TR’s Fall 2014 System Guide

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The holidays are fast approaching. PC hardware makers have spent the past little while getting their ducks in a row for the season, and today, the ducks look to be pretty well lined up and ready to pluck.

Or something.

Seriously, though. We’ve got Nvidia’s new GeForce GTX 970 and 980 graphics cards, which have redefined performance, power efficiency, and value at the high end. We’ve got AMD’s recent price cuts, thanks to which the Radeon R9 290 is now listed below $300 and A10-series APUs are (or should be) available under $150. And then there are the goodies that came out in the late summer, including Haswell-E processors, X99 motherboards, DDR4 memory, and the Radeon R9 285.

With the exception of the GeForce GTX 970, which is still in short supply, all of that hardware is available and ready to go now. In other words, you could build your Christmas gaming PC today and probably not miss out on much—you know, unless Intel somehow launches a quantum processor within the next eight weeks.

This latest edition of the TR System Guide should give you just about all the tools to build a holiday PC early. We’ve even added an AMD-based sample build, since those new A-series price cuts make AMD’s desktop APUs compelling for the first time in a long while. Pretty crazy stuff, I know.

Let’s begin, shall we?

The rules and regulations

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

For reviews and benchmarks, we suggest heading to our front page and starting from there.

On the next several pages, we’ll discuss the main categories of components needed to build a PC: processors, motherboards, memory, graphics cards, storage, cases, and power supplies. We’ll then recommend a handful of carefully selected parts split into three tiers: budget, sweet spot, and high end.

For the budget tier, we won’t seek out the absolute cheapest parts around. Instead, we’ll single out capable, high-quality parts that also happen to be affordable. The sweet-spot tier is self-explanatory; it’s where you’ll find the products that deliver the most bang for your buck. Finally, our high-end tier is a mirror image of the budget tier. There, we’ll seek out the fastest and most feature-packed components, but without venturing into excessive price premiums that aren’t worth paying.

Each recommendation will involve a mental juggling of sorts for us. We’ll consider variables like benchmark data, our personal experiences, current availability and retail pricing, user reviews, warranty coverage, and the size and reputation of the manufacturer or vendor. In most cases, we’ll favor components we know first-hand to be better than the alternatives.

Finally, each recommended component will have a “notable needs” box. In that box, we’ll point out any special requirements one should consider when building a full system with that part. For instance, we’ll address socket type and form factor compatibility between different processors, motherboards, and cases.

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 serve 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.

 

CPUs

We’re still leaning pretty heavily on Intel in the recommendations below. That’s because the company continues to offer the best overall CPU performance, the lowest power consumption, the best platforms, and the best upgrade path on the desktop. (Motherboards based on Intel’s 9-series chipsets should support next-gen Broadwell CPUs.)

That said, we have made an exception for AMD’s A10-7800 processor, which recent price cuts have turned into a reasonably good deal. While it may not quite match the power efficiency of comparably-priced Intel alternatives, this chip is in the same ballpark, and it offers better integrated graphics performance. That’s worth something.

AMD also refreshed its FX lineup recently, but the new additions are still based on circa-2012 silicon that’s both power-hungry and uncompetitive overall. Worse, FX-series CPUs are tied to a three-year-old platform that lacks built-in support for PCI Express 3.0, SATA Express, and USB 3.0. Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool AMD fan, you’re best off steering clear.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition $69.99 LGA1150 motherboard,

Z97 chipset for overclocking

Intel Core i3-4160 $129.99 LGA1150 motherboard
AMD A10-7800 $133.00 Socket FM2+ motherboard

The Pentium G3258, also known as the Anniversary Edition, is the first sub-$100, overclocking-friendly processor we’ve seen from Intel in years. It has only two cores, and it lacks both Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost, but we managed to overclock ours from 3.2GHz to 4.8GHz. At that frequency, the new Pentium can keep up with much faster, higher-priced chips in all but the most heavily multithreaded apps. It’s surprisingly capable in games, too.

If you’re not interested in overclocking, the Core i3-4160 may be a better budget buy. Its base clock speed is a little higher, at 3.6GHz, and it adds Hyper-Threading to the mix, which helps performance in multithreaded tasks. (The Core i3 also has AES acceleration, which the Pentium lacks.) Both of these chips are good choices for non-gamers, too, since they have basic integrated graphics built in.

Over in the AMD aisle, we have the A10-7800, which came out in July and is probably the most competitive member of the A series at the moment—or will be as soon as AMD’s price cut takes effect. (The chip is supposed to sell for $133, but Newegg is still listing it for $165 at the time of writing.) While it doesn’t have an unlocked upper multiplier like the A10-7850K, the A10-7800 does feature a much lower TDP: 65W instead of 95W. When paired with the right motherboard, the A10-7800 can even squeeze into a 45W envelope, below the 54W of the Core i3-4160.

As we said above, the A10 should be in the same ballpark as the Core i3 in CPU-bound tasks, but its integrated Radeon should deliver better graphics performance. That may make it a good choice for a casual gamer who only plays indie titles and the like. Compatible motherboards are a bit cheaper, as well, which works in the A10’s favor.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Core i5-4460 $189.99 LGA1150 motherboard
Intel Core i5-4690K $239.99 LGA1150 motherboard,

Z97 chipset for overclocking

Intel Core i7-4790K $339.99

The processors in this price range all have four fast cores—much faster ones than those of the A10-7800 in the budget section. These babies offer speed and responsiveness in both single-threaded tasks and heavily multithreaded ones. The “K” models also have fully unlocked upper multipliers that open the door to easy overclocking.

The Core i5-4460 belongs to the Haswell Refresh lineup, and it happens to be one of Intel’s most inexpensive quad-core desktop processors. This is a good, no-frills option if you plan to run at stock settings. Users hoping to overclock their CPUs will want to grab either the Core i5-4690K or the Core i7-4790K, which make up the Devil’s Canyon series.

Devil’s Canyon is meant to have more overclocking headroom than standard Haswell CPUs, thanks to a new thermal interface material (TIM) that sits between the die and heat spreader. We didn’t see much of a difference when overclocking our sample, but Intel seems to have high hopes in those rare chips that, through miracles of fabrication, are imbued with unusually high headroom. Those chips might have been held back by the original TIM in the first-gen Haswell series.

On top of that, Devil’s Canyon processors are clocked higher out of the box than their predecessors, and they support Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O, otherwise known as VT-d. Intel mysteriously left that feature out of the original Haswell K-series lineup. VT-d is also absent from the Pentium and the Core i3 in our budget selections.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Core i7-5930K $589.99 LGA2011-v3 motherboard, quad-channel DDR4 memory kit, discrete graphics, aftermarket cooler

A couple of months ago, Intel unleashed the Core i7-5960X, its fastest desktop processor to date. The chip is based on new Haswell-E silicon with eight cores, 16 threads, 20MB of L3 cache, a quad-channel DDR4 memory controller, and 40 PCI Express Gen3 lanes built right into the CPU die. This is the desktop cousin of Haswell-EP, Intel’s fastest server processor yet, and it performs accordingly—with an unlocked upper multiplier to boot.

Too bad it costs just over a thousand bucks.

That’s kind of an insane markup when, for almost half the price, the Core i7-5930K offers much of the same Haswell-E goodness. Yes, the cheaper chip has “only” six cores, 12 threads, and 15MB of L3 cache, but that still gives it a big leg up over the Devil’s Canyon series. The i7-5930K also has higher stock clock speeds than the i7-5960X, which might translate into even better performance than the thousand-dollar beast in lightly threaded workloads. And because the i7-5930K is fully unlocked, you may be able to push it even higher by overclocking.

 

Motherboards

Buying a motherboard these days is pretty straightforward. There are only four major manufacturers to choose from, and their offerings have very similar performance and peripherals at each price point. The main differences between competing boards lie with their Windows software, onboard firmware, and overclocking tools:

  • Asus is the biggest of the four main motherboard makers, and it has the best Windows software and the most intelligent and reliable auto-overclocking functionality. Its firmware interface doesn’t look as nice as Gigabyte’s, but it’s otherwise excellent—and it offers the best fan speed controls around. Some Asus motherboards ship with cushioned I/O shields and header adapters that make it much easier to connect finicky front-panel headers. We think Asus mobos typically offer the most polished package overall.
  • Gigabyte has the best firmware UI of the bunch, though its auto-overclocking intelligence and Windows software isn’t quite up to par with Asus’. The firmware fan controls are getting dated, too, but Gigabyte’s latest Windows software largely makes up for that deficit. Some Gigabyte motherboards ship with cushioned I/O shields, but we haven’t seen any with header adapters. You’ll have to hook up front-panel wires to the circuit board the old-fashioned way.
  • MSI‘s motherboards are solid, as are its firmware and software. The retooled fan controls in the firm’s 9-series firmware are particularly good, though the auto-overclocking intelligence remains fairly conservative and somewhat rudimentary. Instead of determining maximum clock speeds iteratively and assigning different multipliers based on the system load, MSI uses pre-baked profiles with a blanket multiplier for all loads.
  • Finally, there’s ASRock, which generally aims its products at more value-conscious buyers. ASRock boards typically offer a great hardware spec for the money, and some of the Z97 models even sport four-lane “Ultra M.2” slots that aren’t available on competing boards. The firmware in the latest 9-series products has some nice little touches, too, but the interface isn’t terribly refined, and neither is the accompanying utility software. ASRock boards are appealing primarily for their budget price tags.

You’ll notice we featured both ATX and microATX motherboards in our budget and sweet-spot tiers. The microATX form factor sacrifices three of the seven expansion slots available with ATX in order to save a few inches of vertical space. Since few gaming rigs need more than two or three expansion slots, going microATX is a nice way to build a smaller PC without losing too much expansion capacity.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Gigabyte F2A88XM-D3H $74.99 Socket FM2+ processor, microATX case
MSI A88X-G43 $77.99 Socket FM2+ processor, ATX case
Gigabyte GA-H97M-D3H $89.99 LGA1150 processor,

microATX or ATX case

MSI Z97 PC Mate $99.99 LGA1150 processor, ATX case
Asus H97-Plus $109.99 LGA1150 processor, ATX case

The MSI’s A88X-G43 and Gigabyte’s F2A88XM-D3H are both primed for our AMD A10-7800 processor. They’re cheaper than the Intel equivalents, which is why they’re listed first in the table above.

These boards are based on the AMD A88X chipset, which supports RAID arrays for SATA drives and configurable TDPs for chips like the A10-7800. The MSI board has a full-sized ATX layout, edge-mounted SATA 6Gbps ports, and more positive user reviews than the competition. The Gigabyte board, meanwhile, rolls a roughly similar feature set (minus a few expansion slots) into a microATX form factor. It, too, has plenty of good user reviews.

On the Intel front, H97 boards are ideal for stock-clocked budget builds. They’re priced a little lower than those powered by the flagship Z97, and they have almost all of the same stuff. The only missing features are multiplier overclocking (at least officially—more on that below) and support for two-way SLI and CrossFire multi-GPU configurations (which aren’t wise purchases in this price range, anyhow). Not all H97 boards are cheaper than Z97 ones, but aside from the missing functionality, they tend to get you more bang for your buck.

Gigabyte’s microATX GA-H97M-D3H covers the basics, with a sensible assortment of slots and plentiful USB 3.0 and Serial ATA 6Gbps connectivity. For a little bit more, Asus’ full-sized H97-Plus serves up additional expansion, including an M.2 slot for a next-generation SSD. That board’s integrated audio is insulated from the rest of the circuitry, too, which should ensure at least passable sound quality. (Speaking of audio, neither of these boards have optical S/PDIF outputs. Some of ASRock’s motherboards, like the Fatal1ty H97, don’t skimp on that front, so they may be worth a look.)

Right now, H97 mobos from both Asus and ASRock allow multiplier overclocking in defiance of Intel’s official restriction. The workaround used to enable this feat is very much unofficial, and if history tells us anything, there’s a fair likelihood the hack won’t survive future firmware updates. We wouldn’t make that gamble ourselves, but folks with very tight budgets may feel differently.

Otherwise, low-end Z97 motherboards do exist in this price range. MSI’s Z97 PC Mate is one of them. With only two USB 3.0 ports and neither M.2 nor SATA Express connectors, it’s a little light on bells and whistles compared to its H97 peers. However, its multiplier overclocking support is fully sanctioned by Intel and not liable to change. Like most Z97 boards, the PC Mate also supports higher-speed memory, if you want to go that route.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SLI $118.99 LGA1150 processor, ATX case
Gigabyte GA-Z97MX-Gaming 5 $134.99 LGA1150 processor,

microATX or ATX case

Asus Z97-A $139.99

This is the sweet spot of the LGA1150 motherboard market, where slightly upscale Z97 boards can be found. Our favorite right now is Asus’ Z97-A, a feature-packed and reasonably priced board that earned our TR Recommended award in May. Check out our review for all the details.

The Asus Z97-A

Those looking to save a few bucks may also want to consider Gigabyte’s GA-Z97X-SLI, which costs less than the Z97-A and isn’t hugely different—though it lacks optical S/PDIF in its I/O cluster.

Finally, users building smaller systems will want a microATX board like Gigabyte’s GA-Z97MX-Gaming 5. This mobo is more feature-packed than the Asus alternative in just about every respect, down to the inclusion of SATA Express and an optical S/PDIF output. It’s also much more affordable than MSI’s cheapest microATX Z97 board.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Gigabyte X99-UD4 $258.99 LGA2011-v3 processor, ATX case
Asus X99 Deluxe $391.99 LGA2011-v3 processor, ATX case

Haswell-E processors won’t fit in LGA1150 motherboards like the ones listed above. Instead, Haswell-E requires an LGA2011-v3 socket and DDR4 memory slots. Those features are only available in boards powered by Intel’s new X99 chipset.

One of the most affordable X99 boards out right now is Gigabyte’s X99-UD4, which has four-way multi-GPU support, M.2 and SATA Express storage options, great overclocking capabilities, and decent fan controls in its included Windows software. The only sore spots are the firmware fan controls, which are a little lackluster, and the memory multiplier cap, which complicates the use of DDR4-2800 or faster memory. (Keep in mind, though, that Haswell-E officially supports only DDR4-2133 RAM.)

If you want to go all out, then Asus’ X99 Deluxe is worth a look. This board justifies its eye-popping price tag with a cornucopia of extras, including 802.11ac, a whopping 10 USB 3.0 ports, dual SATA Express ports, nine fan headers, and both native and adapter-based M.2 support.

A third option is Asus’ new X99-A, a somewhat stripped down version of the X99 Deluxe that retails for around $275. We haven’t reviewed the X99-A yet, but one is now in our labs for testing. By the time the next guide rolls around, we should have a good sense of whether it’s a worthy alternative to the X99-UD4.

 

Memory

Intel’s Haswell-E processors have brought DDR4 memory to the desktop, which means the System Guide’s memory section is a little different than it used to be. We’re still splitting things up in three tiers, but this time, the memory in our high-end section is DDR4 RAM meant for Haswell-E configs. It won’t work with standard Haswell CPUs designed for DDR3 memory.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
G.Skill Ripjaws 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3-1600 $44.99 CPU cooler must not protrude

over memory slots

At today’s prices, 4GB DDR3 kits are about the most you can fit in a budget build.

This Ripjaws combo from G.Skill is one of the most popular options on Newegg, and it’s one of the most affordable, too. Just keep in mind that the tall head spreaders may interfere with tower-style CPU coolers. The stock Intel cooler will work, but if you’re thinking of getting an aftermarket unit, check our CPU cooler recommendations a few pages ahead for something suitable.

Note, however, that 4GB of RAM won’t be enough for some of the latest cross-platform games. Assassin’s Creed Unity, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Watch Dogs all require at least 6GB of RAM. Keep reading for a larger memory recommendation.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
G.Skill Ares 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600 $78.99 N/A
G.Skill Ares 16GB (2x8GB) DDR3-1600 $153.99
Crucial Ballistix Sport 32GB (4x8GB) DDR3-1600 $319.99

An 8GB memory kit meets the requirements for the aforementioned games, and it’s probably as much as most folks need these days. Very heavy multitaskers (and those eager to future-proof their PCs) may feel compelled to spring for a 16GB or 32GB kit, but 8GB rarely causes bottlenecks. Here, we’re going with G.Skill and Crucial kits that all have low-profile heat spreaders.

By the way, we didn’t choose these kits with memory overclocking in mind, nor did we splurge on modules rated to run at higher speeds. Overclocked memory can cause data loss and stability problems, and memory that’s designed to operate above 1600 MT/s doesn’t usually pay much in the way of real-world performance dividends. The multiplier-unlocked processors we recommend can be overclocked just fine without bringing memory into the picture, anyway.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Crucial 16GB (4x4GB) DDR4-2133 $209.99 Haswell-E processor,

X99 motherboard

Crucial 32GB (4x8GB) DDR4-2133 $409.99

Out of the box, Haswell-E supports DDR4 memory speeds up to 2133 MT/s. These are the most affordable DDR4-2133 kits with relatively low latencies from a big-name vendor that we could find. They don’t have giant heatspreaders that would interfere with a large air cooler, and they’re covered by lifetime warranties. Sounds good to us!

If you’re really looking to show off, then there are plenty of DDR4 modules rated to run at higher speeds. G.Skill has some of the least expensive 16GB DDR4-2666 kits out there, and if you want to go all out, there are always Corsair’s DDR4-2800 DIMMs, which we’ve been using in our Haswell-E test rigs. Just keep in mind that some motherboards may not support memory speeds that high without bumping up the base clock or adjusting the CPU strap. (Asus’ X99 Deluxe doesn’t have that limitation, but Gigabyte’s X99-UD4 requires additional adjustment to run system memory at 2800 MT/s.)

 

Graphics

Not building a gaming PC? Feel free to skip this page—unless you’re getting a Haswell-E processor. Haswell-E doesn’t have built-in graphics.

Since our last guide, Nvidia has introduced its GeForce GTX 970 and 980 graphics cards, and AMD has responded by applying deep cuts to Radeon R9 290-series prices. As a result, the cost of entry into the high-end graphics realm has fallen quite a bit. You can now get a card that’s darn pretty close to top-of-the-line for about $350, and the Radeon R9 290 is almost shockingly affordable at around $290 or so.

To sweeten the pot, select Radeon R7- and R9-series cards still come with various incarnations of the generous Never Settle bundle, which lets buyers pick free games from a pool of available titles. That pool now includes Alien Isolation and Star Citizen in addition to some of the previously available options, such as Thief and DiRT 3, and some indie packs. Nvidia used to offer free copies of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel with its high-end cards, but that promotion seems to have expired.

One reason to skip AMD and those game bundles is Nvidia’s G-Sync tech. Monitors with G-Sync offer an amazingly smooth and tear-free experience without vsync, but unfortunately, they don’t work with AMD graphics cards. The first comparable displays to support Radeons won’t be out until next year—and even then, they won’t work with current members of the R9 270 and R9 280 series (save for the new R9 285). If you’re excited about G-Sync or FreeSync (which is what AMD calls its standards-based alternative), make your GPU purchase carefully.

Now, a note about graphics card vendors. For any given GPU type, a number of cards from different vendors exist. For the most part, those cards aren’t all that different from one another. Some of them are identical except for the stickers on the cooling shrouds. You’re free to buy any card you wish, but we’ve tried to pick offerings based on three criteria: the vendor, the type of cooler, and the core and memory clock speeds. We favored major vendors known to have decent service, and we looked for quiet coolers (especially dual- and triple-fan solutions) and higher-than-normal clock speeds (provided they didn’t carry too high a price premium). The cards you see below may not be the absolute cheapest of their kind, but they are the ones we’d buy for ourselves.

Oh, and one last thing: some of the motherboards we recommend support multi-GPU configurations, but we wouldn’t advise building a multi-GPU setup unless you absolutely must. Multi-GPU configs open up a whole can of worms, with occasionally iffy driver support for new games and potential microstuttering issues. There’s a heat, power, and noise cost involved, too. We’ve found that it’s almost always preferable to buy a faster single-GPU solution, if one is available, than to double up on GPUs.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Asus Radeon R7 260X 2GB $109.99 N/A
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 750 2GB $129.99
EVGA GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB $139.99
MSI Radeon R7 265 2GB $149.99

For someone even moderately serious about playing games, the Radeon R7 260X and GeForce GTX 750 are about as cheap as we’d recommend . Cards like these will run current titles quite well at 1080p with the graphical detail dialed down a little. With anything cheaper, you’d have to lower the resolution and image quality.

As for whether to choose the Radeon or GeForce, they’re both good options—for different reasons. The GTX 750 is based on Nvidia’s brand-new Maxwell GPU architecture, and as a result, it’s much more power-efficient than the Radeon. It won’t tax your PSU or case cooling as much. Also, the GTX 750 doesn’t require an auxiliary power input and could work well as a drop-in upgrade for a pre-built desktop PC with integrated graphics. The R7 260X 2GB is a little more affordable than the 2GB version of the GeForce GTX 750, though, and it performs just as well.

At its current price, the GeForce GTX 750 Ti is a better value than the GTX 750. The Ti is about 15-25% faster and shares most of the same perks as the cheaper model, including a short circuit board, impressively low power consumption (60W at peak), and no need for a discrete PCI Express power connector. This would be a particularly good card for a quiet, small-form-factor build, or even as a replacement GPU for a pre-built system without PCIe power leads.

The fastest GPU south of $150 is the Radeon R7 265. It’s powered by a larger, more power-hungry chip than the GTX 750 Ti, and it requires a six-pin PCIe power connector. But if you can handle the heat, this may be the card to get in this price range.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Asus Radeon R9 270 $169.99 N/A
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 $179.99 Dual PCIe power connectors
Asus GeForce GTX 760 2GB $214.99
XFX Radeon R9 285 $249.99
MSI GeForce GTX 770 $249.99

All of the cards above can run games at 1080p with high or maxed-out detail levels. The ones at the upper end of this price range can also handle 2560×1440, though they may not deliver the smoothest possible experience at that resolution.

Between $170 and $180, the Radeon R9 270 looks like the best value, since it’s a little faster and slightly more affordable than the GeForce GTX 660. The R9 270 also comes with two free games as part of the Never Settle Forever Silver bundle. At $250, the GeForce GTX 770 is probably the better card. The R9 285 does come with some free games, but it’s slower and less power-efficient overall—and again, Radeons don’t have G-Sync support.

What about the GeForce GTX 760? This card used to be Nvidia’s answer to the R9 285, but it now occupies a middle ground between the $170-180 and $250 price points. Its performance is consistent with that position. If $250 stretches your budget a little too much, this is a good fallback.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G $289.99 Dual PCIe power connectors
XFX Radeon R9 290X Double D $329.99
MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G $349.99
Gigabyte G1 Gaming GeForce GTX 980 $629.99

Which brings us to the newly discounted high end. Just to put things in perspective, custom-cooled versions of the Radeon R9 290 and 290X like those above sold for $410 and $550, respectively, last month. The GeForce GTX 780, which has been replaced by the faster and more power-efficient GeForce GTX 970, was around $440.

So, yeah, the getting is good right now.

Competitively speaking, the Radeon R9 290 and Radeon R9 290X straddle the GeForce GTX 970. (The 290 is slightly slower; the 290X is a little faster.) The lower price tags on the AMD cards may make them look like the best bargains as a result, but the GeForce GTX 970 is way, way more power-efficient. Like, way. Under load, it consumes 100W less than even the R9 290. That means lower temperatures, lower noise levels, and potentially higher overclocking headroom. We were able to overclock MSI’s GTX 970 Gaming so that it outperformed the stock-clocked GeForce GTX 980. Pretty amazing for a $350 card.

Unfortunately, and perhaps understandably, the GTX 970 is in very short supply right now. You may have to wait a little while for yours. You may also have to look for another model that’s in stock. We gave the MSI Gaming variant our TR Editor’s Choice award, but we’d still happily recommend cards from Asus, Gigabyte, or MSI, so long as they’re available and not laden with negative user reviews.

The GeForce GTX 980 is faster out of the box and more readily available than the GTX 970. However, it’s obviously much less appealing from a value standpoint.

No matter what you wind up getting, these cards should all deliver silky smooth frame rates at 2560×1440, and they’ll also open the door to 4K gaming—or, in the case of the Nvidia offerings, 4K DSR on systems with lower-res monitors.

Note that we’re recommending 290-series cards with custom coolers here, since they run cooler, quieter, and faster than variants with AMD’s stock cooling apparatus. (See Scott’s article on custom-cooled Radeons for more details.) We’re also skipping the Radeon R9 280X, since it’s much slower than the R9 290 and only about $10-20 cheaper.

 

Storage

For storage, we’ll be looking at three categories of devices: system drives, mass-storage drives, and optical drives. The idea is to buy the best combination of the three that you can afford, based on your individual needs.

System drive

The system drive is where the operating system, and hopefully most of your games and applications, ought to reside. We’ve included a 1TB mechanical hard drive for budget builds where a two-drive config is out of the question. The rest of our recommendations are SSDs. Budget buyers may not be able to afford an SSD, but everyone else should spring for one and get an auxiliary mechanical drive for their mass-storage needs. Solid-state drives offer huge improvements in transfer rates and load times, which are more than worth the extra expense.

There are a few things to keep mind when shopping for an SSD. Currently, most mid-range and high-end drives offer similar overall performance. Pricing differences tend to have a bigger impact on which products deliver better value. (See our scatter plots.)

Drive capacity can affect performance, especially for smaller SSDs. Lower-capacity drives don’t have as many flash chips, so they can’t saturate all of their controllers’ memory channels. That dynamic usually translates into slower write speeds for smaller drives. For most older SSDs, write performance falls off appreciably in drives smaller than 240-256GB. Newer drives with higher-density flash chips can require 480-512GB to deliver peak performance. Small SSDs are still much faster than mechanical hard drives, so we still recommend them to folks who can’t spring for larger drives.

Also, you may be familiar with our long-term SSD Endurance Experiment. The results we’ve gathered so far show that drives with two-bit MLC flash are more resilient than models with three-bit TLC NAND. No surprise there. With that said, our TLC drive only started accumulating bad blocks after 100TB of writes, which works out to more than 50GB of writes per day for five years. That total is well beyond the endurance ratings attached to most SSDs, and it’s far more data than most desktop users will need to write to their drives. As a result, we have no reservations about including TLC-based SSDs in our recs.

The recommendations below are the most cost-effective options today, but they may not be the best values tomorrow. SSD prices fluctuate a fair bit. Shopping around for discounts is a good idea—just make sure to stick with trusted brands that have proven track records.

Product Price
WD Blue 1TB 7,200 RPM $59.99
Kingston HyperX 120GB $79.99
Crucial MX100 256GB $112.99
Intel 530 Series 240GB $129.99
Crucial MX100 512GB $209.99
Crucial M550 1TB $469.99

Can’t afford an SSD or auxiliary mechanical storage? Then the WD Blue 1TB will do just fine. Its 7,200-RPM spindle speed isn’t terribly slow, and the 1TB capacity is sufficient for both system and secondary storage.

For our entry-level SSD, we picked Kingston’s HyperX 120GB. More affordable options exist, but they tend to be outfitted with smaller numbers of higher-density flash chips. As we’ve noted, such configs can translate into slower write speeds. Some of them, like Samsung’s 840 EVO, make up for that deficit to some degree by using an SLC cache. Still, in this tier, we prefer drives like the HyperX that have more, lower-density chips.

The sweet spot is probably the Crucial MX100 256GB, which is aggressively priced, reasonably fast for the most part, and made by a company with a solid reliability track record. Another option worth considering in the same price range is Intel’s Intel 530 Series 240GB. While it costs a little more, that drive is covered by a longer five-year warranty. And, unlike the MX100, it shouldn’t suffer from sluggish service times with more demanding sustained workloads.

Folks with deeper pockets can spring for one of the 512GB and 1TB SSDs listed above. Those drives are cheaper per gigabyte, and they have enough flash chips to sustain solid write speeds. (See our scatter plots for a quick peek at overall performance.)

We’d definitely advise getting the highest-capacity SSD you can afford, especially for a gaming build. Many games have voracious appetites for storage—like Assassin’s Creed Unity, which requires 50GB of free capacity.

Those of you who like to walk on the bleeding edge might want to look at Samsung’s new 850 Pro. Though priced somewhat outlandishly, this drive is the fastest SATA SSD we’ve ever tested, and it’s backed by a 10-year warranty.

Plextor’s M6e 256GB, one of the first SSDs based on the new M.2 interface, may also be worth a look. This drive is rated for peak read speeds of up to 770MB/s, well above the theoretical maximum allowed by the SATA 6Gbps interface. The M.2 module comes mounted on a PCIe x2 adapter, but you should be able to remove the module and stick it into one of the corresponding slots on a compatible 9-series motherboard.

Mass-storage drive

Since SSDs still aren’t capacious enough to take over all storage duties in a desktop PC, it’s a good idea to get a secondary drive for large video files, downloads, personal photos, and the like. In this role, a mechanical drive can be used either by itself or with a twin in a RAID 1 configuration, which will add a layer of fault tolerance.

Product Price
WD Green 3TB $104.99
WD Green 4TB $149.99
WD Red 4TB $169.99
WD Black 4TB $234.99

Based in part on Backblaze’s reliability study, which showed higher failure rates for Seagate drives, we’ve moved our selections toward the Western Digital camp. Hitachi drives did even better according to the study, but they seem to have poorer Newegg reviews than comparable WD products, so we feel less confident about them.

There are other reasons to favor WD’s mechanical drives. The ones we’ve tested have been faster and quieter than their Seagate counterparts.

The WD Green and Red drives have spindle speeds around 5,400 RPM, which translates to slightly sluggish performance but good power efficiency, low noise levels, and affordable prices. Since we’re not recommending these drives for OS and application storage, their longer access times shouldn’t pose a problem. The Reds have some special sauce that makes them better-behaved with RAID controllers than the Greens, and they have longer warranty coverage, as well: three years instead of two.

We’ll throw in an honorable mention for Seagate’s Desktop HDD.15 4TB. It did almost as well as the WD Green 3TB in the Backblaze study—and it has slightly fewer one-star Newegg reviews than the Green 4TB. Keep in mind that the Desktop HDD.15 is louder and slower overall than the competing WD drives, however.

WD’s Black 4TB drive has a 7,200-RPM spindle speed and is tuned for high performance, at least by mechanical storage standards. It’s a better choice than the Green or HDD.15 for storage-intensive work that may exceed the bounds of reasonably priced SSDs. The Black is also quicker than what Seagate offers at this capacity.

Finally, both Seagate and WD now offer 6TB consumer drives, but those are pretty pricey—just south of $300 right now. Given the high cost per gigabyte, those drives should probably be considered only for high-capacity NAS systems or small-form-factor PC builds with limited expansion. Anyone building a full-fledged mid-tower PC will get more bang for their buck with two (or more) 4TB drives.

Optical drive

Living without optical storage is easy today, thanks to the ubiquity of high-capacity USB thumb drives and high-speed Internet connections. Some people still like their DVD and Blu-ray discs, though, and we’re happy to oblige.

Product Price
Asus DRW-24B1ST DVD burner $19.99
Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray burner $79.99

Asus’ DRW-24B1ST DVD burner has been a staple of our System Guides for quite a while. It costs only 20 bucks, reads and burns both DVDs and CDs, and has a five-star average out of more than 5,000 reviews on Newegg. We feel pretty safe recommending it.

On the Blu-ray front, the LG drive we used to recommend isn’t available anymore, and its replacement, the WH16NS40, has too many one-star reviews for our comfort. We’ve changed our recommendation to the Asus BW-12B1ST, which is a little slower but has better user ratings.

 

Cases

Choosing a case is kind of a subjective endeavor. We’ve listed some of our favorites below, and we recommend them wholeheartedly. That said, we acknowledge that not everybody will like their look or design as much as we do. To be honest, we don’t mind folks following their hearts on this one—so long as they wind up buying something well-built from a manufacturer with a good reputation for quality.

Buying a cheap, bare-bones case is one way to save a bit of cash, but it’s not a very good way to do it. Quality cases make the system assembly process much more straightforward thanks to tool-less drive drays, cable-routing amenities, pre-mounted motherboard stand-offs, and internals roomy enough to accommodate adult-sized hands without causing cuts and scrapes. Quality cases tend to be quieter and to keep components cooler, as well. There’s a whole world of difference in usability between a crummy $25 enclosure and a decent $50 one. Trust us on this one; we’ve put together enough PCs to know.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Cooler Master N200 $49.99 microATX motherboard
Corsair Carbide Series 200R $59.99 N/A

Ever since we reviewed it last year, Corsair’s Carbide Series 200R has been our favorite budget ATX enclosure. It’s loaded with enthusiast-friendly goodies, from ubiquitous thumbscrews to tool-free bays for optical, mechanical, and solid-state storage. There’s ample room for cable routing, too, and the stock fans are rather quiet. This is an ATX case that will accommodate any of the motherboards we recommended.

Cooler Master’s N200 is a smaller, slightly more affordable alternative that’s designed for microATX motherboards. The N200 is more compact than the microATX Obsidian Series 350D we recommend below, which means it’s also a little more cramped inside. Nevertheless, the N200 is quite comfortable to work in, and it has plenty of tool-free gizmos to speed up the installation process.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Corsair Obsidian Series 350D $109.99 microATX motherboard
Corsair Obsidian Series 450D $109.99 N/A
Corsair Obsidian Series 750D $159.99 N/A

Our old favorite, NZXT’s H2, seems to have been discontinued. We haven’t tested its replacement, but we recently reviewed Corsair’s Obsidian Series 450D, which fits our idea of a good, mid-range ATX case. The 450D costs about $20 more than the old H2, but it’s a newer, more modern enclosure with roomier internals and tool-free goodies to spare. The fans in the 450D are arranged to generate positive pressure inside the case, which should help to keep out dust. Our only complaint is that the 450D’s mesh front panel lets a little too much fan noise through—unlike Corsair’s other cases, where the panel is solid with vents around the sides. Still, the 450D is a great enclosure overall. It earned our TR Recommended award.

On the microATX front, there’s the Obsidian Series 350D. This enclosure isn’t as small as you might expect a microATX case to be, but that’s perhaps a good thing. The 350D accommodates the microATX form factor without sacrificing comfort or roominess. It has an excellent internal design with very easy-to-use internal drive bays. Corsair’s stock fans are pretty quiet, as well, and they’re arranged in a positive-pressure config like in the 450D. Don’t like the window? A windowless version is available for $10 less.

Finally, we have the Obsidian Series 750D, the luxury sedan of PC enclosures. This case is similar in design to the 350D and 450D, but Corsair makes it large enough to accommodate E-ATX motherboards. The 750D is an extremely spacious case that’s an absolute delight to work in. It’s pretty darn quiet, too.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Cooler Master Cosmos II $279.99 A forklift

At roughly 14″ x 28″ x 26″, the Cooler Master Cosmos II is humongous. And at nearly $300, it’s also quite expensive. This thing is unarguably impressive, though, with even roomier innards than the 750D and all kinds of premium features, including gull-wing doors, sliding metal covers, and a compartmentalized internal layout. We didn’t give it an Editor’s Choice award by accident.

Power supplies

This should go without saying in this day and age, but we’ll say it anyway: buying a good power supply is a must.

Cheap PSUs can cause all kinds of problems, from poor stability to premature component failures. Also, many cheap units have deceptively inflated wattage ratings. For example, a “500W” bargain-bin PSU might get half of its rating from the 5V rail, which is relatively unimportant, leaving only 250W for the 12V rail, which supplies most power-hungry components like the CPU and GPU. By contrast, quality PSUs derive most of their wattage ratings from the capacity of their 12V rails. That means an el-cheapo 500W unit could be less powerful in practice than a quality 350W PSU.

The power supplies we’ve singled out below are quality units from trustworthy manufacturers who offer at least three years of warranty coverage. You’ll notice that these PSUs all have modular cabling, as well. Going with a non-modular PSU can shave a few bucks off the price of a build, but modular cabling makes cable routing and general system assembly much more convenient. Since there isn’t a particularly large price premium involved, we think modular cabling is worth it.

We also tried to find PSUs with 80 Plus Bronze or better certification. 80 Plus Bronze guarantees efficiency of 82-85%, depending on the load. The higher a PSU’s efficiency, the less energy it turns into heat while converting AC to DC power, the easier it is to cool quietly. 80 Plus Bronze, Silver, or Gold units tend to have large, slow-spinning fans that are barely audible during normal use. They’ll save you a bit of money on your power bill over the long run, too.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Corsair CX430M $54.99 Graphics card must not have

more than one PCIe power connector

Corsair’s CX430M was the PSU of choice for the Econobox build from last year’s System Guides, and it’s still a fine budget solution. It has modular cabling, 80 Plus Bronze certification, a large intake fan that should cool the unit quietly, and three years of warranty coverage. Hard to beat for around 50 bucks.

This model’s 430W output power should be enough to handle a system based on the other budget components we’ve recommended. If you’re splurging on higher-end parts, however, one of the higher-wattage units below is probably a better bet. Also note that the CX430M only has a single PCIe power connector.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Seasonic G Series 550W $79.99 N/A
Corsair HX650 $109.99

Seasonic’s G Series 550W power supply looks like one of the nicest options in this price range. It features modular cabling, 80 Plus Gold certification, five-year warranty coverage, competitive pricing, and good Newegg user reviews. Seasonic has an excellent track record, too, not just as a purveyor of its own PSUs, but as a manufacturer of units for other vendors. For a mid-range build that might need more than one PCIe power connector, this thing looks like a safe bet.

Corsair’s HX650 is another good option. It’s a little more powerful and features seven years of warranty coverage instead of five. We’ve had good experiences with Corsair’s HX-series PSUs in the past.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Corsair HX850 $149.99 N/A

Corsair’s AX860 normally gets the nod here, thanks to its 80 Plus Platinum certification, seven-year warranty, and the fact that we’ve been happily using AX-series units to power our own test rigs. Lately, however, the AX860 seems to have accumulated a bunch of one-star reviews at Newegg, mostly from users complaining about “DOA,” or dead-on-arrival, units. Corsair has told us it’s “not had reports of any unusual problems” and is investigating the situation. For now, just to err on the side of caution, we’ve changed our recommendation to Corsair’s HX850. The HX850 has most of the same perks as the AX860, but it’s a little larger and only has 80 Plus Gold certification.

You’ll notice that we’re not recommending 1kW or higher-wattage units here. Those aren’t really necessary to power the kinds of single-GPU builds we’re advocating. The field of 1kW power supplies is also very competitive, with many PSUs from lots of manufacturers striving for supremacy, and we haven’t reviewed many of them. We may revisit this segment in the future, but for now, we feel better-qualified to comment on lower-wattage units.

 

Miscellaneous

Need a fancy processor cooler or a sound card? You’ve come to the right place. This is where we talk about components that, while not always strictly necessary, can improve a build in very real ways.

Aftermarket CPU coolers

With the exception of the Core i7-5930K, all of the CPUs we’ve recommended come with stock coolers. Those coolers do a decent enough job, and they’re generally small enough to fit happily inside cramped enclosures. However, Intel’s stock coolers don’t have much metal with which to dissipate thermal energy, and their fans are relatively small. They can get noisy under load, and they may be unable to handle the extra heat from an overclocked processor.

The coolers listed below are all more powerful and quieter than the stock Intel solutions. The more affordable ones are conventional, tower-style designs with large fans, while the higher-priced Corsair H-series units are closed-loop liquid coolers that can be mounted against a case’s exhaust vents.

Product Price
Thermaltake NiC F3 $29.99
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $34.99
Thermaltake NiC C5 $49.99
Corsair H60 $69.99
Corsair H80i $84.99

Thermaltake’s NiC coolers are designed specifically to accommodate tall memory heat spreaders. They use relatively slim fin arrays to achieve this feat. Despite that fact, they’re capable of cooling very power-hungry processors. The NiC F3 can dissipate as much as 160W of heat, while the NiC C5 can do 230W, according to Thermaltake. That’s way beyond the needs of stock-clocked Haswell CPUs, which top out at 84W.

Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 EVO has a similar design to the NiC F3, but with a wider fin array. The extra metal may allow for somewhat quieter cooling, but it may also interfere with tall memory modules. This cooler is a very popular option, though, with over 6,000 five-star reviews at Newegg. (Cooler Master makes another, similar cooler called the Hyper T4, but the 212 EVO is supposed to have better performance and a better mounting bracket.)

Corsair’s H60 and H80i liquid coolers are entirely self-contained and require no special setup. You simply mount them against a case’s exhaust vent with the fan blowing through the radiator fins, and the closed-loop liquid cooling system takes care of everything. The H80i has a larger fin array than the H60 and supports Corsair’s Link feature, which lets you monitor coolant temperatures and control fan speeds via Windows software. Both of these coolers take next to no space around the CPU socket, since their radiators are mounted to the case wall. For that reason, they’re ideal for something like a Haswell-E system packed with tall memory modules. In fact, we very much recommend water cooling for any Haswell-E build, given how crowded the area around the socket tends to be.

We’ll also throw in an honorable mention for Noctua’s NH-U12P, which has a beefy tower-style fin array and dual 120-mm fans. This behemoth costs $80 and is probably the finest air cooler we’ve tested. It performed even better than an older closed-loop liquid cooler from CoolIT in our air vs. water showdown several years back. However, its fin array may be too large to accommodate tall memory modules.

Sound cards

A lot of folks are perfectly content with their motherboard’s integrated audio these days. However, each time we conduct blind listening tests, even low-end discrete sound cards wind up sounding noticeably better than integrated audio. That’s with a pair of lowly Sennheiser HD 555 headphones, not some kind of insane audiophile setup.

In other words, if you’re using halfway decent analog headphones or speakers, a sound card is a worthwhile purchase.

It’s fine to stick with motherboard audio if you use digital speakers or USB headphones, since those handle the analog-to-digital conversion themselves. That said, even with digital speakers, the sound cards we recommend below will do things that typical onboard audio cannot, such as surround sound virtualization and real-time Dolby multi-channel encoding.

Product Price
Asus Xonar DSX $54.99
Asus Xonar DX $79.99

The Xonar DSX and Xonar DX can both drive analog headphones or 7.1-channel speaker setups (either analog or digital). In our blind listening tests performed with analog headphones, these two cards sounded very similar. The DSX is the more affordable of the two, but the DX gets you Dolby Headphone virtualization in exchange for a $30 premium.

There are other options out there, including Creative’s $100 Sound Blaster Z. We finally got one of those in our labs recently, and it sounds decent—though not as neutral as the Xonar DX, even with the Crystalizer setting disabled. My hunch is that Creative does a little post-processing to make highs pop, which can result in overly crisp-sounding music.

 

Sample builds

By now, you should have the info you need to configure your own build based on your needs. However, we thought it would be helpful to outline a few sample configs, if only to offer a better sense of the kinds of component pairings one might want to make—or need to make, based on the components’ compatibility requirements. We’ve put together four sample builds: one for each of our main pricing tiers, plus a one-off build just for kicks. These are merely examples of what’s possible, but you’re free to replicate them wholesale if you wish.

Budget

  Component Price
Processor Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition $69.99
Cooler Thermaltake NiC F3 $29.99
Motherboard MSI Z97 PC Mate $99.99
Memory G.Skill Ares 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600 $78.99
Graphics Asus Radeon R9 270 $169.99
Storage WD Blue 1TB 7,200 RPM $59.99
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 200R $59.99
PSU Corsair CX430M $54.99
Total   $623.92

Rather than go with the absolute cheapest configuration, we’ve made some provisions for overclocking here. We’ve picked out an entry-level Z97 motherboard and thrown in an aftermarket cooler. With a chip like the Pentium Anniversary Edition, it’d be a sin not to. We’ve also splurged a little on our graphics card, since the Radeon R9 270 is a fair bit faster than cards priced at $150 and less. Last, but not least, we made sure to choose an 8GB memory kit, since several new and upcoming AAA games require at least 6GB.

All of this should make for a very capable gaming machine at a very affordable price.

Sweet spot

  Component Price
Processor Core i5-4690K $239.99
Cooler Thermaltake NiC F3 $29.99
Motherboard Asus Z97-A $139.99
Memory G.Skill Ares 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600 $78.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G $349.99
Storage Crucial MX100 256GB $112.99
WD Green 3TB $104.99
Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray burner $79.99
Sound card Asus Xonar DSX $54.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 450D $109.99
PSU Seasonic G Series 550W $79.99
Total   $1,381.89

Like the Pentium Anniversary Edition, the Core i5-4690K is fully unlocked. However, this chip features two more cores, so it can perform far better in multithreaded apps and heavy multitasking scenarios. The 8GB memory kit will see to that, as well.

Otherwise, our chosen motherboard is a TR Recommended award winner, and we’ve stretched our budget a little to include the GeForce GTX 970, which is just too good to pass up. We’ve also got a good-sized SSD, a larger mechanical hard drive, a discrete sound card to ensure good analog audio quality, a Blu-ray drive for backups and HD movies, and a beefier, more efficient PSU with enough PCIe power connectors for our graphics card.

If I were shopping for a new PC today, this is probably what I would buy. Too far above this, and the law of diminishing returns really starts to kick in.

High end

  Component Price
Processor Core i7-5930K $589.99
Cooler Corsair H80i $84.99
Motherboard Gigabyte X99-UD4 $258.99
Memory Crucial 16GB (4x4GB) DDR4-2133 $209.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G $349.99
Storage Crucial MX100 512GB $209.99
WD Red 4TB $169.99
WD Red 4TB $169.99
Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray burner $79.99
Sound card Asus Xonar DX $79.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 750D $159.99
PSU Corsair HX850 $149.99
Total   $2,487.88

Then again, some folks do want the best of the best—or just about.

With six cores, 12 threads, 16GB of RAM, and a GeForce GTX 970 primed for 4K goodness (and/or G-Sync), this ought to be a pretty terrific gaming machine. Heck, it almost qualifies as a workstation. The Core i7-5930K packs a mean punch, and there’s a boatload of unused expansion on tap. This system should be fairly quiet, too, despite its ample horsepower. That’s thanks to our liquid cooler, Corsair case, and 80 Plus Gold power supply, not to mention the delightfully power-efficient GPU. Just because a system is fast doesn’t mean it should be used with earmuffs.

We could have gone with the GTX 980 here, but we were able to overclock the MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G so it outperformed that card. You might as well pocket the $280 difference.

The Business Casual

  Component Price
Processor AMD A10-7800 $133.00
Motherboard Gigabyte F2A88XM-D3H $74.99
Memory G.Skill Ares 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600 $78.99
Storage Crucial MX100 256GB $112.99
WD Green 3TB $104.99
Enclosure Cooler Master N200 $49.99
PSU Corsair CX430M $54.99
Total   $604.94

The Business Casual is geared toward casual gamers who also need a budget productivity machine. The A10-7800 offers decent CPU performance and relatively strong integrated graphics, thus removing the need for a separate graphics card. That compromise in turn leaves room in our budget for a solid-state drive, which will greatly improve system responsiveness, and a high-capacity mechanical drive. The microATX form factor makes this system pretty compact, yet it can still accommodate a discrete GPU, should you decide to get more serious about gaming.

(By the way, we wouldn’t recommend purchasing this build until AMD’s price cut takes effect. The A10-7800 is supposed to sell for around $133, but Newegg still lists it for $165 at the time of writing.)

 

The operating system

We’re not going to wax poetic about Windows. We will say this: 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. 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?

With Windows 8, OEM editions were the best deals, since Microsoft’s licensing terms allowed them to be used on home-built PCs and to be transferred to a new machine after an upgrade. With Windows 8.1, however, Microsoft’s System Builder License says OEM editions are “intended only for preinstallation on customer systems that will be sold to end users.” If you’re building a PC for your own use, you’re technically supposed to buy a full retail edition of Windows 8.1.

That makes the issue of 32-bit vs. 64-bit somewhat moot, since retail editions of Windows 8.1 include both versions of the software. (OEM editions are still separate, and in that case, you want the 64-bit version. 64-bit versions of Windows are required to fully utilize 4GB or more of system memory.)

As for Windows 8.1 versus Windows 8.1 Pro, you can compare the two flavors 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 $119.99 and $199.99, respectively, for retail versions of Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro. Take your pick!

Mobile and peripheral picks

The first edition of our TR peripheral staff picks can be found here. Our latest mobile staff picks can be perused in this article.

What’s next?

Before we go, let’s talk briefly about upcoming hardware releases. Many of you may not mind holding off on a new build, assuming the next big thing is right around the corner. All of the year’s big launches seem to be out of the way, though. There is some new hardware coming down the pike, but not, it looks like, until 2015.

Last we heard, Intel was planning to have desktop Broadwell processors in production during the March-April time frame, with Skylake to follow in the second half of the year.

AMD, meanwhile, is said to be cooking up next-gen Carrizo APUs for March 2015. Those chips will likely succeed Kaveri in the A series. We haven’t heard anything about next-gen replacements for AMD’s Socket AM3+ chips, so don’t hold your breath there.

We’d love to share gossip about next-gen GPU roadmaps, but the rumor mill hasn’t really delivered on that front. It’s probably fair to expect replacements for older GeForce 700- and Radeon R-series parts at some point, but we don’t yet know enough to make specific predictions.

Comments closed
    • ronch
    • 5 years ago

    I’d personally go for the Core i5-4460 if gaming is all I care about. I’d recommend the FX-8350 too for people who want maximum multi-threaded grunt for the money but I really wish AMD would etch them using 22nm or thereabouts to bring TDP levels down. Oh well.

    • Zenphic
    • 5 years ago

    Performance-wise, any point in using a Seagate SSHD for storage of PC games rather than a Western Digital Black? They have similar price in the 1TB, flavor but SSHD is cheaper than the WD Black for the 2TB flavor.

    • Grape Flavor
    • 5 years ago

    I’m surprised the System Guide doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of the Xonar DG/DGX, given what a positive review TR gave it when it came out. It’s dirt cheap, especially with the MIR, and while the sound isn’t as “pure” as its pricier brethren, it’s quite frankly good enough for people with decent but not audiophile-quality gear. Plus you get Dolby Headphone for LESS than the Xonar DSX instead of more, if that’s important to you. And a built-in headphone amp which none of the more expensive models have.

    I mean, people can always choose the pricier models, but it would be nice to let readers who maybe aren’t already well versed in sound cards know that it exists. I’m certainly very happy with mine.

      • kamikaziechameleon
      • 5 years ago

      Sound is not a TR strong suit. But if enough people ask they will do a solid piece on audio options eventually I’m certain. They are awesome that way.

    • NeelyCam
    • 5 years ago

    Geez those memory prices are sick

    • HERETIC
    • 5 years ago

    WHY ?????? On possibly the best tech site in the world,
    are we recommending Power supply’s with inferior components…
    And by that i mean-CHINESE CAPACITORS…………….
    $5 more gets a Seasonic G 360 which is more than capable of
    running the budget rig……………..
    DOWNSIDE-Non modular-limited GPU upgrade path.
    UPSIDE-Go from bronze to gold-and quality components-longer warranty……

    Be nice to your components-DC DC designs provide better regulated cleaner power……

    • TwoEars
    • 5 years ago

    I still think the 4790k is the pick of the bunch in the high-end.

    8 fast threads are worth more than 12 semi-fast threads.

    • My Johnson
    • 5 years ago

    Any idea when memory prices will fall?

      • Krogoth
      • 5 years ago

      Outside of another massive memory production surplus (DDR2/Vista and DDR3/Windows 7). I don’t see it happening.

    • sschaem
    • 5 years ago

    The 290x is really $30 cheaper then the GTX 970 on newegg ATM.

    [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814150696[/url<] And in the recent game review, the 290x can even beat the GTX 980 in those 3 games. $299 vs $550 .. The performance / price gap never been that great betwen AMD & nvidia. [url<]http://www.pcper.com/reviews/Graphics-Cards/Sniper-Elite-3-Performance-Maxwell-vs-Hawaii-DX11-vs-Mantle[/url<] [url<]http://www.pcper.com/reviews/Graphics-Cards/Civilization-Beyond-Earth-Performance-Maxwell-vs-Hawaii-DX11-vs-Mantle/2560x1[/url<] [url<]http://www.pcper.com/reviews/Graphics-Cards/Middle-earth-Shadow-Mordor-Performance-Testing/Shadow-Mordor-2560x1440[/url<]

    • jdaven
    • 5 years ago

    The more I look at the price of Windows, the more I want a free or ultra-cheap OS alternative. For the huge majority of PC users, you can get away with very low hardware specs. Here is what I found for a ‘true’ budget PC at Newegg:

    AMD Sempron 3850 Quad-Core 1.3GHz 25W Radeon HD 8280 $39
    MSI AM1I AM1 Mini ITX Motherboard $34
    Crucial 4GB DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory $38
    In Win BP655 mini ITX case 200W power supply $50
    Mushkin Enhanced Chronos 2.5″ 60GB SATA III Solid State Drive (SSD) $50
    Total: $211

    For everyday users that need email, web, office productivity, etc. (maybe throw in very light gaming), this build is actually quite good. With Cloud storage, 60GB is plenty for an OS drive especially since you get a very responsive system without spinning HDD. You can even upgrade later on with another 4GB of memory which doubles the RAM and enables dual-channel operation. Now we add Windows for a whopping $99.

    New total: $310

    Windows is half the cost of the entire system and double to triple the price of individual components. An OS should just connect software applications to the hardware which is almost like a glorified EFI BIOS. Windows is too much for this type of system and it forces you to buy a pre-built system from a major OEM who is the only ones that can get volume Windows pricing for around $30. Pre-built major OEM systems suck because of all the bloat-ware which makes you want to buy another copy of windows for $99 to get a fresh install. Plus you can’t get any size SSD in a pre-built OEM system for under $400.

    We need more awareness on Linux, a productivity version of SteamOS and/or a desktop version of Chrome OS. There is no reason this $200 DIY system should jump up 50% in price just to add the OS.

      • deruberhanyok
      • 5 years ago

      [i<]a productivity version of SteamOS[/i<] That's Ubuntu, with Steam installed. I use it daily, and it is wonderful.

      • chuckula
      • 5 years ago

      [quote<]We need more awareness on Linux, a productivity version of SteamOS and/or a desktop version of Chrome OS.[/quote<] See JDaven, when you talk sense I upthumb.

      • Suspenders
      • 5 years ago

      The only thing I need Windows for is PC gaming, which is why I have high hopes for SteamOS to spur more games development for Linux. Then I could finally dump Microsoft for good.

      If you don’t game though, various flavors of Linux can serve you quite well already. I use Mint (with the MATE desktop) on my laptop and so far I’ve been very happy with how well it works and how easy it was to install.

      Maybe T.R. could do a review? 🙂

      • sweatshopking
      • 5 years ago

      Why are you, the OSX fanman, talking about costs and how evil they are? I agree, id love a free os that didn’t suck. windows is going that way anyway.

      • NovusBogus
      • 5 years ago

      Linux works fine for light casual use, it just falls apart as soon as ‘real’ users with any sort of legacy-software needs enter the picture (but they wouldn’t be using a system like that).

        • BIF
        • 5 years ago

        This is true. Everytime I try Linux, I end up going back to Windows.

        • atari030
        • 5 years ago

        UNIX variants are not meant to be used as a compatibility platform from which to run Windows APIs. That being said, they can still do an amazing job at that simply because they’re so capable.

        Anyways, I’d offer up for consideration the tangential observation that any UNIX OS flavor is itself, ironically, made up almost entirely of ‘legacy’ software….in most cases with much longer lineage than any Windows cruft.

      • w76
      • 5 years ago

      Mm, sounds good, but guess I’m not the target audience. I’ve no need for a garbage scow machine. I do need a powerful desktop, which I do work on plus run my plex server, but no longer need an HTPC thanks to Roku’s and Chromecasts. No need for a laptop any more either; I’ve realized I no longer use mine at all, in virtually any circumstance, thanks to a tablet and a phone.

      The computers for family members, like the parents, might be able to get away with that, but not really. Netflix on Linux was a hackfest until just recently, for example. And if it just avoids 2 or 3 phone calls in the entire life of that machine of the nature of “My friend said this program worked really good for her, but it doesn’t install on this thing, whats wrong?” then Windows will have fully paid for itself in terms of reduced aggravation and saved time. Because, that’s usually my final argument against linux: it’s free only so long as your time and patience is worthless, and if that’s the case, don’t tell your employer that. (And before someone says their grandmother logs in to gmail in Ubuntu just fine and has for years, I don’t care, congratulations)

      • cegras
      • 5 years ago

      So according to your system of values, the amount of work that goes into an OS deserves less than the amount of work that goes into creating hardware. Why is that, exactly? Is software not half of a computer, or more? When you pay for windows, are you paying for the operating system, or access to a the entire ecosystem it provides, including freedom of nearly any peripheral and hassle free use compared to linux?

        • jdaven
        • 5 years ago

        Just like a piece of hardware doesn’t reinvent the wheel with every upgrade (it is slightly changed over each iteration), so too Windows is slightly changed code based on previous work. The code for Windows has been slowly developed over decades just like a CPU or hard drive. Remember the very first spinning hard drive cost $1000’s of dollars back in the 1970s but has since come down in cost due to maturation. Windows should be following a similar trajectory.

          • dragontamer5788
          • 5 years ago

          But the important bits honestly, are the newest bits.

          Security updates in particular which close holes in the OS are what you’re really paying for. Otherwise, you’d be fine grabbing an old WinXP license and running it past its end of life.

          Besides… Windows coming in at $100 was a [b<]revolution[/b<] at its time. Even compared to later competitors (ie: OS/2 Warp came in at $300)... and later versions of Unix... Windows was still dirt cheap compared to its competition. IBM's "Personal Computer Interactive Executive" (aka: PC/IX or Unix) was $900, to give a picture of what OSes looked like back then. Today, the rest of the dinosaurs are dead, unable to compete against Linux, iOS or Android. We'll see if Windows can hold onto its $100 price point, but it seems like a rather fair price to me. After all, I tend to run $500+ pieces of software on my desktop machines. (Sony Vegas, Matlab, etc. etc.) I do like me Linux when Linux is working. But all the good, productivity desktop applications are on Windows. (With a few good ones on Mac OSX... which is a ton more expensive than any Windows Box I've ever put together)

    • Airmantharp
    • 5 years ago

    We need to look closer at the i7 5820K. A lot closer.

      • Krogoth
      • 5 years ago

      It doesn’t make sense for Socket 2011. Its crippled PCIe controller will end-up hurting in the long run. It only makes sense if you need a six-core chip from Intel, but other offerings are simply too much. The 4770K doesn’t have enough CPU power for your needs.

        • Airmantharp
        • 5 years ago

        But is the PCIe controller crippled compared to the 4770K/4790K, which has 12 fewer PCIe 3.0 lanes?

        That’s what I’m looking at. Moving up to the 5820K means gaining two cores and another dozen PCIe lanes, good for M.2 storage or whatever else. It’s the additional US$200 move up to the 5930K for the last dozen PCIe lanes that doesn’t make sense to me.

          • Krogoth
          • 5 years ago

          It depends on the Z97 board in question. There are some Z97 board that have extra PCIe lanes through a secondary PCIe controller which bridges the gap a bit and said Z97 boards typically go for roughly the same cost as a decent Socket 2011 board.

          5820K only makes sense if you need a workstation platform on a budget. It is not that great of a deal in a mainstream/gaming build.

            • Airmantharp
            • 5 years ago

            But isn’t that the point? A 5820K build is a “budget” workstation and gaming build; Intel has lowered the price of entry to their six-core CPUs by several hundred dollars and only added about fifty with the DDR4 requirement relative to their previous offerings.

            Why would that be ignored completely?

            • Krogoth
            • 5 years ago

            The gap isn’t that large from a normal 5830K. Like I said, 5820K only makes sense if you need six-cores and you are on tight budget. You aren’t going to be using for the said system for gaming (saving you on GPU cost)since a 4670K and Socket LGA1150 build would be faster at stock with a lower price point.

            • Airmantharp
            • 5 years ago

            “…at stock”- so what is the point of the ‘K’ again?

            • Krogoth
            • 5 years ago

            Flexibility at adjusting the multiplier. Unlocked chips aren’t just for overclocking.

            • Firestarter
            • 5 years ago

            you could always adjust it down, -K CPUs only add higher multipliers. Unless you’re looking to mess with your 100mhz BCLK (why?!), the only point of a ‘K’ CPU is to overclock

      • travbrad
      • 5 years ago

      Yep I don’t think the extra PCIe lanes are worth $200 for most people, even those buying high-end stuff. Just look at the TR hardware survey or Steam hardware survey. The number of people running 3 graphics card is tiny (1%), and the number running 4 is even tinier.

      The 5820K should be fine even for 3 graphics cards too, depending on what else is in your system. It has 28 lanes of PCIe, which leaves 4 to spare even with 3 GPUs.

      • jihadjoe
      • 5 years ago

      [url<]http://www.overclockers.ru/images/news/2014/09/03/core_001.jpg[/url<] Is this close enough?

    • jihadjoe
    • 5 years ago

    No trick or treats with Uncle Scrooge?

    • Mopar63
    • 5 years ago

    The 970 is a great card no doubt but the curent price drops by AMD make it a less and locked solution. A SAPPHIRE R9 290 Vapor-X is going for $299 on Newegg and is in my opinion one of the best price to performance deals you can get right now.

    It is as fast as a stock 290X and means quicker than a 970 and most 780 variants. The cooler is one of the most advanced done yet so the card is very cool and quiet. Add to this the looks are just sexy.

      • sweatshopking
      • 5 years ago

      Looks don’t matter, but the 290 is a heck of a deal. I sold my tower and made a bunch of cash, I then bought a laptop, and I’m selling it for an extra 300 more than I paid for it. I’m going to be buying a new tower shortly, and with some 290’s on eBay for 150$ish I might pick up two.

      • superjawes
      • 5 years ago

      Which is why the Guide recommends both the 290 and 290X 🙂

      Although keep in mind that the same guide notes that the 970’s power draw at load is 100W less than a 290. That means there’s less heat to dissapate, and if you really wanted to push it to higher speeds, you probably could without running into thermal limits.

      That might not be enough to justify a 970 over an excellent 290 model, but it is something to keep in mind when making one’s decision.

        • cobalt
        • 5 years ago

        Overclocking an R9 exacerbates the power usage discrepancy, of course. The Vapor-X, according to TPU, uses rather more power than a stock 290, and even more than a 290X.

        (They show average of 239W for the 290, 258W for the 290X, and 288 for the Vapor-X 290. [url<]http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Sapphire/R9_290_Vapor-X/23.html)[/url<] Again, only talking about power usage here -- no question that the 290 price/performance is quite good right now.

        • w76
        • 5 years ago

        Eh, I don’t know, your average gamer might end up spending an extra $20 or so a year in electricity for one of those 290s, considering additional cooling from an AC. Perhaps more overclocked. Doesn’t sound like much, but it could tip the balance over a 2 or 3 year lifespan. And if you’re one of those distributed computing types, or otherwise offload vast amounts to the GPU, the difference could be over $200 a year — although ATI and Nvidia excel at different types of work in that scenario, so that might dictate the choice all on its own.

        Anyway, IMO, with the 100 watts and all it entails, along with the close prices, I think the 970 is a slam dunk. (Plus my bias towards nvidia drivers, which I admit is personal and anecdotal but I’ve had better luck with them over the years)

    • epics10
    • 5 years ago
    • jdaven
    • 5 years ago

    One can continuously find sales on the retail version of Windows 8.1 Home for the same price as the OEM version. Just look between B&H Photo, Amazon and Newegg and buy a copy when the sale price drops below $100. That makes the OEM version moot as well.

    It seems like the retail price fluctuates like stock prices. In a period of one week I’ve seen the price drop from $120 to $95 and back up again.

    • deruberhanyok
    • 5 years ago

    Something for the “business casual” build – the onboard GPU of the A10-7800 benefits from faster memory, and the proc supports up to DDR3-2133 officially.

    [url<]http://www.corsair.com/en-us/blog/2014/february/understanding-kaveri[/url<] It doesn't make a "huge" difference in graphics performance, however, G.Skill's 8GB (2x4GB) Ares kit at 2133 is only $1 more than the 1600 kit you guys have listed: [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231653[/url<] I know it's just a "sample" you guys put up, but I feel like for $1, it's worth the extra cost for anyone building a Kaveri system. 🙂

      • auxy
      • 5 years ago

      That DDR3-2133 is 1.6v, which is a big no-no.

      Then again, Kaveri probably doesn’t care nearly as much as the 22nm Intel parts.

        • geekl33tgamer
        • 5 years ago

        AMD CPU’s don’t care so much – My FX-8350 suckers up way more voltage for everything it reigns over. This is the AMD way, circa 2010 onwards. 😉

    • NTMBK
    • 5 years ago

    You keep saying that modern desktops are still [url=https://techreport.com/blog/25237/the-desktop-pc-needs-a-makeover<]too big[/url<], and yet you don't make a single mention of mini-ITX at all? Come on! What about nice cases like the Silverstone ML07, which can put a discrete GPU on a riser card? This isn't a "System Guide", this is an "ATX system guide".

      • auxy
      • 5 years ago

      Mini-ITX has extremely limited expansion options and still carries a price premium that is a bit much for most people to swallow. It’s not cost-effective, so that’s why it isn’t mentioned.

      Do you really think TR’s writers are somehow unaware of Mini-ITX? Come on, dude. ( ノー´)

        • NTMBK
        • 5 years ago

        Oh I’m certain that they’re aware of it, but it’s just frustrating to see absolutely no acknowledgement of it. Even just a couple of paragraphs on the topic would be nice. Not everyone wants to build a midtower.

          • sweatshopking
          • 5 years ago

          TOWERS ARE TOO HUGE, BUT GPUS ARE HUGE TOO. IDKWTF.

            • Terra_Nocuus
            • 5 years ago

            I shoved a GTX 980 into a mITX Node case, had an inch or two to spare. It can be done, but most mITX cases can’t support the 10+ inch GPUs.

            • NTMBK
            • 5 years ago

            Get a case like [url=http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=503<]the Silverstone ML07[/url<], which puts the GPU on a riser card and gives over half the case to it. And given that the air intakes are right next to the GPU, I bet it gets better cooling than most ATX builds.

    • superjawes
    • 5 years ago

    I would recommend GTS450 because it can play most game at 1080p beside titles that NGREEDIA do dirty business tactics on to unoptimize software.

    Wake up people! Don’t be sheep!

      • auxy
      • 5 years ago

      I almost reflexively downvoted you, but then I saw your username. Too realistic!

        • superjawes
        • 5 years ago

        I did consider adding more caps lock text, but that’s more SSK’s domain 🙂

      • Ninjitsu
      • 5 years ago

      No S.T.A.L.K.E.R references without a trigger warning, please. 😀

      • morphine
      • 5 years ago

      You wanna be careful with such jokes, I was already raising the Hammer of Banning +4 until I saw the username and the subscriber tag 😉

      (it was pretty funny, though!)

        • superjawes
        • 5 years ago

        I like to live dangerously. In fact, “Danger” is my middle name!

        -Super Danger Jawes

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 5 years ago

    If you prefer the older, slower LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner, it is available at Newegg.

    • Jigar
    • 5 years ago

    Someone needs to inform people how horrendous Xonor drivers are. A lot of my friends are still cursing me for advising them Dx xonor which i did back in 2011/12.

      • f0d
      • 5 years ago

      i have heard a few people say this yet i havnt had a single issue with mine
      not saying there isnt a problem
      just saying I havnt had any problems

      • tanker27
      • 5 years ago

      They aren’t ‘that’ bad. But yes they do have their problems. However its and easy fix by using the unified drivers: [url<]http://maxedtech.com/asus-xonar-unified-drivers/[/url<] Using the uni's solves any issue with the Xonar. And they are updated pretty frequently to boot.

        • Jigar
        • 5 years ago

        Thanks for the link, i will share it with them.

        • morphine
        • 5 years ago

        Using the Uni drivers solves most issues with the Xonar, but not anything other than standard playback tasks.

        I like the Uni project to the point where I contributed some loose change to it, but the fact is that the Xonar cards/software are so deeply broken from factory that not even heavily modded drivers can fix all of its issues.

          • tanker27
          • 5 years ago

          Just exactly what are these “deeply broken” issues? (truly I would like to know because really I haven’t encountered them and I have been using the same Xonar since 2008)

            • morphine
            • 5 years ago

            I got a Xonar D2X for cheap – at the time, it was a $200-ish card, marketed and equipped for recording. In no particular order, and certainly not an exhaustive list:

            – SPDIF direct input monitoring was a no-go. Only via software with massive amounts of delay.
            – Recording via SPDIF input almost never worked – was extremely erratic.
            – Setting up ASIO latency was hit-and-miss. Sometimes it would stick, sometimes it wouldn’t.
            – Only one input available for monitoring/recording at any given time (awesome).
            – Every now and then a massive DPC spike would make any playback stutter. Great when listening to music.
            – When playing Rocksmith, couldn’t get an acceptable latency out of it (likely the drivers crapping themselves due to recording on a USB input and outputting on the Xonar). Realtek onboard worked just fine.
            – The occasional BSOD. Pretty rare, but went away completely after removing the Xonar.
            – SPDIF input had trouble with frequencies other than 44.1 and 96Khz. (or 48 and 96? Can’t recall.)
            – Messing around with the recording inputs, control panel, etc would sometimes make the soundcard die until the next reboot, or occasionally a BSOD.

            I did like the jack LEDs though, made my life easier. Yay?

            • anotherengineer
            • 5 years ago

            Interesting.

            I have a Claro+ with a cmedia CMI8788 chip, which some of the Asus cards use. Has anyone tried one of the Cmedia drivers?
            [url<]http://www.cmedia.com.tw/EN/DownloadCenter_Detail2/Serno-118/pserno-0/dtype-ALL.html[/url<] edit - some cmedia drivers here also [url<]http://www.htomega.com/downloads.html[/url<] I am running win7 x64 and don't recall having any issues, but I only use the card with my headset though.

            • tanker27
            • 5 years ago

            Almost everything you listed have been corrected either by the Asus drivers, the Uni’s, or Microsoft drivers. You may have gotten a bad card and should have RMA’d it. Besides most normal users probably wouldn’t touch half the things you stated.

            That being said, just like anything in life, mileage will vary from person to person. /shrug.

            • morphine
            • 5 years ago

            Problem is, the card worked (almost) fine for straight up playback, so RMAing it would have gotten me the same card back plus return expenses.

            I may bite the bullet and put the Xonar back in to give it another shot but I very honestly doubt any of these issues are fixed.

            And I know that average users wouldn’t touch these things – that’s why I started with pointing out that it was a very expensive card marketed for audio production. Came with lots of cables, a MIDI in/out bracket, DAW software, etc. Kinda like having a football player than can only run, not really carry the ball or make a play. Technically he’s still a football player, in reality he’s useless heh.

            • travbrad
            • 5 years ago

            Yeah I’d definitely be annoyed if I bought an expensive card meant for recording and it had those issues. My Xonar DG has issues with latency too when recording guitar. ASIO4ALL drivers fix the latency problem, but then you are left with only being able to hear the thing you are recording and nothing else. My “fix” was to just use a TRS adapter/splitter to send one signal to my headphones with 0ms delay, and the other signal goes into my sound card for recording.

            It’s not ideal, but I can’t complain too much about a $25 sound card not being great for recording. I didn’t buy it for the purpose of recording either, just for music listening, and it sounds/works great for that. I’ve never had any issues when just using it for that.

            TR is recommending these cards for general use/gaming/music listening though, not for recording. If you want to do some serious recording I’d have to agree that Xonar cards aren’t the way to go, but for general listening they are great.

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 5 years ago

      A Xonar is the reason I wound up giving up on sound cards entirely and switching to a receiver via HDMI as my only audio source. I got tired of fighting a sound card (having had other brands and done the same thing before) time and again just to put audio through sorry PC-esque speakers that were not even remotely as good as REAL speakers built for audio.

      Switching to a receiver netted me EASY lossless audio, a constantly updated audio driver, audio picked up easily by any game through Windows without fail, and the use of speakers worthy of the games I’m playing.

      Buy a receiver, connect it to your GPU via HDMI, and rock the house down.

      Toss the sound card on ebay.

        • kamikaziechameleon
        • 5 years ago

        If you do this option and don’t do surround you can get stunning 2.1 from optical as well. AMD has issue with transmitting audio and no video over HDMI. (another AMD driver issue, lol, thought they didn’t have those anymore!)

        Tech report generally has BAD audio recommendations. I love these guys but they have reviewed a whopping one card in the last 5 years and not explored other options like using a budget receiver. You can get better sound per dollar going the home theater route period but they’ll never do an article on it.

        When I was trying to sort this out a tech report gerbil turned me to AVSforum, a rather labyrinthian fortress of knowledge and elitism. But if you are humble and persist you can get some great info from that community. That’s how I came to own my Onkyo solution.

        Amazing is how good isometric games like diablo 3 and star craft 2 sound in 7.1 surround 🙂 Not to mention BF3!!!

        • Krogoth
        • 5 years ago

        Only problem with recevier route is that 3D Audio for older titles is locked to EAX which only outputs over analog.

        You are forced to use lossy formats DD/DTS, provided that your DAC can stream it if you want to use 3D audio. Otherwise you are stuck with 2.1 audio over digital output.

        • superjawes
        • 5 years ago

        Going to a “real audio” alternative is a good idea. If your motherboard has an optical output, you don’t even need a sound card and can use software for some 3D effects if you need them. Then you just need a DAC and amp (depending on what you’re connecting).

        A Schiit Modi will set you back $99, and a Magni (the obvious headphone pairing) is another $99. That’s for nicer headphones, though. If you pick up a pair of powered monitors as suggested in the peripherals guid, you shouldn’t need a stand alone amp.

        • Kurotetsu
        • 5 years ago

        A good USB DAC (w/ a power amp if you go with passive speakers) are also a good, and smaller, solution if sound cards are pissing you off. Many of them don’t even require drivers. Though such a setup usually restricts you to 2.0/2.1 only.

      • ronch
      • 5 years ago

      And someone needs to tell people how Creative drivers aren’t really as bad as some folks make them out to be.

    • brothergc
    • 5 years ago

    that $118 Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SLI board is getting horrid reviews on new egg many DOA boards
    Might want to look at something else ?

    • crystall
    • 5 years ago

    I like the recommendation for i3-4160 which has a really good performance/price ratio though I’d always take a i3-4370 over that or the more expensive i5-4460. It yields better performance on all fronts than the i3-4160 (more cache, faster clocks, better graphics) and beats the i5-4460 in single thread performance by a significant margin while having a significantly lower TDP. Heavy multi-threaded scenarios are a different story naturally but I wouldn’t be surprised if the difference between the two there is not that pronounced anyway.

    [edit] Corrected i3-4460 -> i5-4460

      • cobalt
      • 5 years ago

      FYI, you said “i3-4460”, but I’m assuming that’s actually the i5, not the i3, right? (Not to be picky or anything, but I was genuinely confused for a second.)

        • crystall
        • 5 years ago

        Yeah, I meant i5-4460, thanks for pointing that out.

    • albundy
    • 5 years ago

    Once DX12 hits the market, then i’ll upgrade. I dont trust predictions and other forms of sorcery on future proofed graphics cards these days. Hopefully AMD will have some improvement on their desktop cpu line to make me want to stick with them. if not… darkside, here i come!

      • EzioAs
      • 5 years ago

      It’s not sorcery or anything really. High-end graphics card in general will give good performance at high/acceptable graphics settings for the longer run compared to their mid-range/low end siblings. They will however lack features of newer and future cards as well as their performance/watt improvements.

    • Vivaldi
    • 5 years ago

    I don’t log in very often, but I’ve got to say, the photographs in this article: frakin’ gorgeous.

    Edit: Terrific article content as well.

    • jensend
    • 5 years ago

    Good to see microATX getting treated more seriously.

    On the AMD side, I’m surprised to see any budget recommendation go to the A10-7800 while the A8-7600 exists. The A8 gives ~95% of the performance for ~2/3 of the price.

    Kaveri is too bandwidth constrained for the extra CUs in the A10s to do much good. (And, of course, the extra CUs are generally irrelevant if you get another video card.) Base clock is 13% higher on the A10 but turbo-enabled clock speeds won’t differ nearly that much in most real world workloads (they face the same thermal/power limits).

      • derFunkenstein
      • 5 years ago

      I can see recommending the A10-7800 because in their sample build they don’t have a discrete GPU – the A10 has all the CUs and the A8 does not.

        • jensend
        • 5 years ago

        But, again, that pretty much only matters for synthetic tests. In real-world games the A10 is too hampered by bandwidth limitations to pull away from the A8. Especially so with anything less than DDR3-2133, and the sample build is DDR3-1600.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 5 years ago

          I’m having a hard time finding any article that compares the two directly other than Anandtech, and they show <5% to upwards of 15% depending on the settings and the game. Since it’s a difference of 25% on the CUs, it appears you’re right that memory is a good sized portion of the bottleneck (and, I might add, ROPs as well since neither APU has all that much).

            • jensend
            • 5 years ago

            Not that hard to find. Just a google search for ‘a10-7800 a8-7600 review’ gives, among others, these: [url=http://www.computerbase.de/2014-07/amd-a10-7800-kaveri-im-test/2/<](0)[/url<][url=http://hexus.net/tech/reviews/cpu/72709-amd-a10-7800-28nm-kaveri/?page=7<](1)[/url<] [url=http://www.computershopper.com/components/reviews/amd-a10-7800/%28page%29/3#review-body<](2)[/url<] [url=http://www.guru3d.com/articles_pages/amd_a10_7800_kaveri_apu_review,9.html<](3)[/url<] [url=http://www.techspot.com/review/856-amd-a10-7800-kaveri/page6.html<](4)[/url<][url=http://hothardware.com/printarticle.aspx?articleid=2216<](5)[/url<] [url=http://www.legitreviews.com/amd-kaveri-a8-7600-a10-7800-apu-review_147879/12<](6)[/url<] I'm pretty sure ROPs aren't the bottleneck in normal situations. Even the Bonaire 260X only does the same number of pixels per clock. We knew the top Kaveri models would be severely bandwidth limited [url=https://techreport.com/news/25699/leaked-kaveri-slide-makes-performance-claims-mentions-dedicated-ssd-interface?post=781353<]as soon as the number of compute units was leaked[/url<]. I [url=https://techreport.com/news/25864/amd-sheds-more-light-on-kaveri-announces-new-mobile-radeons?post=790983<]reiterated this in January[/url<]. The issue could be seen by isolating the variable by [url=http://www.hardware.fr/focus/76/amd-radeon-hd-7750-ddr3-test-cape-verde-etouffe.html<]looking at (now 2 year old) comparisons of the GDDR5 vs DDR3 models of the 7750[/url<], the latter of which is very much like the A10 Kaveris. A DDR3 7750 is not much better than a DDR3 7730 (which is like the A8 Kaveri).

    • MadManOriginal
    • 5 years ago

    I would only change one major thing: recommend 1.5V DDR3-1866 instead of DDR3-1600. The prices are virtually the same, and you get guaranteed faster memory speed. It may only make a minor difference in many real-world uses, and will make a difference is using an IGP. If it’s ‘free’ due to little to no price difference, why not?

    (Also, even the next step up to DDR3-2133 isn’t huge in absolute terms.)

      • auxy
      • 5 years ago

      One thing people miss is that when you start talking frametimes and absolute maximum frametimes in particular (that is to say, stutters), it comes down to bottlenecks — at some point, somewhere in your machine, something is holding up that frame, and I’m personally of the belief that main memory is a significant bottleneck in many gaming machines, which are saddled with high-latency DDR3-1333 or DDR3-1600, often in a single channel.

      Sure, changing out RAM for a higher speed makes little difference in framerates, but what about the worse end of the frametimes…?

      Would be worth investigating I think.
      [sub<][i<]edit: In case it isn't clear, I agree with you.[/i<][/sub<]

        • Ninjitsu
        • 5 years ago

        Well, seeing that bandwidth seems to stop having much effect (in games) beyond 22 GB/s, latency might become more important (I think CPUs like lower latency, anyway).

          • auxy
          • 5 years ago

          Higher data rate = lower latency, though. DDR3-2133 CL11 is actually lower latency than DDR3-1600 CL9.

          [i<]edit:[/i<] I'm also curious where you got your data. 22GB/sec seems oddly specific, and it seems rather case-based to me.

            • w76
            • 5 years ago

            Hmm.. A latency chart would be useful, time to flex the Googlefu muscles.. DDR3-xxxx on one axis, cas latency on the other. Edit: Of course wikipedia has one. Of course. [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAS_latency#Effect_on_memory_access_speed[/url<]

            • Chrispy_
            • 5 years ago

            Real men just use rules of thumb:
            Divide the clock by the latency to get your performance index.

            1866/11 = 194
            1600/9 = 178
            1600/8 = 200

            so 1866 CL11 is faster than 1600 CL9, but fractionally slower than 1600 CL8
            Anandtech had a nice article about this maybe 12 months ago, really really in-depth and showed that this rule of thumb correlates with real-world performance despite ignoring several other factors.

        • Peldor
        • 5 years ago

        Faster/lower latency memory doesn’t make much difference in minimum FPS (though that’s not the same as frametimes), and it’s very inconsistent. You have to spend a lot of money elsewhere (like 3 GPUs on the next page) to make it a significant bottleneck for gaming.

        [url<]http://www.anandtech.com/show/7364/memory-scaling-on-haswell/7[/url<]

          • dragontamer5788
          • 5 years ago

          Or you’re playing [url=http://www.bay12forums.com/smf/index.php?topic=112603.0<]Dwarf Fortress[/url<]. To be fair, I think Dwarf Fortress is the only game where CAS Latency matters. I've [b<]never[/b<] come across another game which is bottlenecked by CAS latency.

            • Krogoth
            • 5 years ago

            From a practical stand-point, it is nothing more than an academic example.

            The game is meant to run on hardware that is over 20 years old. For goodness sake, it uses ASCII art and it is a throwback to rogue-like games on BBS.

            • dragontamer5788
            • 5 years ago

            And yet, its a niche game that is relatively popular. I’ve had people come up to me and say “Dwarf Fortress runs slowly on my PC. How can I upgrade my PC to make it faster?”

            Niche example or not, people do in fact play Dwarf Fortress.

            [quote<]The game is meant to run on hardware that is over 20 years old. For goodness sake, it uses ASCII art and it is a throwback to rogue-like games on BBS.[/quote<] On the contrary. If you enable the water-simulation on large maps, the game takes up 4 to 8 GB of RAM. The game can be RAM heavy than the upcoming Assassin Creed Unity. And even on my i7, it takes several minutes to generate maps. The game is extremely computationally heavy and RAM heavy. It might use ASCII graphics, but its designed for modern systems.

            • Krogoth
            • 5 years ago

            So you need a beefy CPU and tons of memory to compensate for poor and/or stupid coding? Sounds about right.

            • dragontamer5788
            • 5 years ago

            Hey, there’s only one game out there that simulates combat by excruciatingly recreating details such as weapons, armor, muscle damage, bone damage, pain thresholds, morale, and drunkness in [b<]every fight[/b<] across a multi-mile radius in real time. If that is "stupid coding" to you, be my guest. But there really isn't any "deeper" simulation out there.

            • Krogoth
            • 5 years ago

            That sounds exactly like crappy coding practice. Rendering programs and items that aren’t relevant to the player and creating unnecessary overhead.

            • dragontamer5788
            • 5 years ago

            I’m unsure if you’re trolling me or not. So I’ll give this a few more posts just in case you aren’t…

            People play Dwarf Fortress because every valley was formed by a river, every mountain was formed by tectonic plate movements. Every item in the entire game was crafted by a generated NPC, transported by merchants, and built up with its own unique history.

            If you’re not a fan of the game, that’s fine. But while people are looking at scripted events in Call of Duty… Dwarf Fortress actually gets down into the nitty gritty and simulates everything. Every drop of water, every ounce of magma, every NPC across the whole world.

            Its not like Skyrim where the world shuts off when you’re not looking at it. Dwarf Fortress in fact simulates it all. Which is why it takes such a beefy CPU despite using nothing more than ASCII art graphics.

          • auxy
          • 5 years ago

          This doesn’t actually address anything I said, though.

            • Peldor
            • 5 years ago

            [url<]https://techreport.com/review/24954/amd-a10-6800k-and-a10-6700-richland-apus-reviewed/4[/url<] Even in the case of an IGP, the returns are modest at best. With a discrete card, the memory bandwidth requirements and the returns are going to be necessarily much lower. I don't know that I can help you with your belief in the poor single channel bastards. At any rate, it's not much different than the poorly informed buyers of slow GPUs with absurdly large VRAM specs. Caveat emptor.

            • auxy
            • 5 years ago

            What? I think you’re mistaken.

            [url<]https://techreport.com/r.x/a10-6800k/igp-tr-99th.gif[/url<] Did you even read the article? The difference is HUGE in the APUs. You've done nothing yet to challenge any of my viewpoints, only supported them.

      • Krogoth
      • 5 years ago

      Memory latency and bandwidth are non-issues in the mainstream world (games too). It has been this way since Core 2 and Athlon 64.

      The applications that are sensitive to latency and bandwidth tend to be professional in nature.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 5 years ago

        Did you read my post, or just copy and paste typical Krogoth ‘meh, something faster, who cares’. I specifically said it makes little to no difference in many real-world uses (there are actually some cases where it does, such as archive programs like 7Zip) and it can actually make a difference when using an IGP.

        [b<]The fact that the price difference is NIL to SMALL is the key.[/b<] I guess if Intel or AMD offered two CPUs at the same price, one of which was clocked higher, you would buy the slower one because it 'doesn't make a difference'? Do you enjoy paying the same amount of money for less? There is no rational argument to be made for buying slower memory for the same price. (Assuming all else is equal, compatibility etc)

    • Ninjitsu
    • 5 years ago

    A few things I’d like to discuss/share/point out:
    [list<] [*<]I still don't see the point of the i7-5930K over the 5820K, unless those extra PCIe lanes are explicitly required. [/*<][*<]The [i<]inclusion[/i<] of VT-d in a mainstream -K part is what's really miraculous, and quite welcome at that. [/*<][*<][url=http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/pentium-g3258-b81-cheap-overclocking,3888.html<]Tom's Hardware used an H81 board to overclock their Pentium G3258[/url<]. It currently sells for [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813130731<]$46[/url<]. [/*<][*<]Don't see the point of spending more on a monitor just for G-Sync, when you could just use your current monitor with one (or two) high end GPUs for the same price (and maintain 60 or 120 FPS). [/*<][*<]Weren't there issues with the WD Reds? Remember reading something about that somewhere. WD has a pretty painless warranty policy, though. [/*<][*<]I still think it's a good idea to have separate SSDs for the OS+programs and games, as both present different workloads. Though in light of TR's SSD experiments, I wonder if it's an issue at all, anymore. [/*<][*<]Fractal Design's cases seem pretty nice too, but they're unavailable in my country so I can't really say. Cooler Master has some pretty decent and cheap cases, though it's hard to argue with the 200R. [/*<][*<]The CX series PSUs used to have one major issue: their efficiency dropped off a proverbial cliff after 30*C, according to a graph on Corsair's own site. Don't know if that's still the case, but I find it worth mentioning. [/*<][*<]For reference, G.Skill's Sniper series RAM sticks just about fit under the Hyper 212 EVO when it's pointed upwards. Corsair's Vengeance sticks are too tall. [/*<][*<]Could someone suggest a good low profile cooler? For HTPC builds, for example. [/*<][*<]I think the only reason to get Windows 8.x is the rumoured free/discounted upgrade to Windows [s<]X[/s<] 10. Otherwise I still find it insufferable. Personal and biased opinion of course. [/*<][*<]Speaking of new hardware in the near future, wasn't there supposed to be a GTX 960 around the corner? Or will that release in Q2 as is usually the case for a GTX x60 part (only recent exception being the 660)? [/*<] [/list<]

      • Airmantharp
      • 5 years ago

      I agree (again) on the 5820K. It’s silly to recommend the 5930K without mentioning the part that’s ~US$200 cheaper, especially when the higher end part is really only needed for setups with three or four GPUs operating in tandem and maybe one or two corner cases.

      • jibkat
      • 5 years ago

      Fractal Design cases are good, I have used them about 15 times and they have always done the job well.

        • AssBall
        • 5 years ago

        Yeah They went all Corsair, which is fine, but Fractal Design makes a pretty solid case for cheaper.

          • nanoflower
          • 5 years ago

          That’s not what I found when looking for my new case. Fractal Design and Corsair were very similar in features and prices at both Newegg and Microcenter. Ended up going with a Corsair 300R from Newegg because it was on sale.

      • f0d
      • 5 years ago

      i agree with the 5820
      disagree with gsync not being worth it

      gtx 960 was pushed back because everyone is buying 970’s and 980’s they probably cant get enough gm204 gpus to make a 960 yet

        • Ninjitsu
        • 5 years ago

        I’m not against g-sync itself, just not sure I’d pay a premium for a monitor (assuming I’m out to buy a new monitor) when i could just get a better GPU for the difference. Though I guess it’s a good investment in the long run.

      • auxy
      • 5 years ago

      Downvoted because of Win8 whining! ( *´艸`)

        • Ninjitsu
        • 5 years ago

        SSK SHALL BRING BALANCE TO THE FORCE.

          • sweatshopking
          • 5 years ago

          WHINE MUCH HE DOES ABOUT A PROBLEM THAT AT MOST TAKE 2 MINUTES TO CHANGE. USE LINUX HE SHOULD.

            • superjawes
            • 5 years ago

            This post makes me want Samuel L Jackson to voice Yoda.

            “JUDGE ME BY MY SIZE?!? DO YOU, MOTHER******?!?”

            • Ninjitsu
            • 5 years ago

            LINUX IS TEDIOUS AS HELL BUT AT LEAST IT HAS A PURPOSE IN LIFE.

            True story though: I had changed my WLAN’s password. A friend of mine had come over after a long time, so her Win 8.1 laptop didn’t know the new one. In Win 7 i’d just look at existing remembered networks (easily found from the network and sharing center) and edit the password.

            In 8.1, however, I couldn’t see any such list, and it wouldn’t let me add the network again. It’s a hidden network, so it wouldn’t appear in the ‘currently detected networks’ list either (though it does on a Win 7 laptop, if previously added). So I had to click on one of the two networks listed as “Hidden Network” in the list of available networks, where it asked for the password again, and it turned out to be my home network so it worked.

            This is why I dislike it so much: whenever I’ve had to interact with the OS i’ve been lost and confused. I’m actually less lost when dealing with OS X or Linux, and I [i<]really[/i<] used to dislike OS X...and am quite a noob with Linux. Unix directory structures still make little sense to me though. :/

            • auxy
            • 5 years ago

            >Hiding your WLAN
            >not realizing this makes it less secure
            sigh (;ノ∀’)

            • Ninjitsu
            • 5 years ago

            Less secure if someone’s waiting to intercept request broadcasts from devices attempting to connect, yes. But they have to be [i<]in range[/i<] and know what they're looking for. And a visible WLAN is still exposed to brute force attacks and I'm sure a whole lot of other stuff. EDIT: That also doesn't justify what Windows 8.x does, either.

            • Deanjo
            • 5 years ago

            [quote<]Unix directory structures still make little sense to me though. :/[/quote<] Seriously? The FHS is probably the most logical and organized directory structure around. [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filesystem_Hierarchy_Standard[/url<]

            • auxy
            • 5 years ago

            In his defense, it makes no sense to me, either. I cannot fathom why anyone would not want applications to be entirely self-contained, regardless benefits of library-sharing.

            • Deanjo
            • 5 years ago

            [quote<] I cannot fathom why anyone would not want applications to be entirely self-contained, regardless benefits of library-sharing.[/quote<] There are many reasons why you would not want applications to be self contained but I will give you an example of why having an application completely self contained is a horrible idea. Say you had applications that relied on secure encryption such as ssl. If ssl support was built in on the application level and a security exploit was found, you would have to wait for that program to be updated (if it ever is). With a shared library, I have to update one ssl library to be ensured that all my applications that utilize ssl are no longer effected by the exploit. Just answer this, what and how many applications are on your system are using secure sockets layer? If you don't know then you should immediately see why shared libraries are a good thing.

            • w76
            • 5 years ago

            Again, linux takes the route of ideological purity over user-friendliness. I think one of the reasons ‘portable’ apps are as popular as they are in the Windows world is because they don’t spread their files in various places around your drive. They’re all there, in one neat folder. (The other reason being they make taking a program for a test drive easy — without, again, spraying files all over the place) One popular use of Sandboxie appears to also be to fight against files being installed in myriad locations; it’ll track all of that for you and purge it fully, no need to rely on the OS or anything else to fully clean up.

            On the flip side of shared libraries, the only reason that doesn’t still cause ‘dependency hell’ is because of all the effort gone in to package managers in linux. I can see a benefit of letting developers code against a static, unchanging library, and updating that library as they need for their specific usage. No need to rely on a 2nd program to make sure a 3rd program is installed.

            If I’m not mistaken, Apple’s iOS doesn’t like you seeing the underlying file system. That probably says it all. Even Apple can’t make that mess user friendly enough to unleash upon the masses.

            • auxy
            • 5 years ago

            Virtually none. One browser and that is all. Any other poor rhetorical questions?

            In case it isn’t clear, security isn’t really a big issue with me. I sit behind a competent firewall and I’m really not concerned about “attackers”. I’m not a business customer. I, like the majority of computer users, am a home user, and when I want an application gone, I want to delete it and never be reminded it existed.

            When I have to have a PACKAGE MANAGER to add or remove software, your operating system is garbage.

            • Deanjo
            • 5 years ago

            [quote<]Virtually none. One browser and that is all. Any other poor rhetorical questions?[/quote<] LMFAO, sorry bud but you have a heck of a lot more utilizing SSL. You just proved my point. Do you have items like Steam, Origin, etc? Do you utilize ftp? Perhaps you torrent a bit? Or maybe you are paranoid and like to use something like Tor? Any chat or IM? Do you plug your tablet/phone into your computer? the list goes on and on... [quote<]In case it isn't clear, security isn't really a big issue with me. I sit behind a competent firewall and I'm really not concerned about "attackers". I'm not a business customer. I, like the majority of computer users, am a home user, and when I want an application gone, I want to delete it and never be reminded it existed.[/quote<] Firewalls do virtually nothing in encryption exploits. [quote<] When I have to have a PACKAGE MANAGER to add or remove software, your operating system is garbage. [/quote<] No linux distributions require use of a package manager. Not sure where you even got that idea from. If you want to distribute software as a "all-in-one" blob for linux, nothing stops you from doing that. A lot of proprietary software for linux has been distributed like that for pretty much as linux has been around. Many Steam games for example are distributed like that. And as far as saying using a package manager is garbage, I very much disagree. In fact the fact that Windows itself utilizes a form of one (Add Remove Programs and Features). And BTW, don't delude yourself into thinking that Windows isn't just as heavily dependent on shared libraries.

            • Ryu Connor
            • 5 years ago

            I’d just like to point out that you have a dangerously naïve viewpoint of security and the threats around you. Sufficient enough ignorance to be in serious danger.

            If you want to have an educational discussion about this in the forums. Just make the post.

            • Ninjitsu
            • 5 years ago

            [quote<] I cannot fathom why anyone would not want applications to be entirely self-contained, regardless benefits of library-sharing. [/quote<] Windows does that too, you know. That's not my problem, I just find the structure very complicated. I think in terms of "drives" after all. Probably only OS X has completely self contained, opaque applications, and I hate it for that (can't manually fiddle around with things easily).

            • Deanjo
            • 5 years ago

            [quote<]Probably only OS X has completely self contained, opaque applications, and I hate it for that (can't manually fiddle around with things easily).[/quote<] Not all that that is not a rule of thumb. An OS X application can have multiple areas it installs to and spreads out . It also depends if it is a system application or a user land application and it has a choice of using it's own static libraries or system wide libraries.

            • Ninjitsu
            • 5 years ago

            May be logical and organized for the people who came up with it, but could you have honestly figured out what’s where on your own?

            At least with Windows, I organise things my way.

            C: -> Windows
            D: -> DVD Drive, because old habits
            E: -> Programs
            F: -> My stuff.
            G: -> Games
            H: -> My Documents, other data
            I: -> Spare drive for storing setup files, etc.
            M: -> Multimedia
            P: -> Page File

            • Deanjo
            • 5 years ago

            Why do you need drive letters? That is probably the most illogical layout there is as there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to what goes where. At least in *nix if I want to call a partition Multimedia, I call it Multimedia and not a letter that means nothing.

            And I figured out the FHS long before I even knew it was a standard all those years ago.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 5 years ago

            You can still partition hard drives on OS X. Your paths will look like:

            /
            /Volumes/Programs
            /Volumes/Your Junk
            /Volumes/Games
            /Volumes/Your Documents
            /Volumes/spare space
            /Volumes/wtf are you doing/
            /Volumes/i think you might have OCD

            • Deanjo
            • 5 years ago

            Well you can actually mount where ever you want in OS X. Doesn’t need to be in Volumes.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 5 years ago

            if he’s as anal retentive as he claims to be, he’ll want all the mount points in one location.

            • sweatshopking
            • 5 years ago

            I’m with you. It’s how we learned, so it’s natural. See windows start menu for another example. Nerds love double standards.

            • Deanjo
            • 5 years ago

            Just because you learned something that does not make it right, easier or logical for someone else especially when it is something that you have come up with for yourself.

            • sweatshopking
            • 5 years ago

            Of course not. So you agreed that for many people the Win 8 start screen is superior.

            • Deanjo
            • 5 years ago

            For some it maybe, no argument there, for the majority however it seems like it isn’t.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 5 years ago

      All the excitement over VT-d is way overblown. It’s not even supported in VMWare workstation. You’ve got to have enterprise software to put it into practice, and then you should be using Xeons with their ECC support, not desktop-class hardware.

        • Ninjitsu
        • 5 years ago

        Kay. I’m new to using VMs, so VT-x is as much as I need for now. Still strange that only the -K SKUs didn’t get it, in their respective product lines.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 5 years ago

          I’m actually going to defend Intel here: overclocking a server is not in your best interest for stability and data integrity. Why they enabled it on Devil’s Canyon, though, is easy: enough people whined because they didn’t understand what they were “missing out” on.

            • Ninjitsu
            • 5 years ago

            Probably, but then why enable it on the Extreme Edition chips? They can be overclocked too…

            Now as I noted, I don’t know much about VT-d, definitely less than you, so:

            Is it not possible that a Devil’s Canyon owner may choose not to overclock when using a VT-d enabled application, but do it some other time for something else? I mean, are these two really that separate markets?

            • derFunkenstein
            • 5 years ago

            Probably for the same reason it’s on Devil’s Canyon – because people who don’t know what they’re not missing are crying foul.

        • Deanjo
        • 5 years ago

        As someone that utilizes Xen and VT-d on their systems there is absolutely no reason for me to have a Xeon or ECC for that support. I am however able to utilize add-in cards that are windows only in a VM running on linux.

        Not to mention doing other fun stuff with the hardware such as this:

        [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gtmwnx-k2qg[/url<]

      • superjawes
      • 5 years ago

      On G-Sync: remember that these monitors are effectively still in a prototype phase. There will probably still be a premium once we hit full production, but it won’t be anywhere near the price of an FPGA (because there will be no FPGA).

      On Windows 8: it really comes down to whether you need a [i<]new[/i<] license or not. I think a copy of Windows 7 still sets you back more than a copy of 8, so you might as well get the under-hood improvements. With the updates, Windows 8 is...let's go with "less bad." On GTX 960: probably not going to happen any time soon thanks to the value of the 970 and 980 paired with price cuts to the 770 (which will probably look very similar to the 960 in performance). Let's face it. Nvidia hit it out of the park with the release of big Maxwell. They really don't [i<]need[/i<] to release anything until AMD can offer a good answer to them, and I would hope that the Red Team's answer wouldn't run as hot as the 290X...

      • jihadjoe
      • 5 years ago

      1) Another +1 on the 5820K recommendation. Of X99 processors, it’s actually the 5930k that I find the least reason to recommend. 5820k provides nearly all of the functionality for $200 less, and the 5960X has that 8-core goodness that finally makes the extreme edition part worth the extra premium.

      2) Aside from early steppings of the 3930k, VT-d has always been enabled in the HEDT platform. It’s only the regular desktop edition that gets forced to choose between having a K-series CPU or a full feature set.

      • mutantmagnet
      • 5 years ago

      I agree about the 5820k. If it wasn’t for the price of the X99 motherboards I would consider that CPU as good in the bang for buck category as the G3258.

      I wish there were more budget motherboards that were examined months later to get a better sense of the overclocking landscape for the G3258.

      I disagree about Gsync. You are paying for a better implementation of Lightboost which drops the minimum FPS requirements for CRT level clarity from 100 FPS/MHz to 85 FPS/MHz. Even if your hardware can’t run the software to match that refresh rate you can still use gsync mode to the benefits of less jarring experience caused by frame rate variation.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 5 years ago

    [quote<]With the exception of the Core i7-5930K, all of the CPUs we've recommended come with stock coolers from Intel. [/quote<] Even the A10-7800? 😉

      • Cyril
      • 5 years ago

      Of course! Intel stock coolers are so good that AMD uses them.

      Ahem. Fixed. 😉

      • Meadows
      • 5 years ago

      Have a plus-one, gentleman.

    • Krogoth
    • 5 years ago

    Pretty solid guide.

    Not much changed from the last time expect that Maxwell units mixed up things in the GPU realm.

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