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Sharky Extreme : Monthly High-end Gaming System Buyer's Guide February 21, 2012
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Monthly High-end Gaming System Buyer's Guide


February High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide

By Vince Freeman :  February 23, 2009

AMD CPU: Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition (3.0 GHz) Retail AM2+

Current Cost: $230
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

When it came to selecting our AMD CPU-motherboard combination, we had a tough decision to make. The new AM3 platform is available, with DDR3 memory support, but the highest clocked AM3 X4 processor is a cache-stunted, multiplier-locked 2.6 GHz model. The AM2+ Phenom II X4 940 BE is a much better choice, as it spanks the Phenom II X4 810 AM3 model in terms of both clock speed and L3 cache size. This is also a Black Edition with a fully unlocked multiplier that's just waiting to be overclocked. We do like the upgrade potential of AM3, but not at this type of cost to performance and overclocking.

The Phenom II X4 940 is the very cream of the crop where AMD performance is concerned, and at 3.0 GHz, it is the highest clocked model in their stable. The 45nm Phenom II core not only runs cooler than the 65nm Phenom, and at a higher clock speed, but it is slightly faster due to the larger 6MB of shared L3 cache, up from 2MB on the original Phenom. The rest of the Phenom II architecture remains consistent, with 512K of L2 cache per core (2MB per CPU) and an onboard dual 64-bit (128-bit dual channel) memory controller that supports up to DDR2-1066. Even the 125W TDP is more than manageable, and puts it on par with the 2.4 GHz Phenom X4 9750.

Intel CPU: Core i7-920 (2.66 GHz) Retail

Current Cost: $288
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

Our last guide saw an upgrade within the Core 2 family, but with the low cost of an entry-level Core i7 and consistently decreasing X58 motherboard prices, it was time to make the change. The 45nm Core i7-920 is a true quad core design that runs at 2.66 GHz and sports an on-die, triple-channel DDR3 memory controller. Each of the four cores includes 256K of dedicated L2 cache (1MB per CPU) and share a whopping 8MB of L3 cache.

There have been other changes in moving to the Core i7, such as a new LGA1366 CPU package, which also necessitates a platform change. The old Intel FSB is gone, replaced by the QuickPath interface, which offers a bi-directional link with 4.8 to 6.4 GT/s of available bandwidth. HyperThreading also makes a comeback with the Core i7, allowing the processor to handle up to 8 threads simultaneously, as well as supporting Turbo Mode for higher core clocks when less than 4 cores are active. There are many reasons for the Core i7 shift, but the low $288 price tag is the most obvious.

AMD Heatsink-Fan: 3rd-party AM2+ HSF

Current Cost: $60
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

Although the Phenom II X4 940 has a revamped core design, it shares the same AM2+ form factor as the Phenom X4, and runs noticeably cooler. Since this is a "Black Edition", we still want to overclock as high as possible, so we're tossing the retail cooler and going with a higher-end 3rd-party model. There are several high-end options at this price level, including the Noctua NH-C12P (left) and Zalman CNPS9700 NT (right), both of which have proven very popular with Phenom II system builders and enthusiasts alike. Feel free to select a cooling solution that fits your own requirements, but these two models are widely available at most online stores.

Intel Heatsink-Fan: 3rd-party LGA1366 HSF

Current Cost: $60
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

Many vendors, like Zalman, Scythe and Noctua, have introduced LGA1366 mounting clips for their various CPU coolers, and this creates a much wider compatibility base for our Core i7-920. The Zalman CNPS9500 or CNPS9700 coolers are both great choices, but if you really want to get serious, then spend a bit more and snag a Thermalright Ultra-120 Extreme 1366RT. Just remember to confirm that the cooler ships with LGA1366 mounting hardware, or spend the extra $5 or so to buy the add-on bracket. Also, feel free to go with a 3rd-party heatsink-fan of your choice, as this can be something you may need to tailor to individual tastes and requirements.

Page 1

Introduction and Case

  • Page 2

    Processors and Cooling

    Page 3


    Page 4

    Memory, Hard Drive and DVD Writer

    Page 5

    Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

    Page 6

    Mouse and Keyboard

    Page 7

    Communications, Operating System, etc.

    Page 8

    Price Roundup and Closing Remarks