TR’s Memorial Day 2012 system guide

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At long last, the wait is over. Intel’s Ivy Bridge processors are here, as are graphics cards based on Nvidia’s new Kepler GPU. AMD has churned out a couple of new Radeons since our last guide update, as well: the 7870 GHz Edition and the 7850. We’re looking at a heaping helping of brand-new hardware, and that, of course, calls for a brand-new system guide.

The arrival of Ivy Bridge has helped us revamp our two middle-of-the-road builds, the $1000 Sweet Spot and $1500 Editor’s Choice, though Intel’s new chip is still too pricey for the sub-$600 Econobox. Nvidia’s new GPUs have made appearances in the Editor’s Choice and Double-Stuff Workstation, either as primary choices or, when availability problems got in the way, as alternatives. That, coupled with the arrival of AMD’s latest Radeons, has allowed us to equip all four of our builds—yes, even the Econobox—with state-of-the-art 28-nm GPUs.

There’s something else. Substantial price drops in solid-state storage have democratized 60-64GB SSDs, so for the first time, our $1000 Sweet Spot build boasts an SSD by default alongside its 7,200-RPM mechanical hard drive. The 128GB and 256GB SSDs in our higher-end builds have gotten cheaper, too, which has left enough room in our budgets to include faster graphics cards while also lowering total system costs.

All in all, we’d say this is a pretty exciting guide update. Come peruse it with us.

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 $124.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-H77-DS3H $99.99
Memory Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 $24.99
Graphics PowerColor Radeon HD 7770 $129.99
Storage Samsung Spinpoint F3 500GB $79.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $17.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Antec Three Hundred $54.99
Power supply
Antec EarthWatts Green 380W $44.99
Total   $577.92

Processor

These are dark times for CPU shoppers on a budget. The arrival of AMD’s Llano APUs 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 A8-series APUs, and AMD’s FX-4100.

It’s not much of a contest. The A8-3870 may have an unlocked multiplier and better integrated graphics than the Core i3-2120, but it also has lower CPU performance, and its power envelope is quite a bit higher—100W, up from the i3-2120’s 65W TDP. Higher power envelopes mean more heat and more noise, and we’re fans of neither. Losing Llano’s Radeon GPU is regrettable, but since we’re outfitting this system with a discrete graphics card, the processor’s integrated GPU is largely irrelevant.

Motherboard

The H67 motherboard we used to recommend for this build has vanished, as have most other H67-powered offerings. They’ve been replaced by mobos featuring the new H77 Express chipset. What’s the difference? The H67 and H77 have very similar features, really, but the latter adds native USB 3.0 connectivity.

For this latest iteration of the Econobox, we’re going with the H77-based GA-H77-DS3H from Gigabyte. This mobo has a full ATX layout, can tap into the Core i3’s integrated graphics (if need be), and has two 6Gbps SATA ports. Two USB 3.0 ports can be found at the rear, and there are internal headers for two more. Gigabyte saw fit to include dual physical PCI Express x16 slots, as well, although the lower one has only four lanes of connectivity running to it. The GA-H77-DS3H also comes with Gigabyte’s new-and-improved UEFI interface. Other boards may have better fan speed controls, but not at this price and with all these other features.

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 Kingston. It’s rated for operation at 1333MHz on 1.5V, and Kingston covers the kit with a lifetime warranty.

Graphics

We had some complaints about the Radeon HD 7770 GHz Edition when we reviewed it in February. While the card achieved solid performance, low power consumption, and quiet noise levels with the stock cooler, its $159 launch price made it an unappealing proposition compared to cheaper, slightly faster last-gen offerings.

Three months have passed since then, and things have changed. PowerColor’s Radeon HD 7770 sells for a penny under $130 and comes with a free copy of DiRT Showdown, which makes it a better deal than any previous-generation offering. It comes fitted with AMD’s excellent stock cooling solution, and PowerColor’s warranty covers the card for two years, which is perfectly decent, all things considered. Being part of AMD’s latest GPU series, the 7770 also gives you two additional features that older Radeons do not: AMD’s VCE block, which can speed up video transcoding in supported apps, and ZeroCore Power, which saves energy by shutting off power to most of the GPU when the display goes to sleep.

Storage

Mechanical storage prices are slowly inching back to last year’s levels, before flooding in Thailand caused shortages and subsequent price hikes, but they’re not quite there yet. Until things have fully returned to normal, we’re going to trim the Econobox’s storage solution ever so slightly in order to keep our total build price reasonable. That means equipping the Econobox with the 500GB version of Samsung’s excellent Spinpoint F3 hard drive. Folks with a little spare cash might want to splurge on the 1TB model, but right now, the higher capacity will set you back an extra $40—not a negligible increase for a sub-$600 system.

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

Our cost-cutting efforts continue on the enclosure front, where we’ve traded the prior Econobox’s Fractal Design Core 3000 case for the Antec Three Hundred. This trade saves us a few bucks, and it’s not really much of a downgrade: the Three Hundred is well built and has many of the same amenities as the Core 3000, including a bottom-mounted PSU compartment, a cut-out in the motherboard tray behind the CPU socket, and built-in fans at the top and rear. The Three Hundred doesn’t let you route cables behind the motherboard tray, though, and it doesn’t have sideways hard-drive bays with removable caddies.

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 Corsair 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 $41.99
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 x16/x4-lane 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 board 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 Corsair 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 7770 got the nod in our primary picks because of its low price, solid performance, and power-sipping 28-nm GPU. If you’d be more partial to an Nvidia card, then a superclocked GeForce GTX 460 like this Gigabyte offering ought to make you happy. The GeForce costs more but should perform slightly better, and we’ve found Nvidia tends to provide better driver support for freshly released games.

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 i5-3450 3.1GHz $199.99
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-V LK $149.99
Memory Mushkin 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $42.99
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon HD 7850 (975MHz) $259.99
Storage OCZ Agility 3 60GB $69.99
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB $109.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $17.99
Audio Asus Xonar DG $26.94
Enclosure NZXT H2 $89.99
Power supply Seasonic M12II 520W $59.99
Total   $1,000.91

Processor

Ivy Bridge is here. And, lacking serious competition from AMD, Intel is charging a pretty penny for it. The cheapest two desktop variants right now are the Core i5-3450 and Core i5-3450S, and they’re both priced at $199.99. Their specifications are similar: four cores, four threads, a 3.5GHz Turbo peak, and 6MB of L3 cache. However, the i5-3450 has a 3.1GHz base speed and a 77W thermal envelope, while the i5-3450S runs at 2.8GHz with a 65W TDP.

Given the identical pricing, we’re giving the nod to the 77W model. 77W is already quite low for a quad-core processor, and given that we’re building a full-sized system with plentiful cooling capabilities, we figure the higher base speed will be more valuable than the lower TDP on the “S” variant.

Motherboard

Technically, the Econobox’s motherboard would work just fine here. That said, our bigger budget allows us to spring for the Intel Z77 Express-based Asus P8Z77-V LK, which fits the “sweet spot” designation a little better.

This mobo has two more external USB 3.0 ports than the GA-H77-DS3H (for a total of four), and it also delivers sideways-mounted Serial ATA ports (which won’t get in the way of long GPU coolers), dual PCIe x16 slots with proper support for CrossFire and SLI (with an x8/x8 lane configuration), and Asus’ excellent fan speed controls, which other motherboard vendors haven’t quite caught up to yet. We would have liked to see an Intel Ethernet controller instead of a Realtek one, but considering this mobo’s low price and well-rounded feature set, it’s hard to complain.

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 upgrade yields real performance benefits. Note that we’ve selected DDR3-1600 modules, because Ivy Bridge supports 1600MHz memory speeds out of the box.

Graphics

There’s little not to like about the Radeon HD 7850: not only is it faster than previous-generation offerings, but it’s more power-efficient, as well. This Gigabyte variant features a GPU clock speed of 975MHz (up from the default 860MHz) and a custom cooler with two large fans, so it ought to be even faster and quieter than the reference model we tested. (Gigabyte’s GPU coolers have impressed us with their low noise levels in the past.) There’s even a free copy of DiRT Showdown in the mix. Gigabyte does charge slightly more for this card than other vendors do for reference-clocked 7850 models, but we think the $10 price difference is worth it.

Storage

Forgive us if we seem over-indulgent, but recent price drops on 60-64GB SSDs have made it hard to resist. For only $70, we can now outfit the Sweet Spot with OCZ’s 60GB Agility 3, a SandForce-based solid-state drive with top read and write speeds in the neighborhood of 500MB/s. Slap your Windows 7 installation on this bad boy, and you won’t need a stopwatch to tell the difference; the increased responsiveness and shorter boot and load times will feel like night and day. The performance leap from mechanical to solid-state storage is so great that, in our view, it’s more valuable than a few CPU speed bin increases—hence our decision to set up the Sweet Spot with an SSD and a modestly priced Ivy Bridge variant.

60GB may hold your Windows 7 installation and a handful of apps and games, but in all likelihood, it won’t be enough for everything you plan to load onto the Sweet Spot. That’s why we’re pairing the Agility 3 with a mechanical sidekick: Samsung’s 1TB Spinpoint F3. The 1TB Spinpoint F3 is a long-time TR favorite because of its high performance and low noise. Now that hard-drive prices have gotten more reasonable, we can safely include it in our $1000 build once again.

Thanks to the Z77’s Smart Response Technology, it’s possible to configure the SSD as a cache for the mechanical drive. SSD caching can deliver substantial performance improvements without forcing users to pick and choose what gets stored on the SSD.

We’ve borrowed the optical drive from the Econbox. 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.

Enclosure

The Antec Three Hundred 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 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.

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 Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz $239.99
AMD FX-8150 $199.99
Motherboard Asus M5A97 $94.99
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 560 Ti Superclocked $254.99
Storage Samsung 830 Series 128GB $149.99
Samsung EcoGreen F4 2TB $119.99
LG WH12LS39 Blu-ray burner $79.99
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 400R $99.99

Processor

Feeling the overclocking itch? Don’t mind paying a little extra? The Core i5-3570K might be the processor for you, then. For a $40 premium over the Core i5-3450, this chip serves up higher base and Turbo speeds—3.4GHz and 3.8GHz, respectively, up from 3.1GHz and 3.5GHz—and a fully unlocked upper multiplier, which allows for unfettered overclocking in combination with our Z77 motherboard.

Folks more partial to AMD may be more interested in the FX-8150. We haven’t tested the AMD FX-8150 and the Core i5-3450 side by side, so we can’t give you exact performance numbers. However, based on how the FX-8150 matched up against Intel’s prior-generation offerings, we can assume the two chips are, overall, on roughly even footing.

That doesn’t mean the FX-8150 is just as good in every respect, though. For one thing, the Core i5-3450 has a 77W power envelope, while the FX-8150 has a whopping 125W TDP. Also, our first-ever look at “inside the second” gaming performance on different CPUs made one thing crystal clear: Intel chips deliver smoother, more consistent frame times than the FX-8150—sometimes quite dramatically so. The poor single-threaded performance of AMD’s Bulldozer architecture turns out to be a liability in games, and it actually results in a palpably worse experience, even if the average frame rates may seem sufficient.

If you’re going to skip the Core i5-3450 in favor of the FX-8150, keep these caveats in mind. The AMD processor isn’t a bad choice, strictly speaking, but… well, rooting for the underdog has its disadvantages right now.

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 Intel board from our primary recommendations. It even has more 6Gbps Serial ATA ports. You won’t find display outputs for integrated graphics here, though.

Graphics

The cheapst GeForce based on Nvidia’s new Kepler architecture costs around $400, so we’ve had to source our GPU alternative from Nvidia’s previous-generation lineup. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is only a little slower than our primary Radeon HD 7850. EVGA’s “SuperClocked” version of the GTX 560 Ti has both its core and memory clocked at 900MHz, compared to 822MHz and 800MHz for the stock model, and EVGA covers the card with a lifetime warranty.

Storage

If you have a little extra scratch at your disposal, then a higher-capacity SSD is a worthy investment. Chances are you’ll be able to fit your operating system, productivity software, and a small collection of recent games onto a 128GB drive. Samsung’s 830 Series 128GB gets the nod here for its attractive price and blistering performance.

Samsung’s 2TB EcoGreen F4, meanwhile, ought to please folks who value capacity over speed—such as those who spring for a 128GB SSD and feel comfortable relegating their mechanical hard drive(s) to mass-storage duties. This drive is a little too sluggish to store software and games, but it’s plenty fast for videos, photos, and other data that doesn’t benefit so much from fast access times. We’re more partial to the EcoGreen than to other 2TB “Green” hard drives because it’s cheaper and has fewer negative reviews on Newegg.

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 i5-3570K 3.4GHz $239.99
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-V LK $149.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $54.99
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 670 $399.99
Storage Samsung 830 Series 128GB $129.99
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB $109.99
LG WH12LS39 Blu-ray burner $79.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $80.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 650D $179.99
Power supply Corsair HX650W $129.99
Total   $1,555.90

Processor

We’ve got a few more dollars to throw at our CPU for the Editor’s Choice, and that means an upgrade to the Core i5-3570K, the most affordable member of the Ivy Bridge family with a fully unlocked upper multiplier. You’ll be able to overclock this processor to your heart’s content without touching the base clock or having to worry about artificial limitations.

We considered stepping all the way up to the Core i7-3770K, the fastest fully unlocked Ivy model, but $320 is a lot of scratch for a processor. Compared to the 3570K, all the 3770K has to offer are slightly faster base and Turbo speeds (3.4GHz and 3.9GHz, respectively, up from 3.3GHz and 3.8GHz) and Hyper-Threading capabilities. Having eight graphs in the Task Manager is nice, no question about it, and the extra threads can help with heavy multitasking. If you think that’s worth $80, see the alternatives section on the next page.

Motherboard

Pricier motherboards may get us more bells and whistles, but the Asus P8Z77-V LK from our Sweet Spot already has plenty. Besides, the point of the Editor’s Choice is to be a well-balanced system that does everything TR’s editors would want their own PCs to do—not to splurge on the cream of the crop in every department. Saving a little money here gives us more room for a faster graphics card, too.

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

Okay, so a $400 graphics card may seem a little pricey for a build like the Editor’s Choice. Hear us out, though. The next step down from the GeForce GTX 670 is AMD’s Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition, which is a fair bit slower and not all that much cheaper. (Prices for the 7870 start at $330, and some of the nicer variants are closer to $350.) The GTX 670, meanwhile, manages to perform awfully close to the GTX 680, which means it’s nearly as fast as today’s fastest single-GPU graphics card. If that isn’t worth a little extra cash, we don’t know what is.

We’re going with EVGA’s take on the GTX 670 here, mainly because it’s one of the few models in stock right now. Too bad 670 variants with custom coolers aren’t on virtual shelves, though. The GTX 670’s stock fan is noisy at idle and doesn’t cool the card as quietly as it should under load.

Storage

Our generous budget allows us to spec the Editor’s Choice with a 128GB solid-state drive by default. 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.)

If your applications and games spill over, it’s helpful to have a relatively speedy mechanical hard drive to pick up the slack. Samsung’s Spinpoint F3 1TB should fulfill that task admirably; it’s fast, quiet, and reasonably priced by today’s standards.

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 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 Intel Core i7-3770K 3.5GHz $349.99
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950 $399.99
Storage Samsung EcoGreen F4 2TB $119.99
Case Corsair Graphite Series 600T $159.99

Processor

As we said on the previous page, we don’t consider the Core i7-3770K to be a particularly good deal—all it gets you, compared to the i5-3570K, is a slight clock speed increase and Hyper-Threading capabilities. However, we acknowledge that some users will want the top-of-the-line chip, be it for bragging rights or because their multitasking needs justify the extra threads. If that’s the case, go right ahead.

Graphics

The Radeon HD 7950 isn’t quite as fast as Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 670, even though it costs about the same. However, the Gigabyte model we’ve picked has higher-than-normal clock speeds, a nice, triple-fan cooler (which should be fairly quiet, based on our experience), and coupons for free copies of DiRT Showdown, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Nexuiz.

Storage

For our alternative mechanical sidekick, we’re bringing back the 2TB EcoGreen F4 from the Sweet Spot alternatives. Again, this drive is a little cheaper than the competition, and it seems to have better reviews overall.

Case

Although it’s bulkier and doesn’t look quite as good as the 650D, Corsair’s Graphite Series 600T enclosure costs 24 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 $589.99
Motherboard Asus P9X79 Pro $319.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $97.99
Graphics XFX Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition $549.99
Storage Samsung 830 Series 256GB $274.99
Samsung EcoGreen F4 2TB $119.99
Samsung EcoGreen F4 2TB $119.99
LG WH12LS39 Blu-ray burner $79.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $80.99
Power supply Corsair AX850W $199.99
Enclosure Cooler Master Cosmos II $349.99
CPU cooler
Corsair H80 $104.99
Total   $2,783.89

Processor

Ivy Bridge may rule below $320 or so, but for those who can afford it, Sandy Bridge-E remains the crown jewel of Intel’s desktop lineup. The processor and its associated platform offer more memory channels, more PCI Express lanes, and more importantly, higher overall performance. Those advantages do come at the cost of higher power consumption, though.

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

Motherboard

Sandy Bridge-E requires 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 vote—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

As we noted earlier, the GeForce GTX 670 is a great performer, but its stock cooler isn’t terribly quiet. The GeForce GTX 680 would be the natural solution to that problem, since it’s even faster than the GTX 670 and has a better cooler. Unfortunately, the GTX 680 is also in very tight supply, and we’ve had an awfully hard time finding it in stock.

Since we want this high-end build to include an appropriately spiffy graphics card, we’ve decided to equip the Double-Stuff with XFX’s Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition, one of the the finest graphics cards we’ve tested to date. Thanks to a 1GHz GPU clock, this card should be roughly as fast as the GTX 680, and it comes with an excellent dual-fan cooler. XFX also throws in a trio of free games: DiRT Showdown, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Nexuiz. It’s hard to argue with that, especially when the competition is out of stock almost everywhere.

Why not two of these cards instead of one? A look at our 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 somewhat choppy experience for the end user that isn’t necessarily all that much better than what you’d get from a single-GPU solution.

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 EcoGreen F4s drives ought to provide sufficient mass-storage capacity. You can run the EcoGreens 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 make 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 serves up 80 Plus Gold certification, modular cabling, a whopping seven years of warranty coverage, and certification for 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 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 other ideas for how to fill it out.

Component Item Price
Graphics Zotac GeForce GTX 680 $549.99
EVGA GeForce GTX 690 $999.99
FireWire card Rosewill RC-504 $19.99

Graphics

We have two alternative propositions for the Double-Stuff’s graphics. The first one is the GeForce GTX 680, or more specifically, Zotac’s factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 680 AMP!. This card clocks both its GPU and memory well above stock specs (1098MHz and 1652MHz, respectively, up from 1006MHz and 1500MHz), so it should be faster than the Radeon in our primary recommendations. It also features an impressive triple-slot cooler with dual fans and copper heatpipes up the wazoo. We tested this card a few weeks back, and we were impressed with it. The only downside is that, like all GTX 680s on the market right now, it’s hard to find in stock.

For folks who want it all, it doesn’t get much better than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 690. You might stifle a laugh at the $999.99 asking price, but don’t be so quick to judge. The GTX 690 actually hides two GK104 GPUs under its cooler, so it’s equivalent to a pair of GeForce GTX 680 cards running in tandem—and as it happens, two of those cards would cost the exact same amount. Unlike such a dual-card config, though, the GTX 690 only takes up two expansion slots, and it’s tuned for lower noise and power consumption. In our testing, the 690 consumed 50W less and had a noise level 3 dB lower than dual 680s, despite offering virtually identical performance.

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 mobile sidekicks

This system guide has arrived at the the tail end of a boatload of desktop hardware launches, but sadly, we can’t say as much about the mobile side of things. Most of the notebooks we recommended in the last guide—ultrabooks included—are out of stock or de-listed, awaiting replacements based on Intel’s upcoming dual-core Ivy Bridge processors. A few stragglers remain, like Acer’s Aspire S3 (which gets you a 13″ display, Sandy Bridge processor, and hybrid storage solution for $899.99). The truth is, though, we’d recommend waiting a few weeks for dual-core Ivy systems to start rolling out. They should offer better performance and battery life than their Sandy Bridge-based predecessors. Graphics performance, especially, has improved quite a lot with Ivy Bridge.

We can’t really recommend AMD-powered alternatives, either, because AMD also has new mobile chips in the pipeline. We already got a chance to review the company’s new Trinity APU, and for the most part, we’ve come away impressed. Just like the dual-core version of Ivy Bridge, Trinity is supposed to fit into 35W, 25W, and 17W power envelopes, so we’re going to see it in everything from full-sized notebooks to ultrabooks. Some have already been announced, but we’re not seeing any listed quite yet. Trinity-based notebooks will likely be cheaper than their Ivy-toting counterparts, though.

Below $500, AMD Zacate-powered ultraportables are still worth considering—they’re cheaper and smaller than ultrabooks are or will be for the foreseeable future. Our favorite system in that category is HP’s dm1z, which starts at $399.99 with an 11.6″ 1366×768 display, an AMD E-300 APU, Radeon HD 6310M integrated graphics, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB mechanical hard drive.

The dm1z earned our coveted TR Editor’s Choice award last March. Not only does this system look great on paper, but it’s also exceptionally well-built for a cheap ultraportable.

At least the winds of change aren’t blowing quite so hard in the tablet world. There, Apple’s third-generation iPad is getting all the attention—as it should, considering it features a whopper of a display with a 2048×1536 resolution, and it has the same $499 price tag as last year’s model. Speaking of which, the iPad 2 is now available at a discount for $399. You can nab both tablets directly from Apple’s online store.

If iOS doesn’t float your boat, Asus’ Ice Cream Sandwich-powered Eee Pad Transformer Prime is definitely worth a look. It’s not particularly cheap by Android tablet standards, at $499 for the base, 32GB model. However, it has twice the storage capacity of the base iPad model, and for $128.99, you can augment it with a keyboard dock that adds physical input peripherals, extra connectivity, and an auxiliary battery. The dock unfortunately appears to be out of stock at Newegg, but you may be able to find it at other e-tailers if you search for the model code (TF201-DOCK).

Asus now offers a cheaper alternative to the Prime, too: the Transformer Pad 300, which costs only $399 with 32GB of storage capacity. The 300 has very similar specs to the Prime, but its Tegra 3 processor is clocked a little lower. The 300 is also a little thicker and heavier than the Prime. And yes, it’s also available with an optional, battery-life-augmenting keyboard dock (asking price: $149).

We should point out that a version of the Transformer Prime with a 1920×1200 display (the regular Prime has a 1280×800 panel) is due out later this quarter. Evidence suggests that model has even showed up at the FCC’s certification labs already.

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, 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.

Besides obvious differences in sizes and aspect ratios, LCD monitors 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 ZR24w, HP ZR2440W, 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 either a Kepler-based GeForce GTX 600-series graphics card or dual GPUs from previous generations.

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 (nearly $150), 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 Vengeance K60 and Vengeance 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 they bottom out, that is). This switch design makes a lot of sense for games, since it enables quick, repetitive key-presses. These 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. The K60 earned our TR Recommended award when we reviewed it last month.

Card reader

This section traditionally included a floppy drive/card reader combo, but we’re in 2012 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 EcoGreen F4). 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

That’s all, folks! Until next time, at least.

Aside from a couple of notable snags—the GeForce GTX 680’s scarce availability and the fact that hard-drive prices remain inflated—this has been a pretty successful update to the TR system guide. The Sweet Spot may have benefited from this refresh the most, since it now packs an Ivy Bridge processor, a Radeon HD 7850, and an SSD in its standard configuration. Of course, we’ve also managed to make the Econobox a little more affordable without sacrificing performance, and our Editor’s Choice and Double-Stuff configs have gotten some nice performance upgrades.

We always wrap things up by talking about what’s on the horizon, so let’s do that now.

Dual-core versions of Ivy Bridge are on the way, as are desktop iterations of AMD’s Trinity APU. More likely than not, those introductions will lead to a slightly revised Econobox in our next system guide. We’re also expecting more derivatives of Nvidia’s Kepler GPU, since right now, Nvidia lacks 28-nm competitors to the Radeon HD 7700 and 7800 series. There’s no telling how competitive they’ll really be, though, or their arrival will trigger a round of price cuts from the competition.

Comments closed
    • scellio
    • 7 years ago

    I’m wondering why there seems to be no love for the Mushkin branded SSD’s. This [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820226236<]Mushkin 120 GB model[/url<] has been up on Newegg for over a month now at a price point that clearly beats the SSD's recommended in the guide and has a 4 egg average rating with over 400 reviews.

    • idgarad
    • 8 years ago

    Bought the Sweet Spot for the wife but have the weirdest issue. Any USB input causes the video to become corrupt and eventually lock up. It is independent of which USB ports the mouse or keyboard are in. Moving the mouse or typing progressively corrupts and eventually locks up the video card and system. Which am I RMA’ing you think? Mobo or Vidcard? Going to test the video card in another PC while I wait for a response, has anyone else seen this kind of effect before?

      • idgarad
      • 8 years ago

      Solution was found, it’s a known issue. Go to the web site and flash the video card’s bios.

        • 5150
        • 7 years ago

        It is known.

    • deb0
    • 8 years ago

    These Buyers Guides seem to progressively get worse in “common sense”.

    1. Why recommend something you’ve never tested, or even used once?
    2. Recommending Ivy for the sake of it being new, Over Sandy, makes no sense. Ivy, even with it’s higher overclocks, are slower than Sandy, clock for clock.
    3. Shouldn’t “double stuff” have an sli config, by default? Recommending the xfx 7970 single card over the gtx 670 or 680 does not make sense.

      • DeadOfKnight
      • 8 years ago

      Troll post?

    • David
    • 8 years ago

    What timing! Lightning killed my PC(I think), so I get to upgrade, and the econobox looks pretty good since I’m not trying to stay high-end these days.

    • Decelerate
    • 8 years ago

    I’m a bit worried about the Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB recommendation. The latest user reviews have not been good since the Seagate takeover.

    • sschaem
    • 8 years ago

    For the econobox I would go for a a8-3870k and save close to 50% on the entire system price over the intel i3 base option proposed.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      And get half the CPU performance? No thanks :).

        • DeadOfKnight
        • 8 years ago

        Not everyone needs it. Some people just need a computer. Of course, for those people you might as well tell them to buy a dell or HP.

          • JustAnEngineer
          • 8 years ago

          I suggest a refurbished Dell for greater savings. 😉

          [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=81810#p1121789[/url<]

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      The only way you’re saving that much is if you skip the video card and get a super-budget A55 board, and at that point, you’ve built something entirely different, not to mention you’re still not saving 50%.

    • End User
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve been planning a new build over the past 8 months. This guide really got me fired up. With the last piece of the puzzle finally appeared on newegg.ca today (motherboard) I pulled the trigger:

    3770K
    ASUS P8Z77-V PREMIUM
    Corsair Vengeance 16GB (4x4GB) DDR3 1600MHz
    Seagate Momentus XT 750
    Corsair Force Series GT (SSD cache)
    Corsair AX850
    Corsair Obsidian 550D
    Corsair H100

    I’ll stick with my dual GTX 570’s for now.

    I recently upgraded my soon to be Linux rig (i7-920@4.2) to the 550D/H100 combo and I love it – very quiet and the temps are good.

    • Anvil
    • 8 years ago

    No shoutouts for the Korean monitors?

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      I’ve been watching discussions on these, primarily on the [H] Forums… If a well-known retailer were willing to import these and provide a reasonable return policy, that’d be great for so many people!

        • grantmeaname
        • 8 years ago

        [url<]http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0384780[/url<] I don't know if you saw this in the thread or not... regardless, I'm way freaking excited if this is an omen of things to come.

          • thanatos355
          • 8 years ago

          Why, oh why, must I live so damn far away from a MicroCenter?

    • Majiir Paktu
    • 8 years ago

    The i7-3770K might not be a good value, but the i7-3770 is a good choice for anyone who wants to do heavy virtualization since it has both hyperthreading and VT-d support. The only better choice for someone who needs virtualization support is the SBE.

      • thanatos355
      • 8 years ago

      Shhh! Don’t mention the E, you’ll get trolled off the interwebz!

        • Airmantharp
        • 8 years ago

        This post IS trolling.

        Majiir is absolutely correct in what he’s saying regarding virtualization.

          • thanatos355
          • 8 years ago

          It was actually meant as a lighthearted attempt at a cheap laugh. 🙁

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            Which is fine! But it’s not relevant to the OPs point :).

    • indeego
    • 8 years ago

    What might be a fun build is “most CPU/GPU/Storage I/O power in as small/light/quiet a space as possible.” Does anyone ever do this?

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      Been wanting too myself, for years really, but I kept getting stuck on old conventions like ‘need a sound card’ and dual-GPU support for my 30″ screen.

      At 24″ and using a good USB headset, there are plenty of mITX options, including ones that overclock as well as their ATX and mATX counterparts.

    • Aussienerd
    • 8 years ago

    Sorry, I dont normally but in the Sweet Spot build you have listed the Agility 3 and then in the storage section you say

    [quote<]That's why we're pairing the Vertex 3 with a mechanical sidekick[/quote<] Good system guilds, I am patently waiting for the Laptop/Ultrabook up grades as I built by Desktop last year and it is still AWESOME..

    • Prospero424
    • 8 years ago

    Wow, the Editor’s Choice box is eerily similar to my build from a couple of weeks ago. Even used the same case. The only major differences are me opting for the 256GB Samsung 830 instead of the 128, using a Xonar STX (instead of a DX) from a previous build, and not including a BluRay drive, which I have no desire for. An the Sweet Spot is almost exactly what I just recommended to a buddy (with minor differences in brands)! But I guess it makes sense that I share sensibilities with a hardware site that I’ve been visiting daily for (if memory serves) over a decade.

    Quick question, though: why no love for G.Skill memory? I ask this never having bought or recommended the brand either, but curious as to why they never show up in recommendations here and elsewhere despite their stellar ratings on Newegg and price points that seem to indicate really good bang for the buck. Have the editors had bad experiences with them? Are there some sort of widespread problems with them I’m unaware of? Is it that they don’t have the name recognition? Just thought it was odd seeing as how they seem to show up at the top of just about every single system RAM page on Newegg when sorted by rating and number of reviews. Thought I’d ask before recommending them to a buddy.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      I’ve personally used G.Skill in the past, and continue to recommend them along with Corsair.

      Thing is, price and performance being the same, I’d recommend Corsair first every time- and Corsair tends to have more conservative heatsink designs.

        • Prospero424
        • 8 years ago

        Yeah, I bought Corsair this time. However, I made the mistake of buying 2x8GB DIMMs, thinking I would leave room for an upgrade to 32GB down the line when it gets converted to a server in my ever-evolving system of role-based hand-me-downs. Unfortunately, they won’t POST in dual-channel mode regardless of slot configuration and they do the same thing on the same Intel board a friend bought at the same time as me. Others have reported similar problems with other Z77-based boards.

        I don’t think it’s Corsair’s “fault” so much as it’s a case of motherboard manufacturers failing to qualify 8GB DIMMs during compatibility testing. Seems like there’s some badly needed BIOS updates tweaking memory timing and profile handling out there.

        I’d say I’m disappointed in this Intel-branded Z77 board due to various problems with memory handling and USB headers not seeming to work (again, not just on my board), but I got it for an absolute steal and this is the first firmware version to support their entirely new UEFI interface, so I expected that there’d be some work that needed doing for the first couple of months.

        But yeah, long story short: I like Corsair, but they’re not foolproof. The Kingston memory I got to replace the Corsair (after paying a hefty restocking fee, of course) works fine.

          • JustAnEngineer
          • 8 years ago

          I’m having no problems running [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131833<]this[/url<] Z77 motherboard with [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820148545<]this[/url<] 2x8 GiB PC3-12800 memory kit.

    • cegras
    • 8 years ago

    I’m surprised you can recommend motherboards and CPUs without reviewing them yourself, or without any reviews online. No one seems to look at anything but the top of the line CPUs anymore, and there’s a sore lack of data available online. Are you saying that you would also ‘blindly’ buy an i5-3450 ivy bridge without any benchmarks? Do you trust the own recommendations you give out?

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      I understand your perspective, but there’s really not that much too it- Intel CPUs are so standardized that you can accurately estimate their relative performance from the spec-sheet.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      [H] and Anand do tons of mobo reviews.

        • cegras
        • 8 years ago

        Not on the mobo for the econobox / sweet spot.

      • Damage
      • 8 years ago

      Our goal is to review as many models of the latest CPUs as is sensible. We had something like 30+ CPUs in our results set before doing a refresh for the new generation:

      [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/21987/10[/url<] We will be adding another wave of Ivy Bridge and FX models to our collection soon. However, it's not especially sensible or practical for us to attempt to review *every* model of processor these days--there are too many of them, and the differences between them are often hilariously small. We can make informed recommendations without having tested every gradient of product segmentation. Your impression that we don't review motherboards is strange, since we decidedly do: [url<]https://techreport.com/motherboard+chipset/[/url<] Notice that most of those articles represent comparisons of 3-4 different products. That's quite a few mobos reviewed. Also, note that we attempt to review something less than the most-expensive-option boards the mobo makers like to send to reviewers, too, when possible. We want to review boards we can rec. Again, although we try to review a good selection of boards for each generation, doing every single one isn't terribly practical, again due to the vast number of models. But look at our selections. The primary board for the Sweet Spot and Editor's choice, the Asus P8Z77-V LK, isn't a model we've reviewed. However, we have reviewed the Asus P8Z77-V: [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/22755/2[/url<] The LK is just a slightly de-featured version of the same product. I believe it's based on the same PCB, and it certainly has the same UEFI. We're not exactly making a blind rec there. We reviewed the Double-Stuff mobo here, too: [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/21993[/url<] Those boards we've not reviewed do receive a lot of scrutiny, too. We check the Newegg reviews, have input from multiple editors, and work to make sure we have the right feature sets, slot layouts, port configs, and so on. We're always trying to avoid gotchas or problems while meeting the requirements of the build. When possible, we recommend products we've used and liked, even if we haven't written reviews of them. And we listen to reader feedback. We've had a board turn out to be an iffy choice in the past and revised the guide mid-update cycle, though such issue have been rare. So, to answer you question, we do give out recommendations we believe we can trust. We're always seeking to verify that our trust is warranted, too. I'll caution you, also. If you prefer the recommendations of sites that spend very little time with each product and don't test with TR's depth and precision, and you think that pure review volume is an indicator of an outfit's ability to make a smart set of recommendations... well, good luck with that.

        • cegras
        • 8 years ago

        I question your recommendations because I trust them the most. Picking a motherboard is usually a bit of a toss up, which is why I was surprised to see what you did not look at the one you recommend. What worries me the most about the model you recommend is the lack of a heatsink on half of the cpu vregs, but other than that I do see how the two models would perform similarly.

        I acknowledge and do appreciate the CPU comparison charts.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    For the Econobox alternatives, the M5A97 does not do x8 + x8 for Crossfire. It does 16x and 4x individually. that’s both according to the Newegg listing and the ASUS product page.

    [url<]http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/AMD_AM3Plus/M5A97/[/url<] Also: don't buy anything from Apple's store if you can get it from Amazon and/or Newegg without paying sales tax. Apple charges sales tax in every state with a sales tax.

      • Cyril
      • 8 years ago

      Fixed. Sorry about that!

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        It’s cool. I knew from having the EVO version, and it makes ALMOST no sense to have that config. Boards that cheap aren’t going to be running x4 PCI-e SSDs or whatnot, it’s pretty silly.

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    Here’s what I consider the perfect foundation for a mATX build:

    [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811163182&Tpk=tj08-e<]$100 + $18 ship Silverstone TJ08-e Case[/url<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817371044<]$80 Earthwatts 650 watt PSU[/url<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131833<]$160 + $8 Asus P8Z77-m Pro mATX[/url<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115072<]$220 2500 K[/url<] $588 including shipping. Add remaining parts to suit your tastes. $35 could be saved by going with the Earthwatts 380 watt if you're planning on low end video, but it seems worth the extra $35 to get the 650 watt and have all options open in the future. I've built a few machines based on this exact configuration and they've been great. If someone thinks there's a better mATX case I'd like to see suggestions.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      Why get the Pro motherboard?

      That’s my only question, really. I assume that you’re getting a decent cooler with which to overclock that 2500k as well.

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        As opposed to the vanilla P8Z77-M? P8Z77-M Pro has:

        More USB 3
        Dual PCIe 3.0 X16
        2 eSATA (compared to none on the other!)
        More audio outputs

        That’s worth the additional $25.

        This is just the “foundation” of a build so as was said, add remaining parts to suite your tastes, cooler included.

          • Airmantharp
          • 8 years ago

          Oh, it’s only $25 more? I’m with you then. I was under the (mistaken and now corrected) impression that there was an inexpensive option (~$100), but for +$25 the features seem worth it to me too.

    • bitcat70
    • 8 years ago

    Page 11, last paragraph:

    [quote<]hardware makers have improved x64 support quite a bit since Vista came out three years ago[/quote<] Is my memory failing me? Wasn't it longer than that?

      • superjawes
      • 8 years ago

      You are correct. I’ve noticed that the last couple pages (OS and Peripherals, accessories, and extras) rarely get a full revamp. I am fairly certain that the OS page got the update with the release of 7, which was a lot closer to 3 years ago.

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        I laugh everytime I re-re-re-read the page that tells me that LCD displays are the wave of the future, and that there’s no point in my even considering a CRT display.

        As if I could actually buy one 🙂

          • superjawes
          • 8 years ago

          Well since we’re on it.

          [quote<] This section traditionally included a floppy drive/card reader combo, but we're in 2011 now. [/quote<] Oh floppy drives...

          • Sam125
          • 8 years ago

          It’s a rather slow wave. ; )

    • ca_steve
    • 8 years ago

    Asus P8Z77-V LE and LK boards ship with Fan Xpert+…you need to go up to the P8Z77-V or better to get Fan Xpert2.

    • timbits
    • 8 years ago

    I like the added coverage of mobile rigs, even if it was a little sparse this go around. Also, thanks for the suggestion to wait a little bit for updated laptops to come out. This is one of those times where waiting a couple weeks is a good idea.

    I hope we get a mobile update when the new lineups are available!

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    They say great minds think alike 🙂 I just finished my HTPC/Gaming system (which might see an hour a week of 1920×1080 gaming; the rest of the time it’s the living room entertainment system) and built it with:
    [list<] [*<]i5-3570K [/*<][*<]PowerColor 7850 2 GB 875 MHz [/*<][*<]Asus P8Z77-V LK [/*<][*<]Corsair Vengance 8G kit (1866) [/*<][*<]Kingston V+200 120 GB SSD [/*<][*<]Seagate 3TB 7200 [/*<][*<]LG 12x Blu-Ray [/*<][*<]Hauppauge WinTV PCIe digital tuner card [/*<][*<]all in a CoolerMaster Elite mini-tower case with an Antec TP-550 ps (crucial to getting the 7850 to fit into such a small case)[/*<] [/list<] So far, I'm still futzing around with the video, which keeps switching to a black screen. I think the issue is actually my HDTV not being fully HDMI compliant (it's a few-years-old Chinese 'HiSense' that I got a great deal on), but other than that I'm pretty happy 🙂

      • cygnus1
      • 8 years ago

      I’ve seen that happen on friends systems with bad and cheaply made HDMI cables too. I think it was something inside the connector shorting out, not sure. But a new HDMI cable from my personal favorite cable and adapter site has fixed it for them. This probably sounds like spam, but monoprice kicks ass.

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        Thanks for the tip (no, really). I was going to switch to RGB cabling for a while to see if that eliminated the problem. I think I also have a couple of other HDMI cables I can try out.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      That looks like an awesome living room gaming system, congrats!

      By the way, what CPU cooler are you using, and how high have you gotten your i5 clocked to?

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        I haven’t gotten around to overclocking it yet; still getting basic config stuff finished, so I’m still just using the stock cooler. But mild OCing – for both the CPU and the GPU – is definately in the plans.

          • sweatshopking
          • 8 years ago

          i thought you built that system to send to your online angel? i’ve been waiting!

    • Arag0n
    • 8 years ago

    I still think it’s not the proper timing to buy computer or laptop now. We need vishera and trinity in the market, if not to buy them, at least to push ivy bridge prices down and Windows8 to be able to see the new hybrid tablets. This year the sales season starts at October for me. I’m looking for a new pc and laptop, but I won’t buy until all the pieces are on the table.

      • Firestarter
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]I still think it's not the proper timing to buy computer or laptop now.[/quote<] That's because [i<]you[/i<] don't need/want a new computer yet.

      • cygnus1
      • 8 years ago

      I concur. I’m going to end buying an Ivy Bridge laptop of some sort because I’m giving my current one to a friend, but I’m holding off on anything else till I see what hardware comes out with Windows 8.

        • Airmantharp
        • 8 years ago

        I’ve already bought and started using mine- but I could care less about Windows 8, as I see exactly zero compelling features over Windows 7 Pro.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      Lucky for you these guides publish several times a year.

    • Heighnub
    • 8 years ago

    I see the Corsair Vengeance 2×4 comes in two timings: 8-8-8-24 and 9-9-9-24, the difference in pricing being £60 vs £50 in the UK.

    What software would see a performance increase with the tighter timings?

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      Software that directly benchmarks memory latency.

      Otherwise, you’re actually better off buying faster memory, as latency diminishes with increased data rates, but that’s still only really going to be an issue with AMD’s APUs, which need that bandwidth. Intel CPUs really haven’t been sensitive to latency since they engineered the buffers for the old Netburst (P4) architecture.

    • equivicus
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]but users who need FireWire connectivity will want to check our alternatives section on the next page, which includes a PCIe FireWire card[/quote<] ASUS Sabertooth X79 costs $319.99 and has integrated firewire AND a legacy PCI slot... ignore all the thermal armor stuff.

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 8 years ago

    I don’t know why the mATX form factor has yet to become a permanent addition to your line-up.

      • rrr
      • 8 years ago

      Good point, many people just don’t need those extra slots, you can even do 2-way SLI/CF on several mATX mobos.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      I totally agree. The trouble with mATX is finding a brilliant case. Where’s Corsair with an Obsidian m-600D or whatever?

      The Silverstone TJ08-e is very near brilliant, but the drive cage needs perfecting. I’ve done two builds with that case and it’s currently my standard go-to case for mATX builds.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 8 years ago

        The Antec NSK3480 is a good micro-ATX case.

        My only issue with the NSK3480 is the somewhat limited number of drive mounting locations. With a 5¼” Blu-ray drive and a 3½” card reader installed, there are only enough mounting points remaining for two more drives. I mounted a third drive with Velcro tape.

          • DeadOfKnight
          • 8 years ago

          I miss the Antec Mini P180, it looked really nice but it’s no longer in stock anywhere. I’m sure if you dig deep enough you can get one though.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 8 years ago

            I built a system in the Mini-P180. It’s not that “Mini” on the outside. The NSK3480 is much more compact.

            • Bensam123
            • 8 years ago

            Having used a mini p180, the name is very deceiving. It was the same size as a ATX case. I sold it on eBay last winter. Quality case, but way too big.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            It might not be that small…but it is smaller and the mobos are cheaper.

            I think the Mini P180 is actually even better than the P183.

            It’s a good case for those who want to overclock and have good airflow.

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            You know, mATX boards fit in ATX cases :). There are some incredibly good, and incredibly cheap, ATX cases that can take also cheap mATX boards.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            Oh yes, but why not save some space if you have the ability to do so? Unless you really want the option to use other mobo types…

          • flip-mode
          • 8 years ago

          I used that for 2 builds and try to stay away from it for a couple of reasons. First, not enough drive bays. Second, drive mounting screws you if you have to plug an elbow power or data connector into the drive. Third, no USB 3 (last I checked).

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            I dunno, I never thought having USB 3.0 is really that important on a case if you can just reach back and use the rear I/O.

            • flip-mode
            • 8 years ago

            That’s exceedingly rare. There’s one machine in my office of 15 staff where that can be done (my machine, incidentally). And thinking through all my friends and family, none of theirs are placed to allow quick access to the rear. It’s not even easy with my machine at home even though it sits on top of the desk.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            Well there are extensions and docks for them. It’s not as nice but the point is that if USB 3.0 alone isn’t a good enough reason to upgrade your case then it’s not really a good enough reason to write off a future case if all the other needed features are there. I’m also sure there have been modders out there that upgraded their USB ports.

        • zerozero
        • 8 years ago

        Just rip it out and make do with the bottom 3.5″ and 2 x upper 5.25″ bays.
        Especially with on of these [url<]http://amzn.to/LfIEoC[/url<] and a handful of SSD's 🙂

          • flip-mode
          • 8 years ago

          While that device you linked to is fantastic looking, I’d still hope that Silverstone will perfect the drive cage that comes with the case.

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, I wouldn’t vote mITX rather mATX though. Micro-atx is too close in size to a normal ATX board to be of any notable difference. The prices are off their mark too. I just stopped suggesting it.

        • Airmantharp
        • 8 years ago

        Fixed your -1;

        But I think the argument against mITX is that it is still rather expensive compared to inexpensive mATX or even entry ATX boards. The chassis cost more at every quality level, and one has to be careful with PSU sizes, HSF sizes, number of drives, using thin optical drives that can cost more, being careful about GPU lengths and cooler configurations, and having a focus on general cooling.

        That’s a lot, I know. But given how inexpensively one can get a larger system with room to grow, I just don’t feel that mITX is a budget replacement.

        Now a portable mid-range or high-end gaming workstation? Hell, ASUS has your number, as does Silverstone, Lian-Li and half a dozen others :).

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      Especially in the Econobox – it’s a no-brainer, IMO. +1 for you.

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]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, the pricey GeForce GTX 590, or cards based on the latest Kepler GPUs.[/quote<]Needs update

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      I think it’s correct, given the relative rarity of Kepler cards (I got lucky). In any case, if you’re doing surround, you’re dumping settings without at least two cards.

    • tesmar
    • 8 years ago

    If I upgrade my Sandy Bridge i3-2300 Lenovo T520 to 16GB RAM (2 sticks) and then later upgrade to an Ivy Bridge i7 Quad Core, will only having 2 sticks of RAM affect performance? Should I also upgrade the MB to support 4 sticks like the W520?

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      Answered in the forum.

    • Jambe
    • 8 years ago

    I’d recommend people get a case with USB 3.0 ports on it for the Econobox instead of the unit listed (unless you’ll never need it). Newegg has these options on the lower end (each with 2x USB 3.0 on an internal header):

    [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811147061<]Rosewill Ranger ($60)[/url<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129181<]Antec Gaming Series One ($58)[/url<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129182<]Antec Gaming Series One Illusion ($68)[/url<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129180<]Antec Three Hundred Two ($78)[/url<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811112337<]LIAN LI Lancool First Knight Series PC-K9WX ($80)[/url<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811139011<]Corsair Carbide Series 300R ($80)[/url<] The $80 cases only push the total a few bucks over $600, including shipping.

      • Star Brood
      • 8 years ago

      I agree that the Antec One should be the clear choice here. Never has there been such a feature-overwhelming powerhouse to fit such a small budget.

        • Peldor
        • 8 years ago

        I just built my new system in the Antec One and am pretty pleased with it. I wish it had more 2.5″ drive mounts.

        My only real quibble is that Antec lists the case as having a max cooler height of 155mm which would disqualify some of the more popular tower-style heatsinks (and prompted me to return a heatsink I had bought before reading their ‘limit’). In practice I think it will still fit up to about 165mm with the way the sides of the case angle out.

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 8 years ago

    On page 11, you may want to add one more line to your comparison table that includes some of the data found here:

    [url<]http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/aa366778%28v=vs.85%29.aspx[/url<] [quote="Microsoft"<] [b<]Physical Memory Limits: Windows 7[/b<] [u<]Version Limit on X86 Limit on X64[/u<] Windows 7 Ultimate 4 GB 192 GB Windows 7 Professional 4 GB 192 GB Windows 7 Home Premium 4 GB [b<]16 GB[/b<] [/quote<] Your X79 motherboards have 8 DIMM slots, making it easy to populate them to 64 GiB of DDR3 memory using [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=100007611%20600006050%20600006072%20600000261&IsNodeId=1&bop=And&ShowDeactivatedMark=False&Order=PRICE&PageSize=20<]readily-available[/url<] 8 GiB DIMMs. The other motherboards have 4 DIMM slots, still making 32 GiB possible for folks that need astounding amounts of memory.

      • equivicus
      • 8 years ago

      Definitely agree this should be emphasized. 32 GB can be had for $200 (8x4GB)… 4x8GB jumps up in price to $450.

      [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820233263[/url<]

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 8 years ago

        The link in my previous post includes several [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=100007611%20600006050%20600006072%20600000261&IsNodeId=1&bop=And&ShowDeactivatedMark=False&Order=PRICE&PageSize=50<]readily-available[/url<] DDR3 memory kits that cost less than $50 per 8 GiB DIMM (less than $400 for 64 GiB, if you need such an amazing amount of memory).

      • travbrad
      • 8 years ago

      I agree it would be nice to include that information.

      However, I suspect most people who can actually use 32-64GB are probably quite knowledgeable, and would probably already know this. They probably aren’t the type who would buy any “Home” version of Windows either.

        • absurdity
        • 8 years ago

        When you assume…

        🙂

        This is a very trusted source of information for buyers, so I think it’s pretty important to make things like that clear. There’s a good rate of people who do high end computing without knowing the ins and outs of hardware and software specs.

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 8 years ago

    [quote=”TR system guide”<][b<]Audio[/b<] 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.[/quote<] I believe that the time has definitely come to abandon this legacy PCI card in favor of the current Xonar DGX or some other PCIe card. [url<]http://www.amazon.com/Xonar-DGX-PCI-E-GX2-5-Engine/dp/B007TMZ1BK[/url<] The motherboards that I've purchased recently have not included legacy PCI slots.

      • chuckula
      • 8 years ago

      ++ I’m rocking an Asus Xonar DX with PCIe and a TOS-LINK output that does pass through for 5.1 audio. One of the best investments I’ve ever made and this card will go from my current PC into the new PC I’m building next year without a hitch. Compared to a videocard, a decent soundcard is cheap and will last you a very long time since PCIe isn’t going away any time soon.

        • Airmantharp
        • 8 years ago

        I really have to ask- what’s the point in using a nice sound card for digital output? Wouldn’t an on-board solution that encodes multi-channel audio do the same thing for less, and not eat a slot?

          • pedro
          • 8 years ago

          Good question.

          • jensend
          • 8 years ago

          [url=http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2002/11/25<]But, our signal![/url<]

          • chuckula
          • 8 years ago

          There are good reasons, the most important one being that the Realtek chip on my board had absolute crap drivers that would periodically mess up the digital output signal (introducing a noticeable hiss). Another big reason is that, digital out or no digital out, integrated audio solutions don’t have hardware mixing for multiple sources of audio, which leads to many annoying issues when multiple applications want to output sound at once (I think the first problem about the hiss was related to the driver not handling multiple audio streams properly). The Xonar is a huge step up from my old setup.

          Third reason I just remembered: While the on-motherboard output had TOS-LINK, it did not have a built-in DTS encoder. The SPDIF/TOS-link standard by default only does two-channel stereo. To get 5.1 output you need an audio card that can do the extra DTS/Dolby encoding and many onboard sound solutions don’t do that. Basically an encoded signal is played over the TOS-LINK cable and you need the appropriate encode/decode hardware on both ends to make it work. The acid test is to see if a test file / movie actually uses the 5.1 speakers properly. I’m already using a separate receiver, so having a crapload of analog connectors from the card was messier than the SPDIF cable. –> P.S. all of this is running on Linux too.

      • DeadOfKnight
      • 8 years ago

      +1 for PCIe

      • Dissonance
      • 8 years ago

      It just so happens we have a stack of new Asus sound cards, including the DGX, in the lab. Stay tuned for an in-depth look.

        • travbrad
        • 8 years ago

        Cool, looking forward to it. 🙂

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 8 years ago

        That [b<]sounds[/b<] terrific! Is there any chance that you'll be able to compare them to a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Recon3D? [url<]http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/845917-REG/Creative_Labs_70SB135000000_Sound_Blaster_Recon3D_PCIe.html[/url<]

          • DeadOfKnight
          • 8 years ago

          From the reviews I’ve read, the new creative cards are actually worse than the previous generation.

          If you want Creative, it looks like the only worthwhile card is the X-Fi Titanium HD.

          That would be a better card for comparison, I think, although you’ll have to take the high cost into account.

          If you want a cheap alternative then I’d get a Xonar DGX or a premium mobo with better sound.

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            Recalling the [H]’s review, it seems that they excel at gaming output, but are worse for pretty much everything else. I’m happy with my Titanium’s performance (except not starting with the system sometimes, for whatever reason, maybe a slot change is in order). It sounds awesome running to my HD555’s, even using my Blackwidow’s pass-through.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            Yeah, the Titanium HD beat out even the high end audiophile cards by Asus and others in many reviews though, which is why I was hoping TR might have one on hand.

        • jensend
        • 8 years ago

        Any chance you’ll do objective blind tests along the lines of ABX or ABC/HR?

        People’s descriptions of their listening experiences can be interesting, but the terms people use to try to describe their listening experience are always going to be fuzzy- no fixed definition, no way of conclusively verifying or falsifying what was said, etc. Blind tests which involve a numeric score or which evaluate listeners’ ability to reliably distinguish between two sources are much more capable of conveying meaningful information.

        An A/B audio switch (available quite cheaply) makes this fairly easy to do.

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]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.[/quote<] So, um, why hasn't TR looked at it? [quote<]Ivy Bridge is here. And, lacking serious competition from AMD, Intel is charging a pretty penny for it. The cheapest two desktop variants right now are the Core i5-3450 and Core i5-3450S, and they're both priced at $199.99. Their specifications are similar: four cores, four threads, a 3.5GHz Turbo peak, and 6MB of L3 cache. However, the i5-3450 has a 3.1GHz base speed and a 77W thermal envelope, while the i5-3450S runs at 2.8GHz with a 65W TDP.[/quote<] You recommended a $200 locked CPU when you can still get the 2500K for $220. This, I strongly disagree with. It is a mistake.

      • chuckula
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]So, um, why hasn't TR looked at it?[/quote<] From what I've heard the 4100 was conspicuously absent from the set of Bulldozers that AMD sent out for review. I'm not sure if the TR guys have the resources (time & $$) to go out and buy commercial models for review.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      The 2500k is still the bang-for-buck LGA1155 CPU. Properly overclocked and cooled, it’s as fast as anything out there for 99% of consumer applications.

      I can see not wanting to recommend an older CPU, but on the desktop, Ivy doesn’t offer nearly as much of an upgrade from Sandy as it does in the mobile space.

        • DeadOfKnight
        • 8 years ago

        Agreed. Ivy is all about battery life and better integrated GPU performance…both of which aren’t needed on the desktop unless you really don’t need a discreet gpu.

      • travbrad
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, I’d definitely choose a 2500k over the 3450. The 2500K will perform slightly better even at stock, and has much greater overclocking potential. That being said the 3570k is only $20 more so that would be tempting too.

      In any case I’d buy it from Microcenter though. 🙂 The 3570k at Microcenter is cheaper than the 3450 on Newegg.

      • rrr
      • 8 years ago

      non K i5s aren’t completely locked, you can up multiplier by max 4 bins.

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        Yep. And the 2500K is completely unlocked.

    • rogue426
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve been waiting for this.Been buying all the other components except for CPU, mobo and RAM.
    The recommendation of Sandy E for the Double Stuff sold me on it for this build.
    I am however going to step down a notch to the I7 3820. $ 600 on one component other than a monitor is just a bit to much to stomach.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 8 years ago

      I don’t see the value in the X79 platform + Sandy Bridge E processor. Z77 + Ivy Bridge provides excellent performance for half the price.

        • rogue426
        • 8 years ago

        It’s $120 more for a I7 3820 with the X79 board chosen over a 3770K Ivy and the Z77 board chosen.
        You may be right from a value standpoint , but this is one of those times I’m not looking at value/ price.
        The bigger question is am I going to drop $400 on a 670 or wait till the 660’s come out.

          • Airmantharp
          • 8 years ago

          He IS right on the value standpoint.

          You are getting X79, and yet you are not:
          -Getting a 6-core CPU
          -Getting >32GB of RAM
          -Running three or more high-end GPUs

          Thus, your decision just doesn’t make sense. It may make sense to you for whatever reason, but it’s not something any competent builder would recommend.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            I recommend builds based solely on color coordination.

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            I assume your cases have lots of windows and lighting? Doubles as a nite-light?

            🙂

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            No, actually, but the idea always seemed appealing. Not really lights but having a window and some nice eye candy to look at.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 8 years ago

            I can’t find anyone that has the XClio A380color in stock any more, but giant color-cycling LED fans sound like they’re right up your alley.
            [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=77041&p=1079519&hilit=#p1079519[/url<]

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            That’s great!

            But I’ll keep my Define R3’s diminutive and understated look. I prefer it to not be seen or heard :).

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            I don’t think the -E line of processors will really bring anything exciting to the table until we have 22nm parts with all cores enabled.

            Even then, there is very little software that takes full advantage of them presently. Benchmarking suites and stress tests don’t count.

            You also give up native USB 3.0 support; it’s simply not a consumer chip. 4-channel DDR4 MIGHT be something worth considering in Haswell-E for some users.

            • rogue426
            • 8 years ago

            Bottom line , it’s my money and I’ll spend it as I’d like, whether it meets anyone else’s approval is meaningless.

            • thanatos355
            • 8 years ago

            FWIW, the 3820 is a far more compelling chip for me as well. Especially when you consider the miniscule amount of extra outlay for a complete system. If you look at similarly spec’d components, you’re really only looking at around a $50 increase to jump from z77+2600k to x79+3820, and that’s for the motherboard. Considering it’s upgradability, it really is a no brainer.

            And really, comparing a 2500k+a bottom of the line $80 motherboard to any x79 build is ridiculous.

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            Please, either or both of you, explain why?

            An overclocked 2500k and a bottom of the line (but quality, so ASUS/ASRock) setup will benchmark within 95-99% of a quad-core E CPU. With four slots on the board, it will support 32GB of RAM easy. Get a dual-GPU board for not much more, and you can power any single display and most multi-display configurations with ease.

            Oh, and it costs less. A lot less. And you can trumpet upgradeability, but it really doesn’t exist- Ivy isn’t appreciably faster than Sandy, especially after modest overclocking, so why would you expect an Ivy-based LGA2011 to be a compelling upgrade? Do you intend to buy a second processor down the line for significantly more than you paid for the first one? Does that make sense?

            • thanatos355
            • 8 years ago

            By that logic, we should all be rockin’ 8120s. I’m sure AMD will be eagerly awaiting your order. 😛

            Yes, it does make sense to buy another processor down the road, say when the octo or deca core processors hit the market. At which time you can buy a lower tier motherboard and throw the 3820 into a relative’s rig for cheap or downgrade it to a backup/file server/ etc. Meanwhile you can have a massive drop-in upgrade to your existing system.

            Some of you guys really have very little enthusiasm for so called “enthusiasts”, and a stunning lack of vision.

            • thanatos355
            • 8 years ago

            Hey, here’s another post for you guys to vote down. 😀

            How low can I go.

            It astounds me that so many people that are into tech can be so damn intolerant of other people’s thoughts and ideas.

            Where do I sign up for the witch hunt?

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            We’re not intolerant of your ideas- we’re intolerant of you parading them around as ‘good’ :).

            Price/performance goes into every discussion here, and what you’re arguing for just doesn’t fit the bill. If you want to spend money just for the hell of it there are plenty of retailers waiting for suckers; but it’s not something we’re going to recommend to anyone on a budget, and certainly not an idea we’ll let stand unopposed.

            • thanatos355
            • 8 years ago

            Ok, let’s try it this way.

            Intel Core i7-3820 – $299.99
            [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115229[/url<] ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional - $279.99 [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157288[/url<] G.SKILL Ripjaws Z Series 16GB (4 x 4GB) - $89.99 [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231497[/url<] -------------------- $669.97 Intel Core i7-2600K - $299.99 [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115070[/url<] ASRock Z77 Professional - $229.99 [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157299[/url<] G.SKILL Ripjaws Z Series 16GB (4 x 4GB) - $89.99 [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231497[/url<] -------------------- $619.97 Is there ANY way that spending the miniscule amount of cash that is $50 is NOT a good idea in this scenario? I mean really. I can see where you're coming from, but $50 to have all that AND be able to drop in a new processor down the road? Really?

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            An unlocked vs. locked CPU? Ivy with associated features? You’re missing both right off the bat.

            The expand-ability of X79 is undeniable, and yet, totally beyond what 99% of users could ever use within its lifespan.

            You’re also ignoring the HT-less CPUs which are just as fast or faster when overclocked, which is expected on either platform.

            The 3770K isn’t recommended, neither was the 2600K, over the 3570K and 2500K, because at 4.6GHz+ HT is almost a gimmick.

            So yeah, you’re basically throwing $100+ out the window to say, ‘hey, I spent money because I could!’.

            • thanatos355
            • 8 years ago

            The 3820 isn’t locked, Only multiplier capped to 43. And with the x79 platform’s clock straps, it is just as easy to overclock as any k model processor. You have just as good of a chance of clearing 5ghz with either chip.

            And I listed those components for an apples v apples comparison. My goal was not to see how cheap you could throw something awesome together.

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            I also want to add that I DO see where you are coming from. It does make sense to me, and it’s a decision that I would consider.

            The problem is, it just doesn’t make financial sense; and since we do so much recommending for people’s system builds, we have to be extremely careful about what we are willing to stand behind.

            X79 has it’s place, but it’s not in a budget desktop. Hell, it never had a place, and X58 lost its place when Lynnfield appeared.

            Extra memory channels, extra PCIe lanes, extra CPU cores… it’s not that we don’t want them, but that there simply isn’t a business case for them for consumer workloads, especially with any kind of budget. That money should go into a better GPU, bigger SSD, better monitor, etc instead.

            • thanatos355
            • 8 years ago

            I know what you’re saying and I feel that I may not be arguing my case to full effectiveness and I apologize if I seem belligerent.

            It’s a wonderful time we live in when we can have such a heated conversation about such awesome hardware. 😀

            Viva la TechReport!

            • rogue426
            • 8 years ago

            I’m not parading my choice of an X79 platform as good for the masses, just good for my upcoming intended uses. Price/Performance was never asked for by me, I merely stated since TR recommended an E Bridge proc for the workstation portion of the guide I was happy to decide on the 3820 for my build.
            I have a 2500 K and still think it’s one of the top 3 best choices now for a build. If I were to go by what’s ” good enough” I could easily still use my I3 Clarksdale platform for my general computing needs.Maybe before refering to people as suckers and incompetent builders you might actually take the time and ask why before “giving ” your opinion. I see and understand what your point is and for the most part agree with it. However my choices are my choices for my upcoming intended uses. if you dont like them thats fine with me, I’m not “selling them to the general public”.

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            I get where you’re coming from, but history is definitely not on your side.

            Just like cars, more horsepower alone isn’t always better; useful horsepower is. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on a GPU, not on an overbuilt platform.

            • thanatos355
            • 8 years ago

            Believe it or not, I understand completely where YOU are coming from. That’s how I build systems for my friends and family.

            The i3-2120 is a damn fine economy processor, btw. Just put together a system for a guy using that. I was honestly surprised by the level of performance it offered.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            We are not bashing the enthusiast platform in general, but there isn’t really anything compelling about this generation.

            If you read up, notice the positive thumbs on my post regarding the future for the enthusiast platform.

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            I’ll add a reference to the price/performance of an overclocked 2500k to everything else. Summary: it wins.

            • thanatos355
            • 8 years ago

            Indeed it does. It is an amazing processor. That is undeniable.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            I would even go so far as to say that for gaming, the best you can get right now at reasonable cost is i5-2500K + GTX 560 Ti, both overclocked.

            These chips have been out for over a year now and they’ll take any game you can throw at them with maximum detail at 1200p.

            This amounts to ~$400 for the most expensive parts of your build. You can even go with Z77 for the ability to upgrade later on if you wish.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 8 years ago

            I’m still kicking myself in the butt for buying an i7-875K months before SB because I really can’t do much with it for overclocking. I’d also like to enjoy some of that UEFI goodness that came along with it as well. But even still, my chip does everything I need. Not once have I wished I had gone with 1366. Intel really brought affordable performance when they introduced this segment to market.

            • flip-mode
            • 8 years ago

            Then why comment at all? He’s not telling you that you cannot do as you please with your money, just that you could spend a good deal less, get the same performance, and potentially better features.

    • CampinCarl
    • 8 years ago

    Well, at least my storage options match the Editor’s Choice! Though considering I got the i7-3770 for less than their i5, I’m pretty happy with what I have. Just need to wait for video card prices to come down so I can upgrade that as well…

    • bthylafh
    • 8 years ago

    Good timing. Got a friend who’s wanting to build an Ivy rig ASAP.

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    Anticipating all the “why didn’t you wait for Trinity / Kepler / whatever” posts…

      • chuckula
      • 8 years ago

      One issue with Trinity is that AMD has only announced models for notebooks and the desktop models aren’t due until August. That’s one – two guides away at this point. Kepler on the other hand… well, if you can find it you can buy it 🙂

    • yogibbear
    • 8 years ago

    Nice! Editor’s choice = add to cart. Though I think I will spend the $80 for the 3770k.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      If you’re buying a K series, you’re overclocking- at which point the effective performance over the 3570K (or any of the unlocked SnB CPUs) is negligible.

      $80 can buy you more GPU, more RAM, or a bigger SSD, all of which would serve you better. Just sayin’.

        • DeadOfKnight
        • 8 years ago

        I really can’t tell what the true value of hyperthreading really is. I have an 875k with hyperthreading and it actually lowers my performance in games. I don’t turn it off for the simple fact that it supposedly comes in handy with multitasking and I do occasionally have 5-6 threads running at a time as I alt+tab back and forth between apps.

          • indeego
          • 8 years ago

          Uh, you should have hundreds if not thousands of threads going. There are documented cases of lower clocked HT CPUs outperforming higher clocked CPUs with HT disabled. Your work patterns likely of course dictate this. Given there’s very little bottleneck these days with games/other programs running at the same time, (even most 8 GiB systems these days are rarely taxed) I would think enabling HT would be ideal in most environments, disabling it in very specific cases.

            • Airmantharp
            • 8 years ago

            Can it help? Sure. Is it worth the extra cost for the greater 99%? Absolutely not, if you’re overclocking.

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