I am back and forth among these 3 builds & I can't make up my mind. I use the computer for gaming only.
Basically, the X4 955 and the Q9550 builds cost about the same. The Q9550 build performs a bit better than the X4 955 build, but has no upgrade path. The i7 build costs about $200 extra and it can be upgraded later. Please share your thought on this.
I'm not sure you need to worry much about the upgrade path for the CPU. You can lower the price of the Q9550 build a little by getting DDR2-800. That's really all you need. If you get DDR2, get RAM that will run at its advertised timings on the JEDEC standard 1.8V. Anything else is a factory overclock that may not go much higher, especially without even more voltage and heat.
Gaming is so much more dependent on the GPU that it really doesn't matter. Go with the one that interests you the most, and/or is cheapest.
Hmm... could I suggest that if you really wanted to save money and gaming is all you do: go for an AMD phemon II 720 BE or 940 BE and go for a DDR2 build on an AM2+ AMD mobo (like a 790X/GX/FX). This will save you some money and I kinda doubt you will lose that much performance in your gaming - use the extra on your GPU or save it for something else.
Just a suggestion - although Fullmetal is right here and budget is important - if you are wondering how much to spend check out my article on it here: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/264181-31-best-bang-b...
It is really up to you then - I think that you probably won't see more than possibly a few fps increase from a DDR2 AMD solution to a core i7 solution when it come to gaming - and you will be able to play at 1680x1050 at max settings on all games with well over 30 fps on the AMD solution - which I assume is your res on that 22inch. So from my philosophy that future proofing is BS I would save the money and get the AMD .
However there are many good arguments for i7. Your normal encoding/decoding apps and other things like that will fly in comparison to the AMD. Also you may in the future find it a good platform to upgrade on - I think there will be a 32nm 6 core i7 coming out in a year and if todays mobos can support this given a simple bios upgrade or something that is definitely worth taking into consideration.