Informit's 2006 Guide to Building the Ultimate Gaming PC on a Budget: Revenge of the Dual-Core, SLI Machine, Part 1
Just as prices on performance graphics cards plummet, dual-core processors are picking up steam. There has never been a better time to build your own high-end gaming rig on a budget. In this do-it-yourself guide, we take advantage of the new low-heat, high-performance, dual-core processors. We’ll show you step-by-step how to build a whisper-quiet, cool, and blazingly-fast machine. We’ll also examine the new, dual-graphics card SLI technology for maximum gaming performance. We’ll overclock and benchmark two video cards in parallel. Here’s the best part: You’ll build this dream machine for less than one-half its retail price.
It’s a Great Time to Build Your Dream Machine on a Budget
The last article I wrote on building the ultimate gaming machine on a budget came out nearly two years ago. The flood of emails I received was surprising. Many readers sent the specs and even pictures of their own home-built machines.
But two years have passed, and it’s time to upgrade. Several things have changed. For one thing, the introduction of Doom 3 sparked a revolution in graphics card quality. Fortunately for us consumers, the market is now flooded with great cards, and prices have plummeted. You can now get the equivalent of what used to be a $500 card for a mere $100. You’ll be able to handle the latest games such as Quake 4 with ease.
Another leap forward is the proliferation of SLI motherboards. SLI technology from NVIDIA allows you to take two cheaper graphics cards and run them in parallel. You can get a 75-80 percent gain compared to using a single card. So for the price of two $100 video cards, you can get graphics horsepower for what cost $500 just a few months ago.
There is another good reason to upgrade: heat. Or rather, energy savings. The old Intel Pentium 4 CPUs use a lot of power, and they generate a lot of heat. AMD chips take less energy, yet they perform faster than Intel. And we can now take advantage of the new dual-core chips. These chips allow true multi-processing in one CPU. Starting in 2006, more games and applications will begin to be optimized to take advantage of dual-core technology. Under the right circumstances, this can mean dramatic performance gains. So you are building for the future as well.
Finally, we are going to put a much greater emphasis on noise in this machine. Or rather, the lack of it. We want this machine to be as noiseless as possible. The last machine we built began to whine like a banshee after a few months. That’s because the Northbridge chipset fan on the Abit IC7-Max3 motherboard simply gave out for many users. We’re going to bypass this problem altogether this time and build a system with a fanless motherboard. We’ll also talk about fanless heat sinks and whisper-quiet case fans. We’ll look for over-built power supplies with huge heat sinks, quiet fans, and high-energy efficiency ratings.
We’ll also discuss memory latency, hard drive speed, and even gaming tips such as picking a low-delay monitor. We’re going to give you the exact specs and prices we used, so that you can have a template or starting foundation for your own machine. Hopefully, this will save you money and time by helping you avoid buying components that don’t work together. When ’completed, we hope to have a hot rod that is not just fast but instantaneous.
And the best part: You’ll have this street-racer for less than half the retail price. A high-end custom gaming rig like this currently retails for around $3,200-$3,400. We were able to build it for less than $1,500. We’ll show you how to cut costs without sacrificing performance. We’ll also show you benchmarks, and we’ll make sure that you can hit the elusive 60 frames per second required for multiplayer Quake 4. Thanks to our SLI dual-graphic card configuration, you’ll be able to make that even on the ultra-high quality setting of Quake 4.