Jun 20, 2013

Building an AMD APU-based desktop PC

A few years ago, when I started working at my second job (and first one to be IT related), I sold my desktop PC thinking that I didn't need a powerful desktop computer anymore and instead, I got a Sony Vaio laptop. More recently, I got tired of the limited capabilities of my laptop to handle serious workloads (like virtual machines and games). I finally got a desktop PC again. It's not exactly what I would have hoped to have but it's what I could afford.

Continue reading to find out how I built my first AMD personal computer based on the AMD APU platform. You can find the 10 steps I needed to build this PC.
Generally, I prefer Intel hardware because it's the fastest. But this time circumstances favored AMD. The problem was that I didn't have enough money to build my dream PC and I suppose anyone that builds their own computers every time especially, finds it hard to settle for less that what their "hearts" desire.

First off, the components list:

  • AMD A10 6800K Quad-Core APU, 4.1Ghz, FM2 Socket, Black Edition
  • Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 Socket FM2 motherboard
  • Seasonic M12II-520 Bronze, 520W power source unit
  • Thermaltake NiC F3, Non-interference Cooling Heatsink with Thermaltake 4pin PWM fan
  • Corsair XMS3 8GB x 4 DDR3 1333MHz DIMMs

And that's all. Nothing else because I didn't have money for more than that. I had to use an old PC case I had lying around and a SATA DVD-ROM from work to install Windows with. Talk about cheap.

Here are some photos of the build:

You can find the rest of the photos here.

The build process is pretty simple though I must admit, it's true what everyone says, the aftermarket AMD heatsinks are unnecessarily complicated to mount compared to Intel's one true way of doing it. Not to mention, it feels a lot sturdier mechanically theirs. Alas, this wasn't shabby either but not exactly swift and elegant.

Let me make this more evident. Here are the simple steps required to do this build, as elegantly as possible, since elegance seemed to be the only thing I didn't manage to buy:

  1. Take the motherboard out and put it on a flat surface. A dry wooden table or cardboard would work just good.
  2. Unmount the AMD box cooler's plastic thing around the CPU socket also taking off the metal backplate. I chose to take off the plastic that was glued to the original metal backplate and glue that back to the NiC F3's own backplate for extra softness while squeezing those printed circuits on the PCB's back.
  3. Mount the NiC F3 backplate with the motherboard held up vertically since you won't be able to hold some screws in place otherwise. Check the image gallery if you want to see why. Mount the rest of awful crap you need to mount to be able to install a custom heatsink on AMD CPUs (or APUs in this case). Again, check the image gallery, since I think it's self explanatory.
  4. Lift the CPU lever on the CPU socket and carefully place the CPU taking note of the golden arrow on the CPU and arrow emboss on the socket. Don't push the CPU in the socket, let it fall in place. Be careful not to touch the CPU top or you will grease it unnecessarily.
  5. Take a cotton swab and dip it in alcohol then gently scrape the CPU after locking it in its socket by pulling down the socket lever. Dip the other end of the cotton swab in alcohol and then apply a bit more pressure this time as you scrape the CPU top. I got a lot of gray oxide off the CPU this way and any grease as well.
  6. After the CPU has dried from the alcohol scrub, add a thin line of thermal paste. If you study thermal paste spread a bit on the Internet, you'll find out that the best way to apply thermal paste is to apply it in a straight line since that is the best way to avoid forming any air bubbles and to apply as little as possible since thermal paste is there to fill micro-pores and is never more thermally conductive that the metals themselves. I made my line almost too thick in the middle by not having a steady squeeze while applying it. In the end I had just enough spill so that the paste doesn't run over the CPU. Theoretically, a quantity the size of a grain of rice would have been enough and I've applied thermal paste better than this before.
  7. Now scrub the heatsink as well if you like. It should not be necessary with a new heatsink but I felt like doing it anyway.
  8. Mount the heatsink lightly without force so that the screws align and then start fastening them slowly in diagonal a bit at a time in turns. When you've got a good grip, you can fasten then more seriously this time. The idea here is not to tip off the heatsink once it's "glued" to the CPU and still not fastened enough, since surface tension will introduce many tiny air bubbles in between the two contact planes.
  9. Now start mounting the RAM if you want to, or you can do that later. Place the motherboard in the computer case after you've made sure all your screw holes, washers and whatnot are correctly aligned with the motherboard's configuration.
  10. Continue with mounting the PSU and eventually do some cable management if you still feel like it.
And that's it. Ten easy steps that will feel like a hundred daunting tasks.

So how does it perform? I haven't tested it too much yet but in terms of "idle" performance, there're some BIOS screenshots in the gallery. Considering an ambient temperature of 32 degrees, 40 degrees on the CPU is pretty good I think. At 1300 RPM the NiC F3 is not even noticeable. A quick stress test showed me that the NiC F3 is very capable and maintains that 40 degrees level easily, albeit the fan running a lot faster and a bit more noticeable. All I can say is that, it runs CS:GO at 60FPS@1080p at medium-low settings. ;)