It's been a while since I updated the specs of the PC Gamer Rig, mainly because I've been waiting for things to settle down a bit in the wake of big CPU and graphics launches before coming up with a definitive list of best buy kit. With a few notable exceptions, Intel, NVIDIA and AMD have more or less finished the current round of the chip refreshment cycle, so if you're looking to build or upgrade a PC for less than £1000/$1500, here's what I think you should get.
The big change over the last iteration of the Rig is swapping out the long time preferred processor, the Intel Core i5 2500K, for its newer counterpart, the i5 3570K. The latter chip is built using Intel's new Ivy Bridge architecture, and while it doesn't offer a massive performance upgrade, there's been no massive discounting of older Sandy Bridge stocks, so there's no apparently reason to buy them.
The 3570K is currently the top spec for a Core i5 chip, and has an unlocked multiplier for ridiculously easy overclocking. It is, however, more processor than your games are likely to need for a while yet. Why? Because games are far more reliant on your GPU than your CPU right now. It's not true that all games are limited by the graphics processor rather than the CPU, but any time you're close to unplayable framerates on a PC with a quad core CPU of any brand I can say with almost absolute surety that it'll be the GPU that's holding you back. Unless you've recently spent a £300 or more on a graphics card to go with an aging Athlon X4, that is.
I'd advise buying buying the best, though, because the cheapest i5 is only about £20 less, and I wouldn't quibble over that amount to get the faster chip. If you're looking to cut a few more costs, though, anything from the i5 range (and arguably from the i3 line up too) will be up to the job. Upgrading to a Core i7 is absolutely not worth it. In my tests, Hyperthreading (the two-thread-on-one-core technology that distinguishes an i7) has no consequential benefit in games at all.
I've also upgraded the motherboard to an H77-based one too. The new chipset isn't essential, as Ivy Bridge chips will work with some older Z68 motherboards, but again, with no price difference between the two technologies it seems silly to go for the older technology when the new one is slightly better. PCI Express 3.0 support and native USB 3.0 being the main advantages, but there's a number of smaller ones – like better software from Virtu for multiple graphics – too. In general, though, performance is pretty much identical. So if you do see a Z68 board going cheap, and know it works with your chip, go for it.
Elsewhere, I've stuck with a Radeon HD7850 for graphics. Until we hear more from NVIDIA about it's 660 series GeForce cards, I think this is the best card to buy. It's a bit pricier than I'd like to recommend, but beats the GeForce 560Ti (same price) and even the older HD6970 when it comes to high resolutions or cranking up anti-aliasing and the like at 1080p. Again, if you're after a real bargain, there's other options: AMD's HD 6870s are perfectly capable and cost £40 less.
And that's pretty much it – the all new PC Gamer Rig. I haven't had chance to benchmark it fully (as a result of this), but it's easily capable of running Battlefield 3 at 1080p, and any other game for that matter.
I don't expect it to change an awful lot over the next month or so, but I will be revisiting some of the alternative builds
Ivy Bridge is the new de facto chip to choose, with an almost depressing inevitability.
There are some good value H77 boards around too.
Nice and quick 1600MHz DDR3 for that CPU to take advantage of.
Hard drive prices continue to creep down – slower than expected.
Remember optical drives? This is what they looked like.
Not quite as nice as the now discontinued Outlaw, but close.
Plenty of power for what you'll need.
Classic Logitech design with a modern 3600dpi sensor.
Pricey, but worth investing in a mechanical keyboard if you can.
ASUS Xonar DG
Not essential, but a great extra for £20.
Not a great stand, but astonishing picture quality for the price. As good as any other eIPS screen.
Creative SoundBlaster Tactic 3D Alpha
I'm not the biggest fan of Creative headsets, but to get better you'll need to spend a lot more.
That's £30.91 more/$8.42 less than last time.