We're going to start off with a recap of the best deals for the New Year computer hardware sales, then dive into more in-depth looks at each product for gaming PCs (at various prices).
Quick Recap: The Best New Year's Day Computer Hardware Sales
- GPU: 560 Ti @ $130
- GPU: XFX 7850 @ $160
- SSD: Intel SSD 330 180GB @ $160
- PSU: Fully Modular 550W PSU @ $35
- Thermal Compound: Arctic Silver 5 (12g) @ $16
- Liquid Cooler: Corsair Hydro H70 liquid cooler @ $40
Best Deals on Quick Gaming PC Upgrades - GPUs, SSDs, PSUs
GPU and SSD installations make for some of the best upgrades for gaming PCs: They're immediately noticeable, priced reasonably, have excellent compatibility across all modern chipsets, and are easy to install. I know a lot of our regular system builders plan for GPU improvements this year, so let's start with those:
Affordable Video Card Upgrades for Gaming PCs
As it stands now, the best sales prices we've seen on GPUs have been for the 7850 -- which dropped as low as $150 during the Black Friday sales. Insane. Given the 7850's exceptional gaming performance, it's one of the best budget gaming video cards for mid-range systems.
And here it is: The XFX RADEON 7850. Currently priced at $160 post-rebate (and $180 after, which is still a fantastic price for the power), the 7850 is indisputably the leading sub-$200 video card for gaming systems in the budget or mid-range spectrum. With its 2.8B transistor count, the 7850 GPU isn't anything simple -- its reference memory clock is an effective 4.8GHz (on GDDR5) coupled with a relatively wide 256-bit memory interface means high performance for applications that hit GPU memory hard.
If you're looking for something a bit more powerful, the 7850's more impressive elder, XFX's 7970 3GB Edition, is available for an impressive $350 after an instant $50 discount and additional $30 MIR. It ships with free copies of Sleeping Dogs, Hitman, and Far Cry 3, as well as a 20% discount code for the new Medal of Honor game. The 3GB edition card would be preferable for multi-monitor gaming (increased memory capacity and bandwidth is beneficial for display arrays) and offer better staying power for the future, but for most gamers, we suspect the 7850 is enough.
Note: AMD cards have suffered with rendering HDAO and shadows in CryEngine 3 (which Far Cry 3 utilizes), so if you do hope to play CryEngine 3 games, we'd currently recommend you favor nVidia's options. Switching to SSAO or HBAO tends to circumvent the issue, but we've been unable to make HDAO respond appropriately.
If you can afford the jump to nVidia's similarly-priced card, EVGA's GTX 660 (non-Ti) slightly outperformed the 7850 by about 6% in our gaming benchmarks. It's not a huge difference, but perhaps more importantly, the GTX 660 supports PhysX as a hardware accelerated physics solution (advantageous for Borderlands 2) and has better native driver support for CryEngine 3 games.
Is $50 more worth it? That's a tough call and hinges on your build -- if that $50 could go toward an SSD (that is to say, the difference of you getting one and not), I'd push you toward the SSD and 7850. If you're already happy with the rest of the components, the improved driver support and slight increase in performance may be worth it. An extra 6 FPS might not be much now, but when it's the difference between 30FPS less than that in a few years, it'll be significantly more noticeable.
If you need something more powerful, consider the GTX 670 for $335.
Extras: Includes Assassin's Creed III
When working with miniature gaming PCs (like our $357 cheap gaming rig), adding a cheap discrete GPU can vastly improve processing power even over an A10-5800k, and especially over Intel's HD4000. The GTX 650 isn't the most powerful card on the market (a used 6850 would outperform it), but nothing quite comes close in terms of TDP-to-performance; reference TDP for the GTX 650 (non-Ti) is roughly 64W, easily putting it within the limits of low-wattage HTPC power supplies.
We'd strongly encourage most gamers to opt for even a GTX 560 Ti (~$130) or used 6850 over the GTX 650 for gaming-intensive applications; the GTX 650 is solid for low-end, tight budget gaming and living room PCs, it just won't produce max/high graphics (expect medium for the average game).
The 650's low TDP and free copy of AC3 really makes it appealing for home console replacement builds, though.
Extras: Includes Assassin's Creed III
Enough video cards. Let's talk SSDs.
Affordable Solid-State Drive Upgrades - Gaming PC Edition
As we discussed heavily in our technical analysis of Star Citizen, games put emphasis on 4k random IOPS due to their numerous transactional requests of smaller files; these are accessed when loading levels or (especially so) streaming data in more fluid games, like Just Cause 2 or Far Cry 3. If you don't see a loading screen when you traverse the countryside, it's because the game is loading and dumping cells to/from memory as you enter new cells. It dumps data from the old cell and fetches impending data for the new one; each time this happens, there's a hit to storage and a hit to RAM. If you come close to caching out or maxing memory utilization (within the game's parameters), the SSD will be ever more important.
Each time the drive is accessed, there's potential for a split-second lag or stutter. This occurs with HDDs, but is entirely (or nearly so) eliminated with SSDs. Storage is the slowest link in the chain, and there's absolutely no excuse not to have an SSD in any $700+ rig.
When shopping for an SSD for PC gaming machines, it's important to look for high random 4k read IOPS (writes are insignificant for gaming). High sequential read/write speeds are most effective for those who find themselves transferring large files with regularity, but for the most part, the best SSDs will be pretty close in sequential read/write; that's why it's most important to look for endurance and stability, as well as high 4k random read.
Our previous SSD buyer's guide did a pretty good job of outlining the best options, but we'll recap briefly here.
Aside from looking pretty and shiny, Intel's 330 180GB SSD is currently priced at an excellent $0.88/GB; considering Intel effectively created the SSD market as we know it now (with their now-dated X25-M), it's safe to say that they've gained a lot of trust and respect from system enthusiasts who aim to achieve high transactional speeds with Intel-grade endurance. The 330 SSD beats out Samsung's 830 SSD and the (below) 240GB HyperX (ever-so-slightly) in PCMark 7, making it one of the best drives available for real-world usage.
At less than $1/GB, this 240GB SSD is one of the most stable we've tested. Kingston's HyperX 3k SSD is rated for 3k P/E (program/erase) cycles and retains its high I/O rates over the span of its life, unlike some other SSDs that slow down with age. The endurance of the drive and stability put it on the top of our recommendation list every time we write posts like this. If you're looking for a more affordable option that's a bit smaller, consider the 120GB version for $110.
This next one isn't an SSD, but rather a normal archival/storage device at an excellent price.
This one is not an SSD, just a normal HDD at an excellent price. 3TB of 7200RPM storage at $130 is one of the best prices we've seen since ye olde pre-flood times. That's a lot of storage. The drive's relatively high (for the capacity) RPM means you can successfully enlist it for gaming applications without suffering from the traditionally slow 5400RPM of large HDDs. If you need more storage for movies on an HTPC or other large files on your main PC, this is a well-priced option with a great New Year's Day discount.
Other Cool and Useful Upgrades - PSUs, CPU Coolers, Cathodes
If you've been waiting for an opportunity to investigate our cable management guide in its easiest form -- with a modular PSU -- now's a good time to take advantage of low prices on modular PSUs.
Xoxide's best PSU New Year deal we've found has been on Aerocool's Turbine PSU. This PSU utilizes a unique fan design that aims to reduce the typically high-noise output of PSUs (when compared against other components). Aside from its lowered dB rating, the PSU is modular and ships with a selection of long, UV-reactive-sheathed cables (so if you purchase a pair of UV cathodes, you'll get some crazy glowing effects internally). At 550W, it's enough power for most mid-range and budget systems, but you'll need a bit more if you've packed your rig with a GTX 670 and a high-end CPU, of course.
For $35, a modular PSU at 550W is a damn good deal.
For a cooler that typically retails at ~$70, $40 for a reasonable, quiet, and effective closed-loop liquid cooler is hard to pass up. This Corsair H70 cooler uses the standardized microfin copper cold plate design found in most liquid units, has a 120mm radiator that will fit in almost all modern mid-tower (and larger) cases, and mounts on LGA1155/2011/1366 and AM3+/AM3/FM1 sockets.
If you've been waiting to pull the trigger on liquid cooling, this is a good, quiet option for dirt cheap. An H100 or NZXT Kraken cooler would probably be a better choice for the best overall cooling, but for something silent, efficient, and cheap, the H70 stands strong.
Arctic's famed Silver 5 thermal compound is one of the most cost-effective aftermarket thermalpastes available on the market, and while we normally recommend the smaller tubes, this 12-gram tube is currently half-off and should tide you over for many, many system builds.
That's it for this sale overview. Back to benchmarking new products. Let us know if you have any questions about your upcoming system building projects!