As we move into Spring of 2006, it's high time for another edition of our High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide. In this particular guide, we take $2500 in spending money, and then go to the limit in search of the ultimate in high-end gaming machines. These two systems certainly have the juice to pump out high framerates, but we also do not spend the money like a drunken sailor, preferring to keep a close eye on both the hotrod component list, and our wallet. All of the hardware picks in this guide are completed after weighing the price-performance ratio of each component very carefully, then doing a little mix-and-match comparison to see which configuration is the best fit for 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. Here, our basic goal is to determine what kind of gaming PC configuration is optimal, while still adhering to our $2500 budget limit. We certainly do choose high-end, brand name equipment, but also keeping an eye on the bottom line, and not wanting to spend madly in one area, while leaving another with a non-existent budget. Here at Sharky, we also offer 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 over the other.
Spring is a great time to think about a new computer or upgrade. The weather is nicer, the birds are singing, and the computer hardware manufacturers are busy pumping out newer and faster models. This is definitely true of the video card arena, where both ATI and NVIDIA have released new high-end products since our last guide, something we'll definitely be taking advantage of to upgrade our graphics component. The processor, memory, and peripheral areas also get a few upgrades, but nothing too severe or costly. In terms of the overall mix, we have upgraded gaming performance while smoothing and polishing a few of the rough edges.
Current Cost: $230
Months on list: 3
Price Change: $0
The foundation for any gaming system starts with a high quality case and power supply, and this is doubly important with a $2500 budget. We list these selections 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.
Certain high-end case manufacturers continue to make our short list each and every month, with Cooler Master, Antec, and Lian Li being a few of the bigger names, all offering, cutting-edge, eye-pleasing, high-end system enclosures. The choice of a system case, possibly more so than any other component, is really a personal call, but the guide will continue to offer a base recommendation that at least gives you an idea on the high-end specifications. As in past months, our choice is the Cooler Master WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C, a case that offers everything we need and a price that easily fits our budget.
The WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C is definitely one of the top cases we've had the pleasure of evaluating, and the fact that nothing has come along at the price range to dislodge it, is a testament to its excellence. The WaveMaster case features all the features you'd expect at this level, including a removable motherboard tray, a spacious interior, convenient front-mounted peripheral ports, an aluminum drive door, and an eye-catching brushed aluminum housing.
The internal real estate is also top notch on the mid-size WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C, as the case offers 4 x 5.25", 1 x 3.5" (External), and 4 x 3.5" (Internal) expansion slots, along with front mounted USB ports, and space for 7 expansion slots. We don't really want to get into the full-size tower range, as many of you take part in LAN parties, and the WaveMaster offers a great compromise. It also comes in a variety of colors, including Silver, Black, Blue and Yellow, and with a price tag of approximately $125-$130, this case is not bargain basement, but it does offer a lot for the money.
Most high-end cases do not ship with a default power supply, preferring to let the buyer choose exactly which model meets the system requirements. This is a nice solution, as there are very few one-size-fits-all power supplies. Our recommendation is one of them, and the Antec 550W TruePower 2.0 TP2-550EPS12V power supply offers everything but the kitchen sink, and is flexible enough to easily power both our AMD and Intel system configurations.
The Antec 550W TruePower 2.0 TP2-550EPS12V is more an old school design, forgoing the removable power connectors in favor of a more consistent wired approach. The Antec 550W TruePower 2.0 not only provides up to 550W of consistent and reliable power, this PSU also features native support for PCI Express, SLI video cards, Serial ATA, as well as both 20 and 24-pin motherboard power connectors. The EPS12V format translates into both 4-pin and 8-pin ATX 12V connectors, which support all manner of Intel and AMD desktop platforms. The Antec 550W TruePower 2.0 TP2-550EPS12V is as comfortable running an Athlon 64 X2 as it is a Pentium D, and at a price of only $99, this is a relatively affordable unit, noting its excellent specifications.
In case the Antec 550W TruePower 2.0 is not available, or for whatever reason is not a preferred brand, another prime choice is the Enermax 550W EPS12V (EG651P-VE) power supply. We mention this model specifically because all of our high-end benchmark testing is performed using this PSU and it easily stacks up there with the best from Antec.