This guide is intended to advise users to make a more suitable purchase according to their own needs, avoiding the manufacturers marketing that lead to spending more money than is really necessary.
When picking a motherboard, your first priority is to make sure it has the right socket to match the CPU. Intel offers the new 1151 socket. Regarding AMD instead we find the socket AM4 (for the Ryzen CPU) and the socket FM2 (for the APUs).
The second priority is the motherboard chipset. For Intel we find: Z270 (socket 1151) - is the best of the best, but it is relatively expensive, so it is recommended only to those who overclocks or is interested in Crossfire / SLI. Moreover, unlike in the past, you do not need high-end motherboards to have good results in overclocking, so our suggestion remains Z270 midrange. It is worth to choose the top models only if you need the features they offer. H270 (socket 1151) - is the best choice for the average user: with the exception of overclocking and bandwidth limitations on the second PCI-e slot in addiction to lower RAM frequency support, the H270 offers the same features at a much lower price.
About AMD, between FM2 chipsets the fundamental differences are: A55 doesn't have native support for USB 3.0 and SATA 3, while it supports RAID 0,1,10; A75 supports 4 ports USB 3, 6 ports SATA 3 and RAID 0,1,10; A88X - adds support PCI-e gen3 and new CPU Kaveri. Given the modest price difference, we suggest A88X chipset. With AM4 socket we find the B350 and X370 chipsets: the main differences concern the number of SATA and USB 3.1 ports, with X370 having the best multi-GPU and overclock support. As already said about Intel, for the average user a good B350 is enough, while you can bet on an X370 if you need the extra features it offers.
A6-6400K/A8-6600K and most recent A6-7400/A8-7600 are good models of APUs (Accelerated processing unit - A name given by AMD to its own new generation CPUs) good for limited budgets and for people who don’t want to invest a lot of money on a dedicated graphic card. They are optimal choices for HTPCs or in general for whom is using the PC mainly to watch movies, browse the internet and using Microsoft Office. However, they are not very suitable for playing video games, where you will not have a very good frame rate, even at lower resolutions.
Much more powerful are the new Intel i3 processors. These dual core CPUs, used in combination with a good dedicated graphic card, will allow you to play most of the video games without problems. Their architecture makes them even faster than AMD quad cores (excluding Ryzen), with fewer exceptions for heavy multi threaded applications. Compared to AMD CPUs, they heat up and consume much less power, so we highly recommend them as it's probably the best choice for the average user.
For people who desire more performance, our recommendation is a processor from new Intel i5 generation. These CPUs are the best choice for a mid/high-end PC, being able to take advantage of any graphic card full potential, while keeping an acceptable price. K series CPUs are suggested only for only for users that like to overclock their processors, if you do not have any intentions to overclock your processor, you should save some money by picking the normal version of the CPU.
If you intend to make intensive use of multi threaded applications, then the best choice would be a processor from the AMD Ryzen generation. These CPUs have very similar performance to Intel in games, but in well-optimized applications they can fully exploit the number of core and offer superior performance.
Unlike the past, RAM speed and timings have a very marginal impact on real performance. Our pick falls on DDR4-2400 models, with the exception if price difference with DDR4-3200 is close to minimal. There is an exception for APUs: since RAM is also used as VRAM, graphic performances are affected in a concrete way by memory speed. In these cases it can be convenient to spend a little more and take DDR3-2133 memory. Motherboards with chipset H270 have limitations so it is useless to go beyond DDR4-2400.
Dual channel does not drastically influence performance, so using two modules instead of one is not mandatory. If you are looking to upgrade in the future, it is recommended to buy just one module. Otherwise a memory kit consisting of multiple modules remains the best choice.
The recommended minimum RAM quantity is currently 4GB for low-end systems. Some video games or applications might be more RAM intensive, so 8GB is the recommended value for most systems. Any higher value might be really expensive and not necessary unless it is required for specific applications that demand a lot of memory, but it can still be a good investment. There are no specific recommended brands or models, just make sure the above criteria matches to what you are actually looking for (quantity, speed and voltage).
Picking a graphic card is relatively easy, if you look to the benchmarks and determine your price range.
We recommend the AMD RX 560 Series or the NVIDIA GTX 1050 Series for a good compromise of details and fps with the most recent video games, and not above a GTX 1070 if you are using only a single monitor with full HD (1080p or bigger) resolution. Spending more money is only logical when using higher resolutions or multi monitor configurations.
Once you have picked your card, you have to decide the specific model. Some models are equal to the producer reference board (AMD or NVIDIA) and in that case there isn't really a good reason to choose one over the other. Sometimes manufacturers decide to personalize card layout, components, heat sinks and running frequencies. When is a specific manufacturer’s card worth it? That really depends. It is not convenient to spend more to choose only slightly overclocked models, or in some cases where the custom heatsink does not bring any significant advantage compared to the reference one.
Should I buy 2 slower cards instead of a single more powerful one at the same price? The answer is no, with some exceptions. Within low/mid range market it is always more convenient to pick a single card. SLI/Crossfire support is very variable depending per video game, and in most cases the advantage is negligible.
The power supply is one of the most important and underrated components for users with little experience. As opposed to what the manufacturers want us to believe, nowadays computers consume a lot less energy than in the past. Therefore it's not needed to pick a power supply with exorbitant Watts.
Power supply calculators are often unreliable, suggesting power supplies with more watts than you would actually need. The fundamental factor is build quality: a good 500 watt power supply can be better than an economic 700 watt one. Unfortunately, the quality is very variable and also power supplies of the same brand can still differ a lot. The only advice is to read about it on specialized websites, such as jonnyguru.com.
Picking the right wattage requires to evaluate CPU and graphic card consumption first. Every computer with an APU o low-end graphic card will consume very little, so power supplies like the Corsair CX are a best-buy. A good cheap alternative is the EVGA. For a mid/high-end computer, a good quality 550W power supply is more than enough, 650W if you choose video cards that consume a lot and you don't want to take risks. Models like the SeaSonic Gold and Corsair RM offer great quality and Gold efficiency certification. To save some money, Bronze certified like the Antec HCG or the XFX TS are a good alternative.
If you don't feel safe and want some more watts, then we recommend the SeaSonic G-650 (which is the best buy), the XFX TS Gold Series 650W or the top quality SeaSonic SS-660XP2 with Platinum certification.
Above 650W is a sensible choice only for those who have a multi GPU configuration. A good economic choice is the XFX Pro Series. An excellent model with 80 PLUS Platinum certification is the Corsair HX750i. For the highest build quality there is the Corsair AX.
Remember: NEVER buy cheap power supplies as they can cause irreversible damage to other components.
We will not judge the aesthetic factor, as purely subjective. Important features when picking a case that should be considered are:
The build quality is also very important and it is better to still prefer aluminum to plastic cases. Unfortunately it is not easy to evaluate and in many cases we just have to trust the reviews. An economic model but definitely a very good case is the Antec One, which we found superior to many more expensive cases.
Among our favourites there is the series Corsair Carbide, with various models covered in all price ranges. Good alternatives in high-end mid tower are the Antec, Fractal Design Define R5 or the Cooler Master. If you have enough space, you can opt for a full tower.
A SSD is a highly recommended purchase as it ensures a great performance boost of the system in terms of speed and response. Its only downside is the higher price compared to a traditional HDD. A SSD of 240/256GB capacity should be more than enough to install the operating system and most used applications.
The Samsung 850 Pro is our favourite pick if it's allowed by your budget, otherwise the Samsung 850 EVO, Crucial BX and MX are cheaper alternatives, but still good options. Recently, there are also spreading the first models of SSD's on M.2 PCI-e slot as the Samsung 960, whose performance goes beyond the limit of SATA 3. But they have a higher price that we believe still does not justify the purchase. They are however the best that the market has to offer for those who have no restrictions in their budget.
HDD: the most important feature of a HDD is definitely the reliability, which unfortunately is not easy to measure. Most of the tests indicates that Western Digital are the most reliable over time, and so they are our first choice. The performance difference between Black and Blue series is difficult to perceive in everyday use, therefore we recommend the latter as it's definitely cheaper. applications. The Seagate Barracuda are less reliable (but still good) and have better performance than WD, so they are a compelling alternative.
Do we still need a dedicated sound card? For most users the answer is no. The integrated audio quality has improved a lot and the are some chips, like the Realtek ALC1150, that have no disadvantages compared to dedicated sound cards. Users very critical on having the best sound possible can still satisfy their needs by picking up the various models of ASUS Xonar.
We do not recommend the Creative X-Fi due the many problems with drivers experienced by a significant amount of users.
Monitors are one of the most difficult components to choose as you have to find a good compromise between its pros and cons. The first general advice is to ignore all of the manufacturers' specifications because very often do not correspond to reality. Most of the times the actual values of contrast, brightness, response time, viewing angles, etc. do not come anywhere close to those indicated. The only way to know the true quality of a monitor is to rely on the reviews. The important information to take into account is:
The perfect monitor does not exist. So what should you purchase? If you have a limited budget, you do not have many choices. You will have to necessarily settle for a 60Hz TN.
For those who want to enjoy the most out of the video games, especially the fast paced ones like FPS or sports games, you should opt for a 144Hz TN monitor as the BenQ Zowie XL
Excellent all-round monitors are with responsive IPS that allow you to have a good quality, without having to give up the gaming side.
Mechanical keyboards, or keyboards with a single individual mechanical switch below every key, have had an explosion of popularity lately, although in reality the underlying technology is the same that belonged to the first historical keyboards. So what are the advantages of mechanical compared to the classic membrane keyboards to which we are accustomed to?
Most of mechanical keyboards in commerce use Cherry MX switches. Here's a quick rundown of most popular kind of switches, and some popular keyboard models that include each one of them:
The choice of which mouse is rather subjective. However, there are some important guidelines that you can follow that will allow making a more accurate selection of which mouse you are going to buy. It is important to consider:
In case you were wondering about wireless mice. Our advice is the following: if you're looking for a gaming mouse, wireless mice should be absolutely avoided. Their performances are not at all comparable, even to a mediocre wired mouse.