GeForce.com Hardware Buyer's Guide - May 2011

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Introduction

Hardware Buyer's Guide: May 2011

Picking out components for a new PC is a tricky business - it’s time consuming, there are numerous compatibility issues to consider, and hunting for the best prices can be a chore due to hidden shipping costs and taxes. Well today is your lucky day, as we’ve put together four different systems, in four different price brackets, ensuring that each component works flawlessly in concert with the others, and we’ve even located the best prices, so dig on in and pick out your new gaming rig – all you have to do is assemble it!

Budget Bank Saver

 
  Product Price
  
 
CPU Intel Core i3-2100 LGA 1155 3.1GHz Boxed Processor $99.99
GPU ASUS ENGTX460 DirectCU TOP 768MB GeForce GTX 460 $119.99
Motherboard ASRock H61M-VS LGA 1155 Intel H61 Micro ATX Motherboard $59.99
PSU Cooler Master Elite eXtreme Power Plus RS-500-PCAR-A3-US
500 Watt
$34.99
RAM PNY XLR8 4GB (2x2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1600 SDRAM Model
MD4096KD3-1600-X8
$28.99
HDD
Western Digital Caviar Blue WD5000AAKS 500GB 7200RPM
16MBCache SATA 3.0Gb/s
$44.99
Optical Drive ASUS Black 18X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM SATA
E818A7T/BLK/B/GEN OEM
$16.99
CPU Cooler Stock, Included With CPU$0.00
Thermal Compound
Stock, Included With CPU$0.00
Case Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case $44.95
  
 
Total Price: 
$450.88
  
 
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit $99.99
  
 
Total Price: $550.87

Being a budget PC we had to avoid breaking the bank, but also couldn’t sacrifice quality and reliability, so while you may find even cheaper components, you may well discover that they’re unreliable and poorly made, costing you more in the long run. Based on our Optimal Playable Settings and other benchmarks we knew that playing Crysis 2 with maximum detail settings enabled at 1920x1080 was a realistic goal for a balanced budget PC, but as other, recent games aren't as optimized we had to set our sights on achieving fluid frame rates at 1680x1050 instead.

A brand new, second generation Sandy Bridge Intel Core i3 processor sits at the heart of our machine and can be easily overclocked to 4GHz utilizing the stock heatsink and fan (overclocks on the latest Intel CPUs are trivially easy). Through our research we discovered that Micro Center was by far the cheapest outlet for CPUs, the only snag being that such low prices are only offered in their stores, and the nearest may be many many miles from your place of residence, so if Micro Center is definitely a no go, head on over to Newegg, the cheapest nationwide e-trailer, after shipping charges, surcharges and taxes are factored in and added to the product page price.

The ASRock LGA 1155 motherboard we chose isn’t the cheapest available, but it does enable you to reach the aforementioned overclock, and is proven to be a solid, well-made piece of kit. If your budget requires it, pick a cheaper board, but do remember that you get what you pay for.

Powering our graphics subsystem is the significantly overclocked ASUS GTX 460, a custom-made NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 equipped with numerous unique components that enable the aforementioned overclock. There are cheaper, older graphics cards that can run Crysis 2 at our desired resolution and speed, but in other games they would struggle badly.

ASUA GTX 460

The PSU is one area where you cannot scrimp on – cheap power supplies have a habit of going pop, and if they damage your other components in the process that damage will not be covered by warranties. It is therefore better to spend more in this one particular area to ensure the overall stability and longevity of your system. For this system we’ve chosen the Cooler Master Elite eXtreme Power Plus, sporting 500 Watts of power. Designed by a well-known, reputable company, you can be sure that your system is safe, and the price doesn’t break the bank either.

For RAM, we’ve chosen a paired 4GB set from PNY, another well-known, reputable company. 4GB is the recommended amount of RAM for gaming systems, especially since the release of Windows 7, and it will also ensure that you can run multiple applications without slowdown. For our hard disk, we went with a modest but fast 500GB Caviar Blue drive from Western Digital, which should provide more than enough room for the latest games. If you need extra space either pick a larger size or buy a second drive at a later date (the ASRock motherboard can support up to four SATA devices). Rounding out the list of components is a cheap and cheerful DVD-ROM drive, though for a few extra bucks you can get a DVD Re-Writer.

Antec Three Hundred

If you’re on a super tight budget here’s a money saving, somewhat irregular tip – run your computer from the top of the motherboard box. Yep, you read that right, place the motherboard on top of the box it ships in, remove the anti-static covering entirely, then plug in the other components, letting the end of the graphics card hang over the side of the box. Place the hard drive, DVD drive and power supply on their own boxes, and then plug them into the motherboard, and the relevant cables from the power supply to the other components. The one small snag with this plan is that the ASRock motherboard lacks an on-board power switch, but luckily you can buy one for a few dollars from a computer shop or online store, or if you have an old computer case from the last decade, simply salvage one from inside, checking first that it uses the same number of pins as the motherboard manual dictates (almost certainly three).

If you can afford an extra forty-five bucks we recommend you buy the Antec Three Hundred. With room for a Standard ATX motherboard, the Three Hundred will easily fit the ASRock Micro-ATX motherboard and future proof your system should you wish to upgrade to a more featured-packed Standard board at a later date.

Cable routing is catered for, allowing you to create a clean, clutter-free interior, and there are numerous bays for further DVD or hard drives. On the exterior, the Three Hundred sports two top-mounted USB 2.0 ports, and a headphone and microphone jack.

If you require an operating system, pick up Windows 7 64-bit from Amazon for an unavoidable $99.99, but if you’re a student ask around campus as you can get deeply discounted versions through your school or university. Also, don't fret about Amazon's 'old version' warning - it simply means you need to download Service Pack 1 after install (the pre-patched version costs about $77 more).

Mid-Range Monster

 
  Product Price
  
 
CPU Intel Core i5-2400 Sandy Bridge 3.1GHz $148.96
GPU MSI N560GTX-TI Twin Frozr II/OC GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB $229.99
Motherboard Gigabyte Technology GA-P67A-UD4-B3 $174.99
PSU Silverstone Strider Essential Series 700 Watt $74.99
RAM PNY XLR8 4GB (2x2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1600 SDRAM
Model MD4096KD3-1600-X8
$28.99
HDD
Western Digital Caviar Blue WD5000AAKS 500GB 7200RPM
16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s
$44.99
Optical Drive ASUS Black 18X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM SATA
E818A7T/BLK/B/GEN OEM
$16.99
CPU Cooler Stock, Included With CPU$0.00
Thermal Compound
Stock, Included With CPU$0.00
Case Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer
Case
$44.95
  
 
Total Price: $764.85
  
 
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit $99.99
  
 
Total Price: $864.84

Optional Overclocking Extras

 
  Product Price
   
CPU Cooler
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
$39.99
Thermal Compound
Arctic Silver 5 $7.49
  
 
Total Price: $812.43
Total Price With OS:  $912.42
  

Alternate CPU

 
  Product Price
   
CPU
Intel Core i5-2500K Sandy Bridge 3.3GHz
$179.99
  
 
Total Price, Sans OC Extras: $795.88
Total Price, With OC Extras: $843.36
Total Price, Sans OC Extras, With OS:
 $895.85
Total Price, With OC Extras, With OS: $943.35
  

Unlike our budget machine, the mid-range monster can comfortably handle the latest games at 1920x1080 and offers plenty of options for upgrading in the future, without purchasing a brand new motherboard. To power the graphics subsystem we’ve picked one of the best mid-range GPUs on the market, the MSI N560GTX-TI Twin Frozr II/OC, a modified, overclocked version of NVIDIA’s recently-released GeForce GTX 560 Ti.

MSI GTX 560Ti

The CPU has been upgraded to a second-generation, mid-range 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-2400 Sandy Bridge processor. With the aid of a $26.99 Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus and a $7.49 tube of Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound, the i5-2400 will happily reach an overclock of 3.8GHz, but if you want to go higher you’ll need to splash out another $31 for the Intel Core i5-2500K. Free from the shackles of Intel’s overclocking cap, the 2500K can reach speeds of up to 5.7GHz, though a more realistic air-cooled target would be 4.5GHz.

Through our research we discovered that Micro Center was by far the cheapest outlet for CPUs, the only snag being that such low prices are only offered in their stores, and the nearest may be many many miles from your place of residence, so if Micro Center is definitely a no go, head on over to Newegg, the cheapest nationwide e-trailer, after shipping charges, surcharges and taxes are factored in and added to the product page price.

Gigabyte Technology GAP67AUD4B3

Our chosen motherboard is the Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4-B3, the most reliable Sandy Bridge motherboard in its price bracket. Built with all the top-end components you’d expect from Gigabyte, the UD4 also sports several USB 3.0 ports, ensuring that any USB 2.0 devices work as quickly as possible, and allowing you to make full use of high-speed USB 3.0 devices as they become commonplace.

The UD4 also supports 2-Way SLI, allowing you to double the power of your PC’s graphics subsystem by adding a second GeForce GTX 560 Ti at a later date.

The more powerful components necessitate a more powerful PSU, so we’ve chosen the rock-solid 700 Watt Silverstone Strider Essential Series, which also supports SLI, should you wish to perform the aforementioned upgrade at a later date. Our chosen RAM, hard drive, DVD drive, case and operating system remaining unchanged, however.

If you require an operating system, pick up Windows 7 64-bit from Amazon for an unavoidable $99.99, but if you’re a student ask around campus as you can get deeply discounted versions through your school or university. Also, don't fret about Amazon's 'old version' warning - it simply means you need to download Service Pack 1 after install (the pre-patched version costs about $77 more).

High-End High Roller

 
  Product Price
   
CPU Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz $279.99
GPU MSI N580GTX Twin Frozr II/OC GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB $499.99
Motherboard Gigabyte Technology GA-P67A-UD7-B3 $304.52
PSU Corsair HX Series CMPSU-850HX 850 Watt $154.99
RAM
G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2x4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM
DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Model F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL
$94.99
HDD Western Digital Caviar Black WD1002FAEX 1TB 7200 RPM
64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s
$89.99
Optical Drive ASUS Black DVD-RW $20.99
CPU Cooler Prolimatech Megahalems $69.99
CPU Cooler Fan 1x-2x Akasa AK-FN059 120mm Ultra Quiet Viper Cool Fans $13.95
Thermal Compound
IC Diamond 24-Carat $19.29
Case Silverstone RV02B-EW Full Tower Silent PC Computer Case $189.99
   
Total Price: $1738.68
   
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit $99.99
   
Total Price: 
$1838.67

Our high end system is a significant step up, in that it will play every game with every bell and whistle enabled at max resolution on a single monitor. Accelerating the graphics subsystem is a MSI N580GTX Twin Frozr II/OC GeForce GTX 580, supported by an Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge CPU, which will ensure that this system remains at the top of its game for several years.

MSI GTX 580

The more powerful a system, the more necessary it is to have a rock-solid PSU that supplies a constant, stable current. To that end, we chose the Corsair HX Series CMPSU-850HX 850 Watt PSU for our high-end machine, which has enough juice left over to support extra hard drives and other addons, and also supports SLI, though it’s debatable whether 850 Watts would be enough for a SLI GTX 580 system. If you know for sure that you want another GTX 580 in the future, spend the extra cash now to purchase a 1 KiloWatt PSU to safeguard against blown fuses and fried hardware - like a wall socket, calling for too much power from a PSU that’s clearly not rated or able to meet the demand only ends in tears before bedtime, and the smell of chargrilled silicone.

Intel Core i7

The Core i7-2600K is Intel’s fastest overall CPU to date, and because it is unlocked and overclockable, like the Mid-Range Monster’s alternate CPU, the Core i5-2500K, it can be pushed to 5GHz on air cooling with little difficulty. To guarantee that the CPU doesn’t catch fire when pushing such a large overclock, we’re cooling it with a diamond-based thermal compound and the industry-leading Prolimatech Megahalems heatsink, which has two Akasa AK-FN059 120mm Ultra Quiet Viper Cool Fans attached, resulting in air-based cooling that’s more efficient than the new factory-sealed, liquid-cooled heatsinks and radiators gaining favour in the marketplace.

If you have no intention of overclocking purchase cheaper thermal paste (our mid-range suggestion would suffice) and use only one Akasa fan.

Through our research we discovered that Micro Center was by far the cheapest outlet for CPUs, the only snag being that such low prices are only offered in their stores, and the nearest may be many many miles from your place of residence, so if Micro Center is definitely a no go, head on over

to Newegg, the cheapest nationwide e-trailer, after shipping charges, surcharges and taxes are factored in and added to the product page price.

For our high-end motherboard we chose the Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD7-B3, a significant step up from the UD4 that powered our mid-range system. With more technologies and upgrades than you can shake a SATA cable at, the UD7 is a serious bit of kit that will help you easily attain 5GHz without batting an electronic eyelid.

Our RAM is now faster also, and there’s 8GB of it to service max settings in some of the more demanding games, and to give you enough extra to do intensive movie and photo editing, too. Similarly, the hard drive has been upgraded, as has the DVD drive.

One radical change for our high-end system is the choice of case. The Silverstone RV02B-EW, pricey as it may be, is one of the highest-rated Standard ATX cases on the marketplace, and with the extra interior space its design affords, three graphics cards can be equipped in a 3-Way SLI configuration, as supported by the Gigabyte UD7 motherboard.

If you require an operating system, pick up Windows 7 64-bit from Amazon for an unavoidable $99.99, but if you’re a student ask around campus as you can get deeply discounted versions through your school or university. Also, don't fret about Amazon's 'old version' warning - it simply means you need to download Service Pack 1 after install (the pre-patched version costs about $77 more).

Extreme Eye-Watering Super Computer

 
  Product Price
  
 
CPU Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz $279.99
GPU ASUS ENGTX590 GeForce GTX 590 3GB $745.00
Motherboard ASUS Maximus IV Extreme $345.00
PSU Silverstone Strider Gold ST1200-G 1200 Watt $289.99
RAM
G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 16GB (4x4GB) 240-Pin DDR3
SDRAM Model F3-14900CL9Q-16GBXL
$179.99
HDD Western Digital Caviar Black WD2002FAEX 2TB 7200 RPM
64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb
$149.99
Solid State Drive Crucial RealSSD C300 CTFDDAC128MAG-1G1 2.5" 128GB
SATA III MLC
$237.49
Optical Drive ASUS Black DVD-RW $20.99
Dedicated Sound Card ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 Channels PCI-E x1 Sound Card $69.99
CPU Cooler Prolimatech Megahalems $69.99
CPU Cooler Fan Two Akasa AK-FN059 120mm Ultra Quiet Viper Cool Fans $27.90
Thermal Compound
IC Diamond 24-Carat $19.29
Case Silverstone TJ10-B Black Aluminum ATX Full Tower Computer
Case
$269.99
   
Total Price: $2705.60
   
Operating SystemWindows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit$99.99
   
Total Price: 
$2805.59

Our pièce de résistance is the Extreme Eye-Watering Super Computer, designed to do everything at once, without question or compromise. Thanks to the raw power and multiple video outputs of the GeForce GTX 590, our Extreme system can happily play the latest tessellated, hardware PhysX, DirectX 11 games on three 1080p monitors, simultaneously, and in 3D. Our CPU and cooling system remains unchanged, simply because they’re the best you can get, though we have swapped our motherboard out for an ASUS Maximus IV Extreme, the most advanced Sandy Bridge motherboard currently available. Rivalling Gigabyte’s high-end board for unique features and technologies, the Maximus IV Extreme also includes ASUS’ first implementation of the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface BIOS, a mouse-driven, high-resolution replacement to the old System BIOS standard first introduced with IBM-compatible PCs in the early 1990s.

ASUS GTX 590

Through our research we discovered that Micro Center was by far the cheapest outlet for CPUs, the only snag being that such low prices are only offered in their stores, and the nearest may be many many miles from your place of residence, so if Micro Center is definitely a no go, head on over to Newegg, the cheapest nationwide e-trailer, after shipping charges, surcharges and taxes are factored in and added to the product page price.

To support the GTX 590 and our other kit, the power supply has been bumped to a 1200 Watt Silverstone Strider Gold, though if you intend to create a Quad SLI system with a second GTX 590, go for a 1500 Watt PSU instead, such as the Silverstone ST1500.

GSKill Ripjaws X Series

And as this is an Extreme build we’ve gone wild and gifted the system with 16GB of RAM. Sure, 8GB would suffice, but if you’re building a computer this powerful you’re surely going to be running three MMO clients simultaneously, whilst also encoding home movies and editing in Photoshop. In all seriousness, there is logic behind this decision – the ‘sweet spot’ for the amount of RAM increases every few years, and as this system will last a very long time indeed we’re

surethat figure will rise before our build becomes obsolete. The chosen G.SKILL Ripjaws are low-profile, guaranteeing that the RAM will fit beneath the largest of heatsinks, and are as powerful as any other DDR3 RAM kit on the market (the difference between DDR3 performance is marginal at best).

Our hard drive is now a high-performance two terabyte monster from Western Digital, but that’s not enough for our Extreme rig. No, we decided that the primary system drive should be a solid state disk, allowing the system to boot in seconds, and games to load in flash. We’d recommend storing only the most demanding games and the operating system on the SSD, partitioning the Western Digital drive into two, and using one partition of space for other system files and games, and the second for everything else.

Adding a little extra oomph to the system is the ASUS Xonar DX soundcard, a significant upgrade from the already-excellent on-board sound of modern-day motherboards. Outputting audio in 7.1 Surround Sound, the Xonar supports the latest EAX effects used in games, and should make movies and music sound as good as possible on your speakers and headphones.

And finally, we come to the case - for the Extreme system we’ve chosen the Silverstone TJ10-B, one of the largest Full Tower cases on the market, giving you plenty of room for multiple video cards, the ASUS sound card, everything else, and that bit more. But wait, Silverstone have produced a new, even better case – the TJ11. Costing an appropriately eye-watering $599.99, the TJ11 is the largest commercially available case we’ve seen in recent years, and even though the TJ10 can easily accommodate a water cooling system, the TJ11 can store two power supplies and an even larger water cooling configuration, helping push system temperatures far lower.

If you require an operating system, pick up Windows 7 64-bit from Amazon for an unavoidable $99.99, but if you’re a student ask around campus as you can get deeply discounted versions through your school or university. Also, don't fret about Amazon's 'old version' warning - it simply means you need to download Service Pack 1 after install (the pre-patched version costs about $77 more).

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