Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide: March '08: Page 7

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Networking: Integrated Dual Gigabit

Current Cost: $0
Consecutive Guides: 12
Price Change: N/A

Our recommended motherboards both include excellent Dual Gigabit Networking support, making discrete controllers a waste of money and space for most buyers. But those who need more ports might consider an Intel PRO/1000 PT Server Adapter. Intel's long and glorious history in network controllers has all but displaced competitors at this market level, and the PRO/1000 PT is available in single, dual, and quad port designs.

The single port card uses a PCI-Express x1 slot for better flexibility in placement, while multiport cards use an x4 slot. The newer slot standard was chosen because legacy 32-bit PCI can only handle gigabit transfers in one direction at a time, while each PCI-Express lane is both twice as fast in each direction and bi-directional. Anyone who can't spare a PCI-Express slot can substitute a 64-bit PCI PRO/1000 MT in 32-bit mode, since these are cross-compatible, but with an obvious loss in performance.

Hardly anyone requires an analog modem any longer, but those who do will find that our choice of Striker II Formula motherboard and PCI audio card leaves no room for additional PCI devices. An external USB modem such as the US Robotics USR5633 Faxmodem can do the job, using the ancient 56k V.92 protocol.

Operating System: Windows Vista Ultimate OEM

Current Cost: $180
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A

Windows XP might perform better than Windows Vista, but support for the elder OS is slowly declining. In order to build a system that has a modicum of longevity, we were finally forced to concede our opposition and choose Vista.

The Windows Vista Ultimate OEM DVD requires the purchase of qualifying hardware, so a little extra consideration will be needed when selecting components from multiple venders. We also recommend the 32-bit version for the greatest software compatibility, though buyers are welcome to consider the 64-bit version.

32-bit versions of the OS are limited to 4GB RAM, of which only 3GB will be available since the remaining addresses are mapped to graphics memory. We chose a 4GB memory kit for our system anyway, because adding more than two modules to achieve 3GB could limit stability, especially when overclocking. Vista needs all the memory it can get.

Floppy Disk Drive: None

Current Cost: N/A
Consecutive Guides: 0
Price Change: N/A

We had previously brought back the much-hated floppy drive to comply with the RAID driver installation requirements of Windows XP Setup. Fortunately, Windows Vista has no such requirements as most RAID controllers are automatically configured, and the software adds other driver installation paths for controllers that aren't. We don't even need a floppy for BIOS updates, since all well-regarded motherboard brands are able to use USB flash drives for this task.

UPS: OPTI-UPS Enhanced Series ES1000C

Current Cost: $125
Consecutive Guides: 4
Price Change: +$25

A UPS can be cheap insurance against both power surges (spikes) and brownouts (droops), and even prevent data loss in the event of a complete power failure. The value of this security should never be underestimated for any system, but increases with the cost of internal hardware.

Rated at 1000VA with an exceptional 700W load capacity, the OPTI-UPS Enhanced Series 1000C was previously chosen to support upgrades to SLI graphics and quad core processing, and for this guide we've gotten as far as the two graphics cards. Its moderate price did jump a bit this month, but enough user feedback exists to assure us of the quality in our selection.

OPTI-UPS goes a step beyond similarly-priced competitors in both wattage and disclosure. A "typical runtime load" of 45-55 minutes is similar to what competing products cite, but OPTI also provides the actual runtime capabilities most others won't mention. Specifically, this unit is rated at 3 minutes full load capacity (700W) and ten minutes half-load capacity. The load time numbers may look small compared to the estimated run time, but one must wonder what competitors are tying to hide by not publishing their load times.

Our configurations are expected to "pull" around 520W of peak power during gaming, so users powering both the system and the LCD display should have several minutes to save their game and power down if ever their local power grid does go offline. Running less strenuous tasks whenever the grid goes down could bring your "typical runtime" in line with the company's estimates.

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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