Our last Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide welcomed in Spring, but this latest edition is more tuned towards getting ready for Summer 2006. True to its name, the Value Guide takes both system performance and price into consideration, and pinches every penny in search of a high-performance computer 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 certainly won't break the bank. The overall scenario is bit different from 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 pair of kick-ass systems 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 ratio of each component, making sure to match the hardware 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. Here at Sharky, we also offer recommendations for both Intel and AMD systems, as well as providing a secondary ATI or NVIDIA graphics option. After all, we're here to deliver value-packed gaming systems, not promote one platform over the other.
Finding the best system components for a value gaming system is more difficult than simply picking the top 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 Extreme Edition 965, or Athlon 64 FX-60 would take care of it in one shot. When compiling our Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, we try to find that happy medium between spending a fortune on a new PC and being "penny wise/pound stupid", and getting stuck with obsolete or low-end hardware. Our value gaming PCs will still allow high-end gameplay, and have 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 Rest assured we don't scour the bargain bins for out-of-date hardware, and instead stick to a current, name brand component mix that offers the best overall value.
The beginning of 2006 was not a prime opportunity for entry-level gaming systems, and although the usual selection of price drops did allow for some interesting system configurations, we were still waiting for the NVIDIA shoe to drop. At the time, the GeForce 7 Series offered high and low-end graphics cards, but it wasn't until the debut of the GeForce 7600 GT that our Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide really benefited. We also took very close notice of the recent Intel price cuts to the Pentium D 900 series, as well as toning a few other areas and making use of some newer storage drives. This month we've really assembled a couple of very nice system configurations, which will not only provide excellent gaming performance for the class, but are also well balanced enough for standard home entertainment and office use.
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 not all of the prices stated in the guide will 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.
Current Cost: $55
Months on list: 17
Price Change: +$5
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 this piece of hardware 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 this month is certainly no different, as we're looking to stretch our budget as far as possible.
After keeping the X-Dreamer II at the top of our component list for quite some time, we made a concerted effort to replace it this month. But our combination of mainstream requirements and extreme budget limitations had us coming back empty-handed. It is very difficult to match the aesthetics, design and overall features of the X-Dreamer II, and this case offers a lot of value for its $55 price tag. This is even truer now, as Aspire has upgraded the latest revision X-Dreamer II with a more powerful 420W power supply. This is not a perfect case and it won't compete with $100+ (PSU-less) enclosures, but for those on a tight budget Aspire really delivers.
The X-Dreamer II may be affordable, but it is not a "budget case" by any definition. Aspire offers a great-looking case at this price range, and its slick metallic housing and side window give it the look of a more expensive unit. But this system enclosure is more than just another pretty face, and the X-Dreamer II's 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 now includes an Intel Pentium 4/AMD upgraded 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 PSU is the standard 20-pin variety, although there have been rumors the latest revision does include a 24-pin PSU (check with your retailer about this). 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.
Of course, the choice of system case is sometimes a personal one, and we'll offer a few alternatives here. The XION II gaming case is a very impressive unit for the money, and it made a definite run at the top spot this month. This mid-tower case offers a ton of features, internal real estate, and value, and even includes a very capable 450W power supply. The XION II offers 4 x 5.25" (External), 2 x 3.5" (External), and 5 x 3.5" (Internal) drive bays, includes 2x120mm and 1x80mm cooling fans, 2xUSB and 2xAudio front-mounted ports, and even has a side window. The looks are great too, with stylized accents and a XION logo, and it comes in two flavors: Black Pearl w/Green LED and Silver Mercury w/Blue LED.
The Rosewill TU-155 is another great value in this price range, and after we used one for a system build, our opinions quickly changed in regards to this "value system enclosure". The case itself is made from 0.8mm SECC steel, and at 24 lbs, it is certainly not light, but its features, internal real estate, bundled 400W ATX12V power supply, and low price make it a very nice value at this range.
For those with more conventional tastes, the Antec SLK1650 Mini Tower offers a standard case design that will allow for an unobtrusive desktop system. The Antec case also ships with an Antec 350W SmartPower (SP-350) power supply, which is easily on par with a generic 400W PSU. This unit is available in both black and beige, so there is some opportunity to add some panache to the standard beige outer shell.