Welcome to the March 2017 edition of The Tech Report System Guide. Since our last Guide, we’ve gotten lots and lots to talk about. AMD’s Ryzen 7 CPUs have brought competition to the high-end CPU market for the first time in several years, and we’re Ryzen to the occasion with plenty of AMD-specific advice. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti has redefined single-card graphics performance, and the green team has slashed the price of the GeForce GTX 1080 in response to the new king of the hill. We’re here to help builders navigate this newly-reshaped world of PC components.
Aside from those major releases, not much has changed since our last Guide. Prices for high-performance DDR4 memory have risen. On the storage front, the prices for terabyte-class SSDs have fallen while the prices for mainstream-friendly SSDs have remained rather high. The case, power, and cooling sectors of the PC market have all been pretty quiet. If you’re ready to build a new system, now is a pretty good time, save for AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 5 launch and the looming Radeon RX Vega graphics card—or family of cards. We’ll talk about what to expect from those parts at the end of this Guide, but for now, let’s get to part-picking.
The Tech Report System Guide is sponsored by Newegg. We’ll be using links to the site’s product pages throughout this guide. Support our work by purchasing the items we recommend using these links. A big thanks to Newegg for its continued support. In the rare cases that Newegg doesn’t stock an item we want to recommend, we’ll link to other retailers as needed. Despite its sponsorship, Newegg has no input on the components included in the System Guide. Our picks are entirely our own.
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. We’ll also make a note of good choices for those readers who are looking to get in to a VR-ready system.
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.
AMD has shaken up the high-end CPU market for the first time in years with its Ryzen 7 family of chips. If you rely on your computer for heavy-duty productivity work in multithreaded applications, Ryzen 7 parts could be a solid choice for high-end desktop PCs. Our tests showed that Ryzen 7 CPUs can equal or beat some of Intel’s much more expensive Haswell-E and Broadwell-E chips in many demanding applications. Impressively, Ryzen CPUs land in the same ballpark as Broadwell-E for power consumption, as well.
As we discussed in our review, Ryzen isn’t a perfect substitute for Broadwell-E. If your application depends on memory bandwidth or floating-point throughput for maximum performance, Broadwell-E’s quad-channel memory architecture and wider floating-point registers still can’t be beat. Whether that extra performance is worth the extra money over a comparable Ryzen chip will require a good idea of where your application is bottlenecked.
Even so, Intel’s pricing for Broadwell-E CPUs is hard to defend in this post-Ryzen world. The Core i7-6950X sells for $1650 right now, a considerable jump over the eight-core, 16-thread Core i7-6900K and its already eye-watering $1050 price tag. For perspective, consider the fact that you can build an impressive PC with AMD or Intel parts for just a little more than what the Core i7-6950X alone costs. Ryzen 7 chips will almost certainly outperform the six-core, 12-thread Broadwell-E parts lower in the range, as well. Assuming you don’t need Broadwell-E’s memory bandwidth or floating-point grunt, we’d look to Ryzen if multi-threaded performance is the goal.
We’ve never recommended Broadwell-E chips for PCs that will primarily run games, however, and Ryzen 7 chips’ slower-and-wider approach versus Kaby Lake means they’ll be in the same boat. Most AAA titles still favor fewer and faster cores, and Intel’s less-expensive Kaby Lake chips still deliver some of the lowest 99th-percentile frame times around for a pure gaming PC. Kaby Lake chips will also shine in lightly-threaded workloads where single-threaded throughput matters most, like web browsing. If you’re among the elite few that need to game, stream, and transcode video all at once, for example, more broad-shouldered chips like the Ryzen 7 family could bear that weight better than Kaby Lake quad-cores.
At the most budget-friendly end of the market, Intel’s Kaby Lake Pentium chips continue to rule. For less than $100, the budget-inclined can get a fast four-thread chip that should be up to any gaming or productivity task one might want from a $500-ish PC. AMD might offer some Ryzen competition in this space eventually, but buying into AMD CPUs on a budget right now means slow chips alongside dead-end memory and motherboards. Even cheaper Intel 200-series motherboards will still offer some sort of upgrade path for the foreseeable future.
As Kaby Lake chips become more widely available, prices for the accompanying 200-series motherboards have come off their post-launch peaks a bit. Although one can mix-and-match among 100-series and 200-series motherboards for both Skylake and Kaby Lake chips, we think builders will want a seventh-generation Core chip paired with a 200-series motherboard to lessen the potential for headaches.
|Intel Pentium G4620||$92.99||Intel LGA1151 motherboard|
In this price range, we think Intel’s Pentium G4620 is a great buy. Its healthy 3.7GHz turbo 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 Pentium is a good choice for non-gamers, too, since it has basic integrated graphics. For $93, it’s hard to find anything to complain about with this chip.
You may be wondering why we didn’t pick the Core i3-7100 for budget duty instead. That chip goes for $120—almost $30 more than the G4620—and it only has an extra 200MHz of clock speed, AVX support, and TSX-NI support to show for it. Given that every single dollar counts in a budget build, we think that money is better spent on a more powerful graphics card.
We used to recommend some of AMD’s budget CPU options here, but honestly, the performance gap between the Intel and AMD’s entry-level CPUs is simply too great for us to be able to recommend them. Socket FM2+ is a dead-end platform that uses dead-end RAM, and there’s simply no reason to consider any existing FM2+ CPU or APU any longer for a gaming PC. Same goes for AMD’s Socket AM3 platform and its FX CPUs. If you’ve gotta build around an AMD CPU for under $200, we’d wait for the more affordable Ryzen 5 family of chips.
|Intel Core i5-7500||$204.99||Intel LGA1151 motherboard|
|Intel Core i5-7600K||$239.99||Intel LGA1151 motherboard, Z270 chipset for overclocking,
aftermarket CPU cooler
|Intel Core i7-7700K||$349.99|
If you want more grunt from your Intel CPU, the Core i5-7500 looks like the Goldilocks CPU in this price range. For little over $200, the i5-7500 gives us 3.4GHz base and 3.8GHz turbo clocks in a trim 65W thermal envelope. The Core i5-6500 is also a great CPU for a VR-ready machine. We aren’t as enamored of the Core i5-7400, though. Suffice to say, the $5 less it costs versus the i5-7500 isn’t worth the performance hit of the lower-end chip’s drop in clock speeds.
If the Core i5-7500 isn’t enough power, Intel’s unlocked Kaby Lake parts seem like logical steps up to us. The Core i5-7600K offers four unlocked Kaby Lake cores running at 3.8GHz base and 4.2GHz Turbo speeds. At the top end of the lineup, the beastly Core i7-7700K adds Hyper-Threading and turns the clocks all the way up to 4.2GHz base and 4.5GHz Turbo speeds. Overclockers are free to explore these chips’ upper limits with a Z270 (or Z170) motherboard, too.
Since Intel doesn’t include a stock cooler with its K-series CPUs any longer, be sure to grab an aftermarket cooler from our selections later in this guide if you’re building with a Core i5-7600K or a Core i7-7700K—and make sure it’s a beefy one if you’re choosing the i7-7700K. Our experience with that chip has shown that it’s quite the challenge to cool, even for large tower heatsinks. A 240-mm or 280-mm liquid cooler is not an unreasonable choice if you’re building with Intel’s top-end Kaby Lake CPU.
Thanks to their copious core counts and aggressive prices, AMD’s Ryzen CPUs are taking over our higher-end CPU suggestions. Even if these chips’ prices overlap a bit with our Sweet Spot parts this time around, don’t take that as a sign of equivalence. As we’ve been saying, “high end” in this context means “multithreaded power,” not “gaming champion.” If you’re not sure whether your workload requires eight cores and 16 threads, we’d suggest taking a look at the in-depth tests in our Ryzen review and picking the chip that best fits your needs. For gaming alone, that chip might be a Kaby Lake quad-core, not a Ryzen 7 eight-core part.
|AMD Ryzen 7 1700||$329.99||AMD Socket AM4 motherboard|
|AMD Ryzen 7 1700X||$399.99||AMD Socket AM4 motherboard, aftermarket AM4 heatsink|
|AMD Ryzen 7 1800X||$499.99|
All three of AMD’s Ryzen 7 CPUs have their merits, but their individual appeal will depend on your feelings about overclocking. The Ryzen 7 1700 has a sturdy 3.7 GHz single-core Turbo clock, but its modest 3.0 GHz all-core Turbo speed is the price one pays for packing so many cores into a 65W power envelope. Since the 1700 features an unlocked multiplier, one can push its all-core Turbo speeds as high as cooling and the silicon lottery will allow. We’ve gotten our Ryzen 7 1700 stable with all of its cores ticking away at 3.9 GHz using a modest heatsink.
Overclocking a Ryzen CPU disables the chip’s Turbo intelligence, though, meaning that the all-core multiplier one sets is as high as a Ryzen chip can boost after an overclock. Higher-end CPUs in the lineup like the Ryzen 7 1700X and 1800X might actually perform worse in lightly threaded workloads if the all-core multiplier you choose ends up being lower than what the chips can reach after AMD’s Extended Frequency Range (XFR) tech and stock single-core Turbo speeds are accounted for.
Folks using a CPU to make money on critical projects likely won’t want to risk overclocking anyway, and our initial explorations of the Ryzen 7 1700X and 1800X suggests that AMD is tapping most of the extra frequency headroom one might get out of these chips to begin with. The Ryzen 7 1700X offers an appealing 3.8 GHz Turbo speed and a 3.4 GHz all-core clock, and AMD’s XFR tech could boost those numbers to 3.9 GHz and 3.5 GHz with a reasonably-sized tower heatsink. The Ryzen 7 1800X offers an impressive 4.0 GHz Turbo clock and a 3.6 GHz base speed, and XFR will boost those numbers to 4.1 GHz and 3.7 GHz under a beefy-enough heatsink.
If you’d rather not bother tweaking a Ryzen 7 1700 and living with the higher temperatures and power draw that come with the bargain, one of the higher-end Ryzens might be a better fit. AMD is already discounting the Ryzen 7 1700X by $30 at the moment, making it a pretty sweet deal. The Ryzen 7 1800X’s $500 price tag isn’t the best value around, to be sure, but it looks pretty darn good next to the Core i7-6900K’s $1050 sticker.
While stocks of Ryzen CPUs are relatively abundant, builders have had some trouble finding AM4 motherboards to pair with them. That may be for the best, because our survey of online reviews and our conversations with builders and other reviewers suggest that the state of AM4 mobos can politely be described as “immature.” Part of the problem may be the AM4 platform’s stringent memory requirements, which we’ll address soon enough.
Thanks to those inventory issues, we’ve had limited hands-on experience with the full range of AM4 motherboards on the market. That said, our Gigabyte boards have all been well-behaved. Going by that experience, we’re generally sticking with Gigabyte AM4 boards where possible for this Guide, though we’re tapping other boards where needed to fill in price gaps.
Meanwhile, Intel’s 200-series chipsets arrived alongside its Kaby Lake CPUs. Much as with the 100-series chipsets before them, the new lineup’s main interest is the Z270 chipset, which lets users overclock their unlocked CPUs. The H270 chipset is mostly similar to the Z270, except that it doesn’t allow for CPU or memory overclocking.
The Q270, Q250, and B250 chipsets, on the other hand, are all “business-class” chipsets. They share most of their bigger brothers’ characteristics, with the only noteworthy omissions being a decrease of chipset-driven USB ports and PCIe storage devices in the Q250 and B250 variants. You won’t find SLI or Crossfire on anything but a Q270 board among this trio, either. As far as we’re concerned, though, a mobo with any of these chipsets is a perfectly fine choice for a budget or even a mid-range box, as long as you’re not looking to overclock an unlocked CPU with them.
Buying a motherboard these days is pretty straightforward. There are only four major manufacturers to choose from, and their offerings have very similar performance and 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 better Windows software and firmware than the competition, plus the most intelligent and reliable auto-overclocking functionality of the bunch. The company’s firmware interface offers the best fan speed controls around, too. Some Asus motherboards ship with cushioned I/O shields and header adapters that make it much easier to connect finicky front-panel cabling. Overall, an Asus board should offer the most polished experience of the lot.
- MSI‘s motherboards offer solid hardware paired with polished firmware and Windows software. The nicely-retooled fan controls in the firm’s 9-series firmware have been carried over to its latest motherboards, though the company’s auto-overclocking intelligence remains fairly conservative and somewhat rudimentary.
- Gigabyte‘s recent motherboards are also a good choice, even if their auto-overclocking intelligence, firmware, and Windows software aren’t quite up to par with Asus’ or MSI’s in this generation. The company’s firmware fan controls are now about on par with Asus’, but the rest of its firmware and Windows software utilities could still stand some extra polish. Gigabyte’s higher-end boards are currently the only way to get niceties like Thunderbolt 3 built in, though, and some models ship with cushioned I/O shields and header adapters, too.
- 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 and Windows software leave much to be desired. ASRock boards are appealing primarily for their budget price tags.
|MSI B250M Pro-VDH||$74.99||Intel LGA1151 processor, microATX case|
MSI’s B250M PRO-VDH is an interesting choice for non-overclocked Kaby Lake builds. It’s pretty cheap for a recently-released motherboard from a top-tier manufacturer, and despite its compact dimensions, it still offers an M.2 slot, a full complement of six SATA ports, a metal-reinforced PCIe x16 slot, and USB 3.1 Type-C connectivity. If you don’t plan to overclock, and you’re OK living with DDR4-2400 RAM, the B250M PRO-VD seems like all the motherboard one would need for a budget system.
|Gigabyte GA-AB350-Gaming 3||$109.99||AMD Socket AM4 processor|
If you’re looking to drop a Ryzen CPU into an affordable motherboard, we’d look no further than Gigabyte’s GA-AB350-Gaming 3. For $110, this board taps most of the B350 chipset’s goodness, including a pair of USB 3.1 ports and an M.2 slot. Builders won’t find a USB 3.1 Type-C port on this board’s back panel, but that’s a common omission on B350 motherboards, and we doubt most will care at this board’s price point.
Gigabyte GA-AB350-Gaming 3
The B350 chipset also can’t bifurcate the 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes from a Ryzen CPU, even though the AB350-Gaming 3 claims Crossfire support across its PCIe x16 slot and second PCIe 3.0 x4 slot. We doubt most builders shopping in this price range have multiple Radeons in their shopping carts, so we aren’t bothered by this arrangement.
|MSI Z270 PC Mate||$124.99||Intel LGA1151 processor, ATX case|
|Asus Prime Z270-A||$159.99|
For folks who want a not-so-basic Z270 board to pair with an unlocked Kaby Lake CPU, we like MSI’s Z270 PC Mate. This $125 mobo has everything the enthusiast needs without a lot of frills. Despite its wallet-friendly price, the MSI Z270 PC Mate offers a full complement of PCIe expansion slots (one of them metal-reinforced), two M.2 slots, an Intel Gigabit Ethernet adapter, and a smattering of USB 3.0 ports alongside Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 connectors. 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.
Asus Prime Z270-A
If you’ve gotta have SLI support or more goodies, Asus’ Prime Z270A lets builders install multiple Nvidia graphics cards. It also adds a few other niceties compared to our budget pick. This board packs two M.2 slots, an Intel Gigabit Ethernet controller, a fancy Realtek S1220A audio codec with DTS Connect multi-channel encoding, and USB 3.1 Type-C and Type-A ports. Asus also offers an optional Thunderbolt expansion card should you need that kind of connectivity. Considering it’s a recently-released model, the $160 asking price doesn’t look too bad for this feature set. TR Lord of the BBQ Colton Westrate has one of these boards, and he’s really happy with it.
|Asus Prime X370-Pro||$159.99||AMD Socket AM4 processor, ATX case|
|Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5||$194.99|
If you’re looking for more from a Ryzen build than the B350 chipset can offer, Asus’ Prime X370-Pro motherboard looks like a solid choice. This board pairs Asus’ firmware chops with metal-reinforced PCIe X16 slots capable of a split x8/x8 mode for multi-GPU or other expansion card setups, and it’s got a little RGB LED flair for those who don’t need to be 100% buttoned-down.
Asus Prime X370-Pro
Ample USB 3.1 connectivity (albeit not through a Type-C connector, a slightly bewildering decision), an M.2 slot, and Intel Gigabit Ethernet round out this board’s appealing and reasonably-priced feature set.
Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5
For even-higher-end Ryzen builds, your faithful Editor-in-Chief recommends the Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5. Gigabyte has provided frequent BIOS updates for this board since the Ryzen launch, and they’ve largely stomped out my largest complaints about the AM4 platform (including annoying fan-control behavior and the underlying temperature-reporting issues).
Gigabyte decks out this board with dual NICs—one Killer E2500, one Intel—and fully taps the X370 chipset’s USB 3.1 connectivity with a Type-A and a Type-C port. I’ve also had no trouble taking full advantage of the AX370-Gaming 5’s DDR4-3200 support, and I think most builders will enjoy similar stability so long as they stick to Gigabyte’s qualified vendor list. If you’re into that sort of thing, Gigabyte also studs this board with RGB LEDs nearly everywhere they’ll fit.
The one thing the AX370-Gaming 5 doesn’t have is an external base clock generator for the resident CPU. If you’re raring to run even faster memory, Gigabyte’s own GA-AX370-Gaming K7 (or Asus’ spendy ROG Crosshair VI Hero) fit the bill. The jury is still out on whether Ryzen base-clock tweaking is a wise idea for systems that need to run 24/7 stable, though, so we don’t think it’s worth the wait—or the extra cost—for these boards to come into stock.
|Asus ROG Strix Z270E Gaming||$199.99||Intel LGA1151 processor, ATX case|
If you want a Z270 motherboard that’s packed to the brim with features, the Asus ROG Strix Z270E Gaming is where you want to be. It carries two metal-reinforced PCIe x16 slots with SLI support, two M.2 sockets, and both Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 ports. Nothing that fancy so far, but there’s more. Asus saw fit to add built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi via a 2×2 adapter with MU-MIMO support. There are also dual headphone amplifiers and a front-panel USB 3.1 connector. Last but not least, the board has a rather tasteful dash of RGB LEDs and a connector for controlling additional strips. I’ve used this board extensively in the TR labs for CPU-review purposes, and it’s well worth its asking price.
Asus ROG Strix Z270E Gaming
For a different tack, you may want to consider Gigabyte’s GA-Z270X-UD5. This mobo doesn’t have lots of LEDs or Wi-Fi. It makes up for those omissions with an Intel Thunderbolt 3 controller capable of pushing data at up to 40Gbps, dual Intel Gigabit Ethernet chips, and a U.2 port.
The onboard Type-C port also supports the Power Delivery 2.0 spec, meaning it should be good for pushing up to 36W to compatible devices. Like the Asus board above, the GA-Z270X-UD5 supports both SLI and Crossfire and offers metal-shielded PCIe and DIMM slots.
For the first time in a long time, builders need to think carefully about the DDR4 memory they’re choosing for their systems—or Ryzen builders do, at least. AMD’s newest CPUs already have a reputation for being picky about the DDR4 RAM they’ll play well with, and getting the most out of Ryzen’s memory subsystem requires some careful DIMM selection. AMD places restrictions on the maximum speed at which certain types and certain arrangements of memory can run with an out-of-the-box Ryzen system. Here’s a quick recap of the stock speeds one will get with common memory configurations:
- Dual-channel, dual-rank, four DIMMs: DDR4-1866
- Dual-channel, single-rank, four DIMMs: DDR4-2133
- Dual-channel, dual-rank, two DIMMs: DDR4-2400
- Dual-channel, single-rank, two DIMMs: DDR4-2667
For reference, “dual rank” and “single rank” refer to how each DIMM is populated with memory chips. You’ll commonly see memory makers refer to “single-sided” and “dual-sided” DIMMs, and those terms mean the same thing as “single rank” and “dual rank.” If you’re trying to get the highest speeds possible from Ryzen’s memory controller, a pair of single-sided DIMMs is a must. Before taking Ryzen RAM to its limit, refer to your motherboard’s qualified vendor list for compatible RAM (or consult memory vendor documentation) and get ready to do some manual tweaking of voltage and timings if XMP profiles aren’t doing the job.
In our experience, AMD Socket AM4 motherboards without external base-clock generators top out with RAM multipliers of 32. Given that limitation, and given the generally fixed 100-MHz base clock of Ryzen CPUs, that means DDR4-3200 RAM is the fastest one can run with most motherboards. We’ve had success taking exotic DDR4 kits (like G.Skill’s Trident Z DDR4-3866 kit), running them at 3200 MT/s, and turning down the latencies instead of pushing up clocks. The more adventurous can seek out a motherboard with an external base-clock generator to try playing with higher base clocks, but given that Ryzen doesn’t isolate critical clock domains like the PCIe bus, unexpected or unstable behavior may result from connected PCIe devices. We’d shy from base-clock tweaking in all but the most extreme overclocking attempts for Ryzen memory.
Intel’s Kaby Lake CPUs and the Z270 platform, in contrast, support DDR4-2400 out of the box without a hitch. We’ve had fine luck turning on XMP with our Kaby Lake systems and getting stable operation with fast DDR4-3200 memory across a range of kits, as well. Even exotic kits, like the aforementioned DDR4-3866 DIMMs, can be made stable with only a bit of tweaking (assuming XMP doesn’t take care of stability to begin with). The payoff for faster RAM starts to diminish around DDR4-3200 with modern systems, but those chasing every last drop of performance won’t be disappointed by faster memory.
Whether you’re building with an AMD or Intel CPU, there’s no reason at all to consider anything but 8GB of memory in an entry-level build these days. It also doesn’t cost a whole lot extra to step up to 16GB of RAM any longer. If you use Photoshop or other creative applications in tandem with a lot of open browser tabs, 16GB of RAM is starting to become a baseline, not an upgrade. Even 32GB or 64GB of RAM might not be outlandish for the heaviest multitaskers.
AMD memory kits
|G.Skill Fortis Series 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2400||$66.99|
|G.Skill Fortis Series 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2400||$119.99|
|G.Skill Fortis Series 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-2400||$219.99|
|G.Skill Flare X 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200||$183.99|
We’ve pored over spec tables, motherboard manuals, and vendor data sheets to assemble a good range of RAM options for Ryzen builders. For the most part, though, G.Skill has made that work easy with its Fortis and Flare X kits, which are explicitly designed to work with Ryzen systems across a range of capacities and speeds. If you don’t want to pore over QVLs for hours, those G.Skill kits should take out a lot of the guesswork for Ryzen RAM.
Intel memory kits
|G.Skill NT Series 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2400||$57.99|
|G.Skill Aegis 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2400||$104.99|
|G.Skill Ripjaws V 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200||$123.99|
|G.Skill Aegis 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-2400||$209.99|
|G.Skill Trident Z 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-3200||$244.99|
Intel’s official spec for Kaby Lake-compatible DDR4 RAM is DDR4-2400 running at 1.2V, but we’ve used significantly faster DIMMs like DDR4-3866 in our CPU and motherboard test rigs without issue. In our review of the Core i7-7700K, we found that speedy RAM might offer performance benefits in specific scenarios. With that in mind, and the fact that DDR4-3000 and DDR4-3200 kits can be found for prices close to their DDR-2400 counterparts, we see little reason not to go with a faster kit unless your motherboard isn’t based on a Z170 or Z270 chipset.
If you’re building an X99 system, be sure to choose (or assemble) a kit with four DIMMs to reach the capacity you want. Broadwell-E CPUs need four DIMMs to take full advantage of their quad-channel memory controllers. Broadwell-E also boosts compatible memory speeds to DDR4-2400 out of the box, too, but we’ve used DDR4-3200 in our latest high-end test rigs without a hitch.
The high-end graphics card bracket got a big shake-up just recently with the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. Nvidia barely touched the GP102 GPU that formerly powered its Titan X Pascal graphics card when it retooled it for consumers, but it did take an axe to the Titan X’s $1200 price tag. Gamers with a jonesing for 4K gaming with high settings at 60 FPS-ish now have a way to get there. Given that no other graphics card has offered that kind of experience yet, the GTX 1080 Ti’s $700 price tag is actually reasonable.
Beneath the GTX 1080 Ti, the graphics card market has been pretty sleepy of late. Nvidia cut prices on the GTX 1080 to put some breathing room between that card and the GTX 1080 Ti, so gamers who have been lusting after what was until recently the fastest card on the market can now get one for around $500 and up—a significant discount. The GTX 1070 soldiers on uncontested in the $350-to-$450 bracket. AMD’s Radeon RX 480 offers great value in the sub-$300 market, while Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1050 Ti remains our budget favorite for entry-level builds and drop-in upgrades for prebuilt systems.
No matter which graphics card you choose, we’ve officially drawn a line in the sand regarding graphics memory these days: any graphics card with less than 4GB of RAM is a bad idea for a brand-new gaming machine. Our observations indicate that with the latest crop of AAA games, it’s become a little too easy to hit certain corner cases where less-endowed cards can run out of RAM, degrading gaming performance.
Nvidia still hasn’t chosen to support the VESA Adaptive-Sync standard (better known as FreeSync) in its latest graphics cards, so folks that are keen on VRR tech from a sub-$300 graphics card will need to take stock of their budgets and see whether a $380-or-more monitor is within the realm of affordability. If it is, a GeForce card and a G-Sync monitor will be a good pairing. Those looking to save every dollar will want to look into a Radeon and one of the many FreeSync displays on the market.
The eagle-eyed among you may notice that we’re now separating our graphics card choices a little differently. That change is long overdue, since there’s plenty of overlap between different prices points, and because of our ongoing investigation into the performance of graphics cards tied to affordable CPUs. As it turns out, we’ve roughly established that in certain scenarios, graphics cards more powerful than a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti can hit a wall if they’re paired with an affordable dual-core, four-thread CPU.
If you’ve been keeping track, you’ll realize that the top budget combo of the moment is the Pentium G4620 with a GTX 1050 Ti. If you go for a faster CPU, you’ll often find yourself craving a more powerful graphics card, and vice-versa. Our graphics card choices for the budget segment and our recommendations in the Sample Builds section of this Guide reflect that fact.
In the budget arena, there’s a lot of graphics card to be had for a small amount of cash these days. For under $150, you can get a card that should be able to handle almost any game you throw at it if you don’t push the resolution or detail too high. These are also the cards that we advise people pair with budget CPUs, as discussed above. An added advantage is that none of our budget picks requires a PCIe power connector, meaning these cards can go into any system where they can physically fit.
|Gigabyte Radeon RX 460 Windforce OC 4GB||$119.99||Look, ma, no power connectors needed!|
|EVGA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti SC||$139.99|
The Gigabyte Radeon RX 460 Windforce OC 4GB we’ve chosen for our entry-level bracket boasts all the best features of the breed. It doesn’t need a six-pin PCIe power connector to run, and its dual-fan cooler should be polite under load. For only a few bucks more than 2GB RX 460s, we think this card is the RX 460 to get.
Gigabyte Radeon RX 460 Windforce OC 4GB
If you have just a few more bucks, though, the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti offers substantially better performance and runs quieter and cooler than the RX 460 4GB. The only thing going against it is its lack of FreeSync support, really. Its power and noise profile make it a near-perfect choice for a gaming-oriented HTPC, too. Our next choice is a compact card that can go into just about any system on the planet with a PCIe x16 slot. We’re talking about the EVGA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti SuperClocked. This tiny terror measures in at only 5.7″ long. The single fan on it is more than enough to quietly cool it, and it draws power through the PCIe slot alone. Finally, despite its dimensions, it’ll still offer a 1468 MHz boost clock.
EVGA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti SC
Whither the Radeon RX 470 in our budget options? Well, it’s complicated. In some ongoing tests, we’ve found that the most affordable Polaris 10 card is best paired with more expensive quad-core CPUs to achieve the best performance possible. Sure, you can get an RX 470 for a ridiculously low price these days, and it’ll still offer enviable performance for 1920×1080 gaming in games that don’t lean on the CPU, but think of it as a way to get that performance on the cheap with an otherwise-powerful system instead of a way to pump up an otherwise modest PC. That role is best left to the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti for the smoothest gameplay around. Radeon RX 480 4GB cards can be had for just a bit more than an RX 470 these days, too, so we think it’s worth taking the tiny step up and getting the fully-enabled Polaris 10 card instead.
Here’s where things start getting more serious. Our graphics card choices for this section still stay within the sub-$300 range, but they need at least a Core i5-class CPU to truly shine, as we’ve just discussed. Keep that in mind when looking at the options below.
|Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB||$189.99||One eight-pin power connector|
|MSI Radeon RX 480 8GB Armor Edition||$224.99|
|EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB SC||$239.99|
Radeon RX 480 4GB cards are unquestionably the best value in sub-$200 graphics picks right now, and Sapphire’s Nitro spin on the RX 480 4GB is a fine example of why. For just $190 (or less after rebate), gamers can get ahold of GeForce GTX 970-class performance for just about half of what those cards used to command. AMD is throwing in a free Doom game code with RX 480s right now, as well, and considering how good a game Doom is, that’s a sweet pack-in.
MSI Radeon RX 480 Armor 8GB
If you’re building with an eye toward future games where higher-quality textures will be the order of the day, we suggest MSI Radeon RX 480 Armor 8GB. There’s not a lot we can say about this card that’s not a good thing. It offers two large fans, healthy clock speeds, 8GB of RAM, and a particularly tasty $225 price tag. FreeSync support means builders can pair an affordable variable-refresh-rate monitor with any RX 480 for buttery smoothness. Both the RX 480 4GB and RX 480 8GB can serve as the foundation for entry-level VR-ready systems, too.
EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
Given the higher prices and similar performance of GTX 1060 6GB cards versus the RX 480 8GB, we dont think it’s worth springing for the green team’s option in this price range unless you favor even quieter running, low power consumption, or G-Sync. This card’s real advantage is the highly power-efficient GP106 Pascal GPU. Thanks to that efficiency, custom-cooled cards can deliver high performance without making more than the barest peep of fan noise, and they consume significantly less power than the Radeon RX 480. If you’re considering a VR-ready system, the GTX 1060 6GB offers the requisite performance and some Pascal-exclusive VR rendering features for the money, too. Our EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB SC pick garnered a TR Editor’s Choice award, and at $240, this is really all the card or cooler you need for GP106.
The arrival of Nvidia’s $700 GeForce GTX 1080 Ti has reshaped the high-end graphics card market. GeForce GTX 1080 cards now carry a $500 list price, and even the fanciest custom cards like Gigabyte’s GeForce GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming can now be had for hundreds of dollars less than they sold for just a couple weeks ago. Those price cuts don’t change the performance story we’ve been telling for many moons, though. The GTX 1080 is now the second-fastest graphics card on the market, and it remains ideal for high-refresh-rate gaming at 1920×1080 or an enviably smooth ride in most games at 2560×1440. The GTX 1070 provides GTX 980 Ti-class performance for quite a bit less money than that card sold for at its zenith.
If you want the finest 4K gaming experience on the market right now—or the finest gaming experience at any resolution, period—the GTX 1080 Ti is the way to go. Founders Edition versions of that card, like the one we reviewed, are currently the only way to buy a GTX 1080 Ti, but custom versions of the card with beefier coolers and amped-up power delivery should be arriving soon. No matter how you get your GTX 1080 Ti, it’s a total winner, and the rare TR Editor’s Choice award we bestowed on it at launch should underscore that point. That card’s $700 price tag is lofty, to be sure, but you can’t get that class of gaming performance any other way right now.
|MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X||$419.99|
|Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 Windforce OC||$499.99|
|Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming||$549.99|
|Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition||$699.99|
If prices for GTX 1070 cards were going to fall in tandem with those of GTX 1080s, we’re still waiting. Custom GTX 1070s are still selling for anywhere from $400 to $450, putting the lesser GP104-powered card in an awkward spot. Relatively cheap GTX 1080s can now be had for about $500 and up, so only a bit more cash buys a lot more graphics power.
MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X
If your budget only stretches to a GTX 1070, however, fear not. Our MSI Gaming X pick is reasonably priced, sports an excellent twin-fan cooler, and comes with the buyer’s choice of two free games: Ghost Recon Wildlands or For Honor. A rebate could bring the price down to just $400 for a limited time, too.
If you’re considering a GTX 1080, Gigabyte’s Windforce spin on the card is selling for $500 already. This triple-fan card has reasonable dimensions and few gimmicks, and for those seeking value instead of bling, we think that’s a fine place to be. Nvidia is running the same Ghost Recon or For Honor deal as it’s running for the GTX 1070 with this card, as well.
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming
For those who want the finest GTX 1080 around, we’re tipping our hat to Gigabyte’s GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming. This Editor’s Choice-winning card has a beefy triple-fan cooler with assertive styling, plenty of RGB LEDs, and among the highest clocks available for an out-of-the-box GTX 1080. It also comes with a handy front-panel bay with VR-ready video and USB ports. This excellent card now goes for just $549.99, a substantial discount compared to its $680-or-so price tag until just recently. Hard to argue with that. Gigabyte also offers an Aorus version of this card with extra bling for $10 more, although one loses the VR front panel in the bargain. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition
Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is the uncontested single-GPU performance king, but it’s only available as a Founders Edition card at the moment. Those ready to fork over $700 for this beast might have some trouble finding even those cards in stock thanks to high demand.
You’ll notice a distinct lack of Radeons in this section. As of this writing, AMD simply doesn’t have an answer to the GTX 1070, GTX 1080, or GTX 1080 Ti. Fiji-powered Radeons like the R9 Fury X are riding off into the twilight, judging by the stock situation at Newegg. The Fury X could generally hang with the GTX 1070 in our tests, but its 4GB of RAM was a liability for today’s triple-A titles with their huge textures. The Radeon RX Vega may change the game when it arrives sometime soon, but for now, Nvidia enjoys complete dominance of the $300-and-up graphics card market.
Outside of a single budget hard drive option, we’ll first be recommending SSDs for system drives—the place where you want your operating system, games, frequently-used files, and anything else you want to be able to get to quickly. We’ll then talk about larger bulk storage options for less-frequently-used files that take up lots of space.
We’re now recommending 500GB SSDs as a baseline for most systems. Modern games are only getting larger, and SSD prices are falling to the point where 512GB SSDs are often a much better value than their 240GB-class counterparts. It’s not fun shuffling data on and off a 240GB SSD to make room for that latest triple-A release, so get the largest chunk of solid-state storage for your OS that you can afford.
|WD Blue 1TB 7200 RPM||$49.99|
|Crucial MX300 275GB||$94.99|
|Crucial MX300 525GB||$149.99|
|Mushkin Reactor 1TB||$249.99|
Almost any SATA SSD, save for the worst bargain-bin specials, is going to provide snappier system performance than a spinning disk for most tasks. If you need capacity more than speed, we continue to recommend WD’s Blue 1TB drive as the all-rounder for budget boxes. This drive’s fast spindle speed and relatively high capacity for its price make it hard to go wrong with if you can only afford one storage device.
Our budget SSD picks store bits and move them around quickly, and that’s all we really want out of drives in this price range. If you’re building a new gaming PC, we think you should skip a 240GB drive and step up to a 480GB or 512GB one instead. This time around, the pricing winds favor the Crucial MX300 in its 275GB and 525GB flavors for our smaller SSD picks. The MX300 offers solid performance along with features that used to be reserved for higher-end drives like hardware-accelerated encryption. Samsung’s 850 EVO SSDs may be better performers in some situations, but they’re quite a bit more expensive than the MX300 right now, and the gap in performance isn’t that wide.
Some of you may wonder why Intel’s affordable 600p NVMe drives aren’t in this list. We’ve decided against recommending them, at least for the time being. For all the extra performance the NVMe interface provides in some situations, their seemingly uneven performance in multiple scenarios leaves us wary of giving them a clear stamp of approval. For now, we’d stick to more tried-and-true SATA options
|Samsung 960 EVO 500GB||$249.99||M.2 slot or U.2 port
with PCIe 3.0 x4 connectivity
for maximum performance
|Samsung 960 EVO 1TB||$479.99|
|Samsung 960 Pro 512GB||$329.99|
|Samsung 960 Pro 1TB||$629.99|
Moving into the high-end realm of solid-state storage lets us consider the recent takes on blazing-fast PCI Express drives. Samsung’s introduction of the 960 EVO and 960 Pro drives has upended the high-end storage market, to say the least. Where before we were recommending a mix of OCZ RD400s and Samsung’s own 950 Pro drives, we’ve now gone squarely for Samsung’s latest-and-greatest. The 960 EVO models deliver world-class performance with a reasonably affordable price tag, while the 960 Pro is—to put it simply—in a league of its own, overthrowing even the datacenter-class Intel 750 Series SSD. If you’re going to spend this much money on an SSD, there’s no reason to choose anything but a Samsung 960-series drive. Just make sure your workload can take advantage of the performance on tap.
As we wrote in our review of the 960 EVO, these drives share much of the 960 Pro’s technology. The EVO’s affordable pricing stems from the fact that it couples TLC V-NAND with a proprietary pseudo-SLC caching scheme. This setup, coupled with Samsung’s firmware and controller smarts, lets the 1TB EVO blaze past the Intel 750 1.2TB in our overall SSD performance index.
Meanwhile, the 960 Pro uses Samsung’s 48-layer, 256Gb V-NAND chips and a new, five-core “Polaris” controller to do its thing. These drives also have TCG Opal-compliant 256-bit AES hardware encryption and a 5-year warranty. Their longevity should be outstanding, too—the 2TB version is rated for 1.2 total petabytes written. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and the 960 Pro drives are insanely, freakishly fast. If you need further proof, just go read our review.
SSDs are great for storing your operating system and most-used programs, but they can’t compete with good old spinning rust for density per dollar just yet. If you often work with large media files, operating system images, or anything else that takes up a lot of room, it’s handy to have a mechanical hard drive in your system so you can preserve precious SSD space.
|WD Blue 3TB||$94.99|
|WD Blue 6TB||$176.01|
|WD Black 5TB (7200 RPM)||$219.99|
Going by Backblaze’s reliability studies, HGST drives appear to be the most reliable out there by a decent margin. Western Digital drives typically come in second, but the most recent edition of Backblaze’s numbers suggests that Seagate has greatly improved the reliability of its products of late, besting even WD’s record. Our choices still favor Western Digital drives, though, mostly thanks to the company’s aggressive pricing. Really, though, it’s hard to go wrong with modern hard drives. Follow your wallet.
Some time back, WD condensed 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 spindle 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 unless you’re building a file server of some kind. HGST Deskstar NAS drives are a good alternative to WD Red Pro drives, too. WD Black drives have a 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.
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 DVDs and Blu-ray discs, though, and we’re happy to oblige them with a couple options.
|Asus DRW-24B1ST DVD burner||$19.99|
|LG WH16NS40 Blu-ray burner||$58.99|
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 DVDs and CDs alike, and has a five-star average across more than 5,000 reviews on Newegg. We feel pretty safe recommending it. If you need to play or burn Blu-ray discs, LG’s LGWH16NS40 Blu-ray burner offers higher speeds at a lower price than the Asus BD drive we used to recommend. Can’t argue with that.
Choosing a case is an admittedly 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 appearance or layout 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 bays, cable-routing amenities, pre-mounted motherboard stand-offs, and well-finished edges that won’t draw blood. Quality cases tend to be quieter and to keep components cooler, as well. There’s a whole world of difference in usability between a crummy $25 enclosure and a decent $50 one.
|Cooler Master N200||$49.99||microATX motherboard|
|Corsair Carbide Series 200R||$54.99||–|
|Cooler Master MasterBox 5||$59.99||–|
|Fractal Design Define Nano S||$59.99||Mini-ITX motherboard|
Cooler Master’s N200 is a small and affordable case designed for microATX motherboards. The N200 is quite comfortable to work in, and its $50 price tag won’t break the bank even on a tight budget. Its twin stock fans are a welcome feature in this price range, although they don’t offer an easy positive-pressure configuration like pricier models.
If you’re sticking with an ATX motherboard, we have a couple of options. 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.
If you prefer a more modern case with a windowed side panel, Cooler Master’s MasterBox 5 ditches the 5.25″ bays for a more open interior layout that’s a delight to build with. In our recent review, we were so taken with the MasterBox 5 that we awarded it our coveted Editor’s Choice award. This case is available in a stealthy black finish with a mesh front panel or a flashy white finish with a smoked-Plexiglas front panel. You can’t go wrong either way, especially for only $60.
If you’re thinking about going Mini-ITX for the first time, Fractal Design’s Define Nano S makes life with a Mini-ITX motherboard easy. This Editor’s Choice-winning, tower-style case offers a smaller footprint than microATX or ATX mid-towers without sacrificing usability or cooling performance.
|Fractal Design Define S||$79.99||–|
|Corsair Carbide Series Air 240||$89.99||microATX motherboard, fan splitter|
|Fractal Design Define C||$89.99 (window)
|Fractal Design Define R5||$109.99||–|
|Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5||$129.99||–|
|Corsair Carbide Series 600C||$139.99||–|
|Corsair Carbide Series Air 740||$149.99||–|
|Corsair Obsidian Series 750D||$149.99||–|
Fractal Design Define S
Bridging our budget and sweet spot picks is Fractal Design’s Define S, another 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.
Corsair Carbide Series Air 240
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—most smaller motherboards don’t have enough fan headers to manage the Air 240’s trio of stock spinners.
Fractal Design Define C
One of the more recent entries into the case arena is the Fractal Design Define C (for Compact). The folks at Fractal seem to have an uncanny attention to detail and a feel for what makes a chassis practical, quiet, and easy to work in, and yours truly gave the Define C an Editor’s Choice award not too long ago. TR code monkey Bruno Ferreira followed my advice when he moved his system into a new case, and he’s been pleased as punch with the Define C since. Hard to argue with that.
The Define C has everything you need, and nothing you don’t. It boasts a dual-chamber design, front and bottom dust filters, two really quiet 120-mm stock fans, and about a quintillion openings to allow for any sort of cabling arrangement. Despite its mini-tower dimension, this case can still take in a full-sized ATX mobo and 360-mm radiators. We think the Define C is perfect for the vast majority of systems out there. The only knock against the Define C is that there’s precious little room for PSU cables in the lower chamber, so be sure to get a modular unit that’s not overly long.
Fractal Design Define R5
For builders who want a more roomy ATX mid-tower, we recommend Fractal Design’s Define R5, another winner of 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. It’s also got plenty of room for 3.5″ storage devices and optical drives. Fractal Design offers the R5 in black (with or without a window), titanium (also windowed or non-windowed), and white (in both fenestrated and non-fenestrated versions, of course).
Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5
A new contender between the Define R5 and Corsair’s Obsidian 750D is the Cooler Master 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. Its heavy-duty steel construction and stealthy looks help put it a cut above other cases, too.
Corsair Carbide Series 600C
Another new entrant to our sweet-spot recommendations is the TR Recommended Corsair Carbide Series 600C. This case features an unusual “inverse ATX” design that puts the motherboard on the left side of the case and the power supply on top. With the right fan control options, the 600C kept our test system cool and whisper-quiet. It’s quite the looker, too. If you want the 600C’s sharp-looking side-panel window without the upside-down-ness, the Carbide Series 400C offers many of the same styling cues in a smaller, more traditional package. Corsair also offers quiet versions of these cases in the Carbide Series 600Q and Carbide Series 400Q. Those cases feature solid side panels with noise-dampening material throughout.
Corsair Carbide Series Air 740
This case is a bit of an odd duck. Thankfully, it’s also the tasty variant of duck. The Corsair Carbide Series Air 740 takes up a sizable chunk of floor or desk space and could even serve as an impromptu stool. This beastly case has a two-chamber design with a vertical spacer, instead of the standard horizontal division. That means that there’s a cavernous chamber behind the motherboard where a power supply goes in mounted on its “side,” along with both SSD and HDD drive cages, and enough room to unravel a spool’s worth of wiring. We have the case a TR Recommended award when we reviewed it.
Those characteristics make it amazingly easy to place a system in the Air 740, and its generous space in every section lets cooling enthusiasts place just about any number of reservoirs, fans, and radiators in it. The $150 price tag is a little dear, so we advise this chassis for those whose plans go beyond the basics. If if you have a meaty system with above-average cooling needs, though, this is the case for you.
Corsair Obsidian Series 750D
If you need an ATX full-tower and all the space that label implies, Corsair’s Obsidian Series 750D remains 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.
|Cooler Master MasterCase Maker 5||$169.99||–|
|Cooler Master Cosmos II||$329.99||A forklift|
Cooler Master MasterCase Maker 5
For those that want a little more from their case, Cooler Master offers the MasterCase Maker 5. This model offers solid front and top panels, a built-in fan controller, a front-panel USB-C port, and a built-in lighting controller that comes with a magnetic red LED strip plugged in. We think it’s well worth its $175 price tag, though throughout some informal testing, we discovered that the top and front panel mounts may have compatibility issues with certain types of all-in-one liquid coolers. If you’re going the liquid-cooling route with this case, be sure to double-check your measurements accordingly.
Cooler Master Cosmos II
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. Despite its age, the Cosmos II still offers a feature set that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Buying a good power supply for your new PC 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 power-hungry components like the CPU and GPU. In 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, and 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.
|Seasonic S12II 430B||$41.99||Non-modular, one 6+2-pin PCIe power connector,
one six-pin PCIe power connector
|Corsair CX450M||$53.99||Semi-modular, two 8-pin PCIe power connectors|
For entry-level systems, we’re recommending the Seasonic S12II 430B this time around. This 80 Plus Bronze unit has a 120-mm fan and a five-year warranty. It offers one six-pin and one eight-pin PCIe power connector. Entry-level and midrange graphics cards often need just one auxiliary connection from the PSU these days (if they require external power at all), so the S12II 430B should be more than enough PSU for budget boxes. Seasonic covers the S12II 430B with a five-year warranty, too.
If you’d rather have an affordable modular PSU, you can’t really go wrong with one of Corsair’s latest, the CX450M. Corsair tells us this CX450M, along with its 550W and 650W brethren, uses DC-to-DC conversion on its +3.3V and +5V rails to attain compatibility with newer Intel CPUs’ low-power sleep states. This unit’s semi-modular cabling could make for cleaner builds than the non-modular Seasonic above.
|Seasonic SSR-550RM||$69.90||Semi-modular, two 6+2-pin PCIe connectors|
|EVGA Supernova G2 750W||$99.99||Fully modular
four 6+2-pin PCIe connectors,
|Corsair RM850X||$129.99||Fully modular, single 12V rail,
six 6+2-pin PCIe connectors, 10 SATA connectors,
PSUs aspiring to the Sweet Spot need to do more than the basics. We demand semi-modular cabling here at the bare minimum. 80 Plus Gold efficiency ratings should ideally be on the table, as well, along with semi-silent fans that spin down completely under lighter loads.
For systems that need more oompth than the units in our budget range, we’ll start with the Seasonic SSR-550RM. This high-quality PSU has an 80 Plus Gold rating and semi-modular cabling, plus enough oomph (and plugs) to power graphics cards with multiple PCIe connectors. At $70, it’s a pretty good deal.
Prices for PSUs tend to float up and down a lot, sometimes multiple times a week. Right now, there are a lot of options in the $70 to $100 range, so we’re jumping from 550W to 750W, since there are good deals to be found on the bigger units.
If you need even more power for lots of hard drives or basic 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.
On the upper end of the Sweet Spot, we have the Corsair RM850X, a new entrant in our Guides. Our recent personal experiences with Corsair’s RM range has left us with nothing but good impressions, and what’s good for us is good for you folks too. The RM850X is a beast of a PSU with an enormous, quiet fan, and should be able to handle anything you care to throw at it—even dual-card setups. We’ve even run a Core i7-6950X and three GTX 1080s at full tilt off one of these with nary a peep or complaint. If you’re looking for a powerful unit that won’t break the bank, this is it. Corsair offers 10-year warranty coverage on the RM850X, too.
|Corsair RM850i||$144.99||Fully modular,
six 6+2-pin PCIe connectors, 10 SATA connectors,
semi-silent mode, C-Link monitoring
|EVGA Supernova P2 850W||$149.99||Fully modular,
four 6+2-pin & two 6-pin PCIe connectors,
10 SATA connectors, semi-silent mode
Corsair continues its resurgence in our Guides with the RM850i. This unit is similar to the RM850x model above, but has a neat trick up its sleeve: a USB port for Corsair Link that allows for integration with Corsair’s control software. Link lets the user monitor and adjust their PSU’s fan speed and rail assignments. If you’re the kind of user that likes to tinker with everything, the RM850i is just what the doctor ordered.
The prices on 80 Plus Platinum PSUs have come out of the stratosphere now, too. Given that development, we’re recommending EVGA’s Supernova P2 850W PSU as another foundation for the most power-hungry systems builders might want to put together. This highly-efficient PSU offers semi-silent operation and more than enough power cables to run multiple graphics cards. Should the Supernova P2 go up in price, the similarly-excellent EVGA Supernova G2 850W is still a solid buy, too.
Many popular CPUs don’t ship with stock coolers these days. If you’re building around a Core i5-7600K, a Core i7-7700K, or any Broadwell-E CPU, you’ll want a selection from the list below. The Ryzen 7 1700X and Ryzen 7 1800X also don’t come with coolers in the box. Be careful to note your case’s maximum CPU cooler height before buying a large tower cooler or a beefy radiator, as these huge heatsinks need a lot of space.
Not every cooler manufacturer has had a chance to catch up with the stampede of Ryzen CPUs and Socket AM4 motherboards yet. Most major companies have adapter kits in the works for those mobos, and many will even send out such an adapter for the cost of filing out a service ticket. We can’t account for every major cooler company’s plans here, but check the compatibility pages for Corsair, Cooler Master, Noctua, and Cryorig, among others, before you buy.
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.
|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||$39.49||Case with 5.6″ (142 mm) of heatsink clearance|
|Noctua NH-D15S||$79.95||Case with 6.5″ (165 mm) of heatsink clearance|
|Corsair H60||$59.99||Closed-loop liquid cooler||Case with a 120-mm radiator mount|
|Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 120 & Pro 140||
|Case with a 120-mm (or 140-mm) radiator mount;
clearance for push-pull radiator-fan stack
|Corsair H105||$103.99||Case with a 240-mm radiator mount|
|Corsair H115i||$124.99||Case with a 280-mm radiator mount|
|Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 240 & Pro 280||
$139.99 (280 mm)
|Case with a 240-mm (or 280-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, boasting over 6,000 five-star reviews at Newegg. We’ve also reviewed Cooler Master’s MasterAir Pro 3 and Pro 4 heatsinks, which the company is pitching as evolutions of its popular Hyper tower coolers. Both offerings received TR Recommended awards thanks to their combination of affordable pricing and cooling performance, and we think you should consider them as more modern takes on Cooler Master’s classics.
A more effective option for those looking to overclock a Core i5 or Ryzen 7 CPU 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.
We’ve discovered that the stock cooler Intel ships with many of its CPUs these days has a rather narrow PWM range, making it unreasonably loud at idle. If you’re building with a modest CPU like the Pentium G4620 or the Core i5-7500 and you care about noise, it might be worth dropping $20 or so on a basic mini-tower heatsink like Cryorig’s M9i to keep the racket down.
The high-end tower cooler market is crowded with excellent options these days. 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.
TR code monkey Bruno Ferreira added an NH-D15S to his main system recently, and he says it’s probably the best money he spent last year. He praises Noctua’s “insane” attention to detail, easy installation process, and excellent cooling perfomance. In use, he says the NH-D15S is “stupid quiet,” even while keeping an overclocked Core i7-6700K in check. That’s high praise indeed.
Big tower coolers can’t fit into every enclosure, 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. If you’ve gotta have an AM4-compatible liquid cooler right this second, Corsair’s venerable H110i will bolt right on without a hitch.
Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 240
If you’d rather not spend extra on high-quality fans, our experiences with Cooler Master’s new MasterLiquid Pro coolers have been quite positive. The pumps on these coolers are very nearly silent at idle, and their fans are quite pleasant in use. The MasterLiquid Pro 120 and Pro 140 are push-pull coolers, while the Pro 240 uses a slimmer 240-mm radiator. If you want to go really big and your case has a 280-mm mounting spot, then the MasterLiquid Pro 280 should offer particularly good heat dissipation with a minimum of noise.
For the absolute best-performing CPU-cooling solution out there, Corsair’s 280-mm coolers are about the best one can get before going with a custom loop. The H115i is typical of the breed, and we’ve found it plenty capable for taking even the demanding Core i7-7700K to its limits. Corsair’s included fans emphasize performance over politeness, though, so the noise-sensitive may need to factor in a pair of aftermarket 140-mm fans for the best results.
By now, you should have the info you need to configure your own build based on your needs. If you’d rather just grab a complete shopping list and buy stuff, though, we’re more than happy to help. Here are a few parts lists that span a range of budget options. As always, these builds are just suggestions. Feel free to swap parts around as needed to fit your budget and performance needs.
The Budget Box
|Processor||Intel Pentium G4620||$92.99|
|Cooler||Intel stock cooler||–|
|Motherboard||MSI B250 Pro-VDH||$74.99|
|Memory||G. Skill NT Series 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2400||$57.99|
|Graphics||EVGA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti SC||$139.99|
|Storage||WD Blue 1TB 7200 RPM||$49.99|
|Enclosure||Cooler Master N200||$49.99|
|PSU||Seasonic S12II 430B||$41.99|
Our Budget Box proves that even if you don’t have a lot of cash to burn, you can still get yourself PC that’s eminently capable of playing most games at 1920×1080 with many graphics options turned up. The Intel Pentium G4620 offers plenty of general-purpose processing power for a mere $93, and the EVGA GTX 1050 SC graphics card we’ve chosen offers way more graphics horsepower than you’d expect for only $140, too. The combination is rounded out by the solid Cooler Master N200 case and a Seasonic S12II 430B power supply with a 5-year warranty.
In case the 1TB hard drive in this build feels too pokey for your tastes, you can always pair it or swap it with a Crucial MX300 275GB SSD for $95 or so.
The Sweet Spot
|Processor||Intel Core i5-7500||$204.99|
|Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO||$29.99|
|Motherboard||MSI Z270 PC Mate||$124.99|
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws V 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200||$123.99|
|Graphics||MSI Radeon RX 480 Armor 8GB||$224.99|
|Storage||Crucial MX300 525GB SSD||$149.99|
|WD Blue 1TB 7200 RPM||$49.99|
|Enclosure||Fractal Design Define C||$89.99|
The Sweet Spot steps us up to a quad-core Kaby Lake CPU and MSI’s fully-featured Z270 PC Mate motherboard. We’ve also tapped MSI’s Radeon RX 480 Armor 8GB graphics card for its affordable price and high performance.
Pair that powerful graphics card with a large SSD, a 1TB hard drive for bulk storage, Fractal Design’s whisper-quiet Define C case, and an efficient 80 Plus Gold PSU, and you have a real winner for just north of a grand.
The Gaming Plus
|Processor||AMD Ryzen 7 1700X||$399.99|
|Cooler||Noctua NH-U12S AM4||$64.95|
|Motherboard||Asus Prime X370-Pro||$159.99|
|Memory||G.Skill Flare X 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2400||$124.99|
|Graphics||MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X||$419.99|
|Storage||Crucial MX300 525GB SSD||$149.99|
|WD Blue 2TB 5400 RPM||$68.99|
|Enclosure||Fractal Design Define C||$89.99|
|PSU||EVGA Supernova G3 650W||$109.99|
Need a heavy-duty system that can crunch through the toughest workloads while offering solid gaming performance on the side? The Gaming Plus is our take on a relatively affordable Ryzen system that can do gaming, plus… well, whatever else you’d like to do while gaming. We’ve tapped the Ryzen 7 1700X for this build since AMD is currently lopping $30 off its price tag with a promo code at Newegg, but those looking to save even more can drop down to the Ryzen 7 1700 without too much fuss (and enjoy that CPU’s boxed cooler, to boot).
No, this system won’t offer the best 99th-percentile frame times around for gaming, but we presume that Ryzen builders will be OK with that tradeoff for the multi-threaded grunt they get in return. If you’re not chasing multi-threaded performance, however, might we suggest sticking with the Sweeter Spot build that follows?
The Sweeter Spot
|Processor||Intel Core i5-7600K||$239.99|
|Motherboard||Asus ROG Strix Z270E Gaming||$199.99|
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws V 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200||$123.99|
|Graphics||MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X||$419.99|
|Storage||Samsung 850 EVO 1TB SSD||$324.99|
|WD Blue 4TB 5400 RPM||$124.99|
|Enclosure||Fractal Design Define C||$89.99|
Here’s a sweet little machine that shows just how much 99th-percentile-FPS-for-the-buck one can get these days. Intel’s speedy Core i5-7600K CPU should be a good companion for a GeForce GTX 1070, a graphics card that delivers as much performance as a GeForce GTX 980 Ti did for far less money. That’s insane value. Some of the money we save this way can be funneled into Samsung’s speedy 850 EVO 1TB SSD, and a 4TB hard drive provides plenty of bulk storage space, as well. This is the kind of build that makes us excited to be PC enthusiasts.
The Grand Experiment
|Processor||Intel Core i7-7700K||$349.99|
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws V 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-3200||$239.99|
|Graphics||Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming||$549.99|
|Storage||Samsung 850 EVO 1TB||$324.99|
|WD Blue 4TB 5400 RPM||$127.99|
|Enclosure||Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5||$129.99|
|PSU||EVGA Supernova G3 750W||$109.99|
This system is our take on the biggest, baddest Kaby Lake-powered PC around. Intel’s Core i7-7700K CPU gives us four cores and eight threads of processing power. Noctua’s beefy NH-D15S should let builders overclock the Core i7-7700K comfortably, while Gigabyte’s GTX 1080 G1 Gaming graphics card stands ready to power through 4K gaming or VR titles. A 1TB SSD should swallow most gamers’ entire Steam libraries and regular programs, and 4TB of mechanical storage offers media buffs plenty of room to store pics and flicks without cutting into that valuable NAND.
The Gaming Plus Plus
|Processor||AMD Ryzen 7 1800X||$499.99|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte GA-AX370-Gaming 5||$194.99|
|Memory||G.Skill Trident Z 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200||$169.99|
|Graphics||Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming||$549.99|
|Storage||Samsung 850 EVO 1TB||$324.99|
|WD Blue 4TB 5400 RPM||$124.99|
|Enclosure||Fractal Design Define R5||$109.99|
|PSU||EVGA Supernova G3 750W||$109.99|
As we did with our cheaper Ryzen build, we call this system the “Gaming Plus” because we put it together with the idea that gaming won’t be its sole purpose in life. We just ladled on even more of that all-around competence here. If you’re jonesing for a Ryzen CPU, you presumably need it for something other than gaming alone, and you’re presumably willing to make the tradeoff in 99th-percentile frame times that entails versus a high-end Kaby Lake system like The Grand Experiment. Whether that’s gaming plus streaming, gaming plus transcoding (or gaming plus streaming and transcoding simultaneously), or even another job like compiling code, rendering 3D models, music production, or something else during the day, this box will be more than up to the task.
We picked the Ryzen 7 1800X for this build because of its incredible price-to-performance ratio in productivity tasks and its ability to deliver the lowest 99th-percentile frame times among AMD’s latest CPUs in games. No, the 1800X isn’t cheap, but it offers an appealing combo of high single-core Turbo speeds and all-core clocks that lower-end Ryzens can’t match without overclocking.
We will make some caveats about this parts list. While we’ve chosen 16GB of Gigabyte-qualified DDR4-3200 CL14 RAM with single-sided DIMMs for this build, there are no guarantees that it’ll run at those speeds without extra voltage from the CPU’s memory controller or further tweaking. We’ve had good experiences with Ryzen CPUs and similar G.Skill Trident Z memory in our own tests with the Gigabyte GA-AX370-Gaming 5, but builders should be aware that Ryzen memory compatibility is something of a minefield at the moment. If you feel the need to pick a different kit, don’t be afraid to dig around in motherboard QVLs from various manufacturers to search out a set of low-latency, single-sided DIMMs from a reputable manufacturer.
If you need more RAM than 16GB for a high-end Ryzen system like this one, be ready to run it at slower speeds than the peak memory clocks the platform can attain with overclocking. Our memory section explains why. Once again, refer to your motherboard vendor’s QVL for information on the best kits to install for balancing speed and size.
The No Holds Barred
|Cooler||Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 280||$99.99|
|Memory||G.Skill TridentZ 64GB (4x16GB) DDR4-3200||$494.99|
|Graphics||GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition||$699.99|
|Storage||Samsung 960 EVO 1TB||$479.99|
|HGST Deskstar NAS 6TB||$239.99|
|HGST Deskstar NAS 6TB||$239.99|
|LG WH16NS40 Blu-ray burner||$49.99|
|Enclosure||Fractal Design Define R5||$109.99|
This is where we go overboard. If you need even more cores and threads than our highest-end Ryzen system offers, the No Holds Barred offers enough CPU power to take on any task, gaming or otherwise. No, this is not an affordable build, but we’re not chasing value for money here. If the bottom line for this box makes you blink, well, this system ain’t for you.
The Core i7-6950X is a ridiculously expensive CPU, but it’s the only thing Intel offers in its consumer lineup that really justifies the step up over the Ryzen 7 1800X. The Core i7-6900K is more or less matched by the highest-end Ryzen for $500, and six-core Broadwell-E chips make even less sense given that price tag. Hey, we weren’t in the meeting where Intel’s bean-counters hashed this stuff out.
We’ve also slapped a whole 64GB of fast RAM into this system, since the price-to-capacity curve is now favorable enough to let us. Samsung’s 960 EVO 1TB is now complemented by a pair of big honkin’ HGST Deskstar NAS 6TB drives. Those HGST drives are fast, but some will prefer quieter options, even if performance takes a bit of a hit. For those folks, we suggest the Western Digital Red 6TB spinners as alternatives at roughly the same price. They’re quiet and still more than fast enough for most needs.
Cooler Master’s MasterLiquid Pro 280, Fractal Design’s Define R5 case, a Corsair RM1000i power supply, and the world-beating GeForce GTX 1080 Ti top off this beastly build. If you’re going to go way over the top, we think this is an excellent way to do it.
The operating system
If you’re building a gaming PC and need an operating system for it, we think you’ll be happiest with Windows. Windows 10 is here, and all of the TR staff has upgraded to Microsoft’s latest OS. If you skipped Windows 8.1 because of its mish-mash of touch and desktop design principles, we think you’ll appreciate Windows 10.
Win10’s 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, especially if you want to take advantage of the DirectX 12 graphics API. Both Intel and AMD only plan to fully support their latest CPUs under Windows 10, too. If you have a new build in the works, you really ought to pair it with a Win10 key.
You may have heard a murmur or two that Windows 7 offers the best performance with AMD’s Ryzen CPUs. Don’t believe it. AMD itself has debunked this claim, and Microsoft seems poised to deny updates to Ryzen and Kaby Lake owners trying to run older operating systems on their shiny new systems. It doesn’t help that installing Windows 7 on a Ryzen system is a pain in the behind. Stick with Microsoft’s latest and greatest if you’re building with Ryzen.
Windows 10 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.
AMD will soon be attacking the mainstream CPU market with its Ryzen 5 parts. The Ryzen 5 lineup will feature a pair of six-core, 12-thread chips and a pair of four-core, eight-thread parts. At $249, the Ryzen 5 1600X offers similar clock speeds to the $500 Ryzen 7 1800X with two fewer cores and four fewer threads. We don’t think the $30-less-expensive Ryzen 5 1600 will be worth the relatively large drop in clock speeds for the price, although its six cores and 12 threads may still appeal to some. In both cases, we think these Ryzen 5 six-cores are better understood as Broadwell-E competitors rather than challengers for the higher-clocked, higher-IPC Core i5-7600K and its locked siblings.
Meanwhile, the duo of Ryzen 5 quad-cores under $200 could prove appealing budget options. The multiplier-unlocked, $189 Ryzen 5 1500X brings four cores and eight threads to the sub-$200 price point, and its relatively high clock speeds and 200MHz XFR range might prove compelling compared to locked Core i5s. The Ryzen 5 1400 will have a narrower XFR margin and lower clocks than the 1500X, but folks who can’t swing the extra $20 for the hotter Ryzen quad-core will likely appreciate the 1400’s relatively impressive spec sheet compared to Intel’s locked Core i3s.
If you’ve been keeping track of upcoming releases, you already know about AMD’s Vega GPU architecture, too. We’ve had some hands-on time with early Vega cards, and we’re guessing that the Radeon RX Vega family (as it’s officially named) will be duking it out with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 and GTX 1080. Aside from a launch slated for the first half of this year, however, we don’t know any solid details about these graphics cards. We don’t think you can go wrong with a GTX 1070 or GTX 1080 for the time being if you need to build a high-end PC now, but the Radeon faithful might have reason to wait. Nvidia has played its high-end hand with the GTX 1080 Ti too recently to expect any kind of follow-up, so buyers with $700 in their pockets should be safe for now.
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. Be sure to purchase any of our picks using the links to Newegg throughout this guide, too. Your support helps us to continue the in-depth research and reviews that make guides like this one possible. Have fun building your new system—we’re sure it’ll turn out great.