Gaming Workhorse August 2012

If gaming is your main pastime and your PC must be able to withstand the battering from hours of mega graphics and pixel pushing, then our Gaming Workhorse is for you. This PC will handle high resolutions and maximum settings while offering awesome power for other tasks too.

As we go past the £1,000 barrier, things do get more complicated though - there's so much awesome hardware to choose from. However, we'll talk you through our decisions and discuss other options, should you want more prowess in a particular area.

 Gaming Workhorse
 ProductUK Price (inc VAT)US Price (ex tax)
CPU3.4GHz Intel Core i5-3570K£165$220
MotherboardAsus Maximus V Gene£140$199
Memory8GB 1,600MHz DDR3£30$35
Graphics CardNvidia GeForce GTX 670 2GB£300$390
PSUAntec High Current Pro HCP-750£110$175
CPU Cooler (UK)Arctic Freezer i30£29$44
CaseCorsair Carbide 500R£80$140
Optical driveSATA DVD-RW£15$20
Storage (HDD)2TB Hard Disk£79$120
Storage (SSD)120GB Crucial M4£85$130
Sound CardAsus Xonar DX£55$72
 Overall Price:£1088$1,545

Recommendations and alternatives

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Our Core i5-3570K based-system is still the one to go for and we've not seen reason to make any changes this month. Our CPU of choice is still the best around for less than £200 - there's little point opting for the Core i7-3770K if you're not going be spending hours doing photo editing or rendering as the price premium is mainly due to the fact you get Hyper-threading thrown in to the mix with an additional four virtual cores on tap.

The Asus Maximus V Gene is a fantastic motherboard for overclocking, and also has room for a couple of PCI-E expansion cards meaning there's little point opting for a larger, potentially more expensive motherboard. Once again we're faced with the dilemma of recommending/not recommending the GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB, but with the GTX 670 2GB offering that much more bang for your buck thanks to its larger memory interface, particularly at higher resolutions, we're inclined to recommend the latter.

That's not to say it's a bad graphics card though. Prices will eventually drop and we're already seeing some examples retailing for around £240 - if £250 is your absolute limit, then you'll be very pleased with what you get for your money. Zotac's offering in particular is worth a look if you're building a small system - it's just 180mm long. However the GTX 670 2GB regularly drops below £300 in one-off deals, and its 256-bit memory interface potentially offers a longer life in the FPS war too.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2012 Gaming Workhorse August 2012
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We've chosen the Asus Maximus V Gene as our Gaming Workhorse motherboard of choice due to the fact it's still slightly cheaper than our other option, the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H, but performs very similarly. Both come loaded with features, although if you prefer a full size ATX motherboard, as opposed to the smaller, micro-ATX dimensions of the Asus Maximus V Gene then the difference of a few pounds is worth paying.

As for memory, 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 is a no-brainer at the moment, and we're now seeing the price drop below £30 in the odd deal. There's very little point opting for 16GB if you're only using your PC for games and maybe photo editing, web browsing and the like. We rarely see anything push past the 5GB barrier and that's with numerous programs open while playing a game.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2012 Gaming Workhorse August 2012
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Hard disks are finally starting to drop in price with low-rpm 'green' 2TB models often retailing for less than £70. For 7,200rpm models, you'll probably still be looking at around £80 for a fast 2TB hard disk.

SSDs on the other hand - well, all we can say is wow, just look at those prices. It's now possible to get decent 120GB models for less than £80 and 256GB drives for less than £140 - even less if you're willing to trade off a bit of speed. We've stuck with our 120GB Crucial M4 but for another £60 or so, you could bag a 256GB model - whether this is worth the extra outlay will depend how much storage you need. If play lots of games regularly, it might be worth paying the extra, but don't forget you've also got your 2TB hard disk too.

Arctic's Freezer i30 is a superb bit of kit for the money, however it's not the quietest cooler around. Be Quiet's Dark Rock Advanced is quieter, but not quite as potent in the battle against the heat. If you're wondering how you can match looks and low noise with great cooling then the Phanteks PH-TC14PE offers superb cooling, very low noise and is available in a range of colours too. At £66 it's pricey, especially as the Antec Kühler H2O 920 is only about £10 more.

We’ve also added an Asus Xonar DX sound card, which will be better than using your motherboard's on board audio. However, if you do opt for the Asus Maximus V Gene, then you may want to check out the quality of its SupremeFX III sound engine first, which has been electronically isolated from the rest of the PCB and could save you forking out for a separate sound card.

Our case of choice remains the same with Corsair's Graphite 500R. It offers all the modern mod cons and includes a large side window, USB 3 and some illumination as well as fan controllers and plenty of water-cooling support. The Fractal Design Define R4 is also worth a look - it costs a little less and doesn't offer the same cooling prowess, but if you prefer refined cases to the racy looks of the 500R, then you should add it to your shortlist.

Finally, if you haven't got a copy already, you'll want to factor in a copy of Windows 7 too - if you're confident that you won't be upgrading much, then an OEM copy should be fine, but serial upgraders need the pricier retail version.

Our price of £1088 is the best-balanced system we could come up with for the cash. However, if you have a strict budget of no more than a grand, then you have several options - ditching the Asus Xonar DX will mean using the motherboard's SupremeFX III sound engine, while you could also opt for a Corsair Professional Series HX650 PSU and Fractal Design Arc Midi case or a 1TB hard disk. We've left our favourite options in for now as they're definitely worth an extra £88.
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