Help me build a new desktop

It has been over 5 years since the last time I built a desktop, since then I haven’t kept up to date with new technologies. I’ve been reading some of the reviews on Tom’s Hardware, but don’t know the current technology well enough to totally understand what they are comparing, or why they chose one thing vs. another.

I’m looking for a new desktop computer, I don’t really have a budget, but want good performance at a decent price (who doesn’t). I figure I’ll probably spend around $2000, but will spend more if it is actually worth it.

I’ll be using the computer for mostly playing computer games. I play mostly strategy games like Civilization, Galactic Civilizations, and Sins of a Solar Empire, (so CPU intensive); but also play Diablo III, and the Fallout games, so need decent graphics.

I will also like to have a HDMI out so I can hook it up to my TV, and need plenty of hard drive space to store all my media files.

So, what should I be looking at? Is AMD or Intel the current leader in CPU’s? Nvidia or ATI? What chipsets are good, and which suck? What questions should I look at that I don’t even know to ask?

Thank you all for any help.


So far in my research I think I’ll want to get an Intel I5-3570K or I7-3770K CPU, haven’t decided between them. Also, an Nvidia GTX 670 video card.

I’m still up in the air for CPU, RAM, PSU, and anything else I need. Any suggestions or comments are welcome.

RAM seems to be cheap right now so get lots. Like 8-16GB depending on your budget. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

I’d also recommend a smallish (256GB or larger) SSD for the main hard drive and then a large hard drive for storing movies, games, etc. Windows will be screaming fast on an SSD but the price per gigabyte is still pretty steep at the moment.

If you’re going to back up to an external drive, make sure your mobo has USB 3 ports on it. This should be pretty standard by now.

How much do you think you’ll save vs buying a premade one?

In all likelihood, the i5-3570k is all you’ll need if your primary use for this computer is gaming. The 3770k essentially just adds hyperthreading and a slight clock increase (3.5 vs 3.4 base, 3.9 vs 3.8 with turbo enabled). Most games are (to my knowledge) not designed to take advantage of hyperthreading, so the only benefit you’ll get from a 3770k over the 3570k is the increased clock. If, however, you’re planning on using it at some point for large photo/video editing or extensive transcoding, the 3770k is probably a better choice.

Chipset-wise, I went Z77 personally, because of it’s support for PCI express 3.0 with an IB CPU like the 3570/3770k, native Intel usb 3.0 ports, and overclocking support with reports of some 3570k and 3770k chips hitting 5Ghz on air/water cooling with decent stability. More specifically, I went with the Sabertooth Z77 for it’s 5 year warranty, use of an Intel NIC for ethernet, and because I like the look of it’s thermal armor (and accompanying dust covers for most of the plugs you may not have in use). Slightly disappointed it didn’t come with the header for the future add-on Thunderbolt cards like some of the other Asus boards, so if you’re a mac user looking to share Thunderbolt peripherals with your new build, you might want to look for a board with TB pre-built in or with future support for it. It’s a bit on the pricey side though, especially compared to the ASRock boards like the Z77 Pro 4 with similar feature-sets, so you have to ask yourself how much board/case aesthetics matter to you. For me, they matter, but for most, I’m guessing they don’t at all. :wink:

Memory-wise, this review from Anandtech is a little old (aimed at Sandy Bridge, the predecessor to Ivy Bridge), but gives a decent summary of what you’ll likely want–which is most likely going to settle on some form of DDR-1600 ram. I’d probably go with this kit from G.Skill, were I needing RAM at the moment, since it conceivably gives you more overclocking overhead if that is/becomes your thing due to the lower operating voltage, and is only about $5 more expensive than a 1.5v kit.

GPU-wise, your choice of the GTX 670 is probably your best bet unless you absolutely MUST have every frame a modern single-gpu card can pump out. From the reviews I’ve seen, the 680 gives at best a 10% frame rate increase over the 670 for about $100 greater cost.

PSU-wise, I’m not much help. I personally go for full modular > part modular > standard since I don’t care for having to try to hide extra PSU cords when they’re not in use. Otherwise, I use number of newegg reviews to determine what I go with. Something like the Seasonic X650 Gold looks pretty good to me personally, though of course you pay more for the modularity/80-plus gold certification than you would for a standard PSU.

I also second the earlier response to consider an SSD for your boot drive. You can get a fairly decent 256GB SSD for about $220 bucks (Crucial m4) which dramatically speeds up not only the time it takes to boot into Windows but also, in my experience, helps with games which constantly load from the hard drive (Skyrim, World of Warcraft) at “seamless” zone/boundary changes. Then get a second regular data drive (2-3TB) for data/media and games/programs which aren’t quite so dependent on hard drive speed.

One additional thing to give thought to, depending on how much your budget allows, would be a water cooling all in one product for your cpu, like the Corsair H80 or the Antec Kuhler 920, or at least a better heatsink/fan solution than the stock intel one provided. This is particularly important if you plan on doing any OC’ing beyond a few multiplier jumps. Just keep in mind when picking these products that they don’t always fit/mount properly at every suggested point in a lot of pc cases, particularly if you set them up with a dual fan push/pull configuration (for example, my H80 won’t align with the top of my case’s screw holes, so I have to mount it either to the side panel, back panel, or eat up 3 5.25" drive bays to mount it to the front panel, like I’m currently doing) so if you go that route, read some user reviews and look to see if they mention what case they’re using.

I almost missed this one. Most modern day video cards are going to have either HDMI or mini-HDMI built in to the card. In addition, if you go with the newer Intel CPUs (like the 3570k) and compatible motherboard (like the ASRock or Sabertooth I mentioned in the previous post), you’ll have access to an HDMI port from the motherboard itself powered by the Intel gpu built into the chip (HD 4000 series with the new Ivy Bridge CPUs). An additional advantage with this one is that you can technically drive a game display with your discrete GPU (The GTX 670) and still utilize a second display, like a TV, for watching a movie with the intel gpu, without having a massive impact on your gameplay (depending on the software used for playback, of course). Alternatively, you can use Lucid’s VirtuMVP with most Z77 boards, which slightly increases game performance by offloading certain tasks to the Intel gpu from the discrete GPU.

Got to agree with that. It feels like a silly little thing, but of all the things I did the last time I built a machine (about two years ago) not going for a modular PSU is the thing I regret the most. If you are ever going to be looking inside, you want to be rid of whatever cables you don’t need.

Saving money isn’t the goal, I’m more interested in knowing exactly what goes into the computer, and only spending money on what I think is worth it.
JayRx1981, I appreciate all your comments, and I’ll think of them. A few things though, I’m not planning on overclocking. Even though I’ve built all my computers in the past, and I could have if I wanted too, honestly, it has never been worth my time / effort. I’ve never overclocked in the past, so I really doubt I’ll do so in the future. Also, I’ve never owned an Apple product, and not looking to get one anytime soon. So, Thunderbridge doesn’t look like something I’m going to need.

I’ve seen the arguments for a SSD for the main drive, and I’m convinced. I’ll defiantly be getting one for my boot drive, at least 200GB or more. I’ll also get a large secondary for my data.

Modular PSU’s seem to be the way to go, and with all the other components, I’m really thinking a certified one is worth it.

I see that HDMI is pretty standard in this day and age. I do have a question on it though. If I use the HDMI on a video card, does it also transmit audio? Or do I need to get a splitter so I can plug into my stereo? Is there a difference if I use the HDMI on the video card or the MB?

Hirka: HDMI will pass an audio signal. You shouldn’t need a splitter.

I build my machines not because they’re cheaper than a prebuilt system, but because I can put exactly the components I want into it. I also use higher-quality parts (i.e., a proven brand/model of PSU) than one would find in a prebuilt.

They do tend to be price competitive. I spent under $700 on my last machine, and that included a case.

I have an SSD hard drive for my primary and I love it. Love it!

Eh, main reason I mentioned it is that the Ivy Bridge CPU(s) you are considering are among the easiest chips in history to overclock–you literally really only need to have semi-decent cooling and tune the v-core voltage and the chip multiplier to get fairly decent results. So even if you don’t plan to now, who knows what 6 months from now might bring.

A suggestion when you go that route: Look into off-loading your temporary files folders from the OS (I presume you’re going with a variant of Windows 7) and preferred web browsers onto your mechanical drive. Solid state drives do technically have a write limit to them (albeit one your average non-geek is unlikely to reach very quickly), so minimizing the number of writes to your drive can theoretically extend it’s life. Of course, if you’re not concerned with that, no worries, as I’ve not had that happen with the 7 SSD’s I’ve purchased/used over the years.

Yes, HDMI cables transmit audio. If your receiver has HDMI inputs, it likely has the ability to also utilize your PC video card’s HDMI audio signal as well. It honestly depends on the receiver. Early HDMI capable receivers did not have the capability of interpreting HDMI audio signals (they just passed them through to the tv), and even recent HDMI enabled video cards have had some wonky audio limitations (IMO) on them (like the high end nVidia Fermi chips not being able to bitstream anything other than base DD/DTS-core). Thankfully the GTX 670 does not suffer from that problem.

As an aside, this thread resulted in me going out and buying a GTX 670 today. On the one hand, squee, awesome card. On the other hand, there goes 430 bucks. I hate my impulsivity sometimes. :wink: