When I first did a PC part build list this summer, I started on the low end of the totem pole. The $750 build was intended for budgeteers who wanted a capable gaming PC without crossing into the (dramatic pause) dreaded four-figure range. After being peer-pressured by the Cheaper is Better Lobby, I went even lower, producing the Golden Egg that is the $550 build (Windows included, tee hee!)
With two budget builds online for all the Internet to enjoy, I feel like I’ve earned some me time. Maybe I’ll go on vacation to Belize, or start that shot glass collection… or maybe I’ll just put together a PC part list that’s 100%, USDA-approved Devin. That’s right, this latest list is approximately what I would build right now if I needed a new gaming PC.
This isn’t a budget PC, nor is it a ziggurat for all PC players to bow down before (I’ll do a $2,000-plus build at some point). This is a PC that will play anything I want, how I want, without utterly compromising my short-term financial situation.
As with previous builds, the same rules apply on opinions and money. The final cash total is a ball-park, as pricing and rebates on the likes of Amazon and Newegg can fluctuate daily. Whatever the final price is, try to put a $25 +/- on the sticker, and everything will work out nicely.
As for opinions – and we all know your Hater Ion Cannons are fully charged – please drop your hardware thoughts in the comments nicely. Just because I chose a SanDisk SSD over a Samsung model (spoiler alert!) does not mean you and I have to re-enact Kingdom of Heaven.
So what would my ideal PC look like? LET US BEGIN.
CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K
$239.99 on Newegg
As this is a gaming PC first, and everything else second, I picked what I think is the best gaming CPU on the market. Intel’s Core i5-4690K is just above the sub-$200 price range that AMD is currently dominating, but sits below the Intel i7 SKUs that many gamers and enthusiasts like to target.
$240 gets you an unlocked quad-core CPU humming along at 3.5 GHz (which boosts up to 3.9 GHz in Turbo Mode). The only CPU feature that I might miss is Hyper-Threading, but with so many PC games still only using one or two cores (and not utilizing threading tech at all), there’s very little performance difference between the i5-4670K and it’s more powerful i7-4790K brother.
And if I do need to fiddle with some non-gaming apps on this PC? The 4690K is no slouch – just look at the benchmarks.
Motherboard: ASUS Z97-PRO (Wi-Fi ac)
$208.99 on Newegg
Now we need a motherboard to drop that Core i5-4670K into, and the Z97-PRO from Asus is a prime candidate. There are a few different -PRO models, so I’m targeting the “Wi-Fi ac” model, specifically.
The Z97-PRO has everything a gamer and/or mid-level enthusiast needs, including support for Nvidia Quad SLI and AMD Three-Way CrossfireX, front and rear USB 3.0 support, SATA Express, M.2 (mobile SSD) support, and Crystal Sound 2 built in. For the overclocking crowd, there’s support for DDR3 RAM speeds up to DDR3-3200, and Asus makes the process newbie-friendly (relatively speaking) with one-clicking optimization, and a feature-laden UEFI BIOS.
As for the 802.11ac wireless baked in? It’s a luxury I want to have around, even if I don’t use it often. I always try to keep my gaming desktop near wired Internet, but sometimes that’s just not possible (friends house for a LAN party, and so on), so why not have the latest Wi-Fi standard handy? Bluetooth 4.0 is also included.
There are plenty of admirable socket LGA 1150 motherboards at the lower $150 price point, but the Z97-PRO Wi-Fi ac is the motherboard I want, for a price I’m comfortable with.
Memory: Team Xtreme 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-2400
$154.99 on Newegg
While 8 GB of RAM is my new norm (and should be for you, too), 16 GB is a good target for gaming PCs. Between games chewing up 2-4 GB of memory, those 20 or so Chrome tabs I have open at all times, and the lingering prospect of multimedia work? More is always better.
Team Group has always specialized in bringing solid memory products in at digestible prices, as is the case with the Team Xtreme DDR3-2400 kit I chose. This Xtreme kit is par for the high-end DDR3 course, evidenced by big heatsinks and respectable timings. If I built this rig tomorrow, I wouldn’t be overclocking anything – that’s always a path I save when a system is at end-of-life – otherwise I might choose a faster kit with quicker timings.
16 GB RAM kits generally bottom out around $145-$150 dollars, so spending $155 is nearly as cheap as you can get.
Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 280X by Sapphire
$269.99 on Newegg
Nvidia! AMD! IN A STEEL CAGE!
It’s never an easy choice, as the Mean Green Machine and Big Red both have compelling options all over the price board. I wanted to stay under $300 for my GPU choice, while still retaining the ability to max out games at 1080p, or have respectable fps at higher resolutions.
I’m a big fan of Nvidia’s 700 series, from GeForce Experience onward, but AMD’s R9 280X is the sub-$300 king. The model I chose – a little dual-fan number by Sapphire – is $270 ($260 after MIR), which is at least $40 below the GTX 770’s price range.
The R9 280X is a beast, and it manages to stay right in the GTX 770’s blind spot while coming in $40 (or more) cheaper. Even 4K gaming is a reasonable affair, Bioshock Infinite included. And if one was to enter the cryptocurrency game, having an AMD card is exactly what the Dogecoin doctor ordered.
Other reasons to look at an AMD GPU? Improved drivers (even if Nvidia’s software is still better), along with Mantle support – a must-have for any Battlefield junkies out there (yours truly included).
Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA 850W
$144.99 on Newegg
EVGA’s SuperNOVA 850 is one of the best 800W-900W power supplies on the market today. JonnyGuru gave the unit a 9.9 out of 10, for Pete’s sake, so this is a pretty open-and-shut case. I’ll admit that an 850W power supply for the hardware I’ve chosen is on the high end of the spectrum, but it’s better to be cautious (when operating outside of a strict budget) when choosing a power source. And if I ever decide to add a second 280X, or upgrade to an AMD R9 380X (or whatever it will be called) down the line? The extra power will be welcome.
The feature list is impressive, including an 80PLUS Gold rating, three-way PSU fan controller (Eco, Off, and On), and six PCI Express connectors (2x 6-pin, 4x 6+2-pin) for the SLI and Crossfire crowd(s). The SuperNOVA is also 100 percent modular – including the 24-pin and 4+4-pin power connectors – which means you have total control over how much cabling will live in your case. This single 12V configuration might turn some enthusiasts off, but it will do nicely for a mid-range PC like mine.
As for the price? $145 is a big high, sure, but the power supply is the one component you never want to compromise on. If the PSU goes, so could the rest of your hardware.
Case: NZXT H440
$119.99 on Newegg
Like Puff Daddy/P.Diddy/Diddy Dirty Money/Sean Combs/Deep Throat before me, I am a fan of white in my PC cases. I’m also a fan of restrained design, and the NZXT H440 checks both of those boxes.
Four included fans (three 120mm in the front, 140mm in the back) keep the oxygen flowing, and there’s room for two more up top. And for the liquid-cooling geeks, the H440 you house a radiator up to 360mm. Cable routing is ample, as are the I/O ports on the front – 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, audio.
And… well just look at the case. Not to go all Jeremy Clarkson here, but the H440 is just plain beautiful, like the Mercs that man holds so dearly. I think the only other company with comparable design philosophy is Fractal Design, but the I prefer the inside organization of the H440 (and its closed-off PSU bay) over the latter’s current offerings. If and when I build another PC (probably around Intel’s forthcoming Broadwell platform), this is the case I am buying.
SSD: SanDisk Extreme Pro 240 GB
$199.99 on Newegg
There are a number of ways you can set up storage on your PC, or your home network. As far as internal storage is concerned, I’ve been a two-drive man as far back as my wallet has allowed. But gone are the days of the 150 GB Raptor drive and 500 GB media dump. Now it’s all about that precious solid state hyperspeed.
The amount of choice in the SSD space is fantastic, from Intel and Samsung, to Mushkin and OCZ/Toshiba. But for an OS drive, I went with one of the newest, fastest drives around.
The SanDisk Extreme Pro is a brand new offering, and it’s one of the fastest consumer drives available today. I chose the 240 GB model (options go up to 960 GB) because this drive is going to be primarily for my OS of choice (Windows 8), some apps, and – maybe – one or two go-to multiplayer PC games.
So how does SanDisk’s newest break down? Along with a solid ten-year warranty, the Extreme Pro packs SanDisk’s own 19nm flash memory, a Marvell 88SS9187 controller, and benchmarks that can best even Samsung’s latest 850 Pro.
You would not be wrong to choose the Samsung 850 Pro over SanDisk’s Extreme Pro – both are stellar offerings – but the latter is a few dollars less (on Newegg, anyway), and the 240 GB vs 256 GB difference is of little consequence in an OS drive.
Storage: WD Black 2 TB
$139.99 on Newegg
Mechanical storage is largely a two-horse race – Seagate versus Western Digital. Like the Samsung vs SanDisk battle above, both companies are compelling offerings. I chose a 2 TB WD Black drive because of its warranty (five years), and lower price compared to a Seagate equivalent.
The WD Black has 64 MB of cache, the latest SATA III 6 Gbps interface, and… well, it’s about what you’d expect in a 7,200 rpm hard drive. No low-power 5,900 rpm malarkey here!
Optical: Asus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS DVD Burner
Price on Newegg
It plays, burns CDs and DVDs, and it’s $20. High five? High five.
All totaled, my hardware shopping list comes to about $1,478. Once we include Windows 8.1 OEM, that price comes up to $1,578 – call it $1,600 just for kicks. That’s a mid-range PC budget if I’ve ever seen one, and the end result will keep me in the 1080p and 1440p sweet spot for years to come. As for 2160p/4K gaming, hitting 30fps-plus in most games (your Crysis 3’s of the world aside) should be possible.
There are a number of ways you could have a few shekels off the final price. You could opt for a lower Intel Core i5, like the respectable i5-4430, or one of the many awesome sub-$200 options AMD currently offers. RAM could be stepped down from DDR3-2400 to a lower speed like -1600, or even downgrade to an 8 GB kit.
I could go on, but as this is the PC that I want to build, I don’t need your precious compromises. But I will take your suggestions/snarky quips down in the comments. Would you go all AMD? Maybe drop the SSD in favor of a hybrid drive? Post your (reasonable) dream build in the comments.