As we move closer to the holidays, December looks like a perfect time to update our Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, as whether it's a gift or a post-Xmas buying spree, starting off 2007 with a new gaming system is a very popular choice. 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" wide-screen LCD or Core 2 Extreme QX6700 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 being 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 still 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 Rest assured we don't scour the bargain bins for out-of-date hardware, and instead stick to a current, name brand component mix that offers the best overall value.
Our last value guide was quite an upgrade, and moved us to the Athlon 64 X2 and Core 2 Duo level in terms of processor performance and features. The budget was still tight, so other than a few small improvements, the CPU component was the main focus of the previous guide. This is a very common strategy, and it works out again for our December guide, except this time we've honed in on the video card. But once again, this was as far as our $1,000 budget would take us, and the majority of other components remained the same, or received a bit of fine-tuning. These two gaming systems still offer excellent configurations, and will not only provide excellent gaming performance for the class, but can also handle 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: $87
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: -$2
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 have more budgetary 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.
Our last guide switched from the long-standing X-Dreamer II case selection, over to the Antec Sonata II. This change was due to the higher-end processors, as well continued upgrades in other areas, all of which were beginning to outgrow the X-Dreamer II. This did entail a larger budget for the case component, but at $87 this month, it's a good investment, and we view this as money well spent.
Even at this price, the Sonata II offers a lot for the money, and is an excellent mainstream value. The case 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 (and removable) Chassis Air Duct that helps cool the processor and video cards, and even 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 slightly thinner 0.8mm SECC steel, but 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 surprisingly good power supply, especially when you consider it's supplied with a sub-$100 name brand case. The SmartPower 2.0 450W offers all the features and power we need, such as 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.
* Please also note that some online retailers currently offer mail-in rebates on the Sonata II, such as the current $50 rebate at Newegg that runs until December 19th.