This month both of our motherboards feature dual onboard Gigabit LAN, so there is no reason for us to spend the extra money for an additional LAN card. Many consider nForce4-based onboard LAN to be better than what you would find from an external solution, especially when we're talking about Gigabit LAN capabilities on a PCI Express motherboard. However, for those of you who require an external LAN card we recommend something from 3COM or Intel as your best bet.
It seems like just about everyone has some type of broadband internet connection these days, but for those of you who don't, and frequently play multiplayer games, the online experience can often be a frustrating one. However, a good modem can make a bad dialup connection just a bit more tolerable. Our favorite USB modem is the US Robotics External V.92 faxmodem. We have been using the US Robotics modems in our guides for the past few years as they are some of the best dialup modems on the market, and at $46, it's worth the upgrade.
Windows XP is today's de facto operating system, and is quite possibly Microsoft's best effort on the gaming front. While games are slowly migrating to the Mac and Linux platform, most of today's PC games are designed with Windows XP in mind. We use Windows XP across all three of our monthly guides, as its 32-bit base makes it much more stable than previous versions. We use Windows XP Professional as our operating system of choice for both the Extreme and High End guides as it offers support for multiple CPUs, dual core CPUs, Hyper-Threading, and is much more feature-rich in terms of networking. It is a good idea to buy the most up-to-date version of an operating system, so we recommend getting the OEM version of Windows XP with the latest Service Pack 2 already integrated, as it will save you the time and hassle of downloading any older updates and fixes.
We include the cost of an OEM CD version of Windows XP instead of the more expensive retail boxed version. Generally, OEM software must be purchased along side a piece of hardware to get the discount, so just about anything in this guide will do. If you already own a version of Windows you might want to look into purchasing the upgrade version, which can potentially shave a few more dollars off the total system price.
Although often overlooked, an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) can come in quite handy when the power goes out, or when a massive surge runs through your power line. It is not easy to think of worse PC news than spending $4,000 on a new computer only to have it badly damaged or destroyed by a lightning strike or power surge. All UPS units have a built in battery that provides secondary power for a limited amount of time so that you can backup your data and properly shutdown your computer in the event of a power outage. Spending an extra $75 is certainly worth it, especially considering the extremely high cost of the components in this guide. In fact, it would be ridiculous to build such an expensive computer and then leave it without the security of a UPS.
Over the past few months we have taken a special liking to the very efficient and cost effective CyberPower OfficePower 825VA. This UPS offers a VA rating of 825 (410W full load), and a battery run time of about 20-60 minutes depending on the load (with our system it will be very high). In addition to a three-year warranty, CyberPower also offers insurance to connected components of up to $200,000. The OfficePower 825VA can be found online for about $75, a small price to pay considering the peace-of-mind and component insurance it provides.