Target Monitor Resolution: 2560x1600 or Multi-Monitor
This guide will only cover the box. Monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers are not included. I do this for brevity's sake, as the monitor alone would require its own guide, especially if I were to cover LCD monitors. Since this site is called "Guru3D" this guide will target a system intended for gaming primarily. So what sort of criteria do I take into account when deciding what parts to recommend?
Price and Performance: First and foremost, what gives the most bang for your buck, in terms of gaming primarily of course.
Reliability: Second on the list but just as important. This includes things such as compatibility (ever had RAM that worked on one motherboard but not in another?), trustworthiness of a brand overall (do they have a history of making reliable parts?) in addition to the reliability of the part in question.
Overclockability: Overclocking can help squeeze out that extra performance out of a system and can make a big impact on price versus performance (why should you buy a $1000 CPU if you can overclock a $200 CPU to match it?) so this factor can always swing my decision.
Heat and Power Issues: Heat is the enemy of a computer and it can affect the stability (and reliability) of your machine. Performance per watt has become a buzz word and as power requirements for computers rise I eye this more and more closely.
For those wondering about "Target Resolution," instead of listing a particular price point (since price will vary somewhat with vendor/e-tailer) I have listed here what type of resolutions you can expect to be playing most of today's games (with AA and AF on of course) on such a rig, both standard and widescreen resolutions were taken into consideration.
Intel Core i7 875K Lynnfield (Socket 1156) or Intel Core i7 930 Bloomfield (Socket 1366) Unfortunately Intel still stands unchallenged at the high end for gaming. By now the Core i7 should be well known to you all, if not you can find all the information in our Guru3D review. Whether to go for a Socket 1156 Lynnfield or make the step up to a Socket 1366 Bloomfield will rely greatly on whether you want to build a single or multi-GPU system. Also another hearty thanks to Intel for making things as confusing to the consumer as possible by naming two different processor lines for two different sockets both Core i7.
Now why in high-end these choices over say a six Core 980X processor you ask ? Because these six cores do absolutely nothing for gaming at the moment and this guide is about building a gaming PC.
Single GPU: Intel Core i7 875K Lynnfield (Socket 1156).
Intel at long last gives us a processor with an unlocked multiplier. This means you'll be building a system based around the Intel P55 chipset which lacks support for triple-channel memory.
Multi GPU: Intel Core i7 930 Bloomfield (Socket 1366).
Now this may come as a surprise to you but let's face it, for overclockers the Core i7 930 is pure gold at 300 USD. By going Socket 1366 you'll get the extra PCI-Express lanes of an Intel X58 based motherboard for those multi-GPU setups. You can also opt the 950, 975 or even a hexa-core 970 or 980X of course. But overclock a 930 a little and for your gaming experience it'll remain roughly the same. You can save so much money not opting for a high-end Intel processor and put that money to good use with a better more expensive graphics card. But that's your call to make of course. However, if you say, transcode a lot, sure .. go for that 1000 USD 980X.
Don't let me catch you cooling that high end processor with the stock cooler! Enthusiasts tend to have their own preferences as to what high end cooler is the best so allow me to provide a list of few of the favorites: Prolimatech Megahalems, Thermalright TRUE and Venomous X, Noctua NH-U12P, Thermaltake Frio.
What to look for when buying a motherboard, regardless of chipset or processor it supports:
Good chipset cooling. Chipsets these days continue to run hotter. Better cooling means improved stability, improved longevity and better overclocking potential. Be mindful when using a passively cooled motherboard (even one with the works, including copper heatsinks and heatpipes) to ensure that you can provide the coolers with adequate airflow.
Solid state capacitors. Offers improved longevity and heat resistance as well as avoids the dreaded "leaking" capacitor problem.
Improved voltage regulator. Does the motherboard use a 3 phase voltage regulator or something higher? How do you determine the phase you ask? It is determined by the number of MOSFETs (Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor) used. As a rule the higher the number (and hence the phase) and quality of the MOSFETs, the cleaner (higher quality) the voltage delivered to the CPU, offering improved stability and overclockability of the CPU and improved thermals for the MOSFETs. Many motherboards now feature heatsinks to cool the MOSFETs as well, always nice.
Features. What features do you need? Chipset features vary broadly as do features individual motherboards may offer. Do you need RAID? If so what type? If you chose to use onboard sound then take a close look at the audio chipset and its associated features as they differ widely. All things to consider.
Editor's Choice P55: There is a large selection of Intel P55 based motherboards are now available. A deciding question will be if you care about USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps and if so whether you're willing to sacrifice PCI-Express lanes to keep the price lower.
Editor's Choice X58: Asus P6X58D-E. Asus brings in a much more affordable version of their earlier Deluxe version, very little has been cut (in fact it even has an improved Marvel 9128 controller) and still offers all the goodies like support for USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps. As always if you don't like this recommendation there is a slew of X58 boards on the market to take your pick of.
Solid State Drive A high end computer deserves a high end drive. Time to make the move to a solid state drive! It will be one of the biggest performance upgrades you have made to in some time (and also one of the most expensive). Be sure to do your research, SSD technology continues to change rapidly with new drives and new memory controllers popping up frequently. I also suggest you read read one of our many many reviews. Here are a few tips:
SSD's need free space. Performance begins to degrade if you don't leave 20-25% free space on the drive, so I recommend not getting a drive smaller then 100 GB.
Space is still a problem with SSD's as you can see. Before you upgrade check to see how much space you are using. When I upgraded to a SSD a quick check revealed my hard drive with OS and applications only installed already took up 120 GB, so I ended up going for a 160 GB SSD.
TRIM support and Windows 7. You want it. You need it. Otherwise your SSD's performance will degrade over time.
If you want to use RAID, you must use an Intel RAID contoller as currently Intel are the only ones who have provided drivers that can pass TRIM properly in this situation.
Aim for a SSD using the Intel, Indilinx or Sandforce controllers. Sandforce is the newcomer and offers some of the fastest drives on the market, but comes at a premium. Indilinx offers good performance and is a bit more affordable. Intel drives are the most reliable and offer the lowest price per GB.
A final note: You will absolutely want a secondary traditional hard drive to store all your multimedia, it will not fit on that small SSD (for example I use a 160 GB Intel X-25M for OS and applications and a 1.5 TB hard drive for everything else).
6 GB or 8 GB DDR3 1600 MHz RAM Six GB seems like an odd number doesn't it? Well with the Nehalem's tri-channel memory controller you want to install RAM in three's instead of pairs for optimum performance, so if you went with the Socket 1366 platform, install in 3's. If you went Socket 1156 you still install in pairs. Now there are a lot of DDR3 modules available on the market but Intel has included one very large caveat with their Core i7 processors: that the memory voltage not exceed 1.65 volts if you wish to avoid premature processor death. So unless you are feeling particularly adventurous, you will want to be on the lookout for dual or tri-memory kits made specifically for the Core i7. Also note that to use that 6/8 GB you're gonna need to install a 64 bit version of your OS of choice... And that choice better be Windows 7.
Single GPU: AMD Radeon 5870 1 GB GDDR5 The Radeon 5870 remains my choice if you want to use a single GPU. The GTX 480 may offer a bit more muscle but it comes at a heftier cost, as well as significantly higher power and thermal requirements, giving the 5870 the edge if you want the best price per performance and power. With all the money you just saved on the processor, alternatively you could opt a dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 of course.
Multi GPU: GeForce GTX 480 NVIDIA has certainly been busy with their Fermi drivers! Last week NVIDIA unveiled their 258.69 drivers unlocking NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround, finally allowing the multi-monitor gaming support that AMD users have been enjoying for some time now thanks to Eyefinity. Compared side to side though the Fermi architecture really shines through when you move into multi-GPU setups.
Asus Xonar D2X 7.1 Vista left the audio card market wide open by removing direct hardware access, thus taking away Creative's long enjoyed performance advantage thanks to EAX. Into the fray comes Asus with their excellent Xonar series that offers a knock out punch:
Our own audiophile Brann Mitchel: Speaking of fearsome, it took all of 5 seconds of listening to the Xonar D2X to know that it is our new reference sound card. This unseats the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude at the high end (not that we really keep track of these things) as our favorite all-around card to game, listen to music, and watch movies with.
Samsung Blu-Ray Drive SH-B083L With the price of a Blu-ray drive/DVD burner combos having fallen well below 100 USD, no reason not to make the step up now. This drive is capable of burning 16x DVD+R and DVD-R, 8x DL as well as 12x DVD-RAM, 8x BD-ROM and boasts a SATA interface. It is also a LightScribe capable drive. This will allow you to burn a label (or image or whatever you want) onto your disks, no more barely legible permanent marker labeling!
Okay Im going leave this one open to your decision. Cases are a love-hate thing, what one person likes another will not. So go find a case you think suites you. I have a few suggestions when looking for a case. Aluminum is a definite plus; it will make your computer significantly lighter. 120mm fans are the way to go as well, ensuring good airflow in your case while maintaining a minimum of noise. A removable motherboard tray is particularly useful in cramped cases.
850 Watt or Higher The power demands of the PC continue to escalate, thanks in large part to GPU's and the move to quad core CPU's. Be sure to go out and get the biggest and best power supply you can, do not skimp on the power supply! This is an often overlooked part and yet it's the source of so many computer woes. Be sure to check the amps on the 12V rail(s), you want a power supply that can handle a lot, multiple 12V rails is an additional plus (although not required, PC Power and Cooling is well known for their excellent single 12V rail power supplies).
For a frame of reference: For a single GeForce GTX 480 a 600 Watt power supply with 40 amps on the +12v rail is recommended. Just remember: don't try and buy a cheap generic brand to save some cash, just because it says 1000 Watts (or whatever the number is) doesn't mean it can actually handle that (sadly). Quality counts big, be sure to get a quality power supply or you can face any number of problems. Also remember it never hurts to err on the side of caution and get more watts then you need, then to come up short when you decide in 6 months to upgrade to that latest video card!
PC Buyers Guide Winter 2011 Guru3D offers you their bi-annual PC Buyers Guide, this is the 2011 Winter edition. This article brings you a set of recommendations of products we feel are great components to build yourself a nice gaming rig. We go from low-end targated at gamers, to high-end for the enthusiast fragger.
PC Buyers Guide Summer 2011 Guru3D offers you their bi-annual PC Buyers Guide, this is the 2011 Summer edition. This article brings you a set of recommendations of products we feel are great components to build yourself a nice gaming rig.
PC Buyers Guide Winter 2010 Guru3D offers you their annual PC Buyers Guide, this is the 2010 Winter edition. This article brings you a set of recommendations of products we feel are great components to build yourself a nice gaming rig.