The Tech Report System Guide: May 2017 edition

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Welcome to the May 2017 edition of The Tech Report System Guide. There are changes afoot in the mid-range PC market, and good ones, at that. AMD’s Ryzen 5 processors have broken Intel’s long-running lock on midrange CPUs. These four- and six-core chips are solid all-round performers. They all offer SMT support, a bonus that Intel usually reserves for its Core i7 offerings, and they all have unlocked multipliers for easy overclocking, too.

As we pointed out in our last guide, Ryzen 7 CPUs are basically telling Intel’s Broadwell-E chips that they really need a price cut. Since good things come in threes, AMD has updated its lineup of graphics cards with its Radeon RX 580, RX 570, and RX 550 offerings. Change in the PC hardware landscape is constant, and we’re here to help ease builders through the process.

The rest of the PC hardware market has remained mostly the same, though. RAM and SSD prices continue their upward trajectory. Speedy memory kits with guaranteed Ryzen compatibility are still mostly MIA. The case and cooling market has been rather quiet, save for the ever-increasing number of cases with fancy RGB LED lighting onboard. Now that Ryzen 5 CPUs and the Radeon RX 500 series cards are out, the world is waiting with bated breath for the approaching release of the high-end Radeon RX Vega. Stay tuned, as we’ll discuss each of these items in detail.

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.

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

It should be of little surprise that the topic of the day in the CPU arena is AMD’s Ryzen 5 lineup. Our benchmarking revealed that the Ryzen 5 1600X is a great all-around performer at its price point. This six-core, 12-thread chip challenges Intel’s Core i5-7600K in gaming smoothness, and its copious threads are great for the times where you may need to do some serious work. Sure, there’s just no catching the mighty Core i7-7700K when it comes to gaming prowess, but AMD has produced solid competitors for nearly every other price point.

AMD has also shaken up the high-end CPU market 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 7 chips aren’t perfect substitutes 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 enviable 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 quads means they’ll be in the same boat. Most AAA titles still favor fewer and faster cores, and AMD’s affordable Ryzen 5 CPUs and Intel’s mid-range 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, though, more broad-shouldered chips like those in the Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7 families could bear that weight better than Kaby Lake quad-cores.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Pentium G4560 $69.99 Intel LGA1151 motherboard

In this price range, we think Intel’s Pentium G4560 is a great buy. Its healthy 3.5GHz 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 $64, 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 here. That chip goes for $120—almost $60 more than the G4560—and it only has an extra 300MHz of clock speed plus support for AVX, Optane Memory, and TSX-NI 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 or other components in a system.

We used to recommend the Pentium G4620 for this spot, but we found that the $25 or so it costs over the G4560 only gets you an extra 100 MHz of CPU clock and 50 MHz on the IGP. Those dollars have a higher purpose in life than that.

We’d like to recommend some AMD chips in this segment, but the company’s Ryzen 3 offerings have yet to show up. When they do, we’ll be sure to take a look at them. Other AMD CPUs like the FX series and A-series APUs might tempt with their low prices, but those chips use dead-end motherboards and RAM that are well past their sell-by date. Those things aren’t worth buying into, no matter how appealing the price.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Ryzen 5 1500X $189.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard
Core i5-7500 $199.99 Intel LGA1151 motherboard
Ryzen 5 1600X $249.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard, aftermarket CPU cooler
Intel Core i7-7700K $339.99 Intel LGA1151 motherboard, Z270 chipset for overclocking,

aftermarket CPU cooler

At last. Intel’s CPUs dominated the Sweet Spot chart for longer than I care to remember, but that ends today. The Ryzen 5 1500X and 1600X are a nice one-two-punch combo, seeing as they offer solid performance for prices very similar to their direct competitors from Intel.

Compared to the Core i5-7500, the Ryzen 5 1500X has SMT support, so it boasts eight logical threads from its four cores. It also offers unlocked multipliers for those who’d like to overclock, and it comes with a nice cooler that’s up to the task of some tweaking. The Core i5-7500 may offer a bit more performance in some tasks, but it’s also a bit more expensive. We’d be OK building with either of these CPUs at their price points.

The Ryzen 5 1600X holds an edge over the Core i5-7600K, too. For about the same money, one gets six cores with SMT support in tow. We found that the 1600X is about as smooth as the i5-7600K in games, and it’s unquestionably more powerful when one needs to bring many threads to bear. The i5-7600K may still hold a smoothness edge in older titles where single-threaded performance is king, but the gap isn’t that wide, and we think most builders in this price range will enjoy the 1600X’s all-around competence for just $10 more. Just be sure to factor an aftermarket cooler into the price of both of these chips.

What of the Ryzen 5 1400 and Ryzen 5 1600? Our gut feeling with Ryzen is that if you’re going to run these CPUs at stock settings, clock speed is everything, and the non-X Ryzen 5s are a little lacking in that department. The higher stock speeds and extra XFR headroom of the Ryzen 5 1500X and 1600X will let them perform better than their lesser brethren in lightly-threaded workloads, and they’ll sustain higher all-core multipliers under load, as well. The price differences between these lesser chips and the better-performing X models are small enough that we’d just spring for the faster stuff to begin with.

If you do plan to overclock, however, our experience has shown that all Ryzen CPUs top out at about 4 GHz for all-core loads, and non-X Ryzen chips handle those multiplier tweaks just as well as their more expensive brethren, if not better. We’re still working on our review of the Ryzen 5 1400 and Ryzen 5 1600, but we got our 1600 up to 3.95 GHz on all of its cores with nothing more than the Wraith Max cooler on top. Since all of AMD’s SenseMI and XFR magic goes out the window when one starts overclocking Ryzen chips, it’s not worth paying extra for a wider XFR range or higher boost speeds when you’re not going to use them.

AMD may have upset the $250-and-below CPU market, but the beastly Core i7-7700K still lords over the top of our midrange recs. This chip adds Hyper-Threading to its four cores 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 motherboard, too. If you want the smoothest gaming experience around and plenty of competence outside of games, the i7-7700K is hard to beat.

Since Intel doesn’t include a stock cooler with its K-series CPUs, and neither does AMD for the Ryzen 5 1600X, be sure to grab an aftermarket cooler from our selections later in this guide if you’re building with any of these chips—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.

High end

Thanks to their copious core counts and aggressive prices, AMD’s Ryzen 7 CPUs have taken 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.

Product Price Notable needs
AMD Ryzen 7 1700 $314.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard
AMD Ryzen 7 1700X $397.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard, aftermarket AM4 heatsink
AMD Ryzen 7 1800X $489.99

All three of AMD’s Ryzen 7 CPUs have their merits, but like the Ryzen 5 lineup, 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 can attain 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.

 

Motherboards

In our last guide, we lamented the scarcity of AM4 motherboards for prospective Ryzen builders. We’re happy to report that situation has abated, as online retailers everywhere have their virtual shelves full of models to fit every taste and wallet. It’s not all roses, though. The AM4 platform’s stringent memory requirements dampen our collective enthusiasm a little (something we’ll talk about in more detail below) and makes us wary of recommending unproven quantities. Our limited experience with Ryzen boards leads us to think that Gigabyte has solid offerings, so we’re sticking with that brand’s AM4 boards.

As a quick recap, AMD’s X370 and B350 chipsets both allow for overclocking. We consider the B350 offerings the mid-range ideal, as this chipset has the most common features one might need without any special frills. Those looking to get the best of everything can pick a motherboard with the X370 chipset onboard. Those high-end mobos typically offer SLI and CrossFire support, among other fancy features. As for the lower-end A320, we reckon it’s not currently worth picking, seeing as there are no budget CPUs to go with it.

Meanwhile, boards based on Intel’s 200-series chipsets arrived without much fuss, a good thing in this arena. The Z270 chipset 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, 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.

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.

Budget

Intel

Product Price Notable needs
MSI B250M Pro-VDH $79.99 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.

AMD

Product Price Notable needs
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.

Sweet spot

Intel

Product Price Notable needs
MSI Z270 PC Mate $124.99 Intel LGA1151 processor, ATX case

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.

AMD

Product Price Notable needs
Gigabyte GA-AX370-Gaming K3 $139.99 AM4 processor, ATX case

In the red corner, we have the Gigabyte GA-AX370-Gaming K3. This board offers metal-reinforced DIMM and PCIe x16 slots, CrossFire support, a Killer Gigabit Ethernet adapter, an M.2 PCIe x4 socket, and eight SATA ports. To help overclockers make the most of their Ryzen CPUs, Gigabyte added an external BCLK generator and onboard diagnostic LEDs. There’s a total of five fan headers, two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, and two USB connectors with noise-filtered output. Really, the only thing possibly missing from this board is a Type-C USB port. We think it checks all the right boxes and then some.

High end

AMD

Product Price Notable needs
Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5 $194.99 AMD Socket AM4 processor, ATX case

For even-higher-end Ryzen builds, our 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 it’s largely stomped out his largest complaints about the AM4 platform (including annoying fan-control behavior and some temperature-reporting issues). He’s also had no trouble taking full advantage of the AX370-Gaming 5’s DDR4-3200 support, and believes most builders will enjoy similar stability so long as they stick to Gigabyte’s qualified vendor list.

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.  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 unless you’re trying to set overclocking records.

Intel

Product Price Notable needs
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. Our Editor-in-Chief has used this board extensively in the TR labs for CPU-review purposes, and it carries his stamp of approval.

Asus ROG Strix Z270E Gaming

 

Memory

Ryzen builders need to think carefully about the DDR4 memory they’re choosing for their systems. AMD’s newest CPUs 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

If you’re trying to get the highest speeds possible from Ryzen’s memory controller, a pair of single-rank 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

Product Price
G.Skill Flare X 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2400 $69.99
G.Skill Fortis Series 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2400 $109.99
G.Skill Fortis Series 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-2400 $211.99
G.Skill Flare X 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 $176.99

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

Product Price
G.Skill Aegis 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2400 $62.99
G.Skill Aegis 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2400 $109.99
G.Skill Ripjaws V 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 $129.99
G.Skill Aegis 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-2400 $209.99
G.Skill Trident Z 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-3200 $251.99

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.

 

Graphics cards

The big news in the graphics card arena in last System Guide was the release of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. This time around, we’re going to discuss cards that are a little more reasonably-priced for the average builders. We’re talking, of course, about the recently-released Radeon RX 500 series cards: the RX 580, RX 570, and RX 550. Their launch didn’t have quite the same level of fanfare as the RX 400 series, probably because the new cards could be described as hot-clocked versions of their predecessors—and that’s not a bad thing at all, since they were introduced at nearly the same price points of the units they’re respectively replacing. For that reason, we’ve chosen them as direct replacements for their predecessors wherever applicable.

Gigabyte Aorus RX 580 8GB

Apart from that development, things have been mostly quiet in the graphics card arena. That too plays into the fact that our recommendations overall aren’t shifting all that much. The impending release of the RX Vega might shake things up a little, but that card’s final form remains a mystery.

No matter which graphics card you choose, we’re continuing to draw 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.

We also separate our choices roughly according to the CPUs that we expect will accompany each of these cards. For example, 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 G4560 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.

Budget

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.

Product Price Remarks
Gigabyte Radeon RX 460 4GB Windforce OC $129.99 Look, ma, no power connectors needed!
EVGA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti SC $139.99

The Gigabyte Radeon RX 460 4GB Windforce OC 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. If you’re wondering about the RX 560, it simply hasn’t been released yet. It’ll almost certainly take the RX 460’s place when it does.

Gigabyte Radeon RX 460 4GB Windforce OC

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 570 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 570 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 580 4GB cards can be had for just $20 or so more than an RX 570 these days, too, so we think it’s worth taking the tiny step up and getting the fully-enabled Polaris 10 card instead. 

Sweet spot

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 discussed above. Keep that in mind when looking at the options below.

 

Product Price Notable needs
Gigabyte Radeon RX 580 4GB $199.99 One eight-pin power connector
Gigabyte Radeon RX 580 8GB $239.99
MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB OCV1 $239.99

Radeon RX 580 4GB cards are unquestionably the best value in sub-$200 graphics picks right now, and Gigabyte’s spin on the Radeon RX 480 4GB is a fine example of why. For just $200, gamers can get ahold of a card with performance superior to the old GeForce GTX 970 for about half of what those cards used to command.

Gigabyte Radeon RX 580 8GB

If you’re building with an eye toward future games where higher-quality textures will be the order of the day, we suggest Gigabyte’s Radeon RX 580 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 580 for buttery smoothness. Both the RX 580 4GB and RX 580 8GB can serve as the foundation for entry-level VR-ready systems, too.

MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB OCV1

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 580. 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. At $240, the MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB OCV1 is really all the card or cooler you need for GP106.

High end

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. Custom-cooled versions of that car have now arrived with upgraded power delivery circuit and far superior thermal handling than the Founders Edition. 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. The $700 price tag is lofty, to be sure, but you can’t get that class of gaming performance any other way right now.

Product Price
Gigabyte GTX 1070 G1 Gaming $409.99
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming $539.99
Gigabyte Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti $719.99

The prices for GeForce GTX 1070 cards didn’t drop quite as hard as that of the GTX 1080s in the wake of the GTX 1080 Ti launch, but they are nonetheless lower. Where previously you’d need $400 to $450 to grab a GTX 1070, you can now get a hold of a good specimen for $400, often less if you come across a good sale. Still, spending $100 more will get you a GTX 1080. While that’s not small investment, it buys you a lot more graphics power.

If your budget only stretches to a GTX 1070, however, fear not. Our Gigabyte GTX 1070 G1 Gaming pick is reasonably priced, sports Gigabyte’s excellent triple-fan cooler, pushed clocks, and comes with the buyer’s choice of two free games: Ghost Recon Wildlands or For Honor. At roughly $400, we think it’s the model to get.

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming

For those who want prefer the punch of a GeForce GTX 1080, 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.

Gigabyte Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is the uncontested single-GPU performance king, and every manufacturer out there has a custom-cooled take on them. We’re fans of Gigabyte’s cards in general, and their fair pricing in particular. For only $20 more than the initial launch price of $700, you can get a hold of a Gigabyte Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. It comes with a massive triple-fan cooler with offset spinners and can nominally boost to 1708 MHz in its OC mode. Boost clocks in Pascal cards are mostly just indications, so with this much thermal dissipation power at hand, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this card go far past that 1708 MHz mark.

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. 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.

 

Storage

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 500GB-class 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.

System drives

Budget

Product Price
WD Blue 1TB 7200 RPM $49.99
Crucial MX300 275GB $99.99
Crucial MX300 525GB $159.99
Crucial MX300 1TB $289.99

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 their pricing seems to be quite inflated of late. Plus their performance lead 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.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
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 $499.99
Samsung 960 Pro 512GB $329.99
Samsung 960 Pro 1TB $617.38

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.

Bulk storage

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.

Product Price Spindle speed
HGST DeskStar 7K3000 3TB $79.99 7200 RPM
WD Blue 4TB $117.99 5400 RPM
Toshiba X300 5TB $146.99 7200 RPM
WD Blue 6TB $196.99 5400 RPM

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 tend to 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. For those reasons we’re recommending a heterogeneous mix of drives for this section, covering both 5400 RPM and 7200 RPM offerings.

WD Red drives are mostly the same thing as Blues, aside from a longer warranty and some RAID-friendly features. HGST Deskstar NAS drives are a good alternative to WD Red Pro drives, too. While those two points usually aren’t worth the extra cost over standard HDDs unless you’re building a file server of some kind, steep discounts on these drives make them interesting options for those that need their spinning storage to be a cut above the rest.

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 DVDs and Blu-ray discs, though, and we’re happy to oblige them with a couple options.

Product Price
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 fairly affordable price. Can’t argue with that.

 

Cases

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.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Cooler Master N200 $49.99 microATX motherboard
Corsair Carbide Series 200R $56.99
Cooler Master MasterBox 5 $59.99
Fractal Design Define Nano S $66.99 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.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Fractal Design Define S $79.99
Corsair Carbide Series Air 240 $89.99 microATX motherboard, fan splitter
Fractal Design Define C $89.99 (window)
$79.99 (plain)
Fractal Design Define R5 $109.99
Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5 $109.99
Corsair Carbide Series 600C $114.99
Corsair Carbide Series Air 740 $141.99
Corsair Obsidian Series 750D $139.99

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. I followed Jeff’s advice when a while ago when I moved my main system into this case, and I’ve been pleased as punch 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

If you’d prefer something between the Define R5 and Corsair’s Obsidian 750D, we’ll glady point you to 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 recent 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 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.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Cooler Master MasterCase Maker 5 $149.99
Cooler Master Cosmos II $349.99 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 $150 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. Make sure your cooler of choice has slim end tanks, or it might not fit.

Cooler Master Cosmos II

At roughly 14″ x 28″ x 26″, the Cooler Master Cosmos II is humongous. At around $350, 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.

 

Power supplies

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.

Budget

Product Price Notes
Seasonic S12II 430B $41.90 Non-modular, one 6+2-pin PCIe power connector,

one six-pin PCIe power connector

Corsair CX450M $49.99 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. 

Sweet spot

Product Price Notes
EVGA Supernova 650 G2 $89.99 Semi-modular, two 6+2-pin PCIe connectors
EVGA Supernova 750 G2 $99.99 Fully modular

four 6+2-pin PCIe connectors,

semi-silent mode

Corsair RM750x $109.99 Fully modular, single 12V rail,

six 6+2-pin PCIe connectors, 10 SATA 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.

It’s worth mentioning that PSU pricing in the 80 Plus Gold arena is a little weird lately. Prices for units roughly between 550W and 650W are quite high compared to their higher-capacity brethren at 750W and 850W. Our choices above take this fact into account. You’ll also be forgiven for think we’re overspeccing power supplies, given that modern systems with a single graphics card have trouble breaking 450W of consumption or so. We’re picking higher-capacity units as a hedge against capacitor aging. There’s nothing like the warm fuzzy feeling you’ll get ten years from now when you’re still running the same PSU you bought today.

For systems that need more than the units in our budget range can supply, we’ll start with the EVGA Supernova 650 G2. This high-quality PSU has an 80 Plus Gold rating, fully modular cabling, and enough oomph (and plugs) to power graphics cards with multiple PCIe connectors. At $90, it’s a pretty good deal, and EVGA sweetens it further with a whopping 10-year warranty.

If you need even more power for lots of hard drives or basic multi-GPU configurations, EVGA’s Supernova 750 G2 fits the bill. EVGA’s confidence in the unit shows once again with a 10-year warranty. Beware, though: without registration, the warranty coverage only lasts three years.

On the upper end of the Sweet Spot, we have the Corsair RM750x, a recent 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 RM750x 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. Corsair offers 10-year warranty coverage on the RM750x, too.

High end

Product Price Notes
Corsair RM850x $119.99 Fully modular,

six 6+2-pin PCIe connectors, 10 SATA connectors,

semi-silent mode, C-Link monitoring

EVGA SuperNova 850 P2 $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 RM850x. This unit is similar to the RM750x model above, but with a little more punch. We’ve even run a Core i7-6950X and three GTX 1080s at full tilt off this unit with nary a peep or complaint. If you’re looking for a powerful unit that won’t break the bank, this is it.

The prices on 80 Plus Platinum PSUs have come out of the stratosphere recently. Given that development, we’re recommending EVGA’s SuperNova 850 P2 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. This unit should last you a good long while, and the company offers 10-year warranty coverage.

 

CPU coolers

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 5 1600X, 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.

Corsair H115i

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. Most companies will send you a free Socket AM4 bracket if you ask, though.

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 or observations
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $34.99 +
optional free AM4 kit
Tower-style air cooler Case with 6.3″ (159 mm) of heatsink clearance
Cooler Master Hyper D92 $38.49 Case with 5.6″ (142 mm) of heatsink clearance
AM4 compatibility kit coming
Phanteks PH-TC12DX $49.99 Case with 6.2″ (157 mm) of heatsink clearance
Noctua NH-U12S SE-AM4 $64.95 Case with 6.2″ (158mm) of heatsink clearance;

AM4 mounting kit included

Noctua NH-D15S $79.95 +
$7.90 (AM4 kit)

Case with 6.5″ (165 mm) of heatsink clearance
Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 140 $96.99 (140mm)

Closed-loop liquid cooler Case with a or 140-mm radiator mount;

clearance for push-pull radiator-fan stack
AM4 compatibility kit coming

Corsair H105 $103.99 +
$4.99 (AM4 kit)
Case with a 240-mm radiator mount
Corsair H115i $139.99 +
$4.99 (AM4 kit)
Case with a 280-mm radiator mount
Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 240 & Pro 280 $107.99 (240mm)
$99.99 (280 mm)

Case with a 240-mm (or 280-mm) radiator mount
AM4 compatibility kit coming

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.

If you’re looking for something a bit more upmarket but whose price doesn’t go into the stratosphere, how about the Noctua NH-U12S SE-AM4? This cooler comes with one of Noctua’s insanely-quiet fans and fits almost every socket under the sun, including AM4 for Ryzen builds. The base and heatpipes are made of copper, and you have the choice of adding a second fan for a push-pull configuration. Noctua says that even with the second fan, this cooler won’t interfere with any tall DIMMs. The company is so confident in this cooler’s quality that it’s offering 6-year warranty coverage.

Noctua NH-D15S

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.

I added an NH-D15S to my main system not too long ago, and I think it’s probably the best money I spent last year. The attention to detail that Noctua has is insane, the installation process is easy (considering this thing’s size), and the cooler performance is excellent. Oh, did I mention that the D15S is stupid quiet, even while keeping an overclocked Core i7-6700K in check?

Big tower coolers can’t fit into every enclosure, though, and for small-form-factor builds, liquid coolers like Corsair’s H60 and H80i GT 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.

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 is a push-pull cooler, 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 Corsair fans, the H105 remains a fine 240-mm contender. Even though it doesn’t have the latest RGB LED goodness, its extra-thick radiator makes for a fair tradeoff. 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.

Be aware that Corsair coolers manufactured by Asetek may not come with AM4 mounting hardware in the box. The company will ship you an AM4 bracket for free right now if that’s the case. If you’ve gotta have an AM4-compatible liquid cooler right this second, Corsair’s venerable H110i will bolt right on without a hitch.

 

Sample builds

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

  Component Price
Processor Intel Pentium G4560 $69.99
Cooler Intel stock cooler
Motherboard MSI B250 Pro-VDH $79.99
Memory G. Skill Aegis 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2400 $62.99
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 $41.90
Total   $494.84

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 G4560 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 $99.99 or so. If you’re wondering why we’re not recommending Optane Memory for this build, the reason is simple: it’s not cost-effective. Intel’s requirements say that you need at least a Core-series Kaby Lake CPU to go with it. That would mean that we’d have to use the Core i3-7100 for this build ($120), plus at least a 16GB Optane Memory device ($50). That’s a lot of cash to improve storage performance to SSD levels when you can just buy an SSD. Should Intel ease its policy on what systems can use Optane, we’ll gladly revisit this particular topic.

The Sweet Spot

  Component Price
Processor Ryzen 5 1500X $189.99
Cooler AMD Wraith Spire (included)
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-AB350-Gaming 3 $109.99
Memory G. Skill Fortis (2x8GB) DDR4-2400 $110.99
Graphics Gigabyte RX 580 8GB $239.99
Storage Crucial MX300 525GB SSD $159.99
Enclosure Fractal Design Define C $89.99
PSU Seasonic SSR-550RM $69.90
Total   $970.84

The Sweet Spot steps us up to a quad-core Ryzen 5 CPU and Gigabyte’s fully-featured AB350-Gaming 3 motherboard. We’ve also tapped Gigabyte’s Radeon RX 580 8GB graphics card for its affordable price and high performance. Pair that powerful graphics card with a large SSD, Design’s whisper-quiet Define C case, and an efficient 80 Plus Gold PSU, and you have a real winner for just under a grand.

The Sweeter Spot

  Component Price
Processor Ryzen 5 1600X $249.99
Cooler Noctua NH-U12S SE-AM4 $64.95
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-AX370-Gaming K5 $169.99
Memory G.Skill Flare X 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 $176.99
Graphics Gigabyte GTX 1070 G1 Gaming $409.99
Storage Samsung 960 EVO 500GB $256.99
WD Blue 4TB 5400 RPM $117.99
Enclosure Fractal Design Define C $89.99
PSU EVGA Supernova G2 650W $89.99
Total   $1,626.87

Well, well. That’s a massive change, isn’t it? The Ryzen 5 1600X is a seriously powerful CPU at its price point. We were favorites of the Intel Core i5-7600K for the longest time for this spot, but the times, they are a-changin’. The 1600X gets you six cores and 12 threads, and can game about as well as the Intel chip can. Coupled with a fancy Gigabyte GTX 1070 G1 Gaming graphics card, this combo should deliver an excellent gaming experience.

We’ve also taken the step of going with an NVMe SSD for a mid-to-high-end build. We think it’s time, and the prices on Samsung’s 960 EVO drives are low enough for the 500GB model to fit this build’s budget. The 4TB hard drive we’ve chosen should be plenty for any mass storage needs, too. This is the kind of build that makes us excited to be PC enthusiasts.

The Grand Experiment

  Component Price
Processor Intel Core i7-7700K $339.99
Cooler Noctua NH-D15S $78.35
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z270X-UD5 $199.99
Memory G.Skill Trident Z (2x16GB) DDR4-3200 $251.99
Graphics Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti $719.99
Storage Samsung 960 EVO 500GB $256.99
WD Blue 4TB 5400 RPM $117.99
Enclosure Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5 $109.99
PSU Corsair RM850x $119.99
Total   $2,195.27

If you’re chasing the best gaming performance around, our Grand Experiment will deliver the highest frame rates and lowest frame times one can get. 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 the Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is a veritable beast standing ready to power through 4K gaming or VR titles. A 500GB NVMe SSD will offer speedy performance for one’s most-used files and games, and 4TB of mechanical storage offers media buffs plenty of room to store pics and flicks without cutting into that valuable NAND. Finally, the 850W PSU and the MasterCase Pro 5 should allow for easy expansion without running into power or physical space limits.

The Work & Play

  Component Price
Processor AMD Ryzen 7 1700X $369.99
Cooler Noctua NH-D15S + AM4 kit $78.35
$7.90
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-AX370-Gaming 5 $194.99
Memory G. Skill Flare X (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 $176.99
Graphics Gigabyte GTX 1080 G1 Gaming $489.99
Storage Samsung 960 EVO 1TB $506.95
HGST Deskstar NAS 6TB $234.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $49.99
Enclosure Fractal Design Define R5 $109.99
PSU Corsair RM750x $109.99
Total   $2,330.12

Back when we reviewed AMD’s Ryzen 7 1700X CPU, we found that even though its gaming performance isn’t quite earth-shattering, it’s certainly more than competent. Gaming alone isn’t the focus of this build, though. The 1700X bests the Intel competition by offering twice as many cores and threads. We figured we could put the 1700X’s multi-threaded grunt to work in our take on a beefy Ryzen system.

We figure that if you’re willing to make the tradeoff in 99th-percentile frame times this build entails versus a high-end Kaby Lake system, you can easily game and stream, transcode (or both simultaneously). During work hours, the Work & Play will excel at compiling code, rendering 3D models, and music production. This box will be more than up to those tasks without going too much overboard, by our reckoning.

That all-rounder CPU is complemented nicely by Gigabyte’s GA-AX370-Gaming 5 motherboard and 16GB of Ryzen-tuned RAM. If you need more 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

  Component Price
Processor Core i7-6950X $1649.99
Cooler Corsair H115i $139.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-X99P-SLI $234.99
Memory G.Skill TridentZ 64GB (4x16GB) DDR4-3200 $508.99
Graphics Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti $719.99
Storage Samsung 960 EVO 1TB $506.95
HGST Deskstar NAS 6TB $239.99
HGST Deskstar NAS 6TB $239.99
LG WH16NS40 Blu-ray burner $49.99
Enclosure Cooler Master MasterCase Maker 5 $174.78
PSU Corsair RM1000i $179.99
Total   $4,645.64

This is where we do 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 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.

Corsair’s H115i closed-loop cooler, Cooler Master’s MasterCase Maker 5 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 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 has taken steps 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.

What’s next
The rumor mill is abuzz with talk about Intel’s X299 high-end desktop platform and its associated Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs. While rumors initially pointed to Intel bringing out these products in August, the rumor-mongers think that the company will reveal them at the upcoming Computex 2017 trade fair, which runs from May 30 to June 3. Retail availability is supposed to follow in late June. If you’re thinking about building a high-end system—or any system, really—it might be best to hold off until that time if you can wait.

As a quick refresher of what the rumor mill collected (and with an obligatory reminder to bring the salt shaker): Skylake-X CPUs are rumored to come in both 10-core and 12-core variations with up to 44 lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity and a quad-channel memory controller. As for Kaby Lake-X, the rumors peg them as quad-core units with dual-channel memory configurations—a rather odd similarity to the current bog-standard Kaby Lake offerings, and unlikely to shift any of our main recommendations in that arena. We’ll have to wait and see, but we think it’s high time for a refresh to X99. Both the platform and its associated CPUs are getting a little long in the tooth now.

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 yet.

However, we’re inching closer to Vega’s purported release date, so if you were thinking of getting a graphics card roughly with a performance level around the GeForce GTX 1070 or GTX 1080 and don’t mind waiting a little longer, stay your credit card until you see what the red team has to offer. 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 with that choice 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.

Comments closed
    • Zizy
    • 2 years ago

    For AMD’s CPU I would pick 1600 and maybe 1400 as an interesting entry point that gets you fairy cheap and powerful quad core. 1500X is too close to 1600 imo. 1600X has worse price/GHz and lacks cooler. If you OC, 1600 is cheaper and reaches the same frequency. If you don’t, 1600’s cooler is good enough.

    And given low price difference between 1500X and 1600, this sweet spot build would become a bit sweeter. If only you could save 85c on some other component so you remain just below 1k 😀

    • Shambles
    • 2 years ago

    Why even bother having a section on operating systems if you’re only going to mention one? What were you considering, recommending an operating system that is no longer getting any updates?

      • travbrad
      • 2 years ago

      It’s probably sort of a leftover section from past guides. There was a long time where Win8 was recommended by TR even though a lot of people still preferred Win7, and they gave their reasons. They don’t have to justify Win10 as much since Win7’s life is coming to an end soon and most people didn’t really like Win8 anyway.

      I do think it’s worth pointing out the new difference between OEM and Retail copies though. Sometimes you can get MS to activate an OEM copy on a new mobo but you really are at their mercy and they seem to be getting more strict on enforcing that. The Home retail version is only $20 more, which seems worth it to never have to worry about that stuff or spend time on hold with Microsoft support (who will generally make you try EVERYTHING else first even if they do let you activate on a new mobo)

      • K-L-Waster
      • 2 years ago

      On the other hand, saying “here’s your hardware choices, but you’re on your own for an OS” would make for an incomplete guide, wouldn’t you say?

    • Bensam123
    • 2 years ago

    Oh AMD CPU recommendations, Chuckula has to be frothing at the mouth right now while reading these. Someone get a sedative stat!

    • astrotech66
    • 2 years ago

    The AM4 compatibility kit you have listed for the Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro coolers is not correct. If you check out this link – [url=http://www.coolermaster.com/amd-am4-ryzen-compatability/en/#am4-compatiblity-list<]Cooler Master AM4 Compatibility List[/url<] - you will see that the MasterLiquid Pros and some others still have their kits listed as "Coming soon." I own a MasterLiquid Pro 280 and after I upgraded to Ryzen I eventually gave up on Cooler Master and got an NZXT Kraken 62. NZXT shipped me an AM4 compatibility kit within a few days of me requesting it. I'm trying to decide if I should hang on to the CoolerMaster or try to sell it.

    • Yan
    • 2 years ago

    You specifically note that the Fractal Design Define S has “no provisions at all for optical storage”. Isn’t this also true of the [url=http://www.fractal-design.com/home/product/cases/define-series/define-c<]Fractal Design Define C[/url<], even though you don't mention it? In fact, the [url=https://techreport.com/review/30904/fractal-design-define-c-case-reviewed<]review[/url<] of the Fractal Design Define C says that "the only things it can't hold are tons of storage devices, optical drives...", which suggests that it can hold at least one optical drive.

      • morphine
      • 2 years ago

      The Define C has no 5.25″ bays at all.

        • Yan
        • 2 years ago

        It’s confusing, at least to me, if you specify that some cases can’t accommodate optical storage, while failing to mention it for other cases that also can’t accommodate optical storage.

        It seems to me that you should always mention it when it’s true, or not mention it at all, perhaps with a general warning at the beginning of the section that users should check this if it’s important to them.

    • DragonDaddyBear
    • 2 years ago

    Thank you for clarifying what “high-end” was in this guide and when each CPU might be a best fit. I feel like CPU’s are becoming more use case specific than they used to.

    Now all you need is an ITX build to make the guide perfect. Yeah, yeah, it’s not “easy,” but you could just add a caveat that it’s for experienced builders only.

    • Ninjitsu
    • 2 years ago

    I’m actually curious about this – the 5820K wasn’t recommended for so long in your high end segment because it only had 28 PCIe lanes vs the 5930K’s 40. However now you’re not including any Intel HEDT chip despite Ryzens having half the memory bandwidth and less PCIe lanes.

    Maybe a provisional recommendation for the 6800K or 6850K is a good idea?

      • morphine
      • 2 years ago

      Look in the Builds section.

        • Ninjitsu
        • 2 years ago

        That’s…a peculiar build. To be fair in that segment it’s too specialized to be put together like this.

      • Jeff Kampman
      • 2 years ago

      Our concern about the number of available PCIe lanes arose in an era where multi-GPU might have made sense for a wider audience than it does now. With the dwindling importance of SLI and Crossfire, having a bevy of PCIe lanes from the CPU is nice, but it’s becoming more and more of a niche need.

        • f0d
        • 2 years ago

        it always was a niche need
        its been a long time since pcie bandwidth mattered, as far as i can remember without looking it up as long as you had pcie2.0 8X (or equivalent bandwidth in 3.0) to your cards you were fine and more bandwidth made minimal difference

        hardly anyone bought into intel HEDT for the pcie lanes – it was pretty much always for the extra cores

        sli/crossfire matters just as much now as it did back then – its always been niche that hardly anyone used

          • jensend
          • 2 years ago

          It’s always been a niche, but it’s a niche that’s gotten a lot less press time and hype over the past couple years than it used to. I think the increased focus on frametime analysis has been one factor.

        • Ninjitsu
        • 2 years ago

        I didn’t realise that multi-GPU was the main reason TR was recommending HEDT – I assumed it was for workstation purposes.

    • rasmusdf
    • 2 years ago

    Interesting article, with some good nuanced considerations in it. I like the recommendations.

    Overall this is so much better than Tom’s Hardwares last embarrassing best CPU recommendations.

    • Kairu43
    • 2 years ago

    “The Grand Experiment” build mentions a 1Tb SSD in the paragraph description, but it has a 500GB Samsung 960 Evo in the part list. That aside, I enjoyed the guide; Thanks!

    • Anovoca
    • 2 years ago

    Hey Guys, just a thought, but maybe in future build guides you could add one more column to the parts tables to place a gold/silver/bronze magnifying glass icon representative of any TR recommendation awards the parts may have received. I think it would be a great way to add more value to a part that receives one of these awards and to the award itself.

      • flip-mode
      • 2 years ago

      That is not a bad idea.

    • sirsoffrito
    • 2 years ago

    Tech Report used to make sound card recommendations with the System Guides as recently as December 2016. Is this now something that has become good enough with integrated, or is a relatively inexpensive card still worth upgrading to for anyone less than a professional?

      • morphine
      • 2 years ago

      Both, really. We intend to re-address that topic in the future. The recommendations we had were pretty long in the tooth.

      And yes, mobo audio has gotten better by leaps and bounds, too, particularly among the higher-end boards.

        • Chrispy_
        • 2 years ago

        I’m finding that sound quality is usually excellent, even on recent budget boards, even when using $500 headphones.

        The biggest problem with internal audio is no longer the quality of the output but how much EMI there is in your case. An internal Xonar or Soundblaster will still pick up interference from graphics cards etc and can convert that into faint high-pitched squealing etc, just the same as any motherboard codec will. Motherboard manufacturers have realised that it helps if you isolate the audio circuits on different parts of the PCB but that can only do so much to combat the interference that’s being bouced around inside your case.

        Secondly, many of the peripherals people use these days are USB, so the internal soundcard is bypassed completely and it just sits there being useless. The most common audio devices are:

        USB headset (audio output and input)
        USB webcam (audio input)
        Integrated TV speakers via HDMI
        Analogue heaphone jack on a monitor (via HDMI)

        Literally, the only point to a soundcard these days is if you’re wanting analogue output. Even then, one could question whether the money spent on an internal soundcard wouldn’t be better spent on USB audio devices or a external DAC instead.

        • jensend
        • 2 years ago

        Some of TR’s old Xonar reviews were based on tests that were supposedly (single-) blind, but not properly double-blind. Setting up a proper double blind test requires some care. See e.g. hydrogenaudio wiki for some details.

        I’m skeptical of claims these cards make a perceivable difference for playback, and TR should subject those claims to rigorous testing before recommending any such cards again. As Chrispy said, if and where there are playback improvements to be had over reasonable modern onboard audio, they probably have to do with using a DAC outside the case that’s not subject to as much interference.

        Getting a dedicated audio interface is still worth it for many recording tasks.

          • travbrad
          • 2 years ago

          More anecdotal evidence but my Xonar DG definitely sounded better compared to the onboard sound it replaced. That motherboard had particularly bad onboard sound though, and was a “budget” Z68 board from 6 years ago (ASUS P8Z68-V LX)

          On my newer mobo (ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S) the sound is good enough that I can’t tell a difference anymore. I don’t have the best gear in the world but I do consider myself someone who cares about sound quality, and if there’s a difference I can’t hear it on my M-AUDIO BX5as or my Sennheiser HD280s.

          Unless you have especially bad onboard sound or are very picky there’s probably not much benefit to a discrete sound card anymore solely for listening purposes. A separate device is really useful (if not mandatory) for recording purposes still though.

      • Airmantharp
      • 2 years ago

      My mid-range last-gen ASUS board, a Z170-AR, is spec’d to push 600Ohm cans, and I can verify that it can positively push a set of Sennheiser HD600s, an audiophile favorite.

      Generally speaking, surround audio is done by the games themselves in software extremely well, and decent motherboard implementations are basically as good as dedicated sound cards in terms of precision and noise floors. If you want better than that, you’re either going Creative for some of their proprietary game-processing trickery or you’re going with an external DAC and amp solution (or both, as some dedicated gamers use the optical output on the Soundblaster Z to feed a DAC/Amp setup).

      • Bensam123
      • 2 years ago

      They haven’t kept up on sound cards in years. It’s kinda weird for them to keep recommending parts they don’t really review.

    • Shouefref
    • 2 years ago

    Nice.
    But what’s very important is … connections on the front of the panel.
    I see some panels here which seem to have only connections at the back.
    Very incovenient for attaching USB-sticks. Even headphones and keyboards could become a hassle.
    I need 4 USB-ports at the front panel, and preferable also some old fashioned audio jacks.

    • maritrema
    • 2 years ago

    The budget mobo you are showing has four ram-lanes, but MSI B250M PRO-VD is a two-lane model, if I am not mistaken (?)

      • Shobai
      • 2 years ago

      You’re not mistaken.

      The part they’re showing is the -VD[b<]H[/b<], and the link with the price [$80] takes you to the right Newegg page. The link in the body of the text is to the -VD model, which looks to be $65 on Newegg currently.

        • Jeff Kampman
        • 2 years ago

        Fixed, sorry.

          • Shobai
          • 2 years ago

          “No probs, Bob: we’re on the job!”

    • ronch
    • 2 years ago

    It really blows me away how just last year you practically don’t hear about AMD anymore in these TR System Guides but since Ryzen came out these guides have been frothing in the mouth talking about Ryzen, Ryzen and more Ryzen. It seems the only time you’d consider Intel is if you’re willing to spend a fortune on an LGA2011 platform or you do nothing but gaming all your born days.

    Really amazing. Despite the generally lower gaming performance it’s really kinda hard to not consider Ryzen these days, especially the 1600X or, if you wanna go further, the 1700X or 1800X. There are also rumors that AMD is silently preparing to challenge Intel’s HEDT platform even more aggressively with a 16-core quad-channel Ryzen lineup. That would blow the last of Intel’s remaining bullet points clear out of the water.

      • K-L-Waster
      • 2 years ago

      It’s easy to understand. Their previous generation of CPUs were… *ahem*… underwhelming.

      RyZen is anything but.

      • Anovoca
      • 2 years ago

      It also blows me away to consider that the last time AMD had this type of hold on the market the consensus was backwards. Hard core gamers all wanted AMD (MORE COREZ) unless you were doing workstation tasks then you went with the faster clock per thread intels. As far as the chips go, not much has changed. AMD still has a monopoly on cores and Intel still has faster processing per core.

      That just goes to show how much more educated we have become as consumers in this market, thanks in large part to websites like TechReport.

    • Amien
    • 2 years ago

    The G.skill Flare X actually links to an Aegis kit. Thank you for the guide!

    • blahsaysblah
    • 2 years ago

    I think G4560 buyers should be aware it is the only one with 610 iGPU (GT1/12 execution units) versus all others having 630 iGPU (GT2/24 execution units).

    Might make a difference to some. Having used a 530(no difference game wise vs 630 supposedly) on a laptop for a few hours here and there(caveat with i7-6820hq CPU), it was fine with older but real games. I doubt the GT1 iGPUs are capable of much.

      • raddude9
      • 2 years ago

      I think in the sample build, the G4560 makes a lot of sense as it’s paired with a GTX1050 GPU and and extra EU’s would be going to waste. It’s only when planning a build without a discreet GPU a chip like the G4620 with its 24 EU’s would be well worth considering.

        • blahsaysblah
        • 2 years ago

        I dont disagree, only meant that the guide says there is no difference except a few hertz, but I can see the G4620 being better option for a few edge cases, just more info for buyer.

        A GTX 1050 is too weak an experience in 2017, i think its in same category as 32GB+ RAM. Not something average person should touch unless they know what they are doing. GTX 1050 ti minimum.

      • DPete27
      • 2 years ago

      I’m not sure the HD 630 graphics would improve things significantly. You’re still going to need a dGPU if you want to play games.

    • Takeshi7
    • 2 years ago

    For budget PSU I’d also include the EVGA B3 450. For the same price as the Corsair CX-450M you get fully modular cabling and a semi-passive fan. I got one for a recent build and I like it a lot.

    Having said that the Corsair is on sale on Newegg with a $20 rebate card for the next 6 hours, making the price only $30, which is hard to ignore.

      • morphine
      • 2 years ago

      Aye. A lot of people don’t realize that prices on many items, especially PSUs, change frequently, often multiple times a day. At some point, usually during the final review, we have to stamp our choices down if we’re only seeing minor price fluctuations.

      Else the guides would never get done 🙂

      • ImSpartacus
      • 2 years ago

      Is fully modular cabling that big of a deal?

      I thought the idea is that the cables that aren’t modular are the ones that you’d always need in a typical build.

      Is it the fact that you can’t swap out to alternate cables (e.g. Shorter ones)?

        • Takeshi7
        • 2 years ago

        It’s not that big of a deal to me, but it’s a nice-to-have. The semi-passive cooling was a bigger deal for me.

          • DPete27
          • 2 years ago

          The CX450M is on sale/rebate almost all the time at $30, whereas the EVGA B3 450 can be found for that price, but only on occasion. This is probably the reason for the B3 not making the cut although I thought TR didn’t consider MIRs in their pricing consideration….

          That said, I think the B3 deserves honorable mention since its non-MIR price ($50) is the same as the CX450M. I’d certainly value the B3 higher than the CX in terms of quality and features.

        • Demetri
        • 2 years ago

        Depending on your build, it can be a major help to be able to connect the mobo power cables before mounting in the case, and connect them to PSU after it’s mounted. On ITX boards in particular, the 4-pin can be pretty much inaccessible by hand once you have the board and a large tower cooler mounted in the case.

      • HERETIC
      • 2 years ago

      “making the price only $30, which is hard to ignore”

      NO NO NO.

      When you take away profits-transport-packaging,a $30 PSU might have
      around $5 worth of components (cheap ones)

      PSU IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF ANY BUILD.
      DO NOT SKIMP ON PSU…………………………………

    • TwoEars
    • 2 years ago

    You really nailed the sample builds this time around, nice work.

    $500 bucks and 1050 Ti card, nice. You can definitely do 1080p gaming on that thing.

    The sweet spot is really sweet, and it has an ssd.

    The Grand Experiment is a gaming monster with the 1080 Ti. The Noctua cooler will get som nice clocks as well. Ticks all boxes.

    Work & Play – Yupp. That’s what it is. Great choice for power users who aren’t gaming focused

    No holds barred… for people with money to burn, as it should be.

      • K-L-Waster
      • 2 years ago

      The Sweeter Spot build is looking awfully nice from where I’m sitting.

    • Tarx
    • 2 years ago

    Thanks for the guide!

    What about the Ryzen 1600 (non-X) for the sweet spot? It is suppose to have a decent cooler, and without touching the voltage easily reach 3.6GHz (i.e. the boost speed) and possibly 3.8GHz on all 4 cores so keeping the power use relatively low.
    Without the cost of having to buy a cooler, the difference in price is quite a bit larger between the 1600 and 1600X.
    Looking forward to seeing TR kick the tires on that Ryzen!

      • Yan
      • 2 years ago

      I had the same idea about the Ryzen 1600.

      TR’s explanation, that “clock speed is everything, and the non-X Ryzen 5s are a little lacking in that department”, makes sense, but after adding the cost of the cheapest recommended CPU cooler, the difference is $ 65 and 30 W.

      For what it’s worth, the difference in multi-thread performance between the 1600 and the 1600X according to [url=https://cpubenchmark.net/high_end_cpus.html<]Passmark[/url<] is trivial. Edit: And for $ 30 over the price of a Ryzen 1600X and a cooler, you can get an 8-core Ryzen 1700 with a cooler included. I think that makes it even harder to justify the 1600X.

        • toastie
        • 2 years ago

        “the difference is $ 65 and 30 W.”

        Exactly why I went with the 1600. Got it and the AB350-Gaming 3 MB in a bundle for just about $300. Still uncertain whether to go with a 1050 Ti for video or move up to the ‘SweetSpot’. I play strategy games at 1080p, so anything over the 1050 Ti is probably overkill. And I don’t like the power budget on the RX5x0 cards.

          • Anovoca
          • 2 years ago

          RX500s are just juiced up 400s. if you want smaller power budget there is 0% reason to get a 500 over a 400. Part for part the same except for the factory clock settings in the bios.

            • DPete27
            • 2 years ago

            Except that the 5xx series have beefed up cooling and power delivery compared to the 4xx series due to the higher power budget. [b<]Since both families are priced the same, you might as well get the 5xx series.[/b<] If you don't like the power draw of the 5xx, you can easily undervolt and save ~30W without taking a hit to clockspeeds, or drop the clocks down 5% and save even more power with even more undervolt. That said, the RX470/RX570 are priced a bit high right now (the RX470 4GB used to be around $130 on sale) so I'd have a hard time recommending them. The RX480/RX580 are also a bit higher than they were just a couple months ago also. Likely because they've gained ground against the GTX1060 through driver updates, so they're pricing them according to performance curve of the competition. It seems that there was essentially zero process efficiency improvement in the 5xx rebrand compared to the 4xx series. These are [i<]literally[/i<] just OCd 4xx series. [url=http://www.techspot.com/review/1393-radeon-rx-580-vs-geforce-gtx-1060/<]The RX480 is essentially the same performance as the GTX1060 6GB and the RX580's OC gives AMD the edge there.[/url<] The RX470 already beat the GTX1050Ti, so the RX570 is just a minor improvement on that.

        • K-L-Waster
        • 2 years ago

        Well, they did [i<]also[/i<] say... [quote<]If you do plan to overclock, however, our experience has shown that all Ryzen CPUs top out at about 4 GHz for all-core loads, and non-X Ryzen chips handle those multiplier tweaks just as well as their more expensive brethren, if not better. We're still working on our review of the Ryzen 5 1400 and Ryzen 5 1600, but we got our 1600 up to 3.95 GHz on all of its cores with nothing more than the Wraith Max cooler on top. Since all of AMD's SenseMI and XFR magic goes out the window when one starts overclocking Ryzen chips, it's not worth paying extra for a wider XFR range or higher boost speeds when you're not going to use them.[/quote<] From that it sounds like if you're an overclocker the 1600 may be your best bet. (Or the 1700 for that matter if you're in the moar corez camp...)

        • Welch
        • 2 years ago

        Yeah this has been my issue with the 1600x. If AMD would just offer the Wraith for an additional $20 or something that would be worth it. Or perhaps $35 to throw in a Wraith RGB for those who care about it. Even with the X, if you weren’t overclocking the Wraith should be enough to gain you some headroom with XFR.

    • srg86
    • 2 years ago

    “AMD’s newest CPUs have a reputation for being picky about the DDR4 RAM they’ll play well with”

    Very much reminds me of the Athlon Days, both Classic and Thunderbird (plus their supporting chipsets, since that’s where the memory controller was).

    I remember the recommendation was that these machines needed good quality RAM.

      • shank15217
      • 2 years ago

      I think we all need good quality ram, amen!

        • derFunkenstein
        • 2 years ago

        And some good quality ramen

          • Anovoca
          • 2 years ago

          (groans)

    • ImSpartacus
    • 2 years ago

    TIL what “fenestrated” means.

    Also, the Fractal Design Define R5 has metric fuck load of options/variants.

    Concerning the CX450M, is it standard to assume that an 8-pin PCIe connector will always be in a 6+2 setup?

      • morphine
      • 2 years ago

      [quote<]Concerning the CX450M, is it standard to assume that an 8-pin PCIe connector will always be in a 6+2 setup?][/quote<] According to the product page, the PSU has a 6+2 connector, yes.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 2 years ago

      “With windows.”

      • Mr Bill
      • 2 years ago

      Pore word choice.

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