Building a uber powerful gaming pc, need your help
November 22, 2008 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Building a uber powerful gaming pc, what parts to buy as I don't want to be a sucker. Need your help. Intel Core i7

I currently own a Mac (macbook pro 4gb) for business, even through it is fast in bootcamp. I want better for MMO's and FPS games. This is strictly a gaming machine, and needs to be future proof. I haven't built a computer in 2 years, so I have gone abit rusty.

My budget is £2000 (~$3500) just for the box. I already have a 30inch Cinema display, so I want to play games at the natural resolution (2560 x 1600) with a good 60+ fps.

Here is my list of what I want.

CPU:
Core i7 940 (2.93ghz quad + hyperthreading) ~£470
I want to overclock this cpu as much as I can. I have seen this processor get to 3.4ghz with no problems. I will need a good Motherboard or fan to do this.

The extreme version, is it worth it?

Should I wait for a faster processor coming out in a few months?

HDD:
Raptor 300gb (10k rpm)
or
SAS Hdd's (15k rpm) I dont know too much about this, is it worth it?

Is their any benefit of having a solid state hard drive for bootup OS?

Im not too bothered about size, I don't need 1tb as I only need it for games (300gb max)

PSU:
750, 1000 or 1500 watt? do I need more power for overclocking? or is it just money down the drain.

Video card/s:
The new cards confuse me

SLI cards x2: Does this actually improve gaming performance, or shall I keep with a single 1gb graphics card? Nvidia or ATI?

Others:
Need a good Motherboard, memory (to match the mb) and video card.

Motherboard needs to be good for overclocking.

Also, I may go with Vista 64bit dual boot with XP 32bit. I have heard about something better than software dual boot. Cannot remember what it was.

Memory is limited to 3gb on XP 32bit, however can handle more that 3gb on Vista 64bit. Is it worth going for 64bit Vista for gaming or stick to 32bit non dx10 XP? (I went over to Mac due to Vista, last year for business).

Memory will have to match the top FSB if possible. Unless you cannot see any difference.

Anything extra that will improve performance?

Instead of building my own, could you recommend a pre-built spec. I live in Spain but go to the UK frequently. I know Falcon NW will ship to Spain for $400, but the benefit is the warranty, negatives are the power supply. However building it myself each equipment piece has warranty.

Thanks if you can help.
posted by spinko to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Forgotten to add:

Sound card:
Not bothered as I have a 2.1 system. I don't mind the preinstalled ones on MB.
posted by spinko at 3:05 PM on November 22, 2008


This is strictly a gaming machine, and needs to be future proof.

These two statements are mutually exclusive. As soon as you get this unobtainable desire out of you're head the more satisifed you'll be with your rig and the more accepting you'll be of the endless hell of upgrading every six months you've carved out for yourself.
posted by wfrgms at 3:11 PM on November 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I know the 2nd statement is pretty lame as I know when you buy a new system a few months later its not top-dog anymore.

I will not be upgrading after I buy, possibly after 3 years maybe.
posted by spinko at 3:25 PM on November 22, 2008


The Ars Technica system guides are always a good place to start.
posted by kavasa at 3:35 PM on November 22, 2008


I'd go with the Ars Guide that Kavasa tried linked to. Here it is.
posted by oddman at 4:10 PM on November 22, 2008


Instead of spending 2,500 dollars for the best machine you can buy in a futile attempt to future proof, I highly suggest buying a decent machine now and a new one in 18 months when the technology has all changed again.

Get any motherboard, an overclockable middle-range dual/quad core, a 8800 card, 4 gigs of ram, and call it a day. Spend under 800 dollars. in 18-24 months build another budget box which will outperform the original one. Spending a 200-300% markup for a 5-10% performance increase is just being silly. Humans cant tell the difference between 60 or 70 fps.

Is their any benefit of having a solid state hard drive for bootup OS?

Who knows right now. Ive seen the specs on these and theyre just overpriced. Theyre sequential read looks good but their random read and write is terrible. Games barely use the hard drive after first load. A faster drive wont equal much difference.

Save your money.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:26 PM on November 22, 2008


"The extreme version, is it worth it?"

No.

"(15k rpm) I dont know too much about this, is it worth it?"

For a gaming machine? No.

"750, 1000 or 1500 watt? do I need more power for overclocking? or is it just money down the drain."

750 is fine unless you're adding multiple hard drives. Be less concerned with size and more concerned with quality, here. Spend the money to get something from a reputable manufacturer, and avoid parts from weird manufacturers nobody's ever heard of.

"SLI cards x2: Does this actually improve gaming performance"

Not at all in proportion to cost. As in, not in the "is it worth it" sense. Save the money you'd spend on the second card, wait 18 months, and replace your old card with the new top performance part.

"Is their any benefit of having a solid state hard drive for bootup OS?"

Not significantly. SSD is great for seek-intensive high read loads, but I can't see it being worth spending money for one purely for the purpose of shaving 6 or 7 seconds from your boot time.

"Nvidia [sic] or ATI?"

You'll see arguments for both nVidia and ATI. Generally speaking the situation remains as it has been for a few years: ATI cards have good, solid performance, but ATI is absolutely terrible at the task of writing stable drivers. nVidia is better at this job, but currently isn't offering high end devices that are comparable to ATI's top end parts.

"Need a good Motherboard, memory (to match the mb) and video card."

I have been extremely impressed with the last couple of generations of high-midrange Gigabyte products, and they offer a very high degree of low level tweakability for overclocking.

"Memory will have to match the top FSB if possible. Unless you cannot see any difference."

Faster memory makes your machine faster, but offers diminishing returns at the high end. Costs for brand name, tested, highly overclockable DDR3 memory are not in line with commodity parts; you could go away for a nice weekend for the cost of high density DDR3 1666+.

"Instead of building my own, could you recommend a pre-built spec"

Ever since Dell bought out Alienware I don't think there exists a reputable vendor for high end gaming desktops -- and Alienware tended to be more about hype than actual performance anyway. You don't necessarily save any money building a NewEgg box, but the ability to specify exactly every part is worth the small differential you'd pay a whitebox vendor.

" Is it worth going for 64bit Vista for gaming or stick to 32bit non dx10 XP?"

I don't have a comment on this matter as I'm unwilling to deploy Vista. I'm not seeing a lot of exclusive DX10 titles that would make it compelling to deploy, and at this time there are no games for which the 3.25G address space limitation of a 32-bit OS is a significant problem.

"Anything extra that will improve performance?"

You want a serious answer? You'll get better performance after three years this way:

1. Stop shopping for high end enthusiast sucker parts and buy at the high end bang/buck sweet spot.
2. Set aside the remaining 66% of your budget to do the same thing next year. Unload your old computer for a third of what you paid for it and take someone you care about on a nice weekend holiday.
3. Use the remaining 33% of your budget to buy yet another computer two years hence. Unload your replacement computer for a third of what you paid for it. Do the holiday thing again.

You'll have more days out of the next three years where you own an up-to-date gaming machine that will play current titles than you would if you try to buy this God Box with a steep obsolescence dropoff.
posted by majick at 4:34 PM on November 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


Also, its worth mentioning that most games only support one thread, some support two, and none that i know of support four. Buying the most expensive quad-core may just give you the performance of a middle of the road dual. A fast dual that is overclockable is the smart way to go.

Fun graphs here. Things havent really changed since 2007 when that article was written. Parallelism is hard to do right and I wouldnt be surprised if game studios ignored quad cores for a very, very long time. If anything, the multicore revolution will affect the GPU end of things moreso than the CPU end of things, at least in gaming.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:58 PM on November 22, 2008


What I do is get components that spec 2 slots below the bleeding edge (ie. towards the upper end but not), and upgrade them if & when the ROI makes sense, and every 5 years or so I end up just buying a new box and giving away the old one.

You DON'T need a 2.9Ghz CPU and you DON'T need to OC it., but the best place to put your money is in the graphics card.

newegg.com is the best place to put together your dream machine IMO.
posted by troy at 5:25 PM on November 22, 2008


The CPU is complete overkill. At higher levels, games are GPU bound, not CPU bound. It sounds backwards, but games are actually CPU bound at lower resolutions.

You're better off getting an e8600 proc (Depending on your luck, it can OC to 4GHz on air, and games use two procs now- not 4. Just make sure you get a good CPU fan!) and crossifire two 4870x2's effectively giving you 4xCrossfire.

Intel will still make new LGA775 procs for a while yet, so you can upgrade to a quad-core when games use them.

With that much running, I'd go with a 1KW PSU. However, Quality is much much much more important than its beefiness. Read through the TechReport's review of PSU stability. FWIW, I have a Corsair PSU and have always read good things about them. On top of that, the Newegg 1KW Corsair unit has 94% 5-egg rating. As a frequent user of Newegg, that is quite rare and I would take that with much more than a grain of salt.

Not at all in proportion to cost. As in, not in the "is it worth it" sense. Save the money you'd spend on the second card, wait 18 months, and replace your old card with the new top performance part.

In terms of diminishing returns, I'd google for SLI & crossfire pertaining to your particular card of interest. The 4850 and 4870 cards have actually had some pretty damn good returns for Crossfire.
By getting a e8600/8500/8400 proc, you can more than same enough money to justify SLI/crossfire.
posted by jmd82 at 7:17 PM on November 22, 2008


Sorry, to finish off my last point about googling, you'll usually find quick returns on whatever you're looking for on sli/crossfire metrics.
posted by jmd82 at 7:19 PM on November 22, 2008


Check out the forums at Desktop Review. Tell them what you told us, and I'm sure you'll get a productive conversation started. There are always a good deal of very helpful and knowledgeable computer folk who are happy to help with new builds.
posted by Bun at 10:18 PM on November 22, 2008


Core i7 940 (2.93ghz quad + hyperthreading) ~£470

2.66GHz costs £240; half the price, and 90% as fast, and if you're overclocking you'll likely make it back. Doing so probably won't have a noticable impact on most games, though.

The extreme version, is it worth it?

Look, it's not rocket science; the extreme is 3.2GHz, 20% faster than the 2.66GHz model (barring limits being elsewhere; memory bandwidth, latency, GPU, etc, all of which only make that figure *less* important), and costs 3.5x as much. The only other advantage is it has an unlocked multiplier, so you can overclock without changing the bus frequency. If you have to ask "is it worth it?", then for you it almost certainly isn't.

Raptor 300gb (10k rpm) or SAS Hdd's (15k rpm) I dont know too much about this, is it worth it?

Raptor, maybe; SAS, probably not. Ultimately, you'll probably be better off with a pair of consumer disks in RAID-1 (and maybe a third for backup) and just using the money to max out your memory; cache is always preferable to better spindles if you can get it. 8GB will fit most of a game in memory, and the disks will be largely irrelevent once the caches have warmed up.

Is their any benefit of having a solid state hard drive for bootup OS?

SSD's are fast for random reads, and usually decent for sequential access. They mostly suck very, very badly at random writes; we have a very new OCZ SSD which is about 10-20x slower than a standard consumer HD for non-sequential writes. Intel make a nice one called the X25-M, but it's £450+ for 80GB, and again, it's still orders of magnitude slower than RAM.

750, 1000 or 1500 watt? do I need more power for overclocking? or is it just money down the drain.

750 should be fine unless you're going for quad-SLI madness. Be sure to get a good make, though; Tagan, Enermax, Silverstone, or something like that. Spend more like £70, not £30.

SLI cards x2: Does this actually improve gaming performance, or shall I keep with a single 1gb graphics card? Nvidia or ATI?

SLI and Crossfire can help on high resolutions where you're mostly GPU limited; at 2560*1600, you'll certainly appreciate it on *some* games. Most current games will run just fine with one good one, though; if you save your money, in a year you can get a single card that will beat any pair you can get now, support the latest APIs, and have better tuned performance for the games of the time.

nVidia currently are in the aftermath of a major manufacturing defect found in most of their parts, which can lead to early failure; my 8800 GTS512 lased all of 7 months before shorting out. ATI currently have some of the fastest cards (4870, X2 for Crossfire goodness with a single slot), don't have known manufacturing flaws, and their drivers are about on par with nVidia, so I'd probably lean towards them.

1GB may be worth it with very large framebuffers; you can get on the order of 3-20% more performance for negligable additional cost. Like with CPUs, though, don't spend twice as much for an extra 5% of performance; Hyper Ultra Overclocked Watercooled Monsters probably aren't worth it.

Need a good Motherboard.

They're all £200+, I'd hope they're all good :/

memory (to match the mb)

Crucial, Crucial, Crucial. Don't bother with expensive gaming memory, you probably won't notice the difference, and Core i7's memory controller can't go beyond standard voltages safely anyway. Do consider ECC, especially if you're getting 4-8GB; it'll turn most memory faults from awkard hours-long memtest sessions and potential data loss, into your OS telling you there's a fault, but it corrected it and maybe (no rush) an RMA is in order at some point. IMO it's silly to do otherwise with memory prices as they are, provided your motherboard supports them.

Memory is limited to 3gb on XP 32bit, however can handle more that 3gb on Vista 64bit. Is it worth going for 64bit Vista for gaming or stick to 32bit non dx10 XP?

64bit's more mature these days, and GB's of additional cache should be rather noticable, and will be very desirable if you expect the system to last you years.


Having said all that, consider this: I enjoy my games, I run in 2560*1600 wherever possible, and I can afford most hardware if I really wanted it. Yet my main system is a 2GB, 2.6GHz Athlon64 X2 from 3 socket generations ago. The only part I've updated recently is the graphics card; I'm running a single ATI HD 4870. Far Cry 2, Dead Space, Fallout 3, Dwarf Fortress, all run from fairly nicely to flawlessly at my native resolution. Crysis doesn't quite scale that far, but I wouldn't spend £250 more to make it happen, need alone £2000; it'd be hotter, more power hungry, and more parts make for higher failure rates, both hardware and software.

Instead of spending £2k on hardware, consider, as others have said, spending maybe 1/3rd-2/5ths of that. It'll be more than good enough for almost everything, and in a year, a modest upgrade will keep it there; in the mean time, that money probably has more fun uses than helping you get get 60FPS instead of 50FPS in one of the latest games.
posted by Freaky at 10:44 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nthing all the comments that this is a bad idea. Spend $1,000 now, put the rest in a 12-month CD. After a year, make any upgrades you need to and put the remaining money back in a CD. Repeat this process until you run out of money.
posted by PueExMachina at 10:51 PM on November 22, 2008


Again, spend less money now and upgrade later. My understanding is that the i7 requires DDR-3 without the accompanying speed increase. To play games at that resolution, I'd definitely go with an SLI or Crossfire solution.

Check out this article for some information on 4870 X2 vs. SLI vs. Crossfire testing. Here's more information specifically on Far Cry 2. FYI- some people think Toms Hardware fakes their tests, though I've never really seen a problem.

I'd go with a high-end Core2 Duo, a WD Velociraptor, a quality 1,000 watt power supply, 4GB of RAM (with the ability to go to 8GB) and an SLI/Crossfire capable motherboard. You might need more power if you elect to go with dual 4870 X2 cards.
posted by cnc at 11:36 PM on November 22, 2008


High-end gaming platforms are nowhere near as essential as they used to be. Most games scale well - even Crysis will run on a dual-core/8800/ddr2 platform. Admittedly it won't look quite as good as it would on a high-end PC, but it's still a beautiful game on the medium settings.

Online gaming tends to go for accessibility over performance as well - Left 4 Dead is running on a four-year-old engine, and doesn't really need masses of hardware.

Buying a high-end PC is like buying a Lamborghini to take the kids to school.
posted by hnnrs at 5:11 AM on November 23, 2008


Go for it man, I bought a top of the line PC 3 years ago and it's still running the best games. Didn't upgrade a thing since then either.
posted by parallax7d at 6:37 AM on November 23, 2008


If you have a budget like that .. and a lack of knowledge .. why not just purchase something high quality, tested, and with a full warranty? i7 Alienware
posted by SirStan at 11:40 AM on November 23, 2008


OK,

I have been convinced that I don't need the i7 processor. Dual core is all the way, however I have doubts about the dual core as Quad cores seem better for future gaming. I know that the games at the moment can cover 1 or 2 cores. However in a years time, I know games could be optimised for 4 cores.

Could anyone give me a list of components that work together. (CPU, MB, Memory, Video Card, HDD).

I do really want a shit-hot video card. I'm thinking of the ATI x2 video cards. Could you recommend the best performing one.

I will stick to 3gb and XP 32 bit as I had a hard time with Vista. Once games get more demanding, then I can upgrade to 8gb and 64 bit Windows 7.

Do I really need to over clock, someone recommended a dual core that could be OC'd to 4ghz.

Thanks for your responses, they made me wake up. I don't have money to burn.
posted by spinko at 12:09 PM on November 23, 2008


I built a box out of the following mid-range components a little over a month back. I was shopping for long term performance, but unwilling to pay sucker prices. What I wound up with was a collection of hardware all more or less sitting perfectly in the pricing sweet spot. These parts have been absolutely, utterly ROCK SOLID so far (once I found non-crappy ATI drivers). You can consider some higher end parts, but the price goes up out of proportion with the performance increase.

E8400 Wolfdale 3.0Ghz/1333 -- This is the king of price/performance as of this moment and fairly overclockable. (I'm getting too old to bother trying, though)

Some randomly selected Thermaltake cooler.

Gigabyte EP45T-DS3R

OCZ Gold DDR3/1600

Some arbitrary Radeon HD 4850 (Consider instead the 4870 or a 4850X2)

Some hard drive I had lying around, I think it was a Seagate 320 SATA.

My trusty old Supermicro SC750 chassis (Consider instead the Lian Li PC-61)

Antec NeoPower 650
posted by majick at 6:18 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


@majick's list is good, but I'd bump that power supply a bit, especially if you'll be using multiple drives or think you might ever go with two 4870X2 cards. Having said that, the machine he built will absolutely fly.
posted by cnc at 11:06 PM on November 23, 2008


Dual core is all the way, however I have doubts about the dual core as Quad cores seem better for future gaming. I know that the games at the moment can cover 1 or 2 cores. However in a years time, I know games could be optimised for 4 cores.

Games are increasingly making use of more cores, and at 1600p you're usually going to be more limited by GPU than CPU, so yes, quad might be a better investment; I'm dubious that a 3GHz dual with 14% faster clocks is going to be noticably better performing than a 2.6GHz quad. On the other hand, the quad probably will be noticably quicker on games which make use of it. Depends if that's worth £100 to you.

One significant niggle with S775 motherboards: hardly any support ECC memory. You end up looking at workstation boards like this for that, which is bit of a joke when the £40 MicroATX AM2+ motherboard I bought recently for someone supports it just fine. That, and there are several dozen different ranges of chipsets, and it's not always obvious which are "best"; it's entirely possible there some mid-range one which does ECC, but good luck finding the damn thing.

Do I really need to over clock, someone recommended a dual core that could be OC'd to 4ghz.

Overclocking I usually wouldn't bother with; it's too easy to get to some nice clockrate and not do sufficient testing, and 3 months later you're wondering why your registry is corrupt, the system bluescreens on startup, half your MP3's permanently crackle and some RAR's are mysteriously corrupt. A stable overclock is not, as most kids seem to think, one which boots up to Windows and runs Sandra for 20 minutes, or can game for a day without crashing.

Graphics cards are more of a grey area, since if your GPU makes a mistake, usually the worst that can happen is you get some graphics corruption.

I do really want a shit-hot video card. I'm thinking of the ATI x2 video cards. Could you recommend the best performing one.

Graphics cards are almost always clones of reference designs, and are pretty much interchangable between makes; usually the way they distinguish themselves is by warranty support and price. Sometimes one will offer better than average clockrates (thus effectively guaranteeing an overclock) without making you pay through the nose for them, and that may be worth a look if it's combined with good after-sales support; beware if they expect you to mail it back to Sweden or something.

More rarely one will deviate from reference designs; e.g. one of my favourite cards was an XFX 7950GT with a completely passive custom cooler. This can go both ways; there's an ATI HD4870 with a non-reference cooler which Scan do (rebadged as the ScanFX brand), but apparantly it's very unreliable, and more built to be cheap than good. If one looks different from the rest, be wary.
posted by Freaky at 11:40 PM on November 23, 2008


Look at this from dell

£1,249 inc VAT
~
Components
PROCESSOR Intel® Core™ i7 Processor 940 (2.93GHz, 8MB cache, 4.8GT/sec) edit
OPERATING SYSTEM Genuine Windows Vista® Home Premium SP1 64Bit - English edit
HARDWARE SUPPORT 1Yr XPS Premium Warranty Support - Priority Call In and Onsite Support edit
MICROSOFT APPLICATION SOFTWARE Microsoft® Works 9 - English edit
MONITOR Display Not Included edit
MEMORY 8192MB (4x1024,2x2048) 1067MHz DDR3 Dual Channel edit
HARD DRIVE 1.2 TB (2x 640 GB) Serial ATA (7200 Rpm) Dual HDD Config Raid 0 Stripe edit
GRAPHICS CARD 512MB ATI® Radeon® 4850 Graphics card edit
OPTICAL DRIVE 16X DVD+/- RW Optical Drive (DVD & CD read and write) edit
KEYBOARD Dell Multimedia USB Keyboard Black - UK edit
MOUSE Dell Optical Scroll Premium Mouse edit
TV TUNER AND REMOTE CONTROL TV Tuner (analog/digital) with Remote Control edit
Accessories
SOUND SOFTWARE Integrated HDA 7.1 Dolby Digital Audio edit
SPEAKERS No Speakers (Speakers are required to hear audio from your system) edit
FLOPPY/MEDIA DRIVES 19-in-1 Media Card Reader edit
WIRELESS NETWORKING Internal Enhanced Wireless 802.11n PCIe Card - Europe edit
Services & Software
ACCIDENTAL DAMAGE SUPPORT No Accidental Damage Support edit
PROTECT YOUR NEW PC No Security/Anti-Virus Protection - English edit
Also included with your system
Shipping Documents English Documentation with UK/IRL Power Cord
Gedis Bundle Reference D11SX06
Order Information XPS Desktop 430 Order - UK
Standard Warranty 1Yr XPS Premium Warranty Support - Priority Call In and Onsite Support
DELL SYSTEM MEDIA KIT Resource DVD - (Diagnostics & Drivers)
~

I'm abit scared of the MB and Video Card. However, Im thinking of buying this and then changing the video card to a better one. I'm thinking that its pre-built on the motherboard (none removable) for this price.

Can someone confirm that it is a good move for this?
posted by spinko at 5:21 PM on November 24, 2008


More research.

Video card is separate :)

I should be able to buy a better video card right? and plug it in.
posted by spinko at 5:54 PM on November 24, 2008


I can't speak to UK pricing, and I'm given to understand things tend to be expensive over there, but at current exchange rates I'd consider the machine you chose to be a rip-off stuffed full of crap you don't need.

Also, this? "HARD DRIVE 1.2 TB (2x 640 GB) Serial ATA (7200 Rpm) Dual HDD Config Raid 0 Stripe"

HELL NO.

Consumer grade hard drives are already bad enough as it is without doubling the chance of failure through RAID0.
posted by majick at 7:28 PM on November 25, 2008


It's a reasonable price for a Core i7; pricing up something similar from Scan from parts gives a comparable price. You've got motherboards which start at £200, a £470 CPU, memory goes for about £150, case and PSU for £120, and HD 4870 X2 for £360. Oh, and Vista, £90. £1390, give or take. About on par taking the more expensive graphics card into account.

A similar config via that Dell would be £1250 + £360 = £1610, and there's no guarantee the case or PSU are big enough for the card. But wait, £470 CPU? I already said, 2.66GHz = 10% slower, but £240. So that's saving £450.

Core i7's at a premium right now; reasonable Core 2 Quad motherboards start at closer to £70. Say you pick a nice one for £100, a 2.83GHz C2Q will be £250 = £980. Saving £630 off your proposed Dell + graphics card even without taking into account the cheaper DDR2 memory.

Dell and other retailers are likely to be able to provide similar savings on other configurations, though, so it's not like you have to build it yourself to not pay £1600; hurray competition. There's certainly something to be said for not faffing about building and installing your own system; a retailer will (hopefully) have engineered and tested things to be quiet, stable, etc.

Well, I say hopefully, RAID-0 disks are not my idea of good engineering. Go for a RAID-1 config if you do have any sort of RAID; striping usually won't provide a significant performance boost, but it does almost double the failure rate.
posted by Freaky at 3:15 AM on November 26, 2008


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