As we move from Spring to Summer, not to mention all the new products and price drops on existing ones, this serves up another great opportunity to update our 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 be eaten up pretty quick, and slapping down the cash for a 27" wide-screen LCD or Core 2 Extreme QX6800 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 Rest assured we don't scour the bargain bins for out-of-date hardware, and instead stick to a current, name brand component mix that offers the best overall value.
We have already upgraded our value systems to Athlon 64 X2 and Core 2 Duo level processors, but due to recent price drops, we are looking to move a bit higher on the clock speed scale. Mainstream graphics also went through an overhaul lately, with both NVIDIA and ATI introducing DirectX 10 cards at a sub-$200 price point. This represents the perfect graphics range for our value systems, and with DDR2 memory prices so incredibly low, expect an improvement in that area as well. The rest of the guide is a bit more sedate, but we have managed to upgrade components in certain areas, and doing some shifts in others. These two gaming systems continue to offer value-oriented performance configurations, and will not only provide excellent gaming speed 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: $88
Consecutive Guides: 3
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 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.
We chose the Antec Sonata II in our last edition of the guide, and with so many new and improved components putting pressure on the budget, there was not much left over for any potential case upgrade. After all, this system is primarily concerned with gaming performance, and assuming a quality system enclosure, we'll go for the faster video card or CPU every time. The Antec Sonata II is also well equipped for the faster processors, and there is no overriding need to change. The $88 is also on the top-end of entry-level case prices, but it's still a good investment, and we view this as money well spent.
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 power supply bundled with an entry-level case can often be suspect, but 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 included 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.