Sweeter Spot alternatives
Believe it or not, the Sweeter Spot can get even tastier.
|Graphics||Gigabyte GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB OC||$244.99|
|Storage||Intel 320 Series 120GB||$224.99|
|WD Caviar Green 2TB||$79.99|
|WD Caviar Green 2TB||$79.99|
|Audio||Asus Xonar DX||$89.99|
|Case||Corsair Obsidian Series 650D||$189.99|
|TV Tuner||Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 2250||$109.99|
|AVS Gear MCE remote||$21.20|
The jacked-up clock speeds on Gigabyte's GeForce GTX 560 Ti OC might not be enough to catch the Radeon HD 6950 that serves as our first choice, but either of those cards is going to be comfortable playing the latest games with all their eye candy turned up plus healthy doses of antialiasing and anisotropic filtering on monitors as large as 24". You should be able to get smooth frame rates on even larger displays if you're willing to back off on the AA and aniso.
OCZ's Vertex 3 solid-state drives may well be the fastest 2.5" SSDs we've tested, and their pricing is surprisingly reasonable to boot. Why consider Intel's 120GB 320 Series SSD as an alternative, then? Easy: the Intel drive comes backed with a five-year warranty, which is a good two years longer than the competition. There's probably a good reason for that. Data leaked by a European retailer last year suggested that Intel SSDs have considerably lower return rates than their rivals. While those numbers apply to the previous generation of Intel drives, the 320 Series includes a few new enhancements aimed at bolstering reliability.
On the mechanical front, some folks might wish for a little more capacity. (All of those completely legal BitTorrent downloads add up, after all.) A pair of WD's 2TB Caviar Green hard drives—run separately or in a redundant RAID-1 array—provides a cost-effective way to beef up the Sweeter Spot's storage space.
For what it's worth, at least two TR editors run mirrored RAID 1 arrays in their primary desktops. Mirroring won't protect your data from viruses or other forms of corruption, but it does offer a real-time backup should one drive meet an untimely demise. We like that peace of mind.
The Xonar DG is awesome, no doubt about it. As one might expect from a budget card, however, the DG lacks some of the features available on more expensive Xonars. One of those is the ability to encode Dolby Digital Live bitstreams on the fly. Real-time encoding is a handy feature for gamers who want to pass multichannel audio over a single digital cable rather than a bundle of analog ones. The Xonar DX is up to the task, and it carries on the Xonar tradition of impeccable analog sound quality.
We love Corsair's Graphite Series 600T here at TR, but we'll freely admit that the enclosure's pudgy design and plastic shell aren't everyone's cup of tea. Those longing for a case with the 600T's perks but a more sober design now have an option: Corsair's own Obsidian Series 650D. As we explained in our review, this enclosure basically melds the innards of the 600T with the exterior design of the bigger and more expensive 800D, all the while retaining Corsair's famous attention to detail. The 650D does have fewer front-panel USB 2.0 ports and less granular fan control than the 600T, though, and it costs a little more.
With Windows 7's built-in PVR capabilities, it's mighty tempting to add a TV tuner to the Sweeter spot. The Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 2250 bundle we usually recommend is out of stock at the moment, but you can buy the card on its own for $110. Throw in a cheap MCE-compatible remote, and you're good to go.