Guru3D Winter 2018-2019 PC Buyers Guide

PC Buyers Guide 38 Page 1 of 6 Published by



Guru3D Winter 2018-2019 PC Buyers GuideOr the near spring edition ;)

Just a few months down the line, and here it is - again - that time of the year. Welcome to the Guru3D Winter 2019 PC Buyer's Guide. You'll notice that this version of the guide has come out a little later than normal, and that is for good reason. CES 2019 came and went, and the major announcement that everyone was expecting to see 'big things' from didn't really happen. What am I talking about? Well, Zen 2. We did, however, get enough of a preview of its potential to be excited. That much is evident. As for final model numbers, clock speeds, and SKUs, we are still none the wiser. With that said, discussion of Zen 2 will not feature from here on, and this will apply to all speculative hardware. Anyway.

What about other areas of the industry? Is RAM still expensive? Well, yes, but actually not quite as horrific as it once was. From where I sit in the UK, 16GB kits of relatively fast RAM can be had for just over the £100 mark, which is a marked improvement on what was staring us down just half a year ago, or even a little less than that.

So, what has happened? Well, in terms of pricing, Turing has seen a small come down, especially the RTX 2080. Ray Tracing has seen a major performance boost, which is great to see for the future of this tech. DLSS has now been firmly spotted in the wild and is being implemented on 3DMark's Port Royal benchmark. For the purposes of this guide, I'll assume that it will be, so any recommendations that mention Turing will be made with the proviso that RTX and DLSS will feature more as time goes on.

Should you wait for Zen 2? I will take the same approach as I always do to this question. It depends. Are you so desperate for a CPU upgrade that a single second longer on 'whatever you are on' isn't viable? Sure, but you'll be waiting till' the middle of 2019. Until then, go for something else. AMD still offer compelling options in the Pinnacle Ridge lineup, and Intel's Coffee Lake and Coffee Lake S chips are still very potent for gamers, content creators, and just about everyone, to be honest. 

There was absolutely no mention of Navi at CES, to the shock of everyone in the audience. However, what was announced was Radeon VII, a 7nm shrink of Vega 14nm that features performance akin to an RTX 2080(ish, at least for now), 16GB HBM2, 1TB/s memory bandwidth, and a near 300W TDP... yeah. Whilst it will certainly be an excellent card for professionals who cannot quite justify the outlay for Radeon Pro or Nvidia Quadro cards, the price tag of around 700-750 USD was perhaps more than most are wanting to pay. We reviewed the card on release day, and it will be making an appearance later, for sure. For now, you can read the review of it here.

Finally, we have the actually released RTX 2060, and the now nearly confirmed (but still incoming) GTX 1660 Ti. That is the last I will mention of the 1660 Ti, by the way. For the purposes of this guide, it doesn't exist. However, the 2060 is a fairly compelling GPU, if you totally ignore the fact it costs a good $100 USD more than it ideally should do. With stocks of the previous 1440p champ, the 1070Ti, drying up, the 2060 at around 350ish is perhaps your best option for mid-range 1440p gaming.

As per the norm, this guide will purely focus on the PC itself, and nothing else. Subjective and/or personal choices such as case/monitor and other peripherals will be ignored. Gaming will be our main focus, though please remember that pretty much all of these PCs should make decent workstations, ranging from 'Entry Level' to double usage, toward the final pages of this guide. Whilst we are aware that the total doesn't factor in monitor/keyboard/mouse, those are inevitable facts of life, and would make this guide longer than it already is.

Some of the more eagle-eyed here may also notice that the way I am doing GPU recommendations has changed, as well. Given the very weird place we are in right now with regard to Polaris, Pascal, Turing, and Vega (plus incoming releases), I think it's wise to try for a range of price points and see what is doable in each country (to some degree), so readers aren't disappointed.

As 2018 draws to a close, Full HD 1080p gaming performance is pretty much the standard, and lower resolutions are essentially the domains of AMD's Ryzen based APUs (2200G and 2400G), and consoles like Nintendo's much-loved Switch. Whilst expecting 1080p ultra settings isn't something you should expect from all modern GPUs, 1080p in general with variable settings, in order to achieve high frame rates, is doable on all but the most budget end of GPUs like the 1050/RX 560. Below are some factors we usually consider:

  • 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, or not too far from it.
  • Reliability: This, arguably, is as important as the price/performance concern. 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. Access to overclocking your CPU is dependant on your chipset, whereas memory/GPU overclocking is much less restricted.
  • Heat & Power: These two factors are inherently tied to one another, and heat is the absolute enemy of any modern computer. Whilst modern components are (almost universally) staggeringly efficient for the level of performance they spit out, overheating can still be an issue if you don't look after things carefully.

The Builds

I have done away with the naming scheme, instead simply referring to them by their level of cost. Speaking very generally, we are looking at builds with a base cost of around $300 USD, all the way to the 'overkill' build, which will hit around $3000-3500 USD. HEDT is highly variable, as, despite the initial higher outlay for the CPU/Mainboard/RAM, your costs for other parts will be entirely dictated by what you are choosing to do with your PC.

Computer Jargon

If you are new to PC parts, then definitely take the time to read this section. It'll give you a brief introduction to their use, and what they ultimately mean for your new computer. From here on, I will use these abbreviations to describe various components.

  • CPU: The central processing unit is your PC's brain, in effect. It is responsible for giving instructions to your entire PC. Quad cores are, in 2018, the minimum to expect in a desktop PC. These cores may be few in number, but they are fast and multi-purpose.
  • 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. They are the opposite to CPUs. Many small cores, highly specialized, and running significantly slower.
  • 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 turned off, the data stored in RAM is lost.
  • Motherboard: This is your PC's electrical skeleton, and all components of your build will be connected to it. Overclocking ability aside, motherboards never affect PC performance, so a high-end GPU in a low-end motherboard will make 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 hard drive...
  • HDD: Hard disk drives are essentially your cheap 'bulk' storage. Here, you store data that has less priority, is accessed less frequently, or is just too big to reasonably take up space on your faster SSD.
  • PSU: The power supply unit is what provides power to all the components. Getting a good PSU is important, so do not EVER skimp on this part. PSUs come in many flavours, and you will a lot about 'efficiency' (in terms of their 80+ rating) and whether they are modular or non-modular.
  • 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.
  • AIO: All-In-One Liquid Cooling System which is used to cool the CPU/GPU and is pre-filled, so making installation easy.

Computer 'Bottlenecking'

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 narrow-necked bottle. The data flow or 'work rate' from the fat part is inevitably held up significantly by the narrow neck, reducing the flow rate of the liquid inside (or, in our case, 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.

Eye Candy, FPS, and Frame Times.

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! Also remember that some graphical settings have a much bigger impact on framerate than others, e.g. shadows, ambient occlusion, anti-aliasing, etc. Below is a rough guide on what to expect from various frame rates.

Type Of PC Build
Light/Entry Level Gaming This is a new entry, and is aimed at the ultra-budget gamer who wants to spend as little money as possible. He/she can expect to game at 1080p (Full HD) in less demanding/older titles, or at 720p (i.e. 'Regular' HD) in newer titles. 60fps shouldn't always be expected, and the newest titles released in 2018 might be out of reach for playable performance. Unlike last time, this build will also contain an option for those wanting to spend a little more, and add a dedicated GPU.
Mid Level Gaming We're going higher on the budget scale now, this system is aimed at those targeting near maxed out 1080p gaming at 60fps, or even some QHD (1440p) gaming in lighter or less demanding titles. By no means, however, should this system be out of budgetary reach. Again, there will be dual options here for a range of price points.
High-End Gaming 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. Both are very achievable.
The Overkill Build 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 RTX 2080 or 2080Ti are the only choice.
The End All Build Do you have a lot of money? Do you have a desperate need for 4k 144hz gaming? Do you have a job that requires a workstation more that is more powerful than the sun? Well, we're here for you.

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 settings until the FPS is acceptable to you.
  • The 'Not-So-Cheap' method: Find and eliminate the bottleneck in the system. As stated before, it is usually the CPU or the GPU which needs to be upgraded.

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, 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 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 8600k with an i7 8700k). 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 dollars.

There is also the consideration that when actually 'playing' a game, a drop down in IQ might not be so noticeable. This is why I would encourage all gamers to tweak/play with a game's graphical settings, in order to find the best balance between frame rate and visual quality as possible. It's worth noting that a setting might have very little impact on quality, but might yield a 5-10% improvement in FPS.

Frame Times

More FPS = Better. It's that simple. However, what about 'Frame Time'? In a nutshell, the frame time is how long (in milliseconds) it takes for a rendered frame to be displayed on your monitor. For example, a game played at 30fps (consistently) will be spitting out a new frame to the display every 3.3ms. If this is consistently achieved, and with good optimization and blur, the game will still feel reasonably smooth to play, despite halved frame rate from our golden target of 60.

However, what happens when the frame time is inconsistent? Well, in one word, stutter. If your frame rate is bouncing all over the place (e.g. from 40-60), then the frame time will be varying from as low as 1.6ms (60fps) to 2.5ms. This might seem very minor, but it is very easily perceived by the player. In this scenario, someone should either lower in-game graphical settings to help maintain a higher frame rate closer to 60, or even use a 3rd party program to artificially limit the frame rate to, say, 45. This will, counterintuitively, result in a more consistent gameplay experience, despite the lower average frame rate.

There is, however, an important final disclaimer I must issue before we continue. Due to the nature of the guide this time around, I have to strongly state that the builds are merely frameworks. Pricing and availability (especially the latter) may make the parts I have used in the builds (based mostly on the US market) either unattainable or unrealistic within such a budget range. When that is the case, please use your common sense to figure out what you should be buying or looking at. I cannot reasonably cover the entire US, UK, Europe (France, Germany, Spain, etc), Australia, and Canada! If I did, this article would be triple the length and would take me a month to write. It already takes me a couple of weeks.

Well, everyone. Lengthy explanation and introduction over, waiting for you on the next page is our entry level build.

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. Can be entirely playable with good optimization, consistent frame pacing, use of a controller, and good implementation of motion blur.
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.' Still not ideal, in any case, and variable frame rates from 40-60 can still result in stuttery gameplay.
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.

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