The start of a new year is both a good and bad time to look for a new PC. The good comes from post-holiday blues and the resultant lower prices, not to mention the market impact of all the CES announcements. But CES can also create analysis-paralysis, whereby all the juicy new technology coming down the pike can create a wait-and-see attitude towards any new system purchase. At certain points in time - such as a new processor family like the Core 2 - this can make sense, but you can literally wait forever if you let every new technological advance stall your buying. This time, there is really only one upcoming product release that could impact our guide, and this is certainly not enough to delay it any more.
The High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide 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.
The post-holiday buying season can be a good one for potential hardware deals, and we've definitely used some price breaks to our advantage. Some new products enter into the equation as well, with guide debuts in the processor, motherboard, memory and LCD display categories. In a few cases, we've worked the budget numbers to yield some very positive results, while in others, we have clearly upgraded to a new product line. As usual, the main goal is one of improving the overall performance and features of our AMD and Intel gaming systems, and these 2008 editions are two of our best yet.
Current Cost: $260
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: -$15
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 this hardware selection 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.
The ThermalTake Armor VA8000BWS Full Tower makes a return appearance as our primary system case again this month, and it's really one of the prime high-end PC cases on the market today. This massive PC enclosure offers a near-perfect match for enthusiast-level gaming systems, although its size and weight will probably negate its use at 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 has the features, functionality and internal real estate necessary for even hardcore gamers. The ThermalTake Armor tower case includes eleven 5.25" and eight 3.5" bays, and supports motherboard sizes from Micro ATX up to Extended ATX. This last part might come in handy if you ever want to move to a multi-CPU/dual socket platform, like some of the quad-core Intel setups. 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, it can't all be good news, 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, we recommend a smaller aluminum or aluminum/steel unit. There are many possible options in the same price range, such as the ThermalTake Tsunami (left) and Antec Nine Hundred (right) mid-tower cases, which check in at anywhere from 13 to 18 lbs, and offer a lot of features and performance.
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 month, we upgraded to the Cooler Master 650W Real Power Pro RS-650, and as we've had very good luck with their high-end models, we're sticking with it to start 2008.
The Cooler Master Real Power units have impressed us with their performance and stability, and at just over $100, it's a very good match for our system and budget. 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.