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Sharky Extreme : Monthly High-end Gaming System Buyer's Guide February 19, 2011
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Monthly High-end Gaming System Buyer's Guide


January High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide

By Vince Freeman :  February 1, 2007


The New Year is a time for new beginnings and resolutions, and represents a great opportunity for a new 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, while still adhering to our $2500 budget limit. We certainly do choose high-end, brand name equipment, while 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 or company over the other.

The start of a new calendar year is usually not a great time to buy a new system, due to new government and business PC budgets, and the corresponding price gouging that takes place, but 2007 is a bit different. We have some great values right now in both the processor and graphics card areas, not to mention the January 30th release of Windows Vista. Prices have also stabilized for the most part, and there are really no areas that put undue pressure on our system budget. The processor and graphic card components are the main sections we are looking to upgrade this month, as well as toning a few others up along the way.

Case: ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS/SWA Full Tower w/ Antec 550W TruePower Trio TP3-550 EPS12V Power Supply

Current Cost: $239
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: +$2

The foundation for any gaming system begins 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.

Last time out, we switched our primary case recommendation to the ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS Full Tower. This massive system enclosure is a near-perfect match for enthusiast-level gaming systems, although it is a bit hefty to be dragging around to LAN tournaments. Even so, this model is just too good to be true and offers an astounding selection of features, performance, cooling, and internal real estate. 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 high-end system configurations.

The VA8000BWS not only looks great, but it's incredibly functional and has all the space that even hardcore upgraders could ever need. The ThermalTake Armor tower case features eleven 5.25" and eight 3.5" bays, and supports motherboards from Micro ATX up to Extended ATX. It is also very flexible, 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 to institute a water-cooling system.

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.

The ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS hits all the marks save one - portability. For those who desire a more mobile PC, especially LAN gamers, then a lighter, less expansive system enclosure might be in the cards. The Cooler Master WaveMaster TAC-T01-E1C, a long-time choice of the HE Guide, remains a high-end 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 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, thus allowing the buyer to choose exactly which model meets the system requirements. This is a perfect solution, especially as there are very few one-size-fits-all power supplies. Our recommendation this month is an upgrade from the previous Antec 550W TruePower 2.0 to the new Antec 550W TruePower Trio TP3-550 EPS12V power supply. This PSU offers all of the amenities of the TruePower 2.0, while upgrading the design to accommodate three +12V rails, which allows for more even power distribution and a more stable system. This PSU is designed for high-end AMD and Intel systems with dual-video cards and other enthusiast-level configurations.

The Antec 550W TruePower Trio TP3-550 EPS12V follows the standard TruePower design, and forgoes removable power connectors in favor of a more consistent wired approach. The Antec 550W TruePower Trio PSU not only provides up to 550W of consistent and reliable power, it also features native support for PCI Express, SLI video cards, Serial ATA, both 20 and 24-pin motherboard power connectors, as well as a low-noise 120mm cooling fan. The EPS12V format allows for both 4-pin and 8-pin ATX 12V connectors, which will support all types of Intel and AMD desktop platforms. The Antec TP3-550 is as comfortable running an Athlon 64 X2/FX as it is a Core 2 Duo or Quad, and at a price of under $100, this is a relatively affordable unit, especially considering its excellent specifications and 5-year warranty.

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 TruePower Trio TP3-550 EPS12V has found its way into our recently upgraded main office/gaming system, so you're covered either way.

  • Page 1

    Introduction and Case

    Page 2

    Processors and Cooling

    Page 3


    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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