There hasn't been a lot of prime hardware news since our last guide, where we made full use of the wild Intel CPU pricing on the 1333 MHz models, and the resultant drops on existing AMD and Intel processors. Without this kind of significant price movement, we're forced to take a closer look at the $2500 budget and see exactly where we can make a few modifications and improvements. Sure, this is not as exciting as ramping up our CPU speed to 3.0 GHz or more, but there are a few nice surprises hidden in this month's Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide.
Current Cost: $240
Consecutive Guides: 4
Price Change: $0
The basics of ATX design were figured out many years ago with few improvements since. It's little wonder then that once a company determined the ideal design, we'd stick with it. Surviving to its fourth consecutive guide, the Cooler Master Stacker 830 still impresses with ideal ventilation, lightweight aluminum panels (stiffened through exquisite metal work), and a traditional layout that eases cable connections.
A clear plastic swing-away side fan cage supports up to four 120mm/140mm fans for optimal cooling of a wide variety of system components, ranging from a second graphics card at the bottom to the RAM and motherboard voltage regulators at the top. A 120mm front fan cools hard drives, while top and rear 120mm fans assist the power supply fan in ridding the case of all that excess heat.
Nine 5.25" bays support a wide variety of drives thanks to Cooler Master's inclusion of a 3x 5.25" to 4x 3.5" adapter cage, and lining the entire front panel with large bays opens the option of using alternative multi-drive racks.
Among other enclosures we considered is Cooler Master's own high-profile Cosmos case, but while this new model features trendy looks, it doesn't offer the superior cooling or easy cable routing of the classic Stacker 830. And while we're on the subject of alternative designs, it needs to be said that bottom-mounted power supplies don't pull air away from the hot parts of the case, which is the main reason ATX designs called for putting the power supply at the top. Other designs might seek to promote a "better mouse trap", but the original Stacker 830 continues to prove that good ideas stick around.
Current Cost: $260
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: $0
Ultra Products isn't a brand one normally considers when seeking out the best of the best, but its X3 1000W unit continues to prove itself in many systems including one of our own test beds. We could have easily selected a lower-rated unit - possibly with similar actual output capabilities - for a similar price, but doing so would have caused us to lose many of the conveniences for which it was originally chosen in our previous guide. Conveniences such as a modular design using flat cables for easier cable management and a 135mm bottom-mounted intake fan that draws warm air away from the top of the motherboard.
A whopping 70 amps (840W) on its single 12V rail let the X3 divide its power across any devices, without encountering those annoying per-rail limits imposed by multi-rail designs. This is also far more power than this guide's system will actually need. Ultra rates its X3 at 85% peak efficiency, a number that becomes impressive considering the losses many modular power supplies take due to the slight added resistance on the extra connections.
Anyone who cannot appreciate the design advantages of the Ultra X3 1000W might want to consider a previous favorite from a better-known brand, PC Power & Cooling's Silencer 750 Quad.
PC Power & Cooling's Silencer 750 Quad delivers the same performance as it did when selected for our March Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, and its price has fallen to around $180.