Guru3D's 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.
PC Buyers Guide Low End Target Resolution: 1280x1024 or 1440x900
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo 6550
Those of you with a bit of patience should simply wait for the upcoming Penryn processors (and it won't be much of a wait), but until then this is the most affordably of the newer 1333 MHz FSB Core 2's. For the overclockers out there the Core 2 based Intel Dual Core E2140 or E2160 sit at an absolute bargain bin prices and can crank out some huge overclocks.
AMD has sadly slipped off the guide. The X2's are simply showing their age versus Intel's Core architecture. Hopefully the upcoming Phenom tri-cores arriving next year will bring AMD back into the picture, at least for the mainstream.
The stock HSF will provide ample cooling power for your Core 2 Duo, but you want to treat your CPU right don't you???
The Zalman CNPS9500 LED is an excellent HSF, offering high quality air cooling while remaining extremely quiet. And it does it in style with an LED fan and unique copper finned design.
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? Chispet 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. If you want a SLI setup you will need a an nForce chipset, but not if you want Crossfire. All things to consider.
Editor's Choice: Your choice will be between the upcoming nForce 700 series or Intel P35 chipset.
Those of you wanting a NVIDIA based chipset would be wise to wait for the upcoming nForce 700 series, not only for expected improvements (like PCIe 2.0) but becasue the existing 600 series will not support the upcoming Yorkfield quad cores from Intel due to a required motherboard circuit change.
An alternative and also excellent choice for those of you who are not concerned with SLI (and especially for those who want Crossfire support), would be a motherboard based on the P35 chipset. The successor to the mainstream P965 chipset of last year, this chipset boasts some improved performance and features, support for DDR3 (although the time to switch to DDR3 is realistically not until next year and many boards only support DDR2) and support for the 1333 MHz FSB processors from Intel.
Hard Drive 500 GB
500 GB is more then ample for a low end gaming machine and prices on these capacity drives have fallen quite a bit, more then affordable for a low end gaming machine.
Editor's Note: While I give my recommendation with only a single drive in mind there are many configurations available. Here's a list:
For fastest load times: 2 smaller drives in RAID 0. Drawback: reliability, if one drive fails, the data on both is lost.
For data reliablity: 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 prefered configuration.
Memory 2 GB DDR2 800 MHz RAM
2 GB of RAM is an absolute minimum for gaming machines today, the extra memory is very important especially if you make the move to Vista. DDR2 prices have taken quite a dip and 2 GB of RAM is laughably cheap, even for a budget computer.
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 or higher 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.
DDR3 is now available, but at this time I would not recommend it as it is priced 2 to 3 times more then DDR2 (and the performance benefits are minor). Better to wait until the price and latency on DDR3 to come down before making the switch.
Editor's Choice: Corsair XMS2 or OCZ HPC Reaper series. Excellent brands, excellent sticks of RAM and very good price.
Video Card GeForce 8800 GT or Radeon 3870
It was a long wait for NVIDIA and ATI to bring us some excellent midrange DirectX 10 cards, but at last they're here. NVIDIA and ATI have done a fine job of obsoleting much of their line up as they outperform the GeForce 8800 GTs and Radeon 2900XT respectively while being much more affordable. Right now they are both in short supply and well above MSRP thanks to overwhelming demand, my personal recommendation is to wait for prices to settle back down. In terms of performance, the 8800 GT is consistently faster then the 3870 so if you have the extra cash, I would recommend it.
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.
Optical Drive Samsung Lightscribe DVD Burner SH-203N
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 20x 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 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 700 Watt or Higher
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.
PC Buyers Guide Winter 2014 Guru3D offers you their bi-annual PC Buyers Guide, this is the 2013 Autumn edition. This article brings you a set of recommendations of products we feel are great components to build yourself a nice g...
PC Buyers Guide Summer 2014 Guru3D offers you their bi-annual PC Buyers Guide, this is the 2013 Autumn edition. This article brings you a set of recommendations of products we feel are great components to build yourself a nice g...