The Mainstream & High-End Gaming PC Market
Let's move onto our mainstream $1,000 Gaming/Productivity PC. With this build, we start to see how AMD has absolutely taken over the mainstream market from Intel. While the Ryzen 5 2600X has similar single-threaded performance compared with the Core i5-4670K we recommended in 2014, it has twice the multi-threaded capability, thanks to offering 50% more cores plus AMD's version of Hyperthreading (called Simultaneous Multi Threading). AMD unleashed a core revolution in the mainstream segment, and now it would make no sense at all to buy a quad core in this price range. Absent AMD, we'd still all be buying $200+ quad-cores from Intel. Note that the Radeon R9 270X 2GB we recommended for this build back in 2014 was equivalent to the GTX 660 in our $750 build, and thus was likewise just half as fast as what you can get today for the same price. A doubling of speed over five years isn't bad, but that's definitely slower progress than we would have seen over the previous five years. Cards released in 2014 were typically three times faster than those released in 2009.
Note that SSDs did indeed exist in 2014, and with its combination of a Samsung 840 Evo 120GB and WD 1TB hard drive, the 2014 model could keep up with today's MX500-equipped system in basic OS tasks, but we'd still take the lower-capacity SSD-only system anyday!
One major trend we'll note here is that while optical drives were standard issue in 2014, in 2019 they are very niche, and most users simply will never use them, so we rarely recommend them anymore.
All right, now we get to our most popular, best-selling build ever, our $1,500 High End Gaming PC. Again, we aren't seeing dramatic improvements in CPU power: the Core i5-9600K is only about 20% faster than the Core i5-4690K we spec'd five years ago in single-threaded tasks, but having two extra cores and a better boost algorithm does allow it to offer nearly double the multi-threaded capability. And in truth, that makes all the difference, as most cutting-edge games today do indeed demand more than four cores. The storage system isn't dramatically different, as the 2014 had a 500GB MX100, which would still be respectable today, along with a 3TB hard drive. Today we go with a single 1TB SSD for overall better performance, and more importantly a whole lot less money.
And where does all that cost savings go? Into the GPU, of course. There's no doubt that GPU prices have skyrocketed over the past 5 years, so while the RTX 2070 8GB is just over twice as fast as the GTX 970 4GB, it's also 40% more expensive. Nvidia says you have to pay to play, and these days, what they say mostly goes. Here's hoping AMD can take the wind out of Nvidia's puffed-up sails soon!
The biggest difference between these two builds from our point of view is aesthetics: the RGB and tempered glass era has made PCs so much more interesting to look at then they were 5 years ago, and we welcome that change, given how the performance uplift has stagnated a bit during that time.
The $2,000 Premium Gaming PC has always been our personal favorite build, because at this pricepoint we've always been able to spec the ideal combination of powerful, quiet, and efficient components. Our January 2014 build would still put up a great fight today (in fact, we continue to run a Core i7-4770K in one of our personal test systems!), and while the GTX 780 3GB doesn't have quite enough VRAM to make it through modern games (a potential issue that Nvidia was likely aware of even back then), it's still on par with today's $150 budget gaming GPUs. Note that the RTX 2080 8GB is a whopping 3x faster than its predecessor the GTX 780, and while that may appear to be great progress over just three successive generations (780 to 980 to 1080 to 2080), the 2080 is also 50% more expensive. That means that over 5 years, the performance-per-dollar ratio has only increased by 2x, not 3x.
In terms of the CPU, today's Core i7-9700K is most definitely more capable than the Core i7-4770K, offering about 25% more single-threaded performance and about 70% higher multi-threaded performance. Oddly, Intel decided to strip its effective Hyperthreading tech from the eight-core 9700K, so it offers the same number of working threads as 2014's quad-core 4770K. Also keep in mind that it's about 20% more expensive than its older relative. Sadly, the RAM situation is even worse: would you believe that in 2014, you could get 16GB of RAM for less than it costs today?!? Yikes! Of course, today's RAM is twice as fast, but that doesn't translate into a PC that's twice as fast. We actually think the RGB lighting on today's Corsair RAM is what really sets it apart from what came before it.
One potential error in our guides in 2014 that we've addressed in 2019 is our power supply recommendations. It's not that there was anything wrong with the Seasonic X850 we spec'd in our 2014 build, in fact, it would still be a leading PSU put up against anything you can buy today. The problem was that it was way overpowered for the build, meaning it really wasn't money well spent. In part, we were leaving open the option for our readers to upgrade to dual GPUs in SLI without requiring a PSU upgrade, but that was a fairly niche market back then. Of course, today, SLI is pratically moribund, so we no longer over-spec PSU wattage in anticipation of users upgrading to SLI.
The most important difference between these two builds from our point of view is that the 2019 model has a 1TB PCIe-based SSD that offers 4x the capacity and 4x the speed as 2014's top 256GB SATA-based model, all for 50% less money. Now that's progress - Intel and Nvidia, are you listening?!?
One thing that's a little hard to see from a parts list is just how much better PC cases have gotten over the past 5 years. They really are more attractive, easier to work in, more durable, and also higher performance. To give you a quick perspective on where the PC case market is today and where it's going, flip over to the next page to see our interviews with several of the biggest names in PC case innovation!