About two months ago, I started working on a story about building a new PC in 2018. The whole point of that story was that the good times are here again. After the cryptocurrency debacle of 2017, prices have stabilized. Right now is a great time to build a PC.

And now it’s time for the next crisis.

Welcome to the our fall 2018 PC builders guide. Thankfully, the bulk of this story is still about how now is a great time for buying components. Competition is fierce in the CPU space, GPUs are affordable again, and RAM prices are … OK, well they’re still not great. But enough of the stars have aligned that I think that October and November are a great time to start getting parts for your rig or as gifts for a loved one.

In fact, you almost certainly shouldn’t wait because the clock is ticking. It is likely that in six months, no one’s going to feel great about building a PC. And that’s for one major reason: tariffs.

Also, keep in mind that I’m going to cite a lot of prices in this story, and they are current as of the time of publication in early October 2018.

Trade wars are dumb

Prices are going to increase. That’s all you really need to know. President Donald Trump loves tariffs, and no matter how slowly people explain to him that they’re bad, he keeps coming back to them. Oh, and tariffs are awful. That’s not a political stance — it’s a factual one.

The president likes to say that he’s putting tariffs “on China.” But a tariff is a tax paid by the importer when a consumer good reaches customs. The importer, by definition, is in the United States. They write a check to the U.S government to pay for that import tax. But now their costs have gone up, and they still have to make their profit margin. And to pay for that, prices go up until they reach the consumer — so tariffs are effectively a sales tax.

Sure, these tariffs should hurt China somewhat. If Chinese goods cost more, people will seek out alternatives. And that’s great … if the goal is to hurt China. And it definitely seems like that is the mission. If the win condition is anything else, like bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., tariffs are unlikely to work. Instead, the money that companies would put into innovation, they will probably start spending on investigating ways to circumvent the import tax.

Should you hold off on building a PC until the tariffs go away?

So prices will go up, and innovation will go down. But it’s just temporary, right? Once China starts treating America fairly, won’t PC component prices go back to normal?

Maybe, but that’s not a guarantee. We have a habit of holding onto tariffs long after we lose the reason we wanted them in the first place.

For example, we still have a 25-percent tariff on light trucks from 1968. Tariffs are difficult to get rid of because they are bargaining chips. When we attempt to get rid of tariffs, we often try to get something in return from the countries they affect. So maybe the tariffs will go away next year … or maybe we’ll still have to deal with them decades from now.

I know I’m skirting into fearmongering territory. And that’s not great when my answer to that is to tell you to run out and spend your money now. Think about your own situation, and do what’s best for you. But tariffs are coming, and prices will go up, according to what many manufacturers told hardware news site Gamers Nexus. And the one thing that no one knows is when the prices will return back to today’s normal — or even if they ever will.

How to build a PC today

With the grim tidings out of the way, let’s get into the process of building a PC today. The good news is that you can still build a really decent PC for about $850, but you just have a lot fewer options to get to that price while getting the most power possible. On the high end, you can quickly end up with a machine that costs $2,000-to-$3,000 depending on some key choices you make along the way.

I designed two machines with the goal of using them as test benches going forward for the Intel and Ryzen platforms. And that put them both squarely on the high-end of the spectrum. But I’ll talk about the best places to make sacrifices while still getting the best machine you can afford.

Click through to the next page to see what we built.

The Intel machine

Click here to get the PCPartPicker list with up-to-date best prices.

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-8086K 4GHz 6-core processor – $440
  • CPU cooler: NZXT — Kraken X72 — $190
  • Motherboard: NZXT N7 — $238
  • Memory: HyperX Fury 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 RAM — $175
  • Storage:
    • Boot drive: Intel Optane 800p 58GB M.2 — $124
    • Fast file drive: Intel QLC SSD 660p 512GB M.2 — $100
    • Steam drive: Seagate Barracuda 2TB 3.5″ 7200RPM — $60
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti 11GB Founders Edition — $1,200
  • Case: NZXT H700 — $150
  • Power supply: NXZT E 650W 80+ Gold Certified — $140

Total: Approximately $2,810

The AMD Machine

Click here to get the PCPartPicker list.

  • CPU: Ryzen 7 2700x 3.7GHz 8-core processor — $295
  • Gigabyte Aorus X470 Ultra Gaming ATX AM4 — $130
  • Memory: HyperX Fury 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 RAM — $175
  • Storage:
    • Boot and file drive: Samsung 970 Evo 500GB M.2 SSD — $148
    • Steam drive: SanDisk Ultra 3D 1TB SSD — $160
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 8GB Founders Edition — $800
  • Case: Cooler Master MasterCase H500M ATX Mid Tower — $210
  • Power supply: EVGA SuperNova G3 850W 80+ Gold Certified Fully Modular ATX PSU — $106

Total: Approximately $2,015

How to pick your parts

Those are both powerful setups, and they have a lot of stuff that is more than you need or more money than you should pay (or both). It’s important to note that the prices above are current as of the time publishing. I’ve also seen many of these prices go up over the last month.

But let’s dive into both of these machines, why they’re great, and how you can get them down to $1,000 or so. If you are playing along at home, you should use PCPartPicker.com. It’s a great tool for tracking prices and ensuring you don’t have any compatibility problems between components.

Picking a CPU

This is the brain of your machine, and the competition in this space is the reason that building a PC is so great right now. You can make a decision about what kind of rig you want, and then Intel and AMD should have a great chip for you across a variety of prices.

But for our purposes, I’m going to assume that you either want to spend most of your time gaming with some productivity on the side or you want to do productivity with some gaming on the side. That’s the biggest fork in the road when it comes to CPUs, and it’ll determine what you need to prioritize.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • For a primarily gaming PC: Go Intel
  • For a video/photo/3D editing and modeling PC: Go with AMD

Intel’s latest CPUs are great for productivity, but AMD’s are noticeably better. AMD’s CPUs are great for gaming, but Intel’s are better.

So let’s say you’re going gaming and start with that.

High-end Intel: Intel i7-8086K (i7-8700K)

Price: $440 (8700K is $380)

For our rig, I went with the Intel i7-8086K primarily because that’s what Intel could send us. I requested the similar i7-8700K, but both of these are the current high-end of what Intel would consider its gaming chips. The 8086K is basically an overclocked 8700K. The other big difference is that you can get an i7-8086K right now, but retailers only have a limited supply of the more affordable 8700K.

The reason I wanted an 8700K/8086K is because they should eliminate the potential for CPU bottlenecks when testing other hardware like the new RTX cards. These are also fast chips with 6 cores and 12 threads. That makes them great for something like livestreaming while gaming at the same time. It’s also the reason that they have respectable performance when rendering video in Adobe Premiere or in similar tasks.

For a $1,000 rig: Intel i5-8400

Price: $226

But you don’t need to spend more than $400 on a CPU to get great gaming performance or even to livestream and game at the same time. Intel’s i5-8400 is a wonderful alternative. It is a 2.8GHz 6-core processor, and it boosts up to 4GHz. So while it’s slower than its i7 counterparts, it does well with multithreaded applications.

In terms of value, however, you can’t beat the i5-8400 at the moment. It’s affordable and easy to find, and it is a gaming heavyweight at a much more mainstream price.

High end AMD: Ryzen 7 2700x

Price: $300

You can still get great gaming performance from a Ryzen 7 2700x. In my testing, it’s never as fast as the i7, but that’s not a noticeable detriment. The biggest problem is that the 2700x can chug when rendering a game at 4K, and that’s disappointing. But most people don’t game on 4K monitors, so it’s not a real-world problem.

The 2700x shines when it comes to all of those productivity applications. If you render a lot of video, for example, the 2700x could save you a significant amount of time. And that’s why I would recommend this chip to content creators who aren’t ready to jump into the exciting and expensive world of AMD Threadripper.

For a $1,000 (or less) rig: Ryzen 5 2600

Price: $200

The Ryzen 5 2600 debuted just a few months ago, and it helped bring AMD’s mainstream chip offerings in line with the Intel i5. And as is the case for everything AMD vs. Intel, the 2600 isn’t quite as great for gaming but it’s still more than solid for productivity.

With 6 cores and a 3.4GHz clockspeed, this Ryzen 5 is in the sweet spot for price-to-performance. And the best news is that you can often find it on sale in the $165-to-$170 range, which makes it hard to pass up.

Cooling a CPU

For the Intel machine, I went with the Kraken X72 360mm all-in-one liquid cooler. It uses a self-contained fluid to keep the CPU at a consistent temperature. The liquid carries the heat off to a massive 320mm radiator where three fans draw or push the heat away. It’s sturdy, quiet, and attractive. It also fits into the NZXT aesthetic of the motherboard, case, and PSU cables.

For the AMD machine, I went with the stock cooler. I like the AMD branding, which is weird. But I’m not going to fight it.

For a $1,000 rig, you can just use the stock cooler. The i5-8400 can maintain performance during heat spikes. The Ryzen 5 2600 will struggle with that very slightly. If you want extra cooling, you should definitely start with the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo tower cooler for $28. It’s affordable, effective, and quiet. It’s hard to beat.

Picking a GPU

Your video card is where you can make the biggest dent to both the price of your rig and, naturally, your gaming performance. Thankfully, you have a lot of options with the exception of the highest-end cards. And unlike the CPU, where you have to make a decision based on what you plan to do, you should just buy the best possible GPU that you can afford. Just keep in mind that at a certain point, the increased price does not mean you are getting equivalent performance leaps.

The most powerful GPU: Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti

Price: $1,200

The most powerful consumer graphics card ever made just launched in September. Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is a juggernaut that can handle any game you throw at it. It also makes gaming in 4K at 60 frames per second with ultra settings viable on one card for the first time ever. I love this card — although I don’t know if it’s worth the price just yet. A lot of what you’re paying for is the RTX technology, which most game makers don’t really support yet. RTX, which is Nvidia’s branding for the ray tracing light-rendering tech, is coming. But until it’s in more games and has proven it makes a difference, it’s not a reason to buy the GPU.

But you simply cannot get a better video card for gaming, and it definitely earns its spot alone at the top of its class.

A GPU for a $1,000 rig: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070

Price: $400

If you are trying to build a gaming PC for around $1,000, I think the best GPU you can get at the moment is the GTX 1070. This is powerful enough card to play games on high settings at 1440p and at more than 100 frames per second. It also has enough processing power to spare to handle games for the next three to four years.

If you pair this with the i5-8400 or the Ryzen 5 2600, you’ll still have enough money left over to get everything else you need (except for a keyboard, mouse, and monitor). I’ll cover everything else that you’ll need for that rig in a section below.

Finally, your budget may fluctuate between $800 and $1,200, and every dollar extra in this range needs to go toward your GPU. In the $800 range, you’ll probably have to settle for an Nvidia GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 580. If you have $50 or $100 extra to get up to $1,100 or $1,150-plus, you could upgrade from the 1070 to the 1070 Ti or even a 1080. If you can afford it, do so.

Picking everything else

Motherboard

Motherboards are easy to take for granted. And given how many variations they come in, it’s simpler to just pick one without putting too much thought into it. What you really need to understand is that certain CPUs will only work with specific motherboards. And better motherboards will get better performance out of the same components.

For the Intel machine, I picked the NZXT N7 Z370. It’s a solid board for overclocking, has plenty of USB ports, and looks stylish as heck. At $250, it’s expensive — especially without built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. But overall, the N7 is impressive considering this is NZXT’s first motherboard ever. NZXT is best known for making cases and coolers, but it is trying to expand after building a strong reputation. And if it’s starting here, I would expect it to only get better and more affordable in the future.

For a $1,000 rig

The Intel Z370 chipset is for high-end motherboards to work in conjunction with high-end CPUs. If you are building something for less than $1,000, you’ll want to go with Intel’s B360 mainstream option. You can get the MSI B360-A Pro for $70. It isn’t made for overclocking, but it can take full advantage of the i5-8400.

For AMD, you can get the equivalent MSI B350 PC Mate to work with your Ryzen 5 2600.

Memory

When it comes to memory, you’ll want to get DDR4 RAM. If you’re wondering how much you’ll need, it’s pretty simple:

  • 4GB will work in many games, but expect to get frustrated with your machine’s performance.
  • 8GB is enough for most games, but you’ll struggle to run much else in the background. It will do in a pinch — especially if you need to save money to get a better GPU.
  • 16GB is ideal. Only terribly optimized games will need more than this, and you can still run things like Discord and maybe even a few Chrome tabs in the background.
  • 32GB and more is only for folks making videos and people who are mad at PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. If you are working with 4K video footage in Premiere, you’ll want as much RAM as you can get. But this is overkill for gaming.

If you’re wondering about speed, it’s a bit more complicated. Let’s make it simple. Faster RAM is beneficial up to a point, and it make a bigger difference with an AMD CPU. You don’t need anything faster than 3,200 MHz, and you can probably overclock 2,666 MHz to get close to that threshold.

With that in mind, we reached out to HyperX about its latest line of Fury memory modules, and it sent us 32GBs of DDR4-3200 RAM. We put 16GB in the Intel rig and 16GB in the AMD system. These cost about $170 for 16GB. Memory is still really expensive at the moment even if those prices are starting to come down.

The HyperX memory, at least, is very fast and seems to perform near the top of its class. It’s what I would recommend.

For a $1,000 rig, I recommend 16GB. You can do the G.Skill Aegis DDR4-2666 in a 2x8GB package for $115, for example. You’ll give up some speed, but that’s not something you’re going to notice. And having the 16GB is far more important. The only reason I would consider going with 8GB instead of 16GB is if it means you can act on a sales price for something like a 1080 Ti. You can always download more RAM! OK. Not exactly, but RAM is easy to upgrade. Just make sure you get the same speed (and probably just get the same make and model to avoid problems).

Storage

This is another reasons why building a PC is so great right now. Storage is faster and more affordable than ever, and the technology is also seeing some rapid innovation.

For our Intel rig, I am using an Intel Optane 800p memory module as the boot drive. It’s only 58GB, which isn’t great — but its hyper-low latency makes Windows fly and it should maintain read/write reliability far longer than most other drives.

For AMD, the boot drive is the excellent Samsung 970 Evo, which has 500GB of storage. It’s not as fast as Optane, but it’s still speedy compared to a SATA SSD. The 970 Evo is an M.2 form factor that uses the NVME connection standard that is capable of handling the full throughput of an SSD.

For file and game storage, I’m planning to try out the Intel 660p SSD once I get my hands on one. That’s Intel’s SSD that uses a faster tech than what’s in most other SSDs. It has some drawbacks, but for most people, it should run much quicker. But then I’m using a Seagate 2TB 7200 RPM drive to store my games.

For a $1,000 rig, you’ll still want an SSD for your boot drive. The ADATA Ultimate SU800 with 512GB capacity is $79. You can then add a 2TB Hitachi Ultrastar drive on top of that for $56. This isn’t as fast as NVME or Optane, but you can’t beat this price-to-performance ratio when you look at the historical costs of an SSD and HDD combination.

Case

The case is the thing you’re see every day, and that’s why NZXT is such a dominant force in this space right now. NZXT has had beautiful design for years. For our Intel build, I went with its H700 because I think it’s gorgeous. Also, NZXT said it would send it over to work with its large X72 cooler. I also love a PC case that has some USB 2.0 connections on its front panel.

For the AMD build, I went with the bolder design of Cooler Master’s H500M. That case has glass everywhere, incredible cable management, and built-in RGB LEDs on its massive intake fans. It’s also great at pushing fresh, cool air across the CPU. That’s important because I am only using the 2700x’s stock cooler.

For a $1,000 rig, you’ll have a ton of options. If you want something sleek and modern, NZXT’s H500 is $70 and awesome. I also like the Cooler Master MasterBox 5, which is also $70.

Power supply

For the PSU, you want to emphasize noise, efficiency, and cable management. In the Intel machine, I finished up with an NZXT E 650W PSU. It’s 80+ Gold Certified, which means it won’t waste too much of its power at 20%, 50%, and 100% of total load. That means if my machine is idling and drawing around 130W, the NZXT E650W won’t waste more than 25W to heat. That efficiency helps it stay cool, which in turn keeps it quiet.

For the AMD machine, I’m using an EVGA SuperNova G3 850W. It’s also 80+ Gold certified.

If you rarely turn off your PC, you should get an 80+ Gold or Platinum PSU. You also should avoid cheap PSUs in general. And if you want to minimize the number of cables in your rig, go with something modular so you can use only the cords you need.

For a $1,000 rig, go with the awesome Corsair TXM Gold 550W. It’s normally $76, but you can get it with a $20 mail-in rebate.

Next, let’s take a look at how to build a PC rig for around $1,000 and what you might be able to build for $1,000 six months from now.

The $1,000 rig

OK. So we’ve talked about the high-end machines and what you would need to build a more affordable alternative, but let’s take a look at that build:

Click here for the PCPartPicker list.

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-8400 2.8GHz 6-core processor – $226
  • Motherboard: MSI B360-A Pro – $80
  • Memory: G.Skill Aegis 16GB DDR4-2666 – $115
  • Storage:
    • Boot and file drive: ADATA Ultimate SU800 512GB – $79
    • Steam drive: Hitachi Ultrastar 7K3000 2TB – $56
  • GPU: MSI GeForce GTX 1070 8GB – $390
  • Case: NZXT H500 – $70
  • Power supply: Corsair TXM Gold 550W – $76

Total: $1,090 ($1,041 with $50 in rebates)

Thanks to PC Part Picker for helping to pick out the above list. This is basically its October Intel build. But you kinda can’t do better than this build at this price, and that’s the problem.

Building a $1,000 rig six months from now

Let’s end this guide by getting back to the bad news. Tariffs are going to raise prices 10-to-25 percent almost across the board. That means, no matter what, you’re going to get less power for your money. And if you don’t have the money to add 10-to-25 percent to your budget, you’re going to have to make cuts to what your rig.

If the above $1,000 rig is what’s possible now, here’s what’ll be able to get for about the same budget six months from now (assuming a uniform 20 percent price increase across all components):

Click here for the PCPartPicker list.

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-8400 2.8GHz 6-core processor – $226
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte B360M DS3H Micro ATX – $66
  • Memory: G.Skill Aegis 16GB DDR4-2666 – $115
  • Storage:
    • Boot and file drive: TCSunBow – X3 240GB SSD – $38
    • Steam drive: Hitachi Ultrastar 7K3000 2TB – $56
  • GPU: MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB – $280
  • Case: Cooler Master MasterBox Lite 3.1 Micro ATX Mid Tower – $40
  • Power supply: Corsair TXM Gold 550W – $76

Total as of today: $894.62

Everything else being equal, and only dealing with the effects of tariffs, you’d have to spend approximately $1,090 in six months for a PC that costs $894.62 today. That’s not the end of the world, and it’s in line with what people in a lot of Europe or Australia have to pay for PC components. But they also get single-payer healthcare, so let’s call it even.

For now, it’s still a great time to build a PC. That’s going to end soon, so if you want to build a PC, you need to do it now.