SLIDESHOW

The best gaming rigs, the fastest graphics cards: PCWorld celebrates glorious PC excess

Consoles? Bah. You can only get this kind of over-the-top, downright EXCESSIVE firepower on PCs. Join us as we bask in the glory.

PC glory

Your console can't do this

Sad but true: Sony and Microsoft’s so-called next-generation gaming consoles don’t seem very next-gen at all, with a slew of top games locked at 30 fps and still struggling to hit even 1080p resolutions. Even entry-level PC graphics cards can pull that off.

But we’re not here to harsh on consoles. Instead, we're celebrating just how good we PC enthusiasts have it. All week long, PCWorld’s basked in glorious, face-melting excess that’s possible only on PCs: Breaking benchmarks with AMD and Nvidia’s top graphics cards, building audacious rigs, and showcasing graphically beautiful—and PC-punishing—games.

There’s truly never been a better time to be a PC gamer. Buckle up.

graphics cards amd nvidia
Brad Chacos

Graphics card slug-fest

But first, we wanted to lay an age-old question to rest: Team Red or Team Green? I subjected AMD and Nvidia’s most powerful single-GPU cards—the GeForce GTX 980 and 970, and AMD’s Radeon R9 290X and R9 290—to a marathon of testing.

Alas, the results are mixed. Nvidia’s new GeForce cards prevail in both performance and power efficiency, but AMD's Radeons offer better bang for buck and compelling extras—like the performance-boosting Mantle technology and a few free games. See the next slide for a development that furthered muddied the issues.

radeon r9 290x

AMD's premier graphics card plummets to $300

The very day our head-to-head-to-head-to-head published, the cost of Radeon R9 290X graphics cards plummeted even further, with some models dropping as low as $300—an insanely compelling sticker price.

To put that in perspective, the R9 290X—easily one of the most powerful graphics cards available today—was selling for $500 just a month ago, prior to the GTX 980 launch. And even at the lower prices, Radeon R9 290X cards are still eligible for AMD’s Never Settle game bundles. I can’t remember a flagship graphics card ever selling for such a low price.

pcw haswell ebuild
Brad Chacos

Building with only the best

With the graphics-card supremacy question semi-satisfactorily settled, we decided to build a rig that contains the best single components money can buy. Nvidia’s GTX 980 won our graphics card slugfest, and I paired that beating heart with the best set of computing brains available today: the Core i7-5960X “Haswell-E,” Intel’s first eight-core desktop CPU and an all-around beast.

The Haswell-E platform supports bleeding-edge DDR4 memory, and we loaded up the PC with 16GB of it. The rest of the PC is just as impressive—our build guide has full details, as well as a tutorial on how to assemble the rig.

pcw devils primary
Marco Chiappetta

Pure, face-melting PC gaming power

How do you follow that up? Simple: by building a rig designed purely around sheer gaming firepower. Marco Chiappetta crafted a blistering build centered around the Core i7-4790K, a “Devil’s Canyon” enthusiast chip that holds the crown as Intel’s single fastest-clocked processor ever. Completing the tag-team is AMD’s ludicrous Radeon R9 295X2, a gaming monster powered by not one, but two high-end “Hawaii” graphics processors.

This rig roars. Just how fast is it? You’ll have to read the full build guide for those details.

pcw amd build primary
Marco Chiappetta

AMD FTW

After two days of Intel builds, we decided to cap off our tinkering by constructing an ultimate AMD rig. Unlike Intel and Nvidia, AMD offers enthusiast-level processors and graphics cards.

Marco Chiappetta paired AMD’s flagship octa-core FX-9590 processor with a PowerColor R9 290X graphics card and even a Radeon-branded SSD to create one of the most powerful AMD rigs you can build today. There were water cooling loops everywhere. Hit up the complete walkthrough to see how AMD’s finest stacks up.

alienware graphics amplifier
Michael Brown

A desktop GPU for laptops

Alienware relaunched its iconic Area 51 desktop this week in a funky triangular new form factor—but the more interesting news was the Alienware Graphics Amplifier, basically a PCIe x4 slot in a box with an integrated 460W power supply. This bad boy’s whole reason for existence is to house a desktop graphics card that can supercharge your Alienware 13 laptop via a (ewwww) proprietary connector.

Yes, it sucks that the Alienware Graphics Amplifier won’t work with any laptop. But unlike previous attempts at “graphics box” accessories, this one’s not vaporware—it’s shipping now for $300. And the idea is just so cool.

witcher 2

Gorgeous, graphically punishing games

With graphical firepower this overwhelming at your fingertips, there’s only one thing left to do: Play some games! Hayden Dingman plopped the cherry on top of PCWorld’s week of glorious PC excess by rounding up 10 breathtakingly gorgeous PC games that will push your graphics card to its fullest potential. Will it run Crysis 3? If so, you’re in for delicious eye candy that living room consoles will never, ever be able to touch.