Intel Core 2 Duo processors have become firmly established and prices are beginning to drop across the board. Not only that, but Kentsfield (quad-core) has made its appearance already and while it doesnt offer much in terms of gaming performance, it also means that dual-core processors are here to stay. Microsoft is just about to release Windows Vista to the public, and what should be the last batch of DirectX 9 GPUs have been released by Nvidia and ATI. In addition, Nvidia has announced its GeForce 8 series which should start to fill store shelves eventually and drive the prices of DX9 cards even further now.
The guide this month will be in the $1200-$1800 bracket. This mid-range is the happy meeting of performance and cost, where you can really get the most for your money.
ASUS P5B - $ 140
Or upgrade to: ASUS P5B Deluxe $ 185
The ASUS P5B is a solid motherboard from a company that is back in the limelight. Based on Intels P965 chipset, there are a few differences between the boards. The biggest is that the standard version only has one PCIe slot, while the Deluxe model has two. The Deluxe also features eight SATA ports compared to the standards six, slightly better on-board sound, and recent BIOS releases have fully unlocked several of the Core 2 Duo processors. For overclocking and SLI, the Deluxe is a more suited choice and worth the extra $50.
Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 $ 185
Now that Conroe prices have stabilized, Core 2 Duos will only become a better and better buy. Already priced lower than their AMD counterparts as far as performance goes, clocked at 1.86GHz, the E6300 features a 2MB shared L2 cache, 1066MHz FSB, and is fully 64-bit and Vista-compatible. The chip is a great overclocker with stability reported all the way up to 2.5GHz using the stock heatsink/fan. Even higher speeds can be reached if the chip fully unlocks with the ASUS P5B Deluxe and if more exotic cooling is used.
While we certainly believe the E6300 offers the best value of the Core 2 Duo line-up, it is also true that performance escalates really well in the Core architecture. If you can spend even more, the E6400 and E6600 are processors worth considering as well.
Corsair XMS2 DDR2 800 (1 or 2GB, in pairs) - $ 145 to $280
Corsair is an excellent memory brand and their XMS series is the cream of the crop. Featuring 5-5-5-15 timings, this dual channel memory is some of the fastest on the market, without doubling or quadrupling the price. The memory is advertised as being tested, as a pair, then immediately packaged. It also features a heat spreader, which will aid the overclocking segment.
Nvidia GeForce 7600GT - $ 130
Or upgrade to: Nvidia GeForce 7950GT - $ 280
With the GeForce 8 series already out of the door, this is likely the last batch of GeForce 7 series we will see, including the 7950GT. A look under the 7950GTs hood proves it to be an under-clocked 7900GTX for the most part. Products currently in the market feature core clock speeds in the range of 560MHz, boosting 24 pixel pipelines. The cards also come equipped with high-speed 512MB GDDR3 RAM, two DVI connections which support dual-link DVI, Vista and HDCP ready.
For those casual gamers that dont need as much punch we can recommend a more conservative choice in the form of the GeForce 7600GT. Not only are there zillions of different models of this card to choose, but many are passively cooled as well.