Gaming Upgrade Kit
With the arrival of Kaby Lake on the microarchitecture roadmap, Intel had effectively signaled the end of their long-established “tick-tock” cadence of manufacturing and design, opting instead for the new “process-architecture-optimize” paradigm. Specifically, the “optimization” step comes by way of a revised fin profile as part of the new process that Intel has dubbed “14nm+.” While the architecture remains largely unchanged from Skylake, the improved fin profile and larger fin pitch affords a less transistor-dense design, making way for MHz headroom in overclocking performance, which can be ascertained by looking at our review of the i7-7700K. Furthermore, readers can learn more about the Kaby Lake architecture, SKUs, and the Intel 200-series chipsets amongst the usual thermal and benchmark performance. To an extent, Kaby Lake can be viewed as the Devil’s Canyon counterpart to Skylake.
The scope of our build today will be dual purpose, so to speak. In its duality, the foremost objective will be leveraging the new Intel i7-7700K in combination with a GeForce GTX 1080, underpinning our second objective: 144Hz & 120Hz based gaming. The build will be ready for resolutions at 1080p or 1440p with higher refresh rates (144 & 120), and will still manage a minimum of 60 FPS with ultra settings. Lowering settings will allow for that 120-144Hz refresh target.
We will also deploy one of the new Z270 motherboards, complimenting the overclocking aptness of the i7-7700K. Speaking of overclocking, the i7-7700K approaches the 5GHz barrier with relative ease. We’ll be relying on a CLC cooling solution with 280mm of radiator space. While it may prove conceivable to approach a 5GHz overclock with active air cooling thanks to a better frequency/voltage curve with Kaby Lake, there are a couple reasons we won’t go that route, detailed below.
Additionally, we will list a 144Hz, G-Sync-capable display as an optional purchase. Find our tutorial on building a gaming PC below, if this is all new. In an interesting deviation from our normal methodology, the team at GamersNexus will be replicating this build and running it through the benchmark gauntlet.
Editor's note: The point was to use only products that we had in our inventory, meaning no purchases or product requests allowed.
The holiday season is upon us. In due time, the Steam Holiday/Winter sale will be flowing like a river, and many users will be preparing their wallets for the impending profligacy. As Newegg, Amazon, and other retailers usually offer sales of their own, other users may be eyeing core component upgrades or new systems entirely. That said, we’ve attempted to take some of the legwork out of putting together a mid-level gaming machine that is comprised mostly of hardware currently on sale, or discounted through current rebates. Admittedly, that narrows options; however, we’ve still come up with very capable and modern build without becoming lusus naturae.
This rig will be a sub-$700 system focused on gaming at the respectable, and still most popular, 1080p. If by chance you are needing more horsepower for, say, the 1440p domain, check out another recent build guide of ours. As an aside, we’ve selected mATX hardware housed in an mATX chassis; something that will please space mindful users wanting a build with a minimal footprint. Before getting into it, I’ll preface with this: more ardent enthusiasts might balk at the presence of a core i3, specifically the i3-6100, but keep in mind that this is a value-oriented build, and the i3-6100 fills the space well. We’ll discuss this a bit more below.
Per the usual format, we will list an OS in the below DIY build list as an optional purchase in addition to an optional, but advised, SSD. Also below, find our tutorial on building a gaming PC or check out our more in depth article.
This gaming PC build is priced below $700 (though may be below $600, if the sales are still active), and is targeted at high graphics settings with a 1080p monitor.
Withstanding the circumspect of PC players, Watch Dogs 2 has seemingly launched without a hitch. Mostly, anyway. The usual PC congregations of Steam and Reddit have been mostly devoid of the day one despair that is PC gaming in 2016, partially indicative that Watch Dogs 2 actually runs on a variety of hardware. Not easily, mind you, but it runs. What is more, we recently published our own benchmarks of the game using an assortment of 11 GPUs, from the 1050 & 460 to the 1080. Having found the game playable, albeit demanding, across multiple video cards, we’ll look at a build aimed at outputting reasonably fluid performance at elevated settings, but without going too far over $1000.
This gaming PC build will focus on running Watch Dogs 2 with the “Very High” preset at a resolution of 1080p, with a sustained 60 FPS average.
As an aside, the build will also place a slight emphasis on overclocking with air cooling, while exhibiting very low system noise. We’re also built to be multi-GPU ready, despite the presence of a GTX 1060 (no SLI support for 1060s). This is to ensure that, should you decide to change the video card setup down the road, the rest of the system will permit the change.
With the gaming community migrating towards 1440p as the new resolution sweet spot, and the booming prominence of UltraWide 21:9 displays, we’ve set forth to outline a build guide that caters to both these trends in equal parts. UltraWides eschew the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio in favor of a more horizontal 21:9 aspect ratio, providing additional screen real-estate without consuming all the physical desk space. You can read more on that, alongside some UltraWide benchmarks, over here. As is the norm with PC gaming, UltraWide support deviates across titles, with games scaling differently. To help determine how your game of choice will fare in an UltraWide environment, view this list provided by wsgf.org.
The increased pixel density and pixel throughput at 3440×1440 means a capable GPU is required; especially so if hoping to approach the 60 FPS gold standard. The GTX 1070 specified below is a formidable choice for driving an UltraWide at such resolutions, and fits well given the budget. This build is also able to pull double duty of sorts, as a workstation for light content creation, video editing/rendering, or game streaming. As such, we’ve selected the unlocked i7-6700K featuring Intel’s Skylake architecture, coupled with a 16GB kit of DDR4 memory. The Z170 chipset will serve as our building platform and rounds out the focal points of this build.
This 21:9 gaming PC build is ready for games like Watch Dogs 2, Battlefield 1 at Ultra settings, and can handle YouTube content creation or Twitch streaming. The DIY build list is below, along with a tutorial for how to build a gaming PC.
It's technically Thanksgiving here, and we need some easier content to consume to go with the rest of the consumption this weekend—and we mean consumerism and Black Friday, not food. Our latest experiment is a cheap gaming PC build for under $500, using an AMD X4 845 and GTX 1050 for games like Overwatch, DOTA2, and even GTA V.
Oh, and just for fun, we did throw in a Battlefield 1 benchmark -- it's just that this isn't an ideal configuration for that sort of game. Still worth learning about performance limitations, though.
The system build is detailed below.
Gears of War 4, despite its woeful exclusivity to Windows Store, remains one of the best iterations of the franchise we've played – and the best on PC, of the two available on the most glorious platform. The game's overall aesthetic is cohesive and, for those first few levels, bright and punchy. As we dug deeper into the underground portion of Gears, we were met with more desaturated, foreboding tones that made Locusts visually pop. And, most importantly, it's a game with 40 graphics options, each accompanied with indicators as to expected performance. This, we think, is the saving grace to counter the game's Windows Store exclusivity.
That also makes it an excellent title for settings tweaking and tuning, though we found the presets to be generally performant across most GPUs currently out, even at High and Ultra. To play Gears of War 4 at 60FPS with High settings, we've assembled this list to build your own gaming PC around $700.
1080p remains the most popular resolution in use today, with more than 80% of the market sticking to existing 1920x1080 displays. Just a few years ago, a fairly beastly rig was needed to run games at 1080p with High to Ultra settings. AMD and nVidia have released new video cards nonstop this year, each enabling 1440p gaming at the entry-level market, or bolstering 1080p to max game settings. These new releases include the RX 480 and the GTX 1060 $200-$250 options, both of which we've reviewed.
You no longer need a $1200 gaming PC to game at 1080p/ultra, and 1440p now comes as a "free" add with these mid-range GPUs. This $800 gaming PC build targets ultra settings in Overwatch at 1440p, and will be capable of high settings in Battlefield 1 (and likely Titanfall 2).
In the paragraphs below we’ll go over our parts list and why we chose the parts for this rig like we did:
AMD’s recent GPU release, the RX 480, is in a strong position for 1440p gaming at $200. We’ve decided to detail an ~$1100 gaming PC aimed at 1440p gaming on the cheap. Our full coverage of the RX 480 can be seen here, for those interested, and it’s noteworthy that both the GTX 1060 (review) and RX 470 (review) approach “playability” at 1440p. The industry is clearly changing to a new resolution standard. This PC build is meant for gaming at high settings at 1440p at around 60FPS, while also not costing an arm and a leg.
This ~$1102 1440p PC gaming build uses an Intel i5 6600K paired with AMD’s new RX 480 4GB. We have also included a 144Hz 1440p FreeSync monitor (with 1ms response time) in the optional extras, for those seeking a monitor to pair with the system.
Too often people considering PC gaming will fall into the train of thought that gaming PCs have to be expensive. This train of thought is both unfortunate and untrue: Gaming PCs can certainly be expensive, but a decent gaming PC can also be built relatively cheaply.
Today’s “Cheap Bastard” gaming PC build comes to a total of about $436, and uses an ASUS R9 380 Strix along with an i3-6100 to allow for solid gaming performance at 1080p. Graphics settings at 1080p will generally fall within the “medium” to “high” range, depending on the game.
We were mixed in our review of Mirror's Edge Catalyst, but it's still one of the most intensive games currently out – our graphics card benchmark shows that much. Mirror's Edge pushes even the newest hardware to its limits, has fast-paced parkour gameplay that demands high sustained framerates, and uses heavy post-processing and post-FX to make its beautiful scenes.
In that respect, Catalyst is a good visual successor to the first game. The red-and-white color scheme has returned, and the focus remains on free-running – despite some ancillary focus on open world nonsense.
This gaming PC build is built to spec for playing Mirror's Edge Catalyst at 1080p with High graphics settings. Read our ME Benchmark for recommendations for Ultra/Hyper settings.