What Hardware Should I Buy? - May 2009

Written by Harry Butler

May 6, 2009 | 11:45

Tags: #2009 #april #budget #buyers #cheap #gamer #guide #hardware #help #overclocking #premium #processor #recommendation

Companies: #amd #ati #bit-tech #intel #nvidia

Memory

First Choice: 4GB (2x2GB) PC2-6400 CL5 DDR2
UK Pricing: £35.99 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $40.99 (ex. Tax)

Choosing 4GB of memory over 2GB, even in a budget machine offers a big advantage for gaming, as Rich found out when we asked the question “Is more memory better?” last year. Load times can be significantly improved in certain games, and there are clear jumps in game frame rates in numerous popular titles.

Now DDR2 has all but bottomed out as far as pricing goes, it’s extremely hard to justify not having 4GB of RAM, just as long as you’re running the 64-bit operating system required to take advantage of more than 3GB of system memory.

Both of the kits we've chosen here are fantastically priced and pre-fitted with heatspreaders, allowing you to push the memory that little bit faster and looking a bit nicer than boring bare sticks. What's more, both companies also include a lifetime warranty on their products, so there's that additional peace of mind if something goes wrong.

What Hardware Should I Buy? - May 2009 Affordable All Rounder - 2

Case

First Choice: Antec Three Hundred
UK Pricing: £46.99 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $54.95 (ex. Tax)

When buying a case of just £48, it’s a lot to ask for both form and function and the Antec Three Hundred eschews the former and concentrates firmly on the latter. While it’s utterly uninspiring as looks go, this case is technically superb, delivering both excellent build quality and a feature set that just can’t be matched at this price point.

The Three Hundred comes pre-fitted with the standard 120mm exhaust fan and a whopping 140mm roof exhaust, both of which come equipped with manual three speed control switches to allow you to select the compromise between cooling and quietness. There are also extra 120mm fan mounts in the side panel and in front of the twin drive bay cages, with an internal layout that’s identical to the much pricier Antec Nine Hundred Two.

While the price might say “budget,” this a phenomenally capable case for the cash, and will do a brilliant job of keeping your core hardware cool even with the fans running at their lower speed. While it might lack the visual flair and fancy finish of more expensive cases, for the money there’s almost nothing that can match the Three Hundred.

Power Supply

First Choice: Corsair CX400W
UK Pricing: £41.53 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $49.99 (ex. Tax)

The power supply is often where less experienced users will try and cut some costs out of a system build, opting for a low cost no name branded power supply over a proven and respected name brand – Big Mistake. Cheap and nasty power supplies typically deliver poor efficiency, are universally incapable of delivering their stated power load and are a borderline liability, especially when they have a reputation for exploding under high load.

Sticking with a name brand to deliver a reliable power source to your PC is definitely the way forward, but there's plenty of choice out there and differences between PSUs not always instantly apparent. All too often users will buy a PSU far beyond the power requirements of their system, but there's nothing wrong with buying a lower capacity PSU, especially as components are becoming more and more energy efficient.

What Hardware Should I Buy? - May 2009 Affordable All Rounder - 2Corsair has made the choice for our entry level system easy with the recent release of the CX400 though. The system we've spec'd out here will draw much less than 400W even at full load with half a dozen hard drives and a fistful of peripherals connected, so there's still plenty of room for expansion or upgrades in the future, and at just £40 the CX400 is ludicrously good value for a name brand PSU. It also delivers perfectly acceptable efficiency upwards of eighty percent, regardless of load and is even perfectly happy running at full load. Simply put, it's the ideal PSU for an affordable system.

CPU Cooler

UK First Choice: Akasa 965
UK Pricing: £11.49 (inc. VAT)

Stretching your budget to accommodate an aftermarket heatsink over the basic stock model supplied by Intel is a great way of aiding your overclocking efforts, as well as cutting down on fan noise and improving overall cooling.

The Akasa 965 is a brilliant choice for just under fifteen quid, delivering cooling that puts heatsinks three times its price to shame and resoundingly beating our old favourite the Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro in every category - it's simply a great bit of kit for the asking price and should definitely be on your shopping list even if your budget is stretched.

US First Choice: OCZ Vendetta
US Pricing: $34.99 (ex Tax)

Unfortunately, Akasa doesn't sell much of its range in the USA, but the OCZ Vendetta is an excellent alternative for those living Stateside. Delivering excellent thermal performance on a par with the Akasa 965 thanks to three full length direct contact heatpipes the only let down is that the 92mm is quite loud at full speed, so be sure to make use of your motherboard's 4-pin PWM fan controls to drop the fan speed a little. The higher price is a touch annoying too.

Optical Drive

UK First Choice: Samsung TS-H653B 20X Black SATA Dual Layer DVD+RW
UK Pricing: £15.89 (inc. VAT)

US First Choice: Sony Optiarc SATA DVD+RW AD-7240S-0B
US Pricing: $23.99 (ex Tax)

At this price point, beggars can’t be choosers, but you can still pick up a DVD-RW combo drive for just £15 and in this day and age we insist on SATA ones, if only to banish those messy IDE ribbon cables. These basic drives are cheap but don't expect extra software, although there is plenty of free, open source burning software available from places like Sourceforge.

What Hardware Should I Buy? - May 2009 Affordable All Rounder - 2

Hard Disk Drive

First Choice: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB SATA 3Gbps ST3500418AS Hard Drive (7,200 RPM, 16MB Cache)
UK Pricing: £41.97 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $64.99 (ex. Tax)

We've been really impressed with the performance of Seagate's new 7200.12 drives, and its 1TB drive is one of the fastest mechanical hard drives out there. This 500GB drive, built on the same 7200.12 technology as its 1TB brother, is less than £10 more expensive than the 250GB drive we recommended last month but manages to cram in double the capacity using just a single hard disk platter.

This means less noise, less heat and lower power consumption too, while still delivering excellent performance thanks to the single 500GB platter's high data density.

While smaller hard drives might fill up just that bit too quickly 500GB is a meaty amount of storage in anyone's book, and should prove plenty for all but the most veracious of downloaders or game install hoarders. With a three year warranty on top for piece of mind (although your data isn't covered, so do consider a backup of some kind for irreplaceable data), this is a fine hard disk, and for just over £40 is perfect for an entry level system.
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