PC Buyers Guide Low End Target Resolution: 1024x768 with 4x AA and 16x AF, 1280x1024 with 0x AA and 16x AF
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. I have taken heavily into account power and heat issues, as you may have noticed the phrase "performance per watt" has become a mantra for both AMD and Intel now. Also taken into consideration is overclockability to some extent, reliability and of course, 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 - Intel Core 2 Duo 6300 or AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ 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. The only caveat at the moment is the very limited supply and consequently the higher then expected prices.
The AMD64 line has finally made the move to DDR2 RAM. Why did they wait so long? Well as you may have read in the reviews, the performance benefits were negligable, the AMD64 has never been very starved for bandwidth thanks to its onboard memory controller. Still the change allowed a few improvements, such as lowered power consumption. There is an energy efficent line of AM2 processors offering even lower power consumption as well, which is fantastic. Lower power consumption and less heat are always a plus. The new series still has all the features of the Athlon 64's of the past, so I will not bore you with a lengthy reminder.
So what advantages/disadvantages to the Core 2 Duo and AMD64 X2? With the Core 2 Duo you will get the better performance and superior overclockability. However low availability has driven up prices and motherboards and motherboard chipsets supporting the Intel Core 2 Duo are still quite limited (especially if you want a dual video card setup), especially when compared to the AMD64 X2.
Neither the AMD64 nor the Core 2 Duo have any trouble with heat and the stock HSF for both should prove more then enough. 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 be newer, it lacks the support for dual video card setups and seems to lack the performance of the 975 chipset. This board sports support for ATI Crossfire and Intel ViiV, passive copper heatsink cooling and more.
Editor's Choice AMD: nForce 570 SLI. A new generation of the nForce chipset is here: the nForce 500 Series. For a look at all the new 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 options based on this chipset.
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.
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 X1900 GT
Prices on this card have fallen to 200 USD, making this an excellent buy for a budget gaming machine. And with the latest Catalyst drivers, two of these can now be placed in Crossfire without having to purchase a master card. The new 7900 GS from NVIDIA makes a valiant attempt to match this card, but features such as AA+HDR, high quality AF mode and an ever so slight performance advantage forces me to give the nod to the X1900 GT.
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. Those of you wishing to save some cash may also just use onboard sound, the motherboards I recommend come with high definition 7.1 audio.
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!
Case 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 Powerstream 520 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(s), 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.
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