TechSpot PC Buying Guide: Mid-2015 Update

By Steve · 26 replies
May 19, 2015
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  1. techspot buying guide mid-2015 update

    TechSpot's PC Buying Guide offers an in-depth list of today's best desktop PC hardware, spanning five different budgets. Starting at ~$500 for a well-balanced machine capable of medium workloads, up to $3,000+ for the Luxury build, which includes the best PC hardware recommendations when budget is not a big concern.

    This time around we're also throwing in a fifth build, the Extreme System, which disregards price-to-performance value altogether and simply includes the biggest and baddest hardware available, period.

    • Decent performance • Good for everyday computing • Gaming with add-on GPU
    • Good performance • Fast for everyday computing • Casual gaming
    • Excellent performance • Great Multitasker • Perfect for gaming
    • High-end performance • Heavy multitasking • High-quality gaming
    • Workstation-like performance • Extreme multitasking • Extreme gaming
    misor likes this.
  2. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,730   +379

    Great monitor recommendation for the enthusiast rig. Been using one since 2013 without any issues. Great panel in it. I had purchased a Dell 2713H at the time but it's ghosting issue with un-adjustable response time compensation meant I sent it back and ended up with a better monitor for gaming (although standard gamut rather than wide) for around half the cost!
    Steve likes this.
  3. misor

    misor TS Evangelist Posts: 1,283   +242

    I love the 'summary look' style of techspot's mid2015 pc buying guide update.
    quick links to budget, entry, enthusiast, luxury, and extreme builds.
    madboyv1 and Steve like this.
  4. madboyv1

    madboyv1 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,471   +375

    Completely agree, the short information blurb, followed by a jump to go straight to that section on the introduction page is very nice.

    Many would argue that a sound card is not really needed anymore and opt to save the $100-$200, and while I'd normally agree, I also suffer from a bad case of crosstalk on my Turtle Beach X12s. If I manage to justify myself to get to get an ATX motherboard this fall/winter I'll probably be getting a dedicated sound card to hopefully eliminate it.

    That being said... so Soundblaster made a comeback? After the near legendary Audigy 2 series, Creative had been flopping around with substandard cards and even worse software support. Has it changed that much already?
  5. wastedkill

    wastedkill TS Evangelist Posts: 1,423   +350

    I'm sorry but why waste money on a 2card sli setup with a 5960k? Would the 5820k be like... the same... like... seriously for a 2 card setup but you know... cheaper...
  6. GhostRyder

    GhostRyder This guy again... Posts: 2,198   +593

    5960X is the 8 core while the 5820K is 6 cores so I am guessing that is what hes going for.

    Great additions @Steve on this article. Would love to see more of these especially some that focus specifically on the PC's and other budget points.
    SuperVeloce likes this.
  7. BlueDrake

    BlueDrake TS Evangelist Posts: 378   +112

    Would be a nice thing if headphones / headsets could be optional, in place of speakers for those who don't use speakers much. While they might opt to use a sound card also, because I've shifted from speakers to a headset about 5 years ago. Mostly because I couldn't enjoy anything, without disturbing anyone nearby. Also helps prevent a feedback loop, if you were talking over voice chat which is a nice plus.

    Other than that, I enjoy the buying guide. It gives some ideas to parts, that would fit in a general build idea. :)
  8. Experimentongod

    Experimentongod TS Maniac Posts: 267   +110

    Really good job this time guys, I see a lot of improvement since the last guide; the component selection is great.

    The only thing I would change is in the "Budget Box":

    If you're on a budget you want MASSIVE savings, so you could shave off a few dollars by getting only 4GB of RAM. For this kind of system, what you want is to minimize the initial investment and, performance wise, you can get away with 4GB. It's also one of the easiest components to upgrade down the road.

    Later you could also get something like an Nvidia GT 740 for casual/>30FPS gaming (I think the performance is comparable to a GTX460 and I was playing games perfectly with one of those in 2012).
  9. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Topic Starter Posts: 2,868   +2,035

    Firstly thanks for the positive feedback and suggestions. I went back and forth on the memory for the Budget Box so I hear what you are saying.

    The issue was a 2GB x 2GB costs $35 and occupies all the DIMM slots on the MSI A68HM-E33. So in order to upgrade down the track to 8GB you would have to throw away the 2GB sticks and replace them with 4GB sticks.

    The alternative is to buy just one 4GB module leaving the option to upgrade to 8GB or memory with a second module later. The only issue with that being in the meantime you are crippling the systems memory bandwidth by only running the A8-7650K processor in single channel rather than dual channel and this has a huge impact on graphics performance.

    It seemed like too much of a sacrifice just to save $25 - $30 which is why we ended up going with the 8GB kit. Even with 8GB of memory the core components came in at just $356.

    If it was the difference of $50 or more then we might have gone in favour of the 4GB kit.

    As for the GPU since we have the R7 integrated you are probably better off taking advantage of AMD’s dual graphics technology with the R7 250 (same price as the GT 740 but faster).

    Though you’re better off still spending $20 more and getting the R7 260X as it’s considerably faster.
  10. JJAP44

    JJAP44 TS Rookie

    From the Department of Unsolicited Suggestions and Complaints

    Re: Entry-Level

    - i3-4170 is slightly better ghz/price.

    - Storage is all wrong. BX100 240 unless you need MX's encryption. 120 instead of 240 unless you have 100 gigabytes of apps on your SSD.
    - 3TB Seagate Barracuda for $90 with 7200 performance. WD Red? This is neither a silent PC, nor a backup device. If you insist on loading your games slower, the 3TB Red is $120
    - Don't dig through AMDs bargain bin for a non-freesync GPU. With the money you save on a smaller SSD, get a 960. Gigabyte OC is $193 MSRP. Put off an optical drive if you have to.
    - FSP Group? SeaSonic S12II 430 is $50. It's non-modular, but it's Seasonic.

    Re: Enthusiast

    - 750w? You just said we don't need extra watts.

    - You save over a $100 by not overclocking. Get an i5-4590 (slightly better value than 4460), H97 board, and no cooler. Put that money in a 970 (or if you insist on AMD, 290X). You will get many more frames for your dollar.
    - $100 Sound card? Great Gabe; I don't even... Instead, use your mobo's SPDIF to connect to your Hi-Fi DAC, Amp, and $500 dollar headphones (What? Don't have those?). Use great USB headphones for under $100. Use Asus's $60 sound card. Buy a $75 USB Headphone amp from FiiO. Put that $100 into a better GPU or (144hz) monitor (you'll notice that before the sound). Anything.

    Ok I'll stop now unless anyone asks for more :)

    PS Your "post as guest" feature is broken.
  11. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,713   +3,691

    Hey Steve, do you have a benchmark/review somewhere showing the graphics(integrated of coarse) difference in using Dual Channel vs Single Channel?
  12. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Topic Starter Posts: 2,868   +2,035

    I don't think so, I can't recall anyway. The difference should be significant though.

    I am happy to run some tests later for you guys.

    There is literally a $10 difference between the BX and MX drives so I fail to see how that could be a major problem. Also everyone’s requirements are different but I would much rather have a 240GB SSD opposed to a 120GB SSD, hell even with a 240GB model I would be constantly moving data around.

    If I thought the Seagate Barracuda hard drives were worth recommending I would have. In my opinion they are cheaper for a reason. I made the mistake of buying six 3TB Barracuda’s 2 years ago, just 2 are still working today while I am yet to have a Red die.

    The GPU recommendation is actually quite good, when I was putting this together wasn’t flogging the GTX 960 for just $190, it was more like $230.

    What is wrong with FSP? FSP is a tier1 manufacture that makes good quality budget PSUs.

    Now for the comments regarding the enthusiast system. It wouldn’t really be an ‘enthusiast system’ if overclocking wasn’t on the table. If you were that hell bent on extracting as much performance as possible wouldn’t you just come up with the extra $100 rather that eliminating the possibility of overclocking and going for a cheap motherboard. If you are going to go for a non-overclockable CPU you can save $35 by ditching the after-market cooler as well.

    Moreover we feel that the R9 290 is better value at $250 than the GTX 970 at $310 and the R9 290X for that matter.

    The sound card is obviously optional, I personally don’t use them but we always get asked to make a recommendation.
    Last edited: May 21, 2015
    deemon and cliffordcooley like this.
  13. deemon

    deemon TS Addict Posts: 253   +70

    Some complaints:

    1. Enthusiast vs Luxury motherboard choices:
    Motherboard Asrock Z97 Extreme6 $165
    Motherboard Asrock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer/3.1 $170

    it's not really a place to save this 5$ for enthusiast and go with killer there also.

    2. Enthusiast typo I assume:
    you have in first list: Storage HDD WD Green 2TB $80
    later in text: Most enthusiasts will want a slower yet much larger hard drive complementing their SSD and if that is the case when we suggest the WD Red 2TB, for just $100 its great value and performance isn't an issue here as it's probably just going to be used for multimedia content and backing up.

    3. add-in sound cards... that's entirely different topic, but for best results you should be using digital out from computer (motherboard SPDIF out or even just USB is as good as it gets ... soundcard does not add anything there... unless you want some weird echo or whatever effect added to the sound... but realistically... who does that?) to get the clear sound out of the computer case without electrical noise that does exist inside of every computer case and use some external decoder or USB-soundcard or USB-DAC instead.
    Steve likes this.
  14. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Topic Starter Posts: 2,868   +2,035

    Thanks mate for the correction and you are right it was a typo. My choice was the WD Red as I am impressed with their reliability making them an ideal for large secondary storage.

    When I put the article together board boards were $170, it seemed like the sweet spot for features. I will try and get more creative with the lux system.

    As for the add-in sound card comments I don’t really want to touch that one, the thread might blow up ;) I am not a big fan of sound cards myself but as I mentioned earlier we always get asked to include them in the $1000+ systems.

    What kind of USB sound cards do you recommend? I haven’t looked hard but I have never seen a half decent one.

    Thank you for the feedback and suggestions.
  15. deemon

    deemon TS Addict Posts: 253   +70

    Steve is right, you should keep away from Seagate Barracuda drives like plague! ( )

    There are 2 types of "enthusiasts". Overclockers and silence-lovers (and rare 3rd type with unlimited budget who try to achieve both at the same time). For silence you can not cut 3rd party cooler ... and you can not use watercooling either, as it usually does more noise than air-cooling. But from the pure silence aspect, you can indeed cut the overclockable CPU and better OC supporting motherboard (if that doesn't make you to sacrifice anything else that the better board might have and you want).
    Steve likes this.
  16. deemon

    deemon TS Addict Posts: 253   +70

    To be fair, I am no audiophile to make an apples to apples comparison between different external sound cards, but... if you liked some of the PCIe cards, then there are also external options available. Also you could pick from your own sites external cards:

    Some ideas to try-out, compare and make decision.
    For audiophile ( headphones only ):
    ASUS Essence series ( )
    Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD ( )

    For gaming/movies ( supports also 5.1 and/or 7.1 ):
    Creative Sound Blaster X7 ( )
    Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro ( )
    ASUS Xonar U7
    ASUS Xonar U5
    Steve likes this.
  17. crabbos

    crabbos TS Rookie

    The alternative is to buy just one 4GB module leaving the option to upgrade to 8GB or memory with a second module later. The only issue with that being in the meantime you are crippling the systems memory bandwidth by only running the A8-7650K processor in single channel rather than dual channel and this has a huge impact on graphics performance.
    Actually there's almost no difference between single and dual channel when it comes to gaming:
  18. crabbos

    crabbos TS Rookie

    Some people have commented on the discrete card being unnecessary in the enthusiast build which I pretty much agree with, especially considering the ASROCK comes with ALC1150. Having said that however, I would much prefer to pay for a sound card rather than an optical drive. I removed all optical drives from my machines years ago and haven't looked back.
    deemon likes this.
  19. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,713   +3,691

    From an APU/Gaming stand point that link is irrelevant.
    Steve likes this.
  20. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Topic Starter Posts: 2,868   +2,035

    Thanks I am well aware of the impact single channel vs. dual channel has when using a discrete graphics card :)
    Peter Farkas likes this.
  21. Peter Farkas

    Peter Farkas TS Addict Posts: 272   +88

    Read the first paragraph in the Extreme Rig page and you will understand why you see the more expensive CPU there....

    Done the same years ago. Better airflow in my case and I have a portable USB DVD-writer hidden somewhere just in case but I have never used it.

    Nice article, enjoyed reading it. Thanks Techspot! ;-)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 21, 2015
    deemon and Steve like this.
  22. sadman3

    sadman3 TS Enthusiast Posts: 126

    Better still , make it a simple guide so amateurs can understand
  23. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Topic Starter Posts: 2,868   +2,035

    What wouldn't an amateur understand?
  24. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,713   +3,691

    Don't worry about it Steve, that's what those books "For Dummies" are for.
    Steve likes this.
  25. deemon

    deemon TS Addict Posts: 253   +70

    After now reading your newer article about the actual builds and benchmarks, I have to say some more things about your luxury system:

    1. your case choice obviously was poor ( ) ... you yourself say it's overkill, but in reality it's just waste of space. Today building a computer is mostly about how much power you can squeeze into tiniest box possible, so it can still breath and not overheat - and this 3 times more expensive and 2 times bigger case that necessary is really not the right choice.

    2. after seeing your gaming performance tests I have to say your monitor choice (Dell UltraSharp U3014 30" $1120 @ 2560 x 1600) ... or GPU setup was also not optimal ... because the bottleneck is your GPU power right now vs your resolution. You should either:
    a) put 2x 970 or 2x 980 in SLI
    b) chose lower resolution monitor ... I myself would have picked one of those 34" 21:9 monitors @ 2560x1080 resolution ... for example BenQ XR3501 Curved LCD Gaming Monitor with 144MHz if it's on sale now.
    c) both a+b so the monitors 144MHz wouldn't go waste ;)

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