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Monthly High-end Gaming System Buyer's Guide

PC Buyer's Guide for Gaming Enthusiasts, April 15

By Housen Maratouk April 14, 2011

We’ve made a few changes since our last issue of the Enthusiast-level PC Buying guide. Partly in response to reader demand, for example, we decided to fit an SSD drive into this $2,000 build. Doing so, of course, meant having to make some compromises in other areas. We’re confident, though, that the end result is an even better system than we saw in the last issue.

This guide will offer processor and motherboard suggestions for both an Intel and AMD system, though the other components will remain the same. Last month, we suggested that Sandy Bridge might be an option by now. But while the updated processors are now readily available, motherboards are still a little hard to track down. So rather than just settle for whatever 1155 motherboard we can find in stock, we decided to leave that option alone for this current issue of the guide.


System Case: Cooler Master HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP Full Tower
Current Cost: $140

Few of the choices you make will play as big, and as enduring, an impact on the system you end up with as the system case. Given how long you’ll be living with this selection (potentially through multiple system builds and upgrades), you don’t want to skimp… but you also don’t want to break the bank.

As in the last issue of the guide, we went with the Cooler Master HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP Full Tower.  It weighs in at a hefty 29.1 lbs, with its 9.6” (W) x 22.5” (H) x 22.7” (D) size making it well suited for today’s ever-growing graphics cards. It offers plenty of ventilation, with 230mm fans at the front, side, and top, a 140mm fan in the rear, and room to add either additional fans or an easily-accessible liquid cooling system at the top of the case. And as we mentioned in the last guide, the red LED fan in the front and the meshed side window will make it look as good, as well.

The price went up a bit since we originally recommended this case. But we still think it’s a great choice for this build.


Power Supply: Corsair HX Series CMPSU-750HX 750W ATX12V 2.3
Current Cost: $135

Also returning since last month’s guide is the Corsair HX CMPSU-750HX 750Wpower supply. An 80 Plus Silver certified modular unit, it will help keep things from getting cluttered while all the power you need in an enthusiast gaming system. Backed by a seven year warranty, this is a unit that demonstrates how Corsair earned its reputation in the industry.

 


 

AMD CPU: Phenom II X6 1100T Black Edition (3.3GHz)
Current Cost: $240

Our choice for the AMD build once again made itself. Having dropped slightly to $230, the Phenom II X6 1100T offers a lot of bang for your buck. The highest-end of AMD’s desktop offerings, this AM3 socket processor comes with 6MB of L3 cache, with 512KB of L2 cache dedicated to each of its six cores. And like other Black Edition processors, the 1100T’s multiplier is unlocked, allowing for overclocking.


Intel CPU: Core i7-960 (3.2GHz)
Current Cost: $290

In the case of the Intel build, a small price drop allowed us to up our processor choice to the Intel Core i7-960, a four-core processor with 2MB of L2 cache (256KB per core) and 8MB of L2 cache. And with the right motherboard, overlocking beyond that the little boost that Turbo mode offers shouldn’t be much trouble.

As we mentioned earlier, a Sandy Bridge processor might seem like an attractive option. But motherboards that support it are still so hard to find that we decided to stick with an LGA 1366 for now.


Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
Current Cost:  $26

As we mentioned in the last issue of this guide, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus it’s not the highest end solution available. But it is a solidly performing unit that offers better performance than either Intel or AMD’s stock solutions, and it will allow you do some moderate overclocking. CPU cooling is one of those things you basically have to decide how much you’re willing to spend on.

Both Intel and AMD ship their retail processor with heatsinks and fans that will support stock speeds as well as some light overclocking. So if you’re not looking to do more than that, you can choose to forego (or at least put off) this expense. And if you really want to test the limits of your processor, you might find yourself spending 3x what we’re suggesting on a cooling solution. Between those extremes is the Hyper 212 Plus.


AMD Motherboard: ASUS Crosshair IV Formula (890FX)
Current Price:  $220

Another reappearance in this issue of the guide is the ASUS Crosshair IV Formula motherboard. As we previously mentioned, ASUS has long held the high esteem of gamers and enthusiasts, and the Crosshair IV Formula demonstrates why. Powered by the 890FX and SB850chipsets, this motherboard offers four PCI-E slots, four memory slots (with a max of 16GB of RAM), seven USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA port, an IEEE 1394a port, gigabit LAN, integrated audio, and 6 SATA 6Gb/s connections plus one SATA 3Gb/s connection. And if you’re looking to overclocking that AMD Phenom II X6 1100T, the TurboV functionality will let you do so easily.

Intel Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R
Current Price:  $200

As with the AMD motherboard (among other choices), we’ve stuck with our previous recommendation. The GA-X58A-UD3R is powered by the Intel X58 and ICH10R chipsets and offers four PCI-E slots, six memory slots (with support for up to 24GB of RAM), four USB 2.0 ports, two additional USB 2.0 ports that double as e-SATA ports, two USB 3.0 ports, two IEEE1394a ports, gigabit LAN, integrated audio, eight SATA 3GB/s connections, and two SATA 6Gb/s connections. And is with ASUS, Gigabyte offers  support for easy overclocking.


Intel Memory: Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1600 6GB 3x2GB kit (TR3X6G1600C8 G)
Current Price: $91
AMD Memory: CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB 2 x 4GB kit (^28HX29^3M2A1600C9)
Current Price:  $105

For each of our builds, we went with Corsair kits. In the case of the Intel system, we went with Corsair kits. In each case, we populated half of the available memory slots, with a 6GB kit for the Intel system (3x2GB) and an 8GB kit for the AMD (2x4GB). More than this, quite frankly, is unlikely to yield any meaningful performance gains for most gaming and enthusiast users. So the money that might be spent on any more memory is better spent elsewhere.


 Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA (Bare Drive)
Current Price: $88
Crucial RealSSD C300 2.5” 64GB
Current Price:  $120

At $90, the Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB (WD1002FAEX) drive offers quite a bit of performance and storage space for the money. Sporting a 64MB data cache, this drive supports the SATA 6GB/s interface and runs at 7200rpm. Backed by a five year warranty, this is solid drive from a solid company.

This time around, though, we’ve paired that larger storage drive with a 64GB SSD, the Crucial RealSSD C300 64GB drive (CTFDDAC064MAG-1G1). One of our readers, in the comments section of the last issue of this guide, suggested that we consider including an SSD. And while it didn’t make the cut in the last issue, we made more of an effort to fit it into the budget this time around.

 

Optical Drive:  LITE-ON iHBS112 12x BDR 2x BD-RE SATA (OEM)
Current Price:  $110

A Blu-ray burner might not be a necessity, but it is nice to have.  With an 8MB cache and SATA interface, the LITE-ON iHBS112 drive can burn BD-R discs at 12x, BD-RE at 2x, and DVD+R at 12x.


Video Card: HIS H687F1G2M Radeon HD 6870
Current Price: $215

At this price-point, the RADEON HD 6870 is still best available option. With 1GB of GDDR5 memory, a 900MHz core clock speed, and 1120 stream processing units, it still offers the best bang for buck. Ports include an HDMI port, 2 mini-DisplayPorts, and 2 DVI ports. Last month, we recommended one from Sapphire; this time around, it’s a reference model from HIS. Both are fine choices, as are offerings from a number of other manufacturers.


LCD: ASUS VE247H 23.6” LCD
Current Price: $190

For our display, we decided to go with the ASUS VE247H 23.6” LCD monitor. This TN display offers a 2ms response time, LED-backlighting, a native 1920x1080 resolution, and integrated speakers. Connections include one analog port, one DVI, and one HDMI. And for those who want more flexibility than the included stand offers, VESA 100x100m mounting holes gives you plenty of options.


Sound Card: Integrated
Current Price:  $0
Logitech Speaker System Z623
Current Price: $130

Last month, we avoided going with integrated on the suggested motherboards. But in fitting an SSD into our $2,000 budget, something that had to go. And unfortunately for any audiophiles, that something was the previously-recommended sound card.

On the plus side, integrated sound has come a long way in recent years. And paired with the Logitech Z623 2.1 speaker system, this solution should still be able to satisfy the needs of most gamers and enthusiasts.

 

Mouse:  Logitech G9x Wired Laser Gaming Mouse
Current Price: $70
Keyboard:
Saitek Cyborg V5 Wired USB Gaming Keyboard
Current Price: $42

For our mouse, we stuck with the Logitech G9x gaming mouse. But we decided to switch to a Saitek Cyborg V5 keyboard in the current issue of the guide. It’s sleek looks and solid reputation make it a great option for any gaming system.


Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit 1-pack for System Builders
Current price: $140

And finally, Windows 7 64-bit remains our best option for an operating system. The time will eventually come when this selection will change… but it won’t be any time soon.


Price Roundup

AMD Phenom II X6 System
Case: COOLER MASTER HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP Full Tower - $140
Power Supply: CORSAIR HX Series CMPSU-750HX 750W ATX12V 2.3 - $135
Processor: Phenom II X6 1100T Black Edition (3.3GHz) - $230
CPU Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus - $26
Motherboard: ASUS Crosshair IV Formula (890FX) - $220
Memory: Vengeance 8GB 2 x 4GB kit (^63HX64^3M2A1600C9) - $100
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB (WD1002FAEX) - $90
SSD: Crucial RealSSD C300 (CTFDDAC064MAG-1G1) - $120
Optical Drive: LITE-ON iHBS112 12x BDR 2x BD-RE SATA - $110
Video Card: HIS H687F1G2M Radeon HD 6870 - $215
Monitor: ASUS VE247H Black 23.6"- $190
Sound Card: Integrated - $0
Speakers: Logitech Speaker System Z623 - $130
Mouse: Logitech G9x Wired Laser Gaming Mouse - $70
Keyboard: Saitek Cyborg V5 - $42
Operating System: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit - $140
Total Price: $1,958

 

Intel Core i7 System
Case: COOLER MASTER HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP Full Tower - $140
Power Supply: CORSAIR HX Series CMPSU-750HX 750W ATX12V 2.3 - $135
Processor: Core i7-960 (3.2GHz) - $290
CPU Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus - $26
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R - $210
Memory: Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1600 6GB 3x2GB kit (TR3X6G1600C8 G) - $91
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB (WD1002FAEX) - $90
SSD: Crucial RealSSD C300 (CTFDDAC064MAG-1G1) - $120
Optical Drive: LITE-ON iHBS112 12x BDR 2x BD-RE SATA - $110
Video Card: HIS H687F1G2M Radeon HD 6870 - $215
Monitor: ASUS VE247H Black 23.6"- $190
Sound Card: Integrated - $0
Speakers: Logitech Speaker System Z623 - $130
Mouse: Logitech G9x Wired Laser Gaming Mouse - $70
Keyboard: Saitek Cyborg V5 - $42
Operating System: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit - $140
Total Price: $1,999


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