Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks you’ll know that the big news this month has been the launch of the ATI Radeon HD 6850 1GB and the ATI Radeon HD 6870 1GB. We weren’t initially sure what to expect from the cards though; the rumour mill suggested they would be mid-range parts but their names suggested something a bit faster. In the end they turned out to belong firmly to the mid-range, hitting the £150 and £200 price points respectively.
The new king of the mid range?
caused a bit of a fuss in this area of the market which is great for prospective buyers. Nvidia has been forced to slash the price of its GeForce GTX 470 1.3GB with cards now available for around the £190 mark. This means factory overclocked versions of the card with custom coolers, such as the Zotac GTX 470 Amp! Edition that we reviewed this month, can now be had for as little as £240.
We've also had time to cast our eye over a trio of new CPUs. Intel’s Core i5-760 stole the show as it improved on the Core i5-750 it replaced without costing any more. The competing chip from AMD, the Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition, kept up at stock speed but was left in the dust when the two chips were overclocked.
The third CPU to run our gamut of tests was the Athlon II X4 645 which is one of the cheapest quad-core CPUs we’ve ever seen. If you’re building a system from scratch you’re still better off opting for an Intel chip. Even so, a dual-core CPU with more cache could be a better choice for many people. If you really needs four threads of processing power for a Socket AM2+ or AM3 motherboard, a Phenom II X4 would be a better option too.
We must have a thing for groups of three because we’ve also seen three NAS boxes pass through our labs this month. They’re not likely to feature in any of the builds in this article but if you’re looking for an easy way to free your media this Christmas then they’re well worth a look. We weren’t entirely convinced by either the LG N2B1D or the QNAP TS-219P Turbo but the Synology DS210+ was a dream to work with and bagged itself a recommended award as a result.
If you’re not looking to splurge quite so much then we’ve taken a look at a few cheaper upgrades this month too. The Cyborg R.A.T. 7 split opinion here in the office, some loved it’s deconstructed design aesthetic while some thought it was more style than substance. Something that got a more unanimous reception was the Asus Xonar DG which provides appreciable benefits over on-board sound for only a smidgen more than £25 - what’s not to like?
A final mention goes to the excellent and understated Fractal Design Define R3 which proved to be one of the best low noise cases we’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing. The case includes many nice little touches to make sure your PC stays as quiet as a mouse and left the labs with an excellence award as a result. Unfortunately we weren’t as impressed with the Lian Li PC-Q11 which while capable, is only likely to appeal to a small group of customers.
The R.A.T. 7 raised some eyebrows in the office
How does our buyer's guide work?
We show an average price that you should be looking to pay for the products we've recommended, and then an overall budget for each of the PCs we've designed. 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 - and 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 Overclocker system is for those who want to squeeze the most performance, although not necessarily the most MHz, for his or her money. It has tons 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.
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 work 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 for an upgrade or the whole system. We sift through the mass of hardware and recommendations, decide from what we've tested and what we know to be good, then set up the above PCs to fit several budgets.