After a quiet couple of System Guides, big changes are coming to the desktop PC. A huge wave of Intel Skylake CPUs will hit the market soon, and with them comes a need for complementary motherboards, chipsets, memory, and storage. We’re here to chart a course through these unfamiliar waters for you.
The key word here is “soon.” Only two Skylake CPUs are widely available as we speak: the overclocking-friendly Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700K. For the kinds of enthusiast PCs we tend to spec out in the System Guide, we think these chips will be the best options for muscular gaming PCs, but we’ll also examine some of Intel’s Skylake Core i3 and Core i5 CPUs so that folks with tighter budgets can get a good idea of what’s worth buying before those chips hit store shelves.
There’s still the Broadwell-based Core i7-5775C to consider, as well. On its face, this chip might not seem that interesting: its 65W TDP, 3.3GHz base clock, and 3.7GHz Turbo speed look a bit pedestrian next to top-end Haswell and Skylake CPUs. Run a game on this thing, though, and it tends to punch way above its weight class. That’s because it has 128MB of eDRAM on board, which doubles as a huge last-level cache. Games make good use of that extra cache capcity.
In previous System Guides, we lamented the Core i7-5775C’s scarcity and price mark-ups, but it seems like that tight supply situation may ease soon. Intel has told us to expect more Core i7-5775C stock “as Q3 progresses.” Even so, the 5775C will cost more than the Core i7-6700K, and it’s not as fast as the Skylake chip in some tasks, so builders will need to consider whether they’re building a truly gaming-centric system or a more all-purpose PC. We’ve drawn up a couple of suggested builds that take both sides of this coin into account.
Rules of the road
The System Guide is our list of recommended parts for building a new PC. If you’ve never built a PC before and want to, that’s great. Just be sure to read through our guide to building a PC, or kick back and watch the handy video below, before proceeding.
In the following pages, we’ll discuss our picks for the critical components that make up a PC, including processors, motherboards, memory, graphics cards, storage, cases, and power supplies. We’ve picked parts to fit budgets of all sizes, without compromising on quality or performance. Those picks are divided into three categories: budget, sweet spot, and high end.
Our budget picks will get you up and running with solid components that won’t break the bank. Stepping up to our sweet spot parts gets you even more bang for your buck. At the high end, we’ve chosen parts that represent the pinnacle of performance, without falling into the trap of spending money for its own sake.
Each part will have a link to a TR review where possible. We also include a “notable needs” section for each item with any critical information that you need to know before putting together a parts list. Finally, we’ve put together some sample builds if you have no idea where to start.
The Tech Report System Guide is sponsored by Newegg. We’ll be using links to their product pages throughout this guide. You can (and should!) support our work by purchasing the items we recommend using these links. A big thanks to Newegg for their continued support.
In the rare case that Newegg doesn’t stock an item we want to recommend, we’ll link to other retailers as needed. Despite its sponsorship, Newegg has no input on the components included in the System Guide: our picks are entirely our own.
If you like this article, don’t miss the rest of our guide series: our how-to-build-a-PC guide, where we walk readers (and viewers) through the PC assembly process; our mobile staff picks, where we highlight our favorite devices for on-the-go computing; and our peripheral guide, where we pick the best monitors, mice, keyboards, and accessories to make your PC experience even better.
We’ll be blunt here: the name of the game in CPUs right now remains Intel. Dollar for dollar, and by almost any measure, the blue team’s processors are simply better than the AMD competition. Whatever your budget, we recommend that you build your PC around an Intel chip. That said, we continue to make exceptions for two of AMD’s processors: the A8-7600 and Athlon X4 860K. These sub-$100 CPUs might make sense for some systems.
Some builders may be tempted by AMD’s FX-series CPUs, like the FX-8350. These chips pack a lot of cores at high clock speeds, often at lower prices than Intel’s. We don’t recommend them, though. In lightly threaded workloads, which are the most common for desktop systems, the stronger per-thread performance of Intel CPUs gives them an undeniable advantage. Intel’s current processors also consume less power and throw off less heat than comparable AMD silicon.
Intel’s latest CPU architecture is called Skylake. Chips based on this 14-nm silicon offer small-but-welcome increases in performance pretty much across the board, and from what we’ve seen, there aren’t substantial premiums for choosing Skylake-compatible motherboards or memory, even now. Skylake’s platform improvements are also welcome: the highest-end Z170 chipset offers more PCI Express lanes for next-generation storage or high-speed I/O ports. Given these advantages, we’d generally recommend building around a Skylake processor if possible.
As we’ve mentioned, one non-Skylake chip worth considering for a certain kind of system builder is the Broadwell-derived Core i7-5775C. In our tests, we found this chip can deliver better gaming performance than even the top-of-the-line Skylake Core i7-6700K. If you’re looking for the absolute best gaming chip on the market and don’t mind giving up a small amount of performance in other tasks, the Core i7-5775C is an intriguing option. Just be ready to pay for the privilege. At least one retailer expects i7-5775Cs as soon as September 20, so we may finally see these chips on store shelves soon.
|Intel Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition||$69.99||LGA1150 motherboard,
Z97 chipset for overclocking
|Intel Core i3-6100||$117.00||LGA1151 motherboard|
|AMD Athlon X4 860K||$74.99||Socket FM2+ motherboard|
|AMD A8-7600||$84.99||Socket FM2+ motherboard|
The Pentium G3258, also known as the Anniversary Edition, is the first overclocking-friendly sub-$100 processor we’ve seen from Intel in years. It has only two cores, and it lacks both Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost, but we overclocked ours from 3.2GHz to 4.8GHz. At that frequency, the Pentium can keep up with more expensive quad-core chips in all but the most heavily multithreaded apps. It’s quite capable in games, too. At only $70, this chip is an outstanding value if you’re willing to turn up the clocks yourself.
As far as we can tell, Intel won’t be offering a Skylake equivalent for this chip. If you want to get your budget overclocking game on, the G3258 is still the way to go.
Unfortunately, some games, like Far Cry 4 and Dragon Age: Inquisition, have trouble starting on systems with dual-core, dual-thread CPUs like the Pentium. The limitation seems to be an artificial one, since unofficial workarounds exist for both games. Nonetheless, gamers looking for a no-hassle experience may prefer to spring for Intel’s Core i3-6100 or AMD’s Athlon X4 860K.
The Core i3-6100 is a great budget buy, provided you don’t intend to overclock. Its base clock speed is higher than the Pentium’s, at 3.7GHz, and it adds Hyper-Threading to the mix, which boosts performance in multithreaded tasks. It’ll also appear as a quad-core CPU to games that require one. Like the Pentium, the Core i3 is a good choice for non-gamers, too, since it has basic integrated graphics. This chip isn’t yet widely available in North America as of mid-September, though, so builders who fancy the i3-6100 will need to wait a little longer.
Over in the AMD aisle, we have two options.
Among AMD’s current APUs, the A8-7600 is probably the best bargain. It’s almost as fast as the more expensive A10-7800, and it has the same ability to lower its TDP to 45W when paired with the right motherboard. That thermal envelope is even lower than the Core i3-6100’s 47W rating. The A8-7600 also boasts faster integrated graphics than the Intel competition, too. If you’re building a system that needs a lot of graphics power and you don’t have room for a discrete graphics card, the A8-7600 might make sense.
The Athlon X4 860K is essentially a range-topping A10-7850K “Kaveri” APU with its integrated graphics disabled. Those looking for a budget overclocking build can take advantage of the 860K’s unlocked multiplier. This chip’s four integer cores should make it compatible with any recent game. The downside is that Kaveri chips are still handily outperformed by Intel CPUs, and I can personally attest that overclocking the A10-7850K doesn’t close the gap much.
|Intel Core i5-6600K||$249.99||LGA1151 motherboard, Z170 chipset for overclocking,
aftermarket CPU cooler
|Intel Core i7-6700K||$369.99|
|Intel Core i7-5775C||$377.00||LGA1150 motherboard,
Z97 chipset for overclocking
The Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700K each have four fast Skylake cores, and the Hyper-Threaded i7-6700K can handle eight threads at once. These chips will provide brisk performance in both single-threaded tasks and multithreaded workloads without a hitch. They also have unlocked multipliers, so builders who want to squeeze out as much clock speed as their particular chip can provide will be able to probe those limits by overclocking.
Since these are “enthusiast CPUs,” however, Intel has seen fit to sell them as chips only—they don’t include a stock cooler. That means you’ll need to pick an air or liquid cooler from our selection later on in the guide in order to use these chips. Plan accordingly.
We’ve already sung enough praise about the quad-core, eight-thread Core i7-5775C, but it’s worth noting that this chip needs an H97 or Z97 motherboard with an LGA1150 socket. Those motherboards may also need a firmware update to be fully compatible with the i7-5775C, so be sure to check the support website for your mobo manufacturer of choice to see whether they’ve released an appropriate BIOS.
|Intel Core i7-5820K||$389.99||LGA2011-v3 motherboard,
quad-channel DDR4 memory kit,
discrete graphics, aftermarket cooler
|Intel Core i7-5930K||$579.99|
Last summer, Intel unleashed the Core i7-5960X, its fastest desktop processor to date. That monster is based on 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 dual-socket Xeon server processor, and it performs accordingly—with an unlocked upper multiplier to boot.
Too bad it costs just over a thousand bucks.
For almost half the price, the Core i7-5930K serves up 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 Intel’s lesser quad-core parts. 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 many workloads. Finally, because the i7-5930K is fully unlocked, you may be able to push it even higher by overclocking.
If you can’t swallow the Core i7-5930K’s cost but still want six Haswell cores in your system, we conditionally recommend the Core i7-5820K. This chip has 12 of its PCIe lanes lopped off, for a total of 28. We think Intel’s decision to cripple this processor in this fashion is unfortunate, because it removes one of the key advantages of “extreme” processors based on the X99 platform. Many folks who build systems based on these CPUs will want 16 lanes going to two different PCIe x16 slots for multi-GPU configs. With a 5820K installed, though, an X99 system can’t deliver. It effectively has no more PCIe bandwidth for SLI and CrossFire than a quad-core Skylake chip based on the much more affordable Z170 platform.
If you’re not using a lot of PCIe expansion cards, this limitation may not matter, but it’s something to note. The i7-5820K is still unlocked for easy overclocking, and its $390 price tag is pretty affordable for what it offers.
Buying a motherboard these days is pretty straightforward. There are only four major manufacturers from which to choose, and their offerings have very similar performance and peripheral connectivity at each price point. The main differences between competing boards lie with their Windows software, firmware, and overclocking tools.
- Asus is the biggest of the four main motherboard makers. We think Asus boards have the best Windows software and the most intelligent and reliable auto-overclocking functionality. The company’s 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. Overall, an Asus board should offer the most polished experience of the lot.
- Gigabyte has the best firmware UI of the bunch, though its auto-overclocking intelligence and Windows software aren’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 the company’s 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.
- ASRock generally aims its products at more value-conscious buyers. ASRock boards typically offer a great hardware spec for the money. In our experience, however, ASRock’s firmware interface isn’t terribly refined. Neither is the accompanying utility software. ASRock boards are appealing primarily for their budget price tags.
|Gigabyte F2A88XM-D3H||$69.99||AMD Socket FM2+ processor,
microATX or ATX case
|MSI Z97M-G43||$106.99||Intel LGA1150 processor,
microATX or ATX case
|Gigabyte GA-H170-Gaming 3||$114.99||Intel LGA1151 processor,
Gigabyte’s F2A88XM-D3H is our pick if you’re building with an AMD CPU. This compact, straightforward board is based on the A88X chipset, which supports RAID arrays for SATA drives and configurable TDPs for certain processors, including the A8-7600. Gigabyte packs a decent set of features into this board’s compact microATX form factor, and the user reviews are largely positive.
If you’re considering a budget overclocking build based on Intel’s Pentium G3258, you’ll need a board with Intel’s Z97 chipset. We think MSI’s Z97M-G43 fits the bill. This microATX board offers niceties like optical S/PDIF audio output, an M.2 slot for SSDs, and two four-pin system fan headers—perfect for a microATX case.
Meanwhile, Gigabyte’s GA-H170-Gaming 3 is an appealing platform for non-overclocked Skylake builds. It offers dual M.2 slots and a premium Realtek ALC1150 audio codec, along with some features borrowed from Gigabyte’s fancier Z170 boards like reinforced PCIe slots.
|Asus Z97-A/USB 3.1||$153.99||Intel LGA1150 processor, ATX case|
|Gigabyte GA-Z170X-UD3||$149.99||Intel LGA1151 processor, ATX case|
|Asus Z170 Pro Gaming||$169.99|
Adding a few bucks to the budget gets us into fancier Z97 and Z170 territory. Our favorite Z97 board for the Core i7-5775C is Asus’ Z97-A/USB 3.1, a feature-packed and reasonably priced mobo with next-generation USB 3.1 ports. The Z97-A/USB 3.1 is also equipped with M.2 and SATA Express storage connectors, dual-GPU support with an x8/x8-lane arrangement, and digital S/PDIF output with real-time DTS Connect encoding. Check out our review of the original USB 3.0 version for all the details.
For those eyeing Core i5-6600Ks or Core i7-6700K processors, we think Gigabyte’s GA-Z170X-UD3 is quite the compelling board. Gigabyte has ticked all the right boxes here: Intel Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.1 controllers, Realtek ALC1150 audio, and dual M.2 slots all make an appearance. A next-gen USB 3.1 Type-C port is ready to connect to compatible peripherals, as well. For $150, this could be all the motherboard most people need for a Skylake system.
Asus has a compelling Z170 lineup of its own, and we think the Z170 Pro Gaming is a good step up for those who want to avail themselves of Asus’ superior firmware fan controls and automatic overclocking logic. The Pro Gaming’s M.2 slot is well out of the way of its primary PCIe x16 slot, so toasty PCIe drives like Samsung’s SM951 might be less hot and bothered on this board, too. The Z170 Pro Gaming is pretty similar to the Z170-A that we reviewed and enjoyed, but it adds Realtek ALC1150 audio and a couple more ports to the rear I/O block while shedding legacy slots like PCI. Those are substantial upgrades for $170, or just a $6 premium or so versus the Z170-A.
|Asus X99-A/USB 3.1||$259.99||Intel LGA2011-v3 processor, ATX case|
Haswell-E processors won’t fit into LGA1150 or LGA1151 motherboards like the ones listed above. Instead, Haswell-E requires an LGA2011-v3 socket and DDR4 memory slots, features only available in boards powered by Intel’s new X99 chipset.
Our X99 favorite is the Asus X99-A/USB 3.1, an updated version of the TR Recommended X99-A. As its name implies, the USB 3.1 variant adds a couple of the next-generation USB ports to the rear I/O cluster. This board’s expansion options are plentiful otherwise, and our X99-A sample proved to be a capable overclocking platform for our Haswell-E CPU. We think this board is so good that there’s no need to spend hundreds more on fancier X99 options unless they have specific features you require.
With Skylake comes a need for DDR4 memory. We’re happy to report that DDR4 prices have come way down since Haswell-E systems first created a need for this next-generation RAM, and it’s only a bit more expensive to use DDR4 now versus a comparable amount of DDR3 memory.
Now that the difference between 4GB and 8GB kits is about $10, we can no longer recommend 4GB in good conscience except for bare-minimum budget systems. Most RAM makers aren’t even offering 4GB dual-channel DDR4 kits, anyway, so builders would be further hampering performance by choosing to save money in this area. Buy whatever 8GB kit of DDR3 or DDR4 DIMMs you can afford and thank us later.
Intel’s official spec for Skylake-compatible DDR4 RAM is DDR4-2133, but we’ve used significantly faster DIMMs like DDR4-3000 in our CPU and motherboard test rigs without issue. Given the small price premium and potential increases in bandwidth that faster DDR4 offers, we think it’s a worthy upgrade to get the speedier RAM if there’s room in the budget.
Sweet spot: Z97 and DDR3
|Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600||$44.49|
|Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB (2x8GB) DDR3-1600||$77.99|
|G.Skill Sniper 32GB (4x8GB) DDR3-1600||$169.99|
If you’re building a system with a Core i7-5775C, you’ll need DDR3 memory. All of the kits above are from reputable manufacturers—just choose the capacity you’d like. 8GB should be adequate for most users, while heavy multitaskers and multimedia editors may want to consider a step up to 16GB or 32GB kits.
Sweet spot: H170, Z170, and X99
|HyperX Fury 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2133||$59.99|
|Corsair Vengeance LPX 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-3000||$72.99|
|Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2133||$109.99|
|G.Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3000||$129.99|
|HyperX Fury 32GB (4x8GB) DDR4-2133||$199.99|
For H170, Z170, and X99-based systems, any of the above DDR4 kits should be a good bet, depending on the capacity and speed you can afford. We should note that it’s cheaper for X99 builders to double up on any of the above kits rather than buying a quad-channel kit—it seems like some RAM makers are price-gouging for the privilege of getting four DIMMs in a package rather than two. There’s no need to pay extra for that.
After AMD’s introduction of the Radeon R9 Fury and Fury X, the graphics market has been a little quieter, but several new cards have debuted recently. AMD’s bite-sized Fury Nano is an interesting product. We have one in our labs for testing, but we don’t expect that its appeal will extend beyond the niche audience of Mini-ITX builders that AMD has defined for the card—especially not for its $650 suggested price. Nvidia has introduced a stronger budget contender in the form of the GeForce GTX 950, which replaces the evergreen GeForce GTX 750 Ti around the $150-$160 mark. The GTX 750 Ti is now available around a suggested price of $120, which is a pretty sweet deal for entry-level 1080p gaming.
|Zotac GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB||$119.99||N/A|
|MSI GeForce GTX 950 2GB||$159.99|
Accordingly, the GeForce GTX 750 Ti is our first pick. The Zotac card we’ve chosen is typical of the breed: it’s built on a stubby PCB with a single fan, and it doesn’t require any external power connectors to do its thing.
The GeForce GTX 950 represents a substantial step up from the GTX 750 Ti. It’s based on a slightly cut-down version of the GM206 GPU in the more expensive GTX 960, so it has considerably more theoretical performance than its predecessor by almost every measure. This card should let owners turn up graphics quality settings at 1080p without a hitch. The MSI card we’ve chosen has a nice twin-fan cooler that should be more than a match for the GTX 950’s GPU, and its single six-pin power connector will play well with modest PSUs.
|EVGA GeForce GTX 960 2GB||$179.99||Dual PCIe power connectors|
|Sapphire Nitro Radeon R9 380 4GB||$209.99|
Our sweet-spot picks can run games at 1080p with high or maxed-out detail levels. They can also handle resolutions up to 2560×1440, though they may not deliver the smoothest possible experience there.
We think the GeForce GTX 960 remains the most compelling GPU in this price range. For just $180 or so, it performs about as well as the old GTX 770, which was priced at $250 before Nvidia discontinued it. On top of that, it’s a good deal more power-efficient than the competition. Our EVGA pick has a twin-fan cooler that’s both effective and quiet.
With AMD’s 300-series round of rebrands, the Radeon R9 285 has morphed into the Radeon R9 380. Since our last guide, 4GB versions of this card have fallen in price, to the point where they’re actually quite appealing. If you’re worried about future video RAM requirements—or FreeSync support—the Sapphire Radeon R9 380 we’ve chosen should be a good bet. It’s significantly cheaper than 4GB GTX 960s, and it’s got a slightly more powerful GPU than the Nvidia card.
If you’re considering the Radeon R9 380 or GTX 960, you might still find a Radeon R9 280X here and there for around the same price. While the 280X is the fastest of the three by a smidgen in raw FPS terms, it’s based on older hardware that lacks support for FreeSync and AMD’s TrueAudio DSP. If you really want an AMD card, we think you’ll be better off with the R9 380 over the long term.
These cards should all produce silky-smooth frame rates at 2560×1440. The higher-end cards will also pave the way for gaming at 4K—and higher virtual resolutions (via the VSR and DSR features from the GPU makers) on systems with lower-res monitors.
|EVGA GeForce GTX 970||$289.99||Dual PCIe power connectors|
|Gigabyte Radeon R9 390||$319.99|
|MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G||$345.99|
|Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 980||$509.99|
|Asus Strix Radeon R9 Fury||$569.99|
|Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury X||$649.99|
|Asus Strix GTX 980 Ti||$669.99|
Radeon 300-series cards are on store shelves now, though older 200-series cards like the Radeon R9 290 and 290X may stick around for a little longer. If you can find one of those 200-series cards for a deep discount, they could still be good buys, but the Radeon R9 390 and 390X are here to stay. These cards offer twice the video memory of their predecessors, a whopping 8GB. Current games at common display resolutions don’t seem to benefit much from the extra RAM, though. Even so, the R9 390 is quite competitive with the GeForce GTX 970, at the expense of higher power consumption and more heat.
One interesting development in this segment of the market is the sudden appearance of stock-clocked GTX 970 cards like the EVGA model in the table above for just $290 or so. If this card sticks around at this price, it would make the GTX 970’s strong performance more accessible. Some judicious tweaking could even bring this card’s performance more in line with its factory-overclocked brethren, too. For the price, that’s a bet we’d be willing to take.
Speaking of factory-overclocked GTX 970s, the MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G performs about on par with a Radeon R9 390 in our benchmarks while consuming much less power. Under load, it consumes 120W less than the R9 390. That means lower temperatures, lower noise levels, and potentially higher overclocking headroom. We were able to overclock this thing to the point that it outperformed a reference GeForce GTX 980. Pretty amazing for a $340 card. In fact, you don’t really need anything more unless you’re driving a 4K monitor or a multi-display setup for gaming.
At the high end of the market, AMD’s introduction of its brand-new Fiji GPU with high-bandwidth memory is still the biggest news we’ve had of late. This GPU and its memory subsystem represent substantial innovation, in contrast to the rebadged parts that make up most of the Radeon 300-series lineup.
The Radeon R9 Fury X is AMD’s top-of-the-line offering, complete with water cooling, while the vanilla R9 Fury is mildly cut down for about 100 bucks less. These cards perform somewhat worse in our advanced frame-time metrics than their GeForce competition, the GTX 980 Ti and GTX 980, respectively. They’re also slightly more power-hungry, and in the case of the R9 Fury, more expensive than the competing GeForces. They’re still interesting products, but unfortunately, Fury cards are quite scarce at the moment.
As for GeForce GTX 980 Ti cards, we think our Asus pick is a solid bet. Its huge triple-fan cooler and dizzying factory overclocks set it apart from other GTX 980 Ti offerings. If our card of choice is out of stock, Gigabyte’s G1 Gaming spin on the 980 Ti is a worthy alternative. It features some of the highest clock speeds available for this GPU at the cost of more noise under load and a higher price than our primary pick.
If you’re dead-set on a Radeon R9 Fury or Radeon R9 Fury X, your choices are pretty simple. In the case of the Fury X, all of AMD’s board partners are required to use the same reference cooler design and clocks, so the choice comes down to the board partner you’d like to, well, partner with. Sapphire is a major AMD board partner, and its Fury X retails for the same $649.99 as AMD’s suggested price, so we see no reason to look further. Just be aware of the pump noise issue. Right now, there’s no way to be sure you’re not getting a Fury X card whose cooler whines.
In the Fury non-X department, Asus’ Strix R9 Fury comes with an awesomely large and quiet triple-fan cooler that makes short work of Fiji’s volcanism.
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. This time around, we’re also looking at a pair of PCIe drives, for those who need face-melting storage performance.
The system drive is where the operating system and 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 usually out of the question, but the rest of our recommendations are solid-state drives. Budget buyers may not be able to afford an SSD, but everyone else should spring for one and grab an auxiliary mechanical drive for their mass-storage needs. Upgrading from a hard drive to solid-state storage probably offers the single most noticeable performance improvement of any component upgrade in a modern PC.
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 240GB to 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 ones.
If you’re concerned about the write endurance of SSDs, the final results of our SSD Endurance Experiment should put those worries to rest. Our test subjects handled hundreds of terabytes of writes at a minimum, while our champion, the Samsung 840 Pro, held up to an incredible 2.4 petabytes of writes before giving up the ghost. Most consumers will never come anywhere close to writing that much data.
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.
|WD Blue 1TB 7,200 RPM||$52.99|
|OCZ Arc 100 120GB||$59.99|
|Crucial BX100 250GB||$84.99|
|Samsung 850 EVO 250GB||$99.99|
|Samsung 850 EVO 500GB||$179.99|
|Crucial BX100 1TB||$339.99|
|Samsung 850 EVO 1TB||$369.99|
Can’t afford an SSD or auxiliary mechanical storage? Then the WD Blue 1TB will do just fine. It has a fast 7,200-RPM spindle speed, and its 1TB capacity is more than enough to handle both system and mass-storage needs.
We’re leaving a 120GB solid-state drive in our picks for now, but we really think you ought to consider a 240-256GB drive at minimum, especially if you plan to keep games on it. Modern titles can easily gobble 50GB to 60GB each, and it’s no fun to shuffle games on and off an SSD. If stepping up isn’t an option or your storage needs are modest, OCZ’s Arc 100 is a decent option—but seriously, get a 256GB-class drive.
The 250GB version of Crucial’s BX100 is our pick for that mid-range sweet spot. It’s aggressively priced, reasonably fast, and made by a company with a solid track record for reliability. Another option at this capacity is Samsung’s 850 EVO 250GB, which performs about as well as the BX100 but offers niceties like hardware-accelerated encryption that the Crucial drive lacks.
At the 480-512GB tier, the SSD market’s price fluctuations favor Samsung for now. The 500GB 850 EVO is a great performer, and its $180 price tag is reasonable for a drive of this caliber.
At the 1TB tier, Crucial’s BX100 represents a good, basic 1TB drive for $340 or so, while Samsung’s 850 EVO 1TB is more fully-featured for about $30 more. Along with AES encryption support, the Samsung drive offers excellent performance, a five-year warranty, and a high endurance rating. The Crucial drive doesn’t support hardware-accelerated encryption, and it’s only warranted for three years.
PCI Express SSDs
The Skylake platform is ready for blazing-fast PCIe storage, but there’s just one problem: nobody, save for Samsung and Intel, has shown up to the party yet.
Samsung’s SM951 PCIe SSD is the only M.2 PCIe 3.0 drive available on Newegg as of this writing. It’s lightning-quick, but it tends to throttle under sustained workloads without dedicated cooling. Thankfully, most desktop workloads are more intermittent in nature, but the SM951’s thermal-performance issues are a worry, especially for motherboards whose M.2 slots reside next to their main PCIe x16 slots. Putting the SM951 underneath a power-hungry GPU could degrade its performance.
Intel’s 750 Series solid-state drives, on the other hand, are monster performers descended from datacenter-class hardware. They leave the pokey SATA 6Gbps interface behind for four lanes of blazing-fast PCIe 3.0 connectivity, and they ditch the old AHCI protocol for NVM Express. The real challenge is finding desktop workloads that can take advantage of the performance on tap.
|Samsung SM951 256GB||$219.99|
|Intel 750 Series SSD 400GB||$389.99|
|Intel 750 Series SSD 1.2TB||$1039.99|
Compared to other consumer-grade PCIe drives, the 750 Series offers wicked-fast sequential speeds and substantially higher random I/O rates. You get robust power-loss protection, too, plus a five-year warranty and a high endurance rating. Just keep in mind that the add-in cards we’re recommending require full-sized expansion slots with Gen3 connectivity. Intel also makes a 2.5″ version with a cabled PCIe connection, but motherboards don’t support it natively yet.
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. (Remember that RAID is not backup, though.)
|WD Green 4TB||$134.99|
|WD Red 4TB||$159.99|
|WD Black 4TB||$199.99|
|WD Green 6TB||$222.99|
Based in part on Backblaze’s reliability studies, which showed higher failure rates for Seagate drives, we’re continuing to recommend Western Digital hard drives for this edition of the System Guide. Hitachi drives did even better than WD’s, according to Backblaze, but they seem to have poorer Newegg reviews, 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 4TB 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, we’ve included one 6TB drive: a WD Green model. Like other 6TB mechanical drives out today, this one costs more per gigabyte than comparable 4TB options, so we’d only recommend it for high-capacity systems or small-form-factor builds with limited expansion. WD also makes a 6TB Red drive with similar features as its 4TB counterpart.
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.
|Asus DRW-24B1ST DVD burner||$19.99|
|Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray burner||$74.99|
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, we recommend the Asus BW-12B1ST, which provides adequate performance backed up by solid user reviews.
Choosing a case is 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 here, so long as they wind up buying something well-built from a manufacturer with a good reputation.
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 well-finished edges that won’t draw blood. 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.
|Cooler Master N200||$49.99||microATX motherboard|
|Corsair Carbide Series 200R||$69.99||N/A|
Cooler Master’s N200 is a small and affordable case designed for microATX motherboards. It’s more compact than the microATX Obsidian Series 350D we recommend in our Sweet Spot section, which means it’s also a little more cramped inside. Nevertheless, the N200 is quite comfortable to work in, and its twin stock fans are a welcome feature in this price range.
Meanwhile, Corsair’s Carbide Series 200R has been our favorite budget ATX enclosure ever since we reviewed it a while back. The thing is 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.
|Fractal Design Define S||$89.99||N/A|
|Corsair Carbide Series Air 240||$89.99||microATX motherboard, fan splitter|
|Fractal Design Define R5||$109.99||N/A|
|Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5||$139.99||N/A|
|Corsair Obsidian Series 750D||$149.99||N/A|
Bridging our budget and sweet spot picks is Fractal Design’s Define S, a TR Editor’s Choice award winner. This ATX mid-tower features a completely open main chamber that’s a pleasure to work in, and it’s nearly as quiet in operation as the more expensive Define R5. Builders should take note of its limited room for storage, however: there’s only room for three 3.5″ and two 2.5″ drives and no provisions at all for optical storage. If this case meets your needs, it’s hard to beat in this price range.
microATX builders should check out the TR Recommended Corsair Carbide Series Air 240, a cuboidal chassis with a dedicated chamber for the power supply, hard drives, and SSDs. Despite its small size, this case is a delight to build in, and its dual-chamber design helps it run cool and quiet. Like the rest of the Corsair cases in this section, the Air 240 also has more intake fans than exhausts. That means positive pressure inside, which should prevent dust from sneaking in through cracks and unfiltered vents. Just consider adding a fan splitter cable to your shopping cart—some smaller motherboards don’t have enough fan headers to manage the Air 240’s trio of stock spinners.
For builders who want a more premium ATX mid-tower, we recommend Fractal Design’s Define R5, which we graced with our TR Editor’s Choice award. This case doesn’t just look slick and stealthy; it’s also a pleasure to build in, and it has great noise-reduction features. Fractal Design offers the R5 in black (with or without a window), titanium (also windowed or non-windowed), and white (fenestrated and non-fenestrated, of course).
A new contender between the Define R5 and Corsair’s Obsidian 750D is Cooler Master’s MasterCase Pro 5. This TR Recommended case is built with a highly modular interior that can be endlessly reconfigured to suit the needs of almost any conceivable system, and its heavy-duty, all-steel construction and stealthy looks don’t hurt, either.
Between the arrival of the Define R5 and the MasterCase Pro 5, we’re no longer recommending Corsair’s Obsidian 450D at $129.99—it’s a nice case that’s been overshadowed by these newer designs. For $10 more, one can have the much more solid and versatile MasterCase Pro 5, and those on tighter budgets can get the Define R5.
Those competitors don’t dethrone Corsair’s Obsidian Series 750D, the luxury sedan of PC enclosures. This case is similar in design to the Obsidian 350D and 450D, but Corsair makes it big 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.
|Cooler Master Cosmos II||$319.99||A forklift|
At roughly 14″ x 28″ x 26″, the Cooler Master Cosmos II is humongous. At around $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.
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 deceive with 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. Past editions of the System Guide have featured modular PSUs exclusively, but we’ve changed our thinking on that topic, at least at the budget level. Although modular cabling certainly helps to keep the inside of a PC less cluttered, the benefits are largely cosmetic. Folks without windowed cases may not need modular cables, and others may not be able to afford the perk.
At the same wattage, higher-quality PSUs with non-modular cables can often be had for only a little more money than lower-quality alternatives. While modular cabling is still a consideration, we’ve included some non-modular recommendations that trade convenience for better internal components and longer warranties.
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.
|Corsair CX430||$44.99||Non-modular, one 6+2-pin PCIe power connector|
|Corsair CX430M||$49.99||Semi-modular, one 6+2-pin PCIe power connector|
|SeaSonic S12 II Bronze 430W||$59.99||Non-modular, dual PCIe power connectors (1 6+2 pin, 1 six-pin)|
Corsair’s CX430 and CX430M kick off our budget recommendations. They tick all of the right boxes for entry-level systems: 80 Plus Bronze certification, 120-mm fans, and three-year warranties. They only have one eight-pin PCIe power connector each, but that’s OK—even mid-range graphics cards like GeForce GTX 960 can often be powered with a single eight-pin connector.
For some reason, the inclusion of these PSUs in the System Guide bothers some people. We’ve made a sincere effort to figure out why, and we’ve come up empty-handed. The reviewers at JonnyGuru and Hardware Secrets both praise the CX430, and Legit Reviews likes the quality and performance of the CX430M. Ultimately, even if something was to go wrong with either of these PSUs, we’d rather buyers have the backing of Corsair’s service and support than be left in the cold with a cheap, no-name PSU of dubious quality.
If the CX430 family bothers you for some reason, SeaSonic’s S12 II 430W may be worth the step up. This PSU features Japanese capacitors throughout, and it has a pair of PCIe connectors—one six-pin, the other eight-pin. It also has a longer five-year warranty.
|EVGA Supernova G2 550W||$89.99||Fully modular, dual 6+2-pin PCIe connectors,
|Cooler Master V750||$109.99||Semi-modular, quad 6+2-pin PCIe connectors|
|EVGA Supernova G2 750W||$129.99||Fully modular,
quad 6+2-pin PCIe connectors,
PSUs aspiring to the Sweet Spot need to do more than the basics. We demand semi-modular cabling here at the bare minimum. 80 Plus Gold efficiency ratings should ideally be on the table, as well, along with semi-silent fans that spin down completely under lighter loads.
EVGA has expanded its superb Supernova G2 range to include a 550W model, so we’re recommending that PSU for the first time. Like its bigger brothers, this is a fully-modular, 80 Plus Gold-certified unit. It’s so good, in fact, that the PSU reviewers over at JonnyGuru gave it a perfect score. Consider us sold. EVGA backs this unit with a seven-year warranty, too.
In the middle of our sweet spot lies Cooler Master’s V750. This semi-modular PSU provides a lot of power at 80 Plus Gold efficiency levels for a modest price. The V750 doesn’t stop its fan during low-load operation like some fancier PSUs, but we’ll accept that minor omission for the price. Scott has a V750 in the PSU bay of his new personal PC, and it’s quietly powering twin GTX 970s without complaint.
For those who want something a little fancier than the CM PSU above, EVGA’s Supernova G2 750W fits the bill. This 80 Plus Gold-certified unit features a fully modular design and a semi-silent fan mode. According to the reviewers at JonnyGuru, the Supernova G2’s power delivery is practically perfect. EVGA is so confident in the Supernova G2 that it backs the PSU with a 10-year warranty if users register with the company, but beware: without registration, the warranty coverage is only three years.
|EVGA Supernova G2 850W||$144.99||Fully modular,
quad 6+2-pin PCIe connectors,
For systems where 750W isn’t enough power, EVGA’s Supernova G2 850W unit is just as good as the 750W version above, but with extra wattage for multi-GPU configurations. If you’re thinking about multiple GeForce GTX 980 Ti or Radeon R9 Fury X cards, this is your PSU.
Need a fancy CPU 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
Since Intel’s Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700K don’t ship with stock coolers, you’ll want to pick one from our selections below. Haswell-E builders will need to pick out a cooler, as well. Be careful to note your case’s maximum CPU cooler height before buying one of these, as tall tower heatsinks need a lot of space.
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 and Cooler Master Nepton units are closed-loop liquid coolers that can be mounted against a case’s exhaust vents.
|Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO||$34.99|
|Cooler Master Hyper D92||$44.99|
|Cooler Master Nepton 120XL||$89.99|
|Cooler Master Nepton 240M||$109.99|
As far as entry-level coolers go, it doesn’t get much better than Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 Evo. This is a very popular choice with over 6,000 five-star reviews at Newegg.
A more effective option for those looking to overclock might be Phanteks’ PH-TC12DX, which comes with twin fans. The reviewers at TechPowerUp found that the TC12DX has substantial cooling power for its size—it held an overclocked Sandy Bridge-E chip to just 65° C under a Prime95 load. It also tops out at just 47 dBA with its fans spinning at maximum speed. Those are quite respectable numbers for this cooler’s $50 price tag.
For cases that can’t swallow the Hyper 212 Evo or the PH-TC12DX, consider the Cooler Master Hyper D92. It’s much quieter under load than the boxed heatsink that ships with Intel CPUs, and its 5.5″ (140 mm) height works well with many microATX and some Mini-ITX cases.
For builds where more extreme overclocking is in the cards, we think liquid coolers are the best bet. These 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. Corsair’s H60 is a good candidate for small cases that can only accomodate a slim radiator with one fan.
For beefier builds, we’re fans of Cooler Master’s Nepton 120XL and Nepton 240M all-in-one liquid coolers. The Nepton 120XL has a thick 120-mm radiator paired with two push-pull fans, while the 240M sports a humongous 240-mm heat exchanger. Both of these coolers feature Cooler Master’s quiet Silencio FP 120-mm fans, and they both use the same pump head and mounting system. Pick whichever one fits your case of choice.
All of these liquid coolers take next to no space around the CPU socket, since their radiators mount 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 liquid cooling for any Haswell-E build, given how crowded the area around the socket tends to be.
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, too, not some kind of insane audiophile setup. 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.
|Asus Xonar DSX||$53.99|
|Asus Xonar DX||$74.99|
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 small price premium.
By now, you should have the info you need to configure your own build based on your needs. If you would rather just grab a complete shopping list and buy stuff, though, we’re more than happy to help. Here are four complete parts lists that represent various takes on the gaming PC formula, from least to most expensive.
Budget build: the G3258 Special
|Processor||Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition||$69.99|
|Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO||$30.99|
|Memory||Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600||$44.49|
|Graphics||EVGA GeForce GTX 960||$179.99|
|Storage||Crucial BX100 250GB||$84.99|
|WD Blue 1TB||$52.99|
|Enclosure||Cooler Master N200||$49.99|
|PSU||Seasonic S12II 430W||$59.99|
This build is the budget gaming and overclocking machine we’ve been alluding to throughout the System Guide. Honestly, this might be as much gaming PC as most people will ever need. Just look at the specs: we get fast solid-state storage, a GeForce GTX 960, 8GB of RAM, and a CPU that can punch far above its weight class with some judicious overclocking. That’s truly incredible value in a machine that costs less than $700.
We understand that every dollar matters in this price range. If an SSD isn’t in the budget, it’s perfectly OK to drop down to the WD Blue 1TB hard drive for storage.
The Sweet Spot
|Processor||Intel Core i5-6600K||$249.99|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance LPX 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-3000||$64.99|
|Graphics||EVGA GeForce GTX 970||$289.99|
|Storage||Samsung 850 EVO 500GB||$179.99|
|WD Green 2TB||$78.99|
|Enclosure||Fractal Design Define S||$89.99|
|PSU||EVGA Supernova G2 550W||$89.99|
Our Sweet Spot build is packed with even more goodness, including beefier overclocking-friendly parts. An unlocked Core i5-6600K CPU could have some extra performance waiting to be unleashed. The DDR4-3000 memory kit should provide ample memory bandwidth, too.
We’re including 2TB of bulk storage and a 500GB SSD in the Sweet Spot this time around. With the growing size of games these days, 250GB SSDs are looking a little small, and we think most people will appreciate the ability to keep more games and other files on fast solid-state storage.
With the rise of cloud-based services like CrashPlan, Steam, and Netflix, we also think gaming-focused builds can do without optical drives. Windows comes on USB sticks these days, so it doesn’t make sense to blow $20 on a traditional DVD burner. That money can be put to better use elsewhere.
The 99th-percentile frame time master: The Broadwell Brawler
|Processor||Intel Core i5-5775C||$377.00|
|Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO||$30.99|
|Motherboard||Asus Z97-A/USB 3.1||$153.99|
|Memory||Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600||$74.99|
|Graphics||Asus Strix GeForce GTX 980 Ti||$669.99|
|Storage||Samsung 850 EVO 500GB||$179.99|
|WD Red 4TB||$154.99|
|Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray burner||$74.99|
|Enclosure||Fractal Design Define R5||$109.99|
|PSU||Cooler Master V750||$109.99|
Those of you who aren’t gamers first and foremost should avert your eyes now, because the Broadwell Brawler may not make a lot of sense to the general PC-building public. This build is meant to take full advantage of Intel’s Core i7-5775C processor and its buttery-smooth frame times (at least, when it becomes available for purchase). The i7-5775C rides alongside the smoothest graphics card in the land, as interpreted by Asus: Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980 Ti. No, this is not a cheap machine, but you won’t find a smoother gaming experience anywhere.
We’ve paired the Core i7-5775C and GTX 980 Ti with Asus’ Z97-A/USB 3.1 motherboard, Fractal Design’s excellent Define R5 case, and Cooler Master’s potent V750 PSU. Since we’re already so far overboard, we’ve pulled out the stops completely and added Asus’ Xonar DSX sound card and a Blu-ray drive, along with 500GB of solid-state storage and WD’s Red 4TB hard drive.
High-end build: The Maxwellator XXL
|Cooler||Cooler Master Nepton 240M||$109.99|
|Motherboard||Asus X99-A/USB 3.1||$249.99|
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3000||$129.99|
|G.Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3000||$129.99|
|Graphics||Asus Strix GeForce GTX 980 Ti||$669.99|
|Storage||Samsung 850 EVO 500GB||$179.99|
|WD Red 4TB||$154.99|
|WD Red 4TB||$154.99|
|Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray burner||$74.99|
|Sound card||Asus Xonar DX||$74.99|
|Enclosure||Corsair Obsidian Series 750D||$149.99|
|PSU||EVGA Supernova G2 850W||$144.99|
With six cores, 12 threads, 32GB of RAM, and a super-quiet Asus GeForce GTX 980 Ti primed for 4K goodness, this iteration of the Maxwellator XXL tops out our recommendations. The Core i7-5930K packs a mean punch, and there’s a boatload of unused expansion slots 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 powerful yet power-efficient GPU. Just because a system is fast doesn’t mean it should be used with earmuffs.
The operating system
Windows 10 is here, and most of the TR staff has upgraded to Microsoft’s latest OS. We’ve all been pleased with the experience so far. If you skipped Windows 8.1 because of its mish-mash of touch and desktop design principles, we think you’ll appreciate Windows 10. The reworked UI combines the best of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. The Start menu returns, along with new features like Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant, virtual desktops, and an overhauled browser called Edge. None of these changes are earth-shattering, but the overall package is polished and stable. There’s no reason to choose the long-in-the-tooth Windows 7 or the muddled Windows 8.1 any longer.
Windows comes in a wide range of versions, but most builders reading this should choose the retail version of Windows 10 Home, which comes on a USB drive with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions for $120. Due to a change in licensing terms, it’s no longer kosher to purchase an OEM copy of Windows for your own PC to save a few bucks, and the retail version of Windows comes with a couple of perks like license transfer rights that the OEM version doesn’t. If you suspect that you might need some of the features in Windows 10 Pro, you should check out Microsoft’s comparison page for confirmation and purchase accordingly.
In the next few months, we don’t expect any earth-shattering shifts in the PC market for the vast majority of builders, especially after the Skylake desktop CPU lineup is fully fleshed out. Perhaps the biggest shoe that’s yet to drop is Oculus’ Rift VR headset, which is supposed to arrive some time during the first quarter of 2016. The minimum system requirements for the Rift shouldn’t be that hard to meet if you have one of our recent builds based on GTX 970 or Radeon R9 290-class cards. We’ll be keeping an eye on the needs of the Rift as it draws closer to release.
Otherwise, we expect a pretty quiet fourth quarter of the year. We do hope Intel makes good on its promise to make its Broadwell desktop CPUs more widely available, but beyond that, most of the biggest developments that are likely to occur in 2015 for PC builders have already taken place. That’s good news, since it means readers of the System Guide can buy parts and build machines without worrying too much about what’s to come.
With that, we wrap up this edition of the System Guide. If one of our parts picks helped you solve a head-scratcher, or you’re cribbing one of our sample builds for your own use, please become a TR subscriber if you haven’t already. Your support helps us to continue the in-depth research and reviews that make guides like this one possible.
Have fun building your new PC. We’re confident it’ll turn out great.