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, Performance. Budget is an entry-level rig with pep, Baseline gets you a powerful system for gaming and content creation at 1080p, and Performance beefs everything up across the board. These rigs are lab-tested and editor-approved. As an added bonus, we've also collected several of our Upgrades of the Month from past issues, for your shopping perusal.
We're also doing something a little different this month, with pretty tables with things you can click on and stuff. Prices listed here reflect print time and may not match the ones you find elsewhere online. In addition, Newegg has jumped on board to offer packaged deals for each of the builds below in an attempt to offer a better overall value. To see these bundle prices, click the "Buy-or-get-more-info-at-Newegg" button at the bottom of each build. Feedback is welcome. Tell us what you think!
AMD'S FX-6300 CPU retains a high price-to-performance value, so that part of our build does not change from our previous set of Blueprint builds. The Gigabyte motherboard is a solid performer. We did swap some other parts though, since RAM prices keep creeping up, and the Radeon HD 7850 video card has been officially retired. We switched our RAM to G.Skill 1333MHz sticks and ditched the HD 7850 for an MSI GTX 660; it's more expensive, but AMD's alternatives have been experiencing some price volatility lately. We also had to drop the optical drive to keep the price steady. The PC Power and Cooling PSU we used last time is no longer on sale, but this Corsair CX500 unit has a good rep.
Intel reigns supreme at the enthusiast level, so we're sticking with the Core i5-4670K, which has a great balance of price and all-around performance. (The Core i7-4770K mostly just adds Hyper-Threading, so we couldn't justify the extra $100 or so.) The Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H board we used before has gone up in price while the G1.Sniper Z87 has come down, so we switched since it has better onboard sound and is easier to overclock. (You can check out a build that uses the the Z77 version of the UD3H here.) We are still using a GTX 760, because it’s in the sweet spot of price and performance, and great for 1080p gaming. We switched the PSU from the 750W NZXT HALE82 to shave off a few bucks, and Thermaltake's "Smart M" series power supplies are great, so we’re happy to have one powering our baseline build.
We ordinarily reserve 240mm/280mm liquid-cooling for our Ultra build, but expandable loops like the Cooler Master Glacer 240L and the Swiftech H220X are starting to create an all-new super- high-end tier. So, we've upgraded from our 120mm Corsair Hydro H80i to the 240mm H100i. It's more appropriate for a $2,500-range PC, anyway. The difference in performance won’t be huge, but the larger radiator of the H100i should allow for slower fan speeds and a quieter experience.
We could upgrade the CPU to a Core i7-4930K, which has two more cores than the i7-4820K we’re using, but we can’t justify the extra $250. You may feel differently if you regularly use workstation apps that benefit from a lot of CPU threads, like HD video encoding, and we may feel differently when Intel drops its eight-core Haswell-E CPUs toward the end of the year.
The Radeon R9 290X would be a great alternative to the GeForce GTX 780 Ti, since it’s almost as fast and has a list price that's $150 lower. But the street price for the 290X has ended up much higher than expected, making the 780 Ti a better buy for the money. If you don't want to drop $700 on a video card, the regular GTX 780 at about $500 is a fine alternative.
For the past several months, our Blueprints section at the back of each issue has included an Upgrade of the Month, which is kind of like our Best of the Best, but with less stringent requirements. It doesn't have to be a hardware component, or something that we've reviewed. The Sandisk Extreme flash drive, for example, is just an accessory. And we wouldn't review the Silverstone CP11 cables, as useful as they are. (And note that these are about 12 inches long, rather than the standard 18 inches). Corsair also makes a range of nice mechanical keyboards, in addition to the K95.