Welcome to page one of Guru3D's PC Buyer's Guide - We'll only cover the PC itself. Monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers are not included. We 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 while not spending heaps of money. So what sort of criteria do I take into account when deciding what parts to recommend?
Price and Performance: First and foremost, what gives the most bang for your buck, in terms of gaming primarily of course.
Reliability: Second on the list but just as important. This includes things such as compatibility (ever had RAM that worked on one motherboard but not in another?), trustworthiness of a brand overall (do they have a history of making reliable parts?) in addition to the reliability of the part in question.
Overclockability: Overclocking can help squeeze out that extra performance out of a system and can make a big impact on price versus performance (why should you buy a $1000 CPU if you can overclock a $200 CPU to match it?) so this factor can always swing my decision.
Heat and Power Issues: Heat is the enemy of a computer and it can affect the stability (and reliability) of your machine. Performance per watt has become a buzz word and as power requirements for computers rise I eye this more and more closely.
For those wondering about "Target Resolution," instead of listing a particular price point (since price will vary somewhat with vendor/e-tailer) I have listed here what type of resolutions you can expect to be playing most of today's games (with AA and AF on of course) on such a rig, both standard and widescreen resolutions were taken into consideration.
AMD Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition or Intel Core i3 540 While Intel may be dominating the high-end processor market, AMD has been making some very attractive offerings for the budget minded. The latest dual core offering comes as a response to Intel's Clarkdale release and with the clockspeed raised to 3.2 GHz and the potential for unlocking an additional one or two cores, it is an attractive offering. If you want to know more about the changes/improvements the Phenom II brought I suggest you check out our review.
On the Intel side this past January saw the release of the 32nm Clarkdale processors; finally bringing the architectural changes of Nehalem to the budget concious and also allowing Intel to strike back at AMD's Phenom II's in the budget market. This month will see the price of the 540 fall so be ready to pounce.
The stock HSF will provide ample cooling power for your Core i3 or Phenom II, but you want to treat your CPU right don't you??? There are a number of inexpensive, quality coolers available now, don't let your CPU languish beneath the stock cooler.
Editor's Choice: Cooler Master Hyper TX3. An excellent low cost HSF, an excellent baseline for a budget system and certainly better then stock. Check out our review here.
This is what to look for when buying a motherboard, regardless of chipset or processor it supports:
Good chipset cooling. Chipsets these days continue to run hotter. Better cooling means improved stability, improved longevity and better overclocking potential. Be mindful when using a passively cooled motherboard (even one with the works, including copper heatsinks and heatpipes) to ensure that you can provide the coolers with adequate airflow.
Solid state capacitors. Offers improved longevity and heat resistance as well as avoids the dreaded "leaking" capacitor problem.
Improved voltage regulator. Does the motherboard use a 3 phase voltage regulator or something higher? How do you determine the phase you ask? It is determined by the number of MOSFETs (Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor) used. As a rule the higher the number (and hence the phase) and quality of the MOSFETs, the cleaner (higher quality) the voltage delivered to the CPU, offering improved stability and overclockability of the CPU and improved thermals for the MOSFETs. Many motherboards now feature heatsinks to cool the MOSFETs as well, always nice.
Features. What features do you need? Chipset features vary broadly as do features individual motherboards may offer. Do you need RAID? If so what type? If you chose to use onboard sound then take a close look at the audio chipset and its associated features as they differ widely.
Editor's Choice AMD:Asus M4A89GTD Pro/USB3. An excellent board based on the latest AMD 890GX chipset, this board offers native SATA 6.0 Gbps and USB 3.0 support, 16+2 VRM, support for the latest AMD hexa-core processors, this board packs it all. Don't like my recommendation? Then choose from any of the number of the very affordable AMD 890GX boards available now.
Editor's Choice Intel: There is a large selection of Intel P55 based motherboards are now available. A deciding question will be if you care about USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps and if so whether you're willing to sacrifice PCI-Express lanes to keep the price lower.
1 TB Western Digital Caviar Black WD1002FAEX or Samsung Spinpoint F3 Aah where has the time gone? I remember the first 1 GB hard drives. These two drives both offer excellent performance. The Western Digital Black boasts a larger 64 MB of cache, a SATA 6 Gbps interface and a longer 5 year warranty while the Samsung drive holds a slight performance edge and lower cost.
Editor's Note: While I give my recommendation for only your primary drive, keep in mind there are many configurations available. Here's some examples:
For fastest load times: 2 smaller drives in RAID 0. Drawback: reliability, if one drive fails, the data on both is lost.
For data reliability: 2 large drives in RAID 1. Drawback: capacity halved (all the data on one drive is mirrored on the second).
For heavy downloaders: One small, fast primary drive (like a Western Digital Raptor) for Windows and applications/games and a secondary large capacity drive for downloads/multimedia (such as HD video). This is actually my preferred configuration.
4 GB DDR3 1600 MHz RAM DDR3 is the only choice today. Remember when installing 4 GB of memory or more you'll want to install a 64 bit version of Windows and with Windows 7 just recently released, now is the perfect time to make the switch to 64 bit if you've been holding out!
GeForce GTX 460 Well the new GeForce GTX has certainly taken the market by storm. The new GF104 GPU represents a huge turnaround for NVIDIA, finally bringing the performance of the Fermi architecture without the much maligned (and rightly so) power and thermal requirements. This is the best choice at sub 200 USD.
Creative X-Fi Titanium or Asus Xonar DX 7.1 Vista left the audio card market wide open by removing direct hardware access, thus taking away Creative's long enjoyed performance advantage thanks to EAX. Into the fray comes Asus with an excellent card for those looking for an alternative (for those of you feeling the price pinch, Asus makes a less expensive Xonar DS for your consideration). Whatever the choice, you can at last bid farewell to PCI as both these cards are PCI-Express 1x.
Our own audiophile Brann Mitchel: Speaking of fearsome, it took all of 5 seconds of listening to the Xonar D2X to know that it is our new reference sound card. This unseats the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude at the high end (not that we really keep track of these things) as our favorite all-around card to game, listen to music, and watch movies with.
Samsung Lightscribe DVD Burner SH-223L There really is no excuse to not have DVD±R/RW drives, they are very cheap and reliable these days. This drive is capable of burning 22x DVD+R and DVD-R, 16x DL as well as 12x DVD-RAM and boasts a SATA interface. 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 do 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.
500 Watt or Higher The power demands of the PC continue to escalate, thanks in large part to GPU's and the move to quad core CPU's. Be sure to go out and get the biggest and best power supply you can, do not skimp on the power supply! This is an often overlooked part and yet it's the source of so many computer woes. Be sure to check the amps on the 12V rail(s), you want a power supply that can handle a lot, multiple 12V rails is an additional plus (although not required, PC Power and Cooling is well known for their excellent single 12V rail power supplies).
For a frame of reference: For a single GeForce GTX 470 a 550 Watt power supply with 35 amps on the +12v rail is recommended. Just remember: don't try and buy a cheap generic brand to save some cash, just because it says 1000 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 can face any number of problems. Also remember it never hurts to err on the side of caution and get more watts then you need, then to come up short when you decide in 6 months to upgrade to that latest video card!
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