The Editor's Choice
What TR's editors would get—if they had time to upgrade
Staying within the Sweet Spot's budget requires a measure of restraint. With the Editor's Choice, we've loosened the purse strings to accommodate beefier hardware and additional functionality—the kind TR's editors would opt for if they were building a PC for themselves.
|Processor||Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz||$229.99|
|Motherboard||Asus P8Z77-V LK||$149.99|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600||$53.99|
|Graphics||EVGA GeForce GTX 670||$399.99|
|Storage||Corsair Force Series 3 240GB||$199.99|
|Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB||$94.99|
|LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner||$79.99|
|Audio||Asus Xonar DX||$71.99|
|Enclosure||Corsair Obsidian Series 650D||$179.99|
|Power supply||Corsair HX650W||$129.99|
We considered stepping all the way up to the Core i7-3770K, the fastest fully unlocked Ivy model, but $320 is a lot of scratch for a processor. Compared to the Core i5-3570K, all the 3770K has to offer are slightly faster base and Turbo speeds (3.5GHz and 3.9GHz, respectively, up from 3.4GHz and 3.8GHz) and Hyper-Threading capabilities. Having eight graphs in the Task Manager is nice, no question about it, and the extra threads can help with heavy multitasking. If you think that's worth $80, see the alternatives section on the next page. We think the i5-3570K is a better deal.
Pricier motherboards may get us more bells and whistles, but the Asus P8Z77-V LK from our Sweet Spot already has plenty. Besides, the point of the Editor's Choice is to be a well-balanced system that does everything TR's editors would want their own PCs to do—not to splurge on the cream of the crop in every department. Saving a little money here gives us more room for a faster graphics card, too.
Again, we think 8GB DDR3 kits are affordable enough—and their performance benefits sufficiently palpable—to warrant inclusion in our primary recommendations. 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.
Okay, so a $400 graphics card may seem a little pricey for a build like the Editor's Choice. Hear us out, though. The next step down from the GeForce GTX 670 is AMD's Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition, which is a fair bit slower and not all that much cheaper. (Prices for the 7870 start at $290, but the nicer variants are over the $300 mark.) The GTX 670, meanwhile, manages to perform awfully close to the GTX 680, which means it's nearly in the same league as one of today's fastest single-GPU graphics cards. If that isn't worth a little extra cash, we don't know what is.
We're going with EVGA's take on the GTX 670 here, mainly because it's one of the few models in stock right now. Too bad 670 variants with custom coolers aren't on virtual shelves, though. The GTX 670's stock fan is noisy at idle and doesn't cool the card as quietly as it should under load.
Thanks to ever-plummeting solid-state storage prices, we can outfit the Editor's Choice with a 240GB Force Series 3 SSD from Corsair. The drive does cost a little more than the 128GB Samsung SSD featured in our last version of this config, but it also has way more storage capacity. In fact, the Force Series 3 gets you 88% more capacity but costs only 39% more. We think that's a great deal, especially considering that the Corsair SSD has a fast SandForce SF-2281 controller, 6Gbps Serial ATA connectivity, peak read and write speeds above 500MB/s, and a three-year warranty. The extra capacity should help ensure your apps and games don't spill over onto a slower drive.
In case there is some spillover, then of course, it's helpful to have a relatively speedy mechanical hard drive to pick up the slack. Samsung's Spinpoint F3 1TB should fulfill that task admirably; it's fast, quiet, and reasonably priced by today's standards.
Would you spend $1,500 on a new system without a Blu-ray burner? Probably not. LG's WH14NS40 seems to be the cheapest option available at Newegg, and we see no reason to spend more.
The results of our blind listening tests suggest Asus' shockingly cheap Xonar DG holds its own against pricier sound cards, and that's true for the most part. However, the DG filters sound to give it extra pop, and we've found that such EQ fiddling can induce listener fatigue if you have sensitive ears. The Xonar DX should reproduce music in a more accurate, neutral fashion, and it has other perks, such as the ability to encode Dolby Digital Live audio on the fly. Real-time encoding is a handy feature for gamers who want to pass multichannel audio over a single digital cable rather than a bundle of analog ones.
Oh, and the Xonar DX also happens to fit into PCI Express slots, whereas the Xonar DG uses an old-school PCI interface. We figure you're going to hold on to a sound card for several years through multiple builds, and PCI slots are on the way out. (Some newer motherboards already dispense with them entirely.) A PCIe sound card seems like a better investment if you can afford the price premium. In this case, we can.
As we explained in our review, Corsair's Obsidian Series 650D enclosure essentially melds the innards of the Graphite Series 600T with the exterior design of the bigger and more expensive 800D, all the while retaining Corsair's famous attention to detail. The 650D has fewer front-panel USB ports and less granular fan control than the 600T, and it costs a little more. The more we think about it, though, the more we prefer the Obsidian's overall looks, lighter weight, and less bulky design.
We're keeping the same Corsair HX650W power supply as in our last few guides. This 650W unit has plenty of power and 80 Plus Bronze certification. It also features modular cabling that should make it easy to keep the case's internals clean. The 650D may have excellent cable management options, but we'd prefer to have fewer cables to manage, as well.
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