Current Cost: $1100 ($550 each)
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
Since both of our platforms support ATI CrossFireX, our main choice this month will be a pair of ATI-based graphics cards. To totally honest, a single Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB card would suffice to handle virtually any game on our AMD and Intel platforms, and that would be our standard recommendation. Just pocket the extra $550 and move along, but since we have the budget space and this is an "extreme" guide, then adding a second card is the logical choice.
The Radeon HD 4870 X2 is a very powerful graphics solution, sporting dual Radeon HD 4870 graphics processors in a single-card, multi-GPU format combined with a full 2GB of ultra-fast GDDR5. It is the fastest single-card performer that money can buy, and has simply jaw-dropping specifications. A fillrate of 60 GT/s and a memory bandwidth of over 230 GB/s are simply off the chart, and adding two of these behemoths to a single PC is a slight bit of overkill.
Current Cost: $900 ($450 each)
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
Although we go with one card vendor as our primary choice, we also provide what we feel is a comparable option from the other. Naturally, we're going with a pair of top-of-the-line GeForce GTX 280 1GB video cards, as this is the fastest hardware NVIDIA has to offer.
But this also brings up some issues in terms of platform support for SLI, which is currently implemented only in NVIDIA-based chipsets. To get these dual GeForce GTX 280 cards working in SLI, you'll need to go for an alternative AMD motherboard, possibly using the nForce 780a chipset, or a new Intel board with the nForce 790i SLI or 790i Ultra SLI.
Our previous LCD selection, the Westinghouse L2410NM, remains a top choice for gaming displays, but it's become more difficult to locate, especially at the larger online retailers. That means it's time for a change, and evaluating the latest and greatest in gaming panels. This also brings up the dicey question of what type of LCD technology to use, as S-PVA/MVA LCDs offer slightly better viewing angles, but pay for it with significant input lag (where the displayed image lags behind the signal). Some very nice S-PVA monitors have come under fire for serious input lag, and many gamers have migrated to fast-response TN panels like the BenQ G2400WD 24".
These offer incredibly low response times and almost non-existent input lag, two features are becoming increasingly important to gamers. You do pay for it with lower viewing angles, which aren't really an issue with a single-user home PC, especially when gaming. The BenQ G2400WD is a top-rated 24" gaming panel, featuring an astonishing 2ms GTG (gray to gray) response time, a 4000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, and a ton of inputs, including HDMI/ DVI/ D-sub and a headphone jack. The standard resolution is 1920x1200 with a 0.27 mm pixel pitch, although the 160°/160° viewing angle is a bit lower than the 178°/178° commonly found on S-PVA panels.
Although the Westinghouse 24" MVA display has dropped off the face of the earth, there are still quite a few M-PVA options out there, including the popular Dell Ultrasharp line. We really like the Ultrasharp 2408WFP for pure clarity and viewing angles, and a 6 ms response time, a 3000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, and 110% color gamut makes it a serious home display. But like most M-PVA panels, it does suffer from input lag, which depending on your sensitivity, could really affect your gaming.
Current Cost: $180
Consecutive Guides: 3
Price Change: +$10
The X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series card has served us well in previous guide, and there is not reason to mess with success. It features 64MB of "X-RAM" for caching sounds, which theoretically can improve performance, and features a high 109db signal-to-noise ratio with EAX 5.0 audio effects. The pack includes a handy remote and utilizes an "X-Fi I/O Drive" front-panel with volume control, headphone/microphone port access and other features.
Current Cost: $250
Consecutive Guides: 10
Price Change: +$15
Although the Logitech Z-5500 5.1-channel speaker set has been a mainstay in our guide for some time now, it's not as if technology has been overtaking it. This remains one of the top high-end solutions on the market, and really stands out as a tried-and-true classic of PC audio. And like any classic, it's going to take a lot to topple it from the top of our speaker list.
While upgrading to a 7.1-channel speaker system remains a potential option, we have been unable to find anything that competes with the Logitech Z-5500. It includes 505W total power, with four 62W satellites, a 69W center speaker and an 188W sub-woofer. The set also includes a Digital SoundTouch control center with LCD display, the cloth speaker grills are removable and the pedestals rotate.