Building a Value Gaming PCWritten on October 17, 2003 by Jon Bach
Building a Value Gaming PC on a tight budget requires some difficult decisions. When budget is not a factor, building a great gaming PC is relatively easy - simply choose the fastest parts available. That's what we did in our last article, titled Building the Ultimate Gaming PC. If you want the best gaming PC that money can buy, then we encourage you to check out that article. Unfortunately, most of us do not have the luxury of a high budget, so in this article, we will take a look at current technology, and explore what the best choices would be for building a great gaming PC for under $1500.
One of the first choices you need to make in any computer is what motherboard you will be using. This is a very involved decision - not only does it include the decision of what CPU and memory type to use, but it also requires you to take a look at the features of the different motherboard, to see which one will give you the best performance, upgrade path and onboard features you need for the money.
All modern motherboards today use dual channel DDR400 memory, so that aspect of our decision is already made. The fundamental question then is: do we go with AMD or Intel? While Intel has some definite performance benefits and the moment, AMD has always been the brand to turn to when you need the most performance for your dollar. For that reason, when on a tight budget, AMD already holds our preference. To close the deal, however, we need to take a look at the nForce2 chipset. This is the chipset that we recommend for AMD processors, and it has some very attractive features. Not only does it have the now standard USB2.0, firewire, SATA and RAID onboard, but it also has the nearly legendary nForce2 onboard audio system. This onboard audio has shown such great performance that we would recommend it even in demanding gaming situations. Because of this, systems using the nForce2 chipset rarely need a high end sound card for great performance. Since that saves us the cost of buying a good sound card, that makes our choice easy! The great features of the nForce2 motherboard for AMD processors, and the great value of AMD processors in themselves, makes the Asus A7N8X-Deluxe motherboard our choice.
Even once we have the type of CPU and memory to use, we still need to decide what speed of CPU and amount of memory to get. As we outlined in our Ultimate Gaming PC article, the speed of the CPU should not be the primary focus of our budget. The video card should get our attention first, so we will defer the decision on the speed of the processor and amount of memory to later -- when we know how much of our budget we have left!
The video card is the part of the system we're going to be relying on the most for great gaming performance, so even when we're on a tight budget, this is the one area where we should go as high as we can. Because of this, we have chosen the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128mb card for our Value Gaming PC. While we were able to use this card and stay under our $1500 budget, if your budget is even tighter, we would recommend the ATI Radeon 9600 Pro 128mb card. All around, we're seeing better performance from the ATI cards, so we would recommend them over the nVidia GeForceFX line.
At this point, the only major choices we have left are the CPU speed and amount of memory. We need only to leave us enough budget to wrap up the system with some miscellaneous items - hard drive, case, power supply, and a copy of Windows XP. When using XP, it is a good idea to have at least 512mb of memory, and especially when gaming is in mind, having more than that is always a good idea. For our Value Gaming PC, we will use 1.0GB of memory. That leaves us just enough budget to use an AMD Athlon XP 2500+ processor. Not only is this a great choice due to its 333MHz FSB and 512k cache, but the extra cache onboard makes the CPU core larger - and a larger core means more surface area to dissipate heat, making the processor easier to cool. Knowing the cooling issues that have plagued AMD Athlon XP processors, this is an important benefit!
So, in the end, we have ourselves a high powered AMD gaming system, ready to take on the most demanding games, and we're even under budget! In this system, we used:
Build Your Own!
Of course, if your budget or focus differs from ours, you might come to a completely different conclusion on what configuration is best for you. In the end, the main idea is to intelligently look at each component, know its strengths, and pick the combination that best suits your needs while remaining in the budget you are allowing. If that sounds like too much to take on, we would be happy to help you out! If you'd like to see what we recommend for you, simply do the following:
- Register on our website at https://www.pugetsystems.com/register.php. This will allow us to post a recommended configuration and a price quote directly to your account, which is more efficient and gives you far more information than a quote over email alone.
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to tell us what type of system you're looking for, and what your budget is. With those two pieces of information alone, we can make 90% of our recommendations. Be sure to tell us about any other needs you have (if you need a CDRW, modem, etc) when you send your email.
We have already helped thousands of people to design the best computer systems for them, and we would be happy to do the same for you!