What's the best gaming PC in the $1,500 price range?
September 22, 2013 4:57 PM   Subscribe

My Steam-addicted 13 year old son is about to turn 14 and I'd like to surprise him with a new gaming PC. He's currently using a generic Dell from a few years ago that he says works fine but he'll need new hardware to keep up with the technology (and the competition). My goal is to find the best gaming PC as close to $1,500 as possible, preferably a laptop but I'll go with a tower if it makes sense. Any recommendations?
posted by Jamesonian to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If the goal is to play Steam games, you might wait a couple days. If the neighborhood's rumors about an imminent Steam settop box announcement are any indication, this might be of interest, unless you want a PC for more than gaming.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:01 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wait until Valve's press conference tomorrow--they're expected to announce a Linux-based Steam console. I think you may be hard-pressed to find a $1500 laptop with the bleeding-edge tech he thinks he wants.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:01 PM on September 22, 2013

Also if you want a pc that can play games for another 3 years go with a desktop.
posted by Carillon at 5:02 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you could do worse than this one. I own an earlier version of it (purchased in February) and it's excellent.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:09 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you or he want to build the computer? Then this article might help:


The "Hot Rod" option is right in your price range, and even a bit cheaper if you don't need a monitor.
posted by unix at 5:11 PM on September 22, 2013

Have a look at the latest Ars Technica System Guide and build your son the Ars Technica Hot Rod (a mid-range custom gaming rig) using the parts they specify. You can get everything from NewEgg using the convenient links in the System Guide and put the resulting computer together in about 2 hours. Much better than what you could buy pre-baked, and future-proof in the sense that he'll be able to upgrade components in the tower as needed to keep up with shifts in technology in the future.
posted by killdevil at 5:12 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It will always be more cost-effective (and fun, and a learning experience) to build your own desktop. My recent build cost me around $900, and is pretty cookie-cutter:

- an overclocked i5 4670k cpu. This is one release behind -- the latest and greatest is the i7, but the i5 is just as good.
- aftermarket cpu cooler
- a GTX 760 video card
- a solid state drive for superfast boot times

It runs current games at ultra, and will continue to, for a few years. If you're planning on buying a new keyboard, monitor, mouse in addition to all that, it's probably going to be an additional $250.

I know reddit is THE ENEMY here, but they have a cool subreddit: /r/buildapc
posted by Xere at 5:12 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you want a laptop consider these http://www.alienware.com/Landings/laptops.aspx
posted by oddman at 7:15 PM on September 22, 2013

Do not get a laptop. I clicked in to thread with a significant point of my purpose of commenting just to say that.

I've owned several gaming laptops and regretted purchasing every single one. They're big, heavy, hot, loud, pick up cosmetic damage easily because of the case designs and even in the 17in range have a smaller display than you really want to game on. They suck suck SUCK as laptops to be used for any laptop-like tasks(unless you get a small portable one like the alienware m11x or the much nicer clevo w110, but those are even louder and hotter and underpowered for the money). A gaming laptop is sort of like a tablet. Good for a few select things, but poor for a lot of tasks you'd actually want a laptop for.

If your son needs a laptop, buy him a cheap refurbished laptop from the newegg refurb section, lenovo outlet, dell outlet, or just one of the $250-300 basic models on newegg and spend the rest on a desktop.

I also came here to plug /r/buildapc, but mostly to link this chart. It's updated constantly, and yea. You just pick the parts off the list and go buy them on newegg/etc.

You don't need to spend more than $900-1k on the machine to have something that will be able to play any game on ultra right now and for quite a while, and still on high(probably with some settings turned up too) for several years. And after that it will likely keep playing games on medium-high. Power is so cheap nowadays.

Spend the other $500 on a laptop if you need one, and on one of these asskicking monitors.

If you're absolutely determined to buy a laptop no matter what, do not consider anything but the asus or sager/clevo models. Everything else by hp/sony/etc is poor quality and overpriced. Alienware is incredibly overpriced but OK quality. You're flushing money down the toilet regardless, but you get the most bang for your buck out of asus or sager/clevo, and asus has higher build quality than pretty much anyone but lenovo or apple.
posted by emptythought at 7:19 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I could also be described as Steam-addicted, so this is basically going to reflect what I would do if someone plopped that kind of money in my lap and said "Have at it." $1,500 is enough to guarantee you can get something really, really nice. These are what I consider the most delightful things available to a PC gamer right now:

- a LightBoost-compatible monitor. One of these, basically. I'm saving up for one of these myself. This should be way more pleasant and even provide a slight competitive advantage. He probably doesn't even know he wants LightBoost specifically, but trust me, if he plays games, he does. Don't spend more than $1000 without at least getting some kind of 120hz+ monitor.

- a second monitor. This is sooooo nice to have. If the old computer is a desktop and has a decent monitor of its own, re-use it as monitor #2. It doesn't need to be gaming quality. Otherwise, buy something cheap.

- a solid state drive. Basically a given at this point.

I wouldn't go completely bonkers on spending money on the GPU right now, and even the CPU can be "midrange" rather than "luxury" and be 100% fine. Both of these components are easily upgradeable, and GPU technology especially progresses so quickly that shelling out the cash for the absolute top-of-the-line is basically nuts. Buy something Very Good rather than The Absolute Best Money Can Buy because The Absolute Best will be dethroned in <2>
If you've got room in your budget and he doesn't already have good speakers/headphones, that makes a big difference too.

Another vote for "Build it yourself," by the way. It's so much easier than it sounds--"build" is a misleading word. It's gonna be about half as tough as putting together some IKEA furniture.

And yeah, this all assumes a desktop rather than a laptop because we're still not at the point where laptops can really compete. Best of luck! I'm sure your son will be really, really excited.
posted by a birds at 7:46 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

dethroned in < 2 months*

And I think you could basically follow the "Hot Rod" guide a couple people linked above but skip getting a new mouse and speakers, unless what he's using isn't working, and put the money toward a LightBoost monitor.
posted by a birds at 7:58 PM on September 22, 2013

I personally wouldn't go for a laptop and I wouldn't wait around for Valve to announce whatever they're announcing, because even if it's an amazing bit of kit it's still first-gen hardware and one should never buy first-gen hardware.

If you do a bit of research and then go to a highly-recommended local computer store, and ask the dude/dudette behind the counter "If you had $1500, what kind of machine would you build for yourself for games?", then they will have a great time putting together a list of parts for you (I sure did, when I worked in a computer store). You can research the parts individually or just go ahead with what they suggest, or shop around, or whatever.

Seconding the recommendations for a SSD, 120hz monitor, and a really good mouse like the MX510 (which I think has been superseded by something or other, I've only got experience with the MX510). I'd also probably get a machine with Windows 7 rather than 8.

That said, the Asus 'Republic of Gamers' laptops are all pretty decent if you're really keen on going that way.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:22 PM on September 22, 2013

All the serious gamers I know use desktops.

You might want to consider investing some of that $1500 into a good ergonomic chair for his gaming battlestation. Keep ergonomics in mind when selecting a mouse and keyboard as well.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:10 AM on September 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for all of your answers. They're very helpful. I'm not a chip head so building a system to me is fraught with peril. Sure, I can connect Tab A to Ribbon Cable B but troubleshooting problems and/or compatibility issues would need far more experience than I could provide. And, besides, can you image the disappointment when he excitedly unwraps the birthday gift and finds... parts and an instruction manual?!?

I like the idea of a tower but fear that the cost of a monitor- which would also have to come from within that $1.5k– would eat up too much of the budget. Several people have recommended towers but no one has suggested a specific brand or model. Is there a pre-built tower on the market that anyone can point me to that would leave sufficient funds for a worthy monitor?
posted by Jamesonian at 6:04 AM on September 23, 2013

Definitely avoid a laptop - I've bought a couple laptops in the 1000-1500 range and they were frustratingly slow for games (immediately) and for general use (within a year or two). Laptops are great for things like school work but not for games released in the last 10-15 years.

I built a great gaming desktop for about 1000$ last year (including buying windows 7 and without reusing any parts from old desktops) and added an (excellent) monitor for under $200. If he's used to a laptop or a very old desktop monitor, even a low-end monitor will be an upgrade. Watch for sales on the monitors if you have a bit of time.

If you're not comfortable building (but it's easier than you think!), there are websites that will build one for you and ship it to you. Gaming builds for any budget can be found online, at places like tomshardware.com. Did you see this recent question? Lots of info on that stuff in there.
posted by randomnity at 7:46 AM on September 23, 2013

As far as pre-builts go, I recommend Digital Storm to everyone, they use solid, name brand parts and mark them up to a minimal extent:

either the "best" Vanquish or the "good" Bolt are roughly comparable performance-wise, and should leave you enough room in your budget for a decent monitor.

I'd stick with something like this Asus monitor, it's a pretty great deal and if you want to go all the way up to 27" you'll be looking at more expensive 1440p monitors.
posted by Oktober at 8:03 AM on September 23, 2013

If you can get someone to build it for you, that's a good way to go. It is indeed a lot of Tab A into Slot PCIe, and ribbon cables are, I'm glad to say, a thing of the past. But you're right that the potential troubleshooting is really where the stores shine over DIY.

Avoid: HP, Dell-- this is a job for a gaming specialist. You should have no trouble getting a midrange (i.e. future-proof for 3 years and upgrades will extend that) system for around $1200-1300, with money left over for a monitor in the 22"+ range.

The meat of the gaming system is the graphics hardware; it'll come from either nVidia ("GeForce") or ATI-- those are really the only players worth addressing. You can get reviews for these cards at the aforementioned TomsHardware. They range from $50 to $500 in price-- I shoot for around $200 for my own systems, but TH can give you an idea of the bang/buck rating for a given card. Memory is important too-- gaming machines should be offering much more than the standard 2-4GB of RAM-- start at 8 at least, and DDR3 (memory speed rating) at least. Find out how many memory slots it has, and how many are being used. (2x4GB or 4x2Gb out of 4 slots, for example-- that dictates how much you can add incrementally without pulling the old memory out; but most likely they fill all the slots with the smaller memory boards.)

If you let them know your budget, they can probably work with it so you get the best computer for the price without having to do your own customization.

Steam addiction... there's no known cure.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2013

One more encouragement not to get a laptop. Unless you need it to do double duty for your son to take to school, laptops come with way too many tradeoffs to be good for gaming. And absolutely avoid high profile gaming brands like AlienWare. But if you do decide to the laptop route, a friend of mine recently got a Lenovo IdeaPad Y500 with SLI, i7, 8gb ram, and a hybrid drive and he's quite happy with it. The key thing there is the SLI, which has not one but two gaming graphics chips in it working together to render.

If you go the desktop route your best bet is sadly to custom assemble it. It's not too hard to do yourself but it is awfully frustrating figuring out what's compatible with what. I've had decent luck having AVA Direct build systems for me in the past. A local shop is even better; just tell them what you want, they should be able to do it. IMHO the only thing special about a gaming desktop is the graphics card; everything else stock is just fine.
posted by Nelson at 10:14 AM on September 23, 2013

And, besides, can you image the disappointment when he excitedly unwraps the birthday gift and finds... parts and an instruction manual?!?

I'm not a 13 year old boy, but when I was a 13 year old girl (some 20 years ago, yikes), I would probably have been way more excited by this than an already assembled machine. Obviously, you know your kid best, and there is some risk since you're not familiar with the process yourself, but learning how to fit together his PC and what all the parts are could be really great for him if he has any interest in that. It's an experience that also sets him up to upgrade his own hardware in the future, which can save a lot of money in the long run.

If that sounds too scary, this iBUYPOWER machine from NewEgg looks pretty decent. Here's what I would do with it (requires a tiny bit of tinkering, but not much): That gives him a decent machine now and a lot of room to upgrade in the future. You/he will have to open the box up to put the SSD in, but that's pretty much the easiest computer upgrade you can make. It would be fine without the SSD, and you wouldn't have to reinstall the OS, but putting Windows on an SSD is a huge performance increase all by itself. The monitor probably seems a bit pricy, but it is a really good monitor (I have the 27" version myself) and should last him for a good long time. You could obviously get something less expensive to save some money, if you want.

In any case, hope that helps! (disclaimer: I've never bought an iBUYPOWER machine so I can't personally speak to their quality or reliability, though NewEgg rarely disappoints.) I suspect your kid will be over the moon regardless of what you do; I know I would have been. :)
posted by ashirys at 10:55 AM on September 23, 2013

I like that iBUYPOWER machine too - I put something together on the AVA Direct site linked earlier in the thread, and the Newegg one ashirys linked is better and cheaper. I'd go with that, but get a 120hz monitor instead for the same price. This one or this one. The Dell would have more accurate color reproduction, but I think being able to play at 120-144 FPS instead of 60 (and with LightBoost supposedly making it CRT-quality instead of blurry like an LCD) will be more important for gaming.
posted by a birds at 11:33 AM on September 23, 2013

Just popping back in to note that ibuypower has a spotty rep, and that they use brandless power supplies which is err... not good. It's one thing when it's dell/gateway/etc building systems since they order in enough volume to spec their own(and in the case of dell and a few others, often quite under-rated/under stressed for what they can handle) power supplies some of those smaller specialty builders like IBP use completely brandless junk ones of the variety of the cheapest you can find on newegg.

A quality power supply is, next to a quality motherboard the most important component in having a reliable PC. I could write paragraphs on this.

That cyberpowerpc model linked is a good deal, after looking around.(and if you go configure a similar system but with a decent power supply on their sister site which allows that, cyberpowerpc, it comes out to nearly $1200) But absolutely upgrade the power supply. You want something like this or this. Yea, they're kinda expensive. But the stability and reliability of the entire system depends on it. I've had crappy power supplies ruin high end motherboards.

I will note that i'm still on the side of assembling it yourself(or leaving it for him to do! that was a super fun thing i did when my dad got me gaming pc components when i was 13!!!). If he's nerdy enough to want a gaming pc to play steam games, he'll think assembling a pc is cool. At least IMO. And there's better bang/buck parts combo lists to be had there if you check that logical increments site i linked...
posted by emptythought at 2:14 PM on September 23, 2013

I currently have an IBUYPOWER machine purchased from Newegg and it runs all my games with zero problems. I've had no power issues and if I do well I can always replace a malfunctioning part easily (which is not so much the case with laptops)
posted by Julnyes at 11:46 AM on September 24, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, again, for your suggestions. I opted for an Alienware 17.
posted by Jamesonian at 4:19 PM on October 22, 2013

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