The $500 Gaming Machine, 2007 Edition

Shared Components

Most of the system components can be used either on an AMD system or on an Intel platform. Both require DDR2 memory, ideally at a 400 MHz clock speed (DDR2-800), but both will also work with slower RAM at reduced performance. AMD processors have their memory controller integrated into the CPU ; you will find the memory controller is part of the chipset on Intel platforms.

Both use as the same primary interfaces for graphics and chipset components. Hence, it’s safe to go for any PCI Express graphics card. Hard drives are typically based on Serial ATA interfaces, which you can also attach to virtually any PC today. The same applies to optical drives ; pick one with a SATA interface, though, because UltraATA is about to be phased out.

Lastly, there is the case and the power supply, which is interchangeable for AMD or Intel platforms. Make sure your case and the motherboard are designed for the same ATX or BTX form factor. Most PSUs out there comply with the ATX12V 2.2 standard, with a 4+4 pin auxiliary connector, used to provide power to the CPU and a 24-pin main power connector.

RAM : 2x 512 MB DDR2-800 By Patriot

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We don’t have any memory preference as long as it is a popular brand. A-Data, Corsair, Crucial, G.Skill, GeIL, Kingston, Mushkin, OCZ, Patriot and many others have solid mainstream products. We sought, of course, devices that offered the best bang for the buck ; when we looked for the memory in the last week of August, Patriot’s DDR2-800 Signature kit for $46.99 plus tax met our criteria. The PSD21G800K includes a pair of 512 MB DDR2-800 DIMMs, which are rated for rather conservative CL5-5-5-15 timings. This clearly isn’t performance memory, but it works.

We clearly recommend going for a pair of 1 GB DIMMs if your budget allows it, because this will avoid the system from having to cache data in the hard drive’s swap file (which is a rather slow process) once the RAM is full. Windows Vista will benefit from more RAM by pre-caching application data into available main memory, so your popular applications can launch faster.

Whether you go for 1 GB or 2 GB of RAM, always go for a pair of memory modules to allow the memory controller to run in dual-channel mode. It effectively doubles the memory bandwidth. DDR2-800 is the current mainstream speed for desktop memory. You can always go for DDR2-1066 or faster, but it’ll cost you a small fortune and it only gives you a performance benefit if you’re into serious overclocking. We’re on a low budget, so all we want is decent memory that works, hence the DDR2-800 at standard timings.

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