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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  • JarredWalton - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    Xsilver - We really don't know when AGP will be fully phased out. It could be mostly gone in a year, or it could stick around for four more years. With NVIDIA's HSI bridge chip, they should be able to continue to support AGP as long as it's a reasonable market, and with dramatically faster processors more or less on hold for a year or so, I would expect AGP to continue to get support for at least two years. It might come a little later than the latest PCIe cards, but that's better than nothing.

    Regarding the choice of motherboards, right now I would have to go with the Abit or ASUS boards over the Gigabyte. Some people like Gigabyte a lot, but I'm not really one of them. The boards always seem to have issues - my one Athlon XP system with a Gigabyte board has constant "overheating" problems, even though temps never actually break 60 C. The motherboard *thinks* the CPU is running too hot. I've never been seriously disappointed by Abit or ASUS, so that's what I would take.

    Moletus: the 6800LE is available, mostly in Europe, but short of unlocking the extra pipelines there's no real reason to go with it. The 6600GT is close in performance to the 6800, and the LE is going to have the same number of pipelines with a lower clockspeed. If you can't find the 6600GT, or if you want to take a chance on unlocking the extra pipelines, the 6800LE is worth a shot.
    Reply
  • xsilver - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    Also some news on WHEN Agp is going to be phased out would be good.... are the next gen nvidia/ati products still going to be availble with AGP? if not, it would make sense to switch now? Reply
  • xsilver - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    I am considering the second AMD option -- want to know more about the choice of motherboards
    Where I am, only the abit, asus a8v and gigabyte "Gigabyte GA-K8NS Ultra-939" are abailable which is nf3 based...
    I've heard good things about the nf3 but bad things about this particular gigabyte board.... is the abit still the way to go? the gigabyte is actually the cheapest though... marginally
    The MSI nf3 is also availble but is $45 more..

    Is the abit going to be the most stable with the best ability for good overclocks?

    And on stock cooling/voltage how much could be extracted out of the 3000+ / 939? is 2.4ghz guaranteed?
    Reply
  • thebluesgnr - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    This guide bothers to add an option for those who want an Intel processor because there are AT readers that prefer Intel platforms (processor+chipset), even knowing gaming performance is a little better on AMD.

    I'm not one of those readoers though ;)
    Reply
  • Pollock - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    I assume stock cooling for all processors...

    ...but what about the OEM 3000+? $140 at Monarch...
    Reply
  • moletus - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    You really cant blame Intel only machines for stability problems. (just finished playing hl2 with p3-800 and ati 8500, and no im not a masochist) And on the long run i think Intel boxes will outlive any Amd counterpart, and yes i would buy Amd too :) Reply
  • MAME - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    oh, the only thing I am curious about is why even bother putting the Intel counterparts in there in the first place? AMD has the clear advantage over Intel in gaming. Since Intel's offerings are more expensive and perform worse, I really don't see a reason to go that route. Reply
  • moletus - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    Hey where is 6800le ? i havent seen a single thing about it, even thou you can buy one.. atleast in europe, no benchies no nuttin :( i woulda bet that beats any price/performance ratio when you get those pixel pipes running (with luck:) Reply
  • MAME - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    prepare to be bombarded by everyone who thinks they can save $2 and build a much better rig

    anyway, looks pretty decent to me
    Reply

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