Hardware 2.0 'Very Best Kit List' for Mar/Apr 09

Hardware 2.0 'Very Best Kit List' for Mar/Apr 09

Summary: Welcome to the updated and revamped Hardware 2.0 "Very Best Kit List" for Mar/Apr 09. Here I've put together a list of the best high-end and mid-range and budget components currently available. So if you're thinking of buying, building or even upgrading a PC, this list is a must-read for you!


Welcome to the updated and revamped Hardware 2.0 "Very Best Kit List" for Mar/Apr 09. Here I've put together a list of the best high-end and mid-range and budget components currently available. So if you're thinking of buying, building or even upgrading a PC, this list is a must-read for you!

This new kit list has been expanded significantly from the last time I published a kit list.

These components are on this list because I firmly believe them to be the best either in terms of performance or price - although I'm ready to admit, as always, that there's room for debate and some choices "go with the gut" more than others.

NOTE: 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.

Also note: I'm looking to expand this list by adding more categories and components. If you'd like to see anything added, let me know!

Final note: All prices are approximate ... shop around for the best deals!

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Extreme - Intel Core i7 965 Extreme Edition

Quad-core, 3.2GHz

The Core i7 processors represents a new era in architecture for Intel. Gone is the LGA 775 socket, instead replaced by the larger Socket LGA 1366.

With the Core i7 Intel has also reintroduced Hyper-Threading, giving the desktop CPUs the power of eight virtual cores. You also get the brand new X58 chipset and support for DDR3.

Additional info - What you need to go Core i7!!!

Price: $1010

Mid-range - Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600

Quad-core, 2.4GHz

The quad-core Core 2 Quad Q6600 is one of the best CPUs Intel has ever made. Sure, there are more powerful pieces, and the Q6600 is now looking a little old (the 65nm architecture it's based on now dates it), but it's still a great CPU. For most enthusiasts it's still the first rung on the ladder of quad-core ownership.

Price: $195

Budget - Intel Core 2 Duo E7300

Dual-core, 2.66GHz

The E7300 is an excellent CPU. It's a 2.66GHz part based on Intel's 45nm Wolfdale architecture. But that's not the reason I've chosen the E7300 for this package. I've chosen it because it is highly overclockable.

You can get this CPU up to 4GHz easily (Google is your friend) where it will run 100% stable. This puts an enormous amount of power at your disposal!

However, to get the most from the E7300, you'll need a motherboard that offers you plenty of overclocking potential. But don't worry, I've chosen one that's perfect for the job! 

Price: $130

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Extreme - Asus P6T Deluxe/OC Palm

The Asus P6T Deluxe is, without a doubt, the best motherboard to match up with the Core i7. There are cheaper boards, and there are now boards that cost more, but the P6T Deluxe/OC Palm is the best. It's a fast, stable board that's packed with features and settings for the enthusiast and overclocker.

Excellent board!

Price: $330

Mid-range - BioStar TPower I45

The BioStar TPower I45 is a great mid-range board because it combines rock-solid features with the ability to handle overclocking so you can unleash the hidden potential of your other hardware. I'm now amazed how many lower-speced boards offer very sophisticated overclocking features.

Another well laid out, fully-featured board from BioStar. Keep an eye on this company over the coming year, I expect to see more good things from it!

Price: $160

Budget - BioStar TP45HP

The TP45HP a good all-round board that offers plenty of options in the way of USB, SATA, Ethernet and so on. It's also another example of a rock-solid board that shouldn't give you any problems in day to day usage.

But the main reason I've picked this particular board for this package is that it's a great board for overclocking. In fact, I'd go as far as to call it an overclocker's dream board. 

Price: $110

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Extreme - Corsair Dominator TR3X6GB1600C8D 3x6GB

6GB of high-performance DDR3 RAM with loads of overclocking potential - what more could you ask for!

  • DDR3 rating - PC3-12800
  • Freq - 1,600MHz
  • Timing - 8-8-8-24
  • Bandwidth - 12.8GB/s 

Price: $215

Mid-range - OCZ PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 2x2GB

Fast, reliable RAM with plenty of over head. Coolers are a bit weird but if you can ignore that, this is a good buy!

  • DDR2 rating - PC2-8500
  • Freq - 1,066MHz
  • Timing - 5-5-5-15
  • Bandwidth - 8.5GB/s  

Price: $80 

Budget - Corsair 2X2048-6400 2x2GB

Solid product with a decent backing. Also offers some overclocking potential. Great value for the price.

  • DDR2 rating - PC2-6400
  • Freq - 800MHz
  • Timing - 4-4-4-12
  • Bandwidth - 6.4GB/s  

Price: $50 

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Graphics card

Extreme - NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295

There’s a lot to like about NVIDIA’s latest powerhouse graphics card. The GTX 295 is the fastest, most powerful single card solution currently available, boasting the very best 3D performance currently available.

The GTX 295 is a dual-GPU solution, but since the two GPUs are integrated onto the single card, and the software drivers handle all the SLI stuff, getting dual-GPU power is now easier than ever.

Price: $500 

Mid-range - NVIDIA GeForce 9800GTX+

Can't spring for a GTX 295, but want something a little bit special? Check out the GeForce 9800GTX+. this card is ideal for the gamer running a 22" screen and can pump out the pixels at a rate to keep the current game lineup running smoothly.

A great card and a fantastic price.

Price: $180 

Budget - NVIDIA GeForce 9800GT

The NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT is great performer. In fact, for the price point it's by far the best card you could choose for the job.

This card will happily run the likes of Crysis, Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3 and deliver graphics that are more than acceptable as long as you keep the settings to a modest level.

Brand wise, I suggest you look at the 9800 GT offerings from EVGA or XFX.

Price: $130

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Hard disk

Extreme - SSD - Intel X-25M

There’s no doubt that solid-state SATA hard drives (SSDs) are the future. You get fast transfer speeds, improved battery life on notebooks, and quicker boot times. The only downsides - cost per gigabyte.

Also worth remembering is that these drives are 2.5? form-factor, so you need to take that into account if fitting them into desktop systems.

Price: 80GB, $370 | 160GB, $730

Extreme - High-speed - Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB

The Western Digital Raptor/RaptorX has given way to a new hard drive - the VelociRaptor.

I'll be honest with you that the Velociraptor isn't as thrilling as the Raptor was, and it's not so easy to actually see the performance gains you are getting, but they are there. If you want the fastest drive going in your PC, you need the VelociRaptor.

Price: $230

Extreme - High-capacity - Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS 1.5TB

Want the largest capacity SATA drive going? then you want the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS 1.5TB drive. Yes, you read that right - 1.5TB!

The spec on this drive is pretty good:

  • Spindle speed: 7,200 rpm
  • Average latency: 4.16 msec
  • Random read seek time: <8.5 msec
  • Random write seek time: <10.0 msec
  • Cache: 32MB

Price: $130

Mid-range - Samsung Spinpoint F 500GB

Good drive at a fantastic price. Ideal for those looking for a second drive. 

Price: $60

Budget - Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 160GB

Great starting point. Can't go wrong with this drive at the price it's going for now. 

Price: $42

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Sound card

Extreme - Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro

Without a doubt the best  sound card for a gaming or home entertainment system.

Price: $140

Mid-range - Creative X-FI Xtreme Gamer

Great mid-range sound card.

Price: $80

Budget - Creative Sound Blaster Audigy SE

Budget - better than most on-board sound solutions. 

Price: $30

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Extreme - 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. Sure, you need your own personal fusion generator but it’s worth it for the bragging rights.

The Galaxy EGX1000EWL 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 … much.

Note: Do people really need a 1KW PSU? I doubt that many do, but there’s no doubt that these high-output PSUs are popular among performance enthusiasts, hence my reason for including one.

Price: $350

Mid-range - Antec EarthWatts 500W

Nice mid-range PSU. Efficient, reliable and provides ample power. 

Price: $70

Budget - Antec EarthWatts 380W

Probably the best budget PSU you can find. 

Price: $50

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Extreme - Thermalright Ultra 120 eXtreme 1366

I just love this cooler.

It's highly efficient at cooling pretty much any CPU you can throw at it (including the monster Core i7 965), it's quiet, it's low-profile so it doesn't look like you've jammed a car radiator inside your PC, and it's also cheap enough that it won't break the bank (if you're spending $1,000 on a CPU, less than $100 on a cooler is peanuts).

Price: $85

Mid-range - Cooler Master RL-EUL-GBU1-GP Aquagate S1

One of the best liquid CPU coolers (best in terms of price, performance, ease of use, quietness and reliability) is the Cooler Master RL-EUL-GBU1-GP Aquagate S1.

This system’s not elaborate and you don’t get enough radiators to heat your house, but for approximately $80 you get everything you need to cool most CPUs down, even if you overclock them.

Price: $75

Budget - 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. No matter what other air cooler I look at, I always come back to this one. It’s also pretty cheap.

One of the best air cooler available ... certainly the best for the price! 

Price: $35

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Extreme - Cooler Master RC-1100 Cosmos S ATX Full-Tower Case

High-end cases don’t get any better than the Cooler Master RC-1100 Cosmos S. Externally, the beautiful yet robust aluminum construction offers rigidity without too much of a weight penalty. Internally, the case offers bags of room - 7 exposed 5.25-inch drive bays, 4 hidden 3.5-inch bays (converted from three 5.25-inch bays), and 7 expansion slots. All bays are tool-free (and the good quality sort of tool-free, not the cheap and nasty variety).

The I/O panel offers four USB ports, IEEE1394 FireWire, eSATA, microphone, and audio.

The only downside - price. 

Price: $200

Mid-range - Antec Nine Hundred

Nice, all-round mid-tower. 

Price: $150

Budget - Antec Three Hundred

Nice, small, cheap and cheerful case. 

Price: $60

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Extreme - 30" - Dell UltraSharp 3008WFP

Monitors don’t come much better (or more expensive) than the Dell UltraSharp 3008WFP.

  • 2560 x 1600 Native Resolution
  • 3000:1 Dynamic Contrast Ratio
  • TrueHD 1080 with an integrated HDMI connection
  • Seven connection options: VGA, DVI-D with HDCP, HDMI, S-Video, Component, Composite and DisplayPort

If you don’t have the desk space for a dual-panel setup then this might be the solution for you (of you want to spend $2K on a panel).

Price: $1,999 (with instant savings on Dell.com I've seen this as low as $1,339)

Mid-range - 22" - Samsung T220

The Samsung T220 is a nice panel that not only displays a really sweet image, it also looks good in any setting.

  • Display Type: Widescreen LCD
  • Pixel Pitch: 0.258 mm
  • Input Video Signal: DVI-D/VGA
  • Dynamic Contrast Ratio: 20000:1
  • Brightness: 300 cd/m²
  • Response Time: 2 ms
  • Horizontal Viewing Angle: 170 degrees
  • Vertical Viewing Angle: 160 degrees
  • Maximum Resolution: 1680 x 1050 

Price: $299

Budget - Acer V173

A very nice budget screen that supports 1280 x 1024.

Price: $119

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Keyboard/ Mouse

Extreme - Gyration GO 2.4

Probably the best keyboard and mouse setup that you can find. The wireless keyboard has a traditional look but packs state-of-the-art technology. The in-the-air mouse is also the very best you can buy.

Price: $285

Mid-range - Logitech MX5500

The MX5500 is probably one a great all-round keyboard and mouse combo. Ideal for a home/office/gaming system.

Price: $150

Budget - Microsoft CA9

About as cheap and cheerful as you can get!

Price: $16

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Topics: Hardware, CXO, Enterprise Software, Intel, Legal, Processors

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  • Enthusiastic about overclocking.

    The person for whom you're identifying this hardware plays games which can benefit from overclocking?

    Suggesting that it's appropriate to describe for whom you're making these recommendations. And perhaps to add choices for people with different plans for what they'll do with the computer.

    Thinking about CPUs and motherboards especially.
    Anton Philidor
    • Over the past few months ...

      ... overclocking has become far more popular ... I guess people's credit cards aren't stretching as far as they used to. People who I would have never pegged as being interested in overclocking (PS users, home users ... even SMBs) seems to be interested in getting more for less.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Future post suggestion, then

        There are a number of good software programs, many free, which can assist the inexperienced user in overclocking without a meltdown.

        May I suggest that a discussion of some of this software as well as the meaning and risks of overclocking would be a public service?
        Anton Philidor
        • Good idea ..

          ... future post!
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Overclocking = control of your hardware

        I think some people hear the word "overclocking" and immediately assume they don't need that capablility. Having the ability to control your hardware in that manner opens opportunities for lots more things than just wringing more clock cycles out a cpu.
        Chris Z
        • Such as?

          Please elaborate.
  • You may not be bought...

    ...but your continued preference for nVidia cards would seem to make one think otherwise. There are many of us who have had enough of nVidia's overheating chips and crapola drivers, so your not finding even one ATI card to recommend seems suspicious. I would also question your inclusion of the Seagate drives that have had such a horrendous failure rate. Perhaps you don't expect your hard drives to last more than 3 months, but many of us do.
    • Hey ...

      ... feel free to disagree with me, but having handled all the latest cards, there are my personal recommends. ATI have some good cards, and the top spot is a close call between the 295GTX or the 4870X2, but for me NVIDIA beats it.

      The latest Seagate drives seem problem-free, as do all the GPUs listed here.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Re: Hey ...

        It is interesting to hear some of these additional thoughts about the hardware you chose. It might be interesting to read how you arrived at your decision and what items were under consideration but did not make the list and why.
      • This is his opinion. Adrian isn't forcing anyone to buy his recommendations

    • ATI Cards

      You don't see the ATI cards for a reason, ATI was bought out by AMD. You may also have noted that there are no AMD CPUs. This attitude goes even farther, I'm sure you noticed that all audio cards are Creative Labs. Either he is extremely biased, or there are no alternatives.

      I don't mind the Intel Chips as much as I don't want to be left with 1 chip maker again. I remember the pricing on junk chips before AMD started getting aggressive. Pentiums cost more then an entire desktop does now days. They were junk, but there was no choice till Athlon came along. This is just my way of sticking it to the man.

      I am running a Denub with DDR3 memory at 4.0 air cooled. My box cost far less than what he is showing and very stable.
    • Do a web search for nVidia vs ATi performance comparisons

      ATi may have technically superior hardware, but for as vaunted as that is, the drivers must be pretty sloppy to hinder the hardware to nVidia GTX280 levels. At one time thinking of buying two HD4870s for a nice Crossfire configuration, I found a review showing one GTX280 performed on par - for less money and a lesser amount of electricity too.

      Never mind ATi's history of buggy drivers (that I get to deal with at work) and embarrassingly poor Linux drivers. (the final straw for me re: ATi)

      I agree with the esteemed author; I've been down both roads as well and it's going to take a real lot for me to consider ATi in the near or mid-term future. The 4870's performance reads great on paper, but in real life it's just not any better - to say the very least.

      Seagate is an okay company, but I prefer Wester Digital's innovations and quality...
      • We each have our own experiences

        I am familiar with performance comparisons between the two company's cards, and find that nVidia does better at some applications while ATI is better at others. Even with games this is true, partially because some games are optimized for one chipset or the other. Do a search of recent issues with graphics chipsets and you will find substantial discussion about nVidia chips overheating to the point of failure, prompting factory recalls. I generally find ATI to have more mature and stable drivers than nVidia as well. It matters little if one card gives slightly better frame rates if it causes your computer to crash frequently, as many have reported with nVidia cards.

        My point was that Adrian should have offered some choices in his list, even if he gave his personal preference. By only choosing nVidia cards, he gives the impression of having been bought, and opens himself up for criticism from those of us who vehemently disagree with that choice. Those Seagate drives that he recommends have been the source of many complaints about high failure rates, as documented by articles on this site and others. Perhaps Seagate drives work well for him, but he didn't even mention the fact that they have a high rate of failure after about 3 months. Do stability and reliability have no bearing on choosing what is the "very best"?

        I am not criticizing Adrian because I prefer one brand over another. I do believe that criticism is valid when he pushes product that has known reliability issues, and allows his recommendations to be clouded by personal bias or reimbursement.
  • No AMD/ATI? Bad Form Adrian!

    you make it out as if they arent worth shit when to be honest they can hold thir own or better some of the items you listed hands down for the price
    • Where did I say that???

      "you make it out as if they arent worth **** "

      ATI make some good cards, but there's just one spot in each category. Sorry if that annoys you but I'm not compromising my experience-based results just for the sake of seeming fair. In the past I've featured planty of ATI cards.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • no AMD/ATI for me either

      Still upset that they abandoned All-In_Wonder
      owners by refusing to create TV capture drivers
      for Vista, for cards sold as Vista ready. Other
      companies made their cards work, but ATI
      refused to even acknowledge inquiries. I will
      never purchase another ATI board, and applaud
      Adrian for only reviewing boards from a
      manufacturer that will actually support their
  • hard drives and motherboards

    Seagate's 1.5tb drives have had issues, not sure they can be recommended entirely without mentioning them;


    A 'budget' mobo should be less than $100. There are plenty out there worth a look.

  • Phenoms must suck ay???

    I noticed your budget CPU was an Intel dual core. But theres a Phenom quad core out for $99. I haven't compared the specs heavily but that would seem to be a no brainer unless I just don't know enough about AMD's current offerings.

    I'm glad I ran into this as I'm about to build a box and I'm sick of trying to keep up with video cards and their performance levels. The card numbers are starting to run together to me.
    • I thought the same

      AMD deffinately should have been on the list. The Phenom is a phenomanal bang for your buck. It could even be argued that one of them may have slid into the mid range spot.
      • When I saw that $99 deal...

        ...I went on ahead and planned to build my new box around it. I mean its four cores...it can't be that bad.