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VL's Editor's Choices of 2003: Another year has gone by, and a slew of enthusiast products passed through our labs.
Date: December 31, 2003
Manufacturer: N/A
Written By:

With 2003 behind us now, we here at Viper Lair have looked at a ton of products this past year. Some things rocked, and others not so much. In the end, we saw some interesting technology, and put together a list of what we felt is truly deserving of a spot in your rig, and one item you can pass on.

CPU of the Year: This was a tough call as for most of the year, I was leaning heavily on the Pentium 4 "C" processors, but pretty much at the last moment, AMD released the Athlon 64 upon us. Though we've only had a chance to play with the A64 3200+, it was enough to convince me that along with 64-bit computing support, and some damn fast 32-bit performance, Intel is going to have a real fight on their hands in 2004.

Motherboard of the Year: No doubt about it. If you're looking for the best in Pentium 4 performance, and one of the most feature-rich motherboards of any platform, look no further than the ABIT IC7-MAX3. Featuring their OTES technology, the motherboard's mosfets and capacitors keep chilly, which is a good thing as the MAX3 hit some of the highest overclocks we've seen.

Chipset of the Year: So, how does an AMD chipset find its way on our list when a Pentium 4 motherboard was our pick for mobo of the year? Simple... by being the best choice for the better part of the year, the nForce 2 Ultra is still the best choice if you're sticking with the Athlon XP. Featuring some of the most advanced integrated peripheral support, and blistering performance, it'll keep those shy of the Athlon 64 happy for the near future.

Memory of the Year: Memory speeds increased with great frequency over this past year, but the problem wasn't finding fast ram. The problem was choice. Leave it to Corsair to separate itself from the others by offering some funky looking ram in its TWINX ProSeries. Oh, it overclocks like mad, stable as hell, and damn fast to boot. It's not cheap, but stick some ass ram in your rig, and you'll see you get what you pay for.

Video Card of the Year: The All-In-Wonder 9600 Pro isn't the fastest card on the market, nor is it the fastest All-In-Wonder, but it offers the most bang for the buck. Dual CRT support, which is something you won't find in other AIWs, is accounted for, as well as a free copy of Half-Life 2 when released. Add to it some great gaming performance, and a price that won't strain your marriage, it's hard to go wrong with this baby.

Small Form Factor of the Year: As a proud owner of a Shuttle XPC for a long while, it was my baseline for all the SFFs I tested in 2003. It was looking like no SFF would replace my XPC until FIC dropped their Ice Cube IC-VL67 on my front porch. It's not the perfect SFF, but it offers up-to-date features, an eye-catching design, and a nifty handle for travelling. Despite the corporate users displayed on the packaging, for LAN gamers, this barebone is made for you.

Water Cooling Product of the Year: It's been an interesting year for water cooling, as we've seen several new products pass through our labs. None has impressed us more than the PolarFLO Universal SF blocks though. They convincingly outperformed all the water blocks we have here, and are extremely well made.

Heatsink of the Year: Seemingly out of nowhere, Aerocool dropped the proverbial bomb on us with their Aerocool DP-102 heatsink. Using a "Supertube" to wick heat away, and dissipated by a large number of fins, this air cooler was simply the best we've tested, knocking Swiftech off the perch.

USB Product of the Year: If there is one thing you must have in your toolbox, it's a flash drive. Easily portable, and offering up to one gig of storage, the USB 2.0 versions make for quick and easy file storage for people on the go. We reviewed the Mushkin Flashkin here.

The "meh" Product of the Year: Not the most useful product, the Computer Exhaust Systems R.A.C.H.A.L. is designed to exhaust warm air into your wall. As a result, it'll also cut down on noise and heat in your room. Frankly, we never had a problem with the noise and heat, but we do have an issue of cutting a hole into our wall for it.

That wraps up our look at this year's list. We're pretty excited about 2004, as there will be some interesting technologies set to be released. If you have any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.


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