Ok if you are unlucky like me and your monster PC of the last six years literally blew up (ok the actual fish tank it was in cracked but that another post 🙂
So what if you want a great PC and want it for the holidays. What should you get? First of all, why are the aspirations in gaming these days? Well, there are four big one's, in order of doability:
- 4K at 60 Hz gaming or 1440p120. The first 8K TVs are out yes but we’ve reached the sweet spot for 4K gaming. It requires a monster graphics card to do this. You need an nVidia 2070 at least. or drop to lower resolution and the higher frame rates. Personally,since I like single player, I’d rather get the high image quality and don't need 120fps for instance, although we have a screen that can do 144fps at 1080p and is nVidia sync compatible.
- HDR gaming. This is a higher color quality image. So blacker darks, some video experts say it matters more than resolution. That means a monitor that supports HDR input.
- Variable refresh rates. The standards are emerging here but HDMI 2.1 and FreeSync monitors now work with nVidia drivers. This means no more stuttering when the card does slow down
- Ray tracing. The hardest to get done but this makes lighting really work well from fire to the glint and reflections. It’s super performance-intensive and really needs the very highest end nVidia 2080 Ti at an eye-melting $1,100 per card to take advantage. Not many games have it, but there are more coming and hopefully, they will be as amazing as Call of Duty Modern Warfare. You could, of course, step down a bit to the 2080 Super which works with say 1440p (aka 2.5K displays).
But shouldn’t I wait?
As usual, waiting is always out there. For instance, if you can stand it, the upcoming xBox and PlayStation 5 will add ray tracing and they already do 4K but there’s nothing like an open PC for the max power. Although if you want both the PS5 and xBox Scarlett will have it next year. Also next year Intel finally breaks the 14nm barrier that is Coffee Lake and AMD moves to Zen 2+.
Going now for a sweet spot ready to run PC for $2K
Ok, this is the highest performance at a semi-reasonable price, particularly on Black Friday. This rig normally costs $3k but you can get it for less than $2K all in if you act this weekend. And the gamer PC market is doing pretty well with entrants from Alienware, Cyberpower and Omen.
Not everyone wants to build their own computer. If you get one from a PC vendor than you get a one year warranty (which becomes a year longer if you are lucky enough to have an Amex Platinum Card. That’s a $100 value!).
HP Omen makes decent gaming machines and Dell Alienware has overclocked machines and they are running unbelievable discounts. Right now here are the recommended parts if you are doing looking at computer and what you should consider:
- Chassis. The case is the often neglected component but a good case will last forever particularly if you DIY. In this case (no pun intended!). The Aurora R8 is on closeout. It’s too less futuristic than the R9 but retains the same you can get to all the components without taking it all apart. It’s a step up from tool-less chassis.
- Intel Core i7 i9700k. This is the 14nm Coffee Lake processor with 8 cores. It’s unlocked so if you buy from the right folks you can get up to 4.6Ghz across all cores. The more expensive i9 9900k is about 5% faster but costs $200 more. For most games, you don’t need that much CPU, but this is going to do very well for CPU intensive things.
- 16GB DDR4-2993. The default is 2400 but the faster the ram the better the performance. The DDR4-2900 is in the sweet spot again although if I could build one you can get 3200 or even 3600 for a reasonable price. Most games don’t need more than 16GB and if you get 2x8GB then you can get to 32GB. This is one place you can skimp a bit to get a better video card.
- 512GB SSD. If you are getting a prebuilt one, then having a little more RAM makes sense. For me, 512GB is about right assuming you don't have a zillion games if you do, the cheapest thing to do is to get a pair of 3TB hard disks and have them in RAID0. This assumes you don't really have much content you care about as everything has a single point of failure. If you are going to use this for general purposes as well, make sure your documents are backed up into the cloud. For instance, Gsuite for $12/month gives you unlimited storage (and you can use for hard drive backups too, but that's another story). Right now, again, I would skimp on the SSD to get a better video card.
- 850-watt power supply. This is one area where people definitely skimp too much, a blown supply is very common and you have to plan for the decline in power ability, the rule of thumb is that you want 50% more power, so if your system draws 600W, you want 900W supply. The easiest way to size this is to put the build into PC Park Picker to get a quick and dirty estimate for you what you need. In this case, it's about 525W peak, so 850W is good.
- nVidia RTX-2080Ti. All the above components fit in the good tradeoff (i7 9700K) to skimp (512GB SSD and 16GB memory) just so you can somehow fit a $1,100 video card into the system. That's because it is your only hope of getting 60fps at 4K is to go graphics heavy. It will actually slow down a bunch, so make sure to get a Freesync capable monitor so that you won't get tearing of the image.
This machine lists for about $2,800-3K, so it is pretty expensive, but with this Black Friday stuff or when waiting for a sale, you can end up with a pretty good deal (or have a friend in the computer business who can help you out). Remember margins in the computer business are non-existent, so also check out brands that back up what they do with service. Ones I've seen be decent are the HP Omen, Dell Alienware and then there are niche players where you have to trust like Razer.
As an example, if you don't have a magical friend, here is a build that was available on Black Friday and how to get the best discount which basically involves
- Alienware base price $2800. It actually takes a lot of work to find the right configuration on their site, but I found the best deal by not getting their bundles but just building your own.
- Black Friday discount $440. That's actually a fairly common discount of 15% from the list price.
- Additional 12% off. This is stacked on top, so this gets you to $2,100
- Cashbackmonitor.com shows that you can another 2% by clicking through a rebate site.
- American Express Offers. They have a double your points promotion, so that is worth 2%. Also if you pay with Amex Platinum then you get an additional year warranty (these things don't really break, but it does cost about $50 to get another year).
- Sign up for Dell Rewards and get free expedited shipping saving $15 and unlike a personal build it does come with a crappy mouse and keyboard
- Then you will eventually get a Dell Rewards for another 1% so another $20.
As you can see shopping really does add up, so it net to about $2,016 and there is another $15 and $50 from not having expedited shipping and warranty which is 31% off. Not bad for a product with probably a 2% net margin for Dell 🙂 Of course, they are getting their components wholesale which is why this whole thing works, plus there is a warranty and they hopefully burned the thing in and you are saving your time.
But what if you want to build your own?
Well, I did a quick analysis of this and it is nearly the identical price, but the spec of the parts (unsurprisingly) is higher because you have to build it yourself and there is no warranty. So check out this untuned PC Part Picker build where the differences are:
- Instead of an Intel i9700, it uses the new AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, this is about 4% less performance, but much cheaper and makes room for a bigger graphics card since games are not typically CPU bound.
- DDR-4 3600 RAM. The other machine is more like a 2900DDR or if you get the HP, it is 2400DDR. So you should get a few percent with the higher specification memory.
- 1TB Evo Plus. This is a bigger and faster drive that you get with a DYI
- ASUS RTX 2080 RTX Strix. This is my favorite card, it is overclocked unlike the stock version and gets you a few more percent of frame rate.
- A really nice Corsair 750W power supply (the Zen 2 burns less because it is 7nm vs the 14nm of the Intel).
So this is a good alternative if you want to build something, but wait, if you really do want to build, then get the dream way in an upcoming post where you spend $6K to get literally a machine that could run an entire country 🙂
Getting a Dream Monitor: LG B9 55"
We are at a good time to buy a monitor, the 4K revolution is mature and the 8K revolution is just starting. It's going to take a whole new level of processing to support 8K which is 4x more pixels or to translate that, you need roughly 4x 2080 Ti to run it or $4K in graphics cards 🙂 Now when getting a monitor here are the considerations and rtings.com is a great resource for this:
- 43-55" diagonal UHD 4Kp60. Most gamers are running really small at 1080p or 1400p because this gives you super-fast refresh rates which you need for twitch gaming when milliseconds count. Actually, for me, since I'm not ever going to be a good twitch gamer, I actually like first-person shooters which require some thinking and strategy. And that's why I love the single-player campaigns on things like Call of Duty Modern Warfare (the reboot, but also the original) or Battlefield 5. In those cases, you want a big screen to really be immersive. Five years ago, this would have involved say getting a pair of 1080p monitors and having them mounted together, but today thanks to the convergence, you can get a 43", 49" or even a 55" monitor that runs at 4Kp60 and it is really immersive. The big thing you give up is refresh rates, so get a smaller screen if you like twitch gaming
- Low lag times. Most modern televisions have a gamer mode that takes out the processing delays, this is great for twitch gaming.
- HDR and OLED. This is the latest trend which is to get truly rich colors so you want something that is HDR10. That means, an HDMI 2.x at least input
- HDMI 2.1 or VRR. The latest screens support variable refresh rates. In the old days, there was this conflict between nVidia GSync and AMD Freesync, but that has all been merged, so the latest graphics cards support Freesync. You do need an HDMI output that handles this so get a monitor with HDMI 2.1 and some commitment that they will support Gsync.
When you do all this and compare, there is basically one (very expensive monitor) that comes up as the winner, that is the LG B9 55 inch (manufacturers part number OLED55B9PUA(. This is an OLED 4K monitor that also has VRR and HDMI 2.1. They will even do a firmware update to support nVidia Gsync
It is ungodly expensive, but right now the 2019 model is at $1,100. If you are smart, you should buy this from a retailer in your area so you can return it or directly from Amazon for the same reason. There are lots of pixels in a 4K monitor and you want to be able to return on with dead pixels. And ( remember again to stack it, so if you get if from say Best Buy, then use a cashback rebate site to get another 2% and their Best Buy rewards is another 2%. As always consider using your American Express Platinum to get a year-long extension to the warranty.