Hardcore gamers constantly dream up bigger and better ways to kick their gaming experience up a notch. But for most of the gaming population without the means to have the biggest, baddest gaming rig out there, the ultimate gaming system is one that provides enough horsepower not to shame them on multi-player games, enough expansion room to upgrade, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Enter a midrange gaming system.
When we sat down to plot out a midrange gaming system, we thought long and hard about how I would spend the $1,600 allotted for it. Do I go with a couple rockstar components or try and spread the hard earned cash around the system evenly? Did we want to splurge on a fast processor or on multiple graphics? We ended up cutting a few corners to keep the costs down, but the components we did choose gave us a solid system that can easily be upgraded in the future.
Processor: Intel 2.93 GHz Core i7-870
Motherboard: Gigabyte P55-UD6
Graphics Card: Asus EAH5850
Memory: CSX Diablo DDR 3 (2 x 2GB)
Hard Drive: 1.5 TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11
Power Supply: Antec Truepower 650
Optical Drive: Lite-ON IHAS422
Case: Thermaltake Element G
Cooler: Thermaltake Spin Q CPU
Total: RM6800 Fuh!
The bulk of my $1,600 budget went to my 2.93 GHz Intel Core i7-870 processor. I plan to push this system pretty hard and with over clocking the 870 can reach 3.60 Ghz. Also because this is going to be a Windows 7 build, the hyper-threading functionality that the Core i7 chips contain becomes especially important. Windows XP and Vista had problems scheduling multiple threads and sometimes multiple threads would be routed to the same core, causing performance problems. These problems have been worked out in Windows 7, so this quad core should perform like an octo-core.
I paired this chip with a Gigabyte P55-UD6 motherboard because as I said before we are going to be doing a lot of high voltage work with this build and this board was made for that. There is a quick-boot button on the board itself for a quick reboots as you try and find the perfect settings. It also has a 24-phase VRM (voltage regulator module) design that ensures a smoother power transfer and keeps the heat down. It has 12 SATA ports—10 onboard and 2 external—so there is a lot of room to expand internally.
The center of any gaming PC is the GPU. I went with the brand new Asus EAH5850 card, AMD's new Radeon 5800 series of GPUs. This is Direct X 11 ready and the card is stocked with 1GB of DDR5 video memory. What I really like about this card is the "Voltage Tweaking" that allows you to play around with voltage on your GPU just like you would on the CPU. You can adjust the GPU voltage from 1.088V to 1.4V and that should boost your GPU clock speed from 7,25MHz to 1050 MHz. It also jacks up your memory clock speed from 4,000MHz to 5,200MHz.
I went with a familiar case that I'd used before, the Thermaltake Element G because of its design and spacious interior,but I decided that if I was going to overclock this gaming rig, I would need a heavy-duty cooler. The Thermaltake Spin Q CPU looks has a stylish aluminum, barrel-shaped design and blue running lights, and will also work with several different socket types if I choose to upgrade my motherboard later. For memory, I went with a couple of 2GB RAM sticks from CSX. I would have liked to use the company's triple channel RAM; unfortunately, there are no triple-channel DD3 boards with this chip set. The memory comes with cooling fins atop it, which will help because I am only air cooling this unit.
Okay, now that I've laid out the unit the way we are going to put it together, there are several ways that you could build a PC pretty close to this one and save yourself some more money. First of all, you can downgrade the processor from the i7-870 to the i7-860 and saved a couple hundred dollars. You could also go with the Asus EAH5750 and save another hundred dollars there, but you wouldn't get the Voltage tweak and that is a 128-bit card. That being said, it is also a Direct X 11 card and will still run all the latest games. Memory is another area where you could save another hundred dollars, instead of the CSX you could use memory from Corsair or Kingston, both companies sell 4GB kits for about $80. Finally, you can always find a cheap lower capacity hard drive.