- Video Card Buyer's Guide - $95 to $600.
- Gaming Laptop Buyer's Guide.
- Gaming Motherboard Buyer's Guide.
- Monitor Buyer's Guide – 1080, 1440, & 4K.
- Mechanical Keyboard Buyer's Guide.
- Gaming CPU Buyer's Guide.
Lenovo Y50 i5 & 860M Laptop ($870): Our laptop buyer's guide mentioned Lenovo's Y50 gaming laptop as one of the premiere options in the ~$1000 range. Presently marked down to $870, the i5-equipped Y50 (includes 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, 860M) makes for one of the more affordable mobile gaming solutions available right now. Its faster brother, the i7-equipped Y50, is available at the same link for ~$1050 (just select the i7 CPU before adding to cart).
Lenovo IdeaPad G50 ($570): Equipped with an i7-4510U, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB HDD, this laptop focuses more heavily on mainstream consumer usage than gaming. The unit only hosts an Intel IGP, so minimally intensive titles will be the extent of its gaming output (see our games under $10 guide for those). If you're seeking a slim, low TDP (longer battery life as a result), and agile performer for non-gaming applications and work, the G50 is worth a long look.
Radeon R9 280 3GB ($160): I thought I'd found a good deal on an R9 280 when I'd spotted one for $180, but then I found Sapphire's $160 alternative. As we wrote about in our video card buyer's guide, the R9 280 serves as one of the best single-GPU solutions in the mid-range ($180-$250) for gaming. Priced at $160, there's absolutely nothing that comes close to the 280 in terms of performance and cost. This will play the vast majority of modern titles at near-max settings with a 1080p resolution, sans a few (Far Cry 4 and ACU will need lower settings). We strongly recommend the R9 280 at its present $160 price point, especially for budget and mid-range gaming PCs. If you need to save $10, consider the R9 270X for $150 instead.
GTX 760 2GB ($190): Although the above R9 280 will perform better for most games, it's understandable to prefer an nVidia solution: Optimization can sometimes be better, driver updates are generally more frequent, and ShadowPlay is tempting for content creators. The R9 280 outperforms the GTX 760 by a decent amount, but the GTX 760 is still capable of playing most modern games at high/ultra settings with a 1080p resolution (depending on the title). Some games – like Far Cry 4 and ACU, both of which are VRAM-intensive – will need lowered settings.
GTX 980 4GB + 500GB SSD Combo ($774): In the event you'd prefer to spend four-fold the cost of the above option, nVidia's GTX 980 – the best video card we've ever tested – is presently available in a discounted combo. When purchasing an EVGA GTX 980 alongside Samsung's 840 EVO 500GB SSD, the bundle is marked down to $775 (a $30 instant discount). The 840 EVO had firmware issues a few months ago, but all of those have since been resolved on current-shipping Samsung SSDs (and can be resolved with patches, for owners of older 840 EVOs). Half a terabyte of data and a GTX 980 aren't a bad start to a high-end rig.
GTX 750 Ti 2GB ($110): For the more budget-minded buyers, Gigabyte's take on the GTX 750 Ti 2GB video card is presently available at heavy discount, landing it at $110. The 750 Ti – in our extensive testing – is capable of playing most games on medium and high settings (for lower-fidelity games). We've long recommended the 750 Ti for system builders who can't quite afford a $150 solution, like the R9 280 or 270X above. The 750 Ti's low TDP means it doesn't require a 6-pin power connector, making it ideal for HTPC builds that aim to consume low power and use fewer cables.
Crucial M500 480GB ($180): Because not everyone wants to buy a $550 video card with a 500GB SSD, Crucial's M500 480GB MLC SSD makes for a more budget-friendly upgrade. SSDs are one of the most noticeable upgrades made to gaming systems, given the intense difference in startup time and operation times for production applications (like Photoshop). The M500 has been superseded by Crucial's current MX100, but performs effectively identically for most gaming and mainstream users. For the most part, a higher-end drive is not required unless performing intensive production tasks (at which point, an 850 Pro makes sense).
Intel Core i7-4790K 4.0GHz ($300): Marked down from its usual $340 perch, Intel's flagship LGA1150 processor makes for an affordable high-end solution. We generally recommend that most gaming system builders on a mid-range or high-end budget opt for an i5-4690K – it's plenty for gaming – but the i7-4790K offers greater scalability for heavily multithreaded applications. The 4790K is a preferred solution for streamers, YouTube content creators, and enthusiasts who'd prefer an i7.
Intel i5-4690K 3.5GHz ($210): The i5-4690K Devil's Canyon CPU is normally in the $220-$230 price range, but is currently available at $210 with free shipping. An i7-4790K is generally unnecessary (read: “overkill”) for gaming setups, and unless you're an enthusiast or working with production applications, it makes more financial sense to opt for the 4690K we've linked here. This CPU will handle all games presently out without issue, so long as it's cooperating with a discrete GPU.
Cases & Cooling
NZXT H230 ($50): For system builders on a budget (or building one of our Cheap Bastard's PCs), the $50 H230 makes for an affordable, sleek mid-tower with a discreet appearance. White and black variants are available through NZXT's Armory.
Corsair 760T Full Tower ($140): Corsair's 760T was one of our favorite cases from CES 2014, alongside NZXT's sold-out H440. The 760T has a large, glass side panel that offers a full view of system internals. The Graphite-series case can accommodate full-length video cards, ATX motherboards, and various fan/radiator configurations that allow for an enthusiast system.
Kraken X61 Liquid Cooler ($60) & G10 GPU Bracket ($20): Rounding-out NZXT's Armory sales are an X31 CLC and Kraken G10 GPU cooling bracket. The X31 entered the market more quietly than its higher-end X41 & X61 brethren, but fills a more budget-limited niche. At 120mm, the unit's a bit smaller, but still fulfills its silence and thermal dissipation needs for most non-extreme OC setups. The Kraken G10 CLC GPU bracket will allow liquid coolers to mount directly to a GPU (some DIY required), allowing a quieter video card cooling solution.
Tesoro Excalibur Mechanical Keyboard ($70): Sold in Kailh Blue, Red, Brown, & Black, the Tesoro Excalibur mechanical keyboard has a simple, minimalistic approach to a tenkey-equipped mechanical keyboard. The Excalibur hosts blue LED backlighting and Kailh switches, which are similar in feel to equivalently-named MX switches. If you're looking to get a no-frills mechanical keyboard with a backlight and clacky feel, we'd suggest looking into these options.
Monitors / TVs
ASUS 23” IPS 1080 Display ($140): It's not the $800 G-Sync, 1440p, 1ms monster that we recently posted about, but far more affordable. ASUS' 23” IPS display offers a budget solution for users who favor high color quality and depth over a quicker response rate. The response rate of this display sits at 6ms, making it decidedly average for gaming (competitive gamers may want to seek faster times), but the IPS panel makes up for it in display quality.
LG 49” 60Hz LED HDTV ($360): For those seeking a TV for HTPC, console, or – y'know – TV-watching purposes, LG's 49” LB5550 1080p TV is presently available at $390 from the usual $700 price. There's an additional $30 discount for buyers using PayPal; use coupon code “CMPAYPAL30” at checkout to bring it down to $360.
- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.