Overall, I get more email asking me for kit and component recommendations that pretty much anything else, and that volume increases dramatically as the Holiday season comes into full swing. Also, over the Christmas period many people will have received new peripherals, tech toys and games and this will force an upgrade - there are been many a time when I've looked at getting a new game as a bill for a few hundred bucks worth of new hardware!
OK, here it is folks - The Hardware 2.0 "Best Kit List" for Dec 07/Jan 08. Here I've tried to compile a list of the best high-end and mid-range components currently available. These components are on this list because I believe them to be the best - although I'm ready to admit that, as always, that there's room for debate and some choices "go with the gut" more than others.
Each time I come out with a list of kit I always end up fielding a few emails and comments from people wondering if companies have "bought" space on the list. Let me tell you now that the only way for a product to get on this list is to be the best - period. Manufacturers, vendors and PR companies have zero influence over this or any other recommendation that I make.
My plan is to publish a new list every couple of months. I'm pretty sure that this will mean that not only the list will grow but that it's kept fresh as new products are released.
With the introduction out of the way, let's get started!
The processor market is currently dominated by Intel, so I'm afraid that if you're hoping for AMD offerings, look away now ...
High-end - Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650
If you've got a stack of cash that you're desperate to get rid of then the CPU to do just that is the Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650. Four cores, each running at 3.0GHz and an FSB of 1,333MHz makes this CPU a monster.
Price - around $1,200
However, at some point early next year Intel will release the QX9770. This one will have four cores each running at 3.2GHz and have a faster 1.600MHz FSB.
Mid-range - Intel Core 2 Duo E6750
At the mid range, Intel still rules. It's hard to pick a specific CPU for the mid-range but the range to be looking at is the Core 2 Duo. The sweet spot in that range is the 2.66GHz E6750. It offers good performance at a reasonable price, plus you can tinker with it in the overclocking department if you want to.
Price - around $200
In the interests of brevity, I'm going to pick what I believe are the best boards LGA775 and AM2 motherboards. Both of these are made by ASUS
LGA775 - ASUS Maximus Formula
Without a doubt, the best LGA775 to come from ASUS is the Maximus Formula. The Intel X38 chipset supports both DDR2 and DDR3, which means that you can stick with the cheaper DDR2 RAM for now.
You also get support for 8GB of RAM, Crossfire, 8-channel audio - the works! Plus, it's an overclocker's dream.
Price - about $270
AM2 - ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe
About the only difference between the Maximus Formula and the M3A32-MVP Deluxe (apart from the socket), is the Chipset - the AM2 board comes with an AMD 790FX chipset - and it doesn't have DDR3 support. Apart from that, the M3A32-MVP Deluxe is a very capable board indeed.
Price - about $250
Competition for the best graphics card is, as expected, very stiff. If you want to go high-end, expect to pay a bundle, especially if you plan on going SLI/Crossfire!
High-end - BFG GeForce 8800 Ultra OC 768MB GDDR3
This thing is a monster. It's pre-overclocked so there's no messing about. The core clock runs at 630MHz, the memory clock at 2220MHz and the shader clock at 1566MHz. It has 128 stream processors, a memory bandwidth of 106.6GB/sec and is capable of a fill rate (the number of pixels that can be rendered and written to the video memory) per second of over 40 billion.
If money is no object (and if it isn't, steer clear of this card) then this is the card that delivers the goods.
Price - about $740
Mid-range - Radeon HD 3850
If you're looking for a solid mid-range graphics card then look no further than the Radeon HD 3850. The core clock runs at 668MHz, the memory clock at 1656MHz, the shader clock at 1566MHz and 320 stream processors. You also get dual-DVI and HDMI support.
Price - about $180
Hard drives aren't usually considered to be a sexy upgrade, but spend your money wisely and you should see a significant performance boost!
High-end - Western Digital Raptor/RaptorX
When it comes to the Raptor/RaptorX (the difference being that the X means a clear cover), I've made a complete U-turn. Initially I viewed them with suspicion, thinking that they were little more than a gimmick, but now I have at least one fitted into each of our main systems here. These drives aren't cheap and don't come offer much capacity, but they are fast!
Price - about $180 for the 150GB RaptorX
Mid-range - Samsung Spinpoint T166 500GB
If you're looking for a fast drive that offers high capacity, then take a look at the Samsung Spinpoint T166 500GB drives. Because the T166 has three platters, the data density is high, which in turn means great performance. They're also quiet.
Price - about $110
Buying cheap RAM is just asking from trouble, especially if you push your system hard.
High-end - OCZ FlexXLC Edition Dual Channel 2048MB PC9600 DDR2 1200MHz
Insanely fast, insanely expensive. Not only do you get the fastest DDR2 going, but you also get a cooling system that'll work as both air and water-cooled.
This stuff has a CAS latency of 5-5-5-18.
Price - about $350
Mid-range - Crucial Ballistix Dual Channel 1024MB PC6400
Fast RAM, tight timings (4-4-4-12), support for EPP (SLI memory) and a lifetime warranty. What more could you ask for? Well, what about being highly overclockable? These modules deliver it all, for a mid-range price.
Price - about $80
Stock coolers are OK if you like mediocre cooling and a noisy fan. Me, I prefer to upgrade the coolers on my systems.
LGA775 cooler - Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro
What can I say about this cooler other than it's quieter than the Intel stock cooler and a heck of a lot more efficient. It's also easy to fit and remove and tends to fit well into cramped motherboards.
It's also pretty cheap.
Price - about $20
AM2 cooler - Scythe Infinity
The Scythe Infinity will fit a whole host of sockets (including the LGA775, but I like the Infinity on the AM2 because it's so easy to fit.
Also, this is a pretty good cooler - you can dispense with the fan altogether if what you're cooling is an Athlon 64 - even if it is overclocked.
Price - about $35
Given the spec of a modern PC, especially a mid to high-end system, getting a good quality PSU that can deliver consistent power is essential if you want to avoid problems.
High-end - Enermax Galaxy EGX1000EWL
A high-end system is going to need a high-end PSU, and they don't come much better than the Enermax Galaxy EGX1000EWL. This is capable of delivering 1KW of power in a stable way but without the noise associated with other PSUs. It has a whopping five 24A 12V power rails, which allow you to build a stable system. Oh, and the modular cabling system means less cable mess.
Oh, and it's also 80% efficient, so it doesn't harm the sky either.
Price - about $300
Mid-range - Antec TruePower Trio TP3-650
A good, all-round PSU that can deliver enough power for dual 8800GTS or X1950XTX cards plus a whole raft of other drives and peripherals. It's also nice and stable, thanks to the excellent build quality and three 19A 12V rails.
Price - about $110