High-end PC - Inside Parts (CPU, Mobo, RAM and VGA)
We'll start with the inside components and then work our way to the outside of the system.
- CPU Selection
Undoubtedly the best gaming processor on the planet at the moment is the Intel Core 2 Duo. AMD had it their way for years with their Athlon 64 series of processors but after some serious head butting of the engineers at Intel, they have worked their way back to the top and their latest Socket 775 CPU beats AMD's best offerings.
We choose the Core 2 E6700 processor because the higher-end X6800 Extreme is priced a lot more and really only offers a small performance increase - and we haven't seen too much of the QX6700 Quad Core yet. During your holidays, you are going to have time for overclocking your new gaming PC and it's not hard at all to reach an FSB of 300MHz on most Socket 775 and then you're already sitting at 3GHz and already a little faster than the more expensive X6800 Extreme CPU. We'll be recommending parts that have no issues with overclocking, so don't fear and give it a go!
And while you could just use the standard CPU cooling fan which comes with your new Core 2 Duo processor, where is the fun in that? We have selected the Zalman Fatal1ty FS-C77 CPU cooler as it offers very good air cooling abilities and will aid in processor overclocking, if that is something you choose to do.
- Motherboard Selection
You will need a kick-ass motherboard to go along with your Core 2 Duo processor. In the Socket 775 motherboard market there are plenty of great choices around, especially boards using Intel's 975X and P965 chipsets. Although, nVidia recently come back into the chipset market with a big hit, the nForce 680i chipset.
nForce 680i based motherboards are packed full of great features, performance is as good as 975X and in cases sometimes better and overclocking is brilliant - nVidia even made this chipset with overclockers and tweakers in mind! You can even adjust your DDR-2 memory speed independent of the CPU FSB clock speed which means your RAM will be running as fast as possible.
Right now there are several choices for nForce 680i boards but some are still hard to find. ASUS recently come out with their Striker Extreme motherboard which offers huge OC but it's equally uber expensive. For that reason we are recommending the eVGA board which has a more respectable price tag but still manages to please overclockers. In our review of the board, we managed to get the CPU FSB all the way up to almost 500MHz.
- DDR-2 Memory Selection
When it comes to choosing high-end memory which enjoys overclocking, there are quite a few choices - Corsair, Mushkin, G.Skill, TEAM and Super Talent (for example) all offer high quality memory. We have chosen the OCZ PC2-8500 SLI-Ready Edition Dual Channel 2GB kit as it matches the rest of our system parts and they will work well together in our opinion.
This memory kit includes the nVidia Enhanced Performance Profiles (EPP) which will optimize the memory performance on the eVGA nForce 680i motherboard by fine tuning the settings. The memory is able to run at 1066MHz DDR with its EPP timings of 5-5-5-15 but you'll be able to push the RAM even further since the 680i chipset allows for unlinked memory and FSB bus speed overclocking.
The memory is by no means cheap but this is one part of the system where we do not want to be cheap especially if you're looking at pushing your system to the max. OCZ recently released their PC-9200 FlexXLC water cooling memory but that is too expensive and makes our system too expensive.
- Graphics Card Selection
Next up on the list is the graphics card selection and although it would seem like we are favoring nVidia over other companies that is only because nVidia have the best products out for building a high-end gaming PC at the moment.
We have selected the brand new PCI Express based XFX GeForce 8800GTS graphics card with 640MB memory for several reasons. For one, it has DX10 hardware support and that means it is going to last you for some time and you'll be able to play future games like Crysis and UT2007, in all their glory. Performance is very good and while the price tag is expensive, it's still about $200 USD cheaper than its bigger brother, the GeForce 8800GTX. If you're into overclocking, you'll be able to push the GeForce 8800GTS very far and you should be able to reach near-GTX performance at a lower price.
While we would love a couple of GeForce 8800GTS cards in SLI dual graphics mode but that will end up costing you close to $1000 USD - you can always buy a second card later anyway. Don't get us wrong though, a single GeForce 8800GTS is going to offer kick-ass performance for your new holiday gaming rig even when you run a high resolution such as 1920 x 1200 and a high level graphics quality and AA and AF settings all turned on.