The last time that we looked at requirements for a modern gaming PC was just after the launch of Doom 3. Several months later, not a whole lot has changed other than prices. One thing that has changed is that Half-Life 2 has now been released on the world. Unlike Doom 3, Half-Life 2 uses Direct3D for graphics, so it is less likely to strongly favor NVIDIA cards. We'll get into that more in a bit. Suffice it to say that one of the most common comments on our Guides is that the systems spend either too much or too little on gaming components. Therefore, we felt that it was time to dedicate a Guide solely to the topic of gaming. While these systems are certainly capable of handling most other tasks quite well, we are not going to be dwelling on that. After all, there are few applications that are as demanding of a modern PC as games.

The format is going to change slightly, as many of the components that we use are discussed further in our other Guides. Rather than rehashing details of each and every component that we choose, we are going to list a complete configuration for several budgets with comments on what is good and bad, as well as what sort of performance level can be expected in today's games. We will be targeting Budget, Mid-Range, and High-End Gaming, although you may find that the final price for each category is slightly higher than in the non-gaming Guides. For Budget, we're shooting for around $750 to $1000 for a complete system, shipped within the continental United States. We are not including the price of the Operating System, taxes or the time it costs to put the system together. Our Mid-Range target price is $1500, and the High-End will be somewhere between $2000 and $3000 (depending on whether or not you want to use all of the high-end components). Modifying the builds in order to reduce the price is certainly possible, particularly on the Mid-Range and High-End systems. We will also offer suggestions for upgrades on our component summary page.

Before we get to the actual recommendations, we want to get one thing out of the way. Anyone who follows the gaming scene should know already that AMD's Athlon 64 systems outperform Intel systems in virtually every recent title. Our primary systems for each category will, thus, end up with AMD processors, but we will also include a couple of alternatives to spice things up a bit. Since we are looking at hardware that is immediately available for order, there are certain parts that we might like to recommend which are simply not available yet, and we will do our best to mention these where applicable.

Student Gaming


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  • SDA - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    Whoops, I'd forgotten all about this thread.
    400W is fine if that's what you want, since it's your system. I wouldn't recommend to others that they spend much more for a 400W PSU (as opposed to spending more to get a higher-quality 350W or 380W PSU) when the average high-end Athlon 64 rig consumes 230W or so under load, though. I'd define 50% more than is necessary under full load "moderate," how about you?

    520W is still overkill for SLI 6800GTs on an A64, although not as bad as 400W is overkill for the average A64. As I recall, SLI 6800Us on a high-end A64 eat something like 350W of power (decked out with HDDs and fans and whatnot, of course). 470W is perfectly fine there (although I'd personally just get a Tagan 480W, which should be the same and cheaper + less gaudy to boot). Again, you're welcome to do what you want, but you have an obligation to research system power consumption before you make recommendations to others.

    As for E-Power/Tagan, the amperages really aren't very different. Furthermore, just because they don't look the same doesn't mean they're not. They use very similar components, have an identical layout, and use the same PCB. Trust me, PCB and components say a lot more than paint job ;) Googling Tagan and PowerStream should give you some nice solid evidence (and juicy internals pics!).

    Again, nothing against the guide in general.. I just ask that you research the subject more in the future.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 26, 2004 - link

    "Moderate PSU" in my book means >=400W these days. If a 350W generic PSU isn't sufficient, are you really going to want to spend $25 to $30 (shipped) for something that is the same wattage but more reliable? Maybe, but I wouldn't. If I buy an add-in PSU, I'll get at least a 400W.

    520W *is* overkill for most systems, but if you look at what I said it makes sense. If you want SLI with two 6800 GT or 6800 Ultra cards, you're probably going to have two (or more) hard drives and a lot of other stuff as well. I would spend the extra money for the 520W in that case. Regarding the OCZ = Tagan comment, I would have to see some really concrete evidence of that. Judging by The Egg, they're not the same:

    The E-Power/Tagan has very different amperages than the OCZ. The shells are also different. Both are quality power supplies, of course, but even if they share some common components, that doesn't make them "the same."

    Anyway, the PSU comments are duly noted and I will make sure to mention this item more clearly in the future. Please move on from the PSU comments now... nothing to see here. ;) (If you really want to comment more on the PSUs, you can. I'm only kidding people.)
  • SDA - Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - link

    First thing to say: I don't want to sound insulting or condescending in any way. I think this is a good guide, and it's a lot of work to get a guide that a lot of people agree on as being good-- especially one as extensive as this.

    Now then. No, a good PSU will NOT add $50+ to the total for the budget systems. Fortron/Sparkle and TTGI power supplies are known to be solid units, if not amazing, and ones of appropriate wattage (300-350 is fine for a PC like the budget box) can be obtained for a reasonable $20-25 new. Is paying an extra 2.5~3% to avoid seeing a cheap POS PSU fail in an amusing fashion (possibly taking parts with it, I saw a Powmax unit take out an XP and mobo) and/or avoid instability worth it? Well, sure, I think so. Would you be willing to save $20 and go with cheap generic memory? Didn't think so.

    And yeah, I realize the budget systems aren't meant for overclocking. That doesn't matter. I've been to the AMD official processor support forums too, and I've also worked as a tech support (paid and all, although FWIW a lot of the people that help out on those forums know what they're talking about more than pro tech supports), and I can say for certain that the biggest problem with DIY systems is cheap power supplies. They can be problematic even at stock clock speeds, and it's certainly not as if the budget systems are little old P2s that'll barely eat any power at all.

    I'd also like to add, for the sake of balance, that 520W is overkill. Quality > quantity; you don't need a 450W PSU to achieve stability, not even if you're running an insane system. Oh yeah, and OCZ PowerStreams are the same as Tagans, and you can get those for pretty cheap (480W Tagan = ~$80 at the Egg of New).
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - link

    54: The OCZ PowerStream is undoubtedly a good PSU, particularly for overclocking. That wasn't a primary concern with this Guide, so I didn't mention it as we have repeated that recommendation quite a few times. It's about $140 which is quite a lot for a power supply. On the other hand, for those seriously considering SLI with 6800 GT or Ultra cards, a power supply of that quality would be almost required. Reply
  • PseudoKnight - Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - link

    Jarred, try the Logitech MX310. It has the Button4 and 5 on opposite sides like you prefer. (as I do, that's why I got one) Reply
  • Precise - Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - link

    In your Oct. 1st Athlon 64 Memory: Rewriting the Rules review Wesley Fink stated:

    "We found that replacing a well-respected 465 watt PS with a 520 watt PowerStream allowed even higher memory overclocks. This was true with both the power-hungry nVidia 6800 Ultra as well as the more mainstream ATI 9800 PRO. If top memory overclocks on the Athlon 64 is your goal, don't skimp on the power supply. Putting the best PS that you can find in your system will pay off in higher memory overclocks with greater stability"

    So if you want the fastest memory/system with overclocking you should get a 520 watt PS per Wesley Fink's own recommendation and review.
  • Glassmaster - Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - link

    "Part of the problem, of course, is that many generic PSUs might work well for a couple months and then fail, and that's something that is nearly impossible to test."
    That might be a good reason not to recommend them :P. Keep up the good work, I would look forward to a PSU roundup.

  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - link

    blckgrffn - It's $40 now, it looks like, and despite the name "Silent Power" the dual 80mm fans are not at all silent. The Polo12 is quieter, but it's also about $30 more. $40 for the 420W Thermaltake isn't too bad, though.

    As for a PSU roundup, I would have to do a lot more research into that subject before actually doing something like that. There are probably people better qualified to do a PSU roundup than me, of course, but it is an interesting topic. I may run that by some of the others to see if they have any thoughts on the topic. Part of the problem, of course, is that many generic PSUs might work well for a couple months and then fail, and that's something that is nearly impossible to test.
  • Glassmaster - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link


    Thanks for the response. I make a big deal about it because the weak PSU thing is something that lots of people don't know about that ought to be better publicized. Perhaps a future article could be devoted to this topic?

  • blckgrffn - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Sigh. And I have personally used 3 and really like them. Man, got to keep myself from hitting the "Post Comment" button for at least five seconds after I think that I am done typing... Reply

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