This page describes a “professional gaming” system build with a fixed price point target of $1200, which will be updated on a roughly quarterly basis. This build shares some features with the $800 Budget Gamer’s Box, notably the mirrored data drives for security, but boasts a significantly more powerful graphics card with double the RAM, a Blu-ray burner, and an SSD boot drive for significantly faster speed. It also includes a discrete audio card for superior audio quality. It also has a better upgrade pathway, allows overclocking, and has enough bandwidth to support dual high-end GPUs.
Also, a note about the AMD vs Intel debate. At our price point, the choice comes down to either an Intel Core i5 or an AMD FX-8350, of which the latter is ~$25 cheaper. However, extensive testing at Anandtech shows that while the AMD excels at multi-thread benchmarks, most real-world computing (including games) is a mix of multi-threaded and single-threaded use, and Intel retains a significant advantage here. Also, Intel has a tremendous TDP advantage, which is an important consideration. These disparities may change with future changes to AMD’s architecture, but for now we are focusing solely on Intel for our build.
CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($219.99)
MOBO: Asus P8Z77-V LK ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($134.99)
GPU: Gigabyte AMD Radeon HD 7950 3GB ($299.99)
RAM: Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($57.98)
HDD: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($73.52)
HDD: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($73.52)
SSD: Samsung 840 Series 120GB 2.5″ Solid State Disk ($94.99)
PSU: Corsair Builder 600W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V Power Supply ($66.24)
CASE: Corsair 400R ATX Mid Tower Case ($94.99)
OPTICAL: Asus BW-12B1ST/BLK/G/AS Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Writer ($79.99)
AUDIO: Asus Xonar DSX 24-bit 192 KHz Sound Card ($59.99)
This quad-core CPU retains a low thermal envelope (77W TDP) with aggressive 3.4 GHz speed. It is also ready for overclocking, for even more potential performance gains.
MOBO: Asus P8Z77-V LK
This Asus board has all the goodies as the motherboard in the baseline build, and also boasts full x8/x8 connectivity for its PCIe x16 slots, which will be useful if in the future you want to add a second graphics card in an SLI setup. It also ships with Lucid’s Virtu MVP software package for CPU/GPU virtualization, and has fantastic overclocking support, a perfect match for the 3570K.
The Radeon 7950 provides a significant performance boost over the 7850 in the baseline build. Truthfully, Nvidia GeForce 660 Ti is quite evenly matched to the 7950 in both price and performance, so that would also be a valid choice. We are suggesting the Radeon however with an eye towards a future upgrade to a dual-GPU setup; Radeon’s Crossfire allows mix and matching of different video cards, whereas Nvidia’s SLI requires two of the same GPU. At some point in the future, you could buy a newer, faster Radeon and still be able to do Crossfire with the old and new cards, so that is a more flexible/value upgrade path. Currently, buying a 7950 also gets you a free Download of Crysis and Bioshock: Infinite, so that’s pure gravy.
This 8GB DDR3-1600 Corsair kit (8-8-8-24 timings) has a lifetime warranty and aggressive heatsinks built-in, yet remains a great value. Remember, we need a 64-bit operating system to fully exploit 8GB of memory, and this matched/paired set will help optimize disk cache and access times from the mechanical hard drives. Note that there will still be 2 empty slots for a future upgrade to 16GB on the motherboard.
HDD: Western Digital Blue 1 TB 7200 RPM (x2)
These reliable, solid SATA 3 drives are a step above Western Digital’s “Green” budget/economy drives and below their more expensive “Black” enterprise-ready drives in performance, running at a fast 7200 RPM (reviewed at StorageReview.com). They have a generous 2-year warranty which includes WD’s mail-in program, which allows you to request a replacement drive under warranty first, to copy your data over from your old one, before sending the old defective drive back. Using two of these drives as a mirrored pair in our build means you will never have a single day’s downtime or data loss. Don’t forget to add 2 of them to your shopping cart!
The single biggest performance boost for a system is adding an SSD, resulting in superior boot times and snappy application performance. Of course, given the limited size, you will still want to store your data on the mechanical paired drives, but installing the OS to the SSD will mean a substantial boost in system performance across the board. You can also try using Intel’s Smart Response Technology to use up to 64GB of the SSD’s capacity as a cache for the mechanical drives to further boost drive performance.
PSU: Corsair CX 600
Corsair’s CX600M offers modular cabling, 80 Bronze Plus certification, a 5 year warranty, and a hefty but quiet fan, all for a competitive price. The 600W capacity will be more than sufficient for the build, since we are running only one graphics card. As far as capacity, 600W has enough headroom to run two of these GPUs should the need arise in future upgrades.
This case is about the same price as the NZXT case used in the budget gamer box, though it is engineered more for cooling rather than quietness, which is better suited to this build’s faster graphics. However, either case would work with either build, if you prefer the aesthetics of one over the other.
OPTICAL: ASUS 12X Blu-ray
You can watch movies at full HD resolution, or back up enormous amounts of data with this Blu-ray burner, which does everything that the DVD/RW drive does as well as burning BR discs at 14x speed.
AUDIO: ASUS Xonar DSX
Adding a discrete sound card off-loads the burden of audio processing from the system’s CPU, and will result in substantial improvement in sound quality. Pair this with an analog headset (see below).
These are inexpensive when ordered as “add-ons” from Amazon and will definitely come in handy, for the initial build, upgrading or adding drives in the future, and hooking up the PC to a TV or other display device for media viewing.
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit
Windows 7 is still the best choice for maximum compatibility with all games and applications, so we are playing it safe and avoiding Windows 8. Who wants to live without a Start Menu, right? We choose the 64-bit version to make sure we can use all our 8GB of RAM and we use Professional instead of Home Premium so we can do the mirroring of the two hard drives.
PRODUCTIVITY: Office 365 Home Premium 1yr Subscription (5 PC license)
If you also plan to actually get some work done on this machine, you’ll need Microsoft Office. The new Office 365 allows you to pay an annual subscription fee for an always-current, latest version of the office suite, which can be installed on up to 5 computers in your home.
A 24” monitor is the optimal size for maximum productivity. This svelte, elegant Viewsonic monitor has an LED backlight for up to 50% better power savings and integrated speakers, allowing for reduced desktop clutter. This monitor has the standard DVI and VGA inputs and full HD resolution of 1920×1080.
KEYBOARD: Corsair Vengeance K60 Mechanical
This full-size mechanical keyboard (reviewed at TechReport.com) is surprisingly affordable for such high build quality, with a sleek aluminum base and Cherry MX Red switches for a fast linear response that greatly reduces muscle fatigue. It also has top-end goodies macro keys, a USB port, media buttons and even a volume scroll wheel made of textured aluminum. Though more expensive than cheap rubber-dome keyboards, this keyboard is only half as expensive as other mechanicals with fewer features. And once you type on a mechanical, you can’t go back.
MOUSE: Logitech Wireless G700
This sculpted, laser-tracking mouse has a total of 13 fully-programmable buttons, natural curves to fit your hand and smooth-gliding feet for precise control. It works in wireless mode using the built-in receiver or can be plugged in via removable USB cable that doubles as a charger for the internal (replaceable) lithium battery.
HEADSET: Corsair Vengeance 1300 Analog 3.5mm
The discrete audio card is best used with an analog headset, since the card is doing all the digital conversion for you rather than loading the CPU.
All components can be ordered directly from Amazon and are eligible for expedited shipping with Amazon Prime.