Build a 4K-ready PC

Build a 4K-ready PC

Summary: Want a PC that's capable of 4K gaming and be a total powerhouse no matter what task you throw at it? Read on ... but I warn you, the price tag will bring tears to your eyes!

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Want a PC that's capable of 4K gaming and be a total powerhouse no matter what task you throw at it? Read on.

Ever since a raft of affordable 4K displays – that is, panels that have a native resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels – were announced at CES earlier this year, there's been a spike in interest in PCs that are ready to take screen resolution to the next level. But 4K gaming is going to stress a PC like almost nothing else, and to be able to pump out this torrent of pixels, the PC is going to have to be built from top quality parts.

ASRock 990FX Extreme9
(Source: ASRock)

Let's take a look at what we need.

Processor

Right off the bat we're thrust into making a tough choice – do we go with Intel or AMD?

Here I'm going to go with the underdog and pick AMD silicon for the job. The processor I'm going for here is the AMD FX-9590 Black Edition. This is an 4.7GHz, 8-core CPU that's fully unlocked so you can overclock it to squeeze out even more power.

This is an amazing processor that you can pick up for $299.

Motherboard

We need an 990FX compatible motherboard to go with the processor, and while there are a few you can choose from, here I've gone for the ASRock 990FX Extreme9. Why? Well, there's a lot to like about this board.

  • 64GB RAM support
  • 8 x SATA 6Gb/s ports
  • 4 x USB 2.0, 4 x USB 3.0
  • Premium quality components
  • Support for NVIDIA 3-Way SLI and AMD 3-Way CrossFireX

It also looks great!

This board comes at a compelling price – only $170.

Graphics card

Here's where I start a war – Nvidia or AMD?

I've thought about this long and hard, weighted up a number of pros and cons and gone with an AMD GPU in the form of ASUS R9290X-DC2OC-4GD5 Radeon R9 290X. Why AMD? While there's benchmark evidence to suggest that Nvidia has faster GPUs, overall I prefer the stability and cooling offered by AMD's newer R9 cards.

We're also keeping the CPU and GPU matched.

A single card will set you back $750, but remember that you have the option of putting three of these inside this machine, which gives you an insane level of performance. But this does come with a price tag that will bring tears to your eyes.

Display

A 4K system needs a 4K display. I'm going to give you two options – jam today, and jam tomorrow.

  • If you want a 4K display today then go for the Dell UltraSharp 24-inch Ultra HD display. An absoutely stunning display that will set you back $1,299.
  • However, if you are willing to wait until April, then you can pick up the Lenovo ThinkVision Pro 2840m that only costs $799.

RAM

Two things you want from the RAM:

  • You need at least 8GB of the stuff
  • You want it to be DDR3 1866

I don't like my RAM to come with too much fanfare (or crazy coolers and the like) so I'd go for something conservative such as Kingston HyperX, which will set you, back around $100.

Storage

Only you know how much storage you need (and I bet you don't know how much you really need, which is why I recommend taking what you think you need and doubling it), but I'd recommend going with the following layout:

  • SSD boot drive – Something like the Samsung 840 EVO for $90
  • HDD storage drive – Like the Western Digital WD Black 2TB for $155

Power supply

We need something beefy here, especially if you think you might go as far as adding three Radeon R9 graphics cards.

I've chosen to go for the Zalman 1250 Platinum 1250W, which is not only a great PSU, but it is 80 PLUS Platinum certified, so you're getting an ultra-high power efficiency part, which reduces your power bills and doesn't harm the planet as much as an inefficient PSU.

This sort of output doesn't come cheap, and this unit will set you back $280.

Ancilliary

A few other bits:

  • Chassis – Budget $100
  • Windows 8.1 – That'll be another $100

Total cost

The total cost of this system comes in at $3,340, plus change. This is for a rig with a single Radeon R9 290X card and the Dell 4K display. Waiting until April and the price of this rig falls to $2,840 based on the change of display alone. The Lenovo display is nowhere near as good as the Dell display, but it does give you an extra $500 in your pocket. 

Topics: Hardware, Processors, Storage

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11 comments
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  • Thanks, Adrian!

    I will build one for each of my 4K giant screens!
    Bill4
    • yeah isn't the appeal of 4k is being able to use a giant TV style display

      not a PC style monitor?
      everss02
  • It's not really the sheer number of pixels anymore.

    The amount of power you need is not really based on the sheer number of pixels anymore. After all, 2x antialiasing is rendering a non-antialiased image at 4k and scaling it down.

    The power is needed more for pushing the large polygon counts, detailed textures, and complicated shaders in today's games.

    You even went Radeon because you preferred reliability over sheer power.

    And it should be noted that the monitor itself is a good chunk of the price tag - yikes!

    I think I'll wait until the price of the monitor goes down before even considering it.
    CobraA1
  • Don't use the SSD as a boot drive

    Use SSD caching to accelerate any data to the hard drive. The drive controller software is smart enough to figure out what you use most frequently and recently and cache it to the SSD automatically. The system will be far snappier more of the time that way.
    Joe_Raby
    • Interesting suggestion

      Joe: That is a "counter common knowledge" suggestion, but interesting. Sounds reasonable, do you have any empiric proof to support the suggestion?

      Adrian: could you give us the "why" of why you went with an AMD rather than Intel CPU? You for most of the other parts, why not for the core piece of the computer.

      For Intel "bigots", do you have an alternative CPU and Mobo suggestion?

      Since 4K is about graphics, do we really need an 8core CPU? Is the assumption that some of the graphics processing is being offloaded from the GPU(s) to the CPU?
      Ron_007
    • SSD caching?

      Are you referring to Intel SmartResponse? That won't work with his chosen AMD architecture. Or do you mean use a SSD/HDD hybrid drive? Either way, using a SSD for caching instead of as a dedicated drive has several advantages/disadvantages, "far snappier more of the time" is an inaccurate generalization.
      frylock
  • No Way!

    I have no problem with the R9-290x as it was near or at the top in most games and those games got even better when they went with Mantle!

    However, the 990FX is no match for the X79 boards.

    The SLI/Crossfire configuration on that board is 16/8/8 and the X79 is 16/16/8 so you'll get better performance out of your PC with more GPUs using the Intel based version.

    Also, the 6 Core i7's on the X79 will beat the 8 Core FX Processors in most tasks as well and both have Quad Channel RAM.
    slickjim
  • OpenGL?

    We have application that use OpenGL for graphics. Currently we use NVIDIA Quadro 6000 display adapter.
    As I understand it, Quadro (via DisplayPort) does not support 4K resolution.
    Any opinions how to correct this situation, in light of this article?
    Toweri
  • Dave

    Here is why this article is bad advice even if you prefer AMD over intel. The 9590 is essentially the same exact processor as the 8350 just factory overclocked. It also requires expensive motherboards. Save your money and get a better video card which you are going need to drive a high resolution screen especially if you play games.
    gwlaw99
  • Pretty nice setup

    As much as I love AMD the 9590... You can just get a 8350 and OC it the same way... Although I guess if you arent an OC person then its an easier way to reach the 4.7/5Ghz mark.
    Jimster480
  • Question for you

    In the last section, the statement that "The Lenovo display is nowhere near as good as the Dell display" confuses me.

    I am curious how this conclusion was reached when there is so little information available on the Lenovo Display available, and only a price mentioned in the piece itself.
    4k-monitor-q