Welcome to the Hardware 2.0 "Very Best Kit List" for November/December 2010. 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!
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: All prices are approximate ... shop around for the best deals!
Extreme - Intel Core i7 980x Extreme Edition - Six-core, 3.33GHz
The Core i7 processors represents a new era in architecture for Intel, and the 980x represents a new era in desktop processors - the era of the six-core CPU.
This is a 3.33GHz part that can be Turbo Boosted up to a whopping 3.6GHz. It has six cores, which when combined with Hyper-Threading makes a whopping 12 threads available. Add to this 12MB of L3 cache, triple-channel DDR3-1066 memory interface, 130W TDP, and a brand-new stock cooler.This is a 3.33GHz part that can be Turbo Boosted up to a whopping 3.6GHz. It has six cores, which when combined with Hyper-Threading makes a whopping 12 threads available. Add to this 12MB of L3 cache, triple-channel DDR3-1066 memory interface, 130W TDP, and a brand-new stock cooler.
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: You might also be interested in Intel's new Core i5 760 part, which retails for a shade over $200. This 2.66GHz part is a cut-down version of the Core i7 but still offers good value for money - but remember that this can't act as an upgrade CPU for LGA 775 motherboards.
Budget - AMD Athlon II X4 645 - Quad-core, 3.1GHz
AMD makes some seriously awesome CPUs.
The AMD Athlon II X4 is an absolutely fabuless CPU, and it's AMD's attempt at filling the "powerful yet affordable" silicon category - something that it does very well indeed.
For $120 you can pick up a quad-core part that not only runs at a stock speed of 3.1GHz, but with a little bit of BIOS tweaking you can get to run as high as 3.8GHz while still only needing to rely on air cooling.
Don't let the price fool you - while this is priced as a budget part, it actually gives the Phenoms and even the slower Core i3/i5 parts a run for their money.
Honorable Mention: A serious contender for the "extreme" title at a fraction of the cost of the Core i7 is AMD's six-core Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition processor. This runs at a whopping 3.2GHz and retails for around $230 - an absolute steal! Think about it - six cores for under $250. That’s pure awesome.
Extreme - EVGA 170-BL-E762-A1
The ultimate processor needs the ultimate motherboard, and here it is - the EVGA E758-A1. This is an awesome motherboard designed specifically for the Intel Core i7 and Core i7 Extreme Edition processors.
This motherboard has it all, including support for 24GB of RAM, 12 USB ports, 10 SATA II ports, and 3-way SLI and Crossfire support.
In every respects this is the ultimate motherboard, and it ideally suited to both gamers and those wanting to build a high-performance PC
Honorable Mention: If you are looking for an Socket LGA 1156 for Core i7/i5 CPUs, an excellent choice is the EVGA P55 FTW 200 which retails for around $270.
Mid-range - ASUS P5Q Pro Turbo
Solid and reliable board. If you're not yet ready to jump aboard the Core i5/i7 wagon, this is an excellent choice.
Budget - BioStar G41D3G
BioStar make some great, no-frill boards. The G41D3G is the latest in the range of good all-round boards offering plenty of options in the way of USB, SATA, Ethernet and so on.
Sure, it's not got the fancy bells and whistles of the other high-end boards, but it's still an excellent board.
Extreme - Patriot Viper II 'Sector 5' Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 2500/PC3 20000
- DDR3 rating - PC3-20000
- Timing - 9-11-9-27
- Voltage - 1.65V - 1.7V
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 - OCZ Platinum PC2-6400 2x1GB
Solid product with a decent backing. Also offers some overclocking potential. Great value for the price.
- DDR2 rating - PC2-6400
- Freq - 800MHz
- Timing - 4-4-4-15
- Bandwidth - 6.4GB/s
Extreme - NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 (Fermi)
There's no doubt that if you want the fastest graphics card available, you need to seek out an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580. This card will give you the bragging rights!
GTX 580 the fastest and quietest GPU in its class, delivering an increase of up to 35 percent in performance per watt, and performance that is up to 30 percent faster than the original GeForce GTX 480.
Price: around $499
Mid-range - ATI/AMD Radeon HD 5670
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 5670. This is a wonderful card which redefines the sweet spot when it comes to price.
What’s interesting about the HD 5670 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 around $100!
A great card and a fantastic price.
Extreme - SSD - OCZ Colossus 1TB
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.
Colossus LT SSDs deliver exceptional performance for high-end desktops and are the result of OCZ’s latest breakthroughs in flash based storage. Designed to offer PC enthusiasts a best-in-class storage upgrade from traditional hard disc drives, the innovative Colossus LT Series features incredible speed and ample storage for the complete gamut of gaming, multimedia and demanding productivity applications.
Price: 1TB, $3,150
Extreme - High-speed - Western Digital VelociRaptor 600GB
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. This is, however, the newer 600GB Raptor drive, which offers performance and capacity.
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 HD502HJ 500GB
Good drive at a fantastic price. Ideal for those looking for a second drive.
Budget - Western Digital Caviar Blue WD2500AAJB 250GB
Great starting point. Can't go wrong with this drive at the price it's going for now.
Extreme - HT | Omega Claro Halo XT
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 EGX1250EWT
A high-end system is going to need a high-end PSU, and they don’t come much better than the Enermax Galaxy EGX1250EWT. This is capable of delivering 1.25KW 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 EGX1250EWT has a whopping five 30A 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.
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: $1,699 (with instant savings on Dell.com I've seen this as low as $1,409)
Mid-range - 22" - ASUS VW224U
A really sweet panel by ASUS.
- Display Type: Widescreen LCD
- Pixel Pitch: 0.282 mm
- Input Video Signal: DVI-D/VGA
- Dynamic Contrast Ratio: 1000:1
- 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!
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