Video Card: Two GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB graphics cards in SLI
Current Cost: $1,000 (2x$500)
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
The GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB may have fallen behind the gaming performance of the 8800 Ultra, but its price has come down with it. And even though a single GeForce 8800 GTX card is fast enough for most gamers, price reductions affecting several components have combined to allow us to use two in SLI mode.
The standard-speed GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB is set at 575 MHz core, 1.35 GHz shader, and 1.8 GHz memory default clock speeds, which translates into a fillrate of 36.8 Gtexels/s and a memory bandwidth of 86.4 GB/s. This creates a nice gap between the GeForce 8800 GTS, and provides a ton of power in a SLI configuration.
There are many quality standard cards, like the PNY GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB (above), while some overclocked versions have even attacked the market on both performance and price, in particular MSI's $500 model (below)with 631 MHz core and 2.0 GHz memory.
LCD Display: Samsung SyncMaster 215TW
Current Cost: $450
Consecutive Guides: 3
Price Change: -$20
Building a gaming PC is all about visuals, and nothing can ruin a top-end system more effectively than a slow, low-contrast display. All that SLI graphics power has to go somewhere, and we can't think of a much better place to put those pixels than on the Samsung SyncMaster 215TW.
The SyncMaster 215TW is a widescreen LCD with a default resolution of 1680x1050, 300 cd/m2 brightness and a 1000:1 contrast ratio. The LCD features a 8ms response time for its true 8-bit display, and provides a higher quality image than those "faster" 6ms 6-bit displays, while staying within our old 12ms limit for a great gaming experience. A 178° viewing angle and height-adjustable base for both models makes perfect positioning easy.
Some buyers might prefer the 4:3 version of the above monitor, available as Samsung's SyncMaster 214T. This may seem strange to widescreen gaming aficionados, but it does allow the action of most games to fill the normal field-of-view without having status bars intrude.
Added vertical space requires additional pixels, so the resolution for this display grows to 1600x1200 pixels, with a proportional increase in price to $530. Multiple inputs (DVI, VGA, Composite, S-Video), Picture-In-Picture and split-screen capability offer more ways to put this screen space to good use.
We keep reconsidering larger models since so many high-end systems now include 24" displays. But going overkill on screen size forces many users to look side to side or move the screen further away, both of which can encumber use. We have yet to reach a consensus that more space is needed, but if we ever do, popular models such as Dell's 2407FPW will top our list of contenders.
Sound Card: Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS
Current Cost: $180
Consecutive Guides: 4
Price Change: +$10
Creative's lock on the discrete gaming soundcard market continues, as its top model has survived this guide for well over a year. Compared to other X-Fi versions, the Fatal1ty XPS gets boosted with 64MB of RAM for caching sounds. Ideally, with proper software support, this allows faster processing for increased frame rates.
It's ultra-high 109db signal-to-noise ratio and EAX 5.0 audio effects continue to lead the industry as Creative continues to purchase and abort competing technologies. The main thing missing from the X-Fi series is real-time multi-channel digital encoding to a single output, via Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect. Several competitors offer this, but it's tough to see them challenging Creative in the high-end gaming arena.
Speakers: Logitech Z-5500
Current Cost: $280
Consecutive Guides: 7
Price Change: +$20
Unlike other components, speaker technology grows slowly over the period of decades. This makes sense considering that all the major groundwork was laid out over a century ago. Complicating the selection is that most recent advancements have targeted digital amplifiers, but without DDL or DTS Connect, our audio card requires analog connections for multi-channel game sounds. One product that stands out as the pinnacle of classic technology, Logitech's Z-5500 has survived our guide through seven revisions.
We have yet to find 7.1-channel analog speakers that can surpass the quality of Logitech's 5.1-channel Z-5500. And most games are coded to produce 5.1 channels anyway. Those who believe they have a better plan are welcome to send feedback, but until then we'll continue to go with the time-proven quality of Logitech's top analog system.