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TechSpot PC Buying Guide – Early 2021


Is this a good time to buy or build a new PC? It depends on what you do and your actual needs. More people than ever are working from home, which means that the cheapest components in many categories are either out of stock or overpriced to the point of irrelevance.

Making matters worse, a lot more people than usual are also spending more time and money toward hobbies such as gaming, not to mention the new wave of cryptomining. New graphics cards are selling at 2x-3x their MSRP and buying from eBay merely saves you ~15% compared to buying them new.

It’s also true that after years of healthy CPU competition, the market is full of great options for PC owners that haven’t upgraded in several years. Pricing for all but the cheapest SSDs is still reasonable, and if you still use a spinning disk for anything except long-term storage of large files, then you should definitely take advantage of that.

Most notably, even with price hikes across the board, memory prices are still about half of what they were about two years ago. That is starting to change, though, so if you have been considering a new PC you may want to act quickly.

What’s also important to remember is that if you are building it yourself, you don’t have to buy a whole PC at once. If your SSD, case, monitor or PSU still works, then you can keep it. If you still want a new graphics card, now is a great time to sell your old one ‒ possibly for more than you bought it for!

Anyway, if you already have a decent graphics card, or if you do any kind of work on your PC and are willing to pay more than the bare minimum, then you can still get great value for your money with a new PC. In this PC Buying Guide we have included four recommended component lists, meant for different budgets and purposes:

• Good performance • Fast for everyday computing • Gaming with add-on GPU

• Excellent performance • Great multitasking • Perfect for gaming

• High-end performance • Heavy multitasking • Hardcore gaming

• Workstation-like performance • Extreme multitasking • Hardcore gaming

Our recommendations were influenced by availability and pricing at the time of writing. If a component from the list that you were considering is unavailable or significantly more expensive while you are reading this guide, fear not. We included an explanation for every one of our choices, so that you could make an alternative and yet informed purchase.

* Once graphics card prices go back to normal, we will update this guide accordingly. Happy shopping!

The Remote-Office Box

• Good performance • Fast for everyday computing • Gaming with add-on GPU

If you haven’t been following the PC market in recent years, you may be shocked by what you are able to get for about $500. This system is good for web browsing with tens of open tabs, and even 1080p live streaming. Add in a graphics card, and this will become a very capable gaming machine.













Component Product   Price
Processor Intel Core i5-10400   $160
Motherboard Asrock B460 Steel Legend   $105
Memory 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2666+ CL16   $76
Storage Crucial MX500 500GB   $65
Graphics Integrated   $0
PSU Seasonic S12III 500W   $49
Case Cooler Master MasterBox Q300L   $48.5
  Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse (see notes)    
 

Core System Total

$505.5

With 6 cores and 12 threads, Intel’s Core i5-10400 is the best-value CPU at the time of writing. The i3-10100 is usually available for less, but giving up a third of the processing power to save $40 would be simply wrong. With a 65W TDP, the i5 should be kept cool by the stock cooler in a properly ventilated case.

When relying on the CPU’s integrated graphics, it may be important for the motherboard to have both DisplayPort and HDMI ports for monitor compatibility. The Asrock B460M Steel Legend is one of the cheapest modern Intel motherboards that are still pretty well-equipped with four memory slots, two M.2 slots for storage, several heatsinks, RGB lighting and USB-C.

If you think you’ll ever upgrade to an 11th-gen Core CPU (with the best reason to do so being PCIe 4.0 support), the B560M version is sometimes available for about $15 more. If you don’t need DisplayPort or USB-C, or if you need a Wi-Fi adapter or a legacy monitor port, MSI’s B460M Pro-VDH WiFi may be a better buy for $110.

This build’s CPU-motherboard combination only supports RAM speeds up to 2666 MHz, but a CAS latency of CL16 is respectable even at that speed. This is a budget build, so we chose the Patriot Viper Steel ‒ one of the cheapest 2x8GB RAM kits we could find. The kit also has neutral-colored silver heatsinks.

With its on-board DRAM, the Crucial MX500 provides great responsiveness regardless of how much of its space is used. The 500GB version is also capable of respectably handling heavy consumer tasks, such as copying hundreds of GBs from your previous SSD, with write speeds never dropping below 400MB/s. If your budget isn’t too stiff, you may want to go with the 1TB version, which is just as good and actually a better value at $110.

For the price above, the Seasonic S12III can’t be beaten, with its ratings of 500W and 80 Plus Bronze efficiency, and 5-year warranty. The EVGA 500 BA is a solid alternative, often sold for $9 less, but only comes with a 3-year warranty.

For our choice of an mATX motherboard, we can go with an equally compact mATX case, and so we did as an ATX case would look empty without a graphics card. The Cooler Master Q300L provides two front USB 3.0 connectors, decent airflow, and cable-routing options for the non-modular PSU. If you do want to install a graphics card, you may prefer Fractal Design’s Focus G for a similar price.

Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse

If you are considering this system, then we’re assuming that you’d prefer work comfort over gaming performance. For a monitor to go with this system, we chose the Dell S2421HS (IPS, FreeSync, full sRGB coverage). More options for different budgets can be found in our Best monitors feature.

Logitech’s highly ergonomic MK570 is our recommended keyboard and mouse combo at this price point. For more options, see our lists of best keyboards and mice.

The Value Gaming Rig

• Excellent performance • Great multitasking • Perfect for gaming

This PC is meant for those who want to get the best experience for their money in the latest games. If you’ve recently upgraded the graphics card in your old computer, now is a great time to buy the rest of this system.













Component Product   Price
Processor AMD Ryzen 5 3600X   $250
Motherboard MSI B550 Tomahawk   $160
Memory 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4-3600 CL18   $160
Storage Sabrent Rocket 4.0 1TB   $150
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super   $230 (MSRP)
PSU EVGA Supernova GA 650   $80
Case Corsair 400D Airflow   $95
  Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse (see notes)    
 

Core System Total

$1,125

When running the latest games with high settings, you’d need a very expensive graphics card to show performance differences between modern 6-core CPUs. Compared to Intel’s Core i5-10400, AMD’s Ryzen 3600X adds PCIe 4.0 support, and a much better upgrade path to existing or future 5000-series Ryzen CPUs. It’s also similarly power efficient, and ships with the capable Wraith Spire cooler.

The Ryzen 3600 can sometimes be found for $30 less, but it comes with the mediocre Wraith Stealth, that you are much more likely to replace with something like the $32 Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO at some point.

If you don’t have or want to buy a graphics card yet, then you should go Intel, with the same i5-10400 as in our budget build. If you want a proven Intel motherboard that supports high memory speeds and PCIe 4.0 (with 11th-gen CPUs), you should get MSI’s Z490 Tomahawk for $190.

The market is full of proven motherboards for Ryzen processors, but MSI’s B550 Tomahawk seems to offer the best balance between thermal performance and price. If you need a Wi-Fi adapter, then the company’s B550 Gaming Edge WiFi is an equally good value at $20 more. Asrock’s B550 Extreme4 is also good, but costs the same and doesn’t include Wi-Fi.

With the expected rise in memory prices, we think you should get 32GB before more games and applications start needing them for optimal performance. It’s also just inexpensive. All modern CPUs work great with RAM speeds up to 3600MHz. Team’s T-Force Dark Z was the cheapest 32GB kit we could find at that speed. If you are planning to upgrade the CPU cooler and want to ensure max compatibility, you can get the company’s compact Vulcan Z model for $6 more.

The 1TB Sabrent Rocket 4.0 is one of the best value SSDs around. It supports PCIe 4.0, excels at loading large files, and performs really well all-around. When compared against competitors’ current prices, you should probably buy the Rocket 4.0 even if your current platform doesn’t support PCIe 4.0. It offers solid value.

At its MSRP, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1660 Super would be the cheapest GPU we could recommend for a new PC with 6GB of GDDR6 memory. In our research we found no such graphics card available for a decent price, thus we recommend that you hold on buying a new graphics card for this system. When prices go back to normal, just make sure that you get a dual-fan card. You’d save very little going with a single-fan design, and that single fan would need to spin much faster to keep the GPU cool, especially if you overclock it.

Our case of choice for this build is the Corsair 400D Airflow, and the main reason for that is in its name. Our best cases guide includes more great options for under $100. EVGA’s SuperNova 650 GA provides not only 650W at 80 Plus Gold-level efficiency, but also a 10-year warranty and a fully modular design – useful, as you won’t immediately need several of its cables.

Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse

The GTX 1660 Super is capable of 1440p gaming at 60fps with high settings, or at 144fps with lower settings or in less-demanding games. Viewsonic’s VX2758-2KP-MHD will let you do all of that on a 27” IPS display. Clearly, there are dozens of good monitor options you can choose from and that’s why we have entire guides dedicated to monitor shopping and gaming monitors especifically.

The Logitech 502 Hero is a safe bet for a mouse, and so is the company’s G213 Prodigy for a keyboard. If you really need a mechanical keyboard, the Corsair K68 will fit the bill for a bit more money. Once again, our best gaming monitors, mice and keyboards guides include more options for more specific needs and budgets.

The High-End Gaming Machine

• High-end performance • Heavy multitasking • Hardcore gaming

This build is for those of you who care less about performance per dollar, and more about performance, period. With the latest GPUs, gaming at resolutions higher than 1440p is a sensible option, and this is the build to take advantage of that.














Component Product   Price
Processor AMD Ryzen 7 5800X   $450
CPU Cooler Be Quiet! Pure Rock 2 Black   $45
Motherboard Asrock X570 Taichi   $270
Memory 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3600 CL16   $230
Storage Samsung 980 Pro 2TB   $350
Graphics Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080   $700 (MSRP)
PSU NZXT C850   $130
Case Cooler Master MasterCase H500   $120
  Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse (see notes)    
 

Core System Total

$2,295

With 8 cores on a single die, the Zen 3-based Ryzen 5800X is one of the best gaming CPUs for the price. If you want to get into gameplay livestreaming in the future, you’ll be able to upgrade to the 5950X, which is basically two 5800Xs with a shared cache.

The Ryzen 5000 series is power-efficient, and doesn’t need the heaviest and most expensive coolers on the market. We chose the Pure Rock 2 Black from Be Quiet! for its combination of looks, compact size, acoustic efficiency and price. If you like the Arctic Freezer 34 eSports Duo or the Scythe Mugen 5 Rev. B more, go for it.

For the current system, a high-quality B550 motherboard would be enough, but if you want more than one SSD to be able to enjoy PCIe 4.0 speeds in the future, you’ll need the X570 chipset. For the price, Asrock’s Taichi seems to be the most sensible choice, but if you must have a top-quality gaming board, you can spend a bit more for Gigabyte’s Aorus Master or Asus’ ROG Crosshair VIII Hero.

As we have shown, four memory sticks are likely to be faster than two even on a dual-channel system. G.Skill’s Ripjaws V 4x8GB kit also offers a latency of CL16, which is great for its 3600MHz speed, especially considering the price.

Samsung’s 980 Pro is one of the best consumer SSDs around. We could write a whole article about whether it’s better than the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus or Western Digital’s SN850, but it was more affordable at the time of writing and that’s enough excuse to give it the plug.

At its MSRP, the GeForce RTX 3080 would be the best high-end GPU you could buy without feeling that you were completely ripped off, largely due to DLSS support and superior ray-tracing performance over AMD Radeon cards. Since no model of it is available for anything near the MSRP, we again recommend that you wait or keep looking until you hit a decent price level. We should also note that in recent weeks, landing an equally great RTX 3070 has been somewhat easier compared to the 3080.

You’ll need a lot of power to support one of the best graphics cards. NZXT’s C850 offers everything that the previous build’s 650 GA does, plus 200W. With two front 200mm fans, CoolerMaster’s Mastercase H500 will make sure that the system remains cool. Again, our best cases guide includes more good options.

Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse

The best 4K gaming monitor on the market right now, and the only 4K gaming display we currently recommend, is the LG 27GN950.

If you prefer a 1440p gaming monitor, we have a dedicated article revisiting the different top choices including Samsung’s Odyssey G7 32″ Curved, or for a more value-oriented choice, the Gigabyte G34WQC Ultrawide Curved. With a 34″ 3440x1440p VA panel, it offers a very immersive experience and great contrast.

If you want to feel like you have a better mouse than the average person’s, Logitech’s wireless G604 Lightspeed is the one for you. Similarly, Corsair’s K95 RGB Platinum keyboard comes with an aluminum body and quiet mechanical switches. Our best mice and keyboard guides include more options.

The Extreme Workstation

• Workstation-like performance • Extreme multitasking • Hardcore gaming

This machine is great for any workload you can think about, from 4K video rendering to any kind of 3D modeling. It can also play games as well as the best gaming PCs if you equip it with a fast GPU. It’s not cheap, but for what it can do, it’s a really good value.














Component Product   Price
Processor AMD Threadripper 3970X   $2,000
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3   $90
Motherboard Gigabyte Aorus Master   $500
Memory 64GB (4 x 16GB) DDR4-3600 CL16   $450
Storage 2 x Samsung 980 Pro 2TB   $700
Graphics Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080   $700 (MSRP)
PSU Thermaltake Toughpower PF1 1200W   $370
Case Cougar Panzer Max   $161
  Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse (see notes)    
 

Core System Total

$4,971

AMD’s 32-core Threadripper 3970X costs about the same per core as the 64-core 3990X, but is still a better value as it can run its fewer cores at higher clock speeds. Contrary to popular belief, water cooling isn’t necessary or even always better for the most powerful CPUs. A system that doesn’t move around a lot will be safer with the best air cooler, and that is Noctua’s NH-U14S TR4-SP3. Other coolers with TR4 in their names such as Be Quiet!’s Dark Rock Pro TR4 will work fine, too.

Chances are, you won’t find a truly bad TRX40 motherboard. We chose Gigabyte’s Aorus Master, but the Asus Prime TRX40-Pro and Asrock Taichi are just as good for similar prices. With quad-channel support, a 4-stick RAM kit is a must-have. G.Skill’s Ripjaws V 4 x 16GB has the same speed and latency as the kit we chose for the best gaming system, but double the capacity.

A 2TB Samsung 980 Pro should be sufficient for regular work unless you have very specific storage demands. For peace of mind’s sake and because this is not a budget-constrained build, we include a second SSD for backup. An archive of all your work will probably be safer on external drives or on a NAS.

Choosing the best graphics card for this system greatly depends on the programs you’ll be working with. We recommend that you search the web for relevant benchmarks before making your choice. In rare cases (Siemens NX is a prime example), professional Quadro and Radeon Pro graphics cards may justify their price with certain ease. As a default, we’ll keep the same recommendation from our previous build: wait for the GeForce RTX 3080 if you can.

The more power that flows through a PSU, the more efficient it needs to be to avoid overheating. Thermaltake’s Toughpower PF1 offers 1200W at 80 Plus Platinum-level efficiency, and of course, a 10-year warranty. For a case, we chose the great old Cougar Panzer Max for its value, airflow and versatility – it supports either a third front fan or two 5.25″ external drives. As always, our best cases guide includes more options – just make sure the case is big enough to fit your motherboard of choice.

Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse

Some of the most comfortable and accurate mice and keyboards we use include the Logitech MX Master 3 and Das Keyboard 4Q.

Choosing a monitor may be more complex. As with storage, you may have special needs and requirements for work. If you want to view your 3D models in great detail and comfort, Dell’s Ultrasharp U3219Q is a great choice with its 4K IPS panel.

If you edit 4K movies, though, the higher-end Ultrasharp UP3221Q uses Mini-LED for greatly improved contrast and qualifies for HDR 1000. It also has a true 10-bit panel, and can display colors that very few monitors can. It may cost almost as much as the computer, but will give you far more than a computer that’s twice as expensive.

Masthead credit: Techspin



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