PC Hardware Buyer's Guide May 2012

Written by Antony Leather

May 18, 2012 | 08:47

Tags: #best-components #build-advice #buyers-guide #pc-buyers-guide #recommended #what-hardware-should-i-buy

Companies: #bit-tech

Gaming Workhorse May 2012

With a little more budget, it's time to consider our penultimate PC - the Gaming Workhorse. Costing around a grand, this beast oozes desirability but has one goal in mind - to annihilate games at high resolutions. Of course, it's also ever so slightly awesome at dealing with image editing and video encoding, or any other demanding task you might want to throw at it and some new additions mean it looks even better too.

With such a powerful PC also comes a number of choices that we'll discuss later - our list is an excellent guide, but you may want to invest more in some areas and save in others depending on your needs. Have a good read and we'll talk you through these options to give you a clear idea of where you should put your money.

 Gaming Workhorse
 ProductUK Price (inc VAT)US Price (ex tax)
CPU3.4GHz Intel Core i5-3570K£165$220
MotherboardAsus Maximus V Gene£140$199
Memory8GB 1,600MHz DDR3£30$35
Graphics CardNvidia GeForce GTX 670 2GB£300$390
PSUAntec High Current Pro HCP-750£110$175
CPU Cooler (UK)Arctic Freezer i30£29$44
CaseCorsair Carbide 500R£80$140
Optical driveSATA DVD-RW£15$20
Storage (HDD)2TB Hard Disk£79$120
Storage (SSD)120GB Crucial M4£85$130
Sound CardAsus Xonar DX£55$72
 Overall Price:£1088$1,545

New This Month

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We've made quite a few changes this month due to the recent spate of hardware releases plus sundry other fantastic bits of gear we've come across since we last compiled our Buyer's Guide. We'll start the proceedings with the CPU. Like the Enthusiast Overclocker, if you're upgrading from something older than a Sandy Bridge set up, for example an LGA1366 Core i7-920 or LGA1156 Core i5-750, it makes sense to opt for the latest hardware in the form of a Z77 motherboard and an Intel Core i5-3570K CPU, even if Ivy Bridge is more of an incremental upgrade.

The Core i5-3570K CPU is the new mid-range king, although there's very little mid-range about it, especially once you've overclocked it. It's noticeably faster than its predecessor, the Core i5-2500K, in our benchmarks (although not massively so), and even gives the six-core Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition a run for its money. Overclocking it to 4.5GHz is an easy task, it's very power-efficient and while it lacks hyper-threading, this is only a disadvantage in a select few of our benchmarks.

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With comparatively few Intel Z77 chipset motherboards having passed through our lab so far, we're slightly limited on choice as far as what to recommend goes. However, we've already given awards to two of them and both come highly recommended.

We've chosen the Asus Maximus V Gene as our Gaming Workhorse motherboard of choice due to the fact it's cheaper than our other option, the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H, but performs very similarly. Both come loaded with features, although if you prefer a full size ATX motherboard, as opposed to the smaller, micro-ATX dimensions of the Asus Maximus V Gene then the difference in price is probably worth paying.

Speaking of small price differences, we've also upped the memory from 4GB to 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 this month. The difference between the two is barely any more than the postage you'll probably pay to receive it and seeing as we regularly spot our RAM usage push passed the 4GB barrier in some games and applications, having more is a no brainer and should mean you won't need to invest in more memory till DDR3 goes the way of the Dodo. Yay for cheap RAM.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide May 2012 Gaming Workhorse May 2012
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Sadly, hard disks are anything but cheap at the moment, and the aftermath of the Thai floods is still keeping prices high, particularly for lower capacity models. We'll discuss our hard disk choice later, but SSDs, on the other hand are another matter. They've been falling in price nearly as quick as JP Morgan shares, and you can now pick up a decent 120GB model for less than £90. It seems the death of the hard disk may finally be in sight, at least as your boot drive, and our recommendation is to opt for a Crucial M4 120GB model and have a larger hard disk to store rarely used programs and data.

Moving on and we have several other newcomers this month. Nvidia has yet to release its mid-range graphics cards, but it has given us the speed daemon that is the GeForce GTX 670 2GB. It costs a little more than the £260 GTX 570 1.3GB we listed last time, but at just over £300 it's enough to deal with any of our game benchmarks at 2,560 x 1,600 at high settings and even at 5,760 x 1,080, although you may need to lower the settings a little to achieve smooth framerates at this resolution in games such as Battlefield 3 and Arma II: Operation Arrowhead.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide May 2012 Gaming Workhorse May 2012
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The only AMD graphics card that offers real competition across the board is the AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GB, but this costs nearly £100 more, while the HD 7950 3GB costs roughly the same but is noticeably slower in most of our benchmarks. Sadly for AMD, the best value step down from the GTX 670 2GB is still the GTX 570 1.3GB, which regularly snaps at the heels of the AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB, but costs around £80 less, although how long it will remain on the shelves remains to be seen.

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We've also swapped our CPU cooler to the Arctic Freezer i30. It's not quite as quiet as the Be Quiet Dark Rock Advanced, but it performs better, is easier to fit and costs around £15 less. If you must have a super-quiet PC, the Be Quiet cooler is still a great buy.

We’ve also added an Asus Xonar DX sound card, which will be infinitely better than using your motherboard's on board audio. However, if you do opt for the Asus Maximus V Gene, then you may want to check out the quality of its SupremeFX III sound engine, which has been electronically isolated from the rest of the PCB and could save you forking out for a separate sound card.

Last but not least, we've decided to change the case as well. The Fractal Design Define R3 is still available and makes for a great home for your hardware, however we were mightily impressed with the Corsair Carbide 500R. Its racy looks, great cooling, abundance of features such as USB 3, integrated fan controller, lights, dust filters and easy compatibility with Corsair's H80 and H100 all-in-one liquid cooling systems means it provides a sound home for a high-end PC.

And The Rest

We've stuck to our choice of PSU this month as the Antec High Current Pro HCP-750 is still a great buy, especially as it's had a small price cut and offers more than enough stable power to deal with the hardware we've listed. There's no point paying over the odds for an optical drive so we've included the cheapest DVD Rewriter we could find.

A 2TB hard disk is one of the better value options for lots of storage at the moment, with 1TB models still retailing for around £60 due to the floods in Thailand last year. Finally, if you haven't got a copy already, you'll want to factor in a copy of Windows 7 too - 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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