Tying It All TogetherBy Jason Cross | Posted 2005-06-01 Email Print
Build It: Last year's $800 gaming PC was a bargain, but had significant compromises. This year's model is an $800 hot-rod gaming rig that offers impressive performance. What a difference a year makes!
If you want to play games, the question is not whether or not to run Windows XP, it's which flavor of XP should you run? There's no need for XP Pro, since we're not running a dual-CPU system. Media Center Edition is an option, but with no TV tuner card and an 80GB hard drive, we wouldn't recommend it. We're trying to save as much money as we can, so it's Windows XP Home Edition for us. The OEM price never really changes much: You can find it for about $75.
The real meat is in the 3DMark and game scores. We're running 3DMark 03 52% faster than our old $800 system. Unfortunately, the old system didn't successfully complete 3DMark 05, so we can't give you a comparison there. For the record, the new system's 3DMark 05 score is 3536—not too shabby.
Game performance is far better, too. Unreal Tournament 2004 is generally CPU bound, but the additional bandwidth of our Socket 939 CPU gives it a big boost there anyway.
and Painkiller are too new for us to have benchmarks on the old $800 Gaming PC. They all run at perfectly smooth frame rates at 1024x768 with all the features cranked up. Splinter Cell is the slowest, but an average 45 fps isn't bad at all for the third-person stealth game.
With this system, we're quite happy with the performance we were able to achieve at such a low price point. The system's performance is only half the story, though. The real value of this system is actually that it's ready for the future. The modern motherboard will be good for another couple years of CPU upgrades, including dual-core
After all, nothing is worse than that sinking feeling that your old PC is hopelessly obsolete and you need to start from scratch. Maybe our suggested build for an $800 Gaming PC will take some of the sting out of that. Even better, maybe its eye toward future upgrades will keep you from reaching that point so quickly the next time around.
If we had a slightly higher budget, we would certainly add a CD or DVD burner instead of a read-only drive. Beefing up the graphics card by another $100 would go a long way toward powering heavyweight upcoming games like F.E.A.R. and Age of Empires III too. Clearly, you can't have it all for only $800, but it's amazing how close you can get. This system is even ready to fully exploit Longhorn when it's released late next year. Leave comments in our discussion forum to let us know how you'd customize your own $800 Gaming PC to suit your tastes.