Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Building a Custom Gaming PC

When it comes to video games, I have always considered myself a console gamer. I loved the PlayStation 2 and was blown away by the Xbox 360 but I never really got into PC gaming. Now a friend of mine had always told me of the superiority of PC gaming and to be honest it never really interested me. But then I started getting into a lot more. I have always loved real-time strategy games (RTS) like Age of Empires and the Total War series but maxed out graphics was never within my reach and performance issues were constant.

That, coupled with the release of StarCraft 2 and the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Old Republic, was what really got the ball rolling for me on building my own custom gaming PC. Now sure, you can go online to Alienware or head on over to your local tech shop and buy a powerful gaming PC but I would only recommend that if you insist on emptying your bank account in one fell swoop. My method not only got me a gaming PC that can max out nearly any game on the market but also saved me a lot of time and money.

So let's start off with the basic components and pieces you will need to make your PC gaming dreams come true. Your basic pieces consist of a motherboard, hard drive, graphics card, RAM, power supply, disk drive, processor, tower, monitor(s), keyboard, mouse and speakers. Now knowing what to get and what makes a good deal is tough if you do not know the lingo of the computer world, so if you do not know what is good, it isn't hard to find with a quick Google search.

So let's break down my computer. We will start off with my power supply, the life force of the computer. My computer is powered by a Cooler Master Silent Pro M600 RS-600-AMBA-D3 600W power supply which I purchased off of Newegg.com for $99.99. This power supply currently has an average 5 star review (out of 5) from 184 reviews.

Next up is the hard drive. I have a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Blue hard drive that has 7200 RPM, 32MB cache and Satat 3.0Gb/s. This 1TB drive only cost me $64.99 from Newegg as well where it has an average 4 star review based on 364 reviews. A drive like this is perfect to store as many games on as you want.

I'm running 8GB (4 x 2GB) of 240-pin DDR3 SDRAM with four sticks of Corsair XMS3 RAM. Once again yet another great purchase from Newegg. This ran me $89.99 and is a perfect match for Core i5 or Core i7 processors.

Speaking of processors, I am running a used Core i7 first generation processor. Now this is where you may get hit with an added cost. Since the release of Intel's second generation processors, it is extremely hard to find the processor I am using. Newegg has a slew of new ones running anywhere from $280 to $350, but if you can find an old version somewhere that is in good condition, then I would highly recommend getting it.

For my motherboard I went with the Asus Sabertooth X58 LGA. This board is really slick and supports Core i7, Quad-GPU SLI and Quad-GPU CrossFireX and USB 3.0. It has seven USB ports total and was only $199.99 on Newegg.

For my disk drive I went with a Lite-On 24X DVD+R drive. It can burn and write CDs and DVDs and even came with Nero in case I decide to make my own movies and edit the menus or tweak other settings. This is your standard disk drive and can be found on Newegg for $17.99.

Now if you are going to game on a PC, you need maxed out graphics. There is really no sense in building a gaming rig if you are going to skimp on the graphics. I chose to go with the XFX HD-487A-ZWFC card from Radeon. This card has it all, like PCI Express 2.0 x16, 750MHz clock speed, 800 Stream processing units, 900MHz effective memory clock, 1GB memory size, DirectX 10.1, two DVI slots and a max resolution of 2550x1600. This card can max out any game you want with the exception of something like Crysis. I got this card on Newegg as well for $154.99.

That takes care of the insides and now we are on to the outside. All of that power is housed inside the Antec Nine Hundred Two tower. This is a medium-sized case with a bottom mounted power supply, side panel window, three external 5.25" drive bays, six internal 3.5" drive bays, an internal bottom-mounted 2.5" SSD drive, two USB 2.0 front ports, one USB 3.0 front port and audio in and out. The case itself glows blue and has a very quiet fan. You can pick this up on Newegg for $119.99, but I have seen it cheaper at places like BestBuy and other computer stores.

I am writing this review on two 23-inch emachine wide LCD flat panel monitors. They both have a 16:9 aspect ratio, full 1080p HD (1920x1080), on-screen display controls and a 5ms response time. All the function buttons are on the bottom of the display right under the emachine logo and are very easy to get to. They look great and have a very crisp picture. I was running StarCraft 2 earlier on max settings and the picture was very very good. I got these as a part of a Black Friday deal at Microcenter for $118.00 each. The catch was a limit one per household so I hope you have a good friend that is willing to go out with you. Average price is about $140 and higher.

I have Logitech speakers, the Logitech X-530 to be precise. They offer 5.1 surround sound with a bass speaker. So far, they are working perfectly and offer excellent sound quality and let's just say that Dead Space is pretty scary with surround sound.

I went for consistency with my peripherals. My mouse,keyboard and headset are all made by Razer. My mouse is the Razer DeathAdder gaming mouse which has 3500dpi. My keyboard is the Razer Lycossa gaming keyboard which features blue illuminated keys, WASD cluster lighting and a touch panel in the top right. Finally, my headphones are the Razer Carcharias gaming headset which has a noise filtering microphone as well as an inline remote. The mouse, keyboard and headset can all be found on Newegg for $49.99, $79.99 and $79.99 respectively.

I like how my mouse, keyboard, headset and tower all glow blue together. For me it makes everything flow together nicely and match perfectly so everything looks nice together. So let's do a quick run down on every piece and how much this will cost you in total:

COOLER MASTER Silent Pro M600 RS-600-AMBA-D3 600W ATX12V V2.3 SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Bronze Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply - $69.99

Western Digital Caviar Blue WD10EALS 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive - $64.99

CORSAIR XMS3 8GB (4 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model CMX8GX3M4A1333C9 - $95.99

ASUS Sabertooth X58 LGA 1366 Intel X58 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard - $199.99

XFX HD-487A-ZWFC Radeon HD 4870 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card - $154.99

LITE-ON Black 24X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 8X DVD+R DL 24X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA CD/DVD Burner - $17.99

Intel Core i7-2600 Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo Boost) 4 x 256KB L2 Cache 8MB L3 Cache LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80623I72600 - $299.99

Antec Nine Hundred Two V3 Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - $69.99

eMachines E233Hbd Black 23" 5ms Widescreen LCD Monitor 300 cd/m2 DC 80000:1(1000:1) - 2 at $118.00 ($236.00)

Logitech X-530 70 Watts 5.1 Speaker - $69.99

RAZER DeathAdder Precision Optical Gaming Mouse - 3.5G Infrared Sensor - $49.99

RAZER Lycosa Black USB Wired Game Keyboard - $79.99

RAZER Carcharias 3.5mm Connector Circumaural Professional Gaming Headset - $79.99

That brings our grand total to $1,587.89 which is not bad considering some of the base Alienware computers are around that price and that is without a monitor, peripherals or sound. Now mine was slightly less than that. I didn't have to buy a brand new $300 Core i7 and my speakers, keyboard, mouse and headset were gifts which knocks off nearly $280 right there. If you pick your pieces right and buy in increments, you will definitely have no problem affording a high powered gaming rig like mine. I am thoroughly impressed by all my components and could not be happier with my computer's performance and style.

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