Video Card: Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
Current Cost: $440
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
There is no question that the graphics component is the most important part of any PC gaming system, and that along with the LCD, the video card should be the largest expenditure in your system budget. We took that to heart this month, and moved right to the top of the ATI chart and selected the dual-GPU Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB powerhouse. This is a serious performer, and at $440, it surprisingly managed to stay within budget.
The Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB features dual 55nm R700 cores with 800 Stream processors, 40 texture units and 16 ROPs each. Clock speeds are set at 750 MHz for both of the R700 cores, driving the fillrate to double that of a standard Radeon HD 4870 GPU. The card includes 2x1GB of GDDR5, running on dual 256-bit bus links, and clocked at an effective speed of 3600 MHz. This provides over 230 GB/sec. of memory bandwidth, and the Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB is still the champ in this area.
NVIDIA has recently introduced a true challenger to the Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB, but although it is actually a bit faster, the dual-GPU GeForce GTX 295 1792MB is priced too high to make our budget on the Intel side. Featuring a core clock of 576 MHz and a 1998 MHz memory speed, this is a very fast video card and easily qualifies in terms of overall performance. Along with its higher price, another consideration is availability, and with low supplies, it's becoming very difficult to locate a GeForce GTX 295 card right now.
LCD Display: BenQ G2400WD 24" LCD
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: -$29
The gaming LCD market has been in flux lately, with proponents of the various technologies arguing over terms like "input lag", "response times" and "viewing angle", while fans of both TN and S-PVA/MVA formats offering very compelling arguments. It's getting tougher to find true gaming monitors, with nonexistent lag and lightning fast response times, outside of the TN panels, so we moved to the BenQ G2400WD 24" LCD in our previous guide.
Response times and input lag are two features that hammer PVA/MVA panels hard, and are becoming increasingly important to gamers. A TN panel does have slightly lower viewing angles, but this isn't a big issue with a single-user home PC, especially when gaming. The BenQ G2400WD is one of the better sub-$400 gaming 24" panels, as it features a 2ms GTG (gray to gray) response time, a 4000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, and a plethora of inputs, including HDMI/ DVI/ D-sub and a headphone jack. The standard resolution is 1920x1200 with a 0.27 mm pixel pitch, although the 160°/160° viewing angle is a bit lower than the 178°/178° commonly found on S-PVA panels.
If you can still find it, the Westinghouse L2410NM is a great deal and offers an 8-bit MVA panel with a fast 8ms response times and a 176° horizontal and vertical viewing angle. The latest A01 revision of the Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP has improved greatly on the previous models in terms of ghosting and input lag, and has its fair share of gaming adherents. The color depth and clarity of this panel is amazing, but only fits in our budget when on sale.
Please keep in mind that when buying any type or brand of monitor, there is always the chance of receiving a defective unit, so be certain to purchase only from a vendor that offers liberal return and replacement options, especially in their "dead/stuck pixel replacement policy" for new LCDs.
Sound Card: Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer
Consecutive Guides: 6
Price Change: +$11
Creative's X-Fi line of soundcards is a real update to previous technologies, and is definitely not an "upgrade" in name only. Creative packages the X-Fi sound chip in several different versions, but the entry-level X-Fi XtremeGamer edition is well suited to our guide. The X-Fi XtremeGamer offers several improvements such as a 109dB signal-to-noise ratio, 7.1-channel surround sound, DTS ES and Dolby Digital decoding, 24-bit, 192 kHz audio support, EAX HD support, as well as the new 24-bit Crystalizer engine, which up samples and enhances all sound to 24-bit.
In addition, the X-Fi provides for gaming, audio creation, and entertainment modes that can be switched on the fly. The price is the real key, as the X-Fi XtremeGamer accommodates all of our audio requirements while remaining within budget, something the other Creative Labs X-Fi cards cannot do.
The X-Fi Fatal1ty series is an attractive option, but it's still a bit pricey, but for those with some extra cash, it might be a worthwhile upgrade. The Fatal1ty Champion/Pro offers all the base features of the XtremeGamer, but also includes 64MB of built-in memory and a front connector port. This onboard X-RAM serves as a sound/FX buffer, and if it is implemented at the software level, may well increase game performance. Some limited support exists in some games, but nothing even approaches an industry standard like EAX. At approximately $150-$175, it is still a very expensive card, and with our budget, remains a luxury.
System Speakers: Logitech G51 5.1 Surround Sound Speakers
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: $0
With a high-end gaming soundcard, a good set of surround sound speakers is a great way to fully immerse yourself in games, movies and music. Choosing the right set of speakers is an important long-term investment, as these will likely stay with you a very long time.
In our last guide we moved to the Logitech G51 5.1 speaker set, which features a total 155 watts RMS power output (4 x 20W satellites, 1 x 19W center, 1 x 56W sub), and a precision control pod (master volume, sub, center and surround level controls, audio/microphone mute, and a headset jack). Two 2-inch laser-tuned drivers power the satellites, while the subwoofer features a down-firing 5.25-inch high-excursion driver. These even feature speaker skins and a mod system for personal customization.
Of course, if you can locate a set for a similar price, the Logitech THX Z-5300e 5.1 speakers offer an exceptional price-performance ratio, and with a total of 280 watts RMS power, these redefine the meaning of "bang for your buck".