Summer is the time for enjoying the weather, hitting the beach and taking part in all manner of outdoor activities, but a cool summer night can be a great time to take in some PC gaming goodness. It has also been a long while since our last guide update, and with some promising new arrivals in the processor and video card markets, this also marks an opportune time to check out what kind of systems we can snag for under $2500.
The High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide represents the median between our Value Buyer's Guide with only a $1000 limit, and our Extreme Buyer's Guide with its massive $4000 budget. Our basic goal is to select optimal AMD and Intel gaming PC configurations, while still adhering to our budget. We certainly do choose high-end, brand name equipment, while also keeping an eye on the bottom line, and not spending madly in one area, while leaving another component with a non-existent budget. This guide also offers recommendations for both Intel and AMD systems, as well as providing a secondary ATI/NVIDIA graphics option. After all, we're here to deliver kick-ass gaming systems, not promote one platform or company over the other.
The first half of 2008 has yielded some positive results in many areas of PC hardware, and some new releases have definitely made configuring our high-end guide a lot easier. This can translate into selecting one of the new products, or taking advantage of corresponding price drops, as the latest and greatest hardware pushes the last-generation down. We've used both strategies to really work the budget numbers to produce a very nice pair of gaming systems. As usual, the main goal is one of improving the overall performance and features of our AMD and Intel gaming systems, and these mid-2008 editions are two of our best yet.
Current Cost: $295
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
The foundation of any gaming system begins with a high quality case and power supply, and this is doubly important with a $2500 budget. We list this hardware selection first, across all three of our buyer's guides, to help stress the relative importance of system enclosures and that these provide the base for the other components. Aesthetics certainly count for something, but usability, features, craftsmanship, and real estate also figure into the overall ranking. It is very likely that the system case will outlast just about any other component in your PC, so it makes sense to give it special attention.
The ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS Full Tower checks in again as our primary case selection again this month, and it remains one of the premium high-end PC cases on the market today. This is one massive PC enclosure, which will probably negate its use as a LAN unit, but it offers a near-perfect match for enthusiast-level gaming systems. This case offers an astounding selection of features, performance, cooling, and internal real estate, and looks like a million bucks. The ThermalTake Armor tower also comes in two different flavors, the VA8000BWS (black) and VA8000SWA (silver), and both offer a superb case design that is tailor-made for true high-end system configurations.
The ThermalTake Armor tower case includes eleven 5.25" and eight 3.5" bays, and supports motherboard sizes from Micro ATX up to Extended ATX. This last part might come in handy if you ever want to move to a multi-CPU/dual socket platform, like some of the Intel XEON and Skulltrail setups. The VA8000BWS also has a very flexible design, and includes innovative features such as relocate-able HDD & FDD drive bays and top-mounted USB 2.0, IEEE 1394 Firewire, audio and speaker ports. ThermalTake has even included the retaining holes and real estate necessary if you want to incorporate a water-cooling system.
It's not all wine and roses, and since this is a full tower, the ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS is a real beast. It measures 530 x 220 x 560 mm (20.87" x 8.66" x 22.05") and weighs in at a hefty 16.2 kg/35.7 lbs. Its size can also be a positive, and translates into incredible cooling performance, especially with dual 120mm silent fans in front and rear, and 90mm fans in rear and top. ThermalTake has even validated it for fanless operation, including fanless CPU/VGA cooler, fanless PSU and fanless chassis. The unit's size and weight virtually eliminates the ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS as a LAN option, but for stay-at-home systems, it's a killer solution.
The ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS hits all the marks except one - portability. For those who desire a more mobile PC, especially for LAN gamers, we recommend a smaller aluminum or aluminum/steel unit. There are many possible options at a similar price range, like the ThermalTake Tsunami (left) and Antec Nine Hundred (middle) mid-tower cases, which check in anywhere from 13 to 18 lbs, and offer a lot of features and performance. The NZXT Tempest (right) also ranks very high on the mid-tower list, although this case is a bit heavier.
High-end cases usually do not ship with a default power supply, and instead allow the buyer some flexibility in choosing a specific model. This is a perfect solution for a high-end system, as there are very few one-size-fits-all power supplies. A few guides back, we upgraded to the Cooler Master 650W Real Power Pro RS-650, and this month we've sticking with the same basic design, but moving a bit higher on the power scale.
We had hoped to move to an 850W unit, but the budget simply wouldn't allow it, so 750W is a nice concession. The Cooler Master 750W Real Power Pro RS-750 does ramp up the price to $150, but with our component list becoming more robust with every update, this is the optimal wattage. It features 80-plus certification and supplies 750W of continuous power, with maximum output capacity of up to 900W. It is ATX12V/EPS12V compliant and supports any AMD or Intel desktop platform, while featuring native support for PCI Express (PCI-E 8 Pin x 2, PCI-E 6 Pin x 2), Serial ATA, a 24-pin motherboard power connector, as well both 4-pin and 8-pin CPU power connectors. It even ships with a 5-year warranty.
For those who feel the need for 750W of power, but may want to save a few bucks, the Corsair TX series is a very nice option. These are excellent power supplies, and the 750W unit features 80-plus certification and a 5-year warranty. All the connectors are there, including 8-pin CPU and PCI Express power cables, and at $130, it stacks up very well against the Cooler Master.