My 2023 Workstation Build

I’ve been wanting a PC upgrade for a while, and after my brief experience with Framework, I decided to do a new workstation PC build. This article is inspired by Michael Stapelberg’s posts and contains the exact component list and some reasoning in case you’re considering a similar build.

The components

All the components ready to go.

I built my last PC around 2019. It ran a AMD Ryzen 3700X, 16GB of RAM, 1TB SSD, and a NVIDIA 2070 Super GPU. This time around, I was torn between building around an Intel 13700KF (16-core (8 perf, 8 efficiency), 24 threads, launched Q4-2022) and the AMD Ryzen 7800X3D (8-core, 16-threads, launched Q1-2023).

Rather than truly go bleeding edge, I’ve found it’s usually a much better value to invest in a good platform but stay several tiers down from the true top-of-the-line. At this price point, the 13700KF is likely a better value in terms of performance. However, LGA1700 likely won’t be around as long as AM5 (LGA1700 probably won’t support next generation’s Meteor Lake chips; AM5 should be good until 2025+). So, I opted for Team Red. It also helps that many consider the 7800X3D one of the best overall CPUs of 2023.

Components

Selecting compatible components with a good upgrade path feels like about 80% of the work of building a PC. This section lists my choices, along with some justifications.

TypeComponentPrice ($)
GPUGigabyte Radeon RX 7800 XT GAMING OC499.99
CPUAMD Ryzen 7800X3D358.99
MainboardASUS ROG Strix B650E-F (AM5, ATX)239.99
RAMG.SKILL Trident Z5 Neo (DDR5-6000, CL30, 2×32 GB)204.99
CaseFractal Torrent (solid steel)189.99
DiskSamsung 990 PRO (2 TB, PCIe Gen4)129.99
CPU CoolerNoctua NH-U12A (chromax.Black)129.95
Power SupplyCorsair RM850e (2023) (850 W, 80+ Gold)114.99

In total, including shipping and taxes, this cost $1989.34.

Fractal Torrent

Why a Fractal Torrent? First, it is highly reviewed [1, 2]. Second, Fractal has demonstrated integrity in the way they proactively handled their original fan hub recall (be sure to double-check your fan hub version, you want >= v1.1). Third, I wanted this build to be airflow focused. I have used all-in-one liquid coolers (AIOs) in the past, but I don’t like knowing that there is a “shelf-life”. When you want a highly reliable machine, and don’t need the absolute best cooling performance, you go air. The Torrent, with its absolutely massive 180 mm fans, gives some of the best possible air cooling performance currently available on the market. If I were to do it again, I’d probably grab the compact size since it would fit sideways on a typical 19“ server rack.

Note the intentional deviation from the typical glass side panel, RGB-ridden builds common today. My last PC had plenty of RGB, which ends up just annoying me at night. I want a well-cooled, silent workhorse I can leave on at night without being distracting. I was lucky to have snagged one of the last solid steel side panel variants I could find on any US-based online retailer.

This was my first experience with a Fractal case, and I’m happy to report (like others have), that building in it was a great experience.

the completed build

The completed build.

Another note on fans: remember to set good fan curves in the BIOS! These fans are so large and numerous, they really can spin at very low speeds (e.g., <600 rpm) the vast majority of the time, making the workstation nearly silent. I ended up putting all the case fans onto the built-in fan hub, and plugged the hub into the CHA_FAN3 header, which was easy to cable manage neatly.

Samsung 990 PRO

This is considered one of the fastest Gen 4 NVME drives available at time of writing. Its price point is also very competitive. However, this drive is not without its risks—specifically, accelerated drive health deterioration. While there is new firmware that supposedly fixes the issue, you need to be sure it is applied. And yes, you can still update the firmware using Linux.

Noctua NH-U12A

Why not the NH-D15 if I’m going to maximum air-cooling? It’s just a little too clunky. With the U12A you get almost the same cooling performance (an NSPR of 169 compared to the NH-D15’s 183, just 7.65% worse), with the meaningful benefit of 100% RAM compatibility. Eliminating that potential cause of incompatibility is worth both the increased price and the cooling tradeoff to me. I’d recommended Gamers Nexus’s review of CPU air coolers if you want a good survey of some of the competition (but they did not include the NH-U12A).

Build notes: Noctua includes a Y-adapter to connect the two fans to a single fan header on your motherboard. I didn’t use it because doing so results in a longer cable that is hard to route cleanly. Instead, I use the CPU and CPU_OPT fan headers, the front-most fan on the former and the rear fan on the latter. Then, in the BIOS, I set the fan curves to match (CPU_OPT corresponds with the AIO fan speed in the BIOS). This way, the length of the cables are just about right to easily tuck away. Also note that this cooler, like most, is not symmetrical! It overhangs one side more than the other. You need it to be oriented such that there is most space between the cooler and the RAM to fit the fan, otherwise, it will not fit.

ATX 3.0 and PCIe 5.0 PSU

PSU standards haven’t seemed to have changed much for a quite a while until recently with the latest generation of massive, power-hungry GPUs. If you’re making a new build, I’d suggest getting a PSU that supports ATX 3.0 and PCIe 5.0’s 12VHPWR GPU cables. While this isn’t strictly necessary, it means it will be easier to upgrade to more modern GPUs like the NVIDIA RTX 40 series without needing an extra converter.

PSU Compatibility

As usual when picking parts, be careful that things are compatible. For example, say you wanted a Corsair RM850x. You go shopping, and find that the older RM850x series doesn’t advertise ATX 3.0 and PCIe 5.0 compliance, but the newer version, the RM850x Shift does, so you just buy that.

This could be a mistake.

It turns out the RM850x Shift gets its name from putting the modular connectors on the side of the PSU, rather than the rear, which is great for many cases, but would could make it incompatible with others. For example, it requires the PSU to be installed with the fan facing downwards, which not all cases might want.

Don’t forget to enable EXPO

I purchased fast RAM so it could run fast! Just a reminder that it will not actually run at DDR5-6000 speeds unless you enable AMD EXPO in the motherboard BIOS. I have not noticed any stability issues running at the full speed thus far.

Fixing Slow Boot Times

Another thing to note with EXPO is that you may need to enable Memory Context Restore in your motherboard BIOS. In the case of the B650E board I have, this was set to “Auto” by default, which apparently meant: don’t do it if EXPO is enabled. Setting this will dramatically reduce the boot time since the same memory context is used. I have not noticed any instability as a result of this setting.

Remember to Update Your BIOS

Of all the things to remember to actively go update every once in a while, your BIOS is definitely one of those things. In my experience staying up to date solves a lot of little stability issues or annoyances you might see every once in a while. Importantly, this usually means going to check your manufacturer’s website, since your OS will not notify you when you’re out of date.

Dual-booting Linux and Windows

You may already know this, but if you are planning on dual-booting Windows and Linux, this is your friendly reminder that you should install Windows first, not Linux! (Unless you’re dual-booting Pop!_OS, which has instructions for the opposite.)

Another nice tip is that you can use Rufus to create a customized Windows installer that can do things like:

  • remove the requirement of 4 GB+ RAM, Secure Boot, and TMP 2.0
  • remove the requirement for an online Microsoft account
  • create a local account with a specified username automatically
  • disable data collection (skipping privacy questions)
  • disable BitLocker automatic device encryption

See this Framework guide for details.

Windows Experience

Windows did not have built-in drivers that worked for this motherboard’s networking. So, I had to get things set up without internet (Rufus makes this easy) and then copy drivers via USB to get everything installed. I also always make sure to update the BIOS, and get all the latest drivers from the GPU and motherboard manufacturer pages. I like Ninite for installing a set of basic software (VLC, Firefox, SumatraPDF, etc.). HWMonitor is also a handy way to make sure all temperatures look as expected while running a workload.

With all the drivers installed, everything functions as expected.

Linux: Trying Fedora 39

For the past several years, Pop!_OS has been my Linux distribution of choice. I liked the built-in tiling window manager (except for this frustrating bug, which has persisted since Nov 2020), and the built-in support for NVIDIA GPUs (which I used to have).

This time around, I thought I’d mix things up. I installed Fedora 39 Sway Spin. I have used i3 in the past and loved it. But, with Wayland growing, I thought now is as good a time as ever to jump in head first into a new Linux desktop experience.

With Linux, AFAIK, all drivers for everything worked out of the box! I have not run into any issues, and I’m thoroughly enjoying Fedora and sway. It feels good to have a lightweight and first-class tiling window manager again.

PC Building Resources

If you find yourself interested in building a PC, it’s probably never been easier. Two great resources I want to call out are:

  1. Logical Increments: This website provides a curated list of builds at price points ranging from ~$250 all the way up to ~$4000. This is valuable because it can give you a nice baseline of what kind of hardware people might go for at a particular price range, and then you can customize it to your needs. For example, at approximately my price house, they recommend an Intel i7 13700K, but I went with AMD due to the reasons above.
  2. PCPartPicker: While not totally exhaustive, this site is a fantastic way to select all your components and get a current lowest price for that set of components across a variety of retailers. A single retailer will almost never offer the best price for all the components in your build. Another nice feature is that it will call out some potential incompatibilities (though, you should always double-check yourself). For example here is a PCPartPicker list of my build.

Conclusion

I appreciate having a desktop workstation again. I made some pragmatic compromises in this build, but it is by far the fastest machine I’ve had at my desk. I also appreciate the clear upgrade paths I can take (e.g., a CPU upgrade without changing anything else). I imagine this base will last for many years to come.

Posts from blogs I follow

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Whistling is very nearly a pure sound wave, and a high one at that, which can sound thin and obnoxious. A few years ago I got excited about making whistling sound better by bringing it down a few octaves and synthesizing overtones, and built something t…

via Jeff Kaufman's Writing March 01, 2024

Logo: Clj-Reload

Clj-Reload is smarter way to reload Clojure code during development.

via tonsky.me March 01, 2024

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It's that time again, when code written in the past four years shows up in our lives and breaks something. Still, while you're enjoying the clown show of game companies telling people to manually set the clocks on their consoles and people not being ab…

via Writing - rachelbythebay February 29, 2024

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