Build An Amazing GeForce GTX 970 PC For Under $1,000

GeForce Garage, Guides

These days, a $1,000 gaming PC hits the sweet spot in performance vs. value. And thanks to the mid-ranged budget, you’ll have access to the muscle-bound GeForce GTX 970, which is perfect for the hardcore gamer who’s looking for an affordable graphics card with blistering fast speed. Not only that, there are a lots of custom GTX 970’s to fit your needs, so no matter what your goal or specific requirements, your GPU will be up to the task (along with the rest of your new rig).

Even at higher resolutions such as 2560 x 1600, with anti-aliasing on high and the graphic settings maxed, a reference GTX 970 easily tops 30 frames-per-second in popular titles such as Battlefield 4, Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Thief, and many others. And the framerates only get smoother when you pick up a custom manufactured card with tweaked clock speeds and modified coolers.

Installing a GTX 970 brings the added benefit of the GeForce Experience Early Access Share Beta. With it, you can try out GameStream Co-Op and invite one of your pals into a game you’re currently playing, so they can see all your adventures unfold in real-time. You can also have them take the wheel and drive by granting direct control whenever you see fit, and in supported games, they can play alongside you as well.

The GTX 970 additionally supports DirectX 12, and it’s armed with the powerful Maxwell architecture. That means you’ll get VXGI (Voxel Global Illumination), MFAA (multi-frame anti-aliasing), DSR (Dynamic Super Resolution), NVIDIA G-SYNC, and much more.

That said, as awesome as the GTX 970 is, it’ll still need a proper home to operate and thrive in. That includes a spacious case, a fully featured motherboard, a strong CPU (and CPU cooler), a respectable helping of RAM, a rock-solid power supply, and lots of precious storage for all your games and multimedia. But with so many parts available, where do you start? Which ones should you get? Don’t worry, we’ve tackled all that for you, and saved you a boat-load of time in the process. As an added bonus, the configuration we’ve put together meets the minimum specifications for the Oculus Rift.

Those of you with sharp eyes might notice that we’ve picked a processor, mobo, and memory from the last generation of hardware, but the performance from these parts is still topnotch, and the prices are just too good to pass up. If you’re dying to get your hands on DDR4 RAM and a bleeding edge Skylake Intel CPU such as the Core i7-6700K, you’ll need to start stashing away some extra cash.

Even if you’ve never touched a screwdriver or picked up a handful of motherboard stand-offs, building a PC isn’t all that tough, so long as you’ve got the right instructions. There are numerous tutorials out there, and GeForce Garage boasts quite a few of them. In as little as a few hours (often much less), you can have your brand-new PC powered up and primed for action. And, as opposed to the likes of the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you can easily upgrade or change out the hardware whenever you desire. With the GTX 970 humming away, you can additionally take advantage of GeForce Experience’s one-click optimizations and custom sliders to manipulate your in-game settings.


The Build

Component Product Price*
Graphics Card Zotac GeForce GTX 970 ZT-90101-10P $309.99
Chassis Cooler Master HAF 912 ATX Mid Tower $59.99
CPU Intel Core i5-4590 3.3GHz Quad-Core $199.99
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Seidon 120M $64.99
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer ATX LGA 1150 $129.99
RAM G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 $79.99
SSD Sandisk SSD PLUS 240GB $69.99
Hard Drive 1TB Western Digital Black 7200RPM $69.00
PSU EVGA SuperNova NEX 650W ATX $79.99
     
Base Total $1,063.92
Promo Discounts Total -$5.00
Mail-In Rebates Total -$65.00
Shipping Total $1.99
Total Price $995.91

*Please note: all prices, shipping costs, rebates, and promos are those at the time of writing.


Graphics Card

Zotac GeForce GTX 970

Zotac GeForce GTX 970 ZT-90101-10P: $309.99

The GeForce GTX 970 has won a plethora of awards from reputable sites, and with good cause. For the asking price and the raw power, The GTX 970 make sense for just about any type of gamer. It’s also extremely friendly to modding by third-party manufacturers, and there are quite a few options to choose from. We decided to go with the Zotac GTX 970 ZT-90101-10P, thanks to the extra cooling and bumped up clock speeds.

Zotac’s GTX 970 comes with a 1076 MHz base clock and a 1216 MHz boost clock (compared to the already impressive 1050 MHz base / 1178 MHz boost on the reference card), as well as a 7010 MHz memory clock. And thanks to Zotac’s customized, dual-slot cooler, complete with two fans and copper heat pipes, you should be able to overclock the speeds on this GTX 970 even more, so long as you’re patient and methodical (though OCing the card is not required—it’s genuinely fast as-is).

If you’d like some higher stock speeds with even more room for overclocking, we recommend the ASUS Strix GTX 970. It has an oversized PCB with ASUS’s DirectCU II cooler mounted on top. As Guru3d puts it in their review, “Without extra voltage tweaking you can expect a 1350 MHz – 1400 MHz range for the turbo clock frequency… We ended up at a stable 1443 MHz (boost), which is very nice.” In addition to the overclocking room, HeXus reports that the card runs notably quiet, even when under strain.

While the Zotac GTX 970 and ASUS Strix GTX 970 are terrific cards, there are still plenty of others. The Gigabyte GTX 970 GV-N970IXOC is a compact little space saver, while the Zotac GTX 970 AMP! Omega Edition is a three-slot beast, meant for extreme overclocks. No matter which card you land on though, they all have the awesome NVIDIA features that the GTX 970 is known for, including MFAA, DSR, NVIDIA G-SYNC, and more.


Chassis

Cooler Master HAF 912  ATX Mid Tower

Cooler Master HAF 912 ATX Mid Tower: $59.99

We decided on the ATX form factor to leave enough room for future expansion (including SLI, if desired) as well as the potential for better cooling. Constructed out of solid black aluminum and tough plastic, the Cooler Master HAF 912 is a joy to build into, and it’s easy on the eyes as well. While it’s not a full-tower case, there’s still ample room inside, and you won’t need to be a contortionist to reach all the areas (even after you’ve got the motherboard installed). The case’s front panel comes with two USB 2.0 jacks, a headset and speaker port, and a power and reset switch.

For cooling, the HAF 912 includes two 120mm fans, and quite a few mounting spots for them (though we recommend keeping the default configuration for basic front-to-rear airflow). If you purchase extra fans, you can easily install them on the side panel, or on the top area. There are also three openings in the back with rubber gaskets for liquid cooling. Like many other ATX mid-tower chassis, the PSU sits on the bottom of the case, with a vent underneath to ensure proper ventilation.

While there aren’t oodles of extras, aside from being able to rotate or even remove the HDD cage entirely, the HAF 912 is dependable, gently priced, and just plain easy to use. It’s an especially wonderful case if you’re new to putting rigs together, thanks to its straightforward layout. Cable management is also a breeze, and there’s a handy 16mm space between the side panel and motherboard tray to tuck away any excess.

If you prefer some style to go along with the substance, and you’ve got some room in your budget, you should consider NZXT’s S340 White Steel mid-tower chassis. It has two USB 3.0 slots on the front port, a dashing white paint job that covers the steel frame, a large side panel window, an isolated, closed-off compartment for your PSU, and a fantastic cable management system (and all without being the size of a Volvo sedan). For even more case options, take a peek at the Five Great PC Cases for Gamers feature on NVISIONapp.com.

If you’re feeling bold and you’d like to mod your case, be sure to check out our GeForce Garage section for all the best tips and tricks.


CPU

Intel Core i5-4590

Intel Core i5-4590 3.3GHz Quad-Core: $199.99

Sure, it’s a Haswell Refresh part (read: last generation), but with four cores and an out-of-the-box clock of 3.3GHz (and a max turbo clock of 3.7GHz), the Intel Core i5-4590 is a worthy addition to our build. It’s socket 1150, and it’s compatible with Z87 and Z97 chipsets, which means there are lots of motherboards that pair well with it. In addition to the CPU’s very decent speed, it packs on 6MB of L3 cache and supports up to 16 PCI Express lanes, which makes 2-way SLI very doable (finances permitting).

Bottom line: the Core i5-4590 will boost your framerates in many of today’s multi-core-optimized games considerably compared to a dual-core CPU, as well as in modestly threaded DirectX 12 titles. For 200 bucks, you’re getting some spectacular value on a tried-and-true processor. An added bonus is that while it’s not a “K” Intel CPU, the Core i5-4590 can still be overclocked using its base clock frequency.

However, if you’re itching for the most awesome tech, and you’ve got some pocket change to spare, you can’t go wrong with the recently released quad-core 3.5GHz Intel Core i5-6600K Skylake CPU. The latest iteration in Intel’s architecture brings DDR4 support, extra (and badly needed) PCIe lanes, and more room for higher clock speeds. All of that translates into better gaming performance. Also, this CPU is indeed an unlocked “K” part, which makes overclocking incredibly simple.


CPU Cooler

Cooler Master Seidon

Cooler Master Seidon 120M: $64.99

If you’re getting a mid-range processor, it’s a good idea to keep it extra frosty with a third-party cooler; the default heatsinks and fans that come CPUs are serviceable, but not quite up to snuff when it comes to overclocking or intense, processor-heavy gaming sessions. Plus, the colder you keep your hardware, the longer it’ll last. Because of that, we chose the Cooler Master Seidon All-in-One liquid cooler.

The Seidon’s copper contact plate contains a wealth of micro channels, which Cooler Master claims optimizes the heat transfer and dissipation. Cooler Master also claims that the fan and pump on the unit are designed to run much quieter than a standard, air-cooled configuration, and there’s a nifty blue LED on the top of the waterblock to let you know when the Seidon is operational. Cooler Master claims that this AIO setup results in a 12° C drop in temperature compared to Intel’s standard heatsink and fan combo.

At just under $65, the Seidon is incredibly affordable compared to other AIO units. To top it off, it’s quick and easy to install: just apply some thermal paste to the processor, attach the LGA 1150-compatible brackets to the waterblock, place the mounting square behind the motherboard, tighten it all down, and secure the radiator to the back of your case.

If you prefer not to go the AIO route, opting instead for an air-cooled solution, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better cooler than the dual-tower, six-heat-pipe Noctua NH-D15. Maximum PC reports in their review that this monster of a heatsink/fan combo “cools as good as many closed-loop liquid systems.” Additionally, the NH-D15 comes with a highly comforting six-year warranty.


Motherboard

ASRock Fatal1ty Z97

ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer ATX LGA 1150: $129.99

The Fatal1ty Z79 Killer offers a nice balance between aesthetics and functionality. The glossy black PCB is complimented by fire-engine red heat sinks and expansion slots, which should look pretty sharp inside just about any chassis. The board doesn’t pull any punches with its specs, either. There’s a single PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot, a PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, two PCI Express x1 slots, and two vanilla PCI slots. You can populate up to four channels of DDR3 RAM, to a maximum of 32GB total. Add to that six SATA 6.0 Gb/s connectors, a SATA Express 10 Gb/s port, and rocket-quick M.2 support, and you’ve got one heck of a versatile motherboard.

In [H]ardOCP’s review, they point out that: “The Fatal1ty Z97 Killer acted exactly as it should, and allowed me a perfect OS install experience and was quickly up and running at my 4.5GHz/1866MHz at 1.28v Core voltage. The motherboard was an excellent performer overall. In terms of overclocking it simply kicked [butt] for a budget motherboard solution. Its no-frills approach is something that is refreshing in this day and age.”

If you can add a few extra dollars your budget, the ASUS Z97 Pro Gamer motherboard is worthy of your consideration. It has a somewhat lessened red and black color scheme compared to the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer and wields an excellent SupremeFX HD onboard sound chip, coded from Realtek’s higher-end ALC 1150.


RAM

G.Skill Ripjaws X  Series

G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600: $79.99

Adding 16GB of RAM is a smart move, especially since playing certain games along with loads of browser tabs can require over 8GB of usage. 16GB also gives you a nice cushion for future games and applications, and it’s (for the time being) quite economical. G.Skill’s DDR3 Ripjaws X series comes with a bold red color scheme on the heat spreaders, but the sticks aren’t so large that they’ll get in the way of a plus-sized CPU air-cooler.

Looking for some RAM with even smaller, low-profile heat spreaders? Try out Crucial’s Ballastix Sport 16GB (2x8GB) kit. These DDR3 sticks have the same 1600MHz speed and an almost identical price as the Ripjaws X, so you won’t need to sacrifice performance or scrape for cash to buy them. On the other hand, if you don’t mind beefier, taller heatsinks with some artistic flash, give Corsair’s Vengeance Pro RAM a hard look; at 2400 MHz, they’re slightly faster than the other pairs on here.


SSD

Sandisk SSD Plus  240GB

Sandisk SSD Plus 240GB: $69.99

Not too long ago, SSDs were enticing, but they had cripplingly small capacities and were too pricey for most mainstream gamers. Fortunately, a lot has changed since then. Take Sandisk’s SSD Plus, for example. It’s got a healthy 240GB—ample enough space for your OS and a handful of choice games—and read speeds of up to 520MB/s, and write speeds of up to 350MB/s. All of those features clock in at just under $70. Sandisk even claims that the SSD Plus can boost your response times by up to 23 times faster compared to a good old fashioned mechanical HDD. More peace of mind: SSDs are much less prone to failure than hard drives, as they don’t contain any moving parts, and you never have to defrag them.

SSDs have become so ubiquitous, there are buckets of brands and models to pick from. A fine substitute for the Sandisk SSD Plus is Crucial’s BX100 series. The 250GB option is only $79.99, and it has the same SATA III interface as the SSD Plus. The BX100 also offers some very attractive read and write speeds of 535/450MB/s, respectively.

If you’d like to bump up your SSD’s space to store even more games and HD videos, you should consider lowering the capacity of your mechanical hard drive to free up some money. (A 500GB or higher SSD is truly a wonderful thing.) Resist the urge to jump to PCIe SSDs though. As The Wirecutter puts it: “The current generation of SSDs has saturated the bandwidth of the SATA interface, and the industry is moving to PCI Express. PCIe SSDs are already available, but they’re not cost-effective or necessary for most people.”


Hard Drive

Western Digital Caviar

1TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM: $69.00

A $1,000 build often requires a standard HDD to compliment the SSD, and that’s no exception here. That’s because the average gamer can fill up a 250GB SSD, or even a 500GB SSD, with little effort (GTA V alone will cost you 65GB of space, and the 64-bit Windows 10 needs a minimum of 20GB). As games become increasingly more substantive and complex, those storage requirements will only go up. However, by purchasing a mechanical hard drive to run in tandem with the SSD—such as the 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black—you won’t feel constantly cramped, even with a wide library of titles installed.

Even though the Western Digital Black is an HDD, it’s still pretty fast. It has 64MB of cache, a SATA 6Gb/s interface, and a 7200RPM rotational speed. The 1TB of storage should last you for quite a while, and the Caviar Black has a strong, trustworthy reputation amongst users.

Of course, it’s worth reiterating that choosing a more affordable/less snazzy HDD to free up some money for a higher capacity SSD is the best plan of action. For example, you can pocket the similarly equipped Seagate 1TB hard drive for a mere $49.39, or the 7200 RPM 1TB Toshiba DT01ACA100 for $52.99.


PSU

EVGA SuperNova 650

EVGA SuperNova 650 G1 80+ Gold: $79.99

Your components need steady, dependable power to work their best. While it might be tempting to spring for a cheapo PSU, that would be mistake. Low-grade, off-brand power supplies can result in unexpected behavior such as system crashes and lock-ups, and sometimes even damage your gear. And while you don’t want to go bonkers with extra, unneeded wattage, it’s always better to leave yourself with some juice to spare.

The EVGA SuperNova 650 G1 80+ Gold provides this build with a nice security blanket in the power arena. It comes with a fantastic 10-year warranty, and as stated in the part’s title, its efficiency is 80PLUS Gold-rated. The 135mm fan keeps the unit stable and cool, and the SuperNova 650 G1 is completely modular, making cable management and case airflow that much easier (just plug in the minimum cables required and store the others away elsewhere). With 650 Watts of total output, there’s plenty of power left-over should you want to upgrade some hardware down the road.

As an alternative to the EVGA SuperNova 650 G1, Thermaltake’s Toughpower TPD-0750M is currently $79.99 NewEgg, with a $20 rebate on top. It’s partially modular, with build-friendly flat cables, comes with 750 Watts of power on a single +12V rail, and it’s 80PLUS Gold certified, just like the SuperNova 650 GI.


Optional Extras

If this is the first PC you’ve ever put together, or if you’re new to PC gaming, we’ve included some items below that will come in helpful.

  • Unless you’re carrying over a prior OS, you’ll need a copy of Windows 10; otherwise your shiny new PC won’t be all that useful. Also, if you do own Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, you can upgrade to Windows 10 for free. While there are a few driver issues here and there (such as with certain Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi cards) upgrading to Windows 10 is absolutely recommended if you want to take advantage of all the GTX 970’s DX12 features.
  • Because of removable flash drives and the availability of cheap, high-speed internet, optical drives are a dying breed. However, you might still want to pick one up, especially if you intend on watching Blu-Rays or burning media to discs. If that’s the case, we recommend the LG Black Blu-Ray burner. It has 16X BD-R writable speed, 4MB of cache, and reads CDs and DVDs no problem. It also supports BDXL discs for massive storage.
  • Aside from the PC itself, one of the most important pieces of a gaming setup is the display. After all, a tiny, flickering, low-resolution panel will look pretty pathetic no matter how much fancy hardware you toss into your rig.
    For $384.99 on Newegg, the Acer XB240H 24” LED is generously sized, fully compatible with NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology, and has a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 with a response time of 1ms. It’s also fully adjustable in height, pivot, tilt, and swivel—features that are sometimes lacking on even higher-end models. After you’ve bought your display, be sure to read our guide on how to correctly calibrate your monitor; it can make all the difference in the world.
  • Your gaming mouse is like the Auto 9 handgun to Robocop—without it, you’ll feel naked and lost. You can always go the budget route and pick one up for less than the price of a direct-to-DVD movie, but if you have the room in your budget, consider Logitech’s G502 Proteus Core. PC Gamer’s review describes it as: “The best-designed body of any heavy mouse I’ve used. The left side has a rubbery grip for the pinky, and the surface of the mouse uses a nice matte plastic. Left click has a subtle, but nice, concave design that cradles your finger.”
    For more even alternatives, including suggestions based off specific gaming habits, head on over to NVISONapp.com’s The Best Mice For PC Gaming feature.
  • Just about any keyboard will work for PC gaming, but you’ll be doing your fingers and frag counts a genuine service by going for Cooler Master Storm’s Quickfire Rapid. It’s a mechanical board with Cherry MX blue switches (meaning that each key-press results in satisfying and tactile click), and Cooler Master claims that this board has over 50 million keystrokes of use in each specific switch. The QuickFire Rapid even comes with a removable, braided USB cable and bonus key-caps that you can hot-swap at your leisure.


Conclusion

By assembling a PC based off this guide, you’ll have a mean and powerful system to call your own—one that’s well within a reasonable budget of under $1,000, and one that can tackle games with heavy-duty graphics with all the settings turned up. Armed with a GTX 970, loads of your games will benefit from sweet features such as MFAA, NVIDIA G-SYNC, VXGI, DSR, one-click optimal play settings, and GameStream Co-Op.

Regardless of your gaming habits, be they FPSes, RTSes, RPGs, action adventurers, or more, you can take comfort in knowing you’re covered, even for future titles.

Got a killer $1,000 build of your own? Any alternative parts you’d like to mention? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

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