Mid-range Enthusiast's PC ($1500)
Our Mid-range build incorporates a flavorful blend of both the Entry-Level Gaming Box and Luxury System, making this the most harmonious of builds. 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 could set you back an additional grand or two.
You can find X58-based motherboards for a bit cheaper than the Asus PT6SE but you'll be settling for less on one front or another. Constructed on Intel's X58, it features support for a Core i7 LGA 1366 CPU, and up to 24GB of DDR3 2000MHz RAM.
The PT6 SE squeezes in three PCI-E x16 2.0 slots, one PCI-E x1 slot, two PCI slots, one PATA host adapter, six SATA II host adapters, Realtek audio and LAN chips, six USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA and Firewire port, and S/PDIF optical/coaxial out.
In a matter of weeks the new Intel P55 platform is expected to launch as a mainstream alternative to the X58, which is more oriented towards building the ultimate high-end desktop. The introduction of the P55 should bring down the cost of the mid-range motherboard by a notch or two.
If you can hold off on your new build for a few weeks, new additions to Intel's product line should be arriving by then. Intel's "Lynnfield" (Core i5/i7) is due as early as September and although we don't expect the Core i7 920 to be outranked, in terms of money savings the Core i5/i7 and P55 platform may be worth the wait.
Keep in mind that Lynnfield chips will make use of a new socket LGA 1156, so should you decide to wait then you'll also need a matching P55-based motherboard and dual channel memory kits.
For those of you committed to building a new system now, Intel's current Core i7 920 is a superb choice. Packing four Nehalem cores and built on 45nm tech, the i7 920 runs at 2.66GHz with a 4.8GT/s QPI, has 4 x 256KB of L2 cache, 8MB of L3 cache, and a TDP of 130W.
OCZ Platinum 6GB Kit OCZ3P1600LV6GK - $113
With 6GB of DDR3 memory, any typical high-performance desktop application will be more than satiated - plus, you have three DIMM slots to spare. OCZ's Platinum triple channel kit is one of the least expensive solutions available, but they still get you for over a hundred bucks. Although there's nothing too special here as far as DDR3 memory goes, this kit offers a nice combination of speed, latency and low voltage requirements - rated for 1600MHz at 7-7-7-24 and 1.65V.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 275 - $215
Armed with the 55nm GT200, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 275 sits just below the GTX 285s performance and far below its price. Specs vary slightly from card to card but most vanilla GTX 275s feature a 633MHz core clock, 22xxMHz memory clock, 240 stream processors, 896MB of DDR3 memory, a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1600, 2 DVI ports and an HDMI adapter.
Due to the amount of competition among manufacturers in this price range, boards are often paired with a rebate. As a result their prices are rarely stable, and when they are it's not for long, so a little comparison shopping goes a long way.
For the AMD lovers, an ATI Radeon HD 4890 is similar in price and performance.
Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer - $82
To be perfectly honest, I hate Creative's bloated software. I have had nothing but sour luck in the past, but the fact is they dominate the sound card market. If you have $82 to burn on a sound card, check out their X-Fi XtremeGamer, which has a 96KHz sample rate, 24-bit digital audio, 109dB SNR, has hardware-accelerated positional 3D audio - namely EAX 5.0.
If you can settle for what are essentially software-emulated EAX 5.0 effects, look at the Asus Xonar DX, which runs about $90 and often ships with a $25 rebate.
Hard Disk Drive:
WD Caviar Black 1TB WD1001FALS - $95
For a 7200RPM mechanical hard disk, Western Digital's 1TB Caviar Black is pretty quick with an internal transfer rate of 106MB/s and SATA II hookup. It has an average latency of 4.2ms, 13 second ready time, draws a max of 8.4W, and houses three platters and 32MB cache memory. Features include StableTrac, NoTouch and Perpendicular Magnetic Recording technology. The Caviar Black also ships with a five year warranty - which is quite attractive.
If you can spare an extra $200-300, we recommend allocating it toward an SSD. The boost in performance will be unmatched by anything else you can buy, though you'll need to compromise a bit on the storage capacity department. For example, Intel's 80GB X25-M can be had for as little as $230 these days, while OCZ's ever expanding range includes the 60GB Vertex for $200 and 120GB Agility for $330.
The LG GH22NP20 is the same high quality optical drive recommended throughout 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.
Corsair CMPSU-650TX - $100
You can usually catch this PSU on sale or with a rebate and it almost always has free shipping on Newegg. The CMPSU-650TX packs a delectable 52A on a single 12V rail, has active PFC, eight Molex connectors, eight SATA connectors and two 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.
Antec Three Hundred - $60
I understand that most people care deeply about their case from an aesthetic point of view - I mean you'll be looking at it for months or years to come. You should be able to pick any $70 case with decent reviews based on its looks and know it will serve this build just fine.
Our personal favorite in the sub-$70 territory is the Antec Three Hundred which runs about $60. It features washable air filters, a 120mm rear exhaust fan and a 140mm top fan - plenty of wind to keep your gaming equipment cool.
Asus 23-inch VH236H - $190
The Asus VH236H is a well rounded 23" monitor that won't break the bank. Main features include a native resolution of 1920 x 1080, 160/160-degrees viewing angle, .266m pixel pitch, 300cd/m2 brightness, 20000:1 contrast ratio (ASCR), D-Sub, DVI and HDMI connectors, two 2W speakers, consumes a maximum of 55W, and weighs just over 12lbs.
You won't find many monitors that can best the Asus VH236H in this price range. However, considering we make a big jump in our luxury build to a 30-inch model, we have some additional recommendations that fall right in the middle. The 22" Dell 2209WA is a widely regarded monitor thanks to its E-IPS panel. Unfortunately this monitor is very hard to find at $400.
Other worthy 24" alternatives in the ~$400-500 price range are the Dell 2408WFP, BenQ G2400WD, and Samsung T240HD.
If you love to game, watch movies or listen to music and don't have $200 or more to splurge on an audio system, this 2.1 set up is just for you. It has a total power of 40W, an SNR of >92dB, 35Hz - 20kHz frequency response and a wired remote control. The Logitech Z-2300 speaker system is about as good as you'll find in the $70 price range.
Decent wired combo sets from the likes of Logitech and Microsoft can be had for as little as $30, and there are simply way too many solutions to list from that point to $60. Input devices are the most personal items in the guide. Having that said, at this price point, we are huge fans of coupling either the old and trusty Logitech MX518
or Logitech G5
, with a decent Microsoft keyboard
Either way, we've just decided to allot $60 to the keyboard and mouse, knowing that you'll find something at that price or lower.
Our Mid-range Enthusiast's PC, in a nutshell...
||Asus PT6 SE
||Intel Core i7 920
||OCZ Platinum 6GB Kit OCZ3P1600LV6GK
||Nvidia GeForce GTX 275
||Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer
|Hard Disk Drive
||WD Caviar Black 1TB
||Antec Three Hundred
||Asus 23-inch VH236H
||Keyboard and mouse