What Hardware Should I Buy? - Sept 2009

Written by bit-tech Staff

September 15, 2009 | 10:15

Tags: #build #building #buyers #case #cheap #computer #cost #decision #guide #hardware #inexpensive #make #new #performance #purchase #what

Companies: #bit-tech #game

Gaming Workhorse

While our Enthusiast Overclocker system is built around maximising overclocking and gaming potential on a budget (well, as much of a budget as Lynnfield allows, at least), those looking for excellent all-round performance will want a 'proper' LGA1366 Core i7. LGA1366 is great for any demanding use - be that gaming, processing a heap of RAW images or encoding video or audio - and you can build a powerful system with few compromises for well under £1,000 (or even under $1,200, ex Tax).

Even before our LGA1156 Core i5 and Core i7 review, the LGA1366 Core i7 920 was a great choice for anyone with a bit of cash and a desire for performance. With the recent price-drops in LGA1366 motherboards, we really can't recommend the i7-920 enough.

With four processing cores, Hyper-Threading, and a triple-channel memory controller, the i7-920 isn't left begging for high-end features and performance. And it'll easily clock all the way up to 4GHz, as we found out in our Core i7-920 overclocking guide. With the new D0-stepping adding a little bit more overclocking potential and reducing power consumption a touch, what more do you want from a £200 CPU?

Coupled with this is the excellent X58 chipset of LGA1366 boards. With 36 lanes of PCI-E 2.0 bandwidth on offer, this chipset can run both SLI and CrossFire at full speed, something that the 16-lane PCI-E controller in an LGA1156 CPU can't do (as we find out in a forthcoming issue of Custom PC magazine). Choosing a competitively priced LGA1366 board at the moment makes for a tricky choice though, so read on to find out what we'd plump for, and what graphics card we'd use to make an epicly fast PC for a reasonable amount of cash...

What Hardware Should I Buy? - Sept 2009 Gaming Workhorse

UK Price | US Price: Intel Core i7-920 (D0 Stepping)
UK Price | US Price: Gigabyte GA-X58-UD3R

While the CPU for this system is a no-brainer, there are a few cheap LGA1366 motherboards to consider. Of the two cheap boards we've tested, there's the Gigabyte GA-X58-UD3R and the MSI X58M. Both cost around £130 inc VAT, and have plenty of features and overclocking potential. The difference is that the MSI is a micro-ATX board with six memory sockets while the Gigabyte is an ATX-sized mobo with four memory sockets.

If you were to opt for a 3GB kit (3 x 1GB DIMMs) you'd probably want to opt for the MSI (£128.80 inc VAT from Advancetec), as you could buy another 3GB kit later on to boost your memory to 6GB. However, we've had situations where populating all the memory slots have monkeyed around with overclocking capabilities in the past with motherboards, so we're sticking with our 6GB kit.

UK Price | US Price: 6GB (3 x 2GB) 1,600MHz CL8 DDR3

As we'd pick a 6GB memory kit from the off, we're going to go with the Gigabyte as we want the extra slots and won't be wanting more than 6GB of memory any time soon. The Gigabyte will then let us space out our expansion cards, so if we do add a sound card later, that can be as far away from our hot graphics card as possible.

Speaking of graphics cards, which one would we choose? There's a big argument for going with an ATI Radeon HD 4890, as these cards are only £127 inc VAT at the moment, which is great considering how much fast these cards are. However, they're also loud and the cooler doesn't do a great job of exhausting all of the heat of the GPU and memory out the back of your case despite all that noise.

UK Price | US Price: Sparkle GeForce GTX 275 (with Batman: Arkham Asylum)

Given our excitement for Batman: Arkham Asylum, another £23 for the cheapest GeForce GTX 275 (which comes with the game) is fine. Especially as the GTX 275 is quieter, and expels more of its heat out the back of the case than the HD 4890 cooler does. Of course, there is DX11 around the corner to worry about, so if that's something you're thinking about, it might be worth holding onto your existing graphics card for as long as possible.

That's the basis of an awesome gaming PC sorted but, as ever, the choice of case is a tricky and mostly personal one; cooling ability is all well and good, but if you think the case looks ugly, you're not going to want it next to you on your desk. We've gone for the Cooler Master HAF 922 to keep costs under control, but you could just as well go with the aluminium luxury of a Lian Li PC-P50 or even the menhir-like Lian Li Tyr PC-X1000 for £300. Equally, you migh not care what the system looks like and go with a cheap high-airflow case such as the Antec Three Hundred.

UK Price | US Price: Cooler Master HAF 922

We quite like the HAF 922, though, even if we'd want to fill the side-panel fan mount with a 200mm fan. The best 200mm fan we've tested to date is the Antec Big Boy 200, which will adds £14.69 inc VAT to your build price. You could bung in two spare 120mm fans if you want though, such is the genius flexibility of the HAF 922.

UK Price: Be Quiet! Dark Power Pro 650W
UK Price | US Price: Corsair TX650W

To power the potent combination of an overclocked Core i7-920 and a GT200-series graphics card, we've gone for the excellent Be Quiet! Dark Power Pro 650W PSU which offers plenty of power for even a Core i7 build. In the States, you can't buy Be Quiet! so we changed it for the equally good Corsair TX650W PSU instead. However, it's worth remembering that it's not modular, so be prepared for some cable mess.

UK Price | US Price: 1TB Samsung SpinPoint F1

The 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F1 might not be as fast as the latest 1TB Seagate 7200.12 or Western Digital Black 1TB hard drives, but in the real world the difference is negligible at best, and the Samsung is still cheaper. If only by a few quid.

UK Price : Titan Fenrir TTC-NK85TZ
UK Price | US Price: Scythe Mugen 2

Cooling the CPU is the seemingly ubiquitous (since we published our review, anyway) Titan Fenrir TTC-NK85TZ which is not only excellent at keeping LGA1366 CPUs cool, but is quiet too. Unfortunately, Titan hasn't got much in the way of US distribution, but Custom PC found the Scythe Mugen 2 to be almost as good as the Fenrir at cooling, but even quieter. You can get the Mugen 2 in the UK too, but as it's a lot more expensive, we'll stick with our Fenrir.

UK Price | US Price: LG GH22NS50

Finally, there's an optical drive. It's a SATA one for under £16 inc VAT. Yay, SATA.
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