Our first High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide for 2009 will be looking to revamp a significant percentage of our system configuration. There have been very important product debuts recently, like the Phenom II and Core i7 processors, along with some hot new graphics cards and platforms. With all this new hardware out there, it also represents a great time to buy a new system and rest easy that it won't become obsolete and underpowered in only a few months.
With its $2500 budget, 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 ceiling. Our basic goal is to select optimal AMD and Intel gaming PC configurations, while still adhering to our budget. 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 or NVIDIA graphics option. After all, we're here to deliver kick-ass gaming systems, not promote one platform or company over the other.
Through late-2008 and into early-2009, the new product announcements have been coming on fast, which gives buyers a great opportunity to make use of these volatile market conditions. It also makes selecting our high-end gaming configurations that much easier, as we can either snag some new, hot hardware or take advantage of the price drops on existing models. As usual, we are looking at upgrade the graphics card, CPU and motherboard, in that order, as well as making some potential upgrades in other areas.
Current Cost: $298
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 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 Series VA8003BWS Full Tower is a slight upgrade to our previous pick, the VA8000BWS, and is one very well-appointed high-end enclosure. Like all Thermaltake Armor cases, this is a massive unit, checking in at 20.9 x 8.7 x 22.0 inches and almost 35 lbs, which will probably negate its use as a LAN party system. But it's a great match for enthusiast-level gaming systems, with an astounding selection of features, performance, cooling, and internal real estate. This ThermalTake Armor series is available in two different flavors, the VA8003BWS (black) and VA8003SWA (silver) to match individual requirements.
The ThermalTake Armor VA8003BWS includes eleven 5.25" and seven 3.5" bays, and supports mATX, BTX, ATX, and Extended ATX motherboards. This makes it big enough to handle any desktop platform on the market, even a multi-CPU/dual socket system if you feel the need. The case if very flexible and offers relocate-able HDD & FDD drive bays, top-mounted USB 2.0, IEEE 1394 Firewire, audio and speaker ports, potential fanless operation, and ThermalTake has even included the retaining holes necessary if you want to add a water-cooling system.
System cooling is also very good; the slightly updated ThermalTake Armor VA8003BWS features the standard dual 120mm silent fans in front and rear, and 90mm fans in rear and top, but adds a massive 250mm side fan, which handles the motherboard and graphics cooling. ThermalTake has validated this case for fanless operation, with a ventilation opening on top, and it supports fanless CPU/VGA cooler, fanless PSU and fanless chassis. The ThermalTake Armor series hits all the marks except one, portability, but is an excellent stay-at-home chassis for any gaming system.
Another high-end case we really like is the Antec Twelve Hundred. This case is not quite as flexible as the ThermalTake Armor, as it's an ATX design, but Antec has added many features into their Twelve Hundred. These include six 120mm to 200mm cooling fans standard (+2 more optional), twelve drive bays, seven expansion slots, liquid-cooling support, and expansive 22.9 x 8.4 x 20.2 inch dimensions. We still like the overall package of the ThermalTake Armor VA8003BWS, but the Antec Twelve Hundred is a very nice alternative.
High-end cases usually do not ship with a default power supply, and instead let the buyer have some flexibility in choosing a specific model. This is a perfect solution for a top-end gaming system, as there are very few one-size-fits-all power supplies. Due to a combination of budgetary restraint and seeing no real need to hit the 850W-900W level, we're sticking with the same model as last time.
We keep hoping that name brand 850W power supplies will start to drop in price, but these have remained very consistent for almost a year. Still, a high quality 750W unit is not bad and it's more than enough to power to handle our AMD and Intel systems. The Cooler Master 750W Real Power Pro RS-750 makes a return engagement to our guide, and it has everything we need, including 80-plus certification and is SLI certified and CrossFire-ready.
It is ATX12V/EPS12V compliant and supports any AMD or Intel desktop platform, while featuring native support for PCI Express (PCI-E 8 Pin x 2, PCI-E 6 Pin x 2), Serial ATA, a 24-pin motherboard power connector, as well as both 4-pin and 8-pin CPU power connectors. It even ships with a 5-year warranty.
For those who feel the need for 850W of power, but don't want to stray very far from our budget, the Corsair 850TX is a very nice option. Corsair has really impressed us with their power supplies, and this unit provides 850W of power with 80-plus certification and a 5-year warranty. All the connectors are there, including 8-pin EPS and PCI Express 6-pin/8-pin power cables, and at $150, it won't cost much for the wattage upgrade.