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!
Although Haswell has arrived, bringing with it a budget Intel Core i5 (as well as the high-end stuff), we haven't gotten hands-on with a budget-appropriate motherboard, so our entry-level system will remain Ivy Bridge for now. We are bumping the system RAM up from 4GB to 8GB, however, since we found a good deal on some Crucial sticks. This will give the rig some more breathing room for multitasking. To make room in the budget, we dropped the modular power supply and went with a 550W "Smart" unit from Thermaltake. We’ve used the 630W version around the office and it’s been great. We also saved some cash by switching from Asus to MSI’s Radeon HD 7790 card. We spent a little extra to upgrade the SanDisk SSD to the Ultra Plus for a bit more speed.
We are aware that this build is a bit pricey for a "baseline" budget, but we're performance junkies. An unlocked Intel Core-i5 CPU, beefy Gigabyte motherboard, and muscular video card are just par for the course. The Radeon HD 7950 is a bit long in the tooth, but its low price and high performance combine with AMD's "Never Settle: Reloaded" game bundle to make it one hell of a compelling video card. AMD’s FX-8350 CPU, however, isn’t as consistently speedy as the Core i5-4670K. The SSD ecosystem continues to evolve at a steady clip, with Samsung producing the 840 Evo line just as we were going to print. It's super-fast right out of the box, sports fancy DRAM caching tech, and it smokes the SanDisk Extreme that we had in here last month.
Compared to the Baseline config, our Performance build adds 10 Benjamins to the sticker price and nets us a full-tower case, Intel X79 motherboard, 850-watt power supply, fully roided GPU, water cooling, and bigger and faster storage. We could have gone with a Haswell-based system, but we prefer leaving ourselves extra bandwidth on the PCI Express bus for multiple video cards (which is also why the PSU gets a 350-watt bump). Speaking of which, nothing from AMD comes close to the Nvidia GTX 780, which gets within spitting distance of a GTX Titan after some overclocking. EVGA's "ACX" dual-fan cooling system will also keep temps and noise under control. The Samsung 840 Evo SSD takes over from the 840 Pro this month, though, as its combo of raw speed, caching features, and price are the best we've seen yet. The Pro will be getting the caching software in the future, at which point it may overtake the Evo. But for now, the new guy is king. The NZXT 530 updates the 630 with better aesthetics and cable management.