BEFORE YOU READ
If you're not sure if you can/want to build, watch this video for your options so you can get the BEST PC for your dollar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCQdOt0s61U
**NOTES** If you're lazy and just want example builds, scroll down :(
UPDATES 2/14/14: Cryptocurrency IE Bitcoin/Litecoin are continuing to drive prices up. R9-290's are now over 600 dollars and 290x's are more expensive than 780 TI's. R9-270's and 270x's have made a stealth jump as well to be priced as much or more than a GTX 760. They were already not as strong as the 760 which makes them an even worse buy!!
The Top Tier Intel Overclocker (w/ an SSD), is the build you want to play wow on. It will max the game very well, but you will see dips while raiding. However, if you optimize your settings right (1x AA, 4x AS, good shadows, disable SSAO), you should get high FPS 95% of the time. Anything below this and especially on an AMD CPU will NOT sustain acceptable fps in raids on max settings, especially if you just set everything to ultra without optimizing. YOU WILL need to overclock the CPU to about 4.2GHz and maybe tweak the GPU to get the best performance.
This ENTIRE guide was just rewritten. Nearly 60% or more of it is changed!!!
I constantly see posts asking about computer builds, what you need for XYZ what to upgrade, what's compatible what is good and what is not. Well, I went ahead and edited my ENTIRE guide to reflection my opinions and thoughts about those questions. Most of my opinions are shared with the majority of the community, but things like style and functionality might be subjective. Without further ado, here is the guide!!
Custom Water Loops
When choosing a CPU a few things need to be factored in. First of all, your CPU and GPU should be the majority of your budget most of the time. Never skimp here or you will really regret it. Take a look at your overall budget to see where you stand with available funds. The other factors in choosing a CPU is, will you overclock? What games will you be playing? Is heat/power consumption an issue? Do you have a preference of AMD or Intel? Do you want the best performer or do you want better value?
So below will be a recommendation of processors at nearly every price point for both sides up to a point. Also I will give brief explanations of each level as needed to give what I believe it’s a good/bad buy. **Note, due to the architecture of CPU’s, only in the case of WoW does Intel pretty much walk away the winner. This is more of a WoW thing as AMD is pretty competitive in most other games in the higher levels.**
Entry Level (Recommend AMD Athlon II x4 750k)
~$75 Intel Pentium G3220 3.0GHz Dual Core (LGA 1150):
For a really long time I was an advocate of this CPU and for the case of WoW I still am. Intel excels in single threaded performance over AMD (this might change with Kaveri) and for the case of WoW and Planetside 2, cores and ghz isn’t as important as architecture. It’s no secret that Intel’s single threaded performance and architecture is vastly more efficient than AMD. AMD throws cores and ghz as their products with great price/performance ratio, but now the market is demanding more cores. But if you’re building a WoW machine on a budget, you might want to grab this CPU.
I want to add though, as an office PC, I recommend an AMD APU because the CPU side does suffer slightly, the GPU side of an AMD APU really helps out with windows aero.
~$75 AMD A6-6400K 3.9GHz Dual Core(FM2/FM2+):
I really do not recommend this APU for gaming however it certain cases, it can offer a great value. It is a single module dual core with a high clock speed and much stronger than HD graphics built onto the CPU die. The problem is, for gaming you only have 2 cores and much of the CPU’s power is drawn from the GPU side. So for gaming, it is not a great idea but if you ONLY have 300 bucks for a build, it should be able to boot most games on lower settings at 720p with acceptable frame rate.
~$80 AMD Athlon II x4 750K 3.4GHz Quad Core (FM2/FM2+):
I have had the chance to use the 760K (slightly faster). It feels much like a fx-4300, offers great multithreaded capabilities on a budget. It is compatible with the new FM2+ platform. It offers 4 cores across 2 modules with a high clock speed and a fully unlocked multiplier. On paper the specs look great, but it has a few draw backs. No L3 cache, high TDP and high voltage. So you will need great cooling especially if you want to OC, but you do get a quad core, unlocked, high speed processor for about 80 bucks. With the exception of WoW and Planetside 2, this CPU is highly recommended for more budgetish builds.
Mid-Range (Recommend FX-6300 or A10-6800K for an APU Build)
~$120 AMD FX-6300 3.5GHz 6 Core [Turbo 4.0GHz] (AM3+):
There are many pros and cons to the current generation FX series processors especially in the current generation gaming world. The Piledriver architecture is vastly improved over the first generation FX series processors code name Bulldozer. This CPU offers 6 cores of power across 3 modules with high clock speeds and high amounts of cache. In current generation games (not WoW), this offers amazing performance for the price, absolutely destroying the I3. It actually can near an I5 in games like BF4 that can utilize the cores this CPU offers.
Sadly, what we basically know now is that the AM3+ socket is dead. AMD is moving to FM2+ and the AM3+ socket lacks PCI-E 3.0 and other features offered on FM2+ and most Intel setups. So while this CPU does offer a great price/performance ratio, the future of the socket looks gloom so upgrading might not be possible. Also note, it is a 6 core but the architecture is not as efficient as Intel, so even though it has 6 cores it nearly every scenario a current generation I5 will best it, but it is far more expensive.
~$130 Intel Core I3-4130 3.4GHz Dual Core + HT (LGA 1150):
Honestly, as time has moved on the I3 has become a worse and worse buy. It is simply a slightly faster clocked Pentium G3220 with a theoretical max of 25% performance gain in some applications. For WoW it might give you the ability to raid and multitask better, but only in a few scenarios can I recommend an I3 over a G3220 or an AMD platform. If you want Intel, grab a Pentium G3220 or an I5, the I3 offers subpar price/performance ratio.
~140 AMD A10-6800K 4.0GHz Quad Core [Turbo 4.4GHz] (FM2/FM2+):
AMD is shifting their attitude towards APU's in the future it seems. Right now APU's have a decent CPU component but a very strong GPU component. For games like World of Wacraft, an APU is a great cost effective way to go high level of graphical performance (with a few things turned down) for about $140 for the CPU+GPU. The tradeoff is, you need memory at least 1866MHz or faster and setup in dual channel.
The purpose of an APU is to build a cost effective machine. The CPU portion of the A10-6800K is not that amazing as it lacks L3 cache and using a module design. But for 140 dollars you get a CPU+GPU that can play current generation games at 720p and in some cases 1080p with playable FPS. Rumor has it; the new Kaveri APU can play BF4 @ 1080p medium settings with above 30 FPS.
Top Gaming Tier (Recommend I5-3570K)
~$145-190 AMD FX-8320/8350 3.5/4.0GHz Octacore [Turbo 4.0/4.2Ghz] (AM3+):
I lumped these together for a reason. Now that higher tier AM3+ CPU’s are out, pretty much any FX 8 core that can reach past 4.6GHz will NOT be one of these. The 8320 offers a better value, but I would not expect any stable OC past 4.2Ghz on an 8320 and 4.5GHz on an 8350. The original ones consistently hit 4.6GHz+ but now all the top tiered binned CPU’s are 9370 and 9590. In this case I recommend an 8320 as it offers an AMAZING price/performance ratio. The 8350 is consistently 180+ compared to 145-160 to that of the 8320 and 200MHz on the turbo is not really worth it.
**AMD3+ is a dead socket meaning no future expansion will be done on it. AM3+ lacks PCI-E 3.0 and often USB 3.0 as well. So while AM3+ offers a good value, if you want some future upgrading, FM2+ might be the route to go, although it offers less performance at this moment**
~$190 Intel Core I5-4430 3.0GHz Quad Core (LGA 1150):
Although more expensive than Ivy Bridge, for the non-overclocker this CPU offers competitive performance but the multiplier is locked, and it should not overheat since it’s designed to run at the stated speeds. It offers SATA 3 standard across the board, full blown PCI-E 3.0, improved single threaded and multithreaded performance.I recommend this CPU for any person who has the capabilities of building a PC, plays WoW as their main game but will NOT want to overclock.
~$220 Intel Core I5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad Core [Turbo 3.8GHz] (LGA 1155):
If you’re looking to overclock, the Ivy Bridge processors are still looking good. They have been out for a long time now so you can expect what kind of performance on air and AIO you can get at different frequencies. The range of star overclockers and duds is MUCH smaller than Haswell.
~$240 Intel Core I5-4670K 3.4GHz Quad Core [Turbo 3.8GHz] (LGA 1150):
The newest CPU from Intel will offer the best single threaded performance. It does have about a 5-10% gain over the previous generation but there are several factors to consider. This CPU costs more as do the motherboards (but there are often GREAT combo sales). But the BIG thing is, this CPU overclocking is such a shot at the tree it’s not even funny. People sometimes get 4.6Ghz @ 1.25V @ 70*C on prime 95 with a Hyper 212. Whereas other people may overheat @ 4.2GHz with an H100I. There is such a LARGE spread of chips and chances of you getting a dud overclocker are actually decent.
**Note due to the uncertainty of I5-4670K chips the chance is quite high that you may not get the overclocking results that you’re looking for**
In this category you have your I7’s, your FX-9370 and 9590 and Extreme Intel I7’s. Often times I see the FX-9370 for low 200’s and it is actually a decent buy, however only 3 motherboards support the 9370 and 9590 and they are $180+. Right now an I7 is an okay buy if you play newer games that utilize the extra threads, but you’re still paying 50% more over an I5 for maybe 25% more performance. I personally use an I7-2600K OC’ed to 4.5Ghz, but I multitask like crazy and it benefits me. If you play on spending this much on a gaming CPU, know that the price/performance ratios are often VERY bad from a gaming standpoint here.[
~$290-340 I7-2600K/3770K/4770K [LGA 1155/1150]
So, I decided to lump these together for a reason. These are pretty much the BEST gaming CPU's on the market. In most scenario's in 2013, they do not offer a compelling value. However if you're a heavy tasker or player newer games that are very multithreaded, they can offer a value. The 2600K is the second generation I7 series CPU that is on the LGA 1155 platform code named Sandy Bridge. I personally own this CPU and they are amazing overclockers. I hit 5,133MHz on a Hyper 212 maxed fans and didn't quite hit the thermal limit. These CPU's often take more voltage than the other 2 chips but run the coolest. It is important to note that the 3770K and 4770K both have improved IPC's and features that the 2600K doesn't have such as PCI-E 3.0. Also you need a decent board like an ASrock Extreme 4 Z77 if you want a decent OC
The I7-3770K is a fantastic chip, however due to poor IHS under the metal plate on the CPU, overclocking can be limited. Although the Ivy Bridge architecture offers consistent overclocking (4.5Ghz on a good AIO), it does run hotter than Sandy Bridge. However they often need less voltage and offer newer features like PCI-E 3.0 and such. Like the 2600K it uses the same 1155 platform and you want a decent board to reach good overclocks.
The I7-4770K I personally recommend against for 1 main reason. Although it uses the LGA 1150 platform, the next series of CPU's code named Broadwell will require a new chipset and not be compatible with current Z87 boards. This is due to the VRM controller that plagues the Haswell chip (I7-4770K) is being taken off of the CPU die and placed back onto the motherboard (The the first 3 generations of I-series processors). However, there is a chance that Broadwell boards might have an option to disable the VRM controller on the board so Haswell chips may work. This is not confirmed.
**NOTE: Haswell overclocking is VERY hit or miss. I've seen people have trouble hitting 4.2Ghz on an H100I and I've seen people hit 4.8GHz on a Hyper 212. The consistency is not there and if you want a chip and plan to OC, make sure you plan to get a good AIO like an H220/H320 from Swiftech or the CM Glacer 240L if you're in the US.
After market coolers are not just needed because you want to overclock. Maybe your PC is too noisy, maybe you prefer lower temps or maybe you just want to overclock. Some of the best coolers on the market are very inexpensive, some are big and some even use a combination of air and water to keep things cool. This section will cover air cooling and AIO (All in one) liquid coolers that require not maintenance, no filling or worries about assembly.
**Note** Many air coolers are large and require wider cases. Make sure that your case can support the height and make sure your socket is supported. For AIO’s they are smaller and easier to work with, but you NEED to make sure the case supports the radiator sizes and has clearance for things like the attached fans.
Tier 1 Air Coolers (Recommend Hyper 212)
In this range you will find a large range of products. Anything below $20 bucks is generally going to be a replacement for a stock cooler with no OC. The king of the air coolers is the Cooler Master Hyper Evo 212. It generally runs between $25-35, however it offers quite operation, ability of push pulls and AMAZING cooling for the price. In the upper range, of tier 1 you will find entry level Noctua coolers, which are UGLY but are very quiet and efficient, and other coolers like the Dark Knight, Shadow Rock and many other reputable ones. Always check the reviews and there are MANY sites that do head to head comparisons.
Tier 2 Air and AIO 120/140mm Coolers (Recommend NH-D14)
In this range, you will find MASSIVE twin tower air coolers like the Noctua NH-D14, things from Phanteks and single 120/140mm AIO coolers. GENERALLY speaking, single 120/140’s often perform below that of an NH-D14 and many top tier air coolers. However, single 120/140’s are not anywhere NEAR as large or in the way as the larger air coolers. The only exception is double thick radiators or the NZXT X40. If your case cannot support an NH-D14, I would strongly recommend a Hyper Evo 212, or get a 240/280mm AIO.
Tier 3 AIO 240/280/360mm (Recommend Cooler Master Glacer 240L)
On occasion, below $90 you may find dual 120mm (aka 240mm) AIO’s like the Seidon 240. But generally speaking there are only a few AIO’s recommended. The Corsair 100I is probably the most popular. It is a standard 240mm radiator with SP120 fans (without the colored rings). In this area as well, you will find the Water 2.0 and 3.0 Extreme from Thermaltake, NZXT X60 which is a 280mm radiator AIO as well. But we need to cover Swiftech here most importantly.
Swiftech not only makes AIO’s but they do a ton of custom water cooling as well. Their H220 and H320, 240mm and 360mm AIO’s were the best on the market. However, due to a patent infringement with Asetek, they are unable to sell in the US. So they partnered up with Cooler Master to design the Glacer 240L which is basically a slightly improved H220. This means, in the USA the 240L is the BEST you can buy AIO wise and they claim a 60,000 hour pump life, which means almost 7 years, but they only back it with a 2 year warranty so who knows.
Custom loops (water cooling)
A good place to start is here:
http://linustechtips.com/main/topic/5435-watercooling-faq-some-basic-qa. These will pretty much cover anything you may want to know about building a custom water loop.
Ram is such a simple concept but things you want to look out for. If you’re running a big CPU air cooler, make sure your heat sinks are not high like the Corsair Vengeance ram or just buy bare ram w/o heatsinks. Unless you plan to overclock your ram pretty far, they are mostly for aesthetics.. Otherwise, make sure it matches the following:
Try to keep @ or below 1.58V
Try to keep it below 11 Cas (9 is preferred)
Always try and get a dual channel kit (2x2GB or 2x4GB)
8GB is all you need for gaming, however with innovations in windows 8 with amazing ram caching, if you’re a HEAVY tasker like me, you can see benefits from 16GB. Also to add, since windows 8 caches ram very well, it 16GB can add up to 50% longer life span on an SSD over 8GB in theory of course. But since the prices of ram are high atm, get 8GB unless you NEED more.
APU: If you plan on getting an APU (AMD A6-6400K or A10-6800K for example) memory speed actually matters. This is the ONLY time past 1600MHz is required for gamers. APU's use system memory for it's graphics chip which is located on the CPU die. The faster the memory for the system, the faster the memory for the graphics chip. Bare min is 1866, however A75 boards and above usually support 2133MHz or higher. MAKE SURE you get a dual channel kit, rather than a single ram stick, not running dual channel will reduce the bandwidth of the graphics chip by 50%
I apologize for ranting here but it must be done. Buy the motherboard that you need, do NOT go overkill here unless budget allows. If your budget is $800 USD on a PC, and you spend $200 on a motherboard you’re doing it wrong. Get the features you NEED and features you might utilize later such as SLI/Xfire, but don’t spend more than you HAVE to. The only thing to note is manufactures like Foxconn and ECS make lower quality products in their cheapest boards. Biostar has been known to make pretty good budget boards however.
Also figure out what you need. If you’re going for a standard mid tower or micro ATX tower, you may want to get a micro board. Most people actually do not NEED a full ATX board nor will they need SLI/Xfire.
**NOTE** I am very partial to MSI boards. I’ve used Gigabyte, Asus, Biostar, Asrock in the past and have nothing bad to say about them. It’s just recently, the last 25 builds I’ve done have been strictly MSI and I have loved their design, UEFI and I know what to expect and just like them. I recommend MSI personally for the most part, but by no means are there no other options out there.
AMD (FM2/FM2+) A55/A75/A88
~$45 A55 (FM2):
You can grab just about anything. The purpose of these motherboards are basic office builds that don’t need SATA 3, front USB 3.0 or any high end features. Don’t expect to overclock or do anything fancy here
~$55 MSI A75MA-P33/E35 (FM2):
I’ve used this board many times, it supports high speed ram, has your USB 3.0 front headers, SATA 3.0 but only has PCI-E 2.0 which the purpose of an APU is to not add a graphics card. If you’re looking to make an APU gamer on a smaller budget, this is the board to get[/quote]
~$75 MSI A88XM-E45 FM2+:
As you have noticed I am an MSI Fanboy. This board is amazing. For the price AND form factor it has VRM heatsinks, 4 ram slots, USB 3.0 front, supports CF (not sli due to x4 slot) and has 8 SATA 3 6.0Gbps ports. ONLY downfall is the 4pin power connector which means it has a max TDP of 130w for OCing. But otherwise this board offers a GREAT value!
AMD (AM3+) 970/990x/fx
~$60 MSI 970A-G43 (AM3+):
This is your entry level AM3+ board that I recommend. It has front USB 3.0, SATA 3 ports, a little bit of overclocking as well. Only downside is, there are not VRM heatsinks so overclocking is very limited.[
~$80 MSI-970A-G46 (AM3+):
This is basically the tier up from the G43. More importantly, it has more power phases and VRM heatsinks so expect some overclocking on this board.
~$140 ASUS 990X M5A99X EVO R2.0 (AM3+):
MSI really does not make many higher tier AM3+ boards so I went ahead with this Asus board. The 990FX Extreme 4 from Asrock is a great board as well so I can recommend that too! Basically if offers everything the lower tier boards do, just better overclocking, better VRM cooling and more power phases.
Intel LGA 1155/1150 Non-overclocking B75/H77/B85/H87
~$50-75 B75/H77/B85/H87: You can grab just about anything.
Realistically, people buying these boards are not looking for feature rich or anything fancy. These boards do not overclock either. So I won’t make any direct recommendation, just make sure that you get either B75 or H77 for LGA 1155 and B85/H87 for LGA 1150. They do make B81, but often times they REALLY lack things such as USB 3.0 front headers.
Intel LGA 1155/1150 Overclocking Z77/Z87
~$130 Asrock Extreme 4 Z77/Z87 (LGA 1155/1150):
The Extreme 4 from the LGA 1155 received more awards than any motherboard in the last few years. It offers great VRM cooling, good stable overclocking due to enough power phases and plenty of features. For 98% of people, an Exteme 4 for the Z87 platform is all you need. Remember, LGA 1150 has the VRM controller built onto the CPU die, so overclocking is completely dependent on the chip and the chips cooling.
~$140-160 MSI Z77/Z87 GD45-65 Regular/Gaming (LGA 1155/1150):
I lumped all of these together for a reason. The regular versions of the GD series are blue/black design with a brown PCB, where the Gaming versions are black/red with a black PCB (GD45 is brown PCB). They are essentially the same board, except the Gaming series offers the Killer NIC and better sound. The GD65 has slightly better VRM and more power phases than the GD45, but this only matters on the LGA 1155 platform. So if color is important you many want the gaming series as well as the other features it offers. Personally, the GD65 Gaming board looks amazing!
~$200 MSI Mpower Z77/Z87 (LGA 1155/1150):
I have an Mpower Z77 board and I regret it. It is an amazing board but it is not designed for overclockers like myself. It has no voltage offset and is really designed for high end users that want to do extreme overclocking. They offer the big higher tiered version with 2 8 pin CPU connectors for better stability. But this board is really amazing and designed for very high end users.
Anything realistically past the GD65 series is pointless for almost anyone reading this guide. You really should buy the board with the features you need and buying a 300 dollar board unless you have a 3000 dollar budget is pointless.
I decided to condense this section to the basics rather than confuse everyone. I will go over the basics and explain what is generally important and give recommendations based on available funds.
What is there to compare? Well here is a list of important stats to compare
Stream Processors and Cuda Cores
Stream Processors/Cuda Cores:
In gaming these have become more important. We see the GTX 780TI is simply a GTX 780 with all of the Cuda Cores unlocked on the Gk110 chip and a faster memory speed. But we see a MASSIVE performance increase. In 2013, this is a pretty relevant stat to compare. The higher the number the better off the card is.
This is the muscle behind the CPU and generally speaking the current generation cards are running 900mhz-1.2Ghz depending on the card. Now be careful on comparing because yes the R7-260x comes at nearly 1.2Ghz while the R9-290 comes in at about 950Mhz, but the R9-290 is VASTLY more powerful. This is only somewhat useful to compare with like cards.
Video memory or Vram is essentially memory on the graphics card. It stores textures and other things while the video card renders the previous frame. Higher resolution, higher resolution textures, antialiasing, and anisotropic filtering all requires more memory on the graphics card as these things take up more space. The more pixels per inch, the larger the picture file is a good way to look at it.
The more the better, but many low end cards have 2, 3 and 4GB of Vram and it’s extremely useless in these cases. For current generation 1080p gaming 2GB is ideal, but as resolution increases and games become more demanding, 3GB and even 4GB is recommended in some cases.
This is part of the bandwidth calculation. Think of the memory clock as the speed of traffic on a highway. The faster the speed the faster you get there. The faster the memory clock, the faster the graphics card can render textures store in the video memory. These are measured in a few ways. In the case of GDDR5, you have the actual speed say 1250MHz and times it by 4 to have an effect speed of 5000MHz or 5GHz. In the case of GDDR3, you only multiply that by 2. This is why GDDR3 is recommended AGAINST for gaming. The higher the better.
This is also part of the bandwidth calculation. Think of the memory interface as how wide the highway is. 4 lanes wide means you will not get into traffic jams, but 1 or 2 lanes wide you might, especially if the speed is slower. You generally will see 128, 256 384 and 512 bit interfaces on gaming graphics card. 192 has been popular as well. In this case, the higher the number the better off you are.
This section can be extremely important as it brings everything together. Think of usable or required Vram as traffic on a highway. Memory interface is how many lanes there are and memory clock is how fast traffic (can) move. At 1920x1080, you will be using about 2GB of Vram in top tier games. Ideally you want a MINIMUM of 256bit interface (think of this as 2 lanes wide on a highway). 4 or 512 bit is a bit overkill and 384 bit or 3 lanes is perfect usually. Bandwidth is a combination of memory interface and memory clock which is basically how much data can be rendered per second.
Now as resolutions increase, AA increases or textures increase more Vram maybe required and 256bit won't cut it anymore. In these cases you want a wider memory interface and a faster memory clock. An R9-290 has a bandwidth of about 320, where as a GTX 780 TI is around 340. Even though the R9-290 has a wider interface 512 vs 384, the memory clock of the GTX 780 TI is 7GHz effective vs 5GHz effective. The theory is, if you have 3 lanes of traffic moving consistently at 70MPH, you will have more cars go from point A to point B than 4 lanes of traffic moving at 50MPH.
Memory bandwidth calculation is as such: Memory interface / 8 * memory clock * multiplier (2 for GDDR3 and 4 for GDDR5). So 512 / 8 * 1250 * 4 = 320gbps on the R9-290. The GTX 780 TI would be 384 / 8 * 1750 * 4 = 336gbps. [
There is so much involved in the way the chips are built and things not shown on the spec sheet that is important. This is where research comes into play and although I cannot tell you why specific a GK110 chip (GTX Titan, 780 or 780TI) is better than a GK 104, other than the Chip is larger and the specs are higher somewhat, the fact of the matter it is. Strangely enough, order for NVidia goes as such GK 110>GK 104>GK106>GK107. Here is a list of the cards
GK 107: GTX 650 TI and below
GK 106L GTX 660 and 650 TI Boost
GK 104: GTX 770, 680, 760, 670, 660 TI
For AMD it’s even weirder, the R9-290 and 290x are called the Hawaii XT and Pro. But I won’t go there.
Asus Directcu II:
Fantastic cooler, considered top 3 of all time and they build quality into their designs. They usually features several heat pipes including a 10mm super pipe as well as a unique twin blade design where one fan has a smaller inner fan designed for more direct air
MSI Twin Frozr:
Great cooler, looks great and very similar to a Directcu II, Although it's often not quite as good cooling, MSI does a pretty good job on this card and is recommended.
The best card out there. They are extremely overbuilt with a completely custom PCB featuring a 20+ digi plus power phase, an entire aluminium shielding with heatsinks on all the Vram and VRM topped off with now a Tri Frozr cooling system. The cards cooling is only on par with the Directcu II, but the card is so over built it's designed to be abused for YEARS. It's issue on the NVidia side is the card is locked down pretty hard.
Personally have used one and the cooling is amazing. The fans are not noisy below 60% and the vapor chamber is amazing. Sapphire only builds for AMD atm, but their Vapor-X cards always feature a completely custom PCB for MAX OC and a top notch cooling system.
The little brother to the Vapor-X. Offers great cooling but a reference PCB so the OC isn't as good. But the card often runs close to MSRP and offers a great cooling solution to boot!
The only cooler designed right now to properly cool the R9-290/290x. It's a completely custom fan solution designed specifically for those cards. As all others have been recalled due to design flaws, this is the ONLY cooler as of 1-26-14 that can properly cool the highest end R9 cards. I believe it is a reference PCB as well.
Gigabyte Windforce 2/3:
This only references the newest version. I am not sure but I believe Gigabyte uses reference PCB's for most of their Windforce cards. The cooler is amazing having used it on a GTX 770, very quite and very effective at cooling. The Windforce 2 has NO ISSUES on the lower end cards and these Gigabyte cards can often handle solid OC's.
I have never used these before, however EVGA offers the best warranty around. The coolers are middle of the road at best, and are middle of the road when it comes to noise. But they make a solid card and would recommend to any loyal EVGA fans out there, especially the OC ones. I believe the ACX is nonreference as well.
HIS IceQ X2:
Although the current gen cards are the ugliest thing I've ever seen, these cards that are only made for AMD offer a very comparable cooling solution! They use reference PCB's and offer a unique look compared to most cards.
XFX Double D:
Sadly, the general idea of XFX is stay away for video cards. They have been struggling over the last year or so and their DD Edition cards are not great at cooling.
The Hall of Fame Edition cards are pretty darn good. They use a completely custom PCB, Fan Design and unique look to offer a great experience. I believe this card competes with the lightning every series for best OC.
These cards are generally your bargain brands. While Power Color has been making a decent name for themselves with the PCS+ brands and such, they are all more generic. That doesn't mean stay away from them, but if they are priced the same as other major brands I would choose those over these.
If you're looking at a reference design (single fan generally at the end of the card), then it doesn't really matter what brand. The GTX 780/Titan all use the same cooler and PCB's no matter what brand if it's a reference design. AMD's R9 reference designs are junk. Only get these kinds if you are one of the following:
1.) Like the sexy NVidia reference design of the 780/Titan
2.) Have piss poor case ventilation
Now for the list everyone has been waiting for. What to buy for the money? This is my recommendation and if you green team or red team you may be biased. I am biased to NVidia slightly, but I recommend AMD more times than not.
Most of these recommendations are based off of average overclockability of the card. Video cards are very easy to overclock and pretty safe. Just read up a few guides on how to do it and your set. They make it easier with the GTX 7xx series and R7/9 series to overclock. For the 7xx series all you do is set the power target to max (109-130% usually) and temperature target to 94*C (with NVidia their cards won’t hit that as their cooling even on reference designs are good) and it automatically boosts itself up.
For the R7/9 series, it’s a 4 way overclocker where you just drag the point to the max temp/power target and it does the same. So far I tried it and it didn't work. So meh.
My general recommendations due to increasing prices of the R9 series, is if you're looking to spend 225 or less go AMD, otherwise go NVidia. Right now AMD does not offer a great price/performance due to the litecoin boom increasing prices on the retailer side.
~$80 AMD HD 7750 or R7-250 1GB GDDR5: (Recommend R7-250)
Both are LOW POWERED cards that can run only any power supply that lists at least 160w (13A) on the 12V rail, assuming your CPU is 75w or less. They are the same exact card except the R7-250 is newer. DO NOT get the 2GB GDDR3, yes it has more Vram but it’s half the speed and bandwidth and cannot use much more than 700mb of Vram.
~$100 AMD HD 7770GHz or GTX 650 1GB GDDR5: (Recommend HD 7770Ghz)
The HD 7770GHz outruns the GTX 650 in every scenario. Yes, the GTX 650 is faster clocked on both memory and core, but has 128 less Cuda Cores/Stream Processors. This is a case of architecture of the HD 7770 is better than the 650.
~$140 AMD HD R7-260x or GTX 650 TI Boost 2GB GDDR5: (Recommend R7-260x)
Right now the TI boost is the ahead by a slight margin, but the R7-260x just came out and drivers have not matured. The HD 7850 is also in this category and although the 260x replaced the HD 7790 in theory, I believe once drivers mature the R7-260x will outpace both. The drawback is, the R7-260x has a 128 bit bus, vs the 192 of the GTX 650 TI Boost and 256 bit of the HD 7850. However, the R7-260x has 1200Mhz Core and 7000Mhz Memory on some models, vs 1000/6000 of the TI boost and 850/4800 of the HD 7850.
~$180 AMD R9-270 or GTX 660: (Recommend R9-270)
The R9-270 in theory replaced the HD 7850 and the 270x replaced the 7870GHz. However, the R9-270 and 270x are the SAME card, same amount of stream processors just slightly slower. For 20 bucks less, you’re better off getting a 270, overclock it and be done with it. The R9-270 does outperform the GTX 660.
~$250 GTX 760 2GB/4GB
The GTX 760 uses the same GK104 architecture that the 660 TI used. Sadly it features less Cuda Cores but faster speeds. So it trades blows pretty evenly. Right now AMD doesn't have any compelling values in this range making it a clear cut winner. Due note, they make a 4GB version for about 30 bucks more. This card can use almost 3GB of Vram effectively making a 4GB option quite viable for the 10% increase in price..
~$340 GTX 770 2GB/4GB
I have personally used the GTX 770 in WoW and I like the card alot. It offers FAST memory speed allowing it to render textures faster and GPU boost 2.0 is AMAZING. It automatically OC's based on power/temp and I have always found it stable. Due to the fast memory speed, a 4GB version is a good idea as it can use about 3.25GB of Vram effectively and they only cost about 370-380 (30-40 over the 2GB). So if you play on playing in higher resolution soon, the extra 10% increase in cost is not a bad idea.
**NOTE** Due to litecoin mining, the R9-280x has drastically increased in price. It does not offer a compelling value and costs almost as much as R9-290s in some cases
~$400 AMD R9-290 (Currently 580+)
I had one of these and sadly more nonreference ones have been recalled. The manufacturers didn't change the cooler design for these new chips and the chip is not being properly cooled. I had a Windforce 3 and even at stock I was getting upper 70's in my HAF 932 with a air intake to the card. What I like about the card is, once proper cooling and nonreference boards come out, AMD allows up to 50% more power to go to the card for MAX OC. Once that happens the card will be an absolute BEAST!!
Due to the litecoin mining boom, these cards have jumped up nearly 30-50% in price, The MSRP seems to be 550 for reference and 600 for nonreference. At the price point of nearly 600, I do NOT recommend it over the 780.
~$500 GTX 780
I currently have a GTX 780 Lightning and I absolutely love the card (Note lightning's memory is junk so memory OC is limited). The card is very competitive priced and the GK110 core is properly cooled across all platforms. Drawback is, NVidia has locked down EVERY card to 109% power target down from 125%. So OC headroom is limited on the default Bios. I currently run 1233/1575 on every game and it's an absolute BEAST at 1440p, easily matched my heavily OC'ed R9-290 which was recalled due to heat.
~$700 GTX 780 TI
The 780 TI is simply a more unlocked 780 with a faster memory speed. It is the king of the GPU's but it comes at a high price tag. It is an absolute beast and if you want to do 4K gaming, you really want 2 6GB models (King Pin) for smoothish play.
This section is by far not my forte. Western Digital makes several different drives for example, Red, Blue, Green and black. I know that Black is for performance, Green is for eco (turns off often for power consumption), Red is for Nas (Up to 5 drives) and blue is in between green and black (Thanks to Foxhound590 from the LTT forums). But a hard drive is a hard drive to be honest. Seagate and WD are probably the top 2 brands. My theory though is to try to get the following:
Hard drives are meant for mass storage, I always recommend keeping an OS on an SSD because it’s much faster and makes reloading windows much easier. There are several companies on eBay that sell white label OEM drives for GREAT prices offer 30 day money back, free shipping and a 1 year warranty. I’ve personally bought 2 drives from them so far and have been very happy. Below is a quick reference to how much drivers should run.
SSD (Solid State Drives)
When it comes to storage, I push SSD’s more than just about anyone. Solid State Drives are far more reliable, smaller, run cooler and MUCH MUCH faster than mechanical drives. The only issue is that the price per GB is very high. Right now larger drives run about $0.50-$0.60/GB which is not that feasible. But I think 99% of the country should be using SSD’s and I’ll explain why.
Many customers I work with have VERY old computers and only use 30 to 40GB including Windows XP of storage. A 120GB SSD on sales runs about $70-$80, but I usually use Samsung SSD’s exclusively which run about $90. The reason why is, almost every older computer I work with either has a failing hard drive or had a hard drive replaced once or twice in the computers history.
SSD’s have a limited life cycle, but even the Samsung 840 EVO that uses TLC flash will last a heavy user about 15-20 years and casual users up to 30 years before it’s life cycle ends. Otherwise, the controllers and firmware, especially on Samsung drives are so advanced that the chances of them failing prematurely are a FRACTION of that of a mechanical drive.
SSD’s can benefit everyone either as the only hard drive for office users or as a boot drives for editors and gamers. The advantage is, much of your work is done on the SSD, so if you have a mechanical drive for storage, it is accessed far less and chances of dying early on is much less.
There are a few things to look at when looking at SSD’s.
SLC MLC and TLC
Speeds (sequential and random 4k’s)
SLC is single level cell, MLC is multi-level cell, and TLC is triple level cell. In generally, SLC is the fastest in writing and TLC is the slowest. SLC is generally not in the consumer market and most drives are MLC. The only company that uses TLC is Samsung in their 840 and 840 Evo drives. SLC writes 1 bits per cell, MLC is generally 2 bits per cell and MLC is 3 bits per cell. TLC in theory has the shortest life span of the 3. However, the Samsung 840 Evo has built in firmware to allow it to act as a SLC SSD in some scenario in order to increase speeds.
Right now, there are 3 kinds of controllers. Sandforce, Marvell and Custom. Sandforce used to be extremely unreliable and would generally fail unless good firmware was used such as the one used in Intel’s SSD’s. Marvell is reliable but is often rather slow, but used to be priced very competitively. Then some companies like Samsung make their own controllers. Right now the BEST controller on the market is Samsungs.
Firmware is the software installed into the SSD that makes it work. Better firmware is always good and often companies have updates if they find issues in the firmware. Firmware is key especially in cases of the early Sandforce based drives like OCZ that had a higher than normal failure rate. Bad firmware couldn’t keep the fast speeds of the controller from failing.
Size and speeds are pretty important. How big do you need? Anything below 120GB suffers in performance as there are less chips to write too. Size also helps with longitivity. A 256GB drive has twice the amount of write cycles as a 128GB drive. But now days this is not that important unless you’re writing 40-50GB/day to the drive.
Speeds are often overinflated. Most Sandforce drives advertise very high speeds but they drop very quickly over time as that is the nature of Sandforce. Generally speaking if it’s MLC flash you’ll see 250mb/ps+ on read and write, sometimes TLC flash has lower write speeds. Random 4K reads/writes are pretty important as well to compare.
So what do I recommend?Honestly, I personally have only used Samsung drives including the 840, 840 pro and 840 Evo. Currently the 840 Evo is where it is at. Not only is the 840 Evo competitively priced, but they manufacture their own flash (and right now Samsung makes the BEST flash), write their own firmware (also the best around) and their MEX controller is as fast as Sandforce and as reliable as Marvell. Unlike Sandforce controllers they don't lose their speed over the first few weeks. Lastly their Samsung Magician software is not only user friendly, but extremely well designed and works amazingly!