PC Buyers Guide Summer 2011

PC Buyers Guide 38 Page 2 of 3 Published by


PC Buyer's Guide - Medium End


Target Monitor Resolution: 1920x1080

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. So what sort of criteria do I take into account when deciding what parts to recommend?

  • Price and Performance: First and foremost, what gives the most bang for your buck, in terms of gaming primarily of course.
  • Reliability: Second on the list but just as important. This includes things such as compatibility (ever had RAM that worked on one motherboard but not in another?), trustworthiness of a brand overall (do they have a history of making reliable parts?) in addition to the reliability of the part in question.
  • Overclockability: Overclocking can help squeeze out that extra performance out of a system and can make a big impact on price versus performance (why should you buy a $1000 CPU if you can overclock a $200 CPU to match it?) so this factor can always swing my decision.
  • Heat and Power Issues: Heat is the enemy of a computer and it can affect the stability (and reliability) of your machine. Performance per watt has become a buzz word and as power requirements for computers rise I eye this more and more closely.

For those wondering about "Target Resolution," instead of listing a particular price point (since price will vary somewhat with vendor/e-tailer) I have listed here what type of resolutions you can expect to be playing most of today's games (with AA and AF on of course) on such a rig, both standard and widescreen resolutions were taken into consideration.

Intel Core i5-2500K

As much as we like competition unfortunately Intel still stands unchallenged at the high end for gaming. Yes I know there will be angry emails from people claiming "but most games are GPU limited." True, but some are not and when they aren't the Intel processors race way ahead. But do not lose hope AMD fans, because Bulldozer is expected soon, so those of you hoping to build an AMD system I recommend waiting for these new processors to be released (you wouldn't want your AMD rig to be obsolete in a month anyway would you?). By now you should be familiar with Intel's Sandy Bridge processors, if not check out the review below.

Check out Guru3D related reviews:

The stock HSF will provide passable cooling power for your Sandy Bridge, but you want to treat your CPU right don't you??? There are a number of inexpensive, quality coolers available now, don't let your CPU languish beneath the stock cooler.

Editor's Choice: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus. An excellent low cost HSF, an excellent baseline for a mid-range system and a step up from lower cost coolers. Check out our review here.

What to look for when buying a motherboard, regardless of chipset or processor it supports:
  • Good chipset cooling. Chipsets these days continue to run hotter. Better cooling means improved stability, improved longevity and better overclocking potential. Be mindful when using a passively cooled motherboard (even one with the works, including copper heatsinks and heatpipes) to ensure that you can provide the coolers with adequate airflow.
  • Solid state capacitors. Offers improved longevity and heat resistance as well as avoids the dreaded "leaking" capacitor problem.
  • Improved voltage regulator. Does the motherboard use a 3 phase voltage regulator or something higher? How do you determine the phase you ask? It is determined by the number of MOSFETs (Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor) used. As a rule the higher the number (and hence the phase) and quality of the MOSFETs, the cleaner (higher quality) the voltage delivered to the CPU, offering improved stability and overclockability of the CPU and improved thermals for the MOSFETs. Many motherboards now feature heatsinks to cool the MOSFETs as well, always nice.
  • Features. What features do you need? Chipset features vary broadly as do features individual motherboards may offer. Do you need RAID? If so what type? If you chose to use onboard sound then take a close look at the audio chipset and its associated features as they differ widely.

Editor's Choice: A motherboard based on the Z68 chipset. Really this is the only chipset Intel should have released, combining the overclocking ability of the P67 chipset with the ability of the H67 chipset to utilize the onboard graphics of Sandy Bridge processor (which you can do even with a discrete video card thanks to Lucid's Virtu software) to take advantage of Intel's Quick Sync technology. It also brings a few new features to the table such as Intel Smart Response Technology, which allows you to combine a smaller SSD with a larger traditional hard drive (although I still recommend a discrete SSD if you can afford it).

Check out these Guru3D related reviews:

Solid State Drive

Yes ... we feel its time to move the SSD into the mid range recommendation. Make the move to a solid state drive! It will be one of the biggest performance upgrades you have made to your computer in some time (and also one of the most expensive). Be sure to do your research, SSD technology continues to change rapidly with new drives and new memory controllers popping up frequently. I also suggest you read read one of our many many reviews. Here are a few tips:

  1. SSD's need free space. Performance begins to degrade if you don't leave 20-25% free space on the drive, so I recommend not getting a drive smaller then 100 GB.
  2. Space is still a problem with SSD's as you can see. Before you upgrade check to see how much space you are using. When I upgraded to a SSD a quick check revealed my hard drive with OS and applications only installed already took up 120 GB, so I ended up going for a 160 GB SSD.
  3. TRIM support and Windows 7. You want it. You need it. Otherwise your SSD's performance will degrade over time.
  4. If you're looking for the highest performance drives, the two most popular controllers right now would be the Marvel 9174 (example: Intel 510) and the SandForce 2281 (example: OCZ Vertex 3).

A final note: You will absolutely want a secondary traditional hard drive to store all your multimedia, it will not fit on that small SSD (for example I use a 160 GB Intel X-25M for OS and applications and a 2 TB hard drive for everything else).
Check out Guru3D related reviews:


8 GB DDR3 1600 MHz RAM
RAM is cheap, take advantage while you can. The Sandy Bridge integrated memory controller is quite efficient, so unless you want to overclock it 1600 MHz is about the sweet spot (save those dollars for something else).

Check out Guru3D related reviews:

AMD Radeon 6950 2 GB or GeForce GTX 570
At last AMD and NVIDIA have started fighting it out in the DirectX 11 battlefield and the 200-300 USD price range has gotten really confusing. On the low side of 200 USD you'll find the Radeon 6950 1 GB fighting with the GeForce GTX 560 Ti. I think though that you'll find these are priced too closely to their higher end counterparts that I have listed here. For those of you who don't know, Guru3D maintains charts of the performance of all recent video cards in a wide variety of games, check it out here!

Check out Guru3D related reviews:  

Creative X-Fi Titanium or Asus Xonar DX 7.1
Vista left the audio card market wide open by removing direct hardware access, thus taking away Creative's long enjoyed performance advantage thanks to EAX. Into the fray comes Asus with an excellent card for those looking for an alternative. Whatever the choice, you can at last bid farewell to PCI as both these cards are PCI-Express 1x.

Our own audiophile Brann Mitchel: Speaking of fearsome, it took all of 5 seconds of listening to the Xonar D2X to know that it is our new reference sound card. This unseats the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude at the high end (not that we really keep track of these things) as our favorite all-around card to game, listen to music, and watch movies with.

Check out Guru3D related reviews:


Samsung Blu-Ray Drive SH-B083LWith the price of a Blu-ray drive/DVD burner combos having fallen well below 100 USD, no reason not to make the step up now. This drive is capable of burning 16x DVD+R and DVD-R, 8x DL as well as 12x DVD-RAM, 8x BD-ROM and boasts a SATA interface. 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 do have a few suggestions when looking for a case. Aluminum is a definite plus; it will make your computer significantly lighter. 120mm or larger 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, while a CPU backplate cutout is very nice if you want to later mount a different CPU cooler (without removing the motherboard).

Check out Guru3D related reviews:


650 Watt or HigherThe power demands of the PC continue to escalate, thanks in large part to GPU's and the move to quad core CPU's. Be sure to go out and get the biggest and best power supply you can, do not skimp on the power supply! This is an often overlooked part and yet it's the source of so many computer woes. Be sure to check the amps on the 12V rail(s), you want a power supply that can handle a lot, multiple 12V rails is an additional plus (although not required, PC Power and Cooling is well known for their excellent single 12V rail power supplies).

For a frame of reference: For a single GeForce GTX 470 a 550 Watt power supply with 35 amps on the +12v rail is recommended. Just remember: don't try and buy a cheap generic brand to save some cash, just because it says 1000 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 can face any number of problems. Also remember it never hurts to err on the side of caution and get more watts then you need, then to come up short when you decide in 6 months to upgrade to that latest video card!

Check out some of our many power supply reviews here.

Editor's Choice: Corsair CMPSU-750TX. Corsair's power supplies are rock solid and that's what you want. Definitely a good baseline.

Onwards to the next page please where we look at the high-end gaming PC of our choice.

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