Welcome to the updated and revamped Hardware 2.0 "Very Best Kit List" for Mar/Apr 09. 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!
This new kit list has been expanded significantly from the last time I published a kit list.
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.
Also note: I'm looking to expand this list by adding more categories and components. If you'd like to see anything added, let me know!
Final note: All prices are approximate ... shop around for the best deals!
Extreme - Intel Core i7 965 Extreme Edition
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 also get the brand new X58 chipset and support for DDR3.
Additional info - What you need to go Core i7!!!
Mid-range - Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
The quad-core Core 2 Quad Q6600 is one of the best CPUs Intel has ever made. Sure, there are more powerful pieces, and the Q6600 is now looking a little old (the 65nm architecture it's based on now dates it), but it's still a great CPU. For most enthusiasts it's still the first rung on the ladder of quad-core ownership.
Budget - Intel Core 2 Duo E7300
The E7300 is an excellent CPU. It's a 2.66GHz part based on Intel's 45nm Wolfdale architecture. But that's not the reason I've chosen the E7300 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 E7300, 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!
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 - Corsair Dominator TR3X6GB1600C8D 3x6GB
6GB of high-performance DDR3 RAM with loads of overclocking potential - what more could you ask for!
- DDR3 rating - PC3-12800
- Freq - 1,600MHz
- Timing - 8-8-8-24
- Bandwidth - 12.8GB/s
Mid-range - OCZ PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 2x2GB
Fast, reliable RAM with plenty of over head. Coolers are a bit weird but if you can ignore that, this is a good buy!
- DDR2 rating - PC2-8500
- Freq - 1,066MHz
- Timing - 5-5-5-15
- Bandwidth - 8.5GB/s
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 - NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295
There’s a lot to like about NVIDIA’s latest powerhouse graphics card. The GTX 295 is the fastest, most powerful single card solution currently available, boasting the very best 3D performance currently available.
The GTX 295 is a dual-GPU solution, but since the two GPUs are integrated onto the single card, and the software drivers handle all the SLI stuff, getting dual-GPU power is now easier than ever.
Mid-range - NVIDIA GeForce 9800GTX+
Can't spring for a GTX 295, but want something a little bit special? Check out the GeForce 9800GTX+. this card is ideal for the gamer running a 22" screen and can pump out the pixels at a rate to keep the current game lineup running smoothly.
A great card and a fantastic price.
Budget - NVIDIA GeForce 9800GT
The NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT is great performer. In fact, for the price point it's by far the best card you could choose for the job.
This card will happily run the likes of Crysis, Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3 and deliver graphics that are more than acceptable as long as you keep the settings to a modest level.
Brand wise, I suggest you look at the 9800 GT offerings from EVGA or XFX.
Extreme - SSD - Intel X-25M
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.
Price: 80GB, $370 | 160GB, $730
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 - Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS 1.5TB
Want the largest capacity SATA drive going? then you want the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS 1.5TB drive. Yes, you read that right - 1.5TB!
The spec on this drive is pretty good:
- Spindle speed: 7,200 rpm
- Average latency: 4.16 msec
- Random read seek time: <8.5 msec
- Random write seek time: <10.0 msec
- Cache: 32MB
Mid-range - Samsung Spinpoint F 500GB
Good drive at a fantastic price. Ideal for those looking for a second drive.
Budget - Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 160GB
Great starting point. Can't go wrong with this drive at the price it's going for now.
Extreme - Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro
Without a doubt the best sound card for a gaming or home entertainment system.
Mid-range - Creative X-FI Xtreme Gamer
Great mid-range sound card.
Budget - Creative Sound Blaster Audigy SE
Budget - better than most on-board sound solutions.
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.
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.
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!
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