Desktop PC Upgrade

It’s about time to upgrade my desktop PC – as the core components all date back to mid-2016. I think it has managed to last that long because I haven’t had the opportunity to do much gaming in the last 2 years.

I intend to take my usual approach of just upgrading a few components at a time (on this occasion it’ll be the CPU (and cooler), motherboard, and perhaps RAM, but nothing else), and carrying forward the existing Windows installation.

For the record, the last time I bought an entire new desktop PC was back in 1998… it was an Intel Pentium 2 350 Mhz, with 64MB RAM, 8GB hard disk, 8MB nVidia Riva 128 graphics card, and 17″ CRT. Ever since then I have just replaced a couple of components at a time – so the current system is effectively an evolution of that original one. In addition, I have not performed a fresh install of Windows on this PC since 2007 (which was when I migrated from 32-bit Windows XP Pro to 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate) – I have just carried forward the same Windows install to each new iteration of the hardware, and upgraded to newer Windows versions as they came out. That included migrating the OS from BIOS & MBR to UEFI & GPT, amongst other things. As an aside – I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has kept the same Windows install on their primary PC for a similar length of time (or longer), whilst keeping it up-to-date with the latest Windows versions (as opposed to just storing an ancient PC in the loft which still runs Windows 95, and never touching it!).

Anyway the current specs are as follows:

  • OS: Windows 11 Pro [since 2021]
  • Chassis: Lian Li X900B [since 2010]
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K [since 2016]
  • Motherboard: Asus Z170-WS [since 2016]
  • RAM: 64GB (4×16) Corsair DDR4 2133 [since 2016]
  • Graphics: Asus nVidia GeForce GTX 1080 8GB [since 2017]
  • Storage: Samsung 980 Pro 1TB [since 2022]
  • PSU: Enermax Revolution 87+ 850W [since 2013]
  • Optical drive: LG GGC-H20L [since 2008]
  • Display: HP ZR30w @ 2560×1600 [since 2010]
  • & various peripherals / accessories

At the moment I am considering two main options. Both involve sticking with Intel, in part because I would be concerned about the difficulty of carrying forward the same Windows installation to an AMD platform.

It mainly comes down to RAM. I currently have 64GB, and am happy sticking with that amount. What I am unsure about is whether my existing DDR4 2133 RAM will function in a Z690 DDR4-based board (or if it is simply too slow). If it will function (albeit with a performance penalty versus buying faster RAM), then I would definitely consider re-using my existing RAM, and just getting a mid-range Z690 motherboard (costing around £200), plus the Core i7-12700KF – for a total cost of around £550.

On the other hand if I have to buy new RAM (which seems to be expensive nowadays), then I’m going to be looking at spending at least £1000 in total, in which case I’d feel more inclined to also spend a bit more on the other items (in other words by going for DDR5, moving up to the Core i9-12900KF, and getting a higher-end motherboard as well).

As far as the motherboard is concerned, there seem to be a lot of options to choose from, and it isn’t easy figuring out what is the best fit. Historically I have always favoured high-end motherboards, and typically those that are slightly more workstation-oriented than simply being gaming boards. For example I no longer have any desire to overclock, nor do I have much interest in multi-coloured LEDs or similar gimmicks, but I do value reliability, stability, performance, flexibility, and potential for future upgrades.

In particular I have been extremely happy with my current motherboard since I got it in 2016 – the Asus Z170-WS, which was marketed as a workstation board, and packed with features. Admittedly it was overkill for my needs in some respects (such as its support for quad-SLI… considering that I have never had more than a single graphics card installed in it). But in other respects I have made full use of its capabilities, or at least appreciated them. And at the time I purchased it I couldn’t necessarily have predicted that I wouldn’t want to get a second graphics card later, so I did value having that option. Having said that, the average price of a (high-end) motherboard appears to have roughly doubled since 2016, so it is becoming harder to justify continuing with that approach.

It looks like the most natural Z690-generation successor to the Asus Z170-WS is probably the Asus ProArt Z690-Creator Wifi. It definitely looks like a nice motherboard, and I am sure I would be happy with it, but given it costs around £500 I really ought to consider whether it’s worth that much more than, for example the MSI PRO Z690-A or Asus PRIME Z690-P D4 which both cost around £200. I do realise that that isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, as the latter two support DDR4 RAM whereas the ProArt board supports DDR5, but as mentioned before if I can re-use my existing DDR4 RAM I’d pair it with a mid-range DDR4-based Z690 board, and if not then I’d go for DDR5 and a higher-end board, which is why I’m looking at these models.

Connectivity-wise, I have no desire to use wifi from this PC (my house is wired with Cat6a), but it would be useful to have bluetooth (and it looks like the two are coupled together). I used to care about having multiple on-board NICs (the Z170-WS has dual 1 Gbps interfaces), but I no longer consider that to be important. My current network switches have 1 Gbps interfaces, but it’s certainly possible that I will upgrade those to some which support 2.5 Gbps (or perhaps even 10 Gbps) within the potential lifetime of this new motherboard. But as most of the boards which offer 10 Gbps interfaces use a model I have never heard of, it’s likely I’d favour the use of the Intel 2.5 Gbps NIC even if the board had both and my switches supported both speeds. I do also value high-quality on-board audio.

Any advice on whether the more expensive motherboards (such as the Asus ProArt Z690 Creator Wifi) are actually worth it would be much appreciated. And even more so if anyone can say for sure whether my old DDR4 2133 RAM will function at all in a DDR4 Z690 board, that would be awesome!

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