PC Buyer's Guide for Gaming Enthusiasts
By Housen Maratouk
February 19, 2011
It's been a while since our last PC Buying Guide, and a reboot and revamp is long overdue. In bringing the monthly features back, we thought it was time to update the guides to better reflect current buying trends. And so we've scaled back the budgets a bit and have redubbed this one the Enthusiast Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, with a $2,000 budget, and will soon followed it up with the Entry-Level PC Buyer's Guide, which has a $900 budget cap.
This guide will offer processor and motherboard suggestions for both an Intel and AMD system, though the other components will remain the same. And with the recent news surrounding Sandy Bridge, next month's Intel recommendations may well differ from what we're suggesting in this month's PC build. However that pans out and whichever camp you choose to go with, we're confident that we'll end up with a solid gaming system.
System Case: Cooler Master HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP Full Tower
Current Cost: $120250 x 376
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.
The Cooler Master HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP Full Tower is a case that is built with enthusiasts in mind. A huge, sturdy case that will fit just about anything you throw at it and still leave you room to grow. It weighs in at a hefty 29.1 pound, with its 9.6-inch width by 22.5-inch height by x 22.7-inch depth 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. But lest you think it's all about function and not form, the red LED fan in the front and the meshed side window will make it look as good, as well.
Power Supply: Corsair HX Series CMPSU-750HX 750W ATX12V 2.3
Current Cost: $145
Powering this system 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
Choosing an AMD processor for this build was a no-brainer. At a current price of $240, the Phenom II X6 1100T offers a whole 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 over-clocking.
Intel CPU: Core i7-950 (3.06GHz)
Current Cost: $293
The Intel processor selection took a bit more time and consideration. If we went with one of Intel's currently available six-core i7 offerings, we wouldn't have enough left over for much of anything else. Sandy Bridge seemed to offer a possible option in the weeks running up to this guide; but then its problems came to light and it got pulled from the market. But despite these issues, we're still left with a capable processor that offers plenty of performance to gamers and enthusiasts: the Intel Core i7-950, a four-core processor with 2MB of L2 cache (256KB per core) and 8MB of L2 cache. And with the right motherboard, over-locking beyond that the little boost that Turbo mode offers shouldn't be much trouble.
Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
Current Cost: $24
No, it's not the highest-end solution available. But the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus is a solidly performing unit that offers better performance than either camp's stock solutions and will let you do some moderate over-clocking. 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.