PC Buyer's Guide Summer Edition 2005 -
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, 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? ;)
Processor AMD Athlon 64 "Venice" 3000+
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+.
Motherboard nForce4 Ultra
For a low end gaming system there is really no reason to pay the premium for SLI, which really belongs in the domain of high end gaming machines. The nForce4 chipset has proven itself a worthy successor to the nForce3 chipset. Some highlights of the chipset include SATA-II support, which among other things allows for transfer speeds of 300 MB/s compared to SATAs 150 (although the term SATA-II is being used quite loosely by some hard drive manufacturers, so beware). Lets not forget NVIDIA's implementation of their Gigabit LAN as well as the offering of an onboard hardware firewall. NVIDIA has implemented the Gigabit LAN on the nForce4 chip itself (yes it is a one-chip, not two chip, solution), thereby completely freeing itself from the bottleneck caused by the PCI bus. The result is the best performing onboard LAN while offering the lowest possible CPU utilization. On top of this, the easily configurable hardware firewall (via web interface) will make you feel safe from hackers, worms and other online woes that come with an always-on broadband connection. This is an improved version of the firewall that was included with the nForce3 250 Gb chipset, now dubbed ActiveArmor©. And since it's hardware, it eliminates many of the software conflicts, lowers CPU utilization and offers more throughput when compared to a software firewall. Also, unlike a software firewall, your computer is protected from the very moment you power it on, whereas a software firewall must wait for the OS to at least partially load, leaving your computer vulnerable for a short period. Very nice indeed.
Editor's Choice: Abit AN8-Ultra. 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, heat piped solution for the chipset, ensuring good cooling while eliminating the noise of an active cooling solution.
Hard Drive 250 GB Maxtor MaxLine III SATA
250 GB! Not bad for a "low end" machine. 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 impressive 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 alsp come with an excellent 5 year warranty.
Memory 1 GB PC3200 DDR RAM
RAM prices have been steadily on the rise in the past few months, but that doesn't mean you should skimp. A computer today needs at least 512 MB of RAM. 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 (Cas 2-3-3-6 T1) and doesn't require higher default voltages (some high-speed DDR modules have required default voltages of up to 2.9v, well above the normal 2.5, which cannot be supported by some motherboards). 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.
Editor's Choice: OCZ Enhanced Latency PC3200 Platinum Edition. Supports fantastic memory timings (CAS 2-3-2-5 T1), comes with stylish heatspreaders, excellent price.
Video Card GeForce 6600 GT PCI-Express
This was not a hard decision to make. Given its stellar performance for the price (down to around $150 USD), support for SM 3.0 and the competition turning out to be vaporware (ATI's X700 XT). SLI capability is there, although I don't feel this should be a major selling point. If you plan on running two 6600 GT's in SLI, you would be better served in buying one 6800 GT (or if you're patient a 7800 GT). As a cautionary note, since the 7800 GTX has already made its debut it probably won't be long before NVIDIA releases a new mainstream card to replace the 6600 GT. And it looks as though ATI may soon join the fray with a X800 GT...
Sound Card Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live! 7.1
While not particularly high-end sound, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound offered by most motherboards today allow acceptable sound for a low-end gaming machine. But youre a gamer so I think you would expect more! For those of you who dont wish to use onboard sound and are looking for a separate card, the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live! 7.1 comes in at a price tag of only $30 USD, an excellent low cost Dolby Digital 7.1 solution. And it comes with much of the features of its bigger brother the Audigy series, including EAX 3.0 and 24-bit Advanced HD© capabilities.
DVD-RW Drive NEC ND3540A 16x DVD±R/RW
Prices on DVD±R/RW drives are now below $50 USD, how could I not recommend getting a DVD burner!? I chose this particular burner because in addition to supporting 16x DVD burning speeds, it also offers excellent 48x CD-R burning and also supports 4x Dual Layer DVD burning. Throw into this the low price (~$40 USD) and fact that NEC drives are a popular target of firmware modding and you have a winner. 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.
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 excatly what they should be.
One the next page, the mid-end gaming system.
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