We just leveraged the season's sales to restock GN's lab with test equipment – mostly SSDs and CPUs – and took the opportunity to throw together a budget gaming PC. The goal was to create a truly down-the-center machine, capable of playing most modern games at high settings with an FPS target of 60+ (at 1080p). A few outliers exist that would stress this system beyond its limits, like Assassin's Creed Syndicate, but the rest of the season's titles are mostly within reason. Fallout 4 is playable on the GTX 950 (at higher settings now, with optimization patches), as are Battlefront (tested) and Black Ops 3 (tested). We've also recently shown the i3 CPUs to retain fiercely competitive market positioning at ultra/1080p settings.
Intel's new i3-6100 Skylake CPU is currently the only available i3 SKU (i3-6300 ships in December), but at $130, it's also the cheapest Skylake SKU. This budget gaming PC build uses an i3-6100 and GTX 950 to play games at under $500, including Battlefront, Black Ops 3, and Fallout 4. Fallout 4, surprisingly, will be the most abusive of the lot – but it's fully playable on this setup at a mix of medium/high settings.
Some PC parts -- CPUs and GPUs -- have tangible benefits: x FPS gained, double-precision performance increased, loading times halved, or similar. Other parts, like PSUs and motherboards, may not have as obvious of advantages. These components are necessary and important parts of a PC, and choosing well enables everything else in the system. For those confused or simply wanting a guide, we occasionally create lists of components – like motherboards – for different needs.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching, we thought it might be helpful to come up with a gaming motherboard buyer’s guide for overclocking and non-overclocking boards. Anyone curious about the specific differences between the Skylake chipsets, check out our coverage here.
This is the Intel-only version of our guide. Another motherboards guide will look separately at AMD's FM2+ motherboards.
Every PC component contributes to the gaming or working experience. A mouse, keyboard, GPU, CPU, RAM, and monitor all fuse to create the total user experience, but they’re all fairly stable and easy to understand.
Monitors can be tricky. Their specs often include lesser-known terms like “response time,” “input lag,” and “contrast ratio,” not to mention the various panel types behind the display. For those mystified by these specs, or those simply wanting a handy guide to monitor sales during Black Friday & Cyber Monday, we’ve compiled a list of G-Sync, FreeSync, and general use 1080p, 1440p, and 4K monitors.
This list details the best monitors for gaming at budget, mid-range, and high-end prices, scaling all the way up to 144Hz. We’ve got a few “general use” monitors in here for those just seeking 1080p functionality without the flair.
Like many sites, our site relies heavily upon referral commission from online retail outlets. It's a fairly straight-forward operation: We help our readers build computers, find the right video card, and test games; in return for this free service, we earn a small commission on sales from Newegg, Amazon, and similar online retail outlets. It's not a lot of money, but it's something.
Now that Black Friday is over and all of the sales are reporting in, we started analyzing data to see which items were the most popular referred purchases through our site. This isn't representative of the most popular hardware in the industry – just what was recommended on our site – but is a good cross-section for what PC builders are interested in.
We're working our way through all of the major system components and peripherals, hopefully providing easy-to-use buyer's guides for the best components of 2014. Our most recent buyer's guides covered top-performing gaming video cards, mechanical keyboards, and gaming laptops.
This next guide focuses on the best Intel & AMD gaming CPUs on the market, ranging from ultra-budget (~$100) options to high-end semi-production solutions (~$300). Consider following our gaming motherboard buyer's guide to accompany any CPU purchases.
In doing so, we put together a PC that is great for streaming videos, games, and even playing less intensive games like League of Legends, Minecraft, Path of Exile, and DOTA2. This PC should not be considered a viable option if you're looking to play games like Far Cry 4 (benchmark) and Assassin's Creed Unity (benchmark). If you're looking to build the best general purpose streaming PC for the lowest price, this $299 gaming HTPC build is perfect for you.
Having completed our mechanical keyboard & gaming motherboard buyer's guides, we're now moving on to the gaming world's most critical component: Video cards. This video card buyer's guide looks at the best GPUs for gaming at various budgets, starting at $100 and rising up to the $600 flagships. Then again, you could build the $300 ultra-budget APU-powered machine we posted.
AMD and nVidia have recently been embattled in price wars, most clearly highlighted by the GTX 760's price-drop to $200 and the R9 270's drop to $135, both powerful GPUs that launched at significantly higher price points. This price war has influenced several other graphics solutions currently on the market, ensuring a prime buying period for those building new PCs.
And that price-tag includes the operating system. CyberPower is selling its Fang Mini R9 SE complete gaming system for $99, a box partnered with Gigabyte that resembles the Brix. The Fang Mini (product page) ships equipped with an R9 M275X 2GB GPU, A8-5557M quad-core CPU, Windows 8.1, and a 120GB SSD. This small form factor gaming box normally retails at nearly $1000, but will be marked down to $250 with $150 of rebates, landing it at $99. The unit is being offered as a “door-buster” pre-Black Friday sale in limited quantity. 300 units will be available, starting at 6PM (1800) EST today, 11/26.
The unit is capable of driving medium graphics in larger AAA games, but needs a serious RAM upgrade. We'd recommend a minimum 4GB kit of SO-DIMM DDR3L RAM, like this Kingston 1x4GB DDR3L 1600MHz kit for $70.
Back when computers were becoming commonplace in business, mechanical keyboards such as the IBM Model M, were common. The Model M uses springs that buckle under pressure to complete a circuit, allowing for a letter to be typed. For the way the springs function, they are aptly named “buckling springs.”
Then, the rubber dome was invented.
The rubber dome is literally a dome of rubber that, when depressed, completes a circuit and causes a letter to be typed. While these seem to be very similar, they differ substantially in feel and design. Buckling springs allow for faster, more tactile and loud clicky-clack typing. Despite the advantages of a buckling spring, rubber domes are much cheaper to produce, so now rubber domes are by far the most common switch used in keyboards.
Motherboard selection is mercifully less intimidating than picking a laptop for gaming. With boards, we can establish a set of criteria and narrow down the selection immediately to something more manageable; lower prices than other components also make selection somewhat easier to mentally justify. Our criteria for motherboard selection typically includes consideration of socket type, form factor, ability to overclock, and chipset
We've previously published chipset guides for both AMD's latest chipsets and Intel's Haswell chipsets, each of which shows the differentiating features between various inter-platform options. This buyer's guide looks at the best gaming motherboards for Intel's Haswell and Devil's Canyon processors, then AMD's FM2+ platform. AM3+ is not considered in this guide, given its age and our decision to abandon the platform in PC build guides. We've also opted to exclude X99 motherboards from this guide, given the added complexity and entirely different architecture.
We'll start with tables, then cover the things to look for in a motherboard, and then move on to our selections for this season.
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