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

You might notice we're not throwing in a processor alternative here. As we said earlier, the Core i5 outclasses all competitors in its price range. We mean that. You could go with a cheaper-but-still-capable quad-core CPU, like AMD's Phenom II X4 945, but why do that when the Core i5 and all of its perks (like great overall performance, Turbo Boost, and excellent idle power efficiency) are so few dollars away?

Component Item Price
Graphics XFX Radeon HD 4890 $199.99
BFG GeForce GTX 260 OC Maxcore 55 $209.99
Storage Lite-On iHOS104-08 Blu-ray reader $67.99

Nvidia's vanilla GeForce GTX 260 would be the logical alternative to AMD's Radeon HD 4870 1GB, since the two cards perform about the same overall. However, even the cheapest GTX 260s are around $20 pricier than our Radeon. For that reason, we believe folks seeking alternatives should look at cards in the next performance tier: the Radeon HD 4890 and GeForce GTX 275.

The plain-jane XFX Radeon HD 4890 costs only $195, so it's cheaper than competing Nvidia cards, and XFX happens to cover it with a double-lifetime warranty. Our experience tell us you can expect noticeably higher frame rates than with the 4870 1GB in many games, but you should also brace for higher noise levels under load.

Meanwhile, the cheapest GeForce GTX 275 on Newegg is a $210 Sparkle model. However, we can get a souped-up BFG GeForce GTX 260 with a higher core clock speed and a similar memory speed for the exact same price. This BFG card may have fewer stream processors than a GTX 275, but we expect it to perform about the same. Plus, BFG offers lifetime warranty coverage and 24/7 tech support, neither of which you get with Sparkle. To us, the BFG GTX 260 OC card seems like the better deal.

Since the GTX 275 and 4890 ran pretty much neck-and-neck in our tests, we can probably assume these two cards are about even, too.

LG has apparently discontinued the Blu-ray combo drive we've been recommending for so many months. None of the other combo offerings we came across really stood out, usually because of lackluster software bundles or high prices. In the end, we figured you'd be better off pairing a standalone Blu-ray reader with the DVD burner from our primary parts list. Lite-On's iHOS104-08 should do a fine job as a standalone Blu-ray reader; it has great user reviews, relatively recent software (PowerDVD 8), and an affordable price.