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Introduction and Parts
The $1500 segment is full of possibilities, and there are endless different configuration possibilities to choose from, be it an AMD or Intel platform, DDR2 or DDR3 memory, or Nvidia or ATI graphics. What we've tried to do here is balance current value for the dollar with a look towards future upgradability.
Heres the list of parts we recommend for a $1500 gaming PC:
CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 920 2.8GHz - $189.99
Mobo: ASUS M4A79 Deluxe AM2+/AM2 AMD 790FX ATX AMD Motherboard - $199.99
RAM: 2x G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 - $109.98 ($54.99 each)
Video Card: SAPPHIRE 100270SR Radeon HD 4850 X2 2GB - $279.99
Video Card 2: SAPPHIRE 100258-1GL Radeon HD 4850 1GB - $161.99
Power Supply: PC Power & Cooling S75QB 750W - $129.99 (99.99 after Mail-in Rebate)
Case: Antec Nine Hundred Two - $159.99
HDD 2: HITACHI 0A38016 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - $87.99
DVD Burner: LITE-ON SATA DVD Burner- $22.99
CPU Cooler: Tuniq Tower 120 Universal CPU Cooler - $49.99
Total Price (Before Shipping): $1,479.89
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The AM2+ Platform and the Phenom II X4 920
AMD Phenom II X4 920 2.8GHz - $189
Tuniq Tower 120 Universal CPU Cooler - $49.99
The great thing about AMD's AM2+ platform is the potential to last many years without the need to upgrade. AM3 processors are backwards compatible, which means that you can buy an AM3 CPU down the road and drop it in your AM2+ motherboard. You'll be stuck with DDR2 memory, but the difference isn't that drastic between DDR2 and DDR3 anyway.
We chose the 790FX-based Asus M4A79 Deluxe motherboard for this build because of the 4 PCIe 2.0 x16 expansion slots, which are becoming ever more necessary. Video cards are certainly not the only devices to use PCI-express slots, and the number of devices that use them are growing each year. If Nvidia's Physx ever takes off, you'll also have the ability to drop in a midrange GeForce card alongside your main video card and enjoy the benefits of Physx support. Currently this isn't possible with Windows Vista, but there are indications that it will be possible under Windows 7.
The Phenom II represents AMD's return to competition in the CPU sector, and a solid return it is. The 2.8GHz 920 is a great processor for the price, especially when overclocking ability is factored in. A Phenom II 920 can be expected to overclock up to around 3.7GHz. At this speed, it should blow any stock non-Core i7 CPU out of the water. If you feel strongly that a quad-core is unnecessary, you can pick up a tri or dual-core AM2+ CPU instead.
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SAPPHIRE 100270SR Radeon HD 4850 X2 2GB - $274.99
SAPPHIRE 100258-1GL Radeon HD 4850 1GB - $161.99
The defining factor of a high end gaming PC is a great video card. The video card is the engine that will drive the visuals in all the latest games, and finding the best card to fit your build can be a hard decision.
We've chosen a 2 card setup for this $1500 gaming PC, though really there are 3 GPU cores in total. One Radeon HD 4850 X2 2GB, and an additional Radeon HD 4850 1GB form the graphical horsepower of this recommended build. A single Radeon HD 4850 X2 outperforms an Nvidia GTX 285, and the added HD 4850 pushes it into the realm of the GTX 295, making this combination an incredible setup for the price. Some might argue that multi-GPU setups are too much of a hassle, and some games don't support it. The raw performance of multi-GPU setups more than make up for these concerns, and any game that doesn't support multi-GPUs will most likely run fine on a single HD 4850 anyway.
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RAM, Hard Drives, and DVD Drive
2x G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 - $109.98 ($54.99 each)
LITE-ON SATA DVD Burner - $22.99
With Windows 7 on the horizon, and ever more memory intensive applications being released, 8GB of RAM seems to be the current sweet spot for new builds. The great thing is that RAM has never been cheaper, and 8GB of fast DDR2 1066 can be easily found for just a little over $100.
Installing your operating system on a solid state drive can drastically reduce boot times, and make your computer seem much more responsive in general. Unfortunately, until recently, SSDs were extremely expensive, and were only included in the highest-end computers. This Patriot solid state drive combines performance nearly equal to high-end SSDs, with a much lower price.
Of course, you'll also need a place to store all the games that you'll be playing as well, which is why we recommend this 1 Terabyte Hitachi as the main storage drive. It has plenty of space for games, as well as movies, music, and pictures.
We almost added a Blu-ray drive to this build, but decided that they're just too expensive, even at $90, for a pure gaming PC. Down the road, it may be necessary if PC games start to be released on Blu-ray, but for now, a simple DVD burner is just fine. We went with a cheap LITE-ON model with a SATA interface.
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Case and Power Supply
PC Power & Cooling S75QB 750W - $129.99 (99.99 after Mail-in Rebate)
Antec Nine Hundred Two - $159.99
PC Power & Cooling are known as manufacturers of some of the most reliable and stable power supplies around. You might think that with a quad-core CPU, 8 gigabytes of RAM, and 3 GPUs that this system would require more power, but the S75QB 750 watt unit will handle it easily as well as more expensive 1KW units from other manufacturers. The price fluctuates on this unit, so it might be at an even cheaper price soon.
When deciding on a case, we looked at various factors from air flow, to connection options, to overall looks, and decided on the Antec Nine Hundred Two. This case, for one, looks great, and it hides plenty of functionality as well. Three 120mm fans and a huge 200mm fan, all with blue led lighting no less, provide this case with great airflow. The insides are plenty roomy to hold our 2-GPU setup and tall CPU cooler as well. On the front, there are the standard USB and audio inputs, but also an e-SATA connector as well for any portable hard drives you might own.
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$1500 can get you a solid gaming PC, one that will blow through any game or benchmark with ease, even at high resolutions. All the parts in this build were chosen for their quality, and value. Surprisingly, while we put this build together, some prices fluctuated down as much as $100 overall, so if you wait for a good deal, you might be able to get these parts even cheaper. The recommendation here isn't set in stone, either. You can easily substitute cheaper or more expensive parts, depending on your budget and usage.