Top 10 performance desktop PCs

Intel's Sandy Bridge processors are still the popular kids on the block, but the new Sandy Bridge Extreme Edition has arrived, to take top honors on our Performance PC benchmarks

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Pros:
Low price makes it an easy entry to PC gaming
Plenty of room for upgrades

Cons:
Meager media functionality

Bottom Line: The WarFactory Sentinel is a great and cost effective gateway to PC gaming.

REVIEW:
WarFactory is a new entrant to our performance PC category, and it offers a wide variety of options, both for those new to PC gaming and for the hardcore set. Its Sentinel is an entry-level model that offers a fair measure of gaming prowess at a very reasonable price.

Our review unit, at just $1190 as configured (price as of October 11, 2011), doesn't have anything too fast or flashy, but you will find adequate power to play just about anything out there at a beautiful resolution. The Sentinel contains a Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition CPU running at a stock 3.2GHz. The Phenom II line still proves to be AMD's strongest chip to date, even though it is a little on the older side. In addition, the Black Edition provides an unlocked core primed and ready for some overclocking--with proper cooling of course.

Also in the Sentinel's lineup is 8GB of DDR3-1333 RAM and a Corsair 650 TX power supply, which is plenty for this build. That amount of RAM and power will future-proof this machine to a degree, for any other components you may add at a later date.

As well, the Sentinel sports a GTX 460 graphics card with 768MB of memory. Again, this isn't Nvidia's flashiest card, but it can still produce some adequate numbers. It achieved a fairly impressive 47 frames per second in both DIRT 2 and Far Cry 2 on high settings at a resolution of 2560 by 1600 pixels.

The Sentinel managed to score 130 in our rigorous WorldBench 6 benchmark suite, testing every core component to the fullest. This result does not approach those of our top performance desktops, which can score upwards of 200. Instead, the system that is most comparable in score and price is the HP Pavilion Slimline s5-1060, which is in about the middle of our Top 10 Mainstream Desktops chart. The Slimline, listed at $830, scored 145. The large difference in scores between the two systems is due to the Slimline's potent Intel Core i5-2310 processor. Although the Slimline may have scored higher, its focus is more as a media desktop, while the Sentinel is a base system on the edge of being a fully powered gaming machine. You'll want to consider investing in upgrades.

Something that all modern gaming machines need is a solid-state drive for speedy boot times and nearly instant load times for programs and games. And the Sentinel offers a 60GB SSD along with a 500GB hard drive for storage. That's a great starting point as storage space, but if the Sentinel becomes your main PC, chances are it will soon be cluttered with games, documents, music, movies, system backups, and anything else that may find its way onto the machine. The 60GB SSD will handle only the operating system and maybe two to three games, while the brunt of the files and games will go to the main hard drive. Be prepared to add new drives in the future.

Though the initial lack of storage may seem to be a concern, the good news is that the Sentinel offers some of the most spacious drive bays I have seen, with plenty of bays for hard drives and other media readers, and even a small, separated drive bay for the SSD. It's a nice touch that the SSD does not claim an entire drive bay for itself, since a 60GB SSD is only a fraction of the size of a typical hard drive.

If you are looking for a media-friendly PC, you can likely do better than the WarFactory Sentinel. Other than the DVD burner and the USB ports, it has no other media readers. Luckily, along with plenty of USB 2.0 ports, the rear offers a couple of USB 3.0 ports, as well, for some serious USB speed. This is quickly becoming a staple in the gaming community, and it is great for the Sentinel to stay up to par.

Overall, the WarFactory Sentinel is a great introductory machine for anyone who is interested in PC gaming, but who is not ready to invest the time or money on a supercomputer. For those more interested in power, WarFactory offers a ton of options on all three of its models. A bare-bones Sentinel starts at just $755, while the top-of-the-line Hyperion starts at $2139.

This story, "Top 10 performance desktop PCs" was originally published by PCWorld.

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