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!
- Graphics Cards
- Hard Disks
- Sound Cards
- All-in-One PC
- All-in-One Printer
- In-Car GPS
- Wireless Router
Extreme - Intel Core i7 975 Extreme Edition - Quad-core, 3.33GHz
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!!!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!
Mid-range - Samsung Spinpoint HD502IJ 500GB
Good drive at a fantastic price. Ideal for those looking for a second drive.
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.
Extreme - HT | Omega Claro Halo
An absolutely stunning card for the audio enthusiast. Lots of tweaking and customization options.
Mid-range - Creative X-FI Xtreme Gamer
Great mid-range sound card.
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.
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.
Mid-range - Antec EarthWatts 500W
Nice mid-range PSU. Efficient, reliable and provides ample power.
Budget - Antec EarthWatts 380W
Probably the best budget PSU you can find.
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).
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.
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!
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.
Mid-range - Antec Nine Hundred
Nice, all-round mid-tower.
Budget - Antec Three Hundred
Nice, small, cheap and cheerful case.
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.
Extreme - 30" - 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
Budget - Acer V173
A very nice budget screen that supports 1280 x 1024.
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.
Mid-range - Logitech MX5500
The MX5500 is probably one a great all-round keyboard and mouse combo. Ideal for a home/office/gaming system.
Budget - Microsoft CA9
About as cheap and cheerful as you can get!
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!
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.
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)
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!
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!
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.
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