New Rig Bleg

It has been a couple of years, and this computer has seen more abuse than most of my PCs, including physical damage to the motherboard. It still runs mostly fine, but the loading times are getting to me, so I am moving to 64-bit and gorging myself on RAM this time.

I would like to get a new system sometime in the next five months. Sadly, I know jack about current hardware and price points, since I need that information once every few years. Conveniently, some of you know a lot about hardware and good deals on it. So I turn to you. Any recommendations? (“Let’s see what’s available on Black Friday” is a fair recommendation.)

My goal is a system that will be able to play the next holiday season’s games on high (not necessarily ultra-high) without issues, although the most demanding games on my list right now are StarCraft 2 and Guild wars 2. I suppose that is mostly a graphics card question, an area where I know even less than usual, since meeting their recommended specs is not too hard. I do not take my PC on the road enough to justify the higher costs of moving to a laptop, although maybe I would start doing so if I could (plus a docking station for full monitor and keyboard at home).

My previous rig came from CyberPowerPC, which was a good mid-high end PC at a sane price. The only downsides were the huge Coolermaster case and problems resulting from the failure of the liquid cooling system; I am pretty sure that I caused most of the damage troubleshooting it and poking around afterwards. That is a separate story.

: Zubon

18 thoughts on “New Rig Bleg”

  1. Although it is only a few months since I did an upgrade myself my specific experience is probably already out of date. The Intel I5-760 offered best bang for buck for me. I will offer some general advice though, feel free to take any of it with a pinch of salt:

    1. Take time to choose and be prepared to spend money on your mouse, keyboard and monitor. These are the things that you will interact with directly every day and they will also last for longer than the rest of your system if you choose well.

    2. Many years of computer experience have convinced me you can never have too much RAM. 4Gb is a minimum but go more if you can. Beware however budget PCs often take shortcuts with ram which will cripple your system performance like only fitting one channel in a system that should have two ram channels.

    3. As a gamer you will probably be upgrading your graphics card several times during the life of your system. You can get a bit more longevity by buying a mid range card ($200 budget) with a lot of graphics ram (1Gb+). Avoid spending more than $200 because todays $500 rock crusher will be outperformed by next years $150 mid range.

    4. Hard disk space is a must for gamers and photo enthusiasts- minimum of 1Tb, more if you can get it. Solid state disks haven’t reached break even price performance yet so wait a few years to switch to them.

    1. “Avoid spending more than $200 because todays $500 rock crusher will be outperformed by next years $150 mid range.”

      Truth.

    2. I agree – don’t spend over $200 – but don’t spend a whole lot less than that, either.
      I’ve found it to hold true over the last 10 years (Since before GeForce 5×00 days) that $189.99 is the sweet price/performance spot. The only bad card purchases I’ve made in 10 years have been a GF5200 in 2001 (which was $120, and was terrible) and a Sapphire 4850×2 in 2009 (which was $300, and was a great, if noisy as hell and overpriced, card that allowed me to run 5 monitors on one machine smoothly – for a month before it got old and tiresome and I switched back to my 8800GT and 2 monitors)

      Everything else (5900SE in 2004, 6800GS in 2006, 7600GS in 2007, 8800GT in 2008) have all been at that 189.99 pricepoint on NewEgg when I bought them, and I’ve been happy as a clam with them.

      1. P.S. I’m still rocking the 8800GT. No newer cards have benchmarked as *enough* faster to justify the purchase.
        Using the same benchmark across all cards:
        GeForce4 MX440: 96
        FX5200: 45 (Newer and bigger numbers is not always better)
        6800GS: 371
        7600GS: 397 (the 6800 blew up and I *had* to buy)
        8800GT: 945
        4850X2: 1445

        So, my goal-seek for a new card is between double and triple the performance (GF4 -> 6800GS or 7600GS -> 8800GT were card swaps that wowed me) – and that limits me to 10 cards on the market, only two of which are sub-$200:
        GeForce GTX 480 ($499 and up)
        GeForce GTX 470 ($299 and up)
        Radeon HD 5870 ($365 and up)
        Radeon HD 5970 ($599 and up)
        Quadro 5000 ($1799!!!)
        GeForce GTX 465 ($229 and up)
        Radeon HD 5850 ($249 and up)
        GeForce GTX 460 ($179 and up)
        GeForce GTX 285 ($259 and up)
        Radeon HD 5830 ($179 and up)

        I’ve found that there has been a real plateau in the increase in speed with each generation of new cards. The architecture changes, but they don’t really provide huge increases in real world performance – the dollar-per-increased-FPS ratio is terrible.

  2. GPU: I’d choose a GTX 460 if I was getting a new GPU. Solid performance that will last you for a few years.

    RAM is cheap but don’t go overboard… some motherboards are crummy at handling lots of sticks of RAM, it can cause stability issues.

    Not sure re: CPU’s and motherboards these days.

    Best general advice you can have is to get
    1) a good case (cool, quiet, easy to open, large enough to work with)
    2) a good PSU (may I recommend anything by Corsair, I have a 620 W personally which is more than sufficient now and in the foreseeable future)
    3) a good monitor as mbp said.]

    These are all future-proof things that will decrease the cost of future upgrades…

  3. I share the opinion of the gentle sir above. The Intel i5 750 is my chip, and it works like a champ, whether you’re overclocking or just running it in turbo mode for application based auto-overclocking, it performs wonderfully for the price. As for video cards, I would go with an AMD 5850, or the Nvidia double feature and go with two 460s in SLI, as SLI scaling has greatly improved in recent iterations. For hard drives, if you want speed with average drive space, a couple solid states in raid is a great place to start. If you’re more concerned with size, Seagate has some swift options that tout up to 2T storage for decent prices. And of course, if you want to buy another pre-built system or if you just want a list of components laid out for you, Tomshardware.com is a great source of upgrades and benchmarks. Good luck with your build!

  4. I really wouldn’t bother with SLI, a single 460 can already run any fresh-released game with max settings at a high enough fps that you won’t notice any improvements…

    Solid state hard drives are pretty small but are nice to boot from (speed).

  5. OS: Windows 7 64-bit
    CPU: an i5 or i7
    GPU: a single Geforce 460 is currently giving the best “bang for buck” in graphics cards, supports DirectX11, and even does PhysX effects, for about 200 bucks
    RAM: 6 or 8 GB

    If you want to treat yourself to a bit extra, get a 160 GB to 200 GB solid state drive as first hard disk, but only install Windows and the most used programs on that. Then you can put all your porn other valuable data on a second 1 to 2 TB regular hard disk. A solid state drive is currently the item which makes your PC *feel* faster the most, e.g. booting much faster.

  6. Hmm, I don’t like hearing the liquid cooler failed on a CyberpowerPC computer (which is one I just bought).

    Anyway, I bought an i7, 6 gb RAM, 1 TB HD, and a Geforce 240 (going to upgrade when next-gen of cards hits) for about $1000. The Geforce 240 runs everything I want to play top notch, but with no DX11. Good luck!

    1. Liquid cooling is a bitch unless you know how to maintain it regularly. Even then, if it clogs, good luck. Unless you are overclocking by an extreme amount (which you can do well with an i7), I don’t find them necessary (they are usually very quiet though, if that’s a factor)

  7. I think CyberPower is still a good bet if you’re not building it yourself–we had a problem with an order for work, but customer service was good. I think the I5 is still worth it without needing to go up to the I7 if you don’t want. Since no one’s mentioned it, you can get good performance for a lot less with the GTX 450, although, of course, 200 bucks for the 460 isn’t unrealistic in the graphics market and you’ll get more with it.
    Not a whole lot of experience, but I thought I’d add my bit.

  8. I’d look into motherboards first, as that is the baseline for your system, and it’s one area you don’t want to skimp on or get some ‘name brand’ no name one.

    I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about the midrange i7, in that you can overclock it to basically the highend i7 without much worry, and it costs a fraction of the price.

    I would not overlook stuff like a sound card or a net card, if you can afford the extra $100 or so. Getting top-end audio is a nice plus if you have a decent headset, and reviews state the newest net cards do indeed decrease ping and improve performance a bit. Seems silly, but when you are someone who plays everything online, what’s $100 for that?

  9. More thoughts:

    Syncaines point about the motherboard is extremely valid as it is the one element of your system that you really really don’t want to have to upgrade.

    Two newish technologies that current motherboards offer are USB3 (for faster external devices) and SATA 6GB (for very fast internal hard disks). Many mid range motherboards offer one or the other but not both. If I had to choose I would pick USB3.

    Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium is the recommended operating system. Don’t be fooled by “Windows XP mode” which is only available in the pro version of windows 7. “XP Mode” has very poor graphics support and is not suitable for running older games.

  10. My advice is to check out motherboards.org. It gives price comparisons along with reviews and allows for plenty of research for mid-high end systems.

    Personally, I’ve custom built 4 systems in my time (far from making me an expert, but solid enough that I can dispense some knowledge). Here are some suggestions…

    Mobo: ASUS… My ASUS motherboards are very solid and built for gaming in mind. Not a single one I have purchased has ever blown out on me.

    Processor: Whatever you pick… to me, there isn’t a huge difference between the big name brands. AMD’s are usually cheaper, and still provide a great bang for your buck. I’d at least go for a min quad-core.

    Memory: DDR3 is where its at now, and has come down in price enough to be a viable option over DDR2. Get at least 8 GB.

    OS: Windows 7. Home Premium and up come with both 32 and 64 bit versions on the same DVD. You can get Professional, but the extra cost isn’t necessarilly worth all the extra features. Get Home Premium minimum, though. Game makers still aren’t really coming out with games for the Mac, and don’t really appear to be, either. Mac’s are great for a lot of things, but gaming is not one of them.

    Video Cards: Personally, I use a single GeForce 9800 GTX, and it works great. Optimally, I’d get another one and hook them up in SLI, but it wasn’t feasible for everything else I have in the box and price-wise. Graphic cards, though, keep coming down in price quickly… I’m sure there are better new cards out there, but if you can do SLI within your budget, go for it.

    Hard Drive: This is where my knowledge lacks a bit. I never had the patience to set up a multiple-drive system. I know having multiple drives run together in RAID will enable them to work faster, but its complex if you’ve never done it before. The RAID needs to be set up first before the OS is installed. However, for space consideration, for a new system, I’d even go up to 2 TB if you can. 1 TB is still very servicable, though.

    PSU: Off-hand, I forget what is in mine, but just make sure you pick one up with more than enough juice to handle everything. But don’t go extreme… there are a lot of good PSU’s that aren’t over-priced.

    Cooling: As cool as a water-cooling system looks, if not installed properly, you can soak your board and ruin everything, plus, it only gets the main points and still skips over everything else. Stick with fans, a few intake, and few outtake. Just try to keep the decibel level down. Nothing is more annoying than a PC that sounds like a jet engine.

    Other: Audio cards are kinda useless, unless you’re really really, really a fan of it. Otherwise, even with crappy speakers games still sound great. If you’re getting a wi-fi card, make sure its MIMO capable. TV/Dvd/Blu-Ray? The specs above should give you a decent system for it, just know that TV tuner cards take up space that could be used for more useful stuff, and your PC makes an excellent Dvr, but unless you have your PC set up to also watch TV and movies from, I’d skip even considering using it for this application.

    Hope all this helps you out. I know its vague, but stuff changes all the time, plus individual picks will be based on real personal preference and budget restrictions and we can’t help you with that. :)

    1. I just remembered, there is a really nice cooling fan called the “Silver Knight” that uses a combination of water and fan to keep your CPU nice and cool as well.

      Also, I forgot about peripherals… if you want wireless, go Microsoft. They’re wireless mice and keyboards are head and shoulders above the rest, in my opinion (I was able to use the mouse reliably from 6 feet away from the dongle source). If you want wired, just get something you’d enjoy. Razer for a mouse if you can afford it. A Nostromo gamepad is wicked for online gaming.

      As far as monitors… get a widescreen. Gaming and UI is much better on one than your standard square screen.

  11. Before I say anything else, I heavily recommend getting the 1GB GTX 460 (Nvidia) graphics solution. Don’t get the 768mb 460 card, it’s a measurable drop in performance. If you’re going crazy, putting two 1GB 460’s together in SLI is probably the best bang-for-buck graphics solution right now.

    That being said…

    If you’re building your own system, I recommend following the system guides on Tom’s Hardware guide (they just published a $2k enthusiast build but also have a sub-$1k gaming build as well).

    Enthusiast: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/newegg-combo-toms-hardware,2753.html

    Newegg.com is offering the entire build at a sale price.

    Ars Technica also published a new system guide last week (look at the “Hot Rod”): http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/guides/2010/09/the-ars-system-guide-september-2010-edition.ars

    1. I add another vote for the ars guides (my old stomping grounds, wheee).

      I check their guides whenever I have to upgrade and never had problems other than just bad parts every now and then.

  12. Just a stayaway hint from me. No matter how attractive the price becomes, DO NOT buy a nVidea GTX 470 graphics card. They are the worst card in the series. I mention this as I expect the pricing to drop, possibly below that of a GTX 460, just so retailers can move them off their shelves.

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