The BLD Starter PC Plus (starts at $899; $999 as tested) is a midtower gaming desktop from L.A.-based component maker NZXT. Sold under its BLD program as a preconfigured, quick-to-ship machine, it’s assembled from aftermarket components in one of NZXT’s well-designed cases. Nothing’s proprietary about it, and as we tested it (with AMD’s Ryzen 5 2600 six-core CPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card), the Starter PC Plus is a reliable performer in today’s AAA games and esports titles at 1080p or 1440p resolution. It’s a good value next to mainstream offerings from Dell and Lenovo, even one-upping them with a two-year warranty. Factor in quiet cooling, good looks, and plenty of expansion room, and the BLD Starter PC Plus is our new favorite among value-oriented, prebuilt gaming towers.
BLD Me Some Value
The “Plus” part of the $999 BLD Starter PC Plus comes from its upgraded graphics (a GeForce GTX 1660 Ti instead of a GTX 1660) and twice the solid-state storage (1TB against 512GB) versus NZXT’s base-model $899 BLD Starter PC. Assuming the $100 extra won’t break the bank, the Plus model’s premium is a no-brainer upcharge. The Plus model otherwise shares its specifications with the Starter PC, including 16GB of DDR4-3000 dual-channel memory and a copy of Windows 10 Home.
Mainstream PC makers don’t always have a pricing advantage over smaller vendors. The $1,079 Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop (5680) tower I found on Dell’s website had a GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card and a comparable Core i5-9400 processor, but it included just half the memory (8GB) and a less desirable 256GB SSD/1TB hard drive storage combo. (I’d much sooner have the 1TB SSD in the Starter PC Plus, even though the total capacity is slightly less.) Lenovo’s Legion T530 Tower (closely related to the Legion T730 Tower we tested) fared better, priced at just $889 when equipped like the Dell. However, both it and the Dell need a memory upgrade (to 16GB) to be competitive with the NZXT. An 8GB allotment of memory is only just enough for modern gaming, let alone any livestreaming or multitasking while doing so.
In addition, Dell and Lenovo send those PCs with short one-year warranties. The BLD Starter PC Plus has two years of coverage for both parts and labor. The parts coverage is notable; it’s not uncommon for smaller PC vendors to advertise multiyear warranties, yet cover parts only for the first year.
For a final test of value, I price-shopped the components in our test configuration to see what I could save if I built it myself. It turned out to be next to nothing; I arrived within $50 of the NZXT’s selling price. Considering the assembly is already done and it’s covered by a system warranty (and not individual parts warranties, as you’d have if you built it yourself), it hardly makes sense to DIY-build this configuration solely for economic reasons.
The BLD Starter PC Plus is based around NZXT’s H500 midtower case, which retails for about $75 and looks similar to the NZXT H500i we tested a while back. Its most visual feature is a tempered-glass panel on the left side, offering uninterrupted views of the interior…
The case doesn’t have dedicated RGB lighting, but you’ll find it on some of the components. The MSI B450 Tomahawk motherboard has a lighting zone along its top right corner and one more on its lower edge, which you can control via the preinstalled MSI Dragon Center software. In addition, the two TeamGroup T-Force Delta DIMMs feature five lighting zones on each module. Alas, to control this particular RAM’s coloration or patterns, you’d need Asus’ Aura Sync software, while the MSI board supports just MSI’s RGB-control protocol, Mystic Light. Because of that, you’ll get only the modules’ default color effects, but those, mind you, are nonetheless striking. They’re more than adequate, to my eyes.
Moving back outside, the Starter PC Plus has straight edges for a clean, non-polarizing look. The case’s dimensions (16.9 by 8.3 by 18.1 inches, HWD) are normal for a midtower. Our test unit is black, but NZXT offers white as a no-cost option. I like the fact there’s no bare steel anywhere on this tower.
The tower feels sturdy thanks to its rolled-steel construction. Four tall feet on its underside keep it from moving around. If you do manage to bump into it, hopefully it won’t be against one of its corners; I found them to be extra-pointy. The tower weighs 20 pounds in our test configuration.
Easy Interior Access
Accessing the interior entails loosening the thumbscrew holding on the left-side panel. It then leans outward for easy removal.
The MSI ATX motherboard takes up most of the real estate. The board has aggressive design details, like branded heat shrouds, but its dark color scheme means it doesn’t stand out against the blacked-out case interior. I’m rather surprised that NZXT doesn’t offer full case lighting as an upgrade on this prebuilt model since it sells desktop RGB lighting kits as accessories.
An AMD Wraith Stealth air cooler sits atop the AMD Ryzen 5 2600 processor…
Just below it is the board’s single M.2 Type-2280 PCI Express slot, occupied here by a 1TB Intel 660p SSD.
An MSI-brand GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card, specifically the Ventus XS 6G OC model (which is slightly overclocked), is the next component down.
It’s slightly shorter than a typical two-slot desktop card, although the H500 case can easily take a full-length card.
An MSI-brand 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth card occupies a PCI Express slot under the graphics card. Its included antennas, not shown in our photos, need to be connected for good range.
The raised metal bar to the right of the motherboard is for cable management…
It wasn’t utilized in this build, and it can be removed if you so desire. A 120mm front fan and another at the rear round out the features in this side.
The traditional storage bays are behind the right-side panel, which is held on by two thumbscrews. Two 2.5-inch bays are vertically mounted in clever pop-out caddies, while a removable drive cage with two 3.5-inch bays sits toward the front. There’s a skinny removable dust filter for the front fan in front of the cage, and one more built into the front edge of the right-side panel. The underside of the desktop has an additional removable filter over the air intake for the power supply.
The power supply in the BLD Starter PC Plus is bottom-mounted in its own compartment. Its 500-watt rating and 80 Plus certification give it plenty of juice for the components inside our test configuration. It shouldn’t have a problem handling most midrange graphics card upgrades, should you decide to upgrade down the line. The Seasonic-brand unit in our tester doesn’t have modular cables, but NZXT did a tidy job of routing the ones that were used and bundling the others.
The front port selection consists of headphone and microphone jacks and two USB Type-A 3.0 ports. The power button is next to them.
I’d like to see a flash-memory-card reader, but the BLD Starter PC Plus doesn’t have one.
The MSI motherboard, on the other hand, has abundant ports. Two legacy USB 2.0 ports and a PS/2 port are at the top. Just under them, the DVI-D and HDMI video connectors are disabled in favor of the video outputs on the dedicated Nvidia graphics card.
Rounding out the selection are two USB Type-A 3.0 ports, version 3.1 USB Type-A and Type-C ports, an Ethernet jack, and six audio connectors (microphone, line-in, line-out, and three surround jacks). The GTX 1660 Ti graphics card has one HDMI and three DisplayPort video outputs.
Meeting the Bar for Mainstream Gaming
The desktops you’ll see in the following comparison charts are, based on their component loadouts, either a step below or a step (or two) above what’s inside the BLD Starter PC Plus…
The Digital Storm and Origin PC desktops feature more powerful processors and graphics cards, while the budget-minded HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop is an inexpensive example. The NZXT’s closest comparison in this lot is the Lenovo Legion T730 Tower.
Productivity and Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the boot drive. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The BLD Starter PC Plus produced PCMark 10 numbers in line with expectations for its hardware, and well above the 4,000 points that we consider excellent in that test. Its value-oriented Intel 660p SSD keeps up just fine in PCMark 8 Storage, though the same can’t be said of the slow hard drive-based storage in the HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop. It pays to have an SSD.
Media Processing and Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The BLD Starter PC Plus made a solid showing here. It was beaten out by the Lenovo tower, but not by much. That’s an impressive stat since the Core i7-8700K processor chip in that tower has a 95-watt thermal design power (TDP) rating, where the Ryzen 5 2600 in the NZXT is rated for just 65 watts. Naturally, both were outmatched by the pricier eight-core processors in the Digital Storm and Origin PC desktops.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. Lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The Starter PC Plus fell a bit further behind the Lenovo tower here, likely because its processor isn’t quite as adept in this type of workload. It still has respectable performance for photo-editing duties.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
A generation makes a difference; the GTX 1660 Ti graphics card in the BLD Starter PC Plus leaves the Lenovo’s older GeForce GTX 1060 in the dust with a solid score for a mainstream gaming PC. It doesn’t come close to matching the GeForce RTX 2070 in the Digital Storm, but it’s not nearly as expensive.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario and a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
Producing more than 60 frames per second (fps) at the 1080p High setting is no small feat, but the BLD Starter PC Plus is clearly there. It should have power to spare for future games.
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings. These are run on the maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions to determine the sweet spot of visuals and smooth performance for a given system. The results are also provided in frames per second. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11 based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for the benchmark.
The BLD Starter PC Plus has fluid numbers at both the 1080p and 1440p resolutions, again showing marked improvements over the GTX 1060 in the Lenovo. Gaming at a 4K/UHD resolution isn’t its forte in these titles, though, at least not without drastically lowering the detail settings. Only the Origin PC and its mighty RTX 2080 can comfortably hang at 4K in this group. That card alone, though, costs about 70 percent of the BLD Starter PC Plus’ total price.
Cooling & Thermals
The BLD Starter PC Plus has quiet, effective cooling. A half-hour gaming session in Shadow of the Tomb Raider brought the MSI GTX 1660 Ti graphics card to a relatively cool average of 70 degrees C. Meanwhile, the AMD Wraith Stealth cooler kept the Ryzen 5 2600 processor to an average of just 55 degrees C. (I did my testing in a room at 72 degrees F.)
The two 120mm fans in this unit (one at the front for intake, the other at the rear for exhaust) made minimal noise. The 120mm fan in the power supply was also almost inaudible, as was the AMD cooler.
Shown above is an exhaust grate on the top of the tower for another 120mm fan, should you want to add one, but it’s unnecessary with the kind of components in the Starter PC Plus. This desktop has plenty of airflow.
It’s More Than a Starter PC
NZXT’s BLD Starter PC Plus is an excellent choice for a prebuilt gaming desktop. It goes outside the mainstream curve with its all-aftermarket assembly, and it even covers everything with a two-year warranty. Down the road, you can swap out any part.
On top of that, it’s a solid value. We found NZXT’s pricing for the BLD Starter PC Plus is right about the sum of what it would cost you to buy its bits on the open market. The assembly work and wiring is well done, making it even harder to argue the DIY route. It’s essentially a DIY PC with well-chosen parts and without the hassle of building it (or being your own tech support). Dell and Lenovo offer similar configurations for around the same price, but they don’t offer the custom vibes of this one.
You can get the NZXT BLD Starter PC for $899, but we think the better value lies with the Plus version we tested. The extra $100 gets you the extra-large 1TB SSD and, most important, that faster GTX 1660 Ti graphics card. Coupled with the Ryzen 5 six-core processor and 16GB of memory, it’s a fine example of a budget gaming desktop done right.