The past few months have been huge for gamers. First came the long-awaited Doom 3 and now we have Half-Life 2 - not to mention the numerous other titles that are eagerly awaited. Surprisingly, both games can scale down with slower systems quite well. However, those looking to get the most out of their system should now have a lot of ideas for upgrades. As our recent look at the CPU and GPU scaling of Half-Life 2 have shown, a 2.4 GHz/2400+ processor paired with a moderate graphics is sufficient for running at low to medium detail levels. Older Pentium 3 and Athlon systems will have difficulty running modern games, and for such systems, a full upgrade is in order. We have provided options to fit any budget ranging from $800 to several thousand dollars.

That wraps it up for this Buyer's Guide. We are doing our best to mix things up a bit and provide different perspectives on the market. We hope that you appreciate the variation, as we often feel that things can get bogged down with repeating the same recommendations month after month. As always, let us know if we're doing the right thing or if you prefer more consistency in our Guide format. Of course, this is just our recommendation based on currently available parts, so feel free to include your own comments and suggestions if you disagree.

Summary of Other Components


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  • spartacvs - Wednesday, January 5, 2005 - link

    I decided to wait and I'll most probably go for nforce4. One thing I reallly like about your guide is the fact that there is many budgets. Most of the guides provides 3 systems (budget, price/performance and power) but more systems is really helpfull. Reply
  • Careless Joe - Tuesday, January 4, 2005 - link

    RE: the "Cheap" psu in the budget case. Its a re-badged fortron. Very reliable. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, December 4, 2004 - link

    Just FYI, I recently upgraded from the integrated audio on my MSI K8N Neo Platinum to an Audigy 2 ZS. My benchmarks in Half-Life 2 (using a measley 9800 Pro) went up a whopping 1 FPS. It might matter more with a faster GPU, but for my setup the sound card didn't matter much. It did, however, eliminate some static/noise from the audio. I couldn't hear it on the speakers, but on headphones it was very noticeable.

    Was it worth $75? That depends on how much disposable income you have and how annoying any extra static is. Since I often use headphones on my PC at night (no need to wake the wife and neighbors), it was annoying enough for me that I went and spent the money. For most people - particularly those using moderate to cheap speakers - you probably wouldn't notice.
  • SDA - Saturday, December 4, 2004 - link

    Jarred, very true.. I've seen people defend PowerStream purchases after being told that they're the same as Tagans (which I don't do, by the way; I hate to even implicitly insult something that someone else owns) by saying that OCZ is a good name and is better-recognized, as if that really has anything to do with PSU performance. If you ask me, I don't think that sort of thing should really be factored into recommendations.. if someone wants to pay more for a brand name (when it has been demonstrated that there's no functional advantage), they're probably in the minority. (If someone wants to pay more for the PowerStream's looks, they need 20ccs of taste, stat. .. kidding, PowerStream owners ;)

    Oh, and spartacvs, just remember that integrated audio (non-SoundStorm integrated audio, anyway) will eat more CPU than a dedicated sound card will. It's not much of a big deal with today's overpowered PCs, if you ask me, and you still get plenty of bang for your buck (infinite bang for your buck, actually, since integrated audio is free).
  • spartacvs - Friday, December 3, 2004 - link

    JarredWalton, yes, I think I understand your argument: AGPat the end of his life and PCIe is comming in.
    I had bad information about integrated audio. Integrated audio is not fantastic but I'm sure it'll be a majhor improvment over my old sb live!value 4.1... And, as I said, it's a way to save a few dollars. Something I, unfortunately, have to be very cautious these days :(

    Thank you very much for your wise comments.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 3, 2004 - link

    SDA - I understand that the internals are the same. For some people, however, the outside (and the brand) will matter. It doesn't bother me much, but convincing others of this is more difficult to do. I always prefer the weight test for PSUs (assuming you're at a store where you can pick up the PSU). All things being apparently equal, always go with the heavier PSU. :)

    Spartacvs - *all* motherboards include integrated audio these days. What Nforce4 doesn't include is the SoundStorm audio that was in Nforce1 and Nforce2 (certain models). NVIDIA is supposed to be working on a high-definition audio solution, but when that will actually arrive is a little difficult to say. The audio that will be on Nforce4 is the same as what is on most Nforce3 boards these days, so don't worry too much about that. If audio is really important to you, pick up a Creative Audigy 2 ZS (for games) or the M-Audio Revolution 7.1 (for more serious audio work).
  • SDA - Friday, December 3, 2004 - link

    That depends on your definition of close, Jarred ;) The only real differences between them are cosmetic (shell, sticker, brand). The components, layout, and design are nearly identical.

    If you're having trouble with this concept, here's a parallel for you: Alienware's older notebooks (before they switched to Uniwill) and equivalent Sager notebooks (with a comparable configuration, obviously). Same platform, same layouts, same chassis, same components (possible that they used different brands of memory or something, but that's about it), same party assembling them; the differences are almost entirely cosmetic, and the ones that aren't don't apply to functionality.

    Hopefully this is all a little clearer now, the world of computer hardware is really far too convoluted for its own good..
  • spartacvs - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    Ok, thanks for you answer. The place I want to buy have most of the memory brands. It's just muskin, they have only a few models.
    As for the MB. What I don't like about nforce4 is the lack of integrated audio. It increase the price tag a little bit more and I'm tight on money :(
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    SDA - Just pointing out that they're not identical. Close, perhaps, and which you like more is probably more a matter of preference, but they certainly aren't identical.

    Spartcvs - Corsair, GEIL, Kingston, OCZ, and quite a few others are decent RAM. For value RAM, Kingston and Corsair are probably the most widely spread, but I don't really know what other countries are like in terms of availability. The difference between the motherboards is more difficult to quantify. I really like Abit boards, but I'm not as keen on the VIA chipset - NVIDIA just seems more stable in my experience. Either one is still a fine motherboard, and there are several other socket 939 NForce3 250 boards available. Now, though, waiting for NForce4 non-SLI might be a good idea - get one of those for ~$130 and get a 6600GT PCIe card.
  • spartacvs - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    Hey guys, I have a few questions.

    Fisrt, I do not overclock my system and will most probaly go with the Antec 2650 case because it's smaller and still a good case. Will also take the 120 GB HD because 160 is overkill for me (hey I hardly fullfill my actual 40 GB).

    I hesitate between the abit board and the msi one. What do I lose going for the abit rather than the msi? The Abit is a via chipset, right?

    Where I want to buy they don't have much of the mushkin memory. Can you recommand another brand (and model please because there is so many type of memory modules, it's easy to be lost).


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