Build guide: The best high-end gaming PC - April 2018

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. 

PC build guides

The best cheap gaming PC (<$500/£500) - Our alternative to buying a console.
The best budget gaming PC (~$750/£750) - A good entry-level system.
The best gaming PC (~$1,250/£1,250) - Our recommended midrange build for most gamers.
The best high-end gaming PC (~$2,000/£2,000) - Everything a gamer could want.
The best extreme gaming PC (>$3,000/£3,000) - You won the lotto and are going all-in on gaming.

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.

If you'd like to save some money (or build an even more powerful rig), check out our other build guides to the right. For this high-end gaming PC, we expect you'll want a monitor that allows the rig to stretch its wings. 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.

One note: due to the demands of cryptocurrency miners, it's hard to find a graphics card for a reasonable price. Instead of downgrading our recommendation to a much cheaper card, we're still recommending one of the fastest graphics cards you canm buy, the GTX 1080. To find one in stock (and without a crazy markup), you may have to shop around, but falling crypto prices hopefully mean demand will ease up in the near future. In the meantime, if you factor in the price of the GPU, this build may be a bit more expensive than usual, but we're confident the rest of the components are the best for most gamers.

Here are our picks for the best high-end gaming PC.

Components

Prices fluctuate regularly, particularly during the holidays with short-lived sales. Above are the real-time prices for our high-end build, which at the time of writing totals $2,340 / £2,075.

Core i7-8700K

CPU: Intel Core i7-8700K

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 4GHz range with a good cooler (like the one recommended below) is more than enough of a speed bonus for an already blazing CPU.

Asus Maximus Viii Hero Atx 1175503

Motherboard: Asus ROG Strix Z370-E

For a high-end build, we like a motherboard with great features, good overclocking support, and plenty of extras, which usually means looking at the $200 mark.

The Asus Strix Z370-E is a great board, with everything you need and probably plenty of things you'll never use. It overclocks nearly as well as any other Z370 board we've tested so far (MSI's Z370 Godlike was a bit better, but it's in a different price league), and it comes with useful extras like 802.11ac WiFi and USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gbps), along with flashy options like Aura-RGB lighting. It's not quite as full-featured as the Z370 Hero, but few people will really care about the minor differences.

Even with our high-end build, we're only using one of the three x16 PCIe slots. You could potentially add a second graphics card down the line if you want to try out multi-GPU. With fewer major games supporting SLI and/or CrossFire at launch, we don't normally recommend that, but it remains an option.

If you're interested in other options besides the Asus board, MSI's Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC and Gigabyte's Aorus Z370 Gaming 7 offer very similar features and pricing. Asus is a larger company with more R&D resources, and long-term we find its boards usually work just a bit better than the competition, but gamers would be pleased with any of these three boards.

Gskill Ripjaws V

Memory: G.Skill Flare X 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 CL14

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 Flare X DDR4-3200 line, which has extremely tight 14-14-14 timings.

Compared to typical DDR4-2400 with CL15 timings, the Flare X improves performance by 5-10 percent. It costs about 25 percent more on the memory side, which might seem like a bad investment, but if you look at the entire system it only increases the price by less than two percent. And at least 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. 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.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080

Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 

The GeForce GTX 1080 isn't the absolute most powerful GPU on the market, those honors go to the GTX Titan Xp and its $1,200 price tag. The next step down is the GTX 1080 Ti, which normally would be our pick here, but that card is way overpriced due to cryptocurrency mining. 

Our pick here is the GTX 1080. Once the top of the food chain, it still offers top-end performance at 1080p and 1440p, and a solid showing in 4K, depending on the game. 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 card should you get? We've tested and used the reference Founders Edition, along with cards from Asus, EVGA, Gigabyte, 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—or in stock. 

As we mentioned up top, GPU prices are wildly inflated due to cryptocurrency mining, and the GTX 1080 has been hit pretty hard. Having said that, we're starting to see cards available at or near MSRP more and more often (though they still sell out quickly). Our recommendation is to bookmark Nvidia's store page as well as this Reddit thread and check often for in-stock cards.

EVGA Supernova 850 G2 Power Supply

Power supply: EVGA Supernova 850 P2 Platinum

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.

Samsung 950 Pro

Primary storage: Samsung 960 Evo 1TB

The Samsung 960 Evo delivers sequential read speeds of up to 3,200MB/s and write speeds of 1,900MB/s (that’s megabytes per second, mind you). It's not quite as fast as the more expensive 960 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 plenty of room for a large gaming library—though 100GB install sizes like that of Forza Motorsport 7 and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War can certainly put a dent in your free space. The thing is, 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 Mushkin Reactor 960GB for instance costs over $100 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 960 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.

Highend Corsair H90 Liquid Cooler

CPU cooler: NZXT Kraken X62 v2

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 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). Just make sure your case can handle such a large cooler.

NZXT's Kraken X52 (240mm) or Kraken X42 (120mm) are also great if you're after something 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.

Case: NZXT H440

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. 

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