$3,500 Build

If you're looking for the ultimate gaming PC, then this build's for you. Sure, you could spend more, but in most games, you simply won't see better performance than what this system can provide. It's a showcase of the very best tech available in PC gaming today. But we'll be honest with you - this build isn't about delivering bang for the buck - turn to our other build guides for that. Nope, this system delivers something a bit different: flat-out extreme performance.

For January 2017, we continue to recommend the Intel Core i7-6850K Broadwell-E CPU, which offers six cores and significant overclocking headroom, the perfect combination for the latest games, including Battlefield 1, which we've found is massively multi-threaded. Of course, you also need ample graphics power, and that comes courtesy of dual GTX 1080 8GB video cards in SLI. Don't think SLI is for you? Well, then you owe it to yourself to check out our newest Gamer's Bench article, pitting the GTX 1080 in SLI against the Titan X Pascal! There's just no question that 1080 SLI delivers!

In other news, we've made a few updates to the build based on new product releases and price drops. First, we now recommend the EVGA Platinum-rated 1000W power supply we use in our own GTX 1080 SLI rig. Second, we moved on from the Samsung 950 Pro 512GB, which has been discontinued, and opt instead for the brand-new Samsung 960 Evo 500GB, which offers the same performance for a lot less money. This will be where you'll load your OS and your favorite apps and games. For storing other data, we suggest using the mid-range Crucial MX300 1TB SSD, which offers amazing value in terms of both capacity and performance per dollar. A blazing-fast applications drive and speedy data drive make a great pair. Trust us on this: you're going to enjoy not using any hard drives in your system! That being said, if you need more than 1.5TB of total storage, we suggest an optional 4TB hard drive you can add as well.

Feel free to stop by our Reader Forum to share ideas about this build. And for extra help, follow our step-by-step Guide to Assembling an Ultra-High-End PC, which will walk you through the process of building a system a lot like this one. To see previous Ultimate Gaming PC builds, flip to the $3,500 Archive, and if you want to see how this build compares to all our other builds, check out the new TBG PC Build Comparison Page. By the way, if you're looking for a new 144Hz, ultra-wide, or 4K monitor to go along with your PC, check out our Monitor Buyer's Guide, and if you need some new gaming gear, see our Peripherals Buyer's Guide and Speaker/Headset Buyer's Guide for all the latest and greatest gaming accessories. Because we use real-time pricing engines, you'll always see up-to-date U.S. prices in our guides. We also provide direct links to Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, and Amazon Germany for each product, making regional substitutions when necessary. To help support the continued development of this guide, please use the links we provide if you purchase products we recommend.

The $3,500 Ultimate Gaming PC - January 2017

    CPU:

    Intel Core i7-6850K

    There is simply no better ultra-high-end gaming CPU than the Core i7-6850K. Featured six cores running at 3.6GHz, with Turbo to 4.0GHz, this Broadwell-E chip can handle the most demanding tasks, offering performance that's about 8% faster than the previous-gen Core i7-5930K on a clock-for-clock basis, while being much more efficient.

    The Guru's Tip:

    The main difference between the 6850K and the less expensive Core i7-6800K comes down to PCIe lanes. The 6850K enables 40 lanes (x16, x16, x8), versus the 28 lanes (x16, x8, x4) provided by the 6800K. When using one video card, that doesn't matter, but because this system uses two cards, you want as much bandwidth as you can get, as we found in our Z170 vs. X99 SLI comparison. Going with the 6850K also leaves you plenty of PCIe lanes for a high-speed SSD, which we recommend for this build.

    Motherboard:

    Asus ROG Strix X99 Gaming

    This new X99 release from Asus builds on the success of its X99 line and adds next-gen components worthy of a Broadwell-E system. This includes onboard U.2 / M.2 slots, dual-stream 802.11ac wireless networking, and USB 3.1 Type C. It also features Asus Aura, a controllable RGB onboard lighting system. And this board delivers in the sound department too, with SupremeFX Audio and premium Japanese capacitors.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that many motherboards released alongside Intel's Broadwell-E processor lineup feature an unusual arrangement of both an 8-pin and a 4-pin CPU power connector, which provide added stability for overclocking the monster 10-core i7-6950X. While that kind of power isn't needed for this build, you still need to connect both power inputs to your power supply. Luckily, the high-end PSU we recommend later on this page has two 4+4-pin connectors, providing the capacity and flexibility to power up this board!

    Video Card:

    Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 8GB G1

    The 1080 brings new meaning to the word fast. Based on our latest in-depth benchmarks testing a wide array of games at 4K, running two GTX 1080 cards in SLI provides nearly 30% higher performance than the $1,200 Titan X Pascal, despite the similar price. While the GTX 1080 hit the market in late May, various models continue to sell out on a regular basis. Luckily, you can now get this premium factory-overclocked version at a big discount versus the original $700 Founders Edition.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Custom-cooled GTX 1080 models like this one can run at more consistent clocks than the Founders Edition due to lower operating temperatures. Just keep in mind that every review so far has shown that the top overclock on a GTX 1080 is 2114MHz, regardless of cooler. This clockrate is GPU limited, not power or temperature limited.

    Video Card:

    Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 8GB G1

    Two 1080s in SLI is what will help you achieve gaming nirvana! To set up SLI, we recommend you install one card first, run through your whole OS and driver installation. Then, once everything is set, shut your system down and install the second card, along with the power cables that come with the power supply and the SLI bridge, and restart your system. Nvidia's drivers should do the rest, but you can always confirm this by open up the driver control panel and checking to see that SLI is enabled.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that SLI will work fine with the SLI bridge included with the motherboard, but you'll get a serious boost if you use the HB SLI bridge described below.

    Cable:

    EVGA SLI HB Bridge (1-slot spacing)

    Nvidia has released a new high-bandwidth SLI bridge specification for Pascal-based cards. It increases the link from single to dual, and increases the speed of each link from 400MHz to 650MHz, boosting overall speed from 400MHz to 1300MHz. And that all means one thing in the end: ultra-smooth SLI performance! While demand for these bridges has outstripped supply for months, EVGA's model is finally available in quantity. In addition to high-bandwidth specs, it has the added benefit of user-selectable white, green, blue, or red LED lighting. Read all about the performance boost it provides in our new hands-on 1080 SLI benchmarks!

    The Guru's Tip:

    With the motherboard we recommend for this build, you'll have one empty slot between the cards, translating to "1-slot" or "3-slot" spacing, depending on the brand. EVGA calls this a 1-slot model, whereas Nvidia calls it 3-slot spacing, so if you buy an Nvidia-branded bridge, it will need to be the 3-slot model. 

    Memory:

    Corsair 4x8GB Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200 White

    For the Ultimate Gaming machine, we go big time, with a high-end 32GB DDR4-3200 kit. It features four sticks running with 16-18-18 timings at 1.35V, providing you quad-channel operation for mind-blowing bandwidth. Based on our recent testing of the Broadwell-E platform, we've found that DDR4-3200 is the best fit for this build. This was not true of Haswell-E, which couldn't support this high speed quite as reliably.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that this kit will default to DDR4-2133 until the XMP profile is selected in the UEFI. By the way, we strongly discourage you from using DDR4-2800 or DDR4-3000 with this system, as it requires an odd memory ratio that throws off CPU overclocking.

    Solid-State Drive:

    Samsung 960 Evo 500GB PCIe NVMe M.2

    The brand-new 960 Evo offers amazing performance for the price, matching the previous king, the 950 Pro, despite a much lower price. The 960 Evo uses Samsung's 3D V-NAND design, the advanced PCIe interface for unmatched throughput, and the NVMe protocol for minimum overhead. In other words, it's ultra-fast. 

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that to install this drive, you'll need a jeweler's screwdriver. If you don't have one handy, pick up this Stanley screwdriver kit!

    Solid-State Drive:

    Crucial MX300 1TB

    We've moved to SSD-only builds for every single one of TBG's benchmarking systems, and the responsiveness and silence of SSDs truly makes a good system great. We're encouraging everyone building an ultra-high-end system today to assess their data storage needs, because we think that most people will realize that trading huge storage for much better performance is worthwhile.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This is currently the best 1TB drive for the money by far, and has a secret bonus: it's actually a 1050GB capacity model, marketed instead as a 1TB model to more closely align with the competition.

    Hard Drive (Optional):

    HGST Deskstar 4TB (Opt.)

    If you have serious media or data storage needs, you'll probably need a mechanical hard drive in your system. We recommend HGST's huge 4TB server-grade Deskstar model, which offers a market-leading combination of speed, capacity, and reliability.

    The Guru's Tip:

    We recommend using a hard drive only for data and media. Loading games off of a hard drive is much slower than loading them off of an SSD. That's why we recommend that most users equip this system with dual SSDs.

    Case:

    Corsair Obsidian 750D Airflow Edition

    The 750D offers a huge interior, sleek styling, and quiet operation, along with tons of airflow (hence the name). You simply cannot find a case that's a better fit for an extreme gaming rig. It has mounts for either a 240mm or 280mm liquid CPU cooler - we recommend a 280mm model in this guide. This case comes equipped with three 140mm case fans, the front two directly in line with the CPU and video cards. With its brushed metal exterior, the 750D Airflow Edition looks as good as it works!

    The Guru's Tip:

    We've found that cases with fully-meshed front panels are critical to keeping two high-powered video cards cool, which is why the Airflow Edition is a big step up from the original 750D in terms of cooling.

    Power Supply:

    EVGA Supernova PS 1000W

    An overclocked Core i7-6850K paired with two overclocked GTX 1080 cards will draw about 550-600W, which actually isn't all that much considering the power these components pack in. You can thank big efficiency gains achieved by both Intel and Nvidia in their latest chips. While that means you could get by with an 850W or even a 750W PSU in this system, they'd really be running at the ragged edge under load. Instead, we suggest this Platinum-rated fully-modular 1000W unit designed for EVGA by Seasonic. It offers fanless operation under almost all loads, along with amazing efficiency, peaking at above 92% with a 50% load (right around where this system will be running!).

    The Guru's Tip:

    This is the very unit we chose for our Ultra-High-End Benchmarking PC!

    CPU Cooler:

    Corsair Hydro H115i Liquid Cooler

    For a fire-breathing processor like the i7-6850K, you want extreme liquid cooling. With dual 140mm fans, the H115i is quieter and more effective than any dual-120mm model, and offers great customization options through the CorsairLink software package. It might just let you hit a serious 4.4GHz overclock on your CPU!

    The Guru's Tip:

    While every Corsair cooler comes with thermal paste pre-applied, it's always a good idea to use the best product available for something you won't be changing often. The options we recommend are Noctua NT-H1Arctic MX-4, and Gelid GC-Extreme. To remove pre-existing paste, just use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

    Optical Drive:

    LG 24x DVD Burner GH24NSC0B

    It's cheap and high quality, and makes the OS and other software installtion a whole lot easier!

    The Guru's Tip:

    After the departure of Sony and Samsung, LG is the last big company left in the optical drive business.

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10 Download

    Windows 10 has so many improvements versus both Windows 7 and Windows 8 that it alone will make your system feel more up-to-date. We particularly like the return of the Start Menu, the broader settings options, and the fact that it packs in DX12, which is already unleashing next-gen games with far greater complexity and performance. And Windows has just released its "Anniversary Update", with a host of new features.

    The Guru's Tip:

    While you can load this Windows 10 download onto any 4GB or larger flash drive you have available, we recommend using a fast drive, like this Transcend 8GB USB 3.1 model. Note that the PCIe-based SSD spec'd for this build requires that Windows be on a USB device in order to load onto the SSD. You cannot load Windows 10 from a DVD.