Sweet Spot alternatives
Don't like our primary picks? As with the Econobox, we've singled out alternative selections that may please certain users.
|Processor||Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz||$214.99|
|AMD FX-8350 4.0GHz||$209.99|
|Motherboard||Asus M5A97 R2.0||$99.99|
|Graphics||Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 Boost||$299.99|
|Storage||Intel 335 Series 240GB||$169.99|
|Samsung EcoGreen F4 2TB||$129.99|
|LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner||$69.99|
|Enclosure||Corsair Carbide 400R||$89.99|
The way we see it, you have two good alternatives to the Core i5-3470. The first is Intel's slightly quicker Core i5-3570K, whose fully unlocked upper multiplier allows for relatively effortless overclocking (provided the chip itself can take it). Our value scatter plots show the i5-3470 is the better deal at stock speed, but if you plan to overclock, the i5-3570K is clearly a superior choice.
Our second alternative comes from the AMD camp. Although the FX-8350 falls behind its Intel rivals in games, it's actually a little quicker than the Core i5-3570K in non-gaming applications overall. If you're not much of a gamer—or you don't mind sacrificing some in-game fluidity in order to get optimal productivity performance—then the FX-8350 may be your best bet. This puppy even has an unlocked upper multiplier, just like the i5-3570K.
Keep in mind, though, that the FX-8350 is a 125W chip. That means power consumption and heat dissipation will both be substantially higher than with the Intel solutions, which are rated for 77W. Overclocking headroom may also be limited unless you're prepared to invest in liquid cooling. Our own experience overclocking the FX-8350 wasn't anything to write home about. Overclockers will probably be able to extract more "free" performance out of the i5-3570K.
The FX-8350 has another, somewhat indirect perk: the Socket AM3+ motherboards meant to accommodate it are very affordable. Our chosen Asus' M5A97 R2.0 costs only $90, yet it features dual PCI Express x16 slots (arranged in a x16/x4 lane setup), six 6Gbps ATA ports, USB 3.0, and Asus' trademark UEFI and fan control firmware, of which we're so fond. The big heatsinks on the power regulation circuitry may help with overclocking, too.
Again, at present, the GeForce GTX 660 Ti appears to offer markedly better performance in the latest games than the Radeon HD 7950. We're hoping AMD can even the score with a driver update.
If it does, the Radeon HD 7950 could become an attractive alternative to GeForce GTX 660 Ti. After all, it has more powerful hardware on paper—including 50% more memory bandwidth—and it currently ships with not one, not two, but three free games: Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution, and Sleeping Dogs. (There's a 20%-off coupon for Medal of Honor Warfighter Limited Edition in the box, but after playing that game, we wouldn't recommend spending any money on it at all.)
Sapphire's take on the 7950 has a dual-fan cooler, good Newegg reviews, and Boost functionality that dynamically raises clock speeds, so it gets our vote.
If you can afford it, a 240GB solid-state drive like Intel's 335 Series 240GB is a better buy than the 120GB model on the previous page. The $200 price tag is a little on the hefty side, but 240GB will give you a lot more room to store games. We all know how much level load times benefit from speedy solid-state storage.
Why not simply go for the 240GB version of the Force Series GT? We could, really, but the 335 Series is cheaper right now, and our benchmarks show it's a teeny bit faster.
On the mechanical front, you might want to bolster the Sweet Spot's mass storage capabilities with something like Samsung's 2TB EcoGreen F4. This is a low-speed, low-power, low-noise offering, which makes it a poor choice for storing apps and other performance-sensitive data. Movies, music, and other documents, though? No problem—and the drive's cost per gigabyte is hard to beat. (Other 2TB "green" hard drives are available, but the EcoGreen is very affordable and seems to have fewer negative reviews on Newegg.)
Finally, if you've been known to watch movies on your computer (or you've ever wanted to back up humongous files to physical media) then springing for a Blu-ray burner makes plenty of sense. LG's WH14NS40 doesn't break the bank, and it's capable of both reading Blu-ray discs and burning them at up to a 14X speed.
The NZXT H2's emphasis on silence means it's not the coolest-running case around. Folks more worried about keeping temperatures low than favoring their eardrums may take a liking to Corsair's Carbide 400R. This enclosure is a little roomier, and its interior layout and build quality are top notch. We especially like the fact that the 3.5"/2.5" drive bays are rotated 90 degrees, so they face out toward the user for easy installation and removal.