Help me find the most computer for my money
November 17, 2009 6:41 AM   Subscribe

It's time to buy a new computer. I'm hoping that with the shopping season coming up I'll be able to snag a good deal somewhere. I would prefer to just order the complete package from somewhere, but with enough help I would be willing to purchase individual components and assemble. I need something that will let me game a little and without graphical snags, and something that will continue to perform well for several years.

I've been considering this for a while, and after a mostly-successful build a couple of years ago for my husband, it's my turn to get the shiny new toy. I really want this purchase to last and I'm not an upgrade fiend. My current desktop is an old Dell Dimension 2600 which was a refurb when I got it back in 2004, so I can't really judge what current models are like. I would like to get something that will be "good" for a while; I'd rather aim a little higher (within affordability) than get the bare minimum of what will do what I want.

What do I want?

* I want to be able to play a couple of different MMOs (World of Warcraft and The Secret World) and The Sims 3 with max graphics settings and no problems multitasking in Firefox, running a music player (iTunes), etc.

My husband's computer already does this and it's a couple of years old; Intel quad core processor and 4GB of RAM, I believe. TSW isn't out yet but they've said that they want it to be accessible to players with laptops when it comes out, and even if that's a couple of years down the road I’m assuming that means that they don't intend to make it the most graphically-complex game ever or anything. I don't play first-person-shooters or any other type of game other than the ones listed (MMOs, I guess?) but if the games I do play look blocky, get low framerates, lag during play, or take forever to load, I find myself losing interest and right quick. Right now I'm running a 19" LCD but it is not widescreen; a monitor upgrade will go on the wishlist after the system is purchased.

* I want Windows 7. If it's some sort of deal from somewhere that's trying to clear out older models that still have XP/Vista, I need to be able to upgrade (though I've heard that this is a more complicated route).

* I want to spend up to $800-$900. Less is better but I don't have a very good idea of what that can get me. I'd like to be able to go another five years with this system without it being hopelessly outdated a year from now and trodding along until I can afford another new system for the next four years or more. Is this even a reasonable price range for my expectations? If it isn't, what compromises could I make to keep the system in this price range?

* I would like a smaller tower if possible but this is by no means a necessity. My current tower is plenty large and I have the space for it. However, if I can take advantage of the trend of technology shrinking as it becomes more advanced, I certainly wouldn't' t mind accommodating something smaller.

I know that there are new Core i5 and i7 processors that are getting a some attention, but I'm completely lost when it comes to judging which are good for what and comparing them to older models which may or may not perform better, be more affordable, or give more value for the price.

I'm willing to buy from either HP or Dell, but am leery of trusting the big box manufacturers to make something truly stable and long-lasting; the only reason I am considering these companies is because I do receive a company discount at these vendors. The HP discount varies but seems to be from about 20%-25% while the Dell discount is only about 7%-9%.

I'm also willing to go through Newegg, TigerDirect, or similar and purchase individual parts (or bundles, which I've seen a few of lately), but I don't feel confident about building the system myself. I can install the most basic of components (RAM, etc.) but don't trust myself to not blow up the power supply or something if I tried to DIY the whole thing. I've seen many sites lately referring to this guide, but being a complete novice I have no idea how accurate or helpful it might be to a true newbie. If MeFi thinks the guide is all right I might be willing to take a few steps in the build-your-own direction.

I was also hoping that my fellow Pittsburgh MeFites might be able to make recommendations for people who would be willing to put a build together, and give me an idea of how much that might cost if I went that route.

Is it a good time to be making a commitment to a new system? It feels like Windows 7 should be a factor, but I'm worried that as soon as I commit to one thing there will be something else that completely eclipses it on the horizon, or some huge price drop that makes me want to plant my face into my keyboard, but I think this might happen regardless of when I buy.

I know there are some folks on here who like to help create custom builds, so I'm hoping for your help, MeFi. I know I've asked a lot of questions, but any and all help is appreciated
posted by miratime to Technology (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

If you're thinking of building a system then checking the latest Ars Technica System Guide is usually helpful. The Budget Box listed in the October 2009 guide is in your price range and should easily handle maxed out settings for your monitor.

Putting together a system doesn't usually end up being a lot cheaper, since you aren't getting the deals on the components that the big builders are getting; the chief advantage is that you get to pick the exact component mix.

I've had better luck with Dells than with HPs, but that's just my own personal experience.
posted by brool at 7:34 AM on November 17, 2009

Since you want Windows 7 and you're not specifying anything "custom", I recommend going with a big box manufacturer. By custom I mean exotic cooling systems, high end graphics, a lot of component upgrading, and/or a tiny HTPC build.

Right off the bat, Windows 7 Home Premium OEM is $100 and Windows 7 Ultimate OEM is $175. Any savings you might have obtained from doing a custom build would be wiped out by the OS cost plus shipping costs for the individual parts. And like brool said, the manufacturers are getting volume discounts on their parts. A new $800 Dell machine will run the games you listed at max settings without any problems. As far as graphics goes, WoW and Sims 3 are not very hardware-intensive games.

If you don't need it right away, I recommend checking tech deals websites like once a day and when something pops up in your price range go for that. Deals on Dell or HP systems with or without monitors show up about every other week.

And forget about what you're hearing about "Black Friday". Those are for people who are willing to camp out overnight in front of Wal-Mart to save $50.
posted by junesix at 2:51 PM on November 17, 2009

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