Sweet Spot alternatives
As with the Econobox, we have some alternative propositions for how to fill out the Sweet Spot.
|Processor||Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz||$229.99|
|AMD FX-8350 4.0GHz||$219.99|
|Motherboard||Asus M5A97 R2.0||$89.99|
|Graphics||Asus GeForce GTX 660||$239.99|
|Storage||Kingston HyperX 240GB||$199.99|
|Samsung EcoGreen F4 2TB||$129.99|
|LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner||$69.99|
|Enclosure||Corsair Carbide 400R||$99.99|
The Core i5-3570K isn't much quicker than the Core i5-3470, but it does have a fully unlocked upper multiplier. That means overclocking should be easy as pie—so long as you get a chip with sufficient headroom, of course. As for whether the possibility of higher overclocks is worth the $30 premium, well, that's entirely up to you.
If you'd prefer an AMD processor, then your best bet has to be the FX-8350. This bad boy performs better overall than the i5-3570K in applications other than games, and it, too, has a fully unlocked upper multiplier. As we noted earlier, though, the FX-8350 isn't nearly as power efficient as the competition (with a 125W TDP to the i5-3570K's 77W, that's no surprise), and its performance in games is only about on par with that of the Core i3-3220 from our Econobox build.
One last caveat that deserves mentioning: while the FX-8350 allows painless overclocking by raising multipliers, our sample wasn't hugely cooperative. It maxed out at 4.5GHz with a 4.8GHz Turbo speed (up from the stock 4.0/4.2GHz), which required a sizable voltage increase. Full-system power consumption under load went from 196W to 262W. Overclocking aficionados may find the i5-3570K offers more overclocking headroom with less voltage.
Another advantage of the FX-8350 is that good Socket AM3+ motherboards cost quite a bit less than their Intel siblings. Despite being priced at only $90, Asus' M5A97 R2.0 has six Serial ATA 6Gbps ports, dual physical PCI Express x16 slots with CrossFire support (in a x16/x4-lane config), USB 3.0, heatsinks on the CPU power regulation circuitry, and Asus' excellent UEFI firmware. Newegg shoppers gave this board's predecessor rather good reviews overall, and enthusiasm for the R2.0 model appears to be on the same level.
If you won't let yourself be bribed with free games—or you have no interest in the ones accompanying the Radeon HD 7950—then Asus' GeForce GTX 660 DirectCU II OC may be the graphics card for you. According to our 99th-percentile frame time metric, its performance isn't much lower than that of the 7950 Boost on the previous page. This particular Asus solution also has an exceptionally quiet cooler, and it draws less power than the 7950. Some folks might simply be more partial to Nvidia's driver support, too.
We were hoping to include the 256GB version of Samsung's 830 Series SSD here as an alternative, but the drive is fading out of stock online. In its stead, we're giving our nod to the 240GB Kingston HyperX 3K, which pairs one of SandForce's latest controllers with synchronous NAND and boasts rated read and write speeds north of 500MB/s. The performance difference between it and the 830 Series should be relatively small. Also, our Editor in Chief has been running four of the HyperX drives in his labs, with no problems to report. If Intel's new 335 Series SSD were available at its suggested retail price of $184, we'd choose it over the Kingston drive. However, the 335 Series is selling for $210 online right now, and its 20-nm NAND isn't as proven as the 25-nm flash in the HyperX.
Samsung's 2TB EcoGreen F4, meanwhile, ought to please users who value capacity over speed, including those who spring for a 256GB SSD and feel comfortable relegating their mechanical hard drive(s) to mass-storage duties. This drive is a little sluggish for housing software and games, but it's plenty fast for videos, photos, and other data that doesn't benefit so much from faster solid-state access times. We're more partial to the EcoGreen than to other 2TB 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 WH14NS40 costs the same and can burn Blu-ray media at 14X speeds. Just as importantly, this seems to be the cheapest Blu-ray burner listed at Newegg right now.
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 case is worth a look for sure, especially considering its low asking price.