We're back again to an early buyer's guide this month, and things have changed a bit on the graphics front thanks to AMD launching its Radeon HD 5800 series graphics cards. The Radeon HD 5870 has proven itself to be the fastest single GPU product on the planet, and the 5800 series are currently the only future proofed cards, with full support for DirectX 11, DirectCompute 11 and OpenCL.
P55 motherboard prices have dropped a little, which will help the enthusiast overclocker, and we've even got Harry to do some hard drive testing recently as well! Has the massively popular and long running recommended Samsung F1 finally been replaced with the F3, or the Western Digital Caviar Black?
Changing from last month, we have still kept the Affordable system a nose under the £400 mark - this slight increase is mostly due to the epic increase in DDR3 memory prices in the last few weeks, and general price rises just about everywhere else. The US cost dropped by $2 this month by comparison. Despite the increase in graphics card cost for the UK audience, thanks to the price reductions from new components the enthusiast overclocker sees a drop in price, but we still think it's maybe £25 to £50 more expensive than we'd really like.
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 those who want 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 catch those hideously ugly and damn-right smelly EVGA-ites to regain 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.
Affordable All Rounder
Not everyone can afford, or needs an expensive quad core 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 what amounts to a very conservative budget.
With LGA 775 reaching the end of its lifespan, we're now opting for a Socket AM3 board to provide a solid base without throwing an upgrade path out the window. For this purpose, the excellent MSI 770-C45 fits the bill perfectly and coupled with a very capable AMD Athlon II X2 250 (the MSI doesn't feature core unlocking anyway, although the Athlon does not have disabled cores to unlock anyway) and with 4GB of affordable 1,600MHz DDR3 from G.Skill or A-DATA, 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 arguably 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 on the other side of the Atlantic.
Once again the almost ludicrously good value Antec Three Hundred (300) pops its head up again at just £45, and coupled with a Corsair CX400W PSU makes an excellent combination for a tidy looking box with plenty of adjustable 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 cooler by a large margin, but if you want to really throw the volts through the Athlon II then we highly suggest spending more on a larger heatsink - a CPU taming Titan Fenrir can be had for as little as £25 now.
When it comes to optical drives most of the products on the market now are very similar, so we've opted for a nice cheap LG SATA DVD-RW drive. Hard disks however differ wildly between models and manufactuers, but the 500GB Seagate 7200.12 SATA hard disk is ideal for a cheap and very affordable PC that packs a serious punch. While we recommend the Seagate due to its bargain price tag of just over £35 for 500GB of storage, it's certainly worth considering stretching to a 500GB Samsung Spinpoint F3, although the faster Samsung is several pounds more expensive at £42.