In each edition of our monthly High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, we are given $2500 in cash to spend, and go to the limit in search of the ultimate high-end gaming machines. These systems certainly pump out the gaming FPS, but we do not spend this money frivolously, and our tech savvy and eye for a deal play a large role in the choices we make. All of the hardware picks in this guide are done after carefully weighing the price to performance ratio of each component, then seeing how they fit into our $2500 budget. This guide also represents the median between our Value Buyer's Guide with only a $1000 limit, and our Extreme Buyer's Guide with its massive $4000 budget.
The purpose behind this guide is to give you a general idea of what kind of high-end gaming PC is possible with a budget of $2500. While the individual components are top notch, we take a look at the larger picture, and decide which pieces meld together the best to form the highest-performing, feature-rich gaming PC possible. We recommend configurations for both the Intel and AMD sides of the spectrum, and are not here to promote one platform over the other.
This past month we have seen a few high profile CPU releases from both AMD and Intel. AMD recently introduced the Athlon 64 FX-53, and Intel quickly countered by getting the Pentium 4-3.4 GHz Extreme Edition into the mass market. However, as much as we'd like to include one of these processors in our guide, budgetary constraints prevent it. Even without the most expensive CPU on the block, our PC can still deal with the demands of all the new games released over the past month. Games such as FarCry and UT2004 push the limits of today's PCs, so when designing a PC we try to grab every ounce of performance we can while maintaining our $2500 budget.
Current Cost: $185
Months on list: 5
Price Change: -$6
Across all three of our monthly Buyer's Guides we list the case and power supply first, because these items should be the first order of business when it comes to building a new PC. A case can stay with you longer than many other internal components, and can also dictate future upgrade paths. Today, most mid and full tower cases conform to the ATX 2.1 specification for component compatibility, so it's very important to choose a model that you feel is both aesthetically pleasing and functional enough for your needs.
There are few manufactures on our short list that are known for quality high-end cases, including Lian Li, Cooler Master and Antec to name a few. Cases from any of these manufacturers would be an excellent choice, but for the purposes of this guide we can only choose one. Lian Li has been our top pick in this guide for the past few months, and this time out will be no different. We prefer to use the Lian Li PC-65 not only because of its attractive price and great looks, but also because it is one of the most functionally sound cases we have ever used.
The Lian Li PC-65 is a great looking aluminum case, that definitely has the high-end features and expandability we're looking for. It features 4 x 5.25", 3 x 3.5" (External), and 5 x 3.5" (Internal) expansion slots, four ball-bearing cooling fans, a fan speed controller, two front-mounted USB ports, a removable motherboard tray, and even a side-panel window. Best of all, the Lian Li PC-65 can be found at various online retailers for about $106.
To keep costs down, most high-end cases do not come with a power supply. Due to the power and signal requirements of a high-end PC we chose to go with a high quality 480W power supply from Antec. The Antec TruePower 480W power supply fits perfectly into our case, and has more than enough juice to power whatever we may throw at it. It is also very important to choose a power supply from a reputable brand (Antec, ThermalTake, Enermax, Vantec), as bargain units often have ridiculously high output claims that the hardware simply can't match.