Help Me Make a Gaming Computer

I need to get a new computer. I want to be able to play games like Morrowind and other RPG-type games. I am seriously looking at the Alienware systems, as I’ve heard good things about them in regards to customer service. I don’t want to say that “money is no object” because while I can get pretty much any system I want, I am thrifty, thus I want to get a good computer, but I don’t want to spend money to get something that might be more than I actually need.

I’m not one to be able to build it myself either. It’s attractive on some levels, but I just know I wouldn’t be comfortable doing it that way. (Plus, I just adore the Alienware cases. It’s silly, I know. But those cases are like artwork!)

So my question is, what do I really need? I get confused when I look at the choices available on those systems. How much RAM? 512? 1 gig? 2?

And video cards…there are just so many choices, how do I know what I need?

So could y’all help me figure out what sort of configuration I need? I don’t want to go cheap, but I also want to be thrifty (if that makes sense.)

I am thinking about getting an alienware laptop. People keep telling me that alienware are a bit expensive for what you get.
For gaming I reckon a decent system would be a 2 or 2.5 Ghz cpu (amd or intel) 512MB of ram, 40GB Hard drive. a Geforce 4 Ti or Geforce 5700. (Or a radeon, but I don’t know how they compare off the top of my head)

Oh and an optical mouse, I definately reccomend that.

Yes, I’m definitely going to go with an optical mouse. I couldn’t live without it now. I’d hate to go back to cleaning mouse balls! Yuck!

I want a much bigger HD that 40 gigs though. I have 20 on my old computer that I’m using now. I want at least 80, but probably bigger than that. (I feel like that grunting guy who used to be on TV…“MORE POWER!” except I’m saying “MORE SPACE! grunt grunt”)

Alienware computers do look expensive, but I went to both Gateway and Dell sites and matched computers and the Dell was actually more expensive than the Alienware for the same components (or as close as I could get with the choices offered.)

We have four Gateways in our house already and have been quite pleased with the service, even though I do hear others complain about bad service when I read threads here. But this desktop is getting a bit creaky (almost four years old) and won’t do for games like Morrowind, so I do want to get a new one. I’m just unsure about what I need for a new one. This one, while it works fine and is great for surfing and word processing, just doesn’t have what it takes to play the newer games.

Lobsang’s recommendations are good, but I’d go with 1 gb of ram and 80 gb hard drive since you’re getting a new system. Might as well plan for the future and the difference (particularly for the hard drive) won’t be much money-wise.

Video cards…hmmm…I understand the most powerful version of the Radeon is more powerful than the top of the line Geforce. I have an older model Radeon and love it to death–very nice cards. I can’t remember the model names offhand, though.

My advice is to not stint too much on the video card. You can squeak by with the second fastest processor (say, an Athlon XP 2600 or 2800), though. The video card is what’ll make your system last longer. In fact, until a few months ago I was still using a 700 mhz processor with new games running fairly comfortably, if that says anything about the value of a good video card.

I’m looking at the Alienware site, and I see that I can get a 160 gig HD for only $60 more than the 80 gig. Should I go for that? The 120 gig is only $26 more than the 80.

As for the video card, I could go with either the ATI Radeon 9600 XT 128 mb DDR, or for $278 more go with the ATI Radeon X800 pro 256 mb DDR3.

With 1 gig RAM, I have a choice of 1GB Dual Channel DDR PC-3200 SDRAM at 400MHz - 2 x 512MB, or for $122 more 1GB Extreme Dual Channel DDR PC-3200 SDRAM at 400MHz - 2 x 512MB. Which should I choose?

Does the sound card make much difference? I don’t really care about surround sound or anything. As long as I can hear it, it doesn’t really matter to me. Should I just go with whatever is cheapest?

I know you don’t want to build a computer, but let me know which Alienware model you intend to buy. I’ll then spec out a homebuilt that will probably be half the price, and you can decide if the fancy case is worth it.

Most.overpriced computers.ever!

If you’re looking at Alien, do yourself a favor and look at Falcon-NW as well. They’re currently getting better reviews as gaming machines than Alien, AND their support is located in the US instead of India. If you’re anything like me, that’s a big plus.

Have you considered eBay?

If you stick to RPGs, an ATI Radeon 9600 XT (256mb version) is the card for you. If you plan on playing upcoming shooters like STALKER or Half-Life 2 (or new flight sims for that matter), the 9800 Pro (either version) is best.

A gig of ram is preferable, but 512 works.

The ideal speed is 2.8ghz (bad returns on the money above that) with 800mhz front side buses.

I suggest you check out some of the articles at Sharky Extreme, their reviews don’t show bias in favor of their advertisers in my experience. Though you are not interested in building your own machine, if you look through the “Value Gaming” and “Extreme Gaming” guides you may get a better idea of which components best suit your needs.

Thanks for all the replies so far! You guys are really helping me figure out what I need.

I’m not married to an Alienware system (although I have to confess, I’m in love with their cases.) I’m looking at a lot of different places. And thanks for the heads up on Falcon NW, Athena. I’ve added them to my list.

What I want to do is get together a list of what I must have, and then check out various places and go with the one that offers the best value combined with the best customer service (which may or may not wind up being the cheapest.)

While I would be comfortable adding a new component down the line (adding RAM or changing out the CD burner, etc.) I just don’t feel confident enough in my abilities to be able to put together one from scratch. If something goes wrong, I want to be able to call someone and get them to figure out what it is. If I build it myself, that would be me, and I don’t think I’m good enough for that!

I’m pretty much an RPG girl (like Morrowind or Neverwinter Nights) but I also like other games occasionally. I’m not sure where Diablo II falls…is it an RPG? I really consider it to be one. Anyway, that’s the sort of games I like to play (Diablo II runs fine on my current system, I’m just using it as an example of the sorts of things I like to play.)

I’d like a computer that will last longer, even if that means upgrading in the future. I’m not afraid of upgrading, just building from scratch.

Paladud, I really appreciate the specifics that you gave. Is there much difference between getting 1 gig of RAM vs. 2 gigs? It doesn’t seem like it would be that much difference money-wise, but is it worth it in the long run? Would it be better to get 1 gig now with an eye to getting more a year or so down the road?

Anyway, thanks so much for all the help so far. I’m writing copious notes!

I’m not aware of many, if any, games that need more than 1 GB of RAM, or that would benefit from 2 GB. I’d go with 1 GB for now - if you ever find yourself needing more, it’s easy to buy another stick and snap it in.

If you’re not confident in your abilities to troubleshoot flaky hardware or quarrelsome drivers, stick to a name-brand PC with a good support backing.

If you’re not looking to play the latest games that need the latest bleeding-edge technology, an ATI Radeon 9600 XT with a Pentium 2.8 proc is at a “sweet spot” of that holy grail known as “bang for the buck” as it was bleeding-edge about a year ago.

Just for the record, Morrowind runs slick as anything on my machine, which is certainly no gamer special. We’re talking a AMD 2000 processor, 512MB ram, and an onboard GeForce 4 MX440. Yes, onboard, so it’s using a goodly chunk of my ram for itself. Morrowind isn’t really a very demanding game. Dunno about Neverwinter though. I would think a 2.5ghz machine with a gig of ram and a reasonably recent video card would run most any RPG for a while to come.

I do want to be able to play new games, however I’m not such a gamer that I know what’s on the horizon as far as games go. Morrowind won’t play on my current machine though. :frowning: Since I am able to spend the money this time, I want to get the best computer that I can. I’m still a frugal person though, so I don’t want to spend a ridiculous amount for stuff I don’t really need. It’s a fine line, I guess.

Do I have this right? I should get the best video card that I can. That’s the biggest thing. 1 gig of RAM is plenty, and I can add more later if it becomes necessary. (I’ve done that before, so that won’t be a problem.)

I don’t need the fastest processor out there, I can get by just fine on a 2.8 Since I can get a faster one, should I? I gather it wouldn’t be necessary, but would it add to the life of the new pc? My old one is almost four years, and seems sadly out of date for the new games.

I go to look at computer sites, and there are just so many choices that my head explodes (metaphorically). I just get frustrated and confused and I don’t know what to pick!

At least now (THANK YOU!) I know which video card to choose and how much RAM! Thanks all.

There is no reason to get over 2.8ghz for the time being. That may change in a couple of years, but a 200 megahertz difference will not be huge; 3.2ghz and faster processors are absurdly expensive today.

Might I suggest the F: 50 from Voodoo PC? Looks hot, runs cool.

I strongly reccomend getting an AMD Athlon64 for the processor. They kick Intel’s butt in gaming benchmarks - for example, an Athlon 64 3000+ will outpace a 3.2ghz Pentium 4 in many games - heck, it even beats 3.2ghz “Extreme Editions”(Pentium 4’s with 2MB of L3 cache added) and 3.4ghz P4s.

Though make sure to get a good video card, this is the most important part for a gaming computer - right now the ATI ones are the best available. Even stepping down to a AthonXP 2500 or 2800 would be fine as long as you get a good video card.

Ok, here’s what I’ve got so far:

Processor: AMD Athlon™ 64 3200+ Processor with HyperTransport Technology (or the Pentium 2.8 ghz)

Memory: 1GB DDR SDRAM at 400MHz

Video Card: ATI RADEON™ X800 PRO 256MB DDR3 w/Digital and TV Out (they don’t offer the ATI Radeon 9600 XT 256mb version so I went with the X800 pro. I could get ATI RADEON™ 9600 XT 128MB though.)

Hard Drive: 160GB Seagate Barracuda

Sound Card: Creative Sound Blaster® Audigy 2 High Definition 6.1 Surround
How does that look?

One more thing I thought of. I’m planning on going with CRT rather than an LCD screen. LCDs look cool and take up less space, but I’ve heard that for the present, CRTs are the better value.

Also, should I go ahead and get a subscription to virus protection (usually Norton, I think) or should I just get the free trial and subscribe when that expires?

If you want to buy antivirus, Norton’s generally considered the one to get.

If you want free “subscription,” get AVG Antivirus from Grisoft.

If you want once-in-a-while testing, you can head to for free testing.

In one way or another, I use all three of these. Norton’s great at what it does, but is something of a resource hog. AVG is a lot smaller, so it’s a great option for older systems. And of course, the free Housecall consumes no resources except for when you’re actively using it.