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Sharky Extreme : Monthly Value Gaming System Buyer's Guide March 12, 2008

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    September Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
    By Vince Freeman :  September 21, 2005

    Sound Card: Integrated 8-Channel

    Current Cost: $0
    Months on list: 17
    Price Change: N/A

    There are a few concessions with having mainstream CPU, video, and motherboard hardware in an entry-level system configuration, and one of them is to make use of the motherboard's integrated audio. Both our AMD and Intel motherboards feature very capable 8-channel audio solutions, and although there is a bit of CPU overhead, current processors make this a non-issue. Soundcards are also one of the most easily-upgradeable system components, so by going the onboard route, you can then saving up for a SoundBlaster Audigy2 (or similar) high-end soundcard and upgrade later.

    We also haven't allocated any of our system budget on a low-cost, dedicated soundcard that may need to be tossed afterwards. For our value systems, sticking with on-board sound not only makes sense now, but it is an economical strategy for future upgrades.

    Speakers: Logitech X-530 6-Piece Speaker System

    Current Cost: $46
    Months on list: 4
    Price Change: -$7

    Buying a set of entry-level gaming speakers should never be an afterthought, and though we're not going to be getting a set of high-end Klipsch Promedia speakers, you can still get amazing game audio without breaking the bank. The optimum method of determining your choice of speakers is to actually listen to a few sets, using CD and game music to make the final determination.

    In early 2005, we moved from the Logitech Z-640 to the Logitech X-530, which is a nominal upgrade in some ways, but provided us with a more current speaker set that is available for sale at all the major online vendors. The unit's power specs are excellent for the class, with a total RMS of 70W, including a 25W sub-woofer and 45W Satellites (2 x 7.4 watts front, 15.5 watts center, 2 x 7.4 watts rear), but the actual X-530 speakers are a bit higher quality and deliver better overall sound than the previous Z-640.

    Our AMD and Intel platforms support 8-channel audio, so the Logitech X-530 set is a great match, and amazingly still keeps us below the $50 mark. The X-530 speakers also offer a superb combination of value, mid-range power, 5.1 audio support, and great looks, making it virtually impossible to find a better gaming speaker set in this price range.

    Of course, if you want to save a few bucks, or if the Logitech X-530 set is not available, then the venerable Z-640 set is still a great bet. It also sports 70W of power in a 5.1 configurations, and still has great features and aesthetics, not to mention fitting in great with the onboard sounds options of our two motherboards. This set is getting tougher to find, but often has a very attractive price as the reward.

    Communications Device

    For our Value Gaming PC, we've taken the advice of our readers and toned down the communications options, in order to make better use of our budget and squeeze out as much performance as possible.

    NIC: Integrated

    Current Cost: $0
    Months on list: 18
    Price Change: N/A

    The ASUS nForce4-4X and i915PL motherboards not only include onboard audio, but also have integrated Gigabit LAN hardware. Making use of the free onboard LAN option gives us a bit more budget leeway, and allows for some cash to be allocated towards higher-performance components. This is just smart business when it comes to a value gaming PC, and there is no real difference between a basic NIC and the integrated Gigabit LAN found on these motherboards. Both are fully supported under Windows XP and will more than foot the bill for Internet use or LAN gaming.

    We are no longer offering a modem recommendation, since readers have rightfully pointed out that the majority of gamers already own some of the basic external devices like a modem, printer or scanner, or use DSL or cable Internet access (requiring only a LAN connection), and that the money could be put to better use elsewhere. If you do require a modem, the Creative Labs Modem Blaster 56K is a great bet, and plan on laying down $15-$20 for a new model.

    Page 1 Introduction and Case
    Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards
    Page 4 Memory, Hard Drive and CDRW/DVD-ROM
    Page 5 Video Card and Monitor
  • Page 6 Soundcard, Speakers and LAN
    Page 7 Input Devices and Operating System
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

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