Affordable All-Rounder July 2011

This system is designed to be our recommendation for those looking for maximum performance per pound (we’re British, y’know). The power of a fast dual-core processor is still perfectly adequate for everyday use and gaming – add a decent amount of memory and as potent a graphics card as you can afford, and you’ll be fine for the foreseeable future on a 1,680 x 1,050 or maybe even a 1,920 x 1,080 screen.

 Affordable All-Rounder
 ProductUK Price (inc VAT)US Price (ex tax)
CPUIntel i3-2100 3.1GHz£90$125
MotherboardAsus P8H67-M LE£80$105
Memory4GB 1,333MHz DDR3£25$35
Graphics CardNvidia GeForce GTX 460 1GB£130$155
PSUCorsair SU-430CX 430W£35$45
CPU CoolerArctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro£15$30
CaseAntec One Hundred£40$55
Optical driveSATA DVD-RW£15$20
Storage1TB SATA 3Gbps£35$60
 Overall Price:£465$630

New This Month

This month we’ve finally taken the plunge and upgraded the CPU we use in our affordable all-rounder build from the LGA1156 based Intel Pentium G6950. In its place is the capable LGA1155 Intel i3-2100 which has a pair of hyper-threaded cores at its disposal. Canny readers will point out that the i3-2100’s lack of overclocking limits its potential somewhat, especially given that the CPU it replaces was such an overclocking monster.

The benefits of upgrading to the LGA1155 socket outweigh the i3-2100’s lack of overclocking though as it makes for a guaranteed upgrade path to Intel’s forthcoming Ivy Bridge processors and adds features such as SATA 6Gbps and USB 3 support. The i3-2100 isn’t any slouch either and comfortably beats the G6950 when both processors are at stock speed, especially in 3D tasks such as gaming.

Changing the CPU also of course necessitates a change in motherboard; shoving your nice new LGA1155 i3-2100 into the LGA1156 Gigabyte H55M-UD2H we used to recommend would not make for a happy processor. As a result we’re changing the motherboard in this build to the Asus P8H67-M LE. We’ve not reviewed this board fully on bit-tech but we did spend a lot of time with it when doing our AMD Lynx testing as it was the board we used for the comparison tests. As a result we know that the board is rock solid and performs well, in addition to being competitively priced, meaning we can recommend it with confidence.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide July 2011 Affordable All-Rounder July 2011

We’ve taken this step because recommending one of the P67 based boards that we’ve reviewed would be slightly wasteful. The i3-2100’s lack of unlocked multiplier will mean that you can’t take advantage of the overclocking options built into the P67 chipset. Unfortunately one disadvantage of building a PC around the i3-2100 and a H67 board is that you can’t use the 1,600MHz RAM we used to recommend; consequently we’ve changed the RAM in the build to a 1,333MHz kit to ensure compatibility.

And The Rest

The graphics card in our affordable all-rounder rig is the 1GB version of the Nvidia GTX 460. These cards are ludicrously cheap at the moment and are more than capable of running modern games on modestly sized monitors. They are also very overclockable meaning you can either have a tinker around yourself or plump for a pre-overclocked version if you feel you need a little extra graphical grunt.

Some may argue that we’d be better off including the ATI Radeon HD 6850 1GB as these cards retail for a roughly similar price and are more modern. The GTX 460 1GB still has the besting of the HD 6850 in most of our test games though, if only by a little.

Our affordable all-rounder build is housed in the excellent Antec One Hundred case. Obviously at this end of the market you’re not going to get an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza of a case but what the One Hundred offers is a solid chassis that offers good cooling and looks clean and tidy which, for £40, is a bargain.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide July 2011 Affordable All-Rounder July 2011

We played with the idea of using the reference CPU cooler for this system to keep the price down, but there's something about using custom cooling we can;t resist. The Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro is cheap and quiet and has three heatpipes to keep the i3-2100 cool without making a racket.

Powering the build is the small but capable Corsair SU-430CX 430W PSU. This is the replacement for the Corsair’s CX400 that used to occupy this spot, but it retails for the same price and with 430W on tap it should be able to handle all the power requirements necessary.

If you haven't got a copy already, you might want to factor in a copy of Windows 7 - if you're confident that you won't be upgrading much, then an OEM copy should be fine, but serial upgraders should pick up the pricier retail version. Finally, we’ve added the cheapest DVD-RW drive we could find and a 1TB hard disk which should be more than adequate for storage.
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