Welcome to the Hardware 2.0 "Very Best Kit List" for January 2012 - the first of the year!
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 building or even upgrading a PC, this list is a must-read for you!
Updated monthly, 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!
Also, because these are the components I feel are the best available, don't expect the entire list to change every month! This is honest, real-world stuff, and isn't based on what's new or what was in the latest press release!
The Core i7 processors represents a new era in architecture for Intel, and the 3960X the next stage in desktop processors based on the Sandy Bridge-E architecture - the next stage in evolution of the six-core CPU.
This is a 3.3GHz part that can be Turbo Boosted up to a whopping 3.9GHz. It has six cores, which when combined with Hyper-Threading makes a whopping 12 threads available. Add to this 15MB of L3 cache, triple-channel DDR3-1066 memory interface, 130W TDP.
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 1100T Black Edition processor. This runs at a whopping 3.3GHz (3.7GHz with Turbo boost) and retails for around an amazing $199 - an absolute steal! Think about it - six cores for under $200. That’s pure awesomeness!
Also, worth considering are the new second-generation Sandy Bridge Core i7-2600K (around $320) which boasts quad-cores clocked at 3.4GHz. These do require LGA 1155 and because availability of these is patchy at the moment, it'll probably be a few weeks until I recommend them (let the BIOS updates also settle down a bit).
Mid-range - AMD Phenom II X6 1055T - 6-cores, 2.8GHz
Why pick this one? Here you have a six-core consumer CPU running at 2.8GHz, and it retails for an amazing $150!
Quite simply, this is an awesome processor available for a fantastic price.
Note: You might also be interested in Intel's new Core i5 760 part, which retails for $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 FX-4100 - Quad-core, 3.6GHz
Here's a brand new CPU to the list - AMD's FX-4100, based on the new Zambezi architecture. Running at a standard speed of 3.6GHz and capable of being boosted to 3.8GHz with turbo boost, this is an awesome CPU for the price.
First up is the ASUS Sabertooth X79, which makes an ideal partner for the LGA 2011 Core i7 CPU. Here you have a motherboard that does it all - robust chipsets, great design, support for quad-SLI and quad-Crossfire (meaning you can use either AMD or NVIDIA graphics), and you get SATA 6GB/s and 4x USB 3.0 support.
Fantastic board, highly recommended!
Mid-range - ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 (AMD)
For those of you wanting to make use of AMD silicon, look no further than the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO. This board supports all Athlon II and Phenom II processors up to 140W, features hybrid graphics technology that allows you to make use of both the on-board GPU and a discrete GPU, SATA 6GB/s support, as well as USB 3.0 support.
Oh, and if you choose a lesser AMD processor that has locked cores (such as the X3) this motherboard can unlock them with the flip of a switch - instant upgrade at no extra cost!
Budget - BioStar H61MU3 - With USB 3.0 and iPhone/iPad/Android remote control support !
BioStar make some great, no-frill boards. The H61MU3 is the latest in the range of good all-round boards offering plenty of options in the way of USB (you even get two USB 3.0 ports!), SATA, Ethernet and so on.
Sure, it hasn't got the fancy bells and whistles of the other high-end boards, but it's still an excellent board.
This board does have one interesting feature though - you can control it remotely using an iPhone, iPad or Android device using the BIO-Remote 2 app that allows you to control media players remotely, drive PowerPoint presentations and even move the mouse pointer!
We have a new extreme graphics card - the Radeon HD 7970. This is not only the fastest single-GPU card currently available, but it's also the that is based on 28nm GPU die architecture.
There's a lot to this card to like:
The world’s first 28nm GPU. The revolutionary new GCN Architecture. Ready for DirectX 11.
The next generation AMD Eyefinity technology, featuring all-new support for stereo 3D, universal bezel compensation and brand new display configurations.
New PCI Express 3.0 standard, multi-GPU configurations with AMD CrossFire technology.
Get higher clocks and faster gaming with AMD PowerTune technology.
Full support for 3GHz HDMI 1.4a and DisplayPort 1.2 HBR2 means the Radeon HD 7970 is ready for quad HD.
Price: Approx $570
Looking for a graphics card featuring 'Dust Removal Tech'? Check out the MSI's new N580GTX. By reversing the fans for 30 seconds at start-up MSI claims that this can help reduce the build-up of crud on the fan and heatsink.
Honorable mention: If you're looking for a silent, passively-cooled card that can handle modern games, keep an eye out for the ASUS HD 6770 DirectCU Silent featuring an enormous passive cooler that is 16% more efficient than the stock cooler.
Mid-range - ATI/AMD Radeon HD 5670
Can't spring for a Radeon HD 4970 (or a 6990!), 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 $70!
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 2 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 2 Series features incredible speed and ample storage for the complete gamut of gaming, multimedia and demanding productivity applications.
Price: 1TB, $2,420
Honorable mention: A mention must go to the Kingston HyperX 2.5-inch SSDs which have just started shipping. These drives are fast - having a read speed of 555MB/s and write speed of 510MB/s.
The 120GB version will set you back $240, while the 240GB is $470.
Extreme - High-speed - Western Digital VelociRaptor 600GB
The old Western Digital Raptor/RaptorX drives have 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 a fast hard drive for your PC, you need the VelociRaptor.
Extreme - High-capacity - Western Digital Caviar Green WD30EZRX 3TB
Want the largest capacity SATA drive going? then you want the Western Digital Caviar Green WD30EZRX 3TB drive. Yes, you read that right - 3.0TB!
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!
Budget - Western Digital Caviar Blue WD3200AAJS 320GB
Great starting point. Can't go wrong with this drive at the price it's going for now.
A high-end system is going to need a high-end PSU, and they don’t come much better than the Enermax MAXREVO EMR1350EWT. This is capable of delivering 1.35KW 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 MAXREVO EMR1350EWT has a whopping six 30A 12V power rails, which allow you to build a stable system that's packed with CPUs, GPUs and hard drives. The modular cabling system also means less cable mess. Oh, and it’s also better than 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 EA-500D 500W
Nice mid-range PSU. Efficient, reliable and provides ample power.
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 U3011
Monitors don’t come much better (or more expensive) than the Dell UltraSharp U3011.
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 that much on a panel).
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 - ASUS VS Series VS198D-P 19"
A superb 19" monitor from ASUS, and it supports a 1440 x 900 screen resolution.