This is a “mid-range” gaming pc build. That is, I’ve chosen the parts to be the best price for the most performance and duration of usage (value). This sort of system could last you several years without any tweaks or upgrades. It costs a little bit more upfront, but again – you probably won’t need to make any changes to keep playing the games that are going to be coming out over the next few years. I of course can’t guarantee any of those statements, but this is the system I would build for myself if I were to build a new computer right now – though my four year old system is still doing just fine…I might upgrade the video card for Diablo 3…but I won’t spend more than $150 on it, and thats after 4 years of use.
This setup is not including Monitor, keyboard or mouse – there are too many options for each of these for me to say ‘Thats the one you should get.’
The Critical Components – these are difficult to interchange without falling into another category.
Motherboard: See ‘The Z68 Chipset: What it means to Gamers‘ for info on choosing between these two.
NOTE: If you want to be able to use PCIe 3.0 in the future without upgrading, you need to get a GEN3 Z68 motherboard. See Here for more options.
Changes 1-25-12: I have added the 560 TI 448 cores to the list, this is basically a 570 GTX in a 560 TI body – providing a stepping stone between the two. The card also costs usually $50 more than the 560TI, so this is a personal choice. If it fits your budget, I recommend check out the 560 TI 448 cores, if not then the regular 560 TI is still a fantastic option.
Changes 1-25-12: I’ve added to the list the Seagate Momentus XT hybrid SSD/HDD hard drive at 500GB. For a main system drive, this is a pretty good compromise between HDD and SDD. Tomshardware did an excellent review on this drive. I would recommend considering this drive over the 1 tb now especially as the HDD prices are still a bit high (though they are starting to fall) and currently the Momentus 500 GB can be had for the same price as the Caviar Black 1TB.
Zalman CNPS9900MAX-R CPU Cooler Red LED OR Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus 120mm Sleeve CPU Cooler, RR-B10-212P-G1 >> I prefer the Zalman based off better cooling ratings, and I’ve used zalman in the past with the best experiences of all other coolers I’ve used. I also prefer their mounting system (it uses a back plate on the back side of the motherboard, but there is no chance of your heatsink dismounting this way – which I have had with non back plate mounting HS).
Non-Critical Components – these components can be interchanged based on your own taste.
Creative Labs SB0880 PCI Express Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Sound Card >> I am only familiar with the X-FI cards, but they are fantastic – just make sure you have a quality speaker or headphone set before spending the money.
Changes 1-25-12: I’ve added the Antec 1100 to the list – this is my preferred case. The list now has three price levels for consideration – all three of these cases are fantastic and would serve you well, it simply comes down to your personal preference. Have a look at my gaming pc cases article if you haven’t yet. I’ve also changed the Antec Three Hundred to the Antec Three Hundred Two – the just released update to this fine budget case.
MONITOR: I have added this section after writing my Gaming Monitor article with the recommendation of what monitor I would purchase. This monitor is perfect for gaming. The resolution is 1920×1080, with a 23.6″ size – it is a 1080 HD monitor. It is also very highly reviewed by users and made by Asus to boot.
SSD: When I wrote this article, SSDs were still a bit out of reach for the ‘Value’ Budget build – while excellent in performance, their cost was quite high. The first SSD I place on here was a 240GB going for around $550. Well, 6 months later and we find ourselves with a much broader selection of high quality SSDs at much lower prices. I am updating this with three tier options of SSD – your choice will depend on your budget level of course. 120 GB is probably the minimum size to be comfortable with a single drive solution – that is you have all your OS and programs installed on it. 240 GB is much more comfortable for a single drive, but obviously at a greater price. The 60 GB level allows you to have a boot and program drive, but you will need a HDD in the background for storing files.
Changes 1-25-12: The SSD section is the one which tends to change the most these days – with the flooding disaster in Thailand last year, the restriction in the HDD market pushed the SSD market forward quite a bit. As such, I’m leaving the above in a list for reference – they are still excellent SSDs – the below are the current ‘best’ recommended however. Choosing from either list will serve you just fine – trying to stay on top of this technology right now is futile, as new tech seems to come out every month. I added the 240GB High Performance option – this is the top of the line option, but as you will see it costs almost 65% more than the Agility 3. You can similarly find a non-MAX IOPS version of the 120 GB Vertex 3, but you only save $30-40.
240GB High Performance: OCZ 240 GB Vertex 3 SATA III 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive MAX IOPS 6.0 Gb-s VTX3MI-25SAT3-240G
SSD Caching: The Z68 chipset has provided a much more affordable way to achieve the same loading performance increase as having a full sized SSD like the one linked above (which is still quite amazing). Read my article ‘The Z68 Chipset: What it means to Gamers‘ for more on the benefits here.
Just remember, when you are ready to build a gaming pc, think value, think longevity. Keep in mind the warranties that come with your parts – these will save you if you have a problem (hey, its a computer). Pick manufacturers that are highly rated and reviewed by other people. Go by those ideas, and whatever computer gaming build that you chose will do you well in the long run.