£800 Build: Balanced Gaming

Recently I was contacted by a UK resident, asking for some help building a gaming PC. They did not set a specific budget, but instead provided me with a sample build and asked for my input. That build had good intentions, but lacked any direction, to put it mildly.

So instead I suggested a build with a similar price, but with more focus on gaming performance and overclocking. Meet the Balanced Gaming Build.

CPU: Core i3-8350K

This is a recently released mid-tier Intel CPU. Intel CPUs are known for their excellent per-core performance, and this CPU can be overclocked. 

Overclocking makes the CPU work at a higher frequency (making it more powerful), at the cost of drawing more power and producing more heat. Maintaining a stable and effective overclock requires that other components, such as Motherboard, Cooling and RAM, be of higher quality as well. So pretty much the whole build is centered around overclocking.

When pushed far enough, overclocking will also reduce CPU’s lifespan, but PC components usually go morally obsolete long before reaching the end of their lifespan.

This i3 is the cheapest “decent” CPU you can get. It is still fairly expensive, but it offers excellent performance / cost ratio, and overall makes for an economical choice right now. 

For example, a 6-core i5 8600k costs £90 more, but with equal clock frequency it has only slightly better performance in games.

Another example: 6-core i5 8400. It has maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 4.0 GHz, same as stock 8350k. They also cost about the same, with i5 8400 being marginally more expensive.

However, i5 8400 cannot be overclocked, and in most games will lose to overclocked 8350k.

Six cores might be more relevant in the future, where we could potentially see more multi-threaded games, but it doesn’t make sense to pay extra now just so you could maybe have better performance in a few years. At that point, it would be It would be better just to upgrade to another CPU.

Currently, all motherboards that can work with Coffee Lake CPUs have Z370 chipsets. They allow to overclock “k” CPUs by multiplier. Motherboards with cheaper B- and H-series chipsets are not available yet.

When they do become available, i5 8400 might become a more competitive choice, because going for a non-overclocking build would significantly reduce overall cost.

But right now, you’re paying a premium for a motherboard that can overclock regardless of whether you actually intend to overclock or not. In these circumstances, it doesn’t make sense to go for i5 8400. 

CPU Cooler: ARCTIC Freezer 7 Pro Rev.2

This inexpensive cooler is powerful enough to easily handle overclocked i3 8350k. It comes with a high quality MX2 thermal compound, and the fan uses a Fluid Dynamic bearing, which makes it very durable. Comes with 6 year warranty.

Motherboard: MSI Z370 SLI PLUS ATX

This motherboard is a bit unorthodox choice for this build, because clearly we’re not going for SLI. Moreover, SLI is not something I’d recommend to anyone outside of some very specific circumstances. 

However, even if we are overpaying for unnecessary SLI capability, this motherboard still makes a great pick. It is fairly inexpensive, and its 10 phase power delivery system will ensure stable and powerful CPU overclock. Heatsinks on the VRM system further improve overclock quality and system longevity.

MSI motherboards come with loads of useful performance-enhancing features, and they can automatically overclock the CPU in one click, so it will be super easy even for those who’ve never overclocked before.

Memory: Patriot Viper Elite 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR4-3000

This is a high quality, high speed memory that will ensure the 4-core CPU will not become (as much) of a bottleneck in highly-threaded applications.

8 GB might not be as comfortable as 16 GB would, but it should be enough for the next few years. We are more or less trying to stay in a budget, after all.

SSD: Samsung 850 EVO 250GB M.2-2280

This is the cheapest decent SSD available at the time and place, costing as much as MyDigitalSSD BPX 128 GB.

850 EVO’s 250 GB is enough to house operating system and other programs, and a couple of games, but the rest of the storage will have to be handled by a hard drive.

Storing the Operating System and programs on an SSD significantly improves performance and load times, that’s why having at least some form of SSD is highly recommended.

However, if you don’t care about load times at all, you can in fact save a lot of money by not getting any SSD at all, though this approach becomes less and less popular.

HDD: Toshiba 1TB 3.5″

Toshiba makes the most reliable HDDs at the moment, with excellent quality to cost ratio. A perfect choice for any mainstream build.

Video Card: MSI GeForce GTX 1060 3GB GT OC

AMD and nVidia often bump heads at this price point, depending on GPU performance and the amount of available VRAM.

VRAM is a weird beast. You either have enough or you don’t. If you have enough, adding more RAM won’t do anything for you. If you don’t have enough, gaming performance will plummet. 

However, it is always possible to reduce certain settings to reduce VRAM consumption. Resolution, anti-aliasing and texture quality are the biggest VRAM eaters.

First up is GTX 1060 3GB variants. The GTX 1060 itself offers excellent performance, and 3 GB of VRAM is enough to play vast majority of current titles at good settings at 1080p resolution.

Right around the same price point, there is RX 570 4 GB. It performs slightly worse than GTX 1060, but some extra VRAM may come in handy later down the road.

Then there is RX 580 4 GB. It is as powerful as GTX 1060, but ~10% more expensive than GTX 1060 3 GB. 

Finally, there is ~28% more expensive GTX 1060 6 GB version, which also has about 5% better performance than a slightly cut down chip of the GTX 1060 3 GB.

If you don’t plan on using resolution higher than 1920 x 1080, and you’re fine with occasionally turning down a few specific settings, GTX 1060 3 GB makes for a really economical choice. 

It’s not as future proof as it could be, but even if you are faced with VRAM issues in a few years, it would make more sense to sell your GTX 1060 3 GB then, and get another Graphics Card, which should both offer better performance and come with more VRAM. 

Otherwise, RX 570 and RX 580 seem like good “in between” solutions. GTX 1060 6 GB seems hard to justify.

MSI GTX 1060 3GB GT OC in particular offers good clocks and cooling for its price, though I wish it had a dedicated heatsink for the VRM system.

Case: BitFenix Nova ATX Mid Tower

This a really cheap case. There is nothing particularly wrong with it; it does what a case is supposed to do, but it’s not necessarily the most convenient in terms of assembling and maintenance.

If you don’t mind spending some extra time fiddling with cables and crawling around with a screwdriver, then this case is perfectly fine. Otherwise, I suggest something more expensive, like Zalman Z3.

In addition to more convenient assembly and cable management, more expensive cases are more likely to have higher quality ports on the front panel, and they often come with nice extras, such as fans, dust filters and removable carriages for HDDs and SSDs.

Power Supply: Corsair Builder 430W

Corsair makes excellent, reliable and durable power supplies, though this is one of their cheapest products.

430 Watt may seem unusually small, but GTX 1060 is not particularly power-hungry,  so it should be more than enough to power overclocked CPU and GPU, and have plenty of juice left for other components.

Comments and Considerations

This is definitely a fine gaming build, but I am not as happy with it as I was with the previous $2200 “Make your dreams come true” build.

Things that I would consider changing:

Getting a better case or at least an extra case fan. The BitFenix Nova comes with only one case fan at rear exhaust. I would like to add one intake fan to the front panel to supply some fresh air to the Graphics Card.

Getting an extra cooler for Motherboard’s VRM system to ensure stability and longevity of the overclock. It is highly likely an unnecessary overkill, as 10 phases and heatsinks should already provide more than enough durability, but better safe than sorry. What’s a $10 fan and a couple of paper clips compared to peace of mind?

Normally I would just pick a CPU Cooler that directs some airflow towards the Motherboard, as I did with the previous $2200 Build, but in this time and place there were no coolers available that would be able to handle an overclocked 95 Watt TDP CPU and still fetch a modest price.

Getting a higher grade Power Supply. While there is no reason to doubt Corsair in this regard, I would feel a bit more comfortable with a 500 or even 550 Watt PSU. It would also somewhat “future proof” the Power Supply itself, making it more relevant in future builds, which could be potentially more power-hungry.

Getting a GPU with more VRAM. Enough said about it in the GPU section.

This build is not as efficient as it could be. While overclocked i3 8350k offers excellent performance, it has no Turbo Boost, so it runs at higher frequency ALL the time, drawing more power and deteriorating faster than it should.

Power Supplies are also usually more efficient at load that is significantly below maximum.

This build is not as “future proof” as it could be either. Bare minimum of RAM and VRAM, 4-thread CPU, bare minimum power supply, no VRM heatsinks on the GPU. There’s no airflow through Motherboard’s VRM either, though it’s the smallest problem, and even then it could be easily corrected.

However, not every build has to be “future proof”. In fact, “future proof” builds are hard to justify economically. Overclocked i3 8350k is enough to tear through vast majority of current and upcoming titles. So is GTX 1060 3GB – with a few concessions.

It will be ultimately cheaper and better to upgrade specific components when it becomes necessary, swapping them out with the next generation of mainstream components with good value.

This closes this build. If you’d like for me to make a PC Build for you, check out my PC Building Services.

$2200 PC Build: Make your dreams come true

One of my recent customers from United States asked for my help with creating a PC Build. They wanted to get the best PC within ~$2250, including a gaming monitor. The case should provide easy access for dusting, and the PC itself should be able to last a long while without any upgrades. Their previous PC lasted a decade, and they wanted the same from their new PC.

You can see the build I suggested in the spoiler above, it was accepted and the happy customer donated $25 as a token of their gratitude for my services. With their permission, I am publishing the build, along with my reasoning why for each specific part was selected.

CPU: Intel Core i7-8700K

This beast of a CPU does not need an extensive introduction. At the moment, this is the best gaming CPU money can buy. Excellent per-core performance will carry the CPU in the present, and 6 cores with Hyper Threading ensure the CPU stays relevant in the future, where hopefully multi-threading becomes more commonplace. 

It overclocks well, and we’ll definitely be counting on overclocking to future proof the build.

CPU Cooler: be quiet! DARK ROCK TF

Here I was looking for three things:

1. Airflow directed towards CPU and motherboard. This lets some of the airflow to reach VRM heatsinks on the motherboard, greatly reducing chances of power system failure, and generally increasing system’s lifespan and overclock quality. Relevant article.

2. Hydro / Fluid Bearing of the cooler fans. This type of bearing offers by far the best longevity.

3. Cooling powerful enough to handle 95 Watt TDP of the 8700k + some headroom for overclocking

At first I considered cheaper and less powerful Slimhero, but since budget could handle it, I decided to go with be quiet! DARK ROCK TF, which is a good deal more powerful, and unlike the Slimhero doesn’t block any RAM slots.

Instead, DARK ROCK overlooks the RAM slots, giving them a good portion of the airflow. I made sure there is enough room under the DARK ROCK to fit the suggested RAM modules.

DARK ROCK comes with an unspecified thermal compound, so I decided to also get  ARCTIC MX4, which offers both excellent heat conductivity and longevity, with the manufacturer claiming it to be able to last up to 8 years. I still recommended to reapply it after 5 years, though.

Motherboard: MSI Z370 TOMAHAWK ATX

MSI are a great brand overall, they offer many useful features that make overclocking better and easier. OC Genie will automatically overclock the CPU for you, and all MSI Z370 motherboards come with Load Line Calibration (LLC). In short, LLC reduces negative effects of overclocking on system stability and longevity. 

The Tomahawk comes with a 10-phase VRM with heatsinks, which also increase system longevity and overclock quality.

This is pretty much the ideal motherboard for this build. The only thing we’re overpaying here for is ATX form factor, which is not really necessary for this build, but there aren’t many good mATX Z370 motherboards to choose from at the moment.

Memory: Patriot Viper 4 (2 x 8GB) DDR4-3400

This is a high quality RAM set with good reviews and excellent performance. 16 GB should be enough to last a long while, but I warned the customer that in 5-7 years an upgrade may be necessary. 

SSD: MyDigitalSSD BPX 256GB

SSDs use several types of Flash memory: SLC, MLC and TLC (single-, multi- and triple- level cells respectively).

They go SLC > eMLC (enterprise MLC) > MLC > TLC in terms of price, speed and durability.

For an average consumer, TLC is usually good enough, but we are building a really durable machine that can last a decade. This is why I recommended against Samsung 960 EVO, which uses mostly TLC memory.

MyDigitalSSD BPX 256 GB uses MLC memory, and offers minblowlingly amazing value for its price. It is by far the most durable and performing consumer-grade SSD on the market, and comes with a 5 year limited warranty – “limited” implies you do not exceed a certain amount of written data.

Ideally, I would really like to go for eMLC or even SLC memory for this build, but SSDs like that are intended for enterprise customers and professional grade server equipment, and their cost is disproportionally higher.

As long as you don’t make a habit of moving large volumes of data in and out of the SSD daily, you are very unlikely to exhaust its resource. If it comes to worst, it can always be replaced with another ~$100 SSD later down the line. It simply doesn’t make economical sense to go for a vastly more expensive SSD just to avoid that one occasion.

HDD: Western Digital Gold 1TB 3.5″

Conventional hard drives have moving parts, so they are more prone to failure than SSDs, and we should pay a premium to ensure durability. We’re looking for something like an entry-level server-grade or data-center HDD.

There were two good choices here, Toshiba MG03ACA and Western Digital Gold WD1005FBYZ. They both have 7200 RPM speed and 1 TB size, and both should have excellent longevity, though WD Gold is more marketed. In the end, I went with WD Gold because of its larger buffer size (128 MB vs 64MB).

Video Card: Aorus GTX 1080 Ti Xtreme Edition 11G

Similarly to 8700k, the GTX 1080 Ti is the best gaming Graphics Card you can buy right now.

I went with the Aorus’ variant over the competition because it has a dedicated heatsink for VRM system, which ensures durability and overclock quality. Heavy heatsink with triple fans ensures it stays quiet under heavy load. 

It also has a theoretical power maximum of 375 Watt, so there is a lot of headroom for overclocking. 

Case: Phanteks ECLIPSE P400 ATX Mid Tower

This case offers easy cleaning and good cable management for a modest price. The front panel is easily removed, and so are several dust filters. 

I also suggested getting a few aftermarket dust filters to cover the front panel, though they are not included in this build.

There’s definitely a lot of decent cases out there, but most of them are a good deal more expensive than what I’d consider justified.

Power Supply: Corsair RMx 650W

Corsair builds their PSUs to last, which is exactly what we need. The RMx series are built from even higher premium components than usual CX series, and come with a high-end bearing fan, ensuring it will stay quiet and efficient for years.

This particular PSU has a 10-year warranty, and it is also energy efficient. Fully modular cable system means unused cables won’t be left dangling inside the case.

How I arrived at the 650W number:

The 8700k draws up to 180 Watt when overclocked and under load.

Aorus’ GTX 1080 Ti draws up to 375 Watt – that’s the maximum physical limitation of 2x 8 pin power connections + 75 Watt from PCI-Express slot.

180 + 375 = 555 Watt

So we need a Power Supply that can output that many Watts, plus about 50 Watt for other devices, such as SSD, HDD and Motherboard itself.

Might also want to add an extra 50 Watt just to be safe.

This all comes down to 650 Watt. 

Case Fan: 2x ARCTIC F14 PWM PST CO

Phanteks Eclipse P400 does come with two 120mm fans included. I wasn’t able to find what kind of fans they are. They are unlikely to use a high-end bearing, and will probably wear out with time and get noisy. Until that moment, however, there is no reason not to use them. 

So we will be needing just a couple of extra fans.

The Arctic F14 offers a perfect combination of price, airflow and low noise. I use them myself, actually.

The MSI Tomahawk uses 4-pin PWM connectors for all of its case fans, which means it can be programmed to regulate the speed of case fans, making sure they work at maximum RPM (and maximum noise) only when it’s necessary.

We will engineer the following airflow in the case:

The lower front panel fan will capture the cold air outside the case and direct it towards the Graphics Card. Its triple fans will capture it, push through the heat sink, and disperse hot air all around the graphics card, heating other motherboard components.

The CPU cooler’s double fans will capture air in the case, and also push it towards the motherboard, pumping air through motherboard VRM and RAM heatsinks.

In this case, both Graphics Card and the CPU Cooler do not direct heated air in any particular direction. So instead of focusing on pumping cold air into the case, we’ll focus on directing hot air out of the case.

So our pair of Arctic F14 fans will be installed at the top side of the case, helping hot air escape the case.

Monitor: AOC G2460PQU 24.0″ 1920×1080 144Hz

This is a highly praised and well-reviewed monitor, and it’s more or less a steal for that price. It lacks G-Sync or FreeSync, but high refresh rate should compensate for it. Screen tearing is barely an issue at high framerates, and you will want to have a high framerate in competitive online games anyway. And for a more demanding and cinematic single player games, you can just use V-Sync, since you won’t care about input lag as much. Then again, the PC we’re building is likely to easily handle even heaviest titles at an excellent framerate anyway. In this context, it doesn’t really make sense to pay nearly double for a G-Sync monitor.

The only gripe with this monitor is that it has to be calibrated to properly display all the colors. It’s easy to do using a windows’ built-in calibration tool, but it may get tedious, as this has to be done after every windows reinstall. 

Important to note that this monitor still uses 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is slowly but steadily going out of style. However, slightly larger 2560 x 1440, 27-inch monitors are at least twice as expensive and it’s hard to justify a huge display for gaming anyway.

Consider this article a preview of my PC Building Services.