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New gaming PC after 4/5 years hiatus...

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September 28, 2010 3:26:43 PM

Hi all,

I'm looking to build a new PC for myself after not having made one for years. The last time I built one was in late 05 / early 06 when I put together an Opteron 170, Asus A8n32-SLI, twin 7800GTXs, etc. and overclocked the Opty. Can't remember what overclock I reached. It's been getting on a while now and it looks like Civ 5 is gonna stink on my laptop, so its time for a new gaming PC.

Budget is around $2000 (although I'm UK-based so imagine prices here are a bit more expensive) and I don't need a monitor in that. After a few years 'out the loop' it's hard to come back and work out what's changed since, but am I right in thinking:

-AMD processors now lag behind Intel somewhat but are generally a lot cheaper
-Creative soundcards are no longer the 'de facto' choice
-Sata III and USB 3 are the new standards
-Booting off an SSD is the way forward

Any other big developments I've missed?

With the above in mind, I've been considering the following:

CPU: Very undecided here. I can get an OEM i7 960 for $475. I guess there's not going to be a massive performance difference between a 930 and a 960 though. But also out there is the possibility of an OEM Xeon W3680 (which I think is the equivalent of the 980X) for about $885. Is there any advantage/disadvantage to getting a Xeon? From what I recall with Opterons, they also OC'd better than Athlon x2s, does the same apply with Xeons and i7s? (960 $475, Xeon $885).

Mobo: Asus P6X58D-E. Seems a good solid motherboard at a reasonable price - is there any particular reason why I would want anything more expensive than this (the Big Bang or Rampage III, for instance)? ($250)

Graphics: XFX HD 5870 1GB. It seems ATI cards have the edge in general heat output/power needed, etc. But would I be better off waiting for the 6xxx series, or is this not going to be a massive leap forward? Should I pay the premium and get a 2GB model? It's also my understanding that its better to get one top-spec gfx card than SLI/crossfire two 'good' cards, as I've always got the upgrade potential in the future. (5870 $425)

RAM: Not entirely clear on this, the Asus supports 2000mhz RAM but suggests that's OC'd so I'm guessing 1600 is stock. In this case, I'd be looking at 6gb, either Corsair Classic or Corsair Dominator. Presumably getting the former will limit my OC potential (unless I get a CPU with an unlocked multiplier)? (Corsair Classic $190, Dominator $270).

SSD: 60GB Corsair Force F100, read 285mb/s and write 275mb/s. Have seen others with faster read speeds but very low write speeds and figure a good balance is needed. ($150)

Regular hard drive: 1TB Western Digital WD1002FAEX. Bit of a jump in price between this, a 7200rpm model, and faster 10,000rpm models. ($100)

Soundcard: Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3. Looks like Creative isn't the way forward anymore, and this card allows full Blu-ray audio output (which is handy as I will try and connect my PC to my AV receiver on occasion). ($200)

Case: Either NZXT Hush or NZXT Phantom. Have been looking at some nice Silverstone HTPC cases but am I right in thinking my cooling will be worse and overclocking potential quite a bit worse if I plump for one of these? (Phantom $160, Hush $100).

CPU cooling: Noctua NH-U12P. Looks to have pretty good reviews and won't be too loud. ($75).

Optical: An LG Blu-ray writer ($120).

Any comments or thoughts on the above would be much appreciated.

More about : gaming years hiatus

September 28, 2010 6:50:39 PM

Acutally, your assumptions are kind of off. AMD is a bit underpowered compared to Intel, but they're drastically cheaper (a good $200 less than the i7-930) and AMD is sticking with their current socket for a while (Intel's moving on this year). Soundcards are complete non-factors today, so don't waste your money there. SATA III/USB 3 aren't standards yet, but are essential for future proofing. Finally, SSDs are still reserved for the largest budget gaming builds. They are useful, but there isn't much reason for a gamer to sink such a large amount into them right now.

Here's what I'd look at:

CPU: i7-930 or 950. Don't bother going above this. I'd also stick to the regular CPUs. Server CPUs aren't exactly designed for what you want.

Mobo: Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R. Cheaper than the Asus, yet packed with all the features. Generally considered the best X58 board out there.

RAM: Don't bother with 2000 mhz sticks. All boards default to 1333 mhz right now, and you're not going to get much higher than 1600 mhz. I'd check out some G.Skill sticks as well. Make sure to get CAS Latency 7 sticks though. On caveat to the 1600 mhz: If you can find some good priced 2000 mhz/CL 9 sticks, that'd be good as well. They'll be at CL 6 at 1600 mhz.

Definitely avoid Dominators like the plague. They're massively overpriced. Really, any sticks would be fine with the single exception of all of OCZ's sticks. They're known to have quality/compatibility issues. I'd say the best brand for RAM right now are G.Skill, followed by Corsair and Mushkin.

GPU: HD 5970. No reason not to go for the best with your budget.

SSD: Leave it out for now. They're too expensive and don't offer much in terms of gaming performance.

HDD: Samsung Spinpoint F3 1 TB. It's actually just as fast, but cheaper. SATA III means nothing right now.

Soundcard: Ditch it. You get full HD audio through the GPUs today. Also, the motherboard's onboard sound will provide 7.1 output.

Case: Not the best choices. NZXT's cases aren't that high quality. I'd look at the HAF 922. It's widely considered the best case out there. Other options would be the Antec 902, Antec 1200, Coolermaster Cosmos and HAF 932.

HSF: I'm partial to the NH-D14. It's easily the best air cooler out there. I'd also consider the Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B at a much lower price.

Optical: BluRay serves absolutely no purpose for computers right now. Save the $100 and get a cheap DVD burner for about $20. Wait for a use to emerge or the price to fall drastically before investing in BluRay.

PSU: Didn't see one listed. Go with an 850W model from Corsair, Antec, Silverstone, SeaSonic or XFX. They'll all have excellent quality.
September 28, 2010 7:57:45 PM

I like the above, but in general I would say yes to an SSD and a single 5870/5850/470/dual 460s.
Related resources
September 28, 2010 8:15:47 PM

ATI has buggy drivers. You've been warned.
September 28, 2010 8:50:58 PM

^Buggy as in actually DESTORYING computers, like nVidia's last drivers before Fermi was released? ATI used to have bad drivers, but that's basically the ancient past. They've had good results since AMD bought them 4-5 years ago.
September 28, 2010 9:01:17 PM

CPU: Go with the 930 and overclock it. The 950 is a few dollars more and may let you eek out a few extra megahertz, or not. The 960 isn't worth the price difference at all especially if you are going to overclock. There is no guarantee that it will hit a higher speed than a cheaper 930 when overclocking.

MB: Good choice. Just be aware of the spacing of the slots. If you want to use 3-way CF or SLI you will need case with 8 slots, or at least an accommodating vent for the 8th like the Cosmos. If you only plan on using two cards then it doesn't matter :D .

GPU: Right now you don't need the extra memory of the of the 2GB 5870 cards over their cheaper 1GB brothers. You could afford to go with a 5970 now and add another one latter. If you just want to go with one 5870 now though I say go with the Gigabyte UD card. I have one and I love the cooler

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

RAM: Either set is good though I prefer Mushkin myself. No the former won't limit your CPU OC potential since you could just adjust the ratio

SSD: Go for it if you want. I'd rather do a RAID array or 1TB HDs though

Regular HD: That WD Black is a great drive and it's a good price on newegg right now. Mine is the older version with only 32MB cache.

Sound Card: Get the ASUS Xonar if you can appreciate a dedicated sound card. Modern onboard sound is pretty good nowadays and only takes a small amount of resources from modern CPUs. There really is no performance benefit from getting a dedicated sound card, so only get it if your ears can appreciate it :D .

Case: Go with the Phantom over the Hush. I think there are better cases for the money, like the Cosmos S or HAF, but it's up to you.

Cooler: Yup, that Nocturne is good. Considering your budget no need to go cheap there

Optical: If you want top Quality go with a Plextor, even though admittedly their support is not as excellent as it once was. If not the LG you chose will work just fine.
September 28, 2010 11:56:43 PM

Thanks for the feedback guys.

Yup, I completely forgot to include a PSU in the list - if I plump for 850w from an established manufacturer, can I generally assume it will be up to the task - I don't need to look at ratings for individual rails, etc?

For the soundcard, I read on both Asus' own website and the Bit-Tech review that its pretty much the only card on the market that can sent out HD audio from Blu-Rays (the others don't comply with HDCP/PAP audio standards and degrade the audio to DVD quality) and I'd like to use the PC for playing blu-rays too - so unless I'm reading it wrong, I think I'm stuck with the Xonar HDAV (albeit 3 varieties - Slim / Regular / Deluxe). Appreciate that it will probably make little difference for gaming though.

Cases - I was looking for something a bit more understated, thats what appealed about these NZXT cases (and my old PC used the NZXT Lexa). Looking for something that won't look completely out of place when I drag it into the living room and connect it to the receiver to play blu-rays. Ideal looks are the SIlverstone HTPC cases but I think their cooling/etc won't be up to par and so I'll probably have to avoid those.

With the RAM it looks like as long as I get a decent brand with a decent latency I can't go too far wrong then? i.e. whether I get 1333/1600/2000, I can adjust the timings as necessary and it shouldn't scupper any potential overclock?

Is it still the case that games don't use more than three cores - i.e. there is virtually no gaming benefit to going with a hex-core processor? If so then it does look like there's a massive price premium for doing that and no real matching benefit - although I'm definitely still inclined to go with Intel over AMD this time - would like this to be a top notch PC (if not quite bleeding edge - last time I tried to use two Asus n7800GT Dual cards to get Quad SLI, but the drivers didn't allow it) and plumping for the Phenom would feel a bit of a compromise.

Will go check out the other items mentioned, thanks once again guys.
September 30, 2010 3:05:22 PM

Have done a bit more reading, I'm now looking at the following:

CPU - core i7 950 - £217 ($340) - there's not a very big cost difference between this and the i7 930 so I might as well pay the tiny bit more and hope I can squeeze out a little performance boost.

Mobo - Asus P6X58D-E - £148 ($232) - there's only about $8 difference between this and the Gigabyte and whilst the latter has a few things the former doesn't, the Asus had a few advantages going for it and I'm also more familiar with the Asus bios/etc, don't think there is a great deal between the two boards really.

GPU - Asus Ares - £800 ($1250). I know, it's not worth it. But it's just so cool, unique - and beyond a certain level of graphics card, any element of rationality in the purchase kinda goes out the window anyway, this is just pushing it a bit further... and whilst 1GB HD 5870 cards are around £300 here, the 2GB cards are £400+ so in reality its not a massive difference in price.

RAM - I'm torn between Patriot Viper 1600/8-8-8-24, Geil Black Dragon 1600/8-8-8-24 and G-Skill Ripjaws 1600/8-8-8-24. Much to choose between these? Seemed a big gulf in price between these and lower latency sticks. They're all roughly £110 ($172).

SSD - 60gb OCZ Vertex 2E read 285m/s write 275m/s (£100 / $157)

HD - Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB - £44 ($69)

Sound card - Asus Xonar HDAV regular - £130 ($204) - for sending high def Blu-ray audio content to AV receiver.

Case - NZXT Phantom - £110 ($157) - warming to the looks of this, plus it seems like it's got a lot of space inside so no worries about fitting oversized cards in there.

Optical - Samsung 12x blu-ray reader - £52 ($81) - no need for a Blu-ray writer really...

PSU - OCZ GameXStream 850w - £85 ($133) - are OCZ any good for PSUs? An Antec is another ten pounds or so.

Cooler - Nocturne NH-D12 or NH-D14.

Any more comments or thoughts on the above..?
September 30, 2010 3:37:30 PM

The Ares isn't worth it. Consider that you can get two 5870 2 GB cards for roughly $1,000. That's the same power for $250 less. Heck, for that much money, you can almost get dual 5970s which would absolutely destroy the Ares.
September 30, 2010 4:25:32 PM

ocz are okish with psu's but other brands are preferred

this is much better at a decent price

http://www.ebuyer.com/search?page=1&store=2&cat=149&sub...

the antec cp 850 you found is meant for antec full towers only

then again you only need bout 650 for a 5970 ,750 for the ares 1kw for 2x ares or 750 to run 2x 5870

xfx are quite good and tend to be reasonably priced for the quality corsair is another good brand antec as well but antec is a mixed bag of great and ok
September 30, 2010 4:26:34 PM

Agreed that the Ares isn't "worth it" but then, are many ultra-high end graphics setups "worth it", especially if there's 2+ cards? Any way you cut it, its a lot of cash for extra FPS, etc. At least the Asus is a somewhat unique card, some of the high price point is I guess attributed to the novelty factor. And there is I guess the possibility of adding a second sometime in the future...
October 1, 2010 1:31:11 AM

Build looks good so far, pibrahim. I'm also looking to purchase soon-ish and going with the i7-950, can't go wrong there.

However, I find myself in the same shoes as you when it comes to SSD vs HDD - is the performance worth the price when it comes to gaming? Originally, I was looking at the Vertex 2 120GB model for the ~$240 price tag. But now, and similarly to your most recent build, a 60GB SSD boot drive and a 1TB Spinpoint F3 seems to be a better solution.

I'm wondering if there is any noticeable difference in games (like World of Warcraft, for example) when it comes to SSD vs HDD?
October 1, 2010 1:53:20 AM

There is no gaming benefit to having a SSD. The only thing it improves related to games is load times. Even then, it's not a huge difference. Unless you've already gotten a single 5970, at least the i7-930, a high quality board, really fast RAM, a large and highly efficient PSU and an amazing HSF, and still have $300 to throw around, there is no point in throwing in a SSD into a gaming build.
October 1, 2010 1:56:09 AM

Actually, in Wow it can be a pretty significant step up especially when loading/switching realms as it likes to load significant amounts of data from disk, even if it has room in ram. Especially noticeable in Dalaran.

But for the majority of games it only helps load times, which is not typically defined as game performance.

Now, desktop usage is where SSDs really shine.
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