I want to kill zombies in higher resolution
October 14, 2011 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Getting a gaming rig -- advice?

I'm thinking about replacing this crappy desktop that I have (Dell 530s, with a NVIDIA 9400GT video card and a pathetic PSU) with a better gaming computer. However, I'm not a huge gamer or anything -- just L4D2 and the Sims3, occasionally TF2. I'd like to run L4D2 at med or high settings at a higher resolution than now (currently I think I can run it without lag at 1280x800, medium).

I've configured a setup on CyperPowerPC, but I'm not sure if the hardware suits my needs or not (I'm blindly choosing specs, at this point):

Case: CoolerMaster Elite 430 Mid-Tower Gaming Case with Side Panel Window
Extra Case Fan Upgrade: Default case fans
Noise Reduction Technology: None
CPU: AMD Phenom™II X4 965 Black Edition Quad-Core CPU w/ HyperTransport Technology
Cooling Fan: Asetek 510LC Liquid Cooling System 120MM Radiator & Fan (Enhanced Cooling Performance + Extreme Silent at 20dBA) (Single Standard 120MM Fan)
Coolant for Cyberpower Xtreme Hydro Water Cooling Kits: Standard Coolant
Motherboard: * [CrossFireX] GigaByte GA-970A-D3 AMD 970 Socket AM3+ ATX Mainboard w/ On/Off Charge, 7.1 Audio, GbLAN, USB3.0, SATA-III RAID, 2 Gen2 PCIe X16, 3 PCIe X1 & 2 PCI
Memory: 4GB (2GBx2) DDR3/1600MHz Dual Channel Memory Module (Kingston HyperX)
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GT 520 1GB 16X PCIe Video Card (Major Brand Powered by NVIDIA)
Power Supply Upgrade: 600 Watts - XtremeGear Power Supply - SLI/CrossFireX Ready
Hard Drive: 1TB SATA-III 6.0Gb/s 32MB Cache 7200RPM HDD (Single Hard Drive)

OS is Windows7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Other than that, I will be using this desktop for the usual web browsing, watching movies, playing music, etc.

I checked out some older threads, but I want to get some thoughts on hardware that's currently out there. I doubt I will be getting into any of the newer games, so a super high-end video card isn't necessary. No real budget at this point, but under $800 would be nice.

Any upgrades/changes that need to be made? General advice? Thanks!
posted by extramundane to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The general consensus right now is that the Intel Sandy Bridge processors (I think the Core i3-2100 is about at the same price point as the 965) are better than anything AMD has for general purpose and gaming. Not sure if you're set on AMD, but thought I'd point it out. The general rule for gaming is that you should spend money on your graphics card first, CPU second, and RAM third.

Is there any particular reason you want to use liquid cooling?
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:17 PM on October 14, 2011

Response by poster: Nope, not locked into AMD or anything, I'd go for Intel if that's the better of the two. Liquid cooling was part of the package. Should I switch it up for CoolerMaster fans instead?
posted by extramundane at 2:22 PM on October 14, 2011

I don't know how that setup priced out, but the vid card is low-end, and 4GB of memory is now entry-level. The 600W PSU is weak as well.

Go with fewer gimmicks (water cooling), and go with better internal hardware.

700W minimum PSU and 6GB RAM and a better vid card would be ideal.
posted by eas98 at 2:31 PM on October 14, 2011

Best answer: It depends on what your goal is- liquid cooling has the possibility of being really quiet- which can be nice if your computer's in the bedroom or you're using it as a media PC, etc. On the flipside it can cost a little bit more, though. And you can sometimes overclock liquid-cooled PCs more easily (a moot point if you go with the i3-2100, because I believe that is locked down)
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:32 PM on October 14, 2011

Best answer: Getting watercooling and that particular video card together is kind of like putting $3000 rims on a 1993 Taurus. Ditch the WC and get at least a Geforce 460/Radeon 6850. Also get a different power supply; Xtremegear is garbage. Look for Antec, Seasonic or Corsair. Six hundred watts is more than enough, assuming it's putting out decent amps on the 12 volt rail(s). The RAM is fine, but you might consider going for more as it's cheap as hell right now. Consider shelling out for a P67 or Z68 motherboard + Intel i5-2500K CPU.
posted by Sternmeyer at 2:40 PM on October 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For the most part everything looks okay. There are two changes I definitely would make:

Memory: RAM is so cheap right now that there's no reason why you shouldn't be running 8GB. 2x4GB DDR3 1600MHz memory is running around $40-50 on Newegg. Go bigger here.

Video Card: The GT 520 is not a good card, in fact, it's only a couple of steps higher than the 9400GT you already have. I wouldn't recommend this card to pretty much anyone. If you are going to go with AMD for a processor, go AMD on the video card, and go bigger. A 6770 or 6790 would get you 1920x1080 playable on all of those games. Even on the high-powered games you'll still get 1680x1050 resolution. The equivalent Nvidia card would be the 550Ti 1GB. Here's the link to the current graphics card hierarchy chart for reference.

As for the processor: AMD just came out with their new processors. I haven't read through enough benchmarks to see if the Phenom II X4 965 or one of the FX processors is a better value, but keep it in mind.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:41 PM on October 14, 2011

Best answer: You want something faster than a GT 520 -- I'd go for at least a GTX 550, ideally a 560 or 560 Ti, on the NVidia side, and a 6850 or better on the AMD side. There's the logical increment guide that is fairly logical. For gaming, according to the review I've seen, forget about the new AMD FX stuff -- it's barely faster than a 965 for gaming.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:48 PM on October 14, 2011

Best answer: This is overkill for your stated requirements, imo.

I got a refurbed PC from HP last year and put a GT450 in it and it runs any valve game at max settings, max resolution with no problems. Total cost to me was about $600. The only thing that it really struggles at is Crysis 2.

If you're not interested in building a PC for the sake of building a PC, I seriously suggest you also check deal sites, etc, for refurbed pre-built boxes and just put a better video card/ram, etc in it.

Here's one hat was on Woot a couple of days ago for $300.
posted by empath at 3:05 PM on October 14, 2011

Best answer: The other half has a Phenom II X4 840 and a GTX460. Zie can run Left 4 Dead 2 locked at 60fps and all modern games on high at the very least, at 1080p. Given you want to play Valve games and the Sims, I'm inclined to agree with empath that going much higher than your current configuration is overkill.

You need a better graphics card though. I recommend the GTX560 since the price is right, the drivers are stable, and you can overclock it to 560Ti speeds.

I'd be concerned about a non-name brand PSU. You're looking at a price difference of maybe £25 between the generic and a quality brand basic PSU; since everything in your PC relies on it, it's worth it (I had problems recently with an underpowered PSU). You don't need to go to 800 watts or anything, but you do need to buy a quality make.

Motherboard seems kind of overspecced: it's designed to take two graphics cards. On the other hand it's an AM3+ board which means you can drop in new AMD CPUs for another year or two (the current crop of new ones are meh, but they're probably going to improve). 8gb would be nice if you don't really have to spend any more, but again, it's overkill for Valve games and you're only populating two slots with what you've got; you can slap in another 4gb any time if you need it.

tl;dr: get a name brand PSU and a GTX560. Everything else'll work fine for what you're going to play.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:20 PM on October 14, 2011

I got a refurbed PC from HP last year and put a GT450 in it

The GT 520 is 11 tiers lower than the GT450. The GT450 is within 2 tiers of all of the suggested video cards in this thread. Don't get the GT 520.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:29 PM on October 14, 2011

In fact, I just loaded Left 4 Dead 2 and played a bit with a frame-rate counter in the corner. I got mobbed by zombies, got thrown up on and got swarmed, and almost never did the counter go below 60 (and never below 55ish). My CPU is a 2008-era Intel dual core, and my 4gb RAM is slower than what you have there, but I have a GTX560.

In-game settings on Left 4 Dead 2 were all at max, with 16xQ anti-aliasing. Don't ask me what the Q is about; it was the highest setting on there so I picked it!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:36 PM on October 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations, guys. I have a much clearer idea of what I should be getting. If there's any more advice out there, keep 'em coming!
posted by extramundane at 4:21 PM on October 14, 2011

I should note that if you buy an nVidia card of a certain spec or above right now (the GTX560 counts) you get a free copy of the new Batman game that's been getting great scores recently.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:27 PM on October 14, 2011

Major L4D2 addict here.

Valve's games (TF2, too) are pretty modest with their system requirements, even for maximum quality settings. As long as you get a half-decent system and drop maybe $100 on a video card it should run just fine. For reference, I was able to run L4D2 at max everything at 1920x1200 with respectable framerate on my old Radeon HD 4870, which is pretty obsolete by now.

I have a Geforce GTX 460 now and it absolutely murderizes L4D2 (and just about everything else). Silky-smooth 60 fps all around.
posted by neckro23 at 4:36 PM on October 14, 2011

(Oh yes, and if you're interested in playing Versus, over at Mefightclub we've formed a group for that. Hassle me on Steam for an invite if you want.)
posted by neckro23 at 4:40 PM on October 14, 2011

Best answer: Let me make it clear that from the perspective of one who builds their own gaming rigs, the setup you listed is in no way worth $800.

1. The CPU is fine, but there's no real need to get a liquid cooling system for it. In fact, you would be better off throwing the money into getting a nice Intel i5-2500k and a nice motherboard (typically Asus or Intel). The Phenom II overclocked to hell would still be inferior to the i5 running at default clocks, and even then the i5 can easily hit 4.5 GHz with a decent $40 air cooler.

2. The GT 520? Really? It's a low-profile card designed for something like a home theater PC, not a gaming rig. I would be amazed if it gave you much of a difference in demanding situations over your 9400. (I haven't looked at benchmarks, but it doesn't take benchmarks to see that the stifling 64 bit memory bus on the 520 isn't going to be made up for, no matter how slow or fast the core may be.)

3. Given the Phenom II and the GT 520, there is absolutely no reason for a 600 watt power supply.

Now that that's over, I'll list a general outline for my recommended build:

Video card: GeForce GTX 560 (Will run nearly every game out there in 1080p at excellent frames.)
Processor: Intel i5-2500k (Arguably the best gaming processor on the market. Easily bests other processors even in highly threaded applications.)
Motherboard: ASUS P8P67 (No personal experience with this; feel free to pick a P67 socket 1155 motherboard of your choice.)

(Note that I am in no way affiliated with Newegg; I simply think that their user base is more technically knowledgeable than, say, Amazon, and the reviews there may be informative in your decision.)

The rest can be determined by your specific needs. A 500W power supply would be enough for the system, but you could look into a 550W or above if you want to overclock like mad and be on the safe side.

Lastly, if you've never built a PC before, give it a try! You'll get a better bang for your buck and learn something in the process. Having tech-savvy friends that you can refer to if you run into trouble can make things less scary, but with a large number of helpful communities out there on the internet, it's not a requirement.
posted by inauthentic at 6:37 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I recommend the website Hardware-Revolution.com to anyone interested in building their own rig, especially first timers. It walks you through selecting the best components for your price-point and makes it easy to get what you want without overspending. Well worth a look!
posted by platinum at 9:52 PM on October 14, 2011

First off, Tom's Hardware system builder guide is your first stop, period. The above posters have already noted the video card issue with your build, but I want to make sure that you don't over look the MASSIVE benefit of an SSD system drive. Use something like a 60GB Agility 3 for your operating system and maybe 1-2 games that you're currently in love with, and put all your music, backups, downloads, whatever else on a bargain basement 1TB storage drive. The real world experience difference between a SSD system that boot in 7 seconds, cold reboots in 20 seconds and is ready to open 10+ programs in 12 is the single biggest upgrade on the market right now.

There are even starting to be fancy solutions coming to market with a 20GB SSD either built onto the motherboard or used as a precaching booster to a standard platter drive, but it seems doubtful that those will beat out a dedicated system drive. You may need to bump you budget to $1000, but careful shopping and watching out for some deals you should be able to fit a SSD within you current range. Regardless, it's worth the extra outlay hands down.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:19 PM on October 14, 2011

Black Friday is coming up, if you can wait a month (and are in the US?). A number of retailers, like Newegg, have good deals on hardware around that time.

The advice above is good. A couple of things I didn't see mentioned: Consider the power consumption. A good power supply (Corsair, etc) with a high efficiency rating will be cheaper to run, and cooler. SSDs are efficient, too, as are slower 5400 rpm drives for data storage. Cooler also means quieter. Similarly, I like cases with at least one really large fan, as large fans are much quieter.
posted by kprincehouse at 3:57 AM on October 15, 2011

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