Welcome to page one of Guru3D's PC Buyer's Guide - We'll 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.
Intel Core i3-2120 I'm already bracing for the the angry emails from people claiming "but most games are GPU limited." True, but some are not and when they aren't the Intel processors race way ahead. And unfortunately by now all of you are aware of AMD's Bulldozer less then stellar debut.
The stock HSF will provide ample cooling power for your processor, 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. Remember to always check to make sure your cooler is compatible with your choice of motherboard and case!
Editor's Choice: Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120. A new comer and successor to the Cogage TRUE Spirit and an excellent baseline HSF combo with a MSRP of 29.95 USD.
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: A motherboard based on the Z68 chipset. Really this is the only chipset Intel should have released, combining the overclocking ability of the P67 chipset with the ability of the H67 chipset to utilize the onboard graphics of Sandy Bridge processor (which you can do even with a discrete video card thanks to Lucid's Virtu software) to take advantage of Intel's Quick Sync technology. It also brings a few new features to the table such as Intel Smart Response Technology, which allows you to combine a smaller SSD with a larger traditional hard drive (although I still recommend a discrete SSD if you can afford it).
We know its a little 'weird' in the budget category, but the chipset is well worth the upgrade from the older P67/H67 and the cheapest ones can be found for as low as 100 USD.
Now before you go whaaaat? An SSD on a low end system ? Well, unfortunately hard drive prices having tripled due to the flooding in Taiwan. So make the move to a solid state drive while we wait for hard drives prices to return to normal.
Low end category and a little controversial or not, it will be one of the biggest performance upgrades you have made to your computer in some time (and also one of the most expensive). Be sure to do your research, SSD technology continues to change rapidly with new drives and new memory controllers popping up frequently. I also suggest you read read one of our many many reviews. Here are a few tips:
SSD's need free space. Performance begins to degrade if you don't leave 20-25% free space on the drive, so I recommend not getting a drive smaller then 100 GB.
Space is still a problem with SSD's as you can see. Before you upgrade check to see how much space you are using. When I upgraded to a SSD a quick check revealed my hard drive with OS and applications only installed already took up 120 GB, so I ended up going for a 160 GB SSD.
TRIM support and Windows 7. You want it. You need it. Otherwise your SSD's performance will degrade over time.
There are a number of controllers out there, Intel (example: Intel 320), Indilinx (example: OCZ Octane), Marvel 9174 (example: Intel 510) and the SandForce 2281 (example: OCZ Vertex 3).
You can pick up a blazing fast SATA2 based Vertex 2 120GB for 149 USD these days.
A final note: You will absolutely want a secondary traditional hard drive to store all your multimedia, it will not fit on that small SSD (for example I use a 160 GB Intel X-25M for OS and applications and a 2 TB hard drive for everything else).
8 GB DDR3 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM Lots of DR3 is the choice to make. It's very cheap right now so I suggest you take advantage of the prices, even with a budget machine like this. The Sandy Bridge integrated memory controller is quite efficient, so unless you want to overclock it 1600 MHz is about the sweet spot (save those dollars for something else).
Take for example a Corsair Vengeance kit at 1600Mhz CL9, 8 GB sells for 50 USD (!)
GeForce GTX 560 or Radeon 6870 My recommendations remain unchanged unsurprisingly since nothing really new has come from NVIDIA or AMD this year. For those of you who don't know, Guru3D maintains charts of the performance of all recent video cards in a wide variety of games, check it out here!
Creative X-Fi Titanium or Asus Xonar DX 7.1 Vista 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 (for those of you feeling the price pinch, Asus makes a less expensive Xonar DS and DG for your consideration). Whatever the choice, you can at last bid farewell to PCI as both these cards are PCI-Express 1x.
Now many of you may think that onboard audio is fine, especially for a budget gaming machine. And it is really.
However if you are serious about gaming even an inexpensive sound card can offer extra quality and features above and beyond onboard audio (not to mention that manufacturers tend to skimp on the audio on a budget board). Your call, onboard will save you money though.
24x Lightscribe DVD Burner There really is no excuse to not have at least a DVD±R/RW drive, they are very cheap and reliable these days. There are a number of excellent 24x DVD burners on the market. A nice extra is Lightscribe, this will allow you to burn a label (or image or whatever you want) onto your disks; no more barely legible permanent marker labeling!
Keep it cheap and simple, drop Lightscribe and you can pick up a Samsung SH-222AB Internal DVD-Writer for under 20 bucks.
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 do have a few suggestions when looking for a case. Aluminum is a definite plus; it will make your computer significantly lighter. 120mm or larger 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, while a CPU backplate cutout is very nice if you want to later mount a different CPU cooler (without removing the motherboard).
500 Watts 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: For a single GeForce GTX 470/570 a 550 Watt power supply with 35 amps on the +12v rail is recommended. 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. Also remember it never hurts to err on the side of caution and get more watts then you need, then to come up short when you decide in 6 months to upgrade to that latest video card!
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