As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, $1,000 is our favorite place to begin building a gaming PC. (Though, as we showed in the weeks before that, you can still put together fine, 3D-focused computers for $500 or $750.) But it's not a good place to stop if you don't have to. With many things in the technology world, the more money you can invest, the more impressive the final product will be—and that's undoubtedly the case here. So we upped our budget again, this time to $1,500.
Believe it or not, this was the hardest of all the builds we did for this project. When you're faced with a severe price restriction you have to get both extremely detailed and extremely creative, which makes the process seem like it's more about open doors than closed ones. And when you have essentially no price restriction, you can do whatever you want. But with $1,500, you’re free to ignore so much less-expensive equipment that you may feel as though you don't have room to move. You can buy some terrific hardware, but not a lot of it is the best that’s out there—and having to “make do” with something that’s only mostly excellent is less fun than it sounds.
So figuring out the proper balance between the good stuff and the really good stuff is not just crucial to building a system in the upper-middle pricing tier—it’s also maddeningly difficult. Still, this isn’t a bad problem to have, and with that spare $1,500 you’ll be able to build a gaming computer you can feel really positive about, even if the road to it is paved with (tiny) cobblestones of regret.
For our final installment in two weeks, we’ll look at the kind of system you can put together for $2,000. We love it, but our feelings for this $1,500 machine are only slightly less strong.
Choosing the Components
We’ve said in previous weeks that choosing the video card is an easy way to start laying out a gaming system. That remains true at $1,500, but there are more pitfalls here. You have enough money to buy some of the best (single-GPU) cards on the market, but you don’t want the rest of your computer to suffer as a result. So do you go all out on the graphics, or do you hold back just a bit so that the overall system is really a screamer?
Ultimately, we opted for the latter approach. Doing our shopping via Newegg we built on the base configuration we established with our $1,500 machine, but tweaked upward wherever we could. A number of things we just didn’t bother to change. We went with the same case (the $99.99 NZXT H2), power supply (the Thermaltake TR2 TRX-650M, priced at just $59.99 after rebate), and motherboard (the Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3, which this time we caught on an outstanding special-rebate combo for just $104.99), CPU (the $219.99 Intel Core i5-2500K).
As we mentioned last time, we arranged for our previous hard drive, a $99.99 1.5TB Western Digital Caviar Black, just before the recent Thailand floods caused an ungainly price spike throughout the hard drive market. Unfortunately we couldn't avoid paying more for less this time, but we decided to give up some speed and get more capacity with a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green ($189.99)—it uses less energy and spins more slowly. But we weren't too concerned about rotational speed, because this time we had enough money to set up a two-drive system with one of the drives having more than enough speed to compensate: a solid-state drive (SSD), the price of which hasn't been adversely affected by the flooding. We settled on a 120GB OCZ Vertex 3—it’s not necessarily the fastest drive you can get, and certainly its capacity is nothing to email home about, but at $149.99 after rebate it’s a compelling entrée into the segment. Pairing that as an OS drive with a larger storage drive meant we’d get the best of both worlds, which is exactly what we wanted.
We made use of every other inch of wiggle room we could find in our budget, too—and the value-oriented components we'd already selected made it easier to splurge in a few other places. One of them was the third drive we needed: an Asus Black Blu-ray burner for our optical storage needs. Coming in at just $69.79 after a mail-in rebate, it would let us both read Blu-ray discs and burn DVDs—a nice combination. We also decided to spend a bit more ($94.99) on 8GB of extra-fast Corsair Vengeance memory, so we’d be able to maximize efficiency wherever we could to make up for the less-speedy-than-absolutely-ideal processor.
Last but by no means least was the video card. We didn’t even have a choice here: It had to be based on the Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 chipset—the fastest you can get in a single GPU card. We lucked out and found an overclocked EVGA version for $479.99 after rebate that we knew would make an outstanding centerpiece for our system.
For less than $1,500, we had put together a computer that would kill with nearly everything we threw at it, and that looked terrific to boot. Yes, for $2,000 we could go even further, but this system left us no room for complaints.
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