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PC Hardware Buyer's Guide

PC Hardware Buyers Guide September 2011

It’s been a little while since our last buyer's guide but relatively little has happened in the world of technology in the past two months. The market is still on the edge of its seat waiting for AMD’s long awaited Bulldozer launch, and we’re still a little way off the expected launches from Intel and AMD’s graphics wing later in the year.

We’ve not been resting idle, though, and we've still managed to find plenty of items to look at over the last few weeks. Possibly the most notable of these is the rash of AMD 990FX-toting and Bulldozer-ready motherboards that have graced the site. We’ve seen four such boards, each with their own foibles and benefits.

The Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7, for example, came packed with features but was overpriced while the MSI 990FXA-GD80 was more competitively price, but lacked overclocking ability.

The pick of the bunch, though, was the Asus Sabertooth 990FX, which offered a decent balance between price, performance and overclocking ability. The Asus Crosshair V Formula bagged an award too, simply for its ludicrously over the top design, features list and overclocking prowess.

These aren’t the only motherboards we’ve seen this month, though, as we’ve also been looking at some Intel-based boards. The Zotac Z68 Mini-ITX WiFi was a dinky little gem that was quick and overclockable. Okay, it couldn’t overclock all that well, but hey, you can’t have everything. The Gigabyte Z68A-D3H also graced our labs, but was only worth considering if you wanted the Z68-specific features, as there are similarly priced P67 boards that perform better.

We also used the summer release lull to review some of the cases that had been stacking up in our labs. First up was the colossal Xigmatek Elysium, which is aimed at water cooling enthusiasts. There is no doubting that it’s a beast of a case - it certainly made our test kit look silly - but you really need to water-cool your rig to get the best out of it. At the other end of the scale is the BitFenix Shinobi, which is pitched as an affordable air cooling case. Unfortunately, however, it only ships with a single fan, meaning its cooling was well below par.

There was also time for Harry to look at two new SSDs to see if either could dethrone the Vertex 3 as the fastest thing we’ve seen with a SATA port. Unfortunately, neither could achieve this feat. The Patriot Wildfire 120GB proved quick but far too expensive, while OCZ’s own Agility 3 simply didn’t have the performance thanks to its use of asynchronous NAND.

Last but not least were our reviews of the Antec Kühler H20 920 and the Antec High Current Pro 1200W PSU. Both impressed, with the cooler delivering some of the best results we’ve ever seen, while the PSU proved rock solid at full load and relatively keenly priced too. As a result, both walked away with awards.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide September 2011

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.