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Sharky Extreme : Monthly Value Gaming System Buyer's Guide October 7, 2008

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    September Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
    By Vince Freeman :  September 19, 2006


    As we get set to enter the Fall season, it's a perfect time for an updated Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide. 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 24" LCD, Core 2 Extreme X6800, or Athlon 64 FX-62 would almost 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.

    This month is looking to be a very good one for value system buyers, especially on the processor end of things. Intel introduced the impressive Core 2 Duo and AMD responded by cutting prices on their Athlon 64 X2 line, making this a great area to upgrade system performance. The video card segment is also shaping up quite well, as new mainstream performance models continue to be released, but this may only pay dividends a few months down the line. There is also some bad news, which comes in the form of higher DDR and DDR2 prices, which certainly haven't had a positive effect on our buyer's guide. The move to a higher-end processor also means we'll be spending a bit more on the motherboard component, as well as reevaluating our default case selection. This month we've really assembled some 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.

    Value Gaming PC Budget: $1000

    Case: Antec Sonata II (with 450W SmartPower 2.0 PSU)

    Current Cost: $89
    Months on list: New
    Price Change: N/A

    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.

    The X-Dreamer II has been a staple of our guide for a very long time, but with the move to higher-end processors, and the continued upgrades in other areas, we thought this month would be a good time for a change. After a lengthy evaluation, the Antec Sonata II was chosen as the natural successor, as it has the features, quality and price that we require. The $89 price tag is a noticeable shift from our usual $50-$60 range, but we feel a lot more comfortable with an Antec case and power supply running our new Core 2 Duo and Athlon 64 X2 processors, and view this as money well spent.

    Even at this price, the Sonata II offers a lot for the money, and is an excellent mainstream case. It features a rear-mounted 120mm Tricool fan with 3-speed control, as well as room for an optional front-mounted 120mm fan. The Sonata II includes an innovative Chassis Air Duct that helps cool the processor and video cards, and has space for optional cooling fans. In terms of internal real estate, the Sonata II can handle both mATX and ATX motherboards and includes 3x5.25", 2x3.5" (external), and 4x3.5" (internal) expansion bays. The front bay door opens on two hinges, and there is a front panel with USB, IEEE 1394/Firewire and audio ports. The case is made from 0.8mm SECC steel, so don't expect the lightness of an aluminum build.

    The best news of all comes with the power supply, as Antec supplies a 450W SmartPower 2.0 PSU with the Sonata II. This is a quality power supply, especially when you consider it's supplied with a sub-$100 name brand case, and offers all the features and power we need. This includes a 20/24-pin motherboard connector (with detachable 4-pin), a PCI Express power connector, and four SATA power connectors, along with the standard Molex cords. This PSU features dual 80mm in/out fans, and offers dual- +12V output, making it a very full-featured unit for a value system guide.

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

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