Kepler For Every Gamer: Meet The New GeForce GTX 660 & 650

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Kepler For Every Gamer: Meet The New GeForce GTX 660 & 650

By Andrew Burnes On Thu, Sep 13 2012


“The fastest growing platform for video games today is the PC.” This rather bold statement came not from an indie developer or a stalwart supporter of the PC, like Valve, but from none other than the CEO of Electronic Arts, John Riccitiello. Console sales are not what they used to be, and PC gaming, once viewed as endangered, is seeing a resurgence. But this rise is not the revival of the same industry. It's a new industry. Ten years ago, PC gaming meant boxed copies of first person shooters at $50 a pop. Today, “PC gaming” means free to play games, digital downloads, ad-supported titles, subscriptions, and the occasional boxed product. Even piracy, the old scourge of the industry, is now not without remedy.

This resurgence has led to a revived appetite for gaming hardware. According to the latest Steam Hardware Survey, 40% of gamers are using a DirectX 10 or older graphics card, many of which date back to the days of the GeForce 8800 GT, some six years ago. With each new high-profile DirectX 11 release we are seeing an uptick in upgrades, but despite the incredible popularity of the latest Kepler graphics cards the majority of gamers have yet to take the plunge.

You see, PC gamers love technology, but they're also very value conscious, with most preferring to spend only $100 to $250 on a video card upgrade. NVIDIA’s Kepler line of GPUs, though undoubtedly fast, has therefore been outside the price range of most gamers.

Today, we’re unveiling two new Kepler graphics cards: the GeForce GTX 660 and the GeForce GTX 650. Starting at $229 and $109, respectively, these new cards at long last bring the exceptional performance and power efficiency of Kepler to all PC gamers of every budget.

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Andrew Coonrad, Technical Marketing Guru, introduces the GeForce GTX 650 and GTX 660.

 
Andrew Coonrad, Technical Marketing Guru, introduces the GeForce GTX 650 and GTX 660.

In this article we take a look at these two new graphics cards and show how they stack up to products of similar price points from prior generations. And though many reading this will be upgrading, just as many will be building brand new systems. To help with this, we’ve put together a detailed guide on how to build a great gaming rig for under $750, or a great starter rig for under $470. We hand picked each component for the best bang for the buck and even found the best e-tailer prices for your convenience. To round out the guide, we close with a section on essential gaming accessories - after all, if you are building a new gaming PC, you might as well as build something that’s going to help you play at the top of your game.

The New Kepler Product Lineup

Specifications GeForce GTX 690 GeForce GTX 680 GeForce GTX 670 GeForce GTX 660 Ti GeForce GTX 660 GeForce GTX 650
Chip 2 x GK104 GK104 GK104 GK104 GK106 GK107
CUDA Cores 3072 1536 1344 1344 960 384
Base Clock 915 MHz 1006 MHz 915 MHz 915 MHz 980 MHz 1058 MHz
Boost Clock 1019 MHz 1058 MHz 980 MHz 980 MHz 1033 MHz N/A
Memory Configuration 4 GB 2 GB 2 GB 2 GB 2 GB 1 GB
Memory Speed 6.0 Gbps 6.0 Gbps 6.0 Gbps 6.0 Gbps 6.0 Gbps 5.0 Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 384 GB/s 192 GB/s 192 GB/s 144 GB/s 144 GB/s 80 GB/s
Power Connectors 2 x 8-pin 2 x 6-pin 2 x 6-pin 2 x 6-pin 6-pin 6-pin
Outputs 2 x DL-DVI-I
1 x DL-DVI-D
Mini-DP
1 x DL-DVI-I
1 x DL-DVI-D
1 x HDMI
Mini-DP
1 x DL-DVI-I
1 x DL-DVI-D
1 x HDMI
Mini-DP
1 x DL-DVI-I
1 x DL-DVI-D
1 x HDMI
Mini-DP
1 x DL-DVI-I
1 x DL-DVI-D
1 x HDMI
Mini-DP
1 x DL-DVI-I
1 x DL-DVI-D
1 x HDMI
TDP 300 W 195 W 170 W 150 W 150 W 64 W
SLI Options Quad 3-way 3-way 3-way 2-way N/A
Price $999 $499 $399 $299 $229 $109

With the addition of the GeForce GTX 660 and GTX 650, the Kepler family has now six graphics cards spanning $109 to $999. The GTX 690, 680, and 670 are our enthusiast products, offering the highest level of performance for gamers who demand the absolute maximum from their machines. The GTX 660 Ti is on the cusp of ‘high-end’, offering a level of performance higher than that of last-generation’s flagship GPU, the GTX 580, for $100 less than the GTX 670.

The new GTX 660 we’re unveiling today is a mid-range GPU, offering a balance between performance and price, without sacrificing any of the features seen on the aforementioned cards. Today’s other new GPU, the GTX 650, is an affordable entry-level product that lets people game at 1920x1080 in the most popular online titles, and outmatches the console versions of multiplatform games with better textures and more detailed effects.


Our GeForce GTX line-up from top to bottom, showing a marked improvement in performance per generation. In particular, note how the performance of the mid-range GTX 660 comes close to that of the GTX 580, last-generations flagship GPU.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660

The GeForce GTX 660 is a $229 mid-range GPU built around a new Kepler chip codenamed GK106 (see diagram). Designed to strike a perfect balance between performance and affordability, the new chip runs almost all games using high quality DirectX 11 settings at 1920x1080.


The GK104 chip is powered by 960 CUDA cores, three graphics processing clusters, 80 texture units and a 192-bit memory interface. It’s the “mid-weight” member of the Kepler family.

Compared to previous-generation ‘bang for the buck’ video cards, like the GeForce 8800 GT and GTX 460, the GTX 660 handles the latest titles with ease, as our performance chart below shows. Compared to the GTX 460, frame rates are up to twice as fast, and compared to the 8800 GT, frame rates are up to four times as fast, at a higher level of detail using DirectX 11 (the 8800 GT only supports DirectX 9 and 10).


The GeForce GTX 660 hits triple digits in the popular Diablo III, and continues to impress in other titles, too. In each, high settings were used, and 4xMSAA anti-aliasing was enabled when available. On the GTX 460 and 9800 GT, many games failed to hit a playable 30 frames per second, or were just above that mark, resulting in an unenjoyable experience. Please note that your mileage may vary given your particular hardware and software configuration.

As our performance chart shows, you’ll be able to enjoy all or most of the effects in any game at a fast, fluid frame rate on the GeForce GTX 660. In Borderlands 2, which is right around the corner, the GeForce GTX 660 runs at a breezy 50 frames per second at a high detail level, and with all PhysX effects enabled also. In fact, even in the most punishing game, the GTX 660 still delivers a solid 38 frames per second.


With PhysX enabled in Borderlands 2 the game’s action is even more exciting, as hundreds of thousands of particles and effects combine to fill the screen with debris, blood, fluid effects, and the pièce de résistance, the vortex explosion.

If you’re looking for an affordable upgrade that gives you the maximum amount of features and a great level of performance in any title, the GTX 660 ticks all the boxes. It runs almost all of the latest games at over 40 frames per second at 1920x1080 with high settings, and when you’re not gaming its four outputs allow you to create an extended four-screen desktop.

If your system is beyond a mere upgrade, or you’re looking to jump into PC gaming for the very first time, the GTX 660 is a great mid-range choice. And if you turn to page two, we’ll show you how to build a well-balanced GTX 660 system for less than $750.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650

The GeForce GTX 650 is NVIDIA's entry level gaming GPU. "Entry" in this case may be a bit of a misnomer. Powered by 384 CUDA Cores and 1GB of dedicated memory, the GeForce GTX 650 plays most of today's games at medium quality or higher at 1920x1080, meaning it packs a real punch despite its diminutive profile and $109 price tag. As way of illustration, the GeForce GTX 650 has 812 Gigaflops of graphics horsepower, which is over three times that of the Xbox 360’s Xenos GPU.

In the entry-level market we find users typically upgrade only once every three to four years, and at present most of our customers in that segment are using the GeForce 9500 GT, a four year old GPU that was designed for gaming at 1280x1024. Today, 1920x1080 is by far the most popular resolution, and as such the GeForce GTX 650 is designed to play at this resolution, bringing HD-quality gaming to the entry level.


We tested the GeForce GTX 650's performance in a suite of seventeen games, spanning popular classics and new releases. High quality settings were enabled where possible, and only dialed down to medium for more intensive titles like Battlefield 3 and Borderlands 2.

As our chart shows, the GeForce GTX 650 performs well in popular games like League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and DOTA 2, rendering the action at 1920x1080 with high-to-maximum settings enabled. In World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, the GeForce GTX 650 runs at a breezy 46 frames per second at 1920x1080 with DirectX 11 and 4xMSAA enabled; the GeForce 9500 GT managed only 12 frames per second using the same settings and the DirectX 9 renderer.

In more intensive, graphical titles, like Battlefield 3, Max Payne 3 and Batman: Arkham Asylum, the GTX 650 plays at medium detail levels, in all cases delivering over 40 frames per second. In low-fi games, like League of Legends, the venerable 9500 GT failed to hit even 30 frames per second, clearly showing why it is unsuitable for modern-day, 1920x1080 gaming.


Our interactive comparison shows the massive increase in fidelity a GTX 650 enables in World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria.

Despite being only 5.7 inches long, compared to the 9.5 inches of the GTX 660, the GTX 650 can output to three monitors simultaneously and still sports popular Kepler features such as Adaptive VSync and FXAA anti-aliasing. Its tiny size also makes it a great upgrade for a Home Theater PC (HTPC) or older system utilizing a smaller case. In a HTPC, the GTX 650 has ample power to output Full HD 1080p footage to your HDTV television via the mini-HDMI output, and in full stereoscopic 3D via NVIDIA’s 3D Vision, too. Adding to its appeal as a HTPC card is the fact the GTX 650 draws less than 5 Watts of power at idle, and less than 13 Watts of power when accelerating 1080p video.

Starting at $109, the GeForce GTX 650 is a great entry-level upgrade for gamers who want to keep up with today’s PC gaming. Even mainstays like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 have switched to DirectX 11, upping the level of detail and the game’s performance. Console gamers, meanwhile, are limited to last-gen graphics, upscaled from sub-720p resolutions, using lower quality textures.

Next, we show you how to pick and chose the right components to a build two super affordable PCs based on these two new graphics cards.

GeForce GTX 660 DIY Build

Once upon a time building your own PC was as daunting as navigating Dante’s inferno; myriad compatibility issues had to be navigated, certain brands of RAM refused to work with specific motherboards, components were beyond fragile, and physically assembling the system was a lethal proposition thanks to razor-sharp edges in each and every case. Thankfully, for the most part, that is no more.

Nowadays, assembling your own system is a much simpler proposition thanks to helpful instruction manuals, thousands of online tutorials and walkthroughs, and general common-sense construction of components that prevents improper installation. Cheap components still have innumerable drawbacks, but if you shop around you can find high-quality kit at a mid-range price. Here, cases are constructed from aluminum instead of plastic, installation requires minimal knowledge, motherboards are packed with helpful features and straight forward, mouse-driven UEFI BIOSes, drivers install and work without issue, and Microsoft’s promise of “plug and play” is now a reality – simply install Windows 7 and almost everything will be ready for use immediately. You’ll still want to install the latest versions of the official drivers for nifty extras and helpful control panels, but no longer are you presented with a low-color, 640x480 display on first boot, with no network connection and no support for your USB mouse and keyboard.

Despite these advancements, finding the best products among thousands can be challenging, so we’ve put together a balanced GeForce GTX 660 system that you can build at home, that costs less than $749.99. By “balanced”, we mean that the CPU is of a similar class to the GPU, that the PSU provides the correct amount of power, and that the motherboard and other components are of a similarly high quality, yet still affordable.

To ensure that we’ve got the absolute best price for each and every component, we scoured the web, falling into the pit of hidden taxes and charges time and time again. Ultimately, we found Newegg were the cheapest for each and every component, and for the general buyer their 5-star ratings are an invaluable indicator of a product’s quality. If the listed prices in our guide fluctuate wildly, or a product is discontinued, search for something similar on their site, using said reviews as a guide. Furthermore, look out for some killer rebates, which can drive the cost down significantly.

To bring you the best deal possible, we worked with our friends at Newegg who created a "SuperCombo" out of the components below. NewEgg's SuperCombo lets you buy all the components in a single click and shaves up to 10% off the total price. Considering the quality of the components, NewEgg's generous return policy, and the amazing price, it's definitely one of the best deals out there.

The Build

Our GeForce GTX 660 system comes in at just under $745, and is designed to let you play the latest games at 1920x1080 using high-to-maximum graphics settings and up to 4xMSAA anti-aliasing. This level of fidelity far exceeds that seen on any console and prepares you for the next wave of high-profile releases that will continue to up the quality of their graphics.

Being only a tad slower than the GeForce GTX 580, last generation’s flagship GPU, the GTX 660 can hit 50 frames per second in Battlefield 3, 48 frames per second in Batman: Arkham City, 37 frames per second in Max Payne 3, and 51 frames per second in a PhysX-enhanced version of Borderlands 2. With this build, that level of performance should be achievable, in these titles and the ones waiting in the wings for release later this year and early next year.

Product Price
GPU EVGA SuperClocked 02G-P4-2662-KR GeForce GTX 660 2GB 192-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card $229.99
CPU Intel Core i5-2500K Sandy Bridge 3.3GHz (3.7GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor $219.99
Motherboard GIGABYTE GA-Z77-DS3H LGA 1155 Intel Z77 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard $99.99
Power Supply Rosewill Stallion Series RD500-2DB 500W ATX12V Power Supply $44.99
RAM Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 RAM $34.99
Hard Drive Seagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 1TB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive - Bare Drive $89.99
Case Rosewill Blackhawk Gaming ATX Mid Tower Computer Case $79.99
Optical Drive Sony Optiarc 24X DVD Burner $17.99
Total Price $817.92
Newegg SuperCombo Price $744.98

GPU

The cornerstone of any gamer’s build is the graphics card, and in this case it’s the GeForce GTX 660, which hit the market just moments ago in a variety of flavors, with a range of overclocks and custom components. The reference models, using NVIDIA’s heatsink and fan, start at $229.99, though custom versions may cost more. Almost all will have received reviews online, so check them out before picking the model that suits you best. In our SuperCombo bundle, we feature EVGA’s 2GB model.

CPU

Being a great mid-range card we’ve paired the GTX 660 with a powerful mid-range CPU, the Intel i5 2500K. Reaching default speeds of 3.3GHz (3.7GHz with Turbo Boost enabled), the quad core chip is highly overclockable, but at $219.99 it is also one of the most expensive i5’s available. If you have a Micro Center near you the technology retailer offers the same chip for an unbelievable $159.99 in-store, but if not you may want to consider one of the cheaper LGA 1155 chips in Intel’s i5 range if the 2500K is a bit too pricey for your tastes. Each is bundled with a heatsink, fan, and packet of thermal paste, and each performs well, though performance does scale with the cost, and in CPU-bound titles such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Guild Wars 2, performance will be decreased to a greater extent than in other games.

Motherboard

Holding our components together is GIGABYTE’s $99.99 GA-Z77-DS3H, an ATX motherboard with full support for USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps, ensuring you receive maximum performance from your USB devices and hard drive. If you’re buying individual components for an upgrade, a cheaper alternative is ASRock’s Z75 Pro3, which costs just $84.99.

Power Supply

Powering our system is the $44.99 Rosewill Stallion Series 500 Watt power supply, a good-quality unit with adjustable-speed fans and sleeved cables. Our GTX 660 system requires 450 Watts of power, so the Rosewill’s 500 Watts gives us a bit of wiggle room should an extra hard drive or two be desired. Like everything else on our list there are cheaper options available, but with a power supply you really don’t want to scrimp as cheaper units have a habit of failing, and when they do they typically kill other components also. And as you’ll quickly find out, components killed by a rogue PSU won’t be replaced for free by their manufacturers.

RAM & Hard Drive

RAM prices remain low following the price crash seen in 2011, so we’ve chosen a snazzy-looking $34.99 8GB set of Crucial Ballistix Sport RAM, and though RAM may be cheap, hard drives are not, as prices continue to remain high following last year’s flooding in Thailand that decimating the production plants of the market’s biggest suppliers. Before that tragic event you could purchase the best drive on the market, the 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black, for just $69.99. Now, it’s $109.99, and though that’s down far from the $204.99 peak it hit in November there’s still some way to go before we’re back to the good old days.

Because of this, we’ve chosen the Seagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 1TB drive, which weighs in at $89.99. It performs better and is more reliable than similar drives at this price point, but if you don’t mind spending a bit more just get the Caviar Black. If you’ve got your own drive already, even better – save the money, reformat it for your new system, and wait for the prices to fall.

Case

Housing all our kit is the $79.99 Rosewill BlackHawk, an ATX tower case that comes with five fans, excellent cooling, and a windowed side panel. There’s also a removable hard drive cage, screw-free drive bays, cable routing holes, top mounted USB ports, and top mounted Input-Output sockets for your headphone and mic.

If you don’t need anything quite so fancy, or intend to buy components separately, consider the cheaper Antec Three Hundred, a fantastic, much-loved, more-basic ATX case that sells for a very reasonable $54.99. The Three Hundred’s front panel includes a pair of USB 2.0 inputs, as well as jacks for a headphone and mic. The front bezel is perforated for maximum air intake, and has a washable filter to reduce the amount of dust entering the system. Inside, there are a total of nine drive bays – six 3.5” internal HDD’s and a trio of 5.25” external drives. At the rear there's a 120mm TriCool fan in addition to the top-mounted 140mm TriCool fan (both of which are fitted with 3-speed switch controls). Furthermore, there's space for an additional pair of 120mm fans behind the front bezel to cool the HDDs, as well as the option to mount a third 120mm fan on the side of the case to cool the GPU.

Cheaper cases are available, but you’ll find the majority rattle, lack the level of excellent air cooling found in the Three Hundred, and are not as accessible or as easy to use.

Optical Drive

And finally, if you require a DVD drive for the installation of games and Windows 7, a matching black Sony drive can be had for just $17.99.

With this $744.98 build you’ll be enjoying the levels of performance seen on page one in our benchmark chart. Many of you will already own cases, hard drives and DVD drives, so either save that money or reinvest it, perhaps in a GeForce GTX 660 Ti (which comes with a free copy of Borderlands 2 for a limited time), or a motherboard and power supply with SLI capabilities to further future-proof your system. Or perhaps buy an accessory or two, such as a high-performance gaming mouse or super-responsive 120Hz gaming monitor, all of which are detailed on page four.

GeForce GTX 650 DIY Build

Like our GTX 660 system, this build is balanced around the capabilities of the GeForce GTX 650, an entry-level DirectX 11 GPU that boasts a range of hardware and software features that outmatch those seen on similarly priced GPUs.

The Build

An entry-level system built around the GTX 650 needed to hit an entry-level price, without compromising on component quality. With a tough $499.99 target set, we once again scoured the web, and as with our GTX 660 system we arrived back at Newegg each and every time. Armed with the best prices on the net, we built a great Micro ATX SuperCombo system for just $462.48.

Performance-wise, this system achieves a medium level of fidelity at 1920x1080 in Battlefield 3 and other top titles, and easily maxes out the most popular online games, like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. If these are your preferred games, the GeForce GTX 650 is the perfect choice, but if you want to up the ante in the blockbusters of this world you would be advised to up your budget and purchase a GeForce GTX 660 or GTX 660 Ti system.

Compared to the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, titles released on both console and PC will look significantly sharper and run much smoother on a GTX 650 system. Take Batman: Arkham City for example. On consoles it looks good enough, but on the GTX 650 you can run the game at 1920x1080 at over 40 frames per second, with textures of a significantly higher quality enabled, in addition to DirectX 11 Tessellation, Dynamic Shadows, Motion Blur, Distortion, Lens Flares, Light Shafts, Reflections, Ambient Occlusion, and 4xMSAA Anti-Aliasing. In the game’s configuration app this is defined as a ‘Very High’ detail level. The console versions fall between ‘Medium’ and ‘High’.

Product Price
GPU EVGA SuperClocked 01G-P4-2652-KR GeForce GTX 650 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready Video Card $119.99
CPU Intel Core i3-3220 Ivy Bridge 3.3GHz LGA 1155 55W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 2500 BX80637i33220 $129.99
Motherboard GIGABYTE GA-B75M-D3V LGA 1155 Intel B75 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard $69.99
RAM G.SKILL Value 4GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model F3-10666CL9S-4GBNT $17.99
Hard Drive Seagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 1TB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive - Bare Drive $89.99
Case Rosewill R101-P-BK-450W Micro ATX Mid Tower Computer Case With 450W Power Supply $49.99
Optical Drive Sony Optiarc 24X DVD Burner $17.99
Total Price $495.93
Newegg SuperCombo Price $462.48

GPU

Our build begins with the entry-level GeForce GTX 650. Reference models start at just $109.99, though versions and bundles from partners may cost more. Before you buy, check out each package and pick the one you like most. Our SuperCombo choice is the $119.99 EVGA GTX 650, with 1GB of RAM and a seriously sexy cooler.

CPU

The king of budget builds, the Intel Core i3-2100, has been superseded by the new Intel Core i3-3220, which is 200MHz faster, ten Watts kinder to the environment, and only $10 extra. At $129.99, the i3-3220 is an unbeatable buy, but if you do want a cheaper chip please be aware that overall system performance will suffer.

Motherboard

Holding our components together is the $69.99 Gigabyte GA-B75M-D3V LGA 1155 Micro ATX motherboard, which is equipped with USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps support, ensuring your USB devices and hard drive run to their maximum potential. Super compact, this excellent motherboard ticks all the boxes for a low-cost entry-level system, and has a ton of features not typically seen at this price point.

RAM

With RAM prices nice and low you can get 4GB of speedy DDR3 RAM for a bargain-basement $17.99, but for just $16 more you can get 8GB, which we recommend, as you won’t be able to upgrade from 4GB to 8GB at a later date without scrapping the 4GB (the Gigabyte motherboard has two RAM slots and DDR3 RAM is sold as paired sticks, ergo 4GB is 2x2GB and 8GB is 2x4GB).

Hard Drive

Due to the high prices of hard drives, a result of flooding in Thailand last year, we’re opting for the $89.99 Seagate Barracuda 1TB drive to remain within budget. Before the floods, $69.99 would have netted you a top-end 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black HDD, and with signs that prices are finally starting to fall you may be better off repurposing an old reformatted drive for the time being.

Case

Unlike the HDD market, the chassis market is saturated with product, driving prices lower than they’ve ever been before, and because of this competition you can now snag a fantastic Fractal Design Core 1000 Micro ATX case for just $39.99, complete with a 120mm intake fan, a headphone and mic jack, and two USB 2.0 ports. Being just 16.54" x 6.89" x 13.98", the Fractal Design Core 1000 won’t look out of place in a living room underneath the TV (how far we’ve come since the days of repulsive beige steel boxes), and doubles perfectly as a Home Theater PC chassis, so when the family isn’t watching the latest movies you can enjoy a spot of HDTV gaming.

For our SuperCombo bundle we’ve chosen the Rosewill R101 chassis, which includes a 450 Watt power supply for an unbeatable $49.99, making the Rosewill the ideal choice if you require a case and power supply. With the Fractal, you’d need to spend an additional $30-$40 to kit it out with a PCIE-equipped 400 Watt-and-above PSU, exceeding the outlined budget. Like the Fractal, the Rosewill case includes a 120mm fan and sports USB and Input-Output ports for your accessories, and though it’s slightly larger it still won’t look out of place in a living room or home cinema setup.

Optical Drive

And finally, if required, you can grab a matching black Sony DVD drive for $17.99.

With this high-quality $462.48 build you’ll be enjoying smooth, hi-res, high detail, 1920x1080 gameplay in World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, League of Legends, DOTA 2, World of Tanks, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and more. And with the DirectX 11 support of the GeForce GTX 650, you’ll also be able to enjoy the latest blockbuster games at a level of detail far beyond that of the consoles.

For those of you building the system specifically for MMOs such as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2, or MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA 2, you may be interested in high-performance accessories that help you play better and gain an advantage over the competition – to learn more, turn to page four.

High-Quality Gaming Accessories

You’ve geared up and got a gaming system worthy of the latest titles, but what if you want to compete against the best in World of Warcraft, or pull off a Pentakill in League of Legends? For that, you’ll want accessories, finely tuned to the needs of pro-gamers and those who take their gaming ever so seriously. From mice, to keyboards, to monitors, we’ve got you covered with a number of recommendations. Their cost may at times appear at odds with our value for money, bang for the buck system builds, but spread the cost across their lifetime, which may be five years or more, and you’ll find they’re great buys.

Mice

The mouse has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1963, now featuring a variety of buttons, functions, and extras that are custom designed to give gamers the best possible chance in high precision titles. Even keyboard-heavy MMOs like World of Warcraft have special mice, with up to a dozen thumb buttons for accessing macros and abilities.

Gamers wanting the very best mouse should look to Razer’s specialized line-up. For League of Legends, Diablo III and other MOBA and Action-RPG games they’ve created the $79 Naga Hex, with 6 mechanical thumb buttons that allow gamers to instantly activate skills, or swig a pot in a cinch. Furthermore, special switches in mouse 1 and 2 allow the Naga Hex to register up to 250 clicks a minute, and 10 million clicks in total across its lifetime.

MMO gamers will want to look to the identically priced Naga MMO mouse, featuring a whopping 17 buttons, 12 of which are on the thumb pad. If that sounds unwieldy, Razer’s got you covered by offering three interchangeable side panels that should suit all hand sizes. To help configure the many many buttons, Razer releases software addons for specific MMOs, so all you need to do is plug and play.

If you’re looking for something of a similar quality, but a bit more traditional, the $79 Razer Taipan is our choice, featuring two thumb buttons and an 8200 DPI ‘Dual 4G Sensor System’, which simply means it’s really precise. The Taipan’s unique selling point is that it’s ambidextrous, so whether you’re right-handed or a south-paw; use a claw, palm or fingertip-grip, this mouse stays firmly and comfortably in hand for extended periods of gaming.

At the top end is Razer’s $129 Ouroboros, which has to be seen to be believed, in that it can be made to suit almost any setup and hand thanks to its adjustable arched palm rest and back, and two interchangeable ambidextrous side panels. On the technical side, it features the same 8200 DPI 4G sensor system as the Taipan, and combines this with a 1ms gaming-grade wireless link, freeing you from the restrictive binds of a mouse cord. “Wireless mice are rubbish!”, we hear you say. “When the battery runs flat you’re unable to play,” you add. Normally we’d agree, but in the case of the Ouroboros you simply plug the cord in and transform it back into a wired mouse, allowing you stay in your game, and simultaneously recharge the battery.

Of course, $79-$129 may be a bit much if you’re on a budget, so how about the Logitech M500 instead? The M500 is your standard, common-garden wired mouse, and though it lacks the amazing features of Razer’s lineup, it amazes in its own way, with an unmatched $29 price point. Sure, you can buy a mouse for $5 from Newegg, but it won’t be well-constructed, feature two thumb buttons, an adjustable scroll wheel, an ergonomic grip, and a great software configuration package. For us, it’s the best value mouse on the market, and even without six thumb buttons you can still attain a good ELO in League of Legends, if you’ve got skills.

Finally for $49, Logitech’s G400 is a good, specialized gaming mouse with on-the-fly DPI adjustment buttons (great for precision sniping in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive), smooth-slide feet, and a 10 million-click rating, just like Razer’s $79 mice. In our opinion, this is the better budget buy if you’re a first-person shooter fan, but if you’re only playing MOBAs the M500 is more than up to the task.

Keyboards

Like the mouse, the computer keyboard has come a long way since the days of the IBM PC. Fuelled by the rising popularity of e-sports and MMOs, today’s models sport macros, functions designed specifically for one game, LED backlighting, LCD keys, interchangeable overlays, keys with adjustable travel depths, and so on and so forth. And like the mouse, the keyboard receives a humongous amount of wear and tear, so spending a bit extra on a decent model is well worth it, especially if you’re relying on the keyboard to function to a high standard in a competitive game.

As with the mice, Razer makes the very best keyboards, and at present the BlackWidow is their flagship device, featuring mechanical fast-travel keys with a 50 gram actuation force, support for 10 simultaneous inputs, customizable software profiles that can be switched on-the-fly, multimedia controls, and a ton of other advanced tech.

Two versions are available. The $79 Tournament Edition dispenses with the numpad and is designed to be taken from event to event, in that it features a detachable cord and is bundled with a travel bag. The $99 ‘2013’ version is a full-size 3.31 pound keyboard, and includes audio outputs activated by a USB passthrough, which some gamers may find useful.

At the budget end of the spectrum Logitech once again comes through, this time with the K120, a $14, spill-resistant keyboard that functions as one would hope and expect, without feeling cheap and nasty. It even has a three-year warranty.

For a bit more money you can have the K310, a new washable keyboard from Logitech. No joke, you can wash the entire unit by submersing it in a bowl of water. Given how common keyboard spills are, especially amongst gamers reaching for a drink in the heat of combat (we’ve all done it), it’s a great buy at $39. In addition to being washable, it’s hardy, looks good, and has numerous multimedia shortcuts keys.

Headphones

Any old pair of headphones won’t cut it. A 5.1 or 7.1 Surround Sound set lets you determine the direction from which an enemy approaches; active noise cancelling blocks out your pesky roommate; and you most definitely need an integrated mic for team play or a bit of good old fashion smack talk.

With the keyboards and mice it’s relatively straightforward to say a particular product is best, but when it comes to headphone recommendations it’s incredibly difficult to offer a recommendation due to the subjective nature of sound. Audiophiles wage a virtual war on Internet forums over the perceived quality of specific headsets, so we’ve picked a range of cans that are well made, have gaming features, and are generally recognized to offer high quality audio..

Starting from the budget end of the spectrum, the Turtle Beach Z11 Gaming Headset is a comfy, entry-level $39 set of cans with in-line volume controls. For $30 extra you can have the Z2, a $69 ‘Pro-Grade’ PC headset with sound-absorbing ear muffs to block out the outside world, higher quality sound drivers, and twistable ear cups for on-the-go gaming. For another $30 again you can upgrade to the Z6A, a $99 5.1 Surround Sound headset with 4 speakers per cup, mini subwoofers, detachable in-line audio controls, and a microphone monitor so you can hear your own voice at the volume others do, helping to avoid uncomfortable encounters with the neighbors who knock to inform you of your overly loud ‘talking’.

Beyond this point headsets begin to get very expensive indeed. At $179 we have the Sennheiser PC 350, a foldable noise-cancelling headset that many rate as one of the best, but soon it will have serious competition for that accolade in the form of Turtle Beach’s Z Seven Tournament-Grade Headset, which is endorsed by the Major League Gaming e-sports organization. Launching October 2012, the Z Seven will cost around $199, a justifiable price when you read the extensive feature list and see its in-line control unit that has over a dozen buttons.

Mouse Pads

Once upon a time we had a bit of rubber for a mouse mat; now, we have surfaces specifically tuned to the wavelength of the light emitted from a mouse’s laser, surfaces printed with game imagery, and monstrous deluxe mouse pads that cost as much as the mouse itself. And don’t forget the wrist rest, essential for avoiding RSI during marathon gaming sessions.

At present, there are two champions in the mouse pad industry: the Razer Goliathus, a tournament-grade cloth pad that costs between $14 and $34 depending on the size chosen, and SteelSeries’ 9HD, a composite plastic pad that costs $34. Both perform equally well, making the choice one of personal preference – do you want a soft pad that is easier on your hand and can be rolled up and stored easily, or a solid plastic pad?

Monitors

Given that you spend more time looking at your monitor than probably anything else in your life, this is one component that you don't want to skimp on. Cheap models suffer from ghosting, washed out colors, and backlight bleeding. High quality 60Hz models are a dime a dozen, and now 120Hz models are growing in popularity due to the increased smoothness of the on-screen action. In fact, some hail 120Hz monitors as the biggest development in years. And as a bonus, most 120Hz models support 3D Vision, allowing you to enjoy stereoscopic 3D content when using NVIDIA’s 3D Vision 2 glasses.

Looking exclusively at gaming monitors, the $199 ASUS VW246H is your best and cheapest option. It’s won a ton of awards, has a 1000:1 contrast ratio, a 2ms grey-to-grey response time, a HDMI input, built-in speakers, and ‘looks’ good for a desk-bound monitor. At that price it’s unbeatable. At lower prices, there are plenty of 1920x1080 monitors available, but few will offer a high-quality experience.

The $289.99 Dell UltraSharp U2412M, meanwhile, caters to the higher-end by utilizing an IPS panel. If you’re unfamiliar with monitor tech, screens come in two flavors: TN and IPS. TN is cheaper and more responsive (less likely to ‘ghost’ in fast-action games), but lacks truly-accurate color and has poor viewing angles (only an issue when not looking directly at the screen). TN panels are found in almost all screens, with IPS typically only found in top-end, pro-grade screens designed for hospitals and photo editors. Now, their price is rapidly decreasing, making them an attractive purchase for gamers, and allowing Dell to sell the much-loved UltraSharp U2412M for as little as $289.99, $90 less than its introductory $379.99 price point.

Is an IPS panel a good choice for you? “That depends”. Is ghosting and screen lag noticeable and annoying to you? Some people don’t notice it, or they simply don’t care. Do you primarily play first-person shooters? A TN panel may be a better bet. Do you edit photos, videos and graphics when not gaming? IPS will allow you to see the colors as captured by the camera. If you’re on the fence, our best recommendation is to find a store with display models, or to buy from an outlet offering a grace period for returns. Either way, you won’t go wrong with the U2412M or the ASUS VW246H.

If you want the ultimate in-game experience, however, you’re left with one final option – the BenQ XL2420T/TX, a super responsive 120Hz 3D Vision 2 LightBoost monitor that offers unmatched smoothness that people swear by. With full support for 3D Vision 2 and our vibrancy-increasing LightBoost technology, the XL2420T also happens to be one of the best stereoscopic 3D Vision 2 monitors on the market, as verified by independent reviews from journalists and end-users alike.

In addition to the panel itself, there’s a built-in, full-spec DisplayPort output (adaptors for screens without a full-spec port cost up to $100), a remote control for switching between game and movie display presets, and first-person shooter display modes designed in conjunction with professional Counter-Strike players.

At $389 for the variant without an integrated 3D Vision 2 emitter, it’s certainly pricey, but if you want the best of the best this is it.

Conclusion

PC gaming is back in a big way. In addition to over a dozen big-name games arriving this year, there are hundreds of indie projects, dozens of free-to-play titles, and even some entirely new concepts. And though no-one knows for sure, it’s safe to say PC gaming is more profitable than ever for those who think innovatively and adapt to market conditions.

The big names and the blockbusters have one thing in common: advanced graphics that make console gamers swoon. But if you want to impress your console-loving friends you’ll likely require a newer GPU, and as of today there are two very affordable Kepler GPUs to help you do just that. Previous Kepler GPUs were outside the ‘bang for the buck’ price point desired by the majority of the gamers, but now you can pick up the $229 GeForce GTX 660, which gives you all the performance you need to run games at 1920x1080 at a high level of detail. The GeForce GTX 650, meanwhile, offers entry-level performance, higher than that of any console, at an affordable $109, in a compact, energy efficient package that can output to three monitors simultaneously or to your living room TV.

With today’s launch, NVIDIA now offers a Kepler GPU at every price point. With so many amazing games set to arrive in the coming months, there has never been a better time to upgrade. Which GPU will you pick? Share your thoughts with us below.

The GeForce GTX 660 and GeForce GTX 650 are available now at all e-tailers and retailers.

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