TR’s Summer 2013 system guide

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This spring and early summer have certainly been eventful. Over a few short months, we’ve seen the arrival of Intel’s Haswell processors and AMD’s Richland APUs. Not only that, but Nvidia has found the time to unleash three graphics cards as part of the new GeForce GTX 700 series.

That’s a lot of fresh hardware. And it means the time is right for another TR system guide.

In this edition, we’ve updated our processor and graphics picks to take the new products into account. In some cases, that meant rethinking the purpose of our builds and reevaluating our priorities. In other instances, that meant keeping things as they were—because new isn’t always better. We’ve also tweaked our memory and solid-state storage recommendations to adjust for pricing and availability shifts, which tend to happen awfully often these days.

Join us as we walk you through our four revamped builds: the Econobox, the Sweet Spot, the Editor’s Choice, and the Double-Stuff Workstation. We’ve packed each one full of the finest hardware available at each price point. And, since we seem to have reached the end of this season’s release marathon, these recommendations should stay relevant for a good few months.

At least, we hope so.

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 $95.99
Memory Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 $46.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 650 Ti $129.99
Storage Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 1TB $69.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $18.99
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 200R $59.99
Power supply Corsair CX430M $49.99
Total   $601.92

Processor

The arrival of AMD’s Richland processors hasn’t really changed the dynamic in this price range. AMD solutions still offer superior integrated graphics and multithreaded CPU performance at a premium, but Intel’s Ivy Bridge-based Core i3 chips continue to deliver better single-threaded performance at lower prices.

Since the Econobox is outfitted with a discrete graphics card, we’re going to give the Core i3 the nod again for our primary config. This chip performs better than competing AMD solutions in games, and as a bonus, it will consume less power doing so. Casual gamers and folks who want to prioritize multithreaded performance can skip to the Econobox alternatives section on the next page, where we recommend one of the new Richland A-series APUs.

Motherboard

Our Intel CPU doesn’t need a terribly expensive motherboard. At a little under $100, Gigabyte’s GA-H77-DS3H delivers everything we should need for the Econobox: 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

PC memory prices have climbed further since our last edition of the guide, so there’s no way we’re going back to an 8GB kit this time. This Kingston dual-channel kit is one of the most affordable 4GB DDR-1600 bundles listed right now. It runs as fast as our processor supports, and it’s affordable enough to keep us from straying too far from our budget. What more could we want?

Graphics

The GeForce GTX 650 Ti doesn’t come with free bundled games like its Radeon rivals, but it’s quicker than the Radeon HD 7770—and, among relatively low-end cards like these, every ounce of performance matters.

Our chosen GTX 650 Ti model hails from Gigabyte. It runs a fair bit quicker than Nvidia’s reference design (1032MHz, up from 928MHz), and it has a humongous fan that should keep noise levels nice and low under load. (Remember, the bigger the fan, the lower the rotational speed required to pump a given volume of air per minute.) The card also comes with $75 of credit for free-to-play games including PlanetSide 2, World of Tanks, and Hawken. The extra credit is a nice touch, although admittedly not as desirable as a free game.

If you’re more keen on Radeons, or you simply want a higher-tier card, check our alternatives on the next page.

Storage

Seagate’s 1TB Barracuda returns as our system drive of choice, since the Econobox’s budget is too tight for an SSD. The Barracuda has a 7,200-RPM spindle speed, a 64MB cache, 6Gbps Serial ATA connectivity, and a very affordable price tag. Western Digital offers a similar drive in this price range, the 1TB Blue, but the ‘cuda has fewer, denser platters (just one of them, actually), higher performance, and comparable user ratings on Newegg. It’s just too bad about the two-year warranty—but WD is no better on that front.

We’re rounding out our storage recs with a DVD burner. Optical drives are almost unnecessary in modern PCs, but this is a full-sized desktop, and we have three 5.25″ drive bays just waiting to be filled. A DVD burner like Asus’ DRW-24B1ST only costs an extra $20 or so, and it can always come in handy.

Enclosure

We used to recommend Antec’s Three Hundred case for this build, but Corsair has bested Antec pretty much across the board with its Carbide Series 200R case. The 200R sells for $60 and packs a wealth of enthusiast-friendly goodness. Thumbscrews abound, the cable-routing holes are nice and wide, the 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’ve 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 draw a lot of power, which means 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 a little more on a branded, high-efficiency unit with good reviews.

The 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. We’ve been spoiled by the ease of use and convenience of modular power supplies in higher-end builds, and since that convenience comes cheap here, we’d be fools to pass it up.

Econobox alternatives

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

Component Item Price
Processor AMD A10-6700 3.7GHz $148.99
Motherboard ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6 $104.99
Memory Corsair 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $64.99
Storage Samsung 840 Series 120GB $99.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 2TB $99.99
Graphics HIS Radeon HD 7850 2GB $159.99
MSI GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost $169.99

Processor

If you favor integrated graphics and multithreaded CPU performance, then the A10-6700 is the processor for you. It’s not the fastest member of the Richland lineup, but it performs very closely to the top-of-the-line A10-6800K—especially on the integrated graphics front. The A10-6700 has a much tighter power envelope, though: 65W instead of 100W. These two processors cost about the same, and since we’re trying to keep the Econobox relatively cool and quiet, we think you’ll be better off with the latter.

The only big advantage the A10-6800K has over the A10-6700 is an unlocked upper multiplier. In theory, that means you’re free to overclock it to your heart’s content. In practice, though, the A10-6800K doesn’t seem to have much overclocking headroom. Turning your PC into an electric heater just to eke out insignificant performance gains seems like a waste. We think it’s wiser to stick with the A10-6700 and enjoy that chip’s lower TDP.

Motherboard

Most motherboards designed to accommodate A-series APUs conform to the 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 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.

Memory

Not happy with our downgrade to 4GB of RAM? Then feel free to spring for an 8GB kit, instead.

Storage

The Econobox’s storage config can be beefed up in one of three ways.

You can get a solid-state drive and load it up with your operating system and applications. A 120-128GB offering is probably your best bet for a system like this one. Among the solutions in that range, it’s hard to beat the capacity per dollar of Samsung’s 840 Series 120GB. This may not be the fastest budget drive in every benchmark, but it’s still leagues quicker than mechanical storage, and a fair bit cheaper than substantially faster solutions.

An alternative storage upgrade would be to replace the 1TB Seagate Barracuda with a 2TB version of the same drive. The extra terabyte only raises the price by 30 bucks or so, and you get the same 7,200-RPM spindle speed and 64MB cache as in the lower-capacity model. Going with one of Western Digital’s Black drives would get us even higher performance with random I/O… but the 1TB Black costs the exact same as the 2TB ‘cuda, which makes it a rather poor value.

Your third option is to get both the 120GB Samsung SSD and the 2TB Barracuda. You’ll have to shell out a fair bit more cash, but you’ll get the best of both worlds: fast solid-state storage for your OS and software and plentiful mechanical mass storage for music, movies, TV shows, and other files.

Unless you’re running a solid-state system drive, we recommend staying away from “Green” hard drives, which typically have spindle speeds around 5,400 RPM. These low-power models are great for secondary storage, but they’re too slow for primary duty.

Graphics

Our Econobox graphics alternative is also a multiple-choice deal.

You could nab AMD’s Radeon HD 7850 2GB. It’s a big upgrade over our primary recommendation, and it ships with free copies of BioShock Infinite, Tomb Raider, and Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, to boot. Or you could save $5 and go with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost, which doesn’t come with free games but does sweeten the pot with $75 of free-to-play credit (redeemable in PlanetSide 2, World of Tanks, and Hawken).

These two cards offer largely comparable performance overall, with the GeForce edging out the Radeon in some games and falling a little behind in others. It’s really kind of a toss-up. If you put a gun to our heads, we’d probably pick the 7850 2GB, just because it has the nicer game bundle. Frame latency issues made us wary of recommending Radeons in the past, but AMD’s latest drivers have mostly ironed out those problems. In fact, some of our recent testing shows the Radeons faring better than their GeForce rivals in our latency-focused metrics.

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 enough added wiggle room to include a faster processor, a quicker graphics card, solid-state storage, and other luxuries.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-4430 3.0GHz $189.99
Motherboard Asus Z87-K $129.99
Memory Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $64.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 7870 $214.99
Storage Samsung 840 Series 120GB $99.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 2TB $99.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $18.99
Audio Asus Xonar DSX $59.99
Enclosure NZXT H2 $99.99
Power supply Corsair CX600M $79.99
Total   $1,058.90

Processor

As the most affordable member of Intel’s Haswell lineup, the Core i5-4430 isn’t the most exciting processor in the world. However, with four cores, a 3GHz clock speed (3.2GHz with Turbo), and an 84W power envelope, it’s going to deliver solid, power-efficient performance. We don’t need much else for the Sweet Spot. Upgrading to the unlocked Core i5-4670K would open the door to overclocking, but it would also cost us an extra $50 or so—and we’re over-budget as it is. Given the diminishing returns from CPU performance gains these days, we think it’s wiser to spend less on the processor and more on other components, like graphics and solid-state storage.

The Core i5-4430 has another leg up over the i5-4670K besides price, too: support for Intel’s Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O, also known as VT-d. That feature is inexplicably absent from the unlocked model. Not everybody uses virtualization, of course, but those who do may want the slower chip even if they can afford the 4670K.

Motherboard

We’ve already reviewed a fair number of motherboards based on Intel’s Z87 chipset. Our favorite so far is the Asus Z87-Pro. That board is a little out of the Sweet Spot’s price range, but Asus offers a more suitably priced derivative: the Z87-K.

The Z87-K has the same polished firmware as the Pro model. While it doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles, it does take care of all the essentials. There’s USB 3.0, 6Gbps Serial ATA, dual PCI Express x16 slots (albeit with only four lanes running through the second one), a couple of legacy PCI slots, and the all-important LGA1150 socket our Haswell processor requires.

We’ve singled out a Gigabyte motherboard with more USB 3.0 ports and better integrated audio for our alternatives on the next page. That said, we think the quality of Asus’ firmware and software justifies the Z87-K’s selection as our primary pick. Also, we have little use for onboard audio here, since we’re recommending a discrete sound card.

Memory

This Crucial 8GB DDR3-1600 kit is one of the most affordable listed at Newegg. Also, it runs at the maximum speed officially supported by our processor, and it’s covered by a lifetime warranty. Yep, add that to the shopping list.

Graphics

The Radeon HD 7870 was a no-brainer for the Sweet Spot when AMD’s Never Settle Reloaded bundle was in full force. Now, though, it’s difficult to find a bundle with more than just one title: Crysis 3. Is the 7870 still a better choice than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 660?

Well, the GeForce does come with Metro: Last Light, and it is a little more affordable and more power-efficient than the Radeon. However, the 7870 is faster and doesn’t cost very much more. Because we can’t afford to climb to the next rung up the graphics performance ladder without stretching our budget too much, we figure we might as well get the quickest solution at this rung. That’s the 7870—or, more specifically, the Sapphire version we picked out, which has a nice dual-fan cooler and is clocked 50MHz higher than the reference frequency.

If you disagree with us and would prefer a GTX 660, check our alternatives on the next page.

Storage

Option C from the Econobox’s storage alternatives doubles as our primary config for the Sweet Spot. We have Samsung’s 840 Series 120GB, which should ensure speedy boot and application load times, and Seagate’s 2TB Barracuda 7,200 RPM, which should deliver reasonably quick mass storage at a great price.

There’s an optical drive in the mix, too. 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’s not a luxury suitable for this budget.

Audio

Yeah, yeah, we know some of you think sound cards are relics from the 1990s. However, every time we conduct blind listening tests, even low-end discrete cards wind up sounding noticeably better than motherboard audio. We’re not using audiophile-grade speakers, either. 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.

Folks with S/PDIF- or USB-based speakers or headphones can skip the Xonar. Those solutions 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 came pretty close to selecting the Econobox’s Corsair Carbide Series 200R case for the Sweet Spot. After further reflection, though, 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 a 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 better fit your needs and budget.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-4670K 3.4GHz $239.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z87-D3HP $134.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 660 $199.99
Zotac GeForce GTX 760 $249.99
Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 Boost $269.99
Storage Samsung 840 Series 250GB $189.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 3TB $134.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $68.99
Enclosure Corsair Carbide 400R $99.99

Processor

Wanna overclock? Then you probably ought to outfit the Sweet Spot with the Core i5-4670K. This is the most affordable Haswell variant with a K-series suffix, which is a requirement for overclocking this generation. Non-K-series Ivy Bridge chips could go a few “bins” above the base clock, but corresponding Haswell models cannot.

Just make sure you get a good cooler for this processor. (You’ll find recommendations on the second-to-last page of this article.) Our overclocking attempt with the Core i7-4770K, the i5-4670K’s big brother, suggested that Haswell requires beefier cooling than Ivy Bridge when pushed much beyond 4GHz.

Motherboard

Not everybody will heed our recommendation and splurge on a discrete sound card. If you plan to use onboard audio, then the Gigabyte GA-Z87-D3HP is an arguably better option than the Asus mobo on the previous page. It has a Realtek ALC892 codec and a full set of audio ports, including S/PDIF for digital output and analog jacks for surround setups. As icing on the cake, the GA-Z87-D3HP delivers more USB 3.0 ports. Our only reservation is with its firmware, which isn’t as polished and has somewhat confusing fan controls. Gigabyte’s tweaking software isn’t on quite the same level as Asus’, either.

Graphics

The Radeon HD 7870 may be faster than the GeForce GTX 660, but the GeForce has benefits of its own: lower power consumption, a lower price, and nice little touches like Nvidia’s GeForce Experience auto-config software. Also, the game bundled with it, Metro: Last Light, has a higher Metacritic score than Crysis 3. The MSI version of the GTX 660 we’ve chosen runs a fair bit faster than reference-clocked offerings, too, so it may not lag very far behind the Radeon.

Perhaps you’re not shooting for performance equivalency. Perhaps you just want a faster card. In that case, you can spring for either the GeForce GTX 760 or the Radeon HD 7950 Boost. These are such close contestants that we balked at declaring a winner in our latest review. Practically speaking, the real differences are as follows: the GTX 760 consumes a bit more power, costs a bit less, and comes with Metro: Last Light. The 7950 Boost is priced a little higher but ships with more games—BioShock Infinite, Crysis 3, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, and Tomb Raider. Yeah; it’s pretty much a toss-up.

Storage

Our standard Sweet Spot build has a decent storage config, but there’s always room for more capacity. On the solid-state front, it’s hard to beat Samsung’s 840 Series 250GB. Speedier solutions with SandForce controllers are available, but they have only 240GB of capacity, and they tend to cost upwards of $200. For a mid-range build like the Sweet Spot, the 840 Series is more than good enough.

On the mechanical side of things, Seagate offers a 3TB version of its 7,200-RPM Barracuda. There isn’t much else to say about this drive, except that it costs less than Western Digital’s 2TB Black, and it’s priced similarly to WD’s 3TB Green, which has a lower spindle speed and thus lower performance.

Finally, if you’re keen 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 speeds up to 14X.

Enclosure

The NZXT H2’s emphasis on silence means it’s not the coolest-running case around. Folks more worried about low temperatures than low noise levels 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 i5-4670K 3.4GHz $239.99
Motherboard Asus Z87-A $149.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $72.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 Boost $269.99
Storage Samsung 840 Pro Series 256GB $249.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 3TB $134.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $68.99
Audio Asus Xonar DSX $59.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 650D $189.99
Power supply Corsair HX650W $119.99
CPU cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $34.99
Total   $1,591.89

Processor

We’d probably want the option to overclock If we were building a system for ourselves. The Core i5-4670K gives us that ability without costing an arm and a leg.

Motherboard

Asus’ Z87-A is a little nicer than the Z87-K from our previous build. It has more USB 3.0 ports, Realtek ALC892 audio with digital output, and two gen-three PCI Express x16 slots that can be run in an x8/x8 configuration, allowing for either CrossFire or SLI multi-GPU configs.

Memory

We’re making allowances for overclocking here, which is why we’ve upgraded to a Corsair Vengeance kit with fancy heatsinks. The price difference between the two kits doesn’t amount to much 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

As we said on the previous page, it’s difficult to choose between the Radeon HD 7950 Boost and GeForce GTX 760. We’re recommending the Radeon here because we have a soft spot for its generous game bundle (which, again, includes Crysis 3, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, and Tomb Raider). However, you’ll be served just as well by the GeForce, which we’ve featured in our alternatives section on the next page.

Storage

Our budget allows for ample capacity on both the solid-state and mechanical fronts. Our SSD nod goes to Samsung’s 840 Pro Series 256GB, which is pricier but also a fair bit quicker than the standard 840 Series from the previous page. We’re also going with Seagate’s Barracuda 7,200 RPM 3TB as our mechanical drive, since we can afford it. Oh, and we might as well throw in that Blu-ray burner from the Sweet Spot alternatives, too.

Audio

We’re certainly not falling 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 inside. Thanks to the huge amount of space around the motherboard tray and the almost excessive number of cable-routing holes, installation is smooth and painless. There’s hardly a better option for the Editor’s Choice right now… except, perhaps, for Corsair’s own Graphite Series 600T, which we’ve included as an alternative on the next page.

Power supply
Corsair’s HX650W is an excellent modular unit with 80 Plus Gold certification and connectors galore. We wouldn’t dream of getting a non-modular PSU. 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.

CPU cooler

We shied away from recommending aftermarket cooling with previous versions of the Editor’s Choice, but we’ve changed our mind this time. Part of the appeal of the Core i5-4670K is its fully unlocked upper multiplier, and overclocking is no fun if you’re constrained by a stock cooler. Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 EVO is a popular and very affordable alternative to the flimsy stock heatsink. It has a tower-style design with four copper heat pipes, a decent-sized array of aluminum fins, and a 120-mm PWM fan. Newegg shoppers seem to like it a lot: they’ve given the Hyper 212 EVO a five-star average out of over 1,600 reviews.

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 Core i7-4770K 3.5GHz $349.99
Graphics Zotac GeForce GTX 760 $249.99
Storage Seagate Desktop HDD.15 4TB $179.99
Case Corsair Graphite Series 600T $129.99

Processor

The Core i7-4770K is the flagship of the Haswell processor family. It’s clocked higher than the i5-4670K, packs 2MB of extra cache, and features Hyper-Threading, so it can juggle up to eight threads in parallel. That K suffix in the model number means the multiplier is fully unlocked, too.

Graphics

Again, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 760 comes with fewer free games than the Radeon HD 7950 Boost (only Metro: Last Light is included), but it has a lower asking price, lower power draw, and nifty software extras. If you’re more partial to that formula, then by all means, give the Radeon the cold shoulder and go for the Nvidia card. This Zotac version of the GTX 760 is clocked a little above the reference speed, yet it retains the nice, blower-style stock cooler, which exhausts hot air directly outside the case and features Nvidia’s revised fan-control algorithm.

Storage

Seagate’s Desktop HDD.15 4TB hard drive has a lower spindle speed than the 3TB ‘cuda from the previous page, but it offers a terabyte of extra capacity. That makes it a worthwhile upgrade for mass storage purposes. Just try not to install any apps on it. (Running applications off a low-speed drive like the Desktop HDD.15 induces side-effects such as long load times, frustration, and regret.)

Case

We prefer the metal construction of the Obsidian Series 650D, but 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 based on molded plastic. 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 of the 600T 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 Gigabyte GA-X79-UP4 $239.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $144.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 780 $649.99
Storage Samsung 840 Pro 512GB
$469.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200-RPM 3TB $134.99
Seagate Barracuda 7,200-RPM 3TB $134.99
LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner $68.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Power supply Corsair AX850W $169.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 650D $189.99
CPU cooler
Corsair H80i $86.99
Total   $2,863.89

Processor

Despite all of its architectural refinements, Haswell isn’t much faster than Ivy Bridge, and it’s still a fair bit slower than the Sandy Bridge-E chips from Intel’s top-of-the-line desktop platform. Sandy Bridge-E gets you not just more cores and more threads, but also more memory channels and a greater number of PCI Express lanes.

Intel’s fastest processor right now is the thousand-dollar Core i7-3970X. For about half that price, 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 reasonable.

Motherboard

The LGA1150 motherboards from our previous builds won’t accommodate the Core i7-3930K. We need something with an LGA2011 socket. This time, we’re going with a Gigabyte motherboard: the GA-X79-UP4. We used to recommend an Asus mobo, but we’ve found that Asus’ X79 solutions tend to draw a fair bit more power than their rivals. Since X79 boards in this price range all tend to be pretty similar from a functional standpoint, we’d rather opt for a more power-efficient model. The GA-X79-UP4 is still packed to the gills with connectivity and expansion, and it’s more affordable than the Asus P9X79 Pro we chose last time. We’ve also confirmed that that the third revision of the UP4, which is what’s selling now, is compatible with upcoming Ivy Bridge-E CPUs.

The GA-X79-UP4 lacks FireWire, though, just like our former Asus selection. If you need FireWire, check our alternatives on the next page for a FireWire card recommendation.

Memory

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

Graphics

The GeForce GTX 780 doesn’t have any games bundled with it, which is a shame. However, this card offers a unique level of performance per dollar that makes it simply too good to pass up. It’s fairly close in performance to the thousand-dollar GeForce GTX Titan, and it has a similarly quiet and effective reference cooler, but it’s priced at a far more reasonable $650.

Also, because the GTX 780 is a single-GPU offering, it lets you avoid the pitfalls of SLI and CrossFire. (Those pitfalls usually include high noise levels, high power consumption, and sometimes game compatibility problems and uneven frame delivery.) There’s really no other graphics card quite like the GTX 780 on the market right now. AMD’s fastest single-GPU solution is the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, which costs less but is also substantially slower.

Storage

What’s better than a 256GB solid-state drive? Why, a 512GB solid-state drive, of course. We’ve chosen the Samsung 840 Pro. This drive doesn’t cost much more per gigabyte than 480GB SandForce offerings, and since the 256GB 840 Pro handled itself well in our benchmarks, we expect the 512GB version to be equally speedy.

For our mechanical sidekicks, we’re selecting two of Seagate’s 3TB Barracudas. These are quick, roomy, and inexpensive. Having two of them means you can set up a RAID 1 array, which will provide a measure of redundancy and fault-tolerance.

Oh, and if 3TB isn’t enough to satisfy your mass-storage needs, check the next page. We’ve featured a couple of 4TB mechanical offerings there.

The LG Blu-ray burner from our Editor’s Choice config is perfectly fine as our optical drive. We could spring for a fancier solution, but we see no reason to do so.

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 rings in at close to three grand.

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. Today’s 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. This unit has 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 need to pick 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 feature, 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 MSI GeForce GTX 770 $399.99
Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition $369.99
Storage Seagate Desktop HDD.15 4TB $189.99
Seagate Desktop HDD.15 4TB $189.99
Western Digital Black 4TB $289.99
Western Digital Black 4TB $289.99
Crucial M500 960GB $599.99
FireWire card Rosewill RC-506E $29.99
Enclosures Cooler Master Cosmos II $349.99

Graphics

As we said earlier, AMD’s fastest single-GPU card is the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, which is both slower and cheaper than the GTX 780. If rooting for the underdog makes you happy, or you’re okay with spending less and getting lower performance, then it’s a fine choice. The Radeon comes with a pretty unbeatable game bundle, too—BioShock Infinite, Crysis 3, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, and Tomb Raider.

Nvidia has a direct competitor to the 7970 GHz Edition at the same price point: the GeForce GTX 770. That card doesn’t come with free games, but it’s about as fast as the Radeon, and it draws a little less power under load. You can’t really go wrong with either one of these.

Storage

The dual 3TB, 7,200-RPM ‘cudas on the previous page offer decent performance and plentiful storage capacity. If you’re still hungry for more, though, there are two ways you can go.

You can nab a pair of Seagate’s 4TB Desktop HDD.15 drives, which cost about the same per gig but are saddled with a lower, 5,900-RPM spindle speed (and thus slower performance). Or you can spring for WD’s 4TB Blacks, which feature five years of warranty coverage and should be even quicker than the 3TB ‘cudas with random I/O. The only downside is that the Blacks cost about 300 bucks each, which means a dual-drive RAID array would ring in at almost $600. That’s pretty pricey for mechanical storage nowadays.

Crucial’s M500 960GB solid-state drive is out of stock at Newegg as we’re about to post this revision of the guide. We’re including the drive anyway, since it’s easily the most affordable near-terabyte SSD on the market. You’ll get better performance out of the 512GB Samsung 840 Pro Series, but the M500 offers nearly double the capacity for not that much more. 960GB at $0.63/GB is worth at least considering.

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 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 $500 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. 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 liked the Nexus 7 when we reviewed it last 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 only costs $439 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: $128) that boosts battery life to a whopping 16.6 hours in our web browsing and video playback tests.

Now, what about those new Windows slates?

We’re going to skip right ahead to Windows 8 tablets and convertibles this time. Windows RT-based offerings are still available, but they’re looking less and less appealing compared to devices powered by Intel’s “Clover Trail” Atom processors. Clover Trail is fully capable of executing x86 software, unlike the ARM chips inside WinRT systems, and it delivers both adequate performance and competitive battery life. The only downside is somewhat higher pricing, but there are Clover Trail tablets available for well under $500 today. We don’t think you should put up with the limitations of the WinRT and ARM tag-team given the small savings involved.

If all you need is a tablet, then Asus’ Clover Trail-based VivoTab Smart is definitely worth a look. It costs only $499 and had a 10.1″ 1366×768 screen, 64GB of storage capacity, and Windows 8. Asus offers an ersatz Smart Cover and Bluetooth keyboard combo for about $100, although the keyboard doesn’t actually dock with the tablet—it just latches on to the floppy, foldable cover.

Proper Clover Trail-based convertibles include Samsung’s Ativ SmartPC XE500, which is listed for $700 at Newegg, and HP’s Envy x2, which is a little pricier at $805. Both of these convertible tablets have 11.6″ screens and genuine keyboard docks. The rated battery run times seem decent, and performance should be adequate for basic productivity work and web browsing. Just don’t expect anything close to ultrabook-level performance.

Users seeking higher performance will have to pony up for something with an Ivy Bridge CPU. “Ah,” I hear you say, “but what about Haswell ultrabooks?” Well, a number of sexy-lookin’ models were announced at Computex, but unfortunately, they don’t seem to be available yet. For now, Ivy Bridge is still where it’s at in the ultrabook world.

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 $1,100 at Newegg, weighs 3.53 lbs with the dock, and features an 11.6″ 1080p display, a Core i3-3317U processor, and 128GB of solid-state storage. We measured battery life at 6.4 hours during web browsing and 5.3 hours in our video playback test, although battery life took a small hit when we had the dock connected. See here for our full review.

Windows 8 has also given rise to some… unusual systems, like the $850 IdeaPad Yoga 13 from Lenovo. 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, though. It has a Core i3 processor, 4GB 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 last September, save for the bundled operating system. For $800, that’s not a bad deal at all.

Folks who want a touch screen and a lower price tag may like Asus’ VivoBook X202E, which sells for only $465 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. This system is held back by single-channel memory, though, and we weren’t very impressed with its performance, battery life, or display quality. But hey—you get what you pay for.

An even more affordable solution is HP’s TouchSmart 11z, which features one of AMD’s new Kabini processors, an 11.6″ touch screen, and a $355 price tag. Just don’t expect stellar performance. The A4-1250 chip inside has only two cores clocked at 1GHz. We tested a quicker variant of Kabini with four 1.5GHz cores not long ago, and even it fell short of the hamstrung Core i3 processor inside the VivoBook X202E.

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 $179.99
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 $129.99

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 4GB 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 an add-on to Windows 8 Pro for $9.99. You can find instructions for downloading it here.

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 three 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 G236HLBbd, which costs $120 and crams a 1920×1080 resolution into a 23″ screen. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that approach, and you might wind up completely satisfied. Users who spend most of their time gaming and browsing the web will probably be happy enough with a TN monitor. Another option is to get a low-cost 6-bit IPS display, like Asus’ 21.5″ VS229H-P or the 23″ VS239H-P; those should have better viewing angles than their TN peers, but color reproduction may not be much better.

Our preferred alternative is to set aside a little extra dough for a high-quality, 8-bit IPS display. Those usually have excellent color reproduction and wide viewing angles. We’re discerning types here at TR, so unsurprisingly, we all favor them.

On the high-end IPS front, those Korean monitors we wrote about last summer are still excellent deals. 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. And Korean monitors are very affordable. 27″ models with 2560×1440 resolutions can be found for only around $380 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 $398.99. By contrast, a comparable display from, say, Dell will cost you $650 at Newegg right now. The Dell will have a better warranty and more bells and whistles, but it’s easy to see the appeal of the cheaper screens.

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 $400 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. Scott 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 control our desktop PCs with an outstretched arm. 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 them 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.) Availability seems to be spotty across the entire RK-9000 lineup right now, though.

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. Those switches are found in Corsair’s lineup of excellent Vengeance keyboards. We reviewed the K60 and the K90 earlier, and we became instant fans of their sexy-looking aluminum frames and terrific build quality. Our only complaint was that some of the non-alpha keys weren’t mechanical. Happily, Corsair has addressed that problem with the K70 and K95, which are similar designs with 100% mechanical switches.

Those seeking a gamer-friendly design with macro keys and all-mechanical switches may also 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.

Scott 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 a 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 another option 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 quick Netflix or Google searches.

On the mousing front, we’re quite fond of Corsair’s Vengeance M60—and its successor, the Vengeance M65, which has a higher-resolution sensor. For a little more scratch, 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 $140.

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 $80, it doesn’t break the bank. Logitech’s M510 costs about half that and offers an ambidextrous shape that should 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 $35 or so, Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 EVO 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 EVO.

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 costs exactly $60 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 spinners 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, Scott recommends 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 Acoustics’ 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 $4 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 three 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 $17 and slides into any 3.5″ 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—57% of the more than 700 Newegg reviews award it five stars. Either way, for $10, it’s not much of a gamble.

Conclusions

Phew. That’s it for this edition of the guide.

It’s a little disappointing to see that Haswell and Richland haven’t really shaken things up in the world of desktop CPUs. Neither one delivers a large performance upgrade over the previous generation, and since these two lines of chips don’t compete directly with each other on the desktop, a price war hasn’t broken out between them. In fact, both Richland and Haswell are priced at a slight premium over their predecessors, so performance per dollar has actually remained stagnant for the most part.

Oh well; at least there’s some excitement on the graphics front. There, Nvidia’s new GeForce GTX 700-series cards have given us not just compelling alternatives to AMD’s Radeons, but also entirely new value propositions, like the $650 GeForce GTX 780 from our Double-Stuff build.

So, what’s next? Well, AMD’s next-gen Kaveri APUs aren’t due out until late this year, and Intel isn’t expected to offer a major refresh until next year. That means building a PC today should guarantee at least a few months of bliss unhindered by the threat of obsolescence, which hasn’t been the case in quite a while. We’re going to see a little more activity on the mobile side of things, though. Haswell-powered ultrabooks are on the way, as are Windows 8 tablets based on AMD’s Temash processors. Later in 2013, we’ll also see Win8 tablets packing Intel’s Silvermont Atom processors, which should deliver a nice performance increase over Clover Trail.

We’ll have new editions of the system guide ready for your perusal by then, so stay tuned.

Comments closed
    • KristinSmith9
    • 6 years ago
    • MaryAlcala15
    • 6 years ago
    • Nec_V20
    • 6 years ago

    For “The Double Stuff” you still have the AX850 listed as the recommendation.

    The Corsair AX850 has been superseded by the far superior Corsair AX860 (I have both PSUs). I would strongly suggest that you update your recommendation accordingly.

    • EmilyLave9
    • 6 years ago
    • jennychapell17
    • 6 years ago
    • MonicaWhite03
    • 6 years ago
    • JuliaOfeefe4
    • 6 years ago
    • gamerguy23099
    • 6 years ago
    • MarionLima00
    • 6 years ago
    • canoli
    • 6 years ago

    yeah you’re right indeego there are infinite ways to configure a machine and call it a “real” workstation. But one common denominator *should* be: it’s an investment, the user produces work, deliverables that clients buy and eventually the machine pays for itself. Surely that’s a workstation, regardless what software it runs.

    Even that definition only gets us part way though as it’s still too broad. I would rule out machines that run proprietary software and / or the big “iron” applications used in high-finance, medical field, geothermal, etc. and also CAD applications. It’s a fine line ruling in/out certain apps but my idea is to target the article toward likely TR readers.

    Well what the hell, I know I’m just dreaming…I realize 90% of TR readers are gamers who want benchmarks for hardware that will run their fav games. It’d just be nice…once… to see a 2P system. Configure a killer machine for video editing / rendering. That would naturally include a discussion of workstation cards vs gamer cards, huge amounts of RAM, RAID arrays – sw vs hw RAID etc. Maybe 90% of TR won’t read it but if they did they’d probably learn something worthwhile.

    • Mr Bill
    • 6 years ago

    I think its about time that these systems also come with suggestions about operating systems that include a few versions of Linux for comparison. I just found out a couple days ago that my brother in law has installed a Ubuntu Linux partition on his Windows 8 system and he is quite pleased with himself. He never gave even lip service to the advantages I listed years ago about SUSE Linux and now he is going on about the same advantages. This may just be time for a sea change.

    • canoli
    • 6 years ago

    I always look at the Double-Stuff Workstation hoping one of these years I’ll see a REAL workstation that dispenses with the $3K limit. Every year I’m a little disappointed it’s not there.

    For 3 grand you can’t possibly build a “real” workstation using today’s standards. What you can build is what’s on the DSW page now – a high-end gaming rig. A nice box to be sure, as is the one I’m on right now, (on the older X58 platform) but neither should be considered workstations today. Not with the availability of lower-cost Xeons and very-low-cost RAM.

    Most of the work software (RETAIL software not industrial, proprietary apps) is multithread-aware. Rendering movie files, 3D animations – these are CPU-intensive process. So where are the 2P systems? Where’s the Xeons? I understand – we have to blow by the $3K limit. So let’s.

    When it comes to RAM we have the author practically apologizing for slotting in 16G. That’s HALF of what a “decent” workstation has these days. Mograph apps, digital FX, camera-tracking software, etc. a lot of these are RAM-hungry. So where are the server boards that support 64G and more?

    Then there’s the whole realm of GPGPU. I’m still not clear how much good a Quadro or FirePro card is for retail apps like Adobe – unless you’re running a 10-bit color pipeline I don’t see much benefit other than stability, which may or may not be worth 2 grand (for a decent Quadro/FP card). But anyway, can’t TR at least discuss them? I would love to read more about the pros and cons of “real” workstation GPUs.

    Anyway – as always I love reading the guides. I don’t want to complain too much because I love the guides as they are so let me offer it as a suggestion: Let’s see a REAL workstation for once.

    Begin with a 2P system, that’s first. Let’s have 12 cores / 24 threads. Believe me this is not at all extravagant when you’re rendering out 3D animations. RAM=64G min. Then we need a RAID array for fast access to source files – anything less is a deal-breaker for editing HD, never mind RED footage or even higher rez frames. Even SD footage, with certain codecs…you really want a RAID array feeding your NLE. Xeons don’t support software RAID so we’ll need a RAID card.

    Yes we’re past the $3K limit but not too far past. I bet the minds here at TR could configure a Killer Workstation for <$4500. A “work” station is an investment that eventually (at least theoretically) pays for itself with the work you produce with it. Even if (like me) it’s 80% hobby and 20% work, I still want the performance of a REAL WORKSTATION. I would love to see TR’s suggestions on building one.

    Well thanks for listening…like I said the guides are great, fun to read, etc. the way they are. I just hope you’ll add a [i<]real[/i<] workstation in the future.

      • indeego
      • 6 years ago

      Wonderful post, except for the part where there are literally hundreds of ways you could configure a REAL WORKSTATION that don’t fit your mold or anyone else’s. For example, your examples above don’t go into the scores of ways CAD workstations need to be setup properly in an architecture firm versus a Semiconductor design/foundry.

      REAL WORKSTATION. I do like yelling it with you!

    • cubical10
    • 6 years ago

    It would be fantastic if a summary table could be added to these guides.
    A simple table with the builds as the columns and the components as the rows.

    I am always curious as to what changes between the builds and have to open each build in a separate tab on toggle back and forth.

    • thak
    • 6 years ago

    I bought one of Monoprice’s high-def IPS monitors, and I am absolutely impressed.

    [url<]http://preview.tinyurl.com/oyfc2wa[/url<] I would recommend them over "trying your luck" at eBay...

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 6 years ago

      For folks that don’t click on obfuscated hyperlinks, here’s a real link:
      [url<]http://www.monoprice.com/products/subdepartment.asp?c_id=114&cp_id=11401&cs_id=1130704[/url<]

      • Chrispy_
      • 6 years ago

      Welcome to the Korean S-IPS revolution 🙂

      The only thing about these screens that really sucks is the stand. Get yourself a VESA desk mount and enjoy one of the best panels on the market without the wobbly low-cost footstand.

    • dragontamer5788
    • 6 years ago

    For the Econobox alternative…the AMD FX-6300 costs $30 less than the A10-6700, but comes with L3 cache and unlocked multiplier. Its TDP is higher, but for a “standard” system, I think the econobox should use the FX-6300 instead. If you’re using a discrete graphics card anyway, you’ll benefit from the L3 cache and 6-cores on the FX processor.

    Is it “Richland”? No, but the older Fx-6300 should definitely be a consideration anyway. From a CPU perspective, the Fx-6300 crushes the A10 in performance and cost, and in multithreaded benchmarks is well above and beyond what the i3 can do. (Single-threaded benchmarks are still an area where the i3 beats the Fx-6300 of course).

    Microcenter is selling a Motherboard / CPU combo for the Fx-6300 at $125 right now: [url<]http://www.microcenter.com/store/add_product.aspx?productIDs=0366104,0401797[/url<] With that kind of savings, you'd be able to upgrade the graphics from 650Ti all the way up to a 760. I bet that a GTX 760 + Fx-6300 will run better than a GTX 650Ti + i3. Econobox also can consider a larger budget SSD. MyDigitalSSD's BP4 has been getting reviews and benchmarks around the Samsung 840 (not-pro), at a much cheaper price point. At $175 for 240GB, its an efficient SSD to consider. (At 120GB though, the Samsung 840 is the same price. Only at 240+ GB does MyDigitalSSD's BP4 become a better buy). 2TB Barracuda for HDD storage is a fine recommendation, although going for 3TB guarantees higher performance. Some 2TB Barracudas have weaker performance platters, and it is impossible to tell the difference during purchase time.

    • Suspenders
    • 6 years ago

    I’m dubious on the Windows 8 recommendation, especially after getting to finally use it extensively for a few days about a month ago. Not worth the hassle for the minor benefits that you mentioned, excepting perhaps the multi-monitor support which is supposedly better.

      • crsh1976
      • 6 years ago

      I agree, at least until Win 8.1 is officially out; Win 7 is still a better option for the time being.

      • indeego
      • 6 years ago

      3+ years more support for patches/support/SP’s/features. That also means software made for the OS is much more likely to be made for 8 and not 7 as 7 exits support.

      Not a big deal for those of use that buy our software rapidly, but it is a concern for ppl that like to keep their PC’s for 3+ years (i.e. most of my family)

    • kleinwl
    • 6 years ago

    If you are going to talk about overclocking and aftermarket coolers, you have to talk about delidding. What is the point of spending $60-100+ on an aftermarket cooler, when the biggest improvement is the cost of some careful work with a razer and a few squirts of TIM?
    That brings me to the next point, where is the TR recommendation for TIM or Alloy like Indigo Xtreme? That free putty that comes preaplied on the coolers is fine (I guess), but is it the best value given that you are shelling out so much for an aftermarket cooler anyway?

      • Firestarter
      • 6 years ago

      A system guide isn’t the best platform for suggesting that people immediately invalidate the warranty on their $200-$300 CPUs, especially not if the method involves taking a hammer or a razor to said CPU. The guides are not targeted at the kind of people who’d do that.

      • slowriot
      • 6 years ago

      I don’t think delidding is an appropriate topic for a guide on basic component selection. Honestly, even among people who have been overclocking for years it is an extreme move. It has a far high risk of causing permanent damage. It voids your warranty regardless.

      Also, the first recommended heatsink is only $35. That’s a very good heatsink which will be fine for the majority of people overclocking.

    • awakeningcry
    • 6 years ago

    I disagree with the H77 for the Econobox. If you’re in the market for a cheap(ish) computer, you’d never need a 2nd PCI-E x16 slot, or even more than 2 DIMMs. I say go for a B75 mobo.

    • Symmetry
    • 6 years ago

    With integrated graphics getting faster I wonder how long it will be before it makes sense to just leave the discrete GPU out of the Econobox? Especially given that the cheaper integrated graphics will let you put in more memory and maybe an SSD.

      • chuckula
      • 6 years ago

      The econobox using the Richland part and eschewing the discrete GPU would be a very good setup for exactly this type of thing. If you really don’t care about games, you could dump the GPU from the Intel version of the econobox too and it would run basic tasks just fine.

      The TR guides tend to be geared towards gamers. In that realm, there is still a huge step up from even the very best IGPs to lower-midrange GPUs, although we may see the need for such parts diminish over time.

        • Symmetry
        • 6 years ago

        Right. There’s still a pretty big gap between even the best IGP and a hundred dollar discrete card right now, but Intel and AMD are improving their IGPs faster than discrete cards at at given price are improving. I don’t think today’s guide is at all wrong to go with the discrete card, but I expect that there will come a time when IGP is a reasonable alternative even in the context of gaming.

      • Bensam123
      • 6 years ago

      At $600, I hope they wont. Maybe if the pricepoint was $400… But $600 is still a lot of money.

      • sschaem
      • 6 years ago

      When 2560×1440 monitors are about to go under $350, and the market will get flooded with next gen console port.. Even Intel highest $600 APU wont be able to give you 5FPS…

      And I start to see signs that 3840×2160 will become the new 2560×1440.

      I think come late 2013, APUs are going to struggle in low budget gaming PCs.

        • indeego
        • 6 years ago

        Low budget gaming PCs don’t buy at 3480×2160. And won’t for many years. High resolution LCD adoption is glacial, if history is any indication.

          • sschaem
          • 6 years ago

          Why would you spend $650 for a budget PC (without OS) and then turn around and buy a cheapo $200 1080p monitor ?

          2560×1400 27″ IPS monitor are ~$350 … thats totally “gamer budget”.

          So what APU can game at 2560×1400 even today?
          I guess if you play in half res… 1280×720. But what a waste.

          And if you check LCD production, 3840×2160 panel is shaping to be the new 2560×1400.

    • chuckula
    • 6 years ago

    The Chuckula-Special:

    CPU: Intel 4770K @ 4.7GHz*
    GPU: Gigabyte GIGABYTE GV-N770OC-2GD (Overclocked GTX 770, using Nvidia because of superior driver support under Linux)
    Motherboard: Asus Z-87 Pro (reviewed by TR [url=https://techreport.com/review/24890/asus-z87-pro-motherboard-reviewed<]here[/url<]) RAM: Patriot Viper 3 DDR-2133 (32GB at 1.5V) Case: Fractal Design Define XL-R2 PSU: Silverstone TEK ST75-FG (750 watt) SSDs: 2x Samsung 840 Pro (512 GB), mounted behind the motherboard tray in the case so I was able to remove both 3.5" hard drive cages. CPU Cooler: NZXT Hydra X60 (Front mounted in a custom configuration inside the case). Case Fans: Cougar Vortex HDB 140mm (4 up front, one side-panel, one rear-panel, one-roof) OS: Arch Linux Please note that while this build is fully capable of playing games, that's not its primary purpose, so please don't lecture me about how Crysis3 doesn't need that much RAM or how hyperthreading doesn't help your score in Borderlands. I'm sure you're right, and I'm also sure that a 16GB RAMdisk + Hyperthreading does wonders for my kernel builds doing custom compile runs for large software packages. * 24/7 OC, the chip is fully capable of going higher for benchmarking purposes, but I don't build benchmark rigs, I build working rigs.

      • ronch
      • 6 years ago

      You forgot something! That 4770K is DELIDDED! And you’re probably the first guy insane enough to do that to a new, high end (mainstream) chip.

        • chuckula
        • 6 years ago

        I doubt I was first, but probably in one of the upper percentiles since I ordered the chip on launch day. I’ve seen some other accounts from around the web of the delidding process. My OC to 4.7GHz is by no means spectacularly great either, but the system is very stable and the temperatures are very reasonable even under very high real-world workloads.

      • tfp
      • 6 years ago

      The Chuckula-Special needs price a list for those of you who want to create the same build.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 6 years ago

        As requested:
        [quote=”Chuckula”<] The Chuckula-Special: [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116901<]$350[/url<] Intel Core i7-4770K [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?ItemList=Combo.1352791<]$210 -100 combo[/url<] Asus Z-87 Pro [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820220699<]$300[/url<] 4x8 GiB Patriot Viper 3 (DDR3-2133, CAS 11, 1.5V) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835146028<]$108[/url<] NZXT Kraken X60 [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814125463<]$406[/url<] Gigabyte GV-N770OC-2GD GeForce GTX670 2GB ? Sound card [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820147194<]$950[/url<] 2x Samsung 840 Pro (512 GB) ? Hard-drive ? Optical drive ? Card Reader [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811352029<]$100[/url<] Fractal Design Define XL-R2 (black) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817256066<]$188[/url<] Silverstone ST75-FG (750 watt) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835553003<]$140[/url<] 7x Cougar Vortex HDB 140mm (not PWM) ? Keyboard ? Mouse ? Monitor ? Speakers [url=http://www.archlinux.org/download/<]$2½[/url<] Arch Linux [/quote<]

          • chuckula
          • 6 years ago

          Mostly accurate… I got the ram for $50 less because I bought it in March. The fans were also substantially cheaper because I got them on sale + bulk discount (total price ~$80). The Silverstone I got for about $140 instead of the higher $188.

          One part that was actually more expensive was the case, I got it for $130.

          As for keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, sound card, and optical drive, I recycled those so I didn’t bother to include them in the price. I doubt most people would care that much about those choices so think of them as being independent from the merits/demerits of the rest of the build.

          • tfp
          • 6 years ago

          Awesome 🙂

      • cynan
      • 6 years ago

      If the primary use is for memory-intensive tasks like compiling large software packages, etc, then wouldn’t the Chuckula special be better served going the X79 route with the quad memory channels and investing in a 3960k for about $200 more than the 4770k?

        • chuckula
        • 6 years ago

        That’s one option, but while the 3930K is a great chip, the X79 platform isn’t that outstanding for device support. With the OC, my 4770K is actually in the same ballpark as the stock 3930K for compile jobs while giving me the benefit of native USB 3, more SATA 3.0, etc.

          • cynan
          • 6 years ago

          Well, the obvious rebuttal here is that you can also overclock the 3930k (probably comfortably to 4.5 GHz) , at which point, it’s about as fast or slightly faster than any CPU Intel makes, stock.

          Yeah, the lack of peripheral provisioning on the X79 chipset is a bummer.

          But on the mid range X79 boards, there are add on controllers that extend the chipset USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 shortcomings. I have this [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157289<]Asrock board[/url<] which sells for about the same price as that Asus board you listed that's been pretty solid. With the front panel header, it gives me 6 USB 3.0 (4 in back and 2 in front) and 4 or 5 SATA 3.0 (depending on if you count eSATA). And if you need more SATA 3.0 ports, you can always get a more expensive board.

            • chuckula
            • 6 years ago

            Fair enough. My system is by no means the fastest machine ever made but these were the tradeoffs I arrived at. Bear in mind that I upgraded from a Core 2 Duo… big step up, but I don’t upgrade very frequently. If I had been on a different schedule and gone with the X79 platform, then I definitely wouldn’t have built a Haswell machine. I still considered the X79 platform anyway, but still came back to the 4770K as being the best all-around option.

    • Shouefref
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<] It offers all of the same functionality as Windows 7,[/quote<] That's simply not true.

      • jihadjoe
      • 6 years ago

      With the free downgrade it does! 😀

        • Nec_V20
        • 6 years ago

        That was the first thing that popped into my head when I read Shouefref’s comment – but you beat me to it.

    • WulfTheSaxon
    • 6 years ago

    Seems like a really strange choice of RAM for the Econobox… $46.99 for 1.65V CL9 when Newegg has 1.5V CL9 for only [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231193<]$37.99[/url<]? (Or, if it must be Kingston, [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820104254<]$45.99[/url<].) Edit: The 8 GB kit seems equally odd at $64.99 for CL11 when there’s CL9 for only [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820313353<][s<]$59.99[/s<] $50.99[/url<].

    • Geonerd
    • 6 years ago

    Tiger Direct and a few other vendors still stock Amd’s Thuban X6 chips. Tiger’s 1045T is only 89 bucks. Assuming continued availability, that would have been my Budget Box CPU choice by a _large_ margin over the i3. These chips will do 3.5~3.8 on stock voltage.

    • JohnC
    • 6 years ago

    Hmm… Nice overall guide, BUT…
    1) No Creative cards mentioning as a possible alternative? I know you haven’t reviewed them yet, but still – some alternative recommendation to “mandatory Xonar cards” would be nice…
    2) No mentioning of Logitech’s mechanical keyboard? Again, just because you haven’t received a review sample from them doesn’t mean that people should rely on “faux mechanical” Corsair models (yes, I know that you also mentioned the newer, actually mechanical models) or on crappy Razer products (which are known for their low QC).
    3) Using eBay links to some Korean IPS monitor seller? Not sure if it’s a good idea – no official warranty on these things + the particular seller might remove the product listing or close its eBay shop any day…

      • indeego
      • 6 years ago

      For #3 I would like to see a follow-up to their article about those Korean monitors. Enough time has passed that we should get some feedback on their use.

      • WillBach
      • 6 years ago

      Why the downthumbs? He’s obviously joking about the Creative cards.
      Edit: this is (obviously) my own, individual opinion 🙂

    • sschaem
    • 6 years ago

    From the gaming benchmark I see, the FX-4300 seem to match of beat the i3-3220.

    Actually the Fx-4300 seem to match the i3-3220 overall. (compute not power usage)

    So why propose the more costly A10-6700 APU as the i3 alternative for a discreet gaming rig ?

      • derFunkenstein
      • 6 years ago

      Power, or to go ultra budget by using the APU. Otherwise I think you’re probably right

    • CampinCarl
    • 6 years ago

    I think it’s time to reconsider the thought process on the Double Stuff. It used to get it’s name from being a workstation that was packed with dual CPUs and lots of goodies. These days, it’s a single CPU affair, and doesn’t strike as something particularly workstation-y. While I admire the attempt to bring down the cost associated with this build, if a reduction in cost is desired, a name change should be applied as well.

    For another $700 or so:
    2 AMD Opteron 6344 Abu Dhabi 2.6GHz Socket G34 115W 12-Core $849.98
    1 GIGABYTE GV-R797TO-3GD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition $449.99 (or use a 780)
    2 Western Digital WD Black 2TB $319.98
    1 SilverStone RAVEN Series RV03B-W $149.99
    1 ASUS KGPE-D16 SSI EEB Server Motherboard Dual Socket G34 AMD SR5690 DDR3 1600/1333/1066/800 $429.99
    1 SeaSonic Platinum Platinum-860 860W $199.99
    2 SAMSUNG 840 Pro Series 256GB $499.98 (Use in RAID-0)
    2 Kingston 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3 1600 $607.98
    Subtotal: $3,507.88

    This brings us a system with 24 integer cores (12 FPU cores) on two sockets, a fantastic graphics card (from either camp), speedy storage and lots of extra storage, 32GiB of RAM per CPU, and high quality power. A build that, truly, one could call a Double-Stuff Workstaion. You could also swap the Abu Dhabi processors for some Sandy-Bridge Xeon 2620 processors, and find an appropriate motherboard. Less integer cores, but (maybe?) better overall throughput.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 6 years ago

      What do you do with your workstation that requires that many cores, or are you just trying to see how much money you can spend? With the System Guide’s emphasis on gaming, I don’t know that you would gain much over the [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116492<]$570[/url<] six-core Core i7-3930K Sandy Bridge-E by spending for multiple CPUs. [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813182260<]$490[/url<] SuperMicro MBD-X9DAi-O (EATX) [i<]or[/i<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813182343<]$370[/url<] SuperMicro MBD-X9DRL-3F-O (ATX) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819117272<]2x $1935[/url<] 8-core Sandy Bridge-EP Intel Xeon E5-2687W [i<]or[/i<] [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819117269<]2x $425[/url<] 6-core Sandy Bridge-EP Intel Xeon E5-2620

        • moose17145
        • 6 years ago

        I think he was just stating that the double stuff workstation doesn’t really appear to be a WORKSTATION anymore. Not that he needs that many processing cores. But there ARE a great many workstation programs out there that can use that many cores, and more with ease. But that’s enterprise grade software for ya.

        I have kind of been thinking the same thing about the last several system guides about the double stuff how it has seemed kind of “meh”. Don’t get me wrong… It’s a fantastically powerful machine. But it is certainly no professional grade workstation like in many of the early system guides. And I think that’s what some people wanting to see… Some just completely over the top true to life workstation with essentially no budget. I am sure most of us have all configured systems like that on newegg ourselves, not because we need it. But just as a dream (except for deenjo who actually hits the buy button at the end of the process). That being said I think a lot of people are curious what TR would build if they were to put together a true and proper dual socket high powered workstation.

          • indeego
          • 6 years ago

          No enterprise should be building off TR’s guides. Period. Enterprises determine their needs and requirements first, then they get the hardware. And they don’t hobble parts from the web to save a few bucks, they get tested, known configurations with full support.

          ars has a God Box. I take ars a little less serious, because of it, too.

            • Chrispy_
            • 6 years ago

            That’s just ridiculous. I know dozens of freelancers who need as many cores as they can afford.

            I’m with CampinCarl in that the “Double Stuff Workstation” shouldn’t be called a workstation if the emphasis is on gaming. In my mind “workstations” are specialist tools with way more processing power and memory than the majority of off-the-shelf builds. Typical workloads involve multiple high-load VM’s or complex renders/calculations capable of fully-loading 24 cores and exceeding the 32GB of RAM that Sandy/Ivy/Haswell top out at.

            • indeego
            • 6 years ago

            [quote<]"I know dozens of freelancers who need as many cores as they can afford."[/quote<] /me does a fry eyes, can't tell if making this up or you genuinely know dozens of individual freelancers that do this. I participate in a sysadmin group that includes startups, architects, legal professionals, graphic designers, and this would be the first. Yes PPL build their own systems. Nobody goes for dual-socket anymore. Nobody that uses render farms builds their own farm. It's a massive time-sink for very little advantage. To professionals, time > the thrill of building your own. And if they need all the cores they can afford, then they also need to build systems as quickly and reliably as possible. As much as enthusiasts like to put themselves in the center of the world, [i<]professionals[/i<] don't have the time to fiddle with building dual-socket systems that may or may not boot up the first time, for that elusive 1-3% advantage over OEM (and that's arguable.)

            • Chrispy_
            • 6 years ago

            I used to make a living solely as a boutique workstation builder starting back when Opterons and AthlonMP options started smacking Intel around, it was off the back of working at the RM stall at university servicing university hardware as a part-time job. I probably had market exposure to 5000-6000 people during the four years I did that, so I was pretty busy as a builder.

            I stopped a few years ago when homebrew made more sense for the architectural firm I’ve been with for 8+ years. For whatever reason, architects tend to want to become independent once they’re fully part-III qualified, so colleague after colleage has asked me for a worstation build and I oblige for a small fee. Support is [b<]not[/b<] included; They get a powerhouse cheap and they're typically okay with replacing add-in cards themselves. If someone clueless wants a machine I point them to a vendor for the additional support because I don't need/want the hassle. There's definitely no [i<]thrill[/i<] in building my own but in terms of time spent, I tend to buy batches of parts (currently twelve of everything) and assemble with familiar hardware which speeds things up. Building one takes an hour or so, but the more you build the faster it becomes. I had a little help from a minion last month but that batch of workstations went from palette delivery of parts to a dozen domain-joined, freshly-imaged workstations (and the packaging recycled) in about five hours. Dealing with the packaging and imaging the machines is a large chunk of the time/effort; quite frankly, buying a dozen pre-built machines from Dell/HP is still going to take a couple of hours of unboxing and disk-imaging. Same hardware from Dell/HP is unavailable, which is why we build bespoke. They just aren't as flexible. As for reliability, probably 1 in 20 machines has a build hitch due to DOA hardware of some sort, but in the field the machines are typically more reliable than the Dell/HP options we used to buy - because we buy 80+ seasonic PSUs and I refuse to get boards that aren't all solid-cap. Look at your typical vendor workstation and you'll see OEM kit built down to the lowest possible price to fulfil the role it's made for and no more. There are lots of caveats, but it always comes down to overall cost during the lifespan of the asset. Sometimes a vendor will beat homebrew but even if I bill my time at £200 an hour (I [i<]*wish*[/i<] I saw anything close to that rate) we're still making savings in the 50% or higher category, in terms of uptime and performance/$ I don't expect even my sample sizes to be particularly significant, but in terms of hardware that passes through my hands in one way or another I probably get experience with 10x more of the available hardware on the market and in 50x greater quantities than your typical hardware enthusiast. Does that make me right? I don't know; I can argue to the accounts department why I *think* I am but money saved is not always everything and in another company the usage model might be wildly different.

        • Symmetry
        • 6 years ago

        Back in my grad student days I would run simulations that would take 3 days to finish on a cluster of 4 Pentium IV machines. I would have really, really liked something of this sort.

      • Krogoth
      • 6 years ago

      If you want to use ECC memory on the Intel side. You will end-up having to get a Xeon chip anyway, granted they are half-lock which makes overclocking problematic.

        • chuckula
        • 6 years ago

        You ain’t overclocking that server opteron part either.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 6 years ago

          I don’t think Carl is overclocking, though I also don’t think his choices are very good for a DoubleStuff, either. It’s supposed to be an excessively fast box in all scenarios and 2.6GHz Opterons aren’t going to do it in low thread count projects.

          OMG can’t spell

            • Chrispy_
            • 6 years ago

            We need a quad-socket board that can accept mismatched processors;

            Three opterons and a 2500K@5GHz or something 😛

            (It’s almost as ridiculous a suggestion as hoping AMD makes something with competetive per-thread performance in the next ten years)

            • derFunkenstein
            • 6 years ago

            ASRock used to make some weird stuff, so maybe you should write in to them.

            • Chrispy_
            • 6 years ago

            You mean like a 775 board with APG, PCIe, DDR2, DDR3 and an actual serial port? 😀

        • stdRaichu
        • 6 years ago

        I’ve not tried it myself, but apparently it’s possible to run some of the i3 desktop chips with EEC as long as the motherboard supports it. I’ve just finished a server build based around a Xeon E3-1265v2 on an S1200KPR but one of my counterparts with an almost identical build says that ECC works with his i3-3225.

        Completely irrelevant for the workloads you mention, but handy for those of us who’d like ECC without having to pay through the nose for it.

          • Turd-Monkey
          • 6 years ago

          Running ECC with a Celeron G530 (Sandy Bridge) in a SuperMicro X9SCL.

            • Krogoth
            • 6 years ago

            Interesting, I thought that Intel locked ECC support on all non-Xeon chips.

            I suppose these units are just a minor oversight. 😉

    • puppetworx
    • 6 years ago

    Mirin dat Asus Z87-A heatsink bling.

    I have the 4670K in mind for my next build, but I can’t yet find the reason to pull the trigger. I’ll probably end up waiting for DDR4 and maybe the next line of processors from both companies.

    • chuckula
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<]The only big advantage the A10-6800K has over the A10-6700 is an unlocked upper multiplier. In theory, that means you're free to overclock it to your heart's content. In practice, though, the A10-6800K doesn't seem to have much overclocking headroom. Turning your PC into an electric heater just to eke out insignificant performance gains seems like a waste. We think it's wiser to stick with the A10-6700 and enjoy that chip's lower TDP.[/quote<] OK, don't go hating on the CPU-to-Electric-heater conversion! As for the 6700... are you saying that you really can't overclock it? I was under the impression that all AMD parts outside of things like Kabini were unlocked for overclocking... is that not the case? [Edit: I see from all the downthumbs that the usual suspects are up to their old tricks. I'll post a Chuckula Build to describe what I just put together and I'll probably get a -200 out of spite.] [Edit 2: I'll take it by the downmods that I am right about the inability to OC these Richland parts. Insert recycled Bensam123 rant about product segmentation that he's too much of a hypocrite to apply to AMD here.]

      • uni-mitation
      • 6 years ago

      No good deed goes unpunished.

      BTW, kudos for delidding the chip, although a bit reckless. How is going?

      • Bensam123
      • 6 years ago

      You know it’s pretty sad when you have to drag me into a completely unrelated post simply because you’re down in the negatives and need someone to soap box about so people agree will you, regardless of content or subject matter.

      Do you have any dignity?

      I have no interest in talking with you exactly because of this sort of behavior.

      • dragosmp
      • 6 years ago

      “OK, don’t go hating on the CPU-to-Electric-heater conversion! As for the 6700… are you saying that you really can’t overclock it? I was under the impression that all AMD parts outside of things like Kabini were unlocked for overclocking… is that not the case?”

      About this part I agree. I also agree with going for a 6700 over a 6800K, but it seems some folks have forgotten to OC without using the multiplier.

      BTW, an enterprising user can OC the Kabini, like you can with the Atom. For these low end CPUs I find OCing quite rewarding as it makes them run some things that before were borderline (flash…)

        • chuckula
        • 6 years ago

        That’s very interesting. TR usually doesn’t delve into overclocking on lower-end platforms like that, but I’d be interested to see how an embedded Kabini motherboard runs with some overclocking applied.

          • dragosmp
          • 6 years ago

          I can’t say about Kabini, but I’ve played with Atom a bit. Atoms have FSB, so OCing is easily accessible by upping the FSB frequency while keeping an eye on RAM speed. It is a bit more difficult than it has to because there’s no PCI lock (couch Haswell/Ivy/Sandy), so the PCI clock moves with the FSB. 14% OC is usually achievable w/ SetFSB, and combined with the extra bandwidth from upping the FSB it gives pretty much a linear performance gain. With a netbook I got lucky and with some BIOS mods (+Vcore) it went over 2GHz at which point it’s quite decent coupled with an SSD (still Atom, but flash-playing atom). Since at base it didn’t consume anything, when OCed there’s no measurable increase in power draw.

          Still, there’s Atom OCing and low end OCing. TR could be less glamor-oriented and OC something other than the K+. Scott argued in the last podcast that OCing is no longer necessary, and I agree if you buy the high end. If you bought the P3 450 back in the days there was similarly little need to OC, but if you had the cache-less P2 based 300A you had to. OCing is just as interesting at low end as it ever was.

        • heinsj24
        • 6 years ago

        [quote<]About this part I agree. I also agree with going for a 6700 over a 6800K, but it seems some folks have forgotten to OC without using the multiplier.[/quote<] [b<]But, it's hard and requires maths...[/b<] Some part of me doesn't even consider changing a multiplier overclocking. So long as you can lower the multiplier... heh, heh, heh

          • dragosmp
          • 6 years ago

          True true, though I appreciate an unlocked multiplier. Using K10Stats I wrote my own C-states and Turbo modes because I have a BE, but otherwise I would have just upped the HTT as high as reasonable and play with the multi within the max stock and 4x. It does require math, clock=bclk x multi is too dam hard.

      • ronch
      • 6 years ago

      [quote<]the usual suspects[/quote<] Hmm, I don't think the king of downthumbs has been visiting TR lately. All the downthumbs he got probably outnumbered the downthumbs he spewed out 1000:1 and made him seek out greener pastures. Well, no downthumbs from me since you've been trying so hard to win that FX-8350 for me. Too bad it's no longer TR's sweet spot alternative. You should know though, that AMD pulled a Milli Vanilli out of their hat and is now using 'K' to identify unlocked APU models. I thought Scott already made that perfectly clear?

      • nanoflower
      • 6 years ago

      I think Cyril would be happy to have the PC as heater IF he lived up in the Yukon in an area that consistently dropped below 0 F. during the winter. But in warmer climes it’s a bad idea. It’s a horrible idea around here where the temps get into the 90s (F.) and you can hear the hum of air conditioners all summer long.

      I thought the problem was that there just isn’t much overclocking headroom no matter what you do. I know that was true for one of the AMD processors they just reviewed (other sites reported the same thing) unless you were willing to use something like liquid nitrogen.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 6 years ago

      You can OC non-K Richland but it has to be on the FSB. That actually works with AMD. It’s not ideal, though. I’d rather go K and OC with the multiplier.

      OTOH, all the FX CPUs have unlocked multis, so on AM3+ you can buy a cheap CPU and go to town.

    • StuG
    • 6 years ago

    Too bad the Corsair 330R wasn’t out for this, I think that is much nicer compared to the NZXT H2.

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 6 years ago

    {minor nit-picking}

      • Cyril
      • 6 years ago

      Fixed, thanks.

      • ronch
      • 6 years ago

      Honestly, is there anyone out there who is STILL actually having to choose between 32-bit and 64-bit when it comes to Windows?

      This reminds me of Ubuntu. Not sure if it’s still the case today, but Ubuntu lets you choose between 32- and 64-bit flavors before downloading and the 32-bit version is the one that’s actually recommended on the spot. With most machines having at least 4GB of RAM isn’t it strange that they’re still recommending the 32-bit version?

    • Yan
    • 6 years ago

    No AMD CPU for the sweet spot alternative?

      • FuturePastNow
      • 6 years ago

      I agree it’s an oversight. While the FX-8350 isn’t so hot in a performance-per-Watt comparison (or perhaps I should say it’s too hot), it’s still in a good place on the performance-per-dollar chart, and that’s what really matters.

        • Bensam123
        • 6 years ago

        Yup…

          • Firestarter
          • 6 years ago

          Yep

        • dragontamer5788
        • 6 years ago

        Fx-6300 is the real “Sweet Spot” alternative. At $60 cheaper than the FX-8350, and with the same per-thread performance as an FX-8350 but with 6-cores… its an *extremely* cost-efficient buy right now.

      • Geonerd
      • 6 years ago

      I’m no Kool-Aid chugging fanboy, and I don’t want to cry ‘conspiracy,’ but it does seem that TR has taken on a somewhat anti-AMD tone lately.

        • JohnC
        • 6 years ago

        Not conspiracy, just general laziness 😉

        • Bensam123
        • 6 years ago

        Pretty much… Perhaps it’s more of the people posting, but stuff like this makes you wonder… Maybe it’s because people are starting to make light of power consumption when it’s met with a desktop environment? TR makes a really big deal out of power efficiency and thermals in pretty much every review since bulldozer? (I don’t remember when it started)

          • nanoflower
          • 6 years ago

          I think it started when we finally saw someone pushing for lower power usage. Until that happened there was no use in heavily considering it in reviews because it was a choice between high power usage from Intel or high power usage from AMD. Now both companies are pushing for better power usage while still keeping decent performance but AMD is running behind Intel by quite a bit unless you look at APUs. Considering all of the systems are built around using a dedicated graphics card it’s little wonder that AMD doesn’t meet the current performance/price settings. That may very well change late fall/early next spring when we start seeing AMD releasing true new designs. At least one can hope.

          Also you have to consider that in just about every review the AMD GPUs get good reviews now that AMD has fixed most of their latency issues. If the TR editors were really set against AMD that wouldn’t be the case. Even in this guide they mentioned that there’s not a huge difference between the AMD and Nvidia offerings at the various price points. It comes down to what games you play and whether the extra games AMD offers are of interest to you as to which vendor looks to be the better choice.

            • Bensam123
            • 6 years ago

            The point was they ARE very competitive when it comes to performance/price. They’re quite a bit cheaper then Intel chips on that front, they aren’t competitive from a thermal or efficiency stand point.

            • Geonerd
            • 6 years ago

            I think the current obsession over power (magnified and encouraged by Intel’s marketing monkeys) is a bit over the top. So long as you’re not running a render farm or distributed computing CPU cruncher 24/7, AMD’s extra power consumption is not likely to amount to a hill of beans.

            Also keep in mind that when gaming, even something as silly as the FX-9590 won’t be drawing anywhere near max TDP, simply because there are (AFAIK!) exactly zero games that can load all 8 cores.

            • chuckula
            • 6 years ago

            [quote<](magnified and encouraged by Intel's marketing monkeys)[/quote<] Totally! This guy even claims to be a VP of AMD and he spews that efficiency malarky! Just watch the video: [url<]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSw2GTLHtQo[/url<] Imagine the nerve of Intel to hire fake AMD executives who claim that Intel could ever "blow away" AMD in any dimension! What a joke! Only a paid Intel shill pretending to be an AMD executive would ever push "performance per watt" They should all go to jail for harming AMD's image and for pushing some idiotic tripe that having the top megahurtz rating is somehow not the only metric that counts for true performance.

            • Geonerd
            • 6 years ago

            Oh, Pulllleaze….

            All I’m saying is that low power has been Intel’s primary selling point with respect to the Haswell release. They’ve make a big point of emphasizing this aspect of their new chips. (Raw performance isn’t going to sell too many!) Very low power consumption is an admirable achievement but, IMO, people have been giving it a disproportionate amount of attention. A 50w TDP delta on a desktop CPU that sees single-digit-percent utilization over the course of a day is not that big a deal.

            • Bensam123
            • 6 years ago

            Yup… It matters when you’re either dealing with bulk (super computers, lots of servers) or when you have a finite amount of electricity (mobile).

            It doesn’t matter a whole lot, if at all when it comes down to desktop usage or even HTPCs. Unless we’re talking about something that is a ridiculous outlier, the above holds true. I wouldn’t put a 9590 in a HTPC… I wouldn’t buy a 9590 regardless, but I wouldn’t buy a lot of the i7s or SB-E either… They just aren’t worth it. Those cater to an entirely different niche that I don’t think has their feet on the ground all the time (Intel or AMD).

        • chuckula
        • 6 years ago

        Really? I see lots of AMD graphics cards getting primary recommendations while Nvidia has been booted to the second tier in these reviews. I also see the APUs like Richland getting nods too.

        From what I see, TR is more than happy to recommend AMD’s strong products but isn’t twisting itself into pretzels to promote the AM3+ platform that doesn’t have many advantages and is a dead-end according to AMD’s own roadmaps. I think TR should be commended for promoting AMD where it makes sense instead taking an AMD-only approach like Bensam & crew would like.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 6 years ago

          HEAR YE, HEAR YE, ALL HAIL THE OMNI-IMPOTENT COUNT CHUCKULA

        • ronch
        • 6 years ago

        I don’t think so. Haven’t they just given away (or are giving away) a couple of those FX-8350 chips lately? TR LOVES AMD.

          • Bensam123
          • 6 years ago

          Giveaways work like ask company X to donate free things for a give away, company X gives you free things.

          That would be more like AMD loves TR, then TR loves AMD. TR doesn’t buy the gear to give it away. Sometimes companies do, but most of the time this is just a publicity thing for company X and that’s why they give them free gear to give away.

          I’m sure they asked Intel too, but as you can see from the giveaways they aren’t nearly as generous (unless the Intel giveaways are to come).

      • ronch
      • 6 years ago

      Don’t worry. They’re saving the FX-8350 for their Winter 2013 System Guide.

        • DancinJack
        • 6 years ago

        nice!

      • Chrispy_
      • 6 years ago

      AM3+ is dead, isn’t it? AMD are moving to FM2 as their platform of choice, IIRC. I though one of the major requirements for anything in the system guides was a measure of future-proofing and upgradability.

      Personally I wish AMD would consolidate their plaforms and put a whole bunch more effort into FM2 rather than splitting their options over multiple CPU sockets.

        • dragontamer5788
        • 6 years ago

        Rumors are that Broadwell is killing the socket. So LGA1150 is dead… or at least as “dead” as AM3+. (ie: you buy an i7 Haswell for LGA1150, and you’ll likely never get a better CPU for that socket). It does appear that AMD is pushing FM2 recently, but AM3+ still has those nice FX-series processors, which hit a very nice price/performance category right now.

        Either way, DDR4 is just around the corner, (as well as other memory configurations like stacked memory). So all sockets made today will not be very future-proof regardless of how you cut it.

          • chuckula
          • 6 years ago

          [quote<]Rumors are that Broadwell is killing the socket.[/quote<] If Broadwell is "killing" the socket then so is Kabini since Kabini's don't come in sockets. I'm not buying either scenario though. As has been known for some time, Broadwell is a mobile-only update where BGA packaging makes a great deal of sense. Intel has a socketed update for Haswell on next year's roadmaps and all rumors about Skylake are that it comes in a socketed form factor too.

        • ronch
        • 6 years ago

        [quote<]AM3+ is dead, isn't it?[/quote<] I'm curious to know why AMD hasn't announced Vishera's successor to the AM3+ platform, nor has AMD announced the successor to the 990FX chipset, which is also getting a bit long in the tooth as far as platform features are concerned. Steamroller is coming out in the form of Kaveri APUs this year, so it means the cores themselves are almost ready. How hard can it be to plop four of these Steamroller modules into one piece of silicon and sell it as an FX AM3+ CPU? No, AMD is not doing it this year for mysterious reasons. And IIRC, although SR will come out in CPU-only configurations next year, they will be doing so as Opteron parts. So I'm a little bit worried that AMD is planning to kill off AM3+. That's not a problem if those SR cores will beat the hell out of today's Piledriver cores and put up some serious competition against Haswell cores. If that's the case, I'd be happy to have just two SR modules in a Kaveri chip with some potent GPU packed in. Having 8 cores is fun, but trading core count for per-core grunt isn't a bad idea at all, and seems to be what makes people choose Intel these days.

          • JustAnEngineer
          • 6 years ago

          [quote=”ronch”<]How hard can it be to plop four of these Steamroller modules into one piece of silicon?[/quote<] [url<]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uL0ROeZw7wA[/url<]

          • chuckula
          • 6 years ago

          A few points:
          1. According to the AMD roadmaps that TR posted not too long ago, Steamroller is [b<]not[/b<] coming to the server world in a CPU-only format during 2014. Steamroller cores are coming out in early 2014 Opterons, but it is only as a re-badge of Kaveri (codename: Berlin). There is an update to the high-end server platform (socket G34) for 2H 2014, but AMD's slides make a point of saying that the refresh is using Piledriver cores. 2. AM3+ is dead and AMD has been telegraphing that fact to us since at least the beginning of the year. There's no direct AM4 successor either. The new socket FM2+ is going to be the path forward on the desktop until at least 2015 when AMD might jump to DDR4 (although they may hold off until 2016 to let DDR4 prices come into the mainstream). FM2+ is rumored to bring PCIe 3.0 support to the AMD side, which puts it even further ahead of the 990X chipsets, not to mention the USB 3 support and not requiring a separate northbridge part. 3. The good news is that while socket FM2+ is obviously primarily geared towards chips with IGPs, AMD has the opportunity to come up with a 4-module Steamroller part that could fit into the FM2+ socket. I could certainly see them ripping out the IGP and doubling the module count of a Kaveri part, and only having to support one desktop/single-socket server platform would be much more economical than what they are doing now.

            • ronch
            • 6 years ago

            Ah, yes. I guess all those are correct or believable, except #3, which I’m not so sure about. Cramming 4 modules and an IGP in there will probably require some serious cooling unless they can really bring TDP levels doooooowwwnnnn.

            I’m ok with FM2+ and having just 4 cores moving forward as long as those CPU cores start to look pretty good next to what Intel is offering. If they can cram 4 modules like you said, then I’m not complaining either.

        • Bensam123
        • 6 years ago

        It’s about as dead as any other socket a year before the next chip to succeed it comes out, which is to say it’s not.

        Intel changes sockets like every chip, so I don’t know why this would be a point for not including AMD products…

          • chuckula
          • 6 years ago

          Bensam, you constantly whine about how I’m “mean” when I accurately point out your hipocrisy, but then you make snarky comments and downthumb my clearly laid out analysis with zero content other than factually inaccurate snarks at Intel.

          1. With the exception of LGA-1156, Intel has had CPU refreshes for every consumer grade platform going back for years and that includes LGA-1150 where there will be a refresh next year as clearly shown on Intel’s roadmaps. Oh, and as for LGA-1156, it had support for just about as long as both socket FM1 and socket FM2, so I’m sure you’ll be the first one to say that AMD should be held to the exact same standard as Intel [snort].

          2. The supposedly miraculous AM3+ socket that AMD intentionally debuted months before Bulldozer to con people like you into rushing out for an “upgrade” supports these chips:
          a. Phenom II, but what’s the point when if you already had a Phenom II you would have already had a motherboard that supports it, so you bought a motherboard to support the chip you already had and now you have a spare motherboard sitting around for no reason.
          b. Bulldozer: SEE AMD GAVE YOU AN UPGRADE!!!… yeah whatever, more like a side-grade on a good day.
          c. Pilerdriver: Finally an upgrade in 2012… assuming the poor innocent victim of Intel’s evil marketing didn’t just break down and get a Sandy or Ivy before Piledriver came out, in which case it wasn’t really an upgrade now was it?

          3. Meanwhile, if some dumb schmoe Intel fanboy bought an LGA-1155 motherboard in 2011 and did a half-way competent overclock, he’s got a system that’s faster than an FX-8350 across the board and assuming it’s a quad-core, it’s guaranteed to be faster than Kaveri’s CPU part, which is all AMD is giving you in 2014. Even without an overclock, there really isn’t any workload where an FX-8350 is going to blow Intel away in every dimension, as a certain AMD executive used to say.

          Bensam123: BUT NO UPGRADEZORZZ!!
          Rational Person: Well, he could upgrade to Ivy Bridge…
          Bensam123: STRAWMAN! IVY BRIDGE NOT UPGRADE! INTEL FAIL!
          Rational Person: So you’re saying that there’s no need to upgrade from Sandy Bridge since everything Intel has made since then is a complete failure, but that Sandy Bridge is still faster than anything AMD cares to produce.
          Bensam123: Yes! I mean no! STRAWMAN! YOU HAVE TO PAY MICROTRANSACTIONS BECAUSE I SAY SO! INTEL HATES USB 3! AMD FEELS FASTER BECAUSE I ARE SMARTAR THAN YOU!

    • Bensam123
    • 6 years ago

    No console or HTPC build… :l

      • chuckula
      • 6 years ago

      [quote<]No console or HTPC build... :l[/quote<] Here's your Console review (almost recycled from 2006 with the exception of Nintendo) 1. Sony PS3 2. Xbox 360 3. Wii-U Winner: Nobody. Remember, the system guides are for products you can actually buy, not products coming on the market in 4 months (when there will be another guide that includes those products).

        • C10 250
        • 6 years ago

        I assume he means gameconsole alternative PC build like this one:

        [url<]https://techreport.com/review/23204/tr-summer-2012-system-guide/10[/url<]

          • Bensam123
          • 6 years ago

          Yup… and/or a HTPC gaming PC alternative…

            • chuckula
            • 6 years ago

            The choices aren’t really any different from their last HTPC recommendation with the possible exception of using a Richland chip instead of a Trinity part.

    • chuckula
    • 6 years ago

    One alternative that I would strongly recommend from personal experience in the enclosure area: For those of you who would like a large case, the Fractal Design Define XL R2 is excellent and I got mine for $130 [Edit: and Newegg is running a sale for only $100 [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811352029[/url<]]. Assuming you don't think that being bigger is a huge drawback, I would put it ahead of the Corsair 650 in many respects other than price too.

      • DeadOfKnight
      • 6 years ago

      Nothing beats the 650D dude. It’s the most beautiful mid tower ever conceived by a boat.

        • chuckula
        • 6 years ago

        See, I want a mid-tower that was conceived by a trawler, not a boat.

        Slightly more seriously, the 650D is a nice case, but it isn’t the be-all end-all enclosure out there and it’s also showing its age in a few areas like support for large all-in-one liquid coolers.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 6 years ago

          I got a Define R4 as a Father’s Day gift and I love it. My wife saw a case that had sound-dampening foam inside it and figured that a home musician would love it. She was right; I love it. The two included fans spinning at 5v and the fan from the CM Hyper 212+ keep my CPU cool and my system quiet. I have to crawl under the desk and stick my head down by the rear to hear anything.

          Previous case was fine, FWIW. Cooler Master 690 II Advance. I kind of miss the SATA dock from it but otherwise, the R4 is better in every way.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 6 years ago

            Looks a lot like my Antec P183. Actually the Define Mini looks like an adequate replacement for the Mini P180 which seems to have disappeared. I once had my whole build planned around this, but for some reason I just couldn’t give up the expandability of full ATX.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 6 years ago

            Having seen a P183 in person I’d say the R4 is smaller. It’s plenty wide and deep but not as tall as the Antec.

            The Define Mini definitely looks like a Mini P180 replacement. If I was buying my own case instead of getting a gift I might have gotten the Mini instead since I have an mATX board though the R4 is a splurge I’m happy to have. Looks like it’s hard to go wrong either way.

            • insulin_junkie72
            • 6 years ago

            Yeah, replaced my P182 with a R4. The R4 is about an inch wider and about two inches shorter than my P182.

            Not quite as tank-like in terms of build quality as the P182, but that’s just a sign of the times, I guess. Even the P280 is a bit flimsy compared to the P180 series.

            I was thinking MATX, but they all had flaws for my purposes, so I jumped on the R4 for $80 on a NewEgg sale. The Mini sometimes runs the same price on sale, but it’s not much smaller and being about two years old lacks some of the refinements of the R4 such as 140mm fans and more room for cabling.

            • JustAnEngineer
            • 6 years ago

            The Mini P180 wasn’t very mini on the outside. I’m happier with the TJ08-E.

            • DeadOfKnight
            • 6 years ago

            Well the Fractal Design Define XL R2 looks very much like a modernized version of my Antec P183. I’d prefer the smaller footprint of the R4 though. In fact, if I weren’t going so much for aesthetics in my next build I might actually want a Mini and Micro ATX board, but I want my next machine to be a color-coordinated, windowed work of art. 😀

            • derFunkenstein
            • 6 years ago

            Yeah, for sure. That thing looks huge and awesome. Terrifyingly huge.

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