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Building Gaming PC ~ $1500. Not Sure Where to Start

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December 18, 2009 12:17:57 PM

So I'm relatively new to building PC's, but I'm out of college for the next month and I have some extra cash, so I figured that I'd build a good gaming PC with my time. I currently have $1500 to spend on this PC, and I've went ahead and started looking at specs on various CPU's etc.

I guess to start off with, I plan on running off of an Intel Core i7-920/950/965 Extreme processor. Should I invest less money in the processor, or should I invest more? Technically, my budget can go up to probably around $2000.

As for the rest of the stuff, I imagine I'll need a compatible mobo with an appropriate PSU and GPU setup. What kind of graphics card would you guys recommend buying? Also, would it be advisable to run a dual GPU setup, or would I be better off going with a single GPU? I could imagine the rest of the computer would be standard, but could someone please tell me what else I need to take into account? Any suggestions would be very helpful.

Thanks a ton, guys.

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: within the next couple weeks

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: gaming, watching movies, downloading and internet browsing. standard usage

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: i already have keyboard, mouse, speakers and an OS. I will need to purchase two monitors, but that will be done outside of my 1500 price range

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: I don't have a preferred website although I've used Newegg in the past and they've worked out well

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: United States

PARTS PREFERENCES: I will most likely be going with an Intel CPU (as stated above) and might be interested in dual GPU's

OVERCLOCKING: Maybe SLI OR CROSSFIRE: Isn't Crossfire only for AMD?

MONITOR RESOLUTION: Not sure yet

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: I would like to have a moderately, aesthetically pleasing tower with a lot of power. I will consider overclocking, but since I have never done this, I am not sure how comfortable I would be in the fear that I might fry something. Nevertheless, I am open to comments/suggestions. Also, what types of parts should I plan to order online and at the store? Is there a certain array that is cheaper purchasing a certain way?

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December 18, 2009 12:46:31 PM

Strictly for gaming, the i5-750 is a far better choice. It has all the power you need for gaming, and the chipset costs much less, which means you can invest in a better GPU, SSD, more RAM, etc...

There is one drawback, and that is that the intel P55 architecture which supports the i5 core only has 16x PCIe 2.0 lanes. So you're stuck with either one massive graphics card, or two somewhat less massive ones. If you tried to, for example, crossfire two HD 5870s, you would be bottlenecking your GPUs to some degree.


That being said, in your budget window, you can't really afford to buy two massive GPUs anyway. With that in mind, i5-750 is the way to go.



Just off the top of my head:
i5-750 - $200
aftermarket heatsink - $50
good mobo: $150ish - $200ish
4 GB DDR3 1600 RAM - $125ish
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB - $85
Optical Drive - $35
HD 5870 - $400ish
Windows 7 Home Premium - $105
OCZ Fatal1ty 550W PSU - $40 after MIR
A good case (Something like an Antec 900 or a CM HAF 922 is a good place to start, you can go cheaper or more expensive if you want) - $90
----------------------------------------------------
~$1320 give or take

If you can extend your budget a bit, look at the HD 5970. It's the best single graphics card on earth right now, and it's actually a good value for what it delivers (but it costs $600-$650 depending on availability!)

You will want a little more massive PSU (750W will be enough, 850W if you plan to do some extreme overclocking), and you will want a full size case like the Antec 1200 or the HAF 932 as the card is ridiculously long.

My lastest build was actually very similar to this:
i5-750
Asus Maximus III Formula
4 GB DDR3 1333 G.Skill RAM
Corsair 850-TX
HD 5970
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB
Sony Optiarc DVD+RW Drive
HAF 932

I'm posting 3DMark Vantage scores of just under 12,000 on the Extreme preset, before overclocking anything. So I would say that the i5-750 is plenty for gaming performance (I'm not bottlenecking the massive GPU really at all).

The stock heatsink that comes with the i5-750 is quiet, but somewhat underpowered. Getting an aftermarket heatsink is a must if you want to overclock.
a b 4 Gaming
December 18, 2009 1:46:41 PM

That's a good build above. I'll fill in some gaps.

Mobo: Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD4P $185

RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws 1600 mhz CL 7 $125

GPU: XFX HD 5870 $405

HSF: Coolermaster Hyper 212 $29

Optical: Sony Optiarc 24x SATA $32

PSU: Corsair 750W $110

Case: HAF 932 $140

Total: $1,226 before shipping, taxes and rebates

With the remaining $275ish, you have a few choices.

1.) Upgrade the GPU to an HD 5970 for an additional $260. I don't particularly like this choice, because it's really expensive, and fairly unneeded.

2.) Buy a 60-80GB SSD for a boot/app drive. This will also eat up most the remaining budget. I also don't really like this choice, as all you really get is shorter load times, and no FPS gains.

3.) Do nothing and save your money. This is the best choice IMO. You'll save some money to upgrade in a year or two, or can wait for SSDs to drop in price before buying one. In addition, you could pick up a second 5870 for a cheaper price (if you do this, buy a 850W Corsair now).

At the end of the day, you can't really get a better gaming build than the one above. If you spend the extra bit for the absurdly expensive 5970 or a SSD, you won't see much difference in game.
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December 18, 2009 1:59:40 PM

Thanks a ton guys, this looks like a great place to start! I have a few questions though.

If I were to upgrade to the HD 5970, would I still be using the Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD4P motherboard or would I need to upgrade to something different?

I already have windows, so I can take that off of my budget.

Also, will the aftermarket heatsink on this PC be sufficient for a moderate OC?

Lastly, how powerful will this computer end up being in the grand scheme of things?
a b 4 Gaming
December 18, 2009 2:04:42 PM

You'd be fine with that motherboard.

Yes.

When you buy it, it will be one of the most powerful. After that, it will no longer be the most powerful. You really shouldn't be concerned with comparisions as long as it does what you need it to. After all, any computer is obsolete as soon as you get it.
December 18, 2009 2:08:07 PM

Absolutely.

You mentioned saving the money and possibly picking up another 5870 in the future. Why not just go ahead and buy another one now? Would it just be too expensive/unnecessary?
a b 4 Gaming
December 18, 2009 2:30:39 PM

It's out of budget right now (they're $405 each). And you won't need it right away, and may never need it. Also, it will come down in price once it stops selling out in minutes and/or nVidia releases their DirectX 11 GPUs.
December 18, 2009 5:25:07 PM

kubricht said:
Thanks a ton guys, this looks like a great place to start! I have a few questions though.

If I were to upgrade to the HD 5970, would I still be using the Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD4P motherboard or would I need to upgrade to something different?

I already have windows, so I can take that off of my budget.

Also, will the aftermarket heatsink on this PC be sufficient for a moderate OC?

Lastly, how powerful will this computer end up being in the grand scheme of things?


In regards to the HD 5970, read this article: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/radeon-hd-5970,2474-3.html?xtmc=hd_5970&xtcr=1

Here's why I bit the bullet now and bought it:
  • While it is certainly overkill now, this will be my computer for the next 4-5 years. I need something that can deliver good FPS, with high details, at 1920 x 1080 for a few years. Since the P55 architecture would bottleneck two huge cards, this single massive card was the better option.
  • The HD 5970 is basically two 5870s stuck together; however, it is underclocked to run at 5850 speeds. ATI had to underclock it to comply with the PCIe maximum power requirement (which is 300W). If you have a big enough PSU (750W or better), you can clock the HD 5970 up to HD 5870 speeds (the built-in heatsink is designed to handle these loads). So in summary, the HD 5970 at stock speeds runs like two HD 5850s stuck together, but can be clocked to act like two HD 5870s.
  • I paid $650 for mine. The HD 5850 and 5870 cost about $300 and $400 each, respectively. So for the price point, the HD 5970 is a fair deal. It's about twice as much as the 5850, but gives twice the performance at stock settings; however, it can be clocked up to the level of two HD 5870s, which it would be cheaper than.
  • A single card makes for a less cramped case, and better airflow. It also allows for a cheaper mobo, because you only need a single 16x PCIe 2.0 slot.

    Disadvantages:
  • Requires a bigger PSU
  • Requires a larger case (the card is VERY long, just fits in my HAF 932 behind the HDD stack - less than an inch of clearance).
  • Big and heavy. After about a week, I noticed the back end of this monster was sagging, putting stress on my mobo and the PCI slot. I attached a zip-strip to the back end of mine, and zip-stripped it to the top of the case to help support the back end. Just something to think about.
  • A crossfire setup may be cheaper down the pipe. If you wait until mid-January, the HD 5870 prices should come down a bit, and that will be plenty of power for now. In a few years, when you want the extra performance, you can buy another HD 5870 for a much cheaper price. In the long run, this would be a cheaper option, but it would be prudent to get an i7-920 / X58 mobo if you wanted to do this (so you can get the two 16x PCIe lanes). This option does offer more expandability down the road, too... (i9 processors, dual 16x PCIe lanes) so it's certainly a good option to consider.



    In the grand scheme of things...
    if you buy an HD 5970 now, it will demolish any game at any settings at 1900 x 1200. Furthermore, it will continue to perform like a beast for a few years (in 2-3 years you may have to lower your settings somewhat on uber-demanding games). The HD 5870 will demolish any game at high settings now, but will not have as much sticking power (you would be looking to crossfire down the pipe if you wanted to run demanding games at high settings).
    a b 4 Gaming
    December 18, 2009 6:13:12 PM

    Here's another reason I would go with the 5870 right now. It will destroy games now, but may not in a few years. Thus, in a few years it might be necessary to buy a second one. However, by the time its necessary to buy another one, there will be better GPUs out that aren't much more expensive. So why waste the extra money to buy a 5970, when you're spending the same to get something better later?
    December 18, 2009 6:22:26 PM

    MadAdmiral said:
    Here's another reason I would go with the 5870 right now. It will destroy games now, but may not in a few years. Thus, in a few years it might be necessary to buy a second one. However, by the time its necessary to buy another one, there will be better GPUs out that aren't much more expensive. So why waste the extra money to buy a 5970, when you're spending the same to get something better later?


    This is true too. Crossfiring lets you mix & match different cards (to a point), which means you can get newer technology down the road. Once again, though, if you go this route, plan to get an i7-920 and an X58 mobo, which will add some costs now.
    a b 4 Gaming
    December 18, 2009 7:02:18 PM

    I'm not saying you Crossfire. I'm saying that by the time the second 5870 is needed, a SINGLE card will probably be better than the Crossfired 5870s. I'm of the opinion that the single 5870 will be good for at least 2 years, if not more...

    We also don't know how quickly the games are going to advance and required a 5970 or dual 5870s.
    December 19, 2009 9:35:04 AM

    hmm, so what should I do? I have a little bit of extra money to upgrade to whatever I need. I mean, I could theoretically go up to $2000 on this computer. should i stick with this setup or go with the i7-920 and pick up a better gpu?
    December 19, 2009 9:49:41 AM

    IMO the 5970 is unnecessary, you would be fine with a 5870. I would rather save the money for an upgrade or a new PC later on.
    December 19, 2009 11:21:56 AM

    5970 = 2 X 5850 not 2 X 5870. Performance wise.
    December 19, 2009 12:43:37 PM

    Black Hush said:
    5970 = 2 X 5850 not 2 X 5870. Performance wise.


    When overclocked to the HD 5870 speeds, the HD 5970 delivers performance closer to two HD 5870s.

    See: http://www.tweaktown.com/articles/3014/sapphire_radeon_hd_5970_2gb_overclocked/index3.html for charts of the OC'd HD 5970
    See: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/radeon-hd-5970,2474-6.html for charts of the stock HD 5970 vs. crossfire setups

    ATI even includes their own overclocking utility, and the card has the thermal capacity to take overclocking safely (at 5870 speeds).

    From Tom's:


    Compare to:


    Now this is with the HD 5970 overclocked to 925 Mhz. The HD 5870 runs at 850 Mhz, so we are favoring the HD 5970 with that OC benchmark. Still, the HD 5970 sees significant performance increases when overclocked, well above an HD 5850 crossfire setup in most applications. A 5870 crossfire setup would of course be better, but when two 5870s cost ~$800, and the 5970 costs ~$600, it is the clear winner if purchased today.
    !