Introduction

The last time that we looked at requirements for a modern gaming PC was just after the launch of Doom 3. Several months later, not a whole lot has changed other than prices. One thing that has changed is that Half-Life 2 has now been released on the world. Unlike Doom 3, Half-Life 2 uses Direct3D for graphics, so it is less likely to strongly favor NVIDIA cards. We'll get into that more in a bit. Suffice it to say that one of the most common comments on our Guides is that the systems spend either too much or too little on gaming components. Therefore, we felt that it was time to dedicate a Guide solely to the topic of gaming. While these systems are certainly capable of handling most other tasks quite well, we are not going to be dwelling on that. After all, there are few applications that are as demanding of a modern PC as games.

The format is going to change slightly, as many of the components that we use are discussed further in our other Guides. Rather than rehashing details of each and every component that we choose, we are going to list a complete configuration for several budgets with comments on what is good and bad, as well as what sort of performance level can be expected in today's games. We will be targeting Budget, Mid-Range, and High-End Gaming, although you may find that the final price for each category is slightly higher than in the non-gaming Guides. For Budget, we're shooting for around $750 to $1000 for a complete system, shipped within the continental United States. We are not including the price of the Operating System, taxes or the time it costs to put the system together. Our Mid-Range target price is $1500, and the High-End will be somewhere between $2000 and $3000 (depending on whether or not you want to use all of the high-end components). Modifying the builds in order to reduce the price is certainly possible, particularly on the Mid-Range and High-End systems. We will also offer suggestions for upgrades on our component summary page.

Before we get to the actual recommendations, we want to get one thing out of the way. Anyone who follows the gaming scene should know already that AMD's Athlon 64 systems outperform Intel systems in virtually every recent title. Our primary systems for each category will, thus, end up with AMD processors, but we will also include a couple of alternatives to spice things up a bit. Since we are looking at hardware that is immediately available for order, there are certain parts that we might like to recommend which are simply not available yet, and we will do our best to mention these where applicable.

Student Gaming
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  • blckgrffn - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    At Newegg, sorry. Reply
  • blckgrffn - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    $35 shipped, 420W thermaltake silent purepower w/18A on the +12 rail - can't beat that. No sense in not upgrading to it in my opinion. Also has two SATA power connectors. It may not be the best, but it is a good brand for low dough, and it regularly retails for under $40. I see no reason not to reccommend it as an alternative, at least.

    Just my $.02 :-)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    I was gone for the weekend due to a personal matter, which is why I have not commented much yet. Basically, the budget segment is extremely difficult to target without cutting some corners. The PSU is definitely one of the corners that was cut. I will certainly agree that a cheap PSU is not the best option, but for a moderate system it should do okay. We do not build and test every one of the systems we recommend here, although we do test the majority of the parts. For the budget system, even a moderate PSU is going to add $50 to the price. It might be worth it, but I would go with the generic for a little while if you're on a tight budget.

    The mid-range use of the SLK3700-BQE case and PSU is a different story. The 350W Antec PSUs are actually quite good and when paired with that setup I have yet to experience any issues. If you're going to add in a second hard drive and optical drive and try overclocking, it could present a problem, but for the stock recommendation it will work.

    I thought I made the PSU situation clear in the article, but looking back I guess it was sort of relegated to a few comments made in the high-end and component summary pages. A good PSU is never a bad investment. Trying to convince someone to spend $75 on a name-brand 400W+ PSU instead of upgrading some other component is difficult to do, unfortunately. I'll make sure I don't overlook this in the future - particularly on the mid-range systems.

    Gorion: The component summaries were arranged in order of price, with my suggestion of what budget each component falls into. You'll note that many of the parts do not match up directly with the system we put them in, for example we had to use a "mid-range" priced motherboard for the Intel budget setup. The graphics cards in particular are where we "overspent" - which makes sense for gaming.

    You're right on the mouse: the MX510 is the wired version. My bad. Basically, get what mouse you like. I have tried the MX510 before, and while not bad, it's a personal taste. I like the 4th and 5th buttons on opposite sides like the "cheap" MS mice. For precision, Logitech may be better, but I am definitely not hardcore enough to be able to tell the difference between mouse precision on these models. :)
    Reply
  • Glassmaster - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    #45: I'm not suggesting that a PSU recommendation should account for overclocking, however, on AMD's offical forums, where I help with Athlon 64 troubleshooting, insufficant PSUs are the most common problem. People are having problems with their PSUs handling stock specifications when they do something demanding, like play a modern game. This is a gaming guide after all...

    That's why I ask if you build and stress test these systems with the latest games before making a recommendation. If you do, and you find that a particular cheap generic PSU (with less than the consensus recommendation of 18-20A on the 12V rail) works well, that would be good to know. However that has not been my experience.

    I wouldn't bother to post at all if I didn't respect this site a lot and enjoy reading it--I would just stop visiting.

    Glassmaster.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    RE: The Epox budget board. Jarred had originally selected the Epox budget nf3-250Gb for his budget AMD gamer, but I shared many of the emails I had received re: memory problems with that board. Nothing major, but memory compatibility issues and 4-dimm 333 downclocks not seen with the Chaintech board. While we all agree the Epox has a bit better feature set the Chaintech is known to be rock solid and friendly to just about any memory you feed it. That is the reason for the Chaintech choice for Budget. If you know your memory choice works well with the Epox then by all means choose that board.

    As an overclocker I have learned the hard way how very important the PS is for Athlon 64 and Socket T Intel. However, most gamers are NOT overclockers - they may overclock the video card but they rarely do much with system overclocking. Given that, Jarred's PS choices make more sense, though I do agree budget Power Supplies are the weakest links in most systems. I'm sure those gamers that "system-overclock" will throw some rocks here, and there are exceptions to every generalization.
    Reply
  • thegreatbernie - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    I haven't been able to find the Albatron GeFORCE 6800 GT 256MB GDDR3 for $374. Newegg has it for $455. Reply
  • Gioron - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Jarred:
    Two nit-picks, the first being the motherboard chart on the component summary page. The third motherboard down threw me for a second, until I realized it was the third budget motherboard, not the mid-range motherboard it was listed as.

    Second, the MX510 is a wired mouse, not wireless. The wireless Ligitech mice are the MX700 and MX1000, the MX510, MX500, and MX300 are all wired mice. I'm guessing you're thinking about the MX700 mouse, which I admit is a bit of an acquired taste, but if you haven't used one before, I'd highly recommend trying out the MX510 before dismissing it.

    Disclaimer: I personally use an MX1000 as a replacement to my MX700, but I freely admit its not for everyone.
    Reply
  • SDA - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Damn, I hate to double-post, but I just found something interesting while poking around:

    http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...

    Might be worth a read for those of you that don't understand what I have against low-quality power supplies.
    Reply
  • SDA - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    #38, no, I guess it doesn't :( No offense to AT, but I doubt they bother-- after all, the PSU is such a trivial piece of hardware, isn't it? Sigh.. anyway, correct me if I'm wrong, but it'd seem that the PSU in the Athenatech case is an L&C unit. Deer/L&C units aren't exactly.. known for their quality.

    Now, I don't want to seem like I'm sniping, because overall I think this is a pretty good guide. Everyone's going to have their own suggestions and their own favorite parts. A quality PSU isn't something that one would pick just because of their preference, though, it's something one would pick because of their sanity. I've lost count of the number of malfunctioning systems I've seen fixed with replacement PSUs, not to mention how many cheapo power supplies I've seen fail in amusing ways before their time.. picking a cheap PSU to power a solid system is a newbie mistake, it's a shame to see a pro make it.
    Reply
  • bofkentucky - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    #39
    Except it is overpriced, uses an overpriced processor, uses slow ram and is feature limited (No on board SATA). Dothan has potential, but wait until the 915 based dothan boards hit the streets, then you will see a real performance option.
    Reply

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