Hey ya'll and welcome to page one of Guru3D's buyers guide - We will only cover the PC itself. Monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers are not included. We 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 while not spending heaps of money. 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.
Reliability: Second on the list but just as important. This includes things such as compatibility (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 reliability 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 reliability) 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 price point (since price will vary somewhat with vendor/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.
AMD Phenom II X3 720 AM3 or Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 While Intel may be dominating the high-end processor market, AMD has been making some very attractive offerings for the budget minded. Their latest Phenom II processors are much more competitive clock for clock with the Core 2 Duo's then their predecessors, AMD has made a number of improvements over the Phenom architecture, including a shrink to the 45nm process and significantly more L3 cache. If you want to know more about the changes/improvements the Phenom II brings to the table I suggest you check out our review. For those of you wanting to get a more multimedia savvy machine may also want to consider the AMD Athlon II X4.
Thanks to AMD's latest Propus core, even the budget gamer can enjoy a quad core processor for under 100 USD.
For the Intel platform we stick with the Core 2 Wolfdale core. The Wolfdale core includes a shrink to the 45nm manufacturing process, additional SSE 4.1 instructions and increased cache. However the Core 2's (and Socket 775's) are on their way out, I expect by the next guide you'll find Intel 32nm Clarkdale Core i3's here. So if you want to build a budget Intel machine, it would be a good idea to hold off a few months.
The stock HSF will provide ample cooling power for your Core 2 Duo or Phenom II, but you want to treat your CPU right don't you??? There are a number of inexpensive, quality coolers available now, don't let your CPU languish beneath the stock cooler.
This is 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? Chipset 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.
Editor's Choice AMD:Asus M4A785TD-V EVO. An excellent board based on the 785G/SB710 chipsets, this board offers 8+2 VRM and support for up to DDR3 1800 MHz and all the latest AM3 processors, all at a budget cost.
Editor's Choice Intel: A motherboard based on the Intel P45 chipset.
Western Digital Caviar Black WD7501AALS 750 GB Aah where has the time gone? I remember the first 1 GB hard drives. Imagine the hours of HD video a drive of this capacity could store. This drive offers a few improvements over the WD6400AAKS I previously recommended, including twice the cache (32 MB), dual microprocessors, dual actuators and a 5 year warranty.
Editor's Note: While I give my recommendation with only a single drive in mind there are many configurations available. Here's some examples:
For fastest load times: 2 smaller drives in RAID 0. Drawback: reliability, if one drive fails, the data on both is lost.
For data reliability: 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 preferred configuration.
4 GB DDR3 1600 MHz RAM DDR3 has finally reached price parity with DDR2 so no reason to hold back. Remember when installing 4 GB of memory or more you'll want to install a 64 bit version of Windows and with Windows 7 just recently released, now is the perfect time to make the switch to 64 bit if you've been holding out!
Radeon HD 4870 or 5770 or GeForce GTX 260 Well AMD appears to be running uncontested in the DirectX 11 market until NVIDIA gets Fermi out next year, but their 5700 series ends up a bit memory bandwidth starved so for gaming it lags behind its predecessor, the Radeon 4870 and its competitor, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 260.
Vista has left the audio card market wide open by removing direct hardware access, thus taking away Creative's long enjoyed performance advantage thanks to EAX. Into the fray comes Asus with an excellent card for those looking for an alternative. Whatever the choice, you can at last bid farewell to PCI as both these cards are PCI-Express 1x.
Our own audiophile Brann Mitchel: Speaking of fearsome, it took all of 5 seconds of listening to the Xonar D2X to know that it is our new reference sound card. This unseats the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude at the high end (not that we really keep track of these things) as our favorite all-around card to game, listen to music, and watch movies with.
Samsung Lightscribe DVD Burner SH-223L 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 22x 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.
550 Watt or Higher The power demands of the PC continue to escalate, thanks in large part to GPU's and the move to 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 (although not required, PC Power and Cooling is well known for their excellent single 12V rail power supplies).
For a frame of reference: NVIDIA recommends 550 Watts with 40A on the 12V rail for the GeForce GTX 280. Just remember: don't try and buy a cheap generic brand to save some cash, just because it says 1000 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.
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