzen also favors dual-channel memory configurations. AMD sent along a 16GB (2 x 8GB) kit of Corsair’s 3,000MHz Vengeance LPX low-profile DDR4 RAM ($110 on Amazon) in my reviewer’s kit.
Storage: The first rule of time-sensitive PC builds: Keep it simple, stupid. This rig complies, relying on a single 256GB Intel SSD 600p Series M.2 NVMe SSD ($100 on Newegg) for storage. That turned out to be a blessing, as you’ll discover later.
Power supply: On the flip side, anything worth doing is worth overdoing, so we used Corsair’s premium AX1200i power supply with 80 PLUS platinum efficiency ($310 on Amazon) in this build despite it being wildly overkill for the hardware involved. The fact that it was what I had on hand didn’t hurt, either. And the first competitive AMD high-end CPU/GPU combo demands a similarly swanky PSU—right?
Case: The final hardware component of the build is the part that made it tricky. Corsair’s Carbide 400C ($100 on Amazon) is a damned fine, downright-affordable mid-tower case—but one that skews towards the smaller side. It’s perfect for traditional PCs built around a single graphics card and an air-cooled CPU. This build, however, not only uses a 240mm liquid cooler, it uses a relatively gigantic 240mm liquid cooler, and the Fury X uses its own liquid cooler with a 120mm radiator—and both coolers feature dual cable loops connecting the water blocks to the radiators.
Operating system: Windows 10 ($120 on Amazon) is the only way to properly game on PCs... at least if you plan on using the DirectX 12 games AMD’s been heavily touting for Ryzen CPUs and Radeon graphics cards.
Add it all up—using the original $200 MSRP for the EKWB cooler as well as a sane $350 asking price for the Fury X rather than the current inflated number—and you’re looking at a grand total of $1,985. That’s not cheap, but remember, a comparable Intel build would cost $550 more.
This is also way more hardware than the modest case was made to accommodate. Let’s dig in!
Next page: Building the beast