UPDATED: See the "Videocard" section below. Added the 8600 GT. Provided a link to my article about how to use game profiles with AMD-ATI cards. Subsections --- Peripherals, CPU, Videocards, Memory --- are now clearly separated with yellow markers.
Some of my friends keep approaching me and are asking for my opinion about what PC components to buy. I made this guide for them. I included several options as they have their own individual budgets.
Keyboard, Mouse, PC Case, DVD-ROM drive:
From what I have gathered, you are not too picky about these so we are not going to delve into any models. Just be careful about mouse ergonomics though --- if you have large hands like me and buy a mini-mouse that's going to stress you quicker than a larger one. My mouse? See MY ARTICLE if you are curious; it's a Genius 2000-dpi gaming mouse. (And as far as I know, the cheapest, largest, 2000-dpi killer mouse in this city. John, you New Yorker, get a Razer you cheapskate! Lol!)
For a keyboard, if you have a taste for unique designs I found one just like Jeedo's at CD-R King in SM. It costs 450 PhP but it's ergonomically shaped. You can see pictures of it HERE. I don't know how it feels if you're gaming with it though. I use an A4 Tech Anti-RSI keyboard --- the exact model the company where I work uses.
For a case, I'd recommend those ones with a 120-mm fan on its front as this will provide maximum ventilation for your PC --- and if your exhaust fans are smaller --- drive away dust from the inside of your gaming rig.
This is OPTIONAL but IF you want to learn about air flows read THIS ARTICLE.
Contrary to what others will inadvertently lead you to believe, the CPU is NOT the whole black/off-white box. It's the brain-heart inside that black/off-white box. :D
As it stands at the time this was written, Intel's Core 2 Duos are heads and shoulders above its competition; let's stick with this family. My suggestions:
E2180: This is for you who want to save every last penny from your PC budget. It's not a Core 2 Duo but is a dual core. It kicks the living daylights out of my P4 2.4GHz though so it's still a good upgrade if you have been chugging away with an old machine.
The E4300 and the E4500: Cheapest of the Core 2 Duo family. Intel has been advertising that its Core 2 Duo models use 40% less power so you might want to take into consideration before buying the E2180. There's only, on average, a 2-fps difference between the E4300 and the E6300 in Techspot.com's review, making the E4300 the best bang-for-your-buck choice. IF you want to read their thoughts about these, read this PAGE.
First things first: I keep hearing about "What's a good videocard? A 256-Mb one? Will a 128-megabyte videocard be enough?" Always there's a reference to the memory of a videocard. Memory is just temporary storage. It just stores data that's all. How about asking how fast the videocard processes the data? DO NOT base your decision on how much memory a videocard contains --- some 128Mb video cards can trounce 256Mb ones!
To prevent complicating this post, I won't go into details about core and memory speeds. Here's a list:
GeForce 7300 GT --- the cheapest card I could find with good reviews. I am leery about videocards with little or no reviews about them so this should be the very least you should buy. It purportedly beats the 6600 GT in this review though do take note that this particular version uses GDDR3 memory. (Don't get intimidated by this, just say "I want one with GDDR3 memory." Sales personnel will note that down.) There are also factory-modified ones, like this one with a Zalman cooler. Looks cooler and performs better.
8600 GT --- I learned from TomsHardware.com's "Best Gaming Graphics Cards: February 2008" article that the 8600 GT won a spot in the $100 price range. It seemed strange that this card, whose stock versions garnered only lackluster reviews, could hold a spot in that site's monthly linuep.
I did a quick scan of the sites of local vendors and found out that it's true, its price did drop drastically; it now sells for less than 4K in most sites!
With a core speed of 540Mhz, and an effective 1400Mhz memory speed, its viability for low-end systems has now leapt upwards quite dramatically.
It still is a no-go if you're planning to use it for DX10 games, but it's cheaper than the 7900 GS so it's worth contemplating if you have a limited budget for videocards.
8800 GT OC and the 8800 GTS 320MB --- These are, at least for me, expensive options. I visited PCBodega and the ones they have in stock, a Palit 8800 GT and an Inno3d 8800 GTS cost 12.5K Php and 13.5K Php respectively. If you ask me, this monster takes the cake, the trophy, and the girl. It costs a whopping 249 USD but it can go toe-to-toe with the 8800 GTX according to THIS REVIEW. The 8800 GTX costs more than 20K in Php so it's really a bargain for its performance level.
If budget is not a concern, I'd rather go all the way and buy one of these rather than buy an 8600. The 7900 GS --- and older card --- is faster than an 8600. The only thing the 8600 has over the 7900 is its ability to run DirectX 10 games. But with its weak specs, if you enable DirectX 10 with high settings, it's not exactly going to give you a stellar performance. The 86 series is really an oddball but then again, the 8600 GT is cheap now so in the end it still boils down to how much you are willing to spend for your games.
And what is all the fuss about DirectX 10? See THIS to understand. (Take note that the "XP - Very High Quality" images are results from a game that has been hacked by its users. The most you probably see in a DirectX 9 system will be under the "XP - High Quality" images.)
NOTE: I have never been an AMD-ATI user primarily because their video drivers do not have "game profile" support, something that I find very handy when tweaking games. If you want to check that avenue, you can check out TomsHardware's Graphics and Displays section, which periodically churns out their "Best Gaming Graphics Cards for the Money" articles monthly.
No offense to AMD-ATI, but tweakable game profiles is a feature I just can't do without, not to mention Nvidia's Forceware's "Display Optimization Tool."
Update: See my "ATI Tray Tools Allows Radeon Videocard Owners to Create Game Profiles" article. That useful freeware is changing the way I look at AMD-ATI cards and I am now seriously contemplating changing my preference as their low-end cards currently offer the best bang-for-your-buck ratio. I will add more videocards here in the next few days.
Again, most of you are not concerned so much about motherboard features and contrary to what you might think, so am I. The only thing that worries me is upgradeability. Formerly, I used to think that RAID can improve gaming but these arrays will only improve load times, not performance.
The newest chipsets today are Intel's P35 and the x38. Here's a good review of p35 mobos. I'm setting my sights on two of these, namely the Gigabyte P35-S3L and the Asus P5-E. The latter has RAID support and uses a better audio solution. If you don't care about RAID and audio, I'd recommend the former. (Its audio is none too shabby either with its integrated Realtek ALC888 controller.)
Here are two reviews you might want to check out:
HardwareSecrets: ASUS P5K-E/WiFi-AP Motherboard
Legion Hardware: Intel p35 Overclocking - Core 2 Duo E6420 + Gigabyte P35-S3L
These aforementioned boards support quad cores and DDR2 800Mhz memory modules. ("non-officially [the P35 chipset] supports DDR2-1066" - HardwareSecrets.com) They do not support the newer DDR3 modules however so this is something you might want to consider. (Mobos that support DDR3 are much more expensive however.)
Again, none of you are overclockers so standard 1GB DDR2 memory modules should be fine. I heard from a reliable source that 800Mhz ones are very cheap nowadays so take that into account too. With resource-hungry games and applications that are popping out nowadays, 512Mb should be rock bottom for you; to go lower would be insane. For those of you who want to stretch your budget further, buy a dual-channel kit. (Here's an article about what dual-channel is all about.)