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Sharky Extreme : Monthly Value Gaming System Buyer's Guide September 24, 2008

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    November Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
    By Vince Freeman :  December 1, 2007

    Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB (PCI Express)

    Current Cost: $147
    Consecutive Guides: 2
    Price Change: -$25

    To be very upfront about it, the video card was the area we hoped to upgrade this month. The prospect of adding a Radeon HD 3850 256MB to the mix was almost hypnotic, and we worked the numbers over and over, looking for that perfect mix. As the majority of our components have a fixed price, lowering the processor is the obvious angle. Unfortunately, due to the strange Core 2 pricing structure, shaving off $35-$40 would have a significant impact, dropping us down to the base model Core 2 Duo, so any potential upgrade will have to wait until at least the next value guide.

    All is certainly not lost, as the GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB is certainly a great match for any sub-$1K system configuration. We want to maintain a DirectX 10/SM4.0 feature set, while ensuring that gaming performance is up to par. In addition to leading-edge mainstream gaming performance, the GeForce 8600 GTS also includes a unified shader architecture similar to the GeForce 8800-based cards, but with a scaled-down core design and memory architecture.

    The 80nm G84 core features 32 stream processors clocked at 1.45 GHz and 16 pixel/texture pipes running at 675 MHz. The memory architecture offers a 128-bit link to 256MB of onboard GDDR3 memory running at a clock speed of 2.0 GHz. This results in a fillrate of 10.8 Gtexels/s and 32.0 GB/s of memory bandwidth. It is also fully Shader Model 4.0 compliant and offers standard features like GigaThread Technology, PureVideo HD, the NVIDIA Lumenex Engine, and NVIDIA SLI. Although not as powerful as its GeForce 8800 siblings, the GeForce 8600 GTS is still the fastest sub-$150 DirectX 10 card.

    While we don't choose a specific model, mostly due to fluctuating supplies and availability, we can recommend both the Albatron GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB (pictured at top) and Gigabyte GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB (pictured below) cards at this price range. Both of these models offer an excellent mix of high performance and value, making the GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB an excellent match for our value system configurations.

    ATI really doesn't have a DirectX 10 competitor at this price level, as the Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB is hovering around the $100 mark, and the popular Radeon X1950 Pro 256MB is still a last-gen model. We prefer to recommend that ATI fans, or anyone else for that matter, upgrade the budget by around $40 and snag a Radeon HD 3850 256MB. This is the perfect card for this price-performance range, and just because we can't extend the budget, doesn't mean you can't.

    Display: 19" LCD with 5-8ms Response Time

    Current Cost: $165
    Consecutive Guides: 2
    Price Change: $0

    One reason we've been so concerned about the graphics card, is that last month we finally managed to sneak a 19" LCD into the guide. We really needed to move away from a 17" LCD, and once prices dropped, a 19" LCD became the new sweet spot. This represents a huge improvement, a lot more than just a 2" diagonal jump in real estate, as the default resolution increases as well - up to 1280x1024 for standard and 1440x900 for widescreen. This also brings up the question of aspect ratio, and while we prefer the widescreen format, we realize others will want to stick with a standard 4:3 display.

    As there are so many different brands and styles at this price range, and since a monitor can be a very personal choice, we are currently recommending a general selection of a 5ms-8ms 19" LCD. Many of these units have exceptional features, and with such a high response time, even gaming will show minimal (if any) ghosting. One good feature of going the 19" route is that you can usually get a DVI input, something that was more difficult at the 17" range. The best overall LCD value has now moved to the 19" models, and displays from Acer, Westinghouse, KDS, LG, Sceptre, Fuji, Nikko and others are available in this price range.

    Please keep in mind that when buying any type or brand of LCD, there is always the slight chance of receiving a defective unit or a flat-screen with dead pixels, so be certain to purchase only from a vendor that offers liberal return and replacement options. This is doubly important for LCDs, and be sure to check the vendor's Dead Pixel Replacement Policy and investigate any further protection you can buy.

    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 and LCD Display
    Page 6 Soundcard, Speakers and LAN
    Page 7 Input Devices and Operating System
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

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