EVGA 8800GTS 320 MB
nVidia keeps hammering the upper mid-range competition with a slightly crippled version of its fastest graphics processor, further reduced to half the memory. The 8800GTS 320 MB beats ATI's Radeon X1950 XTX in most game benchmarks, while costing 25% less.
Yes, even the 8800GTS is available in a 640 MB version, but the 320 MB version is almost as fast in most games, and costs far less. That makes it the perfect choice for this mid-priced build, as it is capable in most current games of displaying playable frame rates with full graphics features enabled, at a resolution of 1600x1200.
EVGA's "basic" 8800GTS has part number 320-P2-N811-AR and is available for around $280, with a $20 mail-in-rebate for patient buyers (which we won't take into consideration in our up-front cost calculations).
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar RE2 WD5000YS
Western Digital Caviar RE2 WD5000YS
Western Digital may call this a "RAID Edition" drive, but its performance as a single drive has highlighted technical discussions across the web. It has higher capacity than Western Digital's 10,000 RPM Raptor, which favors the RE2 WD5000YS for multi-purpose systems, especially given this large drive's relatively low cost of around $160.
These "Enterprise" series drives offer slightly quicker access and load times than their desktop counterparts, with an extended five-year warranty, and advertised mean-time-between-failure figures of 1.2 million hours at a 100% duty cycle.
The only reservation I have in recommending this drive to "everyone" is its Time Limited Error Recovery feature (TLER). This technology is designed to prevent the drives from dropping out of a RAID array during error recovery by limiting internal recovery time to seven seconds, after which the drive hands over error recovery to the RAID controller. If no fault-tolerant array exists, data may be lost. Western Digital understands the concern surrounding TLER, and will provide its WDTLER utility (to turn TLER on and off) to buyers who request it.