Hardware 2.0 'Very Best Kit List' for Nov/Dec 09

Hardware 2.0 'Very Best Kit List' for Nov/Dec 09

Summary: Welcome to the updated and revamped Hardware 2.0 "Very Best Kit List" for Nov/Dec 09, the last such list for 2009. 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 Nov/Dec 09, the last such list for 2009. 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!

See also my Holiday Gift Guide 2009 for even more cool kit! 

This time around sees the addition of several new categories, such as netbooks, notebooks, all-in-one PCs, and wireless routers. I've also added new products to some of the existing categories too.

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.

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

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Extreme - Intel Core i7 975 Extreme Edition - Quad-core, 3.33GHz

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 do need a motherboard that has X58 chipset support and DDR3 RAM, but if you're spending a thousand dollars on a processor, you need to be willing to spend elsewhere too!

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

Price: $1000

Mid-range - Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400 - Quad-core, 2.66GHz

Gone is the aging Q6600 from the list (one of the best CPUs Intel has ever made), replaced this time by the Q8400. This 45nm piece offers 2.66GHz of quad-core power for well under $200, making it an ideal part for those looking for good bang for the buck.

Note: AMD fans might like to take a look at the Phenom II X4 945, a 3.0GHz quad-core part that retails for under $170.

Price: $168

Note: You might also be interested in Intel's new Core i5 750 part, which retails for a shade under $200. This 2.66GHz part is a cut-down version of the Core i7 but still offers good value for money.

Budget - Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 - Dual-core, 2.93GHz

The E7500 is an excellent CPU. It's a 2.93GHz part based on Intel's 45nm Wolfdale architecture. But that's not the reason I've chosen the E7500 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 E7400, 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: $120

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Look Out! Intel officially released the new Core i5 processors in back in September so you will see retailers offering a raft of Socket LGA 1156 motherboards to fit this new part.

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: $290

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: $90

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Extreme - A-DATA 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 2200

4GB of high-performance DDR3 2200 RAM with loads of overclocking potential - what more could you ask for!

  • DDR3 rating - PC3-17600
  • Timing - 8-8-8-24

Price: $280

Mid-range - OCZ Platinum PC2-8500 2x2GB

Fast, reliable RAM with plenty of over head. This replaces the Reaper HPC modules that were previously on the list which had weird heatspreaders on them that made them tricky to fit in some systems. 

  • DDR2 rating - PC2-8500
  • Freq - 1,066MHz
  • Timing - 5-5-5-18

Price: $65

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 - ATI/AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB

They're not out just yet (currently available for pre-order only), but when they are these cards will be amazing. Finally, ATI/AMD has grabbed the top spot away from NVIDIA, first with the Radeon HD 5850 and now with the amazing Radeon HD 5870 series.

The new HD 5870 cards represent a new era for GPUs by not only being the pinnacle in terms of power and performance, but also in supporting Microsoft's latest DirectX 11.

Yes, these cards are way more powerful than most people probably need, and there's hardly a game that can push them into a sweat, but they're still fantastic cards.

Price: around $400

Mid-range - Radeon HD 4770 

Can't spring for a Radeon HD 5870, but still want a graphics card that can pump out the pixels at a rate to keep the current game lineup running smoothly? You need the Radeon HD 4770. This is a wonderful card which redefines the sweet spot when it comes to price.  

What’s interesting about the HD 4770 is that it is, as far as most gamers are concerned, the highest-end graphics card they need. Why? Because if you are playing your favorite games (Crysis, Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty 5 …) at screen resolutions of no more than 1600×1200 or 1920×1200 (or the equivalent in wide-screen) you can get all the gaming power you need for under $99!

A great card and a fantastic price.

Price: $99

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Hard disk

Extreme - SSD - Intel X-25E

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.

The Intel X-25E offers read speeds of up to 250MB/s and write speeds up to 170MB/s, making this one super-fast drive.

Price: 32GB, $360 | 64GB, $780

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 - Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EADS 2TB

Want the largest capacity SATA drive going? then you want the Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EADS 2TB drive. Yes, you read that right - 2.0TB!

Not only is this drive fast, it also sips power as opposed to gulping it. This means that you save money and have less heat to deal with in your system. Sweet!

Price: $250

Mid-range - Samsung Spinpoint HD502IJ 500GB

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

Price: $50

Budget - Western Digital Caviar Blue WD1600AAJB 160GB

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

Price: $44

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Sound card

Extreme - HT | Omega Claro Halo

An absolutely stunning card for the audio enthusiast. Lots of tweaking and customization options.

Price: $200

Mid-range - Creative X-FI Xtreme Gamer

Great mid-range sound card.

Price: $80

Budget - Creative Sound Blaster Audigy SE

If you motherboard doesn't feature sound then this will rectify that. However, if your motherboard has onboard sound then you'll be just fine with that.

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: $55

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Look Out! Now that the new Intel Core i5 processors are out, you'll see plenty of Socket LGA 1156 compatible coolers hitting the shelves!

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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Specialist - NEC MultiSync LDC3090WQXi

If you're a professional looking for a monitor that you can trust in then look no further than the 30" MultiSync LCD3090WQXi from NEC.

This is a pro bit of kit aimed at the photographic, print production, graphic design and CAD/CAM industries, so expect a premium price! However, you do get a panel capable of stunningly flawless output.

Price: £2,199

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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Best Buy - Samsung N110

Netbooks are pretty much all the same, so to pick the best you end up looking at things like build quality and the quality of the individual components such as the screen, keyboard and battery. The Samsung N110 scores top marks in these categories, especially for the 11 hour battery life!

Price: $380

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Performance and Features: Acer Aspire AS 8730G

There's a heck of a lot that I like about the Acer Aspire AS 8730G. First, there's the massive 18.4" screen. OK, it's big if you want a machine to carry around with you all day, but the AS 8730G is no netbook. Powering this beast is an Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 running at 2.10GHz, 4GB or RAM and a 250GB hard disk.

But that's not all! Powering that 18.4" panel is an NVIDIA GeForce 9600GT GPU paired up with 1GB of RAM.

Ideal all-purpose machine.

Price: $899.99

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All-In-One PC system

My pick for best All-In-One PC system has to go to Dell and the XPS One 24.

You get a lot of tech packed into a small footprint - quad-core CPU, 24" widescreen HD panel, good sound system ... ideal for the office, den, bedroom or living room! For the complete entertainment package you should be sure to pick up a Blu-ray drive too!

Price: Starting at $1,499 (discounts and offers available)

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All-In-One Printer

Best Buy - Canon PIXMA MX7600

Who wants a separate printer, fax, scanner and copier cluttering their office? Save space (and money) with an all-in-one printer system.

The Canon PIXMA MX7600 combines a 600 x 600 dpi monochrome printer with a 4800 x 1200 dpi color printer, a 4800 x 9600 dpi optical resolution scanner and a fax all in one package. You also get a handy Ethernet port for hooking it up to your network!

Price: $399

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In-Car GPS

Enthusiast GPS - TomTom 930

Not everyone needs an all-singing, all-dancing in-car GPS receiver (most would be happy with something like the TomTom ONE) but if you want the best, the 930 is the way to go.

Not only do you get flawless navigation, but you also get a great portable media player that you can load your music and audio books onto for in-car fun.

King of the road!

Price: $350

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Wireless Router

Best buy - D-Link Xtreme N Duo (DIR-855)

Basically everything you could want from a router - reliable, robust, fast, easy to set up. Offers 802.11a/g and supports 802.11n standard.

Ideal router for those streaming high amounts of data (such as HD video) over the air.

Price: $299

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

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  • These are consistently your most useful columns

    I really look forward to these, especially since I'm thinking about building a new video editing machine. One that can handle full frame 1080 24p h.264 video. I can transcode it with cineform but unless you're doing a lot of color work, it's much easier to just edit natively. If your editing machine can handle it.

    That's no small assignment. Not only do you need a beefy processor and a lot of ram, but high speed HD's and a juicy video card.

    I may wait until USB 3.0 is a little more established.
  • Are you sure you have done your homework?

  • RE: Hardware 2.0 'Very Best Kit List' for Nov/Dec 09

    This list is helpful for find superior hardware. But, I would like to see a list of hardware that is optimized to deliver superior performance when packaged together operating with Windows 7, in the way that the Mac does with it's hardware.
  • RE: Hardware 2.0 'Very Best Kit List' for Nov/Dec 09

    I know it's not your decision..........but I do hate the multi-page format of ZDNet articles....

    very annoying !
  • 4GB of DDR3??? Don't you need 6GB to get the benefits?

    4GB of DDR3??? Don't you need 6GB to get the benefits?
    • Yes...

      In order to use the triple channel memory, you need to add ram in packs of three. So 3GB, 6GB, 12GB, etc.
    • It depends

      You will get better performance if you buy 3x2GB kit for your Bloomfield Core i7 LGA-1366 motherboard. On the other hand, Lynnfield Core i5/i7 LGA-1156 with 2x2GB may be all you need if you want to spend less money. You may even get comparable performance.

      See a good comparison here:

      Older Core 2 Duo/Quad LGA-775 also use dual-channel memory.

      When choosing the CPU/Motherboard, I'd also look at what's coming in the near future. IMO it might be better to invest a little more in LGA-1156 motherboard than stay with older LGA-775.


      Core iN CPUs have lower voltage limits, so check for compatibiolity before you buy.

      Admittedly, I know very little about AMD CPUs, so check them out, too.
      • It does indeed depend ...

        ... but i can't find a 3x kit anywhere for this RAM yet... I'm guessing they think people will buy three packs of this kit!
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • I see

          Then you can share with your friend or stuff all 6 sockets with 12GB of RAM. Sweet. One concern though: they're supposed to be matched in 3-s for better timing, right? If you buy in pairs, will that affect performance?

          OTOH, there is yet another anandtech article, which says that, depending on what you're doing, memory speed [i]may[/i] not matter that much.

        • 3x Kit @ NewEgg

          NewEgg has lots of triple channel kits:

      • Then the article's high performance recommendation is incorrect.

        This ZDNet article recommends buying the top I7 975 chip with 4GB memory when 3,6 or 12GB is recommended elsewhere.

        The article you referenced said that lesser i5/i7 chips with 4GB offer comparable memory performance, but they don't suggest pairing the 975 with 4GB.

        The anantech article is interesting by the way.
  • RE: Hardware 2.0 'Very Best Kit List' for Nov/Dec 09

    It would really be helpful if your "best lists" were available as downloadable PDF files.
    Mantei Woodcraft Ltd.
  • How about one for a HTPC?

    I would really love a list similar to this aimed at a home theater PC.
  • No AMD?!?

    AMD is killing Intel in the budget CPU area. Even in the mid range AMD is consistently cheaper than Intel. And Anandtech showed that the AMD's are faster in many cases for nearly half the price. You can even get a quad core chip for under 100 bucks (granted it does have small caches, but its great for the price).

    Intel certainly has the top end with the i7 and its 8 logical cores. But for low and mid range, I really think AMD has Intel beat.
    • I pointed this out above (linked to Anand) but no response so far (nt)

    • Next incarnation of the list ...

      ... I'm changing the representations for Intel vs AMD to make things fairer (since, if you look at it, the most expensive Intel desktop CPU is $1,000, compared to AMD's $250!).
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Thank you Adrian

        I am not a fanboy of any sort and I do not think you are obligated to include AMD for the sake of fairness. If however AMD is equal or better in a particular category, then they should be included. Failing to do that leaves you open to very legitimate allegations of bias and undermines the credibility of your work.

        I have been overclocking on and off for years, sometimes more than 50% of rated speed. Once you open that can of worms however you need to go all the way, which means considering overclocking all candidates as well as considering the extra cost of memory and the motherboard. In my opinion, overclocking potential should never be used as a basis for any general recommendation for a budget system. The number of potential pitfalls, the tuning/testing required, the cooling issues etc. are just too many. And as overclockers always say: Your mileage may vary.

        Case in point:
      • Sounds good :-)

        I use both brands of CPU's. And it just seemed like this round of the article seemed to have ignored AMD's very aggressive pricing. Especially when their $99 CPU out performs some of Intel's $160+ CPU's (in some cases).
      • this was mentioned last time

        Hi Adrian,

        Thanks for doing this.

        The same concern was mentioned at the last incarnation of the list.

        So hopefully finally we will get an unbiased list.

    • I rebuilt my main computer this summer.

      I was strapped for money, so I had to find the best components for the price. You never list AMD, though I have had great luck with them. I wanted to get a quad core over 3.0 Ghz. With Intel, I couldn't get a dual core for that price. I ended up getting a Phenom II 550 BE for $98.

      The best thing about this was that I was able to bet an ASRock M3A790GHX motherboard and was able to make my 3.1 Ghz dual core a 3.1 Ghz quad core. I was able to get the board for $90, it also has 3 Crossfire PCIe slots.

      To finish off my system, I had to get Ram. OCZ made that work for me, DDR3 1600 Reaper 2x2 for $89. I was getting errors on one of the sticks, OCZ walked me through the tests, step by step. When it became apparent that one was faulty, that RMAed it in less than a week. The best part is that they fallowed up to make sure I was happy.

      Because the motherboard wouldn't fit in may old box, I bought CoolMaster with a 480 Watt PS for $45.

      For $322 in upgrades, I was able to get a very fast stable computer. When you show the budget point, I always wonder why you lock AMD out, as that keeps people from making a good choice for there computer dollars.

      Other than the bias against AMD, your article is very well thought out. Most read these articles and make their choices, without any further research. Intel may find themselves in the same position that NVidea is in, thinking they don't have to figure what people are willing to spend.