Snowblind: Building a PC without building it

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My completed Battle Station

Building a computer is different to different people.  To some, it is a daunting task that is absolutely out of the question.  To others, it is a tranquil afternoon full of molex connecting, fan placing, and RGB embellishing.  There is no doubt that assembling a computer from scratch requires more than a little know how.  It is also a well known fact that it is cheaper, more often than not, to build your own.  It can also be argued that in the age of youtube tutorials, anybody should be able to do anything at all.  Why is is then, that so many consumers default to buying manufacturer boxed computers?  Why aren’t the majority of homes full of RGB encrusted monstrosities as far as the eye can see?  Well, one word:  convenience.

Many people value money more than time.  But plenty more value time more.  For the latter kind of people, it is often the case that they will default to an already boxed up and ready to go desktop system.  Because it is convenient, fast, and ready to go.  But what about those of us who do not have the time, but have the knowhow, and therefore inherently understand that myriad of disadvantages that come with big box retailer system?  We do not want to lose the opportunity to choose our own cooling, motherboard, RAM speed, hard drive….because how do we know what rando brand the manufacturer placed in there?  Sure, you have reliable systems like Asus, who manufacture their own components, and are more trust worthy to enthusiasts than other manufacturers like HP, who manufacture almost nothing and rebrand everything. Even then, Asus does not make every component.  There will be some things you will have to give up on, as the price you pay for convenience is, in essence, compromise.  So, what do we do?  Well, luckily, for us, there is a nice, comfy sweet spot:  pre-built systems.

Pre-built systems are systems that combine the “ready to go” factor from major brand systems with the extreme customizing available to those building their own.  Pre-built system companies essentially offer you a combination of a product and a service.  They allow you to pick most, if not all components.  Then, they assemble it for you, and do all the dirty work, including cable management, software install, testing, quality control, etc.  Next, they package it neatly and ship it to you, exactly as you designed it.  Kinda like burger king, you can have it your way.  Just no meat, or bread, or any food…but certainly tons of RGB!

There are many companies out there who offer pre built systems.  Some of the most popular ones include iBuypower, Origin PC, Cyberpower, and Digital Storm.  Some allow more customization than others.  For instance, Origin PC will limit you to the desktop cases they themselves have either designed or rebranded, and they only have a select few motherboard choices.  My personal choice, iBuypower, leaves almost every single component up to you.  While they do have their own flagship desktop cases, they also offer a myriad of alternatives from different manufacturers.  You can find Corsair and Thermaltake cases, for example.  They also have almost every motherboard available for whatever chipset you decided to go for.  The same wide range of choice of brand, type and model also applies to the cooling fans, RAM, GPU, hard drive, CPU, heatsink type…you name it.  This experience ends up being you pointing your finger at all the shiny components you want, and then clicking the checkout button to make it all happen with zero work.  There are even advantages over having it done yourself, such as a three year warranty.  That means that iBuypower will take responsibility for all the components and their functionality for three full years, despite the fact that they are not the ones that manufactured any of it.

This leads me to my personal experience.  I admit I am not an avid gamer, mostly because of lack of time.  A full time job and school will do that to you.  However, I am a gamer at heart.  Also, I am and have always been very techie.  I have been using computers since I was 6; have a computer maintenance certification; currently studying MIS; and have more tech at my home than most average people.  My wife and I love to play MMORPGs together; but we hadn’t in a while.  Mostly because our desktop PCs were quite effortlessly showing their age.  This led me to research what would be the best way to acquire a new battle station for both me and the wife.

With some time management, I was able to spare the time to do the research for each component I wanted to get. However, there was no way I was going to have the time (or energy) to build two brand new desktops by myself.  And then… I found iBuypower.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not claiming iBuypower is the be-all-end-all of pre-built systems.  However, I did find it to be the most forgiving when it came to both budget and amount of choices per part.  That being said, the experience I had with them was fantastic.

I was scavenging the internet for anything and everything that had to do with gaming computers one week prior to black friday.  The decision to buy a new set of battle stations came sort of spontaneously.  It was not necessarily planned.  Most of our large purchases tend to be like that.  “Babe you wanna blow 5 grand?  Yes? Cool”.  That’s the best part of having a gamer wife!

But I digress.  After much scavenging and researching, the latter two kept bringing me back to the iBuypower website.  And when the black friday deals were announced…I caved in.  iBuypower gives you several pre-configured options, which are meant for you to go in and tweak.  For instance, you can change the motherboard.  Or, you can change anything, really.  The only  limiting factor is if the set you are trying to configure is tied to one of their flagship models. In that case, you can change everything but the case.  And, the case itself will limit certain things.

I picked the Snowblind blackfriday special.  The system was priced at $1599, and it came stock with a low end motherboard (Z390), 16GB of Ram (less than 3000mhz) a GTX 1080 card, and an i7-9700 processor.  All of these could be changed or upgraded.  The most interesting thing of the Snowblind model was the case.  The Snowblind is essentially your typical gaming desktop case with a clear glass panel on one side.  It also sports a clear panel at the front.  The exciting part is that the glass panel one the side is anything but!  It looks like a glass panel at first glance, but you quickly realize once its on that it is actually a see through monitor.  Essentially, it is an LCD screen with no back panel, creating some awesome futuristic effects the likes you have mostly seen on sci fi movies.  While my wife will always claim that I was a cat in my past life because I continue to buy “Oh, Shiny!” things, and while she is right…that was not main reason for selecting this model (I promise).  I would say it was a very personal choice, but ultimately it was a combination of everything.  I wanted something a bit different and unique, and I am a big fan of customization.  Since the side panel is a monitor, you can essentially “decorate” it any way you want.  That, combined with the pricing, white and black theme, and the ability to select my own parts… I just could not pass it up.  That is when the 3 day long process of researching and selecting the components one by one began.

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Side panel using Rain Meter + iBuypower animation video
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Sidepanel using Rainmeter + a picture of REM from Re:Zero anime
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Sidepanel using Rainmeter + my space wallpaper (extended over from main screen)

The typical gaming case tends to be dark inside with lots of RGB.  Snowblind is just the opposite. The Snowblind is mostly a theme of white and black.  And unlike most gaming cases, the Snowblind features no RGB.  Main reason is the clear side panel requires a lot of light in order for the screen images to be legible.  In order to make it functional, iBuypower opted to replace the typical RGB light strips with single colored (white) bright LED strips, contouring the side panel screen from the inside.  The entire side/display panel is also the main point of entry to the case, and it is hinged on one side, making it easier to open by pulling two conveniently placed tabs instead of screws.  Since the latter side panel is a screen, it also needs to be connected to the graphics card.  This is done with an external DVI to DVI bridge cable.  It is important to note that some research indicated that having the side panel running during gaming only costed approximately 3 FPS during benchmarks.  Also, the entirety of the case is white inside.  This provides a sort of clean, bright look that is not as common among gaming desktops.  Also, at the front of the case, you will find the glass window there exists only to showcase a set of two fans lit with white LEDs.  Right below, the iBuypower sabertooth logo shines through, also with white LEDs.

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Stock Snowblind Configuration

That being said, I personally did not like that there was no RGB, so I decided to configure the Snowblind to make it more aesthetically  pleasing to my taste. (insert evil RGB addicted laugh here)

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My  Snowblind Configuration 🙂

When you go on the system builder page on the iBuypower website, you have a series of tabs, each of which represents a component.  Clicking on each tab takes you to that particular component, where you are given several choices of model and brand to pick from.  First I clicked the motherboard tab.

My  motherboard choice was the Gigabyte Aorus Pro Wifi, which is a midrange Z390 motherboard, but still with plenty of features.  It does have RGB connectors, built in Wifi dual band AC + bluetooth 5, built in RGB lit areas that include the I/O panel, RAM DIMM slots, and other strategically placed areas for an awesome view.  Of course, it has a variety of PCIe 3 slots, Realtek ALC1220 audio + headphone preamp,  and supports up to 64gb of RAM.  Honestly, I looked at comparable models like the Taichi ultimate and the Asus ROG and strix models.  Ultimately, I fell onto the Gigabyte model.  The features among each motherboard at that price point are mostly the same.  It ultimately comes down to simple details like number and types of USB port on each motherboard, and more technical details like the quality of the BIOS (Gigabyte is said to be inferior), the quality of VRM, MOSFET, etc.  All these technical details, that I will not get into here, are typically only relevant if you are planning on overclocking.  If you are not doing that, like me, then shopping based on reviews and brand reliability is a better bet.  And that is why, my personal conclusion,  based on the price offered by iBuypower and reviews of each motherboard through amazon, reddit, anandtech, and the like, ultimately led me to my Gigabyte Aorus Pro Wifi choice.  Remember that at this midrange price point,  all are good choices; you just have to filter down which differences are the most important to you, and focus on that.  Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

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Full inside view
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Motherboard internal I/O view
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Motherboard bottom RGB view
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Motherboard external I/O view

Next, I picked my case cooling and lighting.  My previous motherboard choice had already provided me with some RGB in the otherwise RGBless Snowblind.  Remember what my wife said though.  Previous life.  Cat.  Shiny.  Like.  Therefore, I needed more RGB.  After some research and watching some videos of RGB fans, I picked a set of the Thermaltake Riing Plus 120mm fans.  In this instance, I just picked a set of fans with effects that were to my aesthetic liking, and that also had good reviews.  Be warned, that I failed to research the RGB software for these fans.  It is not very good at all.  Everytime the computer goes to sleep, I have to close the program and reopen it in order for the RGB controller to register the effects in the software.  It gets pretty annoying, and it is my only regret about these fans.  I get solace in the fact that Razer will be soon releasing third party control through Razer Chroma.  This will support a plethora of devices including these fans in particular.  That means that I will eventually be able to to ditch the Thermaltake software and use the much more reliable Razer Chroma Studio.

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Back vent and top vent fans
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Back vent fan outside view
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Top vent fan outside view

For my CPU cooling, I upgraded to the Thermaltake Floe Dual Ring RGB liquid cooler.  This badboy has a 240mm radiator with two RGB fans (same as the Riing plus) and a CPU waterblock that is also encrusted with an RGB ring.  Since we do not yet live in an age of standardized RGB, I picked Thermaltake again to ensure that the Riing Plus and the Floe Dual could both be connected to the same RGB controller.  My research showed me that the Riing Plus comes with a pack of 3 fans, whereas the Floe Dual has two fans plus the waterblock.  Thermaltake’s included RGB controller has up to 5 ports, which meant that one component would be left out and therefore I would possibly need a second RGB controller.  However, since I did not have a true size perspective of whether everything would fit in the case, I decided to leave it to iBuypower and trusted them to do it right.  What was the result?  I was impressed!  Without me saying a word, iBuypower neatly connected everything to a single RGB controller.  Sadly though, one fan was left out.  The case simply did not have enough room for it.  They placed the two radiator fans at the front glass window, therefore replacing the Snowblind stock white LED fans.  They placed one Riing plus at a vent in the back of the case, and another at a vent at the top of the case.  The third fan was delivered to me neatly packed in a plastic bag, along with an additional RGB controller and a myriad of connectors and manuals that were leftover from the rest of the components.  The end result of all of this is a Snowblind PC modded with RGB instead of the stock white LED fans.  Being connected to the same RGB controller, I am able to produce some pretty neat RGB effects that circulate almost the entirety of the case, all the way from the back vent, to the CPU waterblock, to the front of the case.

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RGB waterblock
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Back vent, top vent, waterblock, and radiator fans inside view

Still not having enough RGB, I took iBuypower’s offer of “free RAM upgrade”, which allowed me to upgrade my RAM selection to 16GB of 3200 MHZ RGB memory by XPG at no additional cost.

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XPG RGB RAM (2 x 8GB at 3200MHZ)

And then, the gamer’s source of power and pride:  the GPU.  Stock came a no brand specified GTX 1080 card.  This turned out to be the Founders Edition.  Since one of my core tenets when buying technology is future proofing, I decided to take iBuypower’s other free offer, which basically allowed you to pick a RTX 2070 instead at no additional cost.  Since also no brand was specified, I assumed this was also a Founders Edition.  At this point, I started researching to decide if I was simply going to take the free offer, or spend some more money on picking the specific RTX 2070 card I wanted.  Based on reviews, research, aesthetics, and price, my final choice was the Gigabyte Gaming OC White RTX 2070.  This only added about 100 dollars to the cost, which I was willing to pay just for the fact that it was white alone.  And guess what? The Gigabyte logo on the card is RGB! Also, it has a better of selection of I/O ports than the Founders edition, and better benchmarks overall.  If you are wondering why I did not choose an RTX 2080 or above, there is a simple answer:  $.  Also, the difference in performance between the RTX 2080 and the RTX 2070 was minimal rather than exponential, and certainly not worth a $500 dollar price increase.  I can see it being worth it to someone who does gaming competitively or has money to burn, but I am neither of the two.

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Gigabyte Gaming OC White RTX 2070

I honestly did not think it was absolutely necessary to have a top of the line power supply, so all I did in that regard was upgrade to an 850 watt, 80 Plus Gold certified.  I figured if anything goes wrong, the Power Supply is a relatively easy and inexpensive thing to replace.  Also, keep in mind that one of my goals was to keep my build under 2k, so I wanted to ensure I placed the money where it made the biggest impact.

At this point you might be wondering why have I not mentioned the ever so important sound card.  That is because I did not select any dedicated sound card at all.  My reason is I am a musician, and I own a Focusrite 2i4 interface that I have been using for both recording and as an external sound card.  While the Focusrite is intended for recording and providing phantom power to Mics, it does provide up to 192kHz/24-bit sampling quality, which is equivalent to the quality offers by the majority of gaming sound cards  in the market of up to $150 USD or so.  In other words, there was no need for a sound dedicated card.

Last but not least, came the choice of storage.  In order to stay within the budget, I decided to skip NVMe for now.  iBuypower gives you an option to add up to 3 hard drives on this unit, two of which can be configured as NVMe.  Instead, I opted for a 500GB Western Digital Blue SSD for my OS drive, and a 2TB Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM Green drive for storage.  Again, I definitely wanted SSD for my boot drive, but I also wanted to stay within budget.  NVMe was simply too expensive for my build at this point.

I found iBuypower configurator tool really cool, because it allowed you to easily go back and change components  back and forth.  Also, it shows you how it affects the price immediately.  This allowed me to make faster decisions on how, when, and where to drop the most money per component.

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Sample screenshot of iBuypower configurator tool

Above all, here is my favorite part of this whole thing: the warranty.  Not only do you not have to put the components together yourself, you also get a 3 year warranty on everything you picked, which you certainly do not get otherwise.  I think that speaks volumes about iBuypower and their willingness to stand behind the quality of their builds.

And now, here is a list of the full specs and components within my build, exactly as listed on my order spec sheet:

  • Case(iBUYPOWER Snowblind Element Gaming Case – Black/White with LCD Side Panel)
  • Case Fans(3x [RGB] Thermaltake Riing Plus 12 Premium Edition 120mm RGB LED Fan)
  • Case Lighting(Snowblind White LEDs)
  • iBUYPOWER Labs – Noise Reduction(None)
  • iBUYPOWER Labs – Internal Expansion(None)
  • Processor(Intel® Core™ i7-9700K Processor (8x 3.60GHz/12MB L3 Cache))
  • iBUYPOWER PowerDrive(None)
  • Processor Cooling(Thermaltake Floe Dual Riing 240mm RGB AIO Liquid Cooling System)
  • Liquid Coolant Color(None)
  • Memory(16 GB [8 GB x2] DDR4-3200 Memory Module – Certified Major Brand Gaming Memory Free Upgrade to XPG D41 RGB Memory)
  • Video Card(NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 – 8GB – GIGABYTE GAMING OC (WHITE) (VR-Ready))
  • SLI Bridge(None)
  • Motherboard(GIGABYTE Z390 PRO WIFI — RGB, 802.11ac WiFi, USB 3.1 (4 Rear, 2 Front), Digital VRM Design)
  • Power Supply(850 Watt – Standard 80 PLUS Gold)
  • M.2/PCI-E SSD Card(None)
  • Intel Optane Memory Accelerator(None)
  • Primary Hard Drive(500 GB WD Blue SSD — Read: 545MB/s, Write: 525MB/s – Single Drive)
  • Data Hard Drive(2 TB Seagate Barracuda Hard Drive — 64MB Cache, 7200RPM, 6.0Gb/s – Single Drive)
  • Media Card Reader / Writer(None)
  • Sound Card(3D Premium Surround Sound Onboard)
  • Network Card(Onboard LAN Network (Gb or 10/100))
  • USB Expansion Card(None)
  • Operating System(Windows 10 Home + Office 365 Trial [FREE 30 Day Trial] – (64-bit))
  • Monitor(None)
  • Keyboard(iBUYPOWER Standard Gaming Keyboard)
  • Mouse(iBUYPOWER Gaming Optical Mouse – Multi-Color LED Lighting)
  • Speaker System(None)
  • Advanced Build Options – Thermal Paste(None)
  • Warranty(3 Year Standard Warranty Service)
  • Rush Service(Standard Service – Ship Out in 10-15 Business Days)

TOTAL COST: $2000 USD, including taxes and fees.

As you noticed from the first pic, my battle station purchase contained a lot more than just the desktop. I will make separate posts for each component!
Here is a slideshow with all of the above images, plus a few more of my full setup:

Now, I want to elaborate on a comment I made earlier about Razer Chroma Studio.  As many RGB enthusiasts know, and as I mentioned before, RGB is not yet standardized.  That means that every manufacturer has proprietary RGB controllers and software.  Despite my best efforts in this build, I ended up with FOUR different RGB controlling software in order to fully customize every RGB light and effect present on the desktop and peripherals.  To be exact:
  • Razer Synapse 2 – Controls Razer Naga Epic Chroma mouse RGB
  • Razer Synapse 3 – Controls Razer Huntsman Elite and Razer Firefly mousepad RGB
  • Aorus RGB Fusion – Controls Gigabyte motherboard and GPU RGB, as well as XPG RAM RGB
  • Thermaltake RGB Plus – Controls RGB on Riing Plus fans and Floe Dual radiator components
This is exactly what makes Razer Chroma third party integration so exciting. When it is out, I will be able to sync the entirety of my RGB components to a single RGB effect or configuration.  Best of all, I will not have to deal with four separate pieces of software.
To conclude, I know that pre-built computers are not for everyone.  I am fully aware that many of you actually enjoy putting a build together.  Trust me, I sincerely admire that!  I am fully capable of putting a build together myself, but I honestly do not enjoy it.  I am the kind of person that enjoys the research; the technical aspects; the whys; the hows; and everything that explains what is a thing, why it is, and what it does.  When it comes down to the dirty work, however, my enjoyment ceases.  You can already tell I am that guy that pays to get his lawn done, and will refuse to change his own oil in his vehicle.  Funny enough, I have never paid to  connect anything, whether it be home theater or computers.  I am at least willing to do that much work, I guess hahaha…My home theater setup is not exactly simple, either, since I have full on ATMOS 7.1.2 system.  But! more about that on another post…
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