TR’s February 2013 System Guide

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Well, here we are again. The holidays are long past. Wrapping paper has been ripped, crumpled, and ferried to the nearest landfill. Christmas trees and decorations have been taken down—or maybe not quite yet.

More importantly, our credit cards and bank accounts have had time to recover.

Good thing, too, because we’ve whipped up a whole new set of recommendations for state-of-the-art enthusiast PCs. We haven’t seen any major new chip releases since last time, but we’ve made adjustments to account for new solid-state drives and power supplies, some changes in the hard drive market, and, of course, the inevitable price changes.

To keep things exciting, we’ve also added a brand-new build to the mix: a small-form-factor gaming rig with a Mini-ITX motherboard, an affordable CPU, a speedy GPU, and solid-state storage. This little machine has other tricks up its sleeve, too, like a modular PSU and a relatively roomy, enthusiast-friendly case. Best of all, it costs just under $1,000.

Keep on reading for the dirty details about our revised builds and this new Mini-ITX config.

Rules and regulations

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, you’ll want to have a look at our handy how-to build a PC article—and the accompanying video:

If you’re after reviews and benchmarks, 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 about $600, $1,000, $1,500, and $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

Our budget build’s target price has fluctuated over the years, but our aim has always been the same: to spec out a solid budget gaming PC without ugly compromises. Decent graphics performance is a must here, as is a strong upgrade path.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i3-3220 3.3GHz $129.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-H77-DS3H $99.99
Memory Corsair 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $47.99
Graphics MSI Radeon HD 7770 $119.99
Storage Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 1TB $79.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $17.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 200R $69.99
Power supply Corsair CX430M $49.99
Total   $615.92

Processor

Not much has changed on this front since December. AMD still offers two alternatives to the Core i3-3220: the FX-4300 and the A10-5800K. Both have power envelopes around 100W, which dwarfs the Core i3’s surprisingly modest 55W TDP. Tighter power envelopes are what we want, since they translate into lower power consumption and quieter cooling. Both AMD chips also fail to match the Core i3-3220’s gaming performance when discrete graphics cards are used.

To its credit, the A10-5800K has much better integrated graphics performance than the Intel CPU. However, the A10’s IGP is still far slower than even a relatively inexpensive discrete card, and we have room in our budget for one of those—the Radeon HD 7770. That renders the A10’s IGP advantage essentially moot.

Granted, the AMD processors are a little faster overall in multithreaded applications, but the i3-3220’s mix of superior single-threaded performance and lower power consumption is hard to argue against. On top of that, Intel’s LGA1155 platform gives us an upgrade path all the way up to the Core i7-3770K—a fully unlocked, quad-core, eight-thread monster that trounces anything AMD has on the market today.

Motherboard

Our Intel CPU doesn’t need a terribly expensive motherboard. At a penny under $100, Gigabyte’s GA-H77-DS3H delivers everything we should need for the Econboox: a full ATX layout, dual physical PCI Express x16 slots (albeit with four lanes of connectivity running through the second one), 6Gbps Serial ATA, USB 3.0, and Gigabyte’s latest UEFI interface, which is much improved over the company’s older designs. Gigabyte doesn’t have the finest fan speed controls around, but with the GA-H77-DS3H, it delivers a very compelling package for the price.

Memory

Our 8GB, DDR3-1600 Corsair kit with lifetime warranty coverage has gone up about $10 or so since December, but it’s still very inexpensive at $48. Downgrading to a 4GB kit wouldn’t save us much, and we like the larger capacity. Windows is, after all, designed to cache frequently used applications in available system RAM, which is particularly helpful in a system like the Econboox where we’re using mechanical storage.

Graphics

We envision the Econobox as a budget gaming system, and that calls for an affordable graphics card that’s still reasonably powerful. MSI’s Radeon HD 7770 is very well suited to that task. It should let you play most of today’s games at 1920×1080, so long as you dial down the eye candy a bit. Also, thanks to its beefy dual-slot cooler, this card won’t drown out the delicious killing noises from whatever shooter you’re playing.

Mmm, killing noises.

Nvidia still doesn’t have a very compelling alternative to the Radeon HD 7770. The GeForce GTX 650 is slower overall than its AMD rival. The GTX 650 Ti is slightly quicker, but it’s also priced within spitting distance of the Radeon HD 7850 1GB, an even faster solution—and one that we’ve included in the alternatives section on the next page. We think AMD cards offer better value for the money in this price range.

Storage

Sadly, solid-state drives still aren’t cheap enough to fit into the Econobox. (Not in our primary recommendations, anyhow.) Even sadder, our old mechanical workhorse, Samsung’s Spinpoint F3 1TB, appears to have been discontinued. Yeah, it’s all a little depressing.

Don’t reach for the Prozac just yet, though, because there’s a new 1TB Seagate Barracuda drive with a 7,200-RPM spindle speed, a 64MB cache, and 6Gbps Serial ATA connectivity available for just 80 bucks. We haven’t gotten it in our labs yet, so we can’t vouch for its noise levels or performance, but Newegg user reviews are encouraging. Our only beef is the two-year warranty, but that’s unfortunately standard fare in the hard-drive industry nowadays. Three- and five-year warranties have largely been relegated to the history books.

We’re tossing in a DVD drive, too. Optical drives are almost unnecessary in modern PCs, but this is a full-sized desktop, and we’ve got three 5.25″ drive bays just waiting to be filled. A DVD burner like Asus’ DRW-24B1ST only sets us back an extra 20 bucks, and it can always come in handy.

Enclosure

After many months of featuring the Antec Three Hundred in our Econobox, we’ve found a worthy successor. Antec is out, and Corsair is in.

You see, Corsair has bested Antec pretty much across the board with its Carbide Series 200R case, which sells for around $70 and packs a wealth of enthusiast-friendly goodness. Thumbscrews abound, cable-routing holes are nice and wide, tool-less drive bays work effortlessly, and Corsair even offers four dedicated 2.5″ bays—handy, should you ever upgrade the Econobox with an SSD.

We tested the 200R right alongside the Three Hundred Two, an improved version of the Three Hundred, and working in the Corsair case was far more comfortable (and convenient). The 200R only had one disadvantage: it didn’t keep components quite as cool as the Three Hundred Two. The difference was relatively small, however, and we were stress-testing with high-end, power-hungry components. The Econobox has a 55W CPU and a power-sipping GPU, so thermals aren’t a big challenge here.

Power supply

This system doesn’t suck a lot of power, so we don’t need a very beefy PSU. We do, however, want a modicum of quality. Bargain-basement power supplies might be tantalizingly cheap, but they often fail to deliver where it counts. Also, they can be frighteningly prone to failures that can take out other components. No thanks. We’ll spend the extra 20 bucks or so on a branded, high-efficiency unit with good reviews.

Here, too, we’ve retired our former Antec champion in favor of a Corsair challenger. The new Corsair CX430M ticks all of the right boxes: 80 Plus Bronze certification, modular cabling, a jumbo intake fan that should be reasonably quiet, a three-year warranty, and a low price. Antec’s competing EA-430 is similar, but it lacks modular cables—and we’ve been spoiled by the ease of use and convenience of modular power supplies in higher-end builds. Since that convenience comes at no extra cost here (the Corsair unit is actually cheaper), we’d be fools to pass it up.

Econobox alternatives

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

Component Item Price
Processor AMD A10-5800K 3.8GHz $129.99
Motherboard ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6 $109.99
Storage Intel 330 Series 60GB $69.99
Samsung 840 Pro 128GB $149.99
Graphics PowerColor Radeon HD 7850 1GB $169.99
MSI GeForce GTX 660 $229.99

Processor

We think the Core i3-3220 is a better fit for the Econobox, but that doesn’t mean AMD’s A10-5800K lacks redeeming qualities. The A10 performs better than the Core i3 in many non-gaming tasks, and its integrated graphics are superior. That’s an appealing combo if you’re more of a casual gamer who tends to run demanding productivity applications, since you can save a few bucks by skipping the discrete graphics card.

There’s no good way to spin the A10’s 100W power envelope and currently ambiguous upgrade path, though. This is a fairly power-hungry chip, and since it’s the quickest one available for its socket, a future processor upgrade will likely require a change of motherboard, as well.

If you’re happy with that, then the A10 may be the processor for you.

Note that we’re picking the A10-5800K over the FX-4300. The FX does have a marginally better upgrade path than the A10, but it lacks integrated graphics, and we dislike it’s lower clock speed. In our experience, processors based on AMD’s Bulldozer architecture need all the GHz they can get in order to perform well. That holds especially true in applications that don’t make use of multiple threads.

Motherboard

Most motherboards designed to accommodate the A10-5800K have a microATX form factor, which means smaller circuit boards and fewer expansion slots. We prefer a full-sized offering. Among the few ATX models available, we like the ASRock’s FM2A85X Extreme6 the most.

This mobo actually costs slightly more than our Intel board, but it’s clearly worth the dough. It has three PCI Express x16 slots, which are configurable in a x16/x8/x4- or x8/x8/x4-lane setup, and it boasts no fewer than seven 6Gbps SATA ports and four USB 3.0 ports. ASRock even puts a CMOS reset switch in the port cluster, so in the event of a failed overclock or some other snafu, there’s no need to pop the side panel to get everything back to normal.

Storage

You’ve got two choices here—two compelling ones, at least.

The first is Intel’s 330 Series 60GB, which will cost you about $70. This drive is reasonably quick, and it’s capacious enough to host an operating system and a handful of apps. It can’t hold a wide swath of games, though, which means some things will have to spill over onto mechanical storage. If you get our Intel mobo, you can also use Intel’s Smart Response Technology to configure the 60GB SSD as a cache for the mechanical hard drive. That setup can improve performance and cut access times by a fair bit. Also, since the Smart Response-ified SSD and HDD combo will mount as a single volume, you won’t have to worry about choosing which apps go on which drive.

Option B is Samsung’s 840 Pro 128GB solid-state drive, which is faster, roomier, and also more expensive. Our benchmarks of the 256GB 840 Pro bode well for this lower-capacity variant. You still might not be able to store all of your software on this thing, but 128GB provides a heck of a lot more breathing room than 60GB.

Graphics

Nvidia’s sub-$200 graphics offerings aren’t quite up to par with the AMD solutions, so the best alternative to the Radeon HD 7770 is another AMD card: the Radeon HD 7850 1GB.

The 7850 1GB is noticeably faster than the 7770. In fact, it’s quick enough to handle almost all games at 1080p with the detail settings cranked up. You’ll only start to see performance suffer in titles like Skyrim, whose ultra-high-resolution textures can butt up against the 1GB memory limit—especially if you turn up the antialiasing, too. The 7850 1GB is a fairly inexpensive upgrade. PowerColor’s version is available for around $170. As a bonus, it comes with free copies of BioShock Infinite and Tomb Raider.

Nvidia regains the upper hand above the $200 mark. Our scatter plots demonstrate that the GeForce GTX 660 outpaces the 99th-percentile frame times of AMD’s competing Radeon HD 7870. That makes it a sizable upgrade over both the Radeon HD 7770 and the Radeon HD 7850 1GB. Also, the GTX 660 may deliver smoother gameplay than similarly priced Radeons, since there’s a fairly good chance that the 7800 series suffers from the same latency spikes as the Radeon HD 7950. (AMD is in the process of fixing those, but it hasn’t finished yet.)

Oh, and the GTX 660 comes with a gaming bundle of its own, but it’s less exciting than the AMD one—you get $150 of credit for use in several free-to-play games.

Incidentally, a more powerful PSU isn’t required for the GTX 660. The card only needs a single PCIe power connector, and in our testing with a much quicker CPU than either the Core i3-3220 or the A10-5800K, full-system power draw with a GTX 660 peaked at only 232W. (That was for everything minus the monitor.) Our 430W Corsair PSU should have no trouble pumping out that kind of power.

The Sweet Spot
Stunning value short on compromise

The Econobox makes a pretty solid gaming machine, but it’s still somewhat limited. The Sweet Spot’s more generous budget gives us the wiggle room to add a faster processor, a quicker graphics card, solid-state storage, and other luxuries.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-3470 3.3GHz $199.99
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-V LK $139.99
Memory Corsair 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $47.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 660 Ti $279.99
Storage Samsung 840 Pro 128GB $149.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 1TB $79.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $17.99
Audio Asus Xonar DSX $59.99
Enclosure NZXT H2 $99.99
Power supply Corsair CX600M $79.99
Total   $1,155.90

Processor

We face a similar competitive scenario at this price point. Intel’s Core i5-3470 offers better gaming performance and lower power utilization than the competition from AMD. However, AMD’s FX-8350 has an edge in non-gaming apps.

Here, too, we think the Intel chip is the better pick for our primary recommendations. Its 77W TDP is quite a bit lower than the AMD chip’s 125W thermal envelope, and as you can see in our scatter plots, the Core i5 has a clear edge in gaming performance. The difference in general-purpose tasks is much smaller. In our view, it doesn’t make up for the FX-8350’s other downsides.

Note that we’re also skipping Intel’s Core i5-3570K, despite its fully unlocked upper multiplier. Having free rein to overclock is nice, no question about it. However, the i5-3470 is already very fast, and its lower price gives us extra cash to spend on other components, like a faster graphics card.

Motherboard

We’ve been recommending this Z77 Express-based Asus P8Z77-V LK for a few editions of the guide now, and we see no reason to stop. This mobo doesn’t break the bank and has just about everything we might want for the Sweet Spot. There’s SLI and CrossFire support via two PCIe x16 slots, which are configurable in a x8/x8 lane setup. There are sideways-mounted SATA 6Gbps ports, which shouldn’t interfere with long graphics cards. There’s USB 3.0, of course, and Asus’s excellent UEFI firmware and fan speed controls. Lucid’s Virtu MVP software is included, as well.

Memory

If we had room in the Econobox’s budget for an 8GB DDR3-1600 kit, we certainly have room for one here. Let’s re-use the same Corsair kit, since its 1600MHz maximum speed is, coincidentally, the fastest supported by our processor out of the box.

Graphics

Well, this is a tough one.

On one hand, AMD is in the process of fixing those pesky frame latency spikes we (and other reviewers) have detected. Also, the firm’s latest game bundle offer seriously sweetens the pot. All Radeon HD 7900-series GPUs comes with free copies of both BioShock Infinite and Crysis 3, which would be worth a combined $120 or so at retail. Definitely nothing to sneeze at.

On the other hand, AMD still hasn’t addressed the root cause of the latency problem: the Catalyst driver’s memory manager. Until AMD’s driver team finishes rewriting it, any fixes introduced through driver updates will be case-specific. The fixes may help in some titles and not others. Right now, to our knowledge, AMD has only alleviated latency issues in Borderlands 2, Guild Wars, and Skyrim. Any DX10/11 games that are affected, like Hitman: Absolution, still await fixes. Those games don’t play as smoothly or fluidly on Radeons as on the competition’s GPUs.

So, what do we choose? Do we pick the card with the shiny game bundle and the promise of future improvements, or do we forgo the freebies and choose something that’s already tried and true?

Both options involve compromises, but we think the latter is preferable. MSI’s GeForce GTX 660 Ti PE delivers the better gaming experience right now, and that’s what really matters. You shouldn’t be buying a card in the hopes that some day, perhaps a few weeks or months from now, it will perform as well as the competition. You ought to be buying whatever performs best today. It’s just too bad Nvidia hasn’t matched AMD’s bundle offer. The GeForce does come with $150 worth of credit for free-to-play games, but that’s a consolation prize at best. The hardware is undoubtedly solid, though, and it doesn’t hurt that this particular MSI card is a TR Editor’s Choice award winner.

Storage

We’re taking a page from the Econbox alternatives here and featuring the 128GB variant of Samsung’s 840 Pro solid-state drive. Now that prices have settled a bit, this drive isn’t much more expensive than competing SandForce-based solutions. Yet it’s faster, and it has a 8GB higher capacity.

128GB should be sufficient to contain your operating system and many of your games and applications, but it won’t be enough for everything. That’s why we recommend pairing the SSD with a terabyte of speedy mechanical storage, in the form of Seagate’s Barracuda 7,200 RPM. You can run the SSD and mechanical drive separately, or if you’re in an experimental mood, you can try using Intel’s Smart Response Technology to turn part of SSD into a high-speed cache for the hard drive. Just keep in mind that Smart Response will only use up to 64GB of the SSD’s available capacity.

Finally, we’re rounding out our storage setup with an optical drive. After all, you never know when you might need to use an old DVD—or burn a new one. The Econobox’s Asus DVD burner is just as good a fit for the Sweet Spot. We considered upgrading to a Blu-ray burner, but that’d be a tad out of our price range. We did include one in the alternatives on the next page, though.

Audio

We’ve caught a lot of flak for recommending sound cards still. However, every time we conduct blind listening tests, even low-end discrete cards wind up sounding noticeably better than motherboard audio. We’re not even using audiophile-grade speakers. Our tests are done with a pair of lowly Sennheiser HD 555 headphones.

If you’re using analog headphones or speakers that weren’t scavenged from a circa-1995 Compaq, a discrete sound card like Asus’ Xonar DSX is a worthwhile purchase. This card doesn’t just beat onboard audio; it also has a more balanced sound profile than cheaper offerings like Asus’ Xonar DG and DGX. We liked this card so much that we gave it our Editor’s Choice award earlier this year.

Folks with S/PDIF- or USB-based speakers or headphones can skip the Xonar. Those digital alternatives take care of the digital-to-analog conversion internally, which makes a discrete sound card somewhat redundant. Any halfway-decent analog audio device will benefit from the Xonar, though.

Enclosure

We got pretty close to selecting the same Corsair Carbide Series 200R for the Sweet Spot and Econobox. However, after further reflection, we decided the NZXT H2 is still a better fit for our slightly enlarged budget. This case has more premium features, like hot-swappable front fans, a three-setting fan control switch, a built-in drive dock, rubber-grommeted cable routing holes, and a top ventilation cover that prevents dust and debris from falling straight down into the case. The H2 is built for quiet, too, and it fared remarkably well in our noise testing.

Power supply
Corsair’s CX600M has everything we like about the Econobox’s CX430W—modular cables, 80 Plus Bronze certification, and a big, quiet fan—and it also features both higher output capacity and a longer (five-year) warranty. It’s priced quite competitively, too.

Sweet Spot alternatives

Don’t like our primary picks? As with the Econobox, we’ve singled out alternative selections that may please certain users.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz $229.99
AMD FX-8350 4.0GHz $189.99
Motherboard Asus M5A97 R2.0 $94.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 Boost $309.99
Storage Intel 335 Series 240GB $194.99
Western Digital Red 2TB $109.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $69.99
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 400R $99.99

Processor

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.

Motherboard

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 less than $100, yet it features dual PCI Express x16 slots (arranged in a x16/x4 lane setup), six 6Gbps ATA ports, USB 3.0, and Asus’ excellent UEFI and fan control firmware. The big heatsinks on the power regulation circuitry may help with overclocking, too.

Graphics

Right now, the GeForce GTX 660 Ti offers better, more consistent performance in the latest games than the Radeon HD 7950. However, AMD is working on an overhaul of its Catalyst driver that should even the score.

If you don’t mind putting up with somewhat sub-par performance until the new drivers come out, then the Radeon HD 7950 may be for you. After all, it has more powerful hardware than the GTX 660 Ti on paper—including 50% more memory bandwidth—and it currently ships with two free games: BioShock Infinite and Crysis 3. That makes it a pretty solid deal, if you ignore the current hurdles with frame latency spikes in some games.

Sapphire’s take on the 7950 has a dual-fan cooler, good Newegg reviews, and Boost functionality that dynamically raises clock speeds. If you’re going the Radeon route, this is a fine choice.

Storage

For folks with the cash to spare, a 240GB solid-state drive like Intel’s 335 Series 240GB is a better buy than the 128GB model on the previous page. The near-$200 price tag is a little high, but 240GB gives 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 256GB version of the Samsung 840 Pro? We could, really, but the 335 Series is cheaper right now, and our benchmarks show there isn’t that big of a performance gap between the two.

On the mechanical front, you might want to bolster the Sweet Spot’s mass storage capabilities with something like Western Digital’s Red 2TB. We used to recommend Samsung’s EcoGreen F4, but that offering seems to have been discontinued. The Red is similar: it’s a low-speed, low-power, low-noise offering best suited for mass storage duties. Unlike the EcoGreen, though, the Red is designed to accommodate RAID configurations, and it has a full three years of warranty storage.

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.

Enclosure

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.

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

The name of this build says it all. If we were buying a PC for ourselves right now, we’d splurge on nicer components than those found in the Sweet Spot and Econobox. However, we still wouldn’t want to waste hard-earned cash on needlessly expensive parts.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz $229.99
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-V LK $139.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $52.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 660 Ti $279.99
Storage Intel 335 Series 240GB $194.99
Western Digital Red 2TB $109.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $69.99
Audio Asus Xonar DSX $59.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 650D $179.99
Power supply Corsair HX650W $119.99
Total   $1,437.90

Processor

There’s no sense being stingy here. Intel’s Core i5-3570K is the right pick for this build, thanks to its unlocked upper multiplier and excellent performance per dollar.

Motherboard

Oh, sure, we could nab a state-of-the-art motherboard with ridiculous heatsinks and a self-aware AI inside the UEFI. However, the Asus P8Z77-V LK from the Sweet Spot already does everything we want. Why pay more? The Editor’s Choice is all about building a balanced system, not burning cash on pointless extras.

Memory

We’re making allowances for overclocking here, which is why we’ve upgraded from our Corsair ValueSelect bundle to a Corsair Vengeance kit with fancy heatsinks. The price difference between the two kits adds up to all of seven dollars right now, so we don’t feel bad for splurging (if we can call it that). Just keep in mind those spiky heatsinks may interfere with some of the chunkier CPU coolers out there.

Graphics

We could have upgraded to the GeForce GTX 670 for this build, but the truth is, the GeForce GTX 660 Ti is more than fast enough for gaming on a 2560×1440 display. The GTX 670 doesn’t offer a very substantial performance boost for the money, and the next step up, the GeForce GTX 680, is well outside our price range.

No, we’re perfectly happy with the MSI GeForce GTX 660 Ti Power Edition. It’s just as good a pick for the Editor’s Choice as it is for the Sweet Spot.

Storage

What we didn’t spend on an extravagant motherboard or an overpriced graphics card, we now can allocate to a higher-capacity solid state drive—something that will make day-to-day gaming and productivity palpably quicker, since you’ll have more room to store more applications and games.

We already know the drive we want: the Intel 335 Series 240GB from the Sweet Spot alternatives, and here, it fits our budget.

Of course, we still want a decent mechanical hard drive to provide additional capacity, which is where the 2TB WD Red comes in. If you plan to run performance-intensive applications off this thing, then check our alternatives section one page ahead—you way want a small SSD cache to speed things up.

Oh, and we might as well throw in that Blu-ray burner from the Sweet Spot alternatives.

Audio

If we thought a sound card was worth including in the Sweet Spot, we’re certainly not going to fall back to integrated audio here. But we’re not going to splurge on a higher-end discrete card, either. Asus’ Xonar DSX offers better value than Asus’ more expensive Xonar DX, which costs more and adds little besides Dolby Headphone support. In our blind listening tests, those two cards sounded very close. You might as well save your money.

Enclosure

Corsair’s Obsidian Series 650D is probably our favorite enclosure right now. We like its good looks and generous cooling capabilities, and we love how effortless it is to work in. Everything from the huge amount of space around the motherboard tray (and the almost excessive number of cable-routing holes) to the built-in drive dock and recessed front-panel ports helps make installation as smooth and painless as possible. There’s hardly a better option for the Editor’s Choice right now… well, except perhaps for Corsair’s own Graphite Series 600T, which we’ve included as an alternative on the next page.

Power supply

We have room in our budget for a nicer, higher-efficiency PSU than the one in the Sweet Spot. This time, our nod goes to the Corsair HX650W, a modular unit with 80 Plus Gold certification and connectors galore. We wouldn’t dream of getting a non-modular unit. Our enclosure is designed to make cable management as elegant as possible, so having a big clump of cords and connectors at the bottom just wouldn’t do.

Editor’s Choice alternatives

Just because the Editor’s Choice is full of our favorites doesn’t mean we don’t have a few alternative propositions in mind.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-3770K 3.5GHz $319.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 Boost $309.99
Storage Intel 330 Series 60GB $69.99
Case Corsair Graphite Series 600T $159.99

Processor

As far as 22-nm Ivy Bridge processors go, it doesn’t get much better than the Core i7-3770K. This monster has four cores, eight threads, a 3.5GHz base speed, a 3.9GHz Turbo speed, and somehow, despite it all, a power envelope of only 77W. We still think the Core i5-3570K offers better performance per dollar, simply because it’s cheaper and not that much slower. If you want the best this platform has to offer, though, the Core i7-3770K is the way to go.

Storage

If you want to speed up that WD Red 2TB hard drive, there’s hardly anything better than an SSD cache. Intel’s 330 Series 60GB should fulfill that role admirably. Using Intel’s Smart Response Technology, the 330 Series and the Red can be fused into a single volume, allowing you to enjoy both sizable mass storage and rapid access times.

Case

While we prefer the Obsidian Series 650D, Corsair’s Graphite Series 600T is certainly worth considering as an alternative. It’s cheaper, has a TR Editor’s Choice award, and offers finer-grained fan speed controls than the 650D. The 600T also has a more rounded, pudgy-looking external design. Internally, though, the two cases are almost identical. The only other major functional difference is that the 600T doesn’t have a drive dock at the top like the 650D.

Oh, and there’s a white version available.

The Double-Stuff Workstation
Because more is very often better

Editor’s Choice not fast enough for you? Then you may like our Double-Stuff workstation, which is jam-packed with some of the fastest hardware on the market today. We’ve attempted to balance performance and cost to some degree, in order to avoid wasting cash on pointless bells and whistles.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-3930K $569.99
Motherboard Asus P9X79 Pro $319.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $99.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 680 $469.99
Storage Samsung 840 Pro $519.99
Western Digital Red 2TB $109.99
Western Digital Red 2TB $109.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $69.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $80.99
Power supply Corsair AX850W $169.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 650D $179.99
CPU cooler
Corsair H80i $94.99
Total   $2,700.89

Processor

Sandy Bridge-E systems still deliver unquestionably higher performance than their newer Ivy Bridge cousins. They’re more expensive, but the extra performance can be worth it. And LGA2011 doesn’t just get you more cores; you also get more memory channels and PCI Express lanes.

Intel’s fastest processor right now is the thousand-dollar Core i7-3970X. For half a grand less, the Core i7-3930K packs only slightly less of a punch and still opens the door to this platform’s benefits. The Core i7-3930K has six Hyper-Threaded cores (for a total of 12 threads) clocked at 3.2GHz with a peak Turbo speed of 3.8GHz. Intel feeds those cores with a whopping 12MB of L3 cache, and there’s even an unlocked upper multiplier.

The only real downside of the Core i7-3930K is its 130W thermal envelope—but with six cores and four memory channels, that’s actually pretty darned reasonable.

Motherboard

The LGA1155 motherboards from our previous builds won’t accommodate the Core i7-3930K. We need something with an LGA2011 socket. We’ve reviewed a number of LGA2011 boards in the past, and based on our experiences, we’ve given the nod to Asus’ P9X79 Pro. This is a very well-rounded and relatively affordable solution, and it features the Asus UEFI interface and fan controls we like so much. We’re not so thrilled with the way the UEFI silently raises Turbo multipliers when you set the memory clock manually, but that’s easy enough to disable, provided you’re aware of it.

Despite cramming the board with other functionality, Asus has neglected to include a FireWire port. We doubt that’s going to bother most folks, but if you need FireWire, check our alternatives section on the next page.

Memory

That Corsair Vengeance kit from the Editor’s Choice would fit in perfectly here—except we need at least four identical modules to feed the Core i7-3930K’s quad memory channels. Good thing Corsair makes a similar kit with four matched 4GB modules. 16GB of RAM might seem like overkill, but we’re talking about a workstation-class system here, and memory is dirt-cheap these days.

Graphics

We’ve got more scratch to spend on a higher-end GPU, so we’ve selected a GeForce GTX 680. The GTX 680 isn’t exactly necessary for gaming at 2560×1440, but it will offer smoother gameplay at that resolution with all the options maxed out. Also, the card is quick enough to drive games across multiple displays, which you might want to do with a system like this.

Gigabyte’s “OC” version of this card is priced quite reasonably. It’s clocked a fair bit higher than normal—1071MHz with a 1137MHz Boost speed, up from the reference 1006/1050MHz—and it’s got a big, triple-fan cooler. Our experience with similar Gigabyte coolers suggests this one should be pretty quiet. Just like the GTX 660 Ti, this card also comes with $150 of free-to-play credit for Hawken, PlanetSide 2, and World of Tanks. The credit lets you buy items inside each game… and if you couldn’t care less, we totally don’t blame you.

By the way, we’re still recommending a single card, not an SLI setup.

Double-Stuff Workstations of old had multi-GPU graphics, but the findings from our original “inside the second” article showed that, due to synchronization issues, combining multiple GPUs doesn’t always offer the performance benefits one might think. Multi-GPU schemes can nearly double FPS averages in benchmarks without reducing overall frame latencies by nearly as much. Bottom line: your gameplay may not be much smoother, even though you paid double. Multi-GPU configs have another obvious disadvantage: when new games come out in rapid succession, it sometimes takes GPU vendors a while to catch up and deliver the right application profiles. With a single card, you can usually expect to load up a new release and enjoy it as the developers intended right away.

Storage

What’s better than a 240GB solid-state drive? Why, a 512GB solid-state drive, of course. We’ve picked Samsung’s 840 Pro here. Intel doesn’t offer 335 Series drives above 240GB, and the Samsung drive doesn’t cost much more per gigabyte than 480GB SandForce offerings. Based on how the 256GB 840 Pro handled itself in our benchmarks, we expect the 512GB version to be equally speedy.

For our mechanical sidekicks, we’ve chosen a pair of Western Digital’s 2TB Reds. These drives have a Time-Limited Error Recovery function that makes them ideally suited for RAID arrays. (Regular mechanical drives, by contrast, might spend too long recovering errors on their own and end up dropping out of the array as a result.) We recommend arranging the 2TB Reds in a RAID 1 array for extra redundancy, but you can do whatever you please with them.

On the optical front, the LG Blu-ray burner from our Editor’s Choice config is perfectly fine. We could spring for a fancier drive, but we see no reason to do so. It’s not like they make Blu-ray burners that cook dinner and remember your significant other’s birthday, anyhow.

Audio

Asus’ Xonar DX would have been too indulgent for the Editor’s Choice, but it’s right at home here in the Double-Stuff. Paying a little extra for Dolby Headphone virtualization isn’t such a crime when your total system costs more than $2,500.

Enclosure

We did say the Corsair Obsidian Series 650D is probably our favorite case, didn’t we?

There was a time when the Double-Stuff warranted a jumbo enclosure with room for a dual-socket motherboard and a plethora of hard drives. That time is long past, though. The Double-Stuff packs workstation-class performance into a desktop-sized package, and the way we see it, the Obsidian Series 650D is about as nice as it gets for regular-sized desktop enclosures.

If you disagree, well, we’ve singled out a larger, roomier alternative on the next page.

Power supply

The Double-Stuff ought to suck up a decent amount of power, so we want a PSU with plenty of headroom. Corsair’s AX850W looks like an excellent match. It’s got 80 Plus Gold certification, which implies efficiency up to 90%, and it has a whopping seven-year warranty. Its cabling is modular, too. We’ve been using some of these AX units to power our own test rigs, and we’re happy with them.

CPU cooler

Unlike the other processors we’ve recommended throughout the guide, the Core i7-3930K doesn’t ship with a stock cooler in the box. That means we’ve got to pick out an aftermarket solution to make the Double-Stuff Workstation whole.

Cheap heatsinks and fans are a dime a dozen, but given this machine’s high-end pedigree and the tight space around the CPU socket on X79 boards, we’ve decided to opt for the Corsair H80i. This is a closed-loop liquid cooler with a large radiator that’s designed to sit between a pair of 120-mm fans. Given the Core i7-3930K’s 130W TDP, we think a solution like this makes sense—even if it costs a little more than a regular heatsink and fan. The H80i has better fans than the H80 we recommended last time, and it also supports Corsair’s Link mojo, which lets you keep an eye on coolant temperatures and control fan speeds from Windows.

Double-Stuff alternatives

Just as with our other builds, there are other ways you can configure the Double-Stuff.

Component Item Price
Graphics XFX Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Double D $469.99
EVGA GeForce GTX 690 $999.99
FireWire card Rosewill RC-506E $29.99
Enclosures Cooler Master Cosmos II $349.99

Graphics

Were it not for those frame latency issues we talked about, AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition would be the fastest single-GPU graphics card on the market right now. It still has the best game bundle—download codes for BioShock Infinite and Crysis 3 are included in the box. Those advantages might tip the odds in the Radeon’s favor for some folks, in-game fluidity problems notwithstanding.

What about multi-GPU configs? We explained our reservations about those on the previous page. However, we realize some users might want more than one graphics processor anyway, especially if they need extra horsepower to drive multiple monitor and/or stereoscopic 3D setups. To those folks, we recommend the GeForce GTX 690. This offering sticks two Kepler GPUs on a single circuit board, and it performs about on par with a pair of GeForce GTX 680 cards. However, it draws about 50W less and manages to cool both chips (and their memory) quietly using a single, dual-slot heatsink and fan. That way, you get all of the benefits of a dual-GPU setup with as few of the downsides as possible. The GTX 690 does cost a little more than dual GTX 680s, but we think the premium is worth it.

FireWire card

Our chosen LGA2011 motherboard lacks FireWire connectivity. If you must have FireWire, then we recommend slipping Rosewill’s RC-506E into one of your free PCI Express slots. This card is inexpensive, compact enough not to obstruct airflow, and compatible with both A and B FireWire ports.

Enclosure

For those who want a humongous case to show off—or to fill with expansion cards and hard drives—then it doesn’t get much better than Cooler Master’s Cosmos II.

Yes, this enclosure is huge, and yes, it costs twice as much as the Obsidian Series 650D. However, it’s unarguably impressive, with much roomier innards, gull-wing doors, and sliding metal covers. We gave it our Editor’s Choice award.

The Mighty Mite
Because bigger isn’t always better

Everything is shrinking these days—laptops, tablets, and even Apple’s share price. Why not gaming PCs, too? With the Mini-ITX Gaming Hot Rod, we’ve attempted to condense a full-featured gaming PC without sacrificing the essentials. This bad boy is compact and easy to carry, but it still gets you a full-sized PSU with modular cables, a full-length graphics card, plenty of room for extra hard drives, and sufficient space to work in.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i3-3220 3.3GHz $129.99
Motherboard ASRock Z77E-ITX $149.99
Memory Corsair 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $47.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 660 $229.99
Storage Intel 335 Series 240GB $194.99
Western Digital Red 2TB $109.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure BitFenix Prodigy $79.99
Power supply Corsair CX430M $49.99
Total   $992.92

Processor

This is chiefly a gaming system, and gaming systems don’t need that much CPU horsepower. In fact, our gaming scatter plots show the Core i3-3225 (which runs at the same speed as our chosen Core i3-3220) isn’t much slower in games than quad-core Sandy and Ivy Bridge offerings. Going with the i3-3220 instead of a quad-core offering saves us a few bucks, and it has the benefit of cutting power consumption and heat dissipation. Remember, this puppy only has a 55W thermal envelope.

Motherboard

We need a Mini-ITX motherboard for this build. We’ve reviewed a handful of those recently, and the most affordable and value-packed one is ASRock’s Z77E-ITX. So, that’s what we went with.

This little mobo does just about everything. It’s got the requisite PCI Express x16 slot for our graphics card, of course, as well as 6Gbps Serial ATA and USB 3.0 connectivity. ASRock also supplies integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi, Virtu MVP graphics virtualization technology, solid UEFI firmware, and a Windows utility with handy fan speed and overclocking controls. Our Core i3-3220 doesn’t have a fully unlocked upper multiplier, but it should still let you go up four “bins”—around 533MHz—above the base speed. That’s plenty for our purposes.

Memory

8GB of memory? Don’t mind if we do. The DDR3-1600 Corsair kit from our Econobox and Sweet Spot builds is right at home here.

Graphics

We’re not going totally overboard with our graphics selection, but we don’t really need to. The GeForce GTX 660 is quick enough to handle many games at 2560×1440 (27″ Korean monitor resolution, in other words), and that’s plenty for a thousand-dollar system. On top of that, this MSI card has a nice dual-fan cooler that should be reasonably quiet. Nvidia’s mildly exciting $150 free-to-play credit bundle is in the mix, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Storage

The way we see it, you’re going to want a roomy solid-state drive and an equally roomy mechanical hard drive to store your game backups and other, uh, downloads. The 240GB Intel 335 Series and 2TB WD Red tag-team strikes us as a perfect match for this build. If you want to keep lots of games installed, you even have the option of using Intel’s Smart Response tech to set aside 64GB of the SSD’s capacity as a cache for the WD Red. Our testing shows Smart Response does speed up game level load times nicely.

We’re going to skip the optical drive, though. Let’s face it—buying PC games on optical storage is old hat. All the cool kids now grab their games online from digital distribution services like Steam.

Enclosure
BitFenix’s Prodigy is a strange animal. While it’s designed solely to accommodate Mini-ITX motherboards, it doesn’t have cramped, poorly ventilated internals. In fact, viewed from the inside, it looks an awful lot like today’s finest enthusiast cases. The motherboard sits in its own compartment, perpendicular to the side panel, and below it lies an emplacement for a regular ATX power supply. The front of the chassis is occupied entirely by removable storage trays, and you can take out the top drive cage entirely to make way for a full-length graphics card.

What about cooling? Well, there’s a 120-mm exhaust fan, which you can swap for a bigger offering (up to 230 mm). The Prodigy also comes with a 120-mm exhaust fan (swappable for a 140-mm model), and it has space for an additional two 120-mm exhausts at the top. The stock cooling config should be plenty for our gear, but there’s definitely room for more.

Last, but not least, the Prodigy looks pretty slick from the outside. It’s even got carrying handles!

Source: BItFenix.

Power supply

The Prodigy has room for ATX power supplies up to 6.3″ deep. We don’t need a ton of power here, but we would still like a decent amount of headroom, good efficiency, and modular cabling. The Corsair CX430M unit from our Econbox fits the bill.

The mobile sidekicks

These days, a good desktop PC usually isn’t enough. Tablets and laptops are everywhere, tempting us with their slim, slick enclosures and glossy displays. But which ones should you buy? We’ve put together a short list of some of our favorites, which may help you decide.

Let’s start with tablets and the big daddy in that world: Apple’s iPad. We’re up to the fourth generation, which offers essentially the same features at the same $499 starting price as the third-gen model—just with higher-performance internals and one of those newfangled Lightning connectors.

We’ve made extensive use of the second- and third-generation iPads here at TR, and we like them quite a lot. The 2048×1536 Retina display on the latest models looks gorgeous, and both default iOS apps and third-party software usually feel fast, smooth, and responsive. Those foldable Smart Covers are pretty nifty, too.

This is Google’s Nexus 7, which you may have heard of before. The tablet will set you back only $199, yet it’s surprisingly well outfitted, with a Tegra 3 processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of solid-state storage on the base model, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the pièce de résistance, a seven-inch IPS panel with a 1280×800 resolution. We really dug the Nexus 7 when we reviewed it this summer—so much so that it earned a TR Editor’s Choice award.

You can also get Android in a larger package. Asus’ Transformer Pad Infinity boasts a 1920×1200 resolution that’s nearly as dense as the iPad’s, and the base model will only set you back $438 with 32GB of solid-state storage. We’ve reviewed the Transformer Pad Infinity, and while we think the iPad has a more fluid interface overall, we’re quite fond of the Transformer. Asus sweetens the pot with a neat, laptop-style keyboard dock (asking price: $145) that boosts battery life to a whopping 16.6 hours in our web browsing and video playback tests.

Now, what about those new Windows 8 slates?

At $499, Microsoft’s Surface for Windows RT is priced right up against the new, fourth-generation iPad. That’s a little bold on Microsoft’s part, since the Surface has a lower-density screen (only 1366×768 across 10.6″, instead of 2048×1536 across 9.7″) and weighs a little more (1.5 lbs vs. 1.44 lbs). The Surface’s Tegra 3 processor is a fair bit slower than the iPad’s A6X chip, as well.

Still, the Surface has some features the iPad lacks, like a full-sized USB port. Microsoft has also built the Surface with an integrated kickstand, so you can easily prop it up on a table in widescreen mode without a fold-up cover. Speaking of covers, Microsoft offers two of those. There’s the $99 Touch Cover, which has a touchpad and a pressure-sensitive keyboard with no moving parts. (Simple pressure from your fingers triggers key presses.) Then there’s the Type Cover, which has a more conventional keyboard built in.

These covers snap into place via a magnet, much like Apple’s Smart Cover does on the iPad. That means they double as a screen protector when the device isn’t in use. Since there’s no hinge, however, using the Surface with those things on your lap may be a little awkward.

Asus’ $549 VivoTab RT avoids such awkwardness by adopting the familiar convertible design of Asus’ Transformer tablets. When docked, the Vivo Tab RT essentially looks and behaves like a 10.1″ netbook. There’s a hinge, and the keyboard dock includes both extra connectivity and an additional battery, which increases the rated run time from nine to 16 hours. When undocked, the VivoTab RT looks like any other standalone tablet. It’s certainly very thin and light, at 0.33″ and 1.15 lbs. The hardware is pretty similar to what Microsoft puts in the Surface, too: a Tegra 3 system-on-a-chip, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage capacity on the base model. The VivoTab RT’s screen is slightly smaller, measuring 10.1″ instead of 10.6″. You can read our review of the VivoTab RT right here.

Now, there is one big caveat with Windows RT devices like the Surface and VivoTab RT: they don’t run x86 or x64 software (i.e. basically every Windows application out there that wasn’t designed for Windows 8’s Modern UI interface). To get Windows 8 in a convertible tablet format without losing x86 compatibility, you want devices running Intel’s Clover Trail or Ivy Bridge processors.

Clover Trail-based systems cost a little more than their ARM counterparts. Samsung’s Ativ SmartPC XE500, for example, is listed for $649.99 at Newegg. HP’s Envy x2, a similar Clover Trail-powered convertible tablet, will set you back $849.99. Both of these convertible tablets have 11.6″ screens, so they’re a little bigger than the Windows RT offerings. (They still have 1366×768 display resolutions, though.) The rated battery run times seem decent, but some folks have questioned whether these systems are really speedy enough to handle Windows 8.

If you want the best performance, then you’ll have to pony up for something with an Ivy Bridge CPU. Options there include Samsung’s Ativ SmartPC Pro 700T, which is pretty much an ultrabook turned into a convertible, touch-enabled tablet. It costs just under $1,200 at Newegg and features an 11.6″ 1080p display, a Core i3-3317U processor, and 128GB of solid-state storage. Battery life is rated at up to eight hours, and the whole thing weighs in at 3.53 lbs with the dock. We’ll have a review of this puppy ready for your perusal soon, so stay tuned.

Windows 8 has also given rise to some… unusual systems, like the $1,049 Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13. This machine’s hinge allows its 13″ screen to fold back over the bottom of the laptop. That lets you use the system like a jumbo-sized tablet, provided you don’t mind having the keyboard and touchpad exposed on the other side.

This is a proper notebook, in any case. It has a Core i7 processor, up to 8GB of RAM, 128GB of solid-state storage, USB 3.0, and all that good stuff. The screen even uses an IPS panel with a decent 1600×900 display resolution. Lenovo quotes a thickness of 0.67″ and a weight of 3.4 lbs, which is pretty standard for ultrabooks these days.

Of course, there are also more conventional laptops out there running Windows 8. One of those is the non-touch version of Asus’ Zenbook UX31A ultrabook. As far as we can tell, it’s physically identical to the model we reviewed in September, save for the bundled operating system. For $1,100, that’s not a bad deal at all. Asus’ website also lists a touch-enabled version, but we’re not seeing it listed at Newegg or Amazon.

Folks seeking a touch screen and a lower price tag may like Asus’ VivoBook X202E, which sells for only $499.99 at Newegg right now and features an 11.6″, 1366×768 capacitive touch screen. With a 17W Ivy Bridge processor, 2.9-pound weight, and 0.8-0.9″ thickness, it doesn’t stray far from the ultrabook formula. We weren’t very impressed with the system’s performance, battery life, or display quality, but hey—you get what you pay for.

Further still down the price ladder, HP offers a Windows 8 version of its Pavilion dm1z ultraportable for $399.99. This little 11.6″ machine features AMD’s Brazos 2.0 platform (with an E1-1200 APU and Radeon HD 7300 integrated graphics) and has pretty decent specs for the price. An earlier version of the dm1z earned our coveted TR Editor’s Choice award. We lauded the system for not only looking great on paper, but also being exceptionally well-built for a cheap ultraportable.

The operating system
Three shades of eight

By now, chances are you’ve caught a glimpse of Windows 8—especially if you read the previous page. Several of the systems pictured there are flaunting the newfangled Start screen.

Windows 8 is the next version of Windows. It offers all of the same functionality as Windows 7, but it also attempts to bridge the gap between conventional PCs and tablets. In Windows 8, the regular desktop interface coexists with another interface dubbed “Modern UI Style,” which features big, colorful rectangular tiles and a strong emphasis on touch input. Upon starting up a Windows 8 PC, your first brush with Modern UI is going to be the new Start screen:

The Start screen is your gateway to Modern UI apps, which all run in full-screen mode and all have the same chunky, colorful look. Interestingly, Microsoft presents the regular desktop—i.e. the classic Windows interface—as just another tile on this screen. The same goes for regular desktop applications. They’re all tiles. Once you click through to the desktop, though, everything looks the way it used to in Windows 7—or close enough, anyhow.

This arrangement has some interesting side effects. If you’re inside the desktop environment, for instance, launching software will often involve a trip through the Start screen, which will then snap you back to the desktop once you’ve found the right application. (Mercifully, that behavior doesn’t apply if you’re launching apps pinned to the taskbar.) Modern UI rears its head in other ways, as well. For example, you’ll have to use the new Charms bar, activated by pointing your cursor to the top right or bottom right corner of the screen, to access the traditional desktop Control Panel. Some settings have migrated from there to the Modern UI PC Settings screen, which is accessible by performing the same maneuver from the Modern UI Start screen.

Getting used to these changes doesn’t take long, but is it worthwhile? Modern UI apps don’t seem to have much appeal for a desktop user, after all. They only run in full-screen mode, and they tend to be simplified versions of their desktop counterparts with larger fonts, bigger widgets, and fewer features. That might be great on a tablet, but it doesn’t make much sense when you have the power of a mouse, keyboard, and large display.

Well, it so happens Windows 8 also includes a number of improvements to the desktop. Among those are a better, more powerful version of Windows Explorer, which is now dubbed File Explorer and features a ribbon toolbar and fancy real-time activity graphs for file operations. The Task Manager has also gotten a makeover and a whole boatload of functionality. Microsoft has even enhanced multi-monitor support. The taskbar now shows up on multiple screens, and it can be configured to show only icons for apps running on a given display. Then there’s the fact that Windows 8 boots noticeably quicker than Windows 7, and it seems to feel generally snappier, as well.

All things considered, we recommend that you take the plunge and grab Microsoft’s latest OS. If you spend most of your time in the desktop environment, the Modern UI tomfoolery doesn’t really matter much. Heck, you might go a whole day without seeing the Modern UI Start screen more than once. However, the desktop improvements will be front and center, and we rather like those.

Now, which Windows 8 edition should you get? There are three of them: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT. Here’s how they stack up, based on what we’ve been able to glean from the official Windows 8 blog and website:

  Windows 8 Windows 8 Pro Windows RT
Support for x86 and x64 software X X  
Storage Spaces X X  
Windows Media Player X X  
HomeGroup creation X X  
BitLocker and BitLocker To Go   X  
Boot from VHD   X  
Client Hyper-V   X  
Domain Join   X  
Encrypting File System   X  
Group Policy   X  
Remote Desktop host   X  
Microsoft Office Home & Student RT built in     X
Device encryption     X
Price – upgrade from Win7, Vista, or XP $199.99
Price – upgrade from Windows 8 (non-Pro) $99.99
Price – OEM (64-bit) license $99.99 $139.99
Price – OEM (32-bit) license $99.99 $139.99

Right away, we can rule out Windows RT. This version of the new OS is designed for ARM-powered tablets, and it’s not available as a standalone product. Even if it were and we had specced out an ARM-powered DIY build, the lack of support for x86 and x64 software is pretty much a deal-breaker. Who wants to run Windows without all the software?

That leaves Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. The features in the Pro version mostly cater to professional users, so you might not need them. However, things like the ability to host Remote Desktop sessions may be helpful.

Otherwise, you’ll want to buy a stand-alone, OEM copy of either Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. (As far as we can see, Microsoft doesn’t offer retail-packaged, non-upgrade editions of either one.) The good news here is that OEM copies of Windows 8 are covered under a new Personal Use License, which means you have Microsoft’s blessing to install them on a home-built PC for personal use—and to transfer them to a new PC the next time you upgrade. Using OEM copies of Win8 in a virtual machine is okay, too, if you’re into that. The only caveat is that Microsoft won’t provide customer support, so if anything goes awry, you’ll have to rely on either your wits or help from Internet forums. Good thing we have some forums of our own right here.

You’re also going to have to choose whether to install a 32-bit or 64-bit version of the operating system. There, the choice is pretty straightforward. A 64-bit version of Windows is required to utilize 4GB (or more) of system memory fully, and all of our builds have at least 8GB of RAM. The only downsides with 64-bit Windows are spotty driver availability for really old hardware and a lack of 16-bit application support. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a modern consumer device without solid 64-bit drivers nowadays. And 16-bit apps shouldn’t matter unless you need to travel back in time to 1985.

A final addendum before we move on: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT all ship without Windows Media Center. However, Microsoft offers Media Center as a free add-on to Windows 8 Pro here. Just enter your e-mail address in the box, and you’ll get an upgrade key you can enter in the “Add features to Windows 8” control panel.

Peripherals, accessories, and extras
Matters of religion and taste

There’s no way we can walk you through every monitor, keyboard, mouse, and PC speaker system out there. We probably could if we worked on it for a month, but the resulting article would be extremely long and, in all likelihood, very boring to read.

What we can do is present you with a list of our favorites—and perhaps some other, notable options—in each category. Most of our waking hours are spent basking in the glow of big IPS displays and rattling away on expensive keyboards, so we have a good grasp of the subject. You might disagree with our preferences, of course, but we think our experience can help users who haven’t already decided what they want.

Displays

Folks shopping for a monitor these days pretty much have two choices.

If they don’t mind poor viewing angles and sub-par color reproduction, they can grab themselves a cheap and cheerful display with a TN panel—maybe something like Acer’s G215HVBbd, which costs $110 and crams a 1920×1080 resolution into a 21.5″ screen. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that approach, and you might wind up being completely satisfied. Users who spend most of their time gaming and browsing the web will probably be happy enough with a TN monitor.

The alternative is to set aside a little extra dough and spring for an IPS display. IPS panels usually display a full eight bits of color per pixel, and they always have excellent viewing angles, which means looking at them off-center doesn’t result in awful contrast and color shifting. We’re discerning types here at TR, so unsurprisingly, we all favor IPS screens.

Easily the best bargains among IPS displays right now are those Korean monitors we wrote about last summer They sometimes lack features like OSD interfaces and HDCP support, but the important part, the panel, is usually the same kind one might find on pricier offerings from big vendors. Korean monitors aren’t pricey, though. 27″ models with 2560×1440 resolutions can be found for only $370 on eBay.

If ordering straight from Korea makes you nervous, similar offerings are available in the U.S. from retailers like Micro Center. For instance, this 27″ Auria can be nabbed for $399.99. By contrast, a similar offering from, say, Dell will set you back $700 at Newegg right now. The Dell will probably have a better warranty and more bells and whistles, but it’s easy to see the appeal of the cheaper solutions.

There are also plenty of excellent 24″ IPS displays from big manufacturers. Our own Geoff Gasior uses a trio of Asus’ PA246Q screens, which are a little pricey at $450 each but have excellent image quality. Similarly, we’ve had good luck with HP’s 24-inch IPS offerings. The most recent one, the ZR2440w, looks like a pretty solid buy—and it costs less than the Asus.

Or, you know, you could go all out and fork over $1,100 for one of Dell’s 30-inch behemoths. TR Editor in Chief Scott Wasson has a couple of those, and he loves ’em. Just make sure you have enough room on your desk.

We’re not throwing in any recommendations for touch-screen monitors. Touch input works great on phones and tablets, and it might be nice on the right laptop, but we’re not eager to use our desktop PCs at arm’s reach. Not when we have a perfectly good keyboard and mouse at our disposal. Speaking of which…

Keyboards and mice

We won’t lie; we like our keyboards here at TR. We routinely type thousands of words a day, so we need the finest keyboards we can get our mildly RSI-addled mitts on.

These days, keyboards with mechanical key switches—that is, keyboard whose switches have actual springs inside them instead of collapsible rubber domes—are all the rage among enthusiasts. The most popular offerings are based on Cherry’s MX key switches, which are available in a several different variants.

Rosewill offers RK-9000-series keyboards with each major Cherry MX key switch type, and we reviewed all of of ’em earlier this year. Our verdict? The kind with Cherry MX brown switches offers the nicest mix of typing comfort and gaming responsiveness. (The brown switches have a tactile “bump” in their response curve, but they don’t produce an audible click upon actuation.) We’re not seeing the exact model we reviewed in Newegg’s listings right now, but the white and backlit versions of it are available for around $70 and $130, respectively.

Metadot’s Das Keyboard Professional is also a good choice—albeit a higher-priced one. It’s built better than the Rosewill keyboards, its F keys double as media keys, and it’s available with the same great Cherry MX brown switches, which Metadot calls “soft pressure point.” Too bad about the glossy finish, though.

Users who game more than they type may prefer Cherry’s MX red switches, which have a linear response curve with no bump or click. One of Rosewill’s keyboards has the red switches, but we’re a little more partial to Corsair’s Vengeance K60 and Vengeance K90, which pair the MX red switches with sexy-looking aluminum frames and shockingly reasonable price tags. We reviewed those, too, and ended up giving the K60 our TR Recommended award. Our only gripe is that not all of its keys are mechanical. The F-keys and paging block have gummy rubber-dome switches, and jumping between them and the mechanical switches as you type (or game) can be unsettling.

Those seeking a gamer-friendly design with macro keys and all-mechanical switches may take a liking to Razer’s BlackWidow Ultimate. See our review for more details.

Otherwise, certain users argue that the nirvana of clicky keyboards was reached long ago by IBM’s famous Model M. That keyboard’s trademark buckling spring switches feel different from the Cherry MX designs, and some like the tactile feedback better. You can find original, vintage-dated Model M keyboards here. Unicomp also offers more recent keyboards based on the same buckling spring design. Neither the Model M nor the Unicomp offerings look as sexy as the Corsair or Razer keyboards, though.

Our Editor in Chief also has a couple of recommendations to throw in. If mechanical keyboards aren’t your thing, then Enermax’s Briskie combo offers a very affordable laptop-style keyboard with surprisingly snappy key feel and a nicely shaped optical mouse. (Don’t let the silly name fool you.) Also, if you plan to stick your PC in the living room and use it from the couch, the Rii N7 is worth considering. This is a tiny, remote-sized wireless keyboard with a built-in touchpad, and it’s perfect for small amounts of couch-typing—like if you need to search Netflix or Google something quickly.

On the mousing front, we’re quite keen on Corsair’s Vengeance M60. It’s a $50 wired mouse with a high-precision sensor and a very pleasing shape. For double that price, Cyborg’s Rat 7 is a fully adjustable rodent with removable panels and a sci-fi-esque design that favors function over form. There’s a similar wireless model, the Rat 9, but that one costs an eye-popping $130.
Luckily, there are much more affordable wireless mice on the market. Logitech’s G700 is one of those; it’s a gaming mouse with a high-DPI sensor, on-the-fly DPI adjustments, and almost too many buttons. At $70, it doesn’t break the bank. Logitech’s M510 costs about half that and offers an ambidextrous shape that will be comfortable for both right- and left-handed users, or even ambitdextrous types. The M505 is a smaller mouse meant for mobile use, but its excellent shape makes it a good candidate for all-day use with a desktop, especially for those with smaller hands.

Cooling

Except for the Core i7-3930K, all of the processors we recommend come with stock coolers in the box. Those coolers offer passable performance and may not be overly loud. That said, there’s no beating some of the aftermarket solutions out there. Those coolers couple much larger heatsinks with bigger fans that move more air and produce less noise.

For 30 bucks, Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 Plus is a nice entry into the world of big, tower-style coolers. It has four copper heat pipes and a 120-mm PWM fan that’s reasonably quiet.

Thermaltake’s Frio is also a popular choice. It ships with two 120-mm fans (which can be mounted on either side of the fin array) and has a total of five nickel-plated heat pipes. The Frio should provide better cooling performance and lower noise levels than the Hyper 212 Plus.

Noctua’s even pricier NH-U12P SE2 has fewer heat pipes than the Frio, but it deserves a mention here for its excellent performance and delightfully low noise levels. It even bested liquid-cooling solutions in our air vs. water cooler showdown a while back.

However, anyone ready to spend over $60 on CPU cooling ought at least to consider some of those closed-loop liquid coolers that strap to the inside of the case. They tend to deliver superior performance and lower noise levels than simple air coolers, and they’ve become very affordable. The new version of Corsair’s H60 will set you back just $75 right now. Corsair also offers the H80i and H100i, both of which have Corsair’s Link functionality. That feature lets you monitor temperatures and control fan speeds via a USB cable and associated software. The H80i takes up a single fan emplacement with 120-mm fans on either side, while the H100i has a double-length radiator that requires a corresponding dual-fan emplacement at the top of the enclosure. Corsair’s 200R, 650D, and 600T cases should all be compatible with the H100i, as should the Cosmos II.

Speakers and headphones

It’s been a while since we reviewed our last set of speakers. The truth is, we’re more partial to the privacy and comfort of a good pair of headphones. Sennheiser’s HD 555 cans used to be a TR favorite, but they’re now discontinued. Their apparent replacement, the Sennheiser HD 558s, have similar specs and look like worthy successors. The glowing Newegg reviews certainly suggest so.

Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with a cheap pair of speakers, for those times when you need to show someone a funny YouTube clip or infuriate them by playing Gangnam Style at full blast. In that department, our Editor in Chief recommends both the Creative Inspire T12 and the slightly cheaper Cyber Acoustics CA-3602. Both have decent bass reproduction for the price, and the Creative also has very nice highs. The Cyber Acousitics’ mids aren’t anything to write home about, though.

Backups

Windows 8 has two different backup systems: Windows 7 File Recovery and Data History. The former allows you to schedule full backups of your system drive and user data, while the latter keeps backups of old revisions of files as you update them. We like option A, since it creates full system images that can be recovered in a pinch.

Now, you could run backups directly on your main PC, but that arrangement doesn’t offer good protection if anything happens to the machine (like, say, a power surge frying all of your internal drives). It’s usually better to keep backups on external storage, which you can always hide in a safe or a filing cabinet when you’re not using it.

Thermaltake’s USB 3.0 BlacX drive dock should help with the easy insertion and removal of backup drives—and, really, any other hard drive you care to stick in there. We quite like it ourselves. Otherwise, three of the enclosures we recommend (the Corsair Obsidian Series 650D, NZXT H2, and Cooler Master Cosmos II) have integrated drive docks. Those should hook straight up to the motherboard’s Serial ATA ports.

Another backup solution worth considering is CrashPlan. For $3 a month, this service lets you back up unlimited amounts of data to the cloud. Backups are encrypted, naturally, and you have the option of setting a private password that can’t be recovered if forgotten. At least two TR staffers, including our in-house developer Bruno Ferreira, use CrashPlan, and they have no complaints.

Other odds and ends

Hmm. What else?

We should probably toss in a recommendation for the Windows version of the Xbox 360 controller. In theory, PC games are all playable with a keyboard and mouse. In practice, however, quite a few cross-platform titles are simply easier to play with a controller.

None of our configs have built-in card readers. If you’d like one of those, Rosewill offers one with an integrated USB 2.0 and 3.0 hub (not to mention external Serial ATA) that costs only $30 and slides into any 5.25″ drive bay. Every case we recommend already has front-panel USB ports, but more of those can’t hurt, and being able to insert an SD card straight from your camera is always handy.

Finally, some might like Wi-Fi connectivity in their desktops. There are plenty of PCI Express Wi-Fi adapters out there, but you can now get bite-sized USB dongle adapters, like this Edimax model, for only $10 a pop. Based on the small dimensions and the lack of a big, external antenna, one might expect poor performance. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case—58% of the nearly 600 Newegg reviews award it five stars. Either way, for $10, it’s not much of a gamble.

Conclusions

That’s all, folks!

Well, maybe not quite. We’ve made a habit of wrapping up system guides by addressing the murky subject of upcoming releases, and we feel obligated to uphold that tradition. Besides, there are a few notable products on the way.

For starters, AMD’s Richland and Kabini APUs are due out by the middle of the year. Richland will succeed existing “Trinity” A-series APUs, and it should be out first. Kabini, meanwhile, may not be of much interest to folks building full-sized ATX rigs—it’s designed to fit into tighter power envelopes, like those currently occupied by AMD’s E-series chips. We also expect Intel’s next-generation Haswell processors to show up some time around the mid-year time frame, arriving on desktops first.

Things are a little less clear on the graphics front, but the pace of change may be a little slower there. The latest evidence suggests AMD’s next-gen Radeons won’t be out until the fourth quarter of this year, and perhaps even later. We’re still awaiting clarification from AMD on that front. Nvidia hasn’t publicly disclosed its schedule for future GeForces, but there’s also talk of a delay until Q4 2013.

In short, upgrading now is probably a safe bet. Interesting next-gen processors are still several months away, and successors to today’s high-end GPUs may not show up until the holidays. That ought to leave you plenty of time to enjoy anything you build based on this edition of the TR System Guide.

Comments closed
    • kellybboxo32
    • 7 years ago
    • Jambe
    • 7 years ago

    I think ya’ll should stop recommending ATX motherboards and cases for all but the workstation builds (and they’re not always necessary even in that situation).

    The Econobox case is 45 liters, the Sweet Spot 52 and 53 liters, and the Editor’s Choice a whopping 65, and they cost $70, $100, $100 and $180 respectively. Contrast that with these:

    [url=http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=352<]Silverstone PS08[/url<] - 24 liters, $40, 1x120mm fan, 4x3.5 & 1x2.5 mounts, 14" GPU [url=http://www.rosewill.com/products/2383/ProductDetail_Overview.htm<]Rosewill Line-M[/url<] 27 liters, $55, 2x120mm fans, 2x3.5 & 1x2.5/3.5 mount, 12" GPU [url=http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=314<]Silverstone PS07[/url<] - 31 liters, $80, 2x120mm fan, 5x3.5 & 1x2.5 mounts, 13.5" GPU [url=http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=303<]Silverstone TJ08-E[/url<] - 30 liters, $100, 1x180mm fan, 4x3.5 & 1x2.5 mounts, 13" GPU All have 2x USB 3.0 ports w/internal headers, and all but the Rosewill have removable front filters. The pricier Silverstones also have removable PSU filters. Speaking from experience, the PS08 and Line-M are a touch flimsy, but not appreciably more so than the 200R. The PS07 and TJ08-E are every every bit as nicely built as the H2 and 400R (I'd even say the TJ08-E's a bit nicer). There are many good & affordable mATX 1155 motherboards to be had (I'd rec [url=http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/H77M/<]ASRock's H77M[/url<] for $70 or [url=http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/Z77%20Pro4-M/<]their Z77 Pro4-M[/url<] for $110. I think saving 20-30 liters while retaining all the other recommended components [i<]and[/i<] keeping things relatively cool, quiet and dust-free is a win for 95% of use-cases. I'd also point out that while the BitFenix Prodigy is novel and aesthetically interesting, it's 26.3 liters and you get less expandability with it than any of my listed alternatives. mATX builds aren't much trickier to assemble even for novices (I've watched a few do so). They're the same cost or cheaper, cool as effectively, and take up less space. Unless you need loads of in-box storage, there's not much reason to go with full-sized ATX builds. /edit: let me just edit this 11.42 jillion more times, sheesh

      • Airmantharp
      • 7 years ago

      While you’re right, if you don’t need the expansion or graphics options afforded by building a custom system, you’re probably better off buying a pre-built workstation with a warranty and so on.

        • Jambe
        • 7 years ago

        Indeed. That’s probably true of all PC builds, not just workstations or HTPCs or gaming computers. It’s great fun to put together PCs, but having your computer’s warranty centered at one company is a lot more straightforward (and many OEM computers are expandable, if that’s important).

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 7 years ago

      +1.

      This thread is 3 years old now, but it provides a visual representation as well as the volume numbers:
      [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=69599&p=987477[/url<]

    • sarahsmith320o
    • 7 years ago
    • BIF
    • 7 years ago

    Always a treat reading the system guide, even when I’m not planning to build one (I just finished a build).

    Two suggestions:

    1. Add a home server build, plus alternate. I’ve never built a server so I would not know how categorize it for pricing.

    2. A word to the editor(s): the phrase “set you back” appears a lot. I noticed this, like I notice “the fact of the matter is”, “basically”, “essentially”, or the spacers “um” and “uh” in people’s speeches or presentations.

    Putting the repetitiveness aside for a short journey into literal linguistics, I say the whole phrase is a nullism. “Set you back” means that the reader has or would have lost ground, having gotten the losing end of the transaction.

    But that’s an assumption that is probably not true. People assess their transactions as good or bad by both ends; cost vs. benefit + value to the buyer. When I bought my i7 3930K, one could say that it “set my wallet back” by about $550, sure. But did it “set [i<]me[/i<] back"? Hopefully the only arbiter of that is me, and I say NO WAY, given my needs, my desires, and the value of my money [u<]to me[/u<]. It was a fair transaction and I would say that it has "set me forward". Anyway, I'm not suggesting that you don't use the phrase at all ever again; I get that it has value in common usage. I'm just saying that I noticed it a lot in this article, maybe a dozen times.

      • indeego
      • 7 years ago

      > I noticed this, like
      > one could say that
      > , sure
      > and I say
      > and I would say
      > Anyway,
      > I’m just saying that
      > maybe a dozen times.

      😛

      “basically”, “essentially” are summarizing qualifiers used with other portions of speech, and are of course valid.

        • BIF
        • 7 years ago

        [quote<]..."basically", "essentially" are summarizing qualifiers used with other portions of speech, and are of course valid. [/quote<] Yes of course. But anything can be overused, and this was the main point of my post. And now that we've had this discourse, I am confident that I've probably effectively innoculated your brain. 😀 Similar to how a bacteria causes your body to develop defenses against the immediate threat but also against future bacteria with the same protein signature. Specifically: The next time you are in conversation with somebody who says "basically.....blah blah....basically.....blah blah....essentially....blah blah....", you will remember this. And you will either curse me or you will thank me. Either way, you're welcome. My work here is done. Have a great day!

    • dragosmp
    • 7 years ago

    My 2 cents

    The mini ITX build is awesome. True the Prodigy isn’t the smallest case, but when thinking ITX and gaming the choice is obvious. I would use the Xeon E3-1230V2 though.

    On not using the 5800K due to the TDP while overlooking the 5700, it seems it is something you should address or change the justification for choosing the i3 (seems like a copy/paste from the last time tbh). For a gaming CPU the i3 still makes more sense due to the per-thread performance, but the TDP advantage is really only 10W. You’re old school enough to remember to OC thru the base clock, so you know the K isn’t necessary for AMD CPUs.

    à la prochaine

    • absurdity
    • 7 years ago

    Windows Media Center is no longer a free add-on for Windows 8 Pro – it costs $9.99 now.

    • halbhh2
    • 7 years ago

    Anyone can improve on the Econobox and Sweetspot builds by buying more RAM for very little $.

    I recommend most of us should not skimp on the amount of RAM like the builds shown. 16GB makes your machine perkier, even *much* perkier. The only exception is a person that only runs 1 or two apps/games, and reboots every day.

    I routinely am running 10,20, 30 hours between reboots, have 5,10, 15 browser windows open, iTunes, a game, and when I open a new window for something, I *don’t* have to wait for the memory shuffle.

      • jensend
      • 7 years ago

      No way! Budget users shouldn’t settle for just 16GB!

      With my 64GB setup I’m routinely running *hours*, lo, even occasionally *a single day* between reboots, have two, nay, [b<]three[/b<] games of solitaire open, and when I open a new window for something, I *don't* have to wait for the memory shuffle.

        • jensend
        • 7 years ago

        In all seriousness, with my 8GB machines I routinely go weeks without a reboot, and I often have a ton of programs open including a VM, a couple dozen PDFs and a hundred browser tabs (bad habit, I know). I rarely see my memory usage go much above 5GB and the utilization of my rather small page file is very low. Anecdotes about improved performance with 16GB for simple everyday uses are likely to be placebo effect. You need benchmarks, blind tests, etc to bear out such a claim.

          • halbhh2
          • 7 years ago

          In routine use with 8GB and a 500GB F3 drive, after my typical situation of having 20-40 windows of various kinds open, iTunes took on average around 18 seconds to load first time (average of 6 trials after 2 hours since boot); upon upgrading to 16GB, this average went to 5 seconds.

          btw, nobody will think badly of you for having 8GB. Have a nice day.

      • Deanjo
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]I routinely am running 10,20, 30 hours between reboots, have 5,10, 15 browser windows open, iTunes, a game, and when I open a new window for something, I *don't* have to wait for the memory shuffle.[/quote<] Windows leaks memory that bad? Christ uptimes on OS X / Linux systems go months without reboots running far heavier loads with less ram.

        • halbhh2
        • 7 years ago

        Yeah, it’s pretty dismal really.

      • JohnC
      • 7 years ago

      I do all that (and never reboot my PC unless updating drivers or because of Windows Update) only with 8GB of RAM… Not sure how wasting extra $$$ on extra 8GB would improve my overall experience… Of course, I am not a fan of intentionally polluting my PC with junkware running in background (the only programs that are allowed to stay in background all the time are my antivirus (not a bloated “Internet security” package, just a “plain” paid antivirus with excellent detection rates) and an e-mail program), so I guess I should try doing that first 😉

      • halbhh2
      • 7 years ago

      It’s just faster. In spite of the noise, it’s just faster. iTunes loads 12-14 seconds faster on first load, averaged over 6 trials for 16GB vs 8GB.

      Go figure.

      It just does.

      • ronch
      • 7 years ago

      Last time I heard, Windows 7 is happy with 8GB. 4GB is a bit on the scroogey side though. I’d love to have 16GB just for epeen but I’m sure it’s just gonna sit there gobbling electricity for no reason.

      • Airmantharp
      • 7 years ago

      I’ll throw my lot in with the others- I have two machines with 16GB, and one with 6GB, all running Windows 8 Pro with recent Intel quad-cores and SSDs, and I see no practical difference among them. Having the extra memory may help the OS for caching, but that’s hard to predict and usually spending another ~$50 on memory is quite silly unless you have it to spare, when that can buy you quite a bit more graphics power or more SSD space.

        • halbhh2
        • 7 years ago

        New build, use 16GB: It’s much faster for me. And I’m guessing 1/3rd to 2/3rds of people here on this forum. That leaves a good number that won’t notice any difference. Right?

        Is that clear? It may not help you at all, because you may be not using enough simultaneous stuff that it will help in a noticable way (like loading iTunes in 12 seconds less time…)

        Is that clear enough, or does it seem as if I am claiming it would make your own typical use faster?

        ?

        I think it would not, based on what you have said. Or at least not in a way that you would notice, for now.

        But….I would definitely recommend anyone doing a new build to go with 16GB, just as a sensible future proof at low cost.

      • halbhh2
      • 7 years ago

      Many people would not notice a difference between 16GB and 8GB.

      And many others would notice.

      See? You yourself might not notice, especially if you tend to run just a very few things simultaneously, or if you already have a decent SSD. Many will run only a few typical programs, like 3 or 5 brower windows and a game, at the same time. Not much, in other words.

      But many of us like to run a lot of different stuff, and like for it to load fast, and haven’t yet laid down $100 or $150 for a SSD.

      What kind of cheap speedup can we get for under $50 and for less than 2 minutes of effort?

      Answer: increasing RAM above 8GB.

      Those that would notice the boost easily would be people who use many types of programs simultaneously on several monitors, and that like having large programs they use often but not first after a reboot load up faster. Example: I tend to load iTunes an hour or 3 after a reboot, not first. (first, browser windows, chess, etc.)

      Because I don’t load it first, and because it is large, and because there is enough time before I load it, Windows caches it for me.

      🙂

      That makes me happy.

      When I do click iTunes, that first time after a reboot, I have timed it repeatedly and I found that on average, it loads about 12 seconds quicker. And I really, really like that, a lot.

      And guess whether programs will use more memory in the future……

      Guess.

    • cjcerny
    • 7 years ago

    So Cyril used the phrase “should be quiet” when talking about the Econobox power supply recommendation. Does that mean that he hasn’t actually seen one in person and therefore doesn’t know if it is quiet in the Econobox build? Is he recommending hardware he hasn’t seen in person or had any experience with? I don’t feel hoodwinked if that is the case, but I don’t know if TR actually states that their recommendations are based on first hand experience either.

      • CampinCarl
      • 7 years ago

      So, a lot of times they recommend slightly different models of things than what they have used or seen. In this case, I don’t know if that’s true, but I can say this:
      I have a CX430M in my HTPC, and I can’t hear it. About the only thing I do hear out of it is the very old 80GiB hard drive.

    • Arag0n
    • 7 years ago

    I think the mobile recommendations are pretty solid this time.

    However, as I say every other guide, we need to start thinking about not including a GPU for the econobox. Despite what TR seems to believe, most players out there play games like DOTA, LOL, CS, etc. and those games do not required a dedicated GPU to work.

    Pretty solid recommendations at the other price points, as always, I just disagree about the cheap option. 14% people seems pretty happy playing using an Intel GPU since December 2011 (Intel HD3000 introduction).

    You can also include people playing on GeForce 210 (0.75%), ATI 5470 (0.93%), GeForce 8400/9400 (1.22%), etc. and likely at least 1 every 4 PC players right now uses less power than top notch IGP’s available now.

    Ditching the GPU can get the full system price to less than $450 with top notch performance for casual needs, more or less solid performance for professional ones and not bad performance for gaming.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 7 years ago

      [quote=”Arag0n”<]14% people seems pretty happy playing using an Intel GPU since December 2011 (Intel HD3000 introduction).[/quote<] I expect that a large percentage of those folks are using a laptop (where upgrading the graphics is not an option) and they're probably mostly confined to playing [url=http://store.steampowered.com/app/3590/<]Plants vs. Zombies[/url<], [url=http://store.steampowered.com/app/78000/<]Bejeweled 3[/url<], [url=http://store.steampowered.com/app/38600/<]Faerie Solitaire[/url<] and other casual games. Edit: Bruno, we need a preview function.

        • Arag0n
        • 7 years ago

        I agree some are confined, but the point is, some people are pretty happy just playing those games. I used to be a hardcore gamer but now that I don´t have as much time I see myself more as casual gamer, so I have a bit of understanding of both worlds. A hardcore gamers NEEDS a GPU, a casual gamer doesn’t.

        Casual gamers also play old games, and do not care about lowering resolution and details to have a smooth gameplay. As computer gamers, we should understand that hardcore gamers are not the only computer gamers out there, and we should understand people that wants a cheap playable computer.

        If we keep saying to people that they can’t play without a GPU while in fact, top notch AMD APU’s and Intel HD4000 on desktop can do a more or less nice job, people will keep buying XBOX, PS3, iPad’s etc. to play. Why? Because casual players dislike the idea to spend $300 extra to just play games once everywhile if they can also get games and have some fun here and there for the same price in a more simple solution where they don’t have to worry about any kind of game settings or anything.

        If PC as gaming platform will eventually prevail, we need to embrace both sides of the gaming coin.

          • syndicatedragon
          • 7 years ago

          I agree. It seems logical to me that the “Econobox” is geared toward casual users. Going with integrated graphics there makes sense to me. You can always put a discrete GPU on the “alternatives” page.

          A hardcore/knowledgeable gamer already knows that they will need to shoot for the “Sweet spot” or better for an experience more to their liking.

            • superjawes
            • 7 years ago

            If you’re that casual of a user, you should look at laptops or other machines from Dell and HP. The value of building your own PC drops off considerably once you start yanking the GPU out, especially considering that these systems would need a copy of Windows (which is virtually free when you buy from Dell or HP).

            The Econobox could probably use some tweaks, but it’s a potent machine capable of playing a lot more than Plants vs. Zombies, Bejeweled, etc., and at decent resolutions.

            • Arag0n
            • 7 years ago

            Latest IGP can play almost any game that is 3 or more years old…. and all new games not targeting hardcore gamers.

            It includes league of legends, heroes of newerth, dota, gta4, dirt, etc. You can do much more than the games you say with top notch IGPs lately.

            Get a A10-5700/5800K or a i3 with HD4000.

            • superjawes
            • 7 years ago

            …and? You’re not refuting my point that building a machine like that has less value than a brand name machine. Dell and HP have offerings with an i3 around $500, which is well below the Econobox, [i<]but comes with Windows 7[/i<]. That makes the price gap closer to [i<]$200[/i<]. Do you gain any value by yanking the GPU out of the Econobox? Yeah, the hardware costs would be lower, but you would still need to consider the system price as a whole, and as much fun as building your own can be it's hard to compete with Dell and HP when the copy of Windows is essentially free. You're arguing capability, and I am not doubting IGPs in this regard. I am merely suggesting that if you want an IGP solution, you might be better served by getting something built by Dell or HP. Once you start piecing together machines with a discrete GPU, however, building your own becomes a better choice.

            • Arag0n
            • 7 years ago

            Those usually are not as good deal as it looks. They usually go cheap with critical components that make system feel unresponsive.

            Still, why not? If the system is capable why the need to add $100+ to the final price?

            • jensend
            • 7 years ago

            You know, they used to do this every time. It wasn’t until July 2007 that they decided that with component price cuts they could give the Econobox a slightly weaker CPU and some other less-expensive components, fudge on the $500 price target by $40, and squeeze a discrete card – the 8600GT – in there.

            It may have been the right move at the time. Integrated graphics had been stagnating for a while; the nV 6150 had been their recommended integrated gpu for a year and a half at that point, the AMD 7x0G chipsets wouldn’t be out for another 8 months, and the nV 8200/8300 would be a full year in coming. Including a discrete 8600 meant compatibility with future DX10-only games (how were they to know people would be including DX9 modes for years to come?) and meant budget gamers could stop asking whether they could run new games at 640×480 low settings and start asking whether they could run them at 1280×1024 medium-high settings. Also, “good enough” dual-core machines meant that fewer of those who were OK with integrated graphics cared about upgrading their systems anyways.

            But the continued rise in Econobox price despite the falling component prices of the past six years and the rise of increasingly competent processor graphics simply does not make sense and will make even less sense as time goes by. Especially with the ever-more-steeply decreasing returns to discernible visual improvement per GPU dollar spent. (Unless you’re springing for a triple-monitor setup, the difference in visuals and gameplay between the optimal settings for a 7770 and those for a GTX 680 is pretty negligible.)

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 7 years ago

            My mother is a casual gamer. I installed a Radeon HD4870 1GB card in her machine rather than relying on the A8-3850’s integrated graphics.

            • Arag0n
            • 7 years ago

            Did you try? Should be better to have a 4870 than not having it, but did you try to check if a 3850 was enough for her?

            I once built an A8-3850 for someone that had an old 1280×1024 flat screen. He never even once complained about performance, and yes, he plays some shooters games. He already had it for almost 3 years now, so by the time he complains, I think he already skip several generations…

            I don’t agree buying a GPU as future proof, because usually you can not buy it and if required, you can upgrade both cpu-gpu or just plug a new gpu 2/3 years later with the cost savings it means.

            That’s my main premise to choose always. Go cheap, buy the minimum, but leave the possibility to upgrade easy.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 7 years ago

            Yes, I played plenty of games on the A8-3850’s integrated graphics. While leaps and bounds ahead of Intel’s integrated graphics, it struggled at 1920×1080 with many titles.
            My point was that adding the old Radeon HD4870 1GB card made some games play noticeably better, even at the 1600×1200 resolution of the UltraSharp 2000FP that Mom uses.

            • Arag0n
            • 7 years ago

            Yeah, IGP is not ready for 1920×1080 resolutions yet. I think we need a couple of refreshes to get there. Maybe the 7800K will be the first one.

            Anyways, most of people I know is happy playing at 1280×720. If you had a spare HD4870 it had no sense to not use it, but I’m not sure I would buy one for a non-hardcore gamer. Save $100 now, wait 2 years and upgrade the APU, that would be me choice.

            • Chrispy_
            • 7 years ago

            I think that’s a bandwidth issue which will always be present as long as IGP’s have to use system RAM (1.33GHz DDR3) versus dGPUs running 6GHZ GDDR5.

            I find that AMD IGP’s are pretty amazing at 720p and I’m pleased to say that 720p with AA enabled is a whole lot better than the resulting framerate hit that happens when an IGP gets pushed to resolutions that exceed its bandwidth.

            • Arag0n
            • 7 years ago

            They might surprise us with a Quad-Channel memory interface or finally improving the current one to be as fast as intel’s one… anyways, as you say, as long as you play 720p game performance is awesome for an IGP. You can barely tell the difference.

        • BIF
        • 7 years ago

        [quote<]Edit: Bruno, we need a preview function. [/quote<] Amen brother! I much prefer to get my thoughts in order before hitting submit, and sometimes seeing my post in a preview sheds a different light on my words and how they could be perceived.

    • Risme
    • 7 years ago

    The intel Xeon E3-1230V2 is also one interesting CPU you might want to take a look at. It’s basically Core i7 3770 with slightly lower clockspeed, slightly lower TDP and with no integrated GPU. The only downside – if you don’t need an integrated GPU – is that its multiplier is locked. Here’s a comparison chart [url<]http://ark.intel.com/compare/65719,65520,65523,65732[/url<]

      • chem
      • 7 years ago

      it’s a crime that these price/perf winner CPUs keep getting ignored by “guides”. I own one and it was the best choice for my home build.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 7 years ago

      Wow. If you like HyperThreading and don’t’ plan to overclock beyond the semi-lock +4, that’s a steal.

      I’m still hanging out with an i3 2100 but my board supports Ivy. If I ever decide to upgrade, I’ll look very hard at the Xeon.

      • flip-mode
      • 7 years ago

      Wow. Thanks. Saved to memory. +1 given. Wait, what motherboards does that work with? Is is really socket 1155? Can you use any 1155 mobo? And ECC memory? If so, super wow.

        • Bauxite
        • 7 years ago

        -Many, some documented, some not. There is no real hardware limitation, only firmware. Power/TDP/etc constraints are identical to same tiers of consumer versions.

        -Yes, duh.

        -Same as first question, it requires an entry in the BIOS table. Unfortunately not everyone bothers to put it there…

        -ECC [i<]officially[/i<] really depends on PCH support too, however personally I believe it is related to firmware on otherwise nearly identical chipsets. (Q77 vs C216 for example) Ivy i3s actually support it as well.

        • Risme
        • 7 years ago

        Yes, it is physically compatible with LGA 1155 Socket H2, but i haven’t done any research into what motherboards also have BIOS support for this CPU. So, it’s advisable to take a look into that before considering purchasing one.

        Personally i’m waiting for Haswell to replace my aging C2D E6400. It’s annoying that intel is exploiting people for profit by changing the socket so damn often. I know they are capable of designing a platform that lasts longer, like the upcoming Brickland and Grantley server platforms. It’s just that those motherboards cost much more than consumer mobos and most people do not need two sockets. I’d just like to have a no nonsense motherboard that is designed for upgradability and longevity, i don’t need to OC, but that’s not going to happen in a profit driven world.

        Here’s picture of the server platform roadmap: [url<]http://vr-zone.com/articles/intel-brickland--grantley-platforms-revealed-ivy-bridge-ex-haswell-ex-broadwell-ex/17046.html[/url<]

      • Bauxite
      • 7 years ago

      E3-1245V2 is the one with a full gpu. And yeah, if no overclocking is planned or if VT-d is needed its cheaper than 3770 as well.

      Microcenter-priced K versions skew all the bang for buck curves though 🙂

      • chuckula
      • 7 years ago

      Another bonus for the Xeon is ECC support, which some people are big fans of.

        • Krogoth
        • 7 years ago

        Provided you find a Socket 1155 motherboard with ECC support. 😉

        • indeego
        • 7 years ago

        Everyone that cares about their data should be a fan of it. Especially with 16GB or more being fairly the norm these days (or should be if building for the future with these kinds of chips.)

      • dragosmp
      • 7 years ago

      This CPU looks great, thanks for the link

    • Kretschmer
    • 7 years ago

    Great guide as always, but I disagree that AMD CPUs provide better non-gaming performance. They perform better in [i<]certain[/i<] multithreaded apps and artificial benchmarks, but I think TR paints an overly rosy picture of their utility to the common man. Is 7-Zip or Cinebench really tasks that the general user performs often?

      • shank15217
      • 7 years ago

      the general user looks at facebook all day.. you can do that pretty well with computers from 2001.

    • ronch
    • 7 years ago

    Can’t be happier with my FX-8350. Computing isn’t just about games. And, although I know its power consumption can go through the roof, it’s not like it’s such a burden unless I’m running a bunch of them 24/7.

    Coming from all the way back to the NEC V20, I fondly remember each and every one of my CPUs. This alone makes me appreciate current AMD and Intel processors more and not take them for granted. What we have today (even the ‘inferior’ Bulldozer-based CPUs) are truly leading edge.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 7 years ago

    The table for the Double-Stuff doesn’t show what capacity you’re getting, though it’s easy enough to figure out based on the $519 price tag and the fact it’s mentioned in the storage section below. Just inconsistent.

    Overall, great guide. On each build, I’d be inclined to go with a cheaper, larger, slightly slower Sandforce SSD now that they’ve got their problems figured out. In fact, that’s what I did with a Mushkin Chronos Deluxe right after Thanksgiving – 240GB for $165 is hard to look away from. They’re still $185 for that size, saving you $60 from the Editor’s Choice. You could add a second 2x4GB kit, or upgrade to 2×8 on most builds, or get a faster GPU or more mechanical storage. And on the Sweet Spot, you could spend just a couple bucks extra to double your SSD space.

    But yeah, it’s a guide, not set in stone. The Samsung 840 Pros are as fast as it gets. I see both sides of that argument.

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 7 years ago

    I still can’t believe you guys are recommending any memory other than Samsung Extreme Low Voltage 30nm DDR3 (MV-3V4G3D/US). No stupid heatsinks, default 1.35v instead of 1.5v, great prices, and small sizes just built for massive heatsinks to tower over them effortlessly. Plus, they look awesome in a mb where they barely making any impression at all.

    It doesn’t hurt they’re certified for 1600 and are well-known in overclocking circles as “magic.” Seriously, look up the reviews and see for yourself. There’s no point in any other memory UNLESS you absolutely require larger capacity PER STICK.

    Going for an mITX option and then using that case for the Mighty Mite is ridiculous. You might as well have gone with a regular sized case with all the space those handles take up. I suggest you find a case that really is small yet can house a GPU, perhaps bumping back up to mATX if you have to.

    If a caseis going to take up much of the space of a smaller ATX, you might as well go with the real thing. If you want small size, you can go a LOT smaller than the Prodigy.

    “We could have upgraded to the GeForce GTX 670 for this build, but the truth is, the GeForce GTX 660 Ti is more than fast enough for gaming on a 2560×1440 display.”

    Ehhhhhh… I don’t think this is very accurate at 2560×1440/1600 resolutions. I think it will get progressive more wrong as the year progresses towards new consoles and ports start taking advantage of those new consoles, too. That said, I don’t even think it’s very true right now.

      • BoilerGamer
      • 7 years ago

      I’ll give a reason Samsung Ram is not recommended for this guide: It have been [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820147096&Tpk=MV-3V4G3D%2fUS<]Out of stock[/url<] for most days of this year on Newegg(who sponsors this System Guide). The few days they are in stock they instantly sell out then Newegg raises price & promise restock some time "soon". Being a Samsung Ram users( got 2X4G of 2133 9-10-10-26 1T 1.5V Prime stable on my Gigabyte Z77X-UP5-TH w3770K), I love this Ram, but its shaky availability on Newegg these days is a valid reason to not recommend it for this Newegg sponsored guide(as all components have a embedded Newegg Link).

    • emorgoch
    • 7 years ago

    I can’t believe that you guys are recommending WD Red drives in the editor’s choice. It would be all well and good if you have two+ in a RAID setup, but these drives really aren’t appropriate as stand alone drives with the firmware that they have on them.

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 7 years ago

      I saw the same thing. I read that and thought, “At some point, this guide must have had two of those drives in RAID instead of just one.”

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      What about the firmware makes them inappropriate for non-RAID? Just because they have some tweaks for RAID, are they unsuitable for non-RAID?

        • Ditiris
        • 7 years ago

        The RED series has firmware modifications specifically designed to enhance stability in RAID and NAS setups. This doesn’t make the drives unsuitable for stand-alone usage, but you are paying a premium over other non-RED drives for a feature you cannot use, which makes no sense.

      • Deanjo
      • 7 years ago

      Poppycock, the feature that is enabled on Reds is TLER which has no appreciable effect being used in a single drive environment. You are paying a bit of a premium for the TLER feature over a green (otherwise an identical drive) but it also leaves you the option of utilizing two or more in a raid setup.

    • danazar
    • 7 years ago

    I normally don’t disagree with reviews or guides I read on TR, but recommending Seagates right now is a very bad idea.

    Last year, I bought a pair of Seagate 1TB ‘cudas (from NewEgg, natch) to run in RAID 1. One of them showed up dead. It came straight out of the static-proof packaging ready to make click-of-death noises and not mount.

    Not inspiring, but flaws happen to everyone. Got an RMA, sent it back, got another one. So I had two 1TB drives again. I made my RAID 1 array, and coasted along happily for about a month. Then my machine started throwing a fit, saying the RAID was degraded because I’d yanked a drive (which I hadn’t). One of the drives just kept randomly unmounting. This continued for about a day or two, until I finally heard why.

    Click, click click click click click.

    Yep. ANOTHER one died. I was just out of the RMA window with NewEgg, and while I could mess with sending it to Seagate for a warranty repair, all they’d give me is another drive I’d expect to die. I didn’t bother. I just disposed of the drive and bought a pair of Hitachis.

    (For those who doubt me, go Google “Seagate 1TB click of death”. You’ll see a number of similar complaints.)

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 7 years ago

      To be fair, you can find lots of reports of any drive that is 1TB or higher failing. The larger they are, the more likely they are to fail. 1TB seems to be the breaking point for many hard drives and manufacturing just isn’t at the point where they can make them with guaranteed reliability.

      I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I’m saying you’re not factoring in all the reviews that say the same of just about any hard drive manufacturer. Hell, OCZ proves it can happen to SSD’s, too. Well, everything except the clicking part. 😉

      • jihadjoe
      • 7 years ago

      It’s hard to make that call without actual failure data from a major retailer, and without specifying the exact model number to avoid.

      I have two failed WD Green 2TBs. If you doubt me, google for “WD Green failures”. You’ll see a number of similar complaints.

      Based on my anecdotal evidence, I move that TR should refrain from recommending Western Digital drives of any sort.

      • Krogoth
      • 7 years ago

      HDDs are build with extremely fine tolerances with tons of pressure to keep costs down. The unfortunate side-effect is that warranties and reliability have diminished in recent years. There’s no manufacturer who is “immune” to this problem. It is made worse by the fact that you can easily lose hundreds if not TBs worth of data with a single hardware failure. It is time-consuming and difficult to back-up and restore that much data.

      I suspect some of more recent failures (namely 1TB units or greater) have to do with jump to perpendicular recording. Perpendicular recording isn’t as mature as longitudinal recording which goes back as far as 1950s. The economic pressure to keep costs down compounds it even further. To be honest, I’m more surprised that failures aren’t more commonplace. I expect a similar issue with the upcoming HAMR technology.

    • JohnC
    • 7 years ago

    Nice guide, but for the next one I would consider perhaps evaluating other alternatives – for example, SoundBlaster Z model as an alternative to some Asus soundcards – it’s slightly more expensive BUT the sound quality and feature set is pretty good, as well as the size of installed drivers/utility and the stability of these (at least under Windows 7). I have one in my primary system, very happy with it.

    Also, instead of “faux mechanical” keyboards from Corsair (or garbage Razer products with HORRIBLE customer support) it would be nice to offer people better alternatives like the new Logitech G710 real mechanical keyboard 😉 I also use it on my primary system and very happy with it, even though all of the other Logitech models I’ve tried were pure garbage 😛
    P.S: Those are just my personal opinions/suggestions, so you don’t have to agree with them 😉

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 7 years ago

      Those of us who remember Creative and Sound Blaster from yesteryear–all the way back to a time when if you wanted sound you HAD to get Sound Blaster or suffer horrible sound effects from DOS/early WIndows–are reluctant to go back to them. That said, Asus’s driver support is atrocious.

      I’m not sure if it’s Asus’s fault or C-Media’s, but I really wish there was another player out there that wasn’t Creative to shake this whole thing up. I’m beginning to think the only way that’s going to happen is if Corsair enters the field with some kind of USB3 gadget.

        • JohnC
        • 7 years ago

        I wouldn’t put too much trust in Corsair’s possibly upcoming soundcard, based on the various issues people had with their various Corsair products (firmware issues on some of their SSDs, some of their water coolers and things like “chirping” fans on certain PSU models, or their ridiculous cost-cutting methods with “semi-mechanical” keyboards)… I’d rather see Creative to drop their prices further (although without good competition they are unlikely to do that).
        .

        • BIF
        • 7 years ago

        Ever since I got into music making, I’ve been using USB and Firewire audio-midi interfaces. They are typically a lot more expensive than consumer sound cards, but I have gone through multiple PC systems with the same audio-midi interfaces. Driver support has been good from Roland/Edirol/Cakewalk and PreSonus. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, I’ll probably reach a break-even sometime in the next 15 years or so. 😀

        I’ve never ever felt that I needed “more” for gaming and normal windows use, although I am not currently set up for surround sound monitoring. I work in stereo and I game in stereo, and the studio monitors work just fine for that!

        • My Johnson
        • 7 years ago

        Have you seen Creative Labs new chip on their cards? They have the Recon 3D at $50 and a higher priced pseudo audiophile version at about $100. I have the $50 one and it’s OK. Only issue is that the soundcard crashes in games (DX9 ones for me) occasionally forcing a reboot.

        • indeego
        • 7 years ago

        Creative apparently owns patents that effectively lock them in the market for a while.

      • chuckula
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]Also, instead of "faux mechanical" keyboards from Corsair (or garbage Razer products with HORRIBLE customer support)[/quote<] How is a Razer a "faux" mechanical keyboard? I have one and it has the Cherry MX-blue switches, clicky & all. Mine is not one of the fancy models with backlights & stuff, but it works fine and the key quality feels just fine. What makes the mechanism behind the Logitech different than all the other keyboards using Cherry switches?

        • JohnC
        • 7 years ago

        The “faux mechanical” phrase is for Corsair models, not Razer 😉 The Razer models do have somewhat crappy quality control and customer service, at least based on experience of my friends, who all had to replace/return their models for keys “rubbing” each other or LEDs burning out and who all were treated poorly by Razer’s CS…

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 7 years ago

    The Bitfenix Prodigy mini-ITX case in the Mighty Mite is actually bigger on the outside than some of the more compact Micro-ATX cases (e.g.: Antec NSK3480 or Silverstone TJ08-e), despite having room on the inside for three fewer PCIe slots than Micro-ATX allows.

      • jensend
      • 7 years ago

      This. Why pay premium prices for this kind of kit when the resulting build is bigger than a decent mATX build?

      Other companies have been doing basically the same thing too. “Look, we managed to make a mini-ITX case hold all the same components you cram into your ATX system! ITX for the real enthusiasts! Full-size PSUs! Ten hard drives! Six fans! Full size everything! Oh look, the case ended up being the same size as an ATX case too. Oh well!”

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 7 years ago

    [quote=”Cyril”<]Those builds have target budgets of about $600, $1,000, $1,500, and $3,000.[/quote<] The components in the Sweet Spot look fine, except that your $1,000 build came in at $1155.90 + $23.50 shipping.

      • absurdity
      • 7 years ago

      I agree with what you bring up. It’s hard to argue with any of the selections, but it’s probably time we either threw out or modified the target budgets, since the sweet spot has been significantly above $1000 for quite a few guides now.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 7 years ago

        [quote=”The Sweet Spot”<] $200 Intel Core i5-3470 [b<]$140 +5 s&h -15MIR[/b<] Asus P8Z77-V LK $48 Corsair 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $300 +4 s&h -20MIR MSI GeForce GTX 660 Ti [b<]$150[/b<] Samsung 840 Pro 128GB $80 Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 1TB $20 +5 s&h Asus DRW-24B1ST [b<]$60 +5 s&h -10MIR[/b<] Asus Xonar DSX [b<]$100 +10 s&h[/b<] NZXT H2 [b<]$80 +5[/b<] s&h Corsair CX600M [/quote<] There are a few places that one might reduce costs without giving up too much. [i<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157297<]$90 +7 s&h -10MIR[/url<] ASRock Z77 Pro3 [url=http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Series-120GB-internal-MZ-7TD120BW/dp/B009NHAF06/<]$105[/url<] Samsung 840 120GB $0 integrated audio [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129066<]$58 -8MIR[/url<] Antec Three Hundred Illusion or [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811139018<]$60 +7 s&h -10MIR[/url<] Corsair Carbide 200R [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151119<]$90[/url<] SeaSonic SSR-550RM or [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151094<]$60 +10 s&h[/url<] SeaSonic S12II 520 or [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817139027<]$60 -10MIR[/url<] Corsair CX500 [/i<]

          • absurdity
          • 7 years ago

          Yeah, I take back what I said about not being to argue with any of the selections. The SSD choice stood out in my mind as a big one – just getting to an SSD is a great leap over a mechanical drive and you’ll already be reaping most of the benefits. Higher priced “Pro” models should really be reserved for higher end builds.

          • paulWTAMU
          • 7 years ago

          I think they should hire you to do the system guides. You seem to be really good at figuring out how to get the best bang/buck at a given price and are really helpful on the SBA forum here. And you’re better at sticking to their price points than the TR staff is!

            • superjawes
            • 7 years ago

            I would love to see JAE (and maybe more in SBA) to publish a supplemental guide on the forums. EVERY time a formal guide is released, there are commenters who suggest SFF alternatives, mATX boards, and more.

            So whaddya think, JAE? Care to present your own build suggestions?

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 7 years ago

            There’s always room for many gerbils to contribute to a PC build thread in the [url=https://techreport.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=33<]System Builders Anonymous forum[/url<]. I believe that getting contributions from several sources and iterating the solution through a few revisions provides a better result than any one of us is likely to produce in one shot on our own. That collaborative and cumulative effort at problem-solving is one of the great strengths of all the TR forums. The other great thing about the PC build threads in the SBA forum is that each one can be customized to the needs of the particular end user. The gerbils responding in the thread can ask questions of the original poster and get feedback to set the relative priority of different features. Cyril and the other contributors to the system guides have much more experience than I do with the components that they recommend. They definitely have good reasons for choosing one component over another. I might just have more experience in my day job with being held to a budget and being forced to decide where to compromise and where to stand firm on design choices.

            • paulWTAMU
            • 7 years ago

            I think that last point is key. For instance, if I budget 650 for a PC I really have to stick with it or face both financial constraints (oops, eating ramen) and wife aggro…

    • shizuka
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]Our Core i3-3220 doesn't have a fully unlocked upper multiplier, but it should still let you go up four "bins"—around 533MHz—above the base speed. That's plenty for our purposes.[/quote<] Sorry to burst your bubble, but the i3-3220 can't be overclocked by multiplier adjustment. It lacks turbo boost.

    • raddude9
    • 7 years ago

    “There’s no good way to spin the A10’s 100W power envelope”

    Um, yes there is, get a different A10! Instead of the AMD A10-5800K, get the 65W A10-5700.

    “and currently ambiguous upgrade path”

    What’s that about? Does TR not believe AMD when they said that their next-gen chips would go in the same socket.

    “This is a fairly power-hungry chip, and since it’s the quickest one available for its socket, a future processor upgrade will likely require a change of motherboard, as well.”

    Huh, has there been new information on this. As far as I could see, the next generation of AMD APUs also go in the FM2 socket. And the generation after that, i.e. “Kaveri” are supposed to use a new FM3 socket but will also be backwards compatible and fit in the current FM2’s:

    [url<]http://lensfire.in/25341/news/amd-kaveri-apu-will-use-fm3-socket-but-supports-fm2/[/url<] Then in the next paragraph: "Note that we're picking the A10-5800K over the FX-4300. The FX does have a marginally better upgrade path than the A10, but it lacks integrated graphics" But all of the recommended systems have external graphics cards, lacking integrated graphics should not matter. On a related issue, with all of the advances APU's have made in the last 2 years by both AMD and Intel, isn't it about time the econo-box ditched the discreet GPU, but I imagine you're just waiting for Haswell to do that.

      • flip-mode
      • 7 years ago

      Good catch. The A10-5700 oversight is egregious.

        • Sam125
        • 7 years ago

        To be fair, the A10-5700 wasn’t widely available when Trinity was first released which is when TR last reviewed the A10. Or at least I couldn’t find it online. It seems to be in stock at major online retailers.

        Also, I love the Mighty Mite case recommendation. The Bit Fenix Prodigy is such a gorgeous little enclosure, it’s also cheaper at NCIX than Newegg.

          • Bauxite
          • 7 years ago

          It was available within a week, I remember because I was -this- close to making a ITX build designed around it, until the only board for the foreseeable future was the asrock one with too many caveats.

      • jensend
      • 7 years ago

      The Kaveri FM2 compatibility rumor seems rather suspect to me. I doubt that’s happening.

      But there’s no question about Richland: it’s definitely FM2. Not a huge upgrade, esp. for those using discrete graphics, but an upgrade nonetheless.

        • shank15217
        • 7 years ago

        There isn’t enough info for you suspect anything, amd has a pretty decent record with backward socket compatibility.

    • Meadows
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]"Everything is shrinking these days—laptops, tablets, and even Apple's share price"[/quote<] ...Oh, you went there. :}

      • Arclight
      • 7 years ago

      It’s cold, ok? I can’t help it…..

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 7 years ago

      You forgot Apple’s actually starting to consider price cuts across the board as a strategy now. So that’s their bottom line shrinking…

    • Shambles
    • 7 years ago

    I would be interested in reading an article on frame latency for GPUs in the $200ish range including the 7850/7870/660. Competition seems to be fairly close in that range and I’m having a difficult time deciding if I’m leaning towards the better memory bandwidth on the Radeons or if the Geforce has better frame latency towards that. At this point I am planning on waiting for ATI to release their update for their memory management and then make a decision from there. If it doesn’t end up happening for a while I’ll either just jump on the Geforce or wait for the next generation of cards.

    • juampa_valve_rde
    • 7 years ago

    The guide is great (as usual here, top notch!), but the software part smells like ms propaganda, win8 sucks at desktop, even when it seems to perform better on some aspects, Metro/modern UI is a PITA for the mouse&keyb. There is no mention of win7 for those who (like me) think is still a solid choice, also Ubuntu and other linux distros could be on the list now that Steam is at beta stage. Just sayin’.

      • neverthehero
      • 7 years ago

      A quick and dirty response, they said why they recommended 8, they almost always recommend they latest version of Windows, even in the dark ages of Vista. Linux once it gets rolling with Steam or whatever gaming platform, I’m sure they’ll start recommending them. It isn’t like they disavow the existence of other OS’s. Also, 8 just takes some time to customize your most common apps or games or programs and the task manager is beastly now.

        • cygnus1
        • 7 years ago

        [quote<] and the task manager is beastly now [/quote<] truth

          • Krogoth
          • 7 years ago

          Nah, Windows 8’s Task Manager is just a pretty reskin with “Process Explorer” thrown into the mix.

          You can easily replicate all of the functionality within XP/2000.

      • absurdity
      • 7 years ago

      A beta version of Steam is simply not a good reason to recommend an OS. Possibly worth mentioning it, but it far from earns it a recommendation.

      • JohnC
      • 7 years ago

      I kind of agree with you (the “operating system” part should be removed altogether – let the people themselves decide what they subjectively prefer in terms of OS, and they can always simply read the Wikipedia to see what new technical features each new OS version brings), but you don’t have to be so critical and mention words like “propaganda” 😉

    • NeelyCam
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]"The first is Intel's 330 Series 60GB, which will cost you about $70. This drive is reasonably quick, and it's capacious enough to host an operating system and a handful of [b<]apps.[/b<]"[/quote<] Damn, I guess it's official that they aren't called programs anymore...

    • rwburnham
    • 7 years ago

    The 27 inch Auria is a pretty good choice. I have one, and I love the extra desktop space (great for multimedia creation and editing), and the higher resolution gives games a crisper look. Plus, there was no noticeable performance drop in games and I run a Radeon 6850 vide card. Also, unlike the Korean monitors from eBay, this one has a Displayport connector.

    There are some downsides to the monitor. When you turn it on, the screen is white with a logo on instead of the usual black background. This can be jarring in a dark room. When it is in power save mode, the red standby light is very bright. The screen does have some inconsistent colors, but only when it is black. During boot up, I noticed some grey areas where it should have been black. I did not notice any color shifts with non-black colors.

    All of the complaints are minor, especially considering the size, resolution, and low cost.

      • jihadjoe
      • 7 years ago

      Does it come in matte antiglare?
      This and those korean monitors are sweet, no doubt, but the glossy screen just sets me off like nothing else.

        • Goty
        • 7 years ago

        I believe the Auria screens are satin (not glossy, but not matte, either). It’s a nice compromise, actually.

      • Goty
      • 7 years ago

      You’ll have to add contrast ratio to the cons here. A calibrated Auria 27″ (meaning it likely lost a little contrast in the chase for decent color reproduction) will come in with a contrast ratio under 500. We’re getting into the range of crappy laptop screens at that point.

    • BoilerGamer
    • 7 years ago

    Personally I think if you are going give a build that have an Overclockable CPU(Intel K SKUs etc), you need to account for an Aftermarket Cooler in the budget as well since an Overclocker wouldn’t use the stock cooler. TR already does this for Double Stuff(since SB-E don’t have a stock cooler), but the Editor’s Choice with a 3570K need an Aftermarket Cooler as well.

    While I think P8Z77-V LK is a good choice for the cash limited Sweet Spot build. Imo there is no reason to go cheap on the Editor’s choice build when there is ample budget to get a full feature full ATX size board(LK is 12″X8.8″, it might flex along the right edge if you carelessly push in the 24 pin ATX plug or the usb3.0 plug too hard) such as the [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131819<]P8Z77-V Pro[/url<] for $200 flat(or the [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128545<]Gigabyte UD5H[/url<]), with the V-pro You get Fan Xpert2 software & more fan headers, Onboard Wifi(don't take up any slot), Intel NIC instead of Realtek, 12 phase VRM (6X2), while these aren't critical needs every user requires (neither are Blueray or Sound card imo), I wouldn't view these as pointless extra.

      • Firestarter
      • 7 years ago

      Definitely agree on the P8Z77-V LK, if you’re looking to overclock (why else get a -K processor?) then you’d want a board with 8-phase VRM at least, which that P8Z77-V LK does not have.

        • Krogoth
        • 7 years ago

        The X phase-power VRMs is just more marketing crap from motherboard manufactuers.

        The amount of overvolting and overclocking you need where it begins to require 8-phase VRM or greater. You are dealing with Phase-cooling, high-end water cooling, pelter coolers and LN2 cooling. None of these cooling solutions are cheap nor practical.

          • BoilerGamer
          • 7 years ago

          For LN2 boards like UP7/Maximus V extreme etc they use true 8 phase PWMs(IR 3563A for Gigabyte, CHIL8328 for ASUS) to drive 16-32 Phase VRMs through doubler/quadruplers. It is not the level of PWM/VRM quality we are talking about here with regard to LK vs V-pro.

          I don’t see LK’s VRM(looks to be the same as the LX) broken down and analyzed anywhere online, so it would be hard to analyze the PWM/VRM quality difference between the two. But V-pro should have a beefier VRM which would been running cooler and have less ripple than LK’s, while not necessarily boosting your max OC, having less current running through each mosfet does improve the longevity of the board while having less ripple means the power will cleaner thus leading to better 24/7 stability.

          for reference, sinhardware.com’s [url=http://sinhardware.com/images/vrm.jpg<]vrm list[/url<]

          • Firestarter
          • 7 years ago

          Overclocking doesn’t *require* extra-robust power delivery, but it sure profits from it. Whether it’s worth the money to get a board that’s better prepared for stupid high overclocks depends on how far you’re going to push it, but I think that even on air it will help. With high quality VRMs (regardless of how many phases), you’ll need less voltage to hit the same clock speeds.

            • Krogoth
            • 7 years ago

            Incorrect, CPU voltage depends entirely on the CPU itself. There are some chips (called “Golden Eggs” in overclocker circles) that can climb effortlessly with tiny bumps in the voltage, while there are some chips that require significant bump in order to get any traction (obviously called “Duds”). The majority of silicon out in the market fall somewhere in-between.

            The only thing that high-quality VRMs provide is the ability the handle higher voltages without overheating and more consistent regulation. Having more power phases helps balance the load and provide higher cellings. None of it that matters much outside of extreme overclocking and overvolting.

            • BoilerGamer
            • 7 years ago

            While they might not boost your max possible OC, having cooler VRMs with less amperage pass through each mosfet improves the Board’s longevity.

            It does depend on the level of cooling & level of voltage, if you are on stock cooler/Hyper 212 VRM quality might not be a significant issue as you won’t be able to pursue a high enough OC(or nothing at all with the stock cooler) for it to matter. However with a NH-D14/H100i you might be shooting for 4.7/8Ghz @1.3X V on that 3570K and if you want to run that long term you are better off stability/longevity wise with a better VRM.

            Beside all that, VRM is not the only reason I recommended that the Editor’s Choice should fill up the budget and get a V-Pro/UD5H instead of keeping the LK.

            • Firestarter
            • 7 years ago

            A higher quality VRM will more easily keep the voltage at the desired level, reducing the dip that occurs when the CPU suddenly needs a lot of power. That dip in voltage is where your CPU crashes due to low voltage, the steady state voltage is always higher than that (yes even at 100% load). So, if the VRM can handle the sudden need for a lot of current better, the dip in voltage is smaller, and consequently the CPU VID can be lower as well before the steady voltage minus the dip is so low that the CPU produces errors. The lower VID means the processor consumes less power and produces less heat, which is pretty important if you’re not running a watercooling setup with a huge radiator.

    • flip-mode
    • 7 years ago

    I’m Krogoth unimpressed with the ATX suggestion for the Econobox. No need to go ATX on that one. mATX or mITX would be a better choice. And why bother mentioning dual PCIe-X16 slots for an Econobox?

    The Mighty Mite is a nice touch, but you could have suggested the same base components for the Econobox – and why not do that? You could have suggested a cheaper mITX mobo or you could have kept the same mobo and *gasp* left the discreet graphics card off of the Econobox. /excommunicated

      • Meadows
      • 7 years ago

      As long as it’s inside a case, every graphics card is [i<]discreet[/i<].

        • flip-mode
        • 7 years ago

        damn it

      • deathBOB
      • 7 years ago

      I came to post this. Why spend so much on a motherboard and case when a better graphics card is just a couple of dollars away?

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      New word time:

      The opposite of impressed is krogimpressed.

      • jensend
      • 7 years ago

      Thirded. Insisting on ATX for every build is just silly these days. Are you really going to use 5-6 expansion cards on an Econobox? Not a chance. That kind of thinking is a holdover from the days when you had to make sure your mobo had plenty of ISA slots so you’d have space to put your sound and network cards, your extra parallel port card (gotta connect to both the printer and the fancy new Zip Plus drive), etc etc.

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 7 years ago

      I think the Econobox alternative could have included a variant for mATX or mITX, but I don’t think that’s the point of the Econobox specifically and I don’t think it should be.

      I always thought of the Econobox as a low-cost framework for someone who’ll eventually spend the same next year or a while later as they did initially and this time only upgrade the bare essentials (ie., mb, cpu, gpu) while keeping the framework (case, psu, kb/m, monitor), essentially able to get to Sweet Spot or Editor’s Choice rank within a year.

      If they do what you suggest, they’re very limited in how many drives they can add to a mATX/mITX case. That’s why I say it’d be a great alternative page for the Econobox. Or maybe a Pre-Steambox listing.

      • Kurotetsu
      • 7 years ago

      I kind of get the reasoning. Typically, any mATX board thats worth a damn carries a price premium (though small, nowadays) over their ATX neighbor. I can understand going ATX if only to save a few dollars.

        • flip-mode
        • 7 years ago

        mATX boards have been fantastic for at least 2-4 year now, and not at any premium either. You can get an mATX board that is /at least as good/ as the ATX board that was listed for less money.

        [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157301[/url<] That's $10 less than the board TR picked, and at least as good of a board.

          • JustAnEngineer
          • 7 years ago

          My living room PC is based on the [url=http://www.asus.com/Motherboard/P8Z77M_PRO/<]P8Z77-M Pro[/url<]. My gaming PC has a [url=http://www.asus.com/Motherboard/P8P67M_PRO/<]P8P67-M Pro[/url<]. My previous HTPC had an [url=http://www.asus.com/Motherboard/F1A75M_PRO/<]F1A75-M Pro[/url<].

            • jensend
            • 7 years ago

            If you’re having trouble getting rid of your “old” A75 HTPC you can ship it to me 🙂

            I’ve been delaying pulling the trigger on an A75 HTPC rig myself. That’s mostly because though many different cases might be good enough I haven’t seen any that seem like a perfect fit and I’ve been indecisive about what to settle for.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 7 years ago

            Why not go with socket-FM2 and A85X like the [url=http://www.asus.com/Motherboard/F2A85M_PRO/<]F2A85-M Pro[/url<]?

            • jensend
            • 7 years ago

            I am going FM2; I don’t need the raid5 mode or the 2 extra sata ports, and AFAIK those are the only notable differences between A75 and A85X, so the A75 is good enough for me. I might go A85X anyways if things are on sale, but the A85X seems to be carrying a ~$20 price premium right now.

            I’d somehow forgotten that A75 was the chipset for Llano as well, and the page you linked doesn’t mention which socket it is. If you go to the specs page it does of course tell you it’s FM1. Llano isn’t terrible, it’s not dumpster-worthy yet, but it’s not something I’d be building new in 2013.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 7 years ago

      Been rocking a Z68MA-D2H-B3 board by Gigabyte in an mATX case for several months now, going on a year I guess. I’m only using two slots – one for the video card and one for wifi. Mini ITX would have been enough if I’d chosen to go USB wifi.

      OTOH, the actual footprint of my case is not really any smaller than any full-fledged ATX case. It saved probably 3-4 inches on the height, but the width and depth are basically the same. In the end not a ton of space savings. I could go for a new case and probably save some though.

        • flip-mode
        • 7 years ago

        In some cases (heh, no pun intended) that’s very true. And looking at the Carbide R200 that was specified, it’s only a couple inches taller and longer than my “go to” mATX case. But mATX cases are still smaller and really, every inch does matter. And there is a range of mATX cases sizes that spans from nearly-small-ATX size to nearly-large-mITX size. Heh, someone already pointed out the Bitfenix Prodigy is as big as many mATX cases.

      • Krogoth
      • 7 years ago

      Pretty much.

      If you don’t plan on going SLI/CF or throw in additional PCIe expansion cards. There’s little point in getting an ATX board. Any decent mATX board will suffice for a non-workstation build.

    • DPete27
    • 7 years ago

    Yet another recommendation of the Intel i3 and yet we have no “Inside the Second” benchmarks to reference for it….shame

      • Damage
      • 7 years ago

      Full set of results for the Core i3-3225 begins here:

      [url<]https://techreport.com/review/23750/amd-fx-8350-processor-reviewed/5[/url<] The recommended i3-3220 is the same product with different (irrelevant to the build) IGP specs.

        • DPete27
        • 7 years ago

        My mistake.

        • axeman
        • 7 years ago

        Confirms my suspicion that you’re better going with an i3 and using the extra $$ towards SSD or graphics card, *if* you’re trying to make a good gaming / general purpose rig on a budget. The i5 makes a bigger difference in stuff like video encoding.

        • Arag0n
        • 7 years ago

        I feel funny you add information, answer comments when you have something to defend your writing, but you never answer the comments that point the weak points of your articles.

    • Disco
    • 7 years ago

    Although i agree that there are some issues with frame latency and AMD graphics cards, I do think you guys are overblowing the effect on people’s enjoyment of their games. Especially when you consider that the vast majority of people are gaming on screens with resolutions of 1920×1080, 1680×1050, or less. The game bundle is excellent and adds a great deal of value to those cards, and it seems a bit odd to eliminate certain graphics options because of an issue that may or may not even have any relevance. It wouldn’t have bothered me so much, but each system writeup kept hammering the point home over and over as if it was the most important, and as an AMD GPU owner (disclaimer – I’m a bit biased although I owned an 8800GTS for years), I have never actually noticed this issue when playing through any of my recent FPS games.

      • superjawes
      • 7 years ago

      They didn’t drop the AMD graphics completely. In fact, they make it pretty clear that it’s a close race in value and list the 7950 as an alternative to the 660 Ti.

      However, I don’t think it’s overblown to consider present performances vs. future performance. Fixes are coming for the AMD latency issues, but that’s the thing, they aren’t here yet (at least not in a full driver release). If you buy the 7950 now, you do so with the hope that the issues will [i<]eventually[/i<] be solved, rather than getting a card that is ready to go without the latency issues. And remember that these are snapshots. Go back a few months (prior to the 7950 vs. 660 Ti "revisited" reviews), and you will find the 7950 recommended in the guide. If a permanent solution is rolled out for the 7950, you will probably see it return over the 660 Ti in a future guide. But people buying cards in the next few weeks will have to balance the value of the purchase versus waiting for tha permanent fix.

        • Disco
        • 7 years ago

        I guess my concern is the stress on the latency issues in the writeup, and the minor emphasis on the game bundle. Considering that these are not throwaway titles, they are likely worth at least $100 towards the cost of the system (I’m going on the assumption that anyone buying these cards has an interest in these upcoming AAA titles). This makes the 7950 close to $200 (or brings the 7970 to the $300 level), which is an amazing value. These are not MIR’s that take months to arrive or other undesireable giftcard promotions. They are products that the purchaser of the card is very likely to make regardless of their brand of GPU, and you get them immediately.

        The way it is written, it makes out that anyone who would consider an AMD product as the alternative is making a poor choice (ie there is no choice). I understand that the guide can’t be based on future performance, but the current performance is pretty good and the new memory drivers can only make thing better (thanks no doubt to TR’s latency investigations!).

          • superjawes
          • 7 years ago

          I disagree with that intepretation. I think they treat the 7950 as a good choice, but the 660 Ti (narrowly) comes out ahead in the value perspective based on their preferences (which, again, is why the 7950 is listed as an alternative).

          And the 660 Ti doesn’t ship vanilla, either. It’s a weirder combination, but you do get a chunk of change to spend on F2P games with the 660 Ti. That could easily kick $150 off the cost of a system for another user (or might be a great way for new players to hop into those games). It still doesn’t enough sense, IMO, to pair in-game or per-game currency with a card, but it is value.

          Lastly, as TR pointed out, the fixes being rolled out are case-by-case, and not a sweeping fix to memory management.
          [quote<]On the other hand, AMD still hasn't addressed the root cause of the latency problem: the Catalyst driver's memory manager. Until AMD's driver team finishes rewriting it, any fixes introduced through driver updates will be case-specific. The fixes may help in some titles and not others.[/quote<] You get Crysis 3 and Bioshock Infinite with the 7950, but you face the real possibility that your card could have latency issues with the [i<]games that came with it.[/i<] It may do fine, but that's a risk to consider when choosing a card.

            • Disco
            • 7 years ago

            I won’t beat this dead horse any more. My only real comment is that I feel that the impact of the latency issues have been somewhat overblown, especially on lower (more typical) resolutions. The reason I feel this way is that I have never experienced or noticed this ‘problem’ with my own AMD setup. Maybe it will be an issue with future games, but I have a feeling that with the problem now ‘public’ and the AMD driver team aware of it, I don’t think it will be a problem with any upcoming AAA titles. Especially not ones that are part of an AMD promotion.

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 7 years ago

      Their point is you WOULD notice it if you had both cards. You are suffering and you don’t even know how good it is on the other side. Bundled games are nice, but sales happen on PC titles–especially those published by EA (Crysis 3), 2K (Bioshock Infinite) and Squaresoft (Tomb Raider)–on a regular basis. By the end of the year, at least one of those games (if not all) will have been available for $20 somewhere legally and legitimately. I suspect more than one of them will have been.

      Assuming a person has any patience (and/or the epic Steam backlog we all seem to have nowadays), you’re talking maybe $40 total value, tops, for anyone with some patience.

      AMD may fix their driver problem across the board. They may not. We know their resources are growing increasingly strained, their focus is beginning to wane, they’re delaying transition to new GPU’s exactly because they don’t have the money to sustain new GPU launches, and they’ve as good as admitted they knew the GPU memory management aspect of their drivers needed a lot of work, but they didn’t have the resources to prioritize that. So what do you think it means when they say they’ve now re-prioritized to that?

      It means they’ve taken an already reduced team of software engineers who WERE making drivers for each game release AND updating drivers to have impressive gains in fps and changed their priorities to fixing something they said they didn’t have the resources to fix. AMD is not hiring more coders, either, so… something’s got to give.

      Soooo… $40 in total value for the Steam gamer with lots of backlog who has patience for a card that MAY never offer a gaming experience as smoooooth as an android’s bottom like nVidia. Sure, if you’ve never had it, you may not miss it. But the second you see it elsewhere, you’re gonna wish you had it. And you’re gonna wonder why you had to suffer it.

      $40 in freebie games just ain’t that much in the overall scheme of things, especially if you want to use that card for more than six months. (PS: Look up which company likes to EOL their cards after a couple of years and who likes to give driver support for a decade.)

        • Disco
        • 7 years ago

        You make some good points. I will definitely agree about the game pricing wrt tomb raider, but I think the other two are in a higher category of AAA title. Some people will wait, but lots won’t. And I don’t think we will be getting either for $20 in the next Christmas sale. Maybe $40.

        I game on a 24″ 1920×1200 screen. At this resolution, I doubt that the latency effect is very significant, even if it was noticeable. I’m playing Crysis 2 right now, with every setting at max and it feels pretty smooth to me. Most of the TR testing was at 2560×1440. I don’t know anyone with a monitor at that resolution.

        I’m not trying to say that the latency effect is not important. I just think it has been overemphasized. The work TR has done to bring this to the AMD driver development team’s attention is very commendable. They’ve done an amazing job developing this performance analysis technique and deserve major recognition for it. I went back and read the article about the driver tweaks to reduce latencies. The expectation was that the new memory manager was to be completed in a few weeks. So, we should be able to check out the actual new drivers by April (I would hope).

        I’ll just make this one last point. I do think looking forward, that the AMD performance will remain very competitive with nVidia. Now that (rumours – i know) the PS4 and Xbox720 are known to be built on very similar AMD hardware, I would expect most development to shift over to those products. This can only mean that AMD specific optimizations (if available) will likely be made for most cross platform games.

          • superjawes
          • 7 years ago

          Two points:

          1. You may not see it. Check out the high speed video of Skyrim side-by-side to see what is going on, but every person’s eyes are different. People more sensitive to stuttering are going to be affected more.

          2. TR uses high resolutions and settings not because they are “realistic” for users, but because you need to see how a card performs when it’s pushed to its limit. This helps you figure out what could happen in future games and how quickly you might need to lower visual settings as new games are released.

            • Disco
            • 7 years ago

            I understand and agree with both of your points. Especially your comment about using higher res to examine future proofing. Although I didn’t state it explicitly, this was part of my point about the new upcoming consoles and AMD hardware. I think owners of AMD gpus should not be worried about future performance (expecially now that TR has opened the latency issue and AMD has stated its intention to address it).

            • rechicero
            • 7 years ago

            But if you’re figuring out what could happen in the future, you should factor in the updated memory manager, shouldn’t you?

            PS: I think TR guys did the right thing. The finished product is recommended over the unfinished one.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 7 years ago

            There hasn’t been enough guidance to fully figure out objectively what is coming in an updated memory manager.

    • chuckula
    • 7 years ago

    To TR editors: I’ve read your review of the Corsair 650D and while it is not negative, it isn’t overflowing with praise either. It’s interesting that you are heavily promoting this case in 2 different builds. Aside from the (monstrously expensive) Cosmos II, do you have any other higher-end-but-not-extreme case recommendations?

    I’ll throw out the NXZT Switch 810 in this category: Higher end, has room for larger motherboards & watercooling, but on sale for ~$180 so not insanely expensive. It comes with a pretty wide range of features and configuration options. I’ve heard some complaints about its use of plastic (nothing is perfect), but do the TR editors/readers have any other recommendations in this area?

    [Edit: Ah, thanks for the explanation, Damage. Here I was beginning to think you guys were a Borg collective that always agreed on everything :-P]

      • Damage
      • 7 years ago

      Whatever praise was left out of the 650D review was Cyril’s fault! Heh.

      I think, at the time, he liked the cheaper 600T better. I’ve since put my foot down that the metal construction of the 650D makes sense for a purchase that should last across several generations of CPU, mobo, etc.

      I’m sure there are fine options otherwise, and I saw a lot of nice new cases at CES that are following Corsair’s template–many are coming out in the next six months yet from Thermaltake, Cooler Master, and others. But the 600T and 650D are both excellent and worth their prices, even if Cyril wasn’t enthused about paying more for the 650D’s metal construction at the time of our review.

        • chuckula
        • 7 years ago

        If you do get some new cases in for review, one series that peaked my interest is the Thermaltake Urban. For once it looks like Thermaltake made a case that isn’t frighteningly ugly or made for teenagers, and I’d like to see a review of how it stacks up.

        • superjawes
        • 7 years ago

        IIRC, the first review of the Das Keyboard was mixed as well. I think the issue with the Das Kayboard and the 650D)is that they are expensive, but it takes some time and experience to fully recognize the long-term value.

        Perhaps a good comparison review of the new CES cases you mentioned would be a great time to revisit the 650D. I know I am interested in several of those cases 🙂

    • Jon1984
    • 7 years ago

    Great systems as usual.

    I can recommend my new ASUS MX239H IPS display, gorgeous colors and looks and a reasonable price at 250€ if you are looking for some good 1080P IPS display.

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