PC Buyer's Guide Late Summer 2006 -
PC Buyers Guide Medium End
Target Resolution: 1280x1024 with 4x AA and 16x AF; 1600x1200 with 0x AA and 16x AF
This guide will only cover the box. Monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers are not included. I do this for brevity's sake, as the monitor alone would require its own guide, especially if I were to cover LCD monitors. Since this site is called "Guru3D" this guide will target a system intended for gaming primarily. I have taken heavily into account power and heat issues, as you may have noticed the phrase "performance per watt" has become a mantra for both AMD and Intel now. Also taken into consideration is overclockability to some extent, reliablity and of course, price.
For those wondering about "Target Resolution," instead of listing a particular pricepoint (since price will vary somewhat with vender) I have listed here what type of resolutions you can expect to be playing most of today's games on such a rig. AA stands for antialiasing and AF stands for Anisotropic Filtering, if you don't know what those are... well are you sure you want to be building your own computer? ;) (Hilbert: Huh whots AA ?)
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo 6600 or AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ AM2
You will note that both processors are dual core. With Intel and AMD beginning a price war in preparation for the Intel Core 2 Duo (Conroe), processor prices have begun to plummet and it is a pleasure to recommend dual core processors for all three categories of my guide. Game developers seem to have taken to dual core CPU's in a way we're still waiting for 64-bit technology to and a dual core CPU can definitely help your gaming experience. More then this though, it provides a "smoother" desktop experience.
The Core 2 Duo's are here a last! Building on the success and already outstanding performance of the Core Duo, Intel has at long last broken AMD's gaming dominance. They run cool, use less power and overclock like crazy. And they are much, much faster then the Pentium 4 they replace. The only caveat at the moment is the very limited supply and consequently the higher then expected prices.
The AMD64 line has finally made the move to DDR2 RAM. Why did they wait so long? Well as you may have read in the reviews, the performance benefits were negligible, the AMD64 has never been very starved for bandwidth thanks to it's onboard memory controller. Still the change allowed a few improvements, such as lowered power consumption. There will be an energy efficent line of AM2 processors soon offering even lower power consumption, which is fantastic. Lower power consumption and less heat are always a plus. The new series still has all the features of the Athlon 64's of the past, so I will not bore you with a lengthy reminder.
So what advantages/disadvantages to the Core 2 Duo and AMD64 X2? With the Core 2 Duo you will get the better performance and superior overclockability. However low availability has driven up prices and motherboards and motherboard chipsets supporting the Intel Core 2 Duo are still quite limited (especially if you want a dual video card setup), especially when compared to the AMD64 X2.
Check out Guru3D related reviews:
Core 2 Duo 6600, 6700, X6800
Heatsink and Fan - Zalman CNPS9500
The stock HSF will provide ample cooling power for a your Core 2 Duo or AMD64 X2, but you want to treat your CPU right don't you??? The Zalman CNPS9500 series are some of the finest HSF's you could ask for, offering some of the highest quality air cooling while remaining extremely quiet. And they can do it all in style with a LED fan and unique copper finned design.
Editor's Choice Intel: MSI 975X Platinum V.2. While the 965 chipset may be newer, it lacks the support for dual video card setups and seems to lack the performance of the 975 chipset as well. This board sports support for ATI Crossfire and Intel ViiV, passive copper heatsink cooling and more.
Editor's Choice AMD: nForce 570 SLI. A new generation of the nForce chipset is here: the nForce 500 Series. For a look at all the new features and performance of this new chipset, I suggest you have a look at our own review of the chipset here. There are a number of excellent options based on this chipset.
Hard Drive 500 GB Western Digital WD5000YS SATA
500 GB! Gotta love that, all the room you need for anything you can think of! Music, movies, videos... just think of the HTPC possibilities as well. This drive is fast too, thanks to a huge 16 MB cache, SATA-II interface and support for Native Command Queuing (NCQ, a disk seek optimization technique). Got some extra cash? Buy a second and set it up in RAID 0 (1 TB of HD space... *drool*). This drive runs quiet and cool, which is a plus. And to top it all off this drive also comes with an outstanding 5 year warranty.
Memory 2 GB DDR2 800 MHz RAM
Games have grown greedy for RAM and with Vista looming now would be a good time to move to 2 GB, especially for a gaming machine.
Remember that DDR2 latencies are much higher than DDR. So always take advantage of lower latency memory. Lower latency modules will have timings in the range of CAS 4-4-4-12. Keep an eye on the default voltage for the module, the default for DDR2 is 1.8v, if the default is higher (and on 800 MHz DDR2 RAM it likely is) then make sure your motherboard can support it. Don't forget to buy that RAM in matched pairs so you can take advantage of dual channel for a slight boost to performance, most memory makers now sell match pairs for your convenience.
Editor's Choice: Editor's Choice: Corsair XMS2 TWIN2X2048-6400C4. This RAM comes with EPP (enhanced performance profiles), awesome memory timings (CAS 4-4-4-12), comes with stylish heatspreaders, excellent reliability; although at a rather high price.
Video Card Single Card: ATI Radeon X1900XT 512 MB
With ATI needing to make room for their upcoming flagship card, the X1950, the X1900XT prices have fallen to a very enticing 300 USD. The new 7950 GT from NVIDIA makes a valiant attempt to match this card, but much like the 7900 GS, features such as AA+HDR, high quality AF mode and a slight performance advantage forces me to give the nod to the X1900XT. Please note: there is now a 256 MB version of the X1900XT, you want the 512 MB version.
Sound Card Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic
After a long wait, something new in the world of sound cards. Creative has made some big advances with their latest generation that you audiophile will be sure to appreciate. Be warned though, while Creative makes fantastic sound cards, their drivers leave much to be desired. It is worth the headaches though.
Our own audiophile Brann Mitchel: Playing a few games with Creative's latest sound card in your rig will convince you that there really isn't anything better than the X-Fi. It doesn't matter which of the four models you choose either, you'll still get blistering performance in any game you choose with the powerful new APU, CMSS 3D Headphone and EAX Advanced HD 5.0. While Creative's X-Fi is no doubt the performance leader in gaming, it will also impress you with its music capability. We get lots of sound cards that offer one or the other, good sound or good gaming, but the X-Fi really delivers both. It has that rare ability to make you play song after song just to hear how they sound through the X-Fi. For these reasons, the X-Fi is our new reference.
DVD-RW Drive Samsung Lightscribe DVD Burner SH-S182M
There really is no excuse to not have DVD±R/RW drives, they are very cheap and reliable these days. This drive has a few extras that set it apart like the ability to burn 18x DVD+R and DVD-R as well as 12x DVD-RAM. It is also a LightScribe capable drive. This will allow you to burn a label (or image or whatever you want) onto your disks, no more barely legible permanent marker labeling!
Okay Im going leave this one open to your decision. Cases are a love-hate thing, what one person likes another will not. So go find a case you think suites you. I have a few suggestions when looking for a case. Aluminum is a definite plus; it will make your computer significantly lighter. 120mm fans are the way to go as well, ensuring good airflow in your case while maintaining a minimum of noise. A removable motherboard tray is particularly useful in cramped cases.
Editor's Choice: A number of good cases come to mind. The Antec Performance 1 P160, an excellent aluminum case. Comes with or without a side window, 2 120mm case fans for maximum airflow at a minimum of noise, rubber grommets to reduce hard drive vibrations (and noise), washable air filter, LED temperature display, removable mobo tray and more. Lian Li has had huge success with their very stylish PC-V1000 case and now a number of designs based on this chassis are available from Lian Li including the PC-101 and PC-V1100. I'm sure one will catch you're eye. Thermaltake offers a number of excellent cases that fit my criteria as well such as the Eureka, Shark, Tsunami and Tai-Chi.
Check out Guru3D related reviews:
Lian Li PC-V1000 Plus Aluminum Case
Power Supply - OCZ Powerstream 520 Watt
New video cards and new processors are starting to pull A LOT of power. And the situation will not improve (SLI didn't help now did it?). Time to go out and get the biggest and best power supply you can, do not skimp on the power supply! This is such an overlooked part and yet it is the source of so many computer woes. Check the amps on the 12V rail, you want a power supply that can handle a lot (for frame of reference: NVIDIA recommends 350 Watt with 22A on the 12V rail for a single 7800 GTX). Another plus to look for is a power supply with dual fans to help with cooling. Just remember: don't try and buy a cheap generic brand to save some cash, just because it says 480 Watts (or whatever the number is) doesn't mean it can actually handle that, sadly. Quality counts big, be sure to get a quality power supply or you will face any number of problems. OCZ really entered the power supply market with a bang, these are some top-notch power supplies. You can even manually adjust the voltage on each of the rails to ensure the voltages are exactly what they should be.
On the next page, the actual high end system :)
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