TR’s March 2012 system guide

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To be perfectly honest, we haven’t exactly drowned under a deluge of new hardware since we published our last guide. It’s true that we’ve witnessed the arrival of new SSDs, new cases, and a few next-generation Radeons (some tantalizing, others not so much). Overall, though, the PC hardware landscape has remained disappointingly static—down to the inflated mechanical storage prices caused by last year’s Thai floods.

Of course, people build new PCs every day, and our readers deserve the most up-to-date component selection guidance. That’s why we’ve put together a fresh system guide update with small changes and pricing tweaks, plus occasional major substitutions where necessary. Today’s update should tide us over until we see new batches of next-generation processors and graphics cards arrive in the next few months.

To keep things interesting, we’ve augmented this guide with a fresh one-of-a-kind build: the Schooner. Our other builds are the result of careful deliberations and debates between TR’s editors, but the Schooner is the unfiltered brainchild of TR Editor-in-Chief Scott Wasson. You can think of it as the build Scott might put together if he were shopping for new gear himself.

Read on for the scoop on the Schooner and our other builds.

Rules and regulations

Before we get into our component recommendations, we should explain our methodology a little bit. Before that, though, a short disclaimer: this is a component selection guide, not a PC assembly guide or a performance comparison. If you’re seeking help with the business of putting components together, we have a handy how-to article just for that. If you’re after reviews and benchmarks, might we suggest heading to our front page and starting from there.

Over the next few pages, you’ll see us recommend and discuss components for four sample builds. Those builds have target budgets of $600, $900, $1,500, and around $3,000. Within each budget, we will attempt to hit the sweet spot of performance and value while mentally juggling variables like benchmark data, our personal experiences, current availability and retail pricing, user reviews, warranty coverage, and the manufacturer’s size and reputation. We’ll try to avoid both overly cheap parts and needlessly expensive ones. We’ll also favor components we know first-hand to be better than the alternatives.

Beyond a strenuous vetting process, we will also aim to produce balanced configurations. While it can be tempting to settle on a $50 motherboard or a no-name power supply just to make room for a faster CPU, such decisions are fraught with peril—and likely disappointment. Similarly, we will avoid favoring processor performance at the expense of graphics performance, or vice versa, keeping in mind that hardware enthusiasts who build their own PCs tend to be gamers, as well.

Now that we’ve addressed the how, let’s talk about the where. See that “powered by Newegg.com” logo at the top of the page? Newegg sponsors our system guides, and more often than not, it will double as our source for component prices. However, Newegg has no input on our editorial content nor sway over our component selections. If we want to recommend something it doesn’t carry, we’ll do just that.

We think sourcing prices from a huge online retailer gives us more realistic figures, though—so much so that we quoted Newegg prices long before this guide got a sponsor. Dedicated price search engines can find better deals, but they often pull up unrealistically low prices from small and potentially unreliable e-tailers. If you’re going to spend several hundred (or thousand) dollars on a PC, we think you’ll be more comfortable doing so at a large e-tailer with a proven track record and a decent return policy. That vendor doesn’t have to be as big as Newegg, but it probably shouldn’t be as small as Joe Bob’s Discount Computer Warehouse, either.

The Econobox
Because speed doesn’t have to cost a fortune

The Econobox may be the baby of the bunch, but it can handle a little bit of everything, including modern games in all their glory. We haven’t scraped the bottom of the bargain bin or cut any corners, resulting in a surprisingly potent budget build.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i3-2120 3.3GHz $127.99
Motherboard Asus P8H67-V $104.99
Memory Crucial 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 $21.99
Graphics HIS Radeon HD 6850 1GB $139.99
Storage Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.D 750GB $99.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $20.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Fractal Design Core 3000 $69.99
Power supply
Antec EarthWatts Green 380W $44.99
Total   $627.92

Processor

These are dark times for CPU shoppers on a budget. The arrival of AMD’s Llano APUs has led to the disappearance of the $100 Phenom II X4 840, our long-time favorite choice for the Econobox, as well as its more appealing siblings in the Athlon II X4 family. In their absence, avoiding a downgrade forces us to climb another rung up the price ladder, where the options include Intel’s Core i3-2120, AMD’s A6-series APUs, and AMD’s FX-4100.

It’s not much of a contest. The Core i3-2120 has higher overall CPU performance than the A6-3650 (and probably the A6-3670K, as well). Although the benchmark results we saw around the web suggest the FX-4100 is a little faster, that chip also has a higher thermal envelope—95W, up from the i3-2120’s 65W TDP. Higher power envelopes mean more heat and more noise, and we’re fans of neither. The A6’s only saving grace might be its relatively decent integrated graphics processor, but we’re outfitting this build with a discrete Radeon, so we have no need for integrated graphics. Besides, Llano’s IGP isn’t really fast enough to enjoy the latest games in full.

Motherboard

The Core i3-2120’s lack of a fully unlocked upper multiplier prevents us from really pushing the CPU, but that also means we can save a few bucks by skipping motherboards based on Intel’s overclocking-friendly P67 and Z68 chipsets. We don’t want to cheap out too much by selecting a motherboard with an H61 chipset, though. The H61 allows only one DIMM per memory channel, lacks 6Gbps Serial ATA support, and sacrifices PCI Express lanes and USB 2.0 ports.

A nice H67-based ATX motherboard like Asus’ P8H67-V is more up our alley. This particular model features two 6Gbps SATA ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a pair of physical PCIe x16 slots (albeit with a 16/4-lane configuration), two PCIe x1 slots, and three old-school PCI slots. It can also tap into the Core i3-2120’s integrated graphics with HDMI, VGA, and HDMI outputs, so you can use Lucid’s Virtu GPU virtualization scheme to enable QuickSync video transcoding alongside a discrete graphics card.

Based on our experience, Asus has the best and most mature UEFI implementation of the top three motherboard makers. The UEFI’s fan controls are particularly good, making us more inclined to recommend Asus boards over their competitors.

Memory

Memory prices seem to have hit rock-bottom, so putting 4GB of RAM into the Econobox is a no-brainer. The cheapest 4GB kit we feel comfortable recommending this time around hails from Crucial. It’s rated for operation at 1333MHz on just 1.35V, and Crucial covers the kit with a lifetime warranty.

Graphics

If you’ve read our review of the new Radeon HD 7770, this pick shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Yes, the 7770 has certain unique bells and whistles, like a hardware video encoding block and very low power consumption, but the Radeon HD 6850 remains the a better deal. The older card offers better all-around performance thanks to its larger GPU and 256-bit memory interface, and it costs $20 less than the 7770 right now. The 7770 is a shaky proposition even as an alternative.

This particular HIS variant of the Radeon HD 6850 comes with stock clock speeds and a custom cooler with a large fan, which bodes well for low noise levels. The card is bundled with a coupon for a free copy of DiRT 3, further sweetening the pot.

Storage

Our old favorite, Samsung’s Spinpoint F3 1TB, has seen its price balloon up to around $150 because of last year’s flooding in Thailand. To stay true to this build’s name, we’ve downgraded to Hitachi’s Deskstar 7K1000.D 750GB, which offers three quarters the capacity for roughly 50 bucks less. This drive might not be as quiet or as fast as the Spinpoint—we haven’t had a chance to test it ourselves—but it has a 7,200-RPM spindle speed, a 32MB cache, a 6Gbps Serial ATA interface, and a three-year warranty. Those specifications are typical for a modern 3.5″ desktop drive.

The Econobox doesn’t need a fancy optical drive, so we’ve selected a basic Asus model with more than a thousand five-star ratings on Newegg. The DRW-24B1ST offers DVD burning speeds up to 24X behind a black face plate that will blend in nicely with our system’s enclosure.

Enclosure

When we looked at Fractal Design’s Core 3000 enclosure last November, we wondered out loud whether the case would find its way into a future Econobox build. Well, it has. This enclosure admittedly costs a little more than our previous pick, the Antec One Hundred. Swapping in a more expensive case may seem indulgent in light of the current hard-drive situation, but we love the Core 3000’s rotated hard-drive sleds and its ability to maintain impressively low component temperatures. Although the Core 3000 isn’t the quietest case we’ve tested, we think it offers a decent set of positive traits and compromises for the price.

Power supply

Repeat after me: friends don’t let friends use shoddy power supplies. We don’t need a lot of juice to power the Econobox, but that doesn’t mean we’re gonna skimp on the PSU and grab a unit that weighs less than a bag of chips. Antec’s EarthWatts Green 380W is a solid choice that offers 80 Plus Bronze certification with enough wattage for the Econobox. Good budget PSUs can be hard to find, but the EarthWatts has proven its mettle solo and when sold inside Antec’s own cases.

Econobox alternatives

Want an AMD processor, more RAM, or an Nvidia graphics card? Read on.

Component Item Price
Processor AMD FX-4100 3.6GHz $109.99
Motherboard Asus M5A97 $94.99
Memory Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 $39.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 460 1GB $139.99

Processor

AMD advertises the FX-4100 as a quad-core processor, and since the chip runs at 3.6GHz, you might be misled into thinking it’s far superior to the Core i3-2120. That isn’t quite the case. If the performance figures we’ve seen around the web are any indication, the two processors are pretty much on equal footing. The FX tends to be faster in some tests and slower in others.

We prefer the Core i3 because of its lower thermal envelope, but that doesn’t mean the FX-4100 isn’t worth a look. The AMD offering costs slightly less and can be paired with a more affordable motherboard without sacrificing functionality. Also, AMD touts the FX-4100’s unlocked upper multiplier, which facilitates easy overclocking (provided the chip has a decent amount of clock headroom, of course). Just keep in mind that, unlike the Core i3, the FX-4100 doesn’t have integrated graphics.

Motherboard

Asus’ M5A97 is richly adorned despite its sub-$100 asking price. This motherboard has six Serial ATA 6Gbps ports, dual physical PCI Express x16 slots with CrossFire support (in a x8/x8 config), USB 3.0, passively cooled CPU power regulation circuitry, and Asus’ excellent UEFI firmware. Newegg shoppers have given this mobo rather good reviews overall, too. Provided you don’t need integrated graphics, this should be a fine complement to the FX-4100.

Memory

RAM is so cheap right now that, if you have a few bucks to spare, you might as well grab this 8GB Crucial DDR3-1333 kit instead of the 4GB bundle from the previous page. Windows 7 puts extra memory to good use as a disk cache, so you should be able to enjoy the additional four gigabytes even if you don’t edit high-definition video or juggle huge Photoshop files.

Graphics

The Radeon HD 6850 got the nod in our primary picks because it’s slightly faster overall than its most direct rival, the GeForce GTX 460 1GB. Higher-clocked versions of the GTX 460 like this Gigabyte offering should narrow the performance gap and deliver a few perks of their own, such as PhysX support in titles like Batman: Arkham City. Nvidia has a history of providing better driver support for freshly released games, too.

The Sweet Spot
Stunning value short on compromise

The Econobox doesn’t skimp on quality components, but we did have to make some sacrifices to keep the system on budget. Our budget grows with the Sweet Spot, allowing us to spec out a stacked system for under $1,000.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz $224.99
Motherboard Asus P8Z68-V LE $137.99
Memory Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 $39.99
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 560 Ti Superclocked $249.99
Storage Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.D 750GB $99.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $20.99
Audio Asus Xonar DG $29.99
Enclosure NZXT H2 $99.99
Power supply Seasonic M12II 520W $79.99
Total   $953.92

Processor

The Core i5-2500K is arguably the best deal in Intel’s Sandy Bridge lineup. For a little over 200 bucks, it offers four cores clocked at 3.3GHz with a 3.7GHz Turbo peak. The K designation denotes a fully unlocked upper multiplier that enables easy overclocking, as well. Because of the way Intel has architected Sandy’s internal clock, multiplier tweaking is really the only way to get a decent overclock out of the CPU.

In our experience, Sandy Bridge processors have loads of overclocking headroom just waiting to be exploited by a little multiplier fiddling. Even at stock speeds, the 2500K has better performance and lower power consumption than anything else in its class. There’s really no better CPU for the Sweet Spot.

The only downside to the 2500K is the fact that it hasn’t gone down in price a bit since debuting over a year ago. Ah, if only AMD had come out with a more compelling alternative…

Motherboard

Our choice of an unlocked Sandy Bridge processor calls for a chipset that doesn’t restrict overclocking—a chipset like the Z68, which supports multiplier fiddling and GPU virtualization via Lucid’s Virtu software. Virtu is necessary to enjoy the QuickSync video transcoding acceleration built into Sandy’s IGP alongside a discrete graphics card.

The Asus P8Z68-V LE serves up the Z68 in a fairly affordable package complete with the best UEFI implementation around, great fan controls, a wide range of connectivity options, and a second PCI Express x16 slot (with four lanes of connectivity). The competition is still a ways behind on the UEFI and fan-control fronts, so Asus continues to get our nod in the motherboard department.

Memory

Yes, we’re stuffing 8GB of RAM into our mid-range build. Memory is dirt-cheap right now, and thanks to Windows 7’s clever caching system (which keeps oft-used programs in memory unless you need the RAM for something else), this kind of upgrades yields real performance benefits.

Graphics

Last fall, the Sweet Spot was called the Utility Player; it cost less than $900 and was outfitted with a $200 graphics card. We’ve since given ourselves a little more breathing room in the budget and opted for a faster GPU—hence the name change. A good GeForce GTX 560 Ti will only set you back around $250, and it represents a palpable step up over $200 offerings. Also, it’s simply a more fitting sidekick to components like our Core i5-2500K, eight gigs of RAM, and discrete sound card.

EVGA’s take on the GTX 560 Ti gets our vote here thanks to its higher-than-normal clock speeds, beefy dual-fan cooler, and three-year warranty. We’re relegating the competing Radeon HD 6950 to our alternatives section. The Radeon costs about the same, but the GeForce has higher geometry processing throughput, and we’re still a little concerned about the way AMD’s graphics driver team handled the releases of Rage and the Battlefield 3 beta last year. Nvidia tends to have better relationships with game developers than AMD, and that might explain why GeForce cards tend to offer a better experience with newly minted titles.

Storage

We’ve still got a budget to stick to, and current prices make it difficult to justify adding a higher-capacity mechanical drive or springing for an SSD. Instead, we’re sticking with the 750GB Hitachi drive from the Econobox. The 750GB capacity is about as high as we can go without paying out the wazoo for extra gigabytes, and this drive should be plenty fast thanks to its 7,200-RPM spindle speed, 32MB cache, and the high areal density of its single platter.

We’ve also borrowed the optical drive from the Econboox. Higher-end DVD burners don’t seem like they’re worth the premium, and Blu-ray is a little out of our price range. Those itching to outfit the Sweet Spot with more exciting storage solutions should check out the alternatives on the next page.

Audio

If your PC’s audio output is piped through a set of iPod earbuds or some circa-1996 beige speakers, you’re probably fine using the Sweet Spot’s integrated motherboard audio. Ditto if you’re running audio to a compatible receiver or speakers over a digital S/PDIF connection.

However, if you’ve spent more than the cost of dinner and a movie on a set of halfway decent analog headphones or speakers, you’d do well to upgrade to Asus’ excellent Xonar DG sound card. According to the results of our blind listening tests, this budget wonder is a cut above integrated audio and can even sound more pleasing to the ear than pricier offerings. The Xonar DG has a TR Editor’s Choice award in its trophy cabinet, too.

Feel free to yell at us for including this card amid mechanical storage price hikes, but keep in mind it costs only 30 bucks. Reallocating that money wouldn’t have gotten us a higher-capacity 7,200-RPM hard drive or an accompanying SSD.

Enclosure

The Fractal Design Core 3000 has enough features to get our nod for the Econobox, but we wanted something a little nicer for the Sweet Spot. Enter NZXT’s H2 case, which we also reviewed not long ago. The H2 ticks all of the right boxes—bottom-mounted power supply emplacement, cut-outs in the motherboard tray, generous cable-routing options, and tool-less hard-drive bays—while adding noise-dampening foam, a cleverly designed external hard-drive dock, tool-less front fan mounts, and a whole host of other niceties. At $100, the H2 fits easily within our budget, too.

Power supply

Our budget also leaves room for a modular, 80 Plus Bronze-rated power supply from Seasonic (which, incidentally, happens to make PSUs for some of the more enthusiast-focused hardware companies out there). The M12II 520 Bronze doesn’t have the highest wattage rating, but 520W is almost overkill for a build like the Sweet Spot, and the mix of features and price is tough to beat. Seasonic even covers this puppy with a five-year warranty.

Sweet Spot alternatives

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

Component Item Price
Processor AMD FX-8120 $199.99
Motherboard Asus M5A97 $94.99
Graphics XFX Radeon HD 6950 2GB $269.99
Storage Samsung 830 Series 64GB $119.99
Corsair Force GT 60GB $109.99
Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB $129.99
LG WH12LS39 Blu-ray burner $74.99
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 400R $99.99

Processor

Strictly speaking, AMD’s most comparable alternative to the Core i5-2500K is the FX-8150. But the FX-8150 costs $250, is slightly slower overall than its Intel counterpart, and consumes more power. That makes it awfully difficult to recommend.

Fortunately, AMD’s cheaper FX-8120 is now stocked at Newegg. With a base clock speed of 3.1GHz instead of 3.6GHz, the FX-8120 is markedly slower than the FX-8150—and the i5-2500K overall. However, it costs $50 less and still has an unlocked upper multiplier to help simplify overclocking. All things considered, we find the FX-8120 to be a more paletable AMD alternative than the overpriced FX-8150, at least for a build like the Sweet Spot.

Motherboard

Asus’ M5A97 returns from the Econobox alternatives on the strength of its low price and well-rounded features. In many respects, this $95 AMD board is comparable to the $130 Intel model from our primary recommendations. It even has more 6Gbps Serial ATA ports. You won’t find display outputs for integrated graphics here, though.

Graphics

Even if we prefer the competing Nvidia GPU (for the reasons we outlined on the previous page), AMD’s Radeon HD 6950 2GB is a fine choice that should deliver largely equivalent performance to the GeForce GTX 560 Ti. The Radeon’s 2GB of memory may come in handy at high resolutions and with multi-monitor gaming setups, too. The XFX variant we’ve chosen features a custom cooler, lifetime warranty coverage, and a free copy of DiRT 3.

Storage

With 8GB of RAM, the Sweet Spot should be plenty responsive. However, a smart way to reduce startup and application load times further is to grab a low-capacity solid-state boot drive.

We have two solid-state boot drives on our short list. The first is is the lowest-capacity derviative of Samsung’s blazing-fast (and TR Editor’s Choice award-winning) 830 Series SSD. We only reviewed the 256GB model, but based on our findings, we expect its 64GB sibling to be at least a solid performer. Samsung also has a good track record for SSD firmware reliability. We’ve heard no complaints about show-stopping bugs… so far. The drive ships with a free copy of Batman: Arkham City, too.

Corsair’s 60GB Force GT isn’t blessed with an umblemished record. Like other SSDs based on SandForce’s SF-2281 controller, the Force GT suffered from a BSOD bug that affected some users. The latest firmware releases seem to have addressed the issue, but it’s hard to tell if it’s been squashed for good. We do, however, know that the 60GB Force GT is very fast despite its small capacity. (Remember, lower-capacity solid-state drives normally have fewer flash chips working in parallel, which translates to slower performance.)

Whichever drive you choose, 60-64GB of capacity probably won’t be enough to house your massive MP3 collection, movie archive, Steam folder, and all those Linux ISOs you’ve been downloading off BitTorrent. Secondary storage is in order, and that’s best handled by a mechanical hard drive. If that drive will be housing games you want to load quickly, we’d stick with the Deskstar from the previous page. However, if oodles of mass storage are what you’re after, and performance is a secondary concern, Seagate’s 2TB Barracuda Green is worth a look. This drive is a little too sluggish to house a Windows installation, but it’s more than fast enough for mass storage and backups. It’s reasonably affordable, too, at $130.

DVDs are so last decade. Blu-ray is in, and compatible burners are surprisingly cheap these days. Our favored LG Blu-ray burner has gone out of stock, but the WH12LS39 costs the same and seems to have identical features, including LightScribe support and the ability to burn Blu-ray discs at 12X speeds. Just as importantly, this is the cheapest Blu-ray burner listed at Newegg right now.

Enclosure

The NZXT H2 in our primary picks is tuned for quiet operation, which isn’t the strong suit of Corsair’s Carbide 400R. However, if you’re not terribly concerned with low noise levels, the 400R looks like a step up. The Carbide has a roomy interior with top-notch cable management, childishly easy-to-use drive bays, support for USB 3.0 connectivity via a motherboard header, and best of all, excellent cooling capabilities—better than the H2’s according to our testing. This bad boy is worth a look for sure, especially considering its low asking price.

The Editor’s Choice
What TR’s editors would get—if they had time to upgrade

Staying within the Sweet Spot’s budget requires a measure of restraint. With the Editor’s Choice, we’ve loosened the purse strings to accommodate beefier hardware and additional functionality—the kind TR’s editors would opt for if they were building a PC for themselves.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-2600K 3.4GHz $329.99
Motherboard Asus P8Z68-V/GEN3 $189.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $49.99
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 $289.99
Storage Samsung 830 Series 128GB $199.99
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.D 750GB $99.99
LG WH12LS39 Blu-ray burner $74.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 650D $179.99
Power supply Corsair HX650W $129.99
Total   $1,634.90

Processor

At first glance, the Core i7-2600K may look like little more than a 100MHz clock-speed jump over the i5-2500K from the Sweet Spot. 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.

Motherboard

The Asus P8Z68-V/GEN3 isn’t cheap, but it has several desirable advantages over the LE board we chose for the Sweet Spot. This model 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 variant 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.

Memory

Again, we think 8GB DDR3 kits are affordable enough—and their performance benefits sufficiently palpable—to warrant inclusion in our primary recommendations. We’ve been using these particular Vengeance modules on several of our Sandy Bridge test systems for months now, and they haven’t given us any issues.

Graphics

Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 may only be a slightly tweaked version of the GeForce GTX 570, but it’s a welcome addition until we can sate our thirst for true next-generation GPUs in this price range. The key thing to note here is that the GTX 560 Ti 448 offers performance close to that of the vanilla GTX 570 (and is thus much faster than the regular GTX 560 Ti) for quite a bit less money. At $290, this superclocked EVGA model looks perfect for the Editor’s Choice. It’s actually one of the cheapest Ti 448 cards listed at Newegg despite its high clock speed and three-year warranty.

Storage

Our generous budget allows us to spec the Editor’s Choice with a solid-state drive. Samsung’s 830 Series 128GB SSD may not be quite as fast as the 256GB model we reviewed, but we expect it to keep up with the competition—if not come out ahead. We also find comfort in the fact that, at least so far, we haven’t heard users complain of show-stopping stability issues with the 830 Series. (Firmware bugs seem to be an all-too-common blight on otherwise excellent SSDs these days.) The free copy of Batman: Arkham City in the box doesn’t hurt, either.

We’re sticking with the 750GB Hitachi Deskstar 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 Deskstar can store plenty of games, and it’ll load them noticeably faster than one of those low-power mass-storage drives. We could have opted for a 1TB 7,200-RPM offering, but we’re not dying for extra capacity, and we think the Deskstar is a better deal than the terabyte drives out there right now.

Would you spend $1,500 on a new system without a Blu-ray burner? Probably not. LG’s WH12LS39 is the cheapest option available at Newegg, and we see no reason to spend more.

Audio

The results of our blind listening tests suggest Asus’ shockingly cheap Xonar DG holds its own against pricier sound cards, and that’s true for the most part. However, the DG filters sound to give it extra pop, and we’ve found that such EQ fiddling can induce listener fatigue if you have sensitive ears. The Xonar DX should reproduce music in a more accurate, neutral fashion, and it has other perks, such as the ability to encode Dolby Digital Live audio on the fly. Real-time encoding is a handy feature for gamers who want to pass multichannel audio over a single digital cable rather than a bundle of analog ones.

Oh, and the Xonar DX also happens to fit into PCI Express slots, whereas the Xonar DG uses an old-school PCI interface. We figure you’re going to hold on to a sound card for several years through multiple builds, and PCI slots are on the way out. (Some newer motherboards already dispense with them entirely.) A PCIe sound card seems like a better investment if you can afford the price premium. In this case, we can.

Enclosure

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.

Power supply

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.

Editor’s Choice alternatives

The build on the previous page may resemble what TR editors would build for themselves, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a few careful substitutions while retaining the spirit of the Editor’s Choice.

Component Item Price
Processor AMD FX-8150 3.6GHz $249.99
Motherboard Asus Sabertooth 990FX $184.99
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950 $489.99
Storage OCZ Vertex 3 120GB $169.99
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB $159.99
Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB $129.99
Case Corsair Graphite Series 600T $159.99

Processor

We have mixed feelings about the AMD FX-8150. On one hand, it is a capable processor, and it’s not that much slower than the cheaper Core i5-2500K overall. On the other hand… well, it is slower, more expensive, more power-hungry, and (at least as far as our sample was concerned) not all that overclockable. We’re including this chip mainly as a gesture toward supporters of the CPU industry’s perennial underdog, but we do so with the following caveat: Intel has a better all-around product right now. It’s really not even close.

Motherboard

If you’re going to build a top-of-the-line AMD rig, you might as well get a top-of-the-line motherboard to go with it. Asus’ Sabertooth 990FX can put even the finest Intel Z68 motherboards to shame, with six Serial ATA 6Gbps ports, three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (usable in dual-x16 or x16/x8/x8 configurations with either SLI or CrossFire multi-GPU setups), dual external Serial ATA ports, dual USB 3.0 ports, Asus’ excellent UEFI interface, top-notch temperature sensors and fan-speed controls, and five-year warranty coverage. Those green-and-grey heatsinks look rather nice, too.

Graphics

Since AMD lacks a direct competitor to the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448, we’re going to think outside the box and throw in one of the company’s Radeon HD 7950 graphics cards. Yes, we’re aware that the 7950 costs a good $200 more than the GTX 560 Ti 448. We’re also aware that the 7950 is substantially faster, courtesy of AMD’s freshly minted, 28-nm Tahiti graphics processor. Don’t believe us? Have a look at our review.

Whether you prefer Radeons or simply want a faster card than the GTX 560 Ti 448, the 7950 is an excellent choice. The Gigabyte model we’ve picked out has higher-than-normal clock speeds, a nice, triple-fan cooler (which should be fairly quiet, based on our experience), and a coupon for a free copy of DiRT 3.

Storage

Again, since we haven’t tested variants of the Samsung 830 Series below 256GB, SandForce-based offerings remain a known quantity—we know they’re very fast, and we also know they suffered from a BSOD bug that took ages to resolve. SandForce’s latest firmware revisions seem to have fixed the BSOD bug, and if you like the controller’s performance characteristics, OCZ’s Vertex 3 120GB is the drive for you.

(We’re recommending the OCZ drive instead of equivalent models based on the same controller and synchronous NAND because, at the time of writing, it’s the cheapest option. SSD prices go up and down almost daily, though, so keep an eye on similar drives like the Force GT 120GB before making your puchase.)

On the mechanical front, folks wishing for a little more capacity than the 750GB Deskstar from our primary recs will want to consider one of Samsung’s 1TB Spinpoint F3 drives. The Spinpoint has a 7,200-RPM spindle speed, so it’s a lot faster than low-power drives that spin their platters at around 5,400 RPM.

Case

Although it’s bulkier and doesn’t look quite as good as the 650D, Corsair’s Graphite Series 600T enclosure costs 30 bucks less and earned a TR Editor’s Choice Award. Also, it’s available in white, if you’re into that sort of thing. (Note that the exact flavor of the Graphite 600T we reviewed is no longer in stock; the version that’s now selling has a mesh window on the left side panel. The case’s other features look identical, though, and the price hasn’t changed.)

The Double-Stuff Workstation
Because more is very often better

The Editor’s Choice is a nice step up from the Sweet Spot, but it’s a small step, all things considered. The Double-Stuff represents more of a leap in both hardware and budget.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-3930K $694.00
Motherboard Asus P9X79 Pro $319.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $89.99
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950 $489.99
Storage Samsung 830 Series 256GB $399.99
Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB $129.99
Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB $129.99
LG WH12LS39 Blu-ray burner $74.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Power supply Corsair AX850W $189.99
Enclosure Cooler Master Cosmos II $349.99
CPU cooler
Corsair H80 $93.99
Total   $2,958.90

Processor

After picking apart Intel’s new Sandy Bridge-E processor, there’s no way we weren’t going to include a variant of it in the Double-Stuff. Nothing comes even remotely close to SB-E’s performance right now.

We admittedly haven’t reviewed the Core i7-3930K, but it’s a very small step down from the thousand-dollar Core i7-3960X we tested. The cheaper offering features the same six Hyper-Threaded cores, four memory channels, unlocked upper multiplier, and 130W thermal envelope; you’re only going down from 3.3GHz with a 3.9GHz Turbo peak to 3.2/3.8GHz, and from 15MB of L3 cache to 12MB. The performance of these two puppies should be almost neck and neck, despite the $400 price difference.

Motherboard

Sandy Bridge-E requires new motherboards with LGA2011 sockets. We looked at a few of those last November, and Asus’ P9X79 Pro struck us as a solid performer with a very complete feature set. We did chastise the board for silently ramping up Turbo multipliers when the memory clock was set manually, but that impudence can be rectified manually. The P9X79 Pro also has some really sweet features, such as Asus’ excellent UEFI firmware and slick Windows tweaking software. Since none of the other X79 mobos we’ve tested is perfect, the P9X79 Pro gets our nod—for now.

A note to video editing buffs: despite its loaded port cluster, this board lacks a FireWire port. That probably won’t bother most folks, but users who need FireWire connectivity will want to check our alternatives section on the next page, which includes a PCIe FireWire card.

Memory

We’re outfitting the Double Stuff with a kit that features four of the Corsair Vengeance modules we included in our earlier builds. We need four modules to populate all of the Core i7-3930K’s memory channels, and the price difference between 8GB and 16GB amounts to a drop in the bucket with a top-of-the-line system like this one.

Graphics

AMD’s new Radeon HD 7950 may be a little too pricey for the Editor’s Choice, but it’s right at home here in the Double-Stuff. The Gigabyte variant we picked is particularly fitting, because it runs a little faster than the vanilla 7950 and looks to have a quieter cooler (albeit one that circulates hot air inside the case rather than exhausting it through venting in the back plate).

We could go all-out and pick a Radeon HD 7970, but hot-clocked 7950 variants like the one above are more affordable and almost as fast—which means they can drive the latest games at 2560×1600 with maxed-out graphical settings. The Double-Stuff may be a top-of-the-line system, but we still don’t want to throw money out the window.

Why not two of these cards instead of one? A look at our recent article, Inside the second: A new look at game benchmarking, should answer that question to some degree. Multi-GPU setups can certainly produce the highest frame rates, but they don’t necessarily churn out the lowest or most consistent frame times, which can mean a jumpy and somewhat choppy experience for the end user. Not everybody notices, but those who do may find themselves regretting their purchase of a second graphics card.

Multi-GPU configs can also present problems when new games come out in quick succession. AMD showed last year that supporting two new releases (Battlefield 3 and Rage) on single-GPU cards was a challenge, so we’re not terribly confident that a dual-GPU rig will serve you best as fresh titles roll out.

Of course, multi-GPU configs have advantages that trump the aforementioned inconveniences, particularly if you’re trying to run games across multiple displays or enjoy stereoscopic 3D graphics. We’ve singled out a couple of multi-GPU options in our alternatives section on the following page.

Storage

We recommend a Samsung 830 Series solid-state drive without reservations here. This 256GB model went through our strenuous benchmark suite and came out the other end with an Editor’s Choice award—and performance numbers above and beyond those of even the fastest SandForce drives.

For mechanical storage, a couple of 2TB Barracuda Green drives ought to provide sufficient capacity. You can run the Greens separately or in a RAID 1 array, which provides a measure of fault tolerance should one of the drives go bad.

Our LG Blu-ray burner almost feels a little too pedestrian for a system as exotic as the Double-Stuff… but good luck finding a more exciting alternative in the world of optical storage.

Audio

The Xonar DX offers the best of both worlds: excellent analog signal quality combined with the ability to encode multi-channel digital bitstreams on the fly.

Enclosure

Our former pick, Corsair’s Obsidian Series 800D, is an awe-inspiring enclosure with enough bells and whistles to make any enthusiast’s mouth water. We didn’t switch our recommendation to the Cooler Master Cosmos II lightly. Ever since we reviewed this case (and gave it our Editor’s Choice award), though, we’ve known it would makes its way into our Double-Stuff config. The Cosmos II does cost more than the Obsidian, but it’s also bigger and more impressive in just about every respect, from its sideways gullwing doors and sliding metal covers to the almost ridiculous amount of space inside. Nothing says “double-stuff” quite like the Cosmos II.

Power supply

We’re gonna need a beefy PSU to handle everything that’s been packed into the Double-Stuff. Corsair’s flagship 850W unit looks like just the ticket. The AX850W delivers 80 Plus Gold certification, modular cabling, a whopping seven years of warranty coverage, and certification for both multi-GPU schemes from AMD and Nvidia. It doesn’t get much better than that, and we’ve been running 650W versions of the AX series on our storage test rigs for about six months now with no complaints.

CPU cooler

We usually leave it up to our readers to choose whether or not they want an aftermarket CPU cooler—we’ve actually got a number of recommendations on our peripherals and accessories page at the end of the guide. The thing is, Intel’s Core i7-3930K doesn’t come with a stock cooler to begin with. This build therefore isn’t complete without some sort of aftermarket device.

Considering our budget for the Sweeter Spot, we’d be remiss not to opt for a quiet, self-contained liquid cooler like Corsair’s H80. This beast will fit our LGA2011 socket, and it features a beefy radiator that can be sandwiched between a pair of 120-mm fans. Sure, it costs a few bucks more than aftermarket air coolers, but we think the H80 is worth the premium in a system like this one.

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
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950 $489.99
Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950 $489.99
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 $489.99
FireWire card Rosewill RC-504 $19.99

Graphics

Keeping in mind the caveats we mentioned on the previous page, multi-GPU setups do have their uses—particularly if you’re thinking of gaming across multiple monitors or putting a set of 3D glasses to use (or both). If that’s the case, we suggest doubling up on the Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950. Despite its blistering-fast performance, this card consumes no more power under load than a $250 Radeon HD 6950 (and it’s quite a bit more power-efficient at idle), so it should play nice in a dual-card config. Just keep in mind that even a single 7950 can drive the latest games at 2560×1600 with detail levels turned all the way up.

If you have a moral objection to getting a Radeon, might we recommend a nice GeForce GTX 580? The GTX 580 can’t quite match the 7950 in terms of performance or power efficiency, but it’s the fastest single-GPU offering currently in Nvidia’s lineup. Plus, this Gigabyte flavor has the same triple-fan cooler as our 7950, and it also has higher-than-stock clock speeds.

FireWire card

As we noted earlier, our selected motherboard doesn’t have FireWire connectivity. If you need FireWire for whatever reason, simply pop Rosewill’s RC-504 adapter into a free PCI Express slot. It’s only $20, and the circuit board is small enough not to obscure airflow.

The Schooner
A rare attempt at cohesion

Hey, Scott here. We have a tradition of augmenting our four main builds with a one-off system in each guide, and I decided to try my hand at something a little bit different this time. As you can probably tell by the name and the specs, this system is very heavy on components from one company: Corsair. That’s an intentional choice on my part. Although Corsair is a long-time supporter and sponsor of TR, they had no involvement in this build other than, you know, building stuff I wanted to use.

You see, practically since I began building PCs, I’ve been a little bit jealous of one aspect of pre-built systems from major manufacturers that is very hard to replicate in a DIY box: the use of a consistent theme or, to put it more snootily, design language throughout a build. Finding enthusiast components that look nice is relatively easy to do, but putting together a coherent-looking collection of them is tough. Assembling a coherent collection of parts that are all high-quality examples of their type is even harder. Granted, PC components have gotten better on this front, simply by converging on a sort of bruise-inspired black-and-blue color palette in recent years. Still, even the best builds tend to have a bit of a Franken-feeling to them. It’s practically unavoidable.

Happily, Corsair’s decision to move from memory modules into a broader offering of PC parts has enabled the construction of a really solid PC, built from generally excellent components, that looks like it belongs together. That fact inspired a half-way attempt on my part at cohesiveness in the making of the Damagebox 2011. I’m enjoying the system, but that project was a mix of old, new, and intermediate-aged spare parts I happened to have available. For this guide build, I wanted to put together something from scratch, assembled from some of my current favorite components, that would look as slick and integrated as any pre-fab system. I also wanted to find a spot in between the Editor’s Choice and Double-Stuff systems where I could match the core hardware components with the case, PSU, and cooler of my choice.

Oh, and I recognize that several other companies now offer product lineups that are similar to Corsair’s in scope and coherent design, including firms like Thermaltake and Cooler Master. We may explore another themed based on one of those lineups in the future. For today, though, we have our first such build: The Schooner.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-3820 $341.99
Motherboard Gigabyte X79-UD3 $269.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $89.99
Graphics XFX Radeon HD 7950 $499.99
Storage Samsung 830 Series 128GB $199.99
Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB $129.99
Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB $129.99
LG WH12LS39 Blu-ray burner $74.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 650D $179.99
Power supply Corsair AX750 750W $169.99
CPU cooler Corsair H60 $69.99
Keyboard Corsair K60 $109.99
Mouse Corsair M60 $69.99
Monitor Dell UltraSharp U2711 27″ $979.99
Total   $3411.14

Processor

For under 350 bucks, the Core i7-3820 is the cheapest entry point into Intel’s Sandy Bridge-E processors and X79 platform. With quad cores, eight threads, 10MB of L3 cache, and a peak Turbo frequency of 3.8GHz, I’d wager this chip is more than enough CPU for the vast majority of PC enthusiasts. More notably, those cores are likely to be kept well fed at all times courtesy of the ridiculous amounts of bandwidth built into this platform, enabled by quad channels of DDR3 1600MHz memory and 40 lanes of PCIe Express Gen3 connectivity. Just think: when the next great thing in mid-range desktop CPUs arrives later this year, in the form of the Ivy Bridge processor, it will have half the bandwidth of this platform. Sandy Bridge now has well less than half. As a result, any chip in this socket is likely to perform well on games and other desktop applications deep into the future—and there’s always the possibility of an upgrade to Ivy Bridge-E, rumored to have as many as 10 cores, at some point down the road.

Motherboard

We’ve been pretty sweet on Asus motherboards in the past year, and rightly so, since Asus made the conversion from BIOS to EFI more gracefully than the rest of the industry. However, I’ve been spending some time with Gigabyte’s X79-UD3 lately, and I have been pleased with Gigabyte’s latest firmware, which replicates the basic layout and functionality of an enthusiast-class BIOS without being too cluttered or sluggish. Even the mouse support in it is quite good.

I’ve chosen the X79-UD3 over the Asus board we used in the Double-Stuff for several reasons, including the fact that, at $270, the UD3 is relatively affordable for an X79 board. Gigabyte also seems to have sidestepped some problems Asus has with its X79 offering, such as relatively high power draw at idle and a strange tendency to modify the Turbo Boost clocking policy, effectively overclocking the CPU, without the user choosing it.

Although the UD3 isn’t Gigabyte’s top-end X79 board, it features one of the richest collections of expansion options anywhere, including dual x16 and dual x8 slots, making crazy configs like quad CrossFire a possibility. I’m not advocating for such madness, but I’m happy to build in the headroom.

Memory

16GB of 1600MHz memory in four matched DIMMs for 90 bucks? Works for me.

Graphics

This one is a no-brainer. The Radeon HD 7900 series is the only game in town if you want PCIe Gen3, and it also happens to have the best GPUs. Of the two offerings, the 7950 is the more sensible choice, and XFX’s Black Edition version of the 7950 is nearly as fast as a stock-clocked 7970. Not only that, but the aluminum-shrouded cooler on this card is incredibly handsome, and it should nicely complement the look of our 650D enclosure. Be careful not to pick this version of the XFX 7950, though. The colors are all wrong.

Storage

Ok, so we’ve forsaken Corsair at this one spot in our build, skipping over the Force Series GT for a new offering from Samsung. Geoff says the Samsung 830 the better drive, although it’s awfully close. Corsair didn’t do itself any favors by abandoning its design theme and slapping a bright-red case on the Force GT. The understated Samsung enclosure is actually a better fit with our overall look.

Audio

The Xonar DX is an obvious choice here, since it will snap into any of the PCIe slots on our UD3 mobo and offer a clear upgrade in analog signal quality.

Enclosure

I’ll admit, I very much disagreed when we failed to award the 650D with an Editor’s Choice selection in our initial review. The 650D was marked down for costing more than the similar-sized Corsair 600T, but I would happily pay the extra for the 650D’s all-metal construction and stately, composed aesthetic. Beyond that, the 650D has that same excellent interior as the 600T, which is a joy to navigate during a build. This case is very large for essentially a mid-tower enclosure, but the extra space goes into all of the right places: extra depth to make mobo and video card installation easy, and extra width to allow plenty of room on the underside of the mobo for cable routing. Easily my favorite PC case.

Power supply

The AX750 matches the 650D, is fully modular, and is smart enough to bring its cooling fan to a stop when the total power load is below 20% of its peak capacity. Combine that with the ZeroCore power feature of the Radeon HD 7950 and the 650D’s large fans, and you could have an impressively quiet system at idle.

CPU cooler

On the X79-UD3, the DIMM slots and the primary PCIe slot nestle up very closely to the CPU socket, which means cramming in a big tower cooler is an iffy proposition at best. Seriously, some things won’t fit, and freeing a PCIe graphics card from the retention tab is a struggle. You really want a water cooler for this setup; it’s almost a requirement, given the placements. I’ve been using the H60 in the Damagebox for months now, and it’s been excellent—quiet and effective. Fits perfectly into this case interior, too.

Keyboard

Corsair recently introduced a pair of new gaming-focused keyboards with mechanical switches, and my choice between the two is the FPS-oriented K60, which has a smaller desktop footprint and some nifty textured WASD keys you can swap in for gaming use. I’m typing on a K60 now, and the light, linear action of the Cherry red switches is very pleasing. I do occasionally double-tap letters by accident when writing, but that same easy keystroke repetition makes a double-tap jump or dodge in Unreal Tournament easier to achieve. This is a gaming-focused keyboard, and it’s geared for that mission.

It helps that the K60 is stunning, with the black, sculpted keys hovering over a brushed aluminum backdrop. Should really tie together our build, I think. The only downside? The top-row function keys, escape key, and the insert/home/delete cluster all inexplicably use rubber dome switches rather than mechanicals. Those keys have a decidedly different feel, with seemingly less travel and more actuation force. I could forgive the function keys, but the others are a problem when I’m editing text or using a command line. Feels like skimping to have rubber domes on a $110 keyboard; that fact mars an otherwise-stellar product. I’m still picking the K60 for this build because I really like its overall look and feel, but it comes with that caveat.

Mouse

I instantly loved the size, shape, and textured feel of this device, which is more than I can say for the majority of gaming-focused mice out there. The weighting and placement of the buttons and wheel are nearly ideal, too. Rarely am I tempted away from my beloved Logitech mice by an enthusiast-focused mouse, but this one manages to avoid strange excesses and to improve on my preferred template for small rodentia.

I’ll admit I haven’t spent enough time with the M60 to have a clear sense of its every feature. Specifically, I haven’t installed the software and attempted to set up any macros or such. I don’t know that I even care to do so—I almost never install mouse software if I can avoid it—but I’ve heard via the Twitters that the software may have some teething problems, for what it’s worth.

Monitor

I’m not going to offer my own build of this class without a specific display suggestion. One of my biggest worries about our system guide is the prospect of folks ponying up real money for a nicely appointed system and then attaching it to a sub-standard TN panel with middling resolution. That shouldn’t happen too often, or we aren’t communicating our priorities very well. My own system has been attached to a 30″ Dell monster for years now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Skimp on your CPU budget if you have to in order to purchase a good display.

In the interest of matching the rest of this system in terms of price and priorities, I’ve chosen to recommend a smaller (but still large) 27″ monitor based on an IPS panel with a resolution of 2560×1440. With excellent color reproduction and superior viewing angles, IPS panels are worth the extra scratch. The 3.7 megapixels in this display are worth every penny in my book, too. I do tend to prefer the 16:10 aspect ratio of the 30″ displays, but when you have this many pixels, including 1440 vertical ones, your complaints will be overcome as your rods and cones are bathed in glory.

Please note that, for whatever reason, Newegg’s price on the U2711 is currently a little high at $979. You may be able to snag it for about 100 bucks less at other major vendors, if you look around. Perhaps Newegg’s price will have fallen in line by the time you read this.

The mobile sidekicks

Nothing beats a high-powered desktop for gaming and productivity, but you can’t exactly lug around a machine like the Sweet Spot or Double-Stuff Workstation. That’s why all of us here at TR complement our desktop machines with laptops or tablets. Since we have all the horsepower we need at home, we’re free to prioritize mobility and grab compact, lightweight, and affordable devices with long-running batteries. Here are a few recommendations along those lines.

Perhaps the best bang for your buck in the world of ultraportables is Acer’s Aspire One 522, which can be had for around $300 online. The system earned our Editor’s Choice award earlier this year for shooting higher than most 10″ netbooks, offering a 1280×720 display resolution, an AMD Ontario APU with fairly capable integrated graphics, and a low asking price. This isn’t a panacea, though; the 1GB of built-in RAM is a little on the light side, and we found the keyboard fairly cramped. For under 300 bucks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better netbook.

Folks with a little more cash on hand will want to step up to HP’s dm1z, which combines a faster Zacate APU with an 11.6″ display and more grown-up base specifications. Newegg sells an updated variant of the dm1z with an E-450 APU, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB 7,200-RPM hard drive for $479.99. If you head over to HP’s online store, you should find the base configuration (with a slower APU and only 320GB of mechanical storage) selling for as little as $379.99.

The dm1z also earned our coveted TR Editor’s Choice award last March. Not only does this notebook look great on paper, but it’s also exceptionally well-built for a cheap ultraportable. Although the dm1z’s battery life isn’t quite as long as that of the Aspire One 522 (6.2 hours for web surfing versus 6.6), we think it makes sense to sacrifice a little run time for a faster CPU, a larger and higher-resolution display, and more plentiful RAM and storage.

Higher up the food chain, you may want to take a look at a new category of laptops called ultrabooks. The first ultrabooks trickled into e-tail listings last fall, and they typically combine razor-thin frames, Sandy Bridge processors, and solid-state storage. We tested one of those machines, Asus’ Zenbook UX31, last October. We liked the 13-inch system’s slick design, fast performance, and $1100 asking price (less than that of Apple’s comparable MacBook Air), although we did run into issues with its touchpad. Asus also has a 11.6-inch version of the Zenbook priced at $950.

Cheaper ultrabooks include Acer’s Aspire S3, which you can nab for only $799.99. This machine has similar specs to the 13-inch Zenbook, but instead of a 128GB SSD, Acer outfits it with 20GB of solid-state storage and a 320GB mechanical hard drive.

If conventional laptops are too old-school for you, then may we interest you in a tablet? Right now, no tablet has quite as many apps or quite as much horsepower for gaming as the iPad 2. The iOS operating system does feel a tad more dumbed-down than Android, but then again, it also feels faster and smoother. You’ll find the base 16GB iPad 2 selling at Newegg for $519.99 with free shipping. That said, we should note that the rumor mill expects the iPad 3 to come out of hiding in the very near future. The very near future. So, you may want to hold off on grabbing an iPad 2 right away, unless you have no other choice.

Speaking of choices, Asus’ Ice Cream Sandwich-powered Eee Pad Transformer Prime isn’t awaiting a replacement anytime soon, and it’s a fantastic tablet—though not a particularly cheap one at $499 for the base, 32GB model. As we wrote in our review, the Prime has much in common with the iPad 2, including a metallic back with tapered edges and an excellent IPS display. The Prime also serves up more storage capacity per dollar and a quad-core Tegra 3 processor from Nvidia. And then there’s the icing on the cake: the detachable keyboard dock, which sports a full-sized USB port and SD slot, adds hours of run time thanks to an auxiliary battery, and turns the Prime into a bona-fide smartbook. The dock is unfortunately out of stock at Newegg right now, but you may be able to find it at other e-tailers if you search for the model code (TF201-DOCK).

What about larger notebooks? We have no specific recommendations in that category, but the market is rife with relatively affordable machines based on Intel’s dual-core Sandy Bridge processors and AMD’s Fusion A-series APUs (a.k.a. Llano). Llano machines should offer much better integrated graphics performance and competitive battery life, but Intel’s Sandy Bridge chips bring superior CPU performance.

The operating system
Which one 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 or other desktop 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.

Now, if you’re buying a copy of Windows today, you should really be thinking about Windows 7. We explained in our review that this OS may well be Microsoft’s finest to date, because it draws from Vista’s strengths while adding a healthy dose of polish, not to mention improved performance and non-disastrous backward compatibility. Building a new system with Windows 7 instead of Vista or XP is really a no-brainer at this point.

Just like its predecessors, Windows 7 comes in several different editions, three of which you’ll find in stores: Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate. What makes them different from one another? The table below should help answer that question:

  Windows 7 Home Premium
Windows 7 Professional
Windows 7 Ultimate
New Aero features X X X
Windows Search X X X
Internet Explorer 8 X X X
Windows Media Center X X X
HomeGroups X X X
Full-system Backup and Restore X X X
Remote Desktop client X X X
Backups across network   X X
Remote Desktop host   X X
Windows XP Mode   X X
Domain Join   X X
BitLocker     X
Interface language switching     X
Price—full license $189.99 $249.99 $289.99
Price—upgrade license $109.99 $174.99 $185.48
Price—OEM (64-bit) license $99.99 $139.99 $189.99
Price—OEM (32-bit) license $99.99 $139.99 $189.99
Price—Anytime Upgrade —> $89.99 $139.99

As you can see, Windows 7 editions follow a kind of Russian nesting doll pattern: Professional has all of the Home Premium features, and Ultimate has everything. Since most users probably won’t find the Ultimate edition’s extras terribly exciting, the choice ought to come down to Home Premium vs. Professional for almost everyone.

Some of TR’s editors like hosting Remote Desktop sessions and running network backups, so we’d probably go with the Professional package unless we were on a tight budget. However, we should also note that Windows 7 Home Premium includes some features formerly exclusive to more upscale editions, namely full-system backups and Previous Versions (a.k.a. Shadow Copy). See our review for more details.

If you go with Home Premium and find you need some of the Professional features down the road, you can always use the Anytime Upgrade program to step up. It’ll only set you back $90.

Speaking of upgrades, you’ll notice upgrade licenses are quite a bit cheaper than full ones. That’s because you need a legit version of Windows XP or Windows Vista to use them. The edition doesn’t matter, but you do need the previous OS to be activated and installed on your hard drive for the Windows 7 upgrade to work. Mind you, Vista upgrade installers don’t seem to protest when a user does a clean install of Vista without a product key and then runs an upgrade installation over that. Windows 7 could allow for the same trick. Microsoft doesn’t sanction this method, however, and who knows how future updates to the Windows activation system might affect it.

To save even more, you could also opt for an OEM license. Microsoft aims these at pre-built PCs, and for that reason, it prohibits users from carrying an OEM license over from one PC to another one. You may therefore be forced to buy a new copy of Windows 7 after a major upgrade. (Retail editions have no such limitation, as far as we’re aware.) Also unlike their retail brethren, OEM licenses only cover one version of the software—32-bit or 64-bit—so you’ll have to pick one or the other up front and stick with it.

That brings us to another point: should you go 32-bit or 64-bit? Since all of the processors we recommend in this guide are 64-bit-capable and all of our systems have 4GB of memory or more, the x64 release strikes us as the most sensible choice. This recommendation is relevant to folks who buy retail and upgrade editions, too—you might have to ask Microsoft to ship you x64 installation media first, but installing an x64 variant looks like the best idea.

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 new OSes and games pushing the envelope in terms of memory use, the 4GB limit can get a little uncomfortable for an enthusiast PC.

There are some caveats, however. 64-bit versions of Windows don’t support 32-bit drivers, and they won’t run 16-bit software. You’ll probably want to make sure all of your peripherals have compatible drivers, and vintage game lovers may also have to check out emulators like DOSBox. Still, hardware makers have improved x64 support quite a bit since Vista came out three years ago, so you’ll probably be fine unless you have something like a really old printer. (For some background on what makes 64-bit computing different at a hardware level, have a look at our take on the subject.)

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 users will probably care about one major differentiating attribute: whether their display has a 6-bit twisted nematic + film (TN+film) panel or not. The majority of sub-$500 monitors have 6-bit TN panels, which means 18-bit, rather than 24-bit, color definition. 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 prices.

Don’t assume that all IPS panels have eight bits per color channel, either. A new breed of e-IPS displays has emerged with only 6-bit color for each channel. These displays purportedly offer better color reproduction and viewing angles than their TN counterparts, but be aware that you’re not getting the full 24-bit experience.

What should you get? We think that largely depends on which of our builds you’re going with. For instance, those who purchase the Sweet Spot ought to splurge on a nice 8-bit, 24″ display like the HP LP2475w, HP ZR24w, Dell UltraSharp U2410, or Asus PA246Q, all of which have IPS panels, reasonable price tags, and a cornucopia of input ports. (The ZR24w is the only one with a normal sRGB color gamut, though.)

We recommend something bigger, like Dell’s 27″ UltraSharp U2711 or 30″ UltraSharp U3011, for use with our opulent workstation or an upgraded Editor’s Choice build. Don’t be shy about adding more than one screen, either.

By the way, we should point out that the Radeon HD 6000- and 7000-series graphics cards we recommended in this guide support triple-monitor configurations. This scheme, which AMD calls Eyefinity, even works in existing games. You’ll need either an adapter or a display with a native DisplayPort input if you want to run three monitors, though. The first two may be connected to a Radeon’s DVI or HDMI outputs, but the third needs to be driven by the card’s DisplayPort out.

Nvidia has a competing feature similar to Eyefinity, called Surround Gaming, that enables gaming across three monitors, as well. However, that feature requires the use of dual graphics cards or the pricey GeForce GTX 590.

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 here, too, one particular attribute lies at the heart of many 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, certain folks—typically hard-core 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. Because of that last issue, some favor wireless mice with docking cradles, which let you charge your mouse at night and not have to worry about finding charged AAs during 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 simple, 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. $50-70 is a lot to put down for a keyboard, but these beasts can easily last a couple of decades.

If you’re part of the mechanical keyboard club and are looking for something a little less… well, ugly, then Metadot’s Das Keyboard Professional might interest you. The Das Keyboard is pretty pricey (over $100), but it has a more stylish look and a softer feel than the Model M and its modern derivatives. Cheaper alternatives to the Das Keyboard can be found among Rosewill’s line of mechanical keyboards, which come outfitted with all types and variations of MX Cherry key switches, from the clicky and tactile blue switches to the linear and non-tactile black ones. We also like the combination of mechanical switches, macro keys, and backlighting offered by the new Razer BlackWidow Ultimate.

Folks more interested in gaming than typing may also want to look at Corsair’s K60 and K90 keyboards, which feature linear, non-tactile, and non-clicky Cherry Red switches. In layman’s terms, the keys are mechanical but don’t produce noticeable feedback when actuated (unless you bottom out, that is). We hear gamers are partial to this switch design. The two keyboards use Cherry Red switches for the alpha keys and standard rubber-dome switches for the F-key row and the paging block. The K90 is backlit, and it features a set of 18 macro keys, to boot.

Card reader

This section traditionally included a floppy drive/card reader combo, but we’re in 2011 now. We’ve had the Internet, USB thumb drives, and Windows-based BIOS flashing tools for many years. It’s time to let go.

If you absolutely must stick something in that external 3.5″ drive bay, we suggest this all-in-one card reader. It costs just over $10 yet has good user reviews on Newegg, and it should happily accept any flash card you find lying around.

Cooling

You might have noticed that all of our recommended processors are retail-boxed variants packaged with stock heatsinks and fans. Retail processors have longer warranties than “tray” or OEM CPUs, and their coolers tend to be at least adequate, with fans that work with motherboard-based temperature control and stay reasonably quiet at idle.

That said, anyone aspiring to overclock or to build a truly quiet PC will likely want to explore aftermarket alternatives. We’ve singled out three options that ought to suit most needs and budgets: Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 Plus, Thermaltake’s Frio, and Corsair’s H60.

Priced just under $30, the Hyper 212 Plus is a fine no-frills substitute for stock coolers. Its four copper heat pipes, tower-style design, and 120-mm PWM fan should allow for quieter, more effective cooling. Our next step up, the Frio, costs a little under twice as much but provides beefier cooling capabilities that should make it sufficient for air-cooled overclocking setups. Finally, Corsair’s H60 is a closed-loop liquid cooler whose radiator mounts over your enclosure’s 120-mm exhaust fan. The H60 will set you back about 10 bucks more than the Frio, and we’d recommend it to folks who want a truly quiet PC.

Noctua’s NH-U12P SE2 cooler deserves an honorable mention in this section, if only because it now supports Sandy Bridge processors. The original NH-U12P did rather well in our air vs. water CPU cooler showdown a couple of years back. Things have changed somewhat since then, though, and the Noctua cooler no longer costs less than closed-loop liquid-cooling alternatives. In fact, it’s about the same price as the H60 right now. The NH-U12P SE2 may be as close to the ultimate air tower as you can get, though.

Backups

You know what they say: it’s all fun and games until someone’s hard drive starts developing bad sectors and kicks the bucket in a dissonant avalanche of clicking and crunching sounds. If you’re unsure how to formulate a backup strategy, you can check out our article on the subject, which recommends a fairly straightforward approach. That article deals with Windows Vista’s built-in backup software, which isn’t bad. Win7’s backup tools are even better, though, and Microsoft has included them in the Home Premium edition of the OS.

All you need to get Windows 7 backups going is a decent external hard drive. For that purpose, Thermaltake’s BlacX docking station should work well with any of the hard drives we’ve recommended throughout this guide (perhaps the 2TB Seagate Barracuda Green). This newer USB 3.0 version of the BlacX made a pretty good impression on us, and backing up large files and drive images with it should be a snap.

Conclusions

This late-winter update to the guide is a bit of a downer, frankly speaking. It’s not that things have gotten worse or prices have risen; it’s just that we’re still waiting for things to get qualitatively better.

AMD’s FX-series processors are finally in stock, but they’re still overpriced compared to Intel’s finest. Samsung’s 830 Series solid-state drives are tantalizing alternatives to SandForce-based drives, at least from a stability standpoint, but you might not be able to notice the difference without a stopwatch at hand. AMD’s new Radeon HD 7900-series graphics cards are an unequivocal step up from the previous generation, but only if you can spare $450 or more. (The 7700 series is still a disappointment.)

We said this back in December, and it’s still true today: the stagnation of mid-range and low-end CPU prices is bothersome. Faced with no strong competition from AMD, Intel has held the prices of sub-$300 desktop CPU prices largely steady over the past year. We’re really itching for some genuine upgrades.

Thankfully, we may get our wish before long. Whispers from the rumor mill suggest Intel’s next-generation, 22-nm Ivy Bridge processors will arrive in April, at least on the desktop. AMD should have next-gen Trinity APUs in stores around the mid-year time frame, as well. Here’s hoping they’ll be priced more aggressively than AMD’s current A-series Llano APUs.

There are new graphics processors on the horizon, too. AMD’s Pitcairn GPU should slot in between the 7700 and 7900 series in the not-too-distant future, and Nvidia’s next-gen Kepler GPUs are expected soonish, as well. It’s too early to tell if all that new gear warrants holding off on an upgrade, but at least things aren’t likely to stay still for much longer.

Comments closed
    • uncle_enzo
    • 7 years ago

    I built this system and it is really great. I do have one problem, I installed win7 on the SSD and then installed secondary hard drive. I opted to get the 1TB version. I installed all the drivers for the mobo. When I install on the secondary drive it is very slow to install anything on it. I have both SSD and Hitachi drive connected to SATA6 ports. Anyone have any ideas? I was thinking of going to Intel to get the chipset drivers from them instead of ASUS.

    • dusematic
    • 7 years ago

    Anybody got a bead on when the next system guide will be released? It’s been over a month and it seems like an opportune time with the release of Ivy and Nvidia’s latest offerings.

    • kuzzia
    • 8 years ago

    For the econo-box I’d choose the NZXT Source 210 Elite over the Fractal Core 3000. The Elite has an extra 5,25″ bay, USB 3.0 (!!!), and its front is not filled with a mesh which might lure some people away (me included). The Elite also has more room behind its motherboard tray (20 mm according to NZXT website). The Core 3000 only has 10-13 mm according to the review on TechReport.

    The Core 3000 do however give you one extra fan, and two of three fans are 140mm versions. The harddrives are also side-mounted and the upper drive cage can be removed, which is definitely a plus. I don’t quite understand why NZXT hasn’t implemented side-mounted hard drive bays yet.

    • Star Brood
    • 8 years ago

    Before reading, please note that this will be my FIRST BUILD, and any constructive criticism is more than welcome and even requested.

    Overall, the econobuild you guys had picked is almost identical to the build I had picked for my rig. Same motherboard, same GPU, same CPU, even the same DVD drive!

    Where it varies is the chassis, PSU, SATA Drive, and RAM (I opted for the 8GB crucial RAM).

    Would the AMD 6850 really work on a 380w power supply unit? The folks on AMD’s site recommend a 500w minimum for system requirements. Gamers often recommend more than that for the same card. I am wondering if you guys have tested this out? Anyway, the PSU I chose is the Cooler Master 500W ATX12V for less than 2/3 the price of what you have chosen.

    The chassis you have selected is twice as expensive than the Cooler Master Elite 430 Mid Tower ATX, which is the one I have chosen, and it is just as capable IMO but insanely more aesthetic.

    Finally, I would never go for a disc drive with the low cost of SSD’s these days. I think too many people are compromising the slowest bottleneck on their computer (the HDD) for things that aren’t going to provide as much of a difference (ie. the CPU when 99% of the time the CPU is not going to be working very hard, unless you are seriously playing nothing but games). The SSD I have chosen is the Plextor PX-128M3S which has 510MB read & 350MB write. That’s 2-3x faster than your HDD, a way better choice to fill a SATA 3 drive, and at most 50%-100% more expensive if you catch it at the right price.

    • ghjtdge
    • 8 years ago
    • marraco
    • 8 years ago

    The Xonar DG is an excellent decision, since integrated audio is crappy noisy. The Xonar DG gives crystal clear sound. Perfect for headphones.

    • helvetio
    • 8 years ago

    FYI, the Asus P8Z68-V/GEN3 does not have Firewire ports.
    If you want Firewire, you need to get the Asus P8Z68-PRO/GEN3

    • maryjohnson
    • 8 years ago
    • Khan SW
    • 8 years ago

    I’m just curious why you would purposefully mislead your readers, unless of course this was an honest mistake:

    [b<]"The K60 uses Cherry Red switches for the alpha keys and standard rubber-dome switches for the F-key row and the paging block; the K90 is fully mechanical, backlit, and features a set of 18 macro keys, to boot."[/b<] The K90 is not fully mechanical, in fact it has the same rubber-dome switches that you list for the F60 to include the 18 G keys on the K90. Sorry but since there are a lot of customers out there that did not know this prior to purchase since it was not intentionally listed on sites such as newegg until people actually complained of false advertising, to include the red replacement keys not having the symbols above the number keys.

      • Cyril
      • 8 years ago

      Oops. My mistake. Fixed.

        • Khan SW
        • 8 years ago

        No problem 🙂 I had a feeling that it was just an honest mistake. Now if I can just figure out why someone would actually give me a thumb down for posting accurate information…guess some people just don’t like the truth :X

          • Palek
          • 8 years ago

          [quote<]Now if I can just figure out why someone would actually give me a thumb down for posting accurate information...guess some people just don't like the truth :X[/quote<] Maybe, just maybe it's because you prefaced your "accurate information" with an unnecessary accusation: [quote<]I'm just curious why you would purposefully mislead your readers[/quote<] Contrary to popular belief the anonymity of the internet doesn't make it acceptable or attractive to act like a jerk.

            • Khan SW
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]Maybe, just maybe it's because you prefaced your "accurate information" with an unnecessary accusation:[/quote<] And as I stated "unless it's an honest mistake" Now I could see others feeling that way if I had just outright accused without stating that it could have been a mistake so i still don't see how it's justified. [quote<]Contrary to popular belief the anonymity of the internet doesn't make it acceptable or attractive to act like a jerk.[/quote<] Sorry but I don't see how my comment was hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, nor do I see how attempting to clarify the misinformation makes me a jerk, however your comment stating that I was acting like one is. I've been coming to this site for several years now, and it's this type of interaction with others that has reminded me of why I have chosen to just stay quiet. Next time I will just allow misinformation to be considered "truth" since its posted on the all mighty and always accurate internet. Sorry to all if my comments made me appear to be a jerk, as that was not the intention, I simply wanted clarification, that is all.

    • cynan
    • 8 years ago

    Seems like you guys really like the Corsair stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever owned/built using a single Corsair product (not even ram). Not sure how this has come to pass as I certainly don’t have anything against Corsair..

    That said “prosumer” liquid cooling solutions like the H80/100 are for sissies! 🙂

    But seriously, if you want the best cooling performance bang for the buck, it’s hard to beat some of the new HSFs. While perhaps not being quite as quiet as the H80/100 on their most silent operating modes, they come pretty darn close, and give the option of better cooling performance if you don’t mind a bit of fan noise.

    Even if I was building a new Sandy Bridge E build, I’d look long and hard at something like this new [url=http://www.techpowerup.com/161005/Thermalright-Silver-Arrow-SB-E-CPU-Cooler-Goes-on-Sale.html<]Thermalright cooler[/url<] before going with the H100. Though I admit, a major caveat may be accessing ram slots. But I never seem to touch the ram once I get things up and running to begin with anyway...

    • rechicero
    • 8 years ago

    I know a lot of people just don’t believe in constructive comments and see every feedback as some sort of attack to TR, but I’d like to add another 2 cents.

    Why there isn’t a build with just the best component from the performance/$ scatter plot? THAT would be really useful. Without alternatives (or just alternatives when there are several components with the same performance/$ ratio).

    • Anomymous Gerbil
    • 8 years ago

    Why not replace the focus on arbitrary price points, and replace it with a focus on functionality? Of course price-points have to come into it somewhere, but you might instead have something like this:

    Reduced the main guide to a single page, with some fancy drop-downs where readers can choose from a small selection of cases, PSUs, mobos, CPUs, GPUs and SSDs/HDDs to hit their preferred price point (say, in roughly the $400-$1000 range). After all, what a lot of people are looking for is for TR to help them narrow down the huge range of components, with some commentary on balance between CPU/GPU and so on). Of course this would require a bit of coding, and wouldn’t be the work of a day. But once it’s done, it should be very easy and quick to update the set of recommended components for each System Guide.

    Then you may or may not add a page for other (presumably popular) categories, e.g. grandma’s kitchen web-browsing PC (or laptop/tablet/… Dell), an HTPC (e.g. Atom or Brazos), and maaaaybe a home server which might run Linux or FreeNAS or… or this might be too big a category to wander into.

      • dpaus
      • 8 years ago

      I love the idea, but it’s a hell of a lot of work. Besides, if you try to deal with various incompatibilities (i.e., ‘oh, sorry, these DRAM modules won’t fit in this motherboard with that cooler’) you’d quickly run into the ‘combinatorial explosion’ problem.

    • Grape Flavor
    • 8 years ago

    The Guide is [b<]FINE![/b<] [i<]Please[/i<] don't listen to all the whiners who want to turn it into merely non-gaming budget builds for grandmas. Most of those people are going to want the customer support that comes with a pre-built system anyway. I consider myself an "enthusiast" and sure, I'm going to already know what CPU and GPU I want. But these days I have neither the time nor the inclination to comb the internet for reviews of specific RAM, mobos, PSUs, cases, coolers, etc. I find that Tech Report has very good judgement and it is invaluable to me to be able to defer to the guide on a lot of the less obvious parts. Add more builds if you want, but don't cheapen the Sweet Spot. It's called the Sweet Spot for a reason - any cheaper and you have to make sacrifices, any higher and you get rapidly diminishing returns. The guide may not be perfect but come on guys, don't butcher it and cheapen everything just a few months before I'm ready to use the guide for a new build!

      • Mr Bill
      • 8 years ago

      Maybe an HTPC category would be an interesting addition?

        • GTVic
        • 8 years ago

        I agree, right now I want to build a budget SFF PC for my parents and scrounge parts from my old computer. Having a budget and mid-range SFF HTPC build would be a great addition.

      • Arag0n
      • 8 years ago

      I hope you know that the average selling price for computers is going down… and average selling price of techreport recommendations has gone… up! I might be wrong, but some people just wants good enough computers with gaming capabilities and not to be able to play everything 100% detailed..

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      I think a lot if not all of us are arguing for more affordable price points that people will actually build a system off of rather then absurdly expensive builds that give you a chuckle while reading. This doesn’t mean that more expensive price points should be eliminated.

      Guess you don’t have the time now days to actually read posts before responding to them either.

        • Grape Flavor
        • 8 years ago

        All I’m saying is the Sweet Spot is perfect right where it is. If I wasn’t waiting for Kepler and Ivy Bridge I’d build that very exact system right now.

        As I said, that’s why they call it the Sweet Spot. Move it up or down and you’re not hitting that perfect balance.

    • njsutorius
    • 8 years ago

    Where is the HTPC? i thought we used to have a build for that?

    • wtburnette
    • 8 years ago

    Another nice HSF option is the Thermalright HR-02 Macho. Not bad at all for $40:

    [url<]http://www.amazon.com/ThermalRight-HR-02-MACHO-Thermalright-Macho/dp/B005ERSN7G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330096846&sr=8-1[/url<]

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    I’m going to have to mirror a lot of sentiment here. The price points REALLY need to be reworked. The only two boxes I even looked at was the $600 and $900 box. All of the other ones are outside price points for almost all people, save people who build their own computers and are knowledgeable enough to pick out their own parts anyway. The price points have become quite bloated.

    Even then I’m finding it a tough time to recommend these prices to anyone. You guys need to consider a $300 grandma deluxe, the $400 ‘I’m in college and have no money’, a ‘I just want to transfer files and backup to this computer value’, and a HTPC scraping the bottom of the barrel (with two different variants for a atom/fusion and a normal mini-itx board).

    Really when you get up to the $600 range you start climbing out of the pit where you have to make hard choices and just start throwing a bunch of crap together that represents almost no real sacrifices or noticeable improvements in performance.

    Honestly it’s kinda painful you guys even added the ‘Schooner’, which no one in their right mind is going to build, and haven’t even hit the bread and butter price points.

    Heck, looking at the ‘double stuff” workstation, it doesn’t even offer a board that supports more then one processor, even though the board itself is very much in the range of dual processor boards. You can get more cores for cheaper going to server class motherboards. This is one part where AMD actually still shines a bit. You can get a 16 core Opteron (8 actual cores) for $539.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      I’m not sure a “how low can you go” contest should be the goal. The thought of it is pretty gross. At those price points you’d do do better with a base model Dell / Acer / HP. Otherwise, just go to Newegg and pick the cheapest component in every category. You don’t need a guided tour for that.

      If this guide becomes about building the cheapest hill billy clunker then I think it loses a lot of its interest and value. This guide isn’t about building the cheapest PC you can. Respectability still factors in here. There’s still the spirit of a PC enthusiast sprinkled on top.

      Otherwise, again, just go buy the cheapest stuff you can find, no guide necessary.

        • Bensam123
        • 8 years ago

        I think that’s completely what a guided tour is needed for. When you have to make tough choices, experience plays a big part in that.

        When you have 1k you can go to newegg and throw a bunch of stuff together and it’ll work most of the time without any major hitch. Unless they spend their entire budget on a processor or SSD it’s really hard to go wrong.

        Keep in mind, bottom of the barrel was the cheapest configuration, not the only one.

        The ‘value’ of the guide IMHO is building computers at price points people actually purchase them at. The Schooner may be your sorta thing, but honestly I’ve done that enough with friends I’m building systems for to know no one’s going to buy it.

          • flip-mode
          • 8 years ago

          If someone asks me for a $300 build I just tell them no, go to [url<]http://www.dell.com[/url<] and get the cheapest thing they can find. $350 here: [url<]http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx?oc=ddcwkp1&c=us&l=en&s=dhs&cs=19&model_id=inspiron-620s&[/url<] That includes Win 7 HP 64. And even a keyboard and mouse. That's better than anything you can put together from Newegg for the same price cuz you're going to shell out another $100 for Windows from Newegg. The case you get from Newegg for a $350 build will be some total POS. Power supply too. Motherboard too. building at $300 or even $400 is a bad idea. At that price range it doesn't make sense to build your own, so it doesn't really make sense for it to be one of Tech Reports "recommended builds". TR should not put something in a guide that they would actually never recommend. It saddens me to see people ask for it. It's not a good idea and it's not something anyone should recommend. That's what the OEMs are for. If people ask you for a $300 build do the right thing and point them to Dell / HP / Acer.

            • Bensam123
            • 8 years ago

            Cause you really need a $100 aluminum case for every build?

            It doesn’t make sense to build your own in what way? Have you even looked at low end components on Newegg? Everything that applies to faster computers still applies to cheaper ones. OS’s are considered separate on all the builds on here.

            Just because you’re in a cheaper bracket doesn’t mean there still aren’t plenty of choices all within $5 of each other. That includes items they can recommend.

    • Mr Bill
    • 8 years ago

    “Just keep in mind that, unlike the Core i3, the FX-4100 doesn’t have integrated graphics.”
    ??? What? The Core i3 has integrated graphics?

      • Cyril
      • 8 years ago

      Yes. Yes it does.

      [url<]http://ark.intel.com/products/53426/Intel-Core-i3-2120-Processor-(3M-Cache-3_30-GHz)[/url<]

        • Mr Bill
        • 8 years ago

        Of course, they absolutely suck, right? I mean in the course of history, Intel has never done that right.

          • Airmantharp
          • 8 years ago

          So you’re NOT being sarcastic?

          Intel’s HD3000 is pretty amazing when compared to the GPU’s before it. Their HD4000 GPU arriving alongside Ivy Bridge is going to be an equally massive jump in performance and compatibility.

          Just as a note, the HD3000 can run so many games at the native resolution of most laptops (1366×768) that it almost qualifies as a gaming GPU. Given that none of the CPUs it comes in are even remotely slow, it makes for a great ‘budget’ solution. HD4000 is just going to be awesome.

            • Mr Bill
            • 8 years ago

            No I was not intending to be sarcastic. I’ve just been following Intel’s graphics solutions from the misty past to the present. Look at the A8-3500 Llano vs the HD3000 here: [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/21099/12[/url<] The A8-3800 and A8-3870 are just that much quicker than the A8-3500. So, yes. I think Intel's GPU is slower. Actually it would be nice to see Tech Report do some more APU comparisons. Edit: Also, lets not forget the quality difference between the A8-3500 and the HD3000. [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/21099/11[/url<]

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            Oh they’re nowhere near AMDs APUs- but AMDs CPUs don’t come close to Intel’s either.

            Again, Intel’s HD3000 can PLAY so many games, that’s it’s almost worth considering it just on those merits. Think Source games including Portal 2, Starcraft II, Civ V, and so on.

            • dpaus
            • 8 years ago

            By the next generation (the one [i<]after[/i<] Trinty & Ivy Bridge, that is), both Intel's and AMD's CPUs and graphics are both going to be plenty 'good enough' for 99% of all users and all applications. Which suggests to me that TR will be rife with heated arguments over the vital advantage that a 10th of a frame-per-second gives you in CoD IX.

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            Intel is going to have to increase performance by at least an order of magnitude to placate gamers, and yes gamers are more than 1% of the computer buying public.

            • Firestarter
            • 8 years ago

            Last time I tried running a game on the HD3000 (which I do admit was about 8 months ago), it hardly worked. I haven’t tried since with more recent drivers, but suffice to say that I’m not convinced yet. The quality of the drivers that AMD supplies for its GPUs is miles ahead of the Intel GPU drivers.

        • Mr Bill
        • 8 years ago

        Thanks Cyril. I guess I did not pay enough attention to the original A8-3500 Llano review!

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    what’s with all the complaining this guide? Why all the anger?

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      +10. It’s the usual suspects. And, for what it’s worth, complainers usually means you’re doing something right. If you’re not doing anything right people don’t even bother.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        Are you new to the internet? The first rule is “Always, always, always complain.”

          • flip-mode
          • 8 years ago

          Wrong reply?

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            you’re making him right!!!!!

          • derFunkenstein
          • 8 years ago

          No, right reply. Wrong place.

            • flip-mode
            • 8 years ago

            Right even when wrong… I see how it is. [spoiler<]wink[/spoiler<]

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            Hey man, being married this is the only place I’m ever right. Not at home! Right, ssk? 😆

            • anotherengineer
            • 8 years ago

            Rgr. that lol

            Decent guide, however I find most PC’s now are pretty much all diminishing returns for 98% of people.

            My mom is still happily using an old s939 4600+ X2, and when I am over there using it, I don’t really notice much noticeable difference in typical user requirements, like firing up a browser or burning a dvd vs the 3.3 ghz wolfdale workstation I use at work. (both have dedicated vid cards)

            I have some cpu gadget on my desktop at home (amd 955/ radeon 6850) and the highest I seen it go when gaming (1680×1050) was 77% (source engine game). While using flash, Acad, matlab, the interwebs, watching movies, listening to music and anything else that I do, the cpu pretty much idles.

            The next major upgrade will be an SSD, then a nice IPS monitor, then maybe a mechanical keyboard.

      • Kurotetsu
      • 8 years ago

      Because everyone wants a system guide explicitly tailored to their specific budget/needs, despite this being completely impossible and also would defeat the purpose of the System Builders Anonymous sub-forum. Of course, small trivialities like that are not worthy of consideration.

    • dashbarron
    • 8 years ago

    You guys could hire a helper and/or in your free time (if you have any) build these systems for order and some markup for labor. I bet some would pay to have a system built by you guys with an autograph to boot.

    Tech Report Schooner!
    Tech Report 2012 Eco-Box!

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      I like the idea (and the enthusiasm!), but I fear for the hit to impartiality and professionalism that’s possible when business is co-mingled with journalism.

      I do agree that the editors should endeavor to actually build the systems themselves, and review each of them; that would definitely increase the guide’s credibility across the community, which would be great!

      Also, since they partner with Newegg, maybe after they built the system with all parts involved, Newegg could start offering the exact systems specified and reviewed by TR as discounted ‘kits’. I’m not sure that there would exactly be massive demand for these kits, but I’d bet that the benefits of the cross-promotion would outweigh the very limited time investment!

        • Mr Bill
        • 8 years ago

        “Also, since they partner with Newegg, maybe after they built the system with all parts involved, Newegg could start offering the exact systems specified and reviewed by TR as discounted ‘kits’. I’m not sure that there would exactly be massive demand for these kits, but I’d bet that the benefits of the cross-promotion would outweigh the very limited time investment!” This is actually a pretty interesting idea.

        • dashbarron
        • 8 years ago

        Ah yes journalistic-integrity, you have a good point.

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      Interesting… I can totally see a bunch of hands going up from volunteers… the guides kinda have went downhill of late though. Such a business would require more then one volunteer though. People expect support for their machines and/or have to contact you if something goes wrong while it’s still under warranty.

    • indeego
    • 8 years ago

    It is somewhat sad/sign of the times that many of these systems now feature items that TR no longer or rarely reviews anymore. Motherboards, power supplies, sound cards, memory, etc.

    Also you state these are systems that the TR editors would upgrade to if they “had the time,” but then they spend pages upon pages with giving recommendations? You apparently have *some* time. 😉

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 8 years ago

      Power supplies were always a rare review.

      Memory is even more of a commodity item, and I doubt TR could adequately ascertain the important things about memory, the likelihood of getting a doa item or lastabillity.

      Sound cards: has anything interesting happened in this market in the past 2-3 years? This is the saddest thing.

        • Firestarter
        • 8 years ago

        RE: Soundcards: I use an USB DAC/amplifier for my headphones (porta corda mk3). It’s like all the other USB speakers and headsets and it [i<]just works[/i<] using the OS drivers. Battlefield3 does not care one bit that I don't have a soundcard or something, it just works and it sounds amazing through my sennheisers. If any generic USB thingie like that can make a game like BF3 sound like a proper warzone, what good does a soundcard do? I'd sooner scratch the soundcard and put the money to something like this: [url<]http://www.zzounds.com/item--ALEM1A320USB[/url<]

    • rechicero
    • 8 years ago

    And another thing:

    If in the Rules and Regulations you state “Over the next few pages, you’ll see us recommend and discuss components for four sample builds. Those builds have target budgets of $600, $900, $1,500, and around $3,000.”

    Why do you ignore them? Econobox: $627 (4.3% overbudget); SweetSpot: $954 (6% overbudget); Editor’s Choice: $1,635 (8,2% overbudget). Oddly enough, the only rule that is not a fixed budget “around $3,000” is the only one you follow.

    Somebody else said the budgets where probably excessive, and they have their point. But the first step would be not ignoring the budgets you decided.

    Please, don’t take all this wrong. This guide is, almost, the go-for reference for anybody looking for an easy way to choose components for a rig. I’d just want to be able to omit the “almost”. And it would be easy.

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      I imagine if you specc’d out the parts on Amazon they would be cheaper, shipping would be less, and they would arrive faster.

      I’ve pretty much abandoned Newegg. Even their specials are lackluster. I guess the borg has taken me over, because I haven’t ordered anything from Newegg in 4 months.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 8 years ago

        Newegg’s site is still unbeatable for ease of use.

        • KinCT
        • 8 years ago

        Cheaper… yes, often true. But some of those Amazon vendors are a wee bit shady.
        Shipping would be less… Mixed bag here. Sometimes yes, sometimes no
        Faster shipping??? Really? I often get the item next day (even with the 3 day shipping). I understand everyone’s experience may vary, but I find it outstanding. Often the stuff is coming from NJ and I live in CT. Even when it comes from California, they almost always make the 3 day period.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 8 years ago

      The Econbox is just over $660 once you add shipping. You could drive $100 out of the delivered price and still have a good gaming experience.
      [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=79184[/url<]

      • dpaus
      • 8 years ago

      ‘target’ != ‘hard cap’

    • rechicero
    • 8 years ago

    I can’t understand how, in the Econobox, the most expensive component is the Graphic card. Or why every single build is for heavy gaming.

    You’re ignoring the needs of: Casual gamers, non-gamers, grandmas, HTPC crowd. They don’t need a 6850 for the cheapest rig.

    And yes, there are non-gamer enthusiasts, enthusiast with parents/grandparents, and enthusiast looking for an HTPC.

    If you’re offering a great guide for gamers, why don’t you add just 2 system more: a non-gaming econobox and an HTPC?

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      So skip the card. It has integrated and is optional.

        • UberGerbil
        • 8 years ago

        Exactly. This is why I’ll always buy a mobo with IGP: it’s a backup if you need a GPU, and it’s good enough if you don’t.

        • Bensam123
        • 8 years ago

        Honestly, do you think if people are buying from a system guide in the first place they understand that they don’t need to buy a graphics card and it will work fine without it? Or that the chip in question has built in graphics?

      • sweatshopking
      • 8 years ago

      if you don’t want to play games, just buy the brazos zotac all in one. it’s cheaper, and does what you’re asking. If you are going to custom, you will probably want a better gpu.

      • rxc6
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<] You're ignoring the needs of: Casual gamers, non-gamers, grandmas, HTPC crowd. They don't need a 6850 for the cheapest rig. And yes, there are non-gamer enthusiasts, enthusiast with parents/grandparents, and enthusiast looking for an HTPC. [/quote<] Yeah and enthusiasts are well known for being totally incompetent at ditching a discrete graphic card and making upgrades with the remaining money :roll_eyes:. You are just complaining for the sake of complaining. Stop the noise in the comments.

        • Bensam123
        • 8 years ago

        You think enthusiasts will be buying off a guide in the first place?

      • Voldenuit
      • 8 years ago

      HTPC I can agree with, but casual user? It rarely makes sense for a casual user to build their own system, as the big OEM’s (Dell, hp) usually have entry level desktop systems that are cheaper, more convenient and include a Windows license for less than a DIY builder is liable to build. Not to mention tech support and a centralized, comprehensive warranty process.

      I do agree with JAE and other posters that the budgets are higher than necessary, and I think that the spending decisions are not always optimized to maximize performance/$. Still, it’s a pretty good resource for beginner builders, and not a bad starting place for the more experienced DIY’er.

        • rechicero
        • 8 years ago

        It’s already a pretty good resource, just trying to help improve the guide with a couple option more. Nothing more ;-).

      • Palek
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]You're ignoring the needs of: Casual gamers, non-gamers, grandmas, HTPC crowd. They don't need a 6850 for the cheapest rig. And yes, there are non-gamer enthusiasts, enthusiast with parents/grandparents, and enthusiast looking for an HTPC.[/quote<] I thought the overwhelming majority of enthusiasts avoided building PCs for family and relatives. Give 'em a Dell or an Apple. I for sure would not want to become the only person capable of offering tech support. Haggling with parts suppliers/retailers over support issues is enough of a headache for the PCs in our household.

        • paulWTAMU
        • 8 years ago

        ditto. my folks can buy an HP. I love my parents, they’re great people and tried dman hard to raise us right. but i’m not doing support form 800 miles away. they can go OEM

    • themattman
    • 8 years ago

    There is a slight spelling error on the double-stuff workstation page:

    “Enclosure
    Our former pick, Corsair’s Obsidian Series 800D, is an awe-inspiring enclosure with enough bells and whistles to make any enthusiast’s mouth water. We didn’t switch our recommendation to the Cooler Master Cosmos II lightly. Ever since we reviewed this case (and gave it our Editor’s Choie award),”

    Otherwise, a great update!

    • [+Duracell-]
    • 8 years ago

    Take note that you can get the CPUs cheaper at a Microcenter store if you are going to make a build and there is one close to you. You also need to take into account sales tax, but for me, it’s still cheaper than buying from Newegg (and you’re supporting your local economy!)

    [url=http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0376494<]Core i3-2125[/url<] - $119.99 [url=http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0354589<]Core i5-2500K[/url<] - $179.99 [url=http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0354587<]Core i7-2600K[/url<] - $279.99 [url=http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0383144<]Core i7-3820[/url<] - $319.99 [url=http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0376493<]Core i7-3930K[/url<] - $599.99

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      With gas approaching $5/gallon soon it may not be cheaper to get it locally much longer…

        • Farting Bob
        • 8 years ago

        $5/Gallon?

        I pay £5.14 GBP per US Gallon (3.7 litres at about 1.36 a litre for unleaded). That works out at over 8 USD. And the price keeps on going up by about 1p a week. By summer we’ll probably be looking at close to £1.50 a litre for unleaded, £1.55-160 for Diesel.

          • Airmantharp
          • 8 years ago

          [R&P] Move to a non-socialist nation that doesn’t tax it’s citizens do death for perceived social benefits defined by self-interested bureaucrats. Also, this comment thread doesn’t belong here.[/R&P]

            • mattthemuppet
            • 8 years ago

            so why post it here? Save your political clap trap for the general discussion forum.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 8 years ago

        Approaching $5? Where I live (central Illinois) it’s still under 3.50.

          • FuturePastNow
          • 8 years ago

          It’s at $3.69 in parts of central Illinois (Springfield area)

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            Literally passed 3.50 the day I posted that.

        • [+Duracell-]
        • 8 years ago

        For me, the nearest Microcenter is 10 miles away, or half a tank of gas. When gas reaches $40/gallon, it might not be worth it, but by then, we have bigger problems to fix or newer technology that will replace gasoline engines.

          • tfp
          • 8 years ago

          10 miles or a half a tank of gas what the heck are you driving?

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            a chainsaw

          • indeego
          • 8 years ago

          10 miles away (20 round trip) will cost about $9.52-$14.78 in operating costs given the [url=http://www.piercetransit.org/rideshare/costs.htm<]average U.S. driving costs[/url<]. As gas prices are expected to reach record levels this year given trends, I expect this figure to be much higher.

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            Unless you are buying or insuring a car just for this trip, it looks like costs $3-4 to me.

        • anotherengineer
        • 8 years ago

        $1.37/liter up here in Canada (northern ontario) It used to be about $0.65/liter before Bush started the war in Iraq.

        • Krogoth
        • 8 years ago

        You realize that shipping costs are going up as well?

          • indeego
          • 8 years ago

          They have gone way down for me. $79/year and I’ve ordered scores of items already.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      Microcenter (and occasionally Fry’s) have amazing discounts on combos in order to move total systems. Note that you also have to deal with the whiny salesman trying to sell you everything else under the sun when you ask for these deals, if he’s doing his job.

      It’s been worth it for me on occasion. Just note that these retailer’s usually have very limited selection compared to online giants like Newegg.

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      They could build off pricewatch if they really wanted to, I think the point was just to buy everything from one easy to use outlet. If people want they can buy the same part from a different store.

      • Star Brood
      • 8 years ago

      Amazon is doing free shipping on what I’m interested in ordering (I am planning on ordering the whole kit from them save for the RAM which is cheaper on NewEgg)… unless there is some hidden “secret shipping cost”, why is Amazon not the best deal around? Or is it some lame “anti-amazon” thing like a lot of Apple people have “anti-microsoft” or some microsoft people have “anti-apple” mentality?

    • dragosmp
    • 8 years ago

    The Econobox is still too expensive. It should be called “Midrange gaming rig” or something of the sorts as it’s plenty powerful to play most games @1080p with full details.

    As the family geek that builds “lower end” stuff for most I would like to see a 400$ rig and also a silent rig (not HTPC, just silent). Pentium Sandy Bridge are nothing less than Core i3 without HT so they are not be half bad, though you might have to pick H61 boards to fit the bill. Llano could provide more bells and whistles for an “el cheapo” build with SATA3 and USB3 while consuming more power. I didn’t want to post this to make build suggestions, but it just seems odd there’s no real build below 1000$ in the guide once the OS, rodent, keys and the monitor are taken into account.

    Great job on the other builds! I had fun looking thru the 900+ rigs, gave me some ideas what to upgrade on mine.

    • Saber Cherry
    • 8 years ago

    I disagree on a few points.

    First: The memory modules. I do not understand why giant fins were popular on 1950’s cars, and they make just as much sense on RAM. I bought a [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231529<]G.SKILL 4x8GB 1866[/url<] kit; it works fine, and most importantly, it does not constrain me in choices on CPU coolers. My first choice actually would have been Crucial RAM, but it had giant fins too and would not have fit under my ([url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835608024<]Noctua NH-D14[/url<]) CPU cooler. It's really unfortunate when companies are rewarded for aesthetic choices that actively decrease functionality. Second: The Intel Core i7-3820. I realize the Schooner is kind of a toy build, but that processor really has no reason to exist. If you need 6 cores, then Socket 2011 is currently the best choice. If you don't need more than 4 cores, then Socket 1155 is superior in performance and (especially) cost. I have a Socket 2011 system, but if I didn't need 6 cores for work, I absolutely would have gotten a 2600k. Third: The Editor's Choice. That has a 750 GB HDD... seriously? Why not 2 TB? I have run out of HDD space on every computer I have ever owned, and that one starts out with 2 HDD bays and channels already used, while providing only 878 GB of space. Not a good start for future expansion, particularly when long video cards can sometimes block additional drive bays. Also, the GeForce 560/448 instead of a Radeon 7950? The video card is the most important part of a gaming computer. If you have to match that price point, you could get there by dropping the sound card, SSD, or downgrading to an i7-2500. Fourth: There doesn't seem to be much thought put into making these systems quiet. The cases don't look they're made for silence; there's no mention of specific fans [s<]or even CPU coolers[/s<] (edit: found coolers in the peripherals section)... or, indeed, which graphics cards are the most quiet. From my research, it appears that the best Radeon 7950 is [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814102963<]Sapphire's overclocked one[/url<], which has a notably quiet custom cooler. Also, instead of the Corsair HX650W PSU which only has an 80+ Bronze rating at $129, I suggest a [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151088<]Seasonic X650[/url<] which is 80+ Gold for only $139 (and it's super quiet).

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      1. The extreme popularity (not undeserved) of integrated water-coolers negates the need for limits on RAM height. Still, the heatsinks don’t serve any purpose I know of, particularly for the 1.35v modules.

      2. It exists as an inexpensive route to filling the CPU slot on an LGA2011 board, which was purchased either for it’s PCIe lanes or it’s memory slots, or both. And you would have gotten a 2600k? Because you like seeing the extra threads in Task Manager? After overclocking, that’s about all that extra $100 buys you.

      3. Hard drives are expensive; they’ve simply had to reduce the size of the recommended drives to keep the costs in line with their goals. Is this hard to understand?

      You’re spot on with savings going towards the GPU- but you’d be hard pressed to show any real gameplay differences between the two cards at 1080p. Anything above that of course…

      4. The cases listed are actually fairly quiet, though none of them are insulated. It’s not a bad thing, they are all very, very nice cases. Picking a quiet video card is just as well going to rely on the research of the buyer. There are just too many choices, and too many targets to really pin one down over another in a general guide like this. Hell, I don’t like ANY of the custom-cooled HD7950’s, as they do not exhaust out of the case- which is something that someone with a front-to-back airflow setup would definitely be looking for.

      I have that Seasonic, and it is awesome. Then again, I have a Seasonic built HX620, and it’s awesome too (still).

        • Saber Cherry
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]1. The extreme popularity (not undeserved) of integrated water-coolers negates the need for limits on RAM height.[/quote<] From what I have read of the [url=http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/coolers/display/super-cooler-lga-2011_6.html#sect1<]roundups at xbit[/url<], the low-end watercooling systems targeted at 1155/2011 are louder and less effective than heatpipe-based air-cooling systems of similar price. [quote<]2. It exists as an inexpensive route to filling the CPU slot on an LGA2011 board, which was purchased either for it's PCIe lanes or it's memory slots, or both. And you would have gotten a 2600k? Because you like seeing the extra threads in Task Manager? After overclocking, that's about all that extra $100 buys you.[/quote<] For a lot of the things I do, hyperthreading increases throughput by about 25%. I've even had a case where hyperthreading increased throughput by almost 100%, but that was strictly floating-point bound. Still, you have a point; if I was building the system strictly for gaming, it would be unnecessary. Anyway, LGA2011 boards are substantially more expensive than similar 1155 boards. [quote<]3. Hard drives are expensive; they've simply had to reduce the size of the recommended drives to keep the costs in line with their goals. Is this hard to understand?[/quote<] You can get 2TB drives at Newegg for $119. On a system that already has an SSD for things that demand quick access, buying a $99 750GB HDD over a $119 2TB HDD for bulk data storage is silly. [quote<]4. The cases listed are actually fairly quiet, though none of them are insulated. It's not a bad thing, they are all very, very nice cases. Picking a quiet video card is just as well going to rely on the research of the buyer. There are just too many choices, and too many targets to really pin one down over another in a general guide like this. Hell, I don't like ANY of the custom-cooled HD7950's, as they do not exhaust out of the case- which is something that someone with a front-to-back airflow setup would definitely be looking for.[/quote<] The [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814102963<]Sapphire card I linked to[/url<] does indeed exhaust out of the case. But I had to design a build for my friend, and figuring out which 7950 to buy was really difficult - it would have been nice if it had explicitly stated, "This video card we chose is the absolute quietest of all the actively-cooled XXX-gpu cards on the market". Incidentally, his case is an Antec P280, with front-to-back airflow and Noctua fans replacing the defaults, and he say's it's the quietest computer he's ever heard. Unfortunately he's in a different state so I have not personally seen it.

          • Airmantharp
          • 8 years ago

          This organized line-by-line critiquing system works pretty well :).

          • Airmantharp
          • 8 years ago

          Whether you’d use an IWC depends on your airflow setup; also, it depends quite a bit on how you intend to maintain a dust-free case.

          If you’re doing a ‘free air’ build, the less expensive tower coolers and multi-fan custom GPU coolers work out fairly well. But they will not stay clean if you put them in a larger open-air type case (Antec 900 series comes to mind). To combat this, you need something like Antec’s P series or Fractal’s Define, or Silverstone’s Raven 2/Fortress 2 for the rich-blooded, with significant intake overload from filtered fans, and internal cooling devices that exhaust heat directly- such as IWC’s and most stock GPU coolers.

          From a noise perspective, the ‘whole system’ question has to be addressed from beginning to end. While a tower cooler would be quieter than an IWC on it’s own, such as on an open bench or in an open-air case, an IWC would be the quieter solution in a closed, intake heavy case like those mentioned above. The same goes for GPU coolers- in an open-air case (and with a free third-slot below the card) the multi-fan custom coolers are quiet and effective, but in a closed intake heavy case, they’ll run much hotter and louder, as they’ll be recirculating their own heat. This is also compounded in multi-GPU setups.

          The Sapphire card you linked to does indeed have a vent where all 7900-series cards do, but [b<][i<]it does not exhaust hot air out of the case.[/b<][/i<]. The stock blowers which intake air from the middle of the case, and then enclose the entire heatsink along the length of the card to the exhaust port, are the only solutions that accomplish this. Further, when used in an intake heavy environment, these coolers can be both quieter and cooler than those stock solutions, especially when more than one GPU is used.

            • Saber Cherry
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]The Sapphire card you linked to does indeed have a vent where all 7900-series cards do, but it does not exhaust hot air out of the case.. The stock blowers which intake air from the middle of the case, and then enclose the entire heatsink along the length of the card to the exhaust port, are the only solutions that accomplish this.[/quote<] Thanks for pointing that out; I stand corrected. The Sapphire [i<]does[/i<] blow warm air out of its vent, but I guess much of the exhaust exits inside the case, instead.

      • esterhasz
      • 8 years ago

      Ad 2, I’m not disagreeing but just for perspective, I’m getting a i7-3820 next week, cheapest way to get 64GB of RAM.

        • Saber Cherry
        • 8 years ago

        Fair enough, Socket 2011 does get you more memory slots.

        • Airmantharp
        • 8 years ago

        Yeap- this is reason one of three for getting an LGA2011 based system.

    • Skullzer
    • 8 years ago

    “We’re keeping the same Corsair HX650W power supply as in our last few guides.”

    The editor’s choice has a Seasonic PSU listed on the guide but the description lists the cosair.

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve wanted to build myself a ROG themed system ever since they started making everything red, black, and white.

    All other components would follow the same color scheme. Thermaltake Frio, Corsair GT RAM & SSD, etc. Package them in a nice blacked-out windowed case like the Corsair Obsidian and you’ve got yourself a nice work of art.

    They all seem to be flagship models that are drool-worthy, overpriced as they may be. Still good stuff, nonetheless.

    • codedivine
    • 8 years ago

    Corsair. Schooner. I don’t get it. Anyone help here?

      • DeadOfKnight
      • 8 years ago

      Internet search engines are amazing things, you should try one sometime.

        • DeadOfKnight
        • 8 years ago

        See how this could have been avoided? Learn something?

          • Bensam123
          • 8 years ago

          Way to be a douchebag.

      • Compton
      • 8 years ago

      You’re being… sarcastic, right? Because if you’re not, I’m going to look stupid when I explain that a schooner is a type of large sail-powered water vessel, aka “a boat”. The Corsair logo is a type of sailing vessel…. hence, the Corsair build is dubbed “the Schooner”.

        • Johnny5
        • 8 years ago

        I’m sure plenty of us didn’t know the Corsair logo.

          • stdRaichu
          • 8 years ago

          Corsair is also a nautical term, referring to privateers and (in some instances) as a colloquialism for the boats they sailed.

      • NeronetFi
      • 8 years ago

      Corsair’s Logo is a Corsair Ship Flags.

      • alphacheez
      • 8 years ago

      When Scott tweeted about it I was honestly hoping for a 3D rig, not for the 3D aspect, just so it could be a reference to Mallrats.

    • cegras
    • 8 years ago

    I’m surprised you don’t recommend the 6870 over the 6850, which is available for $150 AR on amazon.

    • cegras
    • 8 years ago

    I’m surprised you don’t recommend the 6870 over the 6850, which is available for $150 AR on amazon.

    • StuG
    • 8 years ago

    Why not the Corsair Pro Performance on “The Schooner”? It is a very capable SSD. I do have one though, so maybe I’m a bit bias. Just interesting to have a Corsair centric build and not include their latest and greatest SSD into it. Also since you don’t have a review of the Corsair Pro Performance, it’s basically a Crucial M4 with 2x the internal RAM. It seems to help it a considerable amount at keeping faster speeds during difficult tests.

    • Ryu Connor
    • 8 years ago

    With LGA2011 having DIMM slots to the adjacent left and right side of the socket, I feel the H80 is a bad choice. The sandwiched radiator blocks off easy access to the left hand DIMM slots (to clarify the ones near the I/O panel). I personally found the H100 to be a much more agreeable choice to accomodate working with my LGA2011 system. The price difference from the H80 to the H100 isn’t especially wide.

    Only downside to these Corsair water coolers is the grinding noise the pump can make on a new model until the air bubbles managed to get worked through. This does not impact all units, but on mine it took about five days of non-stop running to sort that out.

    [url<]http://youtu.be/paEmTiKfWEU[/url<]

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      Isn’t this about the same as using a large air cooler with any other system, where the forward (blowing) fan generally overhangs the memory modules? Also, do you think that there is any real reason one would need fairly regular access to the memory slots?

      I’m not questioning your component decision, and I agree that the H100 would make working around an LGA2011 setup easier. I’m just wondering how much of an impact it would make, given that a builder/user would probably only have to have access to the memory modules once after the system is built for a mid-life upgrade. Especially since the chance of failure for memory has gone down so far over the years, and the standardization of DDR3 at ~1600MHz with <=1.65v has significantly simplified part selection.

        • Ryu Connor
        • 8 years ago

        We sort of slide into hypotheticals at this point.

        Could you install the H80 and never touch the DIMM slots on the left side again? Yep.

        In my case I had a DIMM based POST error out the gate, which resulted in the joy of having to disassemble the H80 and correct my feeble installation. I don’t find dissambeling the H80 to be an especially joyous task. Part of why I returned it and stepped up to the H100.

        At this point I only have six of the max eight DIMMs slots filled. So I could finish expanding to 32GB or with 8GB modules finally starting to slide down in price I might transition that direction. So at some future point I might be delving back in.

        It is also true that is unlikley that the existing DIMMs will just up and die, but the likelyhood isn’t zero.

        The price difference between the H80 and H100 is ~$20 USD. For $20 why not accomodate a future path.

          • Airmantharp
          • 8 years ago

          Definitely hypothetical, and also dependent on your build order as well. Hell, I’d argue for the H100 just because it’s a ‘cleaner’ solution, and so many cases already make provisions for one to be mounted on the top panel with ease.

          I do have two comments though-
          First, I’ve taught myself over the years (and years) of dealing with quirky parts to do a basic functionality test with system components before installing the motherboard et al. into the case. It definitely takes time, but seeing that post screen with the CPU statistics and all memory accounted for before shoving it all in has saved me some headaches.

          Second, I’m going to make a guess that you came from an X58 system and had all six slots populated, and just haven’t gotten around to getting that last pair. But for a new build, RAM is so cheap that kitting out a board isn’t very difficult, even if it isn’t necessary.

            • Ryu Connor
            • 8 years ago

            Yeah, I have the Corsair Carbide 500R, which has the spot up to top. The Schooner Corsair Obsidian 650D case also has the option for one.

            You’re right about different build orders. It struck me there is one other item as well, easier access for cleaning with compressed air or an air compressor.

            Yes, transitioned from an X58 with six DIMMS. Otherwise probably would be 32GB already just like you say.

            [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=79065[/url<]

    • Compton
    • 8 years ago

    How could I, in good conscience, deprive someone of the boundless joy that solid state storage gives? Assuming I didn’t hate that person, naturally.

    The econobox should ditch the HDD for a SSD, even a small one. When freed of the constraints of the system guide, there are some good deals to be found, and working one in shouldn’t be too hard.

    That a system costing almost $1000 doesn’t have one is a miscarriage of justice.

    Slow system disks are the bane of the modern computing experience.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      I get what you’re saying here brother, and felt the same way while reading the article (+1), but I also understand that there’s just more to it than that.

      First, modern UEFI’s combined with Windows 7 together make amazing use of available spinning disk performance, to the point that any decent HDD, such as Samsung’s F3, will provide for a very snappy and smooth computing experience. Second, before you get to an SSD in a budgeted build, you have to first consider all alternatives for that cash carefully; unfortunately in the ~$1000 price range, you’re going to be putting that cash into the GPU, not into an SSD that’s big enough for normal usage (~256GB), or into a smaller SSD that is in addition to a standard spinning disk.

        • Compton
        • 8 years ago

        In fairness, Windows 7 does work pretty well with spinners for the reasons named above. If gaming performance is all that is required, then sure, spend up on the GPU. But if you care about a balanced experience — then there is only one solution.

        I think some may take if for granted, but in terms of user experience quality, a modern CPU and platform combined with a SSD in pretty much unparalleled. And that may be more of a luxury, but how many laptop users that hate their slow laptops would feel better about their experience if they just had a SSD? Probably lots, they just don’t know why or how doing such a thing would help, because they have no idea what a SSD is.

          • DeadOfKnight
          • 8 years ago

          SSDs make levels load too fast; I like to be able to read level loading screens before they’re gone.

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            LOL, you know, I’ve noticed that too- except my HDDs are also too fast sometimes.

            I run Skyrim from a 2TB WD Green, and it’s still ridiculously fast. Battlefield 3, though, that gets put on an SSD.

            • Compton
            • 8 years ago

            Yeah, I have many games on a 5900 Seagate 2TB USB3.0 drive I bought last November for $99. I often can’t tell the difference in most games.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            I’m waiting to see the new Seagate hybrid desktop drives coming out before I decide to jump on the SSD wagon.

            • Compton
            • 8 years ago

            They’re actually kinda expensive, and if you’re considering going that route, you might as well just use SSD+HDD caching ala Z68. If all you need is a SSD, you can get a decent one just for caching for not much money.

            You’d end up with a much faster solution for less money.

            If you don’t have Z68 or one of the few solutions with their own caching (like some X79 asrocks), you could get one of the couple of SSDs that come bundled with caching software.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            I’ve got a Lynnfield. I need at least 240 GB if I’m going to use it as a system drive with the HDD for storage. I don’t know how much I trust the other caching solutions out there. I haven’t had any problems with my Samsung F3 as far as speed goes so I’m not sure I can justify the cost of spending $400+ on an SSD in the near future.

            • Compton
            • 8 years ago

            If you’re happy with what you have then awesome, but there are some bitchin’ deals on 240/256GB drives. The M4 and Mushkin Chronos Deluxe are like $260 to $280 right now, two of the best deals going on anything.

            NVELO’s dataplex is pretty good caching software, but only comes bundled with SSDs. And while they have a premium attached, it’s still a good option.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            What really annoys me is when I’m playing a game online and nobody else has SSDs. SC2 won’t start until everyone’s loaded up, so I’m always the first one done loading with an SSD.

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            SSDs do help with load times, but game loads time are typically limited by the CPU.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            There’s a big difference between load times with an SSD and a hard drive with my example – my load bar gets completed long before whoever I’m playing against.

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            CPU is most likely the biggest reason.

            Chances are if they aren’t running SSDs. They aren’t running the fastest, newest CPUs either.

            FYI, my system also loads up a second or two faster than most online SC2 players and the game itself rides on a HDD.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            How can CPU make a difference if I’m talking about my own experience with a mechanical drive and moving to an SSD? Nothing else changed.

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            I’m just saying that CPU is a larger factor in determining game load time than I/O throughput. Games are still programs at heart. The CPU needs to compile all of the game’s data and libraries into an usable format. Increasing the amount of bandwidth on I/O just allows the program to be faster at moving data onto main memory. This is where most of the SSD’s benefit comes from. The only reason why the gain doesn’t correlated with the theoretical throughput of SSDs is because game programmers built their content around bandwidth limitations of HDDs. This is another legacy of HDD ecology, but that is going to change soon once SSDs become more commonplace.

            FYI, what I had notice over the years from switching to faster CPUs is that one of the most immediate changes is that game load times get cut down considerably.

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]The CPU needs to compile all of the data and libraries into a usage format[/quote<] What are you talking about?

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            He’s just digging himself into a corner to justify his non-purchase of an SSD at this juncture. Let him go and eventually the words won’t even be English anymore.

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            No, I was trying to provide an explanation on why SSDs aren’t some kind of magical bullet in cutting down load times. Please take a good look at the load times in TR’s SSD reviews. Here is a link for the latest one on the load time page. [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/22470/9[/url<] At best, top of the line SSD models can cut you load time by 5-10 seconds from a run of hill HDD. FYI, the test system was being driven by a stock i5-2500K. The "slow" HDD are still able to pull up test suite applications under 30 seconds. I never said SSDs that didn't improve load times. I'm just saying that you get a far greater return on reducing your load time by increasing your single-threaded CPU performance then just throwing more bandwidth/reducing latency on the I/O front. SSDs are more for improving your general computing usage experience by making your system feel more "snappy". SSDs net even greater returns if you are multi-tasking on the I/O front (gaming, encoding and running anti-malware scan all at the same time).

            • Firestarter
            • 8 years ago

            AFAIK the CPU is the biggest bottleneck for loading most games, what with decompressing of textures and such.

            • flip-mode
            • 8 years ago

            See, you’ve got a believable post there. You could be totally wrong but it sounds like there’s a real possibility that you’re right. 😆 Kroggy has trouble doing that.

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            :facepalm:

            He is saying the same thing.

            Games are “programs” at heart, which means that the CPU has to move, compile and manipulate the data into an usable format. The only thing the HDD/SSD does in the entire process is move the finished product into the system memory.

            Folks, this is programming 101.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            Maybe you shouldn’t always try to steer the conversation into some esoteric, irrelevant direction. Unless “being right about nothing” is more important than anything else.

            • tfp
            • 8 years ago

            “Programs” don’t compile anything you need to go back to programming 99.

            • tfp
            • 8 years ago

            It’s not the CPU I’ve played SC2 with derFunk before and after the SSD and normally we finished at near same time but after the drive he is always done well before my side loads.

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            SSDs do help with game load times by a little bit, but the primary factor is still the CPU.

          • travbrad
          • 8 years ago

          [quote<] but how many laptop users that hate their slow laptops would feel better about their experience if they just had a SSD?[/quote<] They'd probably feel even better about their laptop experience if they got rid of the 40 programs running in the background, and terrible "anti-virus" that slows everything on the PC to a crawl. In my experience McAfee and bloatware/spyware are the biggest things slowing down the "average" person's PC.

        • destroy.all.monsters
        • 8 years ago

        Are the Asrock UEFIs as good as the Asus ones?

        (For this purpose – I know that Asus has the nicer UI).

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      Opinions vary. I’d take a fast computer with a “slow” disk over a “slow” computer with a fast disk.

        • Firestarter
        • 8 years ago

        For gaming maybe, for general usage? Absolutely not!

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 8 years ago

          With general usage, most things are loaded in ram all the time anyways.

            • Firestarter
            • 8 years ago

            Only in the best case scenario. All other scenarios and you run head-first into the HDD bottleneck, and the computer that was just zooming through all manner of tasks suddenly bogs down. With an SSD, there is no bog.

    • chuckula
    • 8 years ago

    Looks at Calendar: Feb. 22
    Looks at article: March 2012 System Guide
    Looks back at Calendar: Still Feb. 22

    Screw the PC hardware, I want to know how you TRAVELLED BACK IN TIME!

      • paulWTAMU
      • 8 years ago

      Wait till the NDA lifts and we’ll find out 🙂

    • Airmantharp
    • 8 years ago

    Great guide as usual-

    As a perennial builder and follower of technology, I’d have to rate each build as ‘perfect’ for it’s intended slot. Except for the personal build of course; how do you justify using LGA2011 there, with just a single GPU and 16GB of RAM?

    Also, a suggestion: I’d like to see a high-resolution/3D build, that would take into account the challenges faces with 4MP 30″ displays, surround gaming, and the increased rendering demand associated with 3D displays.

    Moving to 4MP (1×30″) or 6MP (3x1080p) for output resolutions not only requires multiple graphics cards, but also brings into focus issues surrounding usable VRAM, discrepancies in output synchronization between TDMS outputs and Displayport technology, as well as PCIe slot spacing on motherboards, the coolers the cards use, and the enclosures used to house and keep them fed with fresh air.

    It’s a whole fricken lot, and I feel these issues deserve as much attention, or more, than the ‘Double-Stuff’ build gets, particularly since they cannot be solved by blindly throwing more money at them.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    The “this edition” link is broken. Clicking the image works fine, though.

    edit: looks like you fixed it. sweet.

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    From ‘The Econobox’

    [quote<]but we're outfitting this build with a discrete Radeon, so we have no need for integrated graphics[/quote<] Really? Why does the Econobox still have discrete graphics? [quote<]Llano's IGP isn't really fast enough to enjoy the latest games in full.[/quote<] Yeah, neither is the rest of that hardware.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      A Core i3 2100 (which is in my system right now until SB comes out) is PLENTY fast for games at high settings.

      • Vulk
      • 8 years ago

      Wow. Troll much?

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        Not at all. To me, the Venn diagram of “Econobox” and ‘[quote<]fast enough to enjoy the latest games in full[/quote<]' has zero overlap. As JAE and dragosmp (and others) have noted, there's plenty of room to build a system for friends/family members that is well under $600 once you drop the 'fast enough for the latest games' criteria, which, quite bluntly, a lot of 'entry-level users' could care less about. I'd like to see the editors apply their considerable knowledge to a true 'granny' system (suitable for e-mails, Facebook, YouTube, some light word processing, etc., and no more demanding gaming than Angry Birds) and I'd really like to see their recommendations for a basic HTPC system, without the bogus 'must be able to run the latest games in full' criteria.

          • Kurotetsu
          • 8 years ago

          [quote=”dpaus”<]I'd like to see the editors apply their considerable knowledge to a true 'granny' system (suitable for e-mails, Facebook, YouTube, some light word processing, etc., and no more demanding gaming than Angry Birds)[/quote<] Who in their right mind would bother hand building a desktop system for something like that? Any Brazos-based netbook (which this guide recommends a few of) can handle all of those tasks and have the benefit of being portable and probably much cheaper than any DIY system.

            • dpaus
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]Who in their right mind....[/quote<] Anyone with friends/family members that, for whatever reason, want a desktop system and not a netbook (my Mom, both my sons, my mother-in-law...) Of course I could simply buy them an off-the-shelf system at retail, but that could be said for most of the configurations here. I enjoy putting systems together for them (good way to keep semi-current w/hardware) and they all seem to genuinely appreciate their 'hand-built' systems. And they're now all interested in an HTPC for their living room, so I really wish that had been one of the configs.

            • Kurotetsu
            • 8 years ago

            [quote=”dpaus”<]Of course I could simply buy them an off-the-shelf system at retail, but that could be said for most of the configurations here.[/quote<] And they'd probably be more expensive than the configurations shown here. However, once you hit a low enough budget (which your requirements call for) it becomes counter-productive to build your own. Given the target audience of this site (most of whom probably need/want more than a "Granny PC" has to offer), I can understand the authors of this guide not giving any thought to such a build. Well, actually, they did. In the 'Mobile Sidekicks' section.

            • UberGerbil
            • 8 years ago

            Yeah, as much as we enthusiasts may not like to admit it, there are categories where our home-builds can’t compete with OEM pre-built PCs, and the most significant one is “cheapest.” At each price point, it’s almost universally true that the DIY build will be higher-quality than the equivalent OEM machine, but once you drop below a certain threshold you can’t match prices at all — there’s a point where volume takes over (and quality just doesn’t make any difference). Folks shopping at the $500 and under point are probably better served just getting a Dell, or whatever HP / Lenovo has on sale this week.

            (One other category that seems to be better-served by OEMs is the cheap HTPC box, mostly because 3rd party ITX HTPC cases are poor and/or expensive; I wasn’t able to find a build that would match the Dell Zino two years ago, and nothing really has changed since.)

          • Mr Bill
          • 8 years ago

          ++ the granny system idea.
          I’d like to see a category suited for occasional video, fast enough for Google Earth, but rather than fast video, how about faster or better multitasking. Good enough for something like refreshing hundreds of links between multiple spreadsheets across a gigabit network. That is what we need for the system reporting data from the instruments in our lab. Its pathetic how slowly links can be refreshed over networked mapped drives.

            • dpaus
            • 8 years ago

            You make your granny work in the lab?! Who are you, Dr Frankenstein?

            • Mr Bill
            • 8 years ago

            This would be good enough….

            Processor AMD A8-3870 Llano 3.0GHz Radeon 6550 HD $139.99
            Graphics Integrated $0.00
            Motherboard ASUS F1A75-V PRO FM1 AMD $109.99
            Audio Integrated $0.00
            Memory Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $34.99
            SSD SAMSUNG 830 Series MZ-7PC064D 64GB SATA III $109.99
            HDD Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.D 750GB $99.99
            DVD Asus DRW-24B1ST $20.99
            Enclosure Fractal Design Core 3000 $69.99
            Power supply Antec EarthWatts Green 380W $44.99
            Total $630.92

            • Firestarter
            • 8 years ago

            Mobo is too expensive, case is WAY too big. Why not do a mATX build? It’s cheaper (both motherboards and cases), smaller and just as effective. No need to worry about a huge GPU fitting in there.

            • Mr Bill
            • 8 years ago

            I was looking for extra slots and features like SATA 6 and USB 3. Sure you could save $20-40 and get a bottom end board. But an econobox that is a dead end is no fun.

            • Firestarter
            • 8 years ago

            That’s a good point, although I’d wager you can find just that in a mATX motherboard and still use a smaller and cheaper case. I have the Core 3000, and the 2x140mm + 1x120mm fans that come with it feel like a tiny bit enormous overkill for a granny system.

            • Mr Bill
            • 8 years ago

            Also, check out the review of the AMD’s Llano A8-3870K “unlocked” APU at Lost Circuits. Its quite a bit faster than the A8-3850 when overclocked. Throw a good reasonably priced heat sink into the build like the cooler master hyper 212.
            [url<]http://www.lostcircuits.com/mambo//index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=104&Itemid=1[/url<]

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            It sounds like you need a real database instead of using excel.

            • Mr Bill
            • 8 years ago

            +++ on that, yep.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 8 years ago

          I think econobox is meant to be enthusiast entry level, not web browser for grandma.

      • Arag0n
      • 8 years ago

      It’s a mystery…at least that they need the econobox to be over 600$ they can use llano, 100$ less at least and pretty good general performance for most tasks and enough gpu for gaining at entry level most games, and high detail older ones…

      I also dislike how they point to the FX-8120 as being “only” 25$ cheaper, just to say few sentence later that the motherboard it’s 45$ cheaper also…. so total price is 70$ cheaper than the 2500K system… Accounting for the motherboard price difference the 2500K cost 20$ more than the FX-8150… what makes both systems pricing to be according performance. The biggest gap between both for me is the power consuming… the 8150 performs better for multi-threaded tasks, and worse for single threaded ones, which makes the 8150 a poor choice for gaming, but still, I can see that the most important reason for editors to not recommend bulldozer is TDP…

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 8 years ago

        I’m disappointed that this guide’s Econobox is over $660, delivered. I had hoped that after the examples that the forum gerbils provided the last time, they would prune it back to under $600, delivered.

          • Arag0n
          • 8 years ago

          Actually it has a lot of sense to try to get it down to 500$ IMHO….

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      It just occurred to me that what you actually meant was “the rest of Llano” is not fast enough for the latest games. And if that’s what you meant, I wish I could take my -1 back because I agree.

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        Ah, ASCII stikes again – I rarely listen to the podcasts, because I hate having to sit through all the stuff I’m not interested in just to get to the 38 seconds I really want to hear, but at least there’s never this kind of confusion (“wait, did he mean ‘X’ or ‘Y’ ??”)

        But all that aside, as a few others here have noted, why is the need to be able to play games a core criteria for every system config? I mean, if this was a gaming site, I could see that, but the site is called ‘[b<]Tech[/b<]Report', not '[i<]Game[/i<]Report' or 'World of Gamers'. OK, it's their site and they can run it anyway they want, and they're obviously doing a good enough job that so many of us keep coming back. Let's hope that Trinity is out and tested by the time the next System Guide is done. If the IGP performance is anywhere near what's expected, I think we'll finally have a true 'econobox' system that's everything non-gamers need, and perfectly adequate for light gaming [i<]without[/i<] requiring a discrete graphics card.

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        The rest of the hardware spec’d for the Econobox is how I read it.

        Still, even the 3850 / 3870 Llanos would be enough to keep up with the Econobox’s 6850 – remember that thing is slower than the 5850 of bygone years.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 8 years ago

          Right, I think he was just taking a shot at the fact Llano still has Phenom II cores and they’re clocked lower than Phenom IIs of yore in order to artificially protect Bulldozer’s sleepy performance.

            • dpaus
            • 8 years ago

            I thought the lower clocking was to keep the overall package within a pre-determined thermal envelope once you added the graphics module.

            • Mr Bill
            • 8 years ago

            Yeah, you have a video card on that die too.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      Recommending a card makes sense to me. You can always drop the card, but it’s nice to have a specific recommendation in the price range. Either way, Llano doesn’t make sense to me.

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]Recommending a card makes sense to me[/quote<] Maybe in the 'alternatives' section? Under the heading 'If you want to do more than light gaming' ??

          • flip-mode
          • 8 years ago

          Is it inconceivable to have to omit purchasing a recommended item? This is like Abrasion and his obsessive crusade to remove any mention of a sound card from the system guide.

          Secret advice: [spoiler<]if you don't need an item that it listed you are permitted not to add it to your shopping cart[/spoiler<]

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