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Sharky Extreme : Monthly High-end Gaming System Buyer's Guide July 4, 2009

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    July High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
    By Vince Freeman :  July 9, 2008

    Video Accelerator: Radeon HD 4870 512MB

    Current Cost: $318
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    Selecting a video card was a tough job this month, as both AMD/ATI and NVIDIA have released new products in our price-performance range. The two main contenders are the Radeon HD 4870 512MB and GeForce GTX 260 896MB, both of which are positioned at the high-end and currently priced at just over $300. Overall, the Radeon HD 4870 512MB offers a bit better price-performance ratio, and when coupled with the prevalence of CrossFireX support on many AMD and Intel platforms, this was more than enough to swing the balance in favor of the ATI card. There are many potential high-end cards out there right now, and for those who might want to save a few bucks, both the Radeon HD 4850 and GeForce 9800 GTX 512MB cards are available for under $200.

    The Radeon HD 4870 512MB features a 55nm GPU with 800 Stream processors (compared to 320 for the Radeon HD 3870), 40 texture units and 16 ROPs. Clock speeds are set at 750 MHz for the R700 core, driving the fillrate to higher than even a dual-GPU Radeon HD 3870 X2. The Radeon HD 4870 features 512MB of ultra-fast GDDR5 memory, which quadruples the 900 MHz base clock, and translates that into an insane 3600 MHZ effective clock and 115.2 GB/s of bandwidth. Needless to say, this is a very fast card, and very little can touch it when used in a CrossFireX configuration.

    That isn't to say NVIDIA doesn't have an able challenger, as the GeForce GTX 260 896MB is also a very powerful single-card solution. It sports a 65nm core clocked at 576 MHz with 192 Stream processors set at 1242 MHz. The 848MB of GDDR3 memory is clocked at 1998 MHz and features a 448-bit bus, for a whopping 111.9 GB/s of memory bandwidth - not far back from the Radeon HD 4870. Overall, the GeForce GTX 260 896MB is an excellent NVIDIA alternative at this price range, and you really can't go wrong with either card.

    LCD Display: BenQ G2400WD 24" LCD

    Cost: $399
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    The gaming LCD market has been in flux lately, with proponents of the various technologies arguing over terms like "input lag", "response times" and "viewing angle", while fans of both TN and S-PVA/MVA formats offering very compelling arguments. Our selection of the Westinghouse L2410NM 24" LCD was quite a coup, as it featured a MVA panel that was more than adequate for gaming. Unfortunately, availability has dropped off the chart for this display, so we're forced to dip into the LCD waters for a new model.

    At this price range, we're looking at a TN panel, and this can actually be a plus due to the incredibly low response times and almost non-existent input lag, two features that hammer PVA/MVA panels hard, and are becoming increasingly important to gamers. You do pay for it with lower viewing angles, which aren't really an issue with a single-user home PC, especially when gaming. The BenQ G2400WD is one of the better sub-$400 gaming 24" panels, as it features a 2ms GTG (gray to gray) response time, a 4000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, and a plethora of inputs, including HDMI/ DVI/ D-sub and a headphone jack. The standard resolution is 1920x1200 with a 0.27 mm pixel pitch, although the 160°/160° viewing angle is a bit lower than the 178°/178° commonly found on S-PVA panels.

    If you can still find it, the Westinghouse L2410NM is a great deal and offers an 8-bit MVA panel with a fast 8ms response times and a 176° horizontal and vertical viewing angle. It offers a 1000:1 contrast ratio and 500 cd/m2 of brightness, along with a wealth of connectivity options. These include HDMI-HDCP, DVI, component, composite, S-Video, and VGA, along with built-in 3-watt speakers, allowing the Westinghouse L2410NM flexibility for HD-DVD/Blu-ray playback and use with various gaming systems.

    Please keep in mind that when buying any type or brand of monitor, there is always the chance of receiving a defective unit, so be certain to purchase only from a vendor that offers liberal return and replacement options, especially in their "dead/stuck pixel replacement policy" for new LCDs.

    Sound Card: Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer

    Cost: $80
    Consecutive Guides: 5
    Price Change: $0

    Creative's X-Fi line of soundcards is a real update to previous technologies, and is definitely not an "upgrade" in name only. Creative packages the X-Fi sound chip in several different versions, but the entry-level X-Fi XtremeGamer edition is well suited to our guide. The X-Fi XtremeGamer offers several improvements such as a 109dB signal-to-noise ratio, 7.1-channel surround sound, DTS ES and Dolby Digital decoding, 24-bit, 192 kHz audio support, EAX HD support, as well as the new 24-bit Crystalizer engine, which up samples and enhances all sound to 24-bit.

    In addition, the X-Fi provides for gaming, audio creation, and entertainment modes that can be switched on the fly. The price is the real key, as the X-Fi XtremeGamer accommodates all of our audio requirements while remaining within budget, something the other Creative Labs X-Fi cards cannot do.

    The X-Fi Fatal1ty series is an attractive option, but it's still a bit pricey, but for those with some extra cash, it might be a worthwhile upgrade. The Fatal1ty Champion/Pro offers all the base features of the XtremeGamer, but also includes 64MB of built-in memory and a front connector port. This onboard X-RAM serves as a sound/FX buffer, and if it is implemented at the software level, may well increase game performance. Some limited support exists in some games, but nothing even approaches an industry standard like EAX. At approximately $150-$175, it is still a very expensive card, and with our budget, remains a luxury.

    System Speakers: Logitech G51 5.1 Surround Sound Speakers

    Cost: $150
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    With a high-end gaming soundcard, a good set of surround sound speakers is a great way to fully immerse yourself in games, movies and music. Choosing the right set of speakers is an important long-term investment, as these will likely stay with you a very long time.

    Although the Logitech THX Z-5300e 5.1 speaker set is an extremely good value, low availability has forced us to make a change. This month we're moving to the Logitech G51 5.1 speaker set, which features a total 155 watts RMS power output (4 x 20W satellites, 1 x 19W center, 1 x 56W sub), and a precision control pod (master volume, sub, center and surround level controls, audio/microphone mute, and a headset jack). Two 2-inch laser-tuned drivers power the satellites, while the subwoofer features a down-firing 5.25-inch high-excursion driver. These even feature speaker skins and a mod system for personal customization.

    Of course, if you can locate a set for a similar price, the Logitech THX Z-5300e 5.1 speakers offer an exceptional price-performance ratio, and with a total of 280 watts RMS power, these redefine the meaning of "bang for your buck".

    Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards
    Page 4 Memory, Hard Drive and DVD Writer
  • Page 5 Video Card, LCD Display and Audio
    Page 6 Mouse and Keyboard
    Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

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