Dream PC

The WinLabs crew takes the challenge of building the beefiest performance desktop possible with the choicest components currently on the market. Capable of ripping through video editing jobs, and dealing with the most demanding new games, your chance to win this tower of power follows our guide...

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  September 4, 2007

The WinLabs crew takes the challenge of building the beefiest performance desktop possible with the choicest components currently on the market. Capable of ripping through video editing jobs, and dealing with the most demanding new games, your chance to win this tower of power follows our guide...

The Brains

Each of the components on this page is essential for a PC to function. Without any or all of these, all you'd have is a pretty fancy looking doorstop.

Motherboard

Behind every good CPU lies a motherboard and for our Dream PC, we've opted for what has to be the crème-de-la-crème of system boards. The Asus Blitz Formula uses Intel's recently released P35 core-logic chipset and it's an absolute cracker in terms of overall performance. Besides this excellent chipset, the Blitz has a shedload of features - suited to every user - whether you want to push the limits and overclock or just build a fully-featured rig. Sure, there's a DDR3 version already available (known as the Blitz Extreme) but in our tests the DDR2 equipped Blitz Formula proved slightly faster so we went with that.

CPU

The CPU is the second most important component in a PC - after the motherboard - as it plays a vital part in a machine's overall performance. To that end, we've chosen one of the best in Intel's newly released Core 2 Duo E6850. This monster chip has two cores which tick along at 3GHz each. Moreover, it runs on the superfast 1333MHz front side bus (FSB) and packs in a hefty 4Mbytes of L2 cache for some serious punch. It really is a CPU for every occasion too, because whilst its multiple cores may not speed up single-threaded software, its high 3GHz clock speed certainly will.

Memory

RAM (Random Access Memory) is a critical component, as with generous amounts of it, you'll be able to multitask freely and your software will run smoothly (whereas if your machine is short on memory, you can look forward to a slide-show experience). As our Blitz Formula dances with DDR2 memory, we picked 2Gbytes of the very best DDR2 sticks from Apacer. Why only 2Gbytes and not 4Gbytes you ask? Neither Windows XP nor all the different 32-bit versions of Vista can recognize more than 3.2Gbytes of memory, which would mean 800Mbytes of memory was going to waste. Waste not, want not as they say.

Graphics card

A graphics or VGA card by itself isn't special; it's the technology or GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) on it that really gets our blood pumping. As we wanted our rig to walk all over current and upcoming gaming titles, we opted for none other than XFX's GeForce 8800 Ultra XXX Edition. With both the 768Mbytes of texture memory and GeForce 8800 Ultra GPU running highly overclocked at the helm (XXX Editions are pre-overclocked cards), high resolution games are easy fodder for this card. Of course, the Ultra supports SLI multi-GPU technology but we opted against running more than one because SLI is still far from stable.

The brawn

Power components with byte.

Hard Disk

We first encountered Western Digital's data crunching Raptor X over a year ago and it is still the fastest Serial ATA drive we've ever tested. Although there are new drives with far denser platters and larger amounts of cache memory now around, the Raptor's super fast 10,000rpm spindle speed ensures it is still the best of the best, which is exactly why we chose one of these beasties in our rig. Although we had originally planned to combine two of these monsters to form a highly potent RAID 0 array, we decided that doubling the chances of data loss wasn't worth the slight performance boost.

As the Raptor X only offers 150Gbytes of super-fast storage, we've also included a secondary 500Gbyte Western Digital RE2 drive. Sure there are bigger and slightly faster drives available than this but this particular model comes from Western Digital's enterprise line, thus it boasts a MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) rate of 1.2 million hours - meaning it's one of the most reliable SATA drives on the market.

Optical drive

Optical technology and media are now into their third generation and this of course includes HD (High Definition) DVD and Blu-ray technologies. While we would have ideally liked to have included either or both of these drives in our Dream PC, we've found the first generation of this kit has always proved ‘iffy'. The drives we've tested to date have proved quite slow when working with their respective media and one flat out died on our testbed. Moreover, when working with existing DVD media, their performance is nowhere near current DVD drive standard. As a result, we opted to stick with a dual-layer DVD writer.

With 18x DVD+/-R burn speeds, Asus' DRW-1814LT is one of the fastest drives on the market and, should you want to give your optical discs some personality, then it's well prepped as it supports LightScribe technology as well. The drive also uses the more modern Serial ATA interface, whereas most optical drives still use the aging IDE interface.

Heatsink

The Intel processor powering our Dream rig is fast as hell and although it's a very efficient processor, it still puts out a fair amount of heat. While the stock cooler can keep the CPU's heat output under control, we wanted something cooler and less obtrusive. Enter Asus' cool (literally) Arctic Square heatsink. Designed to work with all of the current processors on the market, this heatsink is a maze of copper heatpipes, hundreds of aluminium fins and a solid copper base to aid heat transfer.With a 92mm fan spinning at 2300rpm, it provides all the chills our CPU requires whilst barely adding to the machine's noise level.

Tip: drive shuffling

Hard drives are responsible for storing data when it is not being used and for supplying data to the rest of the machine when it is needed. The faster a hard drive is, the less time you'll end up seeing the Windows hourglass. If you've got two drives in your machine then, it's always wise to make the fastest drive the boot or main drive (C:) and use your secondary disk for storage. This way you can install your operating system, apps and games on the main drive and enjoy faster load times. The second, slower disk, in our case the Caviar RE2, meanwhile can be used to store your MP3s, digital photos and other data.


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