Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bargains, Power, and Overkill

While the bargain gaming rigs sure are a great bang for the buck, I understand that you might be looking for something with a little more power. Today I'll show you three different gaming rigs at very different price ranges. Each of these will give you a practical idea of what you can actually expect to pay. Most tech websites do not do this because they ignore combo deals and sometimes even rebates. Yes, these deals change all the time, but when they do they are replaced by similar deals. If you're in the market for a new machine but these exact deals are no longer available, just drop me a line and I'll help you sift through the combos and rebates for the deals with your name on them.

Today we'll look at what I call the Bargain Gaming Rig, the Practical Power Rig, and the Overkill Rig. I know. I'm so creative. Let's start with the inexpensive one.

Bargain Gaming Rig:

Processor: Athlon II X2 245 - $68
Motherboard: ECS IC780M-A AMD 770 ATX - $50 (after $10 rebate)
RAM: Patriot Viper 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 - $40 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: GIGABYTE GV-R485ZL-512H Radeon HD 4850 - $90 (after $20 rebate)
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3250310AS 250GB - $45
Case: Rosewill TU-155 Black Steel ATX - $50
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $29

Discount: $17 (CPU/MB and Case/HD combo deals)
Shipping: $20
Total: $375

This machine will play all of the latest games. The most demanding of them, however, will need to have some of their settings set to medium levels. Later on you can upgrade this machine with any PCI-Express 2.0 card, so it's not like you'll have to replace this rig any time soon. If you're on a tight budget and don't care about running the most demanding games on the highest settings, this is the machine for you.

Practical Power Rig:

Processor: AMD Phenom II X3 720 BE - $119
CPU Cooler: XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 - $37
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H AM3 AMD 785G Micro ATX - $90
RAM: G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1600 - $75
Video Card: HIS H487FN1GP Radeon HD 4870 1GB - $150
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS 640GB - $75
Case: Rosewill TU-155 II 500 Black cold rolled steel ATX - $80
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $29

Discount: $40 (CPU/VC, MB/RAM, and HD/Case combo deals)
Shipping: $25
Total: $640

This machine is an upgrade from the bargain rig in every way, excepting the DVD drive. This processor is really the sweet spot of gaming processors. It overclocks better than any of the other Phenom II processors. Recent benchmarks have shown that a fourth core on the same architecture (regardless of CPU manufacturer) yields no benefit in gaming - as long as you're not running demanding tasks in the background. If you overclock this processor, you will not get any other overclocked Phenom II to outperform it.

The motherboard doesn't support SLI or Crossfire, but practical gamers will want to avoid using multiple GPUs anyway. The benefit is just not worth the cost. It does support DDR3 which, unlike multi-GPU solutions, is becoming more practical as time goes on. You might want to try overclocking the RAM to 8-8-8-24 timings; I'm sure you could get away with it. The video card will chew up almost anything you throw at it, as long as your monitor doesn't run at a crazily high resolution. You should be able to play the latest games for a few years on this.

As an added bonus, there are no rebates so you don't have to wait for your money to come back.

Overkill Rig:

Processor: Intel Core i7 920 - $280
CPU Cooler: XIGMATEK Dark Knight-S1283V - $45
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-EX58-UD3R Intel X58 ATX - $175 (after $15 rebate)
RAM: OCZ Gold 6GB (3 x 2GB) DDR3 1600 - $90 (after $10 rebate)
Video Card: MSI R4890-T2D1G OC Radeon HD 4890 1GB - $180 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: HIS H489F1GP Radeon HD 4890 1GB - $190
Hard Drive: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G1 80GB SSD - $230
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black WD5001AALS 500GB - $70
Case: NZXT TEMPEST Black Steel / Plastic ATX - $80 (after $20 rebate)
Power Supply: Rosewill Xtreme Series RX850-S-B 850W - $100
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $29

Discount: $45 (CPU/Fan, MB/RAM, and VC/PSU combo deals)
Shipping: $38
Total: $1,462

Happy birthday, Jeremy! (hint, hint)

While this machine looks absolutely crazy, I wouldn't exactly say that it's wasteful. It's very future-proof and you will notice the performance gains. If you wanted, you could remove one of the video cards and the SSD to bring the price close to $1k. The machine really won't lose any longevity if you do that.

The processor is basically the best you can get. At stock speeds, it outperforms anything but the other Core i7 CPUs. It overclocks better than any other processor on the market. We're also using two HD 4890s in Crossfire here. I think that all X58 motherboards have at least two PCI-Express 2.0 x16 lanes, and this one is no exception. This graphical power will allow you to play Crysis smoothly at 2560 x 1600 with the highest settings.

Yes, I listed two hard drives. Yes, one is a high-performance solid state disk. Use it to install Windows and your games with the longest load times. Potty breaks between levels will be a thing of the past! There's enough room, power, and cooling to keep all this hardware under control. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory.

Next time some website tells you that you need to spend over $2000 for the ultimate gaming experience, just laugh. This machine gives you all the performance you could want, and all without becoming a jet engine space heater. Think it's missing something? Leave a comment and let me know!

Recommended Related Reading:
New Gaming Rigs - Where to Start
Again with Feeling


Kevin said...

not a hardcore gamer, but looking to upgrade my rig
playing World of Warcraft on a 22" Samsung (

current box is old but gives workable FPM in 10man content with most settings at medium and resolution of 1400x900. really starts to bog down in 25man content or high pop areas, and the old DELL server I am running on only has an AGP slot, so video card upgrade isnt an option.

too much background, question is...
for the mid range build how important is the non stock CPU cooler? I will not be overclocking and will probably use something a little different in case like an Antec Sonata 3. Likely keep XP until Windows7 comes out (Ubuntu dual boot)

Jeremy Johnson said...

Hi Kevin,

Sorry for the late reply. I only recently started getting comments here, so I'll start checking them more often.

As long as your processor uses a 45nm or smaller manufacturing process (Athlon II, Phenom II, i7, i5, and later Core 2 CPUs) the stock cooler should keep the temps quite reasonable if you don't overclock. Just remember to occasionally clean out the dust in the heatsink with canned air.

However, using a different cooler can make a drastic difference in temperature. Ultimately, hardware that remains cool will last longer, so it's still beneficial even if you don't overclock. At the bottom of my very first post here (, I explained my results with the Xigmatek cooler. Basically, they are as follows:

Room Temperature: 22 C (72 F)
Stock fan Idle: 45 C (80% fan speed)
Stock fan Load: 61 C (100% fan speed)
Xigmatek Idle: 37 C (20% fan speed)
Xigmatek Load: 48 C (60% fan speed)

This was with a 20% overclock.