Lynnfield launched with a wheezy cough rather than an all-out, four horseman reckoning, with everything but the i5-750 prohibitively expensive and motherboards mostly priced higher than what people want to pay. This has caused lots of arguments in the office in the past few weeks as we've struggled to test as many P55 motherboards and build an enthusiast system at a price you'd be prepared to pay. This is the reason for the mid-month buyer's guide.
In addition, DirectX 11 cards and Windows 7 are not that far away, so this has caused further price drops for graphics cards across the range. We should also remind you that these future-proof upgrades are not far off - so consider your upgrade cycle wisely.
We've again included five systems this month, and regular readers will notice the price gap has been changed again slightly to accommodate the changing market conditions. The price jump between the Affordable All-Rounder to Enthusiast Overclocker has considerably increased by 25 per cent, but the performance has also increased by the same amount. We still think this is prohibitively expensive for many and are aiming to bring it back down £50 to £100 in the next few months as we expect prices of Lynnfield motherboards, memory and hopefully CPUs to drop.
As usual a run down of our systems is as follows:
The Affordable All-Rounder is highly budget conscious, but also does offer plenty of gaming potential and an upgrade path
The Overclocking Enthusiast system is for someone who wants to squeeze the most performance, although not necessarily the most MHz, for his or her money and has tonnes of gaming grunt for not too much cash
The Gaming Workhorse offers supreme performance for the heavy multi-tasker and gamer, while staying firmly under the grand mark
Our Premium Player package is for those who want the latest, highest performing kit with excellent cooling that won't sound like a hive of angry hornets, and without going way into the thousands.
Finally, the Folding Rig is designed to get the most PPD for the least £££, so we can see off those hideously ugly and damn-right smelly EVGA-ites to retain our rightful place in the Folding@home world rankings!
As always, we write the buyer's guide not as a definitive must buy list, but as a monthly update of systems and parts we know will go well together within a particular budget. Take what you want from each build - from affordable, capable PCs, to gaming behemoths - whether it be just a few bits of hardware or the whole thing if you need a ground-up upgrade. We sift through the mass of hardware and recommendations, decide from what we've tested and what we know to be good, then setup the above PCs to fit several budgets.
Finally, one last notable landmark point is that this month every single PC we recommend uses DDR3 memory! A sign not that DDR3 prices are coming down unfortunately, but that every CPU includes its own memory controller which dictates the choice.
Affordable All Rounder
Not everyone can afford, or needs a Intel Core i7 or AMD Phenom TWKR!!!11oneone CPU - but how about a nifty dual core setup capable of 3.5 to 4GHz with a graphics card that will handle the latest DirectX 10 games at 1,680 x 1,050? Let's just say we're really pleased with how this build has turned out this month, and we can't think of a better way to get the most value with an upgrade path, from a very small budget.
We've finally eschewed the Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 in favour of the AMD option. Why? Well LGA775 CPUs have almost had their day, and finding future upgrades will be a hassle - especially when it comes to motherboards. With this in mind, we opted for a Socket AM3 board, and having recently tested the excellent MSI 770-C45 (review to come very soon) it's very hard to ignore a quality £50 motherboard. Coupled with a very capable AMD Athlon II X2 250 (the MSI doesn't feature core unlocking anyway, even if the Athlon has disabled cores to unlock) and some cheap, but tasty looking G.Skill Ripjaw memory, there's plenty of overclocking potential and power for all but the most demanding tasks.
The GeForce GTS 250 512MB is still extremely cheap in the UK, and easily outperforms the ATI Radeon HD 4770 512MB that retails for a very similar price. The Nvidia product is more mature (a rebadged 55nm, 9800 GTX+), with faster performance and better driver support. With its single 6-pin PCI-Express connector, the card doesn't draw too much power either. Unfortunately for our States-side friends, the GTS 250 is a lot more expensive than the Radeon HD 4850, which is much better value than here.
As we've been recommending for the last few months, the Antec Three Hundred (300) pops its head up here again at just £45, and coupled with a Corsair CX400W PSU makes an excellent combination for a great looking box, with good cooling and a quality, stable power supply. If you want to knock the budget down a little, there are the Cooler Master Elite cases to check out, but little else we'd recommend: you get what you pay for.
The Akasa and Arctic Cooling CPU heatsinks are both cheap, reasonably quiet and better than the reference heatsinks, but if you want to really throw the volts through the Athlon II then we highly suggest spending more on a larger heatsink. However, why spend more on a heatsink when you could just buy a faster CPU with more cores?
Throw in an LG SATA DVD-RW drive and a 500GB Seagate 7200.12 SATA hard disk and you've got a cheap and very affordable PC that packs a serious punch. We'd recommend the Seagate if you can - its single 500GB platter means greater areal data density, allowing marginally lower power and better performance than the competition.