Hot Hardware for the Holidays: A Buyers Guide
The intent of our Budget System was to provide the highest total gaming performance we could muster for roughly $1,000. Here, the main emphasis was obviously GPU power with some strict criteria for CPU speed and available power to ensure we'd avoid bottlenecks and have the necessary power to fuel our hungry rig. Overall, you'll likely be surprised when you see the level of hardware we managed to squeeze into our budget.
Seeing a GeForce 7800 GT at less than $300 is an offer too good to pass up, even for our budget oriented system. Without a doubt, the quality and speed of graphics will amaze anyone building a similar system to this configuration and price range. Although the GeForce 6800 GS is a very tempting and cheaper option, the additional features and performance of the GeForce 7800 GT make it worth spending the extra money. The particular XFX card we chose comes overclocked from the factory and can likely be pushed even further into GeForce 7800 GTX territory. For under $300, this card is an absolute bargain especially if it can match - or come close - to the $499 GeForce 7800 GTX while overclocked. Those looking for more information on this card can reference our initial look at the XFX GeForce 7800 GT.
For less than a hundred dollars, the DFI nForce4 Ultra Infinity board provides all the bells and whistles of the nForce4 architecture with the omission of SLI support. For a budget system, SLI is not a very attractive option so having a single 16x PCI-E slot is more than enough especially when considering the fact that we're filling it with a single GeForce 7800 GT. Despite lacking some of the fancy additions and polish of its LANPARTY counterparts, the more economical Infinity board still has some excellent tweaking options in the BIOS and solid performance. In terms of sound, we'll be taking advantage of the onboard 6-channel audio with SPDIF digital output to match to our 5.1 surround speakers.
Given the fact that memory is often seen as the keystone of a stable system, it's nearly impossible to recommend a product from any company aside from the quality brands we know and use here such as Kingston or Corsair. Coming in just under a hundred dollars, we have some excellent Corsair XMS modules that have low timings and ample room for overclocking. Granted, you can find some generic alternatives and save some money. However, the peace of mind afforded from using modules form a quality brand like Corsair (XMS no less) is worth every additional penny in our book.
For storage needs, we've opted to select a single 200GB drive from Maxtor. The drive features 16MB cache, SATA 150 support, and full NCQ support. As we saw when we reviewed this drive last month, this single drive is capable of providing ample performance with enough capacity to allow us to get away with using a single drive. Should you wish to create a RAID array down the road, you can easily do so for a small amount of money by grabbing a second identical drive. Paired with the onboard RAID of the nForce4 motherboard, you can choose between the speed of a RAID 0 or the integrity of a RAID 1 array.
Over the years, Lite-On has built a reputation for building high quality drives and offering them at an unbeatable price. The SOHW-1693S drive we've selected continues this trend by providing full DVD+/-RW support (including Dual-Layer discs) at a sub $40 price point. Although other more expensive drives might burn at faster speeds, you can't beat the Lite-On drive's dependability and price-performance ratio. Add a healthy bundle including Nero burning software and you'll see why we liked the drive so much for the price in our review of Dual Layer DVD+/-RW burners.
With a 16ms response time, native 1280x1024 resolution, and respectable 450:1 contrast ratio this LCD is an excellent candidate for our budget system's monitor. Fortunately, this LCD should allow even the most budget-minded gamer the opportunity to have an excellent image to complement the exceptional performance this budget configuration will provide.