Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide: March '08: Page 3

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Intel Motherboard: ASUS Striker II Formula

Current Cost: $330
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

NVIDIA no longer makes the "fastest" Intel chipsets, but they're still the only game in town for SLI support. This is a gaming PC after all. But even though we were pleased with our former Extreme Gaming choice, the Striker Extreme, we needed to update our selection.

The reasons for the update are twofold. First, the Striker Extreme requires a BIOS update to function properly with our selected Core 2 Duo E8400 processor, but we question whether motherboards without this update will function with the E8400 well enough to allow the BIOS to be updated. We're certainly not going to advise everyone to buy an older processor just to flash the BIOS, in addition to the E8400.

The second reason to update is that although the 680i chipset is Wolfdale compliant, it doesn't support "Yorkfield" based Core 2 Quads such as the QX9650 and QX9770 (with future, lower cost versions to come). We didn't want to preclude this month's build from future upgrades, or stand in the way of anyone who would prefer to build a higher-priced, quad-core version of it.

Our new choice, the Striker II Formula, uses the NVIDIA nForce 780i SLI to support all current Intel processors, while offering dual-GPU SLI support.

Though not significantly improved over the Striker Extreme, the Striker II Formula still provides a full range of features such as three PCI-Express graphics slots, dual gigabit network support, and RAID support for up to six SATA and two PATA drives. ASUS continues its "Republic of Gamers" treatment with a noise-reducing removable audio riser card and several lighted function buttons, and has replaced the rear-panel LCD system status display with a module designed to sit atop a computer's case, or in any other convenient nearby location.

The graphics card slots have all been upgraded, with two provided full x16 PCI-Express pathways in PCIx 2.0 transfer mode and the third extended from eight to sixteen pathways in PCI-Express 1.1 mode. On the other hand, ASUS got rid of the eight-phase capacitor-free VRM and eSATA ports of its "Extreme" predecessor. In some ways buyers pay more to get less in the Striker II Formula, but with processor compatibility on the line, it's the price of progress.

AMD Motherboard: ASUS Crosshair

Current Cost: $240
Consecutive Guides: 4
Price Change: $0

Another "Republic of Gamers" board from ASUS, the Crosshair for AMD comes with an elaborate chipset cooler, an English-language rear-panel system status display, reduced-noise removable audio riser card, back panel system status display, and lighted power/reset buttons. But unlike our newly-selected Intel-compatible model, the Crosshair keeps its eight-phase capacitor-free VRM and dual eSATA ports in addition to the six chipset-supported ports.

The nForce 590 SLI chipset features 46 PCI-Express lanes capable of supporting two graphics cards at full x16 bus width, more than enough for a pair of today's fastest graphics cards and even next-generation products. What's more, BIOS has supported the Phenom processor since November of last year, so high-volume sellers have already purged their supplies of previous revisions.

System Memory: OCZ DDR2 PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 4GB Edition

Current Cost: $155
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

As DDR2 prices continue to tumble, we can now get a 4GB set for about the same price as what 2GB cost in our previous guide. But while we selected "known to overclock easily" DDR2-800, such guarantees are harder to find at higher capacities. Fortunately, OCZ stepped in with a lower-cost DDR2-1066 4GB kit that leaves us with quite a bit of padding in the budget for other parts.

A heat pipe along the upper edge extends cooling away from the warm air pocket surrounding the modules, and makes a great handle for retracting these from extra-tight slots. High-end OCZ memory been good to us in the past, so we have a fair amount of confidence in its part number OCZ2RPR10664GK 2x2GB set.

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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