New PC Build for 2019

Well 2 years have passed so the time has come again for a PC upgrade! My goals for this year are simple: build smaller and break the 2-year cycle. :-) Certainly from a CPU/ memory perspective there is diminishing value upgrading this often. The biggest changes in the consumer PC space right now are around storage and graphics, which should last 4-6 years before driving the next upgrade I estimate. CPU performance just isn't that dramatically different from prior generations to necessitate upgrades this often, never mind the fun factor of doing a new build of course.
This was a tough year to do a build I felt, which is always complicated a bit by building Small Form Factor (SFF), but part selection generally seemed more difficult than previously. It's easy to build a maximum high-end PC with parts clearly designated to that category, but value for money is tough to justify unless you really need the horsepower. I'll explain more below in the part selection sections below.

Check out a few of my previous builds: 2017, 2015, 2013

This year's final build, read on to see what's inside!

Motherboard - ASRock Phantom ITX

I typically build mATX but had to do an honest assessment if that was still necessary now. In prior builds, DIMM sizes dictated 4 slots to hit 32GB affordably, plus I wanted another PCIe slot should I decide to run SLI. The truth is, I will never run SLI, I just won't and now 16GB DIMMs are much more affordable so I can get by with 2 to net my desired 32GB. My need to build mATX just isn't there anymore so I decided to look at mini-ITX. While Asus is my usual mobo brand of choice I found their ITX space not only too expensive with low supply but also several reliability concerns reported in the community on the Z390 parts. The one model that kept coming up consistently as high-quality and reliable was the Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac by ASRock. Particularly well-reviewed on this board is the power design which includes high quality capacitors and power chokes. Overclocking, dedicated AIO liquid cooler pump header, dual M.2 slots with a full heat spreader on the front, Thunderbolt 3 USB-C, plus 802.11ac if you need it. This board includes everything I need, in a very small footprint.

A Note on Chipsets

The latest high-end Intel chipset offering is the Z390 which only provides minimal improvement from the previous Z370. Unless you very specifically need one of these new features, the Z370 will suit you fine and will be cheaper. If the price is close between variants, get the Z390 so you're future-proofed.

The key changes on the Z390 vs the Z370 are:
  • Gen2 USB 3.1 support
  • ME 12 firmware
  • Native 802.11ac + Bluetooth 5
  • Wireless-AC adapter
Here are the block diagrams of both chipsets with the changes outlined in red on the Z390.

CPU - i7-9700K

Really tough choice picking a CPU this year! If you go by performance alone, the i9 reins supreme, but barely, compared to the 9700K and in some tests only by 1-2 tenths. Anand Tech has a good CPU comparison worth the time investment. I struggled between the 8th gen i7-8700K which has excellent OC potential performing within tenths of the 9th gen parts, the 9700K which has 8 cores (C) but no hyperthreading (HT) and the top dog: the i9 with 8C + HT. HT is now a premium feature on the 9th gen parts, only available on the i9. The 9700K gets 2 additional cores bringing its total to 8 vs 6 while HT is present on the 8th gen 8700K. Clocks between parts are within a few hundred MHz of each other with the blistering stock 5GHz mantle going to the i9 part alone.

One of the most interesting changes on the 9th gen parts is that the heat spreader (lid) is now soldered to the silicon providing superior thermal transfer. 8700K owners serious about OC will delid the part to achieve better cooling. This is much more difficult on the 9th gen parts (due to the solder) and provides arguably less benefit.

I came very close to just pulling the lever for the i9 but decided against it for a couple of reasons. First is the cost, at $525 at the time of build this is way too high at +$100 over the nearest contender and that's if you can even find the part in stock. The i9 parts run HOT, even at 95W stock, these chips can suck a lot more power and create a lot more heat under load. Liquid cooling is highly recommended if you go this route. 8C HT is nice but practically there are very few of us actually able to thread through all that potential given a standard mix of common apps and games. This presents the same problem for the acclaimed AMD Threadripper: lots of potential but nothing really to take advantage of it. 4C is probably plenty for most, 8C (non HT) is more than enough. There were also supply issues where I found the part difficult to procure so I ultimately decided to save $100 and went with the 9700K, which is still fairly expensive at $420. The 9700K proves to be a very capable OC part running a stable 5.4GHz vs the i9 running too hot under OC at the time of build. So you need to decide if you want to save or spend a hundred bucks between options, need HT or not and if you'll OC or not.

So much of this decision depends how you will use your rig. For me, being completely honest, it's probably 70% office/web stuff + 30% gaming as this is my main machine for all things. If all you intend to do is gaming, then you don't need a top bin part, you just don't. The GPU is much more important in that equation so you can get by with a lower bin CPU and save some scrills. 

My gaming only recommendation: If you plan to OC, then get the 9600K, if no OC, then get the 8700 (non K). Yes, it's a generation older, but strongly holds its own in the performance charts vs the new gen parts. Hard to not make this about value for the performance provided. You might be willing to spend $500+ on the i9 part, but it's difficult to justify 2x the cost vs the 9600K given the i9 doesn't net 2x the performance gains in any test I've seen. Put the money saved into a better GPU!

My mixed use recommendation: Regardless of if you intend to OC, the 9700K is a solid option for mixed use cases and performs near the top of all charts right now. You will net solid office app + gaming performance nearly regardless of title. 
That said, if you have the money to burn and want the best there is period, regardless of performance to dollar margins, the i9 is it. 
  • i9-9900K: 8C HT, 5GHz, 16MB L3, 95W - $525
  • i7-9700K: 8C no HT, 4.9GHz, 12MB L3, 95W - $420
  • i7-8700K: 6C HT, 4.7GHz, 12MB L3, 95W - $380
  • i7-8700: 6C HT, 4.6GHz, 12MB L3, 65W - $310
  • i5-9600K: 6C no HT, 4.6GHz, 9MB L3, 95W - $270

CPU Cooler - Corsair H115i RGB Platinum 280mm AIO

While I don't need liquid cooling for my setup per se, space is limited in the Cerberus (keep reading) so an All-In-One (AIO) cooler becomes a great option to save space, maximize cooling and keep things quiet. It also looks awesome especially if you make use of the RGB options. This will provide more than enough cooling to OC should I decide to do that later. 280mm is the largest radiator I can fit into this case which will net plenty of cooling. Building a custom loop is of course another option but adds a ton of cost and for what I'm doing, I don't think it's necessary.

I also considered the NZXT X62 which has a great looking pump with the infinity mirror but there are a lot of concerns online with their CAM software and your data which they collect and upload into the cloud with no way to opt out. I decided to stay away for this reason. For pure cooling performance, you really cant go wrong either way here, both are excellent options. 

When installing the 115i, once your put the Intel bracket on the back of the mobo + standoffs on the front, there is a bit of play once finger tightened. This goes away completely once the pump is installed and tightened down so don't fret. Do yourself a favor and connect the micro-USB to the pump BEFORE you install onto the mobo!! Clearance to the next door heatsink may be tight and require you to remove the pump to attach the USB, requiring redo of your thermal paste. 

Memory - Corsair Vengeance RGB 2 x 16GB DDR4 @ 3200MHZ

Memory can be a touchy subject with people loyal to certain brands due to perception or experience. I've had great success with Corsair, G.Skill and Crucial across many builds over several decades. I do have to say though that the only problems I've had have been with Corsair DIMMS for some reason. One of the largest money saving vectors right now is deciding whether or not you want RGB (technically no one needs it, right?). If you don't, you can save some coin. I decided I did, so I splurged for the pricier modules. High clock speeds remain a marketing gimmick designed to bilk you of your hard earned cash. RAM modules are sold with a base clock but provide differing XMP profiles to boost them to advertised speeds in the BIOS. Depending on your motherboard this may or may not even be possible. From my research I've concluded that there is very little benefit in buying modules over 3000MHz. I bought the 3200MHz modules because they were the same price as the 3000MHz counterparts. There are several good articles written on this topic showing negligible performance difference between low to high clocked modules. If you find a good deal on a higher clocked part, go for it, otherwise, save your money. Another important consideration if you plan to build ITX is the width of the heat spreaders on the DIMMs. My G.Skill modules from 2 years ago are too wide to fit in my ASRock board while the new Corsair modules are slender and fit just fine.

GPU - Asus Strix 2080 Ti OC

GPU is another fun choice this year with lots of great options in both the NVIDIA and AMD camps. Coming from a 1070 in my previous build, I could have gone a number of directions: 1080 Ti. 2070, 2080, 2080 Ti or the higher end Radeon boards. But then you need to decide: Founders or AIB, 1, 2, 3 fans or liquid and which model to pick within a category. I found that AIB (Add In Board) partners make it deliberately difficult to compare cards, within the SAME BRAND!! Although this appears to have gotten a bit better, you will have to do some manual comparisons.

Founders cards are from NVIDIA directly and are for people who need the new toy on day 1 or prefer the "pure" experience, but these cards tend to be limited from a performance and cooling perspective. AIB suppliers like Asus, Zotac, MSI etc buy the GPU chips from NVIDIA then build their own products, often times based closely to the reference designs but charge a premium over Founders. The big difference with AIB parts is that clocks are typically higher, power and cooling designs are better and you can get options like more fans and RGB.  I nearly bought the 2080 part but decided against it due to reviews, price points and performance so instead splurged and got the 2080 Ti. Zotac makes an excellent card as does Asus who have a really good VRM design in the 20 series.

The 2080 TI is an absolute beast of a GPU, 4352 CUDA cores and 11GB GDDR6 RAM. Early on, the AIBs used Micron memory chips which had a high number of failures so have since switched to Samsung as the supplier. While all 2080 TI's will have the same number of cores and RAM, the boost clocks and power demands will be different. All of these cards will have a base clock of 1350MHz but can boost up to different frequencies. Going from a boost clock of 1560MHz to 1665MHZ may not seem like much but keep in mind that this is a net of 105MHz across 4352 cores! That's a BIG difference, so higher clocks = higher cost. What do you really need here? Depends of course, get the highest clock for the best price you can find. If you can get an OC card within a few dollars of a base model, go for it. There are many good GPU performance reviews plus SFF builds on youtube. Considering I plan to keep this GPU for at least 6 years and don't want to mess with SLI, I felt it worth the additional investment to get the 2080 TI.

For SFF builders, card length and slot demands are the most important considerations. The Cerberus can support a max GPU length of 320mm which rules out a few GPUs if you want a 3-fan design. Most of these cards also require 2.7 slots, which really means 3. This Asus card measures 304mm which is just fine for my build. You also need to consider things like case fans and radiators, if you do a vertical mount radiator in the front of the case, for example, this will detract from usable GPU length.

A couple of build notes... This card is big and HEAVY, even with the reinforced PCIe slot on the mobo it sagged a bit, so I put a rubber stopper on the far end on top of the corner of the radiator to prop up the card to level. Probably not absolutely necessary but this bugged me so I fixed it. Experienced builders know this, but make sure to run 2 discrete power rails to your GPU, don't use a single rail with daisy-chained 8-pin connectors. Give the card the power it needs with no restrictions!

PSU - Corsair SF750

The one singular part in your build that will most likely drive PSU size will be the GPU. For the 2080 TI the recommended output is 650W. I chose to go a step higher to add a bit of buffer at 750W. The Corsair SF line is particularly good and well reviewed everywhere I looked. Incredibly small, incredibly powerful, clean, modular and the cables even come individually sleeved. This unit will set you back a few bucks, but it is best in class without question. Not much else to say here.

Media - Samsung NVMe + SANDisk SSD

The 960 Pro and EVO from my previous build still have plenty of life in them so I'm reusing them here. 512GB 960 Pro for the OS, 500GB 960 EVO for apps and a 2TB SANDisk SATA III for data storage, which is new for this build. Because I'm mounting my radiator to the bottom of this case, I don't have any room for a 3.5" HDD. But, I can mount 2 x SSDs to the back panel of the case and 2TB is really fine for my purposes, plus I can add another later if need be. Also, 4TB parts are on the horizon so that will be an option as well. There is next to no performance difference between SSDs anymore, so pick a reputable brand, choose the size you need and you'll be good. NVMe is definitely the way to go for the OS or if you just want to install a single module. A 1TB 970 EVO Plus is less than $250 right now so very affordable for top of the line performance and large capacity. There are cheaper options as well. Look for drive endurance which will be reported as a total TB written value and warranty. For reference, in 2 years I wrote 9TB on my 960 Pro housing the OS and the drive is capable of 400TBW. Lots of life left.
One thing to keep in mind when using NVMe is that if you populate the secondary rear slot (on the back of the mobo), it will disable a SATA port on the motherboard. On the Phantom ITX SATA3_1 is disabled but since I need only 1 SATA port for the SSD, not a big deal.

Case - Sliger Cerberus

I spent a LOT of time pouring over case options, comparing dimensions, supported mobo and GPU form factors, features and cooling. So I decided to build ITX which opened a lot of very small case options previously unavailable. The biggest downside to building SFF is cost, cases will be of higher quality materials, but since the sales volume is lower they cost a lot more. The other thing to consider is whether you really need 3.5" HDDs or if you can get by with 2.5" SSDs or simply NVMe M.2s. This is dictated partially by the cooling solution you choose, air cooling will net more options since you won't have a radiator consuming space.

My top contenders were:
  • Ncase M1 by SFFLab - sub 13L volume, 297mm - 317mm GPU length with vertical mount option, 240mm radiator support for liquid cooling - Starting at $195 but stock seems to be a constant problem. 
  • Ghost S1 MkII by Louqe - Sub 20L volume with "top hat" options to increase capacity for cooling, 305mm 2-slot GPU length - Starting at 269 with varied stock. I decided I didn't like the top hat look plus others reported gaps on the edges. Pass.
  • Cerberus by Sliger - sub 20L volume supporting ITX or mATX, 330mm GPU length, 280mm radiator or 148mm air coolers, plus a ton of customization options - Starting at $225. 

So I ultimately chose the Cerberus with liquid cooling and am very happy despite the $320 price tag as configured.  I chose white with a black vented top, left side window, vented panel on the right side, a top mount bracket and aluminum feet. Build quality is excellent in this completely tool-less case that sports easy pop-off panels. The order in which you install things matter in SFF but I really enjoyed building in this case. 

Displays - Alienware AW3418DW + Dell S2716DGR

If building a gaming rig, don't overlook one of the most important elements: the monitor. This is like having a high performance car and putting crappy tires on it. There is a ton of info on the web about frame rates vs resolution, so if you're intent on a 4K monitor, consider that this will likely be rendered at 60 FPS (unless a higher frequency option was released following the posting of this article). Linus Tech Tips did a good piece on this with a blind Pepsi challenge to see what gamers on his staff naturally preferred. Frame rate won the day, even at a lower resolution. This is why I bought the 120Hz (overclocked), curved 34-inch, 1440P (3440 x 1440) Alienware monitor with an IPS panel. The monitor I really wanted doesn't exist: 34-inch curved, G-Sync, 1440P @ 144Hz. 4K monitors will get there, but at the time of this build, 60 FPS was the best you could get. G-sync capable monitors will run more expensive but is a premium feature I feel worthwhile as an NVIDIA gamer. Typically this is an expensive monitor but there are deals to be had, plus Dell will price match and ship free if you buy direct. Widescreen gaming is an amazing experience and now that I've seen the light, I can never go back. I was worried based on the marketing photos that this monitor might be too cartoony or in your face "commercial gamer style" in the way that only Alienware can do it. Happy to report that the monitor looks very tasteful in person and feels of high quality. There are some subtle RGB touches built in but these can be customized or disabled completely if you prefer. Facing front, these lights are completely indistinguishable.
My secondary monitor is also G-Sync capable, technically a 1440P (2560 x 1440) gaming monitor but at 27-inch it compliments the Alienware beautifully. An unnecessary splurge in this use case perhaps, but I like it.

There are a couple of configuration steps required to get the desired frame rate:
  • Turn on OC on the monitor, set at 120
  • In the NVIDIA control panel make sure G-Sync is enabled
    • In the NVIDIA Control panel turn Vertical sync On (good article about these settings)
  • From Settings, click display, choose the target monitor, scroll to the bottom and select Advanced Display Properties, on next page choose Display adapter properties at the bottom
    • Select Monitor tab and set refresh rate at 120 (see image below).
    • If you fail to do this, you will NOT see 120 FPS!
    • If you have multiple G-Sync monitors connected, you need to do this on ALL or flickering will occur.
  • In game set the resolution, frame limit of 120 and DISABLE V-sync (if you have G-Sync enabled)
  • Some games, like Borderlands 2, are very sensitive to the polling rate of the mouse. If you get stuttering or frame drops while looking around, try lowering your polling rate. 
    • This applies to non-gaming life in Windows too, especially if you have a Steel Series mouse! Drop the poll rate to the minimum!

Custom Cables - CableMod

This step is completely optional, of course, but since I've gone to the trouble of installing a view window with premium parts in a premium case, I want it to look pretty as well. The cables that the SF750 ships with are very nice, individually sleeved too, but black and way too long for SFF. The cable bundle was just too large and didn't look good. There are a number of custom cable makers out there, some specializing in SFF (PSlate Customs), but many get overloaded with orders and take long breaks before opening a new order window. CableMod is a subsidiary of the Chinese company TL Sourcing LTD but deliver high quality custom cables with no ordering black outs, so I went with them. I opted to do a tuxedo scheme so everything is white except for the black panel on the top of my case. I think it looks amazing. These cables are pricey and will take a few weeks to build and ship from China.

I bought 3 custom cables sleeved in durable nylon ModMesh in the following configurations that worked out really well (the ATX cable is tailored per your particular PSU):

  • 24-pin ATX, 300mm with aluminum pro combs
  • Bridged 8+8-pin PCIe, 250mm with aluminum pro combs
  • Triple SATA power, 100mm spaced between each connector

Build Notes

I had a very good experience building in this case, but like all things SFF, the order in which you do things matters. My build order went like this: SSD, PSU, mobo + CPU + NVMEs (pre-installed), radiator, power rails, CPU cooling pump + power connectors, GPU, RAM, then case fans. That fan on top just barely clears the memory release clips but this is why I installed it last. This method worked well for me although the GPU has to be rotated diagonally a bit to clear the radiator tubes and anything plugged into the PSU. Connecting the power cables to the PSU last is certainly an option, but a pretty tight squeeze to get your hand in for the plugs on the bottom. You could also let the PSU dangle outside of the case and bolt it up last.

The red DIMMs shown in the pictures below were my old TridentZ modules as I was waiting for my Corsair RGBs. As I said before, the width of the heat spreaders matters a LOT on this board as the DIMM slots are very close. The Corsairs are very skinny and slot perfectly on this board.

If you plan to use an AIO liquid cooler with the radiator mounted at the bottom, the outer edge bolts will interfere with the case feet. I just left these off using only the center bolts which works fine, especially considering gravity's role here, I'm not worried. If you use the Demci filter on the bottom it will have to run over the bolts, which works, but it's not a completely clean seal.

Filters are optional and sold separately, of course, but you should note that this case in stock form has zero air filtration. Unless you're good with regularly blowing dust out of your case, $65 extra for pre-cut fitted Cerberus-specific filters is a sound investment, albeit expensive. There are a few non-magnetic panels on this case so you have to use the included sticky magnet brackets to give the filters something to attach to. It works fine.

The power cables shown below were also temporary while I waited for my custom CableMod order.


Passmark9 shows some improvements in CPU and GPU as expected but still some strange comparisons when looking at global results. Why did the 9900K in this baseline score so low? Also curious that identically spec'd 32GB memory modules performed better. Take these for what they're worth.

Cinebench R20 definitely pushed the CPU harder by indication of peak CPU temps under load, but this is clearly a bench generally favoring high core counts as indicated by the top 3 scoring parts.

Final Thoughts

I've very happy with this powerful and nearly silently build that serves across a wide range of use cases. If you plan to use RGB-capable parts, consider how many different brands you are putting into your build. Each brand has it's own software load, so ideally you want to run as few of these as possible. I tried to keep everything Corsair, except for the GPU of course, which I ended up disabling RGB entirely via the on-board toggle.

Gaming performance is excellent as is web and office work. The 2080 Ti is more than capable of running current titles at ultra settings stable at 120 FPS linked lock-step to my G-Sync Alienware monitor. This is the biggest upgrade from my last build, no doubt. CPU and RAM really didn't make too big of a difference and my NVMe performance is the same as before: awesome. What has changed a bit are the thermals in this new build with the CPU running very cool nearly at all times. 

Idle temps are very good with the CPU clocking a chilly 34C, as expected, thanks to liquid cooling. The mobo runs a bit hotter at all times:

Under load things get a bit warmer but more so on the mobo itself. The GPU definitely generates heat but low 70's C is the highest I've seen it go and this will vary based on the title in play. 


  • i7-9700K - $410
  • Asrock Phantom ITX - $180
  • Corsair RAM - $260
  • Corsair AIO cooler - $170
  • Cerberus case - $320
  • Alienware monitor - $800
  • Asus 2080 Ti - $1280
  • Corsair PSU - $195
  • 2TB SSD - $250
  • Demci Filters - $65
  • CableMod cables - $170
  • Case fans - $45
  • Total - $4,145

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