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Sharky Extreme : Monthly Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide February 14, 2008

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    October Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
    By Ryan "Speedy" Wissman :  October 31, 2005

    Video Card: GeForce 7800 GTX 256-MB PCI Express

    Cost: $459
    Months on list: 2
    Price Change: -$40

    PCI Express has all but replaced AGP in the high-end video card market, and as newer cards are PCIe-only designs, any high-end system configuration should support this technology. A couple of months ago NVIDIA introduced the GeForce 7800 GTX, which is a powerhouse offering performance similar to that of dual GeForce 6800 Ultra boards in SLI mode. Even with the recent release of ATI's X1800 series based on the R520, NVIDIA's lead has not been shaken.

    The GeForce 7800 GTX has a number of new features and performance enhancements that put it considerably ahead of last year's GeForce 6800 line. At around $459, these new cards certainly don't come cheap, but considering a single GeForce 7800 GTX can match the performance of dual GeForce 6800 Ultras, it's actually a better value.

    NVIDIA's latest generation card, the GeForce 7800 GTX, isn't quite the same leap in performance and features that the GeForce 6800 was over the FX line, but it can certainly hold its own against anything else on the market, including ATI's Radeon X1800 series. The GeForce 7800 GTX features support for SLI, CineFX 4.0, Intellisample 4.0, MPEG-2 and WMV hardware acceleration, Ultra Shadow II, and PC Express to name a few. Most GeForce 7800 GTX cards come clocked at 430MHz for the core and 1200MHz for memory, and come with 256MB of onboard DDR3 memory. However, core and memory speed has been known to vary slightly among different manufacturers, so make sure you have the fastest card before you buy.

    This past month ATI finally unveiled their long-awaited R520 chip that powers the Radeon X1800 line. While the chip is certainly no slouch, we couldn't justify making the switch this month as it doesn't seem to offer much more than we already have in the NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX. However, for those of you who prefer ATI, the Radeon X1800 series is your best bet.

    Monitor: Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW 20.1-inch (wide) LCD

    Cost: $545
    Months on list: 2
    Price Change: +$21

    As we continue to phase out CRT monitors from our buyer's guides, LCD monitors have become increasingly attractive, especially for our High End and Extreme Buyer's Guides. ViewSonic NEC/Mitsubishi, Samsung, and Dell are among the world's best in terms of high-end gaming monitors, especially in terms of high-end and widescreen displays. We prefer to invest a sizeable chunk of our monthly allotment into a high quality monitor, as a nice LCD or CRT display will be a long-term investment that may well outlast your computer itself.

    The industry is currently in the process of moving away from bulky CRT monitors, and last month we did the same for our monitor choice. The Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW 20.1-inch (wide) LCD is the best performing, and most economically viable, 20" widescreen LCD monitor currently available. The UltraSharp 2005FPW features the same LG panel as the more expensive Apple 20" Cinema display, but for a few hundred dollars less. This monitor features a resolution of 1680x1050, a 12ms refresh rate, a 600:1 contrast ratio, 300 cd/m2 brightness, and includes DVI and VGA outputs. The monitor can be purchased direct from Dell for about $545, which reflects a slight price increase compared to last month.

    For gamers who cannot stand the thought of using an LCD, the Mitsubishi Diamondtron 22" DP2070SB-BK is an excellent CRT-based alternative. This flat aperture grill (the kind with two horizontal wires) monitor has a 20" viewable area, a maximum resolution of 2048x1536 at 85Hz refresh rate, and a .24mm dot pitch. Mitsubishi warranties the monitor for three years against defects, so it is important that you pick up the retail model for the full protection. Keep in mind that high-end 19" monitors like this are becoming increasingly difficult to find, but at about $600, it makes an excellent alternative to our main selection, especially if LCDs aren't your thing.

    Sound Card: Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS

    Cost: $279
    Months on list: New
    Price Change: N/A

    Just last month, Creative released their long-awaited X-Fi series of soundcards. The X-Fi is a completely redesigned sound processor, and marks Creative's first non- EMU10K1 audio processor since the SB Live. Arriving in four different versions, Creative covered just about every market segment one could think of from entry-level to professional. We decided to go with the gamer oriented, and expensive, X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS. The X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS offers all of the enhancements found in other X-Fi cards, with the addition of 64MB of "X-RAM" which is used to cache sounds for faster processing, and can lead to increased frame rates.

    The X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS has a 109dB signal-to-noise ratio, and supports full 7.1 channel surround sound, DTS ES and Dolby Digital decoding, 24-bit, 192 kHz audio, and EAX 5.0, as well as the new 24-bit Crystalizer engine, which will resample and enhances all sound to 24-bit. The entire X-Fi line utilizes three distinct "modes" that can be switched on the fly, a gaming, audio creation, and entertainment mode can be selected to better accommodate specific needs. Priced at a spectacular $279, the X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS is the most expensive soundcard we have ever included in this guide. However, the high-end features, exceptional audio, and potential performance increase with the 64MB of "X-RAM", is simply something we could not pass up, especially considering the nature of this guide.

    Speakers: Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Digital

    Cost: $220
    Months on list: 4
    Price Change: -$55

    Even though our AMD and Intel systems have had 7.1-channel support for quite some time now, we still prefer to use 5.1 channel speaker systems. Currently, the market for 7.1 systems is very dry, and we couldnt find much outside of Creative's own line that could suit our needs. As a result, we are sticking with the excellent Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Digital speaker system. The Z-5500 set offers the best audio quality without putting a huge dent in our already strained budget. The Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Digital set can be purchased online for about $220, significantly less than they were last month, but still a bit on the expensive side.

    Logitech's THX-certified Z-5500 speakers feature a total RMS burst power rating of 505 watts, and include an external DTS and Dolby Digital decoder. The system sports four 62W surround speakers, a 69W center channel, and an 188W subwoofer (505 watts total), along with a hip Digital SoundTouch Control Center with LCD display and other settings and inputs. These speakers are a perfect companion to the Audigy 2 Platinum, and the Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Digital is one of the best sounding and most feature-rich PC speaker sets we've ever used.

    Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards and Memory
    Page 4 Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW
  • Page 5 Video Card, Monitor and Audio
    Page 6 Mouse, Keyboard & Controller
    Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

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