Hands-on: NZXT H1 is the perfect home for a small, but powerful computer build

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The last time I had a dedicated gaming computer was sometime in mid-2016, and after that, any “custom” computer I had sat unused in lieu of me working from my MacBook, Hackintosh, or eventually Mac mini. Well, it’s 2020, and I’ve decided that it’s time to set consoles aside and build a gaming desktop once again. I reused some components I had, but the ones I got new for the build were all chosen with a specific purpose. The star of today’s show is the NZXT H1 case, which, when it was launched a few months ago, I just knew that it would need to be the center of my brand-new custom PC gaming computer build.

The case: NZXT H1

The NZXT H1 case comes in at around $350 if you can find one in stock right now. While that might seem a bit steep for a case, this isn’t just a case. With your purchase of the NZXT H1 for your next custom PC build, you’ll score a 650W fully modular 80+ Gold rated power supply, a custom 140mm all-in-one liquid cooler, and a PCIe Gen 3 riser cable. This is all crucial to the building process, so it’s not like you won’t need it anyway.

The build process with the H1 was quite simple and only took around 30-45 minutes, including running into a few snags. Now, none of the snags I ran into were really NZXT’s fault, but there was a screw that I stripped out in the case to remove the cooler fan, so be sure you have a proper screwdriver set on hand for your build, like this one from iFixit.

Once you remove the front glass panel and rear mesh insert, the rest of the case slides right off revealing the inner goodies. You’ll remove two screws to get access to the motherboard tray, and the standoffs are pre-installed to make things a bit easier. Speaking of pre-installed, you’ll also notice that the power cables as well as the cooler is already pre-installed and routed, making things even easier once it comes time to build. I held my motherboard outside of the case to make most of the initial plugs, slid it in, and then screwed it down. Your I/O shield faces down, so don’t forget to install that.

On the top of the case, there’s a USB-A and USB-C port, both of the 3.1 spec. Something to keep in mind is that the USB-C port is essentially useless if you opt for a Ryzen X570 platform unless you pick up splitters and adapters to make use of it. So, you’ll likely be limited to a single USB-A port up top, which could be a drawback for some.

For temps, I’ve been quite pleased. Given that my graphics card is quite beefy, I was expecting temps to skyrocket in-game. But, without an overclock, my Ryzen 5 3600 never really goes above 76=78C when gaming. And, likewise, the graphics card gets close to (but not over) 90C while under heavy load. Overall, I’m very happy with the performance that the NZXT H1 provides my custom build with in the cooling department.

Buy the NZXT H1 case for $349.99

The processor: Ryzen 5 3600

When I went to part out the new build and figure out what processor to go with, the Ryzen 5 3600 was high on my list. My last gaming rig was an i7-6800k, 6-core/12-thread setup that served me well back in 2016 when I originally built it. But, it’s aged quite a bit, and things are just becoming more budget-friendly. For instance, that processor set me back $380 when I originally purchased it. However, the Ryzen 5 3600 that I went with for this build cost just $160. And, get this…Ryzen is more powerful than the Intel chip I purchased some four years ago. It’s crazy.

The Ryzen 5 3600 sports a maximum boost clock of 4.2GHz, though it’s unlocked and able to be overclocked (something I plan on doing.) It sports 6-cores and 12-threads, and the bundled cooler is actually quite good given its smaller size. The biggest part that I really loved about the Ryzen 5 3600 is that it’s PCIe Gen 4.0 compatible, which makes it ready for the big leagues once more products support the new standard.

Overall, I have been very impressed with the Ryzen 5 3600 in both gaming and workstation-related tasks, and it will be the main processor I recommend until the 4th generation Ryzen takes over that spot later this year.

Buy the Ryzen 5 3600 6-Core CPU for $174.99

The motherboard: Gigabyte X570 I Aorus Pro Wi-Fi

The NZXT H1 is a mini ITX case meant for smaller builds, meaning there’s only one size motherboard that fits within it. And, given that I went with the Ryzen 5 3600, which supports PCIe Gen 4.0 on X570 motherboards, it was a given that I just had to get one. In comes Gigabyte’s X570 I Aorus Pro Wi-Fi motherboard. Yes, that’s a mouthful, but it’s a fantastic board.

You’ll find a single PCIe 4.0/3.0 X16 channel here, and given its size, that’s to be expected. There are two RAM slots, and I used 16GB CORSAIR’s Vengeance memory since the NZXT H1 case requires a low-profile DIMM. 3200MHz is fine for my needs, but Ryzen does love fast RAM, so if you’re wanting to go all-out, something you should look at something that’s 3466MHz or faster.

The motherboard has plenty of I/O for everything I need. There’s a USB 3.2 Type-C port and Type-A next to each other, and four other USB 3.1 ports on the back as well. You’ll also find Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi 6 plus Bluetooth 5.0 built-in, ensuring you have all of the latest connection standards to take advantage of. Something nice is that the NZXT H1 has a metal back, and the Wi-Fi antenna for the motherboard is magnetic, so it just sits there without an issue.

Buy the Gigabyte X570 I Aorus Pro Wi-Fi for $219.99

Buy 16GB of CORSAIR Vengeance 3200MHz RAM for $99

The graphics card: AMD Vega 64

This was a reused part from a previous build, as I had it plugged into my Mac mini to provide a bit more power for video editing. But, since I rarely work on videos these days, it was an easy choice to repurpose it for this system.

Vega 64 is a fantastic graphics card and I really enjoy using it. Honestly, with the Ryzen 5 3600 and the Vega 64, I’m able to play most games at 1440p high or 1080p ultra. Some games, like Apex Legends, I can easily play at 4K ultra given that they’re lighter weight and easier to use. If I was to pick up a new card, instead of reuse the one I had, I’d recommend the Radeon RX 5700 XT or the NVIDIA GTX 2070 Super, depending on if you prefer NVIDIA or AMD. The 5700 XT is PCIe 4.0, while the 2070 Super is PCIe 3.0, so do keep that in mind.

Buy the AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT for $409.99 or the NVIDIA GTX 2070 Super for $539.99

The storage: WD SN550 NVMe

When it comes to storage, the NZXT H1 only offers one built-in option: 2.5-inch. Since I didn’t want to run a 2.5-inch SATA SSD in this build, I opted for a larger 1TB M.2 NVMe drive from WD. The WD SN550 is a great option and I absolutely love it in this system. It’s blazing fast, sporting 2.4GB/s transfer speeds, which blows away standard SSDs or HDDs. While the motherboard can support PCIe 4.0 SSDs, with speeds of up to 4.5GB/s, there’s really no need for that in my system, and WD’s drive provides more than enough in the performance department.

I do plan on adding a secondary NVMe drive to the rear of the motherboard, since there’s an additional slot, at some point in the future. While 1TB is quite a lot, once you have several games installed, it fills up quickly. For example, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare takes up around 150GB, which is 15% of the total capacity of the drive for just a single game.

Buy the WD 1TB SN550 NVMe M.2 SSD for $109.99

Wrapping it up

In the end, this system far exceeds what I expected it to do. Overall, if you were to buy every piece of this system new, then it would set you back around $1,400 or so, depending on if you caught some parts on sale or not.

While $1,400 isn’t a budget-focused system, and you could absolutely build a good 1080p gaming machine for under $1,000, this rig is built to last a few years and has plenty of upgrade potential. I’ll be able to add another SSD to it, upgrade the graphics card to a PCIe 4.0 version later, and have two steps (Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9) for the processor should the Ryzen 5 ever start to feel slow. Overall, I’m very happy with the entire system and love the NZXT H1 as the center of it all. Even if I do rebuild in the future, I could easily see myself reusing this case as it’s just so darn beautiful.

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