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Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide: March '08

An extreme $4,000 budget is sure to put these Extreme Gaming PC Guide components on the top of everyone's shopping list—and make its builders the envy of those who can only afford to follow our $2,500 High-End Guide! If you're looking for the best combination of parts available for a little less than this hefty price limit, read on!
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Introduction

We've had a few interesting months since our October Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, with the introduction of Intel's "Yorkfield" Core 2 Extreme processors, the debut of AMD's long-awaited Phenom, and new "X2" series graphics cards using ATI HD 3870 dual-GPU technology. With all of these exciting developments, how will we use our $4,000 budget? Read on to find out.

Case: Cooler Master CM Stacker 830 Evo

Current Cost: $240
Consecutive Guides: 5
Price Change: $0

The sad fact of PC building is that nothing says more about the quality of a system's internal components than what it looks like on the outside. Yet there isn't much cutting-edge technology that can be applied to computer case design. Case quality is instead determined by the overall build, materials, ventilation, noise reduction, and convenience.

Once you've found everything you need in a case, it's hard to change unless something significantly better comes along, especially when that model features a near-perfect design and execution. With superior quality craftsmanship, beautiful heavy-gauge aluminum panels, and the best ventilation we've seen, it's no wonder the Cooler Master Stacker 830 has made it into five consecutive guides.

A clear plastic swing-away side fan cage supports up to four 120mm or 140mm fans for optimal cooling. This fan design can cool a wide variety of system components, from a second bottom-mounted graphics card to the RAM and motherboard voltage regulators at the top. A 120mm front fan cools the hard drives, while top and rear-mounted 120mm fans assist the power supply in ridding the case of all that excess heat.

Nine 5.25" bays support a wide variety of drives thanks to Cooler Master's inclusion of a 3x 5.25" to 4x 3.5" adapter cage, and lining the entire front panel with large bays allows the option of using alternative multi-drive racks.

Among other system enclosures under consideration is Cooler Master's own high-profile Cosmos case, but while the new model features trendy looks, it doesn't offer the superior cooling or easy cable routing of the classic Stacker 830. While we're on the subject of alternative designs, the best reason for having the power supply at the top of a case is to use its oversized fan to pull warm air away from the CPU cooler, assisting the exhaust fans.

While a few cases have put the power supply at the bottom and an additional exhaust fan at the top, who needs the extra noise when the additional fan serves the same purpose? Cooler Master nailed its design down almost perfectly, and it's a shame that so many competing parts now seek to differentiate themselves with designs that hamper, rather than help, total system cooling performance.

Power Supply: Ultra X3 800W

Current Cost: $200
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: $0

Imagine our surprise when a sister site proved that an 800W version of our previous selection, the Ultra X3 1000W, was still powerful enough to accept virtually any hardware you could fit into a PC case. While we have no regrets about our previous choice, the Ultra X3 800W allows us to put the $60 saved towards other components. Conveniences such as a modular design using flat cables for easier cable management, and a 135mm bottom-mounted intake fan that draws warm air away from the top of a motherboard, have topped our list for selecting Ultra's highest-quality power units.

An impressive 60 amps (720W) on its single 12V rail lets the X3 divide its power across any devices without encountering those annoying per-rail limits imposed by multi rail designs, and still offers far more power than this guide's system will actually need. But the extra available power isn't going to cost a lot over the lifetime of the system, as Ultra rates its X3 800W at 85% peak efficiency, a number that becomes impressive considering the losses many modular power supplies take due to the slight added resistance on the extra connections.

Anyone who can't appreciate the design advantages of Ultra's X3 might also like to consider a previous favorite from a better-known brand, PC Power & Cooling's Silencer 750 Quad.

PC Power & Cooling's Silencer 750 Quad delivers the same performance as it did when selected for our March Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, and its price has fallen to around $170.

Introduction and Case

Processors and Cooling

Motherboards and Memory

Hard Drives and DVD-R/RW

Video Card, LCD Display and Audio

Mouse, Keyboard & Controller

Communications, Operating Systems, and more

Prices Roundup and Final Thoughts


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Tags: Intel, gaming PC, gamer, PC buying guide, motherboard


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