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Monthly Value Gaming System Buyer's Guide

September Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide

By Vince Freeman September 21, 2005


We're now officially at the end of the summer season, and into the back-to-school mindset, so it's definitely time for another edition of our Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide. Our Value Guide is renowned for taking both performance and price into consideration, and pinching every penny in search of a high-performance system for gamers on a budget. In a nutshell, the Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide delivers the desktop and gaming performance you want, but at a price that won't break the bank. The overall scenario is bit different than some of the other buyer's guides on Sharky Extreme, as we limit the budget to $1,000 in cold, hard cash while the goal remains the same: to assemble a kick-ass gaming system that will play today's hottest games and still have some power in reserve for tomorrow.

To do this, we pay special attention to the price-performance of each component, making sure to match them according to their value from an overall system performance standpoint. While not as fast or flashy as the Extreme or High-End Gaming Systems, our Value configuration may actually be the best deal of them all. If you're the type of gamer who counts your pennies before buying any new system, then get ready for a buyer's guide right up your alley.

Finding the best system components for a value gaming system is more difficult than simply picking the very best hardware money can buy, and it entails some concession on the part of the buyer. The $1,000 budget can get eaten up pretty quick, and slapping down the cash for a 21" LCD, Pentium 840 Extreme Edition, or Athlon 64 X2 4800+ would take care of it in one shot. When compiling our Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, we try and find that happy medium between spending a fortune on a new PC, and being "penny wise/pound stupid", thus getting stuck with obsolete hardware. Our value gaming PCs will still allow high-end gameplay, with the CPU and 3D video power necessary to really push the framerates, while keeping a close eye on overall quality and features. Rest assured we don't scour the bargain bins for out-of-date or low-end hardware, and instead stick to a current, name brand component mix that offers the best overall value.

Now that we're past the halfway point of 2005, we can look back on the first part of the year as a very good one for low-cost gaming systems. The combination of new hardware and lower prices on existing components provided some landmark system configurations, and the gaming rigs we put together for under $1K have been amazing. As with our last update, this also translates into an inevitable slowdown in what we can upgrade, and how tight the $1K budget can be squeezed. As 2005 has brought with it an almost total overhaul of the performance components, it has become difficult to make significant improvements to the performance hardware. This doesn't mean we've been sitting still, and we've made some upgrades and improvements in a few areas this month.

As with all of our buyer's guides, we have made every attempt to confirm that the selected hardware is available at one or more of the largest and most popular (with Sharky readers) online retailers. Although the price stated in the guide may not be exactly match that of a specific online dealer, you can bet on finding a significant percentage of our component list in their catalogues and at similar price levels. The availability factor did not limit our choices, but we do sleep easier with the knowledge that interested buyers can find the same hardware selection at most of the large online vendors.

Value Gaming PC Budget: $1000

Case: Aspire X-Dreamer II (with 350W or 420W PSU)

Current Cost: $55
Months on list: 14
Price Change: +$1

The system case provides the foundation of any new configuration, and it is one of the most important components in the overall design. This is true no matter the budget, and the case should be given equal weight whether you're spending $1,000 or $5,000. Although we do get a bit more freedom with our High-end and Extreme Buyer's Guides, even an entry-level gaming computer deserves a quality case with a nice mix of features and real estate. When it comes to value system enclosures, there is still a need to balance retail price against case options, aesthetics and potential upgrade space, and with a need to keep costs in the $50-$60 range (PSU included), the X-Dreamer II continues to be a popular choice.

The X-Dreamer II has the kind of design and features you'd expect to find on a higher-priced model, as well as the real estate and specifications of a mid-range enclosure, all for about $55. The X-Dreamer II has also been on the list for quite some time now, but as we add or upgrade our performance components and our budgets tightens up, it has been incredibly tough finding an adequate replacement at this price range. This is especially true now some online retailers are selling the latest revision X-Dreamer II with an upgraded 420W power supply, which just makes a great deal even better.

The X-Dreamer II may a low-cost, entry-level unit, but this is not a "budget case" by any means. Aspire offers a great-looking case at a super price, and its slick metallic housing and side window really give it some definite appeal. This case is far more than just another pretty face, and the X-Dreamer II has a ton of expandability, including 4x5.25", 2x3.5" (external), and 4x3.5"(internal) expansion bays. The X-Dreamer II's outer housing certainly looks good, but it is also quite functional and includes very useful onboard options. The unit has USB and audio jacks, automatic drop-down side doors, a see-through window panel, blue LED case fans, 6 LED indicator lights, a removable motherboard tray, and even a temperature display LCD for the hardcore enthusiast.

Some of these features may seem daunting at first, but Aspire also provides a helpful online PDF install guide (complete with detailed pictures) that covers off the important areas of the setup process.

The X-Dreamer II also includes an upgraded Intel Pentium 4/AMD compatible 350 or 420W ATX power supply, which is easily on par with competitive entry-level units, and at only $55 for the whole package, it's a perfect match for our budget. This model is also available in a wide range of colors, including blue, yellow and green, so you have far more options than just the standard beige or black.

  • Page 1 September Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
    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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