It has been a while since Overclockers.com has put out any kind of buyer’s guide. In fact, the last one was way back in 2011 but was typically looked upon positively, especially from those many users who come here looking for build advice. With ownership changing hands getting away from a large conglomerate and back into more passionate hands of staffers here, we thought it would be a good idea to bring the article back. The goal of 2018 holiday buyer’s guide is to present a state of the union as to what a user should choose for processors, RAM capacity and speeds, motherboards, video cards, and power supplies.
I have to admit it felt pretty nostalgic to look back at that article and see what system requirements we came up with and what was available back then. For example, when discussing RAM our absolute minimum was 2×1 GB with a standard of 4/6 GB (2/3×2 GB) for any gaming system with suggested speeds of the DDR3 around 1600 MHz. Video cards of choice were Fermi based/GTX 5 series from NVIDIA along with AMD’s 6000 series cards based on the Caymen architecture and offered users up to 4 GB of video memory. Motherboards were also a bit more simple and didn’t have all the fancy RGB LED bling, though some pretty colorful boards hit the market and designs were maturing and becoming more creative instead of simple green or brown PCB with some colored slots. Though honestly, some may want to go back to that more simple day predating some of the disco ball capable boards we have today. Processors at the time were mostly dual and quad cores with hyperthreading which was sufficient for PC applications and gaming. AMD did have a hex-core out in its Phenom II lineup (as well as Intel, but in the HEDT space), but for the most part, the quad-core was where it’s at. Compare that to today and we now have double the cores and threads on the mainstream with Intel and AMD both having octo-core processors with Hyper-Threading (HT)/Simultaneous Multi-Threading (SMT) giving users a whopping 16 cores at the top end of the mainstream (HEDT is another story). It is truly amazing the amount of power that we have sitting on our desktops today.
Well, enough rambling on about the past. As much as it as formed computing, other technologies have appeared in the time since like Virtual Reality gaming, 4K UHD monitors, and changed some of the ways things are done. This guide should help users get an idea of what a building a system from three different price points can bring to the table around the holiday season. We know there will be points we all disagree on and questions as to why part A was used over part B, but this is just intended to be a guideline. Every user’s requirements are different. That said we still would like to hear our reader’s opinion for a given price point in the comments. Other than that, it is time to sit back, relax and take in our perspective on what is what for 2018.
What do I need?
We briefly talked about the past in the introduction and mentioned how things have changed with system requirements and especially consumer’s wants and needs. Applications and games are using more resources than ever, including the number of threads, and some games and PC activities love clock speed. So what do I need? We’ll start with processors.
Processors: Quad-Core? Hex-Core? Octo-Core? More?!
We’ll cut to the chase here on the AMD versus Intel situation and simply say that AMD does hold the performance/dollar crown in many circumstances. Intel’s recent release of the Coffee Lake refresh CPUs (i9 9900K, i7 9700K, i7 9700K) finally brought an Octo-core (8 logical cores) CPU to their mainstream lineup where AMD has had an Octo-core for a couple of generations now. The problem is most software can’t take advantage of that many threads, so often times clock speed and IPC rules which is a place that AMD is lacking (particularly in clock speed as IPC is now within a few percent).
In general, most users would want a quad-core CPU with HT/SMT capabilities. Power users and enthusiasts would want to step up to at least a Hex-core on processors and say that for many a quad core with HT/SMT abilities is a great PC to start with. For those with a larger budget, both AMD and Intel offer users hex core CPUs with AMD being more reasonably priced than a comparable (by core/thread count) Intel CPUs. Power users, hardcore enthusiasts, and hardcore gamers, will go all out and get something in the mainstream that is Octo-core based. While the frames per second difference may not be noticeable, if the PC isn’t just for gaming, the additional threads (and discrete GPU) can speed up other applications so it can be worth it on that front if bragging rights aren’t enough. In the end, it all depends on budget and use case as to which CPU will fit best for you.
Cooling these CPUs also needs to be a consideration here as the more cores and threads we add, the more power it uses thus more heat it has to dissipate. If you plan on overclocking, you will want a good cooler. Be it high-end air cooling or a 2×140 mm or 3×120 mm+ Closed Loop Cooler (CLC) it has to be a primary consideration. For this reason, we mostly picked CLCs as we are Overclockers.com and most users that come here will overclock initially, or at least at some point.
Below is a short table of the Coffee Lake and CFL refresh CPUs as well as Ryzen and Ryzen 2 CPUs.
|Intel 9th Gen Core Product Stack|
|Core i9-9900K||$580||8 / 16||3.6 / 5.0||95W||16MB||2666||GT2|
|Core i7-9700K||$374||8 / 8||3.6 / 4.9||95W||12MB||2666||GT2|
|Core i5-9600K||$262||6 / 6||3.7 / 4.6||95W||9MB||2666||GT2|
|Intel 8th Gen Core Product Stack|
|i7-8086K||$440||6 / 12||4.0 / 5.0||95W||12MB||2666||GT2 (24 EUs)|
|i7-8700K||$370||6 / 12||3.7 / 4.7||95W|
|i7-8700||$320||6 / 12||3.2 / 4.6||65W|
|i5-8600K||$270||6 / 6||3.6 / 4.3||95W||9MB|
|i5-8600||$250||6 / 6||3.1 / 4.3||65W|
|i5-8500||$328*||6 / 6||3.0 / 4.1||65W|
|i5-8400||$220||6 / 6||2.8 / 4.0||65W||GT2 (23 EUs)|
|i3-8350K||$185||4 / 4||4.0 / –||91W||8MB||2400|
|i3-8300||$160||4 / 4||3.7 / –||65W|
|i3-8100||$130||4 / 4||3.6 / –||65W||6MB|
|AMD Ryzen2 Product Stack|
|Ryzen 7 2700X||$320||8 / 16||3.7 / 4.3||105W||16MB||2933|
|Ryzen 7 2700||$270||8 / 16||3.2 / 4.1||65W|
|Ryzen 5 2600X||$220||6 / 12||3.6 / 4.2||95W|
|Ryzen 5 2600||$160||6 / 12||3.4 / 3.9||65W|
|Ryzen 3 2400G||$160||4 / 8||3.6 / 3.9||65W||4MB||Vega 11|
|Ryzen 3 2200G||$100||4 / 4||3.5 / 3.7||65W||Vega 8|
|AMD Ryzen Product Stack|
|Ryzen 7 1800X||$250||8 / 16||3.6 / 4.0||95W||16MB||2400|
|Ryzen 7 1700X||$150||8 / 16||3.4 / 3.8||95W|
|Ryzen 7 1700||$288*||8 / 16||3.0 / 3.7||65W|
|Ryzen 5 1600X||$220*||6 / 12||3.6 / 4.0||95W|
|Ryzen 5 1600||$160||6 / 12||3.2 / 3.6||65W|
|Ryzen 5 1500X||$144*||4 / 8||3.5 / 3.7||65W|
|Ryzen 5 1400||$160||4 / 8||3.2 / 3.4||65W||8MB|
|Ryzen 3 1300X||$138*||4||3.5 / 3.7||65W|
|Ryzen 3 1200||$95||4||3.1 / 3.4||65W|
* – Third party Seller through Newegg
System RAM: How Much and What Speed?
Today’s systems will use more RAM than in years past. From Windows using more RAM and more of it effectively, to professional applications and games alike also using more of the fast system memory. The last time we wrote this article we were talking DDR3 in 2-12 GB capacities and speeds in the 1600 MHz range. Today we are talking about DDR4 and speeds around 3200 MHz both nearly double from several years ago.
With systems using more in general, for an email machine with some web games, users can get by with 4 GB. Recent memory reviews on Overclockers.com should help narrow it down.
Video Cards: AMD? NVIDIA?
Monitor refresh rates and resolution adoption has gone up in the enthusiast realm, but for all intents and purposes, 1080p is still the resolution of choice. According to the Steam Stats (11/2018), over 64% of users are running at 1080p with 2560×1440 coming in well behind at over just 3.5%. 4K UHD use is sitting at a bit over 1%. The enthusiast crowd, which drives a lot of these changes as well as some twitch e-sports, need high refresh rates and a system that can push all those frames to it, be it at 1080p or 2560×1440 and 144 Hz. Thus the drive for faster and more powerful GPUs (among other reasons).
AMD has seen a resurgence in this market with its Vega 56 and Vega 64 video cards, and work well in the bang for the buck segment, but is lacking in absolute performance and power efficiency. NVIDIA, on the other hand, released its latest Turing architecture and the 2000 series was born ushering in new levels of performance with its RTX 2070, RTX 2080, and RTX 2080 Ti graphics cards. The big thing with this new architecture is the inclusion of ray tracing and tensor cores which allow for real-time ray tracing and deep learning/AI on the latter. The kicker here is that currently, there are no titles out that are able to play ray traced games like Battlefield V or Shadow of the Tomb Raider which should be patched to support these features in the coming months. That and the current NVIDIA GPUs are more expensive than last generations counterparts (though many say the new 2080 Ti replaces the former crossover professional/gaming card in the Titan).
So which is best for me one may ask? That depends on what performance is required of it and the budget. Both AMD and NVIDIA offer high performing cards, but NVIDIA has the high-end while AMD tends to take that middle and budget ground with its Vega series as well as last generation 480s and 580s and lower.
Power Supply: How many Watts?
Another good question is how many Watts does my power supply need to be. This also depends on the underlying hardware, but for all intents and purposes, if running everything at stock speeds and using one CPU and one GPU, a quality 600 W unit, with the majority of its label power on the 12v rail, would be more than sufficient even when using a 9900K and a 2080 Ti or Vega 64 GPU. In most cases, such a unit would even support overclocking and not flinch. The key though is selecting a quality power supply. It is best to read reviews, but in general, we know that several models from EVGA, Corsair, Coolermaster, and Silverstone all make the grade. We have a Recommended PSUs forum thread that keeps track of reviews from reputable websites including Jonnyguru which shares “approved” power supplies.
The other key component to power supplies is making sure there are enough cables to support the system being built and future expansion. Truth be told, a quality 400 W unit could easily power a lot of systems, even with mid-range video cards and still allow for overclocking. The problem comes in when a more powerful GPU comes in and there is only one PCIe power header on these low powered units. This is why it is suggested to look at the cable counts for each power type (SATA, PCIe, Molex, CPU).
Storage: HDD? SSD? PCIe SSD? Oh My!
Since we last published an article like this in 2011, hard drives were the primary storage medium in PCs. SSD’s were of course out at the time and gaining favor, but the price was prohibitive for some, especially when considering the $/GB situation at that time. Fast forward to today and not only are SATA based SSDs the primary method of OS and warm storage, but we also have new technologies out which break through the SATA speed and bandwidth barriers with the new PCIe NVMe M.2 based drives.
While there are many differences between the drive technologies, the main difference in these drives come in the way of performance. Platter-based HDDs are going to be the slowest with peak speeds somewhere around 200 MB/s in sequential transfers, while SATA and M.2 SATA based drives are limited by the bandwidth SATA3 (6 Gbps) offers. Typically these drives max out around 550 MB/s Reads and Writes which is the limit of the SATA3.
The PCIe NVMe based M.2 drives use the bandwidth of the PCIe lanes, typically an x4 lane, and can see speeds to just below 4000 MB/s in sequential reads. Typically we see single drives around the 3000-3500 MB/s for high performing drives. While these speeds on paper do seem and are a lot faster, the reality of things here is boot times are marginally faster over a SATA based SSD and there is little difference on the desktop. Many applications open faster, but what is 2 seconds to 3 or 4? Where these super fast drives really earn their keep is in the transfer of large files as well as the small file sequential writes which give it that more snappy feeling on the desktop when loading applications.
So what should one get? That depends on the budget and how much you like speed and diminishing returns! For the vast majority, a SATA based SSD, be it 2.5″, or an M.2 form factor is likely the way to go for your OS, games, and warm storage. This way users get the benefits of an SSD while not breaking the bank. We have reviewed several PCIe NVMe M.2 based drives here already, like the ADATA Gammix S11, Toshiba OCZ RC100 and ADATA XPG SX8200.
Motherboards: Z370/Z390, X370/X470?
On the motherboard front, there are so many to choose from it can make hardcore enthusiasts shudder just trying to see what is what. The main issue with motherboards is choosing a proper chipset for the CPU. For example, on the Intel side, an i9-9900K will work in both Z370 and Z390 based motherboards, however, in order for it to work in the Z370 chipset, the BIOS needs to be updated to support the CPU. In order to do this, users would need to either, get lucky and have the board come with the proper BIOS or buy the cheapest CPU that will work in that board and flash it. Best advice here is that unless you already have a CPU or are willing to pay to have someone do it, go Z390 for the 9 series processors.
To help calm the nerves a bit about the more than 50 Z390 based motherboards released or set to release, we published an article covering some high-level information about each Z390 motherboard. Below we also have a table for a visual on the different options from each chipset.
|USB 3.0 (5 Gbps)||10||10||8||6||4|
|USB 3.1 (10 Gbps)||6||–||4||4||–|
|PCIe Lanes||24||24||20||12||12 (PCIe 2.0)|
The same holds true with AMD, choosing the right chipset to fit your needs/budget is where you should start. All Ryzen CPUs will run on the 300 and 400 Series chipset motherboards, with the 400 series offering a few more goodies such as XFR2 Enhanced and Performance Boost Overdrive. AMD is intentionally keeping the AM4 socket compatible for current and future generations of the Ryzen CPUs making upgrades a simple and inexpensive task.
The chipsets can be broken down into three main categories. At the low end, the 20 series offers basic functionality but no overclocking abilities, for that you would need a 70 or 50 series chipset. The biggest difference between the two higher-end chipsets is SLI/CFX compatibility and storage capacity. Here’s a table to help visualize the various options that these chipsets offer.
|USB 3.0 (5 Gbps)||6||6||2||2||2|
|USB 3.1 (10 Gbps)||2||2||2||2||1|
|CPU PCIe Interface||1×16/2×8||1×16/2×8||1×16||1×16||1×16|
|XFR 2.0 Enhanced||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|Precision Boost Overdrive||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
As far as a chassis goes, we decided for this iteration to not suggest any. Cases, to me, are such a personal thing that it doesn’t really behoove us to suggest one as we all have our favorites. When looking at cases, users need to be sure of a few things:
- The motherboard fits. Motherboards come in specific sizes (Mini-ITX, MicroATX, ATX, EATX). Some smaller cases will not fit larger boards. The specifications of the case will list motherboard compatibility
- The heatsink or CLC fits. Some heatsinks are tall and can have clearance issues with the width of the case. Be sure you are checking for clearance/maximum height information – also listed in the specifications for the case. It is the same with radiators and water cooling. Be sure to confirm in the specifications what is supposed to fit in typical mounting locations (top, front, bottom, etc).
- The GPU fits. Often times in smaller cases, video card length can be an issue. Again, this detail will be found in the specifications of most cases.
- Good airflow. If a planned use of the PC is to overclock, be sure a case has good airflow. This includes reading reviews to see how they feel about it, but be sure there are multiple fan locations to add fans for additional cooling if needed. We recommend the front/sides to be intake and the top/rear to be exhaust. Your mileage may vary.
- Be sure the chassis has space for what you need. Do you want 5 HDDs inside the case? Make sure it has room!
Although we are not listing specific cases for this build. Forum member Blaylock created and maintains a Recommended Cases thread in the forums.
For a total of $786, slightly over the ~$750 budget, I know, we ended up with a solid all-around machine. For the CPU we chose the Intel i5-8400 which is a 6 core and 6 thread CPU with a base clock of 2.8 GHz and boost up to 4 GHz. The six physical cores compete well against any other 6-core processor in the market and at this price point, chances are users will not need more than 6 threads anyway so it should match the workload. A cooler is not listed here as this processor includes a heatsink with purchase.
The CPU mates will with the B360 based ASRock Fatality Gaming K4. The B360 chipset offers more budget oriented boards as the platform is unable to overclock even unlocked CPUs. This board was selected due to its multiple M.2 slots for ultra-fast storage connections as well as using the high-end Realtek ALC1220 audio codec as many boards in this segment often have one M.2 slot and a lesser codec and audio section. Though looks are subjective, the board also has a nice red glow to it from integrated RGB LEDs.
To go with the board and CPU I selected Team’s 2×4 GB DDR4-3200 CL16 kit which will be adequate for most scenarios, including gaming. These are one of the least expensive kits at this speed on the market.
Speaking of gaming, the video card for this level CPU I chose a GIGABYTE GTX 1060 6 GB card. I chose the 6 GB variant as even today, many titles are able to utilize more than 3 GB of VRAM. The 1060 is a solid performing GPU and will allow many titles to run high/ultra at 1080p and reach 60 FPS. Last but not least, powering the PC is an EVGA Supernova G3 550 W. This power supply is one of the better bang for your buck and quality units around. The wattage is plenty to power this system and most any other including headroom for overclocking.
One of the beautiful aspects of building an AMD system is their pricing. Even with a $750 budget, you can still put together a strong gaming machine. This build is quite close to what I use daily as my HTPC/gaming rig and is more than capable of running 1080p with lots of eye candy.
We’ll start off with the heart of the system selecting a Ryzen 5 2600 equipped with six cores, twelve threads, and a 3.9 GHz boost speed there’s a ton of processing power for a very reasonable price tag. This will be cooled with the included Wraith Stealth cooler which is the smallest of the bunch but more than capable of keeping the CPU within its limits.
To help keep things within budget considering the price of RAM these days I opted for a 2 x 4 GB, 3200 MHz kit of Team Vulcan which is adequate for most situations and freed up about $100 to use on something else. Purchasing RAM for AM4 has gotten easier but it’s still a good practice to make sure the kit you choose is compatible with Ryzen.
That $100 we saved on RAM was put toward the purchase of a very capable video card which can handle 1080p gaming very well. The MSI Radeon RX 580 should run the current game titles with plenty of eye candy and still put out better than 60 FPS. I can speak from experience here as it just happens to be the same series as mine although a different manufacturer.
Piecing all these components together is an MSI B450 Tomahawk. The B450 chipset still allows overclocking if you’re so inclined and has plenty of connectivity. This board has the current USB 3.1 plus half a dozen more USB connections, six SATA 3 inputs as well as an M.2 slot supporting NVMe and SATA protocols. This board has a lot to offer for a small price tag.
Let’s round things off with a 500 GB Samsung 860 EVO for storage which can easily be added to in the future if you find you’re lacking. SSDs really are the way to go these days but the cost / GB is still much higher than a spinner. Last, but not least, an EVGA Supernova 550 W power supply which is fully modular allowing for a nice clean build.
|CPU||Intel Core i7-9700K||AMD Ryzen 7 2700X|
|Motherboard||GIGABYTE Z390 AORUS Pro||ASUS ROG STRIX X470-F Gaming|
|RAM||G.Skill TridentZ (2x8GB) DDR4 3200 CL16||G.SKILL TridentZ RGB (2x8GB) DDR4 3200 CL14|
|Video Card||PNY GTX 1080 Gaming OC||GIGABYTE Radeon RX Vega 64 GAMING OC 8GB|
|Power Supply||EVGA – Supernova G3 650W||EVGA – Supernova G3 650W|
|Price||$1508.36 + Cooler||$1493.43|
Moving the budget up to $1500 allows users to build a very fast machine including using the latest generation Intel Core processor and motherboard series along with a high power gaming card in the GTX 1080. Like AMD, we had options at the CPU spot as well. We could have gone last generation 8700K for a similar price which would give users more threads in total (12) versus the other CPUs. Which performs better is going to be on a per use basis really. If a user doesn’t require a lot of threads (say for example gaming where 8C/8T is enough), then we would say to get the latest and greatest. However, if the software used on the PC can utilize more than 8C/8T, then dropping back a generation to gain that ability seems prudent.
In the end, we chose the i7-9700K. This 8C/8T processor gives the users 33% more cores than the $750 build and is built on the latest and greatest Intel currently has to offer on the mainstream platform. The CPU comes in at 3.6 GHz base clock speed with 2 cores boosting up to 4.9 GHz. At this budget point though, if a user needs cores and threads over speed, they will need to look at the AMD offerings. This CPU, unlike the locked CPU from the $750 build, will need a cooler as it does not include one. A good option for this would be a 2x120mm or 2x140mm Closed Loop Cooler (CLC), or a mid-range on up air cooler when overclocking.
For RAM, we chose G.Skill TridentZ 2×8 GB DDR4 3200 CL16 sticks, and while the speeds are the same, the aesthetic on the TridentZ is a step up from the Team RAM on the previous build. Truth be told, to save a few dollars one could easily have gone with a kit that costs less, but the cost difference wasn’t enough to bump up another relevant part.
On the graphics side, we stuck with NVIDIA here and went with a PNY GTX 1080. The 1080 performs as well as the Vega 64, but uses nearly half the power for the same performance. A GTX 1080 can run high Hz 1080p monitors or drive a 2560×1440 panel at 60 FPS+ without breaking a sweat. At this price bucket, I would want nothing less for a machine that will see a fair amount of gaming.
The motherboard chosen to put these components together is the GIGABYTE Z390 AORUS Pro. The Pro offers users a robust power delivery area which is helpful when overclocking these CPUs heavily. The board includes dual M.2 slots, an integrated IO shield (typically used in more expensive boards) The latest Realtek ALC1220 codecs along with its own dedicated amplifier section as well for a good all around audio experience.
This budget also allowed us to improve our storage in both capacity and speed. I used the same storage as the AMD build with a 500 GB Samsung 970 Evo PCIe NVMe M.2 drive for fast storage, and a Hitachi Ultrastar 3 TB HDD for warm/cold storage. This configuration will allow for the OS and a couple/few games on it while having ample slower storage on the backend.
In this category, we get to stretch our legs a bit doubling our budget to $1500.00. Surprisingly it doesn’t go as far as you would think. I had a couple of options here, go with a six-core CPU and an RTX 2070 or stick to the AMD theme and go eight cores with an RX Vega. Of course, I chose the latter as the cards are very similar in performance but we get more CPU power. More cores aren’t always the answer and depends a lot on your personal uses as to which option would make the most sense.
We opted for the Ryzen 7 2700X for this build which offers eight cores with sixteen threads and a 4.35 GHz boost speed. Great for multitaskers who like to stream and play at the same time or even a casual movie/video buff who needs some power for encoding. Having these extra cores really helps to save time. This CPU is also cooled with the included Wraith Prism which is an exceptional cooler considering it’s “stock” and it also has some RGB bling for looks.
Being more performance oriented with this build made the RAM choice very obvious to me, 2 x 8 GB of G.Skill 3200 with a CAS latency of 14 with RGB for that extra flair. These RAM modules will have the Samsung B-Die IC which is preferred for all platforms, but more so with Ryzen. Not only will it offer great performance at rated speed but they are also the friendliest type for overclocking.
Moving on to the graphics card we chose the GIGABYTE Radeon RX Vega 64 which is currently sitting at the top of AMD’s product line. Hopefully, we see something from them in the near future. The Vega 64 is still a great card and can game at 2560 x 1440p very well. In the end, it wasn’t a difficult choice to save a few dollars and put that toward the CPU as the GPU is typically the most frequently updated part of the system.
Bringing these all together is the Asus ROG STRIX X470-F Gaming giving the system a good solid foundation. The Strix X470-F has a very robust power section for overclocking and also looks great with some RGB accents and connectivity for RGB LED strips. It is also equipped for CFX or SLI with two PCIe x16 slots which would run at x8 if both are populated. Dual M.2 and six SATA connectors for storage and plenty of USB including USB 3.1 type-A and type-C.
This time around the storage was expanded and boosted by moving to a Samsung 970 EVO NVMe for speed and adding a 3 TB storage drive. The power needed to be boosted as well with this build opting for an EVGA 650 W modular power supply, which we recently reviewed, leaving some room for overclocking the system.
|CPU||Intel Core i9-9920X||AMD Threadripper 2950X|
|Motherboard||ASRock X299 Taichi XE||ASUS ROG Strix X399-E Gaming|
|RAM||G.Skill Trident Z RGB (4x8GB) 3200 CL16||G.SKILL Trident Z RGB (4 x 8GB) 3200 CL14|
|Video Card||GIGABYTE RTX 2080 Ti||ASUS ROG STRIX RTX 2080 Ti|
|Power Supply||EVGA – SuperNOVA G3 850W||EVGA – SuperNOVA G3 850W|
Our last budget is in the $3000+ range which will allow prospective buyers a choice of just about everything on the market. The system I built here will be a jack of all trades system able to game at 4K UHD while hitting 60 FPS, and use a CPU with enough cores and threads to double as a workstation. To that end, I went with the HEDT (High-End Desktop) platform based system capable of doing just about anything well.
The CPU I chose to fill the need of a good gamer and has enough cores and threads to satisfy heavily threaded applications is the Intel Core i9-9920X. The 12C/24T CPU has base clocks at 3.5 GHz and boosts two cores up to 4.5 GHz. It is priced at $1189 (MSRP). It has fewer cores and threads than the 2950X chosen on the AMD side, however, what it lacks in cores/threads it starts to make up with a slightly better IPC, and better overclocking abilities. This CPU also does not come with a cooler and its 165 W TDP (base clock mind you), it will take something beefy to keep temperatures reasonable while overclocking.
Motherboards for these CPUs are based on the X299 chipset. The CPU and motherboard allow for quad-channel DDR4 memory with a base specification of DDR4-2666 along with 44 PCIe lanes for graphics, and other connected peripherals. With the amount of power some of these CPUs can use, especially when overclocking, I made sure the board had a robust cooling solution on the power delivery as well as having a solid VRM in the first place. The ASRock X299 Taichi XE at $307 is a solid all-around board boasting a 12+1 phase VRM along with heat-pipe connect heatsinks to cool the VRM. This includes four full-length PCIe slots, 10 SATA ports, three M.2 slots, Realtek AL1220 audio codecs, as well as Wi-Fi capabilities.
The DDR4 memory is also pretty pricey due to the quad-channel capabilities of the platform necessitating a move from two stick to four in order to utilize the platform to its fullest capabilities. For this system, we used G.SKill’s Trident Z RGB 32 GB (4X8GB) DDR4-3200 CL16. The 32 GB capacity should be more than adequate for the majority of users, while the 3200 MHz speed will allow the system to stretch its legs.
As far as the video card, there was only one choice since the budget would allow, and that is a new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 2080 Ti. The controversial GPU doesn’t get any brownie points for being a good value, but there is no disputing that it is currently the fastest video card currently out on the market. The GIGABYTE RTX 2080 Ti ($1220) chosen uses the quiet Windoforce 3 cooler, to help tame the beast without sounding like an airplane taking off.
Last, but not least, the storage that was chosen here is the same as the previous build using the 500GB Samsung 970 Evo PCIe NVMe M.2 drive along with a 3TB Hitachi Ultrastar. For many, the combination of an ultra-fast boot drive with some space for your games along with a larger platter drive for warm storage is plenty adequate.
For this last build, I went with a solid workstation as the goal. Getting into the HEDT segment is going to take some cash, the three main components come close to two thousand dollars and it won’t even light up yet. This is not a platform you would build for gaming even though it’s more than capable of doing so, this is for serious number crunching. HEDT is geared more towards the home video/audio studio, 3D graphic design, or engineering. If your intent is mostly gaming then go back to our second system selection.
For the CPU we chose the AMD Threadripper 2950X with its 16 cores and 32 threads AMD chose a very suitable moniker. The 2950X has a base speed of 3.5 GHz with a top boost speed of 4.4 GHz, runs quad-channel RAM and is about half the price of a similarly equipped Intel CPU. This CPU doesn’t come with a cooler so that’ll be an added expense, just be sure to find one that can handle 200+ W like the Wraith Ripper by Coolermaster.
Threadripper CPUs also require a different motherboard than their Ryzen 7 counterparts, they use socket sTR4 with a 4096 pin LGA. If you’ve never seen a Threadripper CPU they’re quite massive so AMD has included a special guiding system to help align the CPU without crushing all those tiny pins. For the motherboard, I tried to keep it modestly priced since these board can land north of $500 where the Strix X399-E is $325 and still has all the functionality most anyone would need. This board includes four PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, six SATA3, two M.2 and one U.2 for storage, WiFi, and up to 15 USB ports.
The memory is another big-ticket item, RAM prices are still inflated which makes buying a quad-channel set quite painful. We went with the G.Skill 3200 CL14 for compatibility reasons and the RGB version just for fun. If your work is very sensitive then you may want to look into ECC RAM which Threadripper can support.
The video card of choice for a system like this is obvious, the all new ROG Strix RTX 2080 Ti (good luck finding one) this is about as good as it gets unless you go for a workstation card but they can cost more than this whole system. The 2080 Ti is a well-rounded card and has plenty of power for work and when the work is done you can game with as much detail as your eyes can handle.
The storage here is just a repeat from the $1500 system since it is adequate for most scenarios. We also gave the power supply a slight bump to accommodate the CPU and graphics card choices which are both power hungry beasts, even more so when overclocking is introduced into the mix.
Both the AMD and Intel systems at each price point offer prospective buyers some very capable machines. The configurations listed are just a few of hundreds of different possibilities that are available on the market today. I am certain there is a large contingent that will read this article and have plenty of other suggestions, many of which will also work well within the allotted budget.
The point is users need to find and choose the right parts for how they use their PC. Some may need more USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports while others would like more M.2 ports for faster storage others may need more cores and threads. Each user will have a different “perfect” setup for them. Hopefully, this article shines a little bit of light on the market and what it takes to build solid PC. If you have any questions or need help, please come on in and visit our forums where our incredibly knowledgeable members will help put together the PC of your dreams!
Joe Shields (Earthdog)
Shawn Jennings (Johan45)