Sunday, January 25, 2009

A more *realistic* serious gamers build

OK, last post was a 'money is no object' build in which the best of everything was used. Total cost was a mind boggling 9 grand. So here we are with a more realistic build. The goal here was to get the best possible performance with a total outlay of under $3000 - that's about what most serious gamers would expect to pay for a new machine.

What I came up with actually draws quite heavily from my 'money is no object' build. I start off with the 'Little Brother' of the Antec Twelve Hundred use previously - the Antec Nine Hundred. A very similar case, but not quite as large.

Antec Nine Hundred Case - $109.99

Next comes another power supply from PC Power and Cooling:

PC Power and Cooling 750W power Supply - $109.99

Again, the processor family to use is a no-brainer - the Intel Core i7. In this instance we are going with the 2.66 Ghz model - the Core i7 920:

Intel Core i7 920 Nehalem processor - $294.99

And another Evga X58 3-way SLI motherboard - the same board from the last build:

Evga X58 chipset motherboard with 3-way SLI - $299.99

Next comes the RAM. Something a little milder this time, but with good overclocking potential - 6 GB of Corsair DDR3-1333 SDRAM. Because this board uses 'triple channel' memory I selected three 2 GB dual packs. That should give us plenty of RAM for maximum gaming performance.

6 GB Corsair DDR3-1333 SDRAM - $183

This motherboard has 3-way SLI, but in this case we are only going to use two video cards - mainly for budgetary reasons, because with our $3k limit, the third card really only gives us additional performance at very high resolutions used by 30" monitors, and that size is out of our budget reach here. So we're going to use two Geforce GTX 285 cards:

2 XFX Geforce GTX 285 1 GB Video cards - $758

Now for our hard drives. I wanted to choose something with the performance potential of our last build, but without the astronomical cost. I thought about the WD Velociraptor drives, but dollar for dollar, your can get better performance from the SSD's as long as we don't choose the ultra high performance models, without sacrificing too much drive space. What I came up with is a pair of 64 GB SSD's from G-Skill in RAID 0. Not quite the performer that the Intel drives are, but they will blow away the Velociraptor's for less money. Combined with a 750 GB storage drive, we should have all the drive space we need plus blazing fast performance for about $350

2 G-Skill 64 GB SDD's - $269.98

Seagate 750 GB SATA 3.0 hard drive - $79.99

And next comes a DVD burner. Nothing fancy here just a Samsung 20X burner with LightScribe:

Samsung 20x DVD Burner with Lightscribe - $21.99

And because this is a serious gaming build, we want some decent overclocking ability. For that we will need a better CPU cooler than the one provided by Intel. A Zalman 9500 with LGA 1366 adaptor should do the trick:

Zalman CNPS9500 CPU Cooler - 49.99

Zalman Socket 1366 adapter - 9.99

Well, that takes care of the main components - and we are under $2200. If you already have a large monitor (24" or over) and a good set of speakers, you could stop right here and have a super screaming system for just over 2K. But this is a 'complete' build so I gotta include the monitor, speakers and keyboard/mouse. Lets start with the monitor first:

ASUS 25.5" LCD Monitor - $419.99

And a 5.1 speaker system from Logitech:

Logitech X540 5.1 speaker system - $78.99

and last of all - keyboard and mouse:

Microsoft Comfort Curve 2000 Keyboard and Mouse - $19.99

Total cost with shipping and tax = $2959

So there you have it - the recipe for a blazing fast system that will blow away 99% of the computers on the net today for under $3K. Boot times will be insanely fast - blink and you will miss most of the splash screens - program loading times will be almost instantaneous, and video performance will be nearly second to none.

Upgrade Your Computer

Friday, December 26, 2008

What would you build if money was no object?

I've been asked this question a few times over the years, and my current answer would look something like this:

I would start off with an Antec Twelve Hundred case. There are more expensive cases I could choose, without a doubt, but anyone can simply choose the most expensive items they can find. The Twelve Hundred has all of features that I would want in an expensive case - tons of fans, for good cooling, lots of room, and I like the power supply being located on the bottom. I just wish it had a left side motherboard mount option - but I've only seen that in one case and it's no where near big enough for what I would pack into this beast.

Antec Twelve Hundred - $159.99

To power this machine I would need one serious power supply - the only choice for me in this case would be a PC Power and Cooling 1200W power supply. You'll see why later on.

PC Power and Cooling 1200W power supply - $449.99

Now for the motherboard. Intel socket 1366 is a no brainer, for the new Core i7 processor, but which one? The most obvious choice would be the ASUS Rampage II at 398 dollars, but I'm just not a fan of ASUS - honestly, I think the Evga board is a better product here mainly because of the top-notch customer service from Evga. The difference in customer support is eye-opening when you read the customer reviews. All of the ASUS manufacturer responses were essentially 'canned' answers directing the reviewer to visit the ASUS tech support website, and signed 'The ASUS support team'; while the Evga responses were all personally written and signed by Jacob, in one instance asking for the name of a tech that gave less than stellar customer service!

Evga X58 chipset motherboard - $299.99

There are three Core i7 processors to choose from - since this is a 'money is no object' build, the natural choice is the Extreme Edition.

Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition 3.2 Ghz Quad Core processor - $1012.99

Next comes the RAM. This beast uses DDR3, and is easily capable of 1600 mhz memory bus speed. Its 'triple channel' as well so its best to get 6 identical modules and populate all 6 memory slots. I decided to choose some memory with a little headroom and selected Corsair Dominator DDR3-1800 2x2GB module pairs (three of them) for a total of 12 GB of RAM.

12 GB (6x2GB) Corsair Dominator DDR#-1800 RAM - $987

Next comes the reason for that 1200W power supply - VIDEO CARDS! This motherboard supports 3 way SLI. That means 3 Geforce GTX-280 1GB Video cards from Evga. I would have preferred two or three Radeon HD 4870x2 cards but this board only supports SLI. The next generation of these Core i7 boards will likely suport both SLI and CrossfireX.

3 Geforce GTX-280 1 GB Video cards - $1199.97

Next comes our hard drives. At first I considered a four WD Velociraptors in RAID 0 for the boot drive, but after looking at SSD's they are definitely the way to go if you have the money. The read performance is far faster then anything else available. Users typically report boot times for Vista at under 8 seconds - and thats just using ONE! The best performers seem to be made by Intel, so thats what I selected for the boot drive - four of them actually, in a RAID 0 array for positively insane program loading loading speeds. Don't blink or you'll miss the Windows splash screen.

4 Intel X25-E Extreme High performance solid state 32 GB drive - $2876.00

Since these drives are only 32 GB each for a total of 128GB for the boot drive, we're going to need some insanely huge storage drive to match. This one is actually an easy choice to make - Seagate's 1.5 TB Barracuda SATA 3.0 Gb/s hard drive. We can alway add more when this one fills up.

Seagate 1.5 TB hard drive - $139.99

Next we need an optical drive - Of course we are going to want a blu-ray drive here. I'm not really into multiple optical drives so one is all I need.

LG Blu-ray burner - $249.99

Well, that takes care of the internals, and we're only up to $7,375 - what a bargain! Now for some peripherals that can really take advantage of all this computing power. First thing is a monitor - a really BIG monitor, otherwise the $1200 spent on video cards is wasted. Heres a nice one:

30" HP LCD monitor - $1259.99

I'm not really into fancy keyboards, but a nice wireless heyboard and mouse would be sweet. Logitech makes a nice set with a curved ergo design similar to the MS comfort curve keyboards that I like.

Logitech Wave Pro Desktop wireless keyboard and mouse - $129.99

Last but not least is a killer set of speakers. I would have liked to get a speaker set from Bose, but they don't have a 5.1 configuration available. So the next choice was Logitech's top end Z-5500 surround sound system.

Logitech Z-5500 5.1 surround speaker system - $302.99

Total cost for this entire dream system? a mere $9,068.88 before shipping and taxes. about 3 months pay for me. Next time I'll put together a serious high performance system thats actually affordable.

Upgrade Your Computer

Thursday, December 25, 2008

New $1000 Intel build

Ok, now its time for a new Intel based Gaming build for under $1000. Like the previous AMD build I posted a few days ago, prices favor us such that we can get a substantially more powerful system than you could just 18 months ago. Here we go!

We start out with the same Cooler Master case we used for the AMD build. Its a good buy even without the $10 instant rebate.

Cooler Master Elite RC-330 with 350 W power supply - $49.99

Next is the motherboard - Biostar makes a very good Intel motherboard based on the Intel P45 chipset. Its a bit pricey at $159, but that's what you get when you go with Intel over AMD. For the CPU I selected the Core 2 quad Q6600. Its pretty affordable (for Intel) at $189. You could also go with the Q8200 at about the same price but some users have reported temperature sensing issues with that CPU.

BiostarTpower I45 motherboard - $159.99
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU - $184.99

Now comes the RAM. Since this motherboard supports DDR2-1200 as standard, I figured we might as well use something faster than the usual DDR2-800. Affordable DDR2-1200 is not available at this time, so I selected some DDR2-1066 - its still very affordable at under $15 per GB for Kingston HyperX. I decided to go with 2 GB.

2gb Kingston HyperX DDR2-1066 RAM - $27.98

For the video card, I again chose the ATI Radeon HD 4850, with 512 MB of onboard Video RAM. Its a very capable card with about twice the power of the Geforce 7900 GS used in 2007's version of this build.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 512 MB Video card - $149.99

OK, next comes the drives. Like the AMD build, I selected a 500 GB Seagate hard drive and a 20X DVD burner from LiteOn

Seagate 500 GB SATA 3.0 Gb/s hard drive - $64.99
LiteOn 20 x DVD burner - 20.99

Next come the peripherals - monito,r keyboard, mouse and speakers. Because this motherboard has a 'better than average' Realtek ALC888S sound chip rather than the usual AC97 chip, I decided not to select an add-on sound card.

Hanns-G 22" Widescreen LCD monitor - $159.99
Microsoft Comfort Curve 2000 Keyboard with Mouse - $21.99
Altec Lansing 2.1 Speaker set - $29.99

Total price of all components is $870.89, with another $51.15 for shipping, for a total of $922.04. A similarly configured Dell XPS 420 rang in at $1339 by comparison. Even when you figure in the cost of an OEM license for Windows (whatever version you want), you'll still save a couple of bills easily. Who says you can't save by building yourself?

Upgrade Your Computer

New $400 build

Well, since my $1000 gaming system update was so much better than the previous one, I thought I would see what a person could do with $400 again.

OK, here we go:

I start off with the same case and power supply from Rosewill:

Rosewill R103A Black Steel Case with 350W power supply - $29.99

This is a very popular budget case with excellent customer reviews - 561 reviews with 88% 4 0r 5 eggs. I've used quite a few of Rosewill's products over the years and I've never been disappointed in their quality or performance.

Next comes the motherboard and processor. I went with a GigabyteSocket AM2+ motherboard this time around, with the AMD 740G chipset and SB700 Graphics chip. Seems to be a good solid board with good rewiews. Coupled with an AMD Athlon 64X2 5000+ processor running at 2.6 Ghz, and you'll have a pretty powerful machine - its the same processor I selected for my "$1000 dollar Gaming Build" post in june of 2007. You could use a Sempron chip and save about $25, but the performance hit would be pretty big. At $49, the 5000+ dual core chip is a no-brainer.

Gigabyte GA-MA74GM motherboard - $54.99
AMD Athlon 64X2 5000+ CPU - $49.50

Next comes memory - in summer of 2007, PC2-6400 RAM was selling for $50-$70 per GB, making it difficult to get more than 512 MB in a budget build like this one. But at todays prices we can pack 2 GB of RAM into this build and spend less $$ than last time!

Kingston 1GB 240 pin DDR2-800 RAM (x2) - $18.98

Next we need to add some drives. I selected the Seagate SATA 3.0 Gb/s 80 GB hard drive. Its actually a dollar cheaper than its IDE counterpart. If you are willing to splurge and go over your $400 budget, you can get the 160 GB model for merely 5 dollars more.

Seagate 80 GB SATA 3.0 Gb/s hard drive - $36.99

OK, now for the optical drive. Last time I went with my old workhorse, the LiteOn 52x combo drive. This time I was able to work in a 20x DVD burner from LiteOn.

LiteOn 20x DVD Burner - $20.99

That takes care of the case andthe internals - all that left is the peripheral items - monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers.

For the monitor, I chose a 17" WS monitor from Hanns-G. Its a steal at $99.99.

Hanns-G 17" widescreen monitor - $99.99

For mouse and keyboard, I went with my usual, the ergonomic comfort curve keyboard from Microsoft with mouse included.

Microsoft Comfort Curve 2000 keyboard and mouse - 21.99

Last of all, we need some speakers. One of the best deals I have found on speakers is the Altec Lansing BX1020. Small and lightwieght, but they have the best sound quality I have ever heard in the sub $20 dollar price range. I've got a pair of these on my gaming system and they sound great.

Altec Lansing BX1020 2.0 Stereo speaker pair - $15.99

Alright - this gives us a subtotal of $348.41, with a shipping cost of $53.89. Thats just slightly higher than our budget of $400, by $3.30. But since newegg is constantly shifting prices by adding discounts (the gigabyte motherboard had a $5 discount when I selected it, but its gone now) and offering free shipping, you may be able to squeeze under the $400 limit.

This machine is actually quite powerful - its essentially just a video card away from being my current gaming rig, in fact. You could probably shop around a bit and find some cheaper components, getting the cost down another $50 or so, but the performance hit you would take doing so is pretty huge. You'd have to drop down to a single core Sempron processor, and use less RAM. Both changes would reduce the performance considerably.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

$1000 dollar gaming system revisited

In summer of 2007 I posted a sub-thousand dollar gaming build. Things have changed a lot in the last year and a half, and I decided to see what such a build would look like today. Would you believe twice the RAM, twice the processor power, and twice the storage??? If I have peaked your interest, please read on...

Last time I chose a case from Antec, but this time around I went with a Coolermaster case. Both companies make excellent cases, but right now the Coolermaster case is a better deal. You can buy it at Newegg for 49.99 with a ten dollar instant rebate:

Coolermaster Elite RC-330 case with 350W power supply --49.99

Like last time, I again chose a Biostar T-force motherboard for this build. These boards have lots of nice features and are simply rock solid:

Biostar Tforce TF8200 AM2+ motherboard -- $89.99

Because prices have dropped so much on some components, we can spend more on the processor. I chose the Phenom x4 'Black Edition' processor which has an unlocked multiplier, making it an excellent choice for its overclocking potential:

AMD Phenom 9850 Black Edition Processor -- $169

Next is the RAM - because prices on DDR2-800 RAM have dropped so much, we can actually get twice as much RAM as before at less than half the cost. 4 GB for under $60 - thats less than $15 per GB! It was not too many years ago that SDRAM was selling for more than a dollar per MB, and if you had RDRAM in your machine you were REALLY hurting, paying $500 or more for a pair of 128MB modules.

4 GB (2x2GB) Corsair XMS2 PC26400 RAM -- $54.99

Hard drive prices have dropped significantly as well - for the same amount of money last year, we can buy twice as much drive space - 500 GB for 69 dollars. For the CDROM drive I chose an LG 22x DVD burner

Seagate 500GB SATA 3.0GB hard drive -- $69.99

LG 22x DVD Burner -- $23.99

Next comes the Video card. It was a hard choice because the market has moved so fast and performance is simply amazing on these new cards. I finally selected the ATI Radeon HD4850. more than twice the performance of the GeForce 7900 GS used in last years build, at about the same cost - less if you find one in an open box special:

Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 512 MB PCI Express 2.0 -- $159.99

OK, thats everything that goes in the case, and we've barely broke 6 bills - total so far is $617.84 without shipping. Next comes the peripherals - monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers. Again I went with the Microsoft comfort curve keyboard with mouse included. Same price as last year. LCD prices again favor us this time around as the drop in pricing allows us to get a significantly larger screen for the same amount of money. Hanns-G has a nice 22 inch model for $159 with free shipping (I love those free shipping deals):

Hanns-G 22 WS monitor -- $159.99

Microsoft Comfort Curve 2000 keyboard and mouse -- $21.99

And lastly, because onboard sound on most motherboards STILL sucks, I'm including a sound card - the Diamond ExtremeSound 5.1 PCI soundcard. My old favorite from Chaintech used in last years build is no longer available.

Diamond ExtremeSound XS51 PCI Soundcard -- $19.99

We're still well below our limit of $1000, so I decided to add a 2.1 speaker system from Altec Lansing:

Altec Lansing 2.1 speaker system -- $29.99

That puts our raw total at $849.90 - and since many of our items have free shipping, the total shipping cost for this build is only $40.89, making the total cost of this build $890.79 - about 20 bucks cheaper than last years build.

Well, thats my story and I'm stickin' to it!


Monday, November 26, 2007

Phenom is Here!

Well, there it is! The above photo is an actual die of the new Phenom CPU from AMD. Over 600 million transistors packed into a mere 285 square milimeters, containing four discrete processing cores, each with its own dedicated 512 KB L2 cache and a new shared 2 MB L3 cache.

This new CPU incorporates many new technologies and improvements over the Athlon 64x2 processors - A new instruction set, SSE4a; an advanced memory prefetcher that can load data directly from RAM to the L1 cache; improved branch prediction logic with a sideband stack counter to reduce load on the CPU cores: improved virtualization functionality to boost the performance of multiple Operating Systems running in a virtual Environment; a new shared L3 cache; a new Hypertransport 3.0 bus running at 3.2 ghz; and a new Cool 'n' Quiet 2.0 power saving feature that allows the reduction of the core clock and voltages for individual cores.

One of the niftiest things about this new processor, is something you don't usually see in a new CPU architecture - Backwards compatibility. While this CPU is designed for use in the new socket AM2+ motherboards with the new 3200 mhz Hypertransport 3.0, it will also work in the older AM2 sockets using Hypertranport 2.0 (2000 mhz) and 1.0 (1600 mhz). That means current users with AM2 motherboards may be able to upgrade to quad core, with nothing more than a BIOS update.

While all of us AMD fans out here were really hoping for a Core 2 'killer', that would dominate the performance benchmarks much like the original Athlon XP and Athlon 64 totally dominated the performance arena from 2002-2006, alas, such was not the case. Instead of leapfrogging ahead, they have basically just caught up. Right now the performance is about equal, clock for clock, between the Core 2 quad and the Phenom. But since the Phenom is priced below the Intel chips, that does make them a better buy right now.

One reassuring item in AMD's favor is that the new CPU's seem to overclock quite well. In fact, for the first time ever a CPU manufacturer is offering their own overclocking utility, called AMD Overdrive, which accesses the CPU directly, letting the user adjust the base clock, multiplier, core voltage and memory timings from within windows. Early results are very promising, allowing the 2.4 Ghz CPU to easily reach 3.0 Ghz on air cooling. I have a feeling we will see Phenom models with larger caches running at 3.0 Ghz by summer, providing enthusiasts with a viable lower cost option to the Intel Extreme QX6850, that provides comparable performance levels.

2008 is certainly looking to be an interesting year!

Forbidden PC

Monday, August 13, 2007

Here's what I would do with 2 grand...

OK, heres what I would suggest to anyone with $2,000 to spend on a new gaming machine.

Like my other gaming builds, this one also uses an Antec case. This time its the Antec Nine Hundred model. This case is a gamers dream with two front mounted 120mm intake fans, one three speed 120mm exhaust fan, and a top mounted 200mm exhaust fan. Lots of room and plenty of space for multiple hard drives, this is simply one of the best cases made.

To power this system requires a step up in class to a PC Power and Cooling "Silencer 610" 610W power supply. With an ultra quiet cooling design, and gobs of available current, this is one of the best gaming power supplies made. Unlike many lesser supplies, this one features a single 12v rail capable of supplying a whopping 49 amps. This is critical for a performance system like this because the video card we will be using requires 26 amps alone. Most multiple rail supplies put out 18 amps per rail. That simply not enough for todays video cards.

Antec Nine Hundred Case - $129.99 (free shipping)
PC Power and Cooling Silencer 610 - $158.67

As much as I like AMD, for high performance systems, Intel's Core 2 Duo simply can't be beat right now. That may change next year with the upcoming Phenom CPU's from AMD, but we're building for today, not next year. So I chose the E6750 running at 2.66 Ghz, with a 4 MB L2 Cache. At $211, you just can't beat the performance/price ratio. And to top it off, this thing overclocks like mad. 3.4 Ghz is easily achievable with air cooling. We'll top it off with a CPU cooler from Acrtic Cooling - the Freezer Pro 7. The Freezer Pro series are excellent coolers, they are quiet, effective and they point in the right direction. When properly installed they direct the hot air from the CPU straight out to the rear exhaust fan. This is the most effective way to cool your system. You want linear airflow from front to back. The down draft type coolers that blow straight down on the motherboard create too much turbulence inside the case for really effective cooling.

The motherboard was a harder choice. I thought about an Nvidia 680i based board, but when it came right down to it, I felt the Intel P35 chipset was better suited for this build, since this is going to be using a single GPU. So I chose an Abit P35 motherboard. For the last couple of years, Abit has been my 'backup' brand of choice when there is no Biostar Tforce model available. Biostar has a P35 Tforce board, but its very new and still has some bugs. The Abit board seems to be a better product at this time. This board supports all the latest processors, including the quad cores and the extreme series. It also supports the 1333 Mhz FSB for the latest Conroe CPU's . It features 8 channel HD audio, Gigabit LAN, 4 rear USB 2.0 ports, 4 memory slots, 3 PCI slots, 2 PCIe x1 slots and one PCIe X16 slot.

Core 2 Duo E6750 CPU - $211.99 (free shipping)
Arctic Cooling Freezer Pro 7 - $40.83
Abit IP35-E motherboard - $121.60

Memory was also a tougher choice this time, but I stayed with the Corsair XMS2 line, but stepped up to the faster 1066 Mhz (PC8500) speed. A bit more pricier, but for a performance machine that may be overclocked for higher performance, its really what you need. 'Standard' DDR2-800 just won't cut it under those conditions.

Corsair XMS2 DDR2-1066 RAM 4x 1GB - $348.00 (free shipping)

Next comes the drives - for this one we're stepping up to the Seagate 400 GB SATA 3.0 GB drive. Its a great deal at $99.99. For the CDROM drive I chose the Liteon black 20x DVD writer with lightscribe.

Seagate 400 GB SATA 3.0 Gb 16MB Cache Hard Drive - $106.13
Liteon 20X DVD writer with Lightscribe - $37.83

Since this is a true high performance build, we are going to need some high performance sound. Most motherboard sound chips are far from 'high performance' and even relatively cheap sound cards will usually sound better. For this build I selected the HT Omega Striker 7.1 card. This has 7.1 sound and built-in Dolby Digital and DTS hardware decoding. Since we're talking sound here I will include the speakers - Creative Inspire P7800 90W 7.1 surround speaker system. Your movies, music and games will sound amazing in 7.1 surround.

HT Omega Striker 7.1 Sound Card - $85.68
Creative Inspire P7800 7.1 Speakers - $104.18

Now comes the Video card. Since this is not going to be an 'all out' SLI system we do need a decent card but not necessarily the 'top of the line'. I chose to go with a Geforce 8800GTS 320 MB Card from EVGA. Its got plenty of RAM for what we are putting together and is plenty powerful, without busting our $2k budget.

EVGA Geforce 8800GTS 320 MB Video card - $286.32

Ok, this puts us at $1631.52 for everything but the keyboard, mouse and monitor. Lets add these items in...

Microsoft comfort Curve Keyboard and mouse - $28.32
Acer 22" Black DVI 5ms Widescreen monitor - $229.16

This gives us a grand total of $1889.00 comfortably under our $2k limit for this build.

Next installment will be an all-out "balls to the wall" build.

See ya then,