Lists ... if there's one thing that people seem to what at this time of year it's lists. Over the next few weeks I've planned on posting several kit lists for the Holiday season covering a wide variety of different kit.To kick off the lists, I thought I'd start by getting the big numbers out of the way first and look at high-end hardware! The top-end, sky's the limit stuff that, if nothing else, is cool to look at and fantasize about (and in a few months be able to pick up for a middle-of-the-road price!).
Lists ... if there's one thing that people seem to what at this time of year it's lists. Over the next few weeks I've planned on posting several kit lists for the Holiday season covering a wide variety of different kit.
To kick off the lists, I thought I'd start by getting the big numbers out of the way first and look at high-end hardware! The top-end, sky's the limit stuff that, if nothing else, is cool to look at and fantasize about (and in a few months be able to pick up for a middle-of-the-road price!).
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.
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.
The Core i7 processors currently come in two flavors and three clock speeds:
Core i7 920 2.66GHz | Street price: ~$320
Core i7 940 2.93GHz | Street price: ~$600
Core i7 965 “Extreme Edition” 3.2GHz | Street price: ~$1,070
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.
How can I put how powerful the Core i7 processors are in context? Well, let's put it this way. the lowest speed Core i7 (the 920) is faster in almost every benchmark than the previous CPU speed-king, the Core 2 Extreme QX9770.
Motherboard - Socket LGA 775 - ASUS P5N64 WS PRO WiFi
It seems traditional that the top-spot board on this list costs $400+, and the ASUS P5N64 WS PRO WiFi NVIDIA nForce 790i chipset is no exception.
This board is a very neat package and offers everything that the hardcore gamer could want from a motherboard:
Supports all the latest Intel Socket dual/quad core 775 processors
DDR3 up to DDR3-2000
8 x SATA, 10 x USB
Whole host of ASUS extras, including LCD Poster, EZ Flash 2, Q-Fan, and CrashFree BIOS
One issue I’ve found with this board is that the documentation is, well, pretty poor. There is a lot about this board that is undocumented, and you might need to hit the ASUS discussion forums to get answers.
Is you are loyal to AMD then you'll want a Socket AM2/AM2+ board.
The ASUS Crosshair II Formula motherboard is happy with any Phenom or Athlon AM2/AM2+ processors that you can throw at it. The board doesn’t support DDR3 but it does give you DDR2 support up to 1066, supports 8GB of RAM (in case you feel like going for a 64-bit OS) and it does support 3-way SLI, making it a superb gaming motherboard.
Picking one graphics card as being the best of the bunch is tricky, because ultimately I think that ATI and NVIDIA both have hardware that's too close to call. With that in mind, I'm picking one by NVIDIA and one by ATI
The GeForce GTX 280 is the card that knocked the 9800 GX2 off the top spot. Depending on which brand you buy you can get different clock speeds (more speed, higher the price!), and they are fitted with 1GB of memory (again, the clock speed varies depending on brand and model). Each card is capable of driving two screens thanks to the dual-DVI connectors.
These cards are expensive, massive (taking up two slots), need a lot of power (550W PSU with an 8-pin PCI-e connectors is the minimum spec) and run hot (so hot that you’ll need a system with very decent cooling if you expect to run two of these in SLI configuration reliably - you have been warned!), but they run like a dream!
The Western Digital Raptor/RaptorX has 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 the fastest drive going in your PC, you need the VelociRaptor.
Note: there are two flavors of Velociraptor - the WD3000GLFSand the WD3000HLFS. The WD3000HLFS has a specially-designed heatsink that is backplane-ready which allows it to be used in removable drive bays.
Since I’ve listed some DDR3 motherboards, it’s time to include some DDR3 memory - the Corsair DOMINATOR 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 2133 (PC3 17066).
Insanely fast, insanely expensive. This stuff has a CAS latency of 9-9-9-24 so 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.
These modules have been tested together at 2133MHz, Vdimm = 2.0V, at latency settings of 9-9-9-24 on NVIDIA 790i-based motherboards with a dual core CPU.
If you’re looking for the best sound card possible for your system then they don’t come much better than the Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro. I know that I have my doubts about Creative drivers for some cards but this setup is about as flawless as you get.
The 7.1 surround sound capable card can deliver 116dB SNR audio playback at up to 24-bit/192kHz which, when delivered through as decent speaker set is like ice cream for the ears.
For the movie buffs this card is THX-certified and can deliver a cinematic DVD movie experience.
Oh, and if you’re too lazy to get up to adjust the volume, Creative even throw in a remote control!
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.
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.