Mainstream Gaming PCs v3.9.2: Who else wants even more powerful video cards?

| March 3, 2014 | (9)

Updated on March 8th 2014

Click on a section to jump to it:
- Recommended parts summary
- Recommended parts in details

Is this the right type of PC for me?

If you’re looking for a mainstream gaming PC, to play video games on a 1080p monitor or HDTV, you’re at the right place. Otherwise, check out our other Do-It-Yourself Computer Systems or The Best Laptops For Your Money instead.

PNY Geforce GTX 770

The PNY Geforce GTX 770 video card, recommended for Tier 4.

5 Reasons to choose our Mainstream Gaming PCs:

1. High-end performance at mainstream prices!

1. Every single part part is hand-picked to ensure the best performance possible at a given price.
2. Tier 4 and above are equipped with SSDs (Solid State Drives), to make Windows/games/programs launch faster and your PC more responsive.
3. Equipped with powerful video cards, to let you play games maxed out at 1920 x 1080.

2. Top-notch reliability:

High quality components, a case with enough airflow to keep the hardware cool, after-market CPU Cooler that keeps temperatures low.
Every single part is hand-picked by a professional with 13 years of experience, to guarantee that this PC is as unlikely to fail as possible. The PCs feature a top-notch dependable electrical power supply, a case with good ventilation and an excellent CPU Cooler, so that your PC can handle the most demanding workloads and so that it will last you many years.

3. Relatively quiet

High performance doesn’t have to mean noise. Parts were chosen for their high performance and low noise, so that your PC performs like a jet fighter without sounding like one.

4. Ready for safe overclocking (Tiers 5, 6 and 7 only):

Tiers 5, 6 and 7 are equipped with a dependable power supply, a motherboard with enhanced power delivery, a case with good airflow, a high-end CPU Cooler and CPUs with unlocked multiplier, so that they are ready to be safely overclocked if you want to.

5. Effortless Customization:

Want a different case with stunning looks or a smaller footprint? Want a faster video card, more storage capacity, more RAM or a faster CPU? Alternatives and Upgrades are in Italic and are guaranteed to be compatible with the other recommendations, so you can effortlessly customize your PC. If you have questions, you can ask them on our forums.

Choose Your PC Performance (Tier):

There are five levels of performance (tiers) recommended in this article.
The Tiers are color coded AND indicated by numbers (3, 4 ,5 ,6 and 7).

Tier 3 (Identified by a Red color): $878

Our lowest cost Tier that includes an Intel Haswell Quad-Core CPU. Tier 3 is the only Mainstream Gaming PCs Tier that doesn’t include a recommendation for a SSD, in order to reduce its cost, but it’s ready for one if you want to add one, you’ll just need an extra SATA cable.

Tier 4 (Identified by a Green color): $1027

Our lowest cost Tier that’s equipped with a 120GB SSD. Also equipped with a powerful Intel Core i5-4670 processor and an equally powerful Geforce GTX 770 2GB, Tier 4 is one heck of a powerhouse PC at a relatively low price considering the performance that it offers!

Tier 5 (Identified by an Orange color): $1326

Tier 5 offers a video card with more VRAM (4GB vs 2GB), more RAM memory (16GB vs 8GB) and an upgraded case. It offers not only a step-up in performance from Tier 4, but also features the unlocked Core i5-4670K, a better motherboard and improved CPU Cooling with the upgraded CPU Cooler.

All of this results in a Tier that’s not only powerful as it is, but that’s also optimized to be easily overclocked, in order to reach new summits of performance!

Tier 6 (Identified by a Dark Red color): $1660

Tier 6 offers a more power video card, more storage capacity, with larger 240GB SSD/2TB HDD and just like Tier 5, Tier 6 features the unlocked Core i5-4670K and improved CPU Cooling with the upgraded CPU Cooler.

Just like Tier 5, Tier 6 is not only powerful as it is, but it’s also optimized to be easily overclocked, in order to reach even higher performance!

Tier 7 (Identified by a Fuchsia color): $1826

This Tier takes performance to the next level, with an even more powerful video card: The Geforce GTX 780 Ti.

Just like Tier 5/6, Tier 7 features the unlocked Core i5-4670K and improved CPU Cooling with the upgraded CPU Cooler.

So just like Tier 5/6, Tier 7 can be easily overclocked to achieve higher performance!

Need a Tier recommendation for a specific video game?

Ask us on the forums: Tell us about the video game, the level of details that you want (i.e. I just want to be able to play the game, medium, high or maximum details) and finally the resolution (e.g. 1920 x 1080.) of the monitor (HDTVs are usually 720p/1080p) that you’ll use.

Recommended Parts Summary:

Main recommendations, upgrades and alternatives:

1. Recommended Components are in Bold, with one or more colors/symbols for the Tier(s).
2. Suggested Alternatives and Upgrades are in Italic. You can upgrade as many parts as you want to, including parts from higher Tiers.
3. Most but not all parts are interchangeable/compatible with each other, make sure to see notes in the article. Ask us on the forums if you want us to double-check your build.
4. If this is your first build and if you just a simple template to follow, stick to the recommended parts for a Tier.

Mainstream Gaming PCs Tiers:
Tier 3 (in Red): The Best Bang For Your Buck
Tier 4 (in Green): Upgrade to a 120GB SSD
Tier 5 (in Orange): Optimized for overclocking, faster Video Card, better case
Tier 6 (in Dark Red): Optimized for OC, 240GB SSD, more powerful video card
Tier 7 (in Fuchsia): Optimized for OC, 240GB SSD, most powerful video card
Click on a component’s name (e.g. CPU) to jump to the detailed section of it.
Price
$878
$1027
$1326
$1660
$1826
CPU:
Intel Core i5-4570S 2.9-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core 65W
Tier 3: Intel Core i5-4570 3.2-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core 84W
Tier 4: Intel Core i5-4670 3.4-3.8GHz Turbo Quad-Core 84W
Tier 5-6-7: Intel Core i5-4670K 3.4-3.8GHz Turbo Unlocked Multiplier 84W
Intel Core i7-4770 3.4-3.9GHz Turbo Quad-Core + HT 84W
Intel Core i7-4770K 3.5-3.9GHz Turbo Quad-Core Unlocked Multiplier 84W
-
$198
$200
$220
$235
$304
$335
Motherboard:
ATX form factor motherboards: Compatible with ATX cases only
18″ SATA Cable w/Locking Latch
GIGABYTE GA-H81.Amp-UP H81 SATA600 USB3 Gold Plated Audio AMP
ASRock H87 Performance 6xSATA6Gb/s 4xUSB3.0 Realtek ALC1150 + Amp
BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z87X for OC CF 8x/8x 6xSATA6Gb/s 2x+2xUSB3.0
MSI Z87-G45 for OC CF/SLI 8x/8x Killer E2200 LAN SoundBlaster
MSI MPOWER Max AC CF/SLI8x/8x ALC1150+Amp Killer LAN WiFi + BT
Micro-ATX form factor motherboards: Compatible with Micro-ATX/ATX cases
Tier 4: 18″ SATA Cable w/Locking Latch
Tier 3-4: BIOSTAR Hi-Fi B85S3+ B85 4xSATA6Gb/s 2x+2xUSB3.0
Tier 5-6-7: ASUS Gryphon Z87 6xSATA6.0Gbps 4+2USB3.0
ASUS Maximus VI GENE SupremeFX 10x USB, 8X SATA, best for OC
Mini-ITX mobos: Compatible with Mini-ITX/Micro-ATX and some ATX cases
18″ SATA Cable w/Locking Latch
ASUS H87I-PLUS H87 SATA 6Gb/s 4xUSB3.0 RAID 0/1/5/10
Gigabyte GA-Z87N-WIFI WiFi 802.11n Bluetooth Dual LAN Z87
Asus Z87I-Deluxe Z87 WiFi 802.11ac BT 10x USB, better for OC
ASUS MAXIMUS VI IMPACT SupremeFX, Wifi BT, E-SATA, best for OC
-
-
$4
$80
$115
$130
$140
$230
-
$4
$60
$163
$204
-
$4
$110
$135
$180
$230
RAM:
1866/2133MHz RAM is only supported by motherboards with the Z87 chipset.
Tier 3-4: Kingston 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600MHz CAS 9 1.65v
Tier 5: Crucial 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3 1600MHz CAS 9 1.5v
Tier 6: G.Skill 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3 1866MHz CAS 10 1.5v
Tier 7: Patriot 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3 2133MHz CAS 11 1.5v
Crucial 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3 1600MHz CAS 9 1.5v
G.Skill 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3 1866MHz CAS 10 1.5v
G.SKill 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3 2133MHz CAS 10 1.6v
-
-
$70
$127
$169
$175
$259
$300
$315
Video Card:
Tier 3: EVGA Geforce GTX 760 2GB SuperClocked Dual fan
Tier 4: PNY GeForce GTX 770 Triple fan 2GB
Tier 5: PNY Geforce GTX 770 Dual fan 4GB
Tier 6: ASUS Radeon R9 290 Dual fan 4GB
Tier 7: EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti Superclocked 3GB Dual fan
-
$260

$310
$360
$570
$730
Storage:
Rosewill 2.5″ SSD/HDD Mounting Kit for 3.5″ Drive Bay
SSD (Solid State Drive):
Tier 4-5: Crucial M500 2.5″ 120GB SATA III SSD
Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 120GB SATA III SSD
Tier 6-7: Crucial M500 2.5″ 240GB SATA III SSD
Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 250GB SATA III SSD
Crucial M500 2.5″ 480GB SATA III SSD
Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 500GB SATA III SSD
Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 750GB SATA III SSD
Crucial M500 2.5″ 960GB SATA III SSD
Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 1TB SATA III SSD
Hard Drive:
Tier 3-4-5: Seagate ST1000DM003 1 TB SATA III
Tier 6-7: Seagate ST2000DM001 2TB SATA III
Seagate ST3000DM001 3TB SATA III
-
$4
-
$75
$90
$129
$150
$259
$279
$369
$448

$495
-
$60
$88
$110
Optical Drive
All Tiers: LG SATA 24X DVD Burner
LG Black 14X SATA Blu-Ray/CD/DVD Burner
-
$15

$65
Power Supply:
Tier 3-4: Rosewill Hive-550 550W 80 PLUS Bronze Modular
Rosewill CAPSTONE-550-M 550W 80 PLUS GOLD Modular
Tier 5: Rosewill Hive-650 650W 80 PLUS Bronze Modular
EVGA SuperNOVA NEX650W G 80PLUS Gold Modular 10yrs war.
Tier 6-7: Rosewill Hive-750 750W 80 PLUS Bronze Modular
EVGA SuperNOVA NEX750W G 80PLUS Gold Modular 10yrs war.
Corsair TX-850M 850W 80 PLUS Bronze Modular
EVGA SuperNOVA 1000G2 1000W 80Plus Gold Modular 10years war.
Power Supplies recommended for Mini-ITX builds:
Set of shorter cables, buy with the PSU: SilverStone PP05 Short Cables for PSU Set
SilverStone Strider Plus ST50F-P 500W 80 PLUS BRONZE Modular (Tier 3-4)
Silverstone ST60F-PS 600W 80 PLUS Silver Modular (Tier 5)
Silverstone ST65F-G 650W 80 PLUS Gold Modular (Tier 6-7)
-
$70
$90
$80
$91
$80
$120
$154
$201
-
$33
$80

$127
$120
Case:
ATX cases: Compatible with ATX/Micro-ATX motherboards, some with Mini-ITX
Corsair Carbide 300R
Fractal Design Arc Midi R2
Fractal Design Define R4 – Black Pearl
Fractal Design Define R4 – Black Pearl with Side Panel Window
Fractal Design Define R4 – Titanium Grey
Fractal Design Define R4 – Titanium grey with Side Panel Window
Fractal Design Define R4 – Arctic White
Fractal Design Define R4 – Arctic White with Side Panel Window
Corsair Carbide 500R – Black or White
Corsair Vengeance C70 – Black, White or Military Green
Corsair Obsidian 550D
Corsair Obsidian 650D
Cooler Master Storm Scout 1 x 120mm, 2 x 140mm
NZXT LEXA S LEXS 3 x 120mm 1 x 140mm
Corsair Carbide Series 400R USB 3.0 x2 3 fans
COOLER MASTER Storm Sniper 3x200mm 1x120mm
NZXT Phantom, in White
NZXT Phantom, in Black
Corsair Graphite 600T
NZXT Phantom 410 Black 1x140mm + 2x120mm fans
NZXT Phantom 410 White 1x140mm + 2x120mm fans
NZXT Phantom 410 Orange 1x140mm + 2x120mm fans
NZXT H2 H2-001-BK Black 3x120mm
Antec Eleven Hundred 1 x200mm + 1x120mm fans
Cooler Master HAF 922 2x200mm 1x120mm
Cooler Master HAF 932 USB 3.0 3x230mm 1x140mm
Cooler Master HAF X USB 3.0 1x230mm 2x200mm 1x140mm GPU Duct
Antec P280 3 x 120mm fans
Micro-ATX cases: Compatible with Micro-ATX/Mini-ITX motherboards
Tier 3-4: Corsair Obsidian 350D
Tier 5-6-7: Corsair Obsidian 350D with Windowed Side Panel
NZXT Crafted Series Vulcan Micro-ATX 2x120mm
Rosewill LINE-M Micro-ATX 2x USB 3.0 2x 120mm Fan
Raidmax Cobra Z Blue LED Micro-ATX USB 3.0 2x 120mm Fan
SilverStone SST-PS07B-W Black Micro-ATX USB 3.0 2x120mm
SilverStone SST-PS07BW White Micro-ATX USB 3.0 2x120mm
SilverStone TJ08B-E Micro-ATX USB3.0 1x180mm 1x120mm
LIAN LI PC-A04B Aluminum Micro-ATX USB3.0 3x120mm
Fractal Design Define Mini Micro-ATX USB3.0 2x120mm
Fractal Design Arc Mini Micro-ATX USB 3.0 3x120mm fan contr.
Mini-ITX cases: Compatible only with Mini-ITX motherboards
BitFenix Prodigy Black 2x120mm
BitFenix Prodigy White 2x120mm
BitFenix Prodigy Red 2x120mm
BitFenix Prodigy Orange 2x120mm
BitFenix Prodigy Blue with Side Panel Window 2x120mm
BitFenix Prodigy Green with Side Panel Window 2x120mm
-
-
$70
$85
$93
$104
$80
$93
$97
$93
$116
$120
$120
$180
$80

$90
$95
$160
$110
$120
$150
$100
$100
$100
$100
$100
$100
$155
$200
$110
-
$80
$100
$44
$70
$70

$84
$84
$106
$90
$89
$87
-

$70
$59
$97
$106
$90
$90
Cooling:
CPU Cooler:
Tier 3-4: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 120mm CPU Cooler
Tier 5-6-7: Noctua NH-U14S CPU Cooler
Corsair Hydro H100i 240mm All-in-One Liquid CPU Cooler
Case fans: Double-check which size of fans your case accepts before ordering
120mm:

Masscool BLD-12025V1 Blue LEDs 60 CFM 23.5dBA
MassCool BLD-12025V1R Red LEDs 60 CFM 23.5dBA
Gelid FN-SX12-10 37 CFM 20dBA
Gelid FN-PX12-15 Up to 58 CFM 12-25.5dBA PWM
AeroCool Shark Black 32.5/82.6CFM 12.6/26.5dBA
AeroCool Shark Red LEDs 32.5/82.6CFM 12.6/26.5dBA
AeroCool Shark Blue LEDs 32.5/82.6CFM 12.6/26.5dBA
AeroCool Shark White LEDs 32.5/82.6CFM 12.6/26.5dBA
AeroCool Shark Green LEDs 32.5/82.6CFM 12.6/26.5dBA
COUGAR CF-V12HP Up to 70.5CFM Up to 17.9dBA PWM
Noctua NF-P12 12.6-17-19.8dBA 37-46-54CFM
Cougar Turbine CFT12SB4 60CFM 17.7dBA Pack of 4 fans – Black
Cougar Turbine CFT12S4 60CFM 17.7dBA Pack of 4 fans – Orange
140mm:
AeroCool Shark Black 50/96.5CFM 14.5/29.6dBA
AeroCool Shark Red LEDs 50/96.5CFM 14.5/29.6dBA
AeroCool Shark Blue LEDs 50/96.5CFM 14.5/29.6dBA
AeroCool Shark White LEDs 50/96.5CFM 14.5/29.6dBA
AeroCool Shark Green LEDs 50/96.5CFM 14.5/29.6dBA
COUGAR CF-V14H 140mm 70CFM/19.2dBA or 55CFM/16.4dBA
Noctua NF-A14 FLX 140mm 13.8/16.4/19.2dBA 52.2/60/68CFM
200mm:
Cooler Master MegaFlow 200mm Black or Blue LEDs or Red LEDs
Fan controllers:
Sunbeamtech PL-RS-6 Rheosmart 6 Fan Controller, 30W per channel
FrozenCPU Deluxe Multi Power Port – 12V / 7V / 5V
4-Pin Molex Fan controller
-
-
$35
$76
$100
-
-
$9

$11
$7
$10
$10
$18
$17
$18
$18
$20
$18
$30
$30
-
$20
$19
$19
$19
$19
$13
$20
-
$15
-
$28
$15
$6
Sound:
Sound Card:
Tier 3-4: ASUS Xonar DG 5.1 PCI Sound Card
Tiers 5-6-7: ASUS Xonar DGX 5.1 PCI-E 1x Sound Card
ASUS Xonar U3 USB Sound Card
Sound Blaster Omni 5.1 USB Sound Card
ASUS Xonar DS 7.1 PCI
ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-Express 1x
Creative Sound Blaster Z SBX 5.1 PCI-Express 1x Sound Card
Speakers:
2.0 (2 satellites no sub-woofer)
Logitech X-140 2.0 5W
Creative Inspire T12 2.0 18W
Creative Gigaworks T20 Series II 2.0 28W
2.1 (2 satellites + sub-woofer):
Creative A220 2.1 9W
Logitech Z313 2.1 25W
Logitech Z323 2.1 30W
Logitech Z523 2.1 40W
Logitech Z623 2.1 200W
Corsair SP2500 2.1 232W
5.1 (5 satellites + sub-woofer)
Logitech Z506 5.1 75W
Logitech Z906 5.1 500W
Headphones/Earphones:
Open Design Headphones:
Koss KSC75 Clip on headphones
Koss PortaPro
Superlux HD668B
Grado SR-60i
Grado SR-80i
Audio Technica ATH-AD700
Sennheiser HD558
Grado SR225i
Sennheiser HD 598
Grado SR325is
Closed Design Headphones:
Koss UR-20
Panasonic RP-HTX7 (Available in Black, Blue, Red, White, Cream, Pink and Green)
Audio-Technica ATH-M30
Shure SRH440
Audio Technica ATH-A700
Audio Technica ATH-M50S (Straight 10ft Cable)
Audio-Technica ATH-M50 (Coiled Cable)
Sennheiser HD25-1 II
In-Ear Headphones:
Sony MDREX58V EX Black, Blue, Red, Silver, Violet or White
Sony MDRXB60EX/GLD Gold Extra Bass
Logitech Ultimate Ears 600
Bose IE2
Yamaha EPH-100SL
Shure SE315-K
Shure SE535-V Bronze or Clear
Microphone:
Zalman Zm-Mic1Clip-on Microphone
Blue Microphones Snowball USB Microphone
Headsets:
Yapster TM-YP100A
Koss SB-45
Sennheiser PC 151
Razer Moray Plus
ARCTIC Sound P531
SteelSeries Siberia V2
Logitech G35
Creative Sound Blaster Tactic 3D Wrath Wireless
Logitech G930
-
-
$28
$35

$40
$75
$43
$81
$100
-
-
$32
$45
$90
-
$26
$35
$59
$70
$110
$210
-
$80
$339
-
-
$16
$35
$46
$79
$99
$100
$150
$200
$249
$295
-
$17
$29
$59
$90
$130
$159
$159
$200
-
$19
$35
$60
$100
$129
$199
$499
-
$10
$65
-
$13
$31
$50
$56
$49
$80
$95
$98
$105
Network:
All Tiers: Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps: Integrated on the motherboard
Rosewill RNX-N180UBE Wireless USB 2.0 Dongle 802.11b/g/n w/ 5 dBi Antenna
Edimax EW-7811UTC Wireless 802.11b/g/n/ac 600Mbps USB 2.0 Adapter
Edimax EW-7822UAC Wireless ac 1200Mbps Dual Band USB 3.0 Adapter
Bluetooth USB adapter:
Kinivo BTD-400 Bluetooth 4.0 USB adapter
Wireless routers:
TP-Link WL TL-WR841N 802.11b/g/n 300Mbps
TP-LINK TL-WR1043ND 802.11b/g/n 300Mbps USB
D-Link DIR-820L 802.11b/g/n/ac 1000 Mbps
Netgear R6250-100NAS 802.11b/g/n/ac 1600Mbps
ASUS ASUS RT-AC66U 802.11b/g/n/ac 1750Mbps
-
Free

$20
$24
$37
-
$15
-
$28
$52
$86
$160
$190

Never built a PC before and need help? No problem.

You don’t have to be a Geek to build a PC!
Building a PC has never been easier. We have hundreds of readers who had no experience and who built their first PC with the help of Hardware Revolution. If they can do it, so can you!

Start by reading our “Building Your First PC?” article, which covers everything that you need to know to get started. We also have videos on how to build a PC and on how to install Windows/software a bit further down in the article.

Once you’re comfortable with the idea of building your own PC, simply pick a Tier and buy the recommended parts for it. When you get your parts, assemble your PC, install Windows and enjoy. Also, be proud of a job well done!

Recommendations in details:

Motherboard:

What’s new:
Intel 4th gen Core CPUs, codename Haswell:

New Socket (LGA1150) and new chipsets (8 series):

Haswell CPUs (Core ix-4xxx) use the LGA 1150 socket and the following chipsets:
The B85, H87 and Z87 chipsets are currently available. All of them support the integrated GPU.

  • Z87 is the high-end chipset. It supports CPU overclocking (with K series CPUs), offers six SATA 6.0Gbps and up to six USB 3.0 ports natively. It also support Intel SRT (SSD caching).
  • With H87, you lose the ability of overclocking the CPU and it can’t share the PCI-Express 3.0 lanes (effectively preventing Crossfire/SLI without a major performance hit). It also support Intel SRT (SSD caching).
  • With B85, you lose Intel SRT (SSD caching) support, as well as RAID support. You only get four SATA 6.0Gbps ports instead of six and only up to four USB 3.0 ports instead of six natively for H87 and Z87.

Older LGA1155 motherboards, which support older 2nd/3rd gen Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge CPUs, are not compatible with newer LGA1150 CPUs.

CPU Coolers compatibility:
CPU Coolers that are compatible with the LGA1156 or LGA1155 socket are also compatible with the LGA 1150 socket.

Motherboard form factor:
ATX, Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX, which should you pick?

For the Mainstream Gaming PCs, we now recommend by default Micro-ATX motherboards, in order to offer gaming PCs in a smaller case. The vast majority of gaming PCs feature a single video card with possibly a dedicated sound card, so the additional expansion slots of an ATX motherboard aren’t necessary for most people.

What you need to know with Micro-ATX motherboards:

  • Size wise, Micro-ATX motherboards are an intermediate step between the larger ATX form-factor and the smaller Micro-ITX form-factor.
  • Micro-ATX motherboards are part of our main recommendations for the Tiers, so simply go with our recommendations for the motherboard, case and CPU Cooler for a specific Tier.
  • Installing a single video card with a sound card is no problem. Simply follow this guide’s recommendations.
  • If you go with two video cards, or a single video card but intend to add a 2nd video card at some point in the future and want a dedicated sound card, you’ll want an USB sound card, see our recommendation in the Sound section. Alternatively, you can pick a motherboard with a better onboard audio chip, see the alternative motherboard recommendations.

Tier 3-4:

$59.99 – BIOSTAR Hi-Fi B85S3+ B85 4xSATA6Gb/s 2x+2xUSB3.0

Important note:
This motherboard includes two SATA cables, you will need to buy another SATA cable if you want an optical drive, mechanical hard drive, and solid state drive as recommended for Tier 4.

Tier 3 doesn’t need an additional SATA cable as it only has an optical drive and a hard drive. Of course, if you decide to get an additional drive for Tier 3 or 4, you’ll need an extra cable for each drive.

I recommend and included in the budget of Tier 4 this SATA cable: $4 – 18″ SATA Cable w/Locking Latch

This is a basic B85 chipset motherboard at a great price that’s a perfect match-up for Tier 3-4 and the Core i5-4570/4670 CPUs recommended for those Tiers.

It comes with SATA III 6.0Gb/s and USB 3.0 support and it’s ready for Intel’s 4th generation of Core CPUs, codename Haswell, which are recommended in this guide.

If you looked at the picture of the motherboard, you will have noticed the video outputs. These allow you to use the integrated video card from the CPU. While the performance of the integrated video card is no where good enough to play recent games, it can still be used until you buy your video card, if you’re on a tight budget. It’s also useful if you need to troubleshoot your PC and suspect that the dedicated video card is defective.

Also note that the B85 chipset on this motherboard does not support overclocking. Then again, neither does the recommended CPUs for Tier 3-4.

If you want to overclock your CPU, you’ll need an i5-4670K (recommended Tier 5, 6 and 7) or i7-4770K (higher-end alternative), which feature a completely unlocked CPU multiplier, as well as a motherboard with a Z87 chipset (see alternative motherboards below). You’ll also want a more powerful PSU (add 50W) and an after-market CPU Cooler for the best overclocking results.

If you want to overclock your CPU, want to make your life easier and ensure that you get the right components, you can simply upgrade to the CPU, motherboard and power supply to the ones of Tiers 5, 6 or 7.

Ports, expansion slots, features, what’s included in the box and warranty:

  • Ports on the back: 4x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, 10/100/1000 Mbps RJ-45 LAN, 6 audio ports and VGA/DVI/HDMI outputs.
  • Expansion slots: One PCI-Express 3.0 16x slot, one PCI slot and two PCI-Express 1x slots.
  • Other connectors/features on the motherboard: Two fan connectors (1 x 4 pins, 1 x 3pins), four SATA 6.0Gb/s, two SATA 3.0Gb/s, one USB 3.0 header (for up to two USB 3.0 ports coming from the headers in total), two USB 2.0 header (for up to four USB 2.0 ports coming from the headers in total) and a COM header.
  • Included in the box: Motherboard, two SATA cables, backplate, manual and CD.

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Tier 5, 6 and 7:

$162.99 – ASUS Gryphon Z87 6xSATA6.0Gbps 4+2USB3.0

I recommend the ASUS Gryphon for the following reasons:

  1. Features the Intel Z87 chipset for overclocking support and highest performance
  2. Supports two video cards in CrossFire or SLI.
  3. Features highly reliable components.
  4. Nothing short of seven fan connectors!
  5. Passed a server-grade reliability test.
  6. Includes a 5 years warranty

Note that you need an Intel “K” series CPU to overclock, which is why I recommend the Core i5-4670K for Tier 5 to 7.

If you want an Intel Core i7 series CPU, to get Hyper-Threading (for higher performance with photo/video editing, heavy multi-tasking and highly demanding workloads), make sure to get the Intel Core i7-4770K to be able to overclock.

Ports, expansion slots, features, what’s included in the box, etc.

  • Ports on the back: 4x USB 2.0, 4x USB 3.0, 10/100/1000 Mbps RJ-45 LAN, 6 audio ports (for 7.1 sound, but a dedicated sound is recommended in this guide anyway), Optical S/PDIF Out and DVI/HDMI outputs.
  • Expansion slots: Two PCI-Express 3.0 16x slot (runs at 16x or 8x/8x), one PCI-Express 2.0 16x slot (runs at 4x) and one PCI-Express 1x slot.
  • Other connectors/features on the motherboard: Seven fan connectors(6x 4pins, 1x 3pins), six SATA 6.0Gb/s, one USB 3.0 header (for up to two USB 3.0 coming from the header in total), two USB 2.0 headers (for up to four USB 2.0 ports coming from the headers in total), LPC header and TPM header.
  • Included in the box: Motherboard, four SATA cables, SLI cable, Q-connector, backplate, manual and CD.

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Micro-ATX form factor motherboard alternatives

If you want ASUS best Micro-ATX motherboard, SupremeFX onboard Audio, ten (10) USB ports on the back, eight SATA 6.0GB/s ports, power/reset buttons and top-notch power delivery to push your CPU overclock to the limit, the $204 – ASUS Maximus VI GENE SupremeFX 10x USB, 8X SATA, best for OC is what you are looking for.

ATX form factor motherboard alternatives:

Compatible with ATX cases

  • Size wise, ATX motherboards are the largest when comparing ATX, Micro-ATX and Micro-ITX motherboards.
  • The ATX form factor has been around for a very long time and is the easiest to assemble thanks to its large size and it’s the easiest to find compatible parts to go with it.
  • It also allows you to install more expansion cards (video cards, sound cards, network cards, RAID controller cards, etc.) thanks to its higher number of expansion slots, although it’s more than the vast majority of users need.
  • Due to its large size, it requires you to use a larger case than if you were using a Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX motherboard.

The larger case requirement, along with the fact that most of you don’t need that many expansion slots, is why I now recommend Micro-ATX for the Tiers builds.

However, if you would rather use a larger ATX motherboard, simply pick: 1. An ATX motherboard, 2. A case (ATX) that supports ATX motherboards.

ATX Form Factor Motherboard Alternatives:
Compatible with ATX cases

Mini-ITX form factor motherboard alternatives:

Compatible with Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX and some ATX cases

  • Size wise, Mini-ITX motherboards are the smallest when comparing ATX, Micro-ATX and Micro-ITX motherboards.
  • Installing a single video card with a PCI or PCI-Express 1x sound card is not possible. If you want a dedicated sound card, you’ll want an USB sound card, see our recommendation in the Sound section.
    • Alternatively, you can pick a motherboard with a better onboard audio chip, see the alternative motherboard recommendations.
  • Installing more than one video card is not possible. If you want two or more video cards at some point in time, you’ll want a Micro-ATX or ATX build.
  • Due to having only a single PCI-Express 16x slot (used by the video card) and lacking other expansion slots, you cannot add any expansion cards.
  • Thanks to its smaller size, it allows you to use a smaller case than if you were using a Micro-ATX or ATX motherboard, making Mini-ITX builds highly portable and ideal for LAN parties or for the living room.
  • However, due to its smaller size, assembling a PC in a Mini-ITX case demands a bit more time and is slightly more complex.

The lack of expansion slot for a dedicated sound, along with the fact that Mini-ITX builds are harder to assemble, especially for a first time builder, is why Mini-ITX builds aren’t recommended by default.

However, if what you want is a smaller, highly portable Gaming PC for LAN parties, or simply a more discrete Gaming PC with a smaller footprint for the living room, a Mini-ITX Gaming PC is an excellent choice for your needs.

Here’s what you need to change from the default Tiers recommendations. Pick from our alternative recommendations:

  1. A Mini-ITX motherboard
  2. A Mini-ITX case
  3. A power supply for Mini-ITX cases (if it’s too long, it won’t fit)

Mini-ITX form factor Alternatives:

  • Four USB 3.0 ports and RAID support: $110 – ASUS H87I-PLUS H87 SATA 6Gb/s 4xUSB3.0 RAID 0/1/5/10 – This motherboard offers four USB 3.0 ports, as well as RAID 0/1/5/10. Note that it includes only two SATA cables, so you’ll need an additional one if you have a SSD, hard drive and optical drive. Does not support overclocking, nor RAM faster than 1600MHz.
  • Z87, WiFi, Bluetooth and Dual LAN: $135 – Gigabyte GA-Z87N-WIFI WiFi 802.11n Bluetooth Dual LAN Z87 - Thanks to the Z87 it’s equipped with, this motherboard allows you to overclock K-series CPUs, such as the Core i5-4670K or the Core i7-4770K. It’s also equipped with two LAN ports, 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. Note that it includes only two SATA cables, so you’ll need an additional one if you have a SSD, hard drive and optical drive. Does support overclocking and RAM up to 2400MHz. That said, CPU overclocking is somewhat limited by the power delivery on the motherboard. If you want to overclock your CPU to the limit, consider one of the two higher end alternatives below.
  • Faster 802.11ac WiFi, higher-end CPU power delivery for better CPU overclocking results, ten USB ports, six SATA ports and four fan headers: $189 – Asus Z87I-Deluxe Z87 WiFi 802.11ac BT 10x USB, better for OC - Good for overclocking and if you want faster WiFi and more USB ports.
  • $230 – ASUS MAXIMUS VI IMPACT SupremeFX, Wifi BT, Debug LED, E-SATA, best for OC – If you want a Mini-ITX motherboard with no compromise, the Maximus VI Impact is ASUS’ best Mini-ITX motherboard. With the SupremeFX Impact discrete sound card, you get great sound quality. With the “Extreme Engine Digi+ III with Impact Power” CPU power delivery (with a vertical design), you can benefit from precise power management and stable overclocking on this mini-ITX motherboard. You also get Wifi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, E-SATA and a debug LED. If you want THE best Mini-ITX motherboard, this is it!

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About Intel’s QuickSync and SSD Caching:

All 8-series chipsets allows you to access the IGP from the CPU, which allows you to take advantage of Intel’s QuickSync, a technology that lets you use the IGP in your CPU to accelerate video conversion (amongst other things), allowing you to convert video faster than with just a CPU.

However, the drawback is that the quality of converted videos is lower than if they are converted with a CPU. This is subjective though, so the loss in quality might be an acceptable drawback for you, if you value the time than you gain.

As for SSD Caching, AnandTech has two excellent articles on the subject. They are on the Z68 chipset, but SSD caching is the same on Z87/H87:

  1. Intel Z68 Chipset & Smart Response Technology (SSD Caching) Review
  2. Z68 SSD Caching with Corsair’s F40 SandForce SSD

In short, while SSD caching is an interesting technology, you’re better off using your SSD as your boot drive and manually managing where your applications and games get installed (SSD or HDD), if you want the best performance possible, all the time.

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CPU:

About Haswell, Intel’s 4th generation of Core CPUs:

Performance:

V.S. AMD FX series

Most video games only use two to four cores and prioritize single-threaded performance (a domain where Intel dominates AMD) so when it comes to gaming performance, even AMD’s fastest CPU, the FX-8350, is no match for Intel’s 4th generation of Core CPUs. On top of that, the Fx-8350 consumes roughly 80W more power at load than the Core i5-4670K, a considerable difference. In the end, there’s simply no good reason for me to recommend the FX series in the Mainstream Gaming PCs.

Performance vs previous generation of Intel CPUs:
Intel new fourth generation of Core CPUs, known under the codename Haswell is here.

Replacing Intel’s LGA1155 Ivy Bridge (known as Core ix 3xxx) CPUs, the LGA1150 based Haswell CPUs (Known as Core ix 4xxx) bring in on average a 8% performance improvement.

Compared to the 2nd generation of Intel CPUs, Sandy Bridge (Core ix 2xxx), the LGA1150 based Haswell CPUs (Known as Core ix 4xxx) bring in on average a 17% performance improvement.

Compared to the 1st generation of Intel CPUs, Nehalem (Core ix xxx), the LGA1150 based Haswell CPUs (Known as Core ix 4xxx) bring in on average a 44% performance improvement.

Power consumption:

When you compare the whole system power consumption, the Haswell platform consumes about 11W less at idle compared to Ivy Bridge. At load, the power consumption increases by about 12W but if you consider that it completes workloads faster than Ivy Bridge, it’s about as power efficient under load and more efficient at idle.

Overclocking:

Non-K series CPUs:
Either fully locked (no OC possible) or mostly locked (very little overclocking possible)

To overclock a non-K series CPU, you’ll want to raise the CPU multiplier:

  • If you have a CPU that offers no Turbo mode (e.g. Celeron/Pentium/Core i3), then you can’t raise the multiplier at all and thus can’t overclock. In short: Your CPU is completely locked.
  • If you have a CPU with Turbo modes (e.g. Core i5-4570), you can overclock, but just a tiny bit, using a motherboard equipped with a Z chipset. You are limited to an overclock of to the highest available Turbo one core frequency.

Let’s use a Core i5-4570, which runs at 3.2GHz by default, as an example:

  • When one or two cores are active, the chip can turbo up to 3.6GHz. You cannot change that turbo state to go any higher.
  • When three cores are active, the chip can turbo up to 3.5GHz. You can change that turbo state to go as high as 3.6GHz.
  • When four cores are active, the chip can turbo up to 3.4GHz. You can change that turbo state to go as high as 3.6GHz.

Overclocking the non-K Core i5/i7 chips relies entirely on turbo however. In the case above, the fastest your chip will run is 3.6GHz. Not exactly exciting, but better than nothing.

K series CPUs:
Fully unlocked, can be overclocked as much as possible:
Finally, there’s the K-series of CPUs, with the Core i5-4670K and Core i7-4770K currently available. These chips are fully unlocked and will let you overclock them as far as the CPU and/or your cooling can sustain.

A new addition is the ability to adjust BCLK to one of three pre-defined straps (100/125/167MHz) on K-series CPUs. The BCLK adjustment gives you a little more flexibility when overclocking, but you still need a K CPU to take advantage of that.

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Want to overclock?
If you do want to overclock a K-series CPU, I recommend going with the motherboard, CPU Cooler and power supply of Tier 5, 6 and 7, which are optimized for overclocking. That way, you’ll be sure that your motherboard and the power supply can handle the additional power consumption and that the CPU Cooler will keep your overclocked CPU temperature in check.

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Our recommendations:

Tier 3:

Intel Core i5-4570 Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80646I54570$200 – Intel Core i5-4570 3.2-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core 84W

The Intel Core i5-4570 is an Intel processor based on the Haswell architecture.

It features four cores and can handle four threads (No Hyper-Threading).

It runs at a base frequency of 3.2GHz and can automatically increase its frequency up to 3.6GHz, thanks to Turbo.

To avoid:
Intel Core i5-4430 3.0-3.2GHz Turbo Quad-Core 84W

The Intel Core i5-4430 may seem like a legitimate less expensive alternative at $185, but for $15, you lose 200MHz of base frequency and up to 400MHz of Turbo frequency. In the end, you might end up saving ~4% of the total budget, but you’ll lose more than that in performance.

Tier 4:

Intel Core i5-4670 Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80646I54670$220 – Intel Core i5-4670 3.4-3.8GHz Turbo Quad-Core 84W

The Intel Core i5-4670 is an Intel processor based on the Haswell architecture.

It features four cores and can handle four threads (No Hyper-Threading).

It runs at a base frequency of 3.4GHz and can automatically increase its frequency up to 3.8GHz, thanks to Turbo.

Tier 5-6-7:

Intel Core i5-4670K Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80646I54670K$235 – Intel Core i5-4670K 3.4-3.8GHz Turbo Unlocked Multiplier 84W

Out of the box, CPU performance wise the Core i7-4670K is no faster than the Core i5-4670.

The Core i5-4670K offers a better integrated GPU than the Core i5-4670, but considering that you’ll be using a dedicated video card (which offers far superior performance) and not the integrated GPU, this will make no difference in performance.

The main advantage of the Core i5-4670K over the Core i5-4670 is its unlocked multiplier, which allows you to overclock it to your heart’s content.

Of course, Tier 5, 6 and 7 featured recommended components that are optimized for overclocking, meaning that your overclock won’t be limited by an inadequate CPU Cooler or something alike.

Alternatives to consider:

Higher performance alternatives:

  1. $304 – Intel Core i7-4770 3.4-3.9GHz Turbo Quad-Core + HT 84W – The i7 series brings with it Hyper-Threading, which is useless for gaming (i.e. it brings no more performance to gaming), but if you do a lot of photo/video editing, heavy multi-tasking, highly demanding workloads, need all the CPU performance that you can get or just want a more powerful CPU, the Core i7-4770 is an excellent choice and a great upgrade.
  2. $335 – Intel Core i7-4770K 3.5-3.9GHz Turbo Unlocked Multiplier 84W – This is the K version of the Core i7-4770, meaning that it comes with an unlocked multiplier for full overclocking and that it’s 100MHz faster at stock frequencies.

Lower power alternative:

If you’re building a small Gaming PC in a Mini-ITX case, heat dissipation from the CPU has to be considered in order to avoid overheating and/or noisy fans.

With its 65W TDP (19W lower than 84W TDP models), the $198 – Intel Core i5-4570S 2.9-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core 65W is the ideal choice for a Gaming PC in a Mini-ITX, thanks to its lower 65W TDP (Thermal Design Power), which means that it doesn’t dissipate as much heat and thus doesn’t require as much cooling compared to the “standard” 84W TDP models.

You do lose 300MHz of base frequency compared to Core i5-4570, but the Turbo frequency is just as high as the standard edition.

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Video Card:

A few important recommendations and notes regarding video cards:

  • Get the latest version of the video card drivers directly from AMD or Nvidia. That way, you’ll be sure to get the latest bug fixes as well as the best performance possible from your video card(s).
  • To confirm whether Crossfire or SLI is working or not, use GPU-Z which will show that information to you in the last field at the bottom of the program.
  • SLI Guide: How to enable SLI, check if SLI is enabled, actually working in your game and what to do if it’s not is a great guide from the Notebook Review forums. If you know of a similar guide that covers Crossfire, let me know, I’ll make sure to add it to the article.
  • When using two or more video cards in Crossfire or SLI, you want to connect your monitors into the top video card, i.e. the video card that is the closest to the CPU.
  • Most video cards require one or two PCI-Express 6 or 8 pin power connector(s) to be plugged into them to function properly. Make sure that your power supply comes equipped with enough 6 and/or 8 pin connectors for your video cards. Of course, I double-checked that already for the recommendations in this article, I simply mention it if you decide to modify a build to your own taste.

Tier 3:

$259.99 – EVGA Geforce GTX 760 2GB SuperClocked Dual fan

The main competitor of the Geforce GTX 760 is the Radeon R9 270X. When the R9 270X could be found for $210-220, it was worth considering it. However, with the higher prices on the R9 270X and the lower prices on the Geforce GTX 760, I now recommend the Geforce GTX 760.

Why? Simply because the Radeon R9 270X offers on average 94% of the performance of the GTX 760 (according to AnandTech) and considering the current prices, the Geforce GTX 760 offers higher performance at similar or lower prices.

This specific EVGA GTX 760 SuperClocked offers higher frequencies than the reference Nvidia model as well as an excellent dual fan cooling system to keep temperatures and noise in check. It also comes with a three years warranty. Finally, EVGA is known for its reliable products. This is why I recommend this specific GTX Geforce 760.

What games can this video card handle?

The Geforce GTX 760 is capable of handling most games at a resolution of 1680 x 1050 with high or maximum visual quality. 1080p (1920 x 1080) gameplay is usually not a problem either, but you will have to lower details in the most demanding games.

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Tier 4:

$309.99 – PNY GeForce GTX 770 2GB

The main competitor of the Geforce GTX 770 is the Radeon R9 280X. When the R9 280X could be found for $300, it was worth considering it. However, with the R9 280X lowest price being $425 and with the Geforce GTX 770 that can now be found for $310, the GTX 770 is a far better choice.

Why? Simply because the Radeon R9 280X offers on average 95% of the performance of the GTX 770 (according to AnandTech) and considering the current prices, the Geforce GTX 770 offers higher performance at far lower prices.

This specific PNY Geforce GTX 770 offers an excellent triple fan cooling system to keep temperatures and noise in check. It’s also far less expensive than other GTX 770s on the market.

What games can this video card handle?

This card is capable of handling pretty much any game at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 with maximum visual quality, although you might have to scale back details in the most demanding games.

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Tier 5:

$359.99 – PNY Geforce GTX 770 4GB

For Tier 5, I’m also recommending the Geforce GTX 770.

What’s the difference with this Geforce GTX 770 and the one recommended for Tier 4?
The onboard memory. For Tier 5, I recommend a Geforce GTX 770 with 4GB of VRAM, unlike Tier 4 where I recommend a Geforce GTX 770 with 2GB of VRAM.

Why 4GB of VRAM?
Some games can already take advantage of more than 2GB of VRAM, so to maximize performance in those games and just as importantly, to ensure good performance for a few years with future games, 4GB of VRAM will help.

What games can this video card handle?

This card is capable of handling pretty much any game at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 with maximum visual quality, although you might have to scale back details in the most demanding games.

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Tier 6:

$569.99 – ASUS Radeon R9 290 4GB

1- This card performs 10% faster than a GTX 780, yet it’s only $30 more than the GTX 780.

2- Architecturally, the R9 290 is based on exactly the same Hawaii GPU as the R9 290X ($650+), AMD has kept intact virtually all the features of the R9 290X in the non “X” card including the 512-bit memory bus and 4GB of GDDR5, it performs merely 6% slower, making it a good bang for the buck compared to the R9 290X.

Doesn’t the R9 290 run hot and is noisy?

The R9 290 got a bad reputation as a noisy card that runs hot, which is due to reviews of the card with its stock reference AMD cooler. With custom cooler like the one on the ASUS card recommended here, the card runs at reasonable temperatures and is far more quiet.

What games can this video card handle?
This card will run any game at 1920 x 1200 (or 1080 for 1080p) maxed out, as well as games at 2560 x 1600 without any problem. Gaming with a 4K resolution or on multiple monitors is also possible, although you might have to turn settings down, depending on the game.
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Tier 7:

$729.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti Superclocked 3GB Dual fan

Simply put, this card features the second fastest single-GPU on the market, even faster than the Radeon R9 290X and the Geforce Titan. Only the $1000+ Geforce Titan Black is marginally faster (not $300 faster in my opinion though)

It’s faster than the R9 290X by an average of 11%, according to AnandTech. It’s also more quiet, thanks to its lower power consumption.

If you want the fastest video card without messing with Crossfire, SLI or dual-GPU video card setups, this is the way to go.

1080p and 2560 x 1600 is handled by this card without any problem. 4K and multiple monitors can also be handled, although you should consider a Crossfire or SLI setup for that.

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RAM:

Tier 3 and 4:

$69.99 – Kingston 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600MHz CAS 9 1.65v

Is 8GB of RAM necessary?

With the ever increasing memory usage of programs and video games, I’d argue that yes.

Simply put, RAM allows you to have more programs open at the same time without experiencing major slowdowns due to running out of memory and using the far slower storage drive as a backup (Yes, even SSDs are far slower than RAM).

I recommend these specific RAM sticks from Kingston as they offer the right combination of 1600MHz frequency, high reliability and low price.

Tier 5:

$127 – Crucial 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3 1600MHz CAS 9 1.5v

Why upgrade to 16GB of RAM?

Windows 7 and now Windows 8 will also use your unused RAM as a cache, in order to speed up your system, so more RAM allows Windows to cache more things.

If you’re like me and like switching back (Alt-Tab or Alt-Esc) to your desktop to check something while pausing your game and keeping it open, 16GB will even more improve the responsiveness of your PC.

Also, if you using other demanding programs (think photo/video/audio editing), 16GB will help your PC handle it with ease.

Another things to keep in mind is if you intend on keeping this Gaming PC for several years, 16GB is worth it.

This is exactly why Tier 5, 6 and 7 feature 16GB of RAM. That way, you know that you’ll be future-proof for a while and that you can alt-tab out of your games with minimal lag.

Tier 6:

$169 – G.Skill 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3 1866MHz CAS 10 1.5v

1866MHz RAM is ONLY supported by motherboards equipped with the Z87 chipset

Why upgrade to 1866MHz RAM?

Video games performance is slightly higher with higher frequency RAM, although with quickly diminishing returns beyond 2133MHz.

With Tier 6 and 1866MHz RAM, you get higher performance than Tier 3-5 1600MHz RAM, without paying more for Tier 7 2133MHz RAM. It’s basically a good balance between performance and price.

I recommend these specific RAM sticks from G.Skill as they offer the right combination of 1866MHz frequency, high reliability and low price.

Tier 7:

$174.99 – Patriot 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3 2133MHz CAS 11 1.5v

2133MHz RAM is ONLY supported by motherboards equipped with the Z87 chipset

Why upgrade to 2133MHz RAM?

Video games performance is slightly higher with higher frequency RAM, although with quickly diminishing returns beyond 2133MHz. With 2133MHz RAM, you get great performance at a reasonable price, without paying far too much for faster 2400MHz+ RAM that offers next to no benefits.

I recommend these specific RAM sticks from Patriot as they offer the right combination of 2133MHz frequency, high reliability and low price.

32GB kit alternatives:

32GB is overkill for all but the most powerful High-End Gaming PCs. The only reasons to justify upgrading to 32GB in my opinion is if you use your Gaming PCs for highly demanding workloads, tons of multi-tasking with highly demanding applications or to future-proof your Gaming PC. That said, here are my recommendations for 32GB memory kits.

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Is it worth it to get RAM with higher frequencies?

While synthetic benchmarks show great increases in bandwidth with higher frequency RAM, you’ll have a tough time seeing a perceivable difference in real-life applications.

In my opinion, there is little incentive to move to higher frequency RAM (e.g. 2400MHz+ RAM vs the recommended 2133MHz), as this will only bring a very small performance increase, nothing noticeable, while costing quite a bit more in some cases. You’re better off investing that extra money on a faster CPU, faster video card, a SSD, a different case, etc. Unless you think that spending an extra $100 to brag about your “uber” 2400+MHz RAM sticks is worth it…Hey, it’s your money after all :P

Maximum amount of RAM:

All the ATX and Micro-ATX motherboards in this guide support four sticks of RAM, for a maximum of 32GB (4 sticks of 8GB) of RAM.

The Mini-ITX motherboards support two sticks of RAM, for a maximum of 16GB (2 sticks of 8GB).

Note that unless you have a specific use for 32GB, it is completely overkill for a Gaming PC. 16GB is more than enough unless you want to future-proof your PC and/or use programs that use a lot of RAM.
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RAM Heatsinks and CPU cooler clearance:

Every kit that I recommend in this guide feature either no heatsinks or small heatsinks that don’t raise too much above the RAM sticks.

Why?

  1. Because RAM heatsinks barely make any difference when it comes to RAM temperatures. Besides, even if you overclock it/raise the voltage (at your own risk, Intel doesn’t recommend more than 1.5V), RAM temperatures aren’t a problem as long as you have decent airflow in your case.
  2. Tall RAM heatsinks can get in the way of larger aftermarket CPU Coolers, preventing you from installing your aftermarket CPU Cooler!

Important: RAM can require manual configuration within the BIOS to reach its full potential or function properly!

By default, some RAM kits will boot at lower frequencies than they are rated for. This is perfectly normal, it does not mean that your RAM is defective.

You simply have to go within the BIOS/UEFI (The first thing that you see when your PC starts) and enable XMP, for your RAM to function at its rated speed. If XMP is not available or doesn’t work for some reason, you can adjust the RAM settings manually, such as frequency (In MHz, usually linked to the CPU, look for a CPU:RAM ratio), and timings (a series of numbers, such as 9-9-9-24). Refer to your motherboard manual and your RAM specifications for more information.

Alternative RAM from other manufacturers:
I recommend high-performance RAM from reliable brands at the best price possible. If the recommendations are out of stock or not available to you, look for alternatives from Corsair, Crucial, G.Skill, Kingston, Mushkin or Patriot. Here’s what you need to make sure that it’s compatible: DDR3, 1600, 1866 or 2133MHz (Frequency), two or four sticks of RAM so 2x4GB, 4x4GB or 4x8GB.

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Storage:

  • Quick tip #1: Get the most performance out of your SSD, by selecting AHCI in your BIOS/UEFI options. Unless you use multiple SSD or HDD in RAID that is, in which case you want to select RAID.
  • Quick tip #2: Save storage capacity on your SSD by moving your documents default location to your hard drive. See this tutorial on the forums for instructions on how to do so. It’s pretty simple.

SSD FAQ:

If you wondering “Who are SSDs for?”, if you want a quick recap on what a SSD is or want to learn more about the benefits of using a SSD, I invite you to read our SSD FAQ.

SSD for Tier 4 and 5:

$74.99 – Crucial M500 2.5″ 120GB SATA III SSD

Offering great performance and reliability, the Crucial M500 is an great SSD at an excellent price.

Currently selling at $74.99 for 120GB, this is a great price for a SSD that offers top notch performance.

Need a SSD with more storage capacity? Upgrade to the Tier 6-7 240GB SSD for $55 more or see the 500GB, 750GB or 1TB alternatives below.

2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter:

Note that this SSD doesn’t include a 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter bracket, which is necessary to install the SSD in your case if it doesn’t support 2.5″ drives.

However, all Tiers have a recommended case that support 2.5″ drives, so you do not need to buy an adapter if you stick to the recommended cases.

If you pick a case that doesn’t support 2.5″ drives natively and that the SSD that you pick doesn’t include a 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter, I recommend the $4- Rosewill RX-C200P 2.5″ SSD / HDD Mounting Kit for 3.5″ Drive Bay adapter.

Slightly higher performance alternative
If you don’t mind spending a bit more money for a bit more performance, get the $89.99 – Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 120GB SATA III SSD instead.

SSD for Tier 6 and 7:

$128.99 – Crucial M500 2.5″ 240GB SATA III SSD

At $129 for 240GB, the Crucial M500 is hardly more than $0.50 per GB, while offering great performance and reliability!

Slightly higher performance alternative
If you don’t mind spending a bit more money for a bit more performance, get the $149.99 – Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 250GB SATA III SSD instead.

Higher capacity SSDs:
120GB (Tier 4-5) will hold the OS (Windows 7/8) as well as a few programs/games.

240GB will have no problem holding the OS and many programs/games.

If 240GB isn’t enough for you, here are some higher capacity SSDs alternatives:

  1. $259 – Crucial M500 2.5″ 480GB SATA III SSD – If you want a reliable, low-cost 480GB SSD with good performance.
  2. $279 – Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 500GB SATA III SSD – If you want a high-performance reliable 500GB SSD at a reasonable cost, the Samsung 840 EVO 500GB is a great choice.
  3. Same as above, but with a 750GB capacity: $369 – Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 750GB SATA III SSD is the way to go.
  4. $448 – Crucial M500 2.5″ 960GB SATA III SSD – Low cost, reliable and good performance 960GB SSD.
  5. Same as above, but with a 1TB capacity: $495 – Samsung 840 EVO 2.5″ 1TB SATA III SSD

For other options and alternatives, take a look at our The Best SSDs and HDDs For Your Money article.

Firmware updates:
I strongly urge you to update the SSD’s firmware to get the latest bug fixes and the best performance out of it. Many SSDs have newer firmware available than the one that they are shipped with, so make sure to double-check your SSD’s firmware version and to update it if it’s not the latest.

If you update your SSD’s firmware after starting to use it, make sure to backup your data beforehand, as something could go wrong during the update process and you could lose the data on the SSD.

For the latest firmware version and if you have questions regarding firmware updates, visit the manufacturer’s website or their support forums. Make sure to read the instructions available on each update page, in order to understand how to properly update the firmware.

You can skip the SSD if you need or want to cut down on costs:

Personally, I think that SSDs are the type of upgrade that once you’ve experienced, you don’t want to go without it anymore, because it makes the PC experience that much better, since the PC feels so much responsive.

However, If you feel like a SSD doesn’t make enough of a performance difference to justify its cost or if you need/want to cut down the cost of your build, you can remove the SSD from a Tier and go only with a hard drive, while still having perfectly functional PC. That’s the great part of building your custom PC, you choose the parts that go in it ;)
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Hard Drive:

Tier 3, 4 and 5:

Seagate Barracuda 1 TB HDD SATA 6 Gb/s NCQ 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Bare Drive ST1000DM003$60 – Seagate ST1000DM003 1 TB SATA III

Why a hard drive for Tier 4, 5, 6 and 7 when you already have a SSD?
It’s fairly simple: The SSD has a limited capacity, so the idea is that you have two drives:
1. The higher performance but lower capacity SSD for Windows, highly demanding games and programs that will benefit from the higher performance
2. The lower performance but higher capacity hard drive for pictures, music, video, large files and older games.

Note that you can save storage capacity on your SSD by moving your documents default location to your hard drive. See this tutorial on the forums for instructions on how to do so. It’s pretty simple.

Replacing the Western Digital Caviar Blue, which offers lower performance, the Seagate ST1000DM003 1TB offers excellent performance and great reliability at a reasonable cost.

Tier 6 and 7:

Seagate Barracuda 2 TB HDD SATA 6 Gb/s NCQ 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Bare Drive ST2000DM001$88 – Seagate ST2000DM001 2 TB SATA III

Replacing the Western Digital Red 2TB, seeing as it offers higher performance at a lower price, the Seagate ST2000DM001 2 TB is our new recommendation.

Reliability
Reliability wise, Seagate hard drives tops the chart, hence why we recommend them.

All hard drives and all SSDs are prone to failure though, which is why you should Have a Backup System that you can rely on!

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Higher capacity alternative:

Optical Drive:

All Tiers:

LG Electronics 24X SATA Super-Multi DVD Internal Rewriter with M-Disc Support (Black) GH24NS95B$15 – LG SATA 24X DVD Burner

This drive is able to read and burn CDs and DVDs. Relatively silent (it obviously makes some noise when reading/burning at high speed), compatible with all major formats including DVD-RAM.

The motherboard for Tier 3-4 includes two SATA cables, of which one will be used for the hard drive, one for the SSD (Tier 4 to 7) and one for this DVD Burner, so make sure to get an additional SATA cable for Tier 4.

If you need additional SATA cables, we recommend this SATA cable: $3 – 18″ SATA Cable w/Locking Latch

Upgrades:

If you want the ability to burn Blu-Ray disks, then the $65 – LG Black 14X SATA Blu-Ray/CD/DVD Burner is what you want.

Regarding Blu-Ray playback:

As far as I know, you still require a specific software to playback Blu-Ray disks on a PC.

Based on various reviews and feedback on various forums, PowerDVD 13 Pro is the software that I recommend to you. You’ll want at least the professional version for Blu-ray playback and the Ultra version for 3D Blu-ray playback.

It is fully compatible with Windows 7/8 and shouldn’t give you any problems.
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Case:

Which case size should you pick? ATX, Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX?

Tier 3 and 4:

Corsair Obsidian Series 350D Performance Micro ATX Computer Case CC-9011028-WW - Black$80 – Corsair Obsidian 350D

  • Cooling wise, this case includes one 140mm and one 120mm case fan, ensuring proper cooling for your Gaming PC.Want it with a windowed side panel? See the recommendation for Tier 5, 6 and 7 below.

Features wise, you get:

  1. Corsair’s excellent tool-free assembling, making this PC a lot easier to build!
  2. Two 2.5″, two 3.5″ and two 5.25″ drive bays.
  3. 2x USB 3.0 ports via an internal header (supported by the motherboard), Audio out and MIC in.
  4. Dust filters
  5. Various holes and space to route and hide your wires.
  6. Support for two 240mm radiators if you want to water-cool your PC.

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Tier 5, 6 and 7:

Corsair Obsidian Series 350D Performance Micro ATX Computer Case with Windowed Side Panel CC-9011029-WW - Black$100 – Corsair Obsidian 350D with Windowed Side Panel

This is the same case as recommended for Tier 3 and 4, but with a windowed side panel.

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Micro-ATX cases alternatives:

(Only compatible with Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX motherboards)

ATX cases alternatives:

Compatible with ATX, Micro-ATX and some of them are also compatible with Mini-ITX motherboards
If you a want to go with a larger ATX case, here are my suggestions. All of them are great cases, pick the one that you prefer:

Mini-ITX cases:

(Only compatible with Mini-ATX motherboards)

I only recommend the BitFenix Prodigy case if you intend to build a Mini-ITX Gaming PC because it’s simply unmatched when it comes to the possibilities that it offers for a small footprint Gaming PC. It’s the easiest and most convenient Mini-ITX case to work with. Here are the specific reasons that I recommend it for:

  • Mostly tool-free installation
  • Filtered air intakes to keep dust to a minimum
  • You can install a PSU with a length of up to 160mm. Note that if you use a modular PSU, that 160mm must include the extra length for the connectors. See my specific recommendations for this case in the PSU section.
  • You can install a fairly tall tower type CPU Cooler, with a maximum CPU Cooler height of 175mm. All our three CPU Coolers options are compatible.*
  • You can install a dual-slot video card with a length up to 310mm (pretty much the vast majority of video cards), if you do not mind removing the top HDD cage, which is not a problem unless you want more than two 3.5″ hard drives.
  • *You can install a 240mm water cooling radiator in the top, allowing you to use All-in-One Water Cooling kits if you want to. However, if you do so, you cannot install an optical drive.
  • Handles allowing you to easily carry it to LAN parties and the like.

The BitFenix Prodigy is available in six (6) colors. The Blue and Green version come with a side panel window, but you can buy a side panel window for the other color models if you want to. BitFenix also allows you to change the front panel of your case to get one with a different look/color and also offers LEDs of various lengths and various colors. See this Newegg page for the available side panels, front panels and LEDs strips.

Preferably ask us on the forums to double-check your build to ensure that everything is compatible and will fit.
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Power Supply:

All recommended power supplies are “Haswell Ready”, meaning that you can enable the C7 sleep state in the motherboard BIOS/UEFI to cut down power consumption when the CPU is idle. You have to enable the power saving setting in your motherboard BIOS/UEFI settings to take advantage of this, as it’s disabled by default.

Tier 3 and 4:

$69.99 – Rosewill Hive-550 550W 80 PLUS Bronze Modular

This power supply is capable of delivering up to 550W, not that you should rely on this information only as I often point in posts such as Warning: 6 Surefire Ways of Blowing Up Your Computer Due to an Inadequate Power Supply, but more importantly 38A on the 12V line, the most important factor when it comes to choosing a power supply for a gaming computer.

It is 80 PLUS Bronze certified, to insure good efficiency, a lower power bill, less heat and noise, compared to a less efficient and/or lower quality power supply.

It is also modular, allowing you to use only the power cables that you need, resulting in a cleaner build.

Its efficiency also helps it remain fairly cool and quiet, as there is less wasted energy converted to heat to dissipate.

Want a more efficient power supply that dissipates less heat?
Upgrade to a 80 PLUS Gold certified modular power supply with the $90 – Rosewill CAPSTONE-550-M 550W 80 PLUS GOLD Modular

80 PLUS? Bronze? Gold?
80 PLUS refers to a certification from an independant group that a PSU meets their requirements for the specified level of efficiency. Here’s a chart that shows the different required levels of efficiency depending on the specific 80 PLUS certification:

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Modular power supply?
A modular power supply is one that allows you to only plug in and only use the power cables that you actually need, instead of being stuck with a bunch of unused power cables that you need to hide somewhere in your case, that are resulting in less of a cable mess.

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Tier 5

$79.99 – Rosewill Hive-650 650W 80 PLUS Bronze Modular

This power supply is capable of delivering up to 650W, not that you should rely on this information only as I often point in posts such as Warning: 6 Surefire Ways of Blowing Up Your Computer Due to an Inadequate Power Supply, but more importantly 46A on the 12V line, the most important factor when it comes to choosing a power supply for a gaming computer.

It is 80 PLUS Bronze certified, to insure good efficiency, a lower power bill, less heat and noise, compared to a less efficient and/or lower quality power supply.

It is also modular, allowing you to use only the power cables that you need, resulting in a cleaner build.

Its efficiency also helps it remain fairly cool and quiet, as there is less wasted energy converted to heat to dissipate.

Wait, a Rosewill power supply? “Mathieu must have gone mad!” you must be thinking.

Until recently, yes, most Rosewill power supplies were average at best and mediocre in many cases.

However, recently Rosewill started introducing some new, higher-quality power supplies to the market and the Rosewill HIVE series is one of them.

The Rosewill HIVE series is based on the same power supply platform as the OCZ ZS series.

The OCZ ZS series was well reviewed by many websites, including by JohnnyGuru who reviewed the OCZ ZS 550W and gave it a 9/10 for performance and 8.5/10 for build quality.

With the Rosewill HIVE being based on the same power supply platform, it should perform just as well and offer very decent reliability.

Value wise, this power supply is pretty much unbeatable. It is rated to deliver up to 650W (has been found to be capable of even more), is rated for 46A on the 12V line, is 80PLUS Bronze certified and finally, it is modular.

More efficient alternative with a ten years warranty:
If you want a more efficient 80 PLUS Gold power supply with a top-notch ten years warranty, I recommend the $91 – EVGA SuperNOVA NEX650G 80PLUS Gold Modular 10yrs war.

Tier 6-7:

$79.99 – Rosewill Hive-750 750W 80 PLUS Bronze Modular

This power supply is capable of delivering up to 750W, not that you should rely on this information only as I often point in posts such as Warning: 6 Surefire Ways of Blowing Up Your Computer Due to an Inadequate Power Supply, but more importantly 54A on the 12V line, the most important factor when it comes to choosing a power supply for a gaming computer.

It is 80 PLUS Bronze certified, to insure good efficiency, a lower power bill, less heat and noise, compared to a less efficient and/or lower quality power supply.

It is also modular, allowing you to use only the power cables that you need, resulting in a cleaner build.

More efficient alternative with a ten years warranty:
If you want a more efficient 80 PLUS Gold power supply with a top-notch ten years warranty, I recommend the 119.99 – EVGA SuperNOVA NEX750W G 80PLUS Gold Modular 10yrs war.

More powerful power supplies:

To future-proof your build, for future dual-video cards setups, etc.

For Mini-ITX builds: Shorter power supplies:

If you’re going to use the BitFenix Prodigy (our recommended Mini-ITX case) for a Mini-ITX case, you need a fairly short power supply to make sure that it fits in the case. Here are our recommendations:

Finally, the power supplies above are modular, but come with long cables designed for bigger ATX cases. You’ll absolutely want this set of shorter cables, as they are the ideal length for a Mini-ITX case: $20 – SilverStone PP05 Short Cables for PSU Set
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Power Consumption:

How to calculate power consumption:
I recommend using the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator. Here are the settings that I used:

  • CPU depending on the Tier, 90% TDP. For Tier 5- 6-7, it is overclocked to 4.3GHz/1.2V
  • Video Cards depends on the Tier
  • Two sticks sticks of DDR3 (Add 10W for four sticks)
  • One regular SATA drive + One Flash SSD
  • 1 DVD-RW/DVD+RW Drive
  • 4 USB Devices
  • 4 x 120mm regular fans
  • System Load: 90%
  • Capacitor Aging: 20%

A quick note about the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator:
While that is the main tool that I use to estimate power consumption, do note that my recommendations also take into account my personnal experience (over 12 years) and some additional research on my own to verify these numbers. This is why you may notice that the numbers that I give below may or may not match what the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator gives you. When in doubt, stick with my numbers or ask us on the forums.

Give your power supply some overhead:
While you can match a 650W PSU with a 630W requirement, it is good practice to add about 75-100W (125-150W if you overclock) of overhead, so that your PSU doesn’t run at full capacity all the time, as that will reduce its lifespan, increase its chance of failure, increase its heat output and its noise output.

Estimated Power Consumption, per Tier:
According to the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator, with the settings that I described above, it is estimated that this system will require at load (peak usage), the following Watts out of a power supply. The minimum requirements are in Italic, while my recommendations (including overhead) are in Bold:

  1. 385W/500W with the Intel Core i5-4570 and the Geforce GTX 760 (Tier 3).
  2. 450W/550W with the Intel Core i5-4670 and the Geforce GTX 770 2GB (Tier 4).
  3. 475W/600W with the Intel Core i5-4670K, overclocked to 4.3GHz/1.2v and the Geforce GTX 770 4GB (Tier 5).
  4. 580W/700W with the Intel Core i5-4670K, overclocked to 4.3GHz/1.2v and the Radeon R9 290 (Tier 6).
  5. 570W/700W with the Intel Core i5-4670K, overclocked to 4.3GHz/1.2v and the Geforce GTX 780 Ti (Tier 7).

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Cooling:

CPU Cooler

Tier 3 and 4:

Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO - CPU Cooler with 120mm PWM Fan (RR-212E-20PK-R2)$35 – Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 120mm CPU Cooler

The Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO CPU Cooler currently offers the best value for an after-market CPU Cooler, offering superior performance as at similar price as the Corsair A50 and Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus, but with slightly less or similar noise.

Considering that the CPU recommended for Tier 3 and 4 cannot be overclocked, the point of this CPU Cooler is to keep the CPU temperatures in check during long gaming sessions and to avoid the noise from the Intel stock CPU Cooler.

Note that you can add a second fan by simply buying one, the CPU Cooler includes the necessary accessories to install a second fan on it.

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Tier 5, 6 and 7:

$74.99 – Noctua NH-U14S CPU Cooler

The Noctua NH-U14S offers a great balance of cooling performance with low-noise, while being compatible with all our recommended and alternative cases.

Tier 5, 6 and 7 are designed with overclocking in mind and the Noctua NH-U11S will have no problem handling moderate to high levels of overclocking.

However, if you really want to push your CPU to its limits, see the alternative below.

Better CPU Cooler: All-in-One Liquid CPU Cooler: Corsair H100i

Corsair Hydro Series Extreme Performance Liquid CPU Cooler H100i$100 – Corsair Hydro H100i 240mm All-in-One Liquid CPU Cooler

The $100 – Corsair Hydro H100i 240mm All-in-One Liquid CPU Cooler is a great all-in-one water cooling kit. Installation is straight-forward. All the recommended/alternatives cases support it.

Self-contained Cooling System
Hydro Series H100i comes pre-filled, and never needs refilling or priming.

Dual Radiator with Custom Fan Design
The 240mm top-mounted radiator provides maximum surface area for maximum cooling power. The 120mm fans use wide, low-pitch blades for better static pressure to noise ratio, offering improved efficiency at lower noise levels.

Monitoring software
No additional hardware required, just connect the included Corsair Link cable to a USB header on your motherboard and download the free Corsair Link Dashboard software. You can monitor coolant temperature and adjust cooling performance directly from your desktop.

Thermal Interface kit:

Note: The CPU Coolers that I recommend already include high-performance thermal compound, so you don’t need to buy any.

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Case Fans:

The differences between Molex, 3-pin and 4-pin with PWM fans:

  • Molex: Connects to your power supply via a Molex power plug. Fan speed monitoring and PWM are not possible with Molex fans. Incompatible with most fan controllers.
  • 3-pin: Connects to the motherboard using a 3-pin plug. Fits on 4-pin connectors too. Fan speed monitoring available, but PWM is not possible. The best choice to use with a fan controller.
  • 4-pin: Connects to the motherboard using a 4-pin plug. Fan speed monitoring and PWM are available. Can fit on 3 pins connectors, but you lose the PWM function.

What is PWM?
PWM stands for Pulse-Width Modulation. This function allows your motherboard to automatically control the speed of the fan, depending on the CPU load. In other words, it spins slowly and is quiet when your PC is idle but spins up and creates more airflow when your PC is working hard. You can usually change the speed settings in the BIOS/UEFI or through a program on Windows.

Do you really need many Powerful High-RPM fans?

Do you think a 120mm Delta fan with a 5200 RPM RPM and an Air Flow of 240.96 CFM sound cool? Sounds Powerful?
Here’s what you’re forgetting: The noise level for that fan is 62 dBA. That is very LOUD! You do not want that much noise sitting next to you for many hours, every day.

A Gaming PC does not have to sound like a jet engine. Even if you overclock!
Unless:
A- You’re attempting to overclock your PC to the bleeding edge.
B- Want as much airflow to lower temperatures as much as possible.
C- That additional noise is not a problem for you.

…you don’t want powerful and noisy fans! Most computers don’t need such fans. As a matter of a fact, the vast majority of computer builds, even relatively powerful Mainstream Gaming PCs will do just fine with a few (2-3) good quality low-noise (below 20dBA) fans.

Even if you’re overclocking to the bleeding edge, that’s no excuse. Just get a fan controller so that you can run the fans at lower speed when your PC is idle, in order to reduce the noise.

If you want more airflow for overclocking, you can get fans that are just a bit faster, without too much noise. In my opinion, 30-40dBA is a reasonable noise range if you don’t mind more noise for higher fan performance.

If you do mind noise, try to stay below 20dBA.

Size: Double-check what fan size(s) your case support!
Most cases nowadays support 120mm fans. 140mm is getting more and more common on newer cases. Some, but not all cases support 200mm fans.

You can find which size(s) and how many fans your case supports. Note that all recommended cases include case fans. All this information is available on the product page for your (future) case, under specifications/details.

Here’s what I recommend:

1. A good balance between enough airflow and low-noise (preferably below 20dBA).
As I explained above, you don’t need noisy fans in to provide enough airflow for your PC.

2. Solid bearings so that your fan lasts many years without any problem.
One high-quality $10 to 20 fan that lasts 5 years is less expensive than a cheap $5 fan that breaks every year or two. Especially if you consider the annoyance of replacing the fan and your lost time.

Cheap fans are equipped with Sleeve bearings, which tend to be noisy and usually fail after 6 to 18 months, in most cases. Avoid sleeve bearings fans. High-quality fans have high quality bearings that is more reliable, will last longer and will make less noise and less vibration to produce the same amount of airflow versus a cheaper fan.

120mm fans:

140mm fans

200mm fans

Fan controller:

Fan controllers allow you to control the speed of your computer fan(s). That way, you can reduce their speed and lower the noise when your PC is idle, while keeping the option of speeding up their speed and increasing airflow for long gaming sessions and/or overclocking.

  • $28 – Sunbeamtech PL-RS-6 Rheosmart 6 Fan Controller, 30W per channel – This is a reliable fan controller that can handle up to six (6) fans or even more if you use fan y-cable splitters. Fits in a 5.25″ drive bay. No fancy LCD touchscreens, because those just fail too often.
  • $15 – FrozenCPU Deluxe Multi Power Port – 12V / 7V / 5V – This a board with four 12V 3pin fan headers, four 7V 3pin fan headers and four 5V 3pin fan headers. 12V will let your fan(s) run at full speed, 7V at lower speeds and 5V at even lower speeds. Note that not all fans can start with 5V. The underside of this board has a sticky material, allowing you to stick it somewhere in your case. Practical if you don’t have a free 5.25″ drive bay and if you want to see the speed of your fans once and forget about them.
  • $6 – 4-Pin Molex Fan controller – This fan controller allows you to control the speed of a 4-pin Molex fan. While there is only a single connection, most 4-pin Molex fans can be daisy-chainned.

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Sound:

Sound card:

Tier 3-4:

$27.99 – ASUS Xonar DG 5.1 PCI Sound Card

While integrated audio has improved a lot over the years, it’s still no match for the sound quality of a sound card, especially when you use headphones, thanks to the headphone amplifier on the ASUS Xonar DG.

Considering that audio is a big part of your Gaming PC experience, I believe that $28, or a small % of your total budget, is entirely worth it to improve your PC audio quality, whether it’s for gaming, music or other entertainment purposes.

  • If you’re sticking to the Tier 3-4 recommendations for a Micro-ATX motherboard, I then recommend installing this sound card in the motherboard’s bottom PCI slot.
  • If you get an ATX motherboard, just put it in a free PCI slot below the video card, preferably 2-3 slots away from it.
  • If you get a Mini-ITX motherboard, you can’t use a PCI or PCI-Express 1x sound card, because the only slot you have is a PCI-Express 16x slot, which will be used by the video card, so get a USB sound card instead.

Tiers 5-6-7:

ASUS Xonar DGX PCI-E GX2.5 Audio Engine Sound Cards$35 – ASUS Xonar DGX 5.1 PCI-E 1x Sound Card

Due to the change of recommended motherboard for Tier 5-6-7 and to ensure compatibility, I recommend pretty much the same sound card as for Tier 3-4, but in a PCI-Express 1x version.

  • If you’re sticking to the Tier 5-6-7 recommendations for a Micro-ATX motherboard, I then recommend installing this sound card in the motherboard’s bottom PCI-Express 16x slot.
  • If you get an ATX motherboard, you might have a free PCI-Express 1x slot above the video card, otherwise put it in a lower slot.
  • If you get a Mini-ITX motherboard, you can’t use a PCI or PCI-Express 1x sound card, because the only slot you have is a PCI-Express 16x slot, which will be used by the video card, so get a USB sound card instead.

Alternatives:

  1. $50 – ASUS Xonar U3 USB Sound Card – If you have no free expansion slots on your motherboard or would rather keep them free (for future Crossfire/SLI), this is an excellent USB sound card, with an headphone amplifier and great sound quality.
  2. $68 – Sound Blaster Omni 5.1 USB Sound Card – A higher-end USB sound card, with more options.
  3. $50 – ASUS Xonar DS 7.1 PCI – If you want a 7.1 PCI (Not PCI-Express!) sound card.
  4. $83 – ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-Express 1x – If you want a 7.1 PCI-Express 1x sound card.
  5. $80 – Creative Sound Blaster Z SBX 5.1 PCI-Express 1x Sound Card – Creative Sound Labs latest 5.1 sound card.

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Speakers:

While I do not include speakers in the Tiers budgets, seeing as you may already own some or simply do not want any, here are some recommendations for great speakers at various price points:

Note that the power output is in RMS Watts, a more accurate measurement.

2.0 speakers: 2 satellites and no sub-woofer:

2.1 speakers: 2 satellites and a sub-woofer:

5.1 speakers: 5 satellites and a sub-woofer:

Headphones/Earphones

I do not include headphones nor earphones in the Tiers budgets, seeing as you may already own a pair or simply do not want any.

Also keep in mind that sound quality is subjective, so while these are some great recommendations, in my opinion, at their respective price points, those recommendations are based on my own research, not yours. I do recommend that you do your own research, to figure out the best headphones for your needs, based on the type of music that you listen to and the games that you play.

Open Design Headphones:
As the name implies, an open hear headphone means that it doesn’t cover or seal off the ear from hearing outside noises.
Pros: Enough airflow to keep your ears cool. On average lighter than closed design headphones. Resonance is significantly reduced providing better audio quality and a better audio experience.
Cons: You hear outside noises, so they can’t be used in noisy environments. They leak out sound, so they provide no privacy and can bother people that are close to you.

  1. $16 – Koss KSC75 Clip on headphones
  2. $36 – Koss PortaPro
  3. $46 – Superlux HD668B
  4. $79 – Grado SR-60i
  5. $99 – Grado SR-80i
  6. $100 – Audio Technica ATH-AD700
  7. $150 – Sennheiser HD558
  8. $200 – Grado SR225i
  9. $249 – Sennheiser HD 598
  10. $295 – Grado SR325is

Closed Design Headphones:
These are the opposite of open design headphones. These headsets usually have larger ear cups that isolate the user’s ears from his surroundings and its design is typically meant to block out outside sounds.

Pros: 1- Closed ear cups that seal off the ear from the outside world so you can expect sounds not to leak in and out of the headphones.
2- You can enjoy exclusive audio entertainment particularly in a typically noisy environment.

Cons: 1- Due to the closed ear design, airflow is greatly minimized or prevented, producing more resonance and this can negatively affect the quality of sound.
2- Due to how they isolate you from outside noise, it makes you more vulnerable to accidents.

  1. $17 – Koss UR-20
  2. $29 – Panasonic RP-HTX7 (Available in Black, Blue, Red, White, Cream, Pink and Green) – I’ve used these headphones for a few days and let me tell this: For $30, they are a steal. They sound more like $60-$80 headphones in my opinion. Best of all? You have seven colors to pick from!
  3. $59 – Audio-Technica ATH-M30
  4. $90 – Shure SRH440
  5. $130 – Audio Technica ATH-A700
  6. $159 – Audio Technica ATH-M50S (Straight Cable) – There’s also the $159 – Audio-Technica ATH-M50 (Coiled Cable), non-S version, which comes with a coiled cable. I personally ordered myself a pair of the ATH-M50 some time ago and I love them, they sound better than any other ~$100 headphones that I tried before and isolate fairly well from the outside noise. They are tight at first, so you need to “flex” them a bit. Of course, as in with any good pair of headphones/earphones/speakers, having a good source of source makes all the difference in the world. I use them on the laptop with an ASUS Xonar U3 and they are a great combo. A good buy at $160, a steal when on special.
  7. $200 – Sennheiser HD25-1 II

In-Ear Headphones:
Simply put, these are headphones that you insert straight into your ear, to create a seal between the headphones and your ears.

Important: Make sure to take your time to properly test the different size of included tips, to find the ones that best fit your ears. This will make all the difference between a poor sounding pair and a good sounding one.

  1. $19 – Sony MDREX58V EX Black, Blue, Red, Silver, Violet or White
  2. $35 – Sony MDRXB60EX/GLD Gold Extra Bass
  3. $60 – Logitech Ultimate Ears 600
  4. $100 – Bose IE2
  5. $129 – Yamaha EPH-100SL
  6. $199 – Shure SE315-K
  7. $499 – Shure SE535-V Bronze or Clear

Microphone:

Personally, I recommend going for a pair of headphone with this dedicated microphone versus going with a headset that has a microphone, for two reasons:
1- The sound quality is on average superior with a dedicated pair of headphones and a dedicated microphone vs a headset at comparable price points.
2- If the microphone on the headset breaks down (and they do more often than not…), you’ll be stuck without your headset if you get it replaced, or either getting a new headset ($$) or a separated microphone. If either the headphones or the microphone breaks down, you still have the other that you don’t have to replace.

If you want a dedicated microphone, to talk to your teammates online or for any other purpose, I recommend the $10 – Zalman Zm-Mic1Clip-on Microphone which is an excellent low-cost option with a perfectly fine audio quality and build quality.

However, if you do high quality broadcasts such as podcasts, or you record music I recommend the $65 – Blue Microphones Snowball USB Microphone which gives excellent sound quality for only $65.

Headsets:

Headsets are basically headphones with an integrated microphone.

If you go with an headset, make sure to check them all out, since they vary considerably in design.

  1. $13 – Yapster TM-YP100A
  2. $31 – Koss SB-45
  3. $50 – Sennheiser PC 151
  4. $56- Razer Moray Plus
  5. $49 – ARCTIC Sound P531
  6. $80 – SteelSeries Siberia V2
  7. $95 – Logitech G35
  8. $98 – Creative Sound Blaster Tactic 3D Wrath Wireless
  9. $105 – Logitech G930

Network:

Ethernet RJ-45 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN: Integrated on the motherboard

Integrated with the motherboard, this network adapter will allow you to access your local network and Internet, using a standard LAN cable.

If a LAN network is not an option or if a wireless network is preferable for you, know this before you use wireless for a Gaming PC:

The problem with wireless is that:

  • It’s not as reliable as LAN, with signals dropping out, interference and the like.
  • It induces additional latency compared to LAN, which is the last thing that you want when you’re playing online, especially with first-person shooters.

In short, for reliability and getting a low ping, LAN is simply superior (and cheaper!).

If you understand that and still want to go with wireless, here my recommendations:

I recommend three adapters:
1- If you have an older router or buy a 802.11 “n” router and want a reliable adapter without spending a fortune, I highly recommend the $18 – Rosewill RNX-N180UBE Wireless USB 2.0 Dongle 802.11b/g/n w/ 5 dBi Antenna, which connects in a USB 2.0 port. It comes with a base, so that you can move it away from the PC for better reception and a 5dBi external antenna to improve reception further more. It support 802.11b/g/n, with transfer rates up to 300Mbps.

2- If you buy a newer 802.11 “ac” router and want a reliable adapter without spending too much, I recommend the $24 – Edimax EW-7811UTC Wireless 802.11b/g/n/ac 600Mbps USB 2.0 Adapter, which connects in a USB 2.0 port. It support 802.11b/g/n/ac, with transfer rates up to 433Mbps when used with a 802.11 AC router and 150Mbps if used with a 802.11n router (not recommended unless you plan on upgrading your router, the rosewill adapter above is faster on 802.11n networks)..

3- The best solution is the $37 – Edimax EW-7822UAC Wireless AC 1200Mbps Dual Band USB 3.0 Adapter which offers a throughput up to 867Mbps when used with a 802.11 AC router.

Bluetooth USB adapter:
Want Bluetooth 4.0 and it’s not offered by your motherboard? Simply get the $15 – Kinivo BTD-400 Bluetooth 4.0 USB adapter. It supports Windows Vista/7/8.

Recommended wireless routers:

Need a wireless router too? No problem. Here are my recommendations, in an ascending order of performance and price:

  1. $26 – TP-Link WL TL-WR841N 802.11b/g/n/ 300Mbps – A great basic no-frill fairly reliable 300Mbps 802.11n router.
  2. $52 – TP-LINK TL-WR1043ND 802.11b/g/n 300Mbps USB – Similar to the one above, but with an extra antenna and a USB port, to share a printer, storage, etc.
  3. $86 – D-Link DIR-820L 802.11b/g/n/ac 1000 Mbps – Relatively affordable next generation “ac” wireless router. Make sure to get an wireless adapter compatible with the AC standard. See our recommendations above.
  4. $160 – Netgear R6250-100NAS 802.11b/g/n/ac 1600Mbps – An even faster wireless router.
  5. $190 – ASUS ASUS RT-AC66U 802.11b/g/n/ac 1750Mbps – Top of the range wireless router.

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Recommended operating systems:

The operating system cost, if there’s one, is not included in the total cost. The two reasons for this are:

  1. The budget only considers hardware.
  2. You may be able re-use a previous license, upgrade from a previous version of Windows or go with an open-source OS such as Linux.

Note that you’ll need a 64-bit version OS, as 32-bit is limited to 4GB of memory for the entire system, which is not enough now, nor in the future if you decide to upgrade. Remember that you’ll have 4GB of RAM or more, along with a dedicated video that also has memory (1GB or 2GB). 64-bit drivers are widely available for pretty much any devices nowadays.

Windows 8.1

Released one year ago, Windows 8 is Microsoft’s latest version of the popular Windows operating system. While it uses the same core as Windows Vista and Windows 7, visually it is a departure from these two OS, using colourful tiles and a look often referred to as “Metro”.

Windows 8 was recently updated to 8.1, which gives you the option to boot to the classic desktop look by default and brings back the “start” button, although it only brings you to the metro live tiles start screen. It is also possible to bring back the “classic” start button and menu by installing third parties apps. Search has also been improved.

The vast majority of applications that ran on Windows Vista and 7 should have no problem running on Windows 8.1. Most programs that runs on XP should work on Windows 8.1 too, but there are some exceptions.

For more information on Windows 8.1, there are countless reviews of it available online that will do a better job than I can at fully describing what’s new.

Let’s address the obvious question: Should you use Windows 8.1 or 7 for your gaming PC?

While some might not like change, Windows 8.1 is no where as bad as it may seem. Sure, it forces you to re-learn how to do some things, but if you give yourself some time to learn the new functions, new shortcuts and such, you’ll feel at home sooner than later.

Windows 8.1 boots and shutdowns faster than Windows 7. File transfers are also quicker. W8.1 uses less resources than Windows 7.

AMD recently announced that with their latest drivers and Windows 8.1, video game performance on their APUs has increased by 8.5%.

Windows 8 has been out for a year and 8.1 just came out, meaning that most bugs have been fixed by now.

From a performance point of view, Windows 8.1 is easy to recommend. From an usability point of view, it is a departure from the previous versions of Windows and I understand that not everyone is comfortable with learning how to use a new OS. If you’re willing to put in some time to learn how to use Windows 8.1, it can certainly be a worthwhile experience. If not, Windows 7 is a perfectly fine alternative that will run smoothly on your PC.

If you’re interested in Windows 8.1, there are three versions that are available:

Highly recommended: Windows 8 books
If you’re going to use Windows 8.1 for the first time, you may feel a bit lost at first. Here are two books to help you navigate and use Windows 8.1 to its full potential.

For beginners, I recommend Windows 8.1 For Dummies.

For more advanced users, I recommend Windows 8 Inside Out.

Windows 7

Windows 7 will supported (read: updated) by Microsoft until 2020, so if you prefer to avoid/skip Windows 8.1, Windows 7 is a perfectly acceptable alternative.

Three Available Versions:

  1. Windows 7 Home Premium: The basic edition, with all the looks, most of the functionality and DirectX 11.
  2. Windows 7 Professional: If you want the virtual XP mode, you’ll need at least the Professional edition. Also required if you want to backup to a network, using the built-in backup mode in Windows. Also good to know: You’ll need at least the pro version to take advantage of Remote Desktop Connection.
  3. Windows 7 Ultimate: To help protect data on your PC and portable storage devices against loss or theft with BitLocker and to work and switch between 35 languages.

OEM Versions:

  1. Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OEM SP1 – $100
  2. Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit OEM SP1 – $144
  3. Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit OEM SP1 – $180

Important note regarding secure boot:
Note that to boot to Windows 7, you need to disable secure boot in the BIOS/UEFI menu, as secure boot is only supported by Windows 8/8.1.

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Linux

Linux is gaining more and more support as a Gaming OS and while many games still only run on Windows, there are a growing selection of titles that are available for Linux or that can run on Linux with some work.

Wine is an application that allows you to run Windows programs on Linux, including games of course. The Wine Application Database has a list of the games that run smoothly or with minimal/minor issues through Wine.

Crossover: Run the most popular Windows games/programs on Linux

Crossover allows you to play popular games, such as WoW, Diablo III, Starcraft II, Skyrim, Civ 5, Guild Wars, Portal 2, Rift, Team Fortress 2 and more on Linux.

Open source games and source ports are also a good way to play games on Linux.

Steam is more Linux friendly than ever, with many games that have been or will be ported to run on Linux.

There are a large variety of distributions (variants) of Linux, each with its pros and cons. Ubuntu is the most popular and arguably the most supported. For more information on other distribution of Linux and their latest version, visit Distrowatch.com,

If you need assistance with Linux, LinuxQuestions.org is a good place to start.

While Linux does not offer the wide compatibility of Windows with video games, gaming on Linux is still possible, through projects such as Wine, . For more on the topic of Linux Gaming, I invite you to read this excellent article from AnandTech: Linux Gaming: Are we there yet?

What about Word processing, Excel and other Windows-based programs that you need? Linux, being an open platform, has many free alternatives for you. For Word/Excel and such, try LibreOffice.
Cost: Free

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Conclusion

What do you think of the latest version of the Mainstream Gaming PCs? Let me know if you have any suggestion to improve this article or your opinion on it by leaving a comment below. Additionally, if a part goes out of stock, let me know.

Don’t agree with my choices? Have a better idea?

Feel free to leave a comment. There’s always place for improvement and after some research I may change the part according to your suggestion.

Building this PC?

If you build this system, I invite you to share your experience on how well it runs: What applications do you use, what type of work do you do, how well does this PC performs, is there anything that slows it down? Your feedback will help other people make an informed decision on what to buy for their own needs.

Do you need a guide on how to build a computer, need help or do you have some questions?

Join us on our forums!

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this article, feel free to leave a comment below and remember, you can join us on our forums to discuss with everyone else the build that you’re planning to build, ask your questions and join our helpful community!

Build your Gaming PC today!

Why should you?
For the same price, you’ll get more performance out of your custom PC, or you’ll save money while getting the same performance compared to a retail PC. Not to mention that retail PCs come with tons of bloatware and limited warranties. Why settle for less?

Stop relying on HP, Dell and other companies:
Build your own custom PC today.
It’s easier than you think!

This Build includes all the parts/cables that you need and it was double-checked to ensure compatibility. Simply order your parts, set aside some time, grab a screwdriver and build your own personal PC. No worries, we’ll (the HR community) be there to assist you if you have questions or need help.

Then you’ll be able to say, “See that computer over there? Yeah, I built that.” Talk about being proud of a job well done.

Want or need a less expensive Gaming PC? No problem.

If you’re looking for a Gaming PC that costs less than these High-End Gaming PCs and that can still handle most of the latest video games at a 1080p (1920 x 1080) resolution at or close to their maximum graphic settings, head over to our Mainstream Gaming PCs article.

If you’re looking for a Gaming PC on a tight budget, head over to our Budget Gaming PCs article.

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Category: Gaming PC

About Mathieu Bourgie: HR Founder - Computer expert with over 14 years of experience in building, fixing and modifying PCs. Over the years, I’ve developed a passion for PC hardware and now I enjoy helping others build their own PCs! In April 2008, I launched Hardware Revolution and ... Read more at my about page .

  • Justin

    The tier 5 cpu cooler doesn’t fit in the tier 5 case… :I Just learned that after putting it all together.

    • https://www.facebook.com/Mathieu.HR MathieuB

      Justin,

      Glad you could figure out the problem on your own. Got me worried for a second as I read your comment :P

      Cheers,
      Mathieu

  • jangelelcangry

    The triple fan gtx770 was replace by a reference cooler one.

    • https://www.facebook.com/Mathieu.HR MathieuB

      It wasn’t, it’s just that the first (Default) picture on amazon shows the reference model, but the 2nd picture, model # (VCGGTX7702XPB) and customer reviews confirm that it is the triple fan model that is being sold.

      • jangelelcangry

        In that case then sorry and thank you for pointing that one out :) .

  • Kevin Martinez

    Curious about the power supplies listed for tier 5 vs 6-7. Basically the same price and maker ($78 for 650, $80 for 750). Any reason why someone would want the 650 over the 750 for tier 5?

  • Saurenik

    Tier 4 gtx 770 requires a minimum 600 watt power supply according to the box. Will the 550 watt psu for tier 4 work with it?

    • Kohwali

      obviously not if it requires a minimum of 600W…

  • Robert

    When can we expect your next update to the builds in this category?