Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Budget Gaming PC Specs - The Frames per Second, Performance, and Bang-for-Your-Buck Dillemma

So after years of playing classic games, I've finally gotten tired of my procrastinating and bought a budget gaming PC. For a setup bottlenecked by a monitor that's capped at 1024 resolution, this thing can eat up any game thrown at it and crank it up to ultra-high settings. I'm in gaming nirvana.

The strange mix of euphoria (FPS: take that Tribesman!) and fugued contentment (RTSs: Oooh, beautiful foliage!) has been elevated to another level when I recently bought a back issue of PCGamer. Their recommended budget gaming PC components are as follows:

PSU: Generic 450W PSU
CPU: Core 2 e7200 2.53Ghz
Motherboard: MSI P43 Neo3-F
Memory: Corsair 2Gb DDR2-800

My budget gaming PC components and why I chose them after the jump.

With graphics like this on a budget gaming PC you know you want to click "Click here to read more..." So go ahead. Click.

What I bought:

[Updated: corrected a typo; it's not an "MSI P45 Neo4-FR."Apologies for the confusion.]

PSU: Generic 550W PSU
CPU: Core 2 e7400 2.80Ghz
Motherboard: MSI P45 Neo3-FR
Memory: Kingston 2Gb DDR2-800
Videocard: 9800GT

It's a tad bit powerful than what they recommended nearly a year ago and I'm very happy with what I have. Ran Red Alert 3 and the thing can crank up the highest graphic settings no problemo. F.E.A.R. runs at a minimum of 42 FPS at maximum CPU and video settings. This budget gaming PC swallows and practically spits out Tribes: Vengeance (another game in my collection that I'm very fond of); it can throw out Ultra-high graphics at smooth framerates every time I go out to hunt Phoenix rabble.

Reasons why I chose the above components:

PSU: Why generic? I plan to sell this thing in 2.5-3 years. Buying a $100 branded PSU doesn't fit with the plan. Why the 550-watt rating? Any PC hardware enthusiast knows that generic PSUs can't supply their specified wattage. Buying a 550W PSU is safe for my setup.

See my article about keeping a PC well beyond the 2-year mark.<<<

CPU: It has only been in recent years that developers have started taking advantage of quad-core CPUs. Even now, only a very small percentage has optimizations built into them. I'm a retro gamer and
my target bracket---games that have been made in 2005-2008---only requires a modest CPU to run them; I've no need for the Quads. It's interesting to note though that I was going to buy a 2.6Ghz CPU but local shops told me that there's only a negligible price difference between the e7300 and the e74 so I bought that.

Why 2.6Ghz? There's an article that showed that after the 2.6Ghz mark, improvements in frames per second isn't worth shelling out the extra smackers needed for a better CPU. I bookmarked it in another computer. I'll post a link to it when I get back from the holidays.

Motherboard: Now here's one component that I shelled out more than I wanted to. The board has several features that I won't be using. For one, I don't need RAID. And what with the video card of my choice, going for an SLI setup would have been folly (better to buy a more expensive card than going for an uber expensive setup that's going to deliver a relatively insipid markup in performance). I don't even overclock so I don't need
MSI P45 Neo3-FR's heat sinks. Bummer. I was going for the no-frills MSI P45T-C51 but sadly, I couldn't get a hold of it. The black-and-blue budget motherboard should have been nice to look at. Instead I got a motherboard that's amazing to behold:

Why a P45 motherboard?

The P55 is still very expensive here and to wait for prices to go down would mean waiting for the next Ice Age. (It would have made more sense though --- overclock-friendly climes going with a new PC. Yum --- and brrr.)

The P35 has only PCIe 1.1 (compared to P45's PCIe 2.0). Sure, there's only an infinitesimal (2%-10%) difference but hey, it's there so I'm taking it. (There's also the irrational, dejecting feeling of buying a board with a chipset that's three generations behind mwehehe.) No P35 for in my drawing (and budget) boards thank you. But that's just me; P35 motherboards perform well and they are cheaper.

Read more on P45 vs P35 performance gains: Tom's Hardware's PCI Express 2.0 Graphics Cards Tested and NeoSeeker's Intel P45 & G45 Launch

Memory: I've read time and again from numerous forums and sites that buying 1033Mhz RAM modules isn't worth it. 800Mhz is still the sweet spot for gamers on a budget. I'm using a 32-bit OS so no 4gig kit for me. A tip though: do some research, understand the dangers, and tweak your RAM modules' latency settings in your rig's BIOS. I dropped mine from the default 6-6-6-18 SPD settings to 5-5-5-12. The performance increase is, again, negligible but every little tweak counts.

Videocard: It has only been recently that the 8800GT showed signs of finally retiring from the gaming scene. It's doing this slowly though ---- the 9800 videocards are essentially revamped designs of the powerful 8800GT. I don't have a titanic display at home so purchasing a video card that can run most games at 1680 resolution is the perfect solution for someone who only has a 17-inch AOC monitor --- the extra juice can be used to bump up those shadow and anti-aliasing settings. I'm planning to buy a new display in the months ahead though.