PC Hardware Buyers Guide July 2011

Well it’s been a frantic couple of months here at bit-tech, despite the fact that the summer is traditionally a slow time of the year for tech releases. We’ve seen everything from new SSDs, some tip top new cases, more than a few graphics cards and a number of motherboards to boot.

The launch of AMDs Lynx APUs has also been of particular interest as we’re finally seeing AMDs Fusion strategy bearing fruits. We liked the A8-3850 APU a great deal and while it isn’t exactly a computational power house, it does provide a solid base for a budget build or HTPC.

Of course while it’s 3D performance was impressive, it was still no where near what you’re average bit-tech reader would need from their main PC, so you won’t be surprised to hear that the A8-3850 hasn’t made it into any of our builds this month.

The Intel i3-2100 on the other hand proved to be a great buy for someone looking to build a graphics card equipped budget PC that can still game at reasonable resolutions, as it's both quick and cheap. Our only bugbear with the processor was its complete lack of overclocking thanks to a locked multiplier.

Those exploring the more premium end of the PC building market will probably want to check out the SSDs we’ve recently looked at. The OCZ Vertex 3 240GB proved to be easily the quickest black box we’ve ever seen, though you’ll pay for the privilege of owning such a fearsome bit of storage technology. The Crucial M4 256GB on the other hand presented us with a much more palatable blend of performance and price, making it the better choice for most people.

Finding a decent motherboard to plug an SSD into should be more of a straight forward task now that we’ve fleshed out our range of P67 board reviews too. Unfortunately the Biostar TP67XE didn’t impress us but the MSI P67A-GD53 and the Asus P8P67-M Pro both did, though we’d opt for the GD53 unless we simply had to use a Micro-ATX board.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide July 2011

Not that we’d blame you for building a Micro-ATX system, as we’ve seen a pair of excellent Micro-ATX specific cases here on bit-tech over the last month. The NZXT Vulcan proved to be the perfect LAN party case while the Fractal Design Arc Mini showed itself to be more of an every day, easy to live with case. Those looking for a full size case were also catered for with our review of the Fractal Design Arc Midi and the Silverstone Raven RV03. Both were good but the Arc proved to be the more balanced of the two cases thanks to its water cooling compatibility and excellent cooling.

Finally we took a look at a number of graphics cards. The launch of the Nvidia GTX 560 1GB came and went and all we really saw was a hot running Zotac version of the card and our preferred GTX 560 Ti 1GB cards jumping up in price to make a gap for the new cards in the market. Our faith in the GTX 560 1GB was reinvigorated somewhat by the excellent KFA2 GTX 560 OC 1GB however, so maybe it’s not all doom and gloom. We also saw the excellent Sapphire HD5850 Xtreme and the ludicrous MSI GTX 580 Lightning Xtreme, both of which seem to have a blind spot for E’s.

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.
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