Mid-range Enthusiast's PC
Our Enthusiast’s PC incorporates a flavorful blend of both the Entry-Level Box and Luxury System making this the most harmonious of builds.
The ultimate price target for the Enthusiast PC is $1,500 or below, with a similar quality component base as before except with a twist: the Core i7. Our intent is to keep this system within the grasp of the average computer enthusiast, essentially offering a fully-loaded PC minus some of the unnecessary bells and whistles that will set you back an additional grand or two.
At the moment, the MSI X58 Pro is the lowest priced LGA 1366/X58 motherboard to be found online - with most being clear above $200 - though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It houses three PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots (one fixed to x4 speeds), two PCI-E x1 and PCI slots, one PATA host adapter, seven SATA 3Gb/s host adapters, six DDR3 DIMM slots which support a whopping 24GB RAM at 1333MHz, and a 6.4GT/s QPI.
The long-awaited Nehalem architecture has finally been introduced and just as expected it has been a large success. The Core i7 920 tops off a Core 2 Quad Q9650 performance-wise and comprises an extreme bargain at $280. It features four cores running at 2.66GHz, a QPI of 4.8GT/s, 4 x 256KB L2 cache, 8MB L3 cache, built on a 45nm process, and of course a natural born overclocker.
Check out our full review of Intel's Core i7 here.
One of the major downfalls of DDR3 to date has been its high cost and latencies which drag the performance-to-cost ratio down to a level far below that of high quality DDR2. However, if you have any intentions of building a Core i7-based rig, you’ll have but little choice to purchase a DDR3 kit.
3 x OCZ (OCZ3P1600LV6GK) 2GB DDR3 1600MHz - $110
The MSI X58 Pro has a maximum stock RAM frequency of 1333MHz DDR3 and so you may as well aim for a triple channel kit with that speed and a CAS latency of 7 or lower. The OCZ3P1600LV6GK kit offers precisely that and at a meager $110 it will be tough to find a better deal.
The fact remains that neither Nvidia or ATI can be labeled the absolute solution to graphics cards. Even with the recent release of the new GTX 275 and Radeon HD 4890 boards, we still believe the best mainstream graphics card you can buy for the price happens to be the ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB. Conveniently, the MSI x58 Pro supports Crossfire as well, should that be your preferred route at any point.
ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB - $170
Most 4870 models have a core clock frequency of 750MHz, 800 stream processors, 512MB to 1GB of VRAM (go for the full gig) with a clock frequency of 3600MHz (DDR5), a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1600, two DVI ports, one HDMI adapter and support HDTV/S-Video out.
The nearest Nvidia flavored competitor is the GeForce GTX 260 216SP which costs about the same and performs relatively the same, give or take, depending on the title.
Creative has earned itself quite the name within the computing industry, from the perspective of many however, the name probably won't have a positive aura. Unfortunately there aren't many options for sound card manufacturers within our Enthusiast's PC budget that allow us to stray away from their products. If you're looking to enhance your sound beyond what integrated audio offers, take a look at the Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium.
Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty - $100
Using the PCI-E interface, the X-Fi Titanium supports 7.1 channels and has a sample rate of 96KHz, SNR of 109dB and 24-bit digital audio. Also, as with some other Creative cards we've previously included in the buying guide, Creative's dodgy driver support may have potentially improved with this card as there appear to be much fewer complaints about it.
Hard Disk Drive:
Western Digital's hard drives have been a favorite amongst the enthusiast community since the 1980's and they've grown to be the second largest HDD manufacturer in the world. At $90 the WD7501AALS is the best 750GB drive WD has to offer, as their WD7500AACS ($70) utilizes IntelliSeek technology to reduce power consumption.
Western Digital Caviar Black 750GB - $90
The 750GB Caviar Black features a maximum internal transfer rate of 106MB/s and external transfer rate of 300MB/s, average latency of 4.2ms and 32MB of cache.
The LG GH33NP20 is the same high quality optical drive recommended through the guide. It can write to DVD+R media at up to 22x, DVD+RW up to 8x, DVD-R at 22x and DVD-RW at up to 6x. It can also write to CD-R at up to 48x, CD-RW at up to 32x, DVD+R DL up to 16x, and DVD-R DL up to 12x.
Power Supply Unit:
While you likely won't need 650W of power with this build, at <$100 it's hard to recommend anything else. The CMPSU-650TX packs a mouthwatering 52A on a single 12V rail, Active PFC, 8 Molex connectors, 8 SATA connectors and 2 6+2-pin PCI-E connectors. It is also 80%+ efficient and includes a 120mm dual bearing variable speed fan that provides excellent airflow whilst remaining virtually unheard. For $90-$100 your focus should be locked on this unit.
Corsair CMPSU-650TX 650W - $90
A simple search on Newegg shows 425 cases between the prices of $45 and $105. With the market so flooded with cases of all shapes, sizes and colors, we've decided to simply allot $70 toward the purchase of a case with the confidence that you'll find one you like within that range. Some of the most popular cases within that price scope are the Cooler Master Centurion 5 CAC-T05-UW, Apevia X-Dreamer II ATXB4KLW-BK, Raidmax Smilodon and the Antec Three Hundred.
Solid chassis with adequate cooling - $70
Most of the monitors in the 23” sector are well above $200 with the phenomenal exception that is the Acer X233Hbid. With full 1080P resolution, a pixel pitch of .265mm, brightness of 300 cd/m2, 40000:1 (ACM) contrast ratio, 5ms response time and support for D-Sub, DVI and HDMI, you can bet your bottom dollar (or 190 dollars) that this monitor will meet and/or exceed your expectations regardless of its purpose.
Acer X233Hbid 23” 1080P LCD - $190
If you love to game, watch movies or listen to music, this THX certified 2.1 speaker system is just for you. Packing a rock solid punch with its combined 200W RMS of power (400W peak), an SNR of >100dB @ 1KHz, 35Hz - 20kHz frequency response and a full-featured “SoundTouch” wired remote control, the Logitech Z-2300 speaker system is the cream of the crop in the $130 price range.
To be honest, there is simply way too vast a selection of keyboard/mice combinations and most users know what they want. Instead of trying to make a single recommendation, here is a brief list of numerous keyboards and mice that will almost certainly meet your physical needs as well as your budget: Logitech S510, S520, LX310, LX710, 920-000526, Pro 2400 and Pro 2800.
Sufficient Wireless Keyboard/Mouse Combo - <$50
Our Mid-range Enthusiast's PC, in a nutshell...
||MSI X58 Pro
||Intel Core i7 920
||OCZ 3 x 2GB DDR3 1600MHz
||ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB
||Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty
|Hard Disk Drive
||Western Digital Caviar Black 750GB
|Power Supply Unit
Corsair CMPSU-650TX 650W
||Solid chassis with adequate cooling
||Acer X233Hbid 23” 1080P LCD
||Sufficient Wireless Keyboard/Mouse Combo
Also check out our entry-level and high-end system configurations.