We get a lot of questions here at OCIA.net from users asking our opinion on what hardware they should buy. Many of these questions are fielded in our forum but every now and then, someone will e-mail me with a few questions. Myself along with the rest of the staff here are always happy to answer any questions you may have, but things can get busy at times and it is more difficult to return e-mails than we would like.
For that very reason, we started writing these System Buying Guides a few years back. We have three categories of Buying Guides: Budget, Mainstream and Performance. Our Budget Guide has a spending limit of $650, the Mainstream limit is $1,200 and we allocate $2,000 for our Performance Guide.
The systems that we piece together here are designed to give you the best overall experience under the given budget. Obviously, if you are a gamer, you would probably want to spend more money on a video card than other components. Our guides are designed with overclocking in mind, so we often select lower-end processors / memory / video cards to save money, because we know these can be overclocked to equal or outperform higher priced hardware. All of our guides exclude common components such as a mouse, keyboard, monitor, OS, etc., under the assumption that you already own these items.
With that said, let's continue forward with our September 2007 Mainstream Buying Guide...
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6750
It's no secret that Intel has been dominating the processor market the past few years, which is why we decided to go with an Intel based system for this guide. The E6750 operates at 2.66 GHz, 1333MHz with 4M of shared L2 cache. This processor has an excellent price point and is extremely overclocker friendly.
Heatsink: Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme
To ensure that we get the most out of our E6750, we have paired it with Thermalright's Ultra-120 eXtreme heatsink. Thermalright has a reputation of being one of the best heatsink manufacturers on the planet. The Ultra-120 will certainly cool the processor more efficiently than the retail Intel heatsink, but more importantly, will allow for much more headroom when pushing the processor to the absolute limits. A 120mm fan of your choice is used to keep the massive array of fins nice and chilly.
Motherboard: EVGA 680i LT
EVGA has one solid board in the 680i LT. I have been running an EVGA 680i board in my test system for several months, and while it was a bit of a pain to get up and running (early BIOS issues), the board is totally solid and super stable now. This board will give you everything and more when it comes to overclocking. It has plenty of SATA ports, good Northbridge cooling, two PCI-E x16 slots for SLI and a very thorough user manual.
Memory: OCZ Platinum 2 GB PC2-6400
This is the same memory kit that we selected for our budget buying guide. This memory operates at 800 MHz, features low timings of 4-4-4-15 and comes with OCZ's lifetime warranty. 2 GB is the minimum amount of memory I would put in a new build these days. This ensures the memory subsystem won't be a huge bottleneck for the rest of the system. We went with this kit over a higher-end kit mainly because of the heatsink we selected. Some high end memory kits have large heatspreaders, which would present a clearance issue with the Thermalright heatsink.
Video Card: eVGA GeForce 8800GTS
Our video card of choice for the mainstream guide is an 8800GTS 320MB card. This is a very powerful DX10 card, operating at a core clock speed of 576 MHz and a memory clock speed of 400 MHz which should be more than enough for hardcore gamers. I would easily expect to get at least 50 MHz or so more out of the core and around 100 MHz out of the memory from overclocking.
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM 400 GB SATA
Seagate's Barracuda 400 GB drive was selected as the hard drive of choice for this guide. This drive operates at 7200 RPM with a 16 MB buffer and an average latency of 4.17ms. I have been using two similar Seagate drives in my RAID 0 array for over a year now and am very happy with their performance thus far. 400 GB should be plenty of space for all of your games, music and videos.
Power Supply: Ultra Products X3 800w
We recently reviewed the 1,000w and 600w versions of this power supply and couldn't be happier with it. The unit is 100% modular and uses flex-force cables which are very easy to route and tuck away for a clean install. The 135mm fan in this power supply is whisper quiet. The finish on the power supply itself is mirror-like and would look great in any system.
Optical Drive: Lite On SuperAllwrite Dual Layer DVD Burner
This is the same optical drive that we selected for the budget guide, and for good reason. The drive is extremely cheap, offers pretty much everything you would expect from a quality drive and even comes with two different bezels (one black, one white) to better help match the color of your computer case. This drive uses a SATA interface, which is great because it eliminates the ugly IDE ribbon cable from your system.
Case: Your Choice
This is the segment of the guide that I leave totally up to you, the reader. More often than not, the decision for a case comes down to looks alone. There are a ton of great cases out here with some really good features, but you may not like one case simply because it doesn't fit your style, which is totally fine.
Using our TTZ Media shopping engine to find the lowest prices on each of our components, we come up with a grand total of $1,110.30 (as of writing). With our budget of $1,200, this leaves us $89.70 to cover the cost of a case and shipping. This may be pushing the envelope just a bit, but we feel that we have put together one heck of a system here today for the allotted money. Overclocking the processor, memory and video card will take this system to the next level and allow you to run the latest and greatest applications and games for a long time to come.