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HotHardware Holiday Buyer's Guide 2008
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Date: Dec 11, 2008
Section:Misc
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Gadgets and Goodies For All

As the holiday season rapidly approaches, there’s one question that you’ll hear very frequently: Have you been naughty or nice? Of course, we all know that a lot hinges on this seemingly simple question. If you’ve been nice, then perhaps Santa will bring you an awesome gift, that one piece of hardware you've been jonesing for, like Intel’s new Core i7 965 Extreme processor or perhaps Dell’s UltraSharp 30-inch widescreen LCD. On the other hand, if you’ve been naughty and have cursed your computer (hey, who hasn’t?) or ignored your significant other because Call of Duty 4 of Bioshock beckoned, then you’d better shape up before it's too late. Otherwise, the only thing you’ll have to look forward to is a lump of coal in your stocking.  Believe us--we've been there...

As we look back on this past year, and wonder why each year seems shorter than the last, we also reflect on our many traditions here at HotHardware. One of our favorites is our annual Holiday Buyer’s Guide.  Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift for that special geek in your life, or if you’re dreaming of putting together a new system for yourself, we hope this guide will help you make some informed buying decisions.

This year, we’ll cover the various components that you’ll need to build a few different types of systems, along with notebooks and netbooks for those who are looking for greater portability. In each category, we’ll cover high-end, mid-range, and budget models, so that you can easily find the parts you want at a price you can afford.  But of course, there’s no reason you can’t mix and match.

 
Lenovo's IdeaPad S10 - Christmas Stocking Red


We're going to outline the components that we feel will make up a killer high-end rig, regardless of price.  Then we'll make suggestions for a speedy upper mid-range system filled with cutting edge hardware, and then we'll put our Scrooge hat on and build a budget screamer that won't break the bank.  And finally, we'll offer a few Yuletide suggestions in Netbooks and Notebooks too.  We hope you find our suggestions useful and that you have a little fun putting together your wish-list!  Happy shopping & Happy Holidays!

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At the Core: Processors

 

Intel Core i7 965 Extreme - $1,030

At the ultra high end of the spectrum, there is Intel’s newCore i7 965 Extreme. Intel raised the desktop CPU performance bar with the Core i7 family of processors, so what’s not to like? (Except, of course, the price.) In our tests, the Core i7 Extreme 965 / X58 chipset combo put up the best performance we have seen from a desktop PC platform to date. 

As you’ll recall, Intel moved the memory controller on-die, paving the way for the new QPI (Quick Path Interconnect), which is a new serial interconnect that resides between the CPU and chipset. As a result, there’s no more traditional front side bus. QPI offers up to 25.6GB/s of bandwidth per port over 40 data lanes, 20 in each direction, and architectural updates within the CPU core improves performance over the previous generation Core 2 family of processors.


Intel Core i7 920 - $294

In comparison to its big brother, the Core i7 965 Extreme, the Core i7 920 seems somewhat affordable. With this processor, you’ll still get the benefits of the new Core i7 architecture and X58 chipset, but at an almost mid-range price. The Core i7 920 includes four processors cores on a single die; each running at a default 2.66GHz. This processor also has 8MB of shared cache. Finally, the Core i7 line has an integrated memory controller that supports Triple Channel DDR3 Memory and faster access times.



Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 - $249

Intel's migration to 45nm technology has been kind to their legacy generation of Core 2 architecture-based processors.  The Core 2 Quad Q9300 is a 2.5GHz incarnation of Intel's 45nm Penryn Core 2 quad-core product offering and it has cool, more modest TDP (thermal design power) of 95W.  What this means is you'll get solid performance at stock speed and if you're the overclocking type, there's plenty of headroom in there as well.  This chip runs on a 1333MHz FSB and is a pretty strong value, weighing at $239 - $249 depending on where you're shopping. 


* Editor's note:  page updated to include Intel's Core 2 Quad offering - 12/12/08


 

AMD Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition - $170

Targeted at enthusiasts and overclockers, the AMD Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition has a max TDP of 140 watts and clocks in at a respectable 2.6GHz.  Want to push it further? The Black Edition has an unlocked multiplier which allows you to reach even faster speeds through overclocking. In our tests earlier this year, we were able to take the Phenom X4 9950 to 3.1GHz using nothing but a stock AMD PIB cooler by altering the multiplier and increasing the CPU voltage. Even with the overclock, the chip never broke the 60ºC mark.

Based on the Agena core with socket AM2+ packaging, the Phenom X4 9950 incorporates a unified high-speed L3 cache and high-speed DDR2 memory. The Phenom X4 9950 utilizes the socket AM2+, an improved socket design based on the original socket AM2.



AMD Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition - $164

After an early release of Phenom processors that contained a bug that could cause a system hang in certain, very specific circumstances, AMD finally got it right with its latest Phenom lineup. The Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition comes with a 2.5GHz core clock and a 4GHz HT link. Perhaps equally important, the Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition and other xx50 model number Phenoms have B3 silicon and a hardware fix for the TLB erratum.

Like other AMD Black Edition processors, the 9850 has an unlocked clock multiplier that makes overclocking extremely easy. Pair a the Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition with a new motherboard featuring the SB750 southbridge with ACC and AMD's Overdrive utility for some low-budget overclocking action.




Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 - $188

On the Intel budget side, we find the Core 2 Duo E8500. Based on Intel’s 45nm Wolfdale design, the Core 2 Duo E8500 processor brings some noteworthy benefits in comparison to the previous generation 65nm Conroe. First, the family offers faster clock speeds; the Core 2 Duo E8500 runs at 3.16GHz with a 1333MHz front side bus. In addition, the Wolfdale design improves power consumption, with TDP levels of 65W when running at 3.16GHz.

The Core 2 Duo E8500 is also smaller than previous chips, at 107mm2. This should allow Intel to make more of these chips per wafer, thereby driving costs down. You’ll also get more L2 cache on the processor die—up to 6MB per chip, compared to 4MB with previous generation dual-cores. The Core 2 Duo E8500 uses the Socket-775 form factor.


AMD Phenom X4 9650 - $145

AMD’s budget quad-core CPU this year is the Phenom X4 9650. Like the Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition, the Phenom X4 9650 is bug-free from the TLB erratum problems that plagued early chips. The 9650 is clocked at 2.3GHz and has a TDP of 95W.

The X4 9650 has a built-in memory controller that controls the speed at which data moves between the processor and the system memory. It also utilizes the HyperTransport 3.0 standard, which links the processor to other components in your system. Compared to earlier Phenom chips, the Phenom X4 9650 received a boost to 2.0GHz on the memory controller and 4.0GHz on HyperTransport.

 

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Mounds of Motherboards

Now, it’s time to find a happy home for that new processor. We’ll start with the high-end and work our way back to the more affordable level.  

Asus Rampage II Extreme X58 - $398

With the Core i7’s high price tag, it shouldn’t be too surprising that you’ll also have to pay good money for a board to match. The Asus Rampage II Extreme offers three x16 PCIe slots that are fully accessible for dual-slot cooled graphics cards. As one of the first motherboard to support both CrossFire X and NVIDIA's 3-Way SLI technology, this board has gained some attention.  This board also offers a good amount of overclocking and tweaking features.

The Rampage II Extreme X58  supports 7 internal SATA connections, 1 eSATA connection and an IDE channel, along with 12 USB 2.0 ports and a pair of FireWire ports. Courtesy of Creative's X-Fi technology, this board also has good on-board audio options along with dual Gigabit Ethernet.
 

ASUS M3A79-T Deluxe - $184

Filling both the high-end and the mid-range spot for AMD processors, the ASUS M3A79-T Deluxe brings together the AMD 790FX Northbridge chipset and the updated SB750 Southbridge. This combination brings performance and enhanced overclockability at a reasonable price.

The M3A79-T Deluxe offers CrossFire support, 6 USB 2.0 ports, 1 Gigabit port, 8 channel HD audio through coax and optical S/PDIF connections, FireWire support, 1 PS2 Keyboard or Mouse port, and a LAN port. Internally the board sports one floppy disk connector, an IDE connector, 6 SATA ports, 4 PCI-Express 16x slots, 2 PCI slots, and 4 DDR2 1066 RAM slots.


  
EVGA nForce 790i SLI FTW - $246

You'll need something to house that Core 2 Quad Q9300 and this just might be the happiest hope for it, especially if you're the gaming type.  The EVGA nForce 790i FTW is built on NVIDIA's nForce 790i SLI chipset obviously and support FSBs up to 1600MHz and DDR3 system memory up to 2000MHz (2GHz).  It also supports up to 3-way SLI multi-GPU NVIDIA graphics technology and has an 8 phase digital PWM circuit for for efficient, stable power conversion for the CPU.  Since Intel X48 and X38 chipset based boards are a bit on the pricey side (think ~ $300 on average), we feel this board represents a better value.  If you're still hankerin' for an Intel chipset, we'd recommend Intel's own DX48BT2, which can be had for a more reasonable $249 price tag.  


*  Editor's note:  Updated to offer EVGA motherboard - 12/12/08



MSI X58 Platinum - $214

For the mid-range Intel motherboard, we’ve chosen the MSI X58 Platinum. As one of the more affordable Core i7 motherboards, this version targets the upper mainstream / performance market. As a result, it only supports ATI's Crossfire. Since it doesn’t support NVIDIA's SLI as well, you’ll save some dough. Should you desire support for both NVIDIA’s SLI and ATI's Crossfire configuration, then you’ll have to go with the higher-end Eclipse version of this board.

This board features 2 x PCIe (x16) slots for Crossfire configuration, 3 x PCIe (x1) slots, and 2 x standard PCI slots. It also has 6 x DDR3 DIMM slots for Triple / Tri Channel DDR3. Finally, it offers dual 10/100/1000Mbps ports.
 



Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3R - $120

The most affordable Intel motherboard in this roundup is the Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3R. With the GA-EP45-UD3R, Gigabyte introduced its GIGABYTE Ultra Durable 3 technology, with a 2 oz copper PCB to help reduce system temperature and enhance your system’s stability and performance.  Based on the Intel P45 chipset, this affordable motherboard delivers a 1,600MHz FSB for the latest Intel Core 2 multi-core processors, and supports dual channel DDR2 memory at speeds up to 1,366MHz.

In terms of energy saving capabilities, the GA-EP45-UD3R uses GIGABYTE DES Advanced technology for better efficiency. The GA-EP45-UD3R also has eight SATA ports, 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, 3 x PCI Express x1 slots, and 3 x PCI slots. For tweaking, the board also offers Hardware Overvoltage Control, which provides more voltage control options on the CPU, Northbridge, and memory.


Gigabyte GA-MA770-DS3 - $68

The most affordable motherboard of this roundup, the Gigabyte GA-MA770-DS3 supports AMD Socket AM2+/ AM2 processors, including the AMD Phenom X4, AMD Phenom X3, AMD Athlon 64 FX, AMD Athlon 64 X2, and others. This affordable motherboard supports up to 16GB of Dual Channel DDR2 1,066 RAM and support for HyperTransport 3.0 technology.

In terms of connectivity, the GA-MA770-DS3 offers 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, 4 x PCI Express x1 slots, 2 x PCI slots, 1 x IDE connector supporting ATA-133/100/66/33 and up to 2 IDE devices, 1 x floppy disk drive connector, and 4 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors.
 

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Fond Memories

Memory is still a very important part of a system, so don’t scrimp here. Thankfully, prices have dropped to the point that even 4GB is considered affordable.


OCZ Gold Tri Channel 6GB PC12800 DDR3 - $250

If you’re going to enjoy all that the Core i7 platform has to offer, then let us recommend this 6GB (3 x 2GB), 240-Pin DDR3 kit. This Triple Channel Kit has rated latencies of 8-8-8-24 at 1600MHz and a default voltage of about 1.65V. OCZ’s Triple Channel kits also feature XTC (Xtreme Thermal Convection) heatspreaders for effective heat dissipation.
 
 

 

CORSAIR XMS3 6GB TR3X6G1333C9 - $194

At the mid-range, this 6GB kit supports the latest generation of X58 DDR3-based motherboards. This memory operates at 1333MHz at latencies of 9-9-9-24 at a 1.50V VDIMM voltage. It uses Corsair’s high performance heat sink and each three-module set is fully tested at 1,333MHz.
 
 

 

OCZ Reaper HPC Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) OCZ2RPR800C44GK - $64

At the affordable end of the spectrum, the OCZ Reaper HPC Edition 4GB kit makes use of the HPC heatspreader developed by OCZ to minimize heat using a thermo-conductive copper heat pipe conduit and compact aluminum fin array. This design helps facilitate better overclocking performance while also improving longevity and stability. At 800MHz, the 4GB Edition runs at tight 4-4-4-15 latency timings and offers excellent stability on the latest AMD and Intel platforms.

 

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Looks Matter: Video Cards

Whether you’re gaming, watching movies, or editing photos or video, image and video quality matters. That’s why we’re bringing you a handful of video cards, for both ATI and NVIDIA fans, that are sure to please any budget.

Palit Revolution 700 Deluxe - $537

At the high end of the graphics card line-up, you’ll find the Palit Revolution 700 Deluxe Radeon HD 4870 X2. This card features 2GB of GDDR5 memory, pre-overclocked core and memory speeds, and dual GPUs. The Revolution 700 Deluxe has a triple slot cooling solution to help lower temperatures, reduce fan noise, and offer better overclocking potential. It also offers serious connectivity in the form of VGA, DVI, HDMI, and a Display port outputs. Palit combined 2.4 teraFLOPS of graphics horsepower and 1,600 stream processors to make the Palit Revolution 700 Deluxe one of the most powerful graphics cards on the market today. If you have the cash, this is definitely a card to consider.
 

eVGA GeForce GTX 280 FTW  - $454

The GeForce GTX 280 knocked the 9800 GX2 off the top spot when it initially arrived. For even greater performance, eVGA’s FTW version increases the card's default GPU and memory clocks.  NVIDIA's reference design calls for a 602MHz GPU clock with 1.1GHz memory; eVGA configured its FTW edition with a 670MHz GPU and 1.21GHz memory.  With 240 shader processors, 80 texture processors, and 1GB of frame buffer memory, the GeForce GTX 280 will provide excellent 3D graphics performance. This card also has 2nd Generation NVIDIA Unified Architecture with PureVideo HD and CUDA technologies, along with PCI Express 2.0 support. In terms of outputs, the GeForce GTX 280 FTW offers 2 x DVI-I outputs and 1 x HDTV output.
 



PowerColor PCS+ HD4870 1GB - $290

For an upper mid-range card, the Radeon 4870 HD 1GB is popular mong the enthusiast community. PowerColor's PCS+ HD4870 1GB version has a 780MHz GPU clock and a Memory Clock of 925MHz (3.7Gbps effective).  The outputs consist of a pair of dual-link DVI outputs and an S-Video / HDTV output.  HDMI output with audio is also available through the use of a DVI to HDMI Adapter dongle.

The Radeon HD 4870 GPU is built using a 55nm fabrication process and features 800 stream processing units, more than double the number featured in the Radeon HD 3800 series. For additional performance, PowerColor pre-overclocked the AX4870 Radeon HD4870 and packs on 1GB of GDDR5 memory.
 

eVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked - $260

Compared to the high-end GTX 280, the more affordable GTX 260 has one of its ten thread processing clusters and one of its eight ROP partitions disabled. The GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 features 216 general purpose "stream" processors. In addition, the shader, or stream processor clock speed, on the eVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked is increased for enhanced performance over reference models.

This card offers NVIDIA SLI technology and NVIDIA PureVideo HD. It has 2 x DVI ports and an HDTV / S-Video Out port.  The eVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked has a 626MHz GPU clock and a memory clock of 1,053MHz.
 



Sapphire Radeon HD4670 1GB DDR3 - $95

If you’re a tad strapped on cash, it’s amazing what you can get for $100 nowadays. To tackle demanding HD games and applications, the Sapphire Radeon HD4670 1GB DDR3 has 320 Stream Processing Units and a 750MHz Core Clock. For scalability, the card offers ATI CrossFireX technology with up to quad GPU support. This card also has Dual DL-DVI-I and HDTV I/Os.

The Radeon HD4670 1GB DDR3 delivers a respectable amount of gaming performance and also supports  DirectX10.1 games. Our pick from Sapphire has 1GB of DDR3 with a memory clock of 873MHz.
 

XFX GeForce 9600 GSO 768MB DDR2 - $80

Another sub-$100 card, the 768MB XFX GeForce 9600 GSO, offers respectable gaming performance and graphics as well. The 9600 GSO is driven by the same G92 graphics processor that's inside the GeForce 8800 GT and the GeForce 9800 GTX, only it's been knocked down to six thread processing clusters and three ROP partitions. As a result, you’ll get 96 stream processors, 48 texels per clock of filtering power, and a 192-bit memory interface. This card is SLI ready, has 768MB of DDR2, a GPU clock speed of 580 MHz, and memory clock of 1GHz.

 

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Music to Your Ears

To fully enjoy all that your PC has to offer, you’ll want to hear every detail from those games and movies. Check out these two sound cards that are sure to please your ears. Or, if you feel your money is better spent elsewhere, then look for a motherboard that offers acceptable onboard sound capabilities.

Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional - $130

You’ll hear more realistic sound effects and 3D positional audio with this upgrade card. The Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional also supports Dolby Digital Live encoding. For games such as Quake 4, Battlefield 2, Prey, and Unreal Tournament 3 that can take advantage of X-RAM, you’ll get an additional performance boost as well. In terms of connectivity, the X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional has line in / microphone in (shared 1/8" mini jack), speaker out (4x 1/8" mini jacks), optical out (TOSLINK), optical in (TOSLINK), and Intel HD Audio Compatible Front Panel Header (2x5pin).
 

ASUS Xonar DX - $76

For a slightly less expensive sound card, let us suggest the ASUS Xonar DX 7.1. This card delivers fine-tuned audio quality and technologies like Dolby Home Theater and DS3D GX for crisp and clear audio and rich sound effects. With a 116dB SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio), this card delivers up to 35 times cleaner audio in comparison to many onboard motherboard audio solutions that offer only an 85dB SNR.
 

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Mass Storage: Hard Drives & Optical Drives

With storage, there’s always a balance to be made between performance and capacity. Here are a few drives that we feel offer a good balance of both.

Intel X25-M 80GB SATA Solid State Drive - $525

For the absolute best performance and durability, check out Intel’s X25-M 80GB SATA Solid State Drive, which boasts fast, 225MB/s average reads and less than 1ms random access times. This drive was so impressive that we gave it our Editor’s Choice award. Although this drive is more expensive than other SSDs per gigabyte, it also offers twice the performance in comparison to some of the other drives we’ve seen.

Solid State Flash Drives are inherently fast with read performance, but write performance has historically been a major holdup. Even though some of the issues remain, Intel has been able to overcome these issues better than other manufacturers.


WD VelociRaptor 300GB - $230

For maximum speed at a more affordable price (relatively speaking), consider the WD VelociRaptor 300GB. This 10,000 RPM SATA hard drive combines a SATA 3Gb/s interface and 16 MB cache for performance that’s up to 35% faster than its older brother.  The VelociRaptor 300GB has an access time of 4.2 ms and a sustained transfer rate of 120MBytes/sec.


 

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB - $130

If you’re looking for a good balance between capacity, performance, and price, then let us recommend the massive Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB. This 1.5 terabyte internal SATA hard drive utilizes perpendicular magnetic recording technology and delivers a sustained data rate of 120 MB/s. It’s also environmentally friendly and idles at only 8 watts. 
 



Of course, you can’t forget the optical drive. Today’s options include Blu-ray drives and a traditional DVD burner.

LG Electronics GGCH20L Blu-ray/HD-DVD Reader & DL DVD±RW - $130

If you jumped on the HD DVD bandwagon early, then you might be interested in this all-in-one optical drive solution that can read both Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs, and read and record DVDs and CDs. The LG Electronics GGCH20L Blu-ray / HD-DVD Reader and DL DVD±RW drive also has Lightscribe laser labeling support so you can burn labels right onto the discs. 
 

LITE-ON Black 6X Blu-ray DVD ROM & 16X DVD±R iHES106-29 - $129

For about the same money, you can also get the LITE-ON Black 6X Blu-ray DVD ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner iHES106-29. This drive can also read Blu-ray discs, and read and record DVDs and CDs, but it does so at slightly higher speeds than the aforementioned LG drive. These speeds will cost you in terms of giving up the ability to read HD DVDs and burn labels with Lightscribe. But really, those are minor tradeoffs.


Samsung SHS223F DVD±RW Writer - $23

This no-frills drive offers speedy DVD and CD reading and writing capabilities. Write speeds include: DVD-R: 22X; DVD+RW/-RW: 8X / 6X; DVD+R DL/-R DL: 16X / 12X; DVD-RAM: 12X; CD-R: 48X; and CD-RW: 32X. Read speeds vary from 48x for CD-ROM down to 12x for DVD+RW/-RW, DVD+R DL/-R DL, and DVD-RAM discs.

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Cases & PSUs

Cooler Master ATCS 840 Steel ATX Full Tower Computer Case RC-840-K - $250

Cooler Master devoted extra attention to ensure this all-aluminum case is easy to install and maintain, with a slide-out motherboard tray, easy CPU cooler removal slot, tool-free HDD casing, and single-button 5.25" drive mounts and removalbe dust filters. This case supports E-ATX motherboards and dual PSUs, as well. For cooling, the ATCS 840 has three 230mm fans, a dedicated air duct for graphics card cooling, and a HDD cooling module.
 

 

Antec P182 Black Midsize Tower - $122

This midsize tower with a mid-size price has six internal 3.5-inch bays, four externally available 5.25-inch bays, and one externally available 3.5-inch bay. To help control heat, the P182 has an external fan control for the top and rear fans and rubber grommeted ports for externally mounted liquid cooling systems. It also has triple layer side panels and door design, along with an upper and lower chamber structure to help reduce noist and isolate heat from the power supply from the rest of your components.


ThermalTake M9 VI1000BWS - $65

ThermalTake’s M9 VI1000BWS is not only affordable, but it also offers great versatility and expandability. This case is made of SECC steel and offers front and rear 1,300rpm 120x120x25mm blue LED fans that run at 17dBA--or near silence. This case features nine 5.25-inch drive bays, which are swappable to 3.5-inch by using the included HDD cage. Heat dissipation and air intake is enhanced by the air guide and openings on the side panel along with the metal grilled front bezel.
 



Whether you’ve chosen to spend a lot or a little on your components, one thing is certain: Those components are virtually useless without power. Furthermore, it’s important to choose a good PSU, or else you may pay the price with damaged components and / or and unreliable system.

PC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 1200 - $492

A power rig deserves a powerful PSU. The Turbo-Cool 1200 power supply is a Single-Rail power house (+12V @ 100A) that delivers a continuous 1.2 Kilowatts (1400W peak) with a high efficiency rating of 83%. This PSU is also NVIDIA SLI Certified to the highest level (3-way SLI) and CrossFire Certified (Dual 4870 X2 or Tri-HD 4870). You’ll get a multitude of connectors with the Turbo-Cool 1200, including six PCI-E and 17 drive connectors. It also has 24-pin, Dual 8-pin, 4-pin M/B connectors.
 

Cooler Master Real Power Pro 650W - $113

Building on the Real Power series' reputation, CoolerMaster released the Real Power Pro line to satisfy customer’s demand for higher-end PSUs. The Real Power Pro 650W complies with the newest Intel ATX 12V V2.2 standard and SSI EPS 12V V2.91 standard. Features include bead core protection for PCI-e connectors, a power failure detector, and an over 80% efficiency rating. This drive is highly efficient (>80%) and offers quiet operation with its intelligent 120mm fan speed controller.
 

Corsair TX CMPSU-750TX 750W - $96

With a more palatable price tag, the Corsair TX CMPSU-750TX 750W is SLI-Ready and offers a dedicated, single +12V rail for compatibility with the latest system components. This PSU has a large, 140mm diameter temperature-controlled, quiet cooling fan that also helps cool the inside of your system. For those who are concerned about energy, the PSU offers 80%+ energy efficiency at 20%, 50%, and 100% load conditions. Finally, if you’ve chosen a full-size chassis, or just need some extra room to work, you’ll appreciate the extra long cables.

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More Visuals: Monitors

Regardless of how cool the components in your computer are, you won’t get to enjoy any of them without a decent monitor that can display the full effects of those crisp graphics and high frame rates. 

Dell UltraSharp 3008WFP 30" Widescreen - $1,999

Dell’s large, 30-inch UltraSharp 3008WFP widescreen LCD offers a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. And to help you enjoy all of the fine details, TrueColor Technology produces 117% of the NTSC color gamut for superb color reproduction. The UltraSharp 3008WFP has a fast 8 ms response time and 3,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. You’ll get a nice variety of connection options with this monitor, including VGA, DVI-D with HDCP, HDMI, S-Video, Component, Composite, and DisplayPort. The UltraSharp monitor family is designed to give you a comfortable viewing experience by allowing you to adjust the height, tilt the panel forward and backward, and swivel it left-to-right. Additionally, the UltraSharp 3008WFP supports a wide viewing angle of 178-degrees.


HP LP3065 Black 30" Widescreen - $899

The HP LP3065 supports a maximum resolution of 2,560 x 1,600, a 1,000:1 contrast ratio, a 3,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, 12 ms response time, and 102% color gamut.  A built-in USB hub provides quick connectivity to peripherals such as the optional HP LCD Speaker Bar which fits under the monitor. For users with multiple PCs, three dual-link DVI connectors enable simultaneous connectivity. This 30-inch display has a refresh rate of 60 Hz and super-wide 178-degree viewing angles.  And keep in mind, like any other big LCD, you’ll need a dual-link DVI graphics card for this monitor.
 



BenQ 24IN E2400HD - $330

BenQ’s E2400HD is a 24-inch, full HD, 16:9 LCD monitor with a max resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, a 5ms response time, 1,000:1 contrast ratio, and 300cd/m2 brightness. This display has a viewing angle of 170/160 (H/V). The E2400HD also has built-in speakers. Ports include a 15-pin HD-15 VGA in, DVI-D, HDMI digital audio/video in, audio line in, and headphone jack.

 

Dell S2409W Black 24" - $349

Enjoy full HD 1,920 x 1,080 resolution on this 24-inch monitor from Dell. The S2409W has a 1,000:1 contrast ratio, 300 cd/m2 brightness, and a 5 ms response time. In terms of connectivity, you’ll get DVI-D with High Definition Content Protection VGA and an HDMI interface. The monitor supports 16.7 million colors and has a viewing angle of 160° / 170°. 

 



ViewSonic VA1930wm 19" Widescreen - $145

The ViewSonic 19-inch VA1930wm LCD widescreen monitor delivers a fast 5ms video response for blur-free video and crystal-clear graphics. For a complete multimedia experience, the VA1930wm has an integrated amp and stereo speakers along with OptiSync analog and digital inputs. This monitor has a contrast ratio of 700:1, 300 cd/m2 brightness, and supports a maximum resolution of 1,440 x 900.

 

Asus VW193T 19" Widescreen - $135

Like the aforementioned ViewSonic VA1930wm, the Asus VW193T offers a fast 5ms response time and 300 Nits high brightness for smooth, vivid graphics. For even sharper and brighter images, this monitor uses ASCR (ASUS Smart Contrast Ratio) for an effective contrast ratio of 1600:1. Furthermore, Splendid Video Intelligence Technology tweaks the color, brightness, contrast, and sharpness of images in different applications and has five preset video modes and three skin tone options to help provide the best video quality. The VW193T incorporates a DVI Input with HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) and has built-in stereo speakers.
 

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For the Mobile Minded

While putting together your own rig is rewarding and fun, there are plenty of times when we need both functionality and portability. If you’re considering buying a netbook or notebook, but aren’t sure which to choose, let us make a few suggestions.

Netbooks -

Asus N10Jc-A1 - $639

For a beefy netbook, consider the Asus N10Jc-A1. This netbook sports a 10.2-inch monitor, NVIDIA GeForce 9300M graphics, and an Intel Atom N270 processor running at 1.6 GHz. This netbook runs either Windows Vista Home Basic or Windows XP Home, and also offers the latest Express Gate for ultra fast boot up and access to commonly used features such as a Web browser, instant messenger, Skype, photo manager, music player, and online gaming. For security, the N10Jc-A1 offers facial recognition and a RF biometric fingerprint reader.
  

Lenovo Ideapad S10 - $399

Designed for affordable, low-powered, and lightweight mobile computing, the Lenovo Ideapad S10 offers a well-rounded feature set. This netbook features a 10.2-inch widescreen display, Intel Atom N270 Processor @ 1.6 GHz, 1 GB of DDR2-533 Memory, a 160GB Western Digital 5,400rpm hard drive, 802.11 B/G and Bluetooth, and a 1.3 Megapixel Bezel Camera and Microphone. Lenovo also included a PCI Express card slot in this netbook, which is something you won’t often find in other netbooks.
 

Acer Aspire One Mini A150-1570 - $349

If a smaller netbook is in your future, then the Acer Aspire One Mini A150-1570 might be what you’re looking for. This netbook has an 8.9-inch display, yet still offers Microsoft Windows XP, an Intel Atom processor running at 1.6GHz, a 120GB hard drive, and 1GB of DDR2 RAM. It also has a memory card reader that supports Memory Stick and Memory Stick PRO, SD, and xD-Picture Card formats.  Even though this netbook has a smaller screen than the aforementioned 10-inch models, it still supports a max resolution of 1,024 x 600. At just 2.2 pounds, this thing is quite portable, as well.
 



Notebooks -

Sony VAIO FW290NEB - $961

As an affordable, mid-range, multimedia notebook, the Sony VAIO FW290NEB features a 16.4-inch XBRITE-ECO display that is great for watching movies with its 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio. The notebook has a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor with the Mobile Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD. It also has 2GB of DDR2-667 SDRAM, a 250GB 7,200 rpm hard drive, and a DVD+R double layer/DVD±RW drive. 


 

Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 - $799

For an even more modest notebook that perhaps is also a little bit easier to carry around, with its 15.4" widescreen format, we'd recommend looking at the Lenovo IdeaPad Y530.  This new machine from Lenovo is built on Intel's Centrino 2 mobile platform but this particular SKU we've linked up here also comes with a discrete NVIDIA GeForce 9300M 256MB graphics engine.  It comes as is with 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive but you can customize and upgrade of course with another base model if you like.  We'll be taking an in-depth look at this machine in the coming weeks actually.  We have one on the test-bed right now as a matter of fact, so stay tuned!


Lenovo ThinkPad T500 20823HU - $1,179

The Lenovo ThinkPad T500 20823HU is a business-class workhorse that packs an Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile processor (@ 2.26GHz), ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650, 160GB hard drive, DVD+-RW DL burner, and 2GB of DDR3 RAM. It also has a 15.4-inch Active Matrix LCD TFT display that supports a max resolution of 1,680 x 1,050. It runs on Windows Vista Business. In terms of connectivity, the ThinkPad T500 offers wireless Ethernet, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, audio line in/out, Bluetooth, FireWire, USB, and VGA ports.  It also has an Express Card slot and multimedia card reader that supports Memory Stick and Memory Stick PRO, MultiMedia Card, SD, SDHC, and xD-Picture Card.


 


Dell XPS M1730 DYDZMJ12 - $3,434

This high-end Dell XPS M1730 comes with an Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme X9000 processor that runs at 2.8GHz and has an 800MHz FSB and 6MB of L2 cache. In this beast, you’ll also find 4GB of dual channel DDR2 memory running at 667MHz, two 200GB hard drives running at 7,200rpm with a free fall sensor, NVIDIA SLI Dual GeForce 8700MGT GPUs with 512MB GDDR3 memory each, and a CD / DVD burner. In terms of display, the XPS M1730 utilizes a 17-inch UltraSharp TrueLife widescreen WUXGA.

 

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Summary & Conclusion

 

Finally, for those of you who are looking for do-it-yourself components for completely new system builds, here’s a quick look at the various systems we’ve configured in the previous pages, including the high-end Intel system, a more price-conscious Intel Core i7 system, and a budget AMD Phenom system.

System 1: High-end Intel Core i7

Total Price: $5,740

 

System 2: Upper Mid-range Intel Core i7

Total Price: $1,963

 

System 3: Budget AMD Phenom

Total Price: $831

 

And if you asked us what our favority sexy laptop toy might be this year, we'd have to concede the Sony VAIO FW series, has visions of sugar plums dancing for us - or was that just too much egg-nog?

 



Sure hope you’ve enjoyed our Holiday Buyer’s Guide and we wish you and your families a happy and safe holiday season, filled with fun, laughter and lot of wholesome Tech goodness. Thanks for another great year, and we’ll see you again in 2009!



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