Additional Comments (more like questions):
1) The i7.2600K-Z68 combo costs only $72 more than the i5.2400-H61 one. But I'm not sure whether i7 would make a huge difference in gaming or if I'd be into overclocking that much. Should this $72 be spent elsewhere or is the i7 deal too good to pass up?
2) I've seen some scary youtube videos and angry customer reviews of the single fan 6870 cards. Apparently they get VERY hot and extremely loud. I'm really worried about this. That's why I'm taking the double fan XFX under consideration. Less known issues with that one. And would there be a huge performance diff between the overclocked Gigabyte 6850 and the 6870?
3) Can you guys recommend a decent 23"/24" monitor under $150/160?
Or would gaming in a 24" vizio/westinghouse HDTV be fine?
4) The case comes with one frontal 120mm fan. Should I buy 2 more? and would a aftermarket cooler be necessary for either of the the CPUs?
There will be a tiny difference between the i5 and i7, especially if not overclocking. I'd save a bit of cash there and get the i5 and HD 7850.
Oh wow I thought that case came with 2 fans. You would probably be alright as it is since the PSU will act as an exhaust fan but you could add a rear 120mm fan to be on the safe side. I don't think you will need an aftermarket cooler unless you're doing it for the sake of quietness.
Those articles will teach you how to orient fans and so on to maximize the value of each fan.
However, additionally it is important to say that you want a number of fans that is just plain high. Higher than 2 and higher than 3. There is not much difference in temperatures between fans 5 and 6 or 6 and 7, but there is a whole lot of temperature difference between fans 1 or 2 and fans 5, 6, or 7.
I have 6 right now and it irks me that I haven't spared the money for the 7th fan atm. Luckily the missing fan is the 2nd top exhaust which is one of the better fans to be missing if you have to be missing a fan.
My CPU cores are all at a frosty 16c with a stock fan because even though it is just dispersing the heat throughout my case there is so much in/out flow that the dispersed heat can't stay in.
Mind you I still want to save up for a Hyper 212 somewhere down the line so I can have a better still fan setup, but as long as my CPU is at 16c and my video card at 40c I am fine without it for the time being.
If I were you, I would try to add as many fans as you can afford. It does wonders for the life of the computer and the working of the internal parts. Heat is just about the number 1 enemy in a computer and fans directly attack that enemy.
In other news...
As far as the single fan video cards go, they are about the loudest kind in my experience.
I had a PowerColor 4870 for a long time that was quite powerful, but it could be extremely loud too. The fan control on it wasn't great and it had this very annoying problem that I have taken to calling resonance.
I don't know if there is a technical word for this, but basically what I mean is that the fan would rotate at a bunch of different speeds, but if it happened to be rotating at a certain speed (not the highest, mind you) then it would cause the whole video card to vibrate somehow.
I don't know how common this is for other cards with single fans in the center of the card, but I know it made my wife want to throw my computer out the window.
Cards with 2 or 3 fans or cards with one fan mounted at the far end that blows heat across the card don't have this problem nearly as much from what I have heard.
Right now my video card has no fans and I am quite happy. There is no resonance potential if there is no fan on the video card. I guess you could say that my experience with the 1x center fan card was so bad that I wanted to be done with "resonance" (as I call it) for a LONG time.
It isn't a big deal, though, because as I mentioned before my 6 case fans are taking up the slack.
As for the difference between 6850 and 6870, there isn't a big one. IMHO the 6870's performance increase doesn't warrant its base price increase, but it does OC better from what I have heard, so I would only get that if you intended to massively OC the video card.
The only fan slot where I wouldn't put the biggest fan you can have on it is the bottom front fan. These fans shoot air straight up across pretty much nothing and indeed they can prevent front intake air from reaching back into the case by redirecting the flow straight upwards. I would not put any fan at all in this slot if I were you.
Monitors - I hear Viewsonic are very good ones. You could try looking for one of those. I would avoid using an HDTV. They aren't built for gaming applications. They do OK in gaming applications, but real computer monitors do much better.
CPU fan - The Hyper 212 is a good one, but it doesn't reduce the importance of other case fans. It should be in addition to other ones rather than in lieu of other ones.
Thanks a lot guys.
@sammymax-I decided not to wait for Ivy Bridge as it'd be over the budget anyway.
@jmsellars- 7950 too much over the budget.
@raidinn - thanks for taking the time out to write out such a huge answer. Those articles were pretty informative. I'm cautiously optimistic that the sapphire 6870 I bought wont make as much sound.