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It's time to start planning a new rig, I could use a lot of help

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May 20, 2009 6:35:39 PM

TL;DR VERSION:

1. I am looking to build my first homebuild. I'm hoping for a gaming PC that will serve me adequately for ~4 years on a budget of ~$1600 to spend on components give or take. No need for a display. Planning on running Windows 7 RC until release.
2. Should I spend the whole budget up front or save a portion for upgrades at year 2? If saving a portion, what fraction should I save?
3. Is building an I7 system a reasonable choice if I am planning to upgrade? I don't want to get stuck having to replace the mobo after year two if I want to upgrade something other than the GPU.
4. Should I risk overclocking or not? The extra performance would be great but I'd rather not damage my components or end up with an unstable system.
5. Need help evaluating cases and motherboards especially, but possibly cooling and power supply as well (especially if OCing).
6. Is running a small performance HDD and a larger, slower HDD warranted at this price point? If so, should I go as high as a raptor or solid state drive for the performance HDD?




Hi all -- I've been planning on doing my first homebuild this summer for a while now, and it's time to start making concrete choices.

I'm aiming to build a gaming PC that will last for about four years on a general budget. There are two basic approaches to take here: I can spend only a portion of the budget up front and save some for upgrades around year 2-2.5 or I can spend most or all of the budget up front leaving room for little to no upgrading.

Given the way that the price to performance curve tends to work, I'm thinking that the former scenario is probably the better choice.

I'm not looking to play ultra graphics intensive games on tip-top settings, but I would like to be able to play current mmo/fps/rts/rpg titles with acceptable performance levels throughout the life of the system.

The way I see it, the two options are probably going to look like this based on my own past experiences with buying prebuilt PCs with the full budget upfront:


More upfront w/ no upgrade:

Year 1: Great performance | Year 2: Good/Great | Year 3: Adequate | Year 4: Poor


I'm pretty confident that will be accurate.

Less upfront w/ upgrade after year 2 (hopefully):

Year 1: Good performance | Year 2: Good/Adequate | Year 3: Good/Adequate | Year 4: Adequate


For me, Great is only a little better than good. Good is better than Adequate. Adequate is far better than poor.

So, if you all think my logic here is sound, it seems like I'd get a lot more benefit out of the "less upfront with upgrade" plan.


My overall budget is something in the range of ~$1600 give or take. It's not completely rigid, but I'd rather not go over that unless I'm getting some serious efficiency out of it. I'm currently happy with my Samsung SyncMaster 204bw, so I won't need a new display. My speakers are also fine. I won't need to spend yet on any software either as I'm planning on running the Windows 7 release candidate for the next year or so, as I have heard good things about that and pretty universally bad things about Vista (currently still running XP pro). Now, I'm not sure what ratio to spend now vs. save for upgrades.

Also, I was really hoping to use the system builder marathon as a template to work from, but who knows when the next of those will happen.
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OK, so if I pick that plan then I need to plan around my upgrades now. GPU and RAM upgrades are easy. CPU upgrades are a bit more challenging but not bad assuming you don't have to replace the motherboard. If you do have to replace the motherboard, then suddenly you are getting into replacing at least two major components and possibly the RAM as well.

So that means I'd probably want to choose a chipset and motherboard combo now that will likely allow me to upgrade the CPU reasonably in two years without replacing the mobo and ram.

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that the best option that fits this description would be to go for a low end i7 as the technology is fairly new and I imagine there will be a fair amount of life in the mobo. Again, I could be wrong about that and would love to hear it if I am.

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When it comes to picking the rest of the components I have varying levels of expertise. I'm pretty comfortable selecting RAM and GPUs. Haven't really looked into the former yet in detail, but as far as the latter goes crossfire 4770s seems like a very powerful option at a decent price point. Of course, I may be able to afford to go a bit better depending on how much the rest of the components are going to cost me.

I have very little clue as to how to evaluate mobos in particular, so I could definitely use some advice on that front. Same with cases. I don't care much about aesthetics -- I just want a reliable case that works well for my purposes at as efficient a price as possible.

Optical drives aren't a problem.

As far as HDDs are concerned, I don't need a ton of space but performance is a potential issue as some of the games I play put a lot of strain on the HDD. I'm considering running 2 drives, one smaller performance drive and one slower but larger drive for storage. I'm not sure if it's worth going for something as high end as a raptor or (gasp) a solid state drive.

I'll probably go with air cooling, and I imagine that the same heatsinks that were good in January are still good now. My impression is that the technology doesn't change quite as quickly there.

Lastly we have the power supply, which I can't really select accurately until I have the rest of the build set as I'm not sure what my actual power needs will be. I imagine I'll want to get something bigger than I actually need just in case future upgrades require more power.


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Lastly, there is the question of overclocking. I've never done it before, but I hear it's easier now than ever. I don't want to risk ruining my components for a marginal gain though.

I imagine this will affect a number of my other decisions, particularly my choice of case, power supply, and cooling.



Anyway, I could use a lot of advice and thanks all for taking the time to read this!
May 20, 2009 7:26:33 PM

Ok, well i didnt take time to read everything, just some.

If you buy part of a good build now, which wont be an i7, you will need to upgrade most of the components in 2 years anyways.

due to no questioning a monitor an i7 build + monitor is a good $1400+.

i'd buy the full thing now. By this time in the next year or 2, there will be new sockets as usual and you will need to upgrade cpu + mobo by then aswell. No one knows what new things will be out by then but, we will see. Can't just buy a little low end now and in 2 years expect there to be parts way better for the same socket. You could spend $1100 and later on see that your needing to spend almost half to more than half on the rig just for upgrades.

Say you bought the x3 720 now, waited 2 to 3 years, it will either be just like the kuma or lower to the chips that will be made in those times. There will be newer sockets, yada yada. You will never be caught up with technology, I highly doubt it. Not best to chase the technology, buy what you can afford for your best benefits and live with it for as long as you can, then decide for another upgraded rig.
May 21, 2009 12:10:01 AM

Well, I don't need a monitor. Also, I'm not looking for top quality over the whole 4 years -- I know I'm not going to get that. But my experience with spending the whole budget up front tells me that year 4 will be a pain, and that might be less true if i upgraded part way though.
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May 21, 2009 2:10:05 PM

I dont see how it will be in 4 years but, by the time you get in the middle, there will already be different sockets to switch to and will probably include on changing alot of your rig instead of upgrading.
May 21, 2009 3:24:37 PM

I would HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend that you buy THESE parts high end

Case: A nice mid-tower that you like the look of. YOUR CASE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR COMPUTER. When in doubt buy big and buy nice! The hardest part of the entire computer to upgrade later is the case, because no one wants to buy your old one and you have to move everything in order to switch. I would suggest you spend at LEAST 120+ on a case in order to find something High end with enough space that should you one day have dual Video cards, 2 hard drives, and a water cooling setup that you will not be cramped.

Silverstone, Cooler master, Lian Li and Antec are all Excellent Brands. For True Quality over "style" I'd go for a Silverstone or a Lian Li- No one is ever disappointed by those cases, and personally I think they look amazing.

Power Supply; Just get a 550 or 600 watt NICE power supply, dual 6pin, 80+ Certified, modular perhaps- Seasonic, PC power and cooling, OCZ, FSP, or Corsair.

Motherboard- Don't go nuts, but don't buy something without upgrade features. Get something with a lot of reviews (unless it's a new product).

General Suggestions;

Hard Drive- Get a SINGLE big hard drive. You never know how much space you'll need and it saves you money in the long run. I'd suggest a Western Digital Caviar Black above 500gb. It's really fast and very reliable. Raptor isn't worth it unless you have everything else maxed.

Processor- Get the slowest core i7 (930 or whatever) Not worth the money to buy the faster ones.

Video Card- Buy a single 4770, and if you need more power, get a 2nd one and Crossfire. They are brand new which means; they will be in stock for a long time and you can sell them later, and you will save money in the future when the price goes below 75 a card (right now 100 a card). the 4770 is BASICALLY the same speed as the 4850 (see's toms review) but more efficient and shorter, and why not get the smaller size newer card right?

Memory- Don't bother with anything past DDR31600, and DDR3 1333 is fine if the price is cheaper. Memory prices will continue to go down over the next year or two, so this is an excellent place to save money by purchasing 3gb of DDR31600 in two sticks and saving money for later if you need to.

DVD Drive- Don't get a blu-ray drive. No point because internet Downloads (Itunes, Amazon) cost 4.99 for High Def and 15 to buy.

Cooling System- DON"T SKIMP ON THIS. Don't hesitate to go Water Cooling if your case is large and you plan on adding two video cards in the future. With 1600 you have a LOT of money to play with- your biggest problem is going to be TRYING to spend the money. An EXCELLENT Gaming computer costs about 1000. Everything above that is just future proofing it. (Mine newest build cost 800 and I have a water cooling setup, a TV Tuner, a Sound card, and a 4850)


Overclocking: Totally Worth it, just read up online, ask for help, go slow, and you will see huge gains. I purchased an Intel E5300 two months ago, saved 70 bucks over the E7200, and used the difference towards a water cooling setup. I overclocked it from 2.5ghz to 4ghz out of the box, overclocked my Video card and memory, and essentially made my computer 30 percent faster in games for no extra money. Overclocking Intel processors is a piece of cake and SAVES YOU MONEY.

Finally, I would suggest you save 300 for Upgrades in the future, or just plan on saving it from paychecks between now and then. Computer Games are expensive, and the first upgrade you make to your computer will be graphics card, followed by peripherals or expansions (aka Speakers, Webcams, Bigger Screen, 2nd Hard drive, etc).

Best of luck in your build, don't be afraid to ask any other questions you have.


May 21, 2009 3:56:46 PM

First, for $1600, your offering a 4770.

secondly, its i7 920

hdd: western digital black 640gb, it runs off of 2 platters and is faster than the original.



even with some of the top stuff, you will have $300 to spare, you will only need $1300 and you can buy a nice video card like the 4890.
May 21, 2009 4:22:31 PM

Well, he didn't say he wanted the top of the line everything, and he's not using a 30inch monitor, and the 4790 is overpriced and a bad buy according to TH reviews. If you're going to spend more than 250 you should just get a 4850x2, which will play everything at 1920x1080. A 4790 is slower and more money...

If you want to go for dual video cards, as I suggested before, buy ONE 4770, and get a 2nd one if you find that you need more power. This option means you spend 200 at the most at the end of the day and have dual 8.25 inch video cards that consume 160w total

The 2nd option is to purchase a 4790 for what, 275? without knowing if it's overkill or not for your system and end up having a card that's 9.5 inches long and consumes more power and loses value quickly over the next 3-6 months quickly.

Dual 4770's are 200 dollars, A 4850x2 is 260, A 4790 is 275. The fastest of those three is the 4850x2, but the best option overall are dual 4770's.

I base my reccomendations on needs, not on price. Just because you can afford a triple watercooled GTX280 with quad radiators and Raid 0 SSD's doesn't mean you need them for a word processing machine.

May 21, 2009 4:51:25 PM

^ Just because it says it in TH reviews doesn't mean it's right.

the 4890 is $240 on your side of the pond,over here it's about £145 ex vat because of the forced rebates by some distributors. And for a gaming in this budget you should be buying a 4890. Why? because it puts out less heat than dual 4770's, you can add another one later which will outperform dual or tri 4770's.

and the standard bin 4890 just beats the 4850 X2, I think you're talking about bad bin 4890's, the 850mhz one's.
May 21, 2009 7:37:24 PM

4890 sapphire is $230 with rebates $209/sapphire 4gbps 4890 is $260 with rebates $240,

Think the 4890 would take over at a higher res against teh 4770's.

May 21, 2009 7:47:33 PM

^ at one game the 4770's could cope with 2560x1600 and it was left at 11fps vs somewhere around 50-60fps for single GPU setup's.
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