TR’s fall 2013 system guide

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Wow, is it really that time again? I suppose it must be.

Since we published our last system guide, AMD and Nvidia have introduced a cornucopia of new graphics cards—and cut prices on existing offerings for good measure. Most of the newcomers are based on the same silicon as their predecessors, but they’re faster and, in some cases, more aggressively priced. We’re facing a completely changed graphics landscape.

On top of that, Intel has released its Ivy Bridge-E processors, and motherboard makers have cranked out updates to accommodate them. Corsair has introduced a successor to one of our favorite cases. Memory prices have gone up again—although, this time, it’s because of an unfortunate factory fire. Also, Microsoft has rolled out Windows 8.1, and a whole boatload of new convertibles and notebooks based on it have come out.

So, yes, I suppose it really is time for a new edition of the TR System Guide.

This time, we’ve tried to update our staple builds while trimming some of the fat from our writing. The result, we hope, is a set of more concise recommendations that should be a little less daunting to parse, especially for first-time builders.

All right, that’s enough teasing. Come along, and check out the new guide!

Rules and regulations

A short disclaimer: this is a component selection guide, not a PC assembly guide or a performance comparison. If you’re seeking help with the business of putting components together, you’ll want to have a look at our handy how-to build a PC article—and the accompanying video:

If you’re after reviews and benchmarks, we suggest heading to our front page and starting from there.

Over the next few pages, you’ll see us recommend and discuss components for four sample builds. Those builds have target budgets of about $600, $1,000, $1,500, and $3,000. Within each budget, we will attempt to hit the sweet spot of performance and value while mentally juggling variables like benchmark data, our personal experiences, current availability and retail pricing, user reviews, warranty coverage, and the manufacturer’s size and reputation. We’ll try to avoid both overly cheap parts and needlessly expensive ones. We’ll also favor components we know first-hand to be better than the alternatives.

Beyond a strenuous vetting process, we will also aim to produce balanced configurations. While it can be tempting to settle on a $50 motherboard or a no-name power supply just to make room for a faster CPU, such decisions are fraught with peril—and likely disappointment. Similarly, we will avoid favoring processor performance at the expense of graphics performance, or vice versa, keeping in mind that hardware enthusiasts who build their own PCs tend to be gamers, as well.

Now that we’ve addressed the how, let’s talk about the where. See that “powered by Newegg.com” logo at the top of the page? Newegg sponsors our system guides, and more often than not, it will double as our source for component prices. However, Newegg has no input on our editorial content nor sway over our component selections. If we want to recommend something it doesn’t carry, we’ll do just that.

We think sourcing prices from a huge online retailer gives us more realistic figures, though—so much so that we quoted Newegg prices long before this guide got a sponsor. Dedicated price search engines can find better deals, but they often pull up unrealistically low prices from small and potentially unreliable e-tailers. If you’re going to spend several hundred (or thousand) dollars on a PC, we think you’ll be more comfortable doing so at a large e-tailer with a proven track record and a decent return policy. That vendor doesn’t have to be as big as Newegg, but it probably shouldn’t be as small as Joe Bob’s Discount Computer Warehouse, either.

The Econobox
Because speed doesn’t have to cost a fortune

Our budget build’s target price has fluctuated over the years, but our aim has always been the same: to spec out a solid budget gaming PC without ugly compromises. Decent graphics performance is a must here, as is a strong upgrade path.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i3-4130 3.4GHz $129.99
Motherboard ASRock H87M Pro4 $82.99
Memory Crucial Ballistix 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $63.99
Graphics MSI Radeon HD 7850 2GB $149.99
Storage Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 1TB $69.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $19.99
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 200R $59.99
Power supply Corsair CX430M $49.99
Total   $626.92

Processor

Dual-core Haswell desktop chips are finally out, which means we can freshen the Econobox’s CPU recommendation. Hooray!

Things are a bit more complicated this time, though. Next-gen games are coming out soon, and they seem poised to take advantage of more CPU threads than current titles. The system requirements for Watch Dogs, for instance, call for an old quad-core processor as a minimum, and they recommend top-of-the-line chips with eight threads. That kinda makes sense, superficially speaking. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both have eight x86 cores. Someone building a PC with next-gen games in mind therefore ought to get as many cores as he can. Right?

Well, not necessarily. The cores in the PS4 and Xbone are based on AMD’s lightweight Jaguar architecture, so they’re far slower than those inside modern desktop CPUs. Also, what we know about how games are coded tells us that single-threaded performance will continue to matter for the foreseeable future. Even in next-gen titles, we’re unlikely to see workloads spread evenly across eight cores. Rather, we’ll probably see one heavy workload and several light ones, which will make single-threaded performance the bottleneck.

For those reasons, we’re comfortable recommending two fast Haswell cores with Hyper-Threading (giving us four threads total) for the Econobox. There are like-priced alternatives with more threads among AMD’s FX-series processors, but those have lower per-thread performance. An FX-series chip with six threads, for example, could do better in the heavily multithreaded workloads that might appear in next-gen games—but it will also do worse when a single thread is the bottleneck, which is a common situation today and will remain so in the future.

So, yeah. The Core i3-4130 it is.

However unlikely, it’s possible that multithreaded performance could matter more than we expect in next-gen games. That’s why we’ve singled out an FX-6300 for our alternatives section below. Just keep in mind that the FX-6300 has other disadvantages beside its poor single-threaded performance: much higher power consumption, an older platform with fewer features, and no upgrade path that we know of. If you’re worried about multithreaded performance, then your best bet is probably to spend the extra $60 or so on a quad-core Haswell processor. We’ve selected one of those, too, in the alts below.

Motherboard

Phew. Now that our overly long CPU recommendation is over with, let’s speed through the less contentious stuff, like our motherboard recommendation.

ASRock’s H87M Pro4 is based on Intel’s H87 chipset, which has all the bells and whistles of the Z87 minus multiplier overclocking support (which we don’t need, since we’re not recommending an unlocked chip) and proper multi-GPU support (also not needed, since we’re not recommending multiple graphics cards). The H87M Pro4 sports quad USB 3.0 ports, six 6Gbps SATA ports, Intel Ethernet, an affordable price tag, and pretty good reviews at Newegg. Since this is a microATX mobo, there are only four expansion slots—but that’s more than we need for one discrete GPU and no other expansion cards.

Memory

Memory prices are up again, but strangely enough, the gap in pricing between 4GB and 8GB DDR3-1600 dual-channel kits has shrunk. Since going for the smaller memory size would only save us about $10-20, we figure we might as well go with a nice 8GB kit.

Graphics

Recent price cuts have brought both AMD’s Radeon HD 7850 2GB and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB down to around $150. These cards have roughly equivalent performance, and they’re both much faster than alternatives like the R7 260X and the standard GTX 650 Ti. The question, then, is which one do we pick?

The 7850 2GB is a little more power-efficient than the 650 Ti Boost 2GB, and it has a better game bundle right now. You can take your pick out of two free games as part of AMD’s Never Settle Forever Silver bundle. The competing GeForce comes with $75 of free-to-play credit, which is nice, but nowhere near as generous. We’re picking MSI’s variant of the 7850 2GB here, since it has a beefy dual-fan cooler that should be nice and quiet.

Storage

We don’t have the budget to include an SSD by default, so Seagate’s 1TB Barracuda returns as the Econobox’s system drive. This 7,200-RPM mechanical drive has a single platter, 64MB of cache, and a 6Gbps Serial ATA interface. It also boasts higher performance ratings than WD’s comparable Blue 1TB drive, which uses two platters and is likely to be noisier as a result. Too bad neither drive offers more than two years of warranty coverage.

We’re rounding out our storage rec with a DVD burner. Optical drives are almost unnecessary in modern PCs, but this is a full-sized desktop, and we have three 5.25″ drive bays just waiting to be filled. A DVD burner like Asus’ DRW-24B1ST only costs an extra $20 or so, and it could come in handy.

Enclosure

Despite selling for just $60, Corsair’s Carbide Series 200R is loaded with enthusiast-friendly features. Thumbscrews abound, the cable-routing holes are nice and wide, the tool-less drive bays work effortlessly, and Corsair even offers four dedicated 2.5″ bays for SSDs and mini mechanical drives.

We’ve tested the 200R alongside the Antec Three Hundred Two, an improved version of the classic Three Hundred, and working in the Corsair case was far more comfortable and convenient. The 200R only had one disadvantage: it didn’t keep components quite as cool as its Antec rival. The difference was relatively small, however, and we were stress-testing with high-end components that consume a lot more power than our Econobox config. Thermals shouldn’t be an issue for this build.

Power supply

Since this system doesn’t draw a lot of power, we don’t need a beefy PSU. We do, however, want a modicum of quality. We’ll spend a little more on a branded, high-efficiency unit with good reviews.

One such unit is Corsair’s CX430M, which ticks all the right boxes for the Econobox: 80 Plus Bronze certification, a jumbo intake fan that should be reasonably quiet, a three-year warranty, and a low price. Not only that, but the CX430M also has modular cabling, which will help keep our internals as tidy as possible.

Econobox alternatives

Want more processor cores, an Nvidia graphics card, or a different storage setup? Read on.

Component Item Price
Processor AMD FX-6300 $119.99
Core i5-4430 3.0GHz $189.99
Motherboard Asus M5A97 LE R2.0 $74.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB $149.99
Storage Kingston HyperX 120GB $89.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 2TB $99.99

AMD’s FX-6300 has six hardware cores. If next-gen games can tap into all those cores without suffering significant drawbacks from the chip’s relatively sluggish single-threaded performance, the FX-6300 may run next-gen games better than the Core i3 in our primary build. We don’t think that’s a likely scenario, though. The FX-6300 is also hamstrung by a large power envelope (95W, versus 54W for the Core i3) and its need to be paired with a Socket AM3+ motherboard like Asus’ M5A97 LE R2.0. The AM3+ platform gives us fewer USB 3.0 ports, slower USB and Serial ATA performance, and a limited upgrade path. It also lacks the SSD caching capabilities built into modern Intel chipsets.

If you want extra cores, the best option, we think, is to spend a little more and buy the Core i5-4430, which is the most affordable quad-core member of the Haswell desktop family. The i5-4430 has more cores and great single-threaded performance, so it should handle next-gen games well no matter their requirements. Shoppers future-proofing for next-gen games may want to splurge on a little extra memory, too.

On the graphics front, the GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB probably won’t be any faster than the Radeon HD 7850 2GB in next-gen games, but it shouldn’t be any slower, either. Don’t care about the Radeon’s game bundle or its slightly lower power draw? Then the GeForce will serve you just as well. Its ability to configure game settings automatically via GeForce Experience and to record games via ShadowPlay is nice, too.

Finally, we have a couple of storage alternatives to recommend.

For those who can afford one, a solid-state drive is an indispensable addition to any PC. The drastically decreased application load times alone are enough to make you a lifelong convert. We didn’t have room in the Econobox’s $600 budget for an SSD, but we do in the alts. Kingston’s HyperX 120GB is fast, capacious, and cheap. Other options exist in this price range, but the most familiar alternative, Samsung’s 840 EVO 120GB, uses three-bit TLC memory with more limited write endurance than the HyperX’s two-bit MLC flash.

Just because we’re recommending an SSD doesn’t mean mechanical storage is good for the scrapyard. Going with the 2TB version of Seagate’s Barracuda instead of the 1TB model is a good idea even for folks who put their operating system on a solid-state drive. It’s always nice to have room for more high-definition videos and pirate loot Linux ISOs. The ‘cuda is fast enough to fill in as a boot drive, too, for those who can’t afford the SSD on top of it.

The Sweet Spot
Stunning value short on compromise

The Econobox makes a pretty solid gaming machine, but it’s still somewhat limited. The Sweet Spot’s more generous budget gives us the wiggle room to include a faster processor and graphics card, solid-state storage, and other luxuries.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-4430 3.0GHz $189.99
Motherboard Asus Z87-K $114.99
Memory Crucial Ballistix 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $63.99
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon R9 270X $199.99
Storage Kingston HyperX 120GB $89.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 2TB $99.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $19.99
Audio Asus Xonar DSX $55.99
Enclosure NZXT H2 $99.99
Power supply Corsair CX600M $79.99
Total   $1,014.90

Processor

As the most affordable member of Intel’s Haswell lineup, the Core i5-4430 isn’t the most exciting processor in the world. However, with four cores, a 3GHz clock speed (3.2GHz with Turbo), and an 84W power envelope, it has everything we need for the Sweet Spot: great performance in both single-threaded and multithreaded workloads, and great power efficiency.

We could go with the Core i5-4670K, which has an unlocked upper multiplier for easy overclocking, but that would set us back another $50, and we’re stretching our thousand-dollar budget as it is. Haswell doesn’t have huge amounts of overclocking headroom, anyway. We think it’s wiser to spend less on the processor and more on the graphics card and solid-state drive.

The Core i5-4430 has another advantage over the i5-4670K: support for Intel’s Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O, also known as VT-d. That feature is inexplicably absent from unlocked Haswell CPUs. Not everybody uses virtualization, of course, but those who do may want the 4430 even if they can afford the 4670K.

Motherboard

We’ve reviewed Z87 boards from all the biggest mobo makers, and we think Asus’ offerings are the best overall. The firmware and software are highly polished and very powerful, providing a wealth of tuning options via slick interfaces. Our favorite model so far is the Asus Z87-Pro, which is a little outside the Sweet Spot’s budget. Instead, we’ve selected the pared-down Z87-K.

The Z87-K has the same firmware and software as the Pro. It may not have as many extras, but all the essentials are covered: USB 3.0, 6Gbps Serial ATA, dual PCI Express x16 slots (albeit with only four lanes running through the second one), a couple of legacy PCI slots, and the all-important LGA1150 socket our Haswell processor requires.

We’ve singled out a Gigabyte motherboard with more USB 3.0 ports, Intel Gigabit Ethernet, and better integrated audio for our alternative recs. That board is priced $15 higher than the Z87-K, and its firmware and software aren’t as mature as what comes with the Asus board. Since the Sweet Spot’s discrete sound card removes the need for integrated audio, we’re sticking with the Z87-K as our primary choice.

Memory
This Crucial kit is one of the most affordable 8GB DDR3-1600 offerings selling at Newegg. The DIMMs runs at the maximum speed officially supported by our processor, and they’re covered by a lifetime warranty.

Graphics

The Radeon R9 270X is based on the same silicon as the old Radeon HD 7870, but it’s faster and priced at a cool $200. Our benchmarks show that this card outperforms the slightly cheaper GeForce GTX 660 by a fair margin and is almost as fast as the pricier GeForce GTX 760. The R9 270X draws a fair bit less power under load than the GTX 660, too.

This particular Gigabyte variant of the R9 270X is clocked slightly higher than AMD’s reference speed, and it has a beefy triple-fan cooler that should keep the card quiet and cool. We’ll take it.

Storage

Here, our thousand-dollar budget gives us room for both of the alternatives from the Econobox: Kingston’s HyperX 120GB and Seagate’s Barracuda 7,200-RPM 2TB. The former can store the operating system, games, and apps, ensuring lightning quick boot and load times. The latter can take care of mass-storage duties—and because of its high spindle speed, it can double as a reasonably fast location for games and apps that won’t fit on the SSD.

As for our optical drive, the Econobox’s Asus DVD burner is just as good a fit for the Sweet Spot. We considered upgrading to a Blu-ray burner, but that’s not a luxury suitable for this budget.

Audio

Yeah, yeah, we know some of you think sound cards are relics from the 1990s. However, every time we conduct blind listening tests, even low-end discrete cards wind up sounding noticeably better than motherboard audio. We’re not using audiophile-grade speakers, either. Our tests are done with a pair of lowly Sennheiser HD 555 headphones.

If you’re using analog headphones or speakers that weren’t scavenged from a circa-1995 Compaq, a discrete sound card like Asus’ Xonar DSX is a worthwhile purchase. This card doesn’t just beat onboard audio; it also has a more balanced sound profile than cheaper offerings like Asus’ Xonar DG and DGX. The DSX costs less than Creative’s latest Sound Blaster cards, too. We liked it so much that we gave the DSX our Editor’s Choice award.

Folks with S/PDIF speakers or USB headphones can skip the Xonar. Those solutions take care of the digital-to-analog conversion internally, which makes a discrete sound card somewhat redundant. Any halfway-decent analog audio device will benefit from the Xonar, though.

Enclosure
NZXT’s H2 has something of a stranglehold on the Sweet Spot. We’ve considered replacing this case with various other contenders around the same price point, but we haven’t found one that matches the H2’s combination of low noise levels, solid build quality, subdued good looks, and plentiful features. This enclosure is loaded with goodies, like hot-swappable front fans, a three-setting fan control switch, a built-in drive dock, rubber-grommeted cable routing holes, and a top ventilation cover that prevents dust and debris from falling straight down into the case. If you can find a better $100 ATX enclosure, let us know. Seriously.

Power supply
Corsair’s CX600M has all of the same perks as the CX430W we picked for the Econobox: modular cables, 80 Plus Bronze certification, and a big, quiet fan. It also features a higher output capacity and a longer (five-year) warranty. The asking price is competitive, too.

Sweet Spot alternatives

Don’t like our primary picks? As with the Econobox, we’ve singled out some alternatives.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-4670K 3.4GHz $239.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z87-D3HP $129.99
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 760 $249.99
Storage Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB $174.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 3TB $119.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $79.99
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 400R $99.99

Overclockers will want the Core i5-4670K instead of the i5-4430. This is the cheapest Haswell variant with an unlocked upper multiplier, which is pretty much required for even light overclocking. (Non-K-series Ivy Bridge chips could go a few “bins” above the base clock, but corresponding Haswell models cannot.) Overclockers should probably spring for an aftermarket CPU cooler, too; you’ll find our recommendations for those on the second-to-last-page of the guide. Our overclocking attempt with the Core i7-4770K, the i5-4670K’s big brother, suggested that Haswell requires beefier cooling than Ivy Bridge when pushed much beyond 4GHz.

If you plan to use onboard audio, then the Gigabyte GA-Z87-D3HP is arguably a better option than the Asus mobo above. It has a Realtek ALC892 codec and a full set of audio ports, including S/PDIF for digital output and analog jacks for surround setups. As icing on the cake, the GA-Z87-D3HP delivers more USB 3.0 ports. Our only reservation is with its firmware, which isn’t as polished and has somewhat confusing fan controls. Gigabyte’s tweaking software for Windows isn’t on quite the same level as Asus’, either.

The GeForce GTX 760 is a little outside our budget for the Sweet Spot’s primary picks, and we’re also not crazy about its higher power draw. Still, it is slightly faster—and unlike the Radeon, it comes bundled with free games: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Splinter Cell Blacklist. Those factors make the GTX 760 worth considering as an alternative. So do its support for GeForce Experience and ShadowPlay and the fact that buying a GTX 760 entitles you to a $50 discount on a Shield handheld, if you go through Newegg’s combo menu. We’re going with EVGA’s take on the GTX 760, which is one of the most affordable variants with a nice, dual-fan cooler instead of the noisy stock unit.

On the storage front, it can’t hurt to go with higher-capacity versions of our Kingston SSD and Seagate hard drive, provided you can afford them. Based on the data we have for similar SandForce configs, the 240GB HyperX should deliver better all-around performance than rivals with similar price tags. Adding a Blu-ray drive won’t hurt, either. LG’s WH14NS40 can read and write Blu-ray discs, which makes it handy for both movie playback and backup duties.

Look at that, we even have an alternative case recommendation! The NZXT H2’s emphasis on silence means that it’s not the coolest-running case around, so folks more worried about low temperatures than low noise levels may take a liking to Corsair’s Carbide 400R. This enclosure is a little roomier than the H2, and its interior layout and build quality are top-notch. We especially like the fact that the internal storage bays are rotated 90 degrees, so they face out toward the user for easy drive installation and removal.

The Editor’s Choice
What TR’s editors would get—if they had time to upgrade

The name of this build says it all. If we were buying a PC for ourselves right now, we’d splurge on nicer components than those found in the Sweet Spot and Econobox. However, we still wouldn’t want to waste hard-earned cash on needlessly expensive parts.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-4670K 3.4GHz $239.99
Motherboard Asus Z87-A $144.99
Memory Crucial Ballistix 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $63.99
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon R9 280X $299.99
Storage Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB $174.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 3TB $119.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $79.99
Audio Asus Xonar DSX $55.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 750D $159.99
Power supply Corsair HX650W $119.99
CPU cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $34.99
Total   $1,494.89

Processor

The Core i5-4670K lets us overclock and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. If you want overclocking support with a side order of Hyper-Threading, check the Core i7-4770K alternative below.

Note that neither of those chips has VT-d virtualization support. For that, you’ll have to get a non-unlocked chip, like the Core i5-4670 or the Core i7-4771.

Motherboard

Because of our bigger budget, we’ve selected Asus’ Z87-A, which is a little nicer than the Z87-K from the Sweet Spot. The Z87-A has more USB 3.0 ports, a superior Realtek ALC892 audio codec with digital output, and two gen-three PCI Express x16 slots that can be run in an x8/x8 configuration for multi-GPU CrossFire or SLI setups. This build may have only one graphics card, but we like having the option of adding a second card down the road.

Memory

The 8GB Crucial memory kit from the Sweet Spot works just as well in the Editor’s Choice.

Graphics

Even now that those Nvidia price cuts are in effect, the Radeon R9 280X is the best deal in this price range, since it costs less than the GeForce GTX 770 and performs almost identically. Here, we’re choosing a Gigabyte variant of the R9 280X with one of those humongous triple-fan coolers. We’ve had good experiences with these coolers in the past; they tend to be effective and very quiet.

Note that, despite its higher price, the GeForce GTX 770 does have an ace up its sleeve: a three-game bundle. If you care more about freebies than raw performance per dollar, the GeForce may be the card for you. We’ve included it in our alternatives below.

Storage

This build’s budget is big enough to allow for a decent-sized SSD, a big hard drive, and a Blu-ray burner. We’ve pulled all three from the Sweet Spot alternatives on the previous page. Those with extra cash kicking around may want to check our alternatives below, where we recommend an even faster SSD and an even higher-capacity hard drive.

Audio

We’re certainly not falling back to integrated audio here, but we’re not going to splurge on a higher-end discrete card, either. The Xonar DSX offers better value than Asus’ more expensive Xonar DX, which costs more and adds little besides Dolby Headphone support. In our blind listening tests, those two cards sounded very close. You might as well save your money.

Enclosure

Corsair’s Obsidian Series 650D was our favorite for a long time, and we’re still fond of its side-panel latches and its integrated drive dock. Corsair’s newer Obsidian Series 750D doesn’t have either of those features, but it does have a lower price, a roomier interior, and much quieter cooling. The stock fans are set up to generate positive air pressure inside the case, as well, which should help to keep dust out.

Ah, if only Corsair made a case that combined the 650D’s premium perks with the 750D’s design improvements…

Power supply
Corsair’s HX650W is an excellent modular unit with 80 Plus Gold certification and connectors galore. We wouldn’t dream of getting a non-modular PSU. Our enclosure is designed to make cable management as elegant as possible, so having a big clump of cords and connectors at the bottom just wouldn’t do.

CPU cooler

The cooler bundled with retail-boxed Intel processors works fine at stock speeds, but you want something beefier for overclocking. Our K-series processor is primed for higher frequencies, so we’ve selected an aftermarket cooler to go with it.

The Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is the successor to our previous recommendation, the Hyper 212 Plus, which has literally thousands of five-star reviews on Newegg. These two coolers are very similar, but the EVO has its heat pipes squished together at the base. Cooler Master claims this gap-less design improves cooling efficiency. The EVO costs only $5 more, so we’re not going to argue.

Editor’s Choice alternatives

The Editor’s Choice is packed with our favorites, but we still have some alternative propositions in mind.

Component Item Price
Processor Core i7-4770K 3.5GHz $339.99
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 770 $339.99
Storage Samsung 840 Pro 256GB $214.99
Seagate Desktop HDD.15 4TB $179.99

Have an extra $100 burning a hole in your pocket? Then consider the Core i7-4770K, which is the flagship of the Haswell processor fleet. It’s clocked higher than the i5-4670K, has another 2MB of cache, and features Hyper-Threading, so it can execute eight threads in parallel. The 4770K has an unlocked upper multiplier, too, of course.

As for our graphics alternative, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 770 gets you the same level of performance as the R9 280X at a slight premium. That premium would be hard to justify if it weren’t for the GeForce’s game bundle, which comprises Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Splinter Cell Blacklist. That’s pretty good, since the R9 280X comes without any freebies whatsoever. You get a $100 discount on Nvidia’s shield handheld if you buy it as a combo with the GTX 770, too.

Finally, once again, we have two alternative storage propositions.

There’s the Samsung 840 Pro 256GB, which is straight up better than the 240GB Kingston. It has a higher capacity, higher performance, and a longer, five-year warranty. The 840 Pro has also racked up hundreds of five-star Newegg reviews. Then, on the mechanical side, we have Seagate’s Desktop HDD.15 4TB. This drive’s lower spindle speed makes it a poor choice for performance-sensitive tasks, so it’s not as versatile as the 3TB ‘cuda. For plain mass-storage duties, however, it’s hard to beat 4TB in a single 3.5″ drive.

The Double-Stuff Workstation
Because more is very often better

Our Double-Stuff workstation is jam-packed with some of the fastest hardware on the market. We’ve attempted to balance performance and cost to some degree, even here.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-4930K $579.99
Motherboard Asus X79-Deluxe $349.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 $204.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon R9 290 $399.99
Storage Samsung 840 EVO 1TB $599.00
Seagate Barracuda 7,200-RPM 3TB $109.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200-RPM 3TB $109.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $79.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $79.99
Power supply Corsair AX860W $189.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 750D $159.99
CPU cooler
Corsair H80i $109.99
Total   $2,863.90

Processor

Our chosen processor for the Double-Stuff isn’t based on Haswell; rather, it’s an Ivy Brige-E chip. That means it’s based on an older architecture, yet it also packs more cores, more cache, more memory channels, and support for higher memory speeds than any Haswell CPU on the market today. Considering Haswell’s modest increase in instructions per clock over Ivy Bridge, Ivy Bridge-E is a worthwhile choice for a high-end rig like this one.

This particular Ivy-E model, the Core i7-4930K, features six 3.4GHz cores, 12MB of L3 cache, and quad memory channels each capable of accommodating DDR3-1866 RAM. It has an unlocked upper multiplier, too. Besides the price, the only serious downside is the 130W thermal envelope, which calls for relatively beefy cooling (hence the liquid CPU cooler in our primary recs).

Motherboard

We need an X79 chipset to accommodate the Core i7-4930K. Among the X79 mobos available out there, the Asus X79-Deluxe is our new favorite. It was released alongside Ivy Bridge-E, and it’s packed to the gills with features: eight DIMM slots, three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (sharing 32 lanes of traffic), 14 Serial ATA ports (of which 10 are 6Gbps), eight USB 3.0 ports, 802.11ac, and Bluetooth. The Deluxe is pricey, yes, but there’s hardly a better board out there for the Double-Stuff.

Just a heads up, though: the X79-Deluxe, like many of its X79-toting peers, lacks FireWire connectivity. If you need FireWire for whatever reason, check out our alternatives below, where we recommend a discrete adapter.

Memory

At least four DIMMs are needed to populate our processor’s four memory channels. We could go with an 8GB kit, but… well, this is the Double-Stuff. That’s why we’ve splurged on 16GB of Vengeance DDR3-1866 memory from Corsair.

Graphics

If you’ve read our review of the R9 290, you’ll know why we’re recommending it: this card offers hands down the best performance per dollar in this price range. It’s about as fast as the GeForce GTX 780, which costs $100 more, and the GTX Titan, which retails for a thousand bucks. The R9 290 is pretty darned close to the $550 R9 290X, too, at least when the latter runs with its default, “quiet,” fan profile.

The R290’s main downsides are its high power consumption, high noise levels under load, and lack of a game bundle. There’s no guaranteed base clock, either, which means some cards may perform slower than others out of the box. The GeForce GTX 780 is better on all of these fronts, which is why we’ve put it in our alternatives below.

There’s nothing terribly remarkable about the Sapphire version of the R9 290 we’ve chosen—it’s about as close to AMD’s reference as they come. This is just one of the few R9 290 cards in stock at the moment.

Storage

Today’s mid-range SSDs are more than fast enough for most uses. Additional capacity matters much more than slight performance gains. With that in mind, we’ve selected Samsung’s 840 EVO 1TB, which packs a full terabyte of solid-state storage for just under $600.

The Crucial M500 960GB provides a comparable capacity at a slightly lower price, but the EVO is faster overall (look for a head-to-head comparison soon). You can probably thank the EVO’s fancy SLC write cache for that. We should also note that the EVO comes with excellent utility software and clearly defined SMART attributes—perks the M500 lacks. This is an easy choice.

For our mechanical sidekicks, we’re selecting two of Seagate’s 3TB Barracudas. These are quick, roomy, and inexpensive. Having two of them means you can set up a RAID 1 array, which will provide a measure of fault-tolerance. Finally, the LG Blu-ray burner from our Editor’s Choice config serves as our optical drive.

Audio

Asus’ Xonar DX would have been too indulgent for the Editor’s Choice, but it’s right at home here in the Double-Stuff. Paying a little extra for Dolby Headphone virtualization isn’t such a crime when your total system rings in at close to three grand.

Enclosure

The Obsidian Series 750D is a fantastic case, and it’s more than roomy enough for Double-Stuff build. For a bigger, flashier enclosure, scroll down to our alternatives section below.

Power supply

The Double-Stuff ought to suck up a decent amount of power, so we want a PSU with plenty of headroom. Corsair’s AX860W looks like an excellent match. This unit has 80 Plus Platinum certification, which implies efficiency of up to 92%, and it has a whopping seven-year warranty. The cabling is modular, too. We’ve been using similar AX units to power our own test rigs, and we’re very happy with them.

CPU cooler

Unlike the other processors we’ve recommended throughout the guide, the Core i7-4930K doesn’t ship with a stock cooler in the box. That means we need to pick an aftermarket solution to make the Double-Stuff Workstation whole.

Cheap heatsinks and fans are a dime a dozen, but given this machine’s high-end pedigree and the tight space around the CPU socket on X79 boards, we’ve decided to opt for the Corsair H80i. This is a closed-loop liquid cooler with a large radiator that’s designed to sit between a pair of 120-mm fans. Since the Core i7-4930K has a 130W TDP, we think a solution like this makes sense—even if it costs a little more than a regular heatsink and fan. The H80i also supports Corsair’s Link feature, which lets you keep an eye on coolant temperatures and control fan speeds from Windows.

Double-Stuff alternatives

As with the rest of builds, there are other ways to configure the Double-Stuff.

Component Item Price
Graphics Zotac GeForce GTX 780 $499.99
Storage Western Digital Red 4TB $199.99
Western Digital Red 4TB $199.99
Western Digital Black 4TB $299.99
Western Digital Black 4TB $299.99
Samsung 840 Pro 512GB $429.99
FireWire card Rosewill RC-506E $34.99
Enclosure Cooler Master Cosmos II $299.99

The GeForce GTX 780 is about as fast as the R9 290 and costs $100 more. Terrible deal, right? Well, not when you consider that the GTX 780 draws less power, runs much quieter under load, has a guaranteed base clock speed, and comes bundled with three games (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Splinter Cell Blacklist). Newegg gets you a $100 discount on the Shield if you buy it as a combo with the GTX 780, too. Here, we recommend Zotac’s reference GTX 780, which features that nice Titan-style cooler we like.

Now, onto our expansive storage alternatives!

As much as we like the Samsung 840 EVO 1TB, its three-bit TLC flash isn’t ideal for write-heavy workloads. The M500 960GB’s two-bit MLC NAND should have superior endurance, but the drive’s obfuscated SMART attributes and lack of utility software make monitoring flash wear difficult. Instead of the larger M500, we’re going with Samsung’s 840 Pro 512GB. The Pro has robust MLC flash, and it’s very fast overall. Oh, and it has a longer, five-year warranty, too.

For our mechanical alternatives, we’ve narrowed it down to two options. Western Digital’s 4TB Reds are low-power models similar to Seagate’s HDD.15 from the previous page—except they have error recovery tuned for RAID setups and an extra year of warranty coverage. If you prefer 7,200-RPM mechanical storage, consider a pair of WD Black 4TB drives. The Blacks should be even quicker than the 3TB ‘cudas from our primary recommendations, and they have five-year warranties.

Oh, before we forget, our chosen LGA2011 motherboard lacks FireWire connectivity. If you must have FireWire, then we recommend slipping Rosewill’s RC-506E into one of your free PCI Express slots. This card is inexpensive, compact enough not to obstruct airflow, and compatible with both A and B FireWire ports.

Finally, for those who want a humongous case to show off—or to fill with expansion cards and hard drives—then it doesn’t get much better than Cooler Master’s Cosmos II.

Yes, this enclosure is huge, and yes, it costs more than twice as much as the Obsidian Series 750D. However, the Cosmos II is unarguably impressive, with much roomier innards, gull-wing doors, and sliding metal covers. We even gave it our Editor’s Choice award.

The mobile sidekicks

The market is replete with tablets, convertibles, and notebooks of all shapes and sizes, and most of us use at least one of them as a sidekick to our main desktop PC. We don’t have a full slate of recommendations here, but we can point you to the devices we think are most worthy of your consideration. We’ll introduce them by category, in order of price.

Straight-up tablets
These are slates that aren’t designed to mate with keyboard docks or the like.

Google’s Nexus 7 FHD, which is manufactured by Asus, might just be the best Android tablet around. Its 7″ IPS display has an impressive 1920×1200 resolution and looks great. The quad-core Snapdragon processor delivers snappy performance, and the 16GB base storage capacity is decent given the $229 starting price. It’s also worth noting that Nexus devices deliver a pure Android experience unfettered by vendor-specific customizations. As a result, they typically receive OS updates long before other tablets.

On the iOS front, our advice would be to wait until Apple’s iPad mini with Retina display comes out later this month. This tablet has the same basic specifications as the new iPad Air, but it’s smaller, lighter, and $100 cheaper. Where the iPad Air tips the scales at an impressive one pound, the iPad mini Retina weighs only 0.88 lbs—and it’s 5.3″ across instead of 6.6″, which should make portrait-mode typing easier. The new mini also boasts a higher pixel density than the Air, since it crams the same 2048×1536 resolution into a smaller, 7.9″ panel.

When it comes out in late November, the iPad mini with Retina display will start at $399 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi-only model. We’d probably spring for the $499 32GB version to leave leave plenty of room for all those fancy iOS games.

Convertibles
A relatively new device category, convertibles are basically tablets that can be docked with a keyboard to double as a quasi-notebook. We’re not too excited about straight-up Windows 8.1 tablets, but we do see the appeal of convertible designs, since they can be used comfortably for both productivity and content consumption.

Asus’ Transformer Book T100 is a bargain at $349 with a full-fledged copy of Windows 8.1, one of Intel’s new Bay Trail processors, and a keyboard dock that’s included in the default package. We were pretty impressed when we reviewed this system not long ago. Performance was snappy, and battery life was excellent, at 10 hours for web browsing and 12 hours for video playback. This thing is really light, too; the tablet and dock components each weigh 1.2 lbs.

The downsides? Well, the Transformer Book T100’s 10.1″ IPS display has only a 1366×768 resolution, and the machine’s build quality isn’t anything to write home about. Hello, glossy plastic! Also, the $350 model isn’t listed at Newegg; we only see the $399 variant, which has 64GB of solid-state storage instead of 32GB. Come to think of it, that’s probably the one you should get anyway.

We haven’t reviewed HP’s Split 13 x2, but it looks like an interesting alternative for someone who wants their convertible to be more laptop than tablet. The Split has a larger, 13.3″ display than the Transformer Book T100 (still with a 1366×768 resolution, though, sadly), and it weighs more, at 2.36 lbs for the tablet component and around 2.53 lbs for the dock. However, instead of a Bay Trail Atom chip, The Split packs a Haswell-based Core i3—and its larger footprint leaves room for a full-sized keyboard and touchpad. For $700, that’s not a bad deal.

HP is also cooking up a similar system with AMD guts: the Pavilion 13 x2, which will launch some time this month at $600. The system will include an AMD A6 processor and will be HP’s “most affordable detachable PC,” according to the company. It may be worth looking into.

By the way, speaking of AMD, almost all of the AMD systems we recommended last time are either mysteriously discontinued or obsolete. The non-convertible, Kabini-based Acer V5 is still around, and it does look like a passable budget ultraportable. However, we’re not crazy about its 3.5-hour battery life or its 5,400-RPM mechanical storage. You’ll probably be better off with the Pavilion 13 x2 or one of the other systems we recommend.

Ultrabooks and premium laptops
We’re going to skip low-end and mid-range ultrabook recommendations this round, because, well, most of those systems kinda suck. Getting something with a decent display and a Haswell processor means spending at least a grand—and even then we’re not all that thrilled with what’s available. If you want a real, high-quality laptop for serious productivity work, then we recommend splurging for one of the premium systems with high-PPI panels.

Surprisingly, Apple has the most attractively priced offering in that category: the new 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display, which starts at $1299. This puppy has a razor-sharp 2560×1600 display resolution, and it also features a Haswell Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of solid-state storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a nine-hour battery, and an uber-slim chassis that’s just 0.71″ thick. The MacBook Pro has one of those great Apple touchpads, too, which is still head and shoulders above what other PC vendors offer.

Now, of course, this is a Mac—but it also runs Windows natively if you supply your own copy. We recommend at least giving OS X Mavericks a try, however. Who knows? You might like it.

For a similar, Windows-only system, check out the QHD+ version of Samsung’s Ativ Book 9 Plus. The $1,400 price tag is steeper, but the 13.3″ display has an even higher 3200×1800 resolution—and touch-screen capabilities. Other components include a Haswell Core i5 chip, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of solid-state storage, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and a 7.5-hour battery. Windows 8 comes pre-installed, of course.

The Ativ Book 9 Plus is also remarkably light at 2.56 lbs, which is nearly a pound lighter than the 3.46-lb MacBook Pro Retina. To be fair, though, the MacBook does have a higher battery life rating.

Honorable mention: Chromebooks
Dude, don’t buy a Chromebook.

Well, unless you’re really sure you want one.

Chromebooks look and feel like well-built ultraportable laptops, and their low prices often make them seem too good to pass up. The thing is, they all run Chrome OS, which isn’t an operating system in the same sense as Windows, OS X, or Ubuntu. Chrome OS is essentially the Chrome web browser with a smattering of extremely limited local applications to handle basic file management, photo viewing, video playback, and the like. That’s it. Anything of consequence—even accessing system settings—happens inside the browser, and any third-party “apps” for Chrome OS are either web apps or just plain websites.

With a Chromebook, there’s no way to run Word or LibreOffice; you’re stuck with online productivity tools like Google Docs. There’s no way to download Skype; you must use the web-based version built into Outlook.com or switch to Google Hangouts. There’s no Steam, iTunes, uTorrent, Notepad++, Photoshop, or any other local applications dear to you. It’s web apps or bust.

Offerings like the HP Chromebook 11 (asking price: $279) can make good, affordable mobile sidekicks if you just need to browse the web and write term papers. But we strongly advise prospective buyers to keep Chrome OS’s limitations in mind before they click the “add to cart” button.

The operating system

We’re not going to wax poetic about Windows. What we will say is that, if you’re building a new PC and don’t already have a spare copy of Windows at hand, we recommend that you buy Windows 8.1 instead of Windows 7.

We’re not huge fans of the Modern UI stuff Microsoft introduced with Windows 8, since it’s pretty pointless for gaming desktops like those we recommend. However, we do like the various improvements Microsoft made to the desktop interface, like the new-and-improved File Explorer, the more powerful Task Manager, and the multi-monitor improvements. The faster startup speed doesn’t hurt, either. The demise of the Start menu is deplorable, but the Start screen isn’t such a bad substitute—and you can always bring back the menu with third-party add-ons, if you can’t bear to live without it.

Another good reason to grab Windows 8.1: Windows 7 has been out for more than four years, and Microsoft plans to end mainstream support for it in January 2015, just over a year from now. Windows 8.1 will continue to be supported until at least 2018, if Microsoft doesn’t change its support policy.

Now, there are multiple versions of Windows 8.1 available: vanilla, Pro, retail, OEM, 32-bit, and 64-bit. Which one should you get?

The OEM versions are the best deals. They cost less than retail copies, and Microsoft’s new Personal Use License allows for them to be used on home-built PCs and to be transferred to new machines after an upgrade. You also want a 64-bit copy, since 64-bit versions of Windows are required to fully utilize 4GB or more of system memory. As a reminder, 4GB is the smallest memory capacity we recommend for our main builds; the Sweet Spot and Editor’s Choice both have 8GB, and the Double-Stuff has 16GB.

That leaves Windows 8.1 versus Windows 8.1 Pro. You can compare the two editions here on Microsoft’s website. Notable Pro features include BitLocker and the ability to host Remote Desktop sessions. Whether those extras are worth the price premium is entirely up to you. Newegg charges $99.99 and $139.99, respectively, for 64-bit OEM versions of Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro. Take your pick!

Peripherals, accessories, and extras

There’s no way we can walk you through every monitor, keyboard, mouse, and PC speaker system out there. What we can do is present you with a list of our favorites—and perhaps some other, notable options—in each category. Most of our waking hours are spent basking in the glow of big IPS displays and rattling away on expensive keyboards, so we have a good grasp of the subject. You might disagree with our preferences, of course, but we think our experience can help users who haven’t already decided what they want.

Displays

Folks shopping for a monitor these days pretty much have three choices.

If they don’t mind poor viewing angles and sub-par color reproduction, they can grab themselves a cheap and cheerful display with a TN panel—maybe something like Acer’s G236HLBbd, which crams a 1920×1080 resolution into a 23″ panel size. Users who spend most of their time gaming and browsing the web will probably be happy enough with a TN monitor. Another option is to get a low-cost 6-bit IPS display like Asus’ 23″ VS239H-P. 6-bit IPS screens typically have wider viewing angles than their TN peers, but color reproduction may not be much better.

Our preferred alternative is to set aside a little extra dough for a high-quality, 8-bit IPS display. Those usually have excellent color reproduction and wide viewing angles. We’re discerning types here at TR, so we all favor them.

On the high-end IPS front, those Korean monitors we wrote about last year are still excellent deals. They sometimes lack features like OSD interfaces and HDCP support, but the important part, the panel, is usually the same kind one might find on pricier offerings from big vendors. And Korean monitors are very affordable. 27″ models with 2560×1440 resolutions can be found for only around $380 on eBay. If ordering straight from Korea makes you nervous, similar offerings are available in the U.S. from retailers like Micro Center. For instance, this 27″ Auria can be nabbed for $400. By contrast, a comparable display from, say, Dell will cost you $600 at Newegg right now. The Dell will have a better warranty and more bells and whistles, but it’s easy to see the appeal of the cheaper screens.

There are also plenty of excellent 24″ IPS displays from big manufacturers. Our own Geoff Gasior uses a trio of Asus’ PA246Q screens, which have been discontinued in favor of the newer (and less expensive) PA248Q. We’ve also had good luck with HP’s 24-inch IPS offerings. The most recent one, the ZR2440w, looks like a pretty solid buy—and it costs less than the Asus.

Going all out used to mean forking over $1,100 for one of Dell’s 30-inch behemoths. Scott has a couple of those, and he loves ’em. But the Dells simply don’t compare to Asus’ PQ321Q, which spreads a 3840×2160 pixels over a 31.5″ panel. The 4K monitor is priced at an astounding $3,499 right now, so it costs more than our entire Double-Stuff config. Good luck finding a cheaper high-PPI desktop display, though.

We’re not throwing in any recommendations for touch-screen monitors. Touch input works great on phones and tablets, and it might be nice on the right laptop, but we’re not eager to control our desktop PCs with an outstretched arm. Not when we have a perfectly good keyboard and mouse at our disposal. Speaking of which…

Keyboards and mice

We won’t lie; we like our keyboards here at TR. We routinely type thousands of words a day, so we need the finest keyboards we can get our mildly RSI-addled mitts on. That usually means springing for keyboards with mechanical key switches—that is, switches with actual springs inside them.

Our new favorite is Topre’s Type Heaven, which is quieter and comfier than mechanical offerings from other manufacturers—but is also a little pricey at $150. More affordable alternatives tend to be based on Cherry’s MX key switches, which are available in several different variants.

Rosewill offers RK-9000-series keyboards with each major Cherry MX key switch type, and we reviewed all of them earlier this year. Our verdict? The kind with Cherry MX brown switches offers the nicest mix of typing comfort and gaming responsiveness. (The brown switches have a tactile “bump” in their response curve, but they don’t produce an audible click upon actuation.)

Metadot’s Das Keyboard Professional is also a good choice—albeit a higher-priced one. It’s built better than the Rosewill keyboards, its F keys double as media keys, and it’s available with the same great Cherry MX brown switches, which Metadot calls “soft pressure point.” Too bad about the glossy finish, though.

Users who game more than they type may prefer Cherry’s MX red switches, which have a linear response curve with no bump or click. Those switches are found in Corsair’s lineup of excellent Vengeance keyboards. We reviewed the K60 and the K90 earlier, and we became instant fans of their sexy-looking aluminum frames and terrific build quality. Our only complaint was that some of the non-alpha keys weren’t mechanical. Happily, Corsair has addressed that problem with the K70 and K95, which are similar designs with 100% mechanical switches.

If you like the cool, brushed aluminum design of the K70 but don’t care for the Cherry MX red switches, Corsair now makes versions of the K70 with Cherry MX brown and blue switches. See here for more details about how the the MX browns and blues compare with the reds.

Otherwise, certain users argue that the nirvana of clicky keyboards was reached long ago by IBM’s famous Model M. That keyboard’s trademark buckling spring switches feel different from the Cherry MX designs, and some like the tactile feedback better. You can find original, vintage-dated Model M keyboards here. Unicomp also offers more recent keyboards based on the same buckling spring design. Neither the Model M nor the Unicomp offerings look as sexy as the Corsair keyboards, though.

Scott also has a couple of recommendations to throw in. If mechanical keyboards aren’t your thing, then Enermax’s Briskie combo is a very affordable laptop-style keyboard with a surprisingly snappy key feel and a nicely shaped optical mouse. (Don’t let the silly name fool you.) Also, if you plan to stick your PC in the living room and use it from the couch, the Rii N7 is another option worth considering. This is a tiny, remote-sized wireless keyboard with a built-in touchpad, and it’s perfect for small amounts of couch-typing—like quick Netflix or Google searches.

On the mousing front, we’re quite fond of Corsair’s Vengeance M60—and its successor, the Vengeance M65, which has a higher-resolution sensor. For a little more scratch, Cyborg’s Rat 7 is a fully adjustable rodent with removable panels and a sci-fi-esque design that favors function over form. There’s a similar wireless model, the Rat 9, but that one costs an eye-popping $160.

Luckily, there are much more affordable wireless mice on the market. Logitech’s G700 is one of those; it’s a gaming mouse with a high-DPI sensor, on-the-fly DPI adjustments, and almost too many buttons. Logitech’s M510 costs much less and offers an ambidextrous shape that should be comfortable for both right- and left-handed users. The M505 is a smaller mouse meant for mobile use, but its excellent shape makes it a good candidate for all-day use with a desktop, especially for those with smaller hands.

Cooling

Except for the Core i7-4930K, all of the processors we recommend come with stock coolers in the box. Those coolers offer passable performance and may not be overly loud. That said, there’s no beating some of the aftermarket solutions out there. Those coolers couple much larger heatsinks with bigger fans that move more air and produce less noise.

For $35 or so, Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 EVO is a nice entry into the world of big, tower-style coolers. It has four copper heat pipes and a 120-mm PWM fan that’s reasonably quiet.

Thermaltake’s Frio is also a popular choice. It ships with two 120-mm fans (which can be mounted on either side of the fin array) and has a total of five nickel-plated heat pipes. The Frio should provide better cooling performance and lower noise levels than the Hyper 212 Plus.

Noctua’s even pricier NH-U12P SE2 has fewer heat pipes than the Frio, but it deserves a mention here for its excellent performance and delightfully low noise levels. It even bested liquid-cooling solutions in our air vs. water cooler showdown a while back.

However, anyone ready to spend over $60 on CPU cooling ought at least to consider some of those closed-loop liquid coolers that strap to the inside of the case. They tend to deliver superior performance and lower noise levels than simple air coolers, and they’ve become very affordable. The new version of Corsair’s H60 costs around $70 right now. Corsair also offers the H80i and H100i, both of which have Corsair’s Link functionality. That feature lets you monitor temperatures and control fan speeds via a USB cable and associated software. The H80i takes up a single fan emplacement with 120-mm spinners on either side, while the H100i has a double-length radiator that requires a corresponding dual-fan emplacement at the top of the enclosure. Corsair’s 200R, 750D, and 600T cases should all be compatible with the H100i, as should the Cosmos II.

Speakers and headphones

It’s been a while since we reviewed our last set of speakers. The truth is, we’re more partial to the privacy and comfort of a good pair of headphones. Sennheiser’s HD 555 cans used to be a TR favorite, but they’re now discontinued. Their apparent replacement, the Sennheiser HD 558s, have similar specs and look like worthy successors. The glowing Newegg reviews certainly suggest so.

Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with a cheap pair of speakers. In that department, Scott recommends the Creative Inspire T12 and the slightly cheaper Cyber Acoustics CA-3602. Both have decent bass reproduction for the price, and the Creative also has very nice highs. The Cyber Acoustics’ mids aren’t anything to write home about, though.

Backups
Thermaltake’s USB 3.0 BlacX drive dock should help with the easy insertion and removal of backup drives—and, really, any other hard drive you care to stick in there. We quite like it ourselves. Otherwise, two of the enclosures we recommend (the NZXT H2 and Cooler Master Cosmos II) have integrated drive docks. Those should hook straight up to the motherboard’s Serial ATA ports.

Another backup solution worth considering is CrashPlan. For $4 a month, this service lets you back up unlimited amounts of data to the cloud. Backups are encrypted, naturally, and you have the option of setting a private password that can’t be recovered if forgotten. At least three TR staffers, including our in-house developer Bruno Ferreira, use CrashPlan, and they have no complaints.

Other odds and ends

We should probably toss in a recommendation for the Windows version of the Xbox 360 controller. In theory, PC games are all playable with a keyboard and mouse. In practice, however, quite a few cross-platform titles are simply easier to play with a controller.

None of our configs have built-in card readers. If you’d like one of those, Rosewill offers one with an integrated USB 2.0 and 3.0 hub (not to mention external Serial ATA) that slides into any 3.5″ drive bay. Every case we recommend already has front-panel USB ports, but more of those can’t hurt, and being able to insert an SD card straight from your camera is always handy.

Finally, some might like Wi-Fi connectivity in their desktops. There are plenty of PCI Express Wi-Fi adapters out there, but you can now get bite-sized USB dongle adapters, like this Edimax model, for only $10 a pop. Based on the small dimensions and the lack of a big, external antenna, one might expect poor performance. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case—57% of the more than 700 Newegg reviews award it five stars. Either way, for $10, it’s not much of a gamble.

Conclusions

And that’s it for another edition of the guide.

Our new builds should be primed for the upcoming deluge of next-gen games, many of which will reach the PC as soon as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hit stores.

We haven’t changed much, all things considered, beside our graphics cards. There, we’ve benefited from the price war between AMD and Nvidia, which has brought faster-than-ever offerings to lower-than-ever price points. It’s good to see healthy competition between two major vendors like this, especially when their products offer near-parity in performance. All we have to do is pick up the most attractively priced card—or the one with the best game bundle.

We don’t foresee much of a change over the next little while. Some new high-end cards should arrive—there have been whispers about an R9 290, and Nvidia has teased a GeForce GTX 780 Ti—but the arrival of those cards should only concern those with deep pockets. Folks going for, say, the Econobox, the Sweet Spot, or the Editor’s Choice probably don’t need to worry.

On the CPU front, AMD’s Kaveri processors—the successors to current A-series chips—will turn up early next year. And it looks like we can expect a Haswell refresh from Intel around mid-year, with unlocked versions of next-gen Broadwell chips possibly hitting the desktop in late 2014. Oh, and Haswell-E may supplant Ivy Bridge-E in the latter half of 2014.

All in all, this looks like a good time to buy for most of us. As always, we invite novice builders to check out our PC build guide for asembly instructions. The people in our System Builders Anonymous forum will be happy to help if you run into any problems, as well.

Comments closed
    • Mr Bill
    • 6 years ago

    Not a single AMD cpu/motherboard recommendation; even for alt builds. Perhaps you should name this ‘TR’s fall 2013 Intel system guide’. I realize that performance for price matters. But there at least some if not many diehard AMD fans out there and it would be instructive to read what sort of platforms one could expect for similar pricing.

      • Krogoth
      • 6 years ago

      I find it strange as well as FX-6300 and FX-8350 are compelling options in their right. Their only caveat is that their power consumption is bit high though.

        • ronch
        • 6 years ago

        Well, to be fair to TR, they selected which PC parts are most compelling for what you pay for them. I do agree though, that the FX-8350 and other AMD offerings are still great choices in their own right and they certainly aren’t bad choices (I’m using an FX-8350 and it’s working great) unless you run F@H 24/7.

          • Krogoth
          • 6 years ago

          The only advantages that Intel has over AMD is superior single-thread performance and lower power consumption at load.

          AMD is a better deal if you want to use multi-threaded stuff until you get to the Socket 2011 line-up where you have to spend over twice as much if not more to get better multi-threaded performance than 8350 with similar loaded power consumption.

    • Cyril
    • 6 years ago

    The Double-Stuff Workstation has been updated to take the release of the Radeon R9 290 into account.

      • Airmantharp
      • 6 years ago

      Thanks Cyril!

      Hope you guys have had time to slot in a few beers in between all of your projects 🙂

    • Disco
    • 6 years ago

    If anyone is looking for a SSD upgrade, I just noticed that NCIX has their Crucial M500 240GB drive on sale (just for today) for $155 CDN and free shipping.

    [url<]http://www.ncix.ca/products/?sku=81655&promoid=1146[/url<]

      • indeego
      • 6 years ago

      [url=http://www.crucial.com/store/listmodule/SSD/~2.5-inch%20Solid%20State%20Drive~~983040~~245760~~M500~/list.html<]Crucial.com[/url<] does also. The 240G is $160 and the 960G is $530 But I can tell you all the manufacturers are about to release new models for holiday season.

        • Airmantharp
        • 6 years ago

        $529 for nearly a TB of reasonably fast SSD storage. The prices, they plummet!

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 6 years ago

    Dang it Cyril. I was hoping for a mini-ITX based “steambox” build.

      • Airmantharp
      • 6 years ago

      It’s probably already in the works :).

      They’re likely waiting to see what exactly makes a SteamBox good.

      • Pettytheft
      • 6 years ago

      I’ve been waiting for a HTPC/Console Alternative for a while now.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 6 years ago

        Econobox – case/mobo + mITX parts = HTPC/Console Alt.

          • superjawes
          • 6 years ago

          They did do Editor’s Choice -case/mobo + mATX parts = Dorm Room Envy last time…

          If anyone wants a HTPC/Console alt, just swing by System Builders Annonymous and you’ll get plenty of help picking out parts for your specific needs.

    • DPete27
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<]If you can find a better $100 ATX enclosure, let us know. Seriously.[/quote<] Yeah, how about not limiting yourselves to full sized ATX enclosures for a build that features a single GPU and a sound card. The Silverstone Tremjin TJ08-E is a great mATX case (if a little difficult to build in). I would think that [url=https://techreport.com/blog/25237/the-desktop-pc-needs-a-makeover<]someone so adamant about mATX[/url<] would offer at least one mATX case recommendation.

    • tanker27
    • 6 years ago

    Finally! I have been waiting for this!

    I wish you would have stuck with the Dorm box though.

      • superjawes
      • 6 years ago

      You could just start with The Editor’s choice and *slim it down* to fit in the 350D…or whatever you’re looking for. SBA will surely give you recommendations to modify anything down to a smaller form factor.

      *As slim as the 350D is 😆

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 6 years ago

        I may have hurt some folks’ feelings when I complained about the not-so-micro exterior dimensions of the micro-ATX Obsidian 350D case in the previous guide.

        I’ll just link to this forum post:
        [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=89932&p=1181306&hilit=#p1181306[/url<]

          • superjawes
          • 6 years ago

          I really think that the 350D is just a stepping stone between “lolhuge” and “actually mATX”. The best argument for it is that it weans people onto mATX without totally emancipating the size case people are used to.

            • Jonsey
            • 6 years ago

            I for one, am for case emancipation. All progressive PC owners should be.

    • Dysthymia
    • 6 years ago

    When I was building my system I came across the NZXT H2 case, and immediately wanted it. But then I saw it compared to the Fractal Design Define R3 and wasn’t sure. I watched a ~35 minute video comparison of the two on YouTube that showed the Fractal as having a higher build quality. Then when the R4 came out, I had changed my mind to go with the Fractal. Half a year later, I stand by my decision.

      • Airmantharp
      • 6 years ago

      Still rocking the R3 here, will still recommend the R4 for most ATX builds.

    • tbone8ty
    • 6 years ago

    are we going to see any win7 vs win8.1 gaming comparisons?

      • mcnabney
      • 6 years ago

      They have already been done. Sometimes Win7 is ahead, other times 8/8.1 is ahead. The differences are statistically insignificant.

    • sschaem
    • 6 years ago

    i3 make no sense, even for a cheap gaming PC. Go with an i5.

    And you are going to see a lot more of this

    [url<]http://gamegpu.ru/images/remote/http--www.gamegpu.ru-images-stories-Test_GPU-Action-Battlefield_4-test-bf4_proz_2.jpg[/url<] Where an FX-8350 beat an i5-4670k Considering the FX-8320 is $159, the i3 has no place in a modern gaming rig, even one <$700

      • Krogoth
      • 6 years ago

      Ahem, no.

      i3 is more than a capable gaming CPU. BF4 is only a handful of titles that can take advantage of extra threads on quad-core CPUs or greater. That’s why it fares better on Pilediver/Bulldozer and Intel chips with HT enabled. The difference isn’t that striking through (~80 avg versus ~100 avg)

        • mcnabney
        • 6 years ago

        I wonder if new games will focus on using more cores? Aren’t the new consoles jam-packed with cores?

          • Airmantharp
          • 6 years ago

          They will HAVE to focus on using more cores as a baseline.

          • LukeCWM
          • 6 years ago

          They are, but those are super limited Jaguar cores. This was even brought up in the guide we’re commenting on, during the explanation for the i3 choice.

          Summary: for the foreseeable future, single-threaded performance will be the limiting factor, not thread count. And an i3 Haswell core is significantly more powerful than a console core.

        • f0d
        • 6 years ago

        wow those benchmarks completely contradict the ones from techspot
        [url<]http://www.techspot.com/review/734-battlefield-4-benchmarks/page6.html[/url<] edit: not sure who is right but its interesting to have 2 completely different results like that edit 2 wrong comment reply too - soz krogoth

          • derFunkenstein
          • 6 years ago

          Techspot has the details cranked in such a way that the CPU has been taken out of the equation. GameGPU doesn’t appear to have AA enabled, and it’s running at a resolution with 10% fewer pixels. Together that allows for higher framerates and more variability in CPU scores. Techspot’s, by comparison, show you nothing about the difference between CPUs. The framerates are high enough that, most likely, laggy frames are probably not an issue on any of those CPUs. Once you get to a Richland A10, the CPU is fast enough for the game.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            still an i3 3220 in techspots benchmarks get an average 93 fps with heavy graphics settings but an i3 2100 (similar enough cpu to make a comparison) with lower res and no aa gets only 39min-61ave fps in the gamegpu.ru benchmarks

            so raising the graphics give you more framerate?

            i still think there is something odd going on

            • derFunkenstein
            • 6 years ago

            I wasn’t looking at the hard numbers – just general trends. Unless they’re running the same canned benchmark (which I don’t see listed) the hard numbers aren’t really comparable.

    • oldog
    • 6 years ago

    You mostly recommend ASUS and Gigabyte motherboards. I would like to see some comment about which if any of the dozen or so drivers included on the install discs of these motherboards is worthwhile with a fresh installation of Windows 8.1.

    • albundy
    • 6 years ago

    why no itx box or htpc? anything south of the gpu is empty most of the time. mine was and still is since 2009. my next build will be 1/2 of my current rig or smaller.

      • pedro
      • 6 years ago

      I’d love to see some regular ITX action too.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 6 years ago

        Check out some of the recent mini-ITX and micro-ATX threads in the System Builders Anonymous forum, or start your own new thread.
        [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=33[/url<]

          • pedro
          • 6 years ago

          Cheers, I’ll take a look.

          • BIF
          • 6 years ago

          I want to read about these too. Here we are almost in 2014 and there is no regular small form factor category? No regular HTPC category?

          Threads in the forum are great and all, because people want to talk about these things. But if there is a real trend in the forums and in other areas of tech media, then maybe this end of the spectrum should also be covered in the system guide.

            • superjawes
            • 6 years ago

            I’d say that problem with that is that there will always be disagreement about what the goal of those small form factor machines should be. Should it only be for watching movies? Should it have enough power to game from the couch when you want to? How small should it actually be?

            Those are some big questions that can greatly change what the final product looks like. I think if TR was going to do anything on the subject, they probably wouldn’t be able to do much more than a list of recommendations, much like how they do peripherals today.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 6 years ago

            Right.

            [i<]Drfish[/i<] built a mini-ITX unit so small that it hangs on the back of the TV. My living room PC has a 4-core Ivy Bridge processor in a Micro-ATX media center case with full-height gaming graphics card, Blu-ray drive, quad-channel cablecard TV tuner and a couple of big hard-drives for DVR functionality.

    • mcnabney
    • 6 years ago

    I loved the guide, as always, but you might be getting overly attached to Newegg. I have bought a ton from them over the years, but the system I just finished had a single part from them (XFX 7970 for $250). Microcenter carried the weight for me this time. I can save $40 on the unlocked i5 and $45 on the Z87 board shopping with them. Prices on RAM, PS, and storage were the same. They also came up with a better case option for $30. Returns are also a lot smaller headache when shopping locally. I am sure similar situations exist with Fry’s. Amazon can also be a good source. I really think that the days of Newegg being the go-to choice for home builds has come to an end. I was surprised that you didn’t make a note of it. Their high prices on CPUs alone should put that favoritism into question.

    • mcnabney
    • 6 years ago

    If you ever plan to use Mediacenter functions under Win8/8.1 you will have to have the Pro version ($140+) and then cough up another $10 for the Mediacenter app and track down and pay for a legal MPEG codec – if you want to have what Win7 Premium had out of the box (for $80 now on the ‘Egg).

    There is literally nothing that Win8 offers that I can’t get under Win7 – so you can save at least $70 passing on the latest version.

    Also, I was able to get Editor’s Choice performance for under $900 by going cheap on the case and striping fast mechanical drives since an OS + Steam will need more than half a TB now. I also skipped the sound card since the Asrock Z87 board I got for $115 has great audio AND DTS-connect for my receiver.

      • Airmantharp
      • 6 years ago

      You might want to go back and see what’s changed under the hood with Windows 8.1.

      Also, if you’re going to hook up to a receiver, you should be using HDMI- anything else uses a lossy compression codec, and is limited to 5.1 channels.

    • NeelyCam
    • 6 years ago

    Geez that memory is expensive. I remember buying twice the amount for half the price [b<]two years ago[/b<]. Aren't technology advances supposed to make this stuff cheaper? I'm thinking there's some sort of price fixing shenanigans going on..

      • albundy
      • 6 years ago

      i am sure of it. its just a matter of time before they get caught. cant wait for those entertaining lawsuits!

      • ronch
      • 6 years ago

      It’s called Revenge of the DRAM makers.

      Yes, I bet they meet twice a week regarding their price levels.

      • mcnabney
      • 6 years ago

      To be fair, the manufacturers were probably losing money on every sale back then. Just be happy to have enjoyed it while it happened.

        • Krogoth
        • 6 years ago

        Pretty much, manufacturers were producing tons of unbuffered high density modules and nobody was buying, since normal desktop and laptops were more than happy with 2GiB and 4GiB of capacity. There is no killer app on the desktop market that needs more than 2GiB of memory.

        It doesn’t make fiscal sense to continue to produce modules in massive quantities, so naturally they cut back production and let the supplies stabilize with demand.

        There’s no pricing fixing going on. It is good old market correction.

      • Krogoth
      • 6 years ago

      It is because the lack of demand and memory manufacturers are cutting back production, because nobody is picking up unbuffered DDR3 modules in bulk.

      There’s no strong demand for high-density modules outside of workstations and servers. 4GiB is still more than sufficient for desktops and 8GiB has plenty of headroom. It is still quite affordable.

      What we are are seeing is market correction.

        • Krogoth
        • 6 years ago

        I guess a few people don’t understand or dislike the nature of supply and demand.

        Memory manufacturers got too used to growing memory requirements that was constant throughout 1980s until later 2000s. When memory and CPU requirements started to plateau in the desktop market, they kept producing units in bulk in the hopes that a killer app will come along to revitalize demand (Vista). Unfortunately for them this never happened and this caused DDR2 to hit rock bottom prices.

        Similar story happened with DDR3. They hoped that something would come along that would put those 2GiB and 4GiB modules into good use. Again, this never happened and the result was DDR3 modules flooding the market. This push prices to the bottom, since nobody was buying them en mass.

        They are cutting back production and as a result supplies are stabilizing with demand. It is classical market correction at work. Why should a manufacturer keep flooding the market when they are making little or no returns on their diminished price points? It makes no fiscal sense. Remember that manufacturing equipment and R&D don’t come cheap.

        The only markets where memory manufacturers are making decent margins are server/workstation where demand is still strong as ever and prices are matching up with demand.

    • TwoEars
    • 6 years ago

    And don’t forget the most important part of all.

    Windows Classic Shell for Windows 8.1.

    I still want my start button and no stupid “surface” interface!

      • LukeCWM
      • 6 years ago

      I’ve found Start8 to be just fantastic. Super easy, never had an issue, and only $5.

        • indeego
        • 6 years ago

        You basically are telling us you are paying extra for an equal product.

      • indeego
      • 6 years ago

      I put this on three machines for home use and *all the users* wanted Windows 8 interface back. headsmack!

        • Airmantharp
        • 6 years ago

        I just put Start8 on my mobile workstation; I actually quite like it, since I don’t use the ‘charms’ at all. It’s a cleaner workflow, even if it doesn’t change anything.

    • DragonDaddyBear
    • 6 years ago

    I haven’t had my coffee yet, but I don’t remember seeing a mITX suggestion in there. I’m looking at building one a and there are no guides to use as a starting point. I found the mITX to be much more time consuming in the research department. A TR build suggestion would have been a great for me to start.

    I recommend to everyone I know to use this as their guide, BTW, so keep up the good work!

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 6 years ago

      Take a look at some of the recent threads in the System Builders Anonymous forum, or start your own!
      [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=33[/url<]

        • DragonDaddyBear
        • 6 years ago

        I have. There was a recent one I’ve been watching. I’ll likely post my build eventually and get input.
        But it’s a growing segment. Perhaps TR can include a budget and gaming mITX in the next one?

    • BlondIndian
    • 6 years ago

    Great write up as always guys .

    A sound card/external DAC roundup would be a nice article . One where all the options available on the market are described and pros and cons listed . It’s been a while since we had any audio articles on TR .

    • ronch
    • 6 years ago

    Ok, IIRC, the only time AMD CPUs got recommended here is in the econobox (FX-6300) and the A6 in the HP laptop. That’s just too bad.

      • Airmantharp
      • 6 years ago

      Yes, it is too bad. Maybe someday we’ll have a competitive CPU from AMD again.

        • ronch
        • 6 years ago

        Yes, but perhaps it won’t be an x86 CPU anymore, as they have hinted at increasingly withdrawing from thex86 race moving forward.

          • Airmantharp
          • 6 years ago

          They’ve mostly withdrawn already by choosing to not compete, which is sad in and of itself.

    • Sleepingforest
    • 6 years ago

    It’s a pretty solid starting point for beginners, but I’m disappointed that there are no USB DAC/amp option given. I don’t care how much shielding you put on a sound card–a USB DAC/amp is going to do better because the engineers didn’t have to worry nearly so much about interference and could focus on sound quality instead. Something like the Fiio E10 is only $20 more but offers far superior quality. If you’ve invested money in the Sennheiser 555, you might as well drop to a Corsair CX-500M instead of the 600M (it’s $20 less to begin with on Newegg, plus a rebate is currently available) and get the Fiio E10.

      • mcnabney
      • 6 years ago

      Good swap out.
      I wouldn’t do it since I use an AV receiver to decode, but for headphone-only setups it is a no-brainer.

      • pedro
      • 6 years ago

      I, for one, absolutely agree with you.

    • NovusBogus
    • 6 years ago

    The Econobox sports a nice case but it has no business being in a no-frills build, especially when other parts of the system are making sacrifices with a tangible impact on performance. [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811121126<]This case[/url<] is just $10 after rebate, sure it's probably crappy but it's a frickin case not a critical component. I use a case I paid 30 bucks for over a decade ago, it gets the job done and for a cheap build that's all that matters. For a little more style, [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129187<]this Antec case[/url<] looks pretty good. You guys should get a couple of cheap cases and recommend whichever one has the most durable construction. It might be possible to trim some fat on the PSU too, though the CX430M is already quite cheap and regularly goes on deep discount. Modular cables are great and all but someone who just needs to get a system up and running won't gain much benefit from them. Having had PSUs blow out on me I agree that it's better to stick with a reliable brand for this. Use the savings for a quad-core CPU or just drop the bottom line on the overall build.

      • Cyril
      • 6 years ago

      Cutting corners on component quality to save a few bucks is precisely the kind of compromise we try to avoid in the system guide.

      You say your case cost $30 and last you a decade. The 200R is priced at $60. Would you really sacrifice quality and convenience to save $30 on something that’s going to last you a whole decade?

        • NovusBogus
        • 6 years ago

        Would I trade an extra ten minutes every 2-3 years futzing with drive installaton and use that $30 toward better internals I benefit from every day? Most definitely, hence my choice of case. 🙂

        I do understand where you’re coming from concerning quality and usability but a $60 case is hardly an entry level product; spending vast amounts of coin on blinged out gamer/enthusiast cases is a relatively new phenomenon.

          • JustAnEngineer
          • 6 years ago

          The biggest problems to avoid here are cheap power supplies and cases with inadequate ventilation.

          True enough, the Econobox features a $60 case and a $54-10MIR power supply. You might be able to get away with something like a Rosewill R536 or CoolerMaster Elite 350 (ATX) for $60 or a Rosewill R363-M (micro-ATX) for $45 including PSU, but do you want to trust your brand-new PC to an off-brand power supply?

            • nanoflower
            • 6 years ago

            I agree that you want to avoid cheap power supplies but I do wonder if you could cut some cost in the power supply by going for a lower wattage (but still buying a quality PSU). Of course that removes the ability to upgrade the system without getting a new PSU but if you were building a low end system where money was really tight that is an option. Not the best option since you can keep a PSU for many years, but it is one way to save a few dollars.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 6 years ago

            I believe that you’ve focused on the wrong component. There isn’t much money to be saved by going to a cheaper power supply than the Corsair CX-430M recommended in the guide or the non-modular version that has appeared in a few previous guides.

            Let’s see what’s available at Newegg today:
            [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817371056<]$106[/url<] Antec EarthWatts EA-650 Platinum (48 A @ +12 V) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151124<]$ 81[/url<] SeaSonic SSR-450RM Gold Modular (37 A) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151117<]$ 66¼[/url<] SeaSonic SSR-360GP Gold (30 A) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817104178<]$ 60[/url<] FSP Raider S 450 Silver (36 A) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817139049<]$ 54 -10MIR[/url<] Corsair CX-430M Bronze Modular (32 A) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817139026<]$ 49[/url<] Corsair CX-430 Bronze (32 A) You can save $5 (or lose it, if you believe that Corsair will send you a rebate check) by giving up the modular cables. That's not much, even when you're working to a $600 budget.

          • Cyril
          • 6 years ago

          It’s not just about futzing with drive installation. It’s about cable routing, cooling, noise, dust accumulation, cut fingers, and what, in my experience, is a pretty huge difference in general ease of use.

          I really think you’re barking up the wrong tree here. A $60 case IS an entry-level product, just not a bargain-basement one. There’s nothing “blinged-out” about the 200R, nor does it cost “vast amounts of coin.” If we’d picked a $100 or $150 windowed case with LED fans, I might understand your complaint, but that’s not what happened here. We simply recommended the cheapest product that we’d be happy to use ourselves.

            • jessterman21
            • 6 years ago

            Ha – that Compucase has more bling than the 200R.

            And I bet the metal is thinner than a sardine tin.

            • flip-mode
            • 6 years ago

            Indeed. I’ll pick up on Cyril’s terminology and say that from an architectural standpoint, the entry level is typically above the basement.

            It’s an Econobox, not a Shartbox.

            • DPete27
            • 6 years ago

            I wish I could +5 this.

            • alphacheez
            • 6 years ago

            Ooh, maybe the Shartbox will be in the next System Guide: “We picked the cheapest of each component from Pricewatch to bring you this heap of garbage”

            • jessterman21
            • 6 years ago

            And it caught fire before we even plugged in the power cord…

      • Chrispy_
      • 6 years ago

      I’d like to say that the Antec VSK 4000 that you linked is an excellent budget case.

      My only gripe with it is that the expansion covers are punch-outs and not screw-in, but the build quality and steel used means that they’re easy enough to remove without drawing blood or bending the chassis.

      For me at least, it ticks all of the boxes
      – Classy, understated looks with a good quality finish on the outside
      – 2x120mm fans and a large vent on the side panel
      – Good quality buttons, ports and motherboard IO cabling
      – Good quality steel – the thing weighs 11lbs so you know it’s not a flimsy POS.
      – Rock bottom pricing

      What you don’t get are quick-release things, fan filters or paint on the inside, but for a case you can regularly buy for under $30 it’s the diamond hiding amongst a plethora of very very nasty, flimsy rubbish normally found at that price point.

    • NovusBogus
    • 6 years ago

    For the record, most Chromebooks can run a real OS after some relatively simple software tweaks. They’re quite an attractive option for someone wanting a netbook-style device.

    • SetzerG
    • 6 years ago

    Just thought I’d mention that the Editor’s Choice alternatives on Page 4 mentions an EVGA GeForce GTX 770, but links to your review of the GTX 760.

      • Cyril
      • 6 years ago

      The GTX 760 review also includes the GTX 770. Hence the title:

      “Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 760 graphics card reviewed
      …and the GeForce GTX 770, too”

    • jessterman21
    • 6 years ago

    This update was especially good.

    Love the subtitle and the overly-long CPU recommendation! Makes me feel even better about sticking by my i3-2100 for a while longer.

    Interesting how Corsair’s CX series seems to have taken Antec’s Earthwatts’ old place in the value-PSU market.

    Since the price-drop I can’t imagine recommending the higher-power, slightly-weaker, bundle-less 280X over the GTX 770.

    Double-Stuff: 7-8TB of storage, but only one GTX 780???

    Thanks for the Creative Inspire speaker rec. Been looking for a replacement for my 15-year-old (beige) Altec Lansing 2.1 set.

      • oldDummy
      • 6 years ago

      Good Job CK.
      However…

      “..but only one GTX 780???”

      With higher end monitors ..I agree.

      .

    • derFunkenstein
    • 6 years ago

    I’m so glad Asus went back to a naming convention that makes sense. My motherboard is a P8Z77-V LK. WTF? Z87-A, Z87-K, so easy. Chipset + letter that means….something, I’m sure. OK so it’s not perfect, it’s still better and you can even pronounce it.

    Also, 1155 owners rejoice. If you bought an i5-2500K or an i7-2600K in early 2011 you made the right choice. Just upgrade your GPU a bit and you’re still basically top of the line.

    • Chrispy_
    • 6 years ago

    Thanks guys, even though regular readers don’t really need these guides, they’re great for pointing others towards and even acting as a sanity check occasionally.

    I will bring up my old gripe about the double-stuff workstation again though:
    There’s nothing very double-stuff about it, and 16GB of RAM is comfortable rather than luxurious when talking about heavy Adobe work or loading large 3D models in many popular packages. Dual-socket is within reach at that price range, and moreover, as you can’t get a Titan (for DPFP) and dual socket in the budget at the same time, you should at least go for one or the other. To go for neither makes it a pretty compromised solution.

      • BIF
      • 6 years ago

      I totally agree here. More “Double” please. And let’s all face reality, maybe the target price for a higher-powered system should be raised.

      I have mentioned in the past my disappointment with the Doublestuff category and that I think we need a bonafide WORKSTATION category or entry level home server category, capable of doing real work for the pro or semi-pro (or pro-sumer) who simply needs a lot of parallel-and-fast processing cycles. By including a workstation/server category in the system guide, TR would be filling a big hole.

      As Chrispy says, 16 GB is too conservative. I’ll go one farther and call it anemic, but I may not be the most objective. Also, dual socket processors and CUDA/OPENCL are still quite relevant, or nobody would write GPGPU code and nobody would make and sell at retail those numerous models and brands of $800 dual GPU cards or $1,000 cards that are used in massively parallel systems. Or the $5,000 K6000. Yes, that’s rarified air. And I’m not suggesting we eliminate the Econobox or Editor’s Choice or other categories. But this stuff is important to some readers. It’s very important to me.

      So why doesn’t the Doublestuff at least dip its toes into real workhorse territory? Or let’s create a new category with an appropriately higher price-point.

        • Chrispy_
        • 6 years ago

        Indeedy.

        Perhaps the current Double-Stuff should just lose the “workstation” moniker; It’s an extra-fancy consumer gaming machine but it’s an awful workstation, by industry standards.

        • superjawes
        • 6 years ago

        The problem with workstation and server recommendations is the same problem as consistent SFF recommendations: the purpose will vary the specs considerably.

        On the topic of the Doublestuff, though, it does seem to fall short of its name, doesn’t it? Perhaps “Premium Powerhouse” would be a better name, noting more power than what the editor’s would want, but not throwing in extra GPUs and twelve sticks of RAM just because you can. Then you could rebrand the Doublestuff or just call it the “Excess Express” for totally overboard, just for fun system building.

          • Chrispy_
          • 6 years ago

          I like the sound of the “Excess Express” – exactly as described.

          The “double-stuff” doesn’t have two of anything at all, except memory sticks, and it should have at least four of those but preferably eight! 😛

          • BIF
          • 6 years ago

          “Excess Express”, that’s excellent!

          When I build my systems, I build them as if they were going to be upper-tier gaming systems, but with some customizations. This serves me well for all three main activities (F@H, graphic rendering, and music production).

          –> Can accept lots of CPU cores. Multiple sockets a plus.
          –> Needs lots of memory (virtual music instruments can take up a lot of space in memory)
          –> Includes a powerful GPU or more than one, for folding and for GPU batch rendering. Motherboard must have enough slots to support GPUs plus UAD-2 and whatever else I need. If only one GPU card, it needs to drive 4 or more monitors. Eyefinity a plus, SLI/Crossfire not necessary.
          –> Probably won’t use the onboard sound. I use an audio/MIDI interface that has a breakout box (to get the electronics away from the RFI and other noise going on inside the computer case). So any system I build needs to have good Firewire or USB support (and eventually will need Thunderbolt).
          –> Must be quiet. This means that HSF, water, case, case fans, and PSU must be considered.
          –> Must have fast AND big drives. Virtual music instrument libraries are huge, so need ample HDD space where capacity is more important than read speed. Right now, SSDs are not big, so I have a mixture of HDD and SSD devices in my system.

          Right now, these requirements consistently lead me to socket 2011 either with a desktop or server chipset, a 6-core CPU or more, an HD 78xx or better, 32 GB RAM (or more).

          But it’s hard to keep up and recent articles from TR, Anandtech, and other sources don’t REALLY help me. Titan, K6000? GTX 680? I really have no idea if these things will work with F@H and graphic rendering, so believe it or not, I’m still thinking of getting an HD 7990. It still seems to be the best choice, or maybe just the easiest to understand due to the lack of cohesive writings on graphic cards.

    • Krogoth
    • 6 years ago

    I don’t think Microsoft is going to discontinue support for Windows 7/2008 R2 so soon though. The enterprise world is very reluctant to move onto 2012/8 ecology. Years ago Microsoft originally said that they were going to pull the plug on XP/2003, but Vista’s lackluster launch threw a massive wrench into that. XP/2003 is finally retiring after over a decade of use.

    Windows 8 is almost following the fate of Vista. 8.1 is really just Windows 8 SP1 just like Vista SP1. Microsoft wants to sweep 8 misstep under the rug as soon as possible.

    Outside of GPUs and SSDs, there isn’t much happening on desktop front. Desktop rigs are still roughly the same speed from last year at the given price points. Power consumption hasn’t really gone down that much either.

    Hopefully 2014 will prove to be a more interesting year for desktop systems.

      • Chrispy_
      • 6 years ago

      True that desktop processors are very much the same speed as always. Some of the boxen in the farm are i7-2600’s and they’re cranking out renders at very similar speeds to the i7-4770 boxen.

      We need to queue up frames to even notice a difference, because the per-frame variance is enough to mask the performance difference between Sandy and Haswell, it’s only when you see frames-per-hour figure over a long period that it becomes apparent – today’s <confidential> render was spitting out 14fph on the Haswells and 12fph on the Sandys.

        • Krogoth
        • 6 years ago

        Early adopters of Sandy Bridge and Bloomfield units were very fortunate. The CPU in their systems are still around 80-90% percentile range in the desktop world despite their platforms being three to five years old. They just had to upgrade their GPU in order to play newer gamers at higher graphical detail settings and their SSDs to larger, faster and more stable units.

          • JustAnEngineer
          • 6 years ago

          [quote=”Krogoth”<] Early adopters of Sandy Bridge were very [s<]fortunate[/s<] [i<]shrewd[/i<]. The CPU in their systems are still around 80-90% percentile range in the desktop world despite their platforms being [i<]nearly three[/i<] years old. [/quote<] FTFY. My Core i7-2600K purchased on launch day is still working great.

            • Krogoth
            • 6 years ago

            Technically, Sandy Bridge is three years old. Intel had working ES units in 2010, but weren’t pressure to deploy retail units until 2011. The four and five year span is including people who invested into Bloomfield and Lynnfield rigs. They are just about as fast Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge, especially if you overclock them.

          • NeelyCam
          • 6 years ago

          Don’t forget us lucky early adopters of 32nm Clarkdales

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 6 years ago

            My best early-adopter PC purchases have been Sandy Bridge, 2560×1600 monitor, Radeon 9700Pro, AMD Athlon, etc.

            One that I missed was GeForce 256. I bought a Riva TNT2Ultra card with the Athlon 600 a month and a half before the GeForce 256 arrived.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 6 years ago

            On the flip side, early adopters can sometimes get hosed. My worst was buying a Thoroughbred (A) Athlon XP 2200+. Would not budge from the stock 1800MHz at all, and it wasn’t much of a revelation compared to Palomino CPUs. Stuck with it, though. Once Barton came out I grabbed a 2500+ and got it up to 2.2GHz.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 6 years ago

      They’ve got a timeframe they stick to. They didn’t stick to it with XP and IMO it hurt them. XP was so old and Vista (at least with SP1) was not so terrible. Despite the objections over Modern UI they need to stick to their support schedule for 7.

        • Krogoth
        • 6 years ago

        Because the Fortune 500 companies have a far larger pull than the mainstream market back during Vista. They saw no reason to migrate to Vista when it clearly wasn’t ready for the enterprise world. Somehow, the team behind 8 forgot about this. 8 isn’t compelling enough over 7 to warrant the migration and re-training costs. It is no surprise that the said team no longer exists. Windows 8’s lackluster response caused a large stir in the higher echelons of Microsoft. Steve Sinofsky and Steve Ballmer’s “forced” retirements are the most visible examples of this.

    • superjawes
    • 6 years ago

    I like having the alternatives on the same page! It works out very well.

    As for additional recommendations, anyone looking to build should keep their eyes open on something like the 7950 as well. I got mine around $200 with Never Settle Gold (pick three), which makes it an excellent alternative to $200-$250 cards. I wouldn’t buy at current prices, but if it goes on sale like that again, it’s a great card.

    • Buzzard44
    • 6 years ago

    Neato, good job!

    8GB of RAM in a $1500 rig does feel really light though…could at least throw in a pair of 8GB DIMMs. I know solid state is fast, but it isn’t anywhere near having more cached in RAM, and you’ve got $900 more than the econobox to set aside another 60 or so for RAM.

    Alas, I suppose it’s hard to make general recommendations without being given a workload.

    • JohnC
    • 6 years ago

    Hmm… Let’s see…
    1) You still peddle Asus Xonars as the only “choice” (should I even use that word?), without mentioning Soundblaster Z models as an alternative.
    2) You still peddle the IPS monitors, only mentioning one crappy TN model (which no sane person should buy, whether he/she is a gamer or photo editor) but not a single word about 120/144Hz TN models with strobing backlighting, like BenQ’s XL2420TE
    3) You still try to peddle Corsair’s products as primary choice of gaming mechanical keyboards, without mentioning the excellent Logitech’s G710+ alternative.
    4) You still try to peddle the Corsair’s model of mouse (or needlessly overpriced MatCatz models), without mentioning a less expensive but just as good wired alternatives like Logitech’s G400s. Also, no mentioning whatsoever of any MMO-centric mice with multiple macro buttons (like Razer Naga or Logitech G600).
    4) You still have 0 recommendations for any kind of headsets or separate mic+headphone combos…

    Predictably disappointing, as usual.

      • bthylafh
      • 6 years ago

      People would be more likely to listen to you if you didn’t talk like such a douche.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 6 years ago

        He’s just acting natural.

          • Firestarter
          • 6 years ago

          can’t cheat your way into having social skills

      • superjawes
      • 6 years ago

      Guess you missed this part?

      [quote<]There's no way we can walk you through every monitor, keyboard, mouse, and PC speaker system out there. What we can do is present you with a list of our favorites—and perhaps some other, notable options—in each category.[/quote<]

      • f0d
      • 6 years ago

      i agree that they should at least give a 144hz monitor as an alternative, i couldnt be any happier with my asus 27″ 144hz monitor

        • nanoflower
        • 6 years ago

        Why should they do that? They’ve stated over and over again they prefer IPS monitors. Also there’s a better solution coming out soon in the guise of the G-Sync monitors.

          • f0d
          • 6 years ago

          for gaming a 144hz lightboost monitor is much better than any ips monitor and with gsync by what i have seen the initial gsync monitors will still be TN monitors anyways

          i suppose i was a bit strong with my wording but i still believe that a 144hz lightboost monitor is much better than any ips monitor when it comes to gaming

          it really does make a HUGE difference having a 144hz lightboost monitor compared to any 60hz panel

          i can see how ips is good for non gaming stuff but for gaming nothing beats having lightboost or something equivalent

            • mcnabney
            • 6 years ago

            Enjoy your 1080p and lousy color.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            i do
            i dont notice any color differences while playing games
            1080p still looks great to me

            im not saying TN is better than IPS for everything and for everybody – for games it clearly is superior
            if you are actually doing work or doing something where color accuracy matters then for sure IPS all the way

            playing games where a blue or red could MAYBE be a shade or 2 out just isnt an issue

            anyways enjoy your ips that has ghosting

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            You know, getting into BF4, I absolutely love gaming at 2560×1600. I can see details forever; all the little stuff that those gaming at 1080p would miss, and it makes running and gunning as a sniper or hunting infantry in a Little Bird a blast. I can also use a 4x scope across most maps, which infuriates many an opposing sniper- I can see them, but they can’t see me :D.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            i have used a 2560 monitor and honestly i couldnt tell much difference
            heck i can barely tell any difference with a 1680 monitor at looking at things in the distance (at the same screen size 24 1680 vs 24 1920)

            i DID notice a huge difference going from a 24″ monitor to a 27″ monitor when looking at things in the distance

            and i did notice how much clearer things were with lightboost compared to non lightboost

            but when looking at the distance i could always see as far as the actual gun can shoot

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            So, you’re halfway blind?

            And no, you can’t see as far as the gun can shoot- I can’t do that at 1600p, and my vision is good. There just isn’t enough pixels, 4k can’t come fast enough, with G-Sync in tow.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            have screenshots to prove this? (at same picture settings only resolution change)
            i dont know about battlefield 3.5 as i dont play that game but i have never had my viewdistance hinder me in any games before because of my resolution

            the amount of pixels difference between 1920×1080 and 2560×1600 is fairly minor and any extra distance you can see would only be a few pixels at most in the most extreme situations – can you shoot better at 2 pixels instead of 1? (which would be double 1920×1080 – double the pixel width which 2650×1600 doesnt even do)

            at 3840×2160 something that is 8 pixels wide would take up 4 pixels wide in a 1920×1080 monitor but take up the exact amount of screen space if the screen sizes were equal

            lets take it up a notch
            something that is 240 pixels wide on 3840×2160 would take up 120 pixels wide on a 1920×1080 monitor but take up the same amount of space given the same panel size – you might be able to see it clearer but its not like you wouldnt see it at all on a 1920×1080 monitor

            scale it down
            now the only way i can think of that it could work the way you said is when you get to 1 pixel wide which at 3840×2160 is 1 pixel wide but at 1920×1080 the would “maybe” be none, can you really see one pixel?

            so at 8 pixels wide you are still seeing the same distance but it is just more clear – problem is at 8 pixels wide vs 4 pixels wide you probably wont recognize much difference, it would just be a bit of a blob

            and those are with 4k resolutions – you dont even have double the resolution with a 2560×1600

            i might actually download battlefield 3 again and do some testing

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            It’s as you say- 2560×1600 is double the resolution of 1080p. I’ve played at both resolutions recently, and 1080p feels cramped in comparison. You can’t see nearly as far; even tracking stuff through bushes or grass is improved as there’s more definition to help you recognize what isn’t obscured.

            Now, 1600p at 120Hz/144Hz would be better, especially with G-Sync, but smoother graphics are not the same as higher-resolution graphics.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            i guess you diddnt read my post
            anyways i disagree that you can see further, maybe clearer but not further

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            Clearer is the same as further. The ability to make out things further away.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            clearer is different than not being able to see something at all like you seem to think
            “I can see them, but they can’t see me :D.”
            and
            “You can’t see nearly as far”

            whereas you can see as far with 1920 but it might be slightly clearer with a slightly higher res screen, 2560×1600 isnt even double the pixel width so it would only make a slight difference

            you are only seeing around 1/3 more pixels so for every 3 pixels you would see one more so something that is 300pixels of definition you would see 400 pixels, which is more definition but not enough to say “i can see them but they cant see me” and at the point where they wouldnt be able to see you at all the pixels would be that low (in the range of 1 pixel) that you wouldnt be able to make out what it is yourself

            clearer is not “i can see them but they cant see me” like you seem to think

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 6 years ago

            2560×1600 = 4.096 million pixels
            1920×1080 = 2.074 million pixels
            That’s only 2½% short of double the number of pixels.

            3840×2160 = 8.294 million pixels

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            thats true but notice how i was just talking about one dimension? (pixel width)
            if something was 300 pixels wide on 1080p how many more pixels would it be on 1600p while taking up the same space?

            either way even if i got the math wrong i have never come across a scenario where something could be seen on a 1600p monitor but couldnt be seen on a 1080p monitor given the same panel size

            i can see just as far on my 1920×1080 monitor as i can see on my brothers 1680×1050 monitor and just as much as i have seen on friends 2560×1600 monitor

            i have never come across a scenario where i could flat out not see something given the same panel size

            edit: it does seem clearer yes but flat out not see something at all?? no

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            If you’re standing still, scrutinizing the differences, the margin where something will be recognizable at 1600p but not at 1080p is fairly slim- but FPS gaming isn’t about standing still. Higher resolution allows me to better make out movement of enemy units that are further away, and in BF4, that makes a very real difference in strategy, coordination, and long-distance engagement. I bought the monitor because I was into photography and was playing BF:BC2, and it’s continued to serve well for BF3 and now BF4, and whatever other games I play on it.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            if we are talking motion then i will probably have more visual definition on my 1080p 144hz lightboost monitor then your 1600p ips which has ghosting

            thats what lightboost does it effectively removes ghosting from the screen so you can see objects clearer while they are moving
            check out [url<]http://www.blurbusters.com[/url<]

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            Oh, I’d kill for a high framerate, low/no ghosting display for fast paced FPS for sure. That’s the sacrifice I make for using a professional IPS monitor; the motion resolution is indeed limited.

            But I can still see smaller moving objects at a greater distance, which is also an advantage, particularly in a BF game that includes a plethora of wide-open/long distance engagements :).

            And I agree, I’d rather have both, and G-Sync as well, but we’re just not there yet. I’ll still have to upgrade my GPUs if I upgrade my monitor; my 2GB GTX670s are at their limit with BF3/4 at 1600p!

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            “But I can still see smaller moving objects at a greater distance”

            if they are moving then i will probably be able to see them better because you will have ghosting but i will see it clearly at 144hz lightboost

            my original problem is with what you said “I can see them, but they can’t see me :D”

            i which the only part i disagreed with – if something is 1/2 an inch on the screen and both screens are the same size (for example 27″) then i will still be able to see it but with lower definition but the difference would be so small that it wouldnt matter and if its moving then i would be able to see it clearer because it wouldnt blur with 144hz lightboost

            something 1/10th of an inch i would still be able to see at 1080p but we are getting so small now where it would be hard to see anyways no matter the resolution

            im still dont agree that you can see other people but they cannot see you

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            I see where you’re coming from, so here’s what I mean:

            There’s a point where my unit is so small on a 1080p screen that it’s not recognizable, yet would still be recognizable on a 1600p screen. In effect, I can ‘see’ my opponent’s before they can see me.

            Also, and this pertains to BF3/4, optics with a magnification greater than 4x produce a ‘glint’ that looks like a bright point of light when they look through their optics. The default optic for sniper weapons is 8x, with 6x unlocked quickly, but both are visible across the map when used. Now, given that I have more definition than a sniper with a 1080p monitor, I can use a 4x optic to snipe, which means that I’m nearly invisible to them as my weapon doesn’t produce that tell-tale glint. However, I can still make them out and I can still engage them at some pretty crazy distances without giving my position away, which means that I get off at least one or two shots before they figure out where I am.

            For another example, consider digital cameras. If you double the resolution, all other things being equal, you double the definition of the image, and it can make a huge difference in final picture quality, especially in the ability to make out small details or objects in the background.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            “There’s a point where my unit is so small on a 1080p screen that it’s not recognizable, yet would still be recognizable on a 1600p screen”

            how small? how much screen space are we talking about? it would take up the same amount of space on both screens given the same panel size

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            Sure, same ‘size’ on the panel, but remember that with a higher-resolution panel, an object approaching from the distance that starts out smaller than one pixel will become more defined earlier than it would on a lower-resolution panel. It works in reverse, too, if you’re moving toward said object.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            so you can make out infantry at one pixel?

            im trying to figure out what amount of screen space you can see other people but they cant see you

            1/20th of an inch?

            what im trying to say is that at the amount of screen space that you have more usable definition that there is such a small amount of pixels and small amount of screen space that it dont matter that much
            1920×1080 has around 81 pixel per inch
            2560×1600 has around 111 pixels per inch

            i know i can see enemys at around 1 inch of screen space so it would have to be much less than an inch for you to recognize them and they not recognize you and at 1/10 of an inch there isnt many pixels anyways and the amount of screenspace is so small that it wouldnt matter how many pixel you packed in there

            i would also like to know the point where they cant see you but you can see them

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            I’ve avoided tying down a physical measurement because there are way too many variables, and because I don’t own the propor screens to demonstrate the issue in question that way. If you have, say, a 27″ 1080p screen and 27″ 1440p screen, please be my guest :).

            But if ‘1 inch’ is your personal metric, I’d say that I can make them out at about 1/4″, but I do have pretty sharp (corrected) vision. I’d say even less than 1/4″ if the unit is moving.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            so at 1/4 of an inch you can make out who you are shooting at clearly?

            i think you have a larger screen (30″) which would make more difference at seeing smaller objects than say someone with a 24″ screen which might explain people seeing you vs you seeing them

            because at 1/4 of an inch on the same panel size i dont think there is enough pixel definition to make much difference between 1080p and 1600p

            so what size would be the smallest you can see them at all? (not talking about clearly seeing them now we are talking about seeing them at all) 1/10th of an inch? because i can see enemys at 1/10th of an inch but i cant see them clearly (and if you can you are a champion.!)

            i think ill end it here anyways as i still dont believe you can see someone at the same panel size (27″ vs 27″ or 30″ vs 30″ but 1600p vs 1080p) but they cannot see you at all like you said at the start, the amount of pixels where you can see them but they CANT SEE YOU AT ALL is so small on the screen that you have to be a robot (where do i get robot eyes please?)

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            If you’re implying that there’s a ‘cut and dried’ point, well, there isn’t. The differences are there, but it is all subjective, which is why I’ve avoided discussing in terms of ‘inches’ :).

            I rest with this: there is a definite, if difficult to quantify, advantage to moving to higher-PPI monitors for gaming. It’s one of the reasons I went to a 30″ monitor with a 2560×1600 resolution, and it’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to 4k.

            • f0d
            • 6 years ago

            argh you brought me back to agree with you 🙂
            i agree there is a clarity advantage but not to the point of being able to see someone where someone else wouldnt see you at the same panel size

            i am also looking forward to 4k monitors but only with a lightboost style technology and high hz panel – the clarity of lightboost and 144hz really is unbelieveable until you see it with your own eyes

            edit: its 7am now in aus, i dont think im going to get much sleep until i work at 10am 🙁

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            Yes, on both accounts 🙂

            • jessterman21
            • 6 years ago

            This is the furthest right I’ve ever seen a comment thread go.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 6 years ago

            The most obvious example might be a diagonal line. On the lower resolution display, this may look like a dotted line intermittently showing one pixel or none, while the higher resolution gives it enough pixels to appear as a solid line.

            • Airmantharp
            • 6 years ago

            Yeah, he’s caught up on a ‘horizontal resolution’ argument, dismissing overall increases in definition. Maybe there’s a good photography analogy that would help him :).

      • ronch
      • 6 years ago

      I think TR’s System Guides are meant to be loose guidelines. Chances are you might not be able to avail the exact motherboard, RAM, chassis, DVD drive, monitor, power supply, sound card, etc. anyway. Most likely, only the CPU and GPU will be the basis for most folks and with the GPU, the buyer is obviously free to buy from another video card vendor as long as it uses the same GPU. They’re not forcing you to get the exact parts listed here. TR readers are more of the techy types who know what they want and know how to choose computer parts. If it’s a computer newbie we’re talking about, I think it would be best if he/she posts his/her comments in the forums where other folks can help him/her out in more detail, or perhaps just buy a pre-assembled PC from one of the big OEMs out there.

      • Airmantharp
      • 6 years ago

      My response:

      1. Largely agree-
      TR could stand to get up to date on sound cards, but you have to admit that the Xonar they continue to recommend is an inexpensive solution that will definitely serve nearly everyone’s needs quite well and would be an upgrade over nearly any integrated audio solution on a board they’d actually recommend.

      2. Somewhat agree-
      Good TN monitors have always been fairly good displays, which I admit as a person that uses professional 24″ and 30″ VA and IPS monitors from Dell and HP everyday at home and at work. For ‘just being a monitor’, they do work, and if that’s all you need beyond gaming, then the nicer ‘gaming’ TN monitors really are a great fit. Still, I think most people would appreciate an IPS panel over a TN or VA/PLS panel, and such panels are found at the same or lower prices than said gaming TNs.

      3. Somewhat disagree-
      You know, we just talked about Logitech’s mechanical keyboard, and I just got my custom MX Brown keyboard in, and compared it to the Logitech and the Corsairs at a local Fry’s- and I’d consider either ‘mainstream’ keyboard as inferior options. The Logitech, especially, has a significantly lower build quality, is butt ugly, huge, and comes across as way ‘over-blinged’.

      4. Largely agree-
      I’m a huge fan of Logitech’s G5/MX500 and related series of wired mice, and still use a G500 on a daily basis; I believe that it is the quintessential ‘gaming’ mouse. Still, I use an also not mentioned Steelseries Sensei, which has better resolution than the Logitech, specifically for use at 2560×1600. The G500 just wasn’t giving me the combination of speed and accuracy I needed to hit my targets, and given that, TR could stand to modernize their gaming mice knowledge-base. Twitch gaming at 4k will likely require even better mice.

      5. Largely disagree-
      They don’t recommend a mic that I see, but they do solidly recommend the HD558’s, which are the best economical gaming cans on the market for a broad number of uses (and reasons).

      Overall, I think you made valid points, and your antagonistic tone certainly garners attention, but it is also fairly offensive. If you don’t appreciate the overwhelming volume of incredible work done by the TR staff, may I suggest finding another site?

      If you do appreciate the work done by TR, may I suggest a different tack? Why not sponsor a review, instead of complaining about the ones they’ve already done?

        • f0d
        • 6 years ago

        “I’m a huge fan of Logitech’s G5/MX500 and related series of wired mice”

        i have rebuilt my G5 a good 5/6 times now with new cables and new feet – i have purchased a good 5 or 6 mice to replace it (various ones from corsair/razer/steelseries and even logitech) but i keep going back to the old G5

        probably more to do with muscle memory more than anything but i perform so much better with my old G5 than i have anything else

          • Airmantharp
          • 6 years ago

          I think I’ve lost one in the series, total, since I started with the MX500, but they’ve all lasted 5+ years. Logitech optical mice just don’t die.

          And as for ergonomics, well, I wish my G500 had the Sensei’s optical sensor. It has buttons I could definitely put to use in BF4 :).

      • indeego
      • 6 years ago

      If it’s predictable, and disappointing, why would you keep reading it?

    • CampinCarl
    • 6 years ago

    Another vote for Gigabyte’s triple fan coolers. I have their 7950 3GB with that same fan, it’s super quiet.

      • ChronoReverse
      • 6 years ago

      Yeah, I have that card too, the cooler is amazing. It’s ticking along at 1GHz and doesn’t get loud or hot. AMD should just pay Gigabyte for their cooler design because their regular slot-blower is terrible.

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 6 years ago

    Excellent work as usual.

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