Hot Hardware for the Holidays: A Buyers Guide
Without question, the Plextor brand has always been synonymous with quality and performance for the optical drive market. We've opted to select the Plextor PX-740 DVD+/-RW for its ability to burn nearly any format on the market at some impressive speeds.
When selecting a case, it is critical to consider noise, cooling, and aesthetics. Typically, it is easy to find a case that covers two of those categories though we rarely see a case that effectively handles all three. The new Antec Performance P180 case is one of those rare exceptions where it effectively covers all considerations. With a unique PSU orientation that places the hot (and noisy) power supply below the motherboard, Antec solves several key issues. First and foremost, installation of the motherboard and possibly a large aftermarket heatsink is now almost trivial with no space constraints caused by a power supply looming directly overhead. The case's three-layer panels also ensure that the system's sound will not be an issue as it effectively dampens noise.
PC Power & Cooling is truly the Ferrari of power supplies. Granted, they cost an almost obscene amount of money and you can typically buy three of four of the next-best PSU for the same cost as a single PC Power & Cooling product. However, those fortunate enough to get their hands on one of these products will be gifted with the most robust and stable power supplies on the planet. Complete with 850W of continuous power, 950W of peak power, SLI support, and 15 power headers this product is sure to satisfy even the most demanding user.
With all the competition between motherboards, graphics cards, and other assorted hardware you would think that choosing a processor would be equally difficult. Fortunately, nearly every gaming benchmark on the planet has clearly illustrated the fact that for gaming there is no processor faster than the AMD Athlon64 FX. Currently, the AMD flagship is the Athlon64 FX 57 which runs at a blazingly fast 2.8GHz. At stock speeds, this processor will provide phenomenal performance. Pushing the CPU higher thanks to the exceptional hardware we've selected should result in framerates that are nothing short of amazing.
With developers putting more and more emphasis on the sound in today's game, it becomes critical to select a product that offers the highest functionality along with the highest performance. As we saw with our initial look at Creative's new X-Fi architecture with our review of the X-Fi XtremeMusic, this new architecture is now the staple of audio performance for the PC. The X-Fi Fatal1ty takes this impressive performance one step further with the inclusion of 64MB of dedicated X-RAM which will allow for the highest possible performance with full audio functionality in the latest and greatest games.
With the exceptional sound of the X-Fi sound card at our disposal, it was crucial to select a speaker system that would do it justice. Fortunately, we've had ample exposure to Logitech's Z5500 speaker system in the past and have found them to be an incredible option which rivals some dedicated home theater systems. With 505W of power and possibly the largest subwoofer to ever be seen in a PC speaker configuration, the Logitech Z5500's provide audio bliss for anyone fortunate enough to use them. The built in hardware decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS is the icing on the cake for an already exceptional speaker package.
Hardcore gamers can now rejoice as Logitech has seen fit to provide the G15 keyboard with gaming-specific features such as a "protected" windows key. When in-game, the Windows key is disabled preventing the dreaded accidental key press that spits you out of your game. The GamePanel LCD also serves up game stats and system information while three levels of key backlighting makes any lighting condition perfect for gaming.
One look at Logitech's new G5 laser mouse and it is easy to see why we've chosen it for this system. This unbelievable new mouse has a user selectable tracking resolution ranging from 2000/800/400 dpi, three sensitivity levels ranging from 400/1200/and 2000dpi, and an adjustable weight cartridge that lets the user select how much of a provided 38g of weight the user wants to customize the weight and feel of the mouse. Overall, there is no substitute for a mouse of this caliber.
At the end of the day, the performance of the Thermalright XP90c is as close to watercooling performance as you can get with traditional air cooling. Now the term traditional is very loosely used here as the XP90c is anything but your normal copper heatsink. The all copper design incorporates multiple heatpipes routed through a series of copper fins which are then soldered to the copper base for the most effective contact. When paired with a 92mm fan, this 690g behemoth is able to tame event the most unruly processors.
Although nearly any high CFM and low-noise 92mm fan would work here, the Evercool SFF9 seems to be an excellent choice. With 41CFM and a low 22dBA noise level, the Evercool fan is able to provide high performance without the usual jet-engine squeal of most high performance fans.
Easily the best bang for the buck, the use of Arctic Silver 5 will have a profound effect on overall cooling performance. When applied correctly, the use of Arctic Silver 5 can drop CPU temperatures by several degrees and can be the difference between an unstable system or a successful overclock.