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NZXT BLD Kit review: DIY PC building with training wheels

Tuesday January 11, 2022. 11:35 AM , from PC World
At a glanceExpert’s Rating
ProsEliminates hassle of picking partsExcellent build instructionsDecent configuration optionsReasonable markup over DIY at MSRPFull customer supportConsTroubleshooting advice could be more extensiveLong wait times for customer support helpOur VerdictNZXT’s BLD Kits do a superb job of taking the pain out of DIY PC assembly, with minimal upcharge for handling part research and sourcing. The full customer support also protects against the potential problems of a DIY build, too, making these kits an excellent option for new builders to consider.

Until recently, owning a desktop PC was the result of one of two choices. You went out and bought one already built, or you purchased the components and assembled it yourself. No middle path existed for those who found the idea of building a PC appealing but also daunting.

Enter NZXT and its new BLD Kits. Launched back in October, these curated collections of PC parts both eliminate the stress of selecting your own components and figuring out how to put them all together. You simply choose from one of three different configurations, wait for a box with all necessary components and tools to arrive, and then follow the detailed assembly instructions. Should anything go wrong, NZXT provides a two-year warranty and serves as a singular point of contact for customer support, even after the warranty period expires.

Naturally, as seasoned PC builders, we were curious as to how easy NZXT makes the process. Not only could a BLD Kit assuage the fears of first-time builders, but it also removes another major roadblock for kids eager to put together their first PC. Frustrated young people often write us to say that parents or guardians are leery about the lack of centralized support with a DIY PC; NZXT’s approach removes that risk.

Turns out that these BLD Kits do simplify PC building…but can’t eliminate all of the potential headaches that come up. In some ways, our experience perfectly encapsulates the highs and lows of assembling your own system—as well as the benefit of a single company at your back for support.

What you get in the box

All the parts and tools you need come packed in a single box. A keyboard and mouse must be purchased separately, though.Alaina Yee / IDG

Our BLD Kit sample was a launch-day Streaming Plus model, which included the following components:

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X (6 cores, 12 threads)CPU cooler: NZXT Kraken M22 120MM AIO Liquid CoolerMotherboard: MSI B550-A Pro (CEC)RAM: 16GB Team T-Force Vulcan Z DDR4-3200 (2x8GB)GPU: Gigabyte RTX 3060 Ti Gaming OC LHRPSU: Seasonic S12III 650W 80+ BronzeStorage: WD Blue SN550 NVMe M.2 1TB (WDS100T2B0C)Wi-Fi: MSI MS-B905C Dual-Band Wireless PCIe Adapter CardCase: NZXT H510 (White)OS: Windows 10 Home–Keyboard and mouse not included–Among the configuration options, the Streaming Plus model falls squarely in the middle. Our version is actually now out of date—since launch, NZXT has changed the class of GPU. This config now comes with the upgrade of an RTX 3070 card and costs $1,749.

Stepping down to the $1,399 Starter Pro kit drops the graphics card to an RTX 3060 Ti, and swaps in an Intel Core i5-11400F as the CPU. It also comes with an air cooler and a lower-wattage 500W power supply. All other specs are the same.

Moving up to the Streaming Pro kit is a much bigger jump—you go straight to a RTX 3080 Ti, 32GB of DDR4-3000 memory, and an 8-core, 16-thread AMD Ryzen 7 5800X. The power supply also increases to 750 watts, in order to accommodate the 3080 Ti. As you might guess, the price takes a mighty leap as well: Up to $2,799, or over $1K that of the current Streaming Plus kit.

Stick to the included instructions and success should come with little trouble.

Each component’s label includes a letter that indicates its order in the assembly process.Alaina Yee / IDG

Universal among the kits is how they arrive. You get one big box of PC parts, with the components in a mix of packaging. In our kit, the power supply and graphics card were in their original boxes, but the motherboard was repacked in a plain white box. Smaller parts like the RAM and the storage drive were put in anti-static ziplock bags. No matter what the type of packaging, every PC part had a clear label that identified what it was and when you would install it.

Also in the shipping box was a detailed PC building guide, parts list, and a magnetized toolkit. You don’t need to purchase anything separately to complete the assembly. (You may want to, though—for example, a handful of velcro ties to help with cable management.)

However, you must buy your own keyboard and mouse. They don’t come included, which could come as a surprise to previous owners of prebuilt PCs, which typically come with peripherals. NZXT isn’t explicit about this fact in the product listing pages for the kits.

Building experience

Following the BLD Kit’s written instructions is easy. The guide has a similar vibe to a Lego kit’s, with full color diagrams for the installation of each component. It’s even themed—you’re a cartoon adventurer who’s discovering a treasure trove of PC parts—which makes the process more approachable, without feeling overly childish. Even if you’re not into the cute vibe, you can still clearly see the care and attention NZXT poured into its building manual.

Each step is broken down into small actions designed to put brand-new PC builders at ease. Stick to what’s on the page and success should come with little trouble. As I found out, going off-script can cause confusion, as you can see in the embedded video above. During the live build of our BLD kit, I occasionally complicated things by going on autopilot and prepping things out of habit, resulting in skipped steps or other impediments to progress.

In the event you can’t understand the written guide, or don’t do well with static visual instructions in general, you can instead watch a series of instructional YouTube videos. During our build, we found that the videos serve as a good supplement to the guide. But for those who are using both, tiny differences in instruction can potentially cause confusion. I ended up relying on the guide and using the videos for better views of installation technique, rather than trying to reconcile both sets of instructions if they conflicted.

The building guide has clear, detailed pictures to go along with the instructions.Alaina Yee / IDG

NZXT could improve on its already excellent instructions with a few additions—like a motherboard diagram with labels for the different parts, rather than pushing new builders to navigate a far-less friendly manufacturer’s manual. For our kit, a new builder wouldn’t have even been able to consult the manufacturer’s manual, unless they thought to look online for the PDF version. The manual wasn’t transferred over from the original packaging to the white box the mobo came in.

Advice on how much to tighten screws, the ideal tightening pattern for securing screws, and even how to check motherboard stand-offs for adequate seating would be useful tips, too. Ideally a build goes without a hitch and that last point isn’t necessary—you wouldn’t ever have to fuss with disassembly to troubleshoot problems. But problems can crop up even despite the best instructions and careful assembly. Such tips can go a long way toward ensuring a positive experience, and it’s good info for new builders to know anyway.

It’s also puzzling why a backup DVD for Windows 10 was included, instead of a USB stick. These BLD kits lack a DVD drive—heck, the case doesn’t have a 5.25-inch drive bay. There’s not even a mention of the Windows 10 media creation webpage. It would help eliminate confusion down the road should a wipe become necessary (which it almost did in our case).

All that said, these are mostly nitpicked suggestions for further improving the experience. NZXT successfully keeps PC building from being intimidating, and we enjoyed how the guide and videos hold your hand through the process. Our only true criticism is the handling of Windows 10 media—mostly because of what happened after we finished the build.

Post-build troubleshooting

Our BLD Kit had trouble booting into Windows.PCWorld

Aside from a few moments of self-inflicted mistakes, putting together our BLD kit went smoothly. However, after booting up the PC, things took a hard turn onto bumpy territory.

We successfully entered POST on first try—that wasn’t the issue. But we did run in to a POST error message that the CPU or memory had changed or the CMOS had been cleared. Presented with the choice to enter setup or load default values and continue, I chose the latter.

Usually I would choose to enter setup to manually verify that the BIOS or UEFI recognized all of the components accurately. I might also choose to leave RAM at stock speeds, if anything registered incorrectly and I anticipated more troubleshooting to come. But some new builders might decide they don’t know enough about computers to navigate through BIOS settings and instead trust that the defaults wouldn’t steer them wrong. I decided to mimic that line of thought.

After making this selection, Windows loaded for a brief moment, only to then throw up a Blue Screen of Death. And that’s when the actual problem reared its head: On reboot, the system showed a blank black screen. No POST, no sign of response outside of the power being on.

The Windows Blue Screen of Death wasn’t so problematic. But this blank black screen that followed—that was stickier to deal with.PCWorld

This is the sort of situation that can happen during DIY builds. Usually something isn’t assembled quite right, but one of the components could be faulty, too. NZXT handling the components beforehand can accidentally throw a wrench into matters as well, as could the pre-installation of Windows 10 on the storage drive. For us, not a big deal. For a new builder, a potential heart-stopping moment.

Unfortunately, this problem was not fixable using NZXT’s basic troubleshooting tips, which would leave a new builder in our situation with two choices: contacting customer support, or looking up their problem on the internet in the hopes of figuring it out themselves.

Most buyers would presumably contact NZXT first, but like with prebuilt PCs, the wait time for help from technical support can take awhile. When we tried calling, we were given an estimated wait time of 9 minutes—and ended up on hold for 55 minutes before being shunted to a voicemail system, due to close of the business day.

The next step would have been to leave a voicemail or file an online support ticket. In either case, you can end up waiting days before help is available—support hours are only Monday through Friday, 8am to 6pm Pacific Time, with some additional closures on major holidays.

That said, even after listening to hold music for an hour, I appreciated that phone support was available. Wading through internet forums can be intimidating, especially if the answers involve information you’re completely unfamiliar with. NZXT tells us that its technical support team makes use of video calls during troubleshooting, too—which was good to hear, because being able to have common visual references speeds up the process.

The CMOS battery on our BLD Kit’s motherboard.Alaina Yee / IDG

Ultimately, what solved the boot issue was a relatively simple step: clearing the CMOS. I knew to try this from experience, so I didn’t follow up with NZXT’s customer support, and instead went solo.

I unplugged the system from the wall, removed the GPU for access to the CMOS battery, pulled it out from the motherboard, waited about 10 minutes, and then put everything back. (For the record, the CMOS could’ve been cleared in half that time, but I got distracted with work email.) Upon powering on the system, I got the same POST error message as during first boot, and this time I entered the BIOS/UEFI settings to verify everything was set correctly.

And yet the saga didn’t end there. The Windows 10 boot issues still remained—I ran into recovery issues a couple of times before the initial setup screen finally appeared. (Because of the initial error code, I suspect we could have accidentally gotten a drive that was cloned for an Intel CPU configuration.)

Because of these Windows 10 issues, I strongly believe NZXT should mention how to create a Windows 10 USB drive (or far better, include one with the kit). I came close to needing to wipe the drive and start over with a fresh installation, and I had no usable installation media on hand. And actually, I would still do a fresh wipe and install anyway just to play it safe, if this were my PC. Easier to do it at this stage, rather than assuming everything’s fine and then having to deal with issues after you’ve settled into the system and have your apps and files to manage as well.

NZXT provides easy-to-access support, but a little extra documentation in the guide could help people more quickly understand how to fix their problems.Alaina Yee / IDG

I also think it’s an oversight to not include troubleshooting advice about issues with booting into Windows 10 upon first startup. Dealing with an operating system is just as much part of the DIY build experience as the assembly.

When I reached out to NZXT to ask how the technicians handle more complicated problems, and how RMAs worked, I was told that support guides customers through troubleshooting tips. If over the course of that process, it becomes apparent that a part is actually bad, NZXT creates a shipping label for it to be sent back. The company then tests and replaces the part in two days or less, and then ships it back via an expedited service. If you have to send in parts, expect them to take three to five days to arrive at NZXT, and then another one to three days for the replacement to reach you.

Final thoughts

Even with our experience going as it did, NZXT’s idea is a very good one. A novice builder gets clear guidance and instructions, and can speak with an actual human when seeking help. That assistance may not be as ideal as personally knowing an expert to consult with, but not everyone has a friend or family member they can lean on in that way. You don’t have to dig online to figure out problems as you would when going solo with a DIY build, either. So while I think NZXT can still improve some on the support front, this initial launch definitely gets the building part right. I don’t expect most people to run into the kind of trouble I did either.

The upcharge you pay for these kits, as compared to going completely DIY, is also reasonable. You’ll shell out a couple to a few hundred dollars more for a BLD Kit, but obtaining a graphics card right now can cost much more than that. (Thanks for nothing, scalpers.)

The primary drawback to these BLD Kits is the limited choice of parts available. For example, you can have whatever case you want, as long as it’s the NZXT H510. (The H510 Flow isn’t even an option.) It would be fun to see what kind of building kits system integrators like CyberPowerPC or iBuyPower could offer, as they have a broader selection of parts for their prebuilt PCs.

But overall, this is a solid option for new builders to consider, be they adults, young enthusiasts, or as a family project.
https://www.pcworld.com/article/561235/nzxt-bld-kit-review-diy-pc-building-with-training-wheels.html

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