Gamer's Hardware Guide, Fall '08

Monday Oct 6th 2008 by Vince Freeman
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If you're looking for the best combination of parts available for a little less than than top dollar, check out this guide to extreme gaming PCs.


  • Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards and Memory
    Page 4 Hard Drives and Optical Drive
    Page 5 Video Card, LCD Display and Audio
    Page 6 Mouse, Keyboard & Controller
    Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

    Introduction

    With the back-to-school season upon us, and the sheer number of hardware choices out there, it's high time for another edition of our Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, complete with its outlandish $4,000 budget. There have been some noted hardware advancements since our previous guide update, including a few new AMD and Intel chipsets, and a plethora of ATI and NVIDIA enthusiast-level graphics cards. The overall look and feel of both system configurations will not change completely, but there will definitely be some upgrades and improvements in the key performance areas.

    Case: Cooler Master CM Stacker 830 Evo

    Current Cost: $239
    Consecutive Guides: 6
    Price Change: -$1

    No matter the budget, your system enclosure is a very key element, and is doubly so with $4,000 in cold hard cash to spend. It may not be fair, but the external look of a PC still counts for a lot, no matter what's inside, so we're not only looking for key ingredients like build quality, internal real estate, ambient noise, ventilation, and usability, but also keeping an eye on overall aesthetics.

    Consistency is another key attribute of any high-end case design, and once you've broken the code and found that special enclosure, it can be tough to find a reason to change. The Cooler Master Stacker 830 is one of those special cases, and not only do we feel it's a killer option for our Extreme Guide, but the enthusiast community as a whole has given it a big thumbs up. Sure, at just under $240, it is expensive, but with $4K to play with, it's an easy call to make.

    The Cooler Master Stacker 830 really has it all in terms of overall features. The unit's cooling power is impressive, and it features a plastic swing-away fan cage that can support up to four 120mm or 140mm fans. This not only supplies extreme cooling, but also covers the gamut of enthusiast hardware, and provides fan coverage from the CPU and voltage regulators, right down to a bottom-mounted second SLI/CF graphics card. A 120mm front-mounted fan handles the hard drive cooling, and a pair of 120mm fans on the top and rear of the Stacker 830 case help exhaust hot air. The unit supports a total of nine 120mm fans.

    The Stacker 830's internal real estate is also very impressive, and it can support all standard desktop motherboard formats, including EATX, ATX and mATX. The case features nine 5.25" bays, which can be adapted to 3.5" bays using an adapter cage and converter shields, along with the standard 4x3.5" bottom-mounted bays. The unit adds front-mounted 4xUSB 2.0, Audio, and IEEE 1394 convenience ports, and features a tool-free design with screwless drive mounting. The overall aluminum construction, streamlined design and silver-black accents also make the Stacker 830 one of the best looking cases in its class.

    Power Supply: Corsair CMPSU-1000HX 1000W

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

    As we continue to upgrade components, adding more power-hungry processors, motherboards and graphics cards, we felt it was time to move back to a top-end 1000W power supply. Our previous Ultra X3 800W is certainly capable, but with our particular configuration, we wanted to be absolutely certain that one important upgrade would be easily attained. But we also didn't want to lose the modular properties of the Ultra 800W, so we have decided to move to the Corsair CMPSU-1000HX, which offers both the power and features our extreme systems require.

    The Corsair CMPSU-1000HX is an 80 Plus certified unit that is guaranteed to deliver 1000W of power at 50 degrees C. It features an independent dual-rail design with a whopping 80 amps of power on +12V. This PSU is a modular design with six PCI Express (2x 6-pin, 2x 6+2-pin, 2x8-pin) connectors, and 10x SATA, and with support for the latest ATX12V 2.2 and EPS12V 2.91 standards. Corsair offers a full 5-year warranty on the CMPSU-1000HX power supply.

    For those who may not feel the need for a whole 1000W of power, and might want to save a few bucks, the Ultra X3 800W is still a prime choice. It offers high-end performance, 60 amps on a 12V rail, and an 85% peak efficiency rating, and will handle just about any hardware you can toss at it.


    Page 1 Introduction and Case
  • Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards and Memory
    Page 4 Hard Drives and Optical Drive
    Page 5 Video Card, LCD Display and Audio
    Page 6 Mouse, Keyboard & Controller
    Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

    Intel CPU: Core 2 Duo E8500 (3.16GHz) Retail

    Current Cost: $189
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    The sub-$200 price tag of the Core 2 Duo E8500 might be a bit surprising given our $4K system budget, but this remains one of Intel's highest-clocked processors, falling back of only the 3.2 GHz Core 2 Extreme QX9770, which will also run you over $1400. And this is only the starting point for the Core 2 Duo E8500, and although we never base our selection on its overclocking potential, speeds of 4.0 GHz and higher are very hard to ignore.

    The base specifications of the Core 2 Duo E8500 include a 45nm Wolfdale core running at a clock speed of 3.16 GHz, 6MB of L2 SmartCache, a 1333 MHz front-side bus, a default core voltage of 1.225V, a thermal specification of 72.4°C, and a TDP of only 65W. This processor uses the LGA775 processor package, and includes support for SSE4, Execute Disable Bit, Intel EM64T, and Enhanced SpeedStep.

    One thing to remember is that we're building the top gaming systems, where dual core is enough, and the highest clocked Core 2 will not only provide better value, but also the fastest performance on today's games. Overclocking is also better on the cooler-running dual core models, and both core voltage and TDP ratings will be lower. For example, the Core 2 Quad Q9650 raises the max TDP to 95W, from the 65W of the Core 2 Duo E8500.

    But that doesn't mean the 3.0 GHz Core 2 Quad Q9650 isn't a viable performance option, but at almost $600 and clocked lower than our Core 2 Duo E8500, we skipped it for our main guide selection. But for those who want the extra multi-tasking performance, this is still a great bet, and can easily be overclocked to Core 2 Extreme QX9770 territory and beyond, thereby saving you almost a grand.

    AMD CPU: Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition (2.6 GHz) Retail

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

    In our previous guide, we mulled over the potential of the AMD Phenom, but as the 2.3 GHz Phenom 9600 Black Edition was the top speed available, we instead chose to go with the 3.2 GHz Athlon 64 X2 6400+, which offered slightly better performance. But that was then, and this is now, and AMD has upgraded clock speeds to a full 2.6 GHz, while dropping prices significantly. The 2.6 GHz Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition is the obvious choice this month, not only for its performance, but also for the unlocked multiplier.

    The Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition runs at 2.6 GHz and features a true quad core design, with 2MB of combined L2 cache and 2MB of shared L3 cache. It supports the 940-pin AM2+ package and features an onboard, dual-channel/128-bit DDR2 memory controller running at up to 1066 MHz speeds. It also runs at a full 2.0 GHz HT 3.0 clock and since this is a Black Edition, the multiplier is fully unlocked. The only potential issue is the higher max TDP rating, which checks in at 140W, or slightly higher than the 125W TDP of the Athlon 64 X2 6400+ and Phenom X4 9750/9850.

    CPU Heat Sink: Thermalright IFX-14

    Current Cost: $72
    Consecutive Guides: 2
    Price Change: -$8

    The choice of a CPU cooler can be a very personal one, as we all have our favorites. But as a general option, we're sticking with the powerful Thermalright IFX-14, which is a nice upgrade from our longtime Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme selection. The IFX-14 offers several improvements, such as a larger heatsink and the addition of a second cooling-sink to handle the back side of the CPU socket.

    The IFX-14 features custom brackets and a simple 2-screw attachment, allowing it to handle both Socket AM2/AM2+ and LGA775 motherboards, while utilizing either 120mm or 140mm cooling fans (not included).

    Cooling Fans: Three Scythe S-Flex SFF21E

    Current Cost: $45 ($15 each)
    Consecutive Guides: 6
    Price Change: $0

    The Scythe S-Flex SFF21E is a popular fan with enthusiasts, mostly due to its 1200-RPM speed and 49CFM airflow combined with a nearly-silent 20.1 decibel rating. It's also great option for "bare" Thermalright coolers, and provides a nice match in terms of cooling power, ambient noise and overall value. We are adding in extra pair of Scythe fans for case cooling, and these should be installed in the side panel to assist the two default 120mm fans included with the Cooler Master Stacker 830.


    Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
  • Page 3 Motherboards and Memory
    Page 4 Hard Drives and Optical Drive
    Page 5 Video Card, LCD Display and Audio
    Page 6 Mouse, Keyboard & Controller
    Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

    Intel Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X48-DS4 (X48)

    Current Cost: $225
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    Now that Intel has finally introduced the X48 Express performance chipset, this is the natural choice for our Intel system. Where the situation got a bit hazy was in choosing whether to go with a DDR2 or DDR3 platform. This was a tough decision, as we want the top performance and scalability, but also realize that DDR3 memory is significantly more expensive, especially at the 2x2GB, higher-clocked range. So we chose to go the DDR2 motherboard route with our main selection, while offering up a few DDR3 options for those who want to travel that higher-priced road.

    The Gigabyte GA-X48-DS4 satisfies all our main requirements, sporting the Intel X48/ ICH9R chipset with LGA775 support for all Core 2 Duo, Quad and Extreme FSB1066/1333/1600 models, dual PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots with CrossFireX support, and four memory slots at up to DDR2-1200 speeds. The board also includes six SATA ports, Gigabit LAN, 8-channel audio, 8 x USB 2.0, 2 x IEEE 1394a, and a 2 x PCI Express 2.0 x16, 3 x PCI Express x1, and 2 x PCI slot layout.

    We do understand that some will want to go with DDR3 memory, and there are several ultra high-end X48 motherboards supporting this memory format. For more conventional tastes, Gigabyte offers the high-end GA-X48T-DQ6 motherboard, with support up to DDR3 1800, and all the performance fixings at just around $300. The ASUS Rampage Extreme is the very top-of-the-line model, with support up to DDR3-1800 and -2000 overclocked memory speeds and ATI CrossFireX, and is designed to be water-cooling ready. It also checks in at almost $400, so bring your checkbook.

    AMD Motherboard: ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe (790FX)

    Current Cost: $200
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    When it comes to performance AM2+ motherboards, the conversation begins and ends with the AMD 790FX chipset. This is currently the most powerful chipset for a Phenom X4-based platform, and is the de facto choice for our guide. The only question is determining the exact brand and model, but we're going back to the ASUS well and upgrading from the Crosshair we selected last time out, and moving to the impressive ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe motherboard.

    This is not a very difficult selection for us to make, as we use the M3A32-MVP Deluxe in all our Phenom X3/X4 testing, and it's been an extremely high-performance platform with excellent stability. This ASUS board is powered by the AMD 790FX chipset, and includes four PCI Express graphics slots (PCIe 2.0/1.0) and four memory sockets with support for up to 8GB of DDR2-1066. Other onboard features include SATA 3.0 Gb/s, Gigabit LAN, 8-channel audio, IEEE 1394, and SATA RAID, along with ATI CrossFireX multi-GPU technology.

    The ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe includes an advanced thermal and power design, including an 8+2 Phase Power Design, which provides independent power to vital components and protects them from potential damage. It features the now-standard ASUS fanless, heat pipe thermal cooling, with chipset heatsinks attached to several heat pipes and heat fins/sinks for maximum thermal protection, without the noise of a cooling fan. ASUS also bundles a Cool Mempipe device, which attaches to the main heatpipe, and then to the memory modules.

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

    Current Cost: $122
    Consecutive Guides: 2
    Price Change: -$33

    We continue to see lower DDR2 price levels, and no where is this more apparent than in the ultra high capacity range. Matched pair 2x2GB DDR2 kits are priced significantly lower than DDR3, and there are even 2x4GB DDR2 kits emerging that DDR3 can't match. The OCZ DDR2 PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 4GB Edition is a superior value, with a price tag of only $122.

    The Reaper brand name includes a heat pipe mounted along the upper edge, which helps extend cooling away from the modules, drawing additional hot air away, and doubles as an easy-to-use handle for installing or removing the OCZ modules. We continue to go back to enthusiast-level OCZ memory, and as we've had very good luck with it in the past. The OCZ2RPR10664GK 2x2GB kit continues this tradition, and at only $122, offers an incredible price-performance ratio.

    For those who went the DDR3 route, OCZ also offers a Reaper HPC 4GB (2x2GB) kit in a DDR3-1800 configuration. The OCZ3RPR18004GK kit retails at approximately $350, and features timings of 8-8-8-27 at 1.9V. OCZ also offers a DDR3-1600 Reaper HPC 4GB kit (OCZ3RPR16004GK), which is priced a bit lower at $275, and has timings of 7-7-7-24 at 1.9V.


    Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards and Memory
  • Page 4 Hard Drives and Optical Drive
    Page 5 Video Card, LCD Display and Audio
    Page 6 Mouse, Keyboard & Controller
    Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

    Hard Drives: 2 x Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB SATA 3.0Gb/s

    Current Cost: $280 ($140 each)
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    In our previous guide, we went with a quad-320GB drive setup that while being very flexible, didn't really pay off for many end users. It was still a ton of money for what amounted to just over 1TB of actual disk space, not counting any lost from a potential RAID array. In addition, it was four hard drives chugging along, all adding heat and consuming power. This month, we're switching gears a bit and going with dual 1TB Seagate drives, which still allow users to go with a RAID array, or just let it all hang out with a full 2TB of disk space.

    The Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB drive is a high-performance model, with a full 32MB of onboard cache, a 7200-RPM spindle speed, second-generation perpendicular recording technology, and a quiet SoftSonic motor. It is a best-in-class 1TB drive for performance, reliability, and ambient noise, while Seagate covers all their OEM drives with a lengthy 5-year warranty.

    We continue to give consideration to the Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB 10K drive, but at almost $300 for 300GB, this is a tough $/GB nut to crack, even for our Extreme Guide. This is especially true since we like to keep the RAID option open for the high-end crowd, and adding dual VelociRaptor 300GB drives simply wouldn't offer the same performance return as a second graphics card or faster CPU. But if prices fall...

    Optical Drive: LG GGC-H20L Blu-ray/HD DVD, 16X DVD±R SATA /w LS

    Current Cost: $150
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    Although Blu-ray burners are still extremely expensive, a few of the BD/HD-DVD combo drives have fallen in price, and you really don't lose anything on the DVD-R/RW or CD-r/RW side of things. We think a high-end system is only accentuated by high-definition video playback, and it's nice to have the freedom to choose between Blu-ray and taking advantage of some fire-sale HD-DVD prices.

    The LG GGC-H20L supports both Blu-ray and HD-DVD playback at 6x BD-R, 2x BD-RE and 3x HD DVD read speeds, and supports both single and dual-layer formats. It also supports standard DVD and CD read/write capabilities, with 16x for both DVD+R and DVD-R media, 8x for DVD+RW, 6x for DVD-RW, 4x for dual-layer +R/-R, and 40x/24x speeds for CD-R/RW formats. It even supports LightScribe technology, and the only real negative is the higher cost, but this is easily factored into the overall budget.


    Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards and Memory
    Page 4 Hard Drives and Optical Drive
  • Page 5 Video Card, LCD Display and Audio
    Page 6 Mouse, Keyboard & Controller
    Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

    ATI Graphics: Dual Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB Cards in CrossfireX

    Current Cost: $1100 ($550 each)
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    Since both of our platforms support ATI CrossFireX, our main choice this month will be a pair of ATI-based graphics cards. To totally honest, a single Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB card would suffice to handle virtually any game on our AMD and Intel platforms, and that would be our standard recommendation. Just pocket the extra $550 and move along, but since we have the budget space and this is an "extreme" guide, then adding a second card is the logical choice.

    The Radeon HD 4870 X2 is a very powerful graphics solution, sporting dual Radeon HD 4870 graphics processors in a single-card, multi-GPU format combined with a full 2GB of ultra-fast GDDR5. It is the fastest single-card performer that money can buy, and has simply jaw-dropping specifications. A fillrate of 60 GT/s and a memory bandwidth of over 230 GB/s are simply off the chart, and adding two of these behemoths to a single PC is a slight bit of overkill.

    NVIDIA Graphics: Dual GeForce GTX 280 1GB Cards in SLI

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

    Although we go with one card vendor as our primary choice, we also provide what we feel is a comparable option from the other. Naturally, we're going with a pair of top-of-the-line GeForce GTX 280 1GB video cards, as this is the fastest hardware NVIDIA has to offer.

    But this also brings up some issues in terms of platform support for SLI, which is currently implemented only in NVIDIA-based chipsets. To get these dual GeForce GTX 280 cards working in SLI, you'll need to go for an alternative AMD motherboard, possibly using the nForce 780a chipset, or a new Intel board with the nForce 790i SLI or 790i Ultra SLI.

    LCD Display: BenQ G2400WD 24"

    Current Cost: $400
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    Our previous LCD selection, the Westinghouse L2410NM, remains a top choice for gaming displays, but it's become more difficult to locate, especially at the larger online retailers. That means it's time for a change, and evaluating the latest and greatest in gaming panels. This also brings up the dicey question of what type of LCD technology to use, as S-PVA/MVA LCDs offer slightly better viewing angles, but pay for it with significant input lag (where the displayed image lags behind the signal). Some very nice S-PVA monitors have come under fire for serious input lag, and many gamers have migrated to fast-response TN panels like the BenQ G2400WD 24".

    These offer incredibly low response times and almost non-existent input lag, two features are becoming increasingly important to gamers. You do pay for it with lower viewing angles, which aren't really an issue with a single-user home PC, especially when gaming. The BenQ G2400WD is a top-rated 24" gaming panel, featuring an astonishing 2ms GTG (gray to gray) response time, a 4000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, and a ton of inputs, including HDMI/ DVI/ D-sub and a headphone jack. The standard resolution is 1920x1200 with a 0.27 mm pixel pitch, although the 160°/160° viewing angle is a bit lower than the 178°/178° commonly found on S-PVA panels.

    Although the Westinghouse 24" MVA display has dropped off the face of the earth, there are still quite a few M-PVA options out there, including the popular Dell Ultrasharp line. We really like the Ultrasharp 2408WFP for pure clarity and viewing angles, and a 6 ms response time, a 3000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, and 110% color gamut makes it a serious home display. But like most M-PVA panels, it does suffer from input lag, which depending on your sensitivity, could really affect your gaming.

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

    Current Cost: $180
    Consecutive Guides: 3
    Price Change: +$10

    The X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series card has served us well in previous guide, and there is not reason to mess with success. It features 64MB of "X-RAM" for caching sounds, which theoretically can improve performance, and features a high 109db signal-to-noise ratio with EAX 5.0 audio effects. The pack includes a handy remote and utilizes an "X-Fi I/O Drive" front-panel with volume control, headphone/microphone port access and other features.

    Speakers: Logitech Z-5500

    Current Cost: $250
    Consecutive Guides: 10
    Price Change: +$15

    Although the Logitech Z-5500 5.1-channel speaker set has been a mainstay in our guide for some time now, it's not as if technology has been overtaking it. This remains one of the top high-end solutions on the market, and really stands out as a tried-and-true classic of PC audio. And like any classic, it's going to take a lot to topple it from the top of our speaker list.

    While upgrading to a 7.1-channel speaker system remains a potential option, we have been unable to find anything that competes with the Logitech Z-5500. It includes 505W total power, with four 62W satellites, a 69W center speaker and an 188W sub-woofer. The set also includes a Digital SoundTouch control center with LCD display, the cloth speaker grills are removable and the pedestals rotate.


    Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards and Memory
    Page 4 Hard Drives and Optical Drive
    Page 5 Video Card, LCD Display and Audio
  • Page 6 Mouse, Keyboard & Controller
    Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

    Mouse: Logitech G9 Laser Mouse

    Current Cost: $75
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    For a truly extreme gaming system, we've discounted the wireless mouse solutions as a primary choice, and concentrated specifically on the top wired controllers. The Logitech G9 stands out above the rest, and offers an excellent mix of features, stability and control. It links to the system through a full-speed USB connection that is capable of 1000 reports/second, and features a woven cable for enhanced durability. The G9 is powered by a 3200 dpi laser engine with adjustable sensitivity and a MicroGear scroll wheel.

    The Logitech G9 is also highly customizable, and ships with two interchangeable grips, along with a specialized weight tuning system using 28 grams of individual metal weights. This allows the end user to choose the proper outer shell and then determine the optimum weight. The G9 even provides custom LED colors, making it potentially the most flexible gaming mouse yet.

    Keyboard: Logitech G15 Gaming Keyboard

    Current Cost: $80
    Consecutive Guides: 6
    Price Change: -$5

    When it comes to gaming keyboards, the Logitech G15 is the model against which all others are judged. This keyboard is tailored specifically for the gamer, while being a functional unit for basic typing, which is a tough juggling act. The most visible feature is the G15's flip-up GamePanel LCD, which can display anything from system stats to gaming data or communication, and it is end-user configurable. The Logitech G15 also features backlit keys, six programmable G-keys, media controls, and an onboard USB hub for easy connection of a mouse or other controller.

    The G15 should satisfy all but the hardcore ergonomic crowd, and for that market, we can recommend something along the lines of a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. This is a stylish and very functional ergonomic keyboard that retails at approximately $45 for the OEM model.

    Game Controller: Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2

    Current Cost: $30
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    A top-end gaming system not only needs a kickass keyboard & mouse combo, but also a standard controller for those pesky sports and racing games. This is one area that consoles excel in compared to the PC, but for just $30, you can change that real quick. Our perennial Saitek P3000 choice has simply become virtually impossible to locate, so we've been forced to make a change, but if you can actually find one, feel free to snag it.

    Our replacement game controller is the popular Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2, which is available virtually everywhere and has a devoted following of PC gamers. It's very similar to a cart game controller, which means console gamers can easily make the transition. The Rumblepad 2 uses a 2.4 GHz wireless attached to a full-speed USB port, has vibration feedback, if that turns your crank, and offers 10 programmable buttons, an 8-way D-Pad, and dual analog control sticks. Although not a rechargeable unit, the Rumblepad 2 supplies an estimated 100 hours of gameplay on one set of AA batteries.


    Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards and Memory
    Page 4 Hard Drives and Optical Drive
    Page 5 Video Card, LCD Display and Audio
    Page 6 Mouse, Keyboard & Controller
  • Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

    Networking: Integrated Gigabit LAN

    Current Cost: $0
    Consecutive Guides: 13
    Price Change: N/A

    Both of our recommended motherboards include Gigabit LAN, and other than users looking at additional ports or security features, there is no reason to spend the money on a dedicated PCI/PCIe card. The onboard 1000Mbps networking will provide more than enough bandwidth for any home gaming system, but for those with more extravagant requirements, we do have an optional piece of equipment.

    The Intel PRO/1000 PT Server Adapter is available in single, dual, and quad port designs, with the single-port model using a PCI Express x1 format, while the multiport cards use a higher-bandwidth PCI Express x4 slot. The newer PCI Express standard allows these cards to support bi-directional Gigabit transfers, and overall faster speeds.

    Although a conventional 56k modem has gone the way of the dinosaur for the majority of users, anyone requiring one should forgo an internal real estate war and snag an external USB model like the US Robotics USR5633 Faxmodem.

    Operating System: Windows Vista Ultimate OEM

    Current Cost: $170
    Consecutive Guides: 2
    Price Change: -$10

    We finally shuffled off the old Windows XP coil in our previous guide, and not only jumped right into Vista, but also went right up to the top of the scale with the Ultimate Edition. Once again, we're recommending the OEM version, which requires the purchase of qualifying hardware, so be sure to buy your copy from one your hardware venders.

    The 32-bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate is the safest bet, although with a full 4GB of DDR2, you're welcome to try the 64-bit version. Game compatibility may take a slight hit, but at least you'll get the benefit of the whole 4GB. Under a 32-bit Vista environment, you'll really only see about 3GB due to the way the OS handles addressing, but having 4GB of system memory is still better than 2GB.

    UPS: OPTI-UPS Enhanced Series ES1500C

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

    When plunking down $4,000 on a new computer, adding a UPS can be very cheap insurance against power surges (spikes) or brownouts (droops), and can even give you a bit lead-time during a power failure. Given the price of our two system configurations, and the serious hardware these contain, a UPS is not optional, but a required piece of equipment.

    The OPTI-UPS Enhanced Series ES1000C is rated at 1000VA and sports an excellent 700W load capacity, but gets us dangerously close to the full load of our dual-Radeon HD 4870 X2 system. So although the ES1000C should suffice, we're upgrading to its ES1500C big brother. This bad boy features eight outlets and is rated at 1400VA with a whopping 980W load capacity, which is more than enough juice to handle even our fully-loaded systems.


    Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards and Memory
    Page 4 Hard Drives and Optical Drive
    Page 5 Video Card, LCD Display and Audio
    Page 6 Mouse, Keyboard & Controller
    Page 7 Communications, Operating System, etc.
  • Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

    Price Roundup


    Intel Core 2 Duo System:

    Case: CM Stacker 830 - $239
    Power Supply: Corsair CMPSU-1000HX 1000W - $240
    CPU: Core 2 Duo E8500 Retail Box - $189
    Cooling: Thermalright IFX-14 - $72
    Fan: 3x Scythe S-Flex 1200RPM - $45
    Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X48-DS4 - $225
    Memory: OCZ PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 4GB - $122
    Hard Drive: 2 x Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB - $280
    Optical Drive: LG GGC-H20L - $150
    Graphics: 2x Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB - $1,100
    Monitor: BenQ G2400WD - $400
    Audio: X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series - $180
    Speakers: Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Digital - $250
    Mouse: Logitech G9 Laser - $75
    Keyboard: Logitech G15 - $80
    Game Pad: Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2 - $30
    NIC: Included - $0
    Floppy Drive: None
    OS: Vista Ultimate-OEM - $170
    UPS: OPTI-UPS ES1500C - $155

    Total: $4,002


    AMD Athlon 64 X2 System:

    Case: CM Stacker 830 - $239
    Power Supply: Corsair CMPSU-1000HX 1000W - $240
    CPU: Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition - $180
    Cooling: Thermalright IFX-14 - $72
    Fan: 3x Scythe S-Flex 1200RPM - $45
    Motherboard: ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe- $200
    Memory: OCZ PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 4GB - $122
    Hard Drive: 2 x Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB - $280
    Optical Drive: LG GGC-H20L - $150
    Graphics: 2x Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB - $1,100
    Monitor: BenQ G2400WD - $400
    Audio: X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series - $180
    Speakers: Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Digital - $250
    Mouse: Logitech G9 Laser - $75
    Keyboard: Logitech G15 - $80
    Game Pad: Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2 - $30
    NIC: Included - $0
    Floppy Drive: None
    OS: Vista Ultimate-OEM - $170
    UPS: OPTI-UPS ES1500C - $155

    Total: $3,968


    Closing Remarks

    Overall, our AMD and Intel system configurations both offer superior gaming performance, mostly due to the extravagance of running dual Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB cards in CrossFireX. This is serious business, and not only required us to use up almost all of our budget, but upgrade both the power supply and UPS to compensate for the higher power draw. Other notable system upgrades included shifting to the top-speed Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition, and getting a bit more MHz with the Core 2 Duo E8500.

    Both motherboards received a boost as we changed over to the Intel X48 and AMD 790FX chipsets. We also shifted the hard drive selection a bit, moving from a quad 320GB setup to a more expansive dual 1TB combination. Also on the storage end, the addition of the LG GGC-H20L added both Blu-ray and HD-DVD playback, while maintaining the standard DVD and CD writing capabilities. We shifted gears to the BenQ G2400WD display, while tweaking the guide a bit by adding the Logitech G9 Laser Mouse.

    We are looking forward to a few trends for our next Extreme Guide, foremost among them continued price drops on the CPU and graphics front. We expect the dual Radeon HD 4870 X2 configuration to make a return visit, but would love to see prices continue to fall. It's the same with processors, and the prospect of adding a lower-priced 3.0 GHz or higher Core 2 Quad is a very attractive one. Otherwise, we don't expect to see a major shift in the landscape, but more a settling where our budget can be shifted around as required.

    * 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.

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