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Monthly High-end Gaming System Buyer's Guide

September 2005 High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide

By Ryan "Speedy" Wissman September 30, 2005

Introduction

In each edition of our monthly High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, we take $2500 in spending money, and then go to the limit in search of the ultimate high-end gaming machines. These systems certainly pump out the gaming framerates, but we do not spend this money frivolously, and our tech savvy and eye for a deal play a large role in the choices we make. All of the hardware picks in this guide are done after carefully weighing the price to performance ratio of each component, then seeing how each component fits into our $2500 budget. This guide also 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.

The basic goal of our high-end guide is to give you a general idea of what kind of gaming PCs are possible with a budget of $2500. While the individual components are top notch, we definitely take a look at the larger picture, and then decide which pieces meld together to form the highest performing, feature-rich gaming configurations possible, all while keeping our $2500 limit in mind. We also recommend system configurations for both the Intel and AMD sides of the spectrum, and are not here to promote one platform over the other.

This month we were able to secure a number of high performance upgrades for our high-end gaming systems. On the graphics side of things, NVIDIA's GeForce 7800 series is finally hit the open market, and it makes a welcome appearance in this month's guide. This is a video card that fits perfectly into our high-end performance and budgetary requirements, and represents a definite step forward. We also managed to improve a number of other components in this system, and the CPU, audio, and memory selections have been bumped up using the some of the latest and greatest technologies that we could fit into our $2,500 budget.

Case: Cooler Master WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C w/Antec 480W NeoPower Power Supply

Current Cost: $214
Months on list: 5
Price Change: -$15

The cornerstone of any first-class gaming system is a high quality power supply and case. In each of our three guides, we generally cover our case and power supply choices first, due to the relative importance of both items and the fact that these provide the foundation for the other components. We feel that it is vital to choose a case that is not only pleasing to the eye, but also one that enjoys a spacious interior and has superior craftsmanship. After all, your system case is probably going to stick around long after you have upgraded virtually every component of your system.

A few quality case manufacturers continue to make our short list each and every month, and Cooler Master, Antec, and Lian Li are just a few of the high-end case manufacturers that produce eye-catching, cutting-edge, high-end enclosures. For the past few months, we have been very impressed by the Cooler Master WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C, and nothing has caught our attention enough to move away from that choice again this month.

The WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C is definitely one of the best cases we have ever used, and our willingness to stick with it over the past five editions of this guide is a testament to its quality. This case features a removable motherboard tray, a spacious interior, convenient front ports, a solid drive door, and sleek, brushed aluminum housing. The WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C also provides a nice combination of a mid-size exterior and a spacious interior, with 4 x 5.25", 1 x 3.5" (External), and 4 x 3.5" (Internal) expansion slots, front mounted USB ports, and room for 7 expansion slots. This system chassis also comes in a variety of colors, including Silver, Black, Blue and Yellow. Priced at about $120, this model does not come cheap, but as the old saying goes, "you get what you pay for."

Today's high-end cases generally do not ship with a power supply, so it is only natural that we make a PSU recommendation in this guide. High-end computers have significant power and signal requirements, so giving the consumer the option to choose a power supply is really in everyone's best interest. Since new dual core processors, faster clock speeds and new ATX formats are emerging with regularity, this type of flexibility is very important. Taking all these factors into consideration, the Antec 480W NeoPower makes a return appearance in our high-end guide, and adds a whole new level of flexibility to the equation.

The NeoPower is built around a modular design that allows you to attach only those cables you require, thereby saving a bit in terms of internal real estate. In addition to modular power cables, the PSU offers 480W of reliable power, native support for PCI Express, Serial ATA, and both 20 and 24-pin motherboard power connectors. The NeoPower 480W PSU is available online for about $94, making it a bit pricier than other 480W models, but the peace of mind and high-end features that this power supply offers is worth the additional cost.


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