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Monday, September 12, 2005

My $300 Gaming Rig

This weekend The Girl had a dog related family emergency which required her to steal my keys, siphon gas from the neighbors and get out of Dodge before the posse arrived. Well, perhaps not that dramatic, but I did get plenty of time on Saturday to put the new Windows box through some paces.

The result? I took a $250 budget PC, bought a 512MB DDR Ram chip, and shoved my old 9700Pro, Audigy 2 and 120GB drive into the case. I also got a wifi card for easier networking. Here is the resulting box:

- GQ5090 Special w/ 2.66 Intel Celeron D
- 160GB HDD space (40GB with the 5090, 120GB added)
- 640MB 333DDR Ram (128 with the 5090, 512 added)
- Radeon 9700 Pro (w/ 128MB onboard VRAM)
- SoundBlaster Audigy 2

Now the cost to me amounted to about $300. I got the computer for only $200 (clerical error in my favor), had the parts laying around and only had to purchase a couple new things. The result? Surpisingly, it's a fine little gaming rig. First I installed Unreal Tournament 2004 and sure, I didn't play it maxed out ... it ran well under medium settings just fine. So then I installed Guild Wars. Guild Wars has proven to be the biggest shocker, as I'm running at full detail, 1024x768 without any slowdown. What I thought was hiccups before seem to be just the occasional lag one would expect with an MMO. I was even using 2x AA for a while.

So then I downloaded the Far Cry demo. Surely that would bring such a box to it's knees. However, it really didn't. I let it auto-detect the settings, and it chose some fairly middle of the road but very acceptable options and ran fine.

The only problem I had all weekend is that the box gets hot. The case just wasn't designed for the 9700 and it's less than optimal fan, and the additional heat builds up. I could probably get a better heat sink on the CPU, which I might anyway to reduce the noise (it's not terrible, a lot better than my last box, but compared to the mini it's distracting), but for now I just point a small floor fan towards it. That seems to help push the hot air towards the back and the box has been fine since. It really needs a side fan or some other means to vent.

If you really wanted decent gaming on the cheap, you could do it for less than $500. $250 for the 5090, about $80 for a 9700 Pro and $50 for memory brings it to only $20 more than the Xbox 360 Core system and memory card and much cheaper than most of the 360 bundles. Course, this rig won't earn you any bragging rights. The CPU is about as cheap as you can get, though fortunately most games seem to heavily rely on the VPU to do the heavy lifting. Still, eventually games will outpace it.

But figure this - a normal gaming rig starts at about $1,000 and can quickly get to $2,000. So at this price, even if you updated every couple years or so you're probably still keeping up.

Damn you, PCI-Express
Course, the real problem is AGP. Or rather, the fact that the industry has decided to toss it out. The SiS 661 motherboard the 5090 has can hold up to 2GB of RAM and can handle an Extreme Edition Pentium processor. However, both major card makers are already talking about not releasing AGP versions of their new cards.

Eventually, the cards would exceed the bandwidth of AGP, but that's just not the case yet. I got this 9700 several years ago and while it's definately showing it's age ... it's perfectly acceptable for even the most taxing modern games. However, since the industry has decided to prematurely move on from one standard to the next - the motherboard will have to be replaced once the current crop of video cards doesn't meet the need.

Fast and Cheap
It remains to be seen whether a box like this will be able to handle something like Unreal Tournament 2007. I would have to doubt it. But I am fairly confident that the usually "PC gaming is just too expensive" isn't as true as people make it sound. The box was good enough for an all-nighter in Guild War's Ascalon. And at least for a while, that is good enough for me.

1 comment:

Evan said...

Not bad...I picked my 1.7 Mhz Celeron up at a garage sale for 5 bucks...

slapped a gig of ram in it...

slapped an x800 256 pro ati in it...

computer from 2002 plays league of legends for under $100 dollars...

Anything more demanding? That's why I bought a PS3...

Happy Hunting! :D