Now that the back to school buzz has finally died off, September can be a nice time to look for computer deals. Our previous High-end Guide took us through the summer months, but with the fall season just started, it's certainly time for an update. In this particular guide, we take $2500 in spending money, and then go to the limit in search of the ultimate in high-end AMD and Intel gaming machines. These two systems certainly have the juice to pump out high framerates, but we also do not spend the money like a drunken sailor, preferring to keep a close eye on both the hotrod component list, and our wallet. All of the hardware picks in this guide are completed after carefully weighing the price-performance ratio of each component, then doing a little mix-and-match comparison to see which configuration is the best fit for our $2500 budget.
This guide also represents the median between our Value Buyer's Guide with only a $1000 limit, and our Extreme Buyer's Guide with its massive $4000 budget. Here, our basic goal is to determine optimal AMD and Intel gaming PC configurations, while still adhering to our $2500 budget limit. We certainly do choose high-end, brand name equipment, while also keeping an eye on the bottom line, and not spending madly in one area, while leaving another component with a non-existent budget. This guide also offers recommendations for both Intel and AMD systems, as well as providing a secondary ATI/NVIDIA graphics option. After all, we're here to deliver kick-ass gaming systems, not promote one platform or company over the other.
Fall is another great season to shop for a new computer system. School is back in session, and many vendors are feeling the pinch of the post-academic buying rush, making price drops a very common occurrence. We have made use of some lower prices, both to upgrade that area to a higher-end component, and to funnel back the cash to our budget and move even higher on the performance front. We have upgraded several areas for September, including the power supply, processors, and video card, along with a few other enhancements to the basic configurations. This time out, the gaming performance has certainly been improved, and this is definitely our fastest pair of high-end systems ever.
Current Cost: $275
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
The foundation of any gaming system begins with a high quality case and power supply, and this is doubly important with a $2500 budget. We list these selections first, across all three of our buyer's guides, to help stress the relative importance of system enclosures and that these provide the base for the other components. Aesthetics certainly count for something, but usability, features, craftsmanship, and real estate also figure into the overall ranking. It is very likely that the system case will outlast just about any other component in your PC, so it makes sense to give it special attention.
We chose the ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS Full Tower as our primary system case last time out, and there is certainly no reason to change horses right now. This is a massive PC enclosure that is a near-perfect match for enthusiast-level gaming systems, although please note that it is heavy, and probably will not be making it to many LAN tournaments. Even so, this case offers an astounding selection of features, performance, cooling, and internal real estate, and looks like a million bucks. The ThermalTake Armor tower also comes in two different flavors, the VA8000BWS (black) and VA8000SWA (silver), and both offer a superb case design that is tailor-made for high-end system configurations.
The VA8000BWS not only looks great, but it is incredibly functional and has all the internal real estate necessary for even hardcore gamers. The ThermalTake Armor tower case features eleven 5.25" and eight 3.5" bays, and supports motherboard sizes from Micro ATX up to Extended ATX. This might come in handy should you ever want to upgrade to a multi-CPU/dual socket platform. The VA8000BWS also has a very flexible design, and includes innovative features such as relocate-able HDD & FDD drive bays and top-mounted USB 2.0, IEEE 1394 Firewire, audio and speaker ports. ThermalTake has even included the retaining holes and real estate necessary if you want to incorporate a water-cooling system.
Of course, with the good must come the bad, and true to its "full tower" name, the ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS is a real beast. It measures 530 x 220 x 560 mm (20.87" x 8.66" x 22.05") and weighs in at a hefty 16.2 kg/35.7 lbs. Its size can also be a positive, and translates into incredible cooling performance, especially with dual 120mm silent fans in front and rear, and 90mm fans in rear and top. ThermalTake has even validated it for fanless operation, including fanless CPU/ VGA cooler, fanless PSU and fanless chassis. The unit's size and weight virtually eliminates the ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS as a LAN option, but for stay-at-home systems, it's a killer enclosure.
The ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS hits all the marks save one - portability. For those who desire a more mobile PC, especially for LAN gamers, then a lighter, less expansive system enclosure might be in the cards. One interesting alternative is the Gigabyte 3D Aurora line, which offers a great combination of lightweight aluminum construction and expansive internal real estate. Checking in at about 15 lbs., the 3D Aurora case features 5 x 5.25", 2 x 3.5" (external), and 5 x 3.5" (internal) drive bays, and room for 7 expansion slots. Cooling is also exceptional, with one front-mounted 120mm fan and two back-mounted 120mm fans, all of which run virtually silent and push a lot of air. Other options such as side-mounted USB, Firewire and audio ports are included, and these Gigabyte cases look great and are very easy to work with.
High-end cases usually do not ship with a default power supply, and instead allow the buyer some flexibility in choosing a specific model. This is a perfect solution for a high-end system, as there are very few one-size-fits-all power supplies. Last time out we upgraded to the 650W level with the Antec TruePower Trio TP3-650 EPS12V, and for September, we are moving to the Cooler Master 650W Real Power Pro RS-650.
We have been very impressed with the performance and stability of the Cooler Master Real Power units, and for only a few dollars more, the sideways upgrade was worth it. The Cooler Master 650W Real Power Pro RS-650 provides 650W of continuous power, with maximum output capacity of up to 780W. It is a ATX12V/EPS12V model that supports any AMD or Intel desktop platform, and features native support for PCI Express, Serial ATA, a 24-pin motherboard power connector, as well both 6-pin and 8-pin PCIe power connectors. It even comes with a 3-year warranty.