Affordable All-Rounder February 2011

This system is designed to be our recommendation for those looking for maximum performance per pound (we’re British, y’know). The power of a fast dual-core processor is still perfectly adequate for everyday use and gaming – add a decent amount of memory and as potent a graphics card as you can afford, and you’ll be fine for the foreseeable future on a 1,680 x 1,050 screen.

 Affordable All-Rounder
 ProductUK Price (inc VAT)US Price (ex tax)
CPUIntel Pentium G6950 2.8GHz£70$100
MotherboardGigabyte GA-H55M-UD2H£65$100
Memory4GB 1,333MHz DDR3£45$45
Graphics CardNvidia GeForce GTX 460 768MB£120$160
PSUAntec Earthwatts 380W£40$40
CPU CoolerArctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro£15$30
CaseAntec Three Hundred£50$60
Optical driveSATA DVD-RW£15$20
Storage500GB SATA 3Gbps£30$50
 Overall Price:£445$610

New This Month

We’ve done an about face this month with our affordable all rounder, and swapped out the 3GHz AMD Athlon II X2 250 and MSI 770-C45 for a Pentium G6950 and a Gigabyte GA-H55M-UD2H. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, the C45 was becoming harder to find, and secondly you’ll just get more performance out of the Intel based system. We had no problem clocking our test G6950 all the way up to a ridiculous frequency of 4.6GHz!

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide February 2011 Affordable All-Rounder February 2011

We’ve also swapped out the the ATI Radeon HD 6850 1GB for an Nvidia GTX 460 768MB. This was mainly to save a little bit of cash, as the new CPU and motherboard used in the build are slightly more expensive than those they replace, but you’ll see barely any difference between the two cards if you’re gaming at 1,680 x 1,050. Of course, if you’ve got closer to £500 to spend then you could sub out the GTX 460 768MB for the HD5850 that it replaced.

Finally, we've updated the PSU from the Corsair SU-430CX 430W to a PSU we have reviewed: the Antec Earthwatts 380W. We said in Custom PC that it 'proved able to output a stable voltage from all of its rails [and] it’s also reasonably efficient'. As this isn't a monster PC, a 380W power supply is fine.

And The Rest

We played with the idea of using the reference CPU cooler for this system to keep the price down, but given that we wanted to overclock the CPU we decided to buy a better performing third-party cooler after all. The Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro is cheap and quiet and has three heatpipes to cope with a spot of overvolting and overclocking.

We've also chosen 1,333MHz memory, as it’s slightly cheaper than 1,600MHz sticks and won’t limit overclocking too much. For example, if we were to aim for an overclock of 4GHz, we’d have to use a Base Clock of 220MHz (220 x 18 = 3,960) – the H55M-UD2H has a 6x memory strap, so we can use that to keep the memory within its limits (1,320MHz). Memory rated at 1,066MHz is roughly the same price as 1,333MHz RAM, so we may as well get the faster DIMMs to try to future-proof the system a little.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide February 2011 Affordable All-Rounder February 2011

Meanwhile, the Antec Three Hundred is a low-cost case, but it’s solidly made and includes a rear exhaust fan and a large roof exhaust fan, so it’ll keep all your hardware cool and survive a good few knocks. Finally, we’ve added the cheapest DVD-RW drive we could find and a 500GB hard disk.

If you haven't got a copy already, you might 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.
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