The Sweeter Spot
Indulgence without excess
Staying within the Utility Player's budget requires a measure of restraint. With the Sweeter Spot, we've loosened the purse strings to accommodate beefier hardware and additional functionality.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-2600K 3.4GHz||$314.99|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600||$51.99|
|Graphics||Gigabyte GeForce GTX 560 Ti OC||$234.99|
|Storage||OCZ Vertex 3 120GB||$199.99|
|Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB||$69.99|
|LG WH12LS30 Blu-ray burner||$79.99|
|Audio||Asus Xonar DG||$21.99|
|Enclosure||Corsair Obsidian Series 650D||$189.99|
|Power supply||Corsair HX650W||$132.99|
At first glance, the Core i7-2600K may look like little more than a 100MHz clock-speed jump over the i5-2500K from the Utility Player. There's more to the 2600K than marginally higher clock speeds, though. Despite sharing the same quad-core silicon as the 2500K, the 2600K has Hyper-Threading support that allows it to process eight threads in parallel. That additional capacity won't come in handy unless you're a compulsive multitasker or use applications that are effectively multithreaded. However, anyone considering dropping $1,500 on a system probably falls into one of those camps, if not both.
Also, you'll totally get a kick out of seeing eight activity graphs in the Windows Task Manager.
The Asus P8Z68-V/GEN3 isn't cheap, but it has several desirable advantages over the LE board we chose for the Utility Player. This board is capable of hosting a pair of PCI Express graphics cards in a dual-x8 config, for starters, and two of its PCIe x16 slots will support the third-generation PCI Express connectivity built into Intel's upcoming Ivy Bridge processors. This GEN3 model also has onboard FireWire, extra SATA ports, and the excellent UEFI and fan controls you'd expect from a recent Asus motherboard.
MSI has a similar but slightly cheaper Z68 board that also features gen-three-ready PCI Express slots. However, the Asus board has external Serial ATA connectivity, integrated Bluetooth, additional USB 2.0 ports, and more proven firmware than the MSI.
As with the Utility Player, we think 8GB DDR3 kits are affordable enough—and their performance benefits sufficiently palpable—to warrant inclusion in our primary recommendations. We've been using these particular Vengeance modules on several of our Sandy Bridge test systems for months now, and they haven't given us any issues.
Gigabyte's GeForce GTX 560 Ti OC returns from our Utility Player alternatives, for pretty much the same reasons. Absent substantial performance or pricing differences between the AMD and Nvidia camps, we're going to go with the card whose manufacturer has the best track record of supporting new games as they become available. It doesn't hurt that this model comes with a free coupon for Batman: Arkham City.
The Sweeter Spot's generous budget allows us to spec the system with a solid-state drive. Now that OCZ has released a firmware fix for that nasty blue-screen-of-death bug, we're tentatively recommending the 120GB Vertex 3 SSD for its excellent all-around performance and competitive pricing. Folks not yet sold on the effectiveness of the firmware fix will want to check our alternatives section on the next page for a safer, albeit slower, choice.
We're sticking with the Spinpoint F3 on the secondary storage front for one reason: games. Once you add up the footprint of Windows 7, associated applications, and all the data we'd want on our solid-state system drive, there isn't going to be a whole lot of room left for games or a Steam folder overstuffed with the spoils of all too many impulse purchases. The 7,200-RPM Spinpoint will load games noticeably faster than low-power alternatives, and it's quiet enough to leave no room for regret. At least for now, the Spinpoint appears unaffected by the Thailand flooding that has sent other hard drive prices spiraling upward.
Would you spend $1,500 on a new system without a Blu-ray burner? Probably not. LG's WH12LS30 is the cheapest option available at Newegg, and we see no reason to spend more.
The results of our blind listening tests suggest Asus' shockingly cheap Xonar DG holds its own against pricier sound cards. Since spending more won't necessarily get us something that sounds better, we're going to stick with the Xonar DG and save our audio upgrade for the alternatives section.
As we explained in our review, Corsair's Obsidian Series 650D enclosure essentially melds the innards of the Graphite Series 600T with the exterior design of the bigger and more expensive 800D, all the while retaining Corsair's famous attention to detail. The 650D has fewer front-panel USB 2.0 ports and less granular fan control than the 600T, and it costs a little more. The more we think about it, though, the more we prefer the Obsidian's overall looks, lighter weight, and less bulky design.
We're keeping the same Corsair HX650W power supply as in our last few guides. This 650W unit has plenty of power and 80 Plus Bronze certification. It also features modular cabling that should make it easy to keep the case's internals clean. The 650D may have excellent cable management options, but we'd prefer to have fewer cables to manage, as well.