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#1 Feb 01 2012 at 9:37 PM Rating: Good
I didn't know this forum existed, but Gwenorgan sent me here, so:

First, I must admit to a gaming blasphemy: I'm playing WoW and other games on a Mac laptop. This is because my PC desktop is from 2006, but I can't afford to update it right now (and haven't, for the past 5 1/2 years). The laptop was a gift from 2010, and I value it highly, but it's obviously not ideal for gaming.

I'm somehow, despite our economy, feeling pretty optimistic about finding a job after I get my teaching certificate this coming August, since I know a lot of frustrated teachers who want to quit and quite a few others who are ready to retire -- and with all the new changes in our district, might do it sooner rather than later. I have a few exciting pluses to add to my resume, too.

So, this is probably premature (I don't have a full-time teaching job yet), but I've been looking into computer updates. I just threw $2,600 at tuition for the student teaching, and I figure if I can afford that (eventually) without any reasonable income, I should be able to afford around the same amount on a new computer when I do have a living income. The last time I bought one, I went mid-range and didn't really know what to look for. I'm not feeling particularly more confident now.

1. Budget: around $2,500 -- but I don't want to pay for things that won't actually be useful. Please let me know where I can skimp (appearance is a non-issue, for example).

2. I care more about longevity than competitiveness: I want the best, but not so I can beat everyone, but so that 3 years from now it will be average rather than completely obsolete. I want to be able to pick up new games, too. Right now, there are a lot of games I'd love to buy, but I can't play them on either of my computers.

3. I want to continue having one of each computer (and eventually also use Linux), to stay on top of different operating systems and to try to avoid monopolies. I want my gaming computer to be a PC and a desktop, not a Mac, since there are more games for PC than Mac (and yes, I know you can run Windows on Mac -- I might consider that option if it's really best, but I want to look into all options).

4. I know the top items in looking for a new computer for gaming are: processor, video card, and RAM. What I don't know is how to prioritize those items in a new system, for example when comparing different computers or when customizing one.

5. I have no idea what companies are reliable. I currently have a Hewlett-Packard, but I did a search on "gaming computers" and came up with several companies I've never even heard of. Since longevity is an issue, I want to go with a company that is known for reliability.

6. I haven't figured out entirely what I'm doing with TV: I know I want Netflix instead of cable/satellite, because I rarely watch TV shows when they're on, and instead watch whole seasons from start to finish. I do want access to local news. I haven't figured out if I want a TV and have it set up for streaming from Netflix or if I want a second monitor, in which case I would watch the local news from their website. In any case, the computer might be used for watching TV shows.

7. Anything else you think I should know.

I did do some research, reading reviews on different systems, etc., but I realize that I might be too optimistic. What if I don't get a steady job this fall? I'd like less of information on specific computers to buy, and more of a general idea on how to do research . . . in case this is more like 2-3 years from now (although, sticking with a 2006 computer for that long will likely drive me batty and I might end up having to buy a cheap, non-gaming computer just to get some kind of update).
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#2 Feb 02 2012 at 12:19 AM Rating: Excellent
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A budget of $2,500 should be more than adequate to build a high end gaming PC. A couple of questions for you though before I get into reccommendations. Are you looking to purchase something pre-assembled, or do you have the skills and / or local help available to assemble your own computer? Putting a computer together isn't difficult once you have the hang of it, but if you have never built a computer before, building a high end gaming PC on your own without help might be a bit of a challenge. If you have built computers before or have access to local help who have done so, then the build your own route is going to be cheaper and net you a more powerful machine for your money. If you haven't built one, or don't want the potential hassle of dealing with multiple part warranties, a prebuilt one might be what you are looking for. In that case, ibuypower.com is a good inexpensive chassis maker that might be a good first step to visit just to see what the price ranges are.

As far as components go, for a build your own or an off the shelf purchase, there are orders of importance to the components, but there are also longevity concerns. For example, you mention that appearance of the case isn't a major issue for you, but given of all the components you put into a computer you will have that one on average 7 years longer than any others, you may want to consider spending a bit more on that than you might otherwise.

I tend to reccommend that people get the best case that they can find and that they like, a Cooler Master CM 690 II advanced is a good place to start for an inexpensive, but solid case. There are plenty of options though. Then, pick a good solid power supply, as it will be your next longest lived component. You'll want to choose something in the 750-800 watt range, though with a $2500 budget, a multiple video card system is a possibility, so it wouldn't hur tot go bigger. Antec, Thermaltake, Corsair, Cooler master, and my favorite Enermax are all good power supply vendors.

From there you start to put together your core. You have some choices at that point. Do you go with an Intel processor (more expensive on average, but generally faster) an AMD processor (Less expensive, also slightly slower), and then once you decide on that, which processor socket? The Intel ones have 3 main socket types at the moment, Socket 2011 - the just released newest top of the line, Socket 1366 - the older gaming workhorse, predecessor to socket 2011, and socket 1155 - newer than socket 1366 but geared towards more of the midrange PC market. Inside each of those ranges (except 2011 which doesn't have any of the lower end ones yet) you will find the processor classes divided into 3 more families Core 13, I5 and I7. basically the I3 processors are the low end, low core count processors, I5 are the midrange, and I7 are the upper end processors. Usually I7 has mroe hyperthreading virtual cores than the I5's.

AMD has similar processor family divisions, though less of them.

After you decide on a processor, you will need a motherboard to match. I tend to reccommend Asus motherboards, www.asus.com and they have boards in both the Intel and AMD ranges. We can help you pick a good board once you decide on a processor.

Ram is dirt cheap these days. you want as much of it as your motherboard can hold, the highest capacity you can afford, as fast as you can afford it. Your average stick of 4GB DDR3 ram costs $25 these days, so even filling the 8 slots in a socket 2011 motherboard will not break the bank. Total ram quantity remains more important than ram speed at this time.

From there, Video card is the next consideration, with similar choices. There are Nvidia video cards, which I tend to prefer, of which the 580 GTX is about the king of the hill at the moment, and there are ATI / AMD video cards. Each of those video card types also have ooptions to run multiple cards. Nvidia calls this technology SLI, or Scalable Link Interface, ATI calls it Crossfire. The reason its important is that two mid range video cards in SLI mode might be more powerful, and less expensive than a single high end video card. If you are talking about running either large single monitors, or any multiple monitors for gaming, you need to consider either a high end video card or a SLI array to be able to even drive the displays at an acceptable gaming framerate. I usually leave the video card picking to the end of the list and get whatever my budget will stretch to.

Which brings us to drives. For a hard drive, and specifically to maintain longevity with your proposed budget, I would look at a solid state drive. Solid state drives are essentially bigger, much faster versions of the USB thumb drive you might already own. They have no moving parts, and are therefore much faster in most cases than standard rotational drives. their downside is they are fairly expensive compared to rotational drives, and not nearly as big. For your needs though, you will want speed and capacity. So wha you are going to want to do is get a decent sized Solid state drive for your operating system and your games, and then put in a larger rotational drive for your movie / netflix storage. Hard drive prices have unfortunatly gone through the roof because of the thailand flooding, but you should be able to find a 1TB hard drive in the $150 range, and a Solid state drive in the 200GB range for around $250.

Other than that, there isn't much else in the computer. Your case will come with all the fans and cables. The motherboard comes with whatever cables the case doesn't have usually. You may want to grab a blue ray burner, they are down to about $70, otherwise a standard DVD burner will run about $20. In place of a floppy drive, most people are installing Card readers, they tend to run about $15 or so, and can read memory cards from cameras, etc.

If you decide you want to attempt a build, let me know and I'll write up a parts list for you.
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#3 Feb 02 2012 at 7:17 AM Rating: Good
Thanks! I'll have to take some time to go through each of those items. I do have someone I think might be able to help with this, so the build-your-own route is looking quite nice. And yes, while it's true that the *appearance* of the case isn't important to me, I can see that other case issues are. Thanks for pointing that out! To be honest, if appearance does come into it, I'd rather go with something plain.

I'll let you know more once I have a chance to study this a bit more.
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Lysiem: Undead Shadow Priest who loves soloing and healing.
Yskra: Rogue-in-training.
Verynie and Qenara: Druids.
#4 Feb 03 2012 at 2:34 AM Rating: Good
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Just something to note: There isn't much point in getting any processor other than a i5 2500k. It gives you the biggest bang for your buck, and the i7 2600k is around 100 dollars more, although, with your budget, you could probably get a 2600k and still have some change.

Also: Kao, I thought socket 2011 was for Ivy Bridge only, or are the sockets backwards compatible, just not forwards compatible?
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#5 Feb 03 2012 at 3:22 AM Rating: Excellent
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Socket 2011 is a completely different socket than socket 1155 None of them are forwards or backwards compatable.

For a high end gaming PC, there most definitly is a point in getting the hyperthreading cores of an I7 by the way.
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