Help me spec out a new work at home PC?

I concur, with the caveat that I would avoid spinning HDDs and just stick with M.2 for the C: drive and SSD for a D: drive. If you even need a D: drive.

That’s fair. I was being cheap. :slight_smile:

Checking the link again, it did fall to $1200! and I do have a Micro Center store nearby, 22 miles away. Might be time to pull the trigger…

Not to stay hung up on Intel, just out of curiosity, but how does an AMD Ryzen 5 5600X 3.7GHz Processor compare to Intel-- a quick googling shows that they’re benchmarked against i5s, and I was kind of shooting for an i7 level. Not that i5 wouldn;t be sufficient for what I need though.

For Intel I would recommend an i5 11600K. It’s the only 11th gen Intel that’s worth the money when compared to its 10th gen counterpart. (The Gamers Nexus review of the i7 11700K called it a “waste of sand.”)

I can’t in good conscience recommend anything other than that MicroCenter sale. It’s just too good if you have one 22 miles away.

I’m still going to finish speccing a build-your-own to give you context, but I would say you should probably try to grab the MicroCenter system tomorrow. (Give me a half hour to finish my spec first, though.)

EDIT: Userbenchmark says the i5 11600K is a “100” compared to the Ryzen 5 5600’s “92”. So essentially a wash between the two. So I’d say that Ryzen is the exact right one for you if you go AMD.

Seconded. :+1:

Just for context, here’s a “luxury” build-your-own system I would recommend for you where all the parts are really friggin’ nice: PCPartPicker List

Here’s a repost of DMC’s MicroCenter link for easy reference/comparison.

Details of the pcpartpicker list for building your own:

Price Component Details
$251.38 Motherboard ASUS TUF Gaming Z590 WiFi
$259.99 CPU Intel i5 11600K
$109.95 Cooler Noctua NH D15 black
$69.98 RAM 16 GB Crucial Ballistix DDR4 3600
$176.80 Hard Drive 1 TB Samsung 980 Pro PCIe 4.0
$149.00 Power Supply Seasonic Focus Plus 750W Platinum
$122.98 Case Fractal Design Meshify 2 Compact Black
$139.88 Windows Windows 10 Pro 64-bit OEM
$1,279.96 plus tax

Notice how there is no video card. The i5 11600K comes with the UHD 750 integrated graphics I was slagging on earlier. If it turns out to be underpowered for your needs, you’d be spending probably another $300 on a 5-year-old re-issued GTX 1050 ti or something.

Here’s the reasoning behind the choices, along with things to consider with the MicroCenter prebuilt:

Motherboard
My two top motherboard brands are MSI and ASUS. The ASUS TUF Gaming Z590 comes with WiFi but not Bluetooth, while the MicroCenter one (brand unknown) is a B550 with Bluetooth but no WiFi. No clue if you need either WiFi or Bluetooth. The ASUS is definitely PCIe 4.0, while the MicroCenter system specs only mention PCIe 4.0 for the video card. I am unable to confirm if either of them are Windows 11 upgradable. (ie: Do they have TPM 2.0? No idea, the spec sheets don’t say.)

CPU
As stated previously, the Intel i5 11600K is essentially a wash with (slightly ahead of) the MicroCenter system’s AMD. The 11600K can be overclocked if you’re into that kind of thing.

Cooler
The Noctua NH D15 is really nice. The thing with Noctua is that their stuff is top tier but a fugly tan/brown color. This Noctua, however, is just plain black. If you google “what cooler for i5 11600K” this is the answer google spits out. This cooler should be plenty good enough for moderate overclocking.

RAM
I like Crucial for memory, and 16 GB should be plenty and that’s what the MicroCenter system comes with also. This Crucial memory is 3600 compared to MicroCenter’s 2666, so it’s (much?) faster. I can’t find what brand the MicroCenter memory is.

Video Card
None for the build your own, an $800 3060 for the MicroCenter. We’re pretty much done here with just this one line item. The deal is too good, I think, to pass up.

Hard Drive
Both systems come with just a single M.2 drive, but this 1 TB Samsung 980 Pro is both twice the size of the MicroCenter system as well as definitely being PCIe 4.0. The MicroCenter system makes no mention of the PCIe version, meaning it’s probably PCIe 3.0 which would be slower. Also no brand name is mentioned. Samsung is a very good name for M.2 and SSD drives.

Power Supply
I’ve penciled in a luxury Seasonic Platinum 750W, which is probably overkill but when I downgraded to 650W (and 550W) pcpartpicker threw exceptions. Something about how it doesn’t come with enough cables for the motherboard. The 750W says fully compatible, and hey, Platinum. No idea the brand name or rating (probably Gold) on the MicroCenter system, but it’s 650W, which is pretty much perfect for the system.

Case
The Fractal Meshify 2 Compact is a definite luxury case. Fractal cases just ooze “Wow this is nice!” I chose the solid black case but you could also go for tempered glass. It’s 8.27" wide, 18.70" tall, 16.69" deep compared to the shockingly small MicroCenter Lian Li budget case, which is 6.98" wide (too narrow for many/most modern coolers), 14.53" tall (?!), 13.35" deep (?!). That case is tiny. Lian Li cases are also quite nice, but it’s a $55 case so not sure how nice. And it could be problematic down the line in terms of upgrading. More likely you’d just replace it.

Also, both cases have two 3.0 USB front ports, but the fractal case also comes with a USB-C front port while MicroCenter’s Lian Li case does not. The motherboard probably has a USB-C back port, or you could just get an adapter, so this is more of a luxury thing than a necessity.

Windows
Both are Windows 10 Pro.


My only real concern with the MicroCenter system is how very very small the case is. Assuming you buy it, I would think of it as a non-upgradable black box system beyond maybe tossing in two more ram sticks and maybe an SSD data drive.

Wow, thanks for that detailed breakdown, @EllisDee! I see nothing in there to dissuade me from the Micro Center purchase; I believe I may make a store run tomorrow.

Thanks for everybody else’s advice as well!

If and when I do pull the trigger on this and get set up, I will report back with results and thoughts.

Excellent choice, and please do report back on how it goes.

I just really enjoy playing with pcpartpicker so I had a bunch of fun putting that together.

And to reiterate DMC’s excellent advice:

While I disagree that you need more memory right off the bat (16 GB should be plenty for the next few years), it would be awesome to toss a second drive in there for data. I’m thinking a regular 2.5" SSD drive, around $100 for 1 TB. You might even be able to get them to install it for you for free if you buy it from them, but if not, or if you don’t like the selection they have, just order one from Newegg or Amazon or whatever.

If you do – and it kind of seems like a no-brainer that you should – and it’s something you order from somewhere else, don’t forget that you’ll need a SATA cable to connect it. SSD drives don’t come with SATA cables.

Here’s the one I’d recommend on Amazon, listed as $134:

SAMSUNG 870 EVO 1TB 2.5 Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-77E1T0B/AM) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08QBJ2YMG/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_glt_fabc_9Q7KMBP209VNYT9BZCG6

Since the nearest one is 22 miles away, I thought there might be a chance you’ve never been in a Micro Center before. If that’s the case, and if you happen to be a bit of a nerd, it can be a dangerous place. Our office is about 1000 yards away from one, and back when I worked in the office before all this shit hit the fane, I’ve stopped by at lunch to pick up something like an ethernet cable, only to walk out two hours later $500 worth of various things that weren’t even on my mind 5 minutes earlier.

Consider yourself warned! :warning:

This at least shouldn’t be a problem for anything sold today. The TPM is built into the processor these days, and the motherboards built to handle those CPUs will have the option in the “BIOS” to enable it. And it will be turned on by default for any prebuilts (as that’s a Microsoft requirement to have them loaded with Windows 10).

That said, I don’t really see any rush to upgrade to Windows 11 at this time. There really aren’t any killer features, and Windows 10 support only ends in 2025.

I also wouldn’t worry about the RAM speed too much. With my current Ryzen 5 3600, I’ve not really found a noticeable difference running my RAM as low as 2100Mhz (which I did to try and troubleshoot an issue. Turns out it was a Windows thing, as an update fixed it). I get that, in synthetic loads, faster RAM really helps Ryzen processors, but I don’t think the real world gains are all that notable.

The one thing I would check is that it’s running in dual channel mode (i.e. it has two sticks). If not, then I would probably be ready to upgrade as soon as I could. (Though I guess try it out and see if you notice.)

The machine in question has 2 sticks and 4 slots for memory. Micro Center is typically very good about sharing the exact specs and parts on PowerSpec (their in house brand) machines, but you have to get used to their interface as it’s a separate tab.

Here’s the motherboard in the machine:

The memory configuration:

DDR4-2666

2 x 8GB

Oh nice, an ASUS motherboard. Looking it up on Newegg, I like it.

Also it says that it has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so that’s a nice bonus.

Thank you so much for this. It didn’t answer my question but spurred me on to finally (just now) figure out how to successfully enable TPM 2.0. I’m so happy!

From what I could gather, TPM is in the chipset, not the cpu. My limited understanding is that any Intel chipset from 100 series or later has TPM 2.0. I have a Z490 motherboard, meaning the 400 series chipset. (As opposed to, say, a Z590 which would be the 500 series.)

It was indeed disabled by default, being a build-your-own, but was easy enough to enable. And now I have and I’m just so happy about that.

Not that I want to upgrade to Windows 11 anytime soon. But I would like to upgrade right before the “upgrading is free” window expires, and up until just now I didn’t think I would be able to without buying a TPM 2.0 hardware module. The idea of that was super annoying to me because scalpers bought up all the $13 modules and are listing them on eBay for $80 to $100.

But now I don’t have to do that, and it looks like I can upgrade to Windows 11 whenever I want. Woohoo!

Maybe

i5 (or i7 if it will fit within the budget), making sure that it can be used with Win 11

16 GB RAM (or 8 if overbudget)

motherboard where more RAM can be added (if needed) and is Win 11-ready (with TPM, etc.)

SSD, 1 TB (or 500 GB if overbudget), with at least one hard drive for archived data), and one external drive for a local backup of at least the system drive

mid-range video card

casing with enough air flow (and space for easier removal and installation of components), vents for quiet fans, and probably non-maintenance liquid cooling (depending on the climate and condition of the room), preferably with enough USB and similar ports at the back, in front, and on top (if needed, together with one for a card reader), and things like magnetized, removable screens on the outside of vents for easy cleaning

I’m not convinced the Microcenter PC is the best choice for the OP.

It’s not bad and it will certainly do the job but most any PC could. Presumably the OP wants something that is reasonably fast for the task.

The OP wants Photoshop and Illustrator to run well. Not interested in games.

So, the ideal PC will have a lot of memory (16GB minimum…32GB would be better), a LOT of storage (and ideally fast storage), a good CPU and a mediocre video card (that’s where the money savings come). Also, if doing Photoshop, I would assume decent I/O options (fast USB and card readers).

But the recommendations, so far, aren’t really hitting that mark.

I am hard pressed to find a pre-built that hits those marks for $1500 or less. They just do not have a person like this in mind when making a pre-built system for $1500. They expect this kind of PC to be for professional use and charge a lot more for a workstation class PC.

When you say mediocre video card, what are you thinking, like a 1650?

And by good CPU you mean like an i7 10700? (Saving money by getting the 10 series.)

Something more like this?

i7 10700, 16 GB, 1 TB M.2 drive, $999.99. then separately buy another 16 GB of RAM for around $80 plus $400 on a 1650 maybe? 1550? 1050 ti?

True, but they do want to run dual monitors at 2K. I used to run dual (triple, actually) monitors at 2K, but then moved to a single 4k large monitor instead, and can’t imagine going back. Not saying the OP will do so, but with this system, they can. It will also handle the dual monitors without breaking a sweat.

Also, a 3090 isn’t really needed as it will barely beat a 3070 in Photoshop. That said, a 3090 WILL beat a 3070. The benchmark I display below recommends a 3070 as the sweet spot, but that’s quite a bit more expensive these days.

I completely agree and even made the recommendation to move to 32 GB. There’s room for 2 more sticks at about $70 total to accomplish that.

Depends on needs, but sure. I’ll also note that the benchmark at the bottom states that while NVMe are much faster (and more expensive), even SSDs are fast enough that they are hardly ever the bottleneck:
Toss in this for $159, with system purchase:

Perhaps you want 8 TB at $750:

It has a good CPU. The benchmark below recommends the Ryzen 7 5800x as the sweet spot, as Photoshop seems to top out at the 8 core mark. This one has 6 and has about 90% of the performance of that much much more expensive chip.

Video card performance does matter. It’s just not as important to get the top of the line as it would be for gaming. The one in the above machine will outperform a GTX 1650 or similar. Adobe also constantly expands GPU acceleration functionality.

The system has:
Top-front panel:
2 x USB 3.1 (Gen 1 Type-A) (5 Gbps)

Back panel:
2 x USB 3.1 (Gen 2 Type-A) (10 Gbps)
4 x USB 3.1 (Gen 1 Type-A) (5 Gbps)

I’d be hard pressed to find something the OP is likely to do where that will be the bottleneck.

As for card readers, you can get an insanely good one for around $50.

And this is my point. Sure, they can get a Mac Pro and beat the above system in Photoshop, but that’s $6K and not all that much better for performance. I don’t think it’s the perfect system for the OP. I think it’s a system that they will be extremely happy with and it will even be a bit future proof for the next few years as needs potentially change. I don’t actually work for Micro Center so don’t really care where they spend their money. I just do know a bargain when I see one and this one is incredible. It’s also easy to upgrade the few areas that might show improvement, such as RAM.

Benchmark used (and I absolutely love this particular company as it’s where I get my machine learning monsters, but their recommended system costs over $3K and only slightly outperforms the one above in the Adobe Suite):

I would definitely not get a QVO drive, and I also wouldn’t get a 2.5" SSD. In my opinion it’s M.2 NVMe or bust, at least for the C: drive. Preferably PCIe 4.0.

EDIT: On reread I see you’re talking about a D: drive. 2.5" definitely makes sense there since most motherboards (including the one in question) only come with a single PCIe 4.0 M.2 slot; any additional ones are PCIe 3.0. But I would still avoid QVO drives.

And I don’t take issue with that because, as I noted, NVMe is drastically faster. It’s just more expensive and not particularly necessary for this type of work, according to the above benchmark. If they don’t care about their budget, get a second NVMe as opposed to the standard SSD, but be prepared to pay.

Edit: this says that the motherboard has 2 M.2 slots, but perhaps I missed something.