If you approached me toward the end of 2013 and suggested I could build an entry-level 4K gaming PC for about $2500, I would have erupted into laughter. But in this post-CES 2014 world, what once seemed impossibly expensive is now approaching the realm of affordability. Not only does this system clock in at about $2500, it also features a 28″ Ultra HD monitor, SSD, fully modular 1000W power supply, and Windows 8.1.
Before I jump into the suggested components, allow me to provide some context. This is designed as an entry-level 4K gaming PC, with room for expansion. Components like the CPU, power supply, and motherboard are more expensive than you’ll find in my prior budget builds. That’s because they facilitate the end goal: Maxed out graphical goodness at 3840 x 2160 resolution with a total of three graphics cards. Still, what you’ll get for your $2500 investment is smooth 30fps to 60fps performance with most games set to Medium or Normal settings. A popular argument is that if you’re plunking down cash on 4K hardware, you’ll want to experience these games on High or Ultra levels of eyecandy. Pop in two additional Nvidia 780 Ti cards and you’ll have it, but this represents a gateway for getting there without crushing your bank account.
CPU: AMD FX-8350 4.0GHz 8-Core Processor | Where gaming is concerned, the fact is that the FX-8350 edges out Intel's Core i5 and i7 processors. Introduce streaming into the mix and it destroys Intel’s parts and does it for roughly $100 less. (Nearly 1 million people are streaming games via Twitch these days, so that’s an important consideration). It has tons of headroom for overclocking, and it wins the price/performance argument hands-down. For further proof, check out the extensive benchmarking conducted by TekSyndicate.
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO | There are several reasons this part has a solid 5/5 on NewEgg even after 8000+ ratings. As air cooling goes, Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 EVO is legendary. It’s more effective than parts costing twice as much, and its included 120mm fan is exponentially quieter than stock CPU cooler fans. If you want to later upgrade to a dead silent 120mm fan, however, consider the Noctua NF-F12 since the Cooler Master fan snaps off easily.
Graphics Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti | I ran dozens of benchmarks before deciding to include Nvidia's flagship GPU. While my allegiance has been to AMD for budget builds, the 780 Ti simply trounces the Radeon 290x. That seems to defy logic since AMD thoughtfully included 4GB of VRAM on the 290x versus the 3GB onboard the 780 Ti. Yes, it’s true that certain games like Crysis 3 can give the 780 Ti a heart attack and cause it to spit out 1 or 2 frames per second, but that’s only when anti-aliasing is completely maxed out — a scenario not remotely necessary at 4K resolutions (the sweet spot is 4x MSAA). Nvidia’s part has a guaranteed base GPU clock speed which it consistently exceeds, as opposed to AMD’s tendency to throttle down when it reaches its maximum operating temperature (which typically takes only minutes).
Nvidia also brings a superior reference cooler to the party, and temperatures I’m far more comfortable with when pondering the eventual upgrade to a triple-SLI system. Ironically, one of the strongest reasons for not including AMD’s 290x in this build is the company’s runaway success with cryptocurrency mining like LiteCoin or DogeCoin. The supply chain is continuously running dry as miners compete with gamers to procure parts. This has resulted in most of AMD’s newer graphics cards costing up to 30% higher than MSRP. With Nvidia’s 780 Ti now only marginally more expensive, G-Sync support in the pipeline, built-in streaming and recording via GeForce Experience, and consistent driver updates, Nvidia compellingly secures their inclusion here.
Motherboard: ASRock 990FX Extreme9 | For awhile this was ASRock’s best kept secret. Now it’s acknowledged as one of the best 990FX boards money can buy. Crucially, it supports 3-way SLI (since our end goal will be installing two more Nvidia GTX 780 Tis). It boasts 8 USB 3.0 ports, 8 SATA 6GB/s slots, and accommodates up to 64GB of RAM. Enthusiasts who want to push the limits of the FX-8350 CPU will find that it’s very overclocking-friendly. The gold and black aesthetic pops, it’s feature-packed, and built to last.
System Memory: G.Skill Sniper Series 8GB 1866MHz | For our budget builds I still recommend Patriot or Kingston RAM, but now that we’re dipping into enthusiast waters, we need fast and reliable memory. G.Skill is at the top of that short list with their Sniper series, and they’ve managed to keep their pricing competitive even as we still feel the ripple effects of the Hynix factory fire in China. It’s relatively affordable, fast, and runs surprisingly cool. Again, feel free to deviate on brand but don’t compromise on speed. Get 1866MHz or even 2133MHz.
OS Drive: Kingston V300 Series 120GB SSD | As the price per gigabyte of SSD storage continues to plummet, including a solid state drive is a no-brainer. For about $69 we get a highly rated SSD with maximum sequential reads and writes of up to 450 MB/s. 120GB of storage gives us an opportunity to install a few of our favorite games for seriously decreased load times, while Windows 8.1 will take advantage of the SSD for boot times less than 7 seconds. Also worthy of consideration is Samsung’s 840 EVO line of solid state drives, about $20 more depending on where you shop.
Storage Drive: Seagate Barracuda 1TB Hard Drive | 7200RPM, 64MB Cache, and SATA 6GB/s interface. There isn’t much to say beyond that. It’s a reliable drive and represents great bang for the buck. If you have a preference for another brand, just make sure you’re getting at least 1TB of storage for less than $85.
Case: NZXT Phantom 410 | As with previous builds, I recognize that the choice of chassis is highly subjective. I recommend the Phantom because it houses my personal rig. Beyond that, the blue LEDs and black exterior look striking and the curves are sleek. It ships with a total of three fans (one of them 140mm), and includes support for 5 more. In my opinion it’s one of the best cases you can buy for less than $100. Whatever you decide on, ensure that it supports a full-sized ATX motherboard and has plenty of ventilation.
Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA 1000W 80+ Gold Fully Modular | The reason for choosing such a beefy PSU is that we’re future-proofing our build. Eventually you’ll want to be running three graphics cards in SLI to maximize your 4K visuals. I’m normally a Corsair fanboy in the PSU department, but it turns out EVGA makes some excellent power supplies. And for $179, you get 1000W of power with 80 PLUS GOLD (90%) efficiency, and a fully modular design. It’s also exceptionally quiet, well built, and comes with a 10 year warranty. This comes with all the cables you’ll ever require, and is ready for triple-SLI.
Operating System: Windows 8.1 | The newest version of DirectX 11 is exclusive to Windows 8.1 which makes its inclusion here a necessity. The latest update to Windows also introduces per-monitor DPI scaling, something you can’t live without if you’re planning on a secondary 1080p or 1440p display. If you miss the true Start menu and the ability to boot to desktop, simply install Start8 or Classic Shell.
4K Ultra HD Monitor: ThinkVision Pro 2840m ($799, launches April 2014): Last but certainly not least is the final, crucial component. This year’s CES saw a trend toward affordable 4K displays, but they’re not all created equal. Dell teased us with their sub-$1000 P2815Q, but the dealbreaker came in the form of a 30Hz refresh rate at 3840 x 2160. When Lenovo unveiled their ThinkVision Pro 2840m for only $100 more, my heart sank as I assumed it would also not deliver the essential 60Hz at 3840 x 2160 experience.
So I asked Lenovo’s ThinkVision product manager to double-check with their engineers, and the 28″ display does indeed offer 60Hz at 4K resolution thanks to its dual-scaler chip. It’s an LCD panel with 10-bit color and 72% color gamut, so don’t expect the same dazzling display quality as we see with more expensive IPS panels. But for $799, this is a sure bet for our entry-level 4K gaming rig. The one drawback? It doesn’t launch until April. If you’re chomping at the bit to get started on this build, though, I can promise you’ll be very impressed with the gaming performance it provides at 1080p or 1440p. If you choose to wait, the included components will only get cheaper.