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Sharky Extreme : Monthly High-end Gaming System Buyer's Guide January 29, 2010

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    September High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
    By Vince Freeman :  September 22, 2006


    As our last High-end Guide covered off the late-Summer buying rush, the start of the Fall season is a perfect 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 optimal AMD and Intel gaming PC configurations are 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 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/company over the other.

    Today is the official end of Summer 2006, but that doesn't mean the hardware deals have cooled down. We're seeing incredible processor values, as Intel has introduced the Core 2 Duo and AMD quickly responded with deep price cuts to the Athlon 64 X2 line. The high-end video card selection has also increased recently, as NVIDIA released the GeForce 7900 GS and 7950 GT, and ATI countered with the Radeon X1900 XT 256MB. Unfortunately, the news isn't all good, and memory prices continue to spike, and have really put some pressure on our guide this month. The high-end AMD processor selection also has a few open questions, and one of these negatively influenced our configuration. These are the main areas of concern this month, although we have managed to upgrade a few other components along the way.

    Case: ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS/SWA Full Tower w/Antec 550W TruePower TP2-550EPS12V Power Supply

    Current Cost: $237
    Months on list: New
    Price Change: N/A

    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.

    This month we are shifting our case recommendation in a big way, by formally moving to the ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS Full Tower. We recommended this case as an alternative in our previous guide, but for those with stay-at-home PCs, this model is just too good to be true. The ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS (black) and VA8000SWA (silver) offer a superb case design with exceptional internal real estate, cooling, and aesthetics.

    The VA8000BWS looks great, is incredibly functional, and has all the space that even hardcore upgraders could ever need. The case features eleven 5.25" and eight 3.5" bays and supports motherboards from Micro ATX to Extended ATX. It is also very flexible, and includes nifty features like relocate-able HDD & FDD drive bays and top-mounted USB 2.0, IEEE 1394 Firewire, audio and speaker ports, and the case even has the retaining holes and real estate necessary for water-cooling systems.

    Of course, with the good must come the bad, and true to its "full tower" name, 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 also brings with it 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 option.

    Of course, those who desire a more mobile PC, especially LAN gamers, will want to head for a lighter, less expansive system enclosure. The Cooler Master WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C, a long-time choice of the HE Guide, remains a super option. The internal real estate is great for a case this size and it offers 4 x 5.25", 1 x 3.5" (external), and 4 x 3.5" (internal) drive bays. The aluminum WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C also offers a removable motherboard tray, front mounted USB ports, and space for 7 expansion slots. It comes in a variety of colors, including Silver, Black, Blue and Yellow, and expect to pay in the $120-$130 range for this model.

    Another interesting case option is the Gigabyte 3D Aurora line, which offers a killer combination of lightweight aluminum construction and expansive internal real estate. The 3D Aurora features 5 x 5.25", 2 x 3.5" (external), and 5 x 3.5" (internal) drive bays, and room for 7 expansion slots. Cooling is also exceptional, with one front-mounted 120mm fan and two back-mounted 120mm fans, all of which run virtually silent and push a lot of air. Other options such as side-mounted USB, Firewire and audio ports are included, and these Gigabyte cases look great and are very easy to work with.

    High-end cases usually do not ship with a default power supply, allowing the buyer choose exactly which model meets the system requirements. This is a perfect 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 of 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 Core 2, and at a price of under $100, 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. On the other hand, the Antec 550W TruePower 2.0 powers our main office/gaming system so you're covered either way.

  • 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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