Build a PC: Recommended Builds (September 2013)

Tom McNamera

Budget, baseline, performance PC builds!

What time is it? It's time to build a PC with our Blueprints! This month, we've built three rigs at three approximate price points: Budget, Baseline, and Performance . Budget gets you a capable but affordable rig, Baseline gets you a powerful that is suitable for gaming and content creation at 1080p, and Performance gets you even more.

These rigs are lab-tested and editor-approved. Feedback is, of course, welcome. Tell us what you think!

Intel has finally released its budget Haswell chips, so we've upgraded our Budget build's Ivy Bridge Core-i5 3350P CPU to the new Core i5-4430. Switching to Haswell also gives us the Z87 chipset, granting us four SATA 6Gb/s ports while the older Intel chipset was limited to two. The Thermaltake PSU we used last month is no longer on sale, so we swapped it with the reliable Corsair CX500M. On the SSD front, we upgraded from the 64GB SanDisk Ultra Plus to the 120GB Kingston HyperX, as the prices for 120GB SSDs are so low now that a sale allowed us to squeeze one in without busting the budget. We also swapped out the RAM because the Crucial Ballistix RAM we had last time went up in price.

At this tier, we had already switched to Intel’s fourth-generation Haswell CPU last month, so things are quieter on that front than in the Budget tier. We swapped GPUs though, because this model Sapphire HD 7950 is $20 cheaper than the 11196-19-20G model we used last month, but performs the same. We also found a 240GB Intel SSD on sale, allowing us to upgrade from the 120GB Samsung 840 Evo that was in here last month. The bigger SSD caused a $40 bulge in this rig’s budget, but we like having the extra space for Steam games. If you can't find the Intel 335 at this price, the 250GB Samsung 840 Evo or Crucial M500 are good alternatives. We swapped the RAM from Corsair Vengeance due to price increases.

Intel's Ivy Bridge-E CPUs have finally arrived, allowing us to upgrade from a Sandy Bridge-E Core i7-3820 to a Core i7-4820K. Sure, we could have gone Haswell, but we prefer having the option to upgrade to a six-core CPU down the road, and we also like the extra PCI Express lanes for multi-GPU setups. Plus, the Core i7-4820K's unlocked multiplier makes overclocking easier than with the Core i7-3820, and it's also a faster chip.

On the storage front, we doubled our SSD capacity this month by upgrading from a 256GB Samsung 840 Pro to a 500GB Samsung 840 Evo. Sure, the Pro version is Samsung's top-tier drive, but the Evo is still blazing-fast and more reasonably priced. The 512GB 840 Pro would have cost us another $100 or so, which was difficult to justify.

Otherwise, we are holding steady with the Corsair HX850 PSU and the Asus Sabertooth motherboard since they are both tried- and-true, and totally rock-solid. The Corsair H80i CPU cooler re- mains a great value at $85, and the NZXT Phantom 530 case is a smokin’ deal.

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