The CPU

Introduction

Here at The Tech Buyer’s Guru, it's our goal to make building PCs easier for everyone, from first-time builders to veterans. And when a new platform comes out, everyone can feel like a beginner again, for better or for worse. So it is with AMD's new Ryzen platform, which may well revolutionize the way PC users think about processors. But first, we have to learn to build a Ryzen PC, which is what this guide is all about! Note that if you need help navigating basic PC building techniques that apply to all systems, check out our Guide to Assembling a High-End PC (2017), which goes into a lot more detail on case setup, cabling, and cooling.

Truth be told, our Ryzen guide was in the making for quite some time, and unfortunately got a bit sidetracked due to component failure. Yes, indeed folks, this really does happen, and it happened with gear provided to us directly by AMD, no less. After we met with AMD back in January 2017 at CES in Las Vegas, we provided some fairly detailed coverage of what was in store with Ryzen. That may have encouraged AMD to send along a sample, which you can see in the photo above. Trust us, we didn't ask for it! As regular readers of TBG know, we never ask for CPU or GPU samples, because we firmly believe that requesting samples of performance-related items like CPUs and GPUs limits journalistic freedom and potentially taints the entire evaluation. No cherry-picked gear for us! Funny, then, that the $250 Asus Crosshair VI Hero that AMD provided us, which happens to be Asus' premier X370 board, failed out of the box.

After spending days messing around with our newly-built system and failing to receive any response from AMD when we notified them of the issue, we took it upon ourselves to make the best of the situation. That meant, of course, that we'd go out and pick our own motherboard to test the potent Ryzen 7 1700 CPU that AMD sent along with the defective Crosshair VI. Luckily, the Gigabyte GA-AB350-Gaming 3 that we selected worked perfectly from the moment we pressed the power button, and our positive experience with it meant that we could go ahead and publish this guide, and more importantly, recommend Ryzen to our readers.

With that being said, here's the full parts list for this build:

The parts

  1. CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 1700 (thank you to AMD for providing this review sample)
  2. Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-AB350-Gaming 3
  3. Video Card: Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury Nitro+ 4GB
  4. SSD #1: Samsung SM951 256GB
  5. SSD #2: Crucial MX300 525GB
  6. RAM: GeIL 2x8GB Super Luce DDR4-3000
  7. Case: Thermaltake View 31 TG RGB
  8. CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D15S (thank you to Noctua for providing this review sample)
  9. CPU Cooler Adapter: Noctua NM-AM4 (thank you to Noctua for providing this review sample)
  10. Power Supply: EVGA Supernova G2 850W
  11. Operating System: Windows 10 Flash Drive

As mentioned above, our Asus ROG Crosshair VI Hero failed out of the box, but it wasn't a catastrophic failure, which made it all the more vexing. Upon our initial attempts at power up, the system would hang at the Windows install, so we used a tried-and-true approach: booting with one stick of RAM in the second slot. This did the trick, but as it turned out, the problem was fairly serious. After much trial-and-error, we discovered that the board's B channel was completely dead. The system would get a few seconds into the boot process with a stick of RAM in either B slot as long as there was also RAM in an A slot, but as soon as the system started addressing both slots, it would hang. Furthermore, even with one stick of RAM in an A slot, we found frequency and module support was incredibly limited. What a headache!

Long story short, once we decided to ditch the Crosshair and switch it out for the much less expensive (and infinitely-less defective!) Gigabyte B350 board, we also decided to find RAM that would be guaranteed to perform as spec'd. Our GeIL 2x8GB Super Luce DDR4-3000 offers up some very rare traits: it's made up of single-sided, single-rank DDR4-3000 8GB sticks. On the Ryzen platform, these characteristics are prized, because the memory controller is unusually sensitive to extra loads put on it. We knew going in that Ryzen platform has limited multipliers available to users, and 3000MHz isn't one of them. Our Gigabyte motherboard automatically parsed the XMP Profile (which is an Intel standard) to set our DDR4-3000 CAS 15 RAM to DDR4-2933 CAS 16. That was good enough for us, and we left it as is without further tweaking. Ryzen's growing pains haven't been any more obvious than in this area, but the good news is that things are finally starting to get ironed out. Even so, we're going to insist that our readers consult each motherboard's Memory Support List (sometimes referred to as a QVL) to select memory, and our PC Buyer's Guides will only include such memory for Ryzen-based system.

There was another issue that we had to navigate in setting up a Ryzen system, and that was the matter of CPU coolers. AMD told us back in January 2017 that it had partnered with Corsair and Noctua to bring out highly-capable coolers that would be ready to push Ryzen to its limits at launch. We didn't understand the significance of that at the time, but in retrospect, it's become brutally clear that AMD in fact didn't have enough aftermarket coolers in the pipeline that would work with the new AM4 socket. This was a critical error, particularly in light of the fact that the highest-end Ryzen CPUs didn't include stock coolers. Buyers of the $400 Ryzen 7 1700X and $500 Ryzen 7 1800X could very well have gone weeks after launch without the ability to turn on their systems for want of a cooler. We watched in amusement as the cooler market turned upside down, with ancient Corsair Hydro coolers that included AM2-specific mounts selling at huge premiums, as AM4 was made backwards-compatible with these older mounts. Alas, most coolers didn't have the necessary hardware in the box, and we were lucky to get an AM4 kit direct from Noctua. Lucky in more than one way, as Noctua's entire supply of AM4 adapters in the retail channel dried up within a day of Ryzen's March 2 launch.

Of course, no AMD build would be complete without an AMD Radeon GPU, and so we pulled out our R9 Fury Nitro+ from Sapphire. As it happens, upon its release, this video card was the fastest air-cooled Radeon ever, and it's held that title for over a year. AMD's long-awaited RX Vega, arriving at the end of Q2'17, will finally relieve the Fury of its title, but that kind of longevity speaks volumes both to the Fury's potency and the delays that have beset Vega. 

There are several components that we've reused from other builds, and we're not going to dwell on their specifics for purposes of this guide. These include the striking Thermaltake View 31 case, which we reviewed here, the always-reliable EVGA Supernova G2 850W power supply, which has lived many lives for us here at TBG, and a couple of high-quality SSDs, including the now-venerable Samsung SM951, the progenitor of the ground-breaking 950 Pro. With the release of Ryzen, AMD finally offers broad support for PCIe-based solid-state drives, so we thought it worthwhile to put this feature to the test.

OK, with all that out of the way, let's move on to the building process!

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