PC Buyers Guide High End Target Resolution: 1920x1200 with 4x AA and 16x AF or better
This guide will only cover the box. Monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers are not included. I do this for brevity's sake, as the monitor alone would require its own guide, especially if I were to cover LCD monitors. Since this site is called "Guru3D" this guide will target a system intended for gaming primarily. I have taken heavily into account power and heat issues, as you may have noticed the phrase "performance per watt" has become a mantra for both AMD and Intel now. Also taken into consideration is overclockability to some extent, reliability and of course, price.
For those wondering about "Target Resolution," instead of listing a particular pricepoint (since price will vary somewhat with vender) I have listed here what type of resolutions you can expect to be playing most of today's games on such a rig. AA stands for antialiasing and AF stands for Anisotropic Filtering, if you don't know what those are... well are you sure you want to be building your own computer? ;) (Hilbert: Huh whots AA ?)
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo 6700
How the mighty have fallen. AMD has dominated my high end gaming rig recommendations for quite some time thanks to the dominance of their Athlon 64's. But Intel has finally struck back and not even the fastest (and twice as expensive) FX can challenge the 6700 for gaming dominance. The Core 2 Duo's are here a last. Building on the success and already outstanding performance of the Core Duo, Intel has at long last broken AMD's gaming dominance. They run cool, use less power and overclock like crazy. And they are much, much faster then the Pentium 4 they replace. The only caveat at the moment is the very limited supply and consequently the higher then expected prices.
You'll note I did not recommend the X6800 Edition. Really it's not worth paying over 500 USD more for a marginally faster processor. And with most benchmarks showing these poor Conroe's are being held back by the GPU when you crank up that resolution, that chunk of change would be better suited for something like... Quad SLI...
The stock HSF will provide ample cooling power for a Conroe, but this is a high end rig and you want to treat your CPU right don't you???The Zalman CNPS9500 is one of the finest HSF you could ask for, offering some of the highest quality air cooling while remaining extremely quiet. And it does it all in style with its LED fan and unique copper finned design.
Motherboard - nForce 590 SLI Intel Edition
A new generation of the nForce chipset is here: the nForce 500 Series. For a look at all the new features and performance of this new chipset, I suggest you have a look at our own preview of the chipset here.
Editor's Choice: Asus P5N32-SLI Premium/WiFi-AP. This will be one of the first nForce 590 SLI motherboards to market. You'll note that it bares a striking resemblance to their nForce4 SLI Intel Edition board, with copper heatpipes/heatsinks instead of aluminium. Most of the features remain the same such as the 8 phase power design. Some interesting additions include WiFi, SATA connectors that have been turned to a 90 degree angle (making for easier installation of SATA cables) and a third PCI-Express x16 slot.
Hard Drive 750 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3750640AS
We are closing in on those 1 TB drives. 750 GB should be more then enough for most you, imagine the hours of HD video this could store. This drive features the new perpendicular recording technology, which allows for greater disk density and improved performance as well. It also comes with 16 MB cache, SATA-II interface and support for Native Command Queuing (NCQ, a disk seek optimization technique). This drive also comes with an outstanding 5 year warranty.
Memory - 2 GB DDR2 800 MHz RAM
Games have grown greedy for RAM and for a high end gaming rig, 2 GB is a necessity.
Remember that DDR2 latencies are much higher than DDR. So always take advantage of lower latency memory. Lower latency modules will have timings in the range of CAS 4-4-4-12. Keep an eye on the default voltage for the module, the default for DDR2 is 1.8v, if the default is higher (and on 800 MHz DDR2 RAM it likely is) then make sure your motherboard can support it. Don't forget to buy that RAM in matched pairs so you can take advantage of dual channel for a slight boost to performance, most memory makers now sell match pairs for your convenience.
Editor's Choice: Corsair XMS2 TWIN2X2048-6400C4. This RAM comes with EPP (enhanced performance profiles), awesome memory timings (CAS 4-4-4-12), comes with stylish heatspreaders, excellent reliability; although at a high price.
Video Card GeForce 7950 GX2
The current fastest single card you can purchase. I find this card an excellent compromise as it is faster then either of the single GPU solutions from ATI or NVIDA, but at a price point well below either of the dual card solutions since it can be found for below $500 USD now. The GX2 consumes less power then either dual card setup and in addition will only occupy 2 slots instead of 4, freeing up those PCI slots that are often blocked, which is a source of often complaint. Plus this leaves you the opportunity to upgrade to a Quad-SLI rig!
After a long wait, something new in the world of sound cards. Creative has made some big advances with their latest generation that you audiophile will be sure to appreciate. Be warned though, while Creative makes fantastic sound cards, their drivers leave much to be desired. It is worth the headaches though.
Our own audiophile Brann Mitchel: Playing a few games with Creative's latest sound card in your rig will convince you that there really isn't anything better than the X-Fi. It doesn't matter which of the four models you choose either, you'll still get blistering performance in any game you choose with the powerful new APU, CMSS 3D Headphone and EAX Advanced HD 5.0. While Creative's X-Fi is no doubt the performance leader in gaming, it will also impress you with its music capability. We get lots of sound cards that offer one or the other, good sound or good gaming, but the X-Fi really delivers both. It has that rare ability to make you play song after song just to hear how they sound through the X-Fi. For these reasons, the X-Fi is our new reference.
DVD-RW Drive Lite-On Lightscribe DVD Burner SH-S182M
There really is no excuse to not have DVD±R/RW drives, they are very cheap and reliable these days. This drive has a few extras that set it apart like the ability to burn 18x DVD+R and DVD-R as well as 12x DVD-RAM. It is also a LightScribe capable drive. This will allow you to burn a label (or image or whatever you want) onto your disks, no more barely legible permanent marker labeling!
Okay Im going leave this one open to your decision. Cases are a love-hate thing, what one person likes another will not. So go find a case you think suites you. I have a few suggestions when looking for a case. Aluminium is a definite plus; it will make your computer significantly lighter. 120mm fans are the way to go as well, ensuring good airflow in your case while maintaining a minimum of noise. A removable motherboard tray is particularly useful in cramped cases.
Editor's Choice: A number of good cases come to mind. The Antec Performance 1 P160, an excellent aluminum case. Comes with or without a side window, 2 120mm case fans for maximum airflow at a minimum of noise, rubber grommets to reduce hard drive vibrations (and noise), washable air filter, LED temperature display, removable mobo tray and more. Lian Li has had huge success with their very stylish PC-V1000 case and now a number of designs based on this chassis are available from Lian Li including the PC-101 and PC-V1100. I'm sure one will catch you're eye. Thermaltake offers a number of excellent cases that fit my criteria as well such as the Eureka, Shark, Tsunami and Tai-Chi.
New video cards and new processors are starting to pull A LOT of power. And the situation will not improve (SLI didn't help now did it?). Time to go out and get the biggest and best power supply you can, do not skimp on the power supply! This is such an overlooked part and yet it is the source of so many computer woes. Check the amps on the 12V rail, you want a power supply that can handle a lot (for frame of reference: NVIDIA recommends 400 Watt power supply with 27A on the 12V rail for the 7950 GX2). Another plus to look for is a power supply with dual fans to help with cooling. Just remember: don't try and buy a cheap generic brand to save some cash, just because it says 480 Watts (or whatever the number is) doesn't mean it can actually handle that, sadly. Quality counts big, be sure to get a quality power supply or you will face any number of problems. OCZ really entered the power supply market with a bang, these are some top-notch power supplies. You can even manually adjust the voltage on each of the rails to ensure the voltages are exactly what they should be.
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