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New Gaming PC - The Sweetspot Between Cost & Performance?? Halp?

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July 21, 2008 5:51:09 PM

I am building a new gaming rig to replace my five (5) (!!!) year old PC on which I can barely do anything resemble gaming. The proposed hardware profile is somewhere between the Grand Experiment and the Sweet Spot basic profiles provided in the July PC Build Guide at Tech Report with some bits from Tom's thrown in.



Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 ^1
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3R
Memory OCZ Platinum 4GB DDR2 1000 57.99 after rebates!
Graphics Diamond Radeon HD 4850
Samsung SH-S203N
Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB*
Audio Asus Xonar DX **
Enclosure Antec Sonata III w/500W PSU
ZALMAN CNPS9500 heatsink + fan

rig less optional parts: 8 Item(s) ($776.44)
rig with HDD, soundcard: 10 Item(s) ($956.42)

^1 My reasoning for the beefy processor is simple. I believe very strongly that parallel processing is where computing is going. Period.
* I plan on using my current pair of 250gig SATA drives depending on the total cost of the system
** I may be able to use my old Creative Labs X-Fi card again depending on the cost of the system

That is the basic plan. I want the fatty quad core vs. a cheaper dual core for the aforementioned belief in parallel processing and the dividends it will pay in the future. The memory is a no brainer as the Mushkin modules are cheap, reliable and 4gb is a comfy quantity. The Mobo paired with the CPU is just the what the system guide suggests. If there is a better, or even just an alternative, at or near the same price I would not mind hearing about it for the sake of having the information. This thread pretty much sums up my choice for the 4850 for the system's GPU - excellent performance for the price with all the DX10 features that I think are a necessary feature of my GPU purchase. Samsung makes a good optical drive and I see no reason to argue with the choices of the Techreport editors though more information or choices is always good if the other products are competitive.

As far as storage and sound cards go it is just a matter of budget. With the incredibly cheap cost / GB on hard drives I may just get one (or two?) for the system, though I do not feel it entirely necessary. For sound card I am not really sure how much of an impact a sound card can have on performance (audio or system speed) or how my older X-fi card compares to newer cards. I am a bit of an audiophile so if I am using tin cans to play good music through (but how 'good' is most digitally compressed audio? I digress...), ie if I am making an obvious mistake, I would like to know about it.

Other than that, critique away, suggest other bits and pieces and otherwise straighten me out. I long ago lost track of all the latest hardware trends and have been trying hard over the past few weeks to pick up all the information I could to make as educated a purchase as possible.

My budget is limited to around a thousand dollars so please keep that in mind. I prefer the performance : cost ratio be as optimal as possible unless the performance gains are so significant as to justify the expenditure.

Editorial note: I read recently that Intel may be slashing CPU prices soon? This is good news if it is indeed news for it will free up a bit more financial headroom for other bits.

Perhaps the only thing that I am missing in all of this is the liscense of Windows Vista that I would be purchasing to go with the system, the particular flavor of I haven't the foggiest and will post about once I have educated myself.

More about : gaming sweetspot cost performance halp

July 21, 2008 5:53:19 PM

I realize that some of the questions I raised in this post have been addressed and re-addressed on this forum. This post represents research over several weeks here at Tom's, at Tech Report and other websites to determine what my best choices are. At this point I am down to the nitty gritty of what particular products to buy and, more importantly, why to buy those products instead of these products. I do not spend money without first exhaustively researching and examining what I am spending it on.
a b 4 Gaming
July 21, 2008 6:13:02 PM

Close to my new rig, only I went with a Q9750 (only managed a 3.45 OC...), 2GB DDR3 1600 (to be upgraded to 4GB when I get 64bit Vista as a secondary OS), and a 9800GX2. Runs crysis all very high 45-60 FPS too.

And yes, I also believe in parallel computing; we're not getting those massive speed increases from 333Mz to 3.33 GHz Quad over a 10 year period anymore...Quads are far more future proof than Duo's right now, especially if you plan to sit on a rig for 2+ years.
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July 21, 2008 6:20:07 PM
July 21, 2008 6:20:16 PM

Consider the Q6600 instead of the Q9300, you should get better results out of it. I'd drop the extra dough on the WD 640. It's a great drive and quick, really good to put your OS on. I wouldn't get a new sound card, either use the one you have or use the on board sound. Do you already have a DVD burner? If so you can reuse that (although they're pretty cheap now days). Also, you'll need a 64 bit OS to use all the ram. Vista Home Premium is around $100 and works good after you install SP1.
a b 4 Gaming
July 21, 2008 6:25:29 PM

Dump the Xonar, at least until you've tried onboard audio for a week or two. You might not need the sound card at all. If you have some really good speakers (and ears), and listen to WAV files (not lossy MP3 or WMA), the soundcard may be worth it. Otherwise not so much.

The WD6400AAKS is a much more useful piece for that money. You will feel a difference with that disk compared to your older ones. I can't say the same for the sound card vs onboard audio.

Dump the Q9300/Zalman 9500 combo and get a Q6600/Xigmatek HDT-S1283. You will end up with a faster CPU and spending less.

I don't like the idea of a HD 4850 in a Sonata case. It's a hot GPU, with a single-slot cooler, no vent to kick the hot air directly out, in a smallish case with a single fan. Don't like it at all. Try to get a RC-690 or Antec 900 and a 650TX (www.buy.com has better prices than newegg on these things sometimes).

a b 4 Gaming
July 21, 2008 6:26:33 PM

San Pedro got there first, he types faster :) 

+1 for Vista Home Premium 64-bit.
July 21, 2008 7:01:51 PM

Alternatives that I have been considering:

Following Tom's Hardware (gasp!) design builds shows a few differences that I found worth noting.

For the case the NZXT Templest - while lacking a power supply (I would likely just grab the recommended PSU from the Tech Report PSU roundup) the thing runs ice cold. I am a huge believer in having lots of air moving through a case. I believe my last machine ran as long and as well as it did with no hardware failures primarily due to its excellent cooling. Looks are not the issue here, dude. Cooling is what I am all about.

Memory - RAM is cheap right now. Dirt cheap. I could double the system memory for a paltry sum and when is RAM going to go out of style? Riddle me that, batman. As it stands, this is a rather absurd usage of cash... which is entirely why it may be worth doing!

FHS - also stolen from Tom's the Cooler Master Hpyer TX2. Fancy shmace name for a fan... but Cooler Master has done good by me in the past so I will let the goofy name slide.

Optical Drive - Tom's makes an excellent argument for the Sony NEC Optiarc. Two drives is an excellent idea. One of the few pieces of hardware to flake out on every PC I have ever owned is the optical drive. Having a backup is not a bad plan and the ability to read from one and write straight to the other is a lazy man's dream.

In defense of the Sonata case it was reviewed as having an excellent 500w supply that comes with it. This can be a huge cost savings given the large price tags of standalone PSUs and cases. See earlier bits about the alternate cases. I don't believe that I will need much more than a 500W PSU given the power draws of the various components, though I may be wrong.

Please flesh out the Q6600 vs Q9300 comparison? I realize that the Q6600 overclocks really rather well but it is my understanding that the 9300's beefier basic statistics combined with its OC-ability make it worth the cash.
July 21, 2008 7:21:06 PM

San Pedro said:
Do you already have a DVD burner? If so you can reuse that (although they're pretty cheap now days).


Since his computer is 5 years old (as is mine), he probably needs a new drive to rid himself of IDE interface...
a b 4 Gaming
July 21, 2008 7:26:35 PM

I love the NZXT Tempest, sure. I was going to mention it but then I thought it's more expensive. Sure, if you have the money get it.

Yes there are advantages in having two burners. Even more advantages if the burners are of different types. My LG and my Plextor each do some things better than the other, so I just use the best one depending on what I do.

I haven't read any reviews of the Sony burner, just seen comparisons in reviews of other brands. I'll start reading reviews about Sony and maybe buying their stuff again around 2015.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_Sony_BMG_CD_copy_protection_scandal

Yes the Sonata has an excellent PSU. It's also quiet and looks good. I'm typing this on a PC with a Sonata 3, in fact. The problem is not the PSU, but the cooling. One little fan, that's all it got. It's perfect for a business machine, not a gaming machine. For example mine has a stock Q6700 and an 8600GT in it, and it's fine. An overclocked quad and a HD 4850 are a different thing though, a lot more heat.

Q6600 vs Q9300: the Q9300 has a smaller cache, but it has some architectural improvements (faster floating point processor, for example), and it comes with 2.5 Ghz instead of 2.4. Without overclocking either CPU, the Q9300 wins and is worth the price.

With overclocking, a multiplier of 9 (Q6600) helps more than a 7.5 (Q9300). If you look at newegg reviews, most Q9300 users run it at stock or at 3 GHz. I would say a Q9300 at 3.0 GHz is close to a Q6600 at 3.1 or 3.2 GHz, depending on what software you're running. The Q6600 itself can do 3.4 or 3.6 GHz, so you end up with more performance. As for price, a Q6600 OEM is $185, while Q9300 is only available retail (at newegg at least) for $270.
July 21, 2008 7:31:16 PM

aevm said:
Dump the Xonar, at least until you've tried onboard audio for a week or two. You might not need the sound card at all. If you have some really good speakers (and ears), and listen to WAV files (not lossy MP3 or WMA), the soundcard may be worth it. Otherwise not so much.

The WD6400AAKS is a much more useful piece for that money. You will feel a difference with that disk compared to your older ones. I can't say the same for the sound card vs onboard audio.

Dump the Q9300/Zalman 9500 combo and get a Q6600/Xigmatek HDT-S1283. You will end up with a faster CPU and spending less.

I don't like the idea of a HD 4850 in a Sonata case. It's a hot GPU, with a single-slot cooler, no vent to kick the hot air directly out, in a smallish case with a single fan. Don't like it at all. Try to get a RC-690 or Antec 900 and a 650TX (www.buy.com has better prices than newegg on these things sometimes).


I sound like you sound like me :) 

Sound advice all around. I have to say I don't think the Sonata III is a bad case and I think the Earthwatts 500 is a very very good value psu, but I'm not sure what Antec was thinking when they put the two together. The Sonata III is meant to be a quite case & it sacrifices ventilation as a result. The problem is the fan on the 500 w psu is 80mm and in the conventional flow through position, leaving a mobo in the sonata III with very little ventilation around the CPU PWM / VRM circuits. Putting a PSU with a 120 + mm bottom mounted fan in a Sonata III changes the picture substantially. Add to that a 2 slot video card with rear exhaust and you have a decent cooling setup.

I have a sonata III with with an old Ultra v-series (very bad PSU with 120mm fan) PSU as my home server and the earthwatts 500 in a cooler master 690 in my main rig.


July 21, 2008 7:31:23 PM

I would suggest the Antec 900 and a separate Corsair power supply like HX520. Power supplies that come with the case are of low quality.

While this is normally true

Enclosure Antec Sonata III w/500W PSU

this power supply comes with an EarthWatts 500, which was considered a good power supply (Seasonic build). Though in the recent past, I think they have switched OEMs. I don't know about the quality anymore.
July 21, 2008 7:31:49 PM

evongugg said:
I would suggest the Antec 900 and a separate Corsair power supply like HX520. Power supplies that come with the case are of low quality.


Please read the Reviews of the Antec Sonata III and the Antec Earth Watts.
It's a good case and Excellent PSU.

July 21, 2008 7:36:27 PM

You may want to consider DDR2-1066 4x4GB RAM if you are going to heavily OC.

The DDR2-800 will get you to about 3.0Ghz before you need to OC the RAM.
In general, the 2GB Dimms do not OC as well as the 1GB Dimms, so getting RAM certified at the higher speeds if you are going to try and hit them will work.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
a c 206 4 Gaming
July 21, 2008 7:55:19 PM

Your plan is reasonable.

Try onboard sound first, it is very good these days, and you could always add one later. The cpu savings with today's cpu's is minor.

The case should be fine, you might want to add a slow 120mm fan to the front to help airflow. Antec psu's are good, and they have good support.

At the level of the E8500 or Q9300, the vga card is much more important for gaming than the cpu.
At that level, overclocking is good for bragging, but it will not net you as much increase
in FPS as a better vga card will. Today, very few games can make use of more than two cores.
Flight simulator X is an exception. It is not a trivial matter to code multi threaded programs,
and game vendors will not sell too many games that require quads to run.
I don't see this changing in the next couple of years, and nehalem will be upon us by the end of the year.

As to Q6600 vs Q9300, I like the 45nm parts. They run cooler, and are a bit faster, clock for clock.

Net: E8500 for the increased clock speed.

If your usage is gaming, then consider the 4870 for $100 more. It is probably the most cost -effective use of $100 you can get for gaming.

Shopping tips for Vista:
1) Do you qualify for an academic license?
If so, you can get Vista at a discounted price.
2) Look for an upgrade version of home premium instead of OEM.
Upgrade is a retail version which gives you support from microsoft, unlike OEM(AKA system builder),
and allows a more hassel-free ability to transfer the os to a different pc(motherboard).
For $10, microsoft will send you the 64 bit DVD.
I saw Vista home premium upgrade recently at Costco for $85, amazon for $89.
There is a legitimate two step instalation process to install an upgrade version
You install vista from the cd, but do not initially enter the product code.

Just tell the install which version you bought, and do not activate.
After it installs, you have a fully functional vista for 30 days.
Step 2 is to insert the cd again, while running vista and then do an upgrade.
This time, enter your product code, and activate.
After activation. you may delete the initial version which is named windows.old.

3) Do you really need Ultimate? There are very few features that the home user would want.
Check out the differences on the microsoft Vista web site.
If you get a retail or upgrade version, you will still be able to upgrade to ultimate later.

July 21, 2008 8:16:32 PM

evongugg said:
I would suggest the Antec 900 and a separate Corsair power supply like HX520. Power supplies that come with the case are of low quality.
l


while that combo is a good suggestion, the Antec Earthwatts power supplies have been reviewed many times and all the reviewers agree they are excellent

so the Sonata III is a good combo for a budget

http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/other/display/antec-ps...

http://www.jonnyguru.com/modules.php?name=NDReviews&op=...

July 21, 2008 9:45:21 PM

Optical - SAMSUNG 20X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe Black SATA Model SH-S203N - OEM $26.49

Case - Antec Sonata III 500 Black 500W Power Supply $124.95

HDD - Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD6400AAKS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM $89.99

HSF - ZALMAN CNPS9500 AT 2 Ball CPU Cooling Fan/Heatsink - Retail $49.99

GPU - SAPPHIRE 100242L Radeon HD 4850 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready $179.99

RAM - mushkin 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) $64.99 after rebate

CPU - Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 Yorkfield 2.5GHz $269.99

MOBO - GIGABYTE GA-EP45-DS3R LGA 775 Intel P45 ATX $134.99

Subtotal: $966.38 -> 941.38 after rebates. All prices through Newegg.

I am looking at the Mobo and HSF in particular as cost sinks considering that I could probably get a decent cooler for 30 bucks and a competitive mobo for 100 to 110 - that'd drop another 50 sheckles off of the whole package. Thoughts?
a c 206 4 Gaming
July 21, 2008 11:25:45 PM

For the mobo, the DS3L version will have only one pci-e slot, and no raid, at a lower price. You probably need neither. Check the gigabyte web site for a full side by side comparison of features.

You can use the stock heatsink which comes with the retail version of the cpu. It will work fine. I like the oem heatsinks better because under load, the fans do not need to ramp up so much and will be quieter. There are many good ones. Look at the Xigmatek http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
!