Best of the Best - Maximum PC-approved hardware and components for your rig building needs

High-End Processor
Intel 3.6 GHz Core i7-4960X

The Core i7-4960X may only be 5-10% faster than the 3960X that used to occupy this slot, but if you're in the market for lots of threads, lots of PCI Express and memory bandwidth, and investment-grade computing, that moderate edge puts this chip at the top of the heap. It's also less power hungry than the 3960X, cutting its consumption by about 75 watts in most cases. Pair this with a custom water cooling system, and you're off to the races.

Mid-Range Processor
Intel 3.5GHz Core i7-4770K

Compared to Ivy Bridge, this Haswell CPU is not a revelation. But it does provide better performance, and support for a half-dozen native SATA 6Gb/s ports, up from two. (The integrated graphics also roughly doubled in performance, but it won't break any records.) It's an evolutionary step up from what was already the best all-around CPU in this price range.

Budget Processor
Intel 3.4GHz Core i7-4670K

"Budget" and "best of the best" can make for some odd combinations of price and performance, but it's hard to beat the Intel Core i5-4670K at about $225. It's the next step beyond the i5-3570K, tripling the number of native SATA 6Gb/s ports from two to six and increasing performance by about 10%. It lacks the i7-4770K's Hyperthreading and has a slightly smaller L3 cache, but it also comes in about $100 cheaper.

 

LGA 2011 Motherboard
Asus X79 Deluxe

We have upgraded from the discontinued P9X79 Deluxe to add integrated 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, a fancy new UEFI, enhanced SSD caching and built-in recoginition of Ivy Bridge-E CPUs. Other than that, this LGA 2011 board is still a tri-SLI/Crossfire monster with room for big overclocks, 64GB of RAM, and a dozen storage devices.

AM3 Motherboard
Asus M5A99X Evo

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.

LGA 1150 Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD5H

The Z87 chipset offers many welcomed features that have enthusiasts drooling over their keyboards. Gigabyte's GA-Z87X-UD5H offers a full 10 SATA 6Gb/s ports, dual USB 3.0 headers, Dual NICS, a POST LED and Gigabyte's trademark dual-BIOS setup. We agree that for its competitive price and feature rich kit, the best of the best Z87 board goes to Gigabyte.

Single-GPU video card
GeForce GTX 780 Ti

Not long after AMD took the spotlight with the R9 290X, Nvidia fired back with the GeForce 780 Ti. Sporting the same GK 110 chip found in the Titan, the 780 Ti runs cool and quiet, something we have grown to appreciate since the debut of the R9 200 series. For the best single-GPU video card, we tip our hats to the GTX 780 Ti.

Performance Videocard ($300+)
EVGA GeForce GTX 780 SC w/ACX

Benchmarks don't lie -- we've been constantly amazed by the quality of care that goes into EVGA products, especially its video cards. A much more affordable pricing option than it's TI counterpart, the GTX 780 delivers top notch graphics performance for your dollar and has rightfully earned its spot among the best of the best.

Mid-Range Video Card (less than $300)
Nvidia GeForce GTX 760

Take the venerable GeForce GTX 670, increase the stock clock speeds, and chop a whopping $150 off. That's roughly what you get with the GTX 760; it's packed with performance and value. Add another for arguably the best results that about $500 can get you. But by itself, this little beast still rules the roost. Asus, MSI, and EVGA are usually good vendor-specific bets.

Budget Video Card (less than $200)
Radeon HD 7850

The Radeon HD 7850 has great performance for the price, but it also currently comes with Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which would cost about $125 separately and are all pretty good games. Jackpot!