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PC Hardware Buyer's Guide March 2011

PC Hardware Buyers Guide March 2011

The FT03 is one of the best looking cases we've seen in our labs

The FT03 is one of the best looking cases we've seen in our labs

Well it’s been an interesting month in the tech world since our last buyer's guide. The Intel P67 and H67 chipset debacle has rumbled on, with motherboard manufacturers continually releasing press statements stating that they've either received stock of the new chipset or have started shipping fixed boards.

Thankfully, these boards with the fixed silicon are now slowly starting to filter through to retailers, although we can’t be 100 per cent sure that this new, revised chipset will perform in the same way as the old stepping silicon. As a result, we’d still suggest holding off on any LGA1155 purchase you may have planned until we’ve had chance to fully test and report back on the new boards that are available.

As we haven't reviewed any new LGA1155 motherboards or processors during the last month, all our recommendations in that area have stayed the same (albeit with caveats). What this does signify, though, is that we’ve had loads of time to look into other bits and pieces such as graphics cards, cases and peripherals.

Both the graphics card releases this month have been from the red camp, with the AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB and the HD 6990 4GB making waves, but both for very different reasons. The HD 6950 1GB was notable for its sheer rarity at launch with very few units available to buy.

It’s now in stock at the majority of retailers, though, and competes very closely in terms of both price and performance with our current favourite mid-range card - the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB. Meanwhile, AMD's dual-GPU monster, the Radeon HD 6990 4GB, is by far and away the fastest graphics card available today. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the most expensive card available, and at over £500 you’ll need to have some seriously deep pockets to afford one.

We’ve also seen a trio of cases pass through our labs, ranging from the gorgeous Silverstone FT03 to the forgettable Xigmatek Pantheon. We praised the FT03 for its innovative internal layout and uncompromising attention to design - it’s probably the nearest approximation of computer case art that we've seen since Armari's amazing Dream PC entry of 2008, but it's also a micro-ATX case, so its appeal is slightly limited.

*PC Hardware Buyer's Guide March 2011 PC Hardware Buyer's Guide March 2011
The AMD Radeon HD 6990 blew us away with its raw performance, but it's not cheap at £530

If you’re on the lookout for a more conventional ATX case, then we’ve also looked at the Antec One Hundred, which costs just a shade over £40. It might lack the bells and whistles of more expensive cases, but it does the job in terms of cooling and protecting your PC components quietly, and without fuss.

We’ve also had something of a rodent infestation here at the bit-tech offices over the last month, as we’ve tested and rated five mice over the last few weeks. They've ranged radically in terms of size and shape, with everything from the large and button-studded likes of the SteelSeries WoW: Cataclysm mouse to the squat, claw grip shaped CM Storm Spawn. Our favourite of the lot, however, was the relatively unpretentious Gigabyte M9680, which offers a good range of features for around £30.

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 that 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 too.

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 out the most performance, although not necessarily the most MHz, for their 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.
  • Finally, 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 you want just a few bits of hardware for an upgrade or the whole system. We sift through the mass of hardware and recommendations, choose the best from what we've tested and what we know to be good, and then set up the above PCs to fit several budgets.