The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 12
So I've been throwing around the idea of building a PC to game on for quite some time, and seeing as I've been less than satisfied with the performance of many games on my Xbox 360 and PS3, most specifically Battlefield 3 and Assassin's Creed 3 it seemed like a logical choice. Battlefield 3's console player limit, and DICE's decision to develop their patches based on PC balance issues while applying them to the small console player count, left me disappointed in my favorite FPS franchise. Meanwhile, constantly dipping framerates in AC3 had me constantly sweating bullets and hoping my game wasn't about to crash. I've also been pretty annoyed by the fact that my laptop can only run games like Planetside 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic on the most ragged edge possible. Planetside 2 not running well is one thing, the game is absolutely huge and extremely CPU intense, but the fact that I have to bust the graphics down to low and the resolution to 720p for a less than graphically intense MMO is more than frustrating.
It made sense to find a way of pricing something like this out, deciding how I can cut costs and if, even after cutting those costs, this endeavor is financially viable. I would love to play graphically demanding and/or processor demanding games that I cannot currently on PC without any hiccups, and it only makes sense to go this route since I don't plan on buying into the next generation of consoles for at least the first year after they launch. Building a PC could allow me to put that off until prices start to drop without getting woefully behind on playing new games... or rather more woefully behind than I already seem to be after having not played XCOM, Dishonored, Farcry 3, or a slew of other great games that released this year.
Naturally curiosity got the better of me and, while perusing Reddit's Build A PC thread, I stumbled across the website PCPartPicker.com. Think of it like a hardware aggregation tool. Using it I have created a theoretical build based on the performance I'm looking for first, but keeping costs as low as possible in the process. You can find the build here, but I'll be laying out the specifics below. My final price, as of the time of creating this, came out to $985.06. Of course that price will likely come down after the holiday season and adding one piece of this puzzle to my parts pile, hopefully a discounted version of one of the more expensive parts, is a very real possibility. I am tech literate, you could say, but I'm not super knowledgeable about everything PC. If you're a PC wiz and I say something stupid here, feel free to correct me. My specialty is writing about these things, not the ins and outs of the nearly infinite realm of PC hardware.
First up is the processor. Right now I'm looking at an AMD FX-8150. It's a 3.6GHZ, totally unlocked 8-core processor. It surprisingly came in at a competitive price to AMD 6-core processors and well under the price of it's i7 counterparts. While it's marketed as an 8-core processor, it's actually just 6. The architecture for the chip is built in a way that allows the cores to share smaller tasks between themselves, instead of devoting an entire core to them, thus leaving more of each core to devote to whatever you are running and allowing it to approach an 8-core level of performance. While there are no games on the market that run using 8 cores at the moment, it's an inevitability. Large game worlds, such as Planetside 2's three massive continents, are extremely processor heavy. In the short run, the ability to easily overclock the processor and the pseudo 8-core tech will allow me to more stably run programs in the background while playing games. In the long run it should ensure a little bit more life out of the processor as games get bigger and more complex.
For my motherboard I went with the Gigabyte, and this is a mouthful, GA-990FXA-UD3 ATX AM3+. To be honest, I just copied that from the site and have no idea what the middle numbers and letters mean. The important part is that AM3+ bit though. For those of you that aren't super tech savvy, that essentially denotes what kind of processors can be plugged into the board. AM3+ boards accept AM2, AM2+, AM3, and obviously AM3+ along with a smattering of other sockets. More importantly though, if I'm not mistaken it should also support most of the next generation chip set sockets when they come along which means less short term annoyance and at least one more simple upgrade before I have to go about deconstructing my case to replace the motherboard. Another plus, every AMD chip comes with a CPU fan unit, which cut $30-$50 from my overall price.
The other big piece of the puzzle here is an Asus GeForce GTX 660 Ti Video Card with 2GBs of memory. This one is generally more flexible than the others however. Since I expect to pick up my video card last it has the most potential of changing. I don't know of any plans by any of the manufactures to release a next generation of cards anytime soon; although, it didn't take them long to put the GTX 500 series on the back burner in favor of the current benchmark 600 series. It's highly likely that they will role something shiny and new out to go along with Sony and Microsoft console launches as the next-gen really starts to kick into full swing, if not to create a new benchmark then at least to rake in some cash. At the very least I don't expect to see them coming out in the time that I plan to buy my card. Some of you may say wait and see, but everyone I know who went the wait and see route had a parts pile for way longer than they wanted to.
The 660 was an obvious choice price wise for me, and unless something causes major price drops by the time I get to picking up my video card I don't expect to be getting a 680 or anything like that. The 660 Ti came with added versatility for just a little bit more than the normal 660, and DirectX 11 compatibility means I should be playing games like Watch Dogs without a problem. The 660 Ti also supports SLI, which means if I want to beef up my rig by adding in another card later on down the road I can.
The remaining components include: 1 Asus Blu-Ray/DVD/CD drive, 1 Cooler Master HAF 912 case (which is a great deal at just $50), 1 SeaSonic 620W power supply, 1TB of Western Digital Storage (another item that may very well change depending on pricing), 8GBs of DDR3 memory, and a fresh copy of Windows 7 (since 8 isn't really anything special). Now I know what you might be thinking: what about a monitor, keyboard, or mouse? The answer is simple, I already have a setup that works for my laptop being plugged into my flatscreen and I plan to do the same with this tower. My wireless keyboard and mouse may not be the most amazing tech on the face of the planet, but they get the job done. Cutting all those items saved me roughly $350 on my estimated build price and since my TV is 55 inches it's hard to be in the same room as it and not have a similar view of the screen as you would a normal PC monitor from a couple feet away. I have no problem with PC gaming on my TV, so it makes no sense to add that extra price tag in yet, at least not as long as my TV is just used for playing games and watching Netflix.
If you haven't been scared off by all the tech talk, then thanks for reading all the way through. I fear I've started down a dark path here, considering my habit of leaving things unfinished, but for now I have a plan.
Update: Based on Sportsfanatic217's suggestions, I created an alternate build. It's about $50 more expensive since the CPU heatsink is not included, but as he said the i5 does appear to give better gaming performance even though all around the FX 8150 appears to be a more solid choice. I'm really just concerned about gaming, and sales or rebates may be able to make up the rest of my money. And, like he mentioned, more optimized architecture is expected and that may drive the price of the i5 down even more. You can find my Intel based build here.