All my life I've been limited to my father's computers, which have always been terrible for gaming. I had to run Half-Life at 640x480 on an old Sony Vaio just to get playable FPS, and more recently I have to run Half-Life 2 at 640x480 just to get playable FPS. Now that I have my own income though, and now that I just bought about 50 games off Steam during the Holiday sale, I want a solid gaming rig.
Problem is that I'm basically clueless. My finances are also somewhat limited since I don't make a whole lot. My desire is for a machine that can run basically any game with 60 FPS at all times and look pretty at at least 1024x768. I don't want to cut too many corners in regards to graphical performance and cooling. I am however, willing to cut corners in regards to things that don't have to do with those two things, like speakers, monitor size, keyboard, mouse (in fact I already have a USB mouse I can use), etc. I need at least three USB ports. I would like a build that is under $1,000, but I am willing to go a little over that if I have to. Here are my thoughts on the following items:
Processor - Right now it looks like I'm going to get some kind of AMD Phenom II. There a lot of different ones though. I don't know which between cores, Gigahertz and Watts are worth the most. Or is Watts just something that has to match up with the motherboard? All of the AMD Phenom IIs have good user reviews, so it sounds like any of them could be good. The one negative thing in them though was about the stock fan/cooling. They recommended an aftermarket cooler. Where should I look for that and what would be a good choice?
GPU - This is probably the area where I'm least willing to cut corners. Right now I'm looking at Radeons, but there are so many that I don't know what to choose from. Are the HD6000s necessarily better than the HD5000s? Hell, what's the difference between HD6800s and HD6900s? A lot of different companies make cards based on the Radeon chips. Should I go with Asus, Sapphire, someone else? Who has good coolers?
RAM - Gonna get at least 4 GB DDR3 from Kingston, Corsair or OCZ I guess. The stickied topic says it's not worth it to buy any more than 4 GB. Is this true? And how do I search for this? Is the category on newegg called Desktop Memory the same as RAM?
Motherboard - I have very little idea for this one yet. I obviously need an AM3 socket for the processor I'm thinking of getting, but beyond that I'm not sure. The other concern that I know about now is that I've been told about AGP and PCI Express, but about PCI Express 2.0 vs. PCI Express 2.1? Most of the Radeons I've been looking at say 2.1, while most of the motherboards I've seen say 2.0. Do they need to match?
Power Supply - Another one that is currently confusing me. Sounds like I need at least 500W and more Amps. Other than that, it seems like the appropriate power supply will be based on what else I have in the system, which I haven't even finalized yet.
Hard Drive - Internal SATA? I notice differences not only in size, but RPM and Cache. For Cache it seems like more is better, but how much do I need for a gaming rig? I know what RPM stands for, but what does the number matter? What are the good brands for Hard drive?
Case - No idea, not even sure what to look for. What is cable management? How does the case help with cooling?
Optical Drives - Do I need two or one? Like my father's computers (which are just stock Dells and HP's) have two, one is an RW, the other is just a DVD-ROM. Is this necessary, and do they have to be bought separately? DVD-ROMs pretty much can always function as CD-ROMs, right?
Sound card - Do I need one of these? Or do I get it onboard from the motherboard? My sound needs are pretty basic. As long as I can hear sound that's about as much as I need. Need to be able to hear it from headphones too.
CPU: Ok, first off lets start with the CPU. Given that you're on a tight budget AMD is definitely the way to go. Intel processors are going to perform better, however they are quite expensive and an AMD processor is going to perform well enough. Watts refers to the amount of energy the processor consumes, most of which is dissipated. Higher watt values require better cooling so lower is better. The giga hertz rating is talking about the number of CPU cycles per second, higher is generally better but there are other factors affecting performance, just look up Pentium 4. lol Generally more cores are better, although software has to be written to take advantage of more cores, so don't always expect more performance because you have more cores.
I would recommend a Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition or a Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition. Both of these processors are very powerful for the price and since they are Black Edition processors they have an unlocked clock multiplier, meaning that they are easier to overclock. Also, if you want to overclock your CPU you'll need to get a better heatsink to dissipate the extra heat. If you decide to go this route a good low cost after market heatsink is the Cool Master Hyper 212+. It's only $30 and performs well. Obviously if you don't overclock you can stick with the stock heatsink and save some money.
Graphics: In general a Radeon 6XXX is going to be less powerful than a Radeon 5XXX where the XXX is the same. For example the Radeon 5870 is more powerful than the 6870, while the Radeon 6970 is about equal to a Radeon 5870. My recommendation is for a Radeon 6870, priced around $225 and down the road you can crossfire another 6870 for additional performance. I don't have much of a preference for a particular brand so I can't offer any advice as to which brand is best.
RAM: 4GB is a good amount because a single game won't use more than 4GB of RAM. Although its nice to get extra RAM, but if your budget doesn't allow for more than 4GB of RAM that's fine. I haven't heard a lot of good things about OCZ RAM, so I'd stay away from it. Corsair and Kingston are good brands, and you should definitely take a look at GSkill. Yes, desktop memory is the same as RAM.
Motherboard: The CPU's I recommended will need an AM3 socket ideally. Gigabyte and ASUS are reputable brands of motherboards. You may want to consider getting a motherboard that supports Crossfire so you can add an extra card down the road.
AGP vs. PCIe 1.0 vs. PCIe 2.0 vs. PCIe 2.1: To clear up the confusion here. AGP is dead, no longer used, same with PCIe 1.0, newer graphics cards don't use those buses anymore. PCIe 2.0 and PCIe 2.1 are mostly the same thing. PCIe 2.1 has some additional features that some Radeon card support, but it isn't necessary to run a PCIe 2.1 card. A PCIe 2.1 card will work in PCIe 2.0 slots.
Power Supply: For a single graphics card a 500W PSU is necessary, although you may want to consider going with a 700W PSU so you have the extra power needed to add an extra card in the future. You don't want to skimp on your PSU because a poor quality PSU can reduce the longevity or even damage other components. Look for models from a reputable brand such as Corsair.
Hard Drive: RPM refers to the rate at which the magnetic platters rotate, generally faster RPM figures leads to higher performance. Most 3.5inch Internal Hard Drives offer 7200RPM speeds. Cache sizes do increase performance, but not by a huge amount. Faster hard drives won't improve gaming performance much if any, although levels will load faster. A Western Digital Caviar Black 500GB is a good option and only cost about $60. 500GB is plenty for most users and the caviar black models are high performance.
Case: I'd recommend a Antec 300. Antec cases in general are well liked and the Antec 300 is cheap and good quality. Cable management refers to how well the internal cables are routed inside the case. Some cases offer layouts and features that make it easier to hide away unneeded lengths of cable. Cable management is important because it allows for better airflow through the case, allowing the PC to run cooler.
Optical Drive: You only need one optical drive. Get a cheap DVD drive, they only cost about $20-25.
Audio: You don't need a audio card. The integrated audio chips that motherboards currently offer are more than good enough for most users.
You could even use the 450-600$ build in my site can even run your resolution. At 1024x768 almost any GPU will work and the CPUs I have in those builds are fine. The 6xxx series is supposed to make up for the missing spots in the 5xxx series. The 68xx are filling the gaps between the 5770 and 5850 and the gap between the 5850 and 5870. The 6850 counters the GTX 460. And the 6870 is cheaper, quieter, and more efficient than the 5870. The 68xx is basically just more efficient. The 69xx were supposed to replace the 5870, 5850, and 5970 but ended up just filling more space like the 68xx. The reason was because AMD couldn't cut a cheaper deal for 32nm production. (So like SB it was going to be 32nm) But the price of production was to much and they had to switch the 69xx to 45nm.
It has to do with naming shenanigans. For some reason 6XXXs are one tier lower than the 5XXX with the same XXX. I think it had to do with the fact that prices on high-end video cards had crept up into the ~400-500 range and so the AMD wanted push down prices to compete more heavily in the midrange market.
5870 is more powerful than the 6870, but the 6870 is a little cheaper, uses slightly less power and runs a little cooler. Also, 6XXX GPUs scale better in crossfire than the 5XXX GPUs. Basically 6XXX cards are going to be a better setup if you ever go to crossfire.
Oh, and earlier you were mentioning 1024 X 768 resolution monitors, you should probably consider something better than that if you want good image quality. You can get a 1650 X 900 resolution monitor for only about $140 and get much better picture quality.