You know it, we know it, even your mum knows it. Sandy Bridge is the way to go if you want the best gaming rig.
Now we know you're not made of money, Lord knows we'd like to be, but in terms of outlay the Core i5 2500K is a simple no-brainer. Its 3.3GHz stock speed is only a beat behind the fastest Core i7 model, with the main differential being the L3 cache and a slightly improved Turbo mode.
But you know all of this. What we're here for is to outline just how much cash a seriously kick-ass gaming rig is going to cost you, how it all falls together and what performance you can expect out of it at the end.
To answer all of those questions we've been down the local market to pick up a few choice slices of silicon. We've put our shopping list on the right and it does add up to a hefty sum. At £1,310 it is pricey, but this is a PC that's going to last and frankly we have taken a couple of luxury items into the build that certainly heft the price up a few hundred pounds more than it might have to be.
Gaming PC components
One of our big luxury items is the Asus Maximus IV Extreme. It's a frankly beautiful item that comes crammed with features any PC-loving overclocker is going to embrace with joy. The downside is that it costs around £300, almost £200 pounds or so more than other P67 boards you could choose on the market. Despite our love for this board it's still hard to justify if you're on a budget.
Our other obvious luxury item is the splendid 128GB SSD from Western Digital. Frankly, £200 compared to the cost a couple of years ago is peanuts for such a high-performance drive. While the SSD product you're getting now is far more mature than those first generation efforts. But there's no arguing for £50 you can get a perfectly functioning and performing HDD that's going to provide copiously more space.
A good alternative is to opt for the 64GB model, that's half the price, yet retains all the juicy bit-flinging performance.
Lastly is the memory. It's another luxury treat, the 2,000MHz Dominator GT memory from Corsair can help wring every last drop of speed from the system, but if you're going to stick to stock then you could knock another £80 off the total bill by opting for generic 1333MHz DDR3. Boring but functional.
Beyond these three compromises we wouldn't want to touch much else if anything. Perhaps we don't need a Blu-ray drive? Perhaps we could opt for a lower-quality case? But why would we when that's perhaps going to save £30 in total? Without doubt the Core i5 2500K is the right CPU to choose.
We're opting for the pricier GeForce GTX 570 too, though the AMD Radeon 6950 would be a good lower-cost alternative but the Fermi offers better performance. And a solid PSU is a long term investment that even your children can enjoy.
With those compromises in mind it's not unfeasible that you could build a very similarly performing system for around the cool £900 price mark, which isn't too shabby either. Check out the benchmarks to see just how well our stock-clocked system performed.
Let's build our gaming PC...
1. Stay cool
Before diving into a build with both feet, we like to test the waters first. This means testing the system on the bench before strapping it into the case just to find out some component or another is kaput. So, first things first, drop the processor into the motherboard socket and attach a cooler.
2. Add the vitals
Two more components are required before we can test a system: the graphics card and memory. For testing purposes we could grab any old PCI-e card that's lying around, plus we only need a single stick of memory. None of this takes a lot of time, and it's worth doing in the long run.
3. Power her up
Sidle the PSU up to the edge of the motherboard and connect the required cables to power it up. This at least will be the main ATX connector, the 12v connector and any PCI-e connectors for the graphics card. Attached a monitor and you're ready to fire her up and see if everything is working, or not.
4. Case the joint
It's usually best to first of all drop the PSU into the case, this will stop it clashing with any cooler and cables you may have installed. Thankfully this CoolMaster case has been designed with the PSU in the bottom, making access far easier even after the motherboard has been installed.
5. Back it up
Hold your horses there you young hothead. Before dropping in the motherboard in, make sure you fish out the ATX back plate from the motherboard box and pop it into place. Also make sure you check all the supports are screwed into place for the size of your motherboard, with that done, angle in the mobo.
6. Cable tied
The next logical step is to drop in the graphics card, however it's also time to start thinking about where your cables are going to be routed. High-end graphics cards can cause their own problems such as blocking SATA ports, so it's an idea to attach and route cables around the case, even at this early stage.
7. Tested too much
Like a 12-year-old child it's time to test your machine again. The major components have been dropped into place and there's no reason why it shouldn't work at this stage.
We'd also recommend at this point attaching the front-panel connectors, it's handy to check the power indicators are the right way around.
8. A quick fit
Most cases offer some type of quick-release mechanism to install 3.5-inch drives. This is fine for old-school HDDs that will slot into place. For the modern man with their SSD drives you'll need to make sure you have a caddy usually supplied with the drive or else this Cooler Master case has a dedicated mounting point.
9. The big stuff
We get the feeling the optical drive is rapidly becoming the new floppy drive, but for completeness sake let's install one. Again most cases offer a simple quick-release system that pushes pins in the standard mounting holes. Otherwise you'll need to use your puny human arms and screw them into place. Feel the burn!
10. Testing madness
Now for some testing of our Sandy Bridge gaming rig! OK, so we're all done and it makes sense to power this bad boy up and check through the BIOS setting. This at least means checking the processor speed has been detected correctly and that the boot devices are in the right order.
11. Windows ahoy!
At some point, round about now, you'll want to install Windows. If you're not already hooked up to the internet you'll want to do that as well, as already there's a pile of security updates waiting for you.
12. Drives us mad
The bad news is that once you've built your Sandy Bridge rig, Windows 7 is going to be lacking a good few drivers. It's like the bad-old days again. So make sure you've got your mobo driver disc to hand and get the network drivers in place so you can hug the internet like you've been without it for five minutes.
First published in PC Format Issue 250
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