What Hardware Should I Buy? - October 2009

Written by bit-tech Staff

October 8, 2009 | 09:31

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 too, 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. It'll easily overclock 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 could 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 single 16-lane PCI-Express controller in an LGA1156 CPU can't do. 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 epically fast PC for a reasonable amount of cash...

What Hardware Should I Buy? - October 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 quality LGA1366 motherboards to consider. Of the two more affordable 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 a full 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 as you could buy another 3GB kit at a later date to boost your memory to 6GB. However, we've had situations where populating all the memory slots has stressed the memory bus heavily, and monkeyed around with the overclocking capabilities in the past, so we're sticking with a plain (3x2GB) 6GB kit.

UK Price | US Price: OCZ/Corsair 6GB (3x2GB) 1,600MHz CL9 DDR3 kit

As we'd pick a 6GB memory kit from the off, we're going to go with the Gigabyte as we don’t expect most won't be needing more than 6GB of memory any time soon – if you do, then certainly upsell yourself for a 6-slot board. The Gigabyte UD3R will then let us space out our expansion cards, so if we do add a dedicated 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? This month has seen plenty of movement in the world of graphics, with the Radeon HD 5870 hitting shelves and the HD 5850 coming not too far behind (we should have a review up shortly). Both cards bring a lot of performance for the investment involved, and our initial benchmarks of the HD 5850 in particular single it out as a real contender.

UK Price | US Price: AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5

So much of a contender in fact, that we’re confident enough to recommend it: performing roughly in line with a GTX 285 but coming in at an Nvidia-bruising £200, the HD 5850 is phenomenal value for a high end card. It combines this with incredibly low idle power consumption and quiet performance to match.

The only concern is the HD 5850’s inherent lack of PhysX capabilities if you care for playing Batman: Arkham Asylum, although the fact that the HD 5850 offers full support for future DirectX 11 games makes up for this minor shortcoming. Of course we’ve yet to see what Nvidia is going to offer with its line of “Fermi” DirectX 11 cards, but with not even an inkling of a finished product at the moment, the HD 5850 is a worthy investment for those wanting to buy right now.

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 might 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 flexibility of the HAF 922.

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

To power the combination of an overclocked Core i7-920 and an HD 5850, 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’ve swapped in the equally good Corsair TX650W PSU instead. However, it's worth remembering that it's not modular, so be prepared for some cable mess to tidy up.

UK Price | US Price: 1TB Samsung SpinPoint F3

A decent SSD is still out of this system’s price range, with the money better spent on the beefier core hardware, but the superb new 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3 is the next best thing. With twin 500GB platters and a 7,200RPM spindle speed it’s an absolute beast when it comes to sequential and real world performance and at just £55 it’s an absolute bargain too, thrashing every other mechanical drive. As we said in the review – “get one”.

UK Price| US Price: : Titan Fenrir TTC-NK85TZ

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. Even better, it’s now available in the USA thanks to the chaps at FrozenCPU, allowing our stateside chums to get in on the Fenrir’s awesome cooling capabilities.

UK Price | US Price: LG GH22NS50 SATA DVDRW

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