PC Buyers Guide Low End Target Resolution: 1024x768 with 2/4x AA and 4/8x AF, 1280x1024 with 0/2x AA and 4/8x AF
I have diverged from previous guides as this guide will only cover the box. Monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers are not included. I do this for brevity sake, as the monitor alone would require it's own guide, especially if covering LCD monitors. Since this site is called "Guru3D" this guide will target a system intended for gaming primarily. I have also taken into account power and heat issues (*cough* Pentium 4 *cough*), overclockability to some extent, reliablity, as well as 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 AMD Athlon 64 "Venice" 3500+ Retail
The Athlon 64 continues to shine when it comes to games, where it can easily outpace the current Pentium 4 competitors. The AMD64 also offers Cool'N'Quiet technology, a nice feature that allows the processor to lower its clock speed and core voltage (not unlike what most laptop processors do) when the CPU is not being fully utilized, a nice power (and thermal) saving feature that will also prolong the life of the processor and cut down on that power bill a little. Another valuable benefit is the AMD64's ability to prevent buffer overruns (enabled in WinXP SP2), an added security feature that will eliminate one common exploit used by hackers and malicious software. The latest "Venice" Revision E core has brought a few new tricks to the table, such as an improved memory controller, SSE3 and unofficial support for up to DDR500 (support for this is motherboard dependent).
Heatsink and Fan Included
Thanks to the integrated heat spreader and lower core voltage of the new Athlon 64, these CPUs do not need quite as elaborate a heatsink that the Athlon XP needed to stay cool. The stock heatsink and fan easily handles the cooling of the Athlon 64. If you want a little extra cooling then there are several fine solid copper heatsinks on the market, I would recommend the Thermaltake Venus 7+.
Editor's Choice: Abit AN8-Ultra. Yes my recommendation has not changed since the last guide. Features 1 16x PCI-Express slots, 2 PCI-Express 1x slots and 3 PCI slots, a good mix for present day and future card connectivity. What sets this board apart from the others is the stylish red PCB, diagnostic LED for quickly diagnosing any problems (a feature Epox motherboard users should be familiar with) and the passively cooled, copper heat piped solution for the chipset, ensuring good cooling while eliminating the noise of an active cooling solution.
Hard Drive 300 GB Maxtor MaxLine III SATA
300 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 an unprecedented 16 MB cache, SATA interface and support for Native Command Queuing (a disk seek optimization technique), which should further improve hard drive performance on motherboards that support NCQ. The MaxLine III hard drives also come with an excellent 5 year warranty.
Memory 1 GB PC3200 DDR RAM
Games have become more and more greedy for memory. For a true gaming machine you will want 1 GB of RAM.
For DDR users: Make sure you get at least PC3200 RAM so you aren't starving your processor of memory bandwidth. If you plan to overclock consider purchasing the faster PC3500, PC3700, or PC4000 modules. Just be sure to make sure the RAM uses the faster memory timings (example: Cas 2-3-3-6 T1) and check the default voltage, if it is above the default 2.5v, make sure your motherboard will support it. Also don't forget to buy that RAM in matched pairs so you can take advantage of dual channel for a slight boost to performance.
NVIDIA's Series 6 GPU's have certainly stood the test of time. This is NVIDIA's answer to ATI's new X1600 XT (which has yet to be seen in the wild). Essentially a higher clocked Geforce 6800, this card can already be found for $200 USD and the GeForce 6800 GS easily outclasses the X1600XT in performance. An easy choice.
Thanks to the introduction of the new X-Fi sound cards from Creative, the once-flagship card can now be found at bargain prices. Just because this is a low end gaming machine doesn't mean you can't enjoy such features as EAX 4.0 Advanced HD and Dolby Digital 7.1 sound!
If you want a non-Creative Labs alternative, consider the M-Audio Revolution 7.1 or AudioTrak Prodigy 7.1. Both use the VIA Envy24HT audio processor, offering Dolby Digital 7.1 sound, 24-bit/192kHz audio playback and 24-bit/96kHz recording; the same capabilities as the Audigy 2 ZS.
There really is no excuse to not have DVD±R/RW drives. Plexor has built a strong reputation over the years for making some of the most reliable burners, so why settle for less? Throw in a spare DVD drive if you need to copy from one CD/DVD to another a lot and youre set.
Network Onboard Gigabit NIC
These days you'll find most motherboard come packing onboard Gigabit LAN, great for home networks and more bandwidth then you'll ever need for a broadband connection. For those of you wondering where the modem is, let me say this: gamers dont use modems! Get broadband!
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.
Editor's Choice: Antec Super LANBOY. Aluminum, meaning it is quite light (so you can easily carry it to a LAN party, hence the name) and front and rear 120mm case fans, which means good airflow at a minimum of noise. Also includes a carrying strap so you can tote that computer to the nearest LAN party. All of this at a price that can fit this budget gaming machine.
Power Supply - OCZ Powerstream 420 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.
PC Buyers Guide Winter 2011 Guru3D offers you their bi-annual PC Buyers Guide, this is the 2011 Winter edition. This article brings you a set of recommendations of products we feel are great components to build yourself a nice gaming rig. We go from low-end targated at gamers, to high-end for the enthusiast fragger.
PC Buyers Guide Summer 2011 Guru3D offers you their bi-annual PC Buyers Guide, this is the 2011 Summer edition. This article brings you a set of recommendations of products we feel are great components to build yourself a nice gaming rig.
PC Buyers Guide Winter 2010 Guru3D offers you their annual PC Buyers Guide, this is the 2010 Winter edition. This article brings you a set of recommendations of products we feel are great components to build yourself a nice gaming rig.