I’m the sort of person who swaps out my PCs every 2-3 years, mostly because I ride them pretty hard. That said, I just purchased my latest and did a lot of research prior to settling on specs. Let me start off by saying that a $4k-$5k price point will get you quite a lot of horsepower and should hold you for quite some time. Having said that, let me first talk about specs.
Understand what you’re getting into here. A small case saves you space, but it also restricts your overall options. Choose wisely. On the one hand, something like a micro-ATX doesn’t weigh a lot and you can fit it just about anywhere on or under your desk. On the other hand, smaller cases aren’t all that great when it comes to maximum airflow. A smaller case also limits the size of your motherboard, length of your video card, and cooling options.
Personally, I wouldn’t opt for anything smaller than a standard mid-tower ATX. At your price point, I might choose even a full tower or super full tower eATX case. That maximizes your overall options. More fans. Liquid cooling. Big mobo. Beefy GPUs. ETC and so on. The larger cases also tend to come with either plastic side windows or (durable) tempered glass side panels.
The downside, however, is that ATX and eATX full tower cases can get VERY heavy. It’s not all that uncommon for a full tower eATX case to weigh 35-55 pounds… EMPTY. Such cases can also take up a lot of space, in the neighborhood of a 20"x32"x16" footprint. Big suckers. That’s the price you pay for the ultimate in flexibility though. The good thing about bigger cases is that they can grow with you down the line. A case you buy today can easily last you a good 10+ years.
Given a choice between cases, in your budget, I’d opt for one of the following 3 options: Cooler Master COSMOS C700P, Be Quiet! Dark Base Pro 900, or the EVGA DG-87. All three options allow for a lot of fans, big coolers, big motherboards, and offer excellent cable management. All are generally very well reviewed and regarded.
If you’re going for a fast rig then liquid cooling is an absolute must. Don’t settle for standard air cooling on your CPU because you WILL be screwed once you start rendering or playing games. I’ve fried CPUs before. Not a pleasant smell.
Having said that, since this is your first high performance rig, don’t try to build your own custom open loop liquid cooling system. That sort of thing can go wrong fast. Closed systems like the CORSAIR Hydro H150i or Hydro H100i V2 will keep your GPU chilly with minimum effort on your part. Which you choose ultimately depends on your case. Most cases offer 240mm radiator options, but go with a 360mm if you can find one. No such thing as too cool, especially if you perhaps want to overclock.
As far as fans go, it all depends on you. The more the merrier, imo. Just be aware that more fans might generally mean more noise. OTOH, larger cases tend to cover this extra sound up so there’s that. Check your fans decibal levels and their maximum RPMs. As far as brands go, probably your two better options might be either SilentWings or Thermaltake. Both cool very well and are generally fairly durable. Also, both are cheap enough to replace later on down the line.
First off… Intel. Nothing against AMD or anything. A high quality Threadripper can easily cost $500 less than a similarly spec-ed i9. In single threaded applications, they might even perform a shade better. However, Intel’s chips tend to handle multi-threading much better. When it comes to rendering, you’re going to rely on that multi-threading a lot.
Maybe you don’t want either of those options, the Intel i9 or an AMD Threadripper. Your best option there is probably an i7. IMO, however, the i7 is nearing the end of its lifespan. They keep on squeezing out more performance from this line, but at a premium price.
For example, a 10-core Intel Core i7-6950X scores a solid 19,986 on the Passmark synthetic CPU benchmark. At a MSRP of about $800, that’s super respectable and a good $200 cheaper than the 10-core i9-7900X. However, that’s about as fast as the i7 line gets. You’re getting about 90% the speed of an i9 at 80% of the price. Unfortunately, it’s 90% the speed of the slowest CPU in the i9 line. The i9 line gets much faster whereas the i7 line is nearing is logical conclusion.
The i9s are pretty much bleeding edge when it comes to the consumer end Intel CPUs. Hence, while you get more, you DO pay more. You can currently get an i9 with up to 18 cores. OTOH, it does seem unreasonable to pay 2x as much for the top of the line Core i9 only to receive a CPU that’s 40% faster than the top of the line i7. OTOH, in complex renders, every % matters.
Here’s my recommendation. Skip the i7 line. It might be cheaper and you can certainly get a super fast CPU, but you’ll end up regretting the decision 3 years from now. Go with an i9 instead. They’re more expensive, but even the slowest of the lot is faster than any i7 out there. Plus, should you decide to swap out CPUs in a few years, the i9 will likely be Intel’s going standard. That x299 i9 motherboard that you’re using now will serve you well later.
Don’t go for the 18-core i9 though. If you look at the price/performance of the i9, it’s easy to see that they reach a point of diminishing returns. Go with either the 12-core or the 14-core instead. Both are blazingly fast and nearly half the price of the 18-core, which (at best) only offers a 9% performance increase over the 14-core.
Go modular. This will prevent you from having lots of unused power cables dangling inside of your case. That’s just ugly. More than that, messy cabling can affect airflow. You want the clearest path from intake to outgoing air. Modular is the way to go.
More power = More power. IOW, faster GPUs and CPUs consume a lot of energy. Don’t skimp. You MIGHT be able to get away with 850W, but should probably opt for 1,000W or above. A 1,200W or 1,300W is a safe bet. It’ll grow with your power needs and still perform well as it gets older. (PSUs generally perform less efficiently as they get older. Prepare for that. Always give yourself a little wiggle room by opting for a better PSU early on.)
Energy efficient. Keep that in mind. Bronze and Gold rated PSUs might be cheaper, but they perform like crap. They put out more heat. That means that they’re wasting energy. In the end, that’s going to kill your power bill. No. Opt for a Platinum rated PSU or even a Titanium rated one if you can find it at your desired wattage.
Brand? No recommended choice here, tbh. Just keep that wattage and energy efficiency rating in mind. On a personal level, I’ve always found EVGA and Corsair brands to be sturdy and reliable.
If you’re going to go with an i9 CPU, which I would, then you’re looking at an x299 based solution. Knowing that, keep the following in mind:
PORTS: You ideally want a board with lots of USB 3.x ports. The more the merrier. You also want one, if you can find it, with a type-C option too.
FANS: Look for a board that supports on-board control and has enough connectors.
LIGHTING: Some people are into case lights. Some aren’t. That’s a personal choice. Just be on the look out to see if your board has a built-in controller for case lighting. If not, your lighting solution might either be static in color or require an add-on controller.
MEMORY: Don’t settle for a mobo with anything less than 4 RAM slots. 8 slots is better and might allow you up to 128GB RAM, but 4 slots will easily allow you up to 64GB, which is still plenty.
STORAGE: Look for something that supports M2 SSDs as well as standard SATA drives.
PCIE: It’s a toss-up here. You might not expand to include lots of card-based devices. Most people don’t. More PCIE slots might sound nice, but aren’t always essential. Similarly, I wouldn’t worry too much about multiple GPUs. I’ll explain why soon. Just make sure that your PCI slots aren’t too close to other components like PSU or RAM. That might make cooling an issue and the fit a little tight if your GPU has a backplate.
NETWORKING: All motherboards support ethernet as an option. Not a worry. Not all support wireless. Many do. Just not all. Read the fine print and the reviews. Read the specs for your internet’s wireless router if you don’t intend on keeping your desktop tethered. This will inform how you connect. IMO, I wouldn’t care all that much about the inclusion or absence of standard 802.11 wireless. You’re always going to get the fastest and most reliable internet connection when you’re tethered via ethernet cable anyway. If you need Bluetooth, look for that as an option. If your motherboard of choice doesn’t have it, don’t worry too much. You can get a nice low profile USB Bluetooth transceiver for next to nothing these days.
Brand? I’ll leave that up to you. Gigabyte’s AORUS Gaming 7 Pro is a sweet x299 based board with a bunch of options. Personally, I like EVGA’s X299 DARK. It has lots of ports, some nice on-board cooling, has a super sturdy PCB, and offers a diagrammed testing platform if you wanted to build it outside of the case first. Pretty bad-ass board with a nice looking BIOS too.
The more the merrier. Really. Get as much as reasonably possible. As much as your board will allow, within budget. 32GB is nice. 64GB is way better and will future proof you more. 128GB would be killer, but would also kill your budget too. Probably not worth the extra expense.
As far as RAM speed goes, don’t waste your breath beyond 2666MHz. Most CPUs allow for faster RAM, but really end up bottlenecking you at 2666MHz. No sense in spending up to $1k more for the same basic performance.
Also, don’t worry about CAS Latency. Typically, a CL14 is better than a CL15, which is itself better than a CL16. However, there’s no true industry standard. A CL16 from one brand might be faster than a CL15 from another. Don’t sweat it. You’ll go nuts if you do.
One caveat… Watch out for those heat spreaders up top. Some brands have bigger heatsinks, which can make fitting them in the case along with other components tricky.
When it comes to LED RAM lighting… WHY!!! LOL I don’t get it. Not everything needs LED lighting, especially RAM. If you can, avoid the LED RAM lighting. You’ll save some cash in the process.
Brand? Corsair all the way. Some brands are a bit faster or flashier, but Corsair RAM modules are more stable. Less crashy & less prone to bad read/write states.
NVIDA or ATI. That’s the eternal question. IMO, NVIDIA. Drivers are generally better & more frequently updated. Plus, NVIDA usually tends to be better supported by app developers. Also, there are usually a lot more card choices when it comes to NVIDIA-based cards.
Which NVIDIA though? Don’t be tempted by the latest 20x cards. They’re more powerful. That’s for sure, but they’re also way more expensive and harder to get atm. Nah. Instead, go with a GTX 1080 or 1080ti instead. The GTX 1070 and and 1070ti will still serve you fine for a while and ARE cheaper, but won’t do you much good should you opt for 4K later on down the line. The 1070 and 1070 ti cards perform best at 1080p.
Note that the 1070 ti and 1080 have quite similar performance with the 1070 ti even beating out a stock 1080 in some benchmarks. A real 1080 does have more CUDA cores than the 1070 though. That’s something to consider.
Brand? ASUS and EVGA are good performers. ASUS offers a speedy 1080 ti with 3 fans, which will aid you in cooling quite a bit. OTOH, more fans on the card can also mean lots more noise when you get into GPU heavy scenes. In that case, EVGA also offers a 1080ti with built-in liquid cooling. It runs chilly and quiet even when you’re in the thick of it. EVGA’s liquid cooled 1080 also offers a nice backplate which isn’t just pretty, but also offers extra protection and aids in overall cooling in those critical areas. IMO, I’d go with the EVGA solution.
Caveat? Avoid SLI. It sounds like you’ll get more power and perform better at 4k or with multiple monitors. That much is TECHNICALLY true. However, it isn’t always the case. Let me explain why you should avoid SLI.
- 2 cards? 2x the expense. 4x cards? 4x the expense.
- Cards sometimes fall out of sync and that leads to stuttering, which is what you don’t want if you’re into deathmatches.
- More cards = More heat
- More cards = More power draw on your PSU
- 2 cards doesn’t always equal 2x the speed. In some cases, it does. In some others, you might only get a 50% boost. At worst, some apps might only recognize one GPU.
- Not all SLI bridges are made equal. To get the most out of your multi-card setup you’ll need a high bandwidth bridge, which can cost more. Even if it’s just a few bucks more, every penny counts. Make the most of your budget.
- NVIDIA seems to be abandoning SLI in favor of a different solution. Hold off for now. SLI is unreliable
It used to be that enthusiasts would attempt 4x SLI. That fad has largely passed for all but the data miners or those into hardcore GPU rendering. Even 2x SLI seems to be less and less common these days. No thanks.
Just opt for a really fast single GPU solution, imo. You’ll save money, perform really well, and give yourself the option later on to do whatever dual solution NVIDIA comes along with to replace SLI.
Definitely go with a SSD for your OS. Instead of booting up in 2-3 minutes, you’ll boot up in 15-30 seconds. Almost instantly depending on the SSD.
IMO, opt for a M2 style SSD like the 970 EVO Pro. Super fast and super reliable. For your OS and your apps, 500GB should suffice. I doubt that you’ll even fill it to the half mark with apps and OS overhead. You could go with a 1TB version, but it’s probably not worth the extra cost atm.
For data, however, you don’t have to go for SSDs. They’re nice and super fast, but wholly unnecessary. For most people, a good SATA-based HDD at 7200rpm is more than enough. IMO, dont settle for less than 3TB of storage space though. You’ll eat up a lot of space with whatever you textures and models create. If you also have games on Steam then that’ll eat up space too.
As with RAM, you can never have enough HDD storage space. Get multiple drives if you can. Personally, I have about 14TB across multiple drives. I create and use a lot of data. For me, that makes sense. Probably not for you though.
For you, I’d opt for that 500GB Samsung 970 EVO Pro SSD for your OS and maybe a pair of 3TB 7200rpm SATA drives. That’ll give you dedicate storage for your OS/apps, your Steam games, and your work/CG data.
Brand? From most to least reliable… Western Digital… Toshiba… Seagate. That’s my opinion. Seagate HDDs are priced to sell. They even make hybrid HDD/SSD drives that are speedy. However, Seagate drives (imo) probably fail a lot sooner and more often than any other brand. Not a huge fan. I’ve lost a lot of data due to faulty Seagate drives over the years. Western Digital drives perform better and are more reliable, particularly their Black line. (Avoid the Blue. Some controversy surrounding them.)
Unless you’re an audiophile and have very specific requirements for playback, recording, or mixing, on-board audio is more than capable these days. While some mobos still only support standard stereo output, many more support 5.1 or even 7.1 surround sound. I wouldn’t worry about adding in a 3rd party sound solution. For 99% of the people out there, it’s not worth the added expense. All of your games and music will sound just as amazing with the default on-board system.
… Case lighting is a personal preference. Nice and flashy, but not for everybody. Lights are nice, however, if you want to show off what you got for your $5k.
… Many newer cases don’t have options for optical drives. If you still require an optical for, say, Netflix DVD rentals then you could just buy a $40 external USB drive later.
… Invest in a good monitor. These days, you can get a solid 27" 4K monitor for less than $400. If you’re so inclined, you can even find a 32" 4K for less than $600. Just go for something with at least 5ns refresh. 1ns is ideal, but most people might not notice the difference once they hit that 5ns refresh rate. Seriously.
… OS is a personal choice. I prefer Windows 10 Pro. You can get away with the Home version of 10, but do sacrifice some admin level “powers” and features. Avoid Win7 and Win8. They might serve you okay for another year or three, but not forever. They’re outdated tech. Stay current. Win10 is finally stable and production ready. I’ve got about 8 PCs and they all have Win10. It never crashes on me anymore. Linux is always an option, but you have fewer app choices. Some apps like 3dsmax don’t exist on Linux. Other like Blender and Maya do. For your own convenience, just stick with Windows. You’re better off in the long run, especially if you’re a gamer.
… Building your own PC can be cheaper, but not always. You might sometimes save $500 or more, but the added hassle isn’t always worth it. That money you save is nice, but you end up spending the equivalent in time doing parts research, compatiblity testing, and troubleshooting. And if something goes wrong… It’s all your fault and responsibility. Nobody to service or repair your PC other than you. IMO, spend a little more and let some other schmuck do the hard work for you. You’ll lose some street cred among the PC elite, but you’ll save yourself TONS of headaches.
- Beware of shady PC builders. Some companies like iBUYPOWER and CyberPower offer some AMAZING prices for the most amazing tech. However, they’re borderline scams. They don’t always connect devices properly. They’ve been known to install refurbished/broken parts. In terms of support, they suck. They take your money, ship you iffy PCs, & then duck you if you need help. If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Keep that in mind.
Read the Better Business Bureau review when in doubt. (Every company gets bad reviews and dissatisfied customers. Just be on the look out for companies with only/mostly bad reviews. A company like Cyberpower gets good review from magazines and websites, but generally terrible review from actual customers. IOW, they’re more concerned about press than product. They have a bad online reputation.)
There are custom builders like AVADirect, Falcon Northwest, Maingear, & Origin that are more reputable. They provide solid support, top notch components, lots of options and a wide variety of price points. You can certainly find something in your budget. AVADirect is the cheaper of those options and Origin is probably the most expensive. A $5k PC at AVADirect might cost you $6k at Falcon and $7k at Origin. Regardless, you’ll still be able to find something powerful and that’ll make you really happy if you know how to shop.
Of course, you have more mainstream options like HP and Alienware. Dell Alienware is nice and provides you with lots of flash, but it’s still a bit too expensive for what you get. HP, on the other hand, is more reasonably priced (within your prescribed budget) and has more to offer. Their support is also better and their systems are more stable. For $5k you can just about max out their i9-based Omen X desktop.
Other mainstream manufacturers like Toshiba & Acer typically only offer up to i7-based PCs, fwiw. Usually not even the most high end customizable versions either. Not great options. (Toshiba has spotty support from my personal experience.)