The $500 Gaming Machine, 2007 Edition

Gaming Doesn't Have To Cost Much

It is amazing how the hardware market has changed over the last two years. Processor clock speed hasn't increased, yet performance has multiplied thanks to dual- or quad-processing cores per CPU. Graphics power traditionally doubles with every new graphics processor generation; 2 GB of RAM have become fairly affordable and hard drives have reached the terabyte-capacity level. With the exception of specific applications and workloads in the area of high-definition content, audio/video transcoding, biometry or scientific workloads, sufficient performance is accessible for all mainstream users today - even for gaming.

Hardware vendors live and die by their reputation. AMD's Athlon 64 FX line has earned the firm much respect, while Intel has its Core 2 Extreme processors. Both offer additional performance and overclocking options when compared to upper mainstream processors. ATI/AMD and Nvidia release XTX and Ultra cards for über gamers, and motherboard companies dedicate entire product families for gamers and overclockers. Of course, high-end devices mean steep prices, with $999 for the processor, $500-$700 for a graphics card or up to $300 for a motherboard. Do we need all of that? Certainly not, but it's fun reading about the best of the best. And typically this is what we remember, because people remember very well what they desire.

It's probably easier to find information on the very best products on the market, but it is disproportion ally more difficult to research reasonable and products we can recommend at mainstream price points. In fact, reality is so much different than what Internet publications portend when it comes to hardware. Nowadays I don't have as much time as I'd like to spend on gaming, but when I did have the time, I remember that most of the sexy hardware was largely unaffordable. This actually applies to the vast majority of hardware sold. For best-selling processors or graphics cards, you can expect to pay per-unit prices of $150 or so.

We've looked around and found some nice components for our 2007 $500 Gaming Rig. Different from last year's approach, we decided to look at both AMD- and Intel-powered solutions. And there were some surprises: The most expensive component actually is the power supply, while RAM was the least-expensive part. We paid close attention to our system choice, so the PC could be upgraded with the addition of a high-end graphics card as well as a quad-core processor in the future- just in case you feel like upgrading, because replacing a $90 processor and an $85 graphics card sounds tolerable.

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