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swiftcoder

Building a Gaming PC on the cheap

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A little background: I have repaired/rebuilt PC's for some years, so I know my way around the inside of a case. However, I haven't built anything from scratch, and I haven't been in the repair business for couple of years, so I am completely out of touch with which parts are good specs/price, etc. I am currently stuck with an anaemic laptop (Intel integrated GPU, with Apple-nerfed drivers), and looking to put together a (very cheap) PC, to use for developing/playing moderately graphics intensive games. The intention is to use it dual-boot Ubuntu/XP, as my dev/gaming machine. So I am looking at something dual-core, preferably 64-bit, but doesn't have to be blazing. Decent graphics card, but doesn't need to play this years equivalent of Crysis. I do have a good 1080p gaming LCD, so the card needs to drive that. At this stage, it doesn't need any bells and whistles, i.e. no need for WiFi, Bluetooth, disk burning, RAID, etc. although the option to add some of these later wouldn't hurt. The primary parameter however is price: as low as possible, preferably in the $300-$400 range. My question is whether one can build/buy a halfway-decent gaming rig for that price, and if so, what brands/components/retailers should I be looking at? I assume the minimal list of hardware I am looking at is as follows: Case Power supply Motherboard CPU - Core2duo seems a bit pricey, some AMDs look nice, but not sure how the models compare GPU Hard drive - 320GB 7200RPM SATA Seagate from newegg $50 Optical drive - SATA DVD burner from newegg $20 RAM - 2 gigs of DDR2 from newegg $15 Some sort of cooling system Recommendations on all or any of these are welcome... Edit: I am editing in my guesses as to decent hardware/prices. [Edited by - swiftcoder on January 6, 2009 11:13:39 AM]

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I had an even slimmer budget than you, but already had a case/psu/optical.

I just spent $270 from newegg getting the following:
[$100] ASUS M3A78 Pro: Integrated ATI Radeon 3200 HD, with HDMI and 1080p and DX10. Hoping that'll hold me over until I can/need/want a better GPU. EDIT: If you don't need/want fullsize ATX, the smaller version of this is a good $30 cheaper, IIRC.
[$56] AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200
[$32] Crucial 2GBx2 DDR-800
[$75] Seagate 750GB SATA-II HDD

We'll see, but I'm pretty sure it'll be an improvement from my Sempron 2800+ / GeForce 6600 GT setup :P

Check out both the ars Ultimate Budget Box and System Guide.

[Edited by - CadetUmfer on January 6, 2009 10:08:48 AM]

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Original post by CadetUmfer
[$100] ASUS M3A78 Pro: Integrated ATI Radeon 3200 HD, with HDMI and 1080p and DX10. Hoping that'll hold me over until I can/need/want a better GPU.
How well will that compare with current dedicated solutions? It looks like I can pick up a 256-bit, 512MB DDR3 Radeon HD 4830, for $105, or a similar spec GeForce 9600 GT for the same - either of which should be orders of magnitude better.

Along the same lines, what are the advantages of a 256-bit GPU over a 128-bit GPU? (Note that I am talking bits here, not megabytes)

Quote:
EDIT: If you don't need/want fullsize ATX, the smaller version of this is a good $30 cheaper, IIRC.
Is there a big advantage to the larger mother board? I assume it makes cooling easier, and possibly later expansion as well?
Quote:
[$56] AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200
AMD's prices seem much better than Intel's in the midrange, but I don't have any idea how the performance compares - is this likely to be faster than the similarly priced Celeron?
Quote:
[$32] Crucial 2GBx2 DDR-800
[$75] Seagate 750GB SATA-II HDD
Memory looks in line with what I have found, but do i really need the 4 gigs, in an otherwise mid-range computer? I think I will shave off the $25 for the smaller hard drive as well.
Quote:
Check out both the ars Ultimate Budget Box and System Guide.
Their budget box is still in the $800 range, so out of my league currently [smile] Thanks for all the advice!

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Integrated ATI Radeon 3200 HD


That might not be all that much faster than the 6600 -- in fact, it may even be slower (depending on how clocked the 6600 was and other things).

In general, you need a graphics card if you want to play games -- any games. Spore; World of Warcraft; Toontown Online; The Sims; it doesn't matter. Everything else is fine in the low end, but I would add something like a Radeon HD 4670 or a GeForce 9600 GSO for $80 plus tax and shipping.

An alternative is a GeForce 9400 built-in graphics motherboard, at $140. It's likely to significantly outperform the 3200, but it's not quite holding a candle to the real cards.

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You're not going to build from scratch something most would consider any kind of "gaming rig" for $300-$400. If you have some components you can use already, it might be possible. You can however build a decent general purpose PC for $400.

There is no advantage to having a larger or smaller motherboard (Although larger ones can have issues fitting into smaller cases). As for expansion, you want to pay attention to what is actually on the board as opposed to its size.

If you're on a budget, AMD is probably the way to go.

As for memory - its dirt cheap so get 4GB or you will likely regret it in the near future. You're asking for a "gaming rig" (I have 8GB in mine) but even for a good general purpose machine 4gb is starting to become standard. If you plan on running vista at some point in the future, absolutely get 4.

Dont cheap out on the CPU and GPU imo. The rest, whatever.

I recommend you visit tomshardware.com. Its a great resource for hardware comparisons and there are a ton of articles on building machines and working with specific budgets. They also have performance graphs.

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Original post by hplus0603
Quote:
Integrated ATI Radeon 3200 HD

That might not be all that much faster than the 6600 -- in fact, it may even be slower (depending on how clocked the 6600 was and other things).

In general, you need a graphics card if you want to play games -- any games. Spore; World of Warcraft; Toontown Online; The Sims; it doesn't matter. Everything else is fine in the low end, but I would add something like a Radeon HD 4670 or a GeForce 9600 GSO for $80 plus tax and shipping.
With that in mind, I am definitely going to shell out for dedicated GPU.

Quote:
Original post by elondon
You're not going to build from scratch something most would consider any kind of "gaming rig" for $300-$400. If you have some components you can use already, it might be possible. You can however build a decent general purpose PC for $400.
Well, my idea of a decent gaming rig may be pretty modest. This is the build-out I have in mind currently:

Athalon 64 X2 5000 (dual 2.6 Ghz) - $50
Biostar ATX mother board - $70
GeForce 9800 GT - $130
4GB Crucial RAM - $30
320GB 7200RPM Seagate HD - $50
Cheap DVD burner - $20

Which comes to $350, leaving $50 for case and PSU. I don't think that $50 is enough for that, so we might have to up the estimate to $425-$450. Now, I realise this isn't a blazing machine, but I think it should do well enough for moderate gaming, and the same for my graphics development.

Is there anything startling I have missed here, or any comments/suggestions? I am open to any ways to improve, as long as the cost doesn't skyrocket. The only weak link so far is the CPU, but I haven't ever been CPU-bound yet - should be a fun experience ;)

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As long as you're sticking to a some type of dual-core CPU (as is the one you mention) and a 9000 series GPU (or the equivelent ATI) I would probably give you the title "gaming rig." :)

I agree - that machine will do for moderate gaming and some development.

The one thing I recommend you do - and this does not affect price, is pay careful attention so that the motherboard and power supply you purchase allow for some upgrading. Lets say for example another $200 becomes available to you 3 months from now and you want to take your machine up a notch... you want a motherboard that will be able to handle some upgrades and a power supply that can push power to those upgrades.

When I was a kid I used to build my machines out of birthday money, holiday money, money saved from part time jobs, etc... so while I could not blow 2 grand in one shot as I can now with a full time job, I could put money in over time to build up to a machine that I really liked. Do your research and you'll be good.

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swiftcoder, that looks like a good build. The 9800GT should be up to the task. However, you might want to price compare with an ATI 4850, which usually sells in about the same price range but will often benchmark slightly faster.

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I should've prefaced that I was building a box for web and game development and TV/movie storage/watching. Once Starcraft 2 comes out I'll drop a higher-end GPU in it.

Definitely get a solid GPU if your gaming habits go beyond Q3A and AOE2. :)

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Original post by venzon
swiftcoder, that looks like a good build. The 9800GT should be up to the task. However, you might want to price compare with an ATI 4850, which usually sells in about the same price range but will often benchmark slightly faster.
My one concern there is the quality of the OpenGL drivers - coming from Apple's atrocious driver quality, I don't want a repeat of that experience, and I have heard bad things re ATI's drivers.

Another question if you will: how much is it going to limit my ability to game if I opt for the GeForce 9600 GT or Radeon 3850 HD instead? My reasoning is that they are still 256-bit chips, and the price reduction would let me sink an additional $50 into a solid PSU and motherboard to support upgrades next year (which could include a newer GPU). I am aware that they will perform less well, but I assume still perfectly playable for the majority of games?

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