Gaming Workhorse August 2010

While our Enthusiast Overclocker system is built around getting maximum performance on a reasonable budget, you’ll have to step up the hardware scale to get excellent all-round performance. With about a grand to spend you can build yourself an enviable PC that can take heavy gaming at 1,920 x 1,080, and is capable of processing a heap of RAW images or encoding video or audio pretty quickly.

 Gaming Workhorse
 ProductUK Price (inc VAT)US Price (ex tax)
CPU2.8GHz Intel Core i7-860£215$290
MotherboardGigabyte GA-P55M-UD2£85$105
Memory4GB 1,600MHz DDR3£80$85
Graphics Card1GB ATI Radeon HD 5870£320$400
PSUAntec TruePower New 650W£80$100
CPU CoolerTitan Fenrir£30$50
CaseXigmatek Utgard£65$100
Optical driveSATA DVD-RW£15$20
Storage1TB Samsung SpinPoint F3£60$75
Sound CardAsus Xonar DS£40$50
 Overall Price:£990$1,275

New This Month

We've had another look at our Gaming Workhorse since last month and concluded that if it's really intended for awesome gaming performance for a healthy budget, we'd better equip it with a Radeon HD 5870. This will let the system cope with 24in screens and beyond, making it a much more impressive system to show off to your friends. As we still didn't want it to break the £1,000 barrier, we've opted for the Asus Xonar DS which is £20 cheaper than the Xonar DX. It lacks a few of the features of the Xonar DX and might only be a PCI card rather than a PCI-E card, but it'll avoid us having to use the Realtek audio codec of the motherboard.

If you want to spend significantly less than £1,000, a heavily overclocked 1GB GeForce GTX 460 for around £200 will deliver great gaming performance at 1,680 x 1,050 and merely very good performance at 1,920 x 1,200.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2010 Gaming Workhorse August 2010

No matter what size of screen you have, the GeForce GTX 465 isn't a good option, however - it may sound faster than the GTX 460, and cost more (£200) but it's actually slower. Don't be tempted by this turkey of a GPU.

To add a bit of flair (and another £40-50) to your build, you might consider replacing the fairly typical-looking Xigmatek Utgard with the NZXT Phantom.

And The Rest

If you're into your gaming audio, then the Asus Xonar Xense card-and-headset bundle might be of interest for this system. Three months after we first reviewed the kit, it's finally on sale, and for less than £200, making it well worth a look if you're serious about audio.

Similarly, if you've got over £1,000 to spend, you might opt for a cheap SSD to add as a games drive - see our SSD Buyer's Guide for our recommendations. Or just head to the 64GB Crucial C300 review instead.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2010 Gaming Workhorse August 2010

The AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition makes more of a claim for consideration in this PC than the Enthusiast Overclocker as it did perform well in heavily multi-threaded tasks such as video encoding and 3D rendering - i.e. the 'workhorse' part of this machine. At stock speeds, we saw a score of 1,992 in our video encoding test, which was much faster than the 1,224 of the Core i7-860, while Cinebench 10 returned a score of 18,671 on the X6 1090T BE and of only 17,032 on the i7-860. While the i7-860 was still outperformed by the X6 1090T BE in the video encoding test when both were overclocked (1,565 compared to 2,391) the i7-860 scored 23,749 points in Cinebench 10 rather than 22,073.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2010 Gaming Workhorse August 2010

We’ve still chosen the i7-860 for this PC, as it scored 1,621 overall in our Media Benchmarks rather than the 1,367 of the X6 1090T BE. We can also pair the i7-860 with the excellent Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD2 motherboard while the X6 1090T BE works best in a motherboard with an AMD 8-series chipset – the best value board we’ve seen to date is the £120 Asus M4A89GTD Pro/USB 3, meaning that the X6 1090T BE option costs £40 more than the i7-860 and is less versatile.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2010 Gaming Workhorse August 2010As we wanted to keep the budget under £1,000, we couldn’t stretch to a ‘proper’ Core i7 system alas. With an Intel Core i7-930 costing £230, a decent motherboard £165, and 6GB of memory now costing £45 more than 4GB we’d have been spending another £150. Even opting for a £193 Core i7-920 would have left us with a £107 difference.

Still, we’d have a brilliant system for that little bit of extra outlay, so if you’re happy to spend nearer £1,000, you have our blessing.

As previously stated, we like having 4GB of memory in our PCs, and we’ve chosen 1,600MHz DDR3 to give us a bit of headroom for overclocking the CPU. For example, if we wanted to aim for a 4GHz overclock we’d use a Base Clock of 191MHz (as 191 x 21 = 4,011).

If we’d opted for 1,333MHz memory, we’d have to use the 6x memory strap with this Base Clock, which would give us a memory frequency of 1,146MHz, which is a bit slow. With the 1,600MHz memory, we can safely use the 8x memory strap and have our memory run at a more healthy 1,528MHz. We wouldn’t recommend overclocking 1,333MHz memory to 1,528MHz for everyday use unless you really know your DRAM.

We choose the excellent Titan Fenrir to cool the CPU, though you could opt for the Gelid Tranquillo so save £4 and reduce the noise a bit. We’ve also chosen the amazingly great value for money Xigmatek Utgard case to keep things cool and house our hardware.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2010 Gaming Workhorse August 2010The Utgard is cheaper than the Fractal Design R2, cools a PC very well, and has bonus additions such as the fan controller. However, if you really want your PC to be very quiet, the R2 is still worth considering.

To this we’ve added the brilliant Antec TruePower New 650W PSU, a 1TB Samsung SpinPoint F3 hard disk and a cheap SATA DVD drive. We’ve also added an Asus Xonar DX sound card to avoid conflicts with the Realtek audio codec of the motherboard and enhances the sound generally.

If you haven't got a copy already, you might want to factor in a copy of Windows 7 - if you're confident that you won't be upgrading much, then an OEM copy should be fine, but serial upgraders need the pricier retail version.
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