Monitor, Storage, Audio

Monitor

Standard: Acer AL2223Wd 22” Widescreen LCD - $ 330

High End: Acer AL2416Wd 24” Widescreen LCD - $ 650

Dream Machine: 2x Acer AL2416Wd 24” Widescreen LCD – $ 1300

The Acer series of LCD monitors are the best for the lowest price. At 22” the monitor chosen for the standard system is huge! It has a maximum resolution of 1680x1050, which the GeForce 8800 will take in stride. The monitor also sports a 5ms response time, 800:1 contrast ratio, adjustable stand with wall mount, and a brightness rating of 300cd/m2. For the ‘loaded’ configuration, the 24” model was chosen as opposed to larger monitors such as 46” varieties. If you plan on using your monitor as part of a multimedia PC, as your main entertainment system, or for movies and television with friends, spring for the larger ones like the NEC 46” Video Monitor.

Going a bit further, the Dream Machine had to have a multi-monitor configuration, which I should add sometimes is more of a necessity than a luxury if you do lots of multitasking. While we felt two 24” monitors were quite enough, intrepid ones may want to go 30” or double 30”s, however we must warn you that for the time being 24” seems to be the sweet spot for gamers and enthusiasts alike.

Hard Drives

Standard: Western Digital Caviar SE16 500GB - $ 150

High End: Standard + Western Digital Raptor 150GB - $ 375

Dream Machine: 4 x Western Digital Raptor 150GB – $ 900

The WD Caviar drive is a staple of performance and capacity. It has 500GBs of storage space, 16MB cache, 8.9ms seek times, SATA II interface, and a spindle speed of 7200rpm. For our High End build, we’re adding the fastest Raptor 150. With a storage capacity of 150GBs you’re still not likely to fill up very quickly. With a spindle speed of 10,000rpms, a 16MB cache, and a 150MBs/second SATA interface, this drive can pull off 5.2ms access times making for an ideal primary HDD to add as companion to the massive storage offered by the Caviar 500GB.

For our Dream Machine, we chose four of these drives in a RAID-0 configuration. Testing shows that in RAID-0, the maximum performance ratio is achieved with four drives, and while you can eek out a little more with five or six, the increase is negligible. So, for the most performance per dollar, a RAID-0 configuration with four drives is optimal. In addition, with the latest games and applications taking up more and more space, 600GB of hard drive space is more than enough to last you for quite a while. This also leaves two SATA slots free for optical drives on our High End and Dream Machine, which we will take full advantage of!

Soundcard

Standard/High End: Creative Labs X-Fi XtremeMusic - $ 100

Dream Machine: Creative Labs X-Fi Elite Pro – $ 260

Despite of the bad press Creative sound cards receive occasionally, the X-Fi boards are truly the best you will find. The options, tweaks, flavors, and quality of the X-Fi cards is unmatched. The XtremeMusic features 109dB SnR, 7.1 channel support, and 24-bit output at 96kHz rates. It also has full EAX5.0, Dolby Digital, Dolby Surround, and THX support.

The Elite Pro is a titan among giants. In addition to the features of the rest of the X-Fi line it also features 64MB of onboard RAM and an external I/O console. Also included is a complete sound editing suite and remote control. If audio and sound creation is important to you, this is a must-have, otherwise skip ahead and go with the equally performing XtremeMusic package.

Speakers

Standard: Creative Inspire 5800 - $ 60

High End/Dream Machine: Logitech Z-5500 Digital – $ 320

Creative’s 72W Inspire 5800 has a 22W subwoofer, 18W center speaker, and four additional 8W satellites. It has a separate control system for adjusting balance with a headphone jack. The setup also has an 80dB SNR, 40Hz-20kHz range, and a 5.25” driver on the subwoofer giving it some solid power.

For the deeper wallets, the Logitech Z-5500 Digital is where it’s at. This 505W system features a 188W subwoofer which will either make you sterile or give your children booming voices. Sounds are crisp and clear with no distortion, even at the higher levels. The included control module has a large volume knob and display, allowing you to easily adjust the volume or balance. When it comes to watching movies, listening to music, playing games, or annoying the neighbors, this is the system to have.