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~$600 Future-resistant desktop

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January 4, 2012 9:53:39 PM

Approximate Purchase Date: January 10th, 2012

Budget Range: Approximately $612 before rebates

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Gaming, watching Blu-Rays

Parts Not Required: Keyboard, Mouse, Monitor, Speakers, OS

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: No preference-- but I'm not close to any discount outlet.

Country: (e.g.: India) AZ, USA

Parts Preferences: Not a fan of AMD processors, but will use one if necessary

Overclocking: If advisable

SLI or Crossfire: Possibly

Monitor Resolution: 1600x1200, 1680x1050, 1920x1080, 1920x1200 (I like my normal resolution at 1920x1200, but I'll tone it down some for gaming to keep the graphics quality high)

Additional Comments: I am one paycheck away from having enough money to build a decent entry-level gaming rig (thus the specific amount of money). What I want is a system that functions on fairly high settings now (or at least medium) but can be easily upgraded in the future. I am really flexible with what I get, just so long as it can A.) run new games now on either high settings on a lower resolution, or medium settings on a higher resolution and B.) can be upgrade well into the future to keep with the times. I do have a few questions I'm really not clear about, feel free to answer them or just throw a build at me, I'm appreciative of any help I can get:
From what I've read, it seems Z68 is the best chipset for the money that also allows easy SLI/Crossfire, but I'm not sure what board in particular to get.
It also appears that for the time being, an i3 will suffice for most games, which I'm comfortable with-- I can get an i5 or i7 about a year from now.
As for graphics cards, I'm really uncertain. Would it be better to run two cheap cards in crossfire, or a comparably priced single card, especially considering I will upgrade graphics in several months?
Also, I have a Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade disc-- I've heard that you can manage to do a clean install on a new hdd with that, is that true? Otherwise I'll need to wait until I can afford to buy a full copy.
January 4, 2012 9:56:07 PM

read the system builder marathon $600 build article
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January 4, 2012 10:19:56 PM

If your goal is to be "future resistant", go with a single, more powerful GPU.SBM Link
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January 4, 2012 10:26:35 PM

OK dude just want to thank you for using proper wording as in "Future-resistant desktop" because i hate that the word "Future proof" is thrown around way to much like it the new thing because in PC tech there has never been and never will be a thing such as future proofing unless those words "Future Proof" are followed by "for the next 4 months" LOL
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January 4, 2012 10:28:27 PM

Outlander_04 said:
read the system builder marathon $600 build article

Hardware is getting more power efficient and the days for a need of 1K + watt PSUs are coming to an abrupt end my friend and I say good riddance.
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January 4, 2012 11:07:32 PM

Thank you headspin and dleavitt!

Outlander: The $600 build gave me a decent baseline, but it isn't quite what I need. The H61 isn't really going to be a solid choice to last me the next two years or so, from what I've read. If I'm going to base it off of Z68 to make it last better, then that costs me more money and so virtually everything else has to change, too: that's why I definitely need some help from the forums. Even looking at comparison charts and such, I can only go so far. I need someone with more experience and a better "feel" for what's worth the money to get me on the right path.
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January 4, 2012 11:17:00 PM

dleavitt said:
If your goal is to be "future resistant", go with a single, more powerful GPU.SBM Link

Hardware is getting more power efficient and the days for a need of 1K + watt PSUs are coming to an abrupt end my friend and I say good riddance.
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January 5, 2012 8:29:27 AM

Time to plagiarize myself!


Case: Rosewill Blackbone Black Steel / Plastic ATX Mid Tower ($40)

MB: ASRock Z68 PRO3-M LGA 1155 Intel Z68 Micro ATX ($110)

CPU: Intel Core i3-2100 Sandy Bridge 3.1GHz LGA 1155 65W Dual-Core ($110)

RAM: G.SKILL NS 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 ($21)

GPU: SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 6850 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.1 x16 ($140)

PSU: CORSAIR Builder Series CX600 V2 600W ATX12V v2.3 80 PLUS Certified ($65)

ODD: LITE-ON DVD Burner ($20)


Total = $506, minus $35 in mail-in rebates.

That's everything but storage. Hard drives are triple what they were a couple of months ago, which makes SSDs look a lot more attractive. If you don't have a HDD lying around that you can use, and you NEED the space, I suggest Western Digital Caviar Black 500GB 7200 RPM ($130, + $8 s/h), which would bring your total to $644, $609 after rebates.

If you have an extra HDD lying around or you prefer speed to space, I suggest one of the following:
OCZ Vertex 3 60GB ($110, total of $616, $561 after rebates)
OCZ Agility 3 90GB ($140, total of $646, $591 after rebates)
OCZ Agility 3 120GB ($170, total of $676, $621 after rebates)

If you can wait another paycheck and throw another ~$140 at this thing, replace the CPU above with an i5-2500k and get a custom HSF like the Hyper 212+ and you'll be set for the next 3-5 years.
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January 5, 2012 10:03:20 AM

Just noticed your question about motherboards and that you wanted to keep Crossfire an option. Z68 is the newest chipset with the most features, but any of the 1155 (Sandy Bridge) chipsets could support Crossfire. There are three kinds of motherboards of interest to us:

H67: yes iGPU, no overclocking
P67: no iGPU, yes overclocking
Z68: yes iGPU, yes overclocking, ssd caching

Since you want to game, you have a discrete GPU, and therefore the iGPU is only useful for fast video transcoding or if your GPU dies and you need something to tide you over for a few weeks until you can replace it. SSD caching is of dubious benefit and practicality. All of those motherboards support Crossfire.

My opinion is that if you want to get a motherboard that supports Crossfire to keep your options open, it should be a P67 or Z68 — something that supports overclocking. Of course, to support two graphics cards, you'll need a better power supply. And you should probably get a better case...

I understand the desire to want to keep your options open, but it costs more money to get the parts to support future upgrades that you may or may not follow up on, and your budget is already pretty tight. Personally, I think you're better off with the more modest case and PSU, like the ones I recommended before, and a good P67 or Z68 motherboard. When your GPU starts to feel sluggish (which shouldn't be for a while, since you indicated you're okay with compromising a little to balance settings and performance), replace it with whatever the hot new bang for your buck single card solution is then.
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January 5, 2012 1:35:47 PM

erikalikesfire said:
Just noticed your question about motherboards and that you wanted to keep Crossfire an option. Z68 is the newest chipset with the most features, but any of the 1155 (Sandy Bridge) chipsets could support Crossfire. There are three kinds of motherboards of interest to us:

H67: yes iGPU, no overclocking
P67: no iGPU, yes overclocking
Z68: yes iGPU, yes overclocking, ssd caching

Since you want to game, you have a discrete GPU, and therefore the iGPU is only useful for fast video transcoding or if your GPU dies and you need something to tide you over for a few weeks until you can replace it. SSD caching is of dubious benefit and practicality. All of those motherboards support Crossfire.

My opinion is that if you want to get a motherboard that supports Crossfire to keep your options open, it should be a P67 or Z68 — something that supports overclocking. Of course, to support two graphics cards, you'll need a better power supply. And you should probably get a better case...

I understand the desire to want to keep your options open, but it costs more money to get the parts to support future upgrades that you may or may not follow up on, and your budget is already pretty tight. Personally, I think you're better off with the more modest case and PSU, like the ones I recommended before, and a good P67 or Z68 motherboard. When your GPU starts to feel sluggish (which shouldn't be for a while, since you indicated you're okay with compromising a little to balance settings and performance), replace it with whatever the hot new bang for your buck single card solution is then.

Just get P67 because all Z68 has over P67 is USB 3 and PCI-E 3 which no graphics cards will use including the up and coming Kelpers and Tahiti's. Other than that the only difference is that you can save money by going with P67
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January 5, 2012 7:37:18 PM

The parts that will last you the longest are the Case and PSU. Single GPU at your budget range is the best option. No need for an expensive mobo since you shouldn't CFX/SLI.
(w00t 2 years reading tom's, 100th post!)
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January 5, 2012 10:34:40 PM

Headspin_69 said:
Just get P67 because all Z68 has over P67 is USB 3 and PCI-E 3 which no graphics cards will use including the up and coming Kelpers and Tahiti's. Other than that the only difference is that you can save money by going with P67


Z68 and P67 motherboards both have USB 3.0 support, but in both cases it's non-native. Z68 and P67 motherboards will both be compatible with PCI-E 3.0 graphics cards. As far as I know, neither of those things should be a factor in choosing one motherboard chipset over the other, since they're identical there. And the price difference is very small.
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January 6, 2012 6:31:07 AM

Thanks for all the responses! I just have some questions now, mostly based off of erikalikesfire's build:

1.) Is a microATX board a good idea? I've heard that they don't expand especially well and the reduced space might make heat a larger issue.

2.) Is 4GB of RAM going to throttle the machine at all? I'm mostly guessing here, but I've noticed most builds have 8GB.

3.) Supposing I want to add another HD 6850 later to improve graphics, what else will need to change to accommodate that? Will I need a larger PSU, or will my CPU throttle it a lot or something?

4.) This isn't really necessary I guess, but what features do I need to look at for a motherboard that can support upgrades later, keeping in mind this is going to be closer to a budget system for its lifespan than a no holds-barred beast of a machine?
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January 6, 2012 7:17:30 AM

1) mATX should be fine if you go with one video card. Heat is worse with cramped mATX boards in stifling cases, but it won't be a problem with one video card. Here worse means "you probably won't be able to run folding@home at 4.8 GHz all day every day;" the extra heat won't be anywhere near dangerous levels for normal usage.

2) It depends on how much you multitask. If you want to leave chrome with 30 YouTube videos open in the background with iTunes blasting music while you play SC2, then yes, you're going to go over 4 GB. But the computer won't crash if it runs out of RAM. It'll just write to the swap file and slow down a bit. You can throw more money at the problem by getting 8 GB, or you can alt-tab and close your browser.

3) If you want to keep Crossfire an option, I would suggest a better case, PSU, and a full ATX motherboard. That'll add about $100. This puts your pre-rebate cost for the i3-2100 build somewhere between about $715 and $775. If you want the i5-2500k, you're somewhere between about $850 and $915. And at that price, you might as well get the 8 GB of RAM, so slap on another $25 :p 

4) I'm not sure I understand the question. If you want USB 3.0, then you're looking for USB 3.0 support; if you want SATA III, then make sure it has that; if you want Crossfire or SLI support, then make sure it has more than one PCI-Express 2.0 port; if you think you're going to want more RAM later, make sure it has more slots than you're planning on filling now.

Not to be snippy, but you need to decide if this is going to be a budget build or a beast. If you want to upgrade to a beast later but get all the high-quality components to support that build now, it's gonna cost you. High-quality case, motherboard, RAM, PSU, CPU: you're going to end up paying 90% of the beast machine cost now anyway.
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January 6, 2012 7:59:25 AM

Thank you very much. I think I understand that my hopes are unrealistic, or at least, what I want can't be achieved on the budget I want. I think I'll go with the build you gave me, so thanks. :) 
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January 6, 2012 8:31:47 AM

Glad to help! Let me know how it goes; I'm curious what you'll finally decide on.

One last thing: if you do happen to have a few spare dollars, get a better kit of RAM (either this or this). If you ever think you're going to get a better processor than the i3-2100, you're going to want better RAM to go with it, and RAM is cheap so that's at least one "future-resistant" choice you can make right now.
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January 6, 2012 12:37:53 PM

erikalikesfire said:
Z68 and P67 motherboards both have USB 3.0 support, but in both cases it's non-native. Z68 and P67 motherboards will both be compatible with PCI-E 3.0 graphics cards. As far as I know, neither of those things should be a factor in choosing one motherboard chipset over the other, since they're identical there. And the price difference is very small.

USB 3 and PSI E 3 are useless so the cheaper board is the better board just saying.
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January 6, 2012 5:51:53 PM

Headspin_69 said:
USB 3 and PSI E 3 are useless so the cheaper board is the better board just saying.

If you don't mind my asking, why are they both useless? Isn't USB3 faster?
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January 6, 2012 6:17:08 PM

Addlement said:
If you don't mind my asking, why are they both useless? Isn't USB3 faster?

6990 is the fastest card on the planet today and it's far from being bottle necked running in a PSI-E 2.0 x16 lane and PSI-E 3 does not make a card faster LOL contrary to popular miss belief USB 3 cannot and will not make the pertaining hardware that is plug into it any faster. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSfifE2Domo&feature=relm...
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January 12, 2012 3:27:01 AM

I've finally organized everything and after a whole lot of price fluctuations and nonsense, I decided on this build:
http://pcpartpicker.com/p/3GdF
It comes to $627.89 before rebates, and 582.89 after them, which worked for my budget.
I already purchased the Case and Optical Drive, but I was hoping to check with the experts before I bought any of the other things. I think it should all work together, but I'm suspecting the PSU is excessive, and that I could probably get a cheaper HDD (in the 400-500GB range), especially if I tried to get a recertified one. What do you guys think?
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January 12, 2012 5:13:53 AM

Outlander_04 said:
read the system builder marathon $600 build article



the marathon build is for a gaming pc what make you think in anyway that its future proof?????
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January 12, 2012 6:28:25 AM

Addlement said:
I've finally organized everything and after a whole lot of price fluctuations and nonsense, I decided on this build:
http://pcpartpicker.com/p/3GdF
It comes to $627.89 before rebates, and 582.89 after them, which worked for my budget.
I already purchased the Case and Optical Drive, but I was hoping to check with the experts before I bought any of the other things. I think it should all work together, but I'm suspecting the PSU is excessive, and that I could probably get a cheaper HDD (in the 400-500GB range), especially if I tried to get a recertified one. What do you guys think?


I wouldn't personally trust a recertified hard drive. I like the one you have there, but you could go smaller if you needed to save a few bucks. 500 GB is the sweet spot right now though; a good 250 GB would probably cost you 15% less for 50% less space.

I absolutely would not get that power supply. Just this morning I recommended someone buy an Apevia case and throw away the free power supply it comes with. The PSU is one part you definitely don't want to cheap out on; saving $10 is not worth turning your computer into a ticking time bomb. You want a Corsair, Seasonic, OCZ, XFX... this OCZ 500 W is the same price before rebates and cheaper after.
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January 13, 2012 3:16:26 AM

erikalikesfire said:
I wouldn't personally trust a recertified hard drive. I like the one you have there, but you could go smaller if you needed to save a few bucks. 500 GB is the sweet spot right now though; a good 250 GB would probably cost you 15% less for 50% less space.

I absolutely would not get that power supply. Just this morning I recommended someone buy an Apevia case and throw away the free power supply it comes with. The PSU is one part you definitely don't want to cheap out on; saving $10 is not worth turning your computer into a ticking time bomb. You want a Corsair, Seasonic, OCZ, XFX... this OCZ 500 W is the same price before rebates and cheaper after.


Is 500 W going to be enough for my system, particularly when I upgrade some things later? Are recertified drives bad for any particular reason?
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January 13, 2012 4:21:22 AM

Uhh if you upgrade to a $500 GPU or deck it out with a dozen hard drives then you might be in trouble, but that isn't really commensurate with the rest of the build. Intel CPU power usage is low and getting lower, and that PSU will easily be able to handle any GPU under $300.

500W is appropriate for a budget gaming computer with room to expand to mid-level later on (something like the i5-2500k and a GTX 560 Ti, for example). If you entirely change your usage later on by turning this into a media server for your whole block with 20 TB of storage or getting a super high-end GPU like the GTX 580, which costs almost as much as your current system all on its own, then this computer would no longer be appropriate, no. If you think those are things you might do, you should reconsider your entire build.

If it makes you feel better, go up to a 600-650 W PSU from a reputable brand. More than that is a complete waste in my opinion. If you think you're going to SLI high-end cards next year and want to get the thousand watt PSU today to get it out of the way, the PSU is hardly the only thing that's going to need to change. You're better off getting a computer appropriate for your budget today, with room for reasonable expansion, and if your needs change dramatically and you want a whole new class of system in the future, build that system then.
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January 13, 2012 4:29:27 AM

Best answer selected by addlement.
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January 13, 2012 4:35:34 AM

Thank you! I just bought that PSU, CPU, and motherboard. I don't think those prices are dropping lower anytime soon. I think I'll wait a couple days before I get the GPU and RAM, because that price has shifted down a couple times recently, and hey, $20 is $20.
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