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What Hardware Should I Buy? - January 2010

What Hardware Should I Buy? - January 2010

Wow, it's the new decade already: twenty-ten is here! We hope you all had a lovely break (for those who get one) - we're all sufficiently more plump in the office, which is good considering the snow settled over the UK now.

So what better way to keep the chill out than to buy a new rig to heat up your house! Or, draw the cold air in to aid overclocking! It's a win-win!

We've seen Intel's latest and greatest Clarkdale desktop CPUs drop last week, in addition to the latest H55/H57 motherboards. We awarded the Intel Core i3-530 a Recommended award, but has it made the cut to feature in one of our rigs? Performance is excellent but prices are still commanding a bit of a premium like all new kit.

As ever we're tweaking and changing the way we do our buyers guides slightly - instead of getting EXACT prices, we're now going to show a range of prices that you should be looking at for the chosen products, as well as the overall rounded budget this PC should. This is in response to the fact prices fluctuate over the month, and products go in and out of stock, not to mention the included cost of delivery for all the parts that we need to take into account - everyone has their favourite retailers and e-tailers they buy from.

As usual a run down of our systems is as follows:
  • The Affordable All-Rounder is highly budget conscious, but still offers plenty of gaming potential and an upgrade path.
  • The Enthusiast Overclocking system is for those who want to squeeze the most performance, although not necessarily the most MHz, for his or her money. It has tonnes of gaming grunt for the best use of little 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 or maybe even squeeze out 1,920 x 1,200 if you pair it with a good value 24in monitor?

What Hardware Should I Buy? - January 2010 Affordable All Rounder

You can still find a budget ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB, although these days they are thin on the ground. The alternative is the Nvidia GeForce GTS 250 512MB, however these have considerably increased in price recently and if you can't find one within the budget we suggested above, be aware of the faster and newer ATI Raden HD 5750. If you are a gamer - we'd strongly recommend the HD 5750 over the other cards since it supports DirectX 11 and lower power idle states, providing that is, it fits your budget.

If you want more graphics horsepower do NOT buy another card for CrossFire/SLI - invest in a faster single-GPU card instead.

What Hardware Should I Buy? - January 2010 Affordable All Rounder

The All Rounder backbone is still the MSI 770-C45 and Athlon II X2 250 combo. Please don't be tempted by the Athlon II X4s; cheap quad-core CPUs are not the bargains they appear to be - concentrate on obtaining MHz over cores. While this computer is not designed for heavy multi-threading, it will still be very happy to do a few things at once. More MHz will still benefit you in general and gaming - the Athlon II X2 250 should stretch to nearly 4GHz if you're lucky, or easily 3.5GHz with a little effort, while most games still only take advantage of two cores.

We'd still stick with AMD for the alternatives: remember 785G boards from Gigabyte and Asus are often a little better featured and not much more money, and keep in mind the cheaper Phenom II X2s such asthe 550 Black Edition that can potentially have its cores unlocked. The latest Intel Core i3 CPUs are still just outside the budget for this PC in our opinion, but if you really want something between this and the Enthusiast Overclocker - that's the way to go.

What Hardware Should I Buy? - January 2010 Affordable All Rounder

Memory prices went up again, so we'd popped in 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 memory that should be found around £75-85 for a branded kit. As usual we've also included the continually excellent Antec Three Hundred, Corsair CX400W PSU and coolers from Akasa and Arctic Cooling that offer a bit more performance and less noise over the stock fans.

Finally, throw in a DVDRW SATA optical drive and your choice of 500GB SATA 3Gbps hard drive for £15 and £35 respectively and you've got the basis of solid machine. In the office we'd recommend the Western Digital Black or Blue, Seagate 7200.12 and Samsung F3s in the 500GB flavours.