1st Place: RV770: AMD ATI Radeon HD 4870
We have to be honest, thinking of PC components that really impressed us this year was rather tough. Maybe it's because hardware has been so far ahead of software for so long now that the need to upgrade our PCs just doesn't seem to be there. Or maybe it's that sheer performance doesn't seem to have improved that much from where it was two years ago. Whatever it is, few things really stood out for us this year. There were a few exceptions, though. Starting with this, the AMD/ATI HD4870 graphics card.
Obviously if you're not into PC gaming then this pick won't be for you but for those of us that still enjoy gathering up a few beers (or soft drinks), stocking up on fried crispy snacks, strapping on a set of headphones, and whiling away an evening absorbed in a fantasy world, its your graphics card that is likely to be the one part of your system that most needs upgrading and for us, the HD4870 was the pick of the bunch.
There are faster cards available, including the dual-chip HD4870 X2 as well as nVidia's flagship GTX 280, but unless you own a monitor with a higher resolution than 1,920 x 1,200 (a 24in monitor or above) you're unlikely to ever need that much power. Also , the HD4870 strikes by far the best balance of performance, features, and price. If you're into gaming this should be top of your Christmas list.
2nd Place: Intel X25-M SSD
Unlike our first choice in this category, the performance advantage of replacing your mechanical hard disk with an SSD is not something that just gamers will benefit from but any computer user, no matter how casual, will notice. Especially if the SSD you opt for is one of these X25-M's made by Intel. That's because these are the fastest we've yet had the pleasure of testing.
Everything from game loading times, through image editing, to just opening your email will take on an instantaneousness that many people will simply not believe is possible. What's more, upgrading to an SSD is one of the few really noticeable upgrades you can do for your notebook. You do pay the price for all that performance but if you can afford it, it's definitely worth taking the plunge.
3rd Place: Western Digital VelociRaptor
We know, we know, two storage devices coming second and third in our PC Component of the Year category. Seems both ridiculous and boring, doesn't it, but bear with us on this one.
You see, as mentioned above, the processors in even modest PCs are so fast nowadays that they are seldom the performance bottleneck for any of us. More often than not, the CPU is waiting for data to process which is usually down to the slowness of hard drives. One option is to upgrade to an SSD but as proven by our second place winner, they don't come cheap and you sacrifice a lot in terms of capacity. The next best option, then, is to get a performance hard drive and the Western Digital VelociRaptor is undoubtedly the pick of the bunch.
It combines a healthy capacity of 300GB with super fast access times and very good transfer rates to give the kind of performance that many SSDs still struggle to approach. What's more, because of its small size, it's not too loud either. Add in the fact it only costs £150 and you've got all the reason we need to make this our third best PC component of the year.