How To Build A $2,500 Gaming PC

Our final entry in the Best Build series puts the budget at what we perceive to be the optimal level before the price to performance ratio starts to flatline. The $2500 “Glass House” is almost a complete rebuttal to a previous observation that our builds lacked windows. The Lian-Li PC-08WX ATX mid-tower case is all window (tempered glass, at least, and the entire left and front sides of the chassis), and it puts the primary components on full display.

An Intel Core i7-7700K is still the prime pick at this price point, and it’s cooled by another Cryorig CPU cooler (a popular choice in our series), namely the H5 Universal. A 525GB Crucial MX300 M.2 SATA SSD offers speedy load times, and a 16GB kit of G.Skill Ripjaws V DDR4-2800 can handle all the latest AAA games. All of this resides on an MSI Z270 Gaming M5 ATX motherboard, which also hosts two EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Superclocked Gaming ACX 3.0 graphics cards in SLI. We're using an EVGA 850 G2 80 Plus Gold Certified PSU that has plenty of juice to keep the top-tier GPU setup powered, with some headroom to spare.

Specifications

"The Glass House"  by G-Unit1111
Case Lian Li PC-O8WX ($299.99 On Newegg)
Cooling Cryorig H5 Universal CR-H5A ($46.99 On Amazon)
CPU Intel Core i7-7700K ($349.99 On Newegg)
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 SC Gaming ACX 3.0 08G-P4-6183-KR ($519.99 On Newegg)
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 SC Gaming ACX 3.0 08G-P4-6183-KR ($519.99 On Newegg)
Memory G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) F4-2800C16D-16GVG ($111.99 On Newegg)
Motherboard MSI Z270 Gaming M5 ($189.99 On Newegg)
PSU EVGA SuperNova 850 G2 220-G2-0850-XR ($109.89 On Amazon)
Storage Crucial MX300 525GB CT525MX300SSD4 ($149.99 On Newegg)

Time to assemble the Best $2,500 PC Build.

Case

Be extra careful removing this case from its box. The Lian-Li 08WX has its tempered glass panels in a separate box from the main assembly, and it's quite heavy. Put those aside until the very end (don’t even take them out yet). Remove the case from the packaging (the side panel might come off, so be careful) and set the chassis upright in your workspace.

Take off the right side panel (which houses the drive bays, PSU mount, and internal cabling) by lifting up on the rear edge of the panel (there’s a tab), and set it aside. Similarly, the top panel of the case also comes off, but there’s no requirement for us to do so, because it just provides access to a dust filter. Remove the hardware box and other materials (that big orange paper) from the case. The box is in the drive bay and held down by green tape. All of these steps are reflected in the album of photos above.

Fans

There are five fan cables located in the right side bay: two in the rear, three in the front. These run through the portholes of the case. The rear fan cables are hanging where the motherboard will be mounted, and you can access them from the main chamber of the case.

Untie all of the five case fan cables in the drive chamber (excluding the cable of the rear fan in the main chamber), save the tie wraps, and run them into each other as neatly as possible. Tie the cables together with one of the white tie wraps, and let them rest at the bottom of the case in the drive chamber.

Get five molex-to-fan adapters from the hardware box (see the first picture above). Attach one to each of the five fan cables with the 3-pin connector. Then plug all of the molex connectors into each other as clean as you can. Let the molex chain sit at the bottom of the case for now.

Lighting

The Lian-Li 08WX case comes with RGB LED strips, and there’s a controller built right into the case. However, to reach the controller (mounted just under the 3.5” drive bay) and feed the wires to the main chamber of the case (where the flashy lights would surely go), we have to run the extension cables from it rather early in the building process.

Take the three RGB LED strips that come with the case, remove the extensions (wires without lights—see the 2nd and 3rd pictures below)) on each length of lights, and set aside the RGB LEDs for later. Plug the three extensions into the RGB LED controller using the white leads (4th picture below). Feed the wires straight down and tie them to the RGB controller cable with one of the white tie wraps.

Feed the black ends of the extensions into the hole on the bottom right of the drive chamber and into the main chamber of the case (see first picture in the album below). Adjust the RGB controller cable so that it rests along the edge of the case (out of the way of the PSU bay and port holes in the chassis).

Untie the case’s internal HD Audio, front panel I/O, and USB 3.0 cables. Separate the audio wire and feed it above the RGB controller and down to the same hole as the LED extensions (bottom right of drive chamber), behind the existing cables. Feed it through the hole in the chassis and let it hang with the LED wires for the time being.

Motherboard

Set the chassis aside, and take the MSI Z270 Gaming M5 motherboard out of its box. Use the anti-static bag as a cushion before you set the motherboard in your workspace. Begin by lifting the CPU socket’s tension arm by unhooking it from its clip and lifting it—along with the CPU clamp—straight up to expose the pins.

Remove the Intel Core i7-7700K from its box and protective plastic. Carefully lower the CPU into the socket with the notches on the edge of the processor and the socket lined up. Make sure to discharge any static with a wristband or by touching a metal (non-electronic) surface before handling the processor.

Punch out the black plastic cover on the CPU clamp and lower it into position over the processor. Lower the tension arm and hook it to its clip to secure the CPU to the motherboard.

Storage

The lower M.2 slot of the motherboard features an M.2 shield, which is designed to help cool your solid-state storage. Remove the screw (Phillips head) that caps the mounting post, then use a thin flat-head screwdriver to loosen the post from the motherboard (see slide 2 in the album below). Lift the M.2 shield up (not too hard, it only raises so much) and remove the post from the 60mm thread. Move the post to furthest thread (80mm) and screw it in with your fingers. Lower the M.2 shield and finish tightening the post to the motherboard with the flat-head screwdriver (see last slide below).

Remove the 525GB Crucial MX300 M.2 SATA SSD from its packaging. Raise the M.2 shield and slide the M.2 SSD into the socket (with the drive’s chips facing upward) and push it into the slot at an angle (about 45 degrees, at most; don’t put too much pressure on it).

Peel off the blue plastic strip on the SSD-side of the M.2 shield. This will stick the plate to the SSD. Alternatively (and presumably for more heat dissipation), you can choose to remove the SSD label before installation so that the plate makes direct contact with the drive’s exposed chips. Lower the M.2 shield and the SSD down to the mounting post. Replace the screw (cap) to secure it to the motherboard.

Remove the 16GB (2x8GB) kit of G.Skill Ripjaws V DDR4-2800 memory from its package. Unclip the locks on both sides of the second and fourth DIMM slots (from the left of the CPU) and line up the memory modules with the notches in the motherboard memory slot. Push down evenly, one at a time, until the modules click into place.

Installing The Components

Lay the case on its right side (mind the hanging cables in the drive chamber as you set it down) so that the motherboard tray is upright. Grab the motherboard’s I/O backplate and install it to the case by pressing firmly and evenly along its edges from inside the main chamber of the chassis.

Lower the motherboard into position (mind the RGB LED extensions and audio cables as you do so), lining up the holes to posts and the rear I/O backplate with its ports (see 3rd picture in the album above). Screw in the motherboard using the fat-headed, thick-threaded Phillips-head screws (nine of them) to secure it to the case.

Connect the HD audio cable (which is resting at the bottom of the main chamber) to the motherboard, and feed the excess back into the drive chamber (from whence it came). As you run cables, keep in mind that you want the main chamber of the chassis to look as clean as possible.

In that spirit, untie the main chamber’s rear fan cable. Feed it through the gap between the fan and plastic motherboard shroud (loop the wire first) and send it down to the notch in the fan frame. Pull the plug out of that hook and connect it to the motherboard’s SYS_FAN1 header. Tuck the excess between the fan and motherboard, then tuck the loop into the same gap between the motherboard and fan to give it a clean look.

Feed the front panel I/O wires through the hole at the bottom left of the drive chamber (1st picture in the album below). Attach the leads to the appropriate pins (refer to your manual or read the labels on the board) on the header, located next to the USB 3.0 pins on the motherboard. Once all the leads are connected, run the excess back through the hole and loop the cable together, cleaning it up with a white tie wrap.

The case also sports two USB 3.0 front panel cables. Run one of the cables into the same hole as the front panel I/O wires and connect it to the USB 3.0 header on the motherboard (pictures 2 and 3 in the album below). Bend the cable so that there is no tension on the header. Feed the excess wiring back into the drive chamber of the case, laying it along the bottom of the case with the front panel I/O cables.

Feed the other USB 3.0 cable through the lower vertical hole in the case (directly below the SATA ports on the motherboard). Connect it to the USB 3.0 header (which is positioned sideways), and again, run the excess back into the drive chamber. Tie both USB 3.0 cables in with the front panel I/O wires using the existing tie wrap. Use a new white tie wrap to hold the two USB 3.0 cables together at the end of their natural loop in the chassis.

Cooling

To properly install the CPU cooler, we have to first remove the drive cage in the PSU chamber of the chassis. Start by unscrewing the four thumb screws on the back of the case (below the motherboard’s rear I/O panel). Once they are removed, lift the drive bay up and away from the case. The bay will have to remain close by, because the fans attached to it are already tied in with the rest (see last picture in the album below).

Remove the Cryorig H5 Universal CPU cooler from its box, along with the backplate, female-to-male thumbscrews, the support bars for Intel motherboards, the foam square, and the thumbscrew caps. Peel the sticker off of the foam square and attach the foam square to the center square of the backplate (post side).

Set each of the four posts in the backplate to the B position and line it up with the holes near the CPU on the backside of the motherboard (see the 2nd picture above). Hold it in place with one hand as you go to the other side (main chamber) and thread the four female-to-male thumbscrews to the posts in the backplate. At this point, replace the drive cage to its original position by sliding it into the guides and refastening the thumbscrews.

Set the PC on its right side again. Place the mounting bars (labeled “2”) horizontally across the top and bottom thumb screw posts with the numbered metal facing up and the curvature of the bars pointed outward (see slides 1 the album below). Secure them to the female-to-male posts using the thumbscrew caps (slide 3 and 4, below). Make sure the entire assembly is tight.

Grab the provided tube of thermal paste and apply it to the center of the CPU (see slide 1 below). Peel the protective sticker off the contact point of the heatsink and unwrap the fan cable. Lower the large cooler onto the processor (mind the CPU fan cable) and position the spring screws of the heatsink over the center holes in the mounting bars (see slide 6 below).

Slide the included tool (a long Phillips-head screwdriver) down one of the shafts in the center of the heatsink (see slide 4 in the album above) and tighten the screw just enough to thread the mounting bar. Then switch shafts and get the other to thread. Tighten both screws all the way, making sure to alternate shafts after every few turns of the screwdriver until you cannot tighten it anymore. Connect the CPU fan’s cable to the CPU_FAN1 header and tuck the excess away (loop it and feed to the nearby hole in the case).

Power Supply

Set the case upright again (it should start to feel pretty heavy with the cooler attached). Remove the EVGA 850 G2 power supply from its box, along with one of the SATA power cables. Take the cable and attach it to the RGB LED controller using the first lead in the strand. Tie up the excess SATA plugs with the existing wiring (using the existing tie wrap).

Run the 6-pin side of the cable along the sidewall of the case and out towards you. Let it rest, clear of the PSU landing zone. Line up the power supply to the case’s mounting holes, with the fan facing the motherboard (the solid panel facing you, as seen in the 5th slide in the album above). Slide it into position and secure it to the case with the provided screws. Take the previously installed SATA power plug and connect the 6-pin lead to the PSU in the SATA1 port (last picture in the album above).

Grab the power cable with the 4-pin molex connectors, labeled “PERIF” (see 1st slide below), and connect the 6-pin lead to the power supply using the corresponding PSU socket (PERIF). Take the bundle of five molex-to-fan adapters (which are resting at the bottom of the case’s drive chamber) and connect it to one of the 4-pin molex connectors from the PERIF cable. Bunch them together as best as possible and use a longer white tie wrap to bundle them together neatly. Tuck the whole batch into the drive bay, clear of the PSU and other cables (and wires we have yet to run).

Locate the 24-pin ATX power cable (see slide 1 in the album below). Connect it to the motherboard first and feed the cable into the porthole directly next to the plug. Make it look clean by bending the cables (gently; you don’t want to damage the motherboard) so as little excess possible is visible. Go to the other side of the case (drive chamber) and feed the cable to the PSU, plugging it into the ports labeled “MB” (see final slide below).

Find the 4+4-pin CPU power cable (slide 1 below), and feed the cable through the hole in the chassis directly above the plug on the motherboard. Connect the 4+4-pin plugs to the 8-pin CPU power socket on the motherboard.

At this point, you may need to remove the drive cage again to properly guide the CPU cable down to the power supply (even if you do, it would only be for a quick moment to grab the CPU cable), but we got lucky and fed it at such an angle that put it directly to the left of the bay where we could easily grab it from the drive chamber. Either way, continue to run the CPU cable down to the PSU, and connect the 8-pin lead to the CPU1 port. If you removed it, replace the drive cage.

The PCIe power cables are all that remain, and the EVGA 850 G2 comes with a few choices for connecting a GPU. Grab the two cables that only have one single 6+2-pin connector on them (see slide 1 in the album below).

Feed the first cable through the bottom vertical porthole in the chassis from the main chamber and into the drive chamber, VGA lead (PSU side) first. Follow suit with the second cable through the same hole. Feed the cables about half way, so that you have slack on both sides (main chamber and drive chamber).

On the drive chamber side of the case, run the cables to the power supply and connect them to the VGA1 and VGA2 slots (start with VGA2 first, it’s behind VGA1) in the PSU. Let the 6+2-pin connectors on the main chamber side hang down (neatly). We’ll need them for the next step.

Graphics

To prepare the case for the graphics cards, unscrew the thumbscrew holding the PCIe slot cover in place. It's located on the rear of the chassis above the PCIe slots on the motherboard. The panel should pull away easily once you remove the thumbscrew (swing it like a door), exposing the individual PCIe slot plates and their thumbscrews.