TR’s Christmas 2013 system guide

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It’s been less than six weeks since we published our last system guide, and the market isn’t exactly overflowing with fresh releases. In fact, aside from the arrival of AMD’s Radeon R9 270, I don’t recall any major new parts hitting stores.

That’s not to say things haven’t changed, though. The holiday shopping season has taken its toll on the availability of many items. Some prices have been driven up, and some items have been driven out of stock. This phenomenon is particularly noticeable in the graphics card realm, where the latest high-end Radeons are nigh on impossible to find at the moment.

So, yes, it is time for a new system guide. We have old recommendations to tune up, availability constraints to account for, and price hikes to work around—all to serve those of you preparing for some last-minute Christmas shopping.

To keep things interesting, we’ve also added a new build to the mix: a small-form-factor gaming rig with everything needed to make console gamers jealous, including a 27″ Korean IPS display, studio monitor speakers, and some lovely, aluminum-clad peripherals.

As you read the following pages, keep in mind that, because of the aforementioned surge in demand, some of our recommendations may go in and out of stock, and their prices may fluctuate. We’ve done our best to account for these uncertainties, but we couldn’t completely contain them.

All right. Let’s get to it, shall we?

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 $119.99
Motherboard Gigabyte H87-D3H $104.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $57.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 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 $627.92

Processor

As in the last edition of the guide, we’re going with a dual-core Haswell chip instead of an AMD FX-series offering with more cores.

Yes, next-gen games may 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 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.

Future titles optimized using AMD’s Mantle API may use more threads, but Mantle will also cut CPU overhead dramatically. In the words of EA DICE’s Johan Andersson, the CPU “should never really be a bottleneck for the GPU anymore” with Mantle.

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 perform better in the heavily multithreaded workloads that might appear in next-gen games. However, it will still be slower 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.

If you disagree with us, or you just want to root for the underdog, scroll down to our alternatives section. We’ve included an FX-6300 there. 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 truly worried about multithreaded performance, then your best bet is probably to spend the extra $60 or so on a quad-core Haswell processor. One of those appears in the alts below, too.

Motherboard

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

Some folks have complained about the ASRock motherboard from our last guide, so we’ve spruced up our selection a little. We’re still going with Intel’s H87 chispet, since it has all the bells and whistles of the Z87 minus multiplier overclocking support and proper multi-GPU support, neither of which are needed for this build. However, we now recommend Gigabyte’s H87-D3H.

This mobo is from a first-tier manufacturer, has good customer reviews, and is the most affordable H87 offering we could find with Intel networking and S/PDIF audio. Other notable features include a full-ATX form factor (a rarity among H87 offerings), four USB 3.0 ports, and six 6Gbps SATA ports. $105 may seem a little steep, but you’ll be thanking us later.

Memory

Not long ago, Newegg’s stocks were rife with value-oriented DIMMs from U.S.-based firms like Corsair, Crucial, and Kingston. These days, we can find only premium modules with correspondingly premium price tags from those companies. For a budget-constrained build like the Econobox, that’s a problem.

Which brings us to G.Skill. The company operates out of Taiwan and has the world’s ugliest website. However, its 8GB DDR3-1600 kit is a fair bit cheaper than the premium offerings mentioned above, and it has a five-star average out of hundreds of customer reviews at Newegg. More importantly, the company offers U.S.-based technical support and, from what we hear, is quite diligent when it comes to replacing faulty modules. Some of our forum mods recommend this memory highly. Given the savings involved, we think it’s a good choice, too.

Graphics

Earlier this year, price cuts 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 Radeon got our vote last time. Unfortunately, 7850 2GB cards now seem to be priced closer to $170-190. The GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB, by contrast, looks like it’s still available at $150. (We’ve even seen $140 cards pop in and out of stock over the past few days.) Since these cards are equivalent performers, we’ll give the nod to the GeForce this time. Just bear in mind that demand is high, and our recommended MSI card may go out of stock. If that happens, head here to look for a similar model.

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.

Note that this power supply only has two Serial ATA power connectors. That’s fine for our default config, but if you want to add more drives, you’ll need a 4-pin Molex to SATA power splitter. It’s only $2, far less than the price difference between this PSU and other modular offerings with more built-in connectors.

Econobox alternatives

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

Component Item Price
Processor AMD FX-6300 $109.99
Core i5-4430 3.0GHz $189.99
Motherboard Asus M5A97 LE R2.0 $74.99
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon R9 270 $179.99
Storage Kingston HyperX 120GB $99.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 2TB $94.99

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 per-thread performance, the FX-6300 may run those titles 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 desktop Haswell 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 upcoming games may want to splurge on a little extra memory, too.

On the graphics front, the 7850 2GB’s recent price markup makes it an unappealing alternative. Instead, you might as well spring for the Radeon R9 270, which rings in at $180 and is a fair bit faster.

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 appropriate alternative, Samsung’s 840 EVO 120GB, has slower write speed ratings than the HyperX.

Just because we’re recommending an SSD doesn’t mean mechanical storage is unnecessary. 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 $109.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $57.99

Graphics Gigabyte Radeon R9 270X $199.99
Storage Kingston HyperX 120GB $99.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 2TB $94.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $19.99
Audio Asus Xonar DSX $55.99
Enclosure NZXT H2 $99.99
Power supply Corsair CX600M $79.99
Total $1,008.90

Processor

As the most affordable quad-core 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’d spring for the Core i5-4670K, which has an unlocked upper multiplier for easy overclocking, but we’re stretching our thousand-dollar budget as it is. Haswell doesn’t have loads 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 beside its lower price: 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

We’ve selected the same G.Skill kit as in our Econobox. The Sweet Spot’s budget could allow for a pricier kit from a bigger, U.S.-based vendor, but considering the price difference and the apparent popularity of G.Skill RAM, we don’t really see the point.

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 while drawing less power under load. This puppy is almost as fast as the pricier GeForce GTX 760, too.

Gigabyte’s take on the R9 270X is clocked 50MHz above AMD’s reference speeds, and it has a beefy triple-fan cooler that should keep the GPU cool without making too much noise. We’ll take it. Do note, however, that certain other R9 270X models come bundled with Battlefield 4. We couldn’t find any that were in stock and not selling for significantly more than $200, but it can’t hurt to sift through Newegg’s listings before making your purchase. Free games are always nice.

If you want to save 20 bucks, you could also go with the R9 270 from our Econobox alternatives. The 270 has lower clock speeds, though. It also has only one 6-pin PCIe power connector, which could limit overclocking headroom. Since the Sweet Spot’s budget is ample enough for the 270X, we don’t feel compelled to cheap out.

Storage

Here, our thousand-dollar budget has room for both of the Econobox’s storage alternatives: Kingston’s HyperX 120GB SSD and Seagate’s Barracuda 7,200-RPM 2TB mechanical drive. 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 don’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 reasonably priced 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. We’re still on the lookout for a better $100 ATX enclosure, but for now, the NZXT H2 will do.

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 $124.99
Graphics Asus GeForce GTX 760 $249.99
Storage Intel 530 Series 240GB $169.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 3TB $119.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $79.99
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 400R $99.99

Overclockers will want to grab 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 buy 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 from our primary recs. 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, the GeForce is slightly faster than the Radeon, and it comes bundled with free games: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Splinter Cell Blacklist. We also like the card’s support for GeForce Experience and ShadowPlay, not to mention the fact that buying a GTX 760 entitles you to a $50 discount on a Shield handheld, provided you go through Newegg’s combo menu. We recommend Asus’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.

Need more storage? Doubling up on SSD capacity costs less than you might think. Here, we’re recommending the 240GB version of Intel’s 530 Series drive, since the equivalent Kingston HyperX offering costs more and is otherwise similar. (Both drives are based on the same SandForce controller.) Samsung’s 840 EVO 250GB may be found for a few bucks less, and it’s certainly worth considering. However, we’re not really thrilled with that drive’s slow write service times in our real-world DriveBench 2.0 test. The EVO’s three-bit TLC flash is also less durable than the 530 Series’ two-bit MLC NAND.

On the mechanical side of things, you can’t go wrong with the 3TB version of Seagate’s 7,200-RPM ‘cuda. 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 $129.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-2133 $59.99
Graphics Radeon R9 280X $299.99
Storage Intel 530 Series 240GB $169.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 3TB $119.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $49.99
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 $1,440.89

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 chip like the Core i5-4670 or the Core i7-4771, whose locked multipliers prevent easy overclocking.

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

We’re coughing up $10 more for a version of G.Skill’s 8GB kit rated for operation at 2133MHz. We’re making provisions for overclocking with our CPU pick, so we might as well do so with our memory, as well.

Graphics

The Radeon R9 280X has a lower sticker price than the GeForce GTX 770, performs almost identically, and sometimes (depending on the model) comes bundled with a free copy of Battlefield 4. For those reasons, we think it’s the best deal in this price range.

Unfortunately, R9 280X cards are pretty scarce right now. As we write this, finding an R9 280X in stock at the suggested price of $300 is extremely tough. AMD tells us that supply is “returning slowly to normal,” so this situation may not last for much longer. All things considered, we think your best bet is to look around Newegg’s listings until you find a suitable R9 280X model that’s both in stock and not overly marked up. If you can’t find one just now, waiting a few days may be your best bet.

Folks who don’t have the time or patience for that sort of thing will want to go with our alternative, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 770. The GTX 770 is priced a little higher, but it’s widely available today, and it comes with three bundled games. Scroll down to our alternatives section for more details.

Storage

This build has a big enough budget 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 goodies 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 Gigabyte GeForce GTX 770 $339.99
Storage Samsung 840 Pro 256GB $221.95
Seagate Desktop HDD.15 4TB $159.99

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—only it’s widely available at or below its suggested price, which is more than we can say about the Radeon. The GTX 770 also comes with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Splinter Cell Blacklist. You get a $100 discount on Nvidia’s Shield handheld if you buy it as a combo with the GTX 770, as well.

Finally, we have two alternative storage propositions. There’s the Samsung 840 Pro 256GB, which is straight up better than the 240GB Intel drive. 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 Mushkin 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-2133 $169.99
Graphics Radeon R9 290 $399.99
Storage Samsung 840 EVO 1TB $599.00
Seagate Barracuda 7,200-RPM 3TB $119.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200-RPM 3TB $119.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $49.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $79.99
Power supply Corsair AX860W $169.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 750D $159.99
CPU cooler
Corsair H80i $83.99
Total $2,798.90

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

We’re also splurging for DDR3-2133 memory here—and since this is our highest-end build, we’re getting 16GB of it.

Mushkin, a U.S.-based vendor, has a 16GB DDR3-2133 kit that doesn’t cost much more than the G.Skill one and has a lower voltage rating. That sounds pretty good to us. We’re getting four 4GB modules instead of two 8GB ones in order to feed our processor’s quad memory channels.

Graphics

If you’ve read our review of the R9 290, then you’ll know why we’re recommending this card: it offers hands down the best performance per dollar in this price range. The R9 290 is 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.

Currently, the R9 290 suffers from the same availability problems as the R9 280X. That means you’ll want to look around for a model that’s in stock and not marked up over the $400 MSRP. (If you’re lucky, you might even nab one that comes bundled with Battlefield 4.) Finding a card may mean waiting a few days or more, depending on how long it takes for AMD to catch up with demand. If you need something right now, scroll down to our alternatives section for a more widely available option from the Nvidia camp.

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 on 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 $196.99
Western Digital Red 4TB $196.99
Western Digital Black 4TB $266.99
Western Digital Black 4TB $266.99
Samsung 840 Pro 512GB $439.99
FireWire card Rosewill RC-506E $34.99
Enclosure Cooler Master Cosmos II $299.99

Unlike the Radeon R9 290, the GeForce GTX 780 is widely available at its suggested price. That price may be $100 higher than the Radeon’s, but 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 gives 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 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 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 PC master race Ubergamingcomputer
Because consoles just aren’t glorious enough

And now for something a little different: a small-form-factor gaming PC with all the trimmings. You can think of this as our answer to the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony—a more glorious and decked-out alternative for those of us who appreciate the finer things in life.

Yes, the Ubergamingcomputer costs a lot more than an Xbone, but it’s also much more flexible and more powerful. For instance, according to Eurogamer, Battlefield 4 runs at 1280×720 on the Xbox one and 1600×900 on the PS4. This build will have no trouble doing 1920×1080 at a silky smooth 60 Hz, and you should be able to push it to 2560×1440 if you don’t max out the detail completely. Also, the Ubergamingcomputer will run previous-gen (and even older) games not natively supported on newer consoles.

The Ubergamingcomputer is actually cheaper than next-gen consoles in some ways, too. Online multiplayer doesn’t require a $60-a-year paid subscription, and games cost less, especially when there’s a sale on Steam. We’re not saying you’ll save money in the long run, but just bear in mind that consoles aren’t always as affordable as they seem.

Anyway, enough about consoles. We’ll start by listing out the specs for our core build, and then we’ll move on to peripherals and other add-ons.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-4430 3.0GHz $189.99
Motherboard Asus Z87M-Plus $129.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $57.99
Graphics Radeon R9 280X $299.99
Storage Intel 530 Series 240GB $169.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 2TB $99.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $49.99
Audio Asus Xonar DSX $55.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 350D $99.99
Power supply Corsair CX600M $79.99
Subtotal $1,238.90

This is pretty much a slightly tweaked hybrid of our Sweet Spot and Editor’s Choice builds. The graphics card and storage selections are taken from the latter, while the CPU and power supply are from the former. We’re not terribly concerned about overclocking, here; what we want is the best gaming bang for your buck. Intel’s Core i5-4430 is more than fast enough to drive even next-gen titles, and not springing for the more overclocker-friendly chip gives us more room for a faster graphics card.

Speaking of which, we’ll repeat our caveat about the Radeon R9 280X here in case you missed it: this card is a great deal at its suggested e-tail price, but it’s out of stock and marked up right now. If you can’t find it at around $300 in Neweg’s listings, we recommend either waiting or going with a GeForce GTX 770, instead.

Two parts of this machine aren’t found in our other builds: the motherboard and enclosure. We picked a solid-looking microATX mobo from Asus, which comes with that firm’s lovely (and very polished) firmware, software, and fan controls. We’ve also selected Corsair’s Obsidian Series 350D, a sexy-looking microATX case with all of the features you’d expect from a full-sized ATX chassis. Since this is a gaming-focused machine, we don’t need a ton of room for extra expansion slots. You can make the Ubergamingcomputer into a multi-GPU rig if you wish, though—the Asus board has a second PCIe x16 slot, and the 350D should handle the extra heat just fine.

Now, on to our peripherals and other knick-knacks.

OS
Windows 8.1 x64 OEM $99.99
Display 27″ Auria IPS 2560×1440 $399.99
Keyboard Corsair Vengeance K70 (Cherry MX red) $119.99
Mouse Corsair Vengeance M65 $59.99
Speakers M-Audio Studiophile AV-40 $149.99
Headset Logitech G930 $104.99
Gamepad Xbox 360 controller for Windows $45.36
Subtotal $980.30
Grand total
$2,219.20

Our Ubergamingcomputer needs an operating system, of course. We have a full section about Windows versions on the second-to-last page of this guide, so we won’t spoil it here. Suffice to say that Windows 8.1 x64 has everything we want here—and no, we wouldn’t recommend Windows 7.

For our display, we’re going with a 27″ Korean IPS monitor from Microcenter. This thing is a little more ghetto than professional offerings from Dell and HP and the like, but it’s also a fair bit more affordable, and it has a spiffy-looking IPS panel with a 2560×1440 resolution.

On the peripherals front, we’ve got Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controller for Windows (since some PC games are just better played with a gamepad) as well as two entries from Corsair: the Vengeance K70 keyboard and the Vengeance M65 mouse.

The K70 is the successor to the K60, which we liked, minus the rubber-dome switches under some non-alpha keys, which we didn’t like so much. The K70 is all-mechanical. Here, we’ve gone with the version that has Cherry’s MX red switches, since those have a linear, non-clicky response that feels great for gaming. The reds aren’t ideal for typing, though, so hard-core typists and writers may want the version of the K70 keyboard with Cherry MX brown switches. (Bonus: that model has a cool gunmetal finish.) See here for a comparison of different Cherry MX switch types.

The M65 mouse is the successor to the M60, another TR favorite. There’s not much to say about this bad boy except that it looks slick, feels solid in the hand, and supports programmable macros. At least one of our editors uses this mouse day-to-day on his main desktop PC.

Finally, we have two recommendations for our Ubergamingcomputer’s sound setup. Logitech’s G930 is a popular option at Newegg, and it should suffice for late-night gaming sessions as well as voice-enabled multiplayer skirmishes. As for our speakers, we’re going by the recommendation of TR’s own Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, who’s a fan of studio monitor speakers. He suggests M-Audio’s Studiophile AV-40 setup, which is a reasonable option at $150 and should sound much better than cheap computer speakers from the usual suspects. We considered a 5.1 speaker setup, but a good one without tinny-sounding satellites would set us back close to $300, and we don’t think that’s necessarily a worthwhile expense. We prefer headphones for serious multiplayer immersion, and our Logitech headset supports Dolby Headphone 7.1 virtualization.

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 set 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 pick would probably be Apple’s new iPad mini with Retina display. 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.

The iPad mini with Retina display starts at $399 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi-only model. We’d probably spring for the $499 32GB version in order to 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 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 also offers a similar system with AMD guts: the Pavilion 13 x2, which starts at $600 with a 13.3″ 1366×768 IPS display, an AMD A6-1450 “Kabini” processor, and 64GB of solid-state storage. This convertible weighs the same as the Split 13 x2, but it should be slower. It may be worth looking into, though.

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 springing for one of the premium systems with high-PPI panels.

Surprisingly, Apple’s $1299 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display is the most attractively priced offering in this category. The MacBook Pro 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. It has one of those great Apple touchpads, too, which is still head and shoulders above what other PC vendors offer.

This may be 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 Linux distros like 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 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 budget 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 8-bit 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 $390 from Korean vendors on Newegg’s marketplace. 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. A comparable display from, say, Dell will cost you $650 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. You won’t find a cheaper high-PPI desktop display out there right now, though Dell has some coming in January.

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 than 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 short spurts 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.

Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, our resident coder and musician, has a few recommendations for stereo studio monitor setups. None of them are particularly expensive, but they should sound much better than typical computer speakers. Aside from the $150 M-Audio Studiophile AV-40 setup featured in our Uber build, Bruno recommends the Audioengine A2 and the Alesis M1A Active 520. Both sell for $199, but the Alesis has a USB audio interface, so you don’t need a good sound card to drive it.

Otherwise, if you’re no audiophile, 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 an 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. The USB version of the controller should work with any Windows PC. You can also grab the Windows wireless version, which comes with the required wireless receiver in the box.

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

Well, that’s it for this edition of the guide. Things were a little chaotic this time around, but what did you expect? Christmas is in, like, two weeks.

Let’s wrap things up, as we often do, with a look at what’s on the horizon.

AMD’s Kaveri processors are due on January 14. This family of chips should supplant the current A series of APUs, and from what we’ve been able to gather, it looks like a straightforward evolutionary upgrade over current products. The latest official roadmap seems to rule out substantial updates to AMD’s higher-end FX processor series through 2014.

It looks like we’re in for some stagnation from the Intel camp, too. The rumor mill predicts a refresh of Intel’s Haswell processor lineup next year, but Intel’s true next-generation offering, the 14-nm Broadwell CPU, may not arrive on the desktop in enthusiast-friendly, multiplier-unlocked form until the fourth quarter—long after its debut in notebooks and tablets. Oh well, at least any processor purchased today won’t be obsolete for a little while.

Rumor-mongers don’t have as much to tell us about the graphics side of things. I suppose we’ll see some new GPUs from AMD and Nvidia next year, but the real excitement will stem from the arrival of new games based on next-gen engines. Those titles should give us much more impressive visuals than what we’ve seen to date, and they should run happily on current cards. Radeon owners may get preferential treatment, too, in next-gen titles optimized using AMD’s Mantle API, though it’s too early to make any predictions about real-world performance.

And on that note, we sign off, wishing you happy holidays and a delightful new year of gaming and other technical endeavors.

Comments closed
    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 6 years ago

    You guys recommend allot of seagate drives on here but those have the highest failure rates according to a news article you posted.

    [url<]https://techreport.com/news/25940/hard-drive-reliability-study-names-names[/url<] you even said, "Overall, Backblaze's data suggests that Seagate drives are less reliable than their peers. That matches my own experiences with a much smaller sample size, and it may influence our future recommendations in the System Guide."

      • kamikaziechameleon
      • 6 years ago

      Those Cherry MX Green Keys look amazing, but they are not available on most of the nicer design keyboard chasis out there.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 6 years ago

    Unicomp…

    We keep comparing Cherry MX’s to a keyboard that has a modern iteration. I know its not good looking but heck most Mech keyboards are ugly save the corsair keyboards.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 6 years ago

    I would point out that there is an vast community for modding Cherry MX keys with O-Rings. I’d be curious to see you guys do an article on MX Blues and Greens with these silencers. They remove the CLACK from bottoming out and can even silence the browns and reds further, while also shortening the bottom of the stroke depending on the diameter of the o-ring. They maintain the CLICK of the audible actuation on the Blue and Green.

    Lots of info out there but its pretty scattered as the community doesn’t have the resources to do a grand cross switch comparison.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 6 years ago

    I bought a RAT 9 based on your recommendation. I thought I’d sare a major issue, the mouse buttons have a short lifespan. Medium use will give your mouse 2-3 year life span. Shortest lived mouse I’ve ever had. Was glorious though.

    • Mightyflapjack
    • 6 years ago

    The Gigabyte Radeon R9 270X is LONG.

    Just a word to the wise, I attempted to build a system with this card and the 3 fan cooler adds a lot of size to this card.. So much that it would not fit inside the Antec Sonata III case I was using.

    Its not even something you can trim to fit because the 3rd fan is in the way. (maybe if you have really steady hands and a Dremel multitool, but then say goodbye to your warranty.)

      • ronch
      • 6 years ago

      I bought a long video card only once – a Radeon X1950Pro back in 2007. It barely fitted inside my reduced-height ATX case. All my succeeding cards after that were short ones: HD4670, HD5670, and my current HD7770. I’m not really a big fan of very fast but power-guzzling cards.

    • ronch
    • 6 years ago

    Winter is chilly… and you know what that means!!!

    Hint: You need to warm the room a little bit more.

      • Milo Burke
      • 6 years ago

      Are you proposing summer gaming rigs with Intel/Nvidia and winter gaming rigs with AMD?

        • Airmantharp
        • 6 years ago

        Sounds reasonable.

    • sweatshopking
    • 6 years ago

    OMG CYRIL 8.1!!!!???? HAVENT YOU SEEN THE UI????

    • TwoEars
    • 6 years ago

    Am I the only one that thinks the current voting system seems overly negative?

    People get down voted just for voicing their opinion, and suggestion of what they’d like to see.

    Are people down voting everything that isn’t exactly how they think? What happened to freedom of choice?

    Perhaps there should be a thumbs up down pool? You have to up vote as much you down vote for instance.

    I almost suspect a few people are down voting just to troll.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 6 years ago

    Bah. I want a small, ITX form-factor “Steam Box” build!

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 6 years ago

      So, go to the SBA forum and start a thread for it.
      [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=91390[/url<]

    • TwoEars
    • 6 years ago

    I think you should spec up a real “PC GAMER MASTER RACE” computer just for fun.

    4770k
    780 Ti in SLI
    Samsung EVO SSD drives (maybe even in raid?)
    Top Notch Soundcard

    You get the picture.

      • Milo Burke
      • 6 years ago

      Maximum PC already does computer pr0n. We don’t need TechReport to sink to that too.

      If you have enough cash to buy a bragging-rights machine, you don’t need a guide for it.

        • TwoEars
        • 6 years ago

        Jeez… Not everyone lives on welfare in their moms basement you know. And perhaps some of us want to drive that 120Hz 1080p monitor at full speed.

    • soccergenius
    • 6 years ago

    Glad to see the 270x make the Sweet Spot again since I just bought one for my lil’ bro’s birthday. It plays BF4 on pretty much max settings @1080p which was all he wanted.

    • Variable
    • 6 years ago

    How about some ITX recommendation?! Maybe not a full guide, but motherboard and PSU would be helpful. I’ve got to build in my new NCASE pretty soon. =)

    • anotherengineer
    • 6 years ago

    Only thing I am looking for is another SSD, cmon boxing day sales!!!

    • ronch
    • 6 years ago

    If you’ve been wanting to grab an AMD 8-core CPU, don’t wait any longer. Grab yours now before they’re gone!

    Merry Christmas!

      • Cyril
      • 6 years ago

      Yes, an AMD FX™ microprocessor is the perfect Holiday gift for gamers who demand the best! And why not pair it with an AMD Radeon™ graphics processor for even more amazing gaming value?

      AMD: enabling today, inspiring tomorrow!

        • jihadjoe
        • 6 years ago

        AMD FX Processors and 290 series graphics, indeed the perfect gift for the holidays.

        Plays games. Mines litecoins. Keeps you warm.*

        * Recommended configuration: FX-9370 plus two R9-290s in Crossfire. Please face the back of your computer enclosure toward your feet for best effect.

        • Milo Burke
        • 6 years ago

        I like your sense of humor. =]

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 6 years ago

    I’d choose the Corsair 540 Air over any case suggested here just so long as my needs didn’t have me putting more than two 3.5″ hard drives in my case. Given the suggestions in most of the segments, that’s the case that makes the most sense for the majority of the builds here.

    I keep hoping that Corsair will show up with an Obsidian based on a cube-like design with obvious improvements that should have been obvious from the get-go.

    I also think someone spending as much money as one would on the Double Stuff system would be more apt to desire some degree of quiet in return for money spent and forego the R9 290. Seems like on that build, the “Let’s save money at the expense of our hearing aid bills in years to come” argument would probably be the alternative suggestion instead of the primary suggestion.

    Still, that’s subjective, I guess.

    • flip-mode
    • 6 years ago

    Just remember, Cyril, people usually don’t bother to post a comment if they’re satisfied with what you’ve published. That leave you reading a bunch of complaints!

    Then there’s the neverending Windows 8 hating; it’s curious to me that the haters approach the improvements in Windows 8 with the attitude that any improvements are no big deal and can be had with some add-ons, while any (perceived) deficiencies are a great big deal and the fact that there are add-ons to address them is irrelevant. It’s a two-way street and both ways run against Windows 8. LOL.

    • beck2448
    • 6 years ago

    What a joke!

      • Krogoth
      • 6 years ago

      Babby’s first troll.

    • pandemonium
    • 6 years ago

    I’m very surprised by some of these recommendations.

    First, the 3570k is probably the best CPU for the price for gaming and general use. Reason being is for DPC latency. DPC latency affects everything (not just audio synchronization to video; as commonly noted), especially for gaming, and according to AnandTech’s results, the Z77 chipsets are much lower in DPC latency than all of the newer Intel chipsets. E.g. [url<]http://images.anandtech.com/graphs/graph7426/59083.png[/url<] I see no one making this out to be an important measurement to be aware of in reviews - for gaming in particular - and I'm confused as to why. I digress. Second, Seagate drives seem to be horrid. I've never personally owned one (have dealt with them, but not used them personally), but all of the horror stories of drives dying are always Seagate. I'm not saying other manufacturers aren't bad, but they seem to be the worst and just the cheapest spindle drives available that are typically used for OEM. I only personally recommend and buy Western Digital for spindle. Third, no mention of UPSs at all? Even in a new house with proper wiring and decent grounding, I still highly recommend spending a few hundred on a decent UPS to protect the $1000+ worth of equipment you're on. Not to mention brown-outs won't completely kill your gaming experience or work-at-home productivity and give you a manageable shut-down sequence to maintain your data properly.

      • theadder
      • 6 years ago

      The difference between the lowest and highest score appears to be 254 microseconds. This is 0.000254 seconds. 1/4000th of a second.

      The author also states that they’re taken as the “peak latency” and not continuous.

      This surely can’t possibly matter for games. He doesn’t even note it actually causing any problems of any kind on any of the test systems.

        • pandemonium
        • 6 years ago

        While microseconds doesn’t seem like much, when you consider the fact that thousands of interrupts are happening in real-time, those small increments add up fairly quickly and can be noticeable if you’re twitch gaming or just gaming in general with a machine that has tremendously poor spikes. If you google DPC latency with gaming, you’ll find that several people end up experiencing terrible lag due to several factors.

        For the most part, DPC latency issues are rooted with poorly implemented drivers, poorly optimized motherboard layout, or hardware conflicts, however, the underlying latency of a system is a good place to start in knowing how a system will behave when all is said and done.

        The DPC latency on those charts are with a minimal Windows install without running anything demanding. Run any demanding game and your DPC latency spikes much higher; even more-so if there’s an actual issue.

        I warn you: it may open up Pandora’s box if you start running these tests, but try it out and you’ll see what I mean. 🙂

      • derFunkenstein
      • 6 years ago

      I agree it’s best for the price, but for different reasons:

      1.) It’s cheaper than a 4670K and it’s also got an unlocked upper multiplier
      2.) High-quality Z77 boards seem to be a few bucks cheaper.

      Then again I might suffer from confirmation bias – I upgraded from an i3 2105 (HD3000 makes Hackintoshing easier) to a 3570K not long before Haswell launched.

    • ikjadoon
    • 6 years ago

    Why don’t you guys ever recommend the Corsair Carbide Air 540? It’s the best air-cooling case under $200.

    • trackerben
    • 6 years ago

    I’m wondering why Cyril thinks Corsair’s Obsidian 350D is a small-form-factor case for his idea of an ubergaming microrig. What I see in the pics is a mATX/mITX enclosure that accomodates a standard PSU and a bunch of drives including two 5.25in.

    • Wesmo
    • 6 years ago

    I’m interested in when techreport will look at the ease of use, setup & performance of xbone and ps4 controllers under Windows 8.1,surely one of these controllers should be able to supplant the old faithful Xbox 360 controller.

    Just don’t try running any teletale games with the controller plugged in…

      • derFunkenstein
      • 6 years ago

      Neither controller is officially supported in 8.1 (and most people are not likely to be interested in making hack-ish drivers since official support will come). Microsoft says next year Xbox One controllers will work with Windows. Until then it’s 360 all the time.

      [url<]https://techreport.com/news/25219/xbox-one-controller-will-work-with-pcs-in-2014[/url<]

    • wirerogue
    • 6 years ago

    looks like it’s time to start including mining system. it would be awesome if you including mining abilities in your video card reviews as well.

      • Cyril
      • 6 years ago

      Or we could keep recommending great entertainment and productivity builds and let our readers invest their money in something sensible, instead. 😉

        • Arclight
        • 6 years ago

        I agree. Folks looking for cards geared towards mining should look elsewhere. There are plenty of sources where they can get suggestions.

        • theadder
        • 6 years ago

        Thank you for not doing any Bitcoin stuff.

        • wirerogue
        • 6 years ago

        so what you’re saying is the tech report should just ignore a technology because it doesn’t apply to entertainment of productivity? video games are not the only measure of a system or video cards performance. ignoring the ability to create crypto currency performance on today’s video cards, AMD specifically, is kind of silly when you consider the world wide shortage of these cards is due to this very fact.

        OpenCL comes with the AMD cards. is it not supposed to be tested and explored because you don’t agree with what it’s used for? there are not nearly enough sites including this kind of information with their hardware reviews. why wouldn’t the techreport want to have an advantage over the other sites that don’t include these benchmarks.

        obviously some of the readers here don’t have a clue about crypto currency. bitcoin isn’t the only one. there are plenty of others with real value that can still be easily mined with todays video cards.

        i’m very sorry if you missed the crypto currency boat, i will wave at you from 60 yacht that i got from mining crypto currency. 8-P

          • Cyril
          • 6 years ago

          [quote<]so what you're saying is the tech report should just ignore a technology because it doesn't apply to entertainment of productivity?[/quote<] No, what I'm saying, with respect to the system guide, is that we're not in the business of giving investment advice. Buying a system for cryptocurrency mining is an investment, and a pretty risky one at that. I just don't feel comfortable encouraging people to invest hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars into something with an uncertain return. I doubt other TR editors feel any differently.

            • wirerogue
            • 6 years ago

            simply reviewing how a piece of hardware performs at a particular task is not giving advice on what to do with that hardware.

            is the tech report endorsing the video games that it uses for it’s benchmarks? i know some of the games they use are particularly horrible yet they are still used to measure the performance of the hardware. they certainly don’t appear to be giving advice on which video games to buy with these benchmarks. if so, they owe me some money…

            • nanoflower
            • 6 years ago

            Especially since the market moves extremely fast in the crypto world. Right now GPUs are out of favor for Bitcoin mining but in favor for Litecoin. In six months it’s likely that FPGA solutions will be available for Litecoin mining that will take over for GPUS and in another year or so there will be ASICs available for Litecoin mining. That will make GPUs obsolete for mining while the current recommended systems will still be good for gaming two or more years from now.

          • indeego
          • 6 years ago

          [quote<] i'm very sorry if you missed the crypto currency boat, i will wave at you from 60 yacht that i got from mining crypto currency. 8-P[/quote<] Do show us this yacht!

            • nanoflower
            • 6 years ago

            I think this might be his yacht: [url<]http://www.toysbase.com/image/cache/data/u/364/1_20_Electric_RC_Yacht_32500F__53879-500x500.jpg[/url<]

      • pandemonium
      • 6 years ago

      Yeah, no. That boat has sailed. Anyone trying to mine on GPUs now is so far behind the curve it’s laughable and no amount of advice would be well received anyways.

      • Krogoth
      • 6 years ago

      Why?

      Cryptocurrency mining is just Tulip Mania 2.0

      It is a currency (albeit a poor one) [b<]not[/b<] a stock, hedge fund or investment that you can make a quick buck out of it..

    • StuG
    • 6 years ago

    I would say consider the Corsair 330R instead of NZXT’s H2 for the Sweet Spot, but maybe that’s just me.

      • hrl
      • 6 years ago

      What about Fractal Design’s R4? Or Nanoxia Deep Silence 2? Both great cases around the ~$100 mark and super quiet. I’ve read many reviews that say ventiliation on the NZXT H2 is pretty bad

        • derFunkenstein
        • 6 years ago

        I have the R4 and would not hesitate to recommend it to everyone who needs a relatively large case with plenty of room to work, plenty of drive bays, and plenty of good looks.

          • Prestige Worldwide
          • 6 years ago

          I came very close to the R4 but ended up going with the Arc Midi R2 instead. I like it a lot, top mounted 240mm radiator and room for another in the front intake.

          I would recommend any Fractal case in general, they are very nice to work with, lots of space behind the motherboard tray for managing non-modular PSUs, and nice understated looks.

    • FireGryphon
    • 6 years ago

    Bah, this guide came out exactly two weeks too late for my new build. I’m happy to see the Econobox got an upgraded mobo. $25 is well worth the headaches it will likely save. The current Econobox looks like a winner as-is, though I heartily recommend picking up an SSD with it.

      • FireGryphon
      • 6 years ago

      What the heck did I say to get a downvote?

        • tipoo
        • 6 years ago

        The voting here hardly matters. It doesn’t change where your comment shows up nor does it burry your comment. It’s just cosmetic. The discussions are all that matters.

    • internetsandman
    • 6 years ago

    You should mention the TF701T when you talk about mobile sidekicks, it’s recently become available worldwide as far as I know and that’s a lot more appealing than the T100 or that HP…thing

    Plus, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can install Linux on it and have a “proper” OS, or at least one with more functionality than Android

      • MadManOriginal
      • 6 years ago

      Wow, it’s pretty badass spec-wise, but it is Android not Windows so not a true competitor to the T100 or HP.

        • internetsandman
        • 6 years ago

        No but as a convertible tablet, or even a standalone, it’s a lot better than some of the recommended offerings

    • Price0331
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<] (Taken from PC Gaming Master Race Page) Suffice to say that Windows 8.1 x64 has everything we want here —and no, we wouldn't recommend Windows 7. [/quote<] OK, why? [quote<] However, we do like the various improvements Microsoft made to the desktop interface, like the new-and-improved File Explorer, [/quote<] Better file-explorer? They just added a a lot more function buttons to a ribbon, which are all available with a mouse click or keyboard gesture. Did I miss something? This only makes sense for tablets. [quote<] the more powerful Task Manager, [/quote<] See process explorer, free official Microsoft software with better Task Manager for every version of Windows since XP. [url<]http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896653.aspx[/url<] [quote<] and the multi-monitor improvements. [/quote<] They ripped off Ultra-mon (third party app), and I think Ultra-mon works better. (Available on Windows 7) [quote<] The faster startup speed doesn't hurt, either. [/quote<] Because 10 seconds on Windows 7 is such a painful amount of time. [quote<] 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. [/quote<] Or just get Windows 7. Sorry, I don't mean to be snarky, but I don't see the rationale behind recommending Windows 8.

      • Cyril
      • 6 years ago

      [quote<]Better file-explorer? They just added a a lot more function buttons to a ribbon, which are all available with a mouse click or keyboard gesture. Did I miss something? This only makes sense for tablets. [/quote<] Up button and "open in new window" alone are pretty nice.

        • chuckula
        • 6 years ago

        [quote<]Up button and "open in new window" alone are pretty nice.[/quote<] Me: Shakes head in bewildered manner remembering that a full-blown OS upgrade is required to get trivial UI tweaks that are second-nature in other operating systems.

          • Andrew Lauritzen
          • 6 years ago

          Isn’t it more the other way around? Win8 has important core OS improvements like tick-less kernel, DX11.1/2 and related WDDM changes not to mention stuff like storage spaces, device encryption, etc. Yet people only talk about and reject it over relatively trivial UI changes 🙂

          I’m half kidding in that I realize workflow is pretty important to people and UI changes that disrupt that are always going to make someone mad. That said, it’s disingenuous to say that Win8[.1] didn’t make some pretty good core technology improvements.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 6 years ago

          Keyboard shortcuts FTW: Ctrl+N has always opened a new window in Explorer.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 6 years ago

            WTF could someone possibly find negative about that? Keyboard shortcuts are still the fastest way to do something?

            • superjawes
            • 6 years ago

            There, I cleared the downvote on your first comment, but I had to downvote complaining about downvotes 😛

            • derFunkenstein
            • 6 years ago

            well I had that coming. 😆

            • trackerben
            • 6 years ago

            don’t normally upvote and tell but I agree keyboard shortcuts are the way to go whenever possible

        • Price0331
        • 6 years ago

        Sure, but I don’t really see where that fits in to building a gaming PC. Especially when this: [url<]https://techreport.com/news/25632/hotfix-for-windows-8-1-mouse-accuracy-issues-now-available[/url<] is still a thing.

          • Andrew Lauritzen
          • 6 years ago

          It’s worth noting that the DPI/scaling-related wackiness are not new to Win8… that’s ultimately just devs ignoring advice that has been around for many years. The press seemed to miss that bit though.

        • mnemonick
        • 6 years ago

        Ctrl+Enter and Alt+Up have always worked fine for me, fwiw. Just sayin’ 😀

          • indeego
          • 6 years ago

          Not to mention those are standardized methods that work on many other Operating systems and even browsers and other programs.

          It does little good to introduce features/standards if only one program uses them.

      • Byte Storm
      • 6 years ago

      Well, I find that Windows 8 actually performs better overall on many of the games I play, including the older ones that used DirectX 8. Sure the performance bonus on the modern ones is light, but it’s there.

      So I certainly recommend Windows 8.

      Also…

      [quote<]Or just get Windows 7. Sorry, I don't mean to be snarky, but I don't see the rationale behind recommending Windows 8.[/quote<] Yes, yes you do. Don't be daft and try to say that your entire response wasn't intended as being snarky. I will own up to it, that last line, and this one, was intended to be snarky. See how easy that was.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 6 years ago

      WHOA! I have never seen such cogent arguments against Windows 8!! So much originality!

        • Price0331
        • 6 years ago

        Because it’s a commonly held opinion, it’s irrelevant? Is Windows 8 for hipsters? ; )

          • Airmantharp
          • 6 years ago

          The commonly held opinion is that Windows 8 is better for gaming. Some don’t like the UI, some mod the UI, some just live with it.

            • Suspenders
            • 6 years ago

            Is that the case? I thought it was windows 7 that had the slight performance advantage when gaming?

            • sweatshopking
            • 6 years ago

            It does not.

          • MadManOriginal
          • 6 years ago

          I didn’t say it’s irrelevant, and I don’t really bother arguing over Windows 8 any more, but it’s the same crap we’ve been hearing for 1 year now. Get over it.

            • Stickmansam
            • 6 years ago

            Completely anecdotal but everyone I’ve been helping do their builds are opting for Win 7 over 8. Most people I know with 8 don’t really prefer it over 7 but are generally okay with it/neutral.

            • Suspenders
            • 6 years ago

            I’ve noticed this as well actually. No one that I know prefers 8 over 7, for whatever that’s worth.

      • Krogoth
      • 6 years ago

      I only recommend getting Windows 8 if you need to obtain a new license. If you have already have a copy of 7/Vista, then there’s no point in upgrading and you can wait for the next version of Windows.

      • superjawes
      • 6 years ago

      If you already have a license for 7 or Vista that you can use, stick with it over 8. If you need a new license, though, go with 8, despite some of the frustrations.

      A home copy of 7 will run you the same as 8, but 8 will come with the improvements mentioned by TR, and those improvements are native.

      There’s also an issue of RAM limits on Windows 7. Home Premium has a 16GB limit while Home 8.1 has a 128GB limit. You can get a Pro or Ultimate copy of 7 to raise that limit, but that carries a price premium. It is somewhat minor, but if you intend to use the license long enough that you might need more than 16GB, you might as well get 8.

      Yes, Windows 8 has issues, and I am by no means a happy 8.1 user, but it still makes more sense to pick up the advantages of 8 over the familiarity of 7 given that they are essentially the same price.

      • Suspenders
      • 6 years ago

      TR forgot to add “hours of frustration re-learning the UI” as another “benefit” of going with Windows 8.

      8 blows; a waste of time and a pain in the ass to deal with. The only good reason to go with it, in my opinion, is because it will be supported longer than 7. The rest is trivial for desktop users.

        • sweatshopking
        • 6 years ago

        It took you hours to figure out the start screen? Come see my four year old. He can help you out in two minutes

      • indeego
      • 6 years ago

      Windows 8.1 removed aspects of previous versions that were/are extremely helpful:

      1. Windows Easy Transfer no longer does network transfers, nor settings. Only files. You can use USMT for replacement, but USMT is clunky and not tailored for one-off systems that home or small businesses frequently work with.

      2. Windows 7 file-based backup is gone.

      3. The push for Skydrive is obnoxious and is really turning me off to Windows ecosystem. Microsoft hasn’t shown evidence in the security of this cloud BS, so I refuse to trust my company’s data to it. And yes I realize the irony of even trusting WIndows to hold the data, but I gotta work with what I am asked to work with. Management doesn’t want linux on the desktop/laptop (nor is it supported by our critical line-of-business applications)

    • Shoki
    • 6 years ago

    That’s small form factor?

      • piecerad
      • 6 years ago

      Agreed, would have liked to see use of the matx prodigy. Love the look of that case for steambox/sff gaming etc.

      • CampinCarl
      • 6 years ago

      I have to agree. “Small Form Factor”, to myself and probably many others, skews towards shoebox size (i.e. Shuttle) form factor. The 350D is far too big for this kind of system.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 6 years ago

      Yup, it’s a nice case and all but ANY mATX case with a ~19″ dimension is not SFF…19″ is typical for ATX mid-towers. Finding good, compact mATX cases isn’t easy though, to get down to ~15″ dimensions which is actually a noticable difference there are compromises and one must be careful with component selection because of clearances. But there are at least a few options that are suitable.

      But you’re right that SFF really means mITX to most people, and when comparing to consoles that’s really the correct size to consider. (Too bad about the dearth of mITX that are suitable for a gaming system with full-size optical though…not that optical is needed any more, but to make it truly comparable to consoles there should be one, and slim optical drives are both slower and more expensive.)

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 6 years ago

        [quote=”In a forum thread, I”<]Compared to the 85 liter Corsair Obsidian 800D or 113 liter Obsidian 900D, the 41.7 liter micro-ATX Obsidian 350D looks compact. Mini-ITX BitFenix Prodigy = 32.6 liters Mini-ITX Silverstone SUGO SG08 = 14.8 liters Micro-ATX Silverstone SUGO SG10 = 23.0 liters Micro-ATX Rosewill Line-M = 27 liters Micro-ATX SUGO SG04-FH = 28.9 liters (including handle) Micro-ATX Silverstone Temjin TJ08-E: 30.2 liters Micro-ATX Fractal Designs Arc Mini = 40.9 liters Micro-ATX Corsair Obsidian 350D = 41.7 liters ATX Rosewill LINE Glow = 35.6 liters [/quote<]

          • derFunkenstein
          • 6 years ago

          But when an Antec Solo 2 is 41 liters, and it fits a full ATX system, the Corsair 350D is not small.

          (source: [url<]http://www.silentpcreview.com/article75-page5.html)[/url<] If they're only going with a single video card, as they are in the build, a mITX system makes more sense. A Cooler Master Elite 120 would be great. Or stay with mATX and actually get a smaller case, like a Silverstone TJ08-E.

        • cosminmcm
        • 6 years ago

        I am very, and I really mean VERY pleased with the Cooler Master Advanced 120. It has room for a full size optical unit, one ssd and two 3.5″ HDD. I don’t know why this case is so underrated, everybody complains about the looks or about the cooling, but for the size it is just perfect. I also like the looks, but everybody compares it with the Prodigy and it falls short. Of course it does, but it is way smaller and much cheaper. The Prodigy should only be taken in consideration as a uATX case, not a mITX one.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 6 years ago

          I think that case looks awesome, myself. It’s still about as long as an ATX case (once you account for the PSU “bump”) and probably just as wide with the space for the full-sized optical and 2 back slopts) but it’s so much shorter.

          • indeego
          • 6 years ago

          Probably because 3.5″ bays are no longer needed by most people in this market.

            • cosminmcm
            • 6 years ago

            Why would you need more than one SSD? Buy a big one for the OS and for the games, and the rest of media files should go on big HDDs. You can put a 2.5″ unit in a 3.5″ bay, but not the other way around.

        • Peldor
        • 6 years ago

        Yeah, someone’s into the egg nog a little early at TR HQ. I had a SFF Antec case for my last system, and moved up to a mid-tower case because the SFF was just too cramped. This case is larger in all three dimensions than my current “mid-tower”.

      • superjawes
      • 6 years ago

      …relatively speaking…

      • Shambles
      • 6 years ago

      Came in here to post the same thing. That is larger than most normal OEM desktops. There’s nothing small form factor about that. At the very least go down to something like the TJ08-E if you’re not going to go down to a proper ITX case. (Sorry Prodigy, you’re not SFF either).

        • mnemonick
        • 6 years ago

        So did I. 🙂 Geeze, there’s like, three different SilverStone cases they could have chosen that are all smaller and in the same price range, and they all have 5-star ratings on the ‘Egg. In addition to the Temjin, there’s the SG02 F in black or white, or the SG10 if you want something a bit more upscale.

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