1080p isn't enough for you. 60 fps? Eh, that's a baseline. High settings? Hell no. Ultra all the way. If those are your demands for PC gaming, you need a high-end gaming PC: a system built for 1440p at ultra settings. A system that can hit 144 fps in competitive games. A system that doesn't break the bank, but still completely dwarfs the performance of the PS4 or the Xbox One.
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Want to buy a prebuilt instead of building your own PC? Check out our guide to the best gaming PCs.
PC Gamer’s high-end PC build guide is aimed at a price tier of around $2,000 / £2,000, but we're not afraid to go a bit higher if we feel it's justified. We'll also provide some easy downgrades if you're looking to trim things down. At this tier, we push for a powerful graphics card and an overclockable processor to run today's games at their highest possible performance. And this rig will still be able to handle games that come out years from now at respectable settings.
We have other gaming PC build guides if you're on a budget, want an all-around great PC, or need to crush even the most demanding games at 100+ fps. This is the high-end option, which should be able to play the latest games at high refresh rates and high resolutions. To that end, we recommend 1440p 144Hz displays as the best overall value, potentially ultrawide if you prefer. The price of this build doesn't account for the monitor or the operating system or any peripherals. Check out our buying guides for the best mouse and keyboard for our picks in those areas.
Here are our picks for the best high-end gaming PC.
Prices fluctuate regularly, and short-lived sales come and go. Above are the real-time prices for our high-end build, which at the time of writing totals $2,350 / £2,070. The SSD, motherboard, and memory are great places to trim costs, if needed.
CPU: Intel Core i7-8700K
Potent processor for games, streaming, and more
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock: 3.7GHz | Turbo Clock: 4.7GHz | Overclocking: Yes, 4.9GHz typical | L3 Cache: 12MB | TDP: 95W | PCIe 3.0 lanes: 16
The Core i7-8700K has the highest stock clockspeeds Intel has ever offered, and with six cores we get a huge boost to overall processing power compared to the earlier Kaby Lake processors. Compared to the previous generation i7-7700K, i7-8700K is a huge upgrade. You get 50 percent more cores, running at higher clockspeeds. Few games actually use more than four cores, but that's starting to change, and outside of games the additional computational power can be very useful. Videos encode substantially faster, for example, and streaming while gaming is less likely to cause stuttering.
Coffee Lake is basically Intel's answer to AMD's Ryzen. The Ryzen 7 processors doubled mainstream core counts, with four times as many threads as the i5-7600K. Unfortunately, per-core performance is lower, and games in particular still tend to not like Ryzen as much as Core i5/i7. But outside of gaming, the Ryzen 5 1600 and Ryzen 7 1700 were winning virtually every conceivable test scenario.
The i7-8700K addresses this shortcoming and then some. It claims the top spot for gaming performance, sure, but it also typically outperforms every AM4 Ryzen processor right now. There are a few benchmarks where Ryzen 7 chips can take a small lead (eg, Cinebench multi-threaded), but the difference isn't enough to warrant sacrificing gaming performance.
One note about overclocking: Thanks to the thermal material Intel uses, in testing, even with a good AIO liquid cooler, we only managed 4.8GHz on the i7-8700K, and 4.9GHz had thermal throttling, with temperatures peaking at over 100C. If you want to delid your CPU, you can probably get a couple hundred more MHz out of the 8700K, and keep temperatures below 85C. But for the vast majority of gamers, overclocking into the high 4.7-4.9GHz range with a good cooler (like the one recommended below) is more than enough of a speed bonus for an already blazing CPU.
Motherboard: Asus ROG Maximus X Hero Wi-Fi AC
Excellent performance, features, and overclocking
Chipset: Z370 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-4133 | PCIe slots: (2) x16 (one x16, or x8/x8 if both used), (1) x16 (x4), (3) x1 | USB ports: (9) rear IO, (6) internal | Storage: (2) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet, 802.11ac 867Mbps | Lighting: Full RGB, (2) RGB headers, (1) addressable RGB header
For a high-end build, we like a motherboard with great features, good overclocking support, and plenty of extras, which usually means looking around the $200 mark. The Asus ROG Maximus X Hero Wi-Fi AC is our pick for a high-end Z370 motherboard, with everything you need and probably plenty of things you'll never use.
It overclocks as well as or better than other Z370 board we've tested, and it comes with useful extras like 802.11ac WiFi and USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gbps), along with flashy options like Aura-RGB lighting. We're only using one x16 slots, leaving room for a second graphics card down the line, and the built-in audio is top notch.
Other options include MSI's Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC and Gigabyte's Aorus Z370 Gaming 7, and Asus's own ROG Strix Z370-E Gaming. Those cost a bit less but don't overclock quite as well. We find Asus boards usually work just a bit better than the competition, but any of the four boards we've mentioned would please any gamer.
Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
A great GPU for 1440p and high refresh rate displays
GPU Cores: 3,584 | Base Clock: 1,480MHz | Boost Clock: 1,582MHz | GFLOPS: 11,340 | Memory: 11GB GDDR5X | Memory Clock: 11GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 484GB/s
The GeForce GTX 1080 Ti isn't the absolute fastest GPU on the market, those honors go to the brand new RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti. While the 2080 Ti has a solid leg up over the 1080 Ti, it's also significantly more expensive. We'll probably swap it out in a future update once prices come down a bit, but for now we're sticking with the 1080 Ti.
The 1080 Ti offers top-end performance at 1080p and 1440p, and while it can't handle every game at 4K ultra, it comes close. We recommend pairing the card with a 1440p 144Hz G-Sync display and games will glide by with nary a stutter in sight.
Which GTX 1080 Ti card should you get? We've tested and used the reference Founders Edition, along with cards from Asus, EVGA, MSI, PNY, and Zotac. There are minor variations in clockspeeds and cooling, but the main differences tend to come down to appearance and price. We recommend whichever you can find cheapest, unless you have a strong brand or aesthetic preference.
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws V 16GB DDR4-3200 CL14
Fast memory with tight timings to maximize performance
Capacity: 2x8GB | Speed: 3200MT/s | Timings: 14-14-14-34 | Voltage: 1.35V
RAM can often be a question mark when putting together a high-end build. Should you opt for clock speed or quantity? While quantity can be a factor up to a certain point, going beyond 16GB requires very specific workloads before you really benefit. As such, we felt it better to go after top-tier memory in the form of G.Skill's Ripjaws V DDR4-3200 line, which has extremely tight 14-14-14 timings.
Compared to typical DDR4-2400 with CL15 timings, the Ripjaws V improves performance by 5-10 percent. It costs about 10 percent more on the memory side, but if you look at the entire system it only increases the price by about one percent. And you'll never have to worry if your memory speed is slowing things down.
If you'd rather have more RAM rather than higher performance RAM, be prepared for a much larger increase in price—and the benefits of 32GB are only available if you're actually running workloads that need more than 16GB. There's no binary right/wrong answer to the question of speed vs. capacity, but most users will see more benefit from faster RAM, at least once we're at the 16GB level.
RAM prices remain fairly high right now, due to increased DDR4 demand from both the PC sector and smartphone manufacturers. The G.Skill kit we've chosen is an excellent set of sticks, but check out our DDR4 RAM buying guide for additional options. And if you're looking to keep prices in check, dropping down a notch to DDR4-2666 isn't something you're likely to feel so much as imagine.
Primary storage: Samsung 970 Evo 1TB
Plenty of fast storage for your games and other media
Capacity: 1,000GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe | Sequential IO: 3,400/2,500MB/s read/write | Random IO: 500K/450K IOPS read/write
The Samsung 970 Evo delivers sequential read speeds of up to 3,400MB/s and write speeds of 2,500MB/s (that’s megabytes per second, mind you). It's not quite as fast as the more expensive 970 Pro line, but you likely won't notice the difference. More importantly, you won’t be spending a whole lot of time on loading screens.
By moving to a full 1TB SSD, you'll also have room for a large gaming library—watch out for those 100GB games, though! Once you get used to loading games off an SSD, it's painful to go back to a hard drive. We don't want any of you to feel pain with a $2,000 PC.
You could save money by sticking with a SATA drive—the Crucial MX500 1TB for instance costs $180 less. If you're only worried about gaming performance, you generally won't notice the difference between a modest SATA SSD and an NVMe drive (until you verify a large game install in Steam).
Another option would be to stick with a 500GB 970 Evo as your boot drive, and then use a large HDD for archival purposes, including games you aren't actively playing any longer. With utilities like Steam Library Manager, you can easily move things back and forth between fast and slow storage over time. We'd rather ditch spinning disks completely, or at least avoid them as much as possible, which is sort of the point of a high-end build. You could also use PrimoCache to set aside part of your SSD as a cache, which is something we'll be testing in the near future.
Power supply: EVGA Supernova 850 P2 Platinum
High efficiency and enough power for future upgrades
Output: 850W | Efficiency: 80 Plus Platinum | Connectors: (1) 24-Pin ATX, (2) 8-Pin (4+4) EPS12V, (4) 8-Pin (6+2) PCIe, (2) 6-pin PCIe, (10) SATA, (4) Molex, (1) Floppy | Modular: Fully
When it comes to power supplies, EVGA’s P2 series are a favorite of ours. They improve on the already impressive G2 line and sport 80 Plus Platinum efficiency, along with a fully modular design that keeps cable clutter to a minimum. EVGA also backs its premium power supplies with a 10-year warranty, and the PSUs run cool and quiet.
The 850W maximum load is plenty for this rig, and there's still plenty of room for a second GPU should the need arise. We usually like to leave 50-100W of headroom above the estimated maximum load of the system, and even with overclocking and a second 1080 Ti, this PSU will be sufficient.
About the only thing you're missing is Titanium efficiency, which the EVGA 850 T2 provides. That's $70 more for the final 1-2 percent gain in efficiency, which isn't really necessary.
Case: NZXT H440
A stylish case that's easy to use
Type: ATX mid-tower | Motherboard Compatibility: ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX | Drive Bays: (11) 3.5" internal, (8) 2.5" SSD | Front Ports: (2) USB 3.0, (2) USB 2.0, (1) Headset | Fan Options: Front: (2) 140mm or (3) 120mm (included), Top: (2) 140 or (3) 120mm, Rear: (1) 140/120mm (140mm included) | Max GPU Length: 294mm, 428mm without drive cage | Dimensions: 513x220x480mm (HxWxD) | Weight: 10.16kg
We build a lot of systems, and we know what things we like and dislike when it comes to cases. Modularity is great, and good cable management with a separate PSU partition are almost required. Things we don't really like (other than for aesthetic purposes): small cases that are a pain to set up and run hotter.
NZXT's H440 is a continual favorite among system builders, with good reason. Not only does it look beautiful in an understated sort of way, but it's available in white or black, with several accent options. There's also a 'silent' option that includes sound dampening panels, but that does tend to increase temperatures a bit. Airflow is decent, and there are plenty of options for routing cables, storing SSDs, and more.
Cases are highly subjective, however, and our previous pick, the Cooler Master MasterCase 5, remains a great option that's geared toward tweaking and liquid cooling. If you're looking for something a bit flashier, or just want other ideas, check our best mid-tower and best full-tower case guides.
CPU cooler: NZXT Kraken X62 v2
Size: 280mm | Fan speed: 500-1,800rpm | Noise level: 21-38 dB(A) | Dimensions: 315x143x30mm | Socket support: LGA115x, LGA1366, LGA2011, LGA2066, FM1/2, AM2/3, AM4, TR4
NZXT's Kraken series of CPU coolers are an excellent choice for all-in-one closed-loop solutions. They're easy to install and work well. The Kraken X62 v2 includes a large 280mm radiator, which is more than enough for an overclocked i7-8700K (though you'll still probably want to delid that sucker for maximum OC potential). Just make sure your case can handle such a large cooler.
The X62 can be a bit of a squeeze on the H440, though it does fit. If you're looking for a bit more room, consider one of the alternate cases, and NZXT's Kraken X52 (240mm) or Kraken X42 (120mm) are also more compact. If you want other alternatives, Corsair's H80i v2, H100i v2, and H110i are equally viable. They tend to run a bit louder but don't cost quite as much.
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