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|Motherboard||ASRock Z77 Extreme6||$155|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-3570K||$220|
|Memory||2x4GB G.Skill Ripjaws DDR3 1600MHz||$63|
|Graphics||GeForce GTX 660 Ti||$280|
|Sound||Asus Xonar DX 7.1||$90|
|Storage||OCZ Vector 128GB + Western Digital Black 1TB||$150 + $95|
|Optical||Lite-On iHAS124-04 + LG WH14NS40||$18 + $80|
|Power||Corsair Enthusiast Series 650TX||$90|
|Case||Cooler Master Storm Trooper||$160|
|Monitor||Acer G276HLDbd 27"||$220|
|Speakers / Headset||Logitech Z-623 / Sony MDR-V6||$118 / $70|
|Peripherals||Logitech G500 + G110||$55 + $60|
|Core System Total||$1,401|
|Core System + Monitor and Peripherals||$1,830|
Motherboard, Processor, Memory
In our review, we found the third-generation Core architecture (codenamed Ivy Bridge) to offer more performance and consume less power than its predecessor. The $250 quad-core Core i5-3570K is a suitable replacement for our previous pick, the i5-2500K. It's worth mentioning that the i5-3570K has an unlocked multiplier so it's easier to overclock, but if you don't plan to take advantage of that feature, you can probably safely downgrade to the i5-3450 or i5-3550. If you intend to do heavy multitasking, you may want to jump up to a Core i7-3770K for HyperThreading.
In our recent four-way Z77 shootout, the ASRock Z77 Extreme6 made a great impression as it kept pace with pricier solutions from Gigabyte and Intel. The board houses two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (x16/0 or x8/x8 for SLI or Crossfire), one PCIe 2.0 x16 slot (x4 speeds), an assortment of other slots (PCIe x1/Mini PCIe/PCI), four USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s ports, an eSATA port and tons more.
Nvidia's Kepler architecture is finally inching toward mainstream pricing via the GeForce GTX 660 Ti, which we've found to be today's best-value performance graphics card. In our testing, we determined the GTX 660 Ti to be about 13% slower than the GTX 670 while being 33% cheaper, and it was about 6% faster than the GTX 580, last generation's single-GPU flagship. Similarly, the new arrival averaged about 13% faster than the Radeon HD 7870 while costing about the same at launch, and it was only about 5% slower than the HD 7950 while being 14% cheaper. Aternatively, if you can get by with slightly less horsepower, the GTX 660 and HD 7850 are an even better value, offering enough muscle to handle most games on high while saving you $70+ over the GTX 660 Ti.
Despite its grasp on the computer audio market, Creative's sound cards and drivers have left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. For that reason, we've selected Asus' Xonar DX. Some people still prefer a card that's more mainstream or simply need support for the latest EAX titles, in which case the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer should be suitable.
With cutthroat pricing like OCZ's, it's increasingly easy to squeeze a solid-state drive into the budget of a system like this. The new Vector has proved to be one of the fastest SSDs available, despite competing on price with older units from Samsung, Crucial, Kingston and Intel. With prices falling, we recently upgraded this build's SSD from 64GB to 128GB for some extra elbowroom, but the former should offer enough space for Windows 7 and applications, especially if you disable Windows features such as hibernation mode. Samsung's 830/840 Pro Series, Crucial's m4 and OCZ's Vertex 4 are fantastic alternatives with similar pricing and capacities.
The Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB is a tad pricier than competing HDDs from Seagate and Samsung, but has a lengthier five year warranty, which is worth a few bucks to us.
We've chosen to pair a standard DVD burner with LG's affordable Blu-ray burner to give your Enthusiast's PC that extra mile of functionality, but if you want to save a few bucks, feel free to drop the spare DVD drive. Likewise, if you have no use for a Blu-ray burner, exclude it from your purchase or downgrade to a Blu-ray reader (around $30 cheaper).
Although you could probably get by with a solid 500W PSU, that would cutting it close with some multi-GPU configurations, so spending a few bucks more now to have headroom later makes the most sense to us.
Having fallen head over heels for Cooler Master's previous full tower designs (namely the HAF 932 and HAF X), it should come as no surprise that we have a strong affinity for the company's latest creation. The CM Storm Trooper represents the culmination of the company's efforts, featuring a new chassis handle, revamped drive cages, an integrated fan controller, excellent stock cooling and the same mildly aggressive aesthetics.
If a full-tower chassis is too large for your taste, the CM M HAF 922, Antec Nine Hundred are worthy purchases -- though they're a bit showy and that's a deal breaker for some folks. For something a bit tamer, see Antec's Three Hundred or Lian Li's cases.
Monitor, Speakers, Peripherals
It's our opinion that a 23" to 24" monitor should be the absolute minimum for the average enthusiast system. Although TN-based displays start at about $210, we strongly encourage you to splurge on an IPS panel for the added color depth and overall higher quality image, and if you're a graphics professional, this is a must. Both HP and Dell offer great products in this category (ZR2440w and U2410).
We've found the proverbial "sweet spot" to be in the 27" range and fortunately, both TN and IPS panels are increasingly affordable. LG, HP, Asus, Acer and many other brands currently offer 27" displays in the sub-$350 territory. Most TN units have virtually identical features with a few minor differences (slightly varying response times, different warranty terms, and there's even some LED-backlit models in the mix). We've opted for the Acer G276HLDbd as it's among the least expensive models available for less than $250 and it has the lowest power consumption among its rivals courtesy of LED backlighting.
If you can spare a couple hundred more dollars you may want to take advantage of the affordable high-res 27" IPS offerings from South Korea. They're similar in form and function to the popular US offerings from HP (ZR2740w) and Dell (U2711), except they're half the price. Generally, situations like that are too good to be true, but many enthusiasts have taken the gamble with no regrets, including TechSpot member dividebyzero, who has purchased eight of them this year. The displays vary in features, especially in connectivity, so you'll have to see what fits your needs best, but it seems you can't really go wrong no matter which you buy. Read this lengthy thread at Overclock.net along with this review by Tech Report.
Speakers are a tricky component to shop for because a higher price and wattage doesn't necessarily equal better sound accuracy. As long as you don't expect studio-quality reproduction or to rattle your neighbor's walls, the $40 CA-3602 should be fine (also recommended for the Entry-Level Rig).
If your budget allows it, Logitech's Z623 200W 2.1 speakers should exceed your expectations in movies and games, especially when you consider the countless positive reviews received by their predecessor (the Z-2300). More of a headphone person? The Sony MDR-V66 and MDR-V7506 have stood the test of time and are a personal favorite.
Even if you're not a hardcore gamer, Logitech's G500 mouse is an excellent choice at $60, and the G15 keyboard is somewhat of a de facto among gamers. The G500 is in a sweet spot as far as price for performance goes, but if you need something less expensive take a look at our Entry-Level Rig or our recent round-up review of twelve popular gaming mice.
Other gaming-oriented keyboards include mechanical options from Razer, Corsair, Mionix, and Cooler Master, while Filco, Leopold and Das offer less flashy boards.. Non-mechanical options include Razer's Arctosa, Logitech's G110, SteelSeries Merc Stealth, and Microsoft's SideWinder X6.
Those working long hours in front of a computer may want something more ergonomic. The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 has been used by some of the TechSpot staff for years and can be found for less than $40 these days, and the company recently launched its $20 Comfort Curve Keyboard 3000.