The Sweeter Spot
Indulgence without excess
Staying within the Utility Player's budget requires a measure of restraint. With the Sweeter Spot, we've loosened the purse strings to accommodate beefier hardware and additional functionality.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-2600K 3.4GHz||$314.99|
|Motherboard||Asus P8P67 PRO||$189.99|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600||$103.99|
|Graphics||XFX Radeon HD 6950 1GB||$244.99|
|Storage||Intel 320 Series 120GB||$239.99|
|Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB||$59.99|
|LG WH10LS30 Blu-ray burner||$89.99|
|Audio||Asus Xonar DG||$29.99|
|Enclosure||Corsair Graphite Series 600T||$159.99|
|Power supply||Corsair TX750W||$109.99|
At first glance, the Core i7-2600K may look like little more than a 100MHz clock-speed jump over the i5-2600K from the Utility Player. There's more to the i7 than marginally higher clock speeds, though. Despite sharing the same quad-core silicon as the 2500K, the 2600K has Hyper-Threading support that allows it to process eight threads in parallel. That additional capacity won't come in handy unless you're a compulsive multitasker or use applications that are effectively multithreaded. However, anyone considering dropping $1,500 on a system probably falls into one of those camps, if not both.
Also, you'll totally get a kick out of seeing eight cores in the Windows Task Manager.
When you think about it, the 2600K's $315 asking price is really quite reasonable. This is Intel's real desktop flagship—the sweet Miss Sandy all dolled up.
The Asus P8P67 LE is a nice board, but its second PCI Express x16 slot only has four lanes of bandwidth. That just won't do for the Sweeter Spot, which we'd like to have a pair of x16 slots capable of running in a dual-x8 configuration for CrossFire or SLI. The P8P67 PRO is the cheapest member of Asus' Sandy Bridge lineup that fits the bill, and it includes a number of other perks: integrated Bluetooth, additional internal and external SATA connectivity, and a third PCIe x16 slot.
At $190 online, the PRO certainly isn't cheap. Still, it's an Editor's Choice winner that offers more extras and a much better BIOS than rivals in the same price range. We expected other motherboard makers to be more competitive with their Sandy Bridge offerings, but Asus really hit it out of the park with the P8P67 family.
We couldn't resist going with 8GB of RAM for the Sweeter Spot. The extra $50 is a drop in the bucket when you consider the total cost of the system. We've been using these particular Vengeance modules on several of our Sandy Bridge test systems for months now, and they haven't given us any issues.
The new Cayman GPU behind the Radeon HD 6900 series offers several improvements over the Barts silicon found in the 6800 family, such as better antialiasing, geometry processing, and shader scheduling. When Cayman debuted, the cheapest version was a Radeon HD 6950 2GB that cost $300. Today, you can get a 1GB flavor of the very same card for only $245. A gig of graphics memory should still be plenty for most folks, especially those running 24" monitors.
XFX's stock-clocked take on the 6950 1GB is one of the cheapest options available right now. It also comes with a "double-lifetime" warranty that covers the card through its first resale, which is a nice upgrade over the three-year warranties typical of graphics cards. Sold!
The Sweeter Spot's generous budget allows us to spec the system with an SSD, and we're sticking with the Intel 320 Series 120GB from our Utility Player alternatives. Although the 320 Series isn't the fastest option on the market, its performance is competitive with other SSDs in the same price range. Flubbed firmware updates aside, Intel SSDs also have an excellent reputation for reliability.
For secondary storage, we're sticking with the SpinPoint F3 for one reason: games. Once you add up the footprint of Windows 7, associated applications, and all the data we'd want on our solid-state system drive, there isn't going to be a whole lot of room left for games or a Steam folder overstuffed with the spoils of all too many impulse purchases. The 7,200-RPM SpinPoint will load games noticeably faster than low-power alternatives, and it's quiet enough to leave no room for regret.
Would you spend $1,500 on a new system without a Blu-ray burner? Probably not. LG's $90 WH10LS30 is the cheapest option available at Newegg, and we see no reason to spend more.
The results of our blind listening tests suggest that Asus' $30 Xonar DG more than holds its own against pricier sound cards. Since spending more won't necessarily get us something that sounds better, we're going to stick with the Xonar DG and save our audio upgrade for the alternatives section.
Corsair's Graphite Series 600T is arguably the best PC case on the market right now. This Editor's Choice winner may be a little expensive at $160, but we view that as an investment likely to pay dividends for years. The case is a delight to work in and offers loads of expansion capacity, cooling options, and thoughtful little touches. Throw in USB 3.0 ports up front, mounting holes for 2.5" drives in every 3.5" bay, and understated good looks, and the 600T has everything we look for in a home for the Sweeter Spot.
Like most high-end cases, the 600T is sold without a PSU. There are several good candidates for this build, but none is sweeter than Corsair's own TX750W. The PSU's 750W capacity gives us plenty of room for upgrades, and there are enough PCIe power connectors to fuel demanding two-way CrossFire or SLI configs.
We're mindful not to put too much stock into Newegg user reviews, but the fact that the TX750W has more than 1,700 five-star ratings can't be ignored. Only about 230 user reviews give the PSU three stars or less, which is really quite impressive.
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