Building / buying a gaming desktop PC.
July 24, 2008 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Building / buying a gaming desktop PC.

I've always been playing catch-up with technology when it comes to playing games, and I'm thinking of finally breaking down and getting a desktop that can play all the latest and greatest for the next year or two at least. I've built two previous desktops from components, but at this point, I think I would rather buy a pre-made desktop because it doesn't seem like I would be saving that much money by doing it myself, and because I am concerned about compatibility issue between different components.

The problem is that I don't really know where to go. This post is fairly helpful as a starting point, but it got sort of derailed into a Mac discussion. So - what's a reputable online site that sells gaming desktop PCs with at least a 12-month warranty? I am thinking of spending around $1,800 (including a monitor); is that a reasonable estimate for a computer that will play current games well and that I will be able to upgrade a year or two later? Would I be better off getting a list of components from some place like Ars Technica and doing it myself?

Thanks, MeFi!
posted by detune to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Any midrange PC from any boxed vendor will work.

The most important part of the gaming PC is the Video card. Don't buy the card from the vendor, as they are way overpriced. Buy it separately. Currently, the best bang for the buck is the 8800GS/GTS/GT, they range from ~$80 to ~$150. I just watched fatwallet for a week or two and ended up buying a a EVGA 8800GS for $70ish after rebate.

If you need something more powerful, I'd check, they regularly have an article titled "Best Gaming Video Cards for the Money", which pretty much cover all price ranges. Good luck.
posted by wongcorgi at 3:15 PM on July 24, 2008

Ars Technica's system guides are updated regularly and are a wonderful resource.

If I was constructing a new box on my own, these guides and have all I need.
posted by porn in the woods at 3:20 PM on July 24, 2008

and because I am concerned about compatibility issue between different components.


Get thee to newegg, pick out, in this order:

1) Motherboard
2) Video card
3) Power supply
4) Case
5) RAM
6) HD
7) optical drive
8) OS license

. . . and yur done.
posted by yort at 4:04 PM on July 24, 2008

I think you'd save a lot by building your own machine, compared to an $1800 pre-built system. As wongcorgi says, the videocard is the most important component, and probably the most marked-up by builders. RAM and LCD's also usually cost several times what they do at newegg.

I'm not sure if 'any midrange PC from any boxed vendor will work' - simply because highend video cards nowadays require one or more auxilliary PCIe power inputs, and I don't know if such boxes have those additional connectors. They also probably don't support SLI or Crossfire configurations, which you could spring for, given your budget.
posted by unmake at 4:21 PM on July 24, 2008

i built my gaming box over at, and i spent way less than $1800. it was super-easy - you specify all the components you want and they slap it together for ya.
posted by gnutron at 4:34 PM on July 24, 2008

here are a few parts i just picked up about 3 weeks ago, and they have been running excellent without any issues.

Mobo: EVGA 123-YW-E175-A1
CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 (been running it @ 3.5 with the ZALMAN CNPS9700 and have had no issues)
RAM: mushkin XP ASCENT w/ eVCI technology 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)(I went with this RAM because in my experience Mushkin has very high quality sticks, and amazing customer support)

For building a new PC that's futureproof, I would also get a GTX280

combine that with a few good harddrives and power supply and it's a pretty solid platform. Also for looking up info from a community of enthusiasts, usually has a lot of good info.
posted by meowN at 4:40 PM on July 24, 2008

I would not want to buy a Dell/Gateway/HP etc for fear that it will have screwball nonstandard parts. Like a PSU and motherboard with nonstandard power connectors so you can't replace either alone, or a motherboard and case with nonstandard locations for the standoffs so you can't put in a new motherboard.

Places like cyberpower will build you a machine from industry-standard components, but you'll pay substantially more for it than for parts from newegg.

I just did this and it was painless. Plug the connectors into each other, put vista disc in dvd drive, let it go. Instant working computer.

For building a new PC that's futureproof, I would also get a GTX280

Even the 280 isn't futureproof as it still struggles somewhat with Crysis at high res.

I would just get something cheaper and then replace it in a year or two. 4870x2, maybe.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:24 PM on July 24, 2008

Dell's XPS line is right up your alley if you want pre-built.

Frankly, you're not going to find a cutting edge machine today that in two years will play the current games at their highest settings. The industry just doesn't work that way. That's not to say that you won't still enjoy your system two years from now, but there will always be some new game out that will test the limits of your rig.

It's the same thing with building your own - no system you assemble today will be cutting edge for long. Indeed, the only reason you'd want to build your own is if you like continually dumping money into your machine every six months or so. (Crysis cost me a good $300 in over-due upgrades and I'm still thinking about a second GeForce 8800 GT.)

You can still build computers cheaper than you can buy them, but not when it comes to high performance gaming rigs. You simply can't put together a system with an advanced video card and a big flat screen cheaper than Dell. Then again, with the Dell you're going to be more limited in upgrades... so build your own, or buy new every two years or so...

If a warranty and no hassle reliability is what you want then go with a manufacturer like Dell. If you want to do what I do and be up to your elbows in your system every few months, then by all means, build your own.
posted by wfrgms at 5:30 PM on July 24, 2008

I've found that Newegg's Advanced Search -> Sort by Best Rating feature tends to be the quickest way to find the "best bang for your buck" hardware.

Also, once you have selected a motherboard be sure to check what are the recomended brands and models of RAM for that board. When it comes to RAM generally these rules work out well:

1) Never mix different sizes / models / brands of RAM. If you are using more than 1 stick always use the exact same model / brand / size.

2) The extra couple bucks for high quality RAM (as opposed to generics) is very much worth it. This is one area where $5 on out of a $1800 total purchase can make a huge difference in system stability. Crucial and Kingston are good brands but in general just go to newegg and do a sort by best rating to see what rises to the top.
posted by Riemann at 7:27 PM on July 24, 2008

Build, build, build! If you pick the right parts and don't mind NOT having top-of-the-line (but pretty freaking close) all of the time, you can make that machine last about 2, even 3 years, with perhaps a minor upgrade (more RAM, extra hard drive) somewhere along the way. Sure, you kinda lose out on being able to call an 800 number to complain to someone if something goes wrong, but if you build/upgrade the thing yourself, you end up learning more about the innards in the process and you will be MUCH better prepared to handle anything that comes along.

Besides, putting the box together is like playing with legos for 3 hours. Just keep the motherboard manual on-hand for when you put in the frontside wiring.
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 8:14 PM on July 24, 2008

Nobody plays games on desktop machines any more. That whole industry is dying. Get a PS3 for games and use a laptop for everything else. Apple make the best laptop hardware, whatever OS you chose to install.
posted by w0mbat at 1:07 AM on July 25, 2008

I recently put together a decent gaming desktop rig for myself under similar circumstances. I wanted to tune the configuration a little with some stuff I probably can't get from major retailers, but I also didn't want to pay for the hype attached to certain high-end "gaming" brands.

I wound up finding a vendor on eBay that builds custom PCs with whatever crazy parts & configuration you can dream up, CPU coolers, elaborate vs. barebones cases, etc. It's the best of both worlds--all the freedom of building your own without the hassle of figuring out what is compatible with what, they do that for you. PM me if you want his seller name. (There are probably many guys on there that do this.)

It's nice to finally crank up the details on my favorite games. Make sure you get a kick ass display for it too.
posted by Brian James at 1:48 AM on July 25, 2008

I've done price comparisons and pre-built just doesn't work. I built a rig for $1,200 sans monitor and every game I play is maxed.

It has:
- Intel Quad Core 2.4 Ghz
- 8 GB RAM (I'm running XP64 not Vista)
- 1 TB Hard drive space over two disks using Raid Stripping
- 2 Geforce 8800 GT Graphics cards with 512MB RAM on-board each
- 750W power supply

Now computability is sometimes a problem, which is why I follow a process when specing a rig.

1. Select the processor brand - Intel v.s. AMD
2. Select the specific processor
3. Find a motherboard matching the specific processor (I've never had problems with Asus)
3a. If you want to do funky stuff (like RAID to get faster read/write speeds, see if the motherboard supports it.
4. From the motherboard, you get all the information about what type and speed of RAM you can get, what cards, how many, etc.
5. From there I choose a card or two
6. Hard drives are cheap, so I base my decision on cache and write speed (more is better here)
7. Get a power supply that can handle everything
8. Lastly, get a case with good airflow to put everything in

Now it is a lot of work, I spent several hours over the course of a week getting the info I needed and making sure my parts were the best, because the subtitle differences may make or break a system.

A hard drive with 5400rmp write speed and 7200rmp read speed will see noticeable difference in system performance, but most pre-made systems don't go into disk speed, let alone cache size which effects how much data the drive can hold before dumping.

And my final bit of advice: think before you connect a $500 graphics card to a $50 motherboard because it may be like putting performance breaks on a Model T.
posted by thebreaks at 6:13 AM on July 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, all!
posted by detune at 7:50 AM on July 25, 2008

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