Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide: March '08

Sunday Mar 23rd 2008 by Thomas Soderstrom
Share:

An extreme $4,000 budget is sure to put these Extreme Gaming PC Guide components on the top of everyone's shopping list—and make its builders the envy of those who can only afford to follow our $2,500 High-End Guide! If you're looking for the best combination of parts available for a little less than this hefty price limit, read on!

Introduction

We've had a few interesting months since our October Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, with the introduction of Intel's "Yorkfield" Core 2 Extreme processors, the debut of AMD's long-awaited Phenom, and new "X2" series graphics cards using ATI HD 3870 dual-GPU technology. With all of these exciting developments, how will we use our $4,000 budget? Read on to find out.

Case: Cooler Master CM Stacker 830 Evo

Current Cost: $240
Consecutive Guides: 5
Price Change: $0

The sad fact of PC building is that nothing says more about the quality of a system's internal components than what it looks like on the outside. Yet there isn't much cutting-edge technology that can be applied to computer case design. Case quality is instead determined by the overall build, materials, ventilation, noise reduction, and convenience.

Once you've found everything you need in a case, it's hard to change unless something significantly better comes along, especially when that model features a near-perfect design and execution. With superior quality craftsmanship, beautiful heavy-gauge aluminum panels, and the best ventilation we've seen, it's no wonder the Cooler Master Stacker 830 has made it into five consecutive guides.

A clear plastic swing-away side fan cage supports up to four 120mm or 140mm fans for optimal cooling. This fan design can cool a wide variety of system components, from a second bottom-mounted graphics card to the RAM and motherboard voltage regulators at the top. A 120mm front fan cools the hard drives, while top and rear-mounted 120mm fans assist the power supply in ridding the case of all that excess heat.

Nine 5.25" bays support a wide variety of drives thanks to Cooler Master's inclusion of a 3x 5.25" to 4x 3.5" adapter cage, and lining the entire front panel with large bays allows the option of using alternative multi-drive racks.

Among other system enclosures under consideration is Cooler Master's own high-profile Cosmos case, but while the new model features trendy looks, it doesn't offer the superior cooling or easy cable routing of the classic Stacker 830. While we're on the subject of alternative designs, the best reason for having the power supply at the top of a case is to use its oversized fan to pull warm air away from the CPU cooler, assisting the exhaust fans.

While a few cases have put the power supply at the bottom and an additional exhaust fan at the top, who needs the extra noise when the additional fan serves the same purpose? Cooler Master nailed its design down almost perfectly, and it's a shame that so many competing parts now seek to differentiate themselves with designs that hamper, rather than help, total system cooling performance.

Power Supply: Ultra X3 800W

Current Cost: $200
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: $0

Imagine our surprise when a sister site proved that an 800W version of our previous selection, the Ultra X3 1000W, was still powerful enough to accept virtually any hardware you could fit into a PC case. While we have no regrets about our previous choice, the Ultra X3 800W allows us to put the $60 saved towards other components. Conveniences such as a modular design using flat cables for easier cable management, and a 135mm bottom-mounted intake fan that draws warm air away from the top of a motherboard, have topped our list for selecting Ultra's highest-quality power units.

An impressive 60 amps (720W) on its single 12V rail lets the X3 divide its power across any devices without encountering those annoying per-rail limits imposed by multi rail designs, and still offers far more power than this guide's system will actually need. But the extra available power isn't going to cost a lot over the lifetime of the system, as Ultra rates its X3 800W at 85% peak efficiency, a number that becomes impressive considering the losses many modular power supplies take due to the slight added resistance on the extra connections.

Anyone who can't appreciate the design advantages of Ultra's X3 might also like to consider a previous favorite from a better-known brand, PC Power & Cooling's Silencer 750 Quad.

PC Power & Cooling's Silencer 750 Quad delivers the same performance as it did when selected for our March Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, and its price has fallen to around $170.

Introduction and Case

Processors and Cooling

Motherboards and Memory

Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW

Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

Mouse, Keyboard & Controller

Communications, Operating Systems, and more

Prices Roundup and Final Thoughts

Intel CPU: Core 2 Duo E8400 (3.0 GHz)

Current Cost: $240
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

If you're a little shocked that we're still not using a four-core processor in our Intel configuration, well, we were a bit surprised too. But this comes from the fact that the only "good" Intel quad-core available for under $800 is the G0 stepping Core 2 Quad Q6600, with a rated speed of only 2.40GHz. Our system is built to tolerate overclocking, but we understand that many readers won't do it.

Not that a dual-core will hurt gaming performance, in fact the higher clock speed Core 2 Duo models that fall within our price range assure better gaming than the baseline Q6600 would have provided. Overclockers will appreciate the fact that Core 2 dual-cores can typically be pushed to much higher speeds than quads. This is especially true for this month's choice, the 45nm Core 2 Duo E8400.

Although the 3.0 GHz clock speed remains consistent, the jump from 4MB to 6MB helps the Core 2 Duo E8400 beat our previous Extreme Gaming PC pick, the E6850, in current game and application performance. Added support for SSE4 should also benefit a few yet-to-be-released programs. Lower power consumption will help to keep the finished system cool and quiet, while overclockers can forget the power savings and take advantage of its better overclocking capabilities. Everyone wins, except those who would also like to use their systems for four-core optimized programs, but this is a gaming PC.

Gamers who multitask might still want a four-core processor, and our alternative option remains the G0-stepping Core 2 Quad Q6600. These 2.40GHz parts still have awesome overclocking capabilities, though nothing near the heights achievable with the E8400. Q6600's have used the G0 stepping for several months, so by now all the popular venders should be carrying this stepping exclusively.

AMD CPU: Athlon 64 X2 6400+ Black Edition (3.20 GHz)

Current Cost: $175
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

Not everyone is in agreement over the status of AMD's new Phenom line, but the debate can be narrowed down by the fact that this guide is for an Extreme Gaming PC. The Phenom might beat X2 processors clock-for-clock, but that means little when the clock speed isn't high enough to make up the difference. Our other choice would have been the Phenom 9600 Black Edition, but even overclocking it to 2.60GHz (the practical limit) only brings it up to the gaming performance of the less expensive, stock speed Athlon 64 X2 6400+.

Not that we'd cheap out on the processor for a $4,000 PC. While the Phenom 9600 Black Edition must be overclocked to its limit simply to reach the stock-speed performance of an Athlon 64 X2 6400+, the model we chose is a Black Edition, which could allow it a little extra overclocking room than the base model X2 6400+ we selected in our previous Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide.

Gamers who multitask might still want a quad-core, and the Phenom 9600 Black Edition remains a valid choice while still leaving a great deal of leeway in our budget for other gaming hardware.

CPU Heat Sink: Thermalright IFX-14

Current Cost: $80
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

Few CPU coolers could hope to compete with the Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme of our previous Extreme Gaming PC buyer's guide, but Thermalright figured out how to take the design to the next level. By increasing the size of its heatsink even more and adding a second sink to cool the back side of the CPU socket, the company created its new cooling monster: The IFX-14.

Attached using only two screws on custom brackets, the IFX-14 fits both Socket AM2 and LGA775 motherboards and can use either 140mm or 120mm fans (not included).

Cooling Fans: Three Scythe S-Flex SFF21E

Current Cost: $45 ($15 each)
Consecutive Guides: 5
Price Change: $0

Originally chosen for its moderate 49CFM airflow at a nearly-silent 20.1 decibels, the Scythe S-Flex SFF21E 1200RPM cooling fan remains our choice for "bare" Thermalright coolers. Two additional fans are added to our list to assist graphics card cooling, and should be used in the lower two side panel locations of the Cooler Master Stacker 830 chassis. The extra airflow is especially useful to overclockers, but anyone not overclocking may wish to forgo the additional $30 expense.

Introduction and Case

Processors and Cooling

Motherboards and Memory

Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW

Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

Mouse, Keyboard & Controller

Communications, Operating Systems, and more

Prices Roundup and Final Thoughts

Intel Motherboard: ASUS Striker II Formula

Current Cost: $330
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

NVIDIA no longer makes the "fastest" Intel chipsets, but they're still the only game in town for SLI support. This is a gaming PC after all. But even though we were pleased with our former Extreme Gaming choice, the Striker Extreme, we needed to update our selection.

The reasons for the update are twofold. First, the Striker Extreme requires a BIOS update to function properly with our selected Core 2 Duo E8400 processor, but we question whether motherboards without this update will function with the E8400 well enough to allow the BIOS to be updated. We're certainly not going to advise everyone to buy an older processor just to flash the BIOS, in addition to the E8400.

The second reason to update is that although the 680i chipset is Wolfdale compliant, it doesn't support "Yorkfield" based Core 2 Quads such as the QX9650 and QX9770 (with future, lower cost versions to come). We didn't want to preclude this month's build from future upgrades, or stand in the way of anyone who would prefer to build a higher-priced, quad-core version of it.

Our new choice, the Striker II Formula, uses the NVIDIA nForce 780i SLI to support all current Intel processors, while offering dual-GPU SLI support.

Though not significantly improved over the Striker Extreme, the Striker II Formula still provides a full range of features such as three PCI-Express graphics slots, dual gigabit network support, and RAID support for up to six SATA and two PATA drives. ASUS continues its "Republic of Gamers" treatment with a noise-reducing removable audio riser card and several lighted function buttons, and has replaced the rear-panel LCD system status display with a module designed to sit atop a computer's case, or in any other convenient nearby location.

The graphics card slots have all been upgraded, with two provided full x16 PCI-Express pathways in PCIx 2.0 transfer mode and the third extended from eight to sixteen pathways in PCI-Express 1.1 mode. On the other hand, ASUS got rid of the eight-phase capacitor-free VRM and eSATA ports of its "Extreme" predecessor. In some ways buyers pay more to get less in the Striker II Formula, but with processor compatibility on the line, it's the price of progress.

AMD Motherboard: ASUS Crosshair

Current Cost: $240
Consecutive Guides: 4
Price Change: $0

Another "Republic of Gamers" board from ASUS, the Crosshair for AMD comes with an elaborate chipset cooler, an English-language rear-panel system status display, reduced-noise removable audio riser card, back panel system status display, and lighted power/reset buttons. But unlike our newly-selected Intel-compatible model, the Crosshair keeps its eight-phase capacitor-free VRM and dual eSATA ports in addition to the six chipset-supported ports.

The nForce 590 SLI chipset features 46 PCI-Express lanes capable of supporting two graphics cards at full x16 bus width, more than enough for a pair of today's fastest graphics cards and even next-generation products. What's more, BIOS has supported the Phenom processor since November of last year, so high-volume sellers have already purged their supplies of previous revisions.

System Memory: OCZ DDR2 PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 4GB Edition

Current Cost: $155
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

As DDR2 prices continue to tumble, we can now get a 4GB set for about the same price as what 2GB cost in our previous guide. But while we selected "known to overclock easily" DDR2-800, such guarantees are harder to find at higher capacities. Fortunately, OCZ stepped in with a lower-cost DDR2-1066 4GB kit that leaves us with quite a bit of padding in the budget for other parts.

A heat pipe along the upper edge extends cooling away from the warm air pocket surrounding the modules, and makes a great handle for retracting these from extra-tight slots. High-end OCZ memory been good to us in the past, so we have a fair amount of confidence in its part number OCZ2RPR10664GK 2x2GB set.

Introduction and Case

Processors and Cooling

Motherboards and Memory

Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW

Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

Mouse, Keyboard & Controller

Communications, Operating Systems, and more

Prices Roundup and Final Thoughts

Hard Drives: Four Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB SATA 3.0Gb/s

Current Cost: $340 ($85 each)
Consecutive Guides: 5
Price Change: +$5 each

Seagate's little 320GB drives were chosen as a balance between performance, flexibility and capacity. Gaming doesn't require a huge amount of storage, but the scant 150GB available in Western Digital's Raptors still doesn't seem like much, so we'd probably need two in a RAID controller's JBOD or Level 0 mode, just to get an adequate 300GB. For around the same price, four Seagate Barracudas in Level 0 will provide over four times the capacity at nearly twice the peak transfer rate. The tradeoff is slightly longer response times, but using four Raptors would have eaten too deeply into the budget.

The use of four drives also opens up the possibility of RAID 0+1 for anyone who wants both performance and redundancy, again at a slight performance penalty but still faster than a single drive. How valuable are your game saves? Seagate also covers its OEM drives with a lengthy 5-year warranty.

Optical Drive: Samsung 20x DVD+RW/-RW SH-203N SATA

Current Cost: $35
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: 0

Continuing to establish burn-speed records with the addition of LightScribe capability, the Samsung SH-S203N is a repeat selection in our Extreme Gaming PC Builder's Guide. It's a shame the price hasn't dropped since the previous guide, but at $35 a unit, we have no room to complain. It's also a shame that BRD burners still cost hundreds of dollars, and media not far behind, and going this route would have cut deeply into our gaming hardware selection.

Write speed claims of 20x by most manufacturers are actually the peak speeds at the fastest part of the disk, so it's no surprise that actual speeds vary between models. The SH-203N has specifications of 20x for both DVD+R and DVD-R media, 16x for dual-layer +R, 12x for DVD-R dual-layer, 8x for DVD+RW, and 6x for DVD-RW.

People who still use older media formats will be pleased with CD-R and –RW speeds of 48X and 32X, respectively, while DVD-RAM users will find it also supports this classic media at 12X speeds.

Introduction and Case

Processors and Cooling

Motherboards and Memory

Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW

Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

Mouse, Keyboard & Controller

Communications, Operating Systems, and more

Prices Roundup and Final Thoughts

NVIDIA Graphics: Two GeForce 8800GTX 768MB graphics cards in SLI

Current Cost: $920 ($460 each)
Consecutive Guides: 4
Price Change: -$40 each

NVIDIA might not have released a new high-end graphics card, but that hasn't kept the rest of the industry from moving forward. In fact, it's probably because lower-cost products are now approaching the performance levels of the 8800GTX that its price has come down.

The standard-speed GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB is set at 575 MHz core, 1.35 GHz shader, and 1.8 GHz memory default clock speeds, which translates into a fillrate of 36.8 Gtexels/s and a memory bandwidth of 86.4 GB/s. This is a powerful single-card solution, and provides serious gaming power in a SLI configuration.

If you're looking for something a bit faster without breaking the budget, a few lesser-known brands are even offering overclocked versions at similar prices.

ATI Graphics: Dual Radeon HD 3870 X2 1GB graphics cards in Crossfire

Current Cost: $900 ($450 each)
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

It's been a while since ATI (now a division of AMD) has offered a compelling high-end graphics solution, but the HD 3870 X2 is finally able to challenge the venerable GeForce 8800GTX in performance. ATI fans welcome the news.

The Radeon HD 3870 X2 might not beat the 8800GTX in most games, but it's certainly close, and slightly less expensive. Based on two mainstream HD 3870 graphics chips, this "Crossfire on a card" configuration clocks the graphics cores at 825MHz and the memory at GDDR3-1800.

Had these been our first choice, we could have also picked updated, Crossfire motherboards using either the Intel X48 Express or the AMD 790FX chipset. So why didn't we go the ATI route? First of all, a few (and shrinking in number) games don't use both graphics processors, and a combination of two dual-GPU cards in Quad Crossfire mode (QuadFire, CrossfireX 4-way) can be difficult to set up. But for ATI fans that have the time, money, skill, and patience, it's a perfect solution.

LCD Display: Westinghouse L2410NM

Current Cost: $400
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: -$30

We blew a quarter of our budget on graphics cards, so why would we want to display such awesome graphics power on a skinny little 900-pixel high display? With CRT's gone and "standard aspect ratio" LCD's going for collector's prices, our only viable option for getting the pixel count we want is to choose a 24" widescreen display. But not just any 24" LCD display would be worthy of a $4,000 PC. We wanted the best our budget would allow, and for that we chose the Westinghouse L2410NM.

Although officially a budget model, the Westinghouse L2410NM provides far greater performance than many buyers would expect. A true 8-bit MVA panel provides an 8ms response time and 176° viewing angle in both horizontal and vertical directions, with a 1000:1 contrast ratio and a 500 cd/m2 brightness level. These attributes closely approach the performance of higher-cost competitors, and our own experience with the L2410NM shows very few flaws that would otherwise prevent its use in high-end gaming environments.

So what are its flaws? Visually, the only noteworthy problem is that its default contrast ratio obscures certain dark objects, which can be compensated by increasing software gamma settings. Ergonomically, the stand is not height or side-to-side tilt-adjustable, and it's bouncy enough to require a sturdy, heavy desk. These small sacrifices are necessary to get a 1920x1200 pixel screen with otherwise good performance into the budget we had left after configuring the rest of our system.

High-definition connectivity comes by way of VGA and HDMI, while additional devices can also be attached using component, s-video, or composite connectors. The unit includes a VGA cable, but we'd suggest buyers consider an HDMI to DVI cable as a complimentary item.

Sound Card: Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series

Current Cost: $170
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: 0

We brought back the X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series from our previous guide, which is identical to the X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty FPS of our earlier four guides. With Creative blocking or buying the creative efforts of other sound chip developers, we had no other choice. Buyers still get a theoretical performance boost from 64MB of "X-RAM" for caching sounds, and this most recent model still features an ultra-high 109db signal-to-noise ratio enhanced by EAX 5.0 audio effects.

Still missing is real-time multi-channel digital encoding to a single output, via Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect. Also, like all of Creative's high-end cards since the SB Live, the lack of a case-standard front panel audio connector necessitates the use of a "Live-Drive" equipped model to enable front-panel headphone/microphone port access. All of these features were supposed to have been supported by an alternative X-Fi model from Auzentech, but the firm is apparently still unable to figure out the required driver alterations.

Speakers: Logitech Z-5500

Current Cost: $235
Consecutive Guides: 9
Price Change: -$30

Our chosen soundcard lacks DDL or DTS Connect and thus requires analog connections for multi-channel game audio. But loudspeaker technology hasn't changed much since before the PC era, and high-end PC speakers had already been developed long ago. One product that still stands out as the pinnacle of classic technology, Logitech's Z-5500 has survived our guide through and amazing nine revisions.

We've yet to find a 7.1-channel analog speaker system that can surpass the quality of Logitech's 5.1-channel Z-5500, and games are typically encoded for 5.1 channels anyway. Those who believe they have a better plan are welcome to send feedback, but until then we'll continue to go with the time-proven quality of Logitech's top analog system.

Introduction and Case

Processors and Cooling

Motherboards and Memory

Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW

Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

Mouse, Keyboard & Controller

Communications, Operating Systems, and more

Prices Roundup and Final Thoughts

Mouse: Logitech G5 Laser Mouse

Current Cost: $45
Consecutive Guides: 6
Price Change: $0

We considered a wide range of corded mice, including the Logitech G9 Laser, as well as various Microsoft and Razor models, and still haven't found a good reason to move away from Logitech's earlier G5 version. With its incredibly fine 2000 dpi laser sensor, low-friction PFTE mouse feet, on-the-fly sensitivity switching, and adjustable weights, the G5 Laser Mouse is as good a mouse now as it was when we first picked it.

There has always been a significant amount of personal preference when it comes to gaming mice and the good news is that our budget has enough room left over to consider more expensive units based on your own preferences. Many users prefer the Logitech G9 ($70) over the G5, while others would like a wireless mouse such as the MX Revolution ($75). The choice is yours, and we suggest going to a high-end retailer to try several display models before plunking down your hard-earned cash.

Keyboard: Logitech G15 Gaming Keyboard

Current Cost: $85
Consecutive Guides: 5
Price Change: +$21

Most of us would settle for a nice solid keyboard with good actuation "feel", but Logitech's G15 goes a few steps farther. Starting with a flip-up LCD panel capable of displaying a variety of information - from system statistics to player status and communications (depending on the applet employed) - it goes on to offer backlit keys for playing in dark rooms, 18 added programmable keys, media player and volume controls, and a built-in USB hub for convenient connection of a mouse and game controller.

The G15 has been at the top of our list for five consecutive guides, and we're always looking for the next improvement that can meet the needs of most gamers. Once again, we're open to new ideas, but if you were about to suggest an ergonomic model we already have a good alternative:

A combination of durability and styling make the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 a great choice for anyone who doesn't want or need the features of the G15, so long as they're accustomed to using the unique shape. Compared to the Logitech G15, the Ergonomic Keyboard 4000's $45 web price is a bargain.

Game Controller: Saitek P3000 Wireless Pad & Docking Station

Current Cost: $35
Consecutive Guides: 15
Price Change: +$5

Some games are just easier to play with a handheld controller or joystick, such as racing and several sports titles, so it's a good idea to have one around even if rarely play these types of games. One might even consider that complicated keyboard controls are one reason why so many PC owners game on consoles.

Saitek surprised us last year by releasing a couple of wired PC game controllers, which was likely a benefit of technology convergence with USB-enabled game consoles, but neither of the new models has impressed us. As the product line had been allowed to languish for quite some time, the high-end P3000 is currently only available as a "new-old stock" model from various venders. Wireless freedom and the inclusion of two rechargeable batteries with charging base differentiate this "obsolete" part from current models of similar design: Get one before they're gone!

Introduction and Case

Processors and Cooling

Motherboards and Memory

Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW

Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

Mouse, Keyboard & Controller

Communications, Operating Systems, and more

Prices Roundup and Final Thoughts

Networking: Integrated Dual Gigabit

Current Cost: $0
Consecutive Guides: 12
Price Change: N/A

Our recommended motherboards both include excellent Dual Gigabit Networking support, making discrete controllers a waste of money and space for most buyers. But those who need more ports might consider an Intel PRO/1000 PT Server Adapter. Intel's long and glorious history in network controllers has all but displaced competitors at this market level, and the PRO/1000 PT is available in single, dual, and quad port designs.

The single port card uses a PCI-Express x1 slot for better flexibility in placement, while multiport cards use an x4 slot. The newer slot standard was chosen because legacy 32-bit PCI can only handle gigabit transfers in one direction at a time, while each PCI-Express lane is both twice as fast in each direction and bi-directional. Anyone who can't spare a PCI-Express slot can substitute a 64-bit PCI PRO/1000 MT in 32-bit mode, since these are cross-compatible, but with an obvious loss in performance.

Hardly anyone requires an analog modem any longer, but those who do will find that our choice of Striker II Formula motherboard and PCI audio card leaves no room for additional PCI devices. An external USB modem such as the US Robotics USR5633 Faxmodem can do the job, using the ancient 56k V.92 protocol.

Operating System: Windows Vista Ultimate OEM

Current Cost: $180
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

Windows XP might perform better than Windows Vista, but support for the elder OS is slowly declining. In order to build a system that has a modicum of longevity, we were finally forced to concede our opposition and choose Vista.

The Windows Vista Ultimate OEM DVD requires the purchase of qualifying hardware, so a little extra consideration will be needed when selecting components from multiple venders. We also recommend the 32-bit version for the greatest software compatibility, though buyers are welcome to consider the 64-bit version.

32-bit versions of the OS are limited to 4GB RAM, of which only 3GB will be available since the remaining addresses are mapped to graphics memory. We chose a 4GB memory kit for our system anyway, because adding more than two modules to achieve 3GB could limit stability, especially when overclocking. Vista needs all the memory it can get.

Floppy Disk Drive: None

Current Cost: N/A
Consecutive Guides: 0
Price Change: N/A

We had previously brought back the much-hated floppy drive to comply with the RAID driver installation requirements of Windows XP Setup. Fortunately, Windows Vista has no such requirements as most RAID controllers are automatically configured, and the software adds other driver installation paths for controllers that aren't. We don't even need a floppy for BIOS updates, since all well-regarded motherboard brands are able to use USB flash drives for this task.

UPS: OPTI-UPS Enhanced Series ES1000C

Current Cost: $125
Consecutive Guides: 4
Price Change: +$25

A UPS can be cheap insurance against both power surges (spikes) and brownouts (droops), and even prevent data loss in the event of a complete power failure. The value of this security should never be underestimated for any system, but increases with the cost of internal hardware.

Rated at 1000VA with an exceptional 700W load capacity, the OPTI-UPS Enhanced Series 1000C was previously chosen to support upgrades to SLI graphics and quad core processing, and for this guide we've gotten as far as the two graphics cards. Its moderate price did jump a bit this month, but enough user feedback exists to assure us of the quality in our selection.

OPTI-UPS goes a step beyond similarly-priced competitors in both wattage and disclosure. A "typical runtime load" of 45-55 minutes is similar to what competing products cite, but OPTI also provides the actual runtime capabilities most others won't mention. Specifically, this unit is rated at 3 minutes full load capacity (700W) and ten minutes half-load capacity. The load time numbers may look small compared to the estimated run time, but one must wonder what competitors are tying to hide by not publishing their load times.

Our configurations are expected to "pull" around 520W of peak power during gaming, so users powering both the system and the LCD display should have several minutes to save their game and power down if ever their local power grid does go offline. Running less strenuous tasks whenever the grid goes down could bring your "typical runtime" in line with the company's estimates.

Introduction and Case

Processors and Cooling

Motherboards and Memory

Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW

Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

Mouse, Keyboard & Controller

Communications, Operating Systems, and more

Prices Roundup and Final Thoughts

Price Roundup


Intel Core 2 Duo System:

Case: CM Stacker 830 - $240
Power Supply: Ultra X3 800W - $200
CPU: Core 2 Duo E8400 Retail Box - $240
Cooling: Thermalright IFX-14 - $80
Fan: 3x Scythe S-Flex 1200RPM - $45
Motherboard: ASUS Striker II Formula - $330
Memory: OCZ PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 4GB - $155
Hard Drive: 4x Seagate 7200.10 320GB - $340
Optical Drive: Samsung SH-S203N - $35
Graphics: 2x GeForce 8800GTX 768MB - $920
Monitor: Westinghouse L2410NM- $400
Audio: X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series - $170
Speakers: Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Digital - $235
Mouse: Logitech G5 Laser - $45
Keyboard: Logitech G15 - $85
Game Pad: Saitek P3000 - $35
NIC: Included - $0
Floppy Drive: None
OS: Vista Ultimate-OEM - $180
UPS: OPTI-UPS ES1000C - $125

Total: $3,860


AMD Athlon 64 X2 System:

Case: CM Stacker 830 - $240
Power Supply: Ultra X3 800W - $200
CPU: Athlon 64 X2 6400+ Black Edition - $175
Cooling: Thermalright IFX-14 - $80
Fan: 3x Scythe S-Flex 1200RPM - $45
Motherboard: ASUS Crosshair - $240
Memory: OCZ PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 4GB - $155
Hard Drive: 4x Seagate 7200.10 320GB - $340
Optical Drive: Samsung SH-S203N - $35
Graphics: 2x GeForce 8800GTX 768MB - $920
Monitor: Westinghouse L2410NM- $400
Audio: X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series - $170
Speakers: Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Digital - $235
Mouse: Logitech G5 Laser - $45
Keyboard: Logitech G15 - $85
Game Pad: Saitek P3000 - $35
NIC: Included - $0
Floppy Drive: None
OS: Vista Ultimate-OEM - $180
UPS: OPTI-UPS ES1000C - $125

Total: $3,705


Closing Remarks

We were hoping that price cuts would at least allow us to step our system up to dual GeForce 8800 Ultra cards this month, but there still aren't any competitive cards to force its price down. Similar disappointment surrounds AMD's Phenom processor, since the available 9600 Black Edition has to be overclocked to its limit simply to reach the gaming performance of the old Athlon 64 X2 6400+ at stock speed. At least Intel got a little faster, though the company has yet to release a 45nm quad-core within our budget limits.

We finally brought ATI graphics back as an alternative selection, at least for those with the skill and patience to deal with the "teething pains" of its Radeon HD 3870 X2 in a "QuadFire" configuration. AMD has just announced driver support for quad and triple-GPU CrossFireX with Catalyst 8.3, so that's definitely good news for ATI fans. On that same note, we finally gave in and accepted Windows Vista as a necessary, yet loathsome, step towards the continued viability of a gaming system that is meant to last several years.

As we look forward to our next Extreme Gaming PC Buyers Guide, we have some hope that AMD will cure its ills and produce faster Phenom processors and ATI graphics cards to force the hands of both Intel and NVIDIA. Until then, our current Intel configuration maintains its performance lead over AMD, while not progressing much from our previous Intel configuration.

The great news is that our Extreme Gaming PC didn't actually need much improvement, as the stunning performance of our previous system still hasn't lost its shine.

* Please note that prices do not include variable charges like taxes or shipping. The prices in our guide reflect market availability - generally the second or third lowest we found - in an attempt to minimize the financial burden associated with choosing multiple vendors.

Introduction and Case

Processors and Cooling

Motherboards and Memory

Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW

Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

Mouse, Keyboard & Controller

Communications, Operating Systems, and more

Prices Roundup and Final Thoughts

Share:
Home
Mobile Site | Full Site
Copyright 2017 © QuinStreet Inc. All Rights Reserved