Christmas is just around the corner, and incredible sales are undoubtedly coming. If you haven’t been following the PC building scene for the past year or two, then some things may seem daunting at first. For instance: What’s up with crazy high RAM prices? And why are some CPUs and graphics cards out of stock?
If you’re planning to build a new PC this Christmas, then there are some important things to know about. Consider this your Christmas 2017 PC hardware shopping guide.
In terms of CPUs, AMD Ryzen is usually the better value choice, whereas Intel offers more performance for noticeably more money. The Ryzen 5 1600, a 6-core 12-thread CPU for ~$200, is one of the best-value processors this year. It can often be found for even cheaper on sale. It includes a decent stock cooler, and if you pair it with a B350 motherboard (such as the MSI B350 PC Mate), this CPU offers the best value to most gamers wanting anything lower than a GTX 1080 Ti for their graphics card.
If content creation is something you’re very interested in, then the Ryzen 7 1700, an 8-core 16-thread processor, can often be found for under $300, and sometimes as low as $250. It is supposed to start at $330, but Ryzen prices in general have seen a noticeable drop in the past few months, most likely preparing for the inevitable launch of Ryzen+ in early 2018.
On the Intel side, Coffee Lake is still the king of gaming CPUs. If you want the best of the best and are willing to pay a hefty price for it, then the 6-core 12-thread i7-8700K paired with a Z370 motherboard (such as the ASUS Prime Z370-A) is the only way to go.
The i7-8700K is supposed to come in at an MSRP of $370, but is often seen selling for more than $400 due to supply shortages. If you can find this processor for a price close to the MSRP, then it’s a great choice. A decent Z370 motherboard will cost around $150, so a discount of $30-$40 would also be very useful here. The CPU does require a hefty cooler, so keep your eyes open for a 240mm AIO liquid cooler.
Kaby Lake, the 7000-series processors, are also an option. The i7-7700K, still an excellent decent CPU, can often be found for under $300. Pairing it with a decent AIO liquid cooler and a Z270 motherboard (i.e. ASRock Z270 Extreme 4) will allow it to achieve 4.9-5.0 GHz and push extreme framerates in games. However, the 200-series motherboards from Intel are not supported by Coffee Lake, so there is no upgrade path from there. Investing more and going straight for the i7-8700K would be the smarter choice here, if you can find one at an affordable price.
Speaking about platform cost: RAM prices are still the main reason PC gaming has become noticeably more expensive in the past year. Unfortunately, forecasts aren’t positive about 2018, so if you were hoping on waiting it out until the RAM prices drop, then we would recommend just going for it this Christmas.
Some decent discounts can be found on DDR4 memory, though. On Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2×8 GB sticks of decent G.Skill Ripjaws V series RAM could be found for only $140. It’s a 2800 MHz pack that would be perfect for both Ryzen and Intel. Basically any G.Skill or Corsair Vengeance memory for under $150 is a great deal today.
Graphics Cards: NVIDIA
It is a fact that Nvidia has ruled the GPU market in 2018. Despite AMD’s efforts with the RX 500-series and Vega, NVIDIA still managed to dominate the red team in most — if not all — segments.
Our hot take on the status of each NVIDIA graphics card:
- GTX 1050: Any model under $120 is a great deal. The 1050 is an extremely power-efficient card, so the cooler is not as important, even for the limited overclocking these chips offer.
- GTX 1050 Ti: Any model for under $140 is a great deal. The 1050 Ti is still not as affected by the cryptocurrency mining craze as the higher-tier models, so its prices have stayed more-or-less stable. A dual fan card is preferred, but not necessary.
- GTX 1060 and GTX 1070: These cards are still overpriced compared to their initial MSRPs. GTX 1060 6 GB models are often $280 or higher, but $250 can be considered a good deal for a card with two fans. As for the 1070 with its $380 MSRP… Anything over $400 is a bad deal.
- GTX 1080: With an MSRP of $500, the GTX 1080 offers the best price-to-performance ratio on the market right now. Keep an eye out for the MSI Duke, ASUS Strix and EVGA FTW2 cards, which are the best in their class.
- GTX 1080 Ti: The most powerful gaming card on the market right now. Here, anything with at least two fans for under $720 is a great deal. Keep a lookout for the MSI Duke, ASUS Strix and EVGA FTW3 cards.
Graphics Cards: AMD Radeon
When AMD released the RX 500-series, the RX 570 was considered the best-value graphics card available on the market. Since May 2017, though, everything changed. Ethereum exploded in popularity as a cryptocurrency and all RX 570s and 580s sold out or became painfully overpriced.
RX Vega, which was supposed to offer NVIDIA some long-needed competition in the high-end GPU space, was too little too late and its availability was hampered by HBM2 yields, among other factors. The prices are yet to settle down for both ranges of cards, so it is hard to recommend anything here.
- RX 570: Any model under $200 can be considered a great budget card. You’re highly unlikely to find that, though.
- RX 580: These cards could be found for under $300 recently, but that is still fairly expensive considering its MSRP of $230. Basically, anything for under $250 is a great deal, especially if paired with a FreeSync monitor.
- RX Vega 56: With an MSRP of $399, RX Vega 56 seems like a great deal. Unfortunately, these cards can hardly be found for this price. The reference cooler is also extremely poor in terms of both noise and temperature. But if that doesn’t scare you off, then a price of $410 would be the max we could recommend paying for a Vega 56.
- RX Vega 64: Do not pay more than the current MSRP of $499.
That’s it for our holiday 2017 PC hardware primer. Hopefully this brings you up to speed with the current state of things. On to (hopefully) greater availability and new releases in 2018!