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How to Almost Build a High-end PC in 2020

By on Nov 21, 2020 in Hardware | 0 comments

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In a past life, I was Network Administrator for a public school division. There, and later as the owner of an IT company, I purchased millions of dollars of tech hardware; everything from desktops to servers to routers and custom networking appliances. I’ve never had a more difficult time finding a company to take money for computer equipment than I’ve had this week trying to build a single workstation for myself in late 2020.

My current PC, first built in early 2016, is showing its age. The 16GB of RAM is getting maxed out by Chrome. The CPU is running at 100% on all cores far too often. It’s not snappy, and it’s time to move on.

I did my research and chose to wait for the new Ryzen 9 5900X processor from AMD. It was touted as being best-in-class at an affordable price, and the reviews have affirmed that promise. I was getting excited.

I seriously considered saving myself the time and heartache of all the research and part-hunting by purchasing a pre-built. That would mean something like a custom rig from Maingear, since most mainstream OEMs don’t have the latest AMD processors and chipsets available. However, I wasn’t willing to pay the $600 premium Maingear is charging to build the system I wanted.

So, I went down the rabbit hole. I read the reviews. Watched videos. Looked at early performance data. Made decisions, and ended up with this system. Now all I had to do was buy the parts. That’s where this takes a turn for the surreal.

I knew going in that some of these parts were going to be a challenge to find. The latest generation of graphics cards are notoriously scarce, and so are the Ryzen 5900X chips. I was able to easily purchase several items from the parts list, including the RAM, PSU, CASE, and SSD. The SSD drive was the first to arrive, followed soon by the case. I was getting excited.

Then, problems. The slightly overpriced Arctic Liquid Freezer II 360 CPU cooler I ordered wasn’t due to arrive for a month. I checked a few days later and it was listed for $5 less and due to ship within days. From the same vendor (Arctic itself). What? I canceled my first order and placed a new one. It arrived in the delivery window, but why did Artic try to sell their cooler for more than MSRP only to list it for MSRP a few days later? Sketchy.

On November 14th, I ordered the MSI MAG X570 Tomahawk motherboard from Triplenet Pricing via Amazon at a 33% markup because no one else had it in stock for less and the reviews say it’s best-in-class and competes thermally with boards that are much more expensive. It was due to arrive on November 19th. Nice! I might be able to build my new computer this weekend! But wait. No. By Thursday, no tracking information had been added to the order on Amazon. 8PM came and went and nothing was outside my front door. I reached out to Triplenet who said a recent shipment was “delayed through circumstances beyond our control, resulting in the delay in delivery.” Yeah, right. They sold a product they didn’t have at a 33% markup because they hoped they would find one at list price before then but didn’t. Then they didn’t notify me and even when I reached out they wanted me to wait for 48hrs before canceling. 

I was able to find the same board on Amazon from another vendor for $30 less; still a 21% markup, but at least this one looks like it will ship. It hasn’t yet, but I’ll update this post when/if it does.

The PSU, a Corsair RMx 850W 80+ Gold ordered from Newegg, was due to be delivered at the same time as the RAM, but it was “delayed by weather” and has yet to arrive. I’m not sure what has happened between California and Virginia that caused a delay, but it’s due in today so fingers crossed the box isn’t scorched by wildfire flames. 

Next came the CPU. I checked a dozen sites daily for a week trying to find the 5900X in stock. No luck. I gave up and purchased a 3900X which is still heaps better than my current processor and should be easy to resell when (if) I can get my hands on the 5900X. That was my first “deal” to date – $449 for what is typically a $499 processor. You can find it pretty easily now for $459 and it’s a fair price anywhere in that range. I’m still looking for a 5900X.

Finally, the GPU. I had originally intended to get an AMD Radeon 6800 XT as it was $50 cheaper than the Nvidia GTX 3080 and was projected to have as good or even better performance. Due to AMD’s shameless review embargo, there was no way to be certain the marketing hype would bear up under independent review, but if you want a graphics card at launch you don’t have time to wait for reviews.

At 9AM EST on launch day I was ready. I had 20 tabs open to the landing pages for the 6800 XT on every reputable vendor I could think of. I prepped accounts with billing and shipping info so they would be ready and I wouldn’t waste time when milliseconds could be the difference between an order and a missed opportunity. I opened up Wario64’s Twitter feed to get up-to-the-second leads. I refreshed like mad.

Site after site listed cards as sold out or “coming soon” without having ever shown them as being for sale. They sold out instantly. I camped on AMD’s official store and refreshed over and over and – gasp –  the cards appeared for sale! In stock! I added one to my cart. The cart icon changed colors. I clicked the cart icon. Nothing happened. I clicked again. Nothing. I opened the page in Firefox. Same thing. I added it to my cart and tried to checkout. Nothing. Then AMD listed the card as sold out. Then they listed it as in stock again. Then sold out. Then, for a few minutes, it was in stock again but this time instead of being $649 they were $849.

AMD-Radeon™-RX-6800-XT-Graphics-AMD

 

What?! Did AMD really markup their own cards by 30% and price gouge people directly on launch day? I sent a tweet to AMD but received no response. Another Twitter user suggested that the cart button not working meant that the product in my cart was already sold out.

Of course, AMD would probably just say this was a mistake by an employee – but nothing else on sale at that moment was $849. They also briefly listed the 5900X CPU for sale but I couldn’t purchase that, either. It was extremely frustrating.

It may have all been for the best, however, as the reviews that came out later that morning showed that while the Radeon 6800XT was certainly a strong contender with older titles, it couldn’t compete with the GTX 3080 on some newer titles and got demolished when ray tracing was enabled. I decided I would be better-served long-term by spending a little extra money and going for a 3080.

But that wasn’t going to be easy, either. 3080’s aren’t available anywhere for list price. If you’re willing to pay $1,400 for a $700 card you can have one today, but I’m not going to encourage scalpers. So, I waited and checked sites often hoping for a miracle.

On Thursday, it happened! I randomly checked TigerDirect.com and there was an EVGA RTX 3080 XC3 Black! Sure, it was marked up 15% from $729 to $839, but in this market, that’s the best you’re going to get and it was listed as in stock. So I went for it and was actually able to checkout – unlike on AMD’s site. The website said it would arrive next week and I was pumped. I even got a call the next day from someone with TigerDirect trying to drum up more business and he checked the order and said it should arrive sometime next week. Sweet.

Then at 9:52PM EST on Friday, after they are supposed to be closed, an email arrived from Edson at TigerDirect which said that “Due to the high volume of demand for [my graphics card], we need to cancel your order and reinstate it so we can have this sourced directed from our partner warehouses as soon as possible via drop ship.” What?! What doesn’t that even mean? I assume it means they sold me a card they didn’t have and now they want to cancel the order but also have me place it again but just wait longer because, again, they don’t have the card.

Just like Triplenet on Amazon, TigerDirect is selling parts they don’t have and just hoping customers will forgive them after the fact. Not only that, but they are both listing parts as in stock that clearly aren’t, and charging customers a premium for the experience.

AMD and Nvidia are releasing parts that they have nowhere near enough stock for, creating a breeding ground for scalpers, and disappointing customers all over the world. These are things they can control by simply pushing back launch dates until they actually have enough stock to meet demand, and we as consumers need to encourage them to do so.