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Gaming PC upgrade/build - budget around $1500 to $2000

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June 8, 2011 4:18:48 PM

Hello everyone :) 

I hope someone can give me some advice. I am thinking about giving my computer an upgrade, and possibly even making a new PC from scratch, to keep up with modern day gaming requirements.


Disclaimer: If I neglected to include some information that would make it easier for you to help me, please tell me and I will try my best to answer

Disclaimer 2: I am pretty clueless when it comes to hardware, so please keep that in mind when using technical terms :) 


I need my computer mainly for gaming, but also for recording music on a home studio, so the sound capabilities of the system is also an important factor. I am not going to be editing videos or pictures, but I will need to be able to play high resolution video files from an external USB hard drive.

I would like to use as many parts from my old PC as possible, so here is a list of what I currently have:

CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 2.6 GHz
(http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=35365)

CPU Fan: Zalman CNPS9500A LED
(http://www.zalman.com/ENG/product/Product_Read.asp?idx=...)

Motherboard: Asus P5Q PRO
(http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/Intel_Socket_775/P5Q_P...)

Memory: Kingston DDR2 4 GB (2x2 GB)
(I forgot the specifics and I can't seem to find it anywhere. I'm thinking that I have to switch out this part in any case, though.)

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 285
(http://www.nvidia.com/object/product_geforce_gtx_285_us...)

Hard Drive: Samsung HD 252HJ
(http://www.samsung.com/ae/consumer/computers-peripheral...)

Power supply: Zalman ZM1000-HP
(http://www.zalman.co.kr/eng/product/Product_Read.asp?id...)

Besides that I have a SATA DVD drive that I plan on keeping, as well as a DVI-D monitor and UBS mouse/keyboard.

...

I'm thinking that I need to at least change the CPU, the motherboard and the memory. Apart from that maybe the graphics card as well, though I'm not really sure as to whether my current one is still on par. So basically all the expensive parts ;) 

I have looked around the internets, including this fine website, and have come up with the following :

CPU: Intel Core i7 970 3.2GHz 12MB
(http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=47933)

Approx. $768

This choice is made based on some specs for a "dream machine" that I saw on another site. However, I picked up from another thread on this forum that the Intel Core i7 2600K 3.4GHz 8MB (http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=52213) would pehaps be an equally good, if not better option? At the very least, it is much more affordable at ~$423

Motherboard: Asus RAMPAGE III Black Edition with ThunderBolt soundcard
(http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/Intel_Socket_1366/Ramp...)

Approx. $602

Again, this is a rather extreme choice and pretty much the most expensive one on the site that I'm shopping from! Any cheaper alternatives that don't compromise the performance too much are welcome :D 

Memory: Corsair DDR3 PC2000 12GB VENGEANCE (3x4 GB)
(http://www.corsair.com/memory/vengeance/vengeance-12gb-...)

Approx. $270

I must admit, I never understood the difference between the 12 GB that cost $170 and the 12 GB that cost $ 270 memory. In this case, I followed the advice of some other internet site that declared these the best performance-wise. My wallet weeps, though.

Alternatives might be Kingston Value RAM DDR3 12GB PC1066? This choice is very tempting as it is only $170 (http://www.valueram.com/datasheets/KVR1066D3E7SK3_12G.p...)

GPU: I'm really at a loss in this regard (more so than with the rest! ;)  ) One site will tell you that AMD cards are superior for gaming, while a different site says the same about nvidia. Yet other sites suggest that I get several (??) graphics cards at the same time, which I have a hard time wrapping my head around.

...

Besides the obvious question of "will this work?", I'm also interested in suggestions on more cost-effective alternatives. I realize that this setup propably doesn't get me alot of "juice" for my money since it is so high-end, so comments and suggestions in this regard are welcome.

Also, it would be silly to pay insane amounts of cash for a beast of a CPU, only to have some other piece of hardware become a bottleneck.

Finally, just for reference I'm shopping from this site: http://www.pc-lager.dk
However, this is a Danish site and I really don't expect you guys to struggle with the language barrier in addition to helping me find a good sollution, so please feel free to suggest whatever hardware you find appropriate. I'll just have to see if I can't get my hands on it somehow :) 

Thank you very much if you read all that, and thank you double if you take the time to help me!

Regards from Denmark :) 
June 8, 2011 4:50:10 PM

Welcome to the Forums!

May I suggest this build?

Case: Silverstone Raven RV02B-EW - $190
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6811163173

CPU: Intel i5-2500K - $225
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6819115072

MOBO: Asus P8Z68-V PRO - $210
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6813131730

RAM: 8GB (2x4GB) G.Skill Ripjaws 1600Mhz CAS9 - $87
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6820231314

Data HDD: Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB - $65
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6822152185

SSD: OCZ Vertex 3 120GB - $253
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6820227706

GPU: Gigabyte HD 6970 2GB OC Edition - $355
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6814125381

CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D14 - $90
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6835608018

Total Price $1,475


You can re-use your old PSU (the reviews said it was loud as hell but otherwise reliable) and your old CD Drive.

You didn't mention if you had a case you could re-use so I just threw down my favorite. The Silverstone Raven02. Its an awesome case but its pretty expensive so feel free to substitute something cheaper.

You could also change the processor from the i5-2500K to the i7-2600K. They are virtually identical for gaming but the 2600K has hyper-threading (can handle more two threads per core) so it has an edge in the more professional aspects.

I threw a 1TB hard drive on there for storage and a 120GB Vertex 3 for your boot drive. The Vertex 3 is one of the faster SSDs around right now. If its a little expensive feel free to switch it for a smaller or older drive. Or drop it all together, it isn't really necessary just kinda cool.

That video card is about 80% faster than the GTX 285, runs cooler, and uses less power. It will handle most games at Max settings at 1920x1080. It also leaves you the option of adding a second card in the future to boost performance. **Note: If you are gaming at a resolution less than 1920x1080 and don't really care about running games on max settings all the time, feel free to stick with your old GPU and save yourself some money.

I put the CPU Cooler as the Noctua NH-D14 because its pretty much the best air cooler out there. If you were more interested in bang for buck (instead of just bang) then the Cooler Master Hyper 212+ is the default choice. For $30 bucks it gives great cooling.

The only thing I can't really recommend is a good sound card. I have always used the integrated sound on all my builds. I could never really tell the difference (maybe I just have bad hearing?). If someone else has a recommendation please feel free.
a b B Homebuilt system
June 8, 2011 5:06:46 PM

Why do you feel you need to upgrade your pc? Or where do you feel it is lacking? Just wondering because your pc looks like a good performer to me. If your were to upgrade I would say a new graphics card and overclock your Q9400.
Related resources
a b 4 Gaming
June 8, 2011 5:31:36 PM

For your usage model the Intel® Core™ i7-970 is nice but you will get better value and performance out of the Intel Core i5-2500K. When it comes to games there are very few that can tap into any more than 3 threads; so the 12 threads that the Intel Core i7-970 has and the 8 threads that the Intel Core i7-2600K offers doesn’t have any real value in gaming. The Intel Core i7-970 and the Intel Core i7-2600K are better suited for high end Video/Audio or some other heavily threaded application. So it is in your best interest to change to the Intel Core i5-2500K or maybe the Intel Core i7-2600K.

Match the processor up with a good board like the Asus P8P67 Pro and you will be in good shape. Also on the memory for this make sure that you don’t select memory that is over 1.5v.

Christian Wood
Intel Enthusiast Team
a b B Homebuilt system
a b 4 Gaming
June 8, 2011 5:45:51 PM

For gaming I'd suggest an 1155 - 2500k based system ..... for gaming / demanding apps, I'd suggest a 1155 - 2600k based system ..... for a production workstation, (video editing, CAD, CS5, huge number crunching, I'd get a 1366 - 9xx based system.

Here's a sub $2000 ($1,930) system that I build a lot for both gamers and workstation users who like gaming:

Case - $170 - Antec DF-85 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Case Fans - $15 - Antec Red 120 mm http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
PSU - $120 - Antec CP-850 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
MoBo - $465 - ASUS P8P67 WS Revolution http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...
CPU - incl - Intel Core i5-2500K included in above
Cooler - $40 - Scythe SCMG 2100 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
TIM - $5 - Shin Etsu http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
RAM - $125 - (2 x 4GB) Mushkin CAS 7 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
GFX - $220 - EVGA GTX 560 (900MHz) http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
GFX - $220 - Same
HD - $160 - Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
SSD - $270 - OCZ Vertex 3 2.5" 120GB http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
DVD Writer - $70 - Asus 24X DRW-24B3L w/ LS http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Card Reader $50 55 in 1 Card Reader http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
June 8, 2011 7:05:39 PM

Thank you everyone for the great responses!

@subasteve5800:
Wow, that's a great setup - and much more affordable than I had dared hope for even :) 

It seems to be the consensus that Intel Core i5 is the better choice, so I will definitely add that to my list instead of the i7.

And yeah I forgot to mention my case, but really it's just a plain old case that I got cheap when I build my PC - and I neven had to take a saw to it in order to make room for my video card! The case that you suggest looks awesome though, so I might just splurge on that now that you've helped me save money on the other stuff :D 

Thank you so much for your help!

@MGF Derp
Yeah, it's true that my current computer is actually still doing alright, and I haven't experienced any major issues yet. I just like to keep ahead of any problems that might occur.

Also, I kind of sort of promised that I'd build a computer for a friend using some of my old parts ;) 

@IntelEnthusiast
I was always wondering what criteria to judge from when choosing a CPU, and how high I need to go before it becomes overkill. This really helped me in the choice to abandon the Intel Core i7 970 in favor of something more cost-efficient.

Also, thanks for the tip about the memory, I wasn't actually paying attention to that before. You propably just saved me from frying some circuits (or myself) when building this PC :D 

@JackNaylorPE
Thanks! I'm starting to lean more and more towards the Intel Core 5i 2500k the more people recommend it.

I notice that your suggestion includes a double graphics card setup, which I didn't even know was possible until today when I started looking around.

Does this give me better a better performance overall, or does it yield a better peak performance during very taxing tasks like for example cutscenes in games?

This might be a simple-minded question from a guy who watched too much Power Rangers as a kid, but does that mean that I can get two lower-end graphics cards and combine them to make an effectively better machine than what I would get with a single high-end card?

Thank you so much everyone for your input!
June 8, 2011 7:43:41 PM

Here is a little tool you might want to play around with: http://www.anandtech.com/bench/CPU/2 .

You can use it to compare CPUs, GPUs, and even SSDs (although the SSD bench is still a little weak).

Also, what is your monitor resolution? All the graphics cards we have recommended so far would be overkill for anything below 1920X1080.

As to your question about running two graphics cards at once, it is entirely possible as long as you have a motherboard that can handle it. Both mobos that have been recommended can.

There are really two schools of though on running dual GPUs. Go for two lower end GPUs now which will offer similar performance to a top end GPU for a lower price.

-Or-

Buy a high end GPU now and drop another one in in the future. This gives you a cheap upgrade in the future (The idea being that the price of the current high end GPU will come down as it ages).

They both have their pluses and minuses

And having a top end GPU system will give you better performance in games all the time. The basic goal of a good gaming rig is to keep frame rates over 30 FPS (frames per second) at all times so you need the graphics muscle to pull that off during the most intense action sequences in a game. Even a low end card will give you 30+ FPS if you are walking around in a little room with no enemies around. It's when you get outside and there are aliens shooting at you and buildings exploding that the high end cards shine.
June 9, 2011 7:02:58 AM

Very useful site, that'll definitely help alot! Thanks for recommending it.

My monitor is a Samsung SyncMaster T240 24" LCD screen, so my default resolution is 1920x1200. I guess that means that your recommendations are more or less spot on :D 

Also, thanks for that explanation of dual graphics cards, I feel like I understand it a little better now. I think I might go for one powerful card this time and then possibly upgrade to two cards later down the line. That seems the most sensible to me, as long as I have the budget for it of course.
!