Updated pricing information on Feb 17, 2016. We’re preparing another update for this guide that switches from Skylake to Haswell-E for our high-end guide, now that motherboard and RAM prices have stabilized. You can wait for that guide, or go ahead with these parts—it’s still a killer build.
For a high-end, $2000 PC that can play all the latest games, look no further: this is the build for you, updated with Intel’s new Skylake processors.
A $700 budget PC gets you a faster, more powerful, more versatile machine than any game console. A $1300 gaming PC gets you graphics and framerates the consoles can’t hope to match, and it’ll last you for years. But the PC, as a platform, is all about options—and one of those options is going above and beyond what you need in a gaming PC on the relentless quest for better graphics and better performance.
This is PC Gamer’s guide to building one seriously high-end machine. Most gamers don’t need this much power. This is for the multi-monitor gamers, the 1440p 120Hz gamers, the gamers who accept nothing less than maxed-out settings on even the most demanding games. Most of us don’t need this kind of power, but here is it for the building. My recommended high-end rig comes in at around $2000, with room to dial back or kit it out even further based on your own needs.
With this high-end rig, I took future-proofing and upgradability seriously. Want to add in a second (or third) graphics card for even more power? You can do that. Want more RAM or SSDs than we think you need? You’ve got space and ports to support them. Want to overclock your rig like crazy? The cooling has you covered.
Processor: Intel Core i7-6700K
$380 on Amazon
Intel’s new Skylake CPUs don’t offer substantial performance gains over the previous generation, but they do offer something just as important: more PCIe lanes and support for faster storage and memory. Architectural changes mean you’re set for running future PCIe-based solid state drives that blow today’s SATA drives out of the water.
And they’re hardly slouches when it comes to gaming performance, either. The i7 here comes at a base clock of 4GHz, and you can push that up past 4.5GHz with overclocking.
My high-end recommendation is designed around using one very powerful graphics card, with the potential of upgrading to a two-GPU SLI setup if you want the extra power. That just leaves one question: are you sacrificing performance by having two cards run at only x8 instead of x16? The answer is: no, not really. If you need convincing, check out Linus Tech Tips’
great video on PCIe lanes.
Haswell-E CPUs and the X99 motherboards and DDR4 RAM that go along with them are simply more expensive than they’re worth for a single- or double-GPU system. That’s why, for our money, the
Core i7-4790K is the best choice for a high-end CPU.
Motherboard: Asus Maximus VIII Hero
$230 on Amazon
Like a high-end CPU, a high-end motherboard could easily cost hundreds of dollars. The most expensive motherboards tend to pile on features that I don’t think are very important, even in a high-end gaming rig. That’s why at $210, I think the
Asus Maximus VIII Hero is the right balance of features, performance, and price. It’s the sequel to our previously recommended Hero VII motherboard, with the same performance and features, plus some new bells and whistles for Skylake.
In terms of features, the Maximus VIII has new USB 3.1 ports, three x16 PCIe 3.0 slots, and a x4 PCIe M.2 slot for a speedy SSD. It uses Intel networking and has some convenient on-board buttons: power, reset, CMOS clear, and memOK. And it’s a standard ATX board, so it will fit in the vast majority of PC cases.
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws V Series DDR4 2666 (16GB)
$90 on Newegg
G.Skill is likely the best-known name in RAM for gaming rigs behind Corsair. They’re consistently promoting their fastest RAM, which brings up the question: how important is RAM speed? How much speed are you getting for your money? How much money should you be spending to get speed versus quantity?
According to my research into RAM speed (
here’s a great article on Anandtech), faster speeds and memory timings aren’t that important, especially for gaming. You’re not going to see much of a framerate difference as a result of RAM speeds. In fact, you probably won’t see any framerate difference at all. RAM speed makes more of a difference in other PC tasks, but Anandtech’s bottom-line advice is pretty simple: more RAM is a better upgrade than faster RAM, and RAM faster than 1600 MHz makes a small but meaningful difference.
With the upgrade to DDR4, we’re getting more speed for free, and DDR4 prices have come down dramatically in the past year. G.Skill is a reliable brand, and while this 2666 RAM isn’t the fastest you can get, it’ll offer good performance without worry of compatibility issues.
Now, why 16GB? It’s more than you strictly need for a gaming PC, but I’ve been running 8GB in a number of PCs for years, now, and today I’d consider it the bare minimum for anyone who uses their PC for more than gaming. If you use Photoshop, or edit video, or like to stream games, you’ll see benefits from the extra RAM. It’ll ensure ensure demanding games eating up 4+ GB of RAM won’t be slowed down by the other applications running in the background. And 16GB is far more future proof: in a year or two, 16GB will likely be the standard. It’s a worthy investment. 32GB is overkill: more than you’ll use for gaming in the next half decade, and certainly not worth the money.
Graphics card: MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G
$660 on Amazon
The GTX 980 Ti. It’s the most powerful single-GPU card around and goes neck-and-neck with the AMD Fury X, with an extra 2GB of memory on its side. You can easily get by with a regular GTX 980, our previous recommendation; the 980 Ti is overkill for a lot of games, especially at 1080p resolution. But maxing out some games like GTA5 will find them hungry for more than 4GB of VRAM (even though they still perform just fine with a smaller memory pool), and that trend will only continue. The 980 Ti isn’t the best price-per-dollar card out there, but it’s an absolute beast, delivering nearly the same performance as the $1000 Titan X at a much lower price. If you’re gaming at 1440p or 144 Hz, you’ll appreciate the extra performance of the 980 Ti.
You can read more about the 980 Ti
in our review.
And why MSI’s GTX 980 Ti? It’s one of the most affordable 980 models at $670 and has universally positive reviews. It’s extremely quiet and even spins its fans down entirely when idling. Best of all, MSI’s card is overclocked out of the box but that overclock can easily be pushed further. Thanks to good binning, it can crack the 1500 MHz mark.
Power supply: EVGA Supernova 850 watt G2 80 Plus Gold
$140 on Newegg
For a high-end gaming rig, a power supply should meet three criteria: reliable, modular (and thus pleasant to build with), and beefy enough to support a pair of powerful GPUs. The EVGA 850 checks all of those boxes. It has a five-star average on Newegg and is 80 Plus Gold certified, making it very efficient when drawing large amounts of power. And at 850 watts, it can handle even a pair of power-hungry graphics cards.
Primary storage: Samsung 950 Pro SSD (250GB)
$180 on Amazon
For a high-end system, I’m not satisfied with the speeds of your average SATA SSD. And since the motherboard I recommended has an M.2 port, it’s worth putting to use with Samsung’s brand new 256GB M.2 SSD. The x4 PCIe 256GB model takes advantage of Skylake’s new memory speeds to push past the limitations of SATA with sequential write speeds of over 900 MB/s and read speeds over 2000 MB/s. Damn, that’s fast.
Secondary storage: Samsung 850 EVO (500GB)
$150 on Amazon
256GB is a good size for a system drive, but today’s biggest games can take up more than 50GB of storage. That’ll eat up a 256GB SSD really quickly. On top of the M.2 SSD, I recommend a secondary 500GB drive for storing tons of games and other files without sacrificing performance. The
Samsung 850 EVO is my go-to affordable SATA SSD, with great sequential R/W speeds of over 500 MB/s.
And if you need even more storage for music, photos, and other personal files, the
Western Digital Black is the HDD I’d recommend. The speed of the Black drive gives you plenty of storage, still at a good price, without poor I/O performance.
CPU cooler: Corsair H90
$90 on Amazon
For my budget and mid-range builds, I recommended the great Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO air cooler. Air coolers really can keep your system just as cool as they need to be, even when they’re overclocked. But closed-loop liquid coolers pose one major advantage: they’re much better at getting your processor back down to idle temperatures very quickly. For an overclocked i7-4790K, that’s worth the extra money.
I recommend the
Corsair H90 as an affordable, reliable liquid cooler that’s easy to install. It uses a single 140mm radiator, but still delivers great performance even stacked up against some 240mm radiators. In Anandtech’s massive cooler roundup, the H90 got top marks for being quiet even spinning at full speed. And even with a heavy system load, it’ll keep your CPU chillin’ at around 30C.
Disc drive: LG Blu-ray reader
$35 on Amazon
A high-end gaming rig might as well have a Blu-ray drive for reading and ripping discs, right? If so,
this LG Blu-ray drive costs less than $50 and has received near-unanimously positive reviews on Amazon.
If you don’t care about Blu-ray, I recommend
a cheap $21 Asus DVD R/W drive, just for that occasional disc you need to throw into your machine.