You may have noticed that buying new gaming hardware is tough these days. Unless the brand is Intel, finding a new CPU or GPU is a nightmare. Newegg has even begun raffling off spots to purchase individual items and combos to help deal with the influx of buyers.
So for my first build of the year, we’re starting off light. We reached into the garage to get our gear — some current-gen, some last-gen — with the goal of building a mid-range rig that’s game-ready for today’s titles. Something that will easily last a few years, if necessary. And will, at the least, tide over any gamer through the lack of available purchase options.
- AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
- ASUS TUF Gaming B550-Plus Motherboard
- Oloy Warhawk RGB 16GB DDR4 3000MHz (8GB x2)
- ASUS TUF Gaming LC 240mm RGB Liquid Cooler
- ASUS TUF Gaming X3 Radeon RX 5700 XT
- EVGA SuperNOVA GA 650W PSU
- ASUS TUF Gaming GT501 Case
- Samsung EVO 840 250GB
All this muscle runs around $1,412; a quick search will reveal everything is available to purchase today except the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X and ASUS TUF Gaming AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT. Both are out of stock just about everywhere.
Graphics Card – ASUS TUF Gaming X3 Radeon RX 5700 XT
The reference AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT is already a high-performance graphics card. It’s primed for 1080p and 1440p gaming. ASUS ups the performance with the TUF Gaming X3 Radeon RX 5700 XT by overclocking the GPU and with better air cooling.
This performance boost comes in part thanks to improved cooling. The X3 utilizes an axial-tech frame design that disperses air more directly downwards, forcing hot air out faster in all directions. This method is more efficient at thrusting air at the heatsink and getting it out once it’s heated up.
ASUS has also improved the fan design, promising double the fan life thanks to the use of ball bearings in the fans. These ball bearings rest under the fan and reduce friction when the fan spins. It’s an ingenious method to increase the lifespan of the 5700 XT triple-fan system.
If you can find a 5700 XT — surely a daunting task these days (!) — the ASUS TUF Gaming X3 Radeon RX 5700 XT is a solid choice.
Motherboard – ASUS TUF Gaming B550-Plus
For this build we chose to use the latest CPUs from AMD (that we were barely able to snag), so AM4 support was the top priority. That brings us to the ASUS TUF Gaming B550-Plus, an ATX motherboard built for high-performance gaming that won’t empty your Venmo account.
The B550-Plus has a little bit of everything: support for up to 128GB of DDR4 RAM through 4x DIMM; HDMI 2.1 and Displayport ports; 6 PCIe expansion slots (1 x16 PCIe 4.0, 2 x16 PCIe 3.0 [1 in x4 if using both], and 3 x1 PCIe 3.0); 2 M.2 slots and 6 Sata ports; 14 USB ports (8 rear, 6 front, including USB 3.2, USB 3.1, and USB-C); and a ton of additional bells and whistles.
One of the core selling points for the ASUS TUF Gaming B550-Plus is how sturdy it is, and that’s absolutely true. This is an upgrade-ready mobo, and a travel-ready one too. Combined with the carry-friendly ASUS TUF Gaming GT501, you don’t have to worry about damaging this military-grade hardware.
Even with our mid-tier build, I’m impressed with the upgradeability of the B550-Plus. There’s plenty of space for multiple GPUs, every possible connection you’ll need (at least for the next ten years), and the peace-of-mind that you get from a durable motherboard.
Case – ASUS TUF Gaming GT501
There are PC cases, and then there are towers. The ASUS TUF Gaming GT501 is the latter, a finely fabricated piece of metal and glass that’s imposing yet subtle, showy yet muted. This is the sort of case that if your kid asked for you’d be proud…and jealous. So buy it for yourself instead.
Gunmetal grey throughout, the GT501 supports up to EATX motherboards. This mid-tower is 552mm x 215mm x 545mm and weighs just over 23lbs. The front panel pulls in air from the beveled sides, so the case looks cool and requires no front-panel grate. And don’t worry about airflow, three 120mm fans pump out from the front and another 140mm shoots air out the back.
And while all of this is impressive enough, we can’t forget how cool the GT501 looks. This tower is a borg cube, ready to be as showy as you like. The 4mm thick tempered glass panel is perfect for showing off your rig. The entire motherboard is visible, so the full Aura Sync RGB lighting is always in effect, including the front fans and any hardware that supports it.
Even the top load-baring cotton-woven handles are a nice touch, no matter how far you plan on carrying your gaming rig. They’re daunting, like the straps on a rugged piece of equipment. And it feels good to carry; I’ve lugged it up stairs and between rooms and it doesn’t feel like a carrying a massive gaming PC. It feels like a professional-grade move, like carrying sturdy machinery. That’s what the GT501 is, a powerful pro-grade gaming tower.
Liquid Cooling – ASUS TUF Gaming LC 240mm RGB Liquid Cooler
No gaming PC is finished without proper liquid cooling, and this build is no exception. ASUS partnered with Asetek to produce the TUF Gaming LC 240mm RGB Liquid Cooler, perfect for our rig to cool down the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X, for additional airflow up out of the tower, and for some sweet lighting over the CPU.
Installation is super simple: once the proper AM4 brackets are installed on the liquid cooler and the CPU is inserted into the motherboard, just plug and play. Thermal paste is already on the head, so once the fans are screwed in, you’re good to go. And of course the cooler supports most Intel chipsets too.
With the TUF Gaming LC 240mm I was able to overclock the 5600X with an average 17% improvement over the included air cooler.
Great Performance For 2021, And Beyond
So how’s performance? Out of the box, awesome. At 1080p we’re running Cyberpunk 2077. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla all over 60FPS without breaking a sweat at high spec. This wasn’t a surprise; the RX 5700 XT is more than powerful enough to handle these titles at HD.
At 1440p is when we see sub-60FPS performance. Again, not surprising; this mid-tier GPU from Summer 2019 is slightly dated. When running Valhalla I averaged 55-60FPS, though dropping as low as 26FPS. Thanks to the native overclocking on the 5700 XT we see better performance than the reference model, and with the improved cooling options we were able to go even further.
And in my own testing using ASUS GPU Tweak II, I was able to squeeze out more performance at almost no cost on the system. The TUF Gaming 5700 features up to 1870MHz core clock in the default OC mode and 1980MHz in boost mode. That’s almost 100MHz above what AMD offers natively. In my own usage I safely increased the core clock to 2130MHz. This resulted in a pleasant jump, where all three titles at 1440p averaged over 60FPS.
For clarity: Cyberpunk 2077 had an average of 73FPS; Black Ops Cold War had an average of 65FPS; and Valhalla had an average of 63FPS. All titles dropped down to the 30s in really graphically-heavy segments, but it was nothing that the RX 5700 XT couldn’t handle.
Phenomenal Cosmic Power, in a Big ‘ol Rugged Case
All this performance comes in a big package, one ready for upgrades and travel. With Covid still in play, gaming at home is both more acceptable and more accessible, so the travel friendliness of the ASUS TUF Gaming GT501 almost hurts. Sure, you can use it to jump between friend’s houses to game over LAN, but try to be safe and upgrade your internet instead to play online with them.
With this rig, you’ll want to show it off. And with the power inside it, doing so won’t be a challenge. Even with just a 650W power supply, every gaming need is met with our garage build. Of course this is only one of many rigs we’ll be building this year, so stay tuned for more from CoolNation!