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.
Intel Core i3-2100 I'm already bracing for the the angry emails from people claiming "but most games are GPU limited." True, but some are not and when they aren't the Intel processors race way ahead. But do not lose hope AMD fans, because Bulldozer is expected soon, so those of you hoping to build an AMD system I recommend waiting for these new processors to be released (you wouldn't want your AMD rig to be obsolete in a month anyway would you?). Alternatively a Phenom II X4 955 BE would be a decent choice as well. But by now you should be familiar with Intel's Sandy Bridge processors, if not check out the review below.
The stock HSF will provide ample cooling power for your processor, 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 212 Plus. An excellent low cost HSF, an excellent baseline for a mid-range system and a step up from lower cost coolers. 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: A motherboard based on the Z68 chipset. Really this is the only chipset Intel should have released, combining the overclocking ability of the P67 chipset with the ability of the H67 chipset to utilize the onboard graphics of Sandy Bridge processor (which you can do even with a discrete video card thanks to Lucid's Virtu software) to take advantage of Intel's Quick Sync technology. It also brings a few new features to the table such as Intel Smart Response Technology, which allows you to combine a smaller SSD with a larger traditional hard drive (although I still recommend a discrete SSD if you can afford it).
We know its a little 'weird' in the budget category, but the infrastructure is well worth the money and the cheapest ones can be found for as low as 100 USD already.
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.
8 GB DDR3 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM DDR3 is the only choice today. It's also very cheap right now so I suggest you take advantage of the prices, even with a budget machine like this. The Sandy Bridge integrated memory controller is quite efficient, so unless you want to overclock it 1600 MHz is about the sweet spot (save those dollars for something else).
GeForce GTX 560 or Radeon 6870 The 6870 has certainly dropped in price and now does battle in this segment with the GTX 560. The GeForce GTX 560 is the answer to the 6870 and successor to the very successful GTX 460. The specs are very similar to the GTX 460 it replaces, although it's based off the GF114 core and is higher clocked. For those of you who don't know, Guru3D maintains charts of the performance of all recent video cards in a wide variety of games, check it out here!
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 and DG 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.
Now many of you may think that onboard audio is fine, especially for a budget gaming machine. However if you are serious about gaming even an inexpensive sound card can offer quality and features above and beyond onboard audio (not to mention that manufacturers tend to skimp on the audio on a budget board).
24x Lightscribe DVD Burner There really is no excuse to not have at least a DVD±R/RW drive, they are very cheap and reliable these days. There are a number of excellent 24x DVD burners on the market. A nice extra is Lightscribe, 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 or larger 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, while a CPU backplate cutout is very nice if you want to later mount a different CPU cooler (without removing the motherboard).
500 Watts 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 470/570 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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