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Help: $1500, 5 yr lifespan, quiet, low power, overclockable gaming rig

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February 3, 2010 4:40:28 PM

Hello Tom's Hardware community,

I have been out of the PC building game for quite some time now. The last PC I built included an AMD Athlon 2000 processor and Nvidia 4800GTX(?) video card. Back then, I gave up on building a PC since I couldn't afford the high quality parts I wanted and thus turned to console gaming. However, I am now a professional in the workplace and I will be leaving the States and moving to London, rendering my console and HDTV relatively useless (I just don't want to ship them over with me along with a new PC). Furthermore, since I am moving to London I want to minimize the number of electronics I must rely on in my new apartment. Hence, I have decided to go with a PC that will satisfy me for the next 4-5 years and serve as a gaming machine, media machine (movies and HD slingplayer from house in US), work (lots of excel vba and the like), etc. It needs to be a do-it-all PC but I have some stipulations and I am asking for the communities help on building this machine since I am sort of unsure what to buy out there and what is upgradeable in the future.

Here are the requirements the PC must meet:

1. It must have a 4-5 year lifespan and must be upgradeable at the end of the lifespan (I'm talking only upgrading the CPU, GPU and perhaps hard drive in the future).

2. It must be quiet. I had a friend with an e5200, 9800GTX overclocked and that thing was ridiculously loud. I would prefer something quiet like the PS3, not Xbox 360.

3. I would love to have a computer that had extremely low idle power consumption since London electricity is known to be quite expensive.

4. It must be mildly overclockable to run only on air. I'm not looking to set records but overclocking say an i5 750 or i7 920 to 3.2 ghz or so would be ideal in 3 years time to extend the lifespan.

5. If possible, I would love a PC that could play games like Crysis on Max 1920X1080, watch 1080p movies, and have HD audio capability.

6. HD encoding is relatively important but less important than gaming and work.

7. My target price is around $1500 excluding monitor, keyboard, and mouse but I am willing to spend $100-$300 more if a good argument can be made to justify the higher price.

So far I know the three best CPUs for this price range are either the Phenom II X4 955/965, i5-750, or i7-920. I like the i5 but I'm worried about the future of the LGA1156 architecture. I don't want to purchase another motherboard later.

As far as GPUs, I know the ATI 5970 is the best thing out there and it makes a lot of sense to me since it's a dual GPU on once card and I think it would be more than enough power for 5 years (if not then just buy another 5970 in 2-3 years).

SSDs are all the rage but still quite expensive so I think I may upgrade to one in a few years when they go mainstream.

Other than that, please give me your great advice and I will continue to do some more research through this website and newegg.com. Thanks everyone!
February 3, 2010 4:58:51 PM

Given the 4-5 years, I would go with either the LGA1366 or AM3. Both of these sockets will see 6 core CPUs, but the 1366 socket will likely see one. Chances are that Intel will move on to a new socket within a year, definitely within two. So I'm inclined to recommend AMD, despite the budget.

CPU: X4 955 $166
Mobo: Gigabyte GA-790XTA-UD4 $140
RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws 2x2 GB 1600 mhz CAS Latency 7 $115
HDD: Samsung Spinpoint F3 1 TB $90
PSU: SeaSonic X750 Gold 750W $180. Very expensive, but super efficient (lower power bill, longer life, less heat, less noise).
Case: HAF 922 $110
Optical: Cheapest SATA DVD burner $25. Can add a BluRay once it's more mainstream.
GPU: HD 5970 $650
Cooler: Coolermaster Hyper 212 $30
OS: Windows 7 64-bit $105

Total: $1,586. Slightly over budget, but didn't look for combos. If you only need 500 GB of storage, you can save $40 by getting the Spinpoint F3 500 GB.
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February 3, 2010 5:22:10 PM

This seems like a pretty good system build. I am surprised that only 4gb of memory is needed when I always here people boasting about 6-8gb systems for their gaming needs. That makes me happy that I won't need to spend more in that department since memory prices are increasing as it is. I am also very surprised that the 5970 is $50 over it's list price and I'm surprised that you didn't try to convince me to step down my graphics card for 2-3 years in favor of perhaps better parts or a better CPU ;)  . Btw, is the Phenom II X4 more power efficient than an i7 920?

Anyone with any other suggestions?
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February 3, 2010 5:34:42 PM

People who boast about the technical specs are morons. What's it matter if you get 200 FPS in a game when monitors can show a max of 60 or you can play it at 30? At some point, you're just throwing money away. Besides, price increases are only temporary. It all goes through the floor in the long run.

That CPU is the best AMD CPU. I went with AMD because I felt that there's more potential to upgrade on their side of the house.

As far as prices of the 5970 go, it's all really pointless, as it only matters if you can find it in stock.

I would never try to convince a gamer to get a lower GPU. More often I'm trying to convince people to get a cheaper CPU and get a bigger GPU. After all, gaming performance is always bottlenecked by the GPU, so you might as well sacrifice as much as possible to improve the GPU.

As far as efficiency, I'm not certain which is better. The X4 is a 125W CPU and the i7 is a 130W unit, so I'm guessing the X4 is more efficient.
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February 3, 2010 5:42:59 PM

Great, thanks very much for the help. It seems the 5970 is not only hard to find but is also prone to some immature driver issues and overheating. Do you think a single GPU card such as the 5870 or even 5850 (if I add another 5850 in 3 yrs time) is sufficient for my needs?

I agree with you on the AMD processor after doing a bit more research. The AM3 platform seems to be AMD's choice for their future processors and I don't necessarily need the HT technology on the i7's nor the extra performance from the i-series in non-gaming applications.
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February 3, 2010 5:49:49 PM

The 5870 would definitely fit your needs. The main difference between that and the 5970 is how long it will have excellent performance. The 5970 will likely last on its own for well over 4 years, while the 5870 might only go 3 years.

The driver issue is supposed to be fixed or soon will be.
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February 3, 2010 6:17:53 PM

Great, thanks very much. It's going to be a hard choice to decide if $200 extra now is worth the price, considering we don't know how much a 5870 will be going for in 3 years time for a dual card set-up.
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February 5, 2010 12:51:05 AM

I've modified the list a bit and was wondering if you guys had any advice about this build. I'm thinking this is a perfect build that will last 5 years and the Gigabyte 790FXTA-UD5 will allow me to run another 5970 in 4-5 years at full x16 crossfire mode. There is still one thing I'm struggling about though...

The 955 and 965 are the same processor essentially and both c3 stepping at 125w, but what about the 945 with c3 stepping and only 95w? Is the architecture the same as the 955/965 meaning I could potentially push the 945 even higher or as high as the 955/965 on less voltage and heat?

Anyway, here are the parts I chose, all from newegg:

AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE: $163.99

Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. b: $34.79 from http://www.platinummicro.com/product.asp?pf_id=CCSCMG21...

Gigabyte GA-790FXTA-UD5: $184.99

Sapphire ATI Radeon HD5970: $649.99

G.Skill Ripjaw Series 4GB (2X2GB) DDR3 1600 7-7-7-21 Memory: $139.99

Samsung Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200RPM Hard Drive: $89.99

Seasonic X750 Gold PSU: $179.99

Sony Optiarc Optical Drive: $24.99 (probably won't ever use this)

Cooler Master HAF 922: $99.98

Gigabyte GM-M8000 Mouse: $39.99

Gigabyte GK-K6800 Keyboard: $9.99

Total, excluding shipping and monitor: $1618.68

By the way, PSUs still come with the option to switch to 220 volts right? ;) 

Also, I am not sure which type of monitor to choose as this will be used for tv and computer use. Should I stick with 1080p or upgrade to 1920x1200?

Thanks guys for the help.
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