Building a Gaming PC

As a birthday present to myself, I’m planning on building a new PC from the ground up, however, I’m not sure which components/route to take. I’m coming from almost exclusive mac use since 2006 so I’m not really up on what the latest and greatest trends are in PC gaming these days. So I put it to the Dopers–help me build a kick-butt gaming/entertainment PC to replace my aging 2006 Mac Pro (which sadly doesn’t even sport PCIe 2.0 or a 64-bit capable EFI).

Ground rules:
[ul]
[li]This isn’t the place to talk about consoles. I already have every single current gen console. I don’t care which is better for gaming, PCs or consoles, I just want to focus on the PC part.[/li][li]Budget is around $1500. I can push it higher if I have to, but I’d rather not.[/li][li]I already have a 2x SATA Blu-ray drive and about 4.5 Terabytes of HDD space spread across 4 (5400 rpm) drives, two matching 2048x1152 23" monitors, and a keyboard/mouse (usb). I also already have a copy of Windows 7 professional.[/li][li]I mainly need a new case/PS, motherboard, CPU, ram, and video card(s).[/li][/ul]

So the first question for me is—AMD or Intel? If AMD, I presume a Phenom II X4 class, but if Intel, should I go Core 2 Quad or i7?

Which motherboard should I choose (appropriate to the cpu choice above)? I’m looking for something that is going to let me:
[ul]
[li]Crossfire/SLI easily. Even better if I can eventually do tri or quad sli/crossfire.[/li][li]Relatively easy to overclock[/li][li]Reasonably future-proof as far as upgrades go.[/li][/ul]

What RAM spec and how much? I presume at least 3GB? I plan on using this computer primarily for gaming, as a tversity server, and for blu-ray playback.

Power supply choice? Obviously one that has enough overhead to cover a triple crossfire/sli (again, future proof).

Case choice? Specifically one that looks reasonably stylish like my current Mac Pro tower. I hate doors on the front of a case, and I’d prefer to avoid a full tower if possible.

And last and certainly not least, video card choice:
[ul]
[li]Nvidia or ATI?[/li][li]One single high-end card now with room to grow, or multiple cheaper cards in SLI/Crossfire?[/li][/ul]

Here are the obligatory links to Tom’s Hardware, best graphics for your money, and best CPU for your money. I would probably opt for a more expensive graphics card, and a middle-expensive CPU, since graphics cards tend to give you more bang for your buck.

Which motherboard depends obviously on what CPU you select, but I’d look on NewEgg for one that has all your features and has the highest rating.

As far as ram goes, I’d say 4GB is the bare minimum you’d want, but if you’re spending $1500, why not go ahead and get 8? Most importantly, if you’ve got more than 3GB of RAM, you’re going to need a 64bit OS. Windows 7 is probably your best bet there. You can get the OEM Home Edition for $105 from Newegg.

[quote=“JayRx1981, post:1, topic:519245”]

[li]Budget is around $1500. I can push it higher if I have to, but I’d rather not.[/li]
I also already have a copy of Windows 7 professional.
[li]I mainly need a new case/PS, motherboard, CPU, ram, and video card(s).[/li]So the first question for me is—AMD or Intel? If AMD, I presume a Phenom II X4 class, but if Intel, should I go Core 2 Quad or i7?

[li]Crossfire/SLI easily. Even better if I can eventually do tri or quad sli/crossfire.[/li][li]Relatively easy to overclock[/li][/quote]

If you want to overclock easily and use tri- or quad-GPUs the Intel i7 920 is a great deal. Overclocks easily to 4 Ghz, within budget and will make the best use of multiple GPUs.

If you want to overclock, invest in a good CPU cooler system. Noctua makes an excellent one, as does Thermalight and a few other companies.

[quote]
[li]Reasonably future-proof as far as upgrades go.[/li][/quote]

This is a chimera. No system is future-proof ;). But the socket 1366 format will allow hex cores when they do come out, so there is that.

The i7 900-series chips use triple-channel memory so 6 GB should be plenty and a good target for a gaming rig.

Corsair and Seasonic ( which manufactures the Corsairs ) are solid, quality brands. Power really depends on how many GPUs you actually want. One or two and a Corsair 650tx is probably a generous plenty. More and you’ll want more. But in general quality beats wattage rating on a box.

I just got this one and I like it a lot.

[quote]
[li]Nvidia or ATI?[/li][li]One single high-end card now with room to grow, or multiple cheaper cards in SLI/Crossfire?[/li][/QUOTE]

ATI seems a tad more bang for the buck at the moment. A 5870 will run most anything all by its lonesome and seems like a reasonable start to me. You could always add a second one down the road.

You’re going to want to get a hard drive for running your OS/games even though you’ve already got all that space - 5400 drives are just unacceptably slow. They’re fine for mass storage, but you don’t want to actually run things from them.

I’d get a velociraptor or an SSD drive for that purpose.

Intel has dominated the market across all price points for most of the last 2 years. I’m not familiar with new developments in the AMD sector in the last ~6 months though, so maybe there’s something fancy and new. Quite frankly core 2 duo and quad chips are more than adequate for just about anything still - but with a budget of $1500 you can easily afford an i7 and some better performance and future proofing. I’m also not that up to date on intel CPUs - I’m not sure what the advantages and disadvantages of Lynnfield over Bloomfield are, so you’d want to find a guide on that, but you’d be fine with any of the core 2 quad, 920, or 860 chips in the $200-275 range.
All of the lower end Intel chips are pretty easy to overclock, so grab a decent aftermarket cooler and go nuts. I can get my 3 ghz e8400 over 4 ghz easily with a low/silent fan speed.

I haven’t built a system for over a year so I’m not well researched into specific motherboards. I think what you’ll want if you’re determined for SLI or crossfire is the X58 chipset, which can support 2 full PCI-E x16 lanes. Quite frankly I don’t even know how it works with tri or quad SLI/CF.

It’s overkill for almost anything anyway, unless you’re running a 28" monitor perhaps. Because most games are codeveloped for PC and consoles, we’re in a period of technical stagnation - most games that come out won’t challenge a single GPU, let alone several. Running multiple GPUs will often mean you just run a new game at 200 frames per second instead of 150.

There are exceptions to this - some developers take the proper time to make a good PC version of a game with better graphics, and there are PC-only games that are massively ambitious like Arma 2 which displays huge amounts of area with lots of detailed objects at one time, or Crysis which sadly even 2 years later is still the best looking game ever made because no one has tried to do better.

I7 works with ram in 3s, so you’ll end up getting either 3 or 6. 3 is adequate for almost anyone, but if you’re running a 64 bit OS, given ram prices, you might as well go for 6.

This is a pretty good power supply calculator which will give you a decent idea of your needs. Most people tend to overestimate their power needs and are wowed by big numbers, but usually a 500-600 watt supply is adequate for most uses. For SLI/CF it’ll get higher. Corsair (made by seasonic but designed/badged by corsair) is a good way to go - reasonable price and good performance, and often modular. You want to make sure it has enough connectors - if you’re going to do SLI or possibly tri or quad, you’ll need a lot of pci-e power connectors.

I use an antec 900 because the cooling is crazy good. I don’t know what you consider stylish, so I’d just browser the top sellers list of cases on newegg and see what you like.

A high end single card is the way to go. Multiple cheaper cards in SLI/Crossfire is never (or at least rarely) a good idea. SLI and CF does not double performance, it’s more like 30-60% depending on the type of card and game (and for some games, 0%). So it loses pretty substantially to single cards in cost/performance generally.

The only time I’d ever consider SLI personally was if I was going to buy one card now and then maybe in a year I could pair it up with an identical card for very cheap. I would never build a system with SLI right off the bat.

ATI currently dominates the market pretty much completely. At any price point, you’re going to find superior performance and superior features in an ATI card. Given your budget, you’re going to want a 5870 ($400) or 5850 ($300). The 5xxx series are the only directx 11 cards on the market - and given the new features (including stuff designed to give it easier adoption and hence it should have more widespread use than directx 10) are worth it.

Nvidia won’t have a dx11 card out for another month or two at least, and they’ve been subject to delays - it’s looking grim for them, although they’re coming up with a major redesign, so they may end up surprising the market. But the 58x0 cards are performance monsters right now and they have the best feature set.

That’s the kind of advice I’m looking for, thanks. i7-920 it is. :slight_smile:

Not a bad idea since even with a single 5870, I’m in the neighborhood of 1200-1300 right now.

True, and that was sortof what I meant. The previous PC I had built used an AMD socket that I thought would be easily upgradable, only to find out 3 months later that a new chipset was coming out with pcie graphics and a new socket. Never was happy about that. I just want to make sure I have a little bit of an upgrade path is all.

I’m leaning towards the 5870 after reading Electronic Chaos’ graphics link and some other reviews on tomshardware, but a small part of me would rather pony up the extra $200 bucks and go with a pair of 5850s or a 5970 instead.

Get 4GB of RAM but don’t get more than that unless you’re planning on using something other than XP. Windows XP can only address 4GB of RAM and personally I wouldn’t use Vista for anything or go for Windows 7 until it’s been out at least a year.

SLI has always had cooling problems because of the proximity of the boards to each other. The only effective way to air-cool them is with a 25cm or bigger front-to-back case fan. However, if you want upgrade room, it’s easy to get a board with 2 slots, then fill in the 2nd slot a few years down the road. ATI cards are better for this, as they can run in 3 chip (2X and 1X cards) or 4 chip (two 2X cards) configurations.

Front case fan: http://www.newegg.com/Store/Brand.aspx?Brand=8348&name=XClio

However, the big advantage for using an ATI card is when it is paired with an AMD processor. With the AMD Fusion software (http://sites.amd.com/us/athome/amdlive/fme/Pages/AMD-LIVE-Explorer.aspx) it can supposedly squeeze out a few more percentage points of performance out of an ATI card paired with an AMD chip.

Also, one general link that hasn’t been mentioned yet is www.pricewatch.com. While they can’t always match egghead for the rock bottom price, egghead has a really high delivery charge if you don’t live in the continental US.

Re: power supplies: without getting too technical, if you get one that has an “sli ready” sticker on it, it’s good. Then, as a rule of thumb, you want to budget around 150 watts for a quad core CPU, 200 per graphics card, 25 per case fan, and 50 per disk drive. 500 will usually cover a basic setup (1 hd, 1 optical, 1 graphics card, 1 quad core cpu, and no case fans.) For SLI, you’ll want 700+. For future upgrades, 1000 should last for many more years unless you plan on going crazy with the case fans, LED lights and drives.

Regarding graphics cards, I haven’t been keeping up with the market, but as a general rule, whatever is top of the line today will be around half price within a year, therefore you don’t want to overpay on the latest card on the market. Also, between Nvidia and ATI, be careful of their numbering systems. For Nvidia, x8xx’s are the top of the line, don’t be fooled by the front number. Whenever you see a “9” in an Nvidia name, it’s generally an older chipset that has been overclocked or given a makeover. For ATI, the best number is xx7x. A little known fact about ATI cards is that cards in the same series can be X-fired together. For example, the 3870 can be connected to a 4870, while it is not compatible with a 3850. I’ve never heard of the xx90 on ATI cards, but for years now the xx70’s have been the top of the line ATI chipsets.

Don’t forget a good CPU heatsink/fan, particularly if you are going to overclock. Given your budget, you probably are going to use air cooling. Don’t be fooled by the cheap, all-in-one water coolers. Cooling is generally dictated by fan size, and you’ll need at least 120mm or more of fan size. A 90mm won’t cut it, water or air.

Cooler reviews: www.frostytech.com
Heatsink buyer’s guide: http://forums.amd.com/forum/messageview.cfm?catid=11&threadid=100223&enterthread=y

He mentions in the OP that he has a copy of Windows 7 Pro, which I assume is 64-bit, ergo, capable of recognizing 4 or more gigs of RAM.

Oh, a note about heatsinks:

If you are going with Intel chips, they generally require a backplate mount. Some hsf’s have really crappy mounting systems for Intel boards. Pushpins are the worst, which is probably why the Thermalright TRUE has been the top hsf for years now for Intel chips. It provides a backplate and mounting screws, while many other top HSF’s require the installation of an AMD compatible mounting ring.

I don’t have any advice unfortunately but I happen to be budgeting right now with the intention of upgrading my own system in either January or February so I’ll be watching this thread very closely under the assumption that a lot of what’s said will still be applicable come that time. I’m not as savvy as I used to be and I’m running a fairly low end system myself right now. I don’t think I’m going to be able to salvage much from my current build so I’m looking to upgrade most of components.

One question. I understand DX11 cards are set to start shipping in December, is this something I should be keeping an eye on? I imagine they’ll be a little overpriced to begin with, but I’d like to upgrade with an eye to the next 2 or 3 years.

I recommend looking at teh Arst Technica guides. Thier gaming builds don’t happen as often as their standard builds, but either is probably a good statrting spot.

Brian

You are correct. I intentionally bought the 64bit pro upgrade so I could not only address more than 4GB on my mac, but also download the xp virtual mode if I needed it.

I don’t see why this would be a problem with standard dual slot cooler setups where the hot air is exhausted out the back.

I’ve never actually seen this proved in action, but it probably wouldn’t make up for the advantage intel chips have anyway.

That’s way too big an estimate. 150 for CPU and 200 per graphics card are not totally unreasonable estimates (a bit generous, but it depends on the cards/CPUs in question) but a 120mm case fan takes less than 5 watts to power and disk drives take less than 10 even at full utilization. The power required for fans, LEDs, and drives is very small.

This doesn’t make sense, the only 9 as the “front number” is the 9000 series is mostly based off the g92, but that doesn’t make it undersirable. The 9800 is a good card with a cheap price.

XX90 is a higher end version of the XX70 cards. I don’t know if they’re just higher binned (better clock speed) or have more processing units.

If you want to overclock like a bandit then (as has been mentioned above) you’re gonna need some killer cooling. I’ve got a 2.13 GHz E6400 Conroe processor OC’d to 3.60 GHz and my CPU stays around 25C.

This Ultra ChillTEC cooler is pretty awesome. It’s a little spendy, and it’s not the quietest thing around, but it will do some awesome cooling.

That’s a socket 775 cooler, which isn’t what he’s looking for - and you can get great cooling at $50 or less, you don’t have to spend that much.

It has a system guide that is updated quarterly. It builds various levels of gameing machiens based on current new egg price ranges. Most of the parts are reviewed with extra details and all parts are lined to new egg for simple checkout.

As for your actual questions: Intel over AMD; At least 4GB of ram (it’s relatively cheap); and I generally prefer a single nvidia card for video because I’ve found better game support and fewer issues, but YMMV. The rest of your points are addressed in the system guides I linked.

SenorBeef, I hope you’ll forgive me for addressing you directly but I’m interested in your opinion specifically. What are your opinions on DX11 and compatible video cards, if you have any? As I said previously I know they aren’t out yet but I’m looking to upgrade in the next few months and I’m curious as to whether this is something I need to keep an eye on or if I should just go with high end current gen cards even in the new year. My understanding is that the raw graphical upgrades are minimal but they allow for more efficient rendering given the same clockspeeds. Is this true or am I completely off base?

I’d be interested in anyone else’s advice to, of course. :stuck_out_tongue:

They are out - the radeon 5000 series is all directx 11 and that’s a big part of why I’m recommending them.

The graphical updates can be substantial. The tesselator is the biggest graphics feature since the unified shader, since it allows both simplified development (it can procedurally scale up and down polygon counts so that developers don’t have to make as many different versions of models) and it adds graphical detail - it can smooth out curves by adding extra polygons on the fly.

It’s also meant to unify the rendering code for directx 9 through 11, which in theory means it’s easy to write one single renderer in dx11, and it appropriately outputs the correct code for 11, 10.1, 10, and 9 depending on the user’s hardware. Combined with other techniques designed to ease development, this may mean we start seeing lots of games using DX11, whereas DX10 didn’t enjoy as widespread support.

Wow, okay, thanks for the input SB. I’ll definitely lookout for compatible cards when I’m ready to upgrade.

Not to mention, from what I’m reading, that most of them now bitstream High definition audio over HDMI to a supporting receiver which is great if you ever plan on using your computer as a blu-ray media device.