With a slightly larger budget you’re able to unlock a whole lot more performance, especially if you’re a dedicated enthusiast and confident enough to jump into the motherboard’s BIOS and overclock your CPU and memory.
While the Intel CPU we’ve listed is affordable and capable enough at stock speeds, overclocking it is made easy thanks to the very capable Gigabyte motherboard and with small amount of know-how it’s possible to squeeze a huge amount of extra performance out of the CPU. That’s the essence of a true enthusiast product – getting as much performance as possible without overspending and that’s how we’ve selected the components listed here.
A larger budget also allows us to include much better cooling for the system, with an improved CPU cooler and high quality chassis going a long way towards helping you get the maximum performance out of your hardware, without deafening you at the same time of course!
Graphics CardFirst Choice: Radeon HD 4870 1GB
UK Pricing: £166.74 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $178.99 (ex. Tax)
First Choice: Nvidia GeForce GTX 260-216
UK Pricing: £156.99 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $189.99 (ex. Tax)
We considered selecting a Radeon HD 4850 or GeForce GTS 250 for this system due to their shared impressive performance and similar affordable prices, but the crash in prices for stock clocked Radeon HD 4870 1GB and GeForce GTX 260-216 cards, thanks to the release of both the HD 4890 and GTX 275, has shaken things up a bit.
Offering as much as 30 percent performance advantage over their respective cheaper alternatives, these extremely capable high end cards have now become incredibly affordable, and for the sake of the cost of a new game, we think they’re well worth the extra cash.
After months of back and forth we’ve given up on trying to decide between the HD 4870 and GTX 260 though – performance difference between them is negligible (although varying slightly from game to game) and pricing is roughly the same as well; changing frequently during the month. The only thing that really separates them is the GTX 260’s support for hardware accelerated PhysX and CUDA, but these only have limited game support and real world wide technology support right now.
Whichever brand you choose though, you’ll get a fine GPU that should prove more than capable of handling anything you can throw at it, even at resolutions up to 1,920 x 1,200.
Intel Core 2 Duo E7400
UK Pricing: £99.36 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $119.99 (ex. Tax)
While a quad core might seem tempting, in the majority of games and under anything but the heaviest of multi-tasking situations a dual core processor will generally work out as a much better value purchase than a pricey quad core.
For that reason we’ve picked an affordable Intel Core 2 Duo E7400, a processor that we ourselves at bit-tech
have yet to look at, but which our colleagues at Custom PC
are big fans of. A cut down version of the higher end E8xxx dual core chips with 3MB of cache as opposed to 6MB, the E7400 is a fantastically capable little chip for less than £100. Stock clocked at 2.8GHz (none too shabby), but packing huge amounts of overclocking headroom, with a little know how and the right motherboard it’s easy to get this chip to beyond 3.5GHz and speeds of up to 4GHz aren’t uncommon using affordable air cooling.
Even with a conservative overclock, the E7300 is more than a match for much more expensive processors in single threaded applications and the majority of games, and despite its smaller cache will only really loses out when it comes to multi-threaded applications like video encoding. It’s an awesome chip for not a lot of cash - the perfect enthusiast CPU.
We were very tempted by the AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition here, but the only AMD motherboards we'd actually recommend are over £150 with very few cheaper 790GX+SB750 AM2+ boards available on the market that work well. The two together are a crucial factor when deciding a solid pairing and while the 720 Black Edition can be easily overclocked to over 3.5GHz, the E7400 has more overclocking headroom providing more efficient single threaded and basic multi-tasking performance, at a cheaper price.
MotherboardFirst Choice: Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3R
UK Price (as reviewed): £109.25 (inc. VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $117.99 (ex. Tax)
While the Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3R might not be the most well featured board in the world, lacking ATI CrossFire and dual Ethernet, it makes up for it with far more useful inclusions like plenty of SATA ports, great onboard audio and a really excellent BIOS which makes overclocking a snap – all genuinely useful features that we wish more boards would sport.
It’s also very affordable coming in at just over £100, is sensibly laid out and to top it all off, looks great – perfect for a windowed case to show off your hardware. It’s a solid overclocker too, especially when paired with the E7400 we’ve recommended here and should provide a very stable overclocking platform for any Core 2 CPU.
While we appreciate the lack of CrossFire may discourage some, if you’re after a solid P45 based board which doesn’t compromise where it really counts, then the Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3R is an easy recommendation.