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There's top of the line, and then there's everything else. And in the land of desktop processors, the Intel Core i7 5960X is top dog. No, it's not the fastest-clocked processor on the market, but what it lacks in clockspeed, it makes up for everywhere else. As in, this Haswell-E chip brings 8 cores, 16 threads, and 20MB of L3 cache to the computing party, plus 40 PCI Express 3.0 lanes. Be advised you'll need a socket 2011-v3 mobo and DDR4 RAM.
Haswell-E is not for everyone, especially since it requires a new socket and DDR4 RAM. For most people, one step down is where it's at, and in this case, that's Haswell. Better yet, the Intel Core i7-4790K is a Devil's Canyon part, which is essentially a refreshed Haswell part with improved Thermal Interface Material (TIM) and additional capacitors for smoother power delivery. You' won't find a better processor for the money.
This is one of the more difficult categories to select a part for and can end friendships if you get into a debate about it. Keeping in mind that there are several potential candidates, we're going with the AMD FX-8350. Clock for clock, Intel's Haswell architecture is faster, but what we like about this chip is you get eight cores and a high clockspeed for less than $150 street. For a budget build, this is not a bad place to start.
Due to a thing called diminishing returns, "Best" doesn't necessarily mean "Most Expensive." We've seen X99 boards go for north of $600, but for less than $400, the Asus X99-Deluxe offers a lot of bang, like integrated 802.11ac Wi-Fi, support for DDR4 3200 (OC) memory, dual LAN ports, a bunch of SATA 6Gbps ports, a Thunderbolt header, and lots more.
This is a genuine AM3+ board, so it will work with a host of AMD's latest and greatest processors, including everything in the new FX lineup. AMD's new 990X chipset supports all the latest features, including front-panel USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s, but it will also allow you to run multiple videocards in your choice of CrossFire or SLI. It's a solid mid-range board that crosses all the t's and dots all the i's.
Intel's Z97 chipset brought support for the company's Haswell Refresh CPUs (Devil's Canyon), SATA Express M.2, and Thunderbolt to socket 1150. The Asus Sabertooth Z97 Mark1 includes all of those things, plus a wealth of other features. It's also a highly reliable board with server-like stability thanks to the use of high quality components.
Nvidia's GeForce GTX 780 Ti took the spotlight from AMD and it's Radeon R9 290X, but before AMD could respond, Nvidia launched its Maxwell-based GeForce GTX 980 graphics card. What's so impressive about this card is that it doesn't look like a big upgrade on paper, but with optimizations Nvidia made to Maxwell's CUDA cores, it offers better performance in some games and comparable performance in others.
Nvidia's Maxwell might be sitting on top at the moment, but AMD's Radeon R9 290X is no slouch. Heck, it's even faster in some games, and about $150 less expensive to boot. One of the few complaints we had about the 290X when it first came out was it was hard to find, in part because virtual coin miners gobbled them up like candy. Fast forward to now and they're much more accessible (and affordable).
Price wars are great, aren't they? The Radeon R9 290 debuted at just shy of $400 when it came out, and now they can be found for less than $300, and that's before factoring in mail-in-rebates. This is a spunky card that trades blows with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 780 and can handle gaming at 2560x1600. We thought this card held a "tremendous price-to-performance ratio" when it debuted, and at its current price, it's an easy recommendation for the sub-$300 category. We also love the custom cooling on Asus's card.
The PowerColor TurboDuo AXR9 280 is the least expensive Radeon R9 280 graphics card we could find, and at about $160 street (even cheaper after mail-in-rebate), this card packs a performance punch well above its asking price. It's generally faster than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 760 and more affordable, which is a winning combination in our book.