TR’s Christmas 2008 system guide

We cleverly side-stepped Intel’s Core i7 offensive in our previous guide by focusing on cheaper systems. Now that Intel’s latest CPU is out alongside matching motherboards and triple-channel memory kits, we’ve revised our guide with higher-end configs that take advantage of this new bounty of hardware. And, of course, price fluctuations have given us an opportunity to freshen up our other builds.

If you’ve been doing things like “going outside” and “socializing” these past few weeks, then you might not have heard about the Core i7. In a nutshell, this new processor series inaugurates Intel’s Nehalem architecture, which brings goodies like a native quad-core design, an on-die triple-channel DDR3 memory controller, Hyper-Threading, and mind-blowing clock-for-clock performance. You can check out our review for all the specifics, but the Core i7 is now the fastest desktop processor on the market—by far.

We’ve put together two Core i7 configurations for this guide. The Crushinator is our $1,700 entry ticket, and it should deliver a balanced mix of CPU, graphics, and storage goodness. If you have (a lot) more cash kicking around, the reborn Double-Stuff Workstation is our fastest configuration ever at just over $3,700. For those who don’t want to pay the cost of entry to the Core i7 party, our $500 Econobox, $800 Utility Player, and $1,200 Sweeter Spot systems have returned, as well. Read on for our picks for the best enthusiast hardware on the market.

Rules and regulations

The first thing you should know about this guide is that it’s geared toward helping you select the parts for a home-built PC. If you’re new to building your own systems and want a little extra help, our tutorial on how to build your own PC is a great place to start and a helpful complement to this guide.

Before tackling our recommended systems, we should explain some of the rules and guidelines we used to select components. The guiding philosophy behind our choices was to seek the best bang for the buck. That means we avoided recommending super-cheap parts that are barely capable of performing their jobs, just as we generally avoided breathtakingly expensive products that carry a hefty price premium for features or performance you probably don’t need. Instead, we looked to that mythical “sweet spot” where price and performance meet up in a pleasant, harmonic convergence. We also sought balance within each system configuration, choosing components that make sense together, so that a fast processor won’t be bottlenecked by a skimpy graphics card or too little system memory, for instance. The end result, we hope, is a series of balanced systems that offer decent performance as configured and provide ample room for future expandability.

We confined our selections to components that are currently available online. Paper launches and preorders don’t count, for obvious reasons. We also tried to stick to $500, $800 and $1200 budgets for our three cheapest desktop systems. Those budgets are loose guidelines rather than hard limits, to allow us some wiggle room for deals that may stretch the budget a little but are too good to resist.

We’ve continued our tradition of basing the guide’s component prices on listings at Newegg. We’ve found that sourcing prices from one large reseller allows us to maintain a more realistic sense of street prices than price search engine listings, which are sometimes artificially low. In the few cases where Newegg doesn’t have an item in stock, we’ll fall back to our trusty price search engine rather than limit our options.

Finally, price wasn’t the top factor in our component choices. Our own experiences with individual components weighed heavily on our decisions, and we’ve provided links to our own reviews of many of the products we’re recommending. We’ve also tried to confine our selections to name-brand rather than generic products, and to manufacturers with solid reputations for reliability. Warranty coverage was an important consideration, as well.

The Econobox
Because speed doesn’t have to cost a fortune
Instead of being the cheapest possible combination of parts, the Econobox fills in as our affordable gaming and general use system. You won’t find too many fancy extras here, but we’ve tried to select a balanced mix of peppy, reliable components with headroom for future upgrades.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Pentium E5200 $75.99
Motherboard Asus P5QL-E $106.49
Memory 2GB Kingston DDR2-800 $28.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 4830 $109.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB $69.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $27.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Antec NSK 4480B w/380W PSU $69.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $489.43

Processor

Intel’s 45nm dual-core processors have finally trickled down well under the $100 mark, allowing us to select one for the Econobox. The Pentium E5200 totes a pair of 45nm Penryn cores clocked at 2.5GHz with 2MB of shared L2 cache and an 800MHz FSB. Considering the clock-for-clock performance (never mind the overclocking potential) of Penryn CPUs, that’s an excellent starting point.

Motherboard

We’ve spent a little extra here and upgraded to Asus’ P5QL-E motherboard. While it’s technically based on a lower-end chipset (the P43 Express) than our previous P45-based recommendation, it’s only slightly more expensive, and it features FireWire and Serial ATA ports at the back, plus a somewhat roomier layout—useful if you’re into huge CPU coolers, and the like.

You’ll also find Serial ATA RAID, compatibility with Intel’s latest Core 2 Quad processors, and an eight-phase power delivery system. The P43 chipset’s only real downside is its lack of support for multi-GPU configs, but P45 mobos with RAID-capable south bridges in this price range don’t have multiple PCI Express graphics slots, anyway.

Memory

In light of Windows Vista’s memory demands and current prices, 2GB of RAM has really become the minimum for a modern PC. Our 2GB Kingston DDR2-800 dual-channel kit is one of the cheapest in its class at just under $30, so it easily fits in the Econobox’s $500 budget. Kingston should have better quality control and customer service than you can expect from no-name module makers.

Graphics

Since AMD’s Radeon HD 4830 delivers better overall performance than Nvidia’s GeForce 9800 GT for a similar price, that’s what we’ve selected—a Sapphire Radeon HD 4830, to be precise. This card should comfortably handle the latest games at intermediate resolutions like 1680×1050 with graphical detail turned up and perhaps a dash of antialiasing. In some cases, the 4830 performs very closely to the pricier Radeon HD 4850. If you’d rather pay slightly more for a GeForce with better warranty coverage, have a look at our alternatives section on the next page.

Storage

This Caviar SE16 hard drive from Western Digital simultaneously delivers a 640GB storage capacity, excellent performance, very low noise levels, and a bargain-basement price. What’s not to like? Well, some folks won’t be too enamored with the drive’s three-year warranty. For that reason, we’re recommending the more expensive Caviar Black as an alternative on the next page.

As for our optical drive, Samsung’s SH-S223Q fits in just fine here. A Serial ATA interface should make it reasonably future-proof, and we like the combination of positive user reviews and low pricing.

Enclosure and power

Antec’s NSK 4480B case and power supply bundle remains our case of choice for the Econobox. This bundle has everything the Econobox needs: a quality, high-efficiency power supply that provides a little upgrading headroom; a roomy case with good cooling; and a reasonable price tag.

You might find cheaper possibilities out there, but we don’t think you’ll be able to save a whole lot by going with lower-quality components. Besides, bargain-bin power supplies generally have inflated specifications, and a cheap PSU can jeopardize system stability, damage sensitive components over time, and potentially even flame out in spectacular fashion—taking system components with it in the process.

Econobox alternatives

We’re happy with the selections on the previous page, but not everybody will want an Intel processor or integrated audio. Since users’ needs will invariably, er, vary, we’ve gathered a list of alternatives and extras on this page.

Component Item Price
Processor AMD Athlon X2 5600+ $84.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H $79.99
Graphics BFG GeForce 9800 GT
$119.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $84.99

Processor

AMD can’t quite match the performance and power efficiency of Intel’s Pentium E5200 in this price range, but the 2.9GHz Athlon X2 5600+ looks like a solid alternative if you like your CPU boxes black and green. It also enables you to choose a motherboard based on the 780G chipset, which has surprisingly capable integrated graphics and a good all-around feature set—a fine choice for those who don’t need a proper graphics card but still need a modicum of GPU power. We picked this particular chip because it’s the fastest Athlon X2 with a 65W power envelope.

Motherboard

Our Socket AM2 processor won’t plug into our primary system’s LGA775 socket, so we’ve selected a matching motherboard based on AMD’s 780G integrated graphics chipset. The 780G is blessed with a surprisingly competent Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics processor that can run recent games as long as you can live with lower resolutions and detail levels. Cinephiles will be glad to know that the Radeon HD 3200 can accelerate high-definition video decoding to facilitate buttery-smooth Blu-ray playback, too.

We have plenty of experience with Gigabyte’s GA-MA78GM-S2H motherboard, which we featured in our initial review of the 780G, so we’re confident that it’s a good match for our Econobox alternatives. The S2H also has great user reviews on Newegg.

As a side note, we should mention that motherboards based on Nvidia’s GeForce 8200- and 8300-series integrated graphics chipsets have hit stores, and they’re certainly interesting alternatives to the 780G. However, based on our experience with the GeForce 8300, we still favor the AMD chipset.

Graphics

On paper, the GeForce 9800 GT is effectively a re-branded 8800 GT that may or may not have a 55nm GPU. This BFG card is “factory overclocked” to 635MHz core and 925MHz memory speeds, however, so it should outperform vanilla 8800 GTs. Considering the affordable price and the fact that BFG offers lifetime warranty coverage with 24/7 tech support, this is a capable (albeit likely slower) alternative to the Radeon HD 4830.

Storage

If you’re comfortable with paying a $15 premium to get five years of warranty coverage instead of three, then you’ll want Western Digital’s Caviar Black 640GB. This drive has twice as much cache as the SE16 on the previous page, too, so it may be a tad faster. We’re avoiding the Seagate alternative here because we expect the WD drive will perform better and generate less noise. (The 1TB Caviar Black we reviewed did have higher noise levels than the competition, but the 640GB Caviar Black has fewer platters, and WD gives it the same noise ratings as the SE16.)

The Utility Player
Value without major compromises
Our Utility Player build packs a fast dual-core processor, one of the speediest sub-$200 graphics cards out there, and some nice extras—all for just over $800. As affordable as this system is, it should be an excellent choice for playing the latest wave of PC games out this holiday season.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 $164.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P $136.99
Memory Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-800 $45.99
Graphics HIS Radeon HD 4850 $159.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $84.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $27.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Enclosure Antec Sonata III w/500W PSU $74.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $785.92

Processor

The 3GHz Core 2 Duo E8400 really seems like the sweet spot in this price range. It doesn’t cost a whole lot more than the 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo E7400, but it has a higher clock speed, a faster front-side bus, and twice as much cache. The E8400 is also $25 cheaper than the Core 2 Duo E8500, yet it’s only slower by a paltry 166MHz.

Motherboard

The Utility Player’s budget allows us to splurge on a fancier motherboard with multi-GPU support. As the apparent successor to the GA-EP45-DS3R we chose last time, Gigabyte’s GA-EP45-UD3P fits the bill. Despite its low price tag, this baby incorporates just about everything you need for an enthusiast system: two physical PCI Express x16 slots, eight 300MB/s Serial ATA ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, and power-regulation circuitry cooling.

Memory

Kingston happens to have some of the cheapest memory available on Newegg right now, so we keep going back to it. The firm’s 4GB DDR2-800 kit costs less than $50, which we think is a steal for four gigs of speedy DDR2 RAM from a reputable company that offers lifetime warranty coverage. With Windows Vista and most newer games guzzling memory like there’s no tomorrow, 4GB of RAM is by no means over-indulgent, either.

Naturally, you’ll need a 64-bit operating system to take full advantage of this amount of memory. 32-bit OSes have enough address space for 4GB of memory, but that figure is an upper limit for all memory in a system, including video RAM. In practice, 32-bit versions of Windows will only be able to use 3 to 3.5GB of actual system RAM, and they’ll normally restrict each application’s RAM budget to 2GB. There are potential workarounds, but Microsoft says they can hurt compatibility; it recommends that folks run a 64-bit version of Windows instead. Because Vista x64 is quite mature these days, we also recommend it for this system. Check our operating system section on the second-to-last page of the guide for more details.

Graphics

The Radeon HD 4850 seems almost tailor-made for machines like the Utility Player. Variants like this Sapphire model cost as little as $160, yet the 4850 can effortlessly plow through most games at high resolutions with the detail turned up (and, depending on the title, some level of antialiasing enabled). Don’t look forward to playing Crysis Warhead at 2560×1600 with 8X antialiasing if you order this card, but do expect smooth frame rates in Call of Duty 4 and Race Driver: GRID at 1920×1200 with 4X AA.

Storage

As we pointed out earlier, Western Digital’s Caviar Black hard drives have longer warranty coverage and more cache than the SE16 models. Since we have room in our budget, the Caviar Black has made its way into our primary picks for the Utility Player. Unlike some of the Seagate alternatives we’ve recommended in the past, this drive shouldn’t force you to sacrifice performance or low noise levels for a five-year warranty.

We’re sticking with the Samsung SH-S223Q for our optical drive. DVD burners have become commodity items these days, so we’re not terribly inclined to get something fancier just because of our more generous budget.

Audio

Lately, many folks seem to scoff at the mere suggestion of getting a discrete sound card. Integrated motherboard audio has certainly come a long way, but if you’re using analog outputs, the best solutions still don’t sound very good when hooked up to half-way decent speakers or headphones. If you’re spending over $800 on a system like this one, we believe something like Asus’ Xonar DX is in order. This card sounds great, supports features like real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding, and does a decent job of emulating Creative’s EAX 5.0 positional audio effects in games. Unless you plan to use $5 RadioShack headphones forever, you won’t regret this purchase.

Enclosure and power

The Antec Sonata III costs more than the NSK 4480 in our cheaper config, but it has several advantages: a beefy 500W power supply with an 80% efficiency rating, a clean layout with sideways-mounted hard drive bays, and a host of noise reduction features. Antec even slaps an eSATA port on the Sonata’s front bezel, should you wish to plug in an external hard drive without crawling behind the system.

Utility Player alternatives

As with the Econobox, we have some alternative propositions for how to fill out the Utility Player.

Component Item Price
Processor
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 $189.99
AMD Phenom 9850 Black Edition $169.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H $128.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 $229.99
Storage
LG GGC-H20L Blu-ray combo drive $149.99

Processor

We have two suggestions for processor alternatives. The first, Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q8200, fits in our P45 motherboard and strikes us as the most sensible option for those seeking quad-core performance on a budget. While it has a lower clock speed than the Core 2 Duo E8400, the Q8200 should perform better in tasks that can take advantage of its two extra cores (like heavy multitasking and 3D rendering).

The Q8200’s 45nm Penryn architecture should also make it faster, cooler, and more overclockable than AMD offerings. Nevertheless, the Phenom 9850 Black Edition isn’t a bad deal at just under $170. Coupled with our alternative motherboard’s SB750 south bridge, the Phenom’s unlocked upper multiplier could allow for an easy and potentially meaty overclock, too.

We’re shunning the Phenom 9950 Black Edition because, while it’s also available with a 125W power envelope, it carries a $16 premium for a tiny 100MHz clock speed increase. If you really must have that extra smidgen of performance, just save your money and change the multiplier on the 9850. Or get the Q8200.

Motherboard

The Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H fills in as our sidekick for the Phenom, since it mates the aforementioned SB750 south bridge with a 790GX chipset, two PCI Express x16 slots, and Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics at a very reasonable price. The SB750 has a feature AMD calls Advanced Clock Calibration that can significantly improve the overclocking headroom of Phenom processors. For that reason, we think an SB750-equipped motherboard is really a must if you’re getting a Black Edition CPU.

Graphics

Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 260 continues to undercut the Radeon HD 4870 in the $200-250 price range, but both offerings have come down in price recently, and the difference now amounts to very little. Since the Radeon has better overall performance, we think it’s the best option, even with a slight price premium.

Storage

You might be wondering what LG’s GGC-H20L Blu-ray combo drive is doing in our alternatives section. We realize this is an expensive step up from our Samsung DVD burner, but we think some users will happily cough up a little extra for Blu-ray playback support. This drive can play HD DVDs, too, in case you find any of those lying around.

The Sweeter Spot
Indulgence without excess
The $1,500 Sweet Spot from system guides of old has gone, leaving its place to the $1,200 Sweeter Spot. Think of the Sweet Spot as brown sugar and the Sweeter Spot as white sugar. All we’ve done is cut the indulgent molasses, making the Sweeter Spot lighter on your wallet while keeping its payload of essential enthusiast hardware.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 $269.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P $136.99
Memory Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-800 $45.99
Graphics Zotac GeForce 260 GTX Reloaded $279.99
Storage
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $84.99
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $84.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $27.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Power supply Antec NeoPower 500W $54.99
Enclosure Antec P182 $149.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $1225.90

Processor

With the Utility Player, we provided a choice between fast dual-core and slower quad-core processors. You don’t face the same dilemma here. The Core 2 Quad Q9400‘s 2.66GHz clock speed and Penryn cores should allow it to tailgate higher-clocked Core 2 Duos in single-threaded apps, and thanks to its four cores, it can zoom well ahead with multithreaded workloads. We think that versatility makes the Q9400 a pretty sweet deal for just $270. Some of you may disagree and prefer a slightly faster model with more cache, though, in which case you’ll want to check out our alternatives section on the next page.

Motherboard

The Utility Player’s Gigabyte P45 motherboard doubles as our recommendation for the Sweeter Spot. Considering the GA-EP45-UD3P‘s features and price, we see no reason to outfit the Sweeter Spot with anything more extravagant—especially since we’re trying to stay reasonable here.

Memory

We’re also going with the same 4GB Kingston DDR2-800 kit we used in the Utility Player, largely because tricked-out modules rated for operation at higher speeds and tighter timings don’t deliver enough of a performance advantage to justify their associated price premiums. If you have extra cash to burn, you’ll see greater returns from other upgrades.

Again, you’ll want to run a 64-bit operating system to take full advantage of 4GB of RAM. Skip ahead to the second-to-last page of the guide for more in-depth OS advice.

Graphics

We’re shying away from multi-GPU setups for the Sweeter Spot’s primary config, since today’s $300 graphics cards perform beautifully even on big 24″ monitors with the detail turned up. Our recent analysis of the $300 GeForce GTX 260 “Reloaded” and Radeon HD 4870 1GB ended in a virtual tie, but when forced to choose here, we’ve decided to go with the GeForce. It’s not that the Nvidia card is faster (the two offerings are very closely matched); we just think the GeForce is more compelling for other reasons.

Nvidia has forged a close relationship with many game developers through its “The Way It’s Meant To Be Played” program and other initiatives. Often, lately, new releases have run better on Nvidia GPUs. The GTX 260 Reloaded also draws less power than the 4870 1GB, which is less heat to be dissipated. The difference doesn’t amount to much under load, but we measured a 30W gap between the two cards at idle. (That’s at least two of those swirly light bulbs.) We could also make a case for Nvidia’s PhysX tech, but the list of consumer apps and games that support it is very short indeed right now.

The Zotac card we recommend has additional upsides over other GTX 260 Reloaded variants,including higher clocks: 649MHz core, 1404MHz shader, and 1053MHz memory speeds (up from the default 576/1242/999MHz). Also, this card comes bundled with Race Driver: GRID, and Zotac covers it with a lifetime warranty. Well, technically, the warranty coverage drops down to two years if you don’t register within 30 days of purchase, but that’s not a bad deal either way.

As we noted in our review, the choice between this new GeForce GTX 260 with 216 SPs and the Radeon HD 4870 1GB is an exceptionally close one that may boil down to bundled extras or your personal preference. See our alternatives section for the other side of the story.

Storage

Our storage recommendation might seem odd, but we find a pair of 640GB WD Caviar Blacks more compelling than a single, higher-capacity drive. You’d have to pay well over $85 to get 750GB or 1TB hard drives with the same mix of great performance, long warranty coverage, and low noise levels. Also, picking two identical drives like these opens the door to RAID—more specifically, a mirrored RAID 1 array.

RAID 1 arrays can improve read performance, and their redundancy allows systems to survive single drive failures without data loss. Having a real-time mirror of the contents of your system’s hard drive can save loads of time when a drive fails—so much so that at least two of TR’s editors run RAID 1 in their primary desktops. If you value storage capacity over redundancy, though, nothing stops you from running these two drives independently or combining them in a 1.28TB JBOD array (or an even riskier but potentially faster RAID 0 setup).

We’re leaving the Blu-ray drive from our Utility Player alternatives out of the primary config here, opting instead for Samsung’s SH-S223Q. After all, but we’re striving to keep the Sweeter Spot relatively affordable, and we think most folks will be happy with just a DVD burner.

Audio

With fantastic sound quality, support for real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding, a PCI Express interface, and the ability to emulate the latest EAX effects, the Asus Xonar DX is easily the best mid-range sound card on the market—and a great match for the Sweeter Spot.

Power Supply

Because we picked a more upscale enclosure for this system, we had to go hunting for a separate power supply. We’ve actually given the Sweeter Spot a slight downgrade and picked Antec’s NeoPower 500W this time around. The price of the 550W model we chose last time has inexplicably doubled, and we think a 500W rating is still plenty for a machine like this—as long as it comes from a quality manufacturer, that is. We singled out the NeoPower 550W for a TR Recommended award, so we expect the 500W unit to be a solid performer, too.

If you have lofty upgrade plans and find the 500W ceiling too low, check out our alternatives for a fancier (but also pricier) power supply recommendation.

Enclosure
Antec’s P182 case isn’t particularly cheap, but it has many upsides, including composite panels, adjustable-speed 120mm fans, partitioned cooling zones, and a cable management system that lets you run cables behind the motherboard tray. The cooling design and composite panels in particular should enable delightfully low noise levels given the Sweeter Spot’s relatively quiet components.

Sweeter Spot alternatives

Perhaps you want an AMD graphics card, or maybe you’d rather trick out the Sweeter Spot a little more. Either way, our Sweeter Spot alternatives should cover your needs.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 $319.99
Graphics
PowerColor Radeon HD 4870 1GB $274.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB $99.99
LG GGC-H20L Blu-ray combo drive $149.99
Power supply
PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 $129.99
TV tuner
AVerMedia AVerTV Combo PCIe $99.99

Processor

Although it’s not a huge step up, the Core 2 Quad Q9550 has a clock speed advantage and twice the cache of the Core 2 Quad Q9400 in our primary recommendations. Since the Q9550 costs only $50 more, we think it’s a worthwhile step up for folks who have a little extra cash kicking around.

We should acknowledge that the Core i7-920 sells for slightly less right now. However, that CPU requires a far more expensive motherboard and very pricy DDR3 memory, which puts it out of the scope of our Sweeter Spot build. Have a look at the following page for our cheapest Core i7 system recommendation.

Graphics

We’ve already detailed our motives for picking the GeForce GTX 260 “Reloaded” on the previous page. If you disagree with us for whatever reason—be it a penchant for red circuit boards, AMD’s driver control panel, or monthly driver releases—you should be happy with the Radeon HD 4870 1GB. We’ve selected this particular variant because PowerColor clocks its core and memory at a respective 800MHz and 925MHz (up from the default 750MHz/900MHz). Unlike the Nvidia card, though, this offering doesn’t come with an excellent bundled game or optional lifetime warranty coverage.

Storage

If you’re after a higher-capacity solution for mass storage, the 1TB Caviar Green should make a fine secondary drive. This offering has a lower spindle speed, but its performance is adequate, its noise levels and power consumption are very low, and at $130, it’s pretty cheap. Do note that this is the “old” version of the drive with 250GB platters—the 333GB/platter version doesn’t seem to be available yet.

Last, but not least, movie lovers may want to complement the Sweeter Spot with LG’s GGC-H20L. This drive burns DVDs and reads both Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, so it should prove a capable all-around choice.

Power supply

Let’s be clear: you really don’t need a 750W power supply to feed the Sweeter Spot. However, we’d recommend PC Power & Cooling’s 750W Silencer if you’re planning to run a pair of Radeon HD 4870s in tandem. High-end graphics cards draw a lot of power, so you’ll want the additional headroom in that case. The Silencer won an Editor’s Choice Award in our enthusiast power supply round-up and retained that crown in our latest PSU comparo. With a five-year warranty, remarkably low noise levels, very clean power delivery, high efficiency, and dual 8-pin PCI Express power connectors, the Silencer should accommodate dual high-end GPUs perfectly. This PSU is quite long, though, and it’s somewhat of a tight fit in our recommended case.

TV tuner

The AVerMedia AVerTV Combo PCIe we picked for our last home-theater PC build has returned here, since we figure you might want to watch or record TV on your PC. This tuner has a PCI Express x1 interface, inputs for both analog and digital TV, support for ATSC and Clear QAM high-definition digital TV standards, and a hardware MPEG encoder with 3D comb and ghost reduction filters. On top of that, the AVerTV is certified for Windows Vista x86 and x64, and it comes with a Vista Media Center-ready remote control. The user reviews on Newegg are quite positive, too.

We suggest running either Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate if you get this tuner, since both OSes come with Microsoft’s Windows Media Center software. You might also want to grab the Windows Media Center TV Pack, which adds support for tuning unencrypted digital cable and other improvements.

The Crushinator
The Core i7 cometh
Because the Core i7 requires expensive motherboards and memory, we couldn’t really fit it into any of our previous builds. The Crushinator therefore serves as our entry-level Core i7 system. We’ve attempted to keep it relatively affordable, but we didn’t make major compromises just to accommodate Intel’s new CPU.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-920 $299.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 $298.99
Memory Crucial 6GB (3 x 2GB) DDR3-1066 $195.99
Graphics Zotac GeForce 260 GTX Reloaded $279.99
Storage
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $84.99
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB $84.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $27.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Power supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 $129.99
Enclosure Antec P182 $149.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $1642.90

Processor

You only need to know two things about the Core i7-920: it’s the cheapest offering in Intel’s new lineup, and it’s also almost as fast (if not faster) than Intel’s top Core 2 Extreme in many tasks. That makes it a pretty solid deal despite the high prices of matching motherboards and memory—especially since we were able to overclock our i7-920 from 2.66GHz to 3.3GHz. At that clock speed, a Core i7 can even outrun previous-gen dual-processor configs in some cases. Have a look at our review for all the specifics.

Motherboard

Gigabyte’s EX58-UD5 isn’t the cheapest Core i7 motherboard around (Newegg sells an MSI offering for $80 less), but it’s our favorite out of the few we’ve reviewed so far. It includes perks like triple PCI Express graphics slots, SLI and CrossFire multi-GPU support, oodles of Serial ATA ports, and dual Gigabit LAN. Gigabyte also throws in a Realtek ALC889A audio codec, which can do Dolby Digital Live audio encoding on the fly.

For overclockers, Gigabyte provides all the necessary BIOS options, and it even places a CMOS reset button in the external port cluster. We were able to push this board’s base clock from 133MHz to a stable 200MHz—theoretically enough to crank a Core i7-920 up to 4GHz—so it should have more than enough headroom for this system.

Memory

We contemplated going with a cheaper 3GB DDR3 memory kit in order to save a few bucks, but we decided against it. Software memory demands aren’t going down, and even our ~$800 Utility Player build has 4GB of RAM. Why pay twice as much for a Core i7 PC if it’s to spend more time waiting for apps to page in and out of memory?

Since the Core i7-920 doesn’t support DDR3 speeds above 1066MHz, we settled on a 6GB kit of Crucial DDR3-1066 RAM. This kit is one of the cheapest of its kind from a reputable company with lifetime warranty coverage, which is good enough for us. That said, the availability of DDR3 triple-channel kits seems pretty tight lately, so this item might go in and out of stock. If it’s not available at Newegg, feel free to use our price search engine to find a different reseller.

It goes without saying that you’ll want to run a 64-bit operating system to address all that memory. Skip a few pages ahead to our OS section for the skinny.

Graphics

We’re sticking with Zotac’s GeForce GTX 260 Reloaded here, simply because achieving significantly higher performance would mean paying upwards of $500 for a dual-GPU setup. Dual GPUs certainly have their place, but here, we’re talking about a card that can run Crysis Warhead at 1920×1200 with the detail turned up. That’s more than adequate even for a high-end Core i7 gaming rig. If you really must have a second GPU, check out our graphics alternative on the next page.

Storage

The Sweeter Spot’s storage configuration returns here, too. WD’s Caviar Blacks are excellent hard drives, and with two 640GB models, you can enjoy either a very spacious 1.28TB of storage capacity or a very safe 640GB RAID 1 array. And our Serial ATA DVD burner should satisfy the majority of users. Those who long for higher capacities or Blu-ray support will want to check our alternatives.

Audio

The Asus Xonar DX augments the Crushinator with fantastic analog audio quality and the ability to emulate the latest EAX effects in games—ideal for music-loving gamers who might (rightfully) grimace at the thought of sullying their Sennheiser or Grado headphones with integrated motherboard audio.

Power Supply

Whereas our Sweeter Spot build straddles the line between mid-range and high-end, the Crushinator unapologetically adheres to the latter category. As such, it needs a power supply with enough headroom to handle substantial overclocks and multiple graphics cards. The PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750W from our Sweeter Spot alternatives fits in perfectly as our primary recommendation here, for both its quiet efficiency and impressive power output.

Enclosure

The Antec P182 gets our vote here, as well, thanks to its noise-reducing composite panels, partitioned cooling zones, and clever cable management system. This might not be the roomiest or cheapest case you can get for a high-end build, but it’s certainly one of the quietest and best-designed. A word of warning, though: the 750W Silencer is a tight fit in this enclosure.

Crushinator alternatives

We’ve tried to keep the Crushinator relatively affordable despite its high-end components, but shoppers with fatter wallets might seek even fancier graphics and storage options.

Component Item Price
Graphics
HIS Radeon HD 4870 X2 $519.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB $129.99
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB $129.99
LG GGC-H20L Blu-ray combo drive $149.99
TV tuner
AVerMedia AVerTV Combo PCIe $99.99

Graphics

Because it couples two high-end GPUs on a single board, the Radeon HD 4870 X2 delivers some of the highest frame rates you can obtain today without taking up much more room than a regular, single-GPU graphics card. Don’t expect it to be as quiet, however.

We should stress that the GeForce GTX 260 Reloaded in our primary recommendations will handle just about any game at a 24″ display’s maximum resolution. If you get the Radeon HD 4870 X2, you ought to use it with a monitor at least that big. Otherwise, you’ll be squandering the card’s potential until more demanding games come along—and judging by the prevalence of console ports and cross-platform titles, that may take quite a while.

Storage

This is a pretty straightforward upgrade from our dual 640GB Caviar Blacks. These 1TB Caviar Blacks have the same 32MB of cache, the same five-year warranty coverage, but an extra platter each. They’re also very fast. Audiophiles and those who crave silent computing may want to stick with our primary option, though, because these 1TB drives are relatively loud.

We’re eschewing Seagate’s 1.5TB Barracudas here for two reasons: they generally perform worse than the Caviar Blacks, and some of them have a “freezing” problem that can cause headaches in RAID setups (and even in single-drive configurations).

TV tuner

For tuning and recording TV, the AVerMedia AVerTV Combo PCIe should serve you well. As we wrote in our Sweeter Spot alternatives section, this tuner features ATSC and Clear QAM digital TV support, Vista x86 and x64 certification, a bundled remote, and generally positive user reviews on Newegg.

The Double-Stuff Workstation
It’s back, baby
We haven’t often built “extreme” systems that splurge quite like this one, but we think the fastest Core i7 processor deserves a killer system config. The price-performance ratio may not be stellar, but the absolute performance certainly should be. If money isn’t much of an object and you’re looking for breakneck speed from your processor and graphics solutions, this is the system for you.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition $1059.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 $298.99
Memory Corsair 6GB (3 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 $299.00
Graphics Zotac GeForce 260 GTX Reloaded $279.99
Zotac GeForce 260 GTX Reloaded $279.99
Storage
Intel X25-M 80GB $621.00
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB $129.99
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB $129.99
LG GGC-H20L Blu-ray combo drive $149.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Power supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 $129.99
Enclosure Cooler Master Cosmos 1000 $179.99
TV tuner AVerMedia AVerTV Combo PCIe $99.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $3748.89

Processor

Yes, we know what you’re going to say. “Why not go with the Core i7-940 for half the price?” There are a couple of compelling reasons to pick the Core i7-965 Extreme Edition, however. For one, this chip has an unlocked upper multiplier, which should allow for effortless overclocking. Also, this is the only member of the Core i7 series to support memory speeds above 1066MHz without overclocking. In our tests, we’ve seen that the higher memory bandwidth has a notable impact on overall performance.

Couple those two advantages with a 3.2GHz default core clock speed (up from 2.93GHz on the i7-940) and a faster L3 cache clock, and you really are getting the fastest desktop processor ever. The Core i7-965 Extreme Edition even outpaced a Core 2 Extreme QX9775 “Skulltrail” dual-CPU configuration in several of our benchmarks.

Of course, we totally understand if you’d rather save $500 and go with a slightly slower (but still awesomely fast) model. That’s why we’ve featured the Core i7-940 in our alternatives section on the next page.

Motherboard

Believe it or not, more expensive motherboards do exist for the Core i7. However, we find the EX58-UD5 more than suitable—and its PCI Express slots are arranged such that they can accommodate our two graphics cards, PCIe sound card, and PCIe TV tuner.

Memory

Since the Core i7-965 Extreme Edition supports DDR3 memory speeds above 1066MHz, we’ve gone ahead and picked something a little more upscale. Our DDR3-1600 Corsair kit is one of the fastest you can buy right now, and it’s not priced much higher than comparable DDR3-1333 offerings. (The lifetime warranty coverage doesn’t hurt, either.) We’ll publish an article soon with more details, but take our word for it: higher memory speeds do matter in Core i7 systems.

As we noted a couple of pages back, triple-channel DDR3 memory kits are currently in short supply. Should this kit be out of stock when you’re planning your purchase, you can use our price search engine to find another vendor.

Graphics

Our GeForce GTX 260 Reloaded SLI configuration costs more and takes up more space than the Radeon HD 4870 X2 from our Crushinator alternatives. However, the Nvidia setup should generate less noise, perform a little better, and bring some of the Nvidia-only perks we’ve talked about—namely better support for newer games as a result of Nvidia’s closer ties with game developers.

We’ve traditionally sided with AMD in our multi-GPU recommendations because of the company’s multi-monitor support, but Nvidia’s latest batch of ForceWare drivers adds support for multiple displays in SLI mode. That means you can connect two monitors to the Double-Stuff and start up games in SLI mode without any hassles—something we find vital for this class of system.

Storage

You might recall our previous workstation builds included dual 10,000-RPM VelociRaptors. Well, we’ve traded those for one of Intel’s new 80GB X25-M solid-state drives. If you’ve read our review, you’ll be able to guess why. While write performance is nothing to, er, write home about, the X25-M absolutely zooms past mechanical hard drives in read speed tests—and its access times are orders of magnitude quicker than those of traditional hard drives. We’re not going with a RAID configuration because the X25-M lacks mechanical components, so it should be much more reliable than a traditional hard drive. We’ve also passed on Intel’s new X25-E Extreme, which has much faster write speeds, but only a 32GB capacity at an even higher price. The X25-M is expensive enough already.

(By the way, the X25-M has a 2.5″ form factor, so it probably won’t fit in a regular desktop case on its own. We suggest either purchasing an adapter or just duct-taping the thing inside your case. Hey, it’s just a bunch of flash memory chips in a metal enclosure, after all.)

Since the X25-M only has an 80GB capacity, we’re combining it with a pair of 1TB Western Digital Caviar Blacks for mass storage. Seagate’s 1.5TB Barracudas offer slower overall performance and potentially suffer from a freezing issue, so this is the highest-capacity solution we’d recommend right now. One the optical side of things, we’re featuring our Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive as a primary pick here, since we doubt you’ll want to watch only standard-definition DVDs on a system like this.

Audio

Asus’ Xonar DX fits in just as well here as in our other builds. Musicians and other users who need more connectivity options may want to consider the Xonar D2X in our alternatives section, though.

Power Supply

The PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 should have enough juice to handle our recommended components and a few future upgrades. Just as importantly, it should do so quietly. Higher-wattage solutions generally produce more noise, and we don’t think the tradeoff is worth it.

Enclosure

We believe a good workstation requires a big, roomy case, so we’ve brought back Cooler Master’s Cosmos 1000 for that purpose. This enclosure shares some design elements with the Antec P182 (like its flipped internal layout that houses the power supply at the bottom) but the Cosmos is bigger, badder, and more enthusiast-friendly. Four 120mm fans generate plenty of airflow, and the case has enough room to accommodate six hard drives, five 5.25″ drives, multi-GPU configurations, and internal liquid cooling systems.

Cooler Master also primed the case for quiet operation by using insulated side panels and low-speed fans. Hit our full review of the Cosmos for additional details on this case’s unique features and swanky design.

TV tuner

If you feel like making your high-powered workstation double as a digital video recorder, AVerMedia AVerTV tuner card should be a fine addition. If anyone gives you funny looks, just tell them how fast the Core i7-965 can encode video. Incidentally, do remember you can put PCIe x1 cards like this one (and the Xonar DX) into x16 slots. You’ll pretty much have to do that if you outfit the Double-Stuff with our dual graphics cards.

Double-Stuff alternatives

As complete as our Double-Stuff Workstation is, we still have some alternative ideas for how to fill it out.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-940 $579.99
Memory Crucial 6GB (3 x 2GB) DDR3-1066 $195.99
Graphics
HIS Radeon HD 4870 X2 $519.99
Storage
Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB $259.99
Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB $259.99
Sound card
Asus Xonar D2X $199.99

Processor

If you want to shave $500+ off the Double-Stuff’s price without greatly sacrificing performance, then we suggest replacing our Core i7-965 Extreme Edition with the cheaper 940 model. If you check our benchmarks, you’ll see the 940 isn’t all that much slower than the 965. On the flip side, it won’t be quite as straightforward to overclock.

Graphics

The Radeon HD 4870 X2 is a very capable alternative to our dual GeForces if you’d like to keep an expansion slot or two free. Do expect higher noise levels, however.

Memory

And here’s how you can save an extra $100: if you’re going with the Core i7-940, you’ll only need DDR3-1066 memory, so you can just opt for the 6GB Crucial kit we recommended for our Crushinator. Again, you can find another vendor through our price search engine if Newegg doesn’t have the kit in stock.

Storage
300GB VelociRaptors might not have the mind-blowing read speeds of Intel’s X25-M, but they have way more storage capacity and still offer great overall performance. You can run these in a RAID 1 setup for redundancy’s sake, too.

Sound card

Our Xonar DX will do a fantastic job in games and with analog speakers or headphones, but audio professionals might want something with a few more ports. The Xonar D2X is effectively the same product, but with more bundled cables as well as coaxial S/PDIF input and output ports. Oh, and the rear ports light up in the dark.

The operating system
Which Vista is right for you?
Before we begin, we should acknowledge that some readers may not feel comfortable with Windows’ prominent place on this page. We hold no particular grudge against Linux, FreeBSD, or other desktop PC operating systems, but we think most TR readers will want to stick with Windows. For starters, most of you play PC games, and we’ve tuned all of our main configs for gaming—something Linux doesn’t do nearly as well as Microsoft’s OSes. Also, we figure enthusiasts with enough expertise to run Linux on their primary desktops will already have a favorite Linux distribution picked out. As for Mac OS X, we find both the dubious legality and the lack of official support for running it on standard PCs too off-putting.

You may also be wondering whether Vista is really worth choosing over Windows XP. After all, Windows XP still works, and from a distance, Vista looks like little more than a prettied-up version of the same old OS. Appearances can be deceptive, however, and Windows Vista really is much more than that. Microsoft has overhauled the OS’s kernel with an emphasis on security, stability, power management, and performance. Because of those changes, Vista makes it much more difficult for malicious software or poorly crafted drivers to wreak havoc on the operating system. Vista’s built-in Windows Defender application and User Account Control mechanism both work to prevent malware and spyware infections. (Although we’ve found UAC to be a little annoying in practice, the extra hassle may be worth the peace of mind given the severity of the spyware/malware phenomenon.) Also, most device drivers no longer run at the kernel level, so if they crash, the effects should be no worse than if any random application were to take a dive.

Along with superior stability and security, Vista boasts system-wide instant search, a new networking stack, a new audio architecture with per-application volume control, and DirectX 10. If you want to take full advantage of a shiny new graphics card in DX10 games like Crytek’s Crysis or Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, then you’ll want Vista.

Which edition?

So if Vista is the right OS, which version should you get? To make things simple, here’s a chart that lists the four retail Vista editions and the major features they include for desktop systems:

As you can see, Windows Vista Home Basic is stripped to the bone and doesn’t come with any of the goodies the more expensive editions offer. If you’re going to bother with Vista at all, you might as well enjoy the additional features available with full-fat versions of the OS. Besides, Vista just isn’t Vista without shiny transparent windows and live thumbnails.

With the pricier Home Premium version of Vista, Microsoft has essentially produced a successor to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 that’s intended to be more of a jack-of-all-trades for home desktops than an OS aimed squarely at home theater PCs. Home Premium includes Microsoft’s Windows Media Center software, which rolls PVR and media playback functionality into an attractive GUI optimized for display on a television. That media-centric functionality is bolstered by Windows Media Extender, which allows you to access movies and music stored on your PC via compatible Media Center Extenders like set-top boxes and even the Xbox 360. You also get backup scheduling tools, as well as software to burn your own DVDs and make high-definition movies. This version of Vista would get our vote if it weren’t for the lack of Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) software.

RDC allows you to connect to your home PC remotely, and it’s not included in Vista Home Premium. Several of TR’s editors use RDC extensively in order to control their main PCs from their laptop computers. Thanks to RDC, there’s no need to install every last program on a mobile computer or to sync all data between one’s desktop and laptop systems. This is a great option, whether on the road or from the couch, so it’s not a capability we’d write off lightly.

Your least expensive option with RDC support used to be Vista Business, which oddly now sells for the same price as Vista Ultimate, at least in a retail package. As its name implies, Vista Business is designed mainly for professional users. This version lacks media center functionality, but makes up for it with industrial-strength backup and networking tools.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Vista Ultimate. Fragmented features sets may save you some cash, but there are some who just want it all. This edition contains all the features from the Home Premium and Business versions plus BitLocker, a real-time hard drive encryption tool that helps keep your data safe from prying eyes. Home Premium and Business editions used to be much better values than Vista Ultimate, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore.

32-bit or 64-bit?

The x64 version of Windows XP was somewhat of a dead end because of limited third-party support, but all retail editions of Windows Vista offer a license for one installation of the OS in either 32-bit or 64-bit form. (You’ll probably need to hit Microsoft’s website and cough up a $10 fee to get the actual 64-bit installation disc, though.) You therefore have the option of installing whichever version you please, and most companies releasing Vista drivers have done so in both 32-bit and 64-bit formats. Since all of the processors we recommend in this guide are 64-bit capable, and most of the systems have 4GB of memory or more, the 64-bit version of Windows Vista is the most sensible choice. (For some background on what makes 64-bit computing different at a hardware level, have a look at our take on the subject.)

Vista x64 also offers some security features the 32-bit version lacks. According to this article by Paul Thurrott, Vista x64 should “virtually eliminate” remote system attacks, prevent malicious software from patching the operating system kernel, and support the security features inside AMD’s and Intel’s latest processors at the hardware level.

There are some caveats, though.

For one, Vista x64 presents some device driver challenges. Older 32-bit drivers won’t work on this OS, so your hardware will either need to be supported by Vista’s built-in set of drivers or the device manufacturer will have to offer 64-bit Vista drivers. Most of the core system components we’ve recommended already have 64-bit Vista drivers, but if you’re carrying over peripherals like printers and scanners, you’ll want to look into drivers for them. Also, Vista x64 requires all drivers to be signed. Since bad drivers are frequently the culprit in an unstable system, this requirement makes sense in environments where stability is crucial. It’s not so great, though, if you’re the type to run user-customized graphics drivers or the like. Another compatibility snag comes from Vista x64’s lack of support for 16-bit software, which will matter to those folks who are attached to a really old application for some reason.

Despite these little downsides, we think most enthusiasts will want to the x64 version. As we’ve already explained, 32-bit flavors of Windows only support up to 4GB of RAM, and that upper limit covers things like video memory. In practice, that means that your 32-bit OS will only be able to use 3-3.5GB of system RAM on average and even less than 3GB if you have more than one discrete GPU. With both Vista and newer games pushing the envelope in terms of memory use, the 4GB limit can get a little uncomfortable for an enthusiast PC.

On top of that, Vista x64 has matured substantially since its retail release in January 2007, as has third-party software and driver support. Unless you have a good reason to stick with a 32-bit OS, we think Vista’s x64 higher memory support ceiling and security/stability improvements will serve you better. Besides, with a retail-boxed copy of Windows Vista, you can always scrap your installation and load up the 32-bit version if you run into any major problems.

OEM or retail?

Just like Windows XP, Vista is offered in both OEM and retail versions. The retail versions are intended for consumers, while the OEM versions are officially intended for use by PC system builders. You can get a nice discount by going with an OEM version of Windows, but you’ll be making some compromises in the process.

For one, the retail versions of Vista ship with both 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64) edition DVDs in the box, but the OEM versions require one to choose up front, because they come with only one of the two.

Additionally, Microsoft has stated that its licensing terms won’t stop enthusiasts who run retail versions of Windows Vista from changing major hardware components regularly or from transferring the OS installation to another PC. However, OEM versions are technically tied to the first systems on which they’re installed, and Microsoft may choose to enforce that limitation via its software activation scheme at any time. If all of this sounds confusing to you, that’s because it is. For more on Vista OEM and upgrade licensing issues, see our article on the subject. The bottom line here is that you’re taking a risk when buying an OEM version of Vista, and it may come back to bite you if Microsoft invalidates your software license after a hardware upgrade. If you’re likely to upgrade your PC before Microsoft releases the next version of Windows, you should probably get a retail copy of Vista. Then again, we don’t yet know how strictly Microsoft will enforce the OEM transfer limits. The gamble could pay off.

If you do choose to gamble on the OEM version of Vista, you will be saving some money up front. Here’s how the OEM and retail pricing compare.

Vista Home Basic

Vista Home Premium

Vista Business

Vista Ultimate

OEM price (32-bit) $89.99 $99.99 $139.99 $179.99
OEM price (64-bit) $89.99 $99.99 $139.99 $189.99
Retail price $159.99 $222.99 $278.99 $267.49

We aren’t keen on paying Microsoft’s retail prices when OEM versions are this much more affordable, but we dislike the limitations that the OEM versions of Vista impose, so our nod goes provisionally to retail. If you’ve already decided the 32-bit versus 64-bit question and you’re willing to risk it, though, the OEM discount might be worth taking.

Peripherals, accessories, and extras
Matters of religion and taste
Now that we’ve examined operating system choices in detail, let’s have a look at some accessories. We don’t have a full set of recommendations at multiple price levels in the categories below, but we can make general observations and point out specific products that are worthy of your consideration. What you ultimately choose in these areas will probably depend heavily on your own personal preferences.

Displays

The world of monitors has enough scope and variety that we can’t keep track of it all, especially because we don’t often review monitors. However, we do appreciate a good display—or two or three of them, since several of us are multi-monitor fanatics—so we can offer a few pieces of advice.

Let’s get one thing clear before we begin: LCDs have long since supplanted CRTs as the display type of choice for gamers and enthusiasts. LCDs might have been small and of insufficient quality for gaming and photo editing six or seven years ago, but the latest models have huge panels, lightning-quick response times, and impressive color definition. Unless you’re already content with a massive, power-guzzling CRT, there’s little reason to avoid LCDs.

Despite their near-universal sharpness and thin form factors, not all LCDs are created equal. Besides obvious differences in sizes and aspect ratios, LCDs have different panel types. Wikipedia has a good run-down of different kinds of LCD panels in this article, but most folks will only be bothered by one differentiating attribute: whether their display has a 6-bit twisted nematic + film (TN+film) panel. Most sub-$500 monitors have 6-bit TN panels, which means 18-bit color definition instead of standard 24-bit color. Those panels use dithering to simulate colors that are out of their scope, yielding sub-optimal color accuracy, and they often have poor viewing angles on top of that. 8-bit panels typically look better, although they tend to have higher response times and loftier prices.

So, what should you get? We think that largely depends on which of our systems you’re planning to build. For instance, folks who purchase the Sweeter Spot ought to splurge on a nice 8-bit, 24″ display—perhaps the latest revision of Dell’s 2408WFP, which seems to lack the kinks of the original model. Pairing the Sweeter Spot with a small, $200 display would really be a waste, since high-end graphics cards provide headroom specifically for gaming at high resolutions. It’d be a bit like hooking up a Blu-ray player to a standard-def TV.

The same goes for our two high-end builds, although we recommend getting a nice 24″ 8-bit monitor with the Crushinator and something bigger (like Dell’s 30″ UltraSharp 3007WFP-HC) with the Double-Stuff Workstation. Our workstation build has two high-end graphics cards, after all, and you should have an ample monitor budget if you’re purchasing a $3,700 machine, anyway.

On the lower end of the spectrum, we think the Utility Player matches up well with less expensive monitors, like 20″, 22″, and 24″ displays with TN panels. Picky users may scoff at 6-bit displays, but they’re quite a bit cheaper and more than adequate for most applications. With the Econobox, something like a sub-$200 19″ or 20″ LCD should do fine.

Mice and keyboards

New mice seem to crop up every other week, but we tend to favor offerings from Logitech and Microsoft because both companies typically make quality products and offer great warranty coverage. (Nothing beats getting a free, retail-boxed mouse if your old one starts behaving erratically.) Everyone has his preferences when it comes to scroll wheel behavior, the number of buttons present, and control panel software features, but one particular attribute lies at the heart of debates: wirelessness.

Wireless mice have come a long way over the past few years, and you can expect a relatively high-end one to feel just as responsive as a wired mouse. However, some folks—typically gamers—find all wireless mice laggy, and they don’t like the extra weight of the batteries. Tactile preferences are largely subjective, but wireless mice do have a few clear advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, you can use them anywhere on your desk or from a distance, and you don’t run the risk of snagging the cable. That said, good wireless mice cost more than their wired cousins, and they force you to keep an eye on battery life. Some favor wireless mice with docking cradles for that reason, since those let you plug in at night and not have to worry about finding a pair of charged AAs in the middle of a Team Fortress 2 match.

We can also find two distinct schools of thoughts on the keyboard front. Some users will prefer the latest and fanciest offerings from Logitech and Microsoft, with their smorgasbord of media keys, sliders, knobs, scroll wheels, and even built-in LCD displays. Others like their keyboards loud, clicky, and heavy enough to beat a man to death with. If you’re one of the old-school types, you may want to try a Unicomp Customizer 101/104 or an original vintage-dated IBM Model M. Fifty bucks is a lot to put down for a keyboard, but these beasts can easily last a couple of decades.

Floppy drive/card reader combo

Since the advent of cheap USB thumb drives and broadband Internet access, floppy drives have essentially been rendered obsolete. They can still come in handy in some rare instances, though. You could just spend $10 on a run-of-the-mill internal floppy drive, but we prefer to opt for a floppy/multi-flash-card reader combo like this Koutech model instead. You’re still getting a floppy drive, but the added flash card reading functionality may prove more useful over the long run, and you’re not paying a whole lot more.

Cooling

We’re recommending retail processors in all of our configs because they come with longer warranties. Those CPUs also come bundled with stock cooling units that, these days, offer decent cooling performance with reasonably low noise levels. However, if you want an even quieter system, additional overclocking headroom, or both, you may want to look into an aftermarket CPU cooler. We’re fans of Zalman’s CNPS9500 AT (and the CNPS9500 AM2 for AMD Socket AM2 processors), but there are plenty of alternatives, from massive, tower-style heatsinks with 120mm fans (like Scythe’s SCINF-1000) to elaborate liquid cooling kits. We generally prefer air coolers paired with large fans because big fans move more air per revolution and can thus spin slower, producing less noise than their smaller counterparts.

Conclusions

Going into this, we expected a blurrier separation between the Core 2 and Core i7. However, with prices for X58 motherboards and triple-channel DDR3 memory kits the way they are, Intel and its partners seem to have drawn a clear line in the sand. You shouldn’t expect to build a complete, well-balanced Core i7 rig for much less than $1,500. Anything significantly cheaper than that, and a Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Quad is still the best choice.

That’s good news for anyone eyeing our Econobox, Utility Player, or Sweeter Spot builds, since it also means Intel’s previous-generation processors haven’t become obsolete overnight. Intel may not drag Core 2 chips out behind the woodshed until the second half of 2009, when it’s scheduled to release more affordable Core i7 derivatives for both desktops and notebooks.

If you need assistance in the meantime, feel free to take a stroll down to the System Builders Anonymous section of our forums. That forum is teeming with users asking for help with either building new machines or old ones, so you’ll find plenty of company—and help—if you’re not feeling particularly confident about a new build.

Comments closed
    • indeego
    • 11 years ago

    One small note:

    In your guide you recommend the Antec NeoPower 500W Power supply and an Antec P182 for the The Sweeter Spot system. The 8-pin Cable for the EATX12V isn’t /[

    • davitch
    • 11 years ago

    this was a gripe abt software RAID, but its moot and i can’t find the post delete

    • sdack
    • 11 years ago

    Frankly, none of the boxes really matches may taste. Its too mixed up and it seems as if not enough attention has been paid to power consumption or noise. It also lacks recommendations for monitors and speakers, and perhaps a printer and a scanner/camera, too. Li’le weak.

      • indeego
      • 11 years ago

      TR doesn’t review those, and I hope they don’t start (although the Monitors might be niceg{<.<}g)

        • sdack
        • 11 years ago

        Why not?

        Do you think they would not be ready to do it?

          • Meadows
          • 11 years ago

          There are enough common sites reviewing those plain items already. Just look up some in the shortbreads.

      • End User
      • 11 years ago

      Noise is dealt with via the case and GPU options. The only other thing I can think of is CPU cooler options and it is easy to find a quiet cooler out there. I overclock my 260GTX 216 so its fan is cranked and that throws the quiet factor out of the equation. We are talking gaming systems here, not HTPCs.

      If you want to save energy don’t use a computer.

        • Skrying
        • 11 years ago

        No. There is no rule that forbids a high performing system from being silent. In fact they’re not related at all. A smart heatsink choice for instance can net you very similar results as one with an ultra loud fan and provide the benefit of silence. Purchasing an after market GPU heatsink means you can use quiet fans yet still keep your overclock. Suspending hard drives means you can enjoy a fast drive without the noise pollution. Using targeted airflow and modify a case means you can often net better temperatures for less volume. Those who crank all their fans are simply insane. You don’t have to do that to achieve good overclocks. Loud systems are poorly built systems.

        • sdack
        • 11 years ago

        You are speaking of game systems but I am not and neither does the TR article say that these are all designed for gaming.

        If you look hard enough then you will find that noise and power consumption is covered everywhere and by some parts, but not by all, which is why I said that it is all mixed up. It would be nice to see a fan-less system, a silent office PC and a water-cooled gaming PC. And if the article wants to be a systems guide for Christmas then it should include a netbook and one or two notebooks, too.

        “/[

    • Azmount
    • 11 years ago

    Why do you have only one AMD system? I simply cannot see how one can recommend a $180 IntEl dual core and have no mentioning of the $180 AMD quad that offers better performance than that IntEl dual core.

    Is TechReport going to become another Anand?

      • sdack
      • 11 years ago

      The Utility Player alternative lists the AMD quad. [fixed, tnx Cyril]

        • Cyril
        • 11 years ago

        That’s the Utility Player alternative. The Econobox alternative has an Athlon X2. 😉

    • Schuthrax
    • 11 years ago

    I am disappointed that you didn’t consider alternative operating systems. I am not an OS zealot, but it would have been nice if you mentioned that it was possible to install OS X (if you’re building your own PC, you can certainly handle installing it), a flavor of Linux, or if you must have Windows, then Server 2008 seems to be your best choice for 64-bit.

      • Cyril
      • 11 years ago

      /[

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 11 years ago

      Server 2008 is much too expensive for a gaming machine, nor does it work well out-of-the-box for said purposes.

      • d2brothe
      • 11 years ago

      OSX cannot be installed on a non mac machine according to the EULA, officially publishing a suggestion to may be a risky proposition.

    • PRIME1
    • 11 years ago

    A lot of sites are showing the 260 core 216 ahead of the 4870 1GB using the new Big Bang II drivers so it’s a good choice for the Crushinator.

    Bender approved.

      • CampinCarl
      • 11 years ago

      But are those the standard clocked versions or the overclocked ones? I’m still on the fence on whether or not I should get a 4870 1GB or GTX 260 Reloaded…performance at 4MP doesn’t matter to me, I have a 22″ LCD (1680×1050) but I want it to last a couple years like my 7800GT did.

        • sdack
        • 11 years ago

        If you play PhysX accelerated games or plan to play one then you should get the Nvidia card. If you had Nvidia before and had a good experience with it then why would you want to change to ATI?

          • Fighterpilot
          • 11 years ago

          How about to take advantage of DX10.1?….lots of new games coming with it and unavailable on NVidia cards.
          (see today’s Shortbread)

            • Meadows
            • 11 years ago

            By the time those games materialize (or matter), Windows 7 will be on the doorstep and nVidia’s Dx 11 entry along with it.
            At least I hope so, I’d be interested in the new hype.

            • sdack
            • 11 years ago

            What does this 0.1 of extra DX do? So far I have heard and seen nothing of it. PhsyX works quite nice and makes a huge difference in game experience. I do not see why anyone would would want to drop it in favor of a 0.1.

            • Convert
            • 11 years ago

            §[<http://www.istartedsomething.com/20070808/direct3d-101-siggraph/<]§ You may have already seen that, what it means exactly I couldn't really tell you.

            • sdack
            • 11 years ago

            Thank you.

            • PRIME1
            • 11 years ago

            10.1 is about as useful as a one legged man in an a$$ kicking contest.

            There are far more PhysX games out there.

            You fail.

            • Krogoth
            • 11 years ago

            Hardly anybody cares for both “features”.

            DX 10.1 is just another tweak that adds a few more details nothing major.

            GPU accelerated physics is a joke in the long run. The mid-range and lower-end stuff will not be up to task while trying to do graphical rendering at the same time. IGPs (70% of the market) cannot do it or will not support it. Developers will go “meh” on supporting it with their future projects it unless Nvidia/ATI sponsors them to use it.

            Multi-core CPUs are a safer bet for physics rendering. They are getting cheaper and more commonplace with the mainstream market. There is no proprietary nastiness or vendor bias to muck around with. Customers are not forced to buy $299+ GPU, or go the cheapo SLI/CF route to get decent performance.

            • Meadows
            • 11 years ago

            Really. Name just two. You can’t name GRAW, UT3 or Mirror’s Edge, and they must be PC games. (Even if we count the above 3, it hardly qualifies for the “faaar more” notion.)

            • sdack
            • 11 years ago

            I am currently playing /[http://www.nzone.com/object/nzone_physxgames_home.html<]§ To name some: Gears of War Splinter Cell Double Agent Sacred 2 Unreal Tournament 3 I do not think DX10.1 is a failure, but there will always be better 3D graphics and I have seen it since the appearance of the game DOOM. I believe the games that will use DX10.1 will only use it to make their DX10 graphics run faster but provide little to no improvement in image quality. Without it would the performance of the ATI cards likely only fall behind Nvidia again. Faster graphics in general allow for more details but this is only true for both brands. Calculating the physic by the GPU is then not as dumb as some people think. The calculations need to be done by something and if it is done directly in video memory by the GPU does it save a lot of bandwidth, and the high parallelism of the calculations is a domain of the GPU. Besides, ATI is doing it, too, with their Stream initiative but currently just not as successful as Nvidia (name a game if you can ...). The CPU will however still play an important role as the animation of characters in games progresses. Without the need for the CPU to calculate the physic of the objects will this lead to better animations including better physics. So what is DX 0.1 compared to that? Nothing.

            • Meadows
            • 11 years ago

            I wouldn’t say that, since in the grand scheme of things, both exist to improve performance.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 11 years ago

            Carnak can see into the future…

            Some day, in the distant future, NVidia will finally introduce a newer GPU than the DX 10.0 G92 that they’ve been milking in renamed product after renamed product for so long. That wonderful new GPU of the future, when it finally arrives, will include DX 10.1 support. On that day, NVidia’s evil marketing geniuses will stop paying developers to withhold support for DX 10.1, and the NVidiots will miraculously declare that DX 10.1 is terrific.

            • Meadows
            • 11 years ago

            That must be an alternate dimension, because nVidia’s next GPU will be Dx 11 (and therefore 10.1) compliant for Windows 7 and new games, but until then, they’ll milk the current cards a bit more. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I mean, the cards _[

            • sdack
            • 11 years ago

            Nonsense! They will so totally reinvent it and release it as DX10.9, then in a next step as DX10.99 and then as DX10.999, always making sure not to jump to the next major number because it would be /[

    • walkman
    • 11 years ago

    TR, this was an incredibly thorough, helpful, and well written article. Kudo’s.

    • mboza
    • 11 years ago

    The WD 640, 750GB and 1TB Caviar Black are all on newegg at 7.5-7.7 GB/$, with the 750 being cheapest. So is there something special about the 640GB model that gets it the nod ahead of the larger drives?

      • sdack
      • 11 years ago

      It had been tested by TR and showed to be pretty fast.

      • Prototyped
      • 11 years ago

      WD6400AAKS, $70, 9.14 GB per $.
      WD7501AAKS, $90, 8.33 GB per $.
      WD1001FALS, $120, 8.33 GB per $.

      WTF are you talking about? The 640 GB Caviar q[

        • mboza
        • 11 years ago

        The utility player and sweeter spot both have 2x640GB Caviar Blacks, with a suggestion for RAID1. But if not using RAID, is there any reason to go for say 3×640 instead of 2x 1TB, or just get a single 1TB drive instead of 2×640?

          • sdack
          • 11 years ago

          There are several reasons. The optimist would say that with two drives you will still have one drive when the other drops out, whereas the pessimist will tell you that with two drives the chance for a failure is twice as high.

          If not the price then I think the best reason to go for just one 1TB drive is the lower power consumption and heat production. Two drives can only provide you with more speed and a backup while requiring more space, power and cooling.

          I use two drives in my PC, but just because I still got some older drives around, unwilling to die. I could plug in more if I wanted to but rather use a USB stick and DVD-RAMs/RWs for backups. A virus or worm, a broken driver or the wrong application can make an end to a RAID1 mirror in no time.

    • shaq_mobile
    • 11 years ago

    you guys should consider renaming the crushinator ( though it is a cool name, it might offend those who have been crushed in construction accidents and building collapses etc)

    how about…

    the ownination station
    or
    ernest scared stupid

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      I don’t think crushed people are here to read this.

      • Fighterpilot
      • 11 years ago

      Let’s not let political correctness infect TR thanks.
      I don’t care if left handed gay whales take offense to that…even those who may have been crushed.

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        You mean left finned.

        • shaq_mobile
        • 11 years ago

        i cant tell if youre joking or serious

          • sdack
          • 11 years ago

          He is young and never had a severe accident or knows anyone who had. You cannot blame him for that. The name crushinator is at best stupid.

      • scottynx
      • 11 years ago

      What if someone had an extreme losing streak in an online death match (getting owned) which caused massive long-term harm to their sense of self-worth? Reading of your “ownination station” will remind them of that horrible trauma and possibly cause them to relapse into depression.

        • sdack
        • 11 years ago

        Such a person should not be playing any computer games. So the name owninator could actually remind the person to stay away from them. … 😉

    • Forge
    • 11 years ago

    I have a quibble about some remarks in the x32/x64 paragraph on the OS page.

    You *can* use some 32 bit drivers, but not many. It’s not for everyone, but with about 30 seconds work I got an ancient USB scanner working on my Vista x64 install last week.

    Basically the make or break is the quality of coding in the driver. If it was written to best practices (few were), it can work thanks to some really great reverse-compatibility stuff that’s in MS’s x64 designs, both XP and Vista.

      • indeego
      • 11 years ago

      I think your post demonstrates their point quite nicelyg{<.<}g

    • Fighterpilot
    • 11 years ago

    Re: The Crushinator’s graphics board(great name by the way).
    l[http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814102809<]§

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      That depends on whether the would-be user wants to pay 130 dollars for a step-up as well as multi-GPU software hurdles.

        • Tamale
        • 11 years ago

        The 4870 X2 doesn’t suffer multiple GPU hurdles..

          • Nitrodist
          • 11 years ago

          Not talking about 4870×2’s, only 4850×2’s.

    • jjj
    • 11 years ago

    “Since the Core i7-920 doesn’t support DDR3 speeds above 1066MHz”
    Who the hell is the target audience here if it’s presumed that ppl would just run stock settings?
    It angers me when i see such recomandation since people that don’t know any better might actually go and buy it.

      • Krogoth
      • 11 years ago

      IIRC, the extra memory bandwidth only mattered in applications were bandwidth had traditionally has been king. It was a marginal boost to boot not certainly worth the extra price premium.

      I do agree that a serious workstation will never see any overclocking. System stability is #1 for several reasons.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 11 years ago

      You assume that everybody who reads this site overclocks.

      It’d be an interesting poll: “Do you overclock your main desktop?”

        • 5150
        • 11 years ago

        Yes, at work anyway.
        No, on my home laptop.

        • srg86
        • 11 years ago

        I for one, am quite happy to run everything at stock. I even use overclocker friendly motherboards, not to over clock, but for and extra margin of reliability at stock.

          • d0g_p00p
          • 11 years ago

          Ditto. However I overclock at some point so I can hold off on upgrades. I run my Q6600 at stock even though I know it can hit 3.2Ghz with little effort. When the time comes and I need to overclock I will do so and make my system last longer.

      • BossDrum
      • 11 years ago

      I used to overclock and tweak settings like a madman. I just don’t have that kind of time anymore and system stability is too important to me. I’ll do some quick and easy tweaks, but I remember all too well the time consuming troubleshooting when something went wrong or trying to baby a new component into the config.

      I know that it *seems* that it doesn’t take much time to tweak to perfection, but I just don’t have that time anymore.

      It’s a great adventure when you have tons of time and the most critical thing your rig is used for is gaming.

        • Usacomp2k3
        • 11 years ago

        2nded. Then again, I don’t have a desktop any more, so it’s a moot point on the hardware side.

    • Skrying
    • 11 years ago

    Does the HD4870 really out perform the 260? Every recent chart, graph, and review I’ve seen seems to suggest otherwise. The 4870 512MB seems to consistently run out of memory when you start enabling AA, even at 1680×1050 resolution. I’m trying to decide between these two cards right now and with the Geforce 260 at $210~ and including Far Cry 2 vs the 4870 512MB at $230~ and no game… well. I want the best performing card, FC2 is a game I want to play but not a game I’d buy till bargin bin. But again, every chart I’ve seen as late has the 260 beating the 4870 but in GRID (don’t care about at all) and CoD4 (care about, but the performance is so high it doesn’t matter).

    Sigh, this is really hard. 🙁

    Edit: Also, just to confirm Phenom X4 + GeForce 260/HD4870 vs E8400 + HD4850 is a certain win for the Phenom combo in gaming… correct?

      • FubbHead
      • 11 years ago

      I say choose whichever have the best price. From benchmarks, they seem similar enough in performance that you probably won’t notice the difference. Price, or your software preference (like control panel, physics acceleration, etc).

      When it comes to gaming and processors, a high processor speed is probably still to prefer over more cores. But neither should have a problem outputting the frames needed (ie. what most monitor is capable of showing) and a quad core could be nice to have outside of gaming.

        • Skrying
        • 11 years ago

        Yeah, my main concern was long term memory wise. Anyway, I decided on the HD 4870 1GB because I made a few adjusts (Newegg combo deals are amazing!) and I can now fit it happily inside my ultra tight budget.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      If you do serious gaming (maxed out textures, 1600×1200 or higher resolution, 4x antialias on average) then yes; recent titles can very well eat past the 512 MiB VRAM quite fast and willingly.

        • HurgyMcGurgyGurg
        • 11 years ago

        At 1680×1050 with 4x AA I notice slow down due to 512 mb (4870) in two games only, GRID with Ultra textures and Crysis on all Enthusiast settings.

        That said for Crysis I really don’t notice it much except for occasional drops but when ever I move up to 8x AA on GRID, it slide shows about every 30 seconds for a few seconds.

        However, for the performance of the 4870, it hardly affects any games unless you run above 1680×1050.

        As a side note, it will probably make the 4870 a weaker product in the long run though, since once next years killer titles start coming out the problem will be a lot worse and common.

        • FubbHead
        • 11 years ago

        Yeah, because being a serious gamer means you run everything at maximum…right? Pff… 🙂

          • Meadows
          • 11 years ago

          I was trying to avoid talking about “dedicated players” who couldn’t care less what they play on, or how the game looks like, as long as they can play. There’s a cross section between the two groups, too.

            • FubbHead
            • 11 years ago

            So it’s not dedicated player doing serious gaming then, huh.

    • Prototyped
    • 11 years ago

    Coolers for the LGA 1366 processors? You folks have talked about Core i7 overclocking, but the Cooling section on the last page still only has LGA 775 heatsinks. Or is the stock Core i7 heatsink good enough? (The LGA 1366 mounting holes are further apart, so a mounting kit or perhaps a different design would be needed.)

    • Phatkat
    • 11 years ago

    Hmm if power consumption is a concern in the budget section i would love to see an x2 4850e 45w + Biostar GF8100 + HD4670 :p Also the x3 8450 for me is a fantastic low cost CPU even more so if your needs include HDTV playback!

    • MadManOriginal
    • 11 years ago

    There’s one thing I noticed about the WD 640GB SE16 vs Caviar Black recently when browsing WD’s website. On the drive specification data sheet .pdfs the Blue/SE16 has a “Non-recoverable read errors per bits read” of <1 in 10^15 while the Black is <1 in 10^14 (strangely unlike the 750GB and 1TB Blacks which are 1 in 10^15) so the Blue series is rated with a lower error rate than the bottom half of the Blacks.

    Is that even something to consider as important between the two drives? Does WD have any explanation for this?

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 11 years ago
      • Cyril
      • 11 years ago

      Considering the 3.2GHz Athlon X2 6400+ is slower than the 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo E7200 in many of our tests (including WorldBench) [1], I doubt you can make a case for the 3.1GHz Athlon X2 6000+ “stomping” on the 2.5GHz Pentium E5200 in terms of performance.

      Even if you could, the AMD chip has a higher thermal envelope, worse overclocking potential, and a sketchier upgrade path. It’s not that the AMD chip isn’t a great solution, but as far as we can tell, the Intel offering is just better overall.

      [1] §[<https://techreport.com/articles.x/14606/6<]§

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 11 years ago

        The WorldBench advantage for the C2D is all in the WinZIP score. Nearly all of the other applications favor the Athlon64 X2.

          • Prototyped
          • 11 years ago

          . . . and I’ve found WorldBench’s results to be questionable at best especially if you look at the more CPU-intensive scores, such as video encoding, which seems to be performed single-threaded.

          As xbit has found numerous times, cache does start mattering below about 3 MiB L2, so it’d be fallacious to consider the E5200’s performance similar to the E7200’s without actually doing benchmarks. (Keep in mind that while the E7200 supports SSE 4.1, the E5200 does /[http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/cpu/display/core2duo-e7300-pdc-e5200.html<]§ (It'll be interesting to see how the K10-based Athlon X2 7x50 processors fare; those are launching toward the end of this quarter. They run even hotter, with the 2 MiB L3 cache and a 95 W TDP rating, presumably due to being quad-core processors with two cores disabled, but they do clock up to 2.7 GHz, higher than the Phenom X4 9950.)

          • Cyril
          • 11 years ago

          That’s not accurate. The Intel chip has significant leads in WorldBench’s WinZIP and Photoshop tests, and it’s ahead in the Nero 7, 3ds max (DirectX), and Windows Media Encoder tests. The Athlon is ahead in the other five WorldBench tests.

          Still not seeing any stomping, whether in WorldBench or other benchmarks.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 11 years ago

            The AMD Athlon64 X2 6000+ is $76 -$10 code “AMD112410” = $66 with free shipping at Newegg today.

            Look at the combination with an MSI 780G motherboard for a total of $143 -10MIR, with free shipping.

            That’s $49 less than the delivered price of the Intel Pentium E5200 CPU + P43 motherboard, even before we get the additional $10 back for the mail-in rebate.

            The 780G motherboard also has integrated graphics that are quite suitable for HTPCs or for builds that don’t require gaming performance.

            • Prototyped
            • 11 years ago

            Gigabyte GA-EG31M-S2, $53 for a pretty decent Intel-chipset motherboard.

            Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200, $83.

            Total, $136, or less than your $143 combination.

            WTF are you on about?

        • Skrying
        • 11 years ago

        The E5200 can just be upgraded to another Core 2 down the line, the AM2+ based system will be able to upgrade to a Phenom II. I’d say those are extremely similar upgrade path options if you ask me…

        On top of that the AMD based platform is supremely cheaper, especially if you focus on the mATX realm where the AMD based motherboards offer tons of features for much lower prices. I can either grab a X2 6000+ or quad core Phenom for less than the Intel solution by a good margin at the least.

        Maybe it’s just me but the cost savings that can be devoted to other parts (say a much better video card for gaming) have me personally spending my $700 on a AMD based platform. $700 for a complete system (minus hard drive, but including OS) that has a GeForce GTX 260 is a damn fine deal, I struggled to find anything nearly as compelling in that range from an Intel based platform.

        These articles are nice but fail to really capture the Newegg market. Heavy use of the combo deals means you can find tons of savings on Newegg and build a much better system for the same price point. Buying a new computer can be a research intensive prospect but it should be in my opinion. These guides in all honesty should be a performance comparison and then a short glimpse at current pricing and not complete system suggestions. However, I do realize that so many people can’t be bothered to spend a few hours researching their multi-hundred dollar purchases or at least that’s what lazy people say.

    • jimmylao
    • 11 years ago

    In the utility player, wouldn’t the airflow of the sonata 3 case impede the radeon 4850? Would the 1 12cm fan be enough to keep everything cool?

    I ask because I’m looking forward to building a new desktop after 4 years of not building one (I’ve kept up-to-date on tech like it’s my job) and that 800 dollar budget is exactly mine.

      • Cyril
      • 11 years ago

      The Radeon HD 4850 doesn’t require exceptional cooling. It runs hot, but it’s designed that way, and it actually has low thermal dissipation. We wouldn’t have recommended it for a system with a Sonata III otherwise.

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        Honestly, when was the last time you heard of a piece of hardware “designed to run hot”? Even if you search the TR forums you can immediately pick up topics discussing the mysterious failure and artifacting of some of these cards. AMD’s just giving the story to get away with some shoddy cooling – why is it that nVidia cards can work cooler and often even more silently as well?

        With that said, I do recognize the performance superiority of some ATI offerings, but I’d still prefer ones with non-reference coolers just to be on the safe side.

          • dragmor
          • 11 years ago

          Just modify the fan speed. The cards don’t really increase the speed at all until 80c. If you don’t mind the noise, just default them to 50% speed instead of 20%.

            • elmopuddy
            • 11 years ago

            I run my 4870 at 30%, never goes higher than 63c.. any speed above that is pretty loud

          • HurgyMcGurgyGurg
          • 11 years ago

          Actually I would be scared of a few of the non-reference coolers. I bought a 4870 with a power cooler design, its all great and all with 55 C GPU core temps, until I started folding on it and realized the Vram was getting up to 110 C… Started getting artifacts in games running at even stock memory speeds (Crysis Warhead), luckily stepping it down 50 mhz was enough.

          • shank15217
          • 11 years ago

          There are posts on nvidia cards dying due to hardware failure sprinkled around the forums as well. My card runs at 80c all day and night and hasn’t failed after 3 months of usage.

      • CampinCarl
      • 11 years ago

      If you are really worried about it, spring for the HIS with the dual-slot, rear-panel exhausting cooler or buy a third party one with the same function.

      • jimmylao
      • 11 years ago

      Thanks for the replies 🙂

    • grantmeaname
    • 11 years ago

    r[

      • 5150
      • 11 years ago

      3GHz, no fuss, no muss.

    • KamikaseRider
    • 11 years ago

    Crushinator…..nice choice…..

    X25-E would be a better choice, would it not??

      • Dissonance
      • 11 years ago

      /[

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        Even Vista x64 could stretch just fine on it, even with shadow copies and everything left in tact, but the problem is, you’d always have to redirect bulky things like Photoshop or Microsoft Office to another drive because the OS would be the most it’s able to serve comfortably.

          • indeego
          • 11 years ago

          I’d put my OS on mechanical and frequent read data/cache/primary apps on the SDD. But yeah a lot of micromanagement for a desktop user to think about anyway until that capacity goes upg{<.<}g Right now SSD seems ideal for server or higher end laptop useg{<.<}g

      • srg86
      • 11 years ago

      I’d rather have a mechanical drive myself, a VelociRaptor, even if it’s just the os drive, I don’t like the slow write speed of the X25-M.

        • Usacomp2k3
        • 11 years ago

        Hence why he was talking about the “-E” version.

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