PC Buyers Guide Low End Target Resolution: 1280x1024 or 1440x900
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. 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.
Reliablity: Second on the list but just as important. This includes things such as compatability (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 reliablity 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 reliablity) 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 pricepoint (since price will vary somewhat with vender/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.
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo 6300 or AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600+ AM2
You will note that both processors are dual core. With Intel and AMD in a heated price war thanks to the Intel Core 2 Duo (Conroe), processor prices have plummeted and it is a pleasure to recommend dual core processors for even the budget gamer out there. Game developers seem to have taken to dual core CPU's in a way we're still waiting for 64-bit technology to catch on 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.
All of you must by now must be well acquainted with the Athlon 64 X2, so I will not bore you with a lengthy reminder. December should bring the new 65nm Athlon 64's, keep an eye out for reviews to see what improvements they bring.
Neither the AMD64 nor the Core 2 Duo have any trouble with heat and the stock HSF for both should prove more then enough, especially for those of you on a budget. But as always don't forget to get some quality thermal paste, it can make a significant difference in your CPU temperature, Artic Silver 5 is highly recommended.
Editor's Choice Intel: MSI 975X Platinum V.2. While the 965 chipset may have finally added dual video card support, it still seems to lag just behind the 975 chipset in terms of performance and flexibility. This board sports support for ATI Crossfire and Intel ViiV, passive copper heatsink cooling and more.
Editor's Choice AMD: nForce 570 SLI. The nForce 500 series continues to rule the roost for the AMD platform. For a look at all of the 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 motherboards based on this chipset, finding one that suits your tastes should not be difficult.
Hard Drive 320 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3320620AS
320 GB is more then ample for a low end gaming machine. This drive features the new perpendicular recording technology, which allows for greater disk density and improved performance as well. It also comes with 16 MB cache, SATA-II interface and support for Native Command Queuing (NCQ, a disk seek optimization technique). To polish it all off this drive comes with an outstanding 5 year warranty.
Memory 1 GB DDR2 800 MHz RAM
Even in a low end gaming machine, anything less then 1 GB will not suffice. In fact if you have some spare change, I recommend going to 2 GB, especially if you are planning to upgrade to Vista.
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: Corsair XMS2 TWIN2X1024A-6400 DDR2. Stylish heatspreaders, reliable brand and good price.
Video Card ATI Radeon X1950 Pro
A refresh for the X1900 GT, this version boasts slightly boosted performance (thanks to higher core and memory clocks) and features the X1x00 series has become popular for, including AA+HDR and high quality AF mode.
Creative has finally made some low cost X-Fi offerings so now those of you even on a tight budget can enjoy the X-Fi.
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: Lian Li PC-60 Plus II W. Lian Li is a name familiar to many of you, they have made extremely beautiful aluminum cases for many years now and their cases are a favorite among modders. This brushed aluminum case comes in your choice of silver and black, a side window and sports dual 120mm case fans as well as a blowhole on top with an 80mm case fan.
Power Supply OCZ GameXStream 600/700 Watt
The power demands of the PC continue to escalate, thanks in large part to GPU's and the looming arrival of 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. For a frame of reference: NVIDIA recommends 450 Watts with 30A on the 12V rail for the 8800 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 can face any number of problems. The GameXStream is the latest in OCZ offering of excellent power supplies offering 4 (yes 4) 12 volt rails, a single 120mm blue LED fan, compact size (making it easily installable in any case) and great performance.
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