I talk to many, many people interested in buying a Gaming Computer. Most are capable and willing to build their own, but they’re more interested in the warranty and expertise that comes with buying a pre-assembled machine and the peace of mind that a manufacturers warranty provides them. When you start to scale the cost of building your own, it’s really not that much more expensive to buy a pre-assembled gaming PC.
Anyway, here are some answers to some of the more popular questions.
What does a pre-assembled machine get me?
A fully engineered solution that’s ready to rock. On a first run of gaming PCs, I may send several hundred to the line at once. Do you think I’m using the least expensive memory, or inexpensive power supplies? No way. It’s actually the opposite. I tend to use products from the most reputable manufacturers out there and we put these products through some of the most rigorous testing you could imagine.
Think about this from the manufacturers perspective. If I build a PC using the least expensive parts available, my fall out will be incredibly high during the manufacturing or burn-in cycle. I have specific quality objectives to hit and more product to build after this run. All I’d be doing is holding up the line and cluttering the floor with systems that are having issues.
Keep in mind that I also have to worry about the warranty. If I’m using lousy parts with high fallout, I’m going to be replacing these parts. While I may not be using a $200 power supply in a $899.99 system you just purchased from me, I can assure you that I am using a high quality power supply that will exceed the specs of that system.
ATi or Nvidia?
Either. Focus on the features and not on the name. The video card will have the most impact on your gaming performance and is worthy of the most research. For instance maybe you’re looking at one gaming computer with an Nvidia GTX 260 and another with an ATi Radeon 5770. Performance benchmarks should show these cards being pretty close. Three big differences though. First, the GTX 260 pulls far more power. Second, the GTX 260 runs far hotter. Third, the GTX 260 does not support DirectX 11 where the Radeon 5770 does. DirectX 11 offers features such as tessellation which helps your gaming experience come to life. Instead of a flat textured pebble road in DirectX 10, DirectX 11’s tessellation may allow the road you’re walking on to actually show roundness to each individual pebble. This is a significant change in visuals.
The smart consumer just bought the system with the Radeon 5770.
Intel or AMD?
Again, either or. For straight gaming both will perform about the same. We haven’t seen multi-threading really take off to utilize more than a couple of cores. Focus more on the video card here. However, if you’re interested in encoding media or running applications that do scale well when it comes down to multitasking, Intel and their i7 series (with 8, or 12 threads) wins hands down.
Why does Intel have so many chipsets and what should I get?
As of right now, Intel has three primary chipsets when it comes to gaming. P55, X58, and P67. Z68 is around the corner.
P67 (socket 1155) is replacing P55 (socket 1156). P67 is otherwise codenamed as “Sandybridge”. If you buy a P55 system today, you’re not getting the performance and features you should be, and you’re probably paying the same price. On a P67 motherboard you’re typically going to see two new technologies in USB 3 and SATA III 6Gbps, you’re also going get significantly faster performance out of the processor. In fact, an i7 2600k processor will out perform any consumer grade Intel processor with the exception of the $1000 X58 based 990x. And typically the 990x only wins in some benchmarks because it offers 12 threads.
The only other majors worth noting is the PCI express lane limitations on the P67 when compared to X58, and really, don’t worry about this. Anyone who says you should is doing you a disservice. It’s funny the arguments you’ll see about something so minor. The other major is dual channel memory. Dual channel memory means you’re installing the memory in matched pairs to increase memory bandwidth. The Z68 is a higher end, overclocking/enthusiast based chipset that will offer additional features on top of P67. Why Intel felt the need for this, I’ve no idea. It all should have been rolled in to one. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say about it at this point as the information I have is under NDA. But keep your eyes open the next couple of months.
X58 (socket 1366) is still Intels “enthusiast” chipset until later this year. Despite being outperformed by Sandybridge processors, 1366 is still considered by many to be the premier chipset due to the availability of the 12-thread 990x processor, triple channel memory (install memory in three’s) and differences in PCI-e options. If for some reason you want to run three video cards, this is the socket for you. Be careful when purchasing X58 based products, if you’re not getting USB 3.0 or SATA III on a X58 based system you’re about to purchase, you’re buying older product.