PC Hardware Buyers’ Guide August 2010

NZXT Phantom. Click to enlarge

NZXT Phantom. Click to enlarge

Another busy month at bit-tech HQ has seen everything from pimped graphics cards to affordable wireless gaming mice to cases of questionable aesthetics pass through our overstuffed labs.

In fact, we’ve covered five cases of some kind or another over the past four weeks, from the tiny Fractal Design Array R2 and Lian Li PC-Q08 mini-ITX cases to the giant Cooler Master HAF X and Antec Dark Fleet DF-85. Possibly most surprising was the NZXT Phantom, a large white case with weird cuts and angles that has mostly met with approval in the forums.

Some things got significantly less praise, such as the stupidly priced Intel Core i7-970. This may be a cheaper version of the amazing 6-core Core i7-980X Extreme Edition but it’s still over £700 and a poor overclocker. Why would you not get the EE chip if you’re already spending a banker’s end-of-week bonus on your next CPU?

For those looking for maximum performance to size ratio, the Asus Rampage III Gene is a great choice. This micro-ATX board has everything you need for a high-performance PC, including great looks and top-notch overclocking. To cool your CPU you should check out the Thermaltake Frio, which is excellent whether you use one or both of the bundled fans. For more extreme cooling, the Hailea HC-500A water chiller can deliver some amazingly low temperatures and raise the maximum available overclock. Better yet, it’s something you really can use every day, unlike a phase-change or liquid nitrogen setup.

Asus delivered two pimped out graphics cards this month for your gaming pleasure – the fairly ostentatious Matrix HD 5870 and the utterly ludicrous Ares. Releasing a card that’s one typo away from being arse is a brave move, as is charging £1,200 for it; needless to say, it’s a leviathan of gaming hardware. We’re not convinced that either the Razer Abyssus or Roccat Pyra are the best choice for controlling your games though, despite both costing around £30.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2010
The Rampage III Gene is the best, most desirable micro-ATX motherboard yet. Click to enlarge

To keep your games (and other applications) loading snappily, you might be interested in the 64GB Crucial C300 SSD. Even better, you could build an SSD-only PC and store large files under the stairs by following our guide on how to build a NAS box.

The question remains though: has any of this new kit changed our hardware recommendations. The drop in memory pricing has resulted in a few changes, even if the above hasn’t convinced you that our systems will be radically different.

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 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 they buy from.

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 the most performance, although not necessarily the most MHz, for his or her money. It has tons 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.
  • 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.
  • Finally, the Folding Rig is back this month, after we've found the time to test which is the best graphics card for folding.

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 it be just a few bits of hardware for an upgrade or the whole system. We sift through the mass of hardware and recommendations, decide from what we've tested and what we know to be good, then set up the above PCs to fit several budgets.
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