Introducing The Bit, The Nibble, The Byte & The Megabyte
PC Buyers Guide Summer 2018
Welcome, all to the (Late) Summer 2018 edition of Guru3D's PC Buyer's Guide. This article will show you PC builds at various price points that we - as a unit - feel happy to recommend.
Since this guide was last written, the pricing of GPUs has - thankfully - seen a return to more normal levels. DDR4 memory is still outpriced and takes up far too much of a build's budget (for our liking), but you cannot have everything. As such, the general advice we would offer is to buy the fastest memory you can get your hands on. Ideally, especially for systems running AMD Ryzen CPUs, this should be in the 2933-3200 MHz range. With that said, if your budget only goes so far and getting faster memory means getting a lower end CPU or GPU (especially the latter), then, by all means, get the slower memory. A faster graphics processor will ultimately make a much bigger difference to your gaming experience than faster RAM will.
Another thing to cover before we get going is what is happening in the GPU sector, and that is to say 'not much... yet.' It has been nearly 2 years since Nvidia released their Pascal GPU lineup, initially of cards like the 1080, 1070, and lower. We then saw a trickle of new releases like the Titan X, Titan X(p), 1080Ti, and 1070Ti. AMD also released their mid range Polaris architecture (and a refresh of it), as well as their much awaited 'Vega' GPUs in 2017, to a fairly lukewarm reception. We will recommend the GPU we think is most appropriate for the build in question. Remember, this guide is a guideline and not gospel. You must make the choice that makes the most sense to you, when taking into account factors like cost, availability, price vs. performance, and even things like Nvidia G-Sync vs. AMD FreeSync.
Finally, before we move on with the guide itself, since it has been so long since the last GPU release from Nvidia/AMD, there are thick and fast rumours of new GPUs on the horizon (i.e. Nvidia's 'Turing' architecture, as well as AMD Navi and Vega 20 in 2019), but we can only write these guides based on what is available at the time, and we have no more indication as to what is coming up than you do.
First, note that we'll only cover the "innards" of the PC itself. External peripheral devices like; monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, chassis, etc are not included for brevity's sake. Why? Well, for the following reasons:
- The choice of chassis is perhaps the most personal one in a build. The reason being that the case is responsible for 90% of the builds' overall look, and different people like different things. No surprises there.
- Equally, the choice of monitor/keyboard/mouse is also a personal one. Some mice are heavy, some are light. Some keyboards click. Some do not.
We will not be covering small form factor systems here, as they come with a fairly long slew of further considerations that would notably increase the length of this guide. Today, we are only looking at more traditional ATX 'mid-tower' (or MicroATX) configurations, as they are much more predictable in their list of considerations. If you need some specific help regarding the choice of the above, then please feel free to post in our very supportive forums.
Since this site is called "Guru3D", we will target a system primarily intended for gaming, all whilst - we hope - not depriving you various valuables/limbs or other items with which to pay for it. It's also worth mentioning that a system primarily aimed at gaming does not in any way mean it can only do that, and even lower-end gaming systems with solid quad-core CPUs and capable graphics can make very decent entry-level workstations for the purposes of a photo, video, or audio work. Naturally, if you want to start cutting together or editing videos or photos that are multiple gigabytes in size, you'll need more.
In 2018, 1080p Full HD performance from even budget GPUs like a GTX 1050 is fairly reasonable, and their performance in 'E-Sports' titles in exceptional. In fact, E-Sports is what these GPUs are primarily aimed at. However, another new kid on the block are AMD's recently released 'Raven Ridge' based APUs, which are CPUs with onboard Vega 8/11 graphics. Yes, the same 'Vega' that powers the much higher end Vega 56 and Vega 64 graphics cards. Make no mistake, you'll be seeing these little powerhouses again shortly...
The following are the main criteria we use when assembling PCs, or at least recommending lists for those to follow!
- Price & Performance: This is fairly simple. At a 'given' price point, what list of parts give you - the reader - the best bang for your buck (or pound/euro) in terms of pure gaming performance? By this, we mean solid, consistent, and reliable performance at an ideal frame rate of 60 FPS.
- Reliability: Arguably as important as the price/performance concern! At the end of the day, what use is a PC that runs exceptionally well... for all of one day? We consider the reputation of the manufacturer. Are they known to make good products? What have others said about their products in the long run?
- Overclocking: Overclocking can help squeeze out that extra performance for free out of a system and can make a big impact on price versus performance. Overclocking on more 'budget' systems has also gotten a lot easier with this, with the advent of AMD's new AM4 CPUs! It is safe to say that this factor may swing our decision, depending on potential 'ease' of overclocking, and performance gained from it.
- Heat & Power: These two factors are inherently tied to one another, and heat is the absolute enemy of any modern computer. Heat means your PC makes more noise, usually means it is consuming more power, and can even lead to the premature death of your parts!
We serve a global audience, we won't be directly linking to the price as that site may not be available in that country. Instead, we will list the component and its price in EURO so you can have a good starting point to tweak these recommendations to your specific needs. So, without further delay, our system recommendations are broken down into:
If you are new to PC parts, then definitely take the time to read this section. It'll give you a brief introduction to PC parts, their use, and what they ultimately mean for your new computer. From here on, I will use these abbreviations to describe various components. Some may call it laziness, I call it efficiency. It is fairly remarkable, when you think about it, how well the interior of a PC mirrors the functionality of the human body!
- CPU: The central processing unit is, essentially, your PC's brain. It is responsible for giving instructions to your entire PC, including your GPU when playing games.
- GPU: The graphics processing unit is responsible for displaying all the content that you see. It renders the game's graphics, and - where needed - can also help with the rendering of high-quality images/videos in professional applications from the likes of - for example - Adobe.
- RAM: The random access memory is where temporary data is stored which is being worked upon by the applications. Think of this as your PC's short-term memory storage. When the PC is powered down, any data held in RAM is lost!
- Motherboard: This is your PC's electrical skeleton, and all components of your build will be connected to this central hub in some way. Overclocking ability aside, motherboards never affect PC performance (e.g. for a graphics card), so a high-end GPU in a low-end motherboard, often, will make next to no difference.
- SSD: A Solid state drive is where you generally install the operating system and possibly other applications too. You store data that you frequently access on this unit, as read/write (the speed at which the PC can access or write data to the drive) is significantly faster on an SSD than a traditional...
- HDD: Hard disk drives are essentially your cheap 'bulk' storage. Here, you store data that has less priority, is accessed less frequently, or is simply 'big' on this unit.
- ODD: The Optical disk drive is what you use to read the contents of CD/DVD/Blu-ray. In 2018, we would argue that one is somewhat unnecessary, given the advent of faster/readily accessible internet, and software downloads/digital content.
- PSU: The power supply unit is what provides power to all the components present inside the PC. Getting a quality PSU is very important, so please do not skimp or save money on this part. PSUs come in many flavors, and you will a lot about 'efficiency' (in terms of their 80+ rating) and whether they are modular or non-modular. I don't wish this section to be any longer than it already is, so trust me/us in the choice of PSUs at given price points.
- OS: The Operating System (e.g. Windows, MacOS, Linux) is what allows you to interact with the PC's internal components. As these are gaming PCs, Windows is a given here, and we will be recommending the use of Windows 10, given the end of support for Windows 7.
- AIO: All-In-One Liquid Cooling System which is used to cool the CPU/GPU and is pre-filled that makes installation and maintenance easy.
You may have seen this term floating around the web, and wondered what on earth it referred to! Well, put very simply, the term relies on the image of a bottle. I have always thought of a champagne bottle, i.e. one with a very wide/fat base, and a very narrow neck. The data flow from the fat part is inevitably held up significantly by the narrow neck, reducing what should be a 'flood' into a mere crawl of data.
If we take a second and think about it, there will be a bottleneck anywhere in a system. One component will naturally be holding up or slowing down the rest, but the extent to which it does this can often vary wildly. That said, the term is most often used in relation to CPUs and GPUs, and - even then - is almost always relating to a CPU bottleneck. Curiously, the most common bottleneck is actually a GPU induced one (i.e. your GPU is set at 100% usage, utterly maxed out and working hard).
Your CPU has to provide instructions for your system to actually do anything. In gaming, this means telling your GPU what to draw. Here, in a CPU bottleneck, your GPU is the fat part of the bottle, and your CPU is the neck. It's a somewhat reverse example, but - in essence - you CPU simply cannot provide instructions to the GPU fast enough. Your GPU is sitting there, waiting for the CPU to play 'catch up.' Without delving into this too far, at Guru3D, our build guides will always ensure (as much as can be possible) that there is no bottleneck in the system, or at least none that'll significantly impact your enjoyment!
Obviously, Guru3D tends to think that all games should be played at the best IQ (Image Quality) possible. However, the dilemma here is that increasing image quality settings have a direct result on the FPS you are able to play at. This is a problem, as whilst we all strive for at least 60fps, there are times where that might not be possible at the often coveted 'Ultra' settings. Below is a rough guide on what to expect from various frame rates.
||Type Of PC Build|
|The Bit||As said earlier, Full HD 1080p PC gaming is realistic even to smaller budgets nowadays. With that, this build is aimed at those wanting to get into PC gaming on a strict budget. Occasional resolution or graphical settings sacrifices may be needed here!|
|The Nibble||We're going higher on the budget scale now, this system is aimed at those targeting near maxed out 1080p gaming, or even some QHD (1440p) gaming in lighter or less demanding titles! By no means, however, should this system be out of budgetary reach!|
|The Byte||We are targeting 1440p gaming here at a smooth 60 FPS, or even - if you are so inclined - 1080p gaming at high refresh rates beyond 60Hz. GPUs like Nvidia's 1070 or AMD's RX Vega 56 are the aim here.|
|The Megabyte||High refresh 1440p gaming or even the start of a 4K (2160p) adventure! Here, budget somewhat goes out of the window, once you consider peripherals, and GPUs such as Nvidia's GTX 1080 Ti are - realistically - the only choice.|
Do note that if your FPS are low and you would like to increase them, here are two common methods at you can use:
- The 'cheap' way: Simply turn down the IQ settings in the game until the FPS is acceptable to you. Naturally, you will be sacrificing visual fidelity here at the gain of performance/FPS.
- The 'Not-So-Cheap' method: Find and eliminate the bottleneck in the system. As stated before, it is usually the CPU, but often the GPU which needs to be upgraded. Depending on the age of your system or GPU, this path could be either reasonably cheap (e.g. replacing a very old GPU with a modern, yet still budget GPU), or extremely pricey!
If you are lucky, then your upgrade will be a simple swap of your old graphics card. Simply pop-out the old GPU, pop-in the new GPU (make sure to clean install your video drivers!), and you're good to go. Of course, make sure that your PSU can handle the new GPU. Modern cards are getting ever more power efficient, so this really shouldn't be a huge concern unless you have a very low power (e.g. 350W) unit, or a very old one.
Somewhat more complicated will be a CPU upgrade. If you're lucky, the new CPU will use the existing socket (e.g. replacing an i5 6600k with an i7 6700k). In that case, all that'll likely happen is your PC will detect the new CPU, and then simply carry on booting. However, in most cases, changing the CPU means new motherboard and/or changing RAM. This is somewhat more involved, and will likely run you some reasonable dollar!
Well, everyone. Lengthy explanation and introduction over, waiting for you on the next page is the affordable PC. The Bit...
|Sub 30 FPS
||Potentially 'unplayable.' Stuttery, higher input lag, jittery gameplay.|
|30 - 40 FPS||Slightly smoother, but not ideal for mouse/keyboard. Less stutter and lag, but still a sub-optimal experience.|
|40 - 60 FPS||Depending on how close/far you are to 40 or 60, your experience in this region is smoother, less laggy, and significantly more 'playable.'|
|60 FPS (Locked)||This is the PC gaming 'starting point', for lack of a better word. 60 FPS gameplay is the main attraction of PC gaming, and gameplay here is smooth, plus has notably less input lag than 30 FPS.|
|High refresh rate (75 FPS+)||High refresh rate gaming (in my mind, anything beyond 75 FPS) is describable as 'butter smooth.' Input latency is reduced the higher you go, and gaming at these high frames rates is a true benefit of higher end PC gaming.|