Our last High-end Guide brought us into 2007, so with summer just around the corner, it is high time for another edition of our High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide. 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 wanting to spend 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.
Summer is usually a great time to buy a new system, as with so many vacations and outdoor activities, sales are usually down and price drops are in full effect. School is also ending, and it'll be a few lean months before the usual back-to-class buying blitz. This is quite obvious in our guide configurations, as we've upgraded several areas, from power supplies to processors, and a few things in between. The graphics performance end is mostly unchanged, as the budget is not available to make a step up in that area, but price drops have allowed upgrades on a few other areas.
Current Cost: $260
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.
A few guides ago, we switched our primary case recommendation to the ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS Full Tower, and it's still looking like a serious contender this month. This is a massive system enclosure that is a near-perfect match for enthusiast-level gaming systems, although please note it's a bit hefty to be dragging around to 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's incredibly functional and has all the space that even hardcore gamers could ever need. 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. It 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 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 also 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 option.
The ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS hits all the marks save one - portability. For those who desire a more mobile PC, especially 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 killer 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, thus allowing the buyer to choose exactly which model meets the system requirements. This is a perfect solution, especially as there are very few one-size-fits-all power supplies. Our power supply has been upgraded to the Antec 650W TruePower Trio TP3-650 EPS12V, which is a slight improvement over the 550W TP3-550 we selected last time out.
The Antec TP3-650 also follows the standard TruePower design, and forgoes removable power connectors in favor of a more consistent wired approach. The Antec 650W TruePower Trio PSU provides up to 650W of consistent and reliable power, and also features native support for PCI Express, SLI video cards (it is NVIDIA Quad SLI certified), Serial ATA, both 20 and 24-pin motherboard power connectors, as well as a low-noise 120mm cooling fan.
The EPS12V format allows for both 4-pin and 8-pin ATX 12V connectors, which will support all types of Intel and AMD desktop platforms. The Antec TP3-650 can handle any PC desktop platform available, and at just over $100, it is relatively affordable, especially considering its excellent specifications and 5-year warranty.