Economic gaming computers; Dell?

So having used the same computer for almost four years it’s getting to be time to upgrade. I’m mostly looking for something that’ll let me play graphically intense modern single-player games; think F.E.A.R, Thief III, Spore, that run. As such the main things I’m looking for are oodles of RAM and a decent (but not top of the line) graphics card. Alienware has tons of systems around the 2k mark that will do what I want, but is there any real reason I shouldn’t go for a cheaper Dell system like ?

Moved to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

That system should be just fine. I recently purchased a Dell Dimension E510, which is about two steps down from the XPS 400. I have a 3.0 GHz Pentium 4, with 1 GB RAM and a 512 MB GeForce 6600. I haven’t had performance issues on any of the games I’ve tried yet.

I’m currently playing Far Cry, by the way. I have the settings turned up quite a bit from the default, and my system runs without a hitch. It might not do quite as well with maximum AA/AF at 1600 x 1200 resolution, but does anybody use those sorts of settings for anything other than reviewing graphics cards?

Personally I would build my own rig. The one I am working on now I built 1.5 years ago and today it is merely very fast rather than blazingly fast. I checked and a similarly configured rig from Alienware would have been about $2500 while I built mine for about $1600.

Dell simply does not do enthusiast PCs very well. Do not get me wrong, they will sell you a solid machine that will do fine but it is the difference between a sporty car and a hot rod.

For a well done gaming rig go with Alienware or (my personal favorite but lesser known Falcon Northwest ).

Dell computers in the gaming arena seem to not do as well in terms of cooling (run louder and hotter) nor does Dell allow tweaking of things like the BIOS. An Alienware or Falcon system will allow you to get into the guts of the PC and tweak to your heart’s content if you like. The part selections for Alienware/Falcon will also be superior. Not all motherboards are created equal. Not all RAM is the same. Not all harddrives perform the same. In general you will get better performing equipment across the board from the dedicated gaming system companies.

Also, while I have never called Alienware tech support I have called Falcon (used to own one) and Dell tech support. Falcon tech support was LIGHTYEARS better than Dell. I mean it was not even close. Far more responsive and the guys you talked to might well have been the same people who built your machine. Patient and super knowledgable. I cannot say enough how shockingly good and helpful these guys were.

So yes, you pay a premium for Alienware and Falcon systems and a bit of that is name prestige but most of it will pay back in better equipment and support.

I second the “build your own” sentiment, but only if you know what you’re doing or have a friend who can help you. It should not take more than an afternoon (3-4 hours) to put everything together.

But if that’s not an option… Whack-a-Mole, doesn’t Dell have a separate support department for XPS systems?

Far Cry is a great game.

As you move up the ladder in system cost/ability you get diminishing returns on what your money buys you. It is true that not many people play at 1600x1200 (part of which is most people’s monitors get a crummy scan rate at that resolution and if you have a flat panel chances are you can forget even trying).

Still, there are more things to making a game look good than high resolution. I have gotten so used to 4x or better AA that I really notice it when it is off. Prior to having a video card that could handle AA well I spent a lifetime without it and was very happy. Now I have been spoiled it is hard going back…AA makes everything look soooo much better.

Then add in things like shadows (those really hit the video card hard…the new soft shadows are pretty slick but you need top notch cards to pull those off), reflections, dynamic lighting effects, high particle count, hi-res textures and so on and you can still sweat even the best video cards pretty hard with the most advanced games. Each piece on its own you can toss or diminish in quality to get good performance and not really miss. But when they are all on at high quality they add up to something not immediately obvious but something you miss when playing on other systems that cannot do as well.

You can absolutely get a perfectly enjoyable and good looking gaming experience without all those things turned on but when you can and when the game still runs silky smooth it is a wonderful thing. Recently I have been playing Black & White 2 which I think is one of the best looking games there is. The level of detail is amazing. The game is not very new anymore so my system handles it well but with the features turned way up I can tell my system is starting to huff and puff pretty hard. Still playable for me but no question I am pushing things to the limit.

I honestly do not know. I have worked on XPS systems and I have called Dell tech support many times (on behalf of clients) but I am not sure I ever called on an XPS machine.

Even if Dell does grant better tech support with the XPS I cannot imagine it being better than Falcon anyway as you almost cannot do better. My wife, looking to buy me a computer related present, even called Falcon to pick their brains as she had no clue. They actually took the time to talk her through various options despite there being (in this case) no sale for them. Top notch folks all around.

That Dell system is rather overpriced, compared to what you could get if you built a machine yourself. Just playing around on Newegg, you could configure a a completely superior system with an Athlon 64 x2 3800+, nForce 4 SLI motherboard, 2 GB Ram, 250 GB hard drive, Geforce 6800 GS video card, 19" LCD that has a DVI cable, and ect, for slightly less than that Dell you linked to.

Here is a wishlist of parts, hope that shows up correctly.

it doesn’t

You might consider this emachines system. I know emachines has got something of a bad rep, but this system is $550, with 1GB RAM & 200GB hard drive; and an open PCI express slot. Take another ~$200 and put in a decent video card, and you’ve got a $750 gaming rig. Not a bad deal. Computer Games Mag. raved about it (or a similar model) in their Jan 2006 issue.

That emachines is still a bit pricey, though not bad overall.

I’d third (or fourth?) the build your own rig recommendation.

It’s a learnign experience, could be a bit fo a headache, but you will save money, and you will have complete control over your gaming experience.

My current SLI system (ADM 64x2 3800, Geforce 7800 GT x2 SLI, 2 gigs of 400mhz RAM in dual channel) ran me $1000.

If you do go this way my best suggestion is:

Go dual core. The AMD 64 x2 3800 is the introductory model chip for the x2 series, and it’s a great performer.

Get an SLI (or crossfire) board and the best video card you can afford after taking the power supply, hardrive, case, disk drive into account. When the new Nvidia or ATI chipset comes out and the prices for your card drops (say 6 months/1 year) snag another card to put in SLI.

That was my original plan but I ran into some money, and I, unwisely, splurged :wink:

I am definately NOT a computer geek, but I just built my own system last week. I paid about, eh, 15% less than a somewhat-similarly equipped E510, but I’ll betcha anything that my homebuilt will perform a lot better. I am just amazed at its speed, and very, very happy I did it. (Although I would have been completely lost if something didn’t work right.)

I would say building it myself was only slightly more complex than putting together Ikea furniture. It was fun, too.

If building your own system the two biggest mistakes I have seen people make is going weak on cooling and misjudging the power requirements.

Keeping everything cool in the PC is VERY important. That said you can overdo it and make your computer sound like a jet on takeoff. Getting a good heatsink and case fans that do the job and are easy on the ears can take a bit of homework. Many people do not notice cooling issues because they rarely stress the system but run F.E.A.R. for awhile and things will get toasty. Also, the worst part of building your own PC is messing with the thermal paste (I HIGHLY recommend thermal paste over a thermal pad). It’s not terrible but takes a bit of care to do correctly and can be a hassle if you mess up and need to start over. I use Arctic Silver myself but there are others out there. Note you only need a tiny bit so don’t be surprised at the little bit you get when you buy some.

Power is the other thing easy to overlook. If you are building the SLI system mentioned above (or hope it to be SLI someday) you will need a fair amount of juice to run everything.

One nice way to configure your own system is to go to Alienware or Falcon Northwest and configure your system there then take the part list and see what you can buy it for. Note that buying each piece from the cheapest vendor may not be the cheapest way to go after you consider shipping costs. Sometimes buying many (or most) items from a single vendor will save you considerably on shipping costs than buying one piece here and another there (and so on).

Personally I loved building my PCs. It is kind of fun.

I can definitely vouch for the “louder” part, and i don’t even have a gaming rig.

My Dell is a P4 3.0, 800 FSB with 1 Gig of RAM. The fan it came with sounded like a jet engine winding up. Best thing that happened was that the fan died and i replaced it with a non-Dell part. Reduced the noice by about 75%, and the system runs no warmer than it did before.

NOTE: Most Gamers prefer AMD processors in their systems. Look for an AMD 64 X2 chip. I don’t have any experience with HP machines other than my mother’s old Pavillion, and it worked flawlessly for her for 4 years (back in 1996), but HP offers the AMD 64 X2 chip in some of their newer machines. Good Luck.

Gamers prefer AMD chips to Intel chips because AMD chips can be fiddled with (overclocked) while Intel chips cannot. For the enthusiast this is a big deal. That and Intel pissed off a lot of enthusiasts trying to shove Rambus memory down our throats awhile back. Intel ultimately backed off of that thankfully but it left a bad feeling in many people’s minds.

If this article is any indication, Intel might soon make up the current gap between their processors and those of AMD.


First that article is talking about business class machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars…not relevant to most consumers.

Second AMD is of course not sitting around doing nothing. The Intel stuff is yet to be released and looks to be far more expensive than the AMD systems. In the consumer arena at least AMD is set to move to a 65nm chip that should gain them some serious improvements. IIRC Intel is already there and their chips still do not outperform AMD chips at the same clock speeds. Of course the Intel chips are capable of higher clock speeds than AMD chips so at the top end they perform fairly close. The 65nm chips from AMD should allow for higher clock speeds though.

I do not know why Intel still dominates the CPU market with arguably worse performing and more expensive chips (hotter too). Perhaps part of it is that Intel keeps its hand in chipset design for the motherboards thus (presumably) ensuring a more stable platform than what AMD systems can guarantee. That said I have been running on AMD chips at home for over 4 years and have not had a single problem. Ran like champs.

True, but surely the people at Intel are planning similar revamps to their line of consumer chips.

My next computer will be a build-it-yourself job (my first attempt), and unless Intel performs some miracle between now and then the chip will definitely be an AMD. Even if you’re not an overclocker, the price/performance/heat equation still puts AMD way ahead.

As to why Intel still has the lead, i’m guessing that advertising has a lot to do with it. Everyone knows that annoying Intel jingle, while it’s quite unusual to see AMD ads on TV or in mainstream, non-computer magazines. Intel also benefits from big contracts with people like Gateway and Dell, where many people (including me at the moment) get their computers.

I was thinking after my post on AMD chips that I definitely missed the main reason to get AMD which you hit on precisely here.

Note that while AMD chips run cooler these days than Intel chips they still get pretty toasty. You should see the heatsink I currently use…half the size of your head and the fan on it is actually a case fan (read big…I made sure to get a quiet one though).