PC Buyer’s Guide – Low End

PC Buyerâs Guide â Low End
The budget for this gaming PC is $1000 US. This is a guide to putting together a complete computer, which means speakers, keyboard, mouse and monitor are included.

This is a guide to putting together a complete computer, which means speakers, keyboard, mouse and monitor are included. For this guide I have tried to put together the computer that will give you the most reliable PC and the best overall gaming experience, AS IS. That means I am assuming that you will not be overclocking the system (since most people do not!). So please, no flames concerning âthis [name of part here] is a better overclocker than [name of part I recommended]!â



Processor â AMD Athlon XP 2500+

Wondering why I didn't recommend the 2.4C GHz Pentium 4? While an excellent overclocker and a good value when compared to other Pentium 4 processors, it will cost you double what this AMD CPU will cost and since I am trying to put together a low end gaming machine, that just wonât do. For those who donât know about the Barton core, it is the latest revision of the Athlon XP core. It features a larger L2 cache (512 KB) and runs on a faster 333 MHz or 400 MHz Front Side Bus. The size of the core has been increased due to the larger cache and this, coupled with the lower clock speeds versus their Thoroughbred brethren, allows for easier cooling. The 2500+ offers excellent performance and wonderful overclocking results for the enthusiast out there.



Heatsink and Fan â Thermaltake Volcano 7+

Nothing takes care of cooling the Athlon XP like a solid copper cooler. This heatsink will amply cool the Athlon XP. It has a manual fan controller allowing you to decide the air flow and fan noise.


Motherboard â nForce2 Ultra 400

Since its release last year, no other chipset for AMD motherboards has been able to compete with the nForce2 in terms of performance. The Ultra 400 is a simple refresh of the nForce2 chipset to support the newer 400 MHz FSB Athlon XP CPUâs. The dual memory controller offers the most memory bandwidth of any motherboard for the Athlon XP. Those motherboards that make use of the MCP-T Southbridge for NVIDIA SoundStorm sound offer unparalleled onboard Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. My recommendations: if you plan to use the onboard audio then go with either the Asus A7N8X-E Deluxe or MSI K7N2 Delta-ISLR. Both offer the higher end sound thanks to the MCP-T Southbridge, Firewire, Serial ATA RAID and a number of other features. If you donât want to use the onboard sound then my recommendation is the Epox 8RDA3+ motherboard. It doesnât use the MCP-T Southbridge (which makes it cheaper), but it still offers all the features you would expect from a high end motherboard: Firewire, Serial ATA RAID, dual onboard NICs and a pair of rounded ATA cables. This board is also an extremely good choice for avid overclockers; Epox tailor makes their boards with the overclocker in mind.



Hard Drive â Western Digital âSpecial Editionâ 80 GB

The Special Editionâs 8 MB cache offers boosted hard drive performance, always a plus. This drive also carries a three year warranty, nice considering in recent months most hard drive manufacturers have shortened their warranties to only one year.



Memory â 512 MB Corsair XMS TWINX512-PC3200C2 DDR RAM 

Corsair has a reputation for producing high quality, overclockable memory modules. Their XMS series boasts lower memory timings to allow for increased bandwidth. The TWINX series is designed to take advantage of the nForce2âs dual channel memory controller. This RAM also sports some stylish aluminum heatspreaders. If you plan to overclock consider purchasing the faster PC3500, PC3700, or PC4000 modules. Just be sure to make sure it still uses the tighter 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 and which cannot be supported by some motherboards).


Video Card â ATI Radeon 9800SE or GeForce FX 5900 XT

With the new GeForce and Radeon cards on the market, the previous generations of cards have started to drop in price, as usual. For those not familiar with this model, this card is a Radeon 9800 Pro with half of the pixel pipelines disabled (so only 4 pipelines instead of 8). It does, however, still use the 256 bit memory interface meaning lotâs of memory bandwidth, which is always a good thing (Note: many manufacturers are selling models using only a 128 bit memory interface, meaning a big drop in performance!). Its performance and price is around that of the Radeon 9600 Pro. What makes it a more attractive buy is the possibility of soft modding this card (easily done by using the Omega ATI drivers) and re-enabling the 4 disabled pixel pipelines, turning this card into a full fledged Radeon 9800 Pro (and at only half the cost!). While this soft mod will not work with all Radeon 9800SE cards (about a 50% chance), I feel the mere possibility warrants spending the extra $10 to $15 US on the card.


If you donât feel like taking the risk, go ahead and buy yourself a GeForce FX 5900 XT (sometimes called the 5900 SE). Like the Radeon9800SE it uses a 256 bit memory interface, give it a significant performance advantage over the similarly priced GeForce FX 5700 Ultra. Priced the same as the Radeon 9600 XT and significantly faster, it makes an attractive buy. As an added bonus, NVIDIA recently announced select 5900s will be bundled with the game âCall of Duty.â


Not an NVIDIA fan and want an alternative to the 9800SE? Then look no further than the Radeon 9500 Pro, which can still can be found here and there. This card has been on the market quite a while now. A Radeon 9700 with only a 128 bit memory interface, it still holds an large advantage over the 9600 series since it features 8 pixel pipeline as opposed to the 9600 series' 4. As an added benefit, if you can find the right card, the 9500 Pro can be softmodded to a 9700 (re-enabling the 256 bit memory interface).


Check out Guru3D related reviews:

Hercules 3D Prophet Radeon 9500 Pro



Sound Card â Onboard NVIDIA SoundStorm or Audigy ES

Part of the MCP-T Southbridge on high end nForce2 motherboards, NVIDIA SoundStorm is Dolby Digital certified 5.1 sound. In terms of audio performance it falls somewhere between an Audigy and an Audigy 2 and indeed in benchmarks offers lower CPU utilization than the Audigy 2. What sets this onboard sound solution apart from others is the use of an Audio Processing Unit, eliminating the need of the onboard sound to rely heavily on the CPU for processing power. It does however lack some of the advanced audio features of the Audigy line (like EAX Advanced HD and 24 bit audio capabilities).


For those of you who donât wish to use onboard sound and are looking for an add in card, the Audigy ES (a cheaper version of the Audigy that lacks the Firewire port) comes in at a price tag of around $40 US, an excellent low cost Dolby Digital 5.1 solution. For those of you yearning for Dolby Digital 7.1 sound, the Hercules Fortissimo III 7.1 can be found for around the same price as the Audigy ES. It lacks the support for the Audigyâs EAX Advanced HD, but does support some sound APIâs that the Audigy does not, like the old Aureal A3D.

Check out Guru3D related reviews:

Creative Audigy

Hercules Fortissimo III 7.1

CD-RW Drive â Samsung 52x32x52x SM-352BRNS

 Every computer today needs a CD-RW drive; fortunately CD-RW drives have become incredibly affordable (I still remember when my Plextor 40x12x40A cost me $150 US!). I chose the Samsung model not only because it supports the fastest burning speeds, but it is one of the few CD-RW drives that comes with an increased 8 MB buffer (a normal drive only has 2 MB), allowing for better burning performance. It also includes Nero 5.5, an excellent piece of burning software.


DVD Drive â Pioneer 120S Slot Loading

With prices so low, there is no excuse to go ahead and put a DVD drive in you computer so that you can enjoy some DVD movies. Most DVD drives are almost identical so itâs nice to see one that sets itself apart. This drive features a slot loading mechanism, so no more waiting for the tray to open to stick in your CDs!


Network â Onboard 10/100 NIC

 The nForce2 motherboards offer excellent onboard network solutions, no need to go and purchase a separate network card. For those of you wondering where the modem is, let me say this: gamers donât use modems! Get broadband!



Case and Power Supply

Okay Iâm going leave this one open to your decision. Find a case you think suites you. The most important thing is to make sure it has a reliable power supply though, or purchase a case without a power supply and purchase a power supply seperately. Make sure to get at least a 350 Watt power supply, I recommend the following brands: Antec, Enermax or Thermaltake.


If you want my personal choice I would recommend the Antec Lanboy. An aluminum case (aluminum offers better cooling and is much lighter than the traditional steel), side window, a carrying strap for when you want to haul your rig to a LAN party and a top-of-the-line Antec TrueBlue 350 Watt power supply with dual blue LED fans...all for a relatively low cost.


Monitor â 17â CRT

While an LCD monitor may be nice and definitely save on desktop space, its way too pricey for a budget gaming machine like this. For a CRT you should be looking for a flat screen, a low dot pitch (0.20 is considered quite good) and support for higher resolutions and refresh rates.


My personal recommendation: the Samsung SyncMaster 755DF-T/T. A sleek black and silver monitor featuring an extremely good .20 dot pitch, a flat screen and supports resolutions up to 1280x1024 @ 65 Hz. All this makes this low-cost monitor an excellent choice for a low budget gaming PC like this.


Speakers â Logitech Z640 5.1 Speakers

Regardless of what choice you made for your sound, you will want a good set of speakers. The quality of sound can really add to the gaming experience so donât sell yourself short on the speakers. You want to hear when someone is sneaking up from behind you in multiplayer, enjoy the theater experience watching DVDâs and enjoy the best quality sound when listening to your CDs and MP3s. This is an excellent set of inexpensive 5.1 speakers.


Keyboard and Mouse â Logitech Premium Desktop Optical

This low cost keyboard and mouse bundle features the Logitech Black Internet Keyboard and the cordless Logitech Optical Wheel Mouse Pro. An optical mouse is a must for a gamer, as it offers the enhanced precision you will need in First Person Shooters. And cordless is always a nice way to go when you are trying to cut down on the clutter of cords on your desktop.

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