PC Inquisitor 2023 Holiday Buyer’s Guide

Cases, Cooling, CPUs, Graphics, Memory, Motherboards, Reviews

Cold weather welcomes in computer gaming season and with it, new builds. As we continue those builds for months following the holidays it will stay with us that many of our best components arrived in giftwrap…even if we gifted them to ourselves. Without further ado:

Portable Storage: Crucial X10 2TB

Our builds typically start with a backup, and we haven’t tested a better backup drive than the X10 Pro from Crucial. While the design prioritizes write speed and portability, for us that just means that our backups are easier to load up and carry around.

That’s not to say it’s a good deal: Its $169 launch price suddenly became a steep discount when Crucial decided to call it that. But since its most competitive rival, Adata’s $120 SE880 2TB never even made it to our lab, we’re left calling out the product we know over the one we don’t know.

Those who are upgrading from an M.2-equipped system can save even more by simply using their original drive as a file source for their new system. Orico’s NVMe enclosure won our highest award as a USB 3.2 Gen2 adapter despite its lack of support for older SATA-based M.2 drives, for which the pricier Sabrent version is a suitable alternative.

System Enclosure: In Win A5 ATX Mini-Tower

The A5’s relatively compact size might have gotten the most attention, but it ran through our performance tests as a true performance component should. Topping the overall performance of the runner-up MasterBox TD500 Mesh by a mere 1%, a performance win of any scale is an impressive win for a case this small.

Not fully onboard with the compact design? The Cere 300 TG mid-tower also received an award, as did the open-framed Core P3 TG Pro.

Motherboard: ASRock X670E Steel Legend

We might have gotten a little over-enthused regarding the value price of ASRock’s B650E Taichi Lite, because the same $260 now gets us the X670E Steel Legend and with it, 20Gb/s USB 3.2 Gen2x2 connections for both the rear panel Type-C connector and the front-panel Type E internal link (for modern front-panel Type-C ports).

Not interested in AMD’s socket AM5? The same company sent us its superb Z790 Taichi Carrara, but its paucity of I/O-panel audio and relatively high price caused us to reconsider soldiering on with its previous-generation Z690 Taichi. With all the necessary compatibility updates, of course!

Processor: AMD Ryzen 9 7950X

Unlike the situation with most motherboards, differences in CPU model become obvious whenever the system is put under enough stress. And it’s not as if AMD’s top processor is really pricey by CPU standards: At $590, the Ryzen 9 7950X is currently less than twice the price of the Ryzen 7 that we’d pick for gamers.

Yes, that does mean that we passed over the 7900X to pick the 7700X as a better value for buyers who’s primary focus is games and other moderate loads.

CPU Cooling: Cooler Master MasterLiquid 240 Atmos

Not every case can fit every cooler, but most of the ones we test can fit at least a 2x120mm model, which is how our top 240mm-format sample became our top pick for this season’s recommendations list. It’s powerful enough to cool any CPU we’ve tested, even when overclocked.

Those with the space for something a little bigger can get even more performance from the 3x120mm (360mm-format) iCue Link H150i RGB, and that model even comes with Corsair’s latest cable reduction technologies.

Memory: Lexar Thor OC DDR5-6000 32GB

Lexar’s Thor OC isn’t the best memory we’ve tested or even the best value, but this non-awarded product tops our holiday recommendations because it’s nearly universally compatible across all DDR5 platforms. That makes it the safe choice in performance memory. Since we’ve tested numerous basic DDR5 kits, the word “performance” is key.

You see, it’s pretty much the same memory as G.Skill’s top-rated Trident Z5-6800, but Lexar’s version comes programmed to a lower voltage that’s friendlier to the internal link between AMD’s memory controller and its cores. It’s also nearly identical to Patriot’s Viper Venom DDR5-6200, but it’s less confusing to buyers who know that their boards will work best at DDR5-6000 (the Viper has a DDR5-6000 XMP, but it’s not in the name).  Moreover, Thor OC beats both those kits by including both AMD EXPO and Intel XMP timings, which helps to explain why we said that its compatibility was nearly universal.

Internal Storage: Crucial T700 2TB

Got a PCIe 5.0 storage slot? If your motherboard is an AMD socket AM5 model, the answer is likely “yes”. Unfortunately, drives that can take advantage of that technology aren’t cheap. Fortunately, one of the best of these isn’t noticeably more expensive than the rest of these.

Of course not everyone can afford the latest tech or such high capacities, and for those who can accept a compromise on both fronts, the Adata Legend 960 1TB offers roughly half capacity and three-quarters the performance of the T700 for one-third the price.

Power Supply: Thermaltake ToughPower GF3 1000W

When Thermaltake sent its open-air Core P3 TG Pro chassis last winter, the last thing it wanted to see is someone else’s logo on the power supply of its cover photo. After the ToughPower GF3 1000W served that purpose, we had to decide what to do with it. Seeing that our friends at TechPowerUp rated the unit “Highly Recommended” at its original $200 price, we decided to put it through continuous use in our CPU cooler testing build. And now that it’s available under $150, it has become a true bargain for high-end builders.

You want specs? Well, in addition to its 1000W capacity and 80 Plus Gold efficiency ratings, the unit includes a full 600W capacity 12VHPWR connector and a 10 Year warranty. TEN YEARS! That’s a bunch of manufacturer confidence in a part that’s priced so cheaply.

Graphics Card: PowerColor Red Devil Radeon 6750 XT

When we received the Red Devil Radeon 6750 XT for our AM5 launch coverage, we had no idea that the card would stand as a barricade to which no other brands would compete. Yet now that we have this card, every graphics review inquiry dies as soon as we answer the question of which cards we’d compare. Certain there must be something in a higher or lower price segment that can win that segment, but when PR sees this $490 model they leave the conversation.

We’re as surprised as you: With only a mild overclock adding to its 12GB of DDR6, we’d think that one of the many $350 models would undercut it’s price enough to win a value award, but we’re still waiting for any graphics card manufacturer to see things that way.

Happy Shopping

Did we miss something? Please feel free to let us know below!

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