Like an RGB-encrusted loot box carousel, the holiday season has spun around yet again. But, like a harbinger of anxiety, it also brings the difficult decision on what to get for the gamers in your life, or even what to snag for yourself. Have no fear, however, as we’ve got you covered with our series of gift guides for the 2017 holiday season.
For the Hardware guide, we’ve decided to go with those PC upgrades that will make the biggest difference to your gaming experience. All of these should be an easy upgrade without having to rip out the entire rig on the big day. If it’s software or peripherals that you’re after, we’ve got more gift guides coming soon.
Our list naturally includes a range of GPUs for sharper graphics, and SSDs to massacre those boot and load times with. We’ve also included other potent upgrades that are worth considering like RAM and sound cards, and even water cooling loops to keep your gaming rig quiet. And don’t forget, if you have your own suggestions then sound off and share them in the comments.
Solid State Drives
If your rig is currently running on a single mechanical drive, then one of the easiest upgrades you can make is upgrading to a solid state drive. This part - usually smaller than a deck of cards or even a pack of gum - transforms boot times from minutes to seconds. Install an MMO on the device, and you can be in-game in moments.
Our pick of the season has to be the Samsung 960 EVO. Over the last few years, the Korean giant has earned a reputation for providing good quality solid state drives at reasonable prices, and that continues with the latest series. As hardware editor Chris Coke described it, ‘Gamers looking for an upgrade should absolutely be considering the Samsung 960 EVO’.
That said, the 960 EVO requires a high-speed M.2 slot in order to perform at its best. For those machines without such a slot, or who have one of the early generation versions that don’t support the highest speed, a SATA or PCIe version will work better. It’s also possible to get an M.2 to PCIe bracket for about $20 to get additional flexibility.
Crucial are another contender in the SSD marketplace, and our review of the BX300 SATA drive revealed solid performance at a keen price point. While not as fast as the Samsung, this small box would be an easy upgrade for those looking to give a boost to an older machine.
Our recommendation is to go for capacity around the 500Gb mark, in order to provide plenty of space for Windows and a selection of your most popular games. Expect to pay around $150 for the Crucial BX 300 480Gb SATA version, and $250 for the higher-performing Samsung 960 EVO M.2.
Whether it’s NVidia or AMD, we’ve reviewed a mass of graphics cards or GPUs over the course of 2017. Prices have fluctuated wildly as well, mainly due to their secondary use for mining cryptocurrency, making price points and sweet spots even harder to predict long-term. In this area, I’d strongly suggest double-checking prices before ordering.
As a solid entry level, we’d suggest picking up a card similar to the Gigabyte Aorus 1060 for 1080p gaming. We’d also recommend the model with 6GB VRAM over the 3GB version, as the more capable card delivers consistently stronger performance for a small price difference. Expect to pay around $350 for this card, but it’s worth scouting around for the best deals.
Moving up the chain, NVidia’s 1070 Ti is a good consideration for those still rocking an older generation graphics card. Our tests of the Founder’s Edition showed ‘buttery smooth visuals at 1440p’, for not much more than the classic 1070. Even so, we’d recommend getting a generic third-party one at a lower price point (typically around $475), rather than the full heft of the Founder’s box. The entire 1070 Ti range don’t come with a factory overclock either, so your choice will mainly impact the cooling solution and post-purchase support.
Also, it’s worth keeping tabs on the price of 1080 cards like the EVGA SC2- this next segment up occasionally gets deep discounts or rebates that can make for a cheap jump from the 1070 Ti.
At the top of the line is NVidia’s GTX 1080 Ti. If you’ve taken the step up to gaming at 4K resolutions and want to crank everything up while maintaining decent frame rates, this is the card to go for. We’ve reviewed the Founder’s Edition, MSI DUKE, and ZOTAC AMP versions of the flagship and, while they’re all capable cards, the MSI edges it due to the better cooling system and factory overclock. Expect to pay around $750 for this slab of silicon, making it one extra special gift. We’d suggest checking your PSU before hitting the buy button though, as this monster of a card has some significant power supply demands.
If you’re looking for something a little more unusual, we also have a couple of quirky ideas up our sleeves. Firstly, for the budding streamer who’s looking to add console gaming to their repertoire, or possibly to offload the encoding and broadcasting to a second PC, we’d suggest the Elgato HD60 Pro. The firm has been involved in the streaming scene for several years with their hockey puck sized external devices, and this internal card gets around USB limitations. Normally $200, you can probably find a much keener price if you hunt around.
Sound cards are also starting to make a bit of a comeback, as gamers continue looking for ways to improve the experience. Audiophiles and those who use their PC for everything from Netflix to Pandora will particularly appreciate the bump, particularly when paired with good quality speakers or studio headphones. One example is the SoundBlasterX AE-5 (review coming soon), which provides 32bit audio, a discrete headphones amp, and more. Expect to pay around $150 direct from Creative Labs.
Finally, there’s one other gift that everyone might appreciate, and that’s a Closed Loop Cooler. These devices replace the existing air cooler bolted on the CPU, and use liquid to pump heat away from the processor and through a radiator to exhaust it. The completely sealed unit is straightforward and safe to fit, resulting in a cooler and quieter PC. The size and style of case, and the processor and motherboard will all have an impact on the cooler you need, but both NZXT and Corsair offer a range of models to suit most configurations. Expect to pay around $150, depending on model.