The Tech Report System Guide: December 2015 edition

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Welcome to another edition of The Tech Report System Guide. We have to admit that our last guide was a bit of a weird one. Intel’s Skylake CPUs were just beginning to hit the market, and we had to rely on some older Haswell CPUs to fill out our tiers of recommended parts. The Broadwell Core i7-5775C needed last-gen motherboards and DDR3 memory, too. That cross-generational blending wasn’t ideal, since we had to talk about two incompatible sets of memory, motherboards, and CPUs all at once.

This time around, the situation is different. More of the Skylake desktop CPU lineup is on the shelves now, and those chips are available in more price brackets than before. Since we’ve so thoroughly covered Haswell CPUs and 9-series motherboards in past guides, we’re not going to tread that ground again in this one. Instead, we’re going to look exclusively at Skylake chips, DDR4 memory, and 100-series motherboards to avoid confusion. Most people will want to build around a Skylake CPU for their next system these days, and we’re happy to help.

Since we last looked at the system-building landscape, AMD released its Radeon R9 380X graphics card. This Tonga-powered card provides a little more oomph than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 960. Even better, its price has quickly fallen right in line with GTX 960 4GB cards, so we think it’s an easy pick in its price range. We’ll discuss the best R9 380X to buy in our graphics section.

One less happy change for builders comes from the storage arena. Crucial’s BX100 SSDs, long a favorite of ours for budget builds, are being phased out to make room for the BX200 series of drives. We’ve come to expect performance improvements from each new generation of SSDs, but the BX200 is an exception to that rule. Our review shows these drives often trail their BX100 predcessors, not to mention ancient SSDs like Intel’s X25-M. Because of this shift, we’ve rejiggered our storage recommendations a bit, too.

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, either. Our picks are entirely our own.

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.

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.

 

CPUs

If the Intel-centric introduction to this System Guide wasn’t enough of a hint, we think builders will be happiest planning their PCs around an Intel CPU. Dollar for dollar, and by almost any measure, we’ve found the blue team’s chips are simply better than the AMD competition. Whatever your budget, we strongly recommend you build around an Intel chip.

That said, we continue to make room in the System Guide for a couple AMD CPUs, too. AMD entry-level chips can provide unique value propositions that Intel’s offerings can’t match.

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. On top of that, FX-series chips are tied to aging chipsets and motherboards that often don’t include modern niceties like USB 3.1, USB Type-C ports, M.2 storage connectors, DDR4 RAM support, and PCI Express 3.0 slots.

You may have deduced this fact already, but 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 and high-speed I/O ports than Intel’s 9-series boards. Given these advantages, we’d generally recommend building around a Skylake processor if possible.

While we said we’d be looking exclusively at Skylake parts in this guide, we do still need to mention Intel’s Broadwell Core i7-5775C. This CPU is unique because of its 128MB of eDRAM, a resource that the i7-5775C can use as a large last-level cache. In our testing, we found that the 5775C appears to have a natural advantage in producing low frame times in games. This exotic chip could be the ticket to the smoothest gaming experience around, if you can find one. We’ve extensively discussed building with Broadwell on the desktop already, so if you’re interested in knowing more, refer to our last guide for more info.

Pour one out for Intel’s Pentium Anniversary Edition CPU here, too. While that chip was appealing in budget builds for a long time thanks to its unlocked multiplier and the considerable overclocking potential of twin Haswell cores, the game industry appears to be favoring CPUs with more than two threads for future titles. We’ve decided to play it safe by sticking to chips with dual cores and Hyper-Threading in our recs at a minimum.

Not all is lost for overclockers on a budget who favor Intel chips, though. Recently, motherboard makers discovered ways of using Skylake’s isolated base clock domain to push even CPUs with locked multipliers to the moon on Z170 boards. That capability can apparently be added to motherboards with nothing more than a BIOS update. ASRock is the only mobo maker who has officially added this feature to its boards, but we’d expect it to come to boards from other companies, too, if Intel doesn’t intervene somehow.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Core i3-6100 $129.99 LGA1151 motherboard
AMD Athlon X4 860K $74.99 Socket FM2+ motherboard
AMD A8-7600 $84.99 Socket FM2+ motherboard

In this price range, we think Intel’s Core i3-6100 is a great buy. Its healthy 3.7GHz clock speed should be brisk enough for most, and its Hyper-Threading support can boost performance in multithreaded tasks. It’ll also appear as a quad-core CPU to games that require one. This Core i3 is a good choice for non-gamers, too, since it has basic integrated graphics. For $130, it’s hard to find anything to complain about with this chip.

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 integrated graphics power on par with the Intel competition, too. For around $80, this APU might make sense for the more budget-constrained.

The Athlon X4 860K, on the other hand, 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 clock-for-clock, and I can personally attest that overclocking the A10-7850K doesn’t close the gap much.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Core i5-6500 $204.99 LGA1151 motherboard
Intel Core i5-6600K $279.99 LGA1151 motherboard, Z170 chipset for overclocking,

aftermarket CPU cooler

Intel Core i7-6700K $419.99

Moving up to the sweet-spot gets builders into Intel’s quad-core CPUs. If you don’t want to play with overclocking, the Core i5-6500 looks like the Goldilocks chip in this price range. For about $205, the i5-6500 gives us 3.2GHz base and 3.6GHz Turbo clocks in a miserly 65W thermal envelope. As a warning, we aren’t as enamored of the Core i5-6400. Though it sells for only $15 less than the i5-6500, the i5-6400 pays for it with a big drop in clocks. That chip only rings in with 2.7GHz base and 3.3GHz Turbo speeds.

The logical step up from the Core i5-6500 is Intel’s Core i5-6600K. This part gives us four cores at 3.5GHz base and 3.9GHz Turbo speeds, along with an unlocked multiplier that gives overclockers free rein. From there, the beastly Core i7-6700K adds Hyper-Threading and turns the clocks all the way up to 4GHz base and 4.2GHz Turbo speeds. Overclockers are free to explore the i7-6700K’s upper limits, too.

Just be sure to grab an aftermarket cooler from our selections later in this guide if you’re building with an i5-6600K or an i7-6700K. Intel doesn’t include a boxed cooler with its Skylake K-series chips.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Core i7-5820K $389.99 LGA2011-v3 motherboard,

quad-channel DDR4 memory kit,

discrete graphics, aftermarket cooler

Intel Core i7-5930K $499.99

Last summer, Intel unleashed the Core i7-5960X, its fastest desktop processor to date. This 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 reasonable for what it offers.

 

Motherboards

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‘s 100-series motherboards are also a good choice, even if their auto-overclocking intelligence and Windows software aren’t quite up to par with Asus’. The company’s firmware fan controls are quite dated, but Gigabyte’s latest Windows software largely makes up for that deficit. Some Gigabyte motherboards ship with cushioned I/O shields and header adapters, too.
  • MSI‘s motherboards are solid, as are the company’s firmware and software. The retooled fan controls in the firm’s 9-series firmware have been carried over to its 100-series boards, though the auto-overclocking intelligence remains fairly conservative and somewhat rudimentary.
  • 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.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Gigabyte F2A88XM-D3H $74.99 AMD Socket FM2+ processor,

microATX or ATX case

Gigabyte GA-H170-Gaming 3 $114.99 Intel LGA1151 processor,

ATX case

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.

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.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
MSI Z170-A Pro $119.99 Intel LGA1151 processor, ATX case
Gigabyte GA-Z170X-UD3 $144.99
Asus Z170 Pro Gaming $159.99

For folks who want a basic Z170 board to pair with an unlocked Skylake CPU, we like MSI’s Z170-A Pro. This $120 mobo has everything the enthusiast needs without a lot of frills. Despite its wallet-friendly price, the Z170-A Pro offers niceties like a full complement of PCIe expansion slots, an M.2 slot positioned out of the way of hot graphics cards, and three system fan headers (although those are for three-pin fans only). For a little more than a Benjamin, this board isn’t missing much. SLI support is the only feature we didn’t see that some builders might want.

Moving up from MSI’s Z170-A Pro, 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 $145, 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 PCIe drives like Samsung’s 950 Pro might run cooler on this board. 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 PCI slots.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Asus X99-A/USB 3.1 $249.99 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 quad-channel DDR4 memory slots, features only available in boards powered by Intel’s X99 chipset.

Our favorite X99 board 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.

Memory

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 they’ve stayed there since. You won’t be paying through the nose for memory if you build with Skylake and 100-series motherboards.

Now that the difference between 4GB and 8GB RAM kits is about $10, we can no longer recommend 4GB in good conscience. 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 DDR4 DIMMs you can afford and thank us later.

Intel’s official spec for Skylake-compatible DDR4 RAM is DDR4-2133 running at 1.2V, 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 you have room in the budget.

AMD builders will still need DDR3 RAM. We suggest an 8GB kit of DDR3-1600 like these Crucial Ballistix Sport DIMMs.

Product Price
G.Skill Ripjaws 4 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2133 $44.99
Corsair Vengeance LPX 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-3000 $64.99
G.Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2133 $79.99
G.Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3000 $104.99
HyperX Fury 32GB (4x8GB) DDR4-2133 $189.99
G.Skill Ripjaws 4 32GB (4x8GB) DDR4-3000 $219.99

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 single 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.

 

Graphics

The graphics card market has remained largely stagnant since our last guide. AMD and Nvidia both have mature, complete product lines on the market right now. The one exception is AMD’s Radeon R9 380X, a $230-or-so card that arrived late last month. That card offers a similar value proposition to the 4GB version of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 960, a card we’ve long recommended near that price point, so it was a no-brainer to include the 380X in our recommendations below.

One major factor worth considering as you shop for a graphics card these days is whether you intend to upgrade to a FreeSync or G-Sync variable-refresh-rate (VRR) monitor in the near future. Right now, Nvidia cards can only do VRR with G-Sync displays, and AMD cards can only support variable refresh rates with FreeSync monitors.

If we had to pick a horse in this race today, we’d say that FreeSync is the VRR technology that seems most likely to gain wide adoption. AMD plans to bring the technology to HDMI ports in 2016, and Intel will eventually support the underlying VESA Adaptive-Sync spec in future generations of its products, as well. FreeSync monitors tend to be more affordable than their G-Sync counterparts, too (although the price gap for comparable models has narrowed somewhat of late).

To be fair, if you don’t mind the premium that comes with G-Sync monitors, you can’t go wrong pairing one with an Nvidia card. Both technologies offer buttery-smooth gaming experiences that have to be seen to be believed. Paying more for a monitor locked into a proprietary technology that’s unlikely to become supported outside of Nvidia products just doesn’t sit well with us, though, since monitors tend to live through several generations of graphics card upgrades.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
EVGA GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB $129.99 N/A
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 950 $154.99 One six-pin power connector

The GeForce GTX 750 Ti remains our most budget-friendly graphics pick. The EVGA 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 Gigabyte 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.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Asus Radeon R9 380 2GB $189.99 Two six-pin power connectors
EVGA GeForce GTX 960 2GB $189.99 One six-pin power connector
MSI GeForce GTX 960 4GB $199.99 One eight-pin power connector
Sapphire Nitro Radeon R9 380X $229.99 Two six-pin power connectors

Our sweet-spot picks can run most games at 1080p with high or maxed-out detail levels. They can also generally deliver smooth gaming at resolutions up to 2560×1440, though they may not deliver the best  possible experience there.

Vigorous competition in this price range for cards with 2GB of memory onboard means you can get a Radeon R9 380 for as little as $180 or a GTX 960 for about $10 more. Depending on the way the price and rebate winds blow, those numbers could easily flip from day to day.

We think that if you’re not going to step up to a card with 4GB of RAM onboard, the GTX 960 is the better pick here thanks to its lower power consumption and smoother frame delivery compared to the Radeon. It’s a tough call, though. Our EVGA pick keeps GM206 cool with a single fan, and powers it with a single six-pin connector. Since some 4GB GTX 960s cost only a bit more than a 2GB card right now, though, we think it’s a good idea to get the card with the extra RAM if you can.

AMD’s Radeon R9 380X and its 4GB of RAM offer a smidge more performance than the GeForce GTX 960 4GB, and 380X cards generally cost just a few bucks more than a GTX 960 4GB. We don’t think you can go wrong with either card if you’re shopping in this price range, since they offer similar value propositions. The R9 380X may consume a few more watts under load, but that extra juice didn’t translate into unpleasantness like more noise in our review.

High end

These cards should all produce silky-smooth frame rates at 2560×1440. The more expensive cards here 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.

Product Price Notable needs
Gigabyte Radeon R9 390 $319.99 Dual PCIe power connectors
MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G $339.99
Asus Strix GeForce GTX 980 $489.99
Asus Strix Radeon R9 Fury $559.99
Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury X $639.99
Asus Strix GTX 980 Ti $649.99

Dipping into the high-end graphics card market, AMD’s Radeon R9 390 is a compelling pick, especially if you’re shopping for a higher-resolution FreeSync monitor. Current games at common display resolutions don’t seem to benefit much from this card’s 8GB of RAM, but it’s the only way to get an R9 390 for now. The R9 390 is quite competitive with the GeForce GTX 970, at the expense of higher power consumption and more heat.

We had wondered in our last guide whether the miracle of a GeForce GTX 970 for $290 or so would persist. After a couple months of observation, it seems like $310 is the new standard price floor for these cards. That money buys you a card like MSI’s Armor 2X GTX 970, which gets warmed up a bit at the factory compared to reference GTX 970s.

Our favorite GTX 970 is still MSI’s GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G. This card gets even more of a factory tuning job, and like other GTX 970s, it 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 Radeon. 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 $350 card. In fact, you don’t really need anything more unless you’re driving a 4K monitor or a multi-display setup for gaming.

An interesting choice presents itself these days if you want to step up from a GTX 970. In prior guides, we recommended AMD’s R9 Fury and the GeForce GTX 980 side-by-side, but recent price cuts for the GTX 980 have muddied that picture somewhat. It’s possible to get a nice GTX 980 like Asus’ Strix card for about $490 right now, and aggressive rebate offers could bring the Strix’s price down even further, assuming you actually receive the rebate check.

Given that the average R9 Fury performs somewhat worse than a GTX 980 in our advanced frame-time metrics yet costs about $80 more, it’s hard to recommend a Fury for now unless that card has a feature you really want, like FreeSync support.

The Radeon R9 Fury X is AMD’s top-of-the-line offering, complete with an all-in-one liquid cooler. This card performs somewhat worse in our advanced frame-time metrics than its GeForce competition, the GTX 980 Ti. This card is also slightly more power-hungry than the competing GeForce. The Fury X is still an interesting product, but it’s not the card we’d pick in this price bracket unless 4K FreeSync gaming is in your future.

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 remain 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 $639.99 as of this writing, so we see no reason to look further.

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. 

 

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. We’ve also included some recommendations for PCIe SSDs for those who need face-melting storage performance to go with their Skylake systems.

A new class of entry-level SSDs has trickled onto the market since our last guide. OCZ’s Trion 100 and Crucial’s BX200 are representative of the breed. These drives are usually built around planar TLC flash, and their increased density over older MLC drives means that they can carry lower price tags than most SSDs on the market.

Problem is, these value-oriented drives don’t perform all that well in our testing, and higher-end drives with much better performance are often just a few bucks more. Unless you’re just moving off mechanical storage for the first time, we think your money would be best spent on a higher-end SSD from our recommendations below.

System drive

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.

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. Recent 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 quite a bit. Shopping around for discounts is an excellent idea—just make sure to stick with trusted brands that have proven track records.

Product Price
WD Blue 1TB 7,200 RPM $54.99
Crucial MX200 250GB $79.99
Samsung 850 EVO 250GB $87.99
Samsung 850 EVO 500GB $157.95
Mushkin Reactor 1TB $249.99
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.

Like the days where 4GB of memory was enough for basic PCs, we think the salad days of the 120GB SSD are over for all but the most budget-constrained systems. Even 240GB is starting to feel a bit small for TR editors who still use those SSDs as their main drives. With that in mind, we’re starting off our picks at the 240GB to 256GB capacity tier.

Because of the death of our previous budget-drive favorite, the Crucial BX100, the company’s MX200 250GB drive is now our pick for the mid-range sweet spot. This drive is exploring new lows in price right now, and it’s a pretty sweet deal for $80 or so. If the MX200 is unavailable, or its price goes back up, Samsung’s 850 EVO 250GB is another solid pick. The EVO and the MX200 trade blows in most of our tests, so the question of which drive to get mostly comes down to price and availability.

The SSD price wars favor Samsung’s 850 EVO 500GB at the 480GB-500GB tier right now. Like the 850 EVO 250GB, the 500GB version offers great performance for its price.

The situation is a little more interesting at the 1TB SSD tier. Here, value performers like Mushkin’s Reactor 1TB can be had for as little as $250 right now, or just $0.25 per gigabyte. Samsung’s 850 EVO is a good higher-end option at $370 or so. Watch for deals on the MX200, as well.

PCI Express SSDs

The Skylake platform is ready for blazing-fast PCIe storage. We’re still waiting on a real variety of PCIe SSDs to hit the market. Samsung and Intel remain the only great sources for those drives right now. That’s OK, though, since drives from either company are still fast enough to melt your face.

Samsung’s 950 Pro drives are the company’s first to combine its 3D V-NAND flash and a controller that supports the next-generation NVM Express storage protocol. That combo makes for one of the fastest SSDs you can buy right now, without question.

The only problem with this drive may be that its real-world performance doesn’t often separate it from drives that use the SATA interface and the AHCI protocol, even if the 950 Pro bests them in our synthetic tests. We’re not ones to argue with glorious excess, but the 950 Pro’s cost per gigabyte is nearly double that of SATA drives with similar capacities. You’ll have to decide whether having the latest and greatest tech is worth it to you.

Intel’s 750 Series solid-state drives are also monster performers thanks to the fact that they’re 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 also ditch the old AHCI protocol for NVM Express. As with the 950 Pro, the real challenge for a 750 Series drive is finding desktop workloads that can take advantage of the performance on tap.

Product Price
Samsung 950 Pro 256GB $189.99
Samsung 950 Pro 512GB $329.99
Intel 750 Series SSD 800GB $599.99
Intel 750 Series SSD 1.2TB $1039.99

Compared to 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 most motherboards don’t support that drive’s U.2 connector natively yet.

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. (Remember that RAID is not backup, though.)

Product Price
WD Blue 2TB $84.99
WD Black 2TB $119.99
WD Blue 4TB $129.99
WD Black 4TB $199.99
WD Blue 6TB $214.99

Going by Backblaze’s reliability studies, HGST drives appear to be the most reliable out there by a decent margin. Western Digital’s drives come in second, while Seagate 1.5TB and 3TB drives are the least reliable. HGST’s drives tend to be a fair bit more expensive than WD’s, though, so we’re continuing to recommend WD’s products for most builders. Grab the drive that fits your capacity, performance, and budgetary requirements.

WD recently threw a curveball by condensing its Green drives into its Blue lineup. The only way to tell which Blue drives are rebranded Greens is to look for a “Z” at the end of the drive’s model number. Since “true Blues”—drives with a 7200 RPM rotational speed—only ever sold in capacities up to a terabyte, expect that most Blue drives you’ll see from here on out are rebranded Greens with a 5400-RPM-ish spindle speed.

WD Red and Red Pro drives are mostly the same thing as Blues, aside from a longer warranty and some RAID-friendly features. We don’t think those two points are worth the extra cost for most.

WD Black drives have a fast 7200-RPM spindle speed, and they’re tuned for high performance, at least by mechanical storage standards. Black drives are better choices than Blues or Reds for storage-intensive work that may exceed the capacities of reasonably priced SSDs.

Optical drives

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 $89.99

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.

 

Cases

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.

Budget

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

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Fractal Design Define S $59.99 N/A
Corsair Carbide Series Air 240 $89.99 microATX motherboard, fan splitter
Fractal Design Define R5 $89.99 N/A
Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5 $136.99 N/A
Corsair Obsidian Series 750D $159.99 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 company’s 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 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 or so. It’s a nice case that’s been overshadowed by these newer designs. For a few bucks 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 company’s  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.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Cooler Master Cosmos II $329.99 A forklift

At roughly 14″ x 28″ x 26″, the Cooler Master Cosmos II is humongous. At around $330, 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 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.

Budget

Product Price Notes
Corsair CX430 $42.99 Non-modular, one 6+2-pin PCIe power connector
Corsair CX430M $47.99 Semi-modular, one 6+2-pin PCIe power connector
SeaSonic S12 II Bronze 430W $64.99 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.

If you can only spend $40 to $50 on a PSU, we think the CX430s are the ones to buy. 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.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notes
EVGA Supernova G2 550W $89.99 Fully modular, dual 6+2-pin PCIe connectors,

semi-silent mode

EVGA Supernova G2 750W $109.99 Fully modular,

quad 6+2-pin PCIe connectors,

semi-silent mode

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. 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.

If you need more power for lots of hard drives or multi-GPU configurations, EVGA’s Supernova G2 750W fits the bill. 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.

High end

Product Price Notes
EVGA Supernova G2 850W $155.41 Fully modular,

quad 6+2-pin PCIe connectors,

semi-silent mode

For systems where 750W still 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.

 

Miscellaneous

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.

For the first time in a long time, we’ve done a top-to-bottom review of our CPU cooler recommendations. Our favorite liquid coolers, Cooler Master’s Nepton 120XL and Nepton 240M, have been taken off the market thanks to a patent lawsuit. We’ve suggested some of Corsair’s liquid coolers as replacements, but Corsair’s products include relatively noisy fans that some TR contributors haven’t liked.

Because of those challenges, we’ve turned to large, tower-style air coolers for the majority of our recommendations. In the past, we shied away from these coolers because of potential compatibility and clearance issues. Companies like be quiet!, Cryorig, Phanteks, and Noctua have all made living with these enormous coolers easier, though, and these modern heatsinks can often dissipate the heat of a heavily-overclocked CPU without any more noise than a closed-loop liquid cooler. Even better, they dispense with the noise of a liquid-cooling pump at idle, potentially making for a quieter system overall.

Product Price Type Notable needs
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $34.99 Tower-style air cooler Case with 6.3″ (159 mm) of heatsink clearance
Phanteks PH-TC12DX $49.99 Case with 6.2″ (157 mm) of heatsink clearance
Cooler Master Hyper D92 $44.99 Case with 5.6″ (142 mm) of heatsink clearance
Noctua NH-D15S $89.99 Case with 6.5″ (165 mm) of heatsink clearance
Corsair H60 $67.99 Closed-loop liquid cooler Case with a 120-mm radiator mount
Corsair H80i GT $89.99 Case with a 120-mm radiator mount;

clearance for push-pull radiator-fan stack

Corsair H105 $104.99 Case with a 240-mm radiator mount

As far as entry-level coolers go, it doesn’t get much better than Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 Evo. This classic cooler is a very popular choice among builders. It boasts  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.

The high-end tower cooler market is crowded with excellent options. If you’re going to drop more than twice the price of a Hyper 212 EVO on a cooler, we think Noctua’s NH-D15S is an excellent choice. This cooler is packed with clever design choices that make it easier to live with than the average hulking tower heatsink. Its offset heat pipes and cut-outs at the base of its cooling towers mean it shouldn’t run into large memory heatsinks or expansion cards in the first slot of most motherboards. Its single 140-mm fan is nestled between its towers for more clearance, too.

TweakTown found that the NH-D15S can hold an overclocked Core i7-4770K to about 70 C under load at 4.5GHz and 1.14V, and its single fan only produces 33 dBA at full speed. Going by that site’s considerable roster of CPU cooler test results, the NH-D15S is among the best coolers around of any type.

Big tower coolers can’t fit into mini-ITX enclosures, though, and for extreme small-form-factor builds, liquid coolers like Corsair’s H60, H80i GT, or H105 may be in order. Just be prepared to replace the relatively rough-sounding fans Corsair includes with a premium high-static-pressure spinner or two. Noctua’s NF-F12 appears to be a favorite for that purpose.

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, 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.

Product Price
Asus Xonar DSX $53.99
Asus Xonar DX $99.99

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.

 

Sample builds

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 box: the Cheap ‘n Cheerful

  Component Price
Processor Intel Core i3-6100 $129.99
Cooler Intel stock cooler
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-H170-Gaming 3 $114.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 4 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2133 $44.49
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 950 $154.99
Storage Crucial MX200 250GB $79.99
WD Blue 1TB $54.99
Enclosure Fractal Design Define S $59.99
PSU Corsair CX430 $42.99
Total   $680.92

Take a moment to grieve for the Pentium G3258 builds from System Guides past here. Even if overclocking is off the table, our budget box is still formidable. Intel’s own Core i3-6100 serves as our new CPU pick, with two Skylake cores, four threads, and a 3.7GHz clock frequency. Gigabyte’s feature-packed GA-H170-Gaming 3 mobo gives this system a solid foundation, and a GeForce GTX 950 graphics card means this box is ready to do justice to most games at 1080p. 1TB of mechanical storage, a premium 250GB SSD, 8GB of RAM, and Fractal Design’s excellent Define S case round out this box.

The Sweet Spot

  Component Price
Processor Intel Core i5-6500 $204.99
Cooler Intel stock cooler
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z170X-UD3 $144.99
Memory HyperX Fury 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2133 $53.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G $339.99
Storage Crucial MX200 250GB SSD $79.99
WD Blue 2TB $84.99
Enclosure Fractal Design Define R5 $89.99
PSU EVGA Supernova G2 550W $89.99
Total   $1,086.50

The Sweet Spot gets builders into a quad-core Skylake CPU, Gigabyte’s GA-Z170X-UD3 mobo, and most importantly, MSI’s GeForce 970 Gaming 4G graphics card. This system should be able to handle games at higher resolutions with some eye candy turned up, and four fast Skylake cores make it well-suited for non-gaming tasks, too.

The Sweeter Spot

  Component Price
Processor Intel Core i5-6600K $279.99
Cooler Phanteks PH-TC12DX $49.99
Motherboard Asus Z170 Pro Gaming $159.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB (2x4GB) DDR4-3000 $94.99
Graphics Asus Strix GeForce GTX 980 $489.99
Storage Samsung 850 EVO 500GB $157.95
WD Blue 2TB $84.99
Enclosure Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5 $136.99
PSU EVGA Supernova G2 650W $99.99
Total   $1,552.36

Our Sweeter 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 we’ve picked should provide ample memory bandwidth, too. Cooler Master’s MasterCase Pro 5 ties this build together.

We’re including 2TB of bulk storage and a 500GB SSD in the Sweeter 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.

High-end build: The Maxwellator XXL

  Component Price
Processor Core i7-5930K $499.99
Cooler Noctua NH-D15S $89.99
Motherboard Asus X99-A/USB 3.1 $249.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3000 $104.99
G.Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3000 $104.99
Graphics Asus Strix GeForce GTX 980 Ti $649.99
Storage Samsung 850 EVO 500GB $157.95
WD Red 4TB $154.99
WD Red 4TB $154.99
Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray burner $74.99
Sound card Asus Xonar DX $99.99
Enclosure Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5 $136.99
PSU EVGA Supernova G2 850W $119.99
Total   $2,589.83

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 big Noctua tower cooler, Cooler Master’s MasterCase Pro 5, 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.

What’s next

We won’t really know what’s happening next in the world of PC hardware until companies take the wraps off what they have in store for next year at CES next month. Perhaps the biggest shoe that’s yet to drop remains 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 390-class cards. We’ll be keeping an eye on the needs of the Rift as it draws closer to release.

Graphics cards are the San Andreas Fault of PC hardware right now. We have a gut feeling that a big shake-up is due for that part of the market, but we don’t know exactly when it’s coming. AMD has revealed that it intends to release next-generation graphics chips some time in 2016 with HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.3 on board, but that’s about all we know of the company’s next-gen products as of now. We also know Nvidia is working on a next-generation graphics architecture called Pascal, but we don’t yet know when to expect cards built around that silicon to begin shipping.

Conclusions

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.

Comments closed
    • yuhong
    • 4 years ago

    In fact, Intel don’t seem to support DDR4 DIMM/SO-DIMMs based on x16 chips at all. I wonder why?

    • Chz
    • 4 years ago

    A bit late to the party, but one thing really stuck out at me – the MSI Z-170A Pro.

    I can’t condone recommending a Z-170 board that doesn’t have a single USB 3.1 Gen.2 port. It only has what we used to call USB 3.0 ports. I think the renaming of that to USB 3.1 Gen.1 was more than a little bit intended to mislead, and it appears to have done the trick here. MSI’s cheapest Z170 board that seems worthwhile is the Tomahawk at roughly the same price as the Gigabyte.

    If you’re going to cheap out, go Haswell/Broadwell. If you’re spending the money to go with Skylake (presumably for the long run), it’s worth spending a bit more to get *proper* USB 3.1 ports.

    • nerdrage
    • 4 years ago

    [quote<]All about that Skylake, no Haswell[/quote<] I see what you did there 🙂

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 4 years ago

      [quote=”Meghan Trainor”<] My mama, she told me, "don't worry about your size." [/quote<] [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PCkvCPvDXk[/url<]

    • cannonball
    • 4 years ago

    Budget box: What about GA-H170-D3HP instead of GA-H170-Gaming 3? It has one M.2 slot less, but it has USB 3.1 Controller, both type A and C.

    • HERETIC
    • 4 years ago

    Not impressed with using cheap PSUs in Budget build……………………..
    [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=111399[/url<]

    • oldog
    • 4 years ago

    I seem to remember a while back that TR said they were going to give recommendations for a small form factor build.

    I was kinda looking forward to it.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 4 years ago

      I recently built a new gaming PC in the [url=http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=533&area=en<]Fortress FTZ01[/url<]. My recommendation now is to stick with Micro-ATX, like the [url=http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=303&area=en<]Temjin TJ08-E[/url<], [url=http://www.coolermaster.com/case/mini-tower/silencio352/<]Silencio 352[/url<] or [url=http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=392&area=en<]Sugo SG10[/url<].

        • oldog
        • 4 years ago

        My last build was in an ncase. I love the form factor but unless I take off the right side panel when gaming it’s a screamer.

        I would agree the thermals just aren’t there… yet.

    • just brew it!
    • 4 years ago

    [quote<]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.[/quote<] What has changed with the Windows OEM license that precludes it from being a viable DIY option? AFAIK, OEM versions *never* came with license transfer rights -- they've always been tied to the original motherboard, at least technically.

      • Jeff Kampman
      • 4 years ago

      Buying an OEM copy now means that you agree that your goal is to sell on the PC to someone else after building it. I doubt that’s the intent of most builders. Since this guide is directed at as broad an audience as possible, we don’t want to advise people to do something that might run afoul of Microsoft’s licensing terms, even if some people take the risk and never get in trouble for it.

        • just brew it!
        • 4 years ago

        Ahh, interesting. I wonder if this is accompanied by stricter enforcement of re-activations of OEM copies? I’d expect so.

        Also, does the OEM/retail flavor of a Windows 7/8 license carry over into the Windows 10 license when you do an upgrade?

      • _ppi
      • 4 years ago

      Also the price difference is so tiny (like 10%), that it really does not matter.

      • Ammond
      • 4 years ago

      How can an enthusiast to build a Windows 10 Pro system from scratch? At least with the OEM distribution we have bootable optical media.

      Download? Download from a blank drive?

      Use a flash drive? With what? There’s nothing on the hard drive to boot from?

      I’d like to know soon as I’m building a Win10 Pro system “real soon now.”

      • PejorativeSaint
      • 4 years ago

      I know this guide is a little old but for posterity, I have to disagree w/ the recommendation on Windows version and since the OP mentioned the Windows comment, I thought I’d add my 2 cents here:

      “Windows comes in a wide range of versions, but most builders reading this should choose the retail version of Windows 10 Home…”

      Disagree, go for Pro every time w/ Windows 10 even if you’re a home user, the main reason: controlling Windows updates. The best way to prevent Win 10 from auto-downloading updates w/o your approval is in group policies which are not available in the Home version. They buried the control in group policies rather than let you control it directly in the WU interface as in previous versions.
      Sure, with the Home version you can set your wifi as a “metered connection” to fool Windows, but that doesn’t work w/ ethernet and you do get to control when to reboot for installs but I for one don’t want/need Windows deciding to download updates and choke my PC and my network whenever it feels like it wants to.

    • dragontamer5788
    • 4 years ago

    Good to see the 1TB Mushkin. High-quality high-capacity MLC drives still exist.

    Weep not for the BX100, it never really had a 1TB version at a good price anyway. OCZ Arc 100 and Mushkin Reactor is picking up the slack.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 4 years ago

      I had a Mushkin-made Sandforce drive for a looooong time. In fact, it’s still going strong more than 3 years later on my mother-in-law’s system.

      Unfortunately this is another component that Newegg jacked the price up on. It’s $249 in the guide and $279 on the site.

      Fluctuations of 15% a day is frustrating.

        • dragontamer5788
        • 4 years ago

        Frustrating, but its very typical of the season after “Black Friday”. In fact, the price just dropped to $259 today. Prices fluctuate significantly in today’s market, especially on popular items.

          • nanoflower
          • 4 years ago

          And it’s down to $249 today. They’ve certainly got room to play with the price with the closest competitor being priced at $316 today.

      • Firestarter
      • 4 years ago

      [quote<]Weep not for the BX100[/quote<] I just got one last week! For less than what the 1TB Mushkin Reactor is going for here, too. The Arc 100 is not available at 960 or 1000GB, all the other drives at that capacity are either TLC or overpriced.

      • Freon
      • 4 years ago

      I saw the 1TB BX100 at $299.99 a handful of times, which I think is a very good price for what you get. ~$50 cheaper than the 850 EVO ever was in that size.

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 4 years ago

    Jeff, you need to update the link on the right-hand side of the main page “Read TR’s System Guide powered by Newegg.” It’s still pointing to the September guide.

      • Jeff Kampman
      • 4 years ago

      Sorry, fixed.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 4 years ago

    GG Newegg, for jacking the price of the i7-5930K by 16% after the guide went live. That $500 is no more – now it’s $580.

    The H60 fan is just awful and, as an aside, so are Corsair’s case fans. Every Corsair fan is loud and click-y for the air they move. The 380T and H60 pump are both nice pieces of gear if you ignore the fans. If I’d realized how much extra I’d have been spending for replacement fans I would have bought something else, though. Based on my experience with the Hyper 212 Evo, I bought three [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA24G28M8481<]of these[/url<] to replace the case fans and H60 fan. The CX430 in my wife's system is also considerably louder than the fan in my system's Seasonic PSU. Just, guys, do yourselves a favor and don't buy anything with fans from Corsair.

      • Ninjitsu
      • 4 years ago

      Hmmm I have case fans from Corsair (AF 140, which replaced an AF 120) which are very quiet, and the AF140’s been running for almost two years now, I think.

      That said, I had the opportunity to review a few AF and SP 120 fans last year, and the SP120 Quiet was noisy as hell. Probably something was up with the bearings.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 4 years ago

        I can’t match the models on either of the case fans with retail offerings (The 120-mm has a higher power draw rating of 0.3 amps compared to 0.27 and 0.24 on the others), but the part number on the H60’s fan matches the SP120 non-LED model. It’s crazy-loud for what you get. The CM fans are way quieter.

      • RickyTick
      • 4 years ago

      The 200mm exhaust fan on the top of my Corsair 650D made an awful noise. I’m not sure if the cause was the fan or the case, but I replaced it with 2 Corsair AF120’s and now it runs silent. I also have the H80i with 2 Corsair fans that run silent. I guess for me, the Corsair fans are sort of hit or miss. ymmv

    • bfar
    • 4 years ago

    Nice work!

    One observation, your sweet spot 6700k is more expensive than your high end 5820k. There’s a lot of discussion out on the web about which is the better buy, but taking overclocking into account (why else would we choose a k series cpu?), that 6700k doesn’t look like a good recommendation. The only exception I can think of is mini itx builds.

      • chuckula
      • 4 years ago

      The 6700K is a tad expensive right now, but the Z170 platform tends to be less expensive so total system cost for a 6700K is still lower.

      The other issue is that X99 technically needs 4 DIMMS to fully populate all four RAM channels. Of course, you can certainly slap 2 DIMMs into an X99 board (like you would for many desktop Skylake builds) and have it operate, but you are losing out on bandwidth at that point.

        • bfar
        • 4 years ago

        Right now in the UK, an x99 cpu/mobo/memory bundle can be had for the exact same price as a Skylake i7 equivalent. However, on the x99 side, it leaves little choice in motherboards, however even low end x99 motherboards are pretty good quality. There seems to be little to no difference in price when purchasing DDR4 memory in either 2 DIMM or 4 DIMM combinations.

    • Ninjitsu
    • 4 years ago

    Damn Skylake -K parts are really expensive!

      • way2strong
      • 4 years ago

      $30 more for the 6600k and $50 more for the 6700k than the prices in the September system guide. I was surprised this wasn’t mentioned in the article.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 4 years ago

        Based on the part choices, the reviewer may not have noticed…

      • rpjkw11
      • 4 years ago

      I’ve been blaming the high i7-6700K prices on supply and demand. At least supply as there seems to be a “shortage” of those CPUs.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 4 years ago

        I wish that Micro Center would open a store in my town.
        [url<]http://www.microcenter.com/site/stores/default.aspx[/url<] [url<]http://www.microcenter.com/site/brands/intel-processor-bundles.aspx[/url<] [url<]http://pcpartpicker.com/part/intel-cpu-bx80662i76700k[/url<] [url<]http://pcpartpicker.com/part/intel-cpu-bx80662i56600k[/url<]

          • derFunkenstein
          • 4 years ago

          Same here. Even with depressed gas prices, I’d spend more to drive to Micro Center than I’d save buying a CPU from the store.

          Also, I only paid $239 at launch for my CPU so I’m not feeling so bad. The current prices are just ghastly, though.

            • Krogoth
            • 4 years ago

            Pffft, it is a far cry from the days where the Pentium II reign supreme and the only alternatives were Cyrix 6×86 and AMD’s K6 family.

            The prices points for desktop platforms have been pretty static since Lynnfield/Bloomfield’s debut.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 4 years ago

            If these processors had launched at these prices, I would have zero objections. The fact that prices are getting jacked up by 15-20% after launch is awful.

        • Mr Bill
        • 4 years ago

        AMD can’t ‘supply’ a competitive CPU so there is increased ‘demand’ for Intel.

      • Krogoth
      • 4 years ago

      Not really. They are about the same as their Haswell, Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge predecessors when they were new on the market.

      It is the “new” premium that you are paying for. That’s why a Haswell rig is a very good buy if budget is a concern. Skylake’s only advantages are having DDR4 support, more PCIe 3.0 lanes and newer instruction set (only good for professional stuff).

        • Ninjitsu
        • 4 years ago

        Nope, unless you have a link for this, then I don’t remember any i7-x600K or x700K selling for more than $350. Similarly, never seen an i5-k sell for more than $250 (in the US).

        Only exception to the rule is Broadwell-K. Speculative pre-order prices don’t count btw.

        edit for grammar.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 4 years ago

          The prices in system guides are static, so we can look at what stuff used to cost. Here’s the Core i7-4770K for $339, which backs up your argument.

          [url<]https://techreport.com/review/25250/tr-back-to-school-2013-system-guide/7[/url<]

          • Krogoth
          • 4 years ago

          I remember that selling that much in a number of places when they were brand new.

          The differences is that Intel launching i7-6700K with other line-up instead of releasing it for the refresh. (i7-2700K and i7-4790K).

            • derFunkenstein
            • 4 years ago

            Best I can come up with to back your argument is Newegg sold the 4770K for $350 in July 2013. $420 is a 20% price difference in two years.So that doesn’t really back your argument at all—it nullifies the argument. “Remembering” is garbage. Facts or GTFO.

            • flip-mode
            • 4 years ago

            Front page discussions would be so much less active without Kroggy’s fuzzy memory and dubious assertions and those venerable, truth-seeking gerbils that take the time counter his misinforming remarks. If one were to publish a book of such remarks and refutations collected over the years it would be quite a lengthy tome, perhaps requiring more than one volume.

            • Krogoth
            • 4 years ago

            Intel’s own ARK site list the same MSRP for their 3, 4, 6 generation of desktop parts for every tier. I do remember that some etailer and other sites threw up “new” premiums when Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and Haswell were brand new. The prices went down as demand and supplies stabilized. It took rough six months for that to happen. Skylake has only been on the market for little over three months. Wait until Q1 2016 for prices to become more reasonable.

            The problem right now is that etailers want to clear out all of their current Haswell stock. Haswell didn’t exactly fly off shelves.

            I remember 4770K and 4790K going for ~$380-399 for a bit on some etailers. Newegg isn’t all to be place for everyone (especially international readers)

            • derFunkenstein
            • 4 years ago

            LOL ARK prices are not street prices.

            • Krogoth
            • 4 years ago

            Intel calls it “Recommended Customer Price”. Customer in this case would be etailers and vendors. It is the same bloody thing.

            FYI, MSRP stand for Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price. Not “Street Price”.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 4 years ago

            So you think internet vendors are selling every single CPU at a loss and finally changed their minds with Skylake?

            This discussion has never been about MSRP. It’s always been about what you can expect to pay. This isn’t a theoretical guide; it contains links to actual products you can buy for actual money.

            • Krogoth
            • 4 years ago

            MSRP is simply just a suggestion nothing more. Intel feels that products in question so go for that price, but retailers can decide whatever price they want. Vendors and etailers actually get their stuff at certain prices/bulk discounts that are strictly internal and confidential.

            The discussion was about how retailers tend to place “new” premium on brand-new platforms. Skylake platform still falls under it and retailers are using it as a means to clear out their existing Haswell inventory. This has been done in the past with older platforms. The only difference is that it is currently the holiday season this time around. Reatler decided to take advantage of that and drive prices even higher to get more profit.

            The prices are not that outrageous either. At worse, it is only $20-50 more than MSRP. The people who want “Skylake” are more than happy to pay current market prices.

            Budget-minded crowd aren’t going to bother looking at Skylake either. They would be eyeing towards Haswell platform stuff where you can find discounts. This has also happen when previous generation stuff when it became “old and busted”.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 4 years ago

            edit: dup

            • ImSpartacus
            • 4 years ago

            The 4790k crested $350 for its first month or so at certain vendors, but it’s been no higher since. We have pretty good data on this stuff:

            [url<]http://pcpartpicker.com/part/intel-cpu-bx80646i74790k?history_days=730[/url<]

        • _ppi
        • 4 years ago

        Skylake additional advantages are future expandability (Cannonlake in 2 years, heck if AMD puts some pressure with Zen, we might see more than 4 cores on 1151 platform) and better NVMe support.

      • Freon
      • 4 years ago

      $419 for that 6700K and it’s not even in stock. I almost have a hard time recommending it to others right now, especially as Hawell-E goes on sale for less than it’s MSRP.

      Patience, I guess? I got mine for $360 several months ago…

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 4 years ago

        Mine was $370 in October. I bought it from Amazon because 5% cash back ($18½) from Discover made it cheaper than Newegg.

    • Krogoth
    • 4 years ago

    Haswell systems are still worth a look if you can find a good deal on platform. Skylake still carries the “new” platform premium and is only marginally faster in synthetics. The only difference is that Skylake platform has DDR4 support and can handle up to 64GiB of memory while Haswell is still stuck at 32GiB limit and DDR3.

    I would avoid getting 960 4GiB unless you can get a deal on it. 4GiB is just epenis dressing and by the time 4GiB VRAM usage becomes commonplace. The silicon simply doesn’t have the power to keep up.

      • Voldenuit
      • 4 years ago

      Some games have much improved minimum framerates w 4 GB on the 960, but I agree it is not a feature worth paying more than $15-20 for. The 960 in general is something of a disappointment compared to the 380X.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 4 years ago

        That’s a pretty reasonable stance.

        I always liked the saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad product just a bad price.”

        [url=http://pcpartpicker.com/parts/video-card/#c=208&sort=a8&page=1<]It's not unusual to see 4gb 960s be offered for basically the same price as their 2gb brethren[/url<]. So that makes it an easier decision if you see such sales.

      • Ninjitsu
      • 4 years ago

      I think that’s bad advice, simply because a lot of modern games use up a lot of VRAM for textures and stuff.

        • Krogoth
        • 4 years ago

        At settings where 4GiB is needed the silicon on the 960 struggles anyway. It roughly on pair with a 670 and 7950 from previous generation. Those GPUs came only in 2GIB flavors.

        4GiB of VRAM doesn’t makes sense for anything less than a 970 or 290.

          • biffzinker
          • 4 years ago

          The 7950/70 are fitted with 3 GB spread over a 384-bit bus. I’m using a 280 known as a 7950 without any performance issues, and the GPU was released January 9, 2012.

          • nanoflower
          • 4 years ago

          You can continue to say that but the evidence speaks against you. Certainly that extra 2 GB isn’t going to buy you a performance advantage in many games but the fact that there are a few such as Assassin’s Creed Syndicate where the extra 2GB can make a 10-20 FPS difference running with a 2GB 960 vs a 4GB 960 at the same clock speeds shows that it’s not a waste to spend an extra $10-20 on the 4GB version of the 960 or the R9 380X.

          I will agree that it’s at the 970 level of performance where having 4GB of memory on the GPU begins to truly shine so that no card at this level of performance should come with less. It’s just that if you like enabling all the graphic options even at 1080P having 4GB of memory can make a difference in some games.

            • ImSpartacus
            • 4 years ago

            Do you have actual evidence of those claims?

            They are completely plausible and I wouldn’t be flabbergasted if they were true, but since we’re mentioning the word “evidence”, we oughta make good on that.

            • nanoflower
            • 4 years ago

            Yes, and here is one example: [url<]http://www.gamersnexus.net/guides/1888-evga-supersc-4gb-960-benchmark-vs-2gb/Page-2[/url<] That's just one example where you can see that extra 2GB really helps. I've spent quite a bit of time over the past few weeks looking at reviews (text and video) of the 960 and R9 380X trying to figure out which one I should pick and there always seems to be at least one game where that extra 2GB really helps so even for someone at 1080P I would strongly recommend going for a 4GB card over 2GB (at least if the cost is only a ten to twenty dollars extra as it is in the USA.)

            • Krogoth
            • 4 years ago

            The evidence supports my case in most cases and applications. 4GiB nets little or no benefit in most games and situation where 2GiB of VRAM doesn’t cut it. GM206 simply doesn’t have the fillrate and shading power to keep up in situations where having more than 2GiB VRAM is very helpful.

            It is akin to throwing large spoilers onto a low-end sports car. The car doesn’t have power to reach the speed where the spoilers become useful.

            4GiB 960 is more than a way for Nvidia to upsell GM206 chips for people who think more RAM = better!

            It is a classic trick that both GPU vendor have played with their mid-range and low-end parts for years.

            The 390X 8GiB falls under the problem. The Hawaii chip will be hopelessly out of date by the time 4GiB of VRAM becomes woefully inadequate.

            • Ninjitsu
            • 4 years ago

            The point is not more VRAM = more performance. The point is, for the few (but increasingly frequent) games that don’t load the GPU but use VRAM for high quality textures (that don’t load the GPU much), a 2GB 960 will NOT allow the user to use those texture settings without:

            A) the engine automatically reducing texture/terrain detail (e.g. TW:R2 and Arma 3)
            B) performance penalties and stuttering

            Seeing that I bought my GTX 560 in 2012 or 2013, and I’m unlikely to replace it for the next year at the very least (most likely in 2 or more), I think spending $20 more for future proofing isn’t bad.

            Remember, console GPUs are weaker than a 960 but have more memory to spend on textures and other inexpensive (in terms of GPU load) effects.

            I really wouldn’t recommend anything less than 4GB for 1080p and above in 2015.

            • Krogoth
            • 4 years ago

            Loading up larger textures requires more fill-rate to compensate. Throwing more VRAM is not some panacea.

            4GiB is not needed for 1080p unless you want AA/AF on top. If that is the case then the GM206’s shader and geometric power would have problems keeping up.

            • vshade
            • 4 years ago

            Well, at least on AC:Syndicate there is enough power to the game to be playable and to the 4gb make a difference:

            [url<]http://www.gamersnexus.net/game-bench/2195-assassins-creed-syndicate-gpu-fps-benchmarks[/url<]

      • ImSpartacus
      • 4 years ago

      Yeah, Skylake is too expensive for the middling gaming performance increase.

      That might change, but right now it kinda sucks to have to build a high-ish end gaming machine.

      • Freon
      • 4 years ago

      I tend to agree. The party is officially over, folks. New chips only offering 5% more performance and are never in stock or cost 30% more. Platform improvements are nice to haves, but hard sells with the markup on the attached equipment. I’ve started making similar recommendations (Z97) to people upgrading over pre-Sandy stuff. 4790K has been on sale for $299 regularly lately, hopefully Intel gets with it on supply for the 6700K before the 4790K stock dries up.

      It’s both running into limits of engineering and there’s no one left to keep Intel honest. Remember Skylake is something like 2/3 the size of Haswell… Even if yields were fairly poor they shouldn’t be so expensive to produce, right?

      Glad I got my 6700K at more or less MSRP at least.

    • DancinJack
    • 4 years ago

    I used to use G.Skill memory for a couple builds, but after running into a lame stick or two I have been running Crucial and haven’t had a single issue. I like the looks of their kits anyway. Not super flashly-flash like a lot of others, and they have quite a few choices for LP.

      • spiritwalker2222
      • 4 years ago

      I had the same experience with gskill ripsaw V. Bought a 2×8 gig kit that was xmp rated for 3000 mhz. It would only do 2800. Friend bought the same kit and his only did 2500. Although I did pick it up pretty cheap on a black Friday deal.

    • Toihva
    • 4 years ago

    As far as cases, for the higher end, I’d spend the extra $20 over a Corsair Obsidian 650D and grab an Phanteks Entho Evolv ATX. Got this case and god it’s sexy.

    • TwoEars
    • 4 years ago

    I personally think that the sample builds are kind of unfocused, something which started long before Jeff took over.

    Look at the high-end build for instance. What is the purpose of this machine? Is it gaming? Because if it is gaming you’re better served by picking a i5-6600K processor which has a higher clock speed and ipc.

    Is it rendering and matlab? Because if it’s cpu cores that count you don’t need that 980 Ti graphics card, rather you might be interested in something with 8 cores from intel or amd. Or you could go with the i7-6700K which has 4 cores and 8 thread, but they are super fast and with very high ipc.

    I think it would be more interesting to create different categories based on how the machines actually will be used.

      • jihadjoe
      • 4 years ago

      The high-end build is a mess, that’s for sure.

      I’m annoyed that they still slag off the 5820k for having “effectively no more PCIe bandwidth for SLI and CrossFire than a quad-core Skylake chip”, but in the graphics section make no mention at all of SLI or CF. If SLI/CF is such a mess that it doesn’t warrant a recommendation, then the 5930k is a pointless waste of $120 over the 5820k.

      With all the platform niceties of Z170, there isn’t really any reason to go X99 unless you’re doing it for the CPU cores, in which case the 5930k is really the odd one out. Go 5820k for 6 cores on the cheap, or get the full monty with the 5960X

        • Ninjitsu
        • 4 years ago

        BUT PCIE! ALL THOSE LANES! YOU’LL USE THEM FOR…THINGS!

          • the
          • 4 years ago

          Storage and networking.

          Sure, the Z170 chipset has auxiliary lanes for PCIe based storage but beyond a single drive the DMI bus to the chipset starts to become a bottleneck.

          10 Gbit NICs are steadily dropped down in price and are starting to make an appearance on some high end consumer motherboards. This trend will continue in 2016 with 2017 where it starts to become more mainstream. The real limiting factor here isn’t the NICs in a system but switches which still are rather expensive. There needs to be a wave of cheap unmanaged units for the home before it starts to be widely adopted.

            • Krogoth
            • 4 years ago

            10Gbit NICs do not exist on customer-tier boards and will appear for a while yet. 10Gbit Ethernet will remain a prosumer-tier feature.

            The extra problem with 10Gbit Ethernet is that you need at least a CAT6e cable to get any decent run over copper, Wireless Ethernet is “good enough” for the masses and fiber is too unwieldy for non-professional setting.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 4 years ago

            [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=33-106-144<]$300[/url<] each for NICs, plus [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16833122529<]$760[/url<] for a switch might be a hurdle for your home network budget.

            • Krogoth
            • 4 years ago

            You can find 10Gib Ethernet NICs ~$100-$150 and do a direct connection. 10Gbps switches on the other hand still cost an arm and leg.

            Thunderbolt and USB 3.1 make far more sense in a home setting for ultra-high bandwidth needs.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 4 years ago

        Yeah, hopefully broadwell-e jumps to 10 cores on the top end so a 3 sku lineup can make more sense.

        Though the same rumors that show broadwell-e at ten cores also show 4 skus (another $500ish sku), so oh well…

          • TwoEars
          • 4 years ago

          It did just jump to 10 cores… but you might not like the price. lol.

          Zen will be interesting.

      • bfar
      • 4 years ago

      With some games starting to become aware of >4 threads, I think an i7 isn’t unjustified in a high end gaming build. For the sweeter spot I’d solidly agree with the 6600k.

      If I was going for an i7 myself, I’d consider the 5820k overclocked. That would cover any usage category.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 4 years ago

        Do you have any evidence of a game using more than 4 threads?

      • ImSpartacus
      • 4 years ago

      Yeah, a machine has a purpose and a budget, not just a budget.

      Furthermore, on the “budget” side of the aforementioned equation, I’m not sure if it’s a unanimous win for skylake. They are very expensive right now and they weren’t much better for gaming as compared to boring old haswell.

      • Firestarter
      • 4 years ago

      I’d like the extra cores to stream games, if nothing else. With steam in-home streaming using the hardware encoders in my HD7950 or i5-2500K, performance is still not optimal. However if I had 2 CPU cores to dedicate to encoding, that would pretty much be a solved problem. For twitch streaming, hardware encoders aren’t an option either, and to get the best quality you’ll want to dedicate a bit of CPU to it, or as the pros do, an completely separate PC

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 4 years ago

    Thanks for updating the System Guide.

    I would strongly suggest going with all micro-ATX motherboards for the budget tier. Micro-ATX’s four PCIe slots are more than sufficient for most of us, and micro-ATX motherboards are noticeably less expensive than their ATX counterparts, too.
    [url<]http://pcpartpicker.com/parts/motherboard/#s=30&f=7&E=1,3&L=4&d=0&sort=a8&page=1[/url<]

      • trackerben
      • 4 years ago

      I’ve been choosing microATX boards for a decade now. Most desktop users don’t need the expansion capacity for storage and other peripherals, or the advanced i/o and management of full-size “extreme” boards. The internals of regular cases also get roomier and much nicer to work in. More important would be enclosure and fan sizing and layout and how it all works to suit a user’s environmental wants.

      • Krogoth
      • 4 years ago

      I would argue that you can go with micro-ATX for almost any non-workstation build. There are micro-ATX boards out there that can handle SLI/CF you are so inclined. There are a few units that even have M.2 Express ports on them.

        • Voldenuit
        • 4 years ago

        Micro ATX would even suit many workstation builds, depending on task.

          • Krogoth
          • 4 years ago

          Assuming you don’t need ECC support since ECC capable mATX boards are quite rare.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 4 years ago

        I linked to a list of more than a dozen micro-ATX LGA1151 motherboards with M.2 ports.

    • BoBzeBuilder
    • 4 years ago

    FRIST!!!

    Thanks for the guide. I’m looking to update my aging Sandy Bridge build. It’s still going strong to be honest, but I’ve been doing a lot of editing and encoding, so I don’t mind the extra horse power.

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