OK, here it is folks - The Hardware 2.0 "Best Kit List" for Feb 08/Mar 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 firmly believe them to be the best either in terms of performance or price - 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.
If you read the first Hardware 2.0 "Best Kit List" for Dec 07/Jan 08 then you'll be pleased to know that this latest edition has been updated, categories have been expanded and all prices have been checked and verified.
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.
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. If you want to suggest some additional categories that you'd like to see, please let me know.
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 - Unchanged
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.
Do you really need a QX9750? If you have to ask that question, the answer is probably "no," but if you have apps that max out your existing quad-core processor, this one might make those games run a little faster of allow you to render that video a little quicker.
Price - around $1,100
Note: At some point soon Intel will release the QX9775. This one will have four cores each running at a blistering 3.2GHz and have a faster 1.600MHz FSB. Expect this processor to be reassuringly expensive.
Mid-range - Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 - Unchanged
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
Hard to overlook - Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 - New!
Gaining entry into the "Quad Core Club" has never been cheaper - for about $260 you can pick up a Core 2 Quad Q6600. 2.4GHz, 8MB cache and a 1066MHz FSB should be fast enough for most!
Price - around $260
<-- Intro | Motherboards -->Motherboard
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
High-end - LGA775 - ASUS Maximus Extreme - New!
$400 is an insane amount of money to pay for a motherboard, but you do get one heck of a board for your money. The ASUS Maximus Extreme supports all of Intel's current Core 2 offerings, even the latest 45nm multi-core packages. The Maximus Extreme is based on the X38 chipset. You also get support for 8GB of RAM (the motherboard supports DDR3 memory (yes, that means spending crazy money on RAM ... ) that features data transfer rates of 1800(overclocked)/1600(overclocked)/1333/1066/800MHz), Crossfire, 8-channel audio, loads of USB ports, IEEE 1394a - the works! Plus, it's an overclocker's dream.
Price - about $400
High-end - AM2 - ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe - Unchanged
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 - the only drawback (for those wanting an extreme system) is that it doesn't have DDR3 support. Apart from that, the M3A32-MVP Deluxe is a very capable board indeed.
Price - about $250
Mid-range - LGA775 - MSI 975X Platinum - New!
It's tricky to pick the best mid-range motherboard because the market is crowded and there's little to separate the competition. However, my money would go to MSI for the 975X Platinum board. It's a very capable board that offers support broad CPU support (from Celeron D processors to the latest Core 2 Extreme) and rock-solid performance.
Good board at a good price.
Price - about $110
Mid-range - AM2 - Biostar TForce 7050-M2 - New!
In the mid-range AM2 motherboard category the best board in my opinion is the Biostar TForce 7050-M2. It combines excellent performance at a price that doesn't make your head spin.
This board has all the usual complement of ports, including an HDMI port - nice.
Price - about $90
<-- CPUs | Graphics cards -->Graphics card
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 - Unchanged
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 - Unchanged
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.
If over the next couple of months we see nVIDIA 8800 GT and GTS cards drop in price a bit then I could be persuaded to change the mid-range card, but for now the HD 3850 stays put.
Price - about $180
<-- Motherboards | Hard drives -->Hard drives
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 - Unchanged
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 $170 for the 150GB RaptorX
Mid-range - Samsung Spinpoint T166 500GB - Unchanged
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
<-- Graphics cards | RAM -->RAM
Buying cheap RAM is just asking from trouble, especially if you push your system hard.
High-end - Corsair TWINX Dominator Dual Channel 2048MB PC14400 DDR3 1800MHz (2 x 1024MB) - New!
Since I've listed some DDR3 motherboards, it's time to include some DDR3 memory.
Insanely fast, insanely expensive.
Not only do you get some of the fastest DDR3 going, but you also get excellent quality RAM backed by a lifetime warranty for added piece of mind. This stuff has a CAS latency of 7-7-7-20.
Price - about $550
Mid-range - Corsair XMS2 DHX 2048MB Dual Channel PC6400 DDR2 800MHz Memory (2 x 1024MB) - New!
Fast RAM, tight timings (5-5-5-18), combined with the Dual-Path Heat Xchange (DHX) technology makes the Corsair XMS2 DHX RAM a bargain at $60. These modules also overclock well and run relatively cool.
Power, performance and stability all for a mid-range price.
Price - about $60
<-- Hard drives | Coolers -->Cooling
Stock coolers are OK if you like mediocre cooling and a noisy fan. Me, I prefer to upgrade the coolers on my systems.
Note: Many have wanted me to cover forms of cooling other than air - these will be added at a future date.
LGA775 cooler - Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro - Unchanged
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.
Price - about $20
AM2 cooler - Scythe Infinity - Unchanged
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 - Unchanged
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.
This 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.
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.
Price - about $300
Mid-range - ThermalTake PurePower W0100RU 500-Watt - New!
For the mid-range PSU I've dropped the spec from a 650W unit to a 500W unit, which has meant a substantial drop in price. I've encountered a number of these PSUs and I've been very pleased with them.
With the ThermalTake PurePower you get a robust, reliable PSU that delivers the juice when it's needed without costing the earth.
Price - about $60